This week, "The Sports Professor" Rick Horrow talks with Bob Bowman, President of Business & Media for Major League Baseball. Listen to the podcast below.
Here is the video version of the interview, recorded at Sloan this year.
As always, the top business stories in the sports world for the week, with Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins.
1. As the NBA post season gets well underway and baseball settles into the new season, E-Poll Market Research takes a look at the metrics surrounding sports’ reigning MVPs, as well as public opinion of Russell Westbrook and James Harden ahead of this year's NBA MVP award. The MVP is a key distinguishing factor in establishing an athlete’s marketability, and MVPs often see an explosion in awareness and appeal from winning the award, like reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry. Using E-Score Celebrity data, the firm found that among reigning MVPs, Curry is the most popular. His 50% “Awareness” score among sports fans is 2.5 times higher than the next MVP, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. And with the 2017 NBA MVP race narrowing to a two-man contest between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, E-Poll found that Westbrook’s 56% “Appeal” is 10 points higher than Harden’s, whose “Awareness” is 13 points higher than Westbrook’s due in part to his earlier relationship with Khloe Kardashian. However, both men fall well short of Curry’s pre-MVP “Appeal” score of 72% during the 2015 season. Curry’s popularity shot up dramatically after his MVP win, increasing by 20 points. This year’s winner will have to wait to see if there is a similar effect – as will their current and would-be sponsors, who will likewise be dramatically affected by the award.
2. Fnatic has become the latest esports team to see an influx of investment money. The team is receiving a $7 million financing round with a board of investors including the likes of Raptor Group, which owns AS Roma and the Boston Celtics; Hersh Interactive Group, co-owners of the Houston Astros; and Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab. “There has been strong growth in esports…but the major shift has been in the acceptance and inclusion by sports franchises, media companies and high profile individuals," Fnatic Founder Sam Mathews told Forbes. "We’re incredibly excited by the opportunities available within esports, and having world class investors and advisors only enhances our ability to address these opportunities and continue to innovate.” According to market researcher Newzoo, the esports market now has close to 150 million regular enthusiasts and another 125 million occasional viewers, and is expected to be a $1.1 billion business by 2019. With new permanent venue Esports Arena Las Vegas scheduled to open early next year, and many more to come, those who dismiss esports as a fad or “fake sports” do so at their peril.
3. The United States, Mexico and Canada are teaming up to submit a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the North American countries have joined forces and are now looking to fast-track the historically “long, arduous process” of securing World Cup hosting rights. Multiple high-ranking officials said that CONCACAF is planning to make a proposal at May's FIFA Congress that “could accelerate the entire process,” which would normally be expected to last until 2020. In the proposal, the CONCACAF bid “will ask the world governing body's 211 members for a unique, noncompetitive window” in which it would prepare a report that “showcases the technical specifications of its bid, covering everything from stadium capacities and infrastructure to hotels and transportation.” Under the proposed bid, the U.S. would host significantly more games than its neighbors: 60 out of 80 total games and all matches from the quarterfinals on. While the CONCACAF bid looks like it could be a lock, politics and economics could heavily impact the bid and process. Stay tuned.
4. The Chicago Cubs not only have a new World Series banner to show off, but a newly-renovated Wrigley Field. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs used their home opener against the Dodgers to debut The Park at Wrigley, which is just one piece of the still-under-renovation stadium project. A large video screen on the team's new office building “showed the Cubs' historic 10-inning victory against the Indians” during the Dodgers game and “showed off part of the third phase” of the $750 million Wrigley Field upgrade. There was a ceremony “marking the opening of what the Cubs referred to as Wrigleyville's new town square and a year-round gathering place for neighbors, families, fans and visitors.” Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and his real estate company designed, built, and financed The Park at Wrigley, which should allow the community to more deeply engage with the team.
5. After seeing all Canadian NHL teams fail to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs last year, Rogers Media is expecting a “reversal of fortune” thanks to five Canadian teams reaching the postseason this season. According to the Globe & Mail, Rogers Media made a “billion-dollar” media bet on the NHL last year, but the company has yet to see the returns it initially expected due to the Canadian teams’ collective slump. The actual deal is set at 12 years and is worth C$5.2 billion over that span. Last year, TV ratings for Rogers fell 61% during the NHL postseason. The Maple Leafs “led a resurgence” along with the Canadiens, Senators, Oilers, and Flames that will “see hockey audiences back in the seven-figure range.” Rogers President of Sportsnet Scott Moore said, “Obviously, team performance drives a lot of it. I feel like there’s a lot of excitement about the sport generally and in some key markets. For us, that’s obviously good.” It’s also good for the NHL, as Canada traditionally represents one of hockey’s most fervent fan bases.
