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

beyond-the-scoreboard-year.png

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?
 

Top stories of the week; A.J. Foyt interview

beyond_the_scoreboard_dl.png

Top stories of the week; A.J. Foyt interview

With Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins

1.    Ahead of this week’s The Players Championship, the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida has opened its largest-ever exhibit highlighting golf’s “Fifth Major” and its venue, TPC Sawgrass. "The Players Experience," according to the Florida Times-Union, is an "1,800-square-foot tribute to the 43-year history of the PGA Tour event." It includes a nod to the 11 Hall of Famers who have won the tourney, and past champions "have donated memorabilia from their victories." An interactive display is devoted to the par-3 17th and its "Island Green," with a "quiz on 17 trivia and a large-screen enactment of what it's like to hit a tee shot" there. Other exhibits honor Hall of Fame members Deane Beman and Pete Dye for creating the tournament and the course; the contributions of its more than 2,000 volunteers; and the tournament’s charitable efforts, which contributed more than $85 million to the community since 1977. From the European Tour’s new GolfSixes format to the Zurich Classic’s team play and this Hall of Fame exhibit, golf’s visionaries are bringing fresh energy and creativity to the sport in order to better grow the game.

2.    While Paris 2024 Olympic bid organizers are trying to keep politics out of the picture, the French presidential election continues to serve as the backdrop of the city’s battle to land the Games. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Paris 2024 co-Chair Tony Estanguet confirmed that the divisive election has not changed anything with the committee’s planning and execution. “We knew along the journey of the bid we'd have different elections,” said Estanguet. “We want to reduce the involvement of the political world. They are there to support. They are there to be tough. But we decide where to put the Olympic Village. The sport movement will be responsible for delivering the Games.” Paris remains as the favorite over Los Angeles currently, though tides can turn before the IOC September vote. Both cities are considered heavyweights and are each vying to host the Olympics for the third time. While organizers try their best, it is virtually impossible to keep politics out of the Olympics, especially where the IOC is involved. Look for newly-minted French President Emmanuel Macron to have an impact on both the Paris and L.A. bids.

3.    He’s not even on an NBA team yet, but Lonzo Ball – and his father LaVar – are already making waves in the league with the release of a $500 shoe. The family’s Big Baller Brand just introduced the ZO2 Prime, which retails from $495-$695, while “an autographed version of is listed on bigballerbrand.com for $995,” according to Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. The shoes are "available for pre-order to be shipped by November 24." Comparatively, the most expensive version of Kevin Durant’s signature Nike shoe, the KD 9 iD, is $195, while teammate Stephen Curry’s Under Armour UA Curry3Zero is $119.99. And the "most expensive Jordan Brand shoe is the $400 Air Jordan 5 Retro Premium." LaVar Ball has repeatedly told media the family decided to produce their own shoes when none of the major shoe brands offered equity as part of endorsement deals reportedly in the $2 million annual range. Jordan, Durant, and Curry earned the right to put their name on expensive collectible shoes. Ball hasn’t run a single NBA play, and while the sticker shock value is getting the brand some publicity, it’s no sure thing the strategy will pay off for the family over time. Let your feet do their talking ON the court.

4.    A bidding war is about to go down in Miami. According to the Miami Herald, a group led by Tagg Romney, son of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has “submitted a bid slightly higher” than the one Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter put in. The joint bid from Bush and Jeter to buy the Miami Marlins was for $1.3 billion, and the team is currently deciding which bid to accept. While the Marlins will be making this decision on their own, MLB must approve the transaction before it comes to fruition. Sources said that Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria recently "struck a non-binding agreement – a handshake deal" – that Bush would be "given first opportunity to buy the team if he was able to provide proof of financing and quickly sign a purchase agreement." The Marlins "fully expected that Bush would be able to close the deal." While the deal will go down in Florida, the real news about this transaction will come from New York, as no ownership transfer will transpire without MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s approval.

