16 for '16: Rick Horrow's Top Sports/Business Issues of the Year

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16 for '16: Rick Horrow's Top Sports/Business Issues of the Year

With Tanner Simkins

1) After a 108 year wait --what a game, indeed. The Chicago Cubs-Cleveland Indians Game 7 World Series matchup may go down as the best baseball game in history, and the viewer numbers reflect just that. Despite a 17-minute rain delay and a late finish, the drama kept fans around the country glued to the TV. With the Cubs win, Theo Epstein can now be credited for snapping two of baseball’s largest title droughts – in Chicago and Boston. “Give all the credit where it’s deserved,” said Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts. Over 40 million TV sets; millennials glued to mobile devices; over 200 countries; economic impact in Chicago well over $200 million for the eight games at home and nine away games attracting thousands of baseball pilgrims to Wrigleyville. Net impact: great for baseball, great for the Cubs. It’s happened. Cubs fan such as myself can now go in peace. By far, the biggest sports story in the history of the universe. Economic impact corresponds with social and intergalactic benefits – five million people at a downtown parade. In the future, the time capsule on 2016 baseball will be fun to open, indeed.

2) Many maintain that sport and politics do not - or at least should not - mix, yet the result of the 2016 presidential election will surely have an impact on the future of American sport for many years to come. Before the vote, there were widespread concerns that a Donald Trump presidency could harm Los Angeles’ ongoing bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games and any potential push from the U.S. Soccer Federation to stage all or part of the 2026 FIFA World Cup – which some had suggested America might co-host with Mexico.  Other sports industry followers speculate that the prospect of uncertain trade relations with other countries could negatively affect major league growth aspirations abroad. Whether any of that is actually the case remains to be seen. On the plus side, Trump’s experience as a sports league, team, and facility owner could mean that he will forge policies beneficial to the sports industry both at home and abroad. The jury is still out on whether the LPGA and PGA Tour will embrace the Trump properties in years ahead.

3) This was the year of the NFL tricast, digital streaming, shared rights, and more.  While experts claim different reasons why, that mix resulted in a TV ratings downturn for the league. And the problem might not go away anytime soon. Many of the year’s primetime games had the lowest ratings in 10 or so years. Analysts close to the issue argue a change in consumer preferences as the underlying reason. Whether it was the daily fantasy bubble somewhat popping, primetime competition like the presidential debates, content cannibalization with the NFL available more places than ever before, or simply lackluster game storylines – the NFL downturn was a major deal in 2016. The biggest story is really the convergence of all types of new media – with implications for rights holders, “de-couching,” stadiums and arenas, and the entire sports industry.

4) Live events take center stage, for social interaction and gifting in a “experience economy.”  StubHub has just released its annual “Year in Live Events” report. Peyton’s last game. Kobe’s last game. The Cubs’ World Series win. Hamilton. Those are just a few of the major highlights from a year in live events. According to StubHub, the top 10 bestselling events of the year were all sporting events. Led by Super Bowl 50 in Silicon Valley, which outsold the previous Super Bowl by 7%, and the World Series, which was the highest-selling World Series ever on StubHub, other best-selling live events included Adele’s tour, which led all music acts with the No. 1 selling tour spot and the runaway Broadway hit, “Hamilton: An American Musical,” drove at least four times the sales of any other theater production in company history. Fans also flocked to see Peyton and Kobe’s final games, championship appearances for Cleveland in both basketball and baseball, UFC taking its first match to New York City and soccer’s globally popular Copa America Centenario. International NFL games and futbol (soccer) matches led as the top five international events with the highest sales from U.S. ticket buyers. This past year, the live events industry thrived, with a perfect storm of firsts, lasts, and multiple milestone events that were captured only as StubHub can, with a global marketplace that spans sports, music, and theater. It will be interesting to see how events in the new year stack up to an historic 2016. 

5) From an international sports perspective, Brexit was big news in 2016. With restrictions regarding player’s age and nationality, a shift in the European Union paradigm mixed all this up for EPL clubs. Moving forward, European soccer’s competitive balance should level out if Brexit-caused restrictions prove as tough as many expect. Maybe Britain’s exit means two steps back for UK football or one step forward for the global game such as that in the South America, for example. Maybe policy makers find a way to keep European football strong. Regardless, the issue continues to be something to watch…heads up rugby and cricket fans, too. Uncertainty rules the day, as the European economy evolves to adjust to the unpredicted result.  Look for sports to respond accordingly.