6. The NFL tries to control what its players do off the field, and that could now include fining players for participating in an arm wrestling tournament. According to USA Today, NFL players who competed in the inaugural “Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship” in Las Vegas “without pre-approval” violated the league’s rules against gambling. The competition already took place, but is set to air on CBS over two weekends in May. Notable participants include the Steelers’ James Harrison and Maurkice Pouncey, retired running back Marshawn Lynch, the Dolphins’ Kenny Stills, and the Raiders’ Marquette King and Mario Edwards. The first place prize was set at $100,000, with half of that going to charity in the winning players’ name. Some players spoke out against the impending fines, noting the irony of how the NFL just approved a team in Vegas, yet players can’t go there for a “charity event.” The NFL always goes to extreme lengths to protect “The Shield,” and this incident is no different.
7. While many teams have been reluctant to reveal their inner workings to the public, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will likely be selected for HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” and are excited about that prospect. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Bucs “believe they are among the top candidates to be chosen.” Speaking about the prospect, team co-Chair Joel Glazer said, “Our players are at a point in their maturity that they would be able to handle it…We'll always be supportive of the league. Nobody is rushing to the podium for that necessarily. But I do feel I have great confidence in this team.” Team executives firmly believe that “Hard Knocks” would be a good way for Tampa and the surrounding fan base to get to know the team on a more personal level. And after multiple seasons, the NFL generally feels that “Hard Knocks” participation is a plus for its teams – or they would have put a stop to it long ago.
8. Despite having nine years remaining on their current deal with University of Phoenix, the Arizona Cardinals are in the hunt to find a new stadium naming rights partner. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the team is “shopping naming rights to their stadium, but incumbent sponsor University of Phoenix retains the title unless the team finds a replacement.” Regardless of finding a new partner, the university will remain an official team sponsor. University of Phoenix has been the only naming rights partner since the Cardinals’ stadium opened in 2006; the 20-year deal would be worth $154.5 million if carried through to the end of the term. The team noted that it is handling the sponsorship search internally. Following the trend of other teams in the region, the Cardinals might soon follow the Diamondbacks, Suns, and Coyotes as franchises that have all changed their stadium sponsors in recent years. The Cardinals may want to consider reaching out to the other thriving for-profit university headquartered in the market but growing internationally: Grand Canyon University.
9. Representing a slight but significant change for the franchise, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally unveiled their new logo. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the team’s evolution “took another step forward” with this change. The color scheme is different – “the palette features a midnight blue, lake blue, aurora green, frost white and moonlight grey” – but the image of the howling wolf remains similar to how it has looked in the past. The team noted that the similarities are “meant to represent an evolution, not a revolution.” The look is “meant to represent the current team and the possibilities for its future, but also to honor the past.” The logo is the “first piece in what will be a new identity” for the T'Wolves. New jersey and court designs will be released to the public later this summer to round out the rebranding of the franchise. The T-Wolves, and indeed all sports franchises, should be closely watching the slow eradication of Chief Wahoo in Cleveland. While there’s nothing outwardly politically incorrect about Minnesota’s “howling at the moon,” unlike Wahoo, fans get attached to their teams’ visuals, and should be consulted every step of the way.
10. The tarps are finally coming off in Oakland. According to the S.F. Chronicle, A’s President Dave Kaval announced that the outfield bleacher tarps on the third deck at the Coliseum will be taken down and that A’s tickets in the third deck “will be $15 for the remainder of the season, and during the next home stand, half the proceeds will go to Oakland Promise, which helps Oakland students attend college.” This move represents the latest one that is met with an “almost entirely positive” response by the Oakland fan base. The outfield tarps initially went up in 2006 to help improve visuals from games with sparse crowds, since the extra capacity was rarely needed. Without the tarps in place, stadium capacity will increase by 12,103 to 47,170. Ever since the tarps went up, fans have been lobbying to bring them down – their voices have now been heard. And with the Oakland Raiders on their way out, local fan interest in the A’s should intensify.