5.    As the NBA Playoffs builds to the conference finals, seventeen NBA franchises have committed to fielding teams in the inaugural NBA 2K esports league set to launch in 2018. Teams were asked to pay a buy-in fee in the low six figures to join the league, a joint venture of the NBA and Take Two Interactive, which publishes the 2K series. Teams will be operators, not owners. Brendan Donohue, the esports league’s newly named Managing Director, said, “We were hoping for half the teams to jump on board, and we got more than that. There are still a lot of teams very interested in joining in upcoming years." There are notable absences at launch, including the Rockets, who in December named Sebastian Park the league’s first Dir of Esports Development, and both Los Angeles teams. L.A. is an epicenter of the esports industry in North America. As esports leagues become more firmly entrenched, it’s no surprise that the major sports leagues are finding ways to turn their digital properties into esports gold. Expect the NFL to jump in the esports arena next, perhaps followed by MLS and/or FIFA/UEFA (tracking the global popularity of the FIFA video games).

6.    Tickets are now on sale for The NFL Experience Times Square, an interactive attraction opening in November, and the NFL and partner Cirque du Soleil have released details about the experiences available. The attraction will offer fans “a chance to step into the shoes of an NFL player through various physical challenges, augmented reality, immersive elements and a 4D cinematic experience with exclusive content from NFL Films.” Fans will be able to participate in a vertical leap test and blocking sleds, receive one-on-one instruction from a hologram of a NFL legendary coach, learn a play in a space that replicates a coach’s classroom; test their skills by completing a game-winning pass to their favorite receiver, and share the stage with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Why Cirque du Soleil? The NFL views the partnership as the meeting of the minds of two iconic global brands – and certainly no one is better at creating spectacular, jaw-dropping multimedia content than the Canadian acrobatic troupe.

7.    The University of Michigan rarely has a tough time filling up The Big House in Ann Arbor, but this coming football season’s ticket sales are poised to break records. According to the Detroit News, the university’s season-ticket base “will reach 93,000 this fall, a mark it has not seen” since before the 2007 season. Season tickets typically hover around the 90,000 marker, which is set by the university, though the team’s recent success under Coach Jim Harbaugh has contributed greatly to the spike in season ticket sales. The athletic department added more season tickets because of an increased demand for them, for the “renewal rate among existing ticketholders currently stands” at an astounding 99%. Of the 93,000 season tickets being offered this coming season, 21,000 are allocated for students, which is also the “highest it’s been” since the 2007 season. In an era when student interest in their school’s sports is on the wane, it will be instructive to see how many of the 21,000 student seats are filled come fall.

8.    Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ended up No. 1 on the NFLPA Top 50 Player Sales List for fiscal year 2016-2017, becoming the first rookie to hold that honor. The list, according to the players association, is based on total sales of officially-licensed NFL player merchandise for the year that began March 1, 2016, and ended February 28, 2017. Rankings include all NFL player-identified merchandise and products sold by more than 80 official NFLPA licensees via online and traditional outlets with retail sales exceeding $1.6 billion. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished No. 2 for year-end sales, while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had held the top spot through the end of Q3, finished in the No. 3 position despite winning the Super Bowl. Elliott’s feat proves that rookies who become major contributors on the field have the ability to equally enhance their sport’s bottom line off it. Kudos to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for creating the marketing platform that helped propel Elliott and Prescott to the top of the list.

9.    It looks like the New York Jets are already throwing in the towel for this coming season. According to the New York Post, Jets Owner Woody Johnson came as close as he could to labeling this coming season a “rebuilding year” without actually using the word “rebuilding” to describe his outlook. In an interview on ESPN Radio N.Y. 1050, Johnson said, “The way I want to be judged this year, hopefully from the fans’ standpoint, is watch how we improve during the year, look at each individual on the team and see how they’re getting better. If they’re getting better, that’s a mark of progress.” Talking about consistent improvement across the board over winning games, Johnson also noted that making the playoffs is not a clear expectation has for Coach Todd Bowles in the wake of a 5-11 season in 2016. Even though the Jets nabbed LSU safety Jamal Adams at #6 in the just-completed NFL Draft, Sports Illustrated gave the team a C- for its draft strategy overall. Small wonder that owner Johnson is exercising extreme caution when managing fan expectations.

