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

beyond_the_scoreboard_dl.png

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?

 

Top stories of the week; Podcast with Stefan Wagner of SAP

beyond_the_scoreboard_dl.png

Top stories of the week; Podcast with Stefan Wagner of SAP

With Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins

1.    Saturday marks the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby, held each May at Louisville’s historic Churchill Downs. Ahead of the Run for the Roses, the personal-finance website WalletHub released reports showcasing fun facts about the first leg of the Triple Crown and which states have the biggest gambling problems. (Nevada unsurprisingly was #1 on that list, followed by South Dakota and Montana.) Among the fun facts, WalletHub revealed that more than 127,000 Mint Juleps are served each year, and 522,000 beer cans consumed. Fashionable headgear is on display, as roughly 90% of female attendees embrace the time-honored tradition of wearing big hats at the race track. And last year, $192.6 million was wagered on the Derby, with $151.8 million paid on winning tickets. Historically, only 35 mounts have followed up a Derby victory with a win in the Triple Crown’s second leg, the Preakness Stakes. And a mere 12 have then sealed the deal in the Belmont Stakes. The chance to see history is nevertheless just one element of what makes the Kentucky Derby so special, along with its fan-friendly traditions and annual pomp and circumstance.

2.    In tandem with the attendance-breaking NFL Draft – over 250,000 attended the event in Philadelphia – the NFLPA locked in a partnership with rideshare company Lyft for the upcoming season. The partnership launches with Lyft providing ride credits to rookies. Additionally, all active players will be eligible to receive $250 in ride credits, as well as the ability to earn additional credits through an ongoing social influencer promotion. Players will be able to redeem Lyft credits in 30 of 32 NFL cities. “This partnership will do so much for our players,” Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc. said. “First and foremost, it allows players league-wide to have a consistent and safe option for rides. But more than that, Lyft will provide career and business opportunities for both active players and those transitioning to life after football.” With more and more players cutting their careers short due to the threat of concussions and other debilitating injury, long term career and financial planning have never been more critical, and the league will clearly benefit from the Lyft deal as well.

3.    In related NFL news, NFL players, newly-minted rookies and veterans alike, can now own and commercialize their personal biometric data after the NFLPA struck a deal with human performance tracking company Whoop. Each player will be given a wrist-worn, custom-designed monitoring device called the Whoop Strap 2.0, which will capture information on sleep and recovery as well as other data. Under the deal, players will be able to sell their individual data through the NFLPA's group licensing program, in what is the first time a pro sports players association has partnered with a wearable tech company. “Every day, NFL players produce data that can translate into physiological and financial opportunities,” said Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc. “We see partnering with Whoop as the first step in harnessing this exciting technology.” Biometric data has become central to the NFL Combine, leading into the Draft, and with sports fans embracing fitness trackers at record rates, it was inevitable that sports leagues would incorporate this technology into business strategies.

4.    Even though MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred insists that nothing has been finalized, a group of investors led by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and including retired New York Yankees star Derek Jeter has reportedly agreed in principal to purchase the Miami Marlins. The deal, which is subject to approval by MLB, is understood to be worth upwards of $1.3 billion, with Bush set to become the Marlins’ controlling owner and Jeter likely to play an active role in the new ownership group. The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson reports that “at least five investors” are involved in the group, although “the identity of those other investors was not immediately known” when news of the deal broke on Tuesday. Other bidders for the Marlins, who are being sold by owner Jeffrey Loria, a New York art dealer who purchased the team in 2002 for $158 million, including Tagg Romney, the son of one-time US presidential candidate and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Quogue Capital founder Wayne Rothbaum. It is in MLB’s best interest to get this deal finalized ASAP, especially with the MLB All-Star Game coming to Miami in July. Look for closure by the end of May.

5.    FIFA has confirmed that video replays will be used at the World Cup for the first time in 2018. The Associated Press writes that FIFA President Gianni Infantino told an audience in Santiago that “at the 2018 World Cup we will have video referees, because so far the results are very positive,” adding that "we are going to help the referee to not make any mistake, or commit less mistakes, and we are going to give a bit more of justice to football." In other FIFA news, according to the AP, FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait is "resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.” As FIFA lurches toward next year’s World Cup in Russia, and in the wake of massive scandal it has weathered, timing is critical for soccer’s senior governing body to get its house in order, on both the performance and management sides.