6) This year the world lost golf's patriarch, Arnold Palmer. His stellar playing career aside, Palmer’s biggest achievements stretched well beyond the game. Known today as the originator of sports marketing, Palmer was one of the first athletes to turn his name into a brand. Using his image and business acumen, Palmer's empire was valued at approximately $700 million upon his death. Over the years, he was endorsed by dozens of companies, had his hand in founding IMG and the Golf Channel, even in commercializing his famous ice tea/lemonade blended drink -- effectively founding sports marketing along the way. Through strategic messaging and brand management, Arnold Palmer became the prototype for all of today's sports stars. “The King” as he was known, will be missed. Arnold Palmer was more than a golfer – he defined an evolving, broad sports business in a way no one else could.

7) The Rams stole NFL headlines this season with their return move to Los Angeles.  Since then the balance of power has shifted among NFL owners and the Rams have cemented themselves as LA’s pride once again, despite poor performance throughout the season.  The Ram’s “honeymoon period” in the Coliseum and the construction of their new Inglewood stadium was one of the year’s most closely followed sports business sagas. Now the fun really begins: “franchise musical chairs” should be resolved in the next three months with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers and the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.  An early chapter in a very long book.

8) 2016 inched a little bit closer to gender equality.  There is much more work to be done, but here are some highlights: we celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the WNBA; “leaning in” is at all-time high; we saw social movements like Girls For STEM, and a push for workplace equality.  The discerning issue of the wage gap was raised in the tennis community, and then pushed further when TEAM USA soccer spoke out.  Another positive development was the summer announcement of the Indy in Tech Championship coordinated, presented, and sponsored by Guggenheim Life. The LPGA event debuts next Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis, and provides unparalleled benefit for workforce training, robotics, STEM, and other positives. More to come on that story over time. Gender equity is far away, but there were many moments in 2016 where it was supported rather than tossed aside, and that's a good thing.

9) 2016 was a blockbuster year for mergers, resulting in over $1.8 trillion in deals made. Some mega-mergers with sports implications include Microsoft and LinkedIn, Verizon and Yahoo, AT&T and Time Warner and Charter.  The phenomenon was fueled by the year’s oddly low interest rates and other reasons making 2016 ripe with blue chip M&As.  When we drill down into the sports industry, examples include WME-IMG acquiring the UFC for $4 billion; the DraftKings and FanDuel merger; and Disney buying a $1 billion stake in MLBamtech. The sports and business worlds are clearly loved by vertically integrated, global, mega corporations that include media, management, events, and properties.  The stage is set for more power moves in 2017.  

10) The year just concluded saw the growth of eSports, virtual reality, 3D printing, big data, drones, IoT, and other tech marvels. Esports was a $892 million market in 2016, making it a major focus for brands and publishers, according to a report from SuperData. In the overall scope, esports is just a small part of what’s now a $91 billion market for digital games and playable media, with consumers spending $41 billion on mobile gaming in 2016. But we also had a handful of tech mishaps in 2016, whether it was Samsung’s exploding phone’s, the FBI being unable to retrieve data off of a locked iPhone, or NFL team staffs’ on-again, off-again love affair with using Microsoft tablets on the sidelines. The most memorable tech failure of 2016 was the downfall of GoPro -- the camera company marketed to thrillseekers had a market value of $12 billion a few short months after its 2014 IPO. Now after one disastrous earnings report after another, GoPro is valued closer to $1 billion.  These days, event properties must be coupled with significant technological advances to have a chance of success in an evolving marketplace.

11) 2016 was the rise of adidas.  Adidas is now banking on signing top rookies, luring them in with multimillion-dollar deals. Just this past year, adidas signed six of the top 10 NBA draft picks.  In addition to adidas’ renewed focus on players, there’s no underestimating the influence of its celebrity partnerships with Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Selena Gomez.  Some standout adidas athletes include Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Roger Federer, and James Harden.  However, the sporting goods industry, especially at the retail level, has taken a massive hit.  Once nationwide, brick and mortar chains like Sports Authority, Bob’s Stores, Eastern Mountain Sports, and Sports Chalet have all filed for bankruptcy. Yet, adidas is thriving with new executive leadership, key player signings, powerful brand influencers, and re-commitment to lifestyle marketing.  Adidas shares are up 56% this year. Nike is down 17%, Skechers down 17%, Under Armour down 37%. Retail wars still take center stage – revenues generated will be important for athletes, agents, colleges, teams, and leagues.