11. English Premier League side Everton is trying to build a new stadium, and adding a running track to it could end up making a significant difference. According to the London Times, Everton may consider making a provision for a running track in its proposed $437.3 million stadium to help Liverpool win the bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The host for the 2022 slot is still up for grabs after Durban, South Africa, failed to meet the host city criteria, giving other cities the chance to rebid for the right to host. During dialogue between the club and Liverpool City Council, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson asked the club to “consider including a running track” in its blueprint, which “would allow the arena to host athletics events.” The track would be covered with seats for soccer matches, ensuring fans close proximity to the field, while the track would bring in additional revenue for Everton and the community. As in all modern day sports facilities, both privately and publicly funded, multipurpose use and flexibility remain key to ongoing support.
12. Seattle is back in the mix for landing a professional sports team now that two groups are “prepared to spend more than $500 million apiece” renovating KeyArena. According to the Seattle Times, Oak View Group and AEG each submitted proposals of more than $500 million and each “involve eventually attracting NBA and NHL teams.” The OVG proposal runs up to $564 million and the AEG bid would involve spending $520 million. Both groups said the arena renovation “could be done” by October 2020 if “no unforeseen delays hit,” with construction beginning before being awarded a professional team in both cases. KeyArena’s iconic roof and general exterior structure are set to be preserved by both AEG and OVG in the renovation process. “We're going to do this and stand on our own two feet,” said OVG CEO Tim Leiweke. “And we believe by doing that we give Seattle its best chance at getting one or two teams.” The OVG-led group also includes Madison Square Garden Co. and Live Nation and is primarily focused on turning the venue into a concert specialist like the Forum in Inglewood. That bid is supported by the band Pearl Jam – ironic since Pearl Jam once sued Live Nation over monopolistic ticketing practices. Want change? Wait 20 years.
13. St. Louis is officially suing the NFL “over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago.” According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the 52-page suit filed by St. Louis lists the NFL and all 32 teams as defendants as the city “seeks damages and restitution profits.” The plaintiffs claim the Rams and the NFL “made intentionally false statements, unjustly enriched themselves” and “interfered with business expectations.” The suit further claims that the city has lost around $7.5 million in property taxes, $1.4 million in sales tax revenue, and “millions” in earning taxes since the Rams moved to Los Angeles. The NFL is now getting ready to defend itself and its franchises in this case, which is expected to “remain in the Missouri court system because the Chiefs operate in Missouri.” It is unlikely that this lawsuit will move to the federal court, “where defendants without a clear connection to a given state are more likely to get a more fair shake.” It is also unlikely that this lawsuit will result in compensation to St. Louis, if past history is any guide.
14. Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment wants the Islanders back in the Nassau Coliseum, and it is ready to make further “adjustments” to the facility in order to pull the move off. According to Newsday, BS&E is “preparing to pitch to bring” them back to the recently renovated area. The Islanders moved to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn after the Nassau Coliseum closed to undergo a $165 million modernization. Still, BS&E is ready to invest further in the arena to satisfy any of the Islanders’ remaining concerns – such as having too few of seats. Long Island Association President & CEO Kevin Law said that the presentation will be made to Islanders co-Owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin when they “meet soon to talk about renegotiating the 25-year license agreement with Barclays Center.” Both the Islanders and Barclays Center can “opt out of the deal.” Returning the Islanders to their core fan base should boost the franchise; winning enough games to not miss the Stanley Cup playoffs by one point would help, too.
15. The NFL Draft has migrated around multiple cities over the past few years, but New York thinks it is time to bring it back to the Big Apple. According to the N.Y. Daily News, New York has “expressed interest” in hosting the NFL Draft in 2019 “and beyond.” This year’s draft is scheduled to take place outdoors in Philadelphia, while the last two years’ drafts took place in downtown Chicago. New York is set to be just one of the multiple cities vying to land to rights to host. Other cities in contact with the league noting their interest in hosting the 2019 draft include “Philadelphia, Canton, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Green Bay, Jacksonville and Los Angeles. Radio City Music Hall appears to be the likely location to host the draft if it does wind up being held in New York City. To the general onlooker, it may not seem that hosting the NFL Draft is a big deal, but it has actually “become as competitive as hosting the Super Bowl” thanks to the positive economic impact it generates. It’s also the second most important tent pole event on the now-year-round NFL calendar, and the league doesn’t take its locale lightly. Expect the draft circus to continue to travel for the foreseeable future.