10.    The Boston Red Sox are in the process of revoking tickets of fans who used racial slurs toward Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones. According to the Boston Globe, Red Sox Owner John Henry and President Sam Kennedy met with Jones to inform him of the steps the team is taking to handle the situation. Jones personally suggested fining fans who taunted him, but Kennedy suggested that fines are “probably in the hands of the police.”  This issue is being handled both on the club level with the Red Sox and also at the league level with MLB officials and executives getting involved to ensure this is an isolated incident. Though it is nearly impossible to directly control what people say at ballparks, banning fans from coming back the Fenway Park would send a direct message that there is zero tolerance for racist behavior anywhere in sports.

11.    With social media playing an increasingly large role in pro athletes’ lives, some coaches and managers have begun to regulate how their players use such platforms. According to the London Independent, Manchester United Manager José Mourinho “instigated a crackdown” on his players’ social media usage. Mourinho noted his frustration with how much information his players make public online and has since made rules to control the usage of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Man U players “have been told that the club does not want them to publish any pictures from training, from the 48 hours leading up to a game or especially from the team bus on the way to games.” Mourinho wants his players “fully focused” on game days while also restricting “the flow of information out of the club, especially at sensitive times.” While social media is an unparalleled promotional platform, expect stances like Mourinho’s to become increasingly prevalent across all professional sports domestically and internationally.

12.    Wimbledon organizers have announced that singles tennis champions will receive $2.84 million each, an increase of about $250,000 for "both the men's and women's winner." The total prize pot increases to $40.8 million, up from $36.3 million last year. According to Reuters, All England Club Chair Philip Brook said that the club "had 'taken into account' exchange rates, but that the 'Brexit effect' had not been instrumental in their calculations." Meanwhile, the All England Club confirmed that Wimbledon's second roofed court – Court No. 1 – "will be completed in time" for the 2019 championships. Let’s face it – Wimbledon could be held on a playground for lunch money and it would still attract the world’s top players, drawn to its storied history and prestige. The real arms race in tennis is winning the battle against the elements that begets more TV time that begets more revenue.

13.    Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains a free agent more than eight weeks into free agency, but is that because of his on-field performance or off-field protesting? According to the S.F. Chronicle, some believe Kaepernick has still not been signed “because of his decision to kneel during the national anthem before games last season,” while others think his “on-field regression and potential distractions he’d bring to a franchise” are the real reasons he has not been picked up yet. Even since he led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, the quarterback’s on-field performance has dipped considerably, while coinciding with his social protesting. It was reported a week before the start of free agency Kaepernick "would stand for the anthem" in 2017. Whether he "stands or not," Kaepernick "probably won’t be able to fade into the background, even though he most likely will be a backup." And let’s be clear – if Kaepernick’s on-field skills hadn’t deteriorated, he’d be on a team, regardless of political acts that haven’t really harmed anyone but him.

14.    Following in the footsteps of other Power Five conferences, the ACC has committed itself to launching its own television network by 2019. According to Awful Announcing, ACC Commissioner John Swofford wrote a memo to conference Athletic Directors informing them that ESPN President John Skipper has confirmed plans to launch the network are “full speed ahead.” The new network hopes to be as successful as the Big 10 Network, which has been live for years now. ESPN plans to put all of its “muscle and support” toward the ACC Network to make it as financially successful as possible. ESPN currently has a deal in place with the ACC that runs through 2036, so it is in the network’s best interest to ensure the financial success of the new channel. Florida State AD Stan Wilcox thinks the network “will be successful” despite the recent talent cuts at ESPN. No one expects ESPN to go quietly into the night, and forging ahead with high-profile partnerships and expansion plans is one way to maintain the confidence of advertisers and parent Disney.

15.    University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban "got a healthy raise and a few more years on his deal," as the Alabama Board of Trustees compensation committee approved a new contract through the 2024 season worth an average of $8.2 million annually. According to AL.com, the deal includes a $4 million signing bonus, giving Saban total compensation of $11.15 million in 2017. The structure of the deal is "different from those in the past," as Saban's "base pay actually went down" while "annual completion bonuses" were added. USA Today sports investigative reporter Steve Berkowitz also noted that Saban's 2017 earnings will be "by far the greatest amount paid to a college athletics coach" since USA Today Sports began tracking those numbers in 2006…and that Saban's $4 million signing bonus is greater than Coppin State's total athletics revenue for the 2015 fiscal year. Ball’s in your court, University of Michigan Board of Trustees. How long before Jim Harbaugh – he of the $9 million in annual compensation via life insurance policy – comes knocking?