12) Athletes at all levels turned to their sport as a vehicle of peaceful issue-raising. Colin Kaepernick kneeled in protest, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Kover, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony pushed for social unity amidst the Black Lives Matter movement, cleats were worn in support of the country by Odell Beckham, Jr. and others. Athletes drove discussion on social media, in our communities, and elsewhere -- whether you agree or disagree with whatever cause, the influence of sport is ever present. Hopefully, all sports fans and non-sports fans alike recognize rights granted under the First Amendment, but also understand the responsibilities of role models as well.

13) LeBron James’ return to Cleveland resulted in the city’s first professional sports championship since 1964. The Cavs did so in stunning fashion, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit and winning in a Game 7 “nothing gets better than this” moment for any sports fan. Now, the Cavaliers a $140 million upgrade of Quicken Loans Arena to be complete by 2020. The upgraded facility will also provide a catalyst for mega-events – like the All-Star Game – which should add additional impact for the city once referred to as “the Mistake by the Lake.” In many ways, the Cavaliers victory was as big a sports story for Cleveland and the basketball world as the Cubs were for baseball – maybe even bigger. Another example of sports as a social and economic catalyst.

14) Pokemon Go was the most googled thing in 2016, according to Google Trends, beating out iPhone and Donald Trump, which placed second and third, respectively. Pokémon Go made more than $600 million in revenue for its developer, Niantic Labs, another $115 million in revenue for Nintendo, and added nearly $7.5 billion to the company’s market value. The Pokemon Go app passed Twitter and Facebook in daily users in less than two weeks. Sports teams everywhere are constantly chasing engagement, and Pokemon Go offered creative contests, giveaways, and social media interactions to those teams and leagues that embraced the hysteria. The future trend clearly focuses on interactive consumer events, fueled by social media.  Look for much more in 2017 and beyond.

15) In a year in which we lost Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer, we also saw two “best evers” retire from their sport. 2016 was the year of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, and the sheriff, Peyton Manning, riding off into the proverbial sunset. For Kobe, the end came in typical Black Mamba fashion -- not only did he receive a standing ovation in each city he played in during the season’s final stretch, but his last playing day, April 13th, was dubbed “Mamba Day” by Nike and backed by their full marketing support. Manning’s exit came after winning Super Bowl 50 following a fitting jersey-number matching “18” year career.  From a performance and sports marketing perspective, these two are some of the best to ever just do it.  The passing and retirement of mega superstars should give us cause to reflect on how important sports becomes to an entire society – especially in the social media age.

16) Yes, there were socioeconomic concerns, the Zika epidemic, minor crimes, and PR issues like the Lochte scandal, but for the most part, Rio 2016 was a homerun.   The USA took home 121 medals, of which 46 were Gold. Michael Phelps took home five Gold medals during his last Olympics, fellow swimmer Katie Ledecky earned four Gold medals, and gymnast Simone Biles took home Gold. Team USA in the Paralympics took home 115 medals, 40 of which were Gold. How Brazil fulfills its post-Olympic promises defines the international side of the story – golf expansion, infrastructure development, home building, transportation improvements, and the like. Now, the world awaits the IOC’s big decision next September – will it be Paris, Budapest, or LA?
 

15 to Watch: Top Sports/Business stories for the week of January 7

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15 to Watch: Top Sports/Business stories for the week of January 7

with Jamie Swimmer

1.    It appears we have to go to the bathroom again. Texas has unveiled a legislative proposal similar to North Carolina’s HB2 law but allowing for exceptions for special events, according to USA Today. Texas bill SB6 would ensure "that transgender people would have to use public restrooms and locker rooms” assigned to the “biological sex” on their birth certificates. However, the bill is worded to make it “possible for a private organization to determine the bathroom-usage rules at public facilities they rent” – as when the NCAA leases the Alamodome for the Final Four. In September, the NCAA removed all of its championship events from North Carolina, claiming HB2 was contrary to its inclusion policies. The ACC followed suit as did the NBA, which quickly moved the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans. While Super Bowl LI in Houston is not in jeopardy due to the sheer scale of moving the event last minute, other major events such as the 2017 CFB season opener between Florida and Michigan at AT&T Stadium and the 2018 men’s Final Four could be at risk despite the bill’s exception clause. Time and again, sports has been at the forefront of influencing political policy, and Texas will be the next proving ground of ideology vs. economics.