6.    Canton is finally receiving its centerpiece: a new four-star football-themed hotel. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, officials broke ground on the new hotel in the emerging Johnson Controls Pro Football Hall of Fame Village. The hotel is set to open during summer 2019, and is being designed by Dallas-based HKS Architects. Among the hotel's features are “four food and beverage options, including a farm-to-table restaurant, a Shula's Steakhouse and a lobby lounge; a grand lobby with a 40-foot-high ceilings; and 25,000 square feet of meeting space.” The new hotel is meant to be a selling point for Canton to land the 2019 NFL Draft, some of which could take place at the hotel itself. In addition to the football-themed hotel, the Hall of Fame Village is set to include “a youth sports complex, retail stores, what will be billed as the ‘world’s greatest sports bar’,” and an assisted living area for retired Hall of Famers. The Canton renovations are an important step in the NFL’s quest to be a year-round lifestyle brand, from the Super Bowl to the Draft, Hall of Fame, and beyond.

7.    In golf, the PGA Tour and the LPGA are finalizing plans to stage a joint limited-field tournament in Hawaii at the start of the calendar year. Though nothing is yet set in stone, the combined men’s and women’s event could be held as soon as 2018 and would likely see tournament winners from the previous season on both circuits come together in an expansion of the PGA Tour’s existing Tournament of Champions, with official status ensuring both sets of players are competing for ranking points and prize money. “It would be an official event for them, and an official event for us,” Mike Whan, LPGA commissioner, told SportsPro in a wide-ranging interview last week. “You’d have both men and women playing the same course at same time on the same days with the same pin placements, but having two different leaderboards because both are actually trying to achieve official results.” With the team format at this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans proving popular, look for both the men’s and women’s tours to continue to add variety to the mix in order to keep long time golf fans engaged and new fans intrigued.

8.    While fan involvement in sports is always desirable, TV golf viewers will no longer have the same power to influence with the implementation of Decision 34-3/10 by the USGA and R&A. Effective immediately, a player will no longer be penalized when video evidence reveals things that could not reasonably be seen with the naked eye and/or when a player has made a reasonable judgment based on their knowledge at the time. The decision would prevent the same occurrence that affected golfer Lexi Thompson a few weeks ago at the LPGA ANA Inspiration, when she was penalized four strokes during her final round because a viewer at home emailed in about Thompson incorrectly replacing her ball on the green in the third round, costing her two penalty strokes for the incident and two more for signing an incorrect card. Yes, golf is a game of etiquette and honor, but it’s good to see that common sense has prevailed in this case, and judgements will henceforth be made by the proper rules judges and the ultimate authorities, the players themselves.

9.    Tiger Woods has had a steep descent over the last few years, and that drop is only poised to continue after a fourth back surgery. According to Golfweek, “questions about the return of Bridgestone and TaylorMade” as Woods’ sponsors have arisen amidst a lengthy layoff from golf. Typically, endorsement contracts “run three or four years and pay a PGA Tour player a base sum to use a company’s equipment in exchange for the right to use his name and likeness in advertising.” However, aside from “in-store displays and advertisements,” the only visibility Woods has generated since playing last on the European Tour in February “has been for his course design business.” Woods signed a multiyear deal with TaylorMade before this season, but thus far in 2017 he has only played in two events. Several people “well-versed” in sport endorsement deals have echoed a similar sentiment: “They no longer see Woods as a golfer. He is now a brand.” Whether or not Woods’ brand value as a course designer and golf icon will replace companies’ exposure on his shirt and bag during live tournament rounds will become more apparent as his current deals mature and brands decide whether or not to re-up.

10.    Quicken Loans Arena has officially been given approval for major renovations that could total up to $88 million. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cleveland City Council approved committing up to $88 million in funding for upgrades at the arena, which would create more space for dining, bars and public gathering. Cuyahoga County has “agreed to sell” bonds to finance the project, while the city's role starts in 2024, when it would begin contributing about $8 million a year “raised from admissions tax on events at The Q.” The Cavaliers are also chipping in to “sweeten the deal” through a series of promises. Among the ones laid out are: match dollar for dollar the amount of money that was committed to debt service on the project from the admissions tax if that exceeds the remaining amount that goes to the city, and to donate all admissions revenues from watch parties at The Q during the NBA Playoffs to help Habitat for Humanity. Public/private financing deals for new builds and renovations are never without controversy, and even though the new Cleveland deal has a “do-gooder” component, expect taxpayer backlash in the short term at least.