Top stories of the Week; George Pyne Podcast

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Top stories of the Week; George Pyne Podcast

With Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins

1.    Ahead of this week’s The Players Championship, the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida has opened its largest-ever exhibit highlighting golf’s “Fifth Major” and its venue, TPC Sawgrass. "The Players Experience," according to the Florida Times-Union, is an "1,800-square-foot tribute to the 43-year history of the PGA Tour event." It includes a nod to the 11 Hall of Famers who have won the tourney, and past champions "have donated memorabilia from their victories." An interactive display is devoted to the par-3 17th and its "Island Green," with a "quiz on 17 trivia and a large-screen enactment of what it's like to hit a tee shot" there. Other exhibits honor Hall of Fame members Deane Beman and Pete Dye for creating the tournament and the course; the contributions of its more than 2,000 volunteers; and the tournament’s charitable efforts, which contributed more than $85 million to the community since 1977. From the European Tour’s new GolfSixes format to the Zurich Classic’s team play and this Hall of Fame exhibit, golf’s visionaries are bringing fresh energy and creativity to the sport in order to better grow the game. 






2.    While Paris 2024 Olympic bid organizers are trying to keep politics out of the picture, the French presidential election continues to serve as the backdrop of the city’s battle to land the Games. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Paris 2024 co-Chair Tony Estanguet confirmed that the divisive election has not changed anything with the committee’s planning and execution. “We knew along the journey of the bid we'd have different elections,” said Estanguet. “We want to reduce the involvement of the political world. They are there to support. They are there to be tough. But we decide where to put the Olympic Village. The sport movement will be responsible for delivering the Games.” Paris remains as the favorite over Los Angeles currently, though tides can turn before the IOC September vote. Both cities are considered heavyweights and are each vying to host the Olympics for the third time. While organizers try their best, it is virtually impossible to keep politics out of the Olympics, especially where the IOC is involved. Look for newly-minted French President Emmanuel Macron to have an impact on both the Paris and L.A. bids.


3.    He’s not even on an NBA team yet, but Lonzo Ball – and his father LaVar – are already making waves in the league with the release of a $500 shoe. The family’s Big Baller Brand just introduced the ZO2 Prime, which retails from $495-$695, while “an autographed version of is listed on bigballerbrand.com for $995,” according to Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. The shoes are "available for pre-order to be shipped by November 24." Comparatively, the most expensive version of Kevin Durant’s signature Nike shoe, the KD 9 iD, is $195, while teammate Stephen Curry’s Under Armour UA Curry3Zero is $119.99. And the "most expensive Jordan Brand shoe is the $400 Air Jordan 5 Retro Premium." LaVar Ball has repeatedly told media the family decided to produce their own shoes when none of the major shoe brands offered equity as part of endorsement deals reportedly in the $2 million annual range. Jordan, Durant, and Curry earned the right to put their name on expensive collectible shoes. Ball hasn’t run a single NBA play, and while the sticker shock value is getting the brand some publicity, it’s no sure thing the strategy will pay off for the family over time. Let your feet do their talking ON the court.


4.    A bidding war is about to go down in Miami. According to the Miami Herald, a group led by Tagg Romney, son of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has “submitted a bid slightly higher” than the one Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter put in. The joint bid from Bush and Jeter to buy the Miami Marlins was for $1.3 billion, and the team is currently deciding which bid to accept. While the Marlins will be making this decision on their own, MLB must approve the transaction before it comes to fruition. Sources said that Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria recently "struck a non-binding agreement – a handshake deal" – that Bush would be "given first opportunity to buy the team if he was able to provide proof of financing and quickly sign a purchase agreement." The Marlins "fully expected that Bush would be able to close the deal." While the deal will go down in Florida, the real news about this transaction will come from New York, as no ownership transfer will transpire without MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s approval.