2.    According to Fox Sports research, there were 10,869 nationally-televised sports events in 2016. Few, however, attract the eyeballs and wallets of the CFP Championship, whose 2017 edition kicks off Monday night in Tampa. The CFP Championship generates significantly more revenue than the old BCS system did, resulting in “at least double the annual revenue” for each of the 10 FBS conferences. A conference receives $6 million for each team that is selected for the semifinal games, and each conference whose team participates in a playoff semifinal, Cotton, Fiesta, or Peach Bowl, or in the national championship game, will receive an additional $2.16 million per game to cover expenses. ESPN’s broadcast rights deal for the playoff and each of its six associated bowls for is valued at approximately $5.64 billion through 2025, about $470 million annually. Championship contenders Alabama and Clemson each drew more than 19 million viewers for their respective semifinal games on New Year’s Eve. The CFP Championship has quickly become a mini-Super Bowl in terms of widespread interest and economic reach, providing yet more proof that more people are actually interested in sports than ever before.

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3.    Despite all the hoopla surrounding the CFP games, this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl wasn’t as sweet as in seasons past. Usually one of college football’s most popular bowl games, the New Orleans matchup between Oklahoma and Auburn drew its smallest crowd since 1939. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the game attracted a crowd of only 54,077 to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 2015 game was played on New Year’s Day between Ole Miss and Oklahoma State in front of more than 72,000 fans. 2016 was the Sugar Bowl's "first non-sellout since the OU-Alabama game three years ago," but that game was "close to full." Some upper level sections of the Superdome were left completely empty, much to the chagrin of bowl officials. Auburn fans "dominated the crowd by a good 65-35 split," but once Oklahoma "took control of the game, most of the Tigers fans retreated to the French Quarter." Among forty bowls and the national championship, attendance is down 4.5%. While the Sugar Bowl is a highly-visible example, bowl success is never evaluated on attendance alone. Ratings and fan avidity are bigger factors, but a half-empty stadium certainly doesn’t help appearances.

4.    New PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan made his first goal clear: to expand golf’s appeal “beyond its base.” According to the Wall Street Journal, golf’s business has been very stable as of late, but Monahan is planning to “tinker” with it in pursuit of new fans. "What are the ways that we can evolve to be relevant to broader audiences? Over the next year or two, you’ll see us be more aggressive in that area," said Monahan. One of the short-term objectives of the PGA Tour is to rearrange its schedule to maximize attention relative to other sporting events, such as NFL games. Another possibility is also to form and sponsor a PGA Tour-LPGA event, drawing both fan bases together for one weekend. On top of a new schedule, the PGA Tour has explored the option of starting its own cable network. Commissioner Monahan has an easy job on one hand: maintaining a seamless transition with Tim Finchem, and a hard job on the other: satisfying the high expectations of continued long term growth. Obviously, he needs to continue to develop and sustain relationships with superstars, ordinary Tour players, sponsors, tournament directors, fans, and the entire golf industry over time. Look for him to shine at the 2017 PGA golf show.

5.    Despite a minor rain and fog delay, this year’s NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic was a massive success – a fitting gateway to the league’s centennial season. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Blues beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 “in front of a sellout crowd of 46,556.” The win for the Blues over their Midwestern rival was a key win on a national stage for the Stanley Cup-seeking franchise. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that he "expects another three in-the-elements games next season," regardless of whether NHLers participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Games. Outdoor games are now more common than they were years ago, but they still create a unique buzz in the middle of regular-season hockey. According to USA Today, outdoor games have a "Super Bowl feel," while weather is "always a sub-plot." The games are also "bigger than the sport," and "results matter." The Winter Classic has morphed into a series of outdoor major celebrations. Kudos to Gary Bettman and staff for creating a significant brand that adds excitement throughout the regular hockey season.