11.    The hotly-contested race to land the New Orleans Pelicans’ D-League team has been narrowed down to six cities. According to the New Orleans Advocate, of the final cities vying to host the team, three are in Louisiana and the other three are out of state. Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and St. Tammany Parish are the Louisiana cities competing against Jackson, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida. No timetable has been set as to when a final city will be selected, as the D-League team won’t begin playing until the 2018-2019 season. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry “pinpointed proximity as a primary benefit, and five of the six locations remaining are within a three-hour drive of New Orleans.” Only Shreveport (326 miles) is “beyond that threshold.” Each city has until June 7 to submit its official proposal if it wants to attract the team. The growth of NBA D-League teams holds two advantages for the NBA – growing talent for the future, and ever-widening teams’ fan bases and marketing footprints.

12.    With Chicago only two hours away, University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman is looking toward the Windy City to boost the university’s bottom line. According to the Champaign News-Gazette, Whitman intends on marketing in Chicago as a primary way to increase both Illinois’ revenue and spending, both of which “rank in the bottom half of the Big Ten.” The challenge at Illinois is unique from many of its Big Ten counterparts because it cannot simply afford to outspend other universities such as Ohio State or Michigan. "When they have a problem, candidly they are able to throw money at it in a way that we can't,” said Whitman. “What we have to do is be better. We have to hire better people, we have to come up with a better plan and execute that plan in a better way than they do.” The collegiate arms race continues, and the Illini have their work cut out for them, as Chicago is an alumni hotbed for most of the Big Ten, and for nearby Notre Dame as well.

13.    In a move to reduce the overall payout disparity between players, the French Open has announced that its prize money will be increased by 12% for this year’s tournament. According to the AFP, Roland Garros Director Guy Forget announced the increase for all players. The general allocation is set to increase from $35 million last year to $39 million this year. There is also a push to award players who take an early exit with more prize money; “players that are eliminated in the first round will take home $38,170, in increase of 33% on last year.” Second round departures will leave with 16% more money than last year. The new payout system explained by Forget is meant to “help the lower level players” instead of catering solely to dominant ones. At the same time, French Open singles winners will still make $109,000 more than they did in 2016, “with a total payout of $2.3 million.” This year’s tournament takes on heightened fan interest as Serena Williams is sidelined by pregnancy and Roger Federer is forgoing most of the clay court season leading up to Roland Garros. Stay tuned.

14.    David Beckham’s push to bring an MLS team to Miami has been dragging on for years now, but he is now one step closer to making this a reality. According to the London Daily Mail, Beckham is “set to complete the funding team” for his proposed ownership of an MLS franchise after bringing Eldridge Industries Chair & CEO Todd Boehly on board. The investment banker, who was "part of an American consortium who were interested in buying" EPL club Tottenham Hotspur, “invested instead” in the Dodgers. Some MLS owners are understood to “resent Beckham being able to buy a franchise for a bargain” $25 million as part of his Galaxy player contract terms, when the overall MLS club ownership entry point is now approaching $193 million. Beckham’s push to attract a team has been dragging on for more than three years, with league owners and executives becoming increasingly frustrated. Look for Commissioner Don Garber to get more personally involved in the situation if it isn’t resolved soon.

15.    LA 2024 Chair Casey Wasserman is optimistic about the odds of beating out Paris for the right to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. According to the Hollywood Reporter, NBC will not be able to help Los Angeles’s chances of landing the bid due to the IOC’s rules that “prohibit NBC’s involvement in the bidding process and also bar its voters from visiting the potential sites.” Despite that, Wasserman was keen to point out two major advantages that L.A. has over Paris: public support and infrastructure. Up to 88% of Los Angeles locals support the idea of hosting the Olympics, which many credit to the success of the 1984 Games in L.A., and a significant portion of the infrastructure needed to host the Olympics is already in place across the city. Wasserman’s team has “compiled a ‘beautiful 300-page technical plan’ as part of their pitch,” which will be reviewed before the IOC votes on September 13. If the international political scenario remains stable and the U.S. doesn’t find itself at odds with the rest of the world come September, look for L.A. to prevail.