5.    As the NBA Playoffs builds to the conference finals, seventeen NBA franchises have committed to fielding teams in the inaugural NBA 2K esports league set to launch in 2018. Teams were asked to pay a buy-in fee in the low six figures to join the league, a joint venture of the NBA and Take Two Interactive, which publishes the 2K series. Teams will be operators, not owners. Brendan Donohue, the esports league’s newly named Managing Director, said, “We were hoping for half the teams to jump on board, and we got more than that. There are still a lot of teams very interested in joining in upcoming years." There are notable absences at launch, including the Rockets, who in December named Sebastian Park the league’s first Dir of Esports Development, and both Los Angeles teams. L.A. is an epicenter of the esports industry in North America. As esports leagues become more firmly entrenched, it’s no surprise that the major sports leagues are finding ways to turn their digital properties into esports gold. Expect the NFL to jump in the esports arena next, perhaps followed by MLS and/or FIFA/UEFA (tracking the global popularity of the FIFA video games).

6.    Tickets are now on sale for The NFL Experience Times Square, an interactive attraction opening in November, and the NFL and partner Cirque du Soleil have released details about the experiences available. The attraction will offer fans “a chance to step into the shoes of an NFL player through various physical challenges, augmented reality, immersive elements and a 4D cinematic experience with exclusive content from NFL Films.” Fans will be able to participate in a vertical leap test and blocking sleds, receive one-on-one instruction from a hologram of a NFL legendary coach, learn a play in a space that replicates a coach’s classroom; test their skills by completing a game-winning pass to their favorite receiver, and share the stage with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Why Cirque du Soleil? The NFL views the partnership as the meeting of the minds of two iconic global brands – and certainly no one is better at creating spectacular, jaw-dropping multimedia content than the Canadian acrobatic troupe.

7.    The University of Michigan rarely has a tough time filling up The Big House in Ann Arbor, but this coming football season’s ticket sales are poised to break records. According to the Detroit News, the university’s season-ticket base “will reach 93,000 this fall, a mark it has not seen” since before the 2007 season. Season tickets typically hover around the 90,000 marker, which is set by the university, though the team’s recent success under Coach Jim Harbaugh has contributed greatly to the spike in season ticket sales. The athletic department added more season tickets because of an increased demand for them, for the “renewal rate among existing ticketholders currently stands” at an astounding 99%. Of the 93,000 season tickets being offered this coming season, 21,000 are allocated for students, which is also the “highest it’s been” since the 2007 season. In an era when student interest in their school’s sports is on the wane, it will be instructive to see how many of the 21,000 student seats are filled come fall.

8.    Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ended up No. 1 on the NFLPA Top 50 Player Sales List for fiscal year 2016-2017, becoming the first rookie to hold that honor. The list, according to the players association, is based on total sales of officially-licensed NFL player merchandise for the year that began March 1, 2016, and ended February 28, 2017. Rankings include all NFL player-identified merchandise and products sold by more than 80 official NFLPA licensees via online and traditional outlets with retail sales exceeding $1.6 billion. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished No. 2 for year-end sales, while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had held the top spot through the end of Q3, finished in the No. 3 position despite winning the Super Bowl. Elliott’s feat proves that rookies who become major contributors on the field have the ability to equally enhance their sport’s bottom line off it. Kudos to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for creating the marketing platform that helped propel Elliott and Prescott to the top of the list.


9.    It looks like the New York Jets are already throwing in the towel for this coming season. According to the New York Post, Jets Owner Woody Johnson came as close as he could to labeling this coming season a “rebuilding year” without actually using the word “rebuilding” to describe his outlook. In an interview on ESPN Radio N.Y. 1050, Johnson said, “The way I want to be judged this year, hopefully from the fans’ standpoint, is watch how we improve during the year, look at each individual on the team and see how they’re getting better. If they’re getting better, that’s a mark of progress.” Talking about consistent improvement across the board over winning games, Johnson also noted that making the playoffs is not a clear expectation has for Coach Todd Bowles in the wake of a 5-11 season in 2016. Even though the Jets nabbed LSU safety Jamal Adams at #6 in the just-completed NFL Draft, Sports Illustrated gave the team a C- for its draft strategy overall. Small wonder that owner Johnson is exercising extreme caution when managing fan expectations.


10.    The Boston Red Sox are in the process of revoking tickets of fans who used racial slurs toward Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones. According to the Boston Globe, Red Sox Owner John Henry and President Sam Kennedy met with Jones to inform him of the steps the team is taking to handle the situation. Jones personally suggested fining fans who taunted him, but Kennedy suggested that fines are “probably in the hands of the police.”  This issue is being handled both on the club level with the Red Sox and also at the league level with MLB officials and executives getting involved to ensure this is an isolated incident. Though it is nearly impossible to directly control what people say at ballparks, banning fans from coming back the Fenway Park would send a direct message that there is zero tolerance for racist behavior anywhere in sports.