6.    On the heels of signing DH Edwin Encarnacion, the Cleveland Indians have experienced a massive ticket sales boon. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, the team is sitting at more than 10,000 full-season equivalents for the upcoming season, marking the “first time since the 2009 season” that the club has reached this marker. The Indians added 150 "full-season equivalents and 250 new season-ticket-holder accounts" in the four days after signing Encarnacion to a three-year deal last month. This marks a "critical step in the franchise's lengthy quest to improve upon an attendance figure that annually ranks among the lowest" in MLB. In addition, the Indians have “padded their season ticket numbers by more than 1,000” in the months since losing to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. These numbers have been very encouraging for the franchise thus far. The Indians needed a boost after being two outs away from a World Series championship. The direct relationship between a major signing and ticket sales is obvious here, but will it be as impactful long term? We’ll just have to see.

7.    As the 2022 World Cup in Qatar inches closer, more formalized plans to build necessary stadiums are coming to light. According to the Architects’ Journal, United Kingdom-based sports specialist AFL Architects will “deliver Foster + Partners’ designs for the centerpiece stadium” in Qatar. That stadium is planned to hold 80,000 spectators and will be named Lusail Stadium. As the tournament centerpiece, Lusail Stadium will host the opening match as well as the closing ceremony. AFL will forward the schematic design for the "internationally recognizable landmark" which Foster + Partners completed earlier this year, along with proposals for "how it will integrate" with neighboring Lusail City. This stadium will represent one of the eight venues being constructed for the 2022 World Cup and will include an advanced air conditioning system on the field to keep players cool. Qatar finally unveils its World Cup stadium plans. They look ambitious and astronomical as you might expect with unlimited oil money. The next question is when the construction will begin given the clamor over reevaluating the 2022 bid process.

8.    As the NFL Playoffs advance to the divisional round, the San Francisco 49ers find themselves scrambling once again to fill key front office positions, much to the embarrassment of CEO Jed York. According to the San Jose Mercury News, York channeled the "frustration of his fan base" regarding the dismissal of coach Chip Kelly and General Manager Trent Baalke. The formerly formidable 49ers have not won the Super Bowl in 22 years, and York has vowed to find “worthy” replacements for the fired executives. When asked why he has not been dismissed himself, York shot back, “I own this football team. You don’t dismiss owners. I’m sorry that that’s the facts and that’s the case…I’m going to do everything I can to get this right.” Bottom line: the offensive-minded Kelly did not meld with the defensive-minded Baalke, creating a conflict York lacked the football experience to resolve. The brand of the San Francisco 49ers is at risk. With Levis Stadium entering its third year, and after the success of Super Bowl 50, it’s time to shift the focus to performance for the team, league, and sponsors.

9.    A year after winning the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos likewise find themselves at a crossroads. Head coach Gary Kubiak has retired due to health reasons, and now the Broncos need to focus on keep John Elway in the Rockies. According to the Denver Post, Broncos President Joe Ellis said that he is trying to sign Elway, in the final year of his contract, to an extension, while simultaneously searching for a new coach. Ellis and Elway "started talking about a new contract in October." Elway currently serves at the team’s Executive Vice President/Football Operations and as General Manager. If he is not retained soon, other teams around the NFL will definitely be knocking on his door. But it remains likely that the legend will stay put. The Broncos are a significant brand, and their long term legacy is at stake, especially with shakeups among ownership, top executives, and coaches.

10.    Jason Day is now officially represented by Nike, but he will no longer be sponsored by longtime partner RBC. The bank elected not to renew its deal with the world’s top-ranked golfer after he announced his partnership with Nike, switching over from previous sponsor adidas. According to TSN.ca, Nike now stipulates that none of its golfers have “other corporate logos appear on a player’s clothing." This means that RBC would have been forced to move its logo from Day’s collar to his golf bag, but the bank “decided that the value wasn’t there.” RBC's decision also means Day is "unlikely to tee it up" in the RBC Canadian Open. A big signing coup for Nike, Day unveiled his swoosh-laden apparel last week at Kapalua. This is yet another example of the high stakes game of sponsor musical chairs, relating to the top golfers in the profession. Equipment deals, as well as other major category sponsorship deals, are always open for renegotiation.