11.    With social media playing an increasingly large role in pro athletes’ lives, some coaches and managers have begun to regulate how their players use such platforms. According to the London Independent, Manchester United Manager José Mourinho “instigated a crackdown” on his players’ social media usage. Mourinho noted his frustration with how much information his players make public online and has since made rules to control the usage of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Man U players “have been told that the club does not want them to publish any pictures from training, from the 48 hours leading up to a game or especially from the team bus on the way to games.” Mourinho wants his players “fully focused” on game days while also restricting “the flow of information out of the club, especially at sensitive times.” While social media is an unparalleled promotional platform, expect stances like Mourinho’s to become increasingly prevalent across all professional sports domestically and internationally.

12.    Wimbledon organizers have announced that singles tennis champions will receive $2.84 million each, an increase of about $250,000 for "both the men's and women's winner." The total prize pot increases to $40.8 million, up from $36.3 million last year. According to Reuters, All England Club Chair Philip Brook said that the club "had 'taken into account' exchange rates, but that the 'Brexit effect' had not been instrumental in their calculations." Meanwhile, the All England Club confirmed that Wimbledon's second roofed court – Court No. 1 – "will be completed in time" for the 2019 championships. Let’s face it – Wimbledon could be held on a playground for lunch money and it would still attract the world’s top players, drawn to its storied history and prestige. The real arms race in tennis is winning the battle against the elements that begets more TV time that begets more revenue.

13.    Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains a free agent more than eight weeks into free agency, but is that because of his on-field performance or off-field protesting? According to the S.F. Chronicle, some believe Kaepernick has still not been signed “because of his decision to kneel during the national anthem before games last season,” while others think his “on-field regression and potential distractions he’d bring to a franchise” are the real reasons he has not been picked up yet. Even since he led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, the quarterback’s on-field performance has dipped considerably, while coinciding with his social protesting. It was reported a week before the start of free agency Kaepernick "would stand for the anthem" in 2017. Whether he "stands or not," Kaepernick "probably won’t be able to fade into the background, even though he most likely will be a backup." And let’s be clear – if Kaepernick’s on-field skills hadn’t deteriorated, he’d be on a team, regardless of political acts that haven’t really harmed anyone but him.

14.    Following in the footsteps of other Power Five conferences, the ACC has committed itself to launching its own television network by 2019. According to Awful Announcing, ACC Commissioner John Swofford wrote a memo to conference Athletic Directors informing them that ESPN President John Skipper has confirmed plans to launch the network are “full speed ahead.” The new network hopes to be as successful as the Big 10 Network, which has been live for years now. ESPN plans to put all of its “muscle and support” toward the ACC Network to make it as financially successful as possible. ESPN currently has a deal in place with the ACC that runs through 2036, so it is in the network’s best interest to ensure the financial success of the new channel. Florida State AD Stan Wilcox thinks the network “will be successful” despite the recent talent cuts at ESPN. No one expects ESPN to go quietly into the night, and forging ahead with high-profile partnerships and expansion plans is one way to maintain the confidence of advertisers and parent Disney.

15.    University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban "got a healthy raise and a few more years on his deal," as the Alabama Board of Trustees compensation committee approved a new contract through the 2024 season worth an average of $8.2 million annually. According to AL.com, the deal includes a $4 million signing bonus, giving Saban total compensation of $11.15 million in 2017. The structure of the deal is "different from those in the past," as Saban's "base pay actually went down" while "annual completion bonuses" were added. USA Today sports investigative reporter Steve Berkowitz also noted that Saban's 2017 earnings will be "by far the greatest amount paid to a college athletics coach" since USA Today Sports began tracking those numbers in 2006…and that Saban's $4 million signing bonus is greater than Coppin State's total athletics revenue for the 2015 fiscal year. Ball’s in your court, University of Michigan Board of Trustees. How long before Jim Harbaugh – he of the $9 million in annual compensation via life insurance policy – comes knocking?