11.    Atlanta Motor Speedway is set to resurface its track for the first time since 1997, according to Motorsport.com. AMS President & General Manager Ed Clark confirmed the decision to repave after the NASCAR race weekend in early March, noting that the “time was right to update the racing surface.” "We got 20 years out of this surface and we’re getting ready to have our 21st season and that’s about as good as you can get,” said Clark. The track’s 24-degree bank in the turns will not be altered as part of the project, which track owner SMI will oversee. The new surface is going to be laid down directly on top of the old one. USA TODAY's Jeff Gluck noted AMS' surface is the "second-oldest" on the NASCAR circuit behind Auto Club Speedway. The age of the pavement has "made for a slippery surface where drivers slide around the track in several different grooves, which produced above-average racing for an intermediate oval." All sports facilities need to do ongoing maintenance that does not affect the bottom line but affects the structural integrity of the facility itself. This is one of those examples. Spending money does not directly relate to increased revenue, but it impacts the overall stability and credibility of the track and the sport.

12.    Ahead of the tennis year’s first major, the Australian Open, USTA has opened its brand new, $60 million national campus in Orlando. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the 64-acre campus is set in the Lake Nona development and is meant to provide “opportunities for newer players to brush shoulders with rising stars.” The campus "stakes out the industry's mission to grow" as tennis participation has increased 23% to 17.9 million participants in the past decade. Sixteen short courts are available for families to walk on and hit at any time, while the player development quarters are dedicated for juniors’ and budding professionals’ usage only.  Even before the property opened, USTA had "booked more than 100 events that range from a conference on the business of undersized courts to USTA pro circuit events." The facility will host its first official collegiate matchup on January 21, between Alabama and Michigan. A viable Orlando complex may impact the location of the Miami tennis event, and long term development on the east coast, and may actually cultivate young American players.

13.    On the heels of multiple Chinese soccer clubs spending record amounts to bring international talent to the Chinese Super League, a very opinionated and negative editorial was written in the People’s Daily about this trend. According to ESPN.com, the People’s Daily is one of the official media outlets of China’s governing Communist Party, meaning that it is widely read and highly regarded. The article represents the international “frenzy associated with Chinese soccer is becoming an increasing concern,” noting that it warned clubs not to “let money mortgage the future.” Attitudes are now changing in China toward international talent due to the lack of funding and success in China’s international team and at the youth level. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on players like Oscar and Carlos Tevez, as “many clubs' budgets on foreign players are over two-thirds of their entire expense.” China is seemingly focused on two things – cyber superiority and soccer superiority. They are spending significant money to accomplish both, looking at signing players, buying teams, and developing facilities over time.

14.    The Arizona Diamondbacks have sued Maricopa County in an effort to break the team’s lease at Chase Field. According to the Arizona Republic, the team is doing so in order to “seek financiers to build a new stadium or renovate the 19-year-old ballpark.” Under their current contract, the D-backs are not allowed to talk to outside groups until at least 2024, and are not allowed to play outside of Chase Field until at least 2028. The lawsuit is the "latest twist in a long-running conflict over which party is responsible" for as much as $187 million in repairs and upgrades to Chase Field. The D-backs "counter that the county-run stadium district has not set aside enough money for needed upgrades and is risking safety." The team would prefer to stay in downtown Phoenix if possible, but the longer this issue drags on, the harder it will be to find adequate land. Good example of a long term relationship gone bad. The Diamondbacks were the definitive Arizona sports brand in 2001 and beyond after their World Series win. Lack of attention to detail, miscommunication and maintenance issues have caused a frayed relationship that might not be easy to repair. 

15.    The NHL expansion Vegas Golden Knights are in talks with the Chicago Wolves to make that team their AHL affiliate. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Wolves are currently one of 12 AHL teams that are not owned by an NHL club, making it plausible for the Golden Knights to have “its top minor-leaguers play” for the club when the team debuts next season. The Wolves serve as the St. Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate, but that would not prevent them from becoming the Golden Knights’ as well. The Vegas Golden Knights "might like to be closer to their home base," but the "only Pacific Division AHL team that is not owned by an NHL team is the San Antonio Rampage." While this long-distance relationship would not be ideal, sources close to the issue note that it would only last “for a couple of years until the Knights can fully stock their own roster.” Gary Bettman has made Las Vegas a top priority, and the success of the Vegas franchise significant as well. Look for the team to develop significant corporate affiliations and build community hockey rinks and education programs and the like to maximize long term success.