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

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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?

15 to Watch: July 10, 2017

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15 to Watch: July 10, 2017


1.    Marlins Park prepares for marquee MLB All-Star events, with attendance expected to exceed 110,000 fans, according to the Miami Herald. The host MLB team also reports that the MLB FanFest at the Miami Beach Convention Center, which began “Friday and runs through Tuesday, has already sold more than 100,000 passes combined.” The Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game itself are “each likely to draw crowds at or near the facility’s attendance record for baseball (37,446) set during March’s World Baseball Classic game” between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. The club also reports that the MLB Futures Game and Celebrity Softball Game, the "first big events of the weekend held Sunday at Marlins Park, have sold upwards of 30,000 tickets. A scan of secondary ticketing sites reveals that Tuesday’s game in Miami is the least expensive ASG ticket in the past few years. The average ticket price is $550, a 31% drop ($253) from last year’s game in San Diego and a 62% drop ($885) from the 2013 contest at Citi Field. Miami is well-versed in mega-events, of course, and the city’s/Marlins’ thorough planning on security, traffic flow, parking, and crowd-pleasing entertainment reflects just that.




2.    Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti could likely commiserate right now on one major aspect of hosting a mega event – not controlling the timing. As the Miami Herald notes, "After waiting more than two decades, South Florida is finally hosting the All-Star Game that was promised to it in 1995." Then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig awarded the 2000 All-Star Game to South Florida that year. But in 1998, the year after the Marlins won their first World Series, the league changed course and awarded the game to the Braves' Turner Field, saying that South Florida "needed a new stadium in order to host the event." The Marlins "could have hosted last year’s All-Star Game," but it went instead to San Diego’s Petco Park. Says Marlins President David Samson, "We switched with San Diego due to booking issues…We agreed, and I’m so glad we did.” Likewise, all indicators point to Los Angeles having to wait four years longer than desired to host its next Olympic Games, as Paris will likely get the nod for 2024. As Florida native and now Los Angeles resident Tom Petty says, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
 
3.    As the fortnight enters its second week, Wimbledon is considering fining players after seeing an alarming amount of retirements in the first round of this year’s tournament. According to Reuters, Centre Court fans endured back-to-back walk-offs in matches featuring Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. The retirees, Martin Kilzan and Alexandr Dolgopolov, were both speculated to have been injured coming into their first round matches, but stuck it out to at least be guaranteed “roughly $45,000” in prize money. In the tournament’s first day alone, seven players threw in the towel partway through their match. Wimbledon is now considering “implementing a new rule to deter injured players from stepping on to” the court. "On the ATP level...if you can't play, you still get your prize money twice in the year,” said Federer. “Maybe the grand slams should adopt some of that, then maybe we would eliminate half of the players [who turn up injured].” If anyone can make this happen, it’s Federer, a global leader who always considers the “little guy” despite his record 18 Grand Slam titles.


4.    Qatar’s World Cup plans could face a major roadblock in the near future. According to the London Telegraph, “a number of firms working on Qatar World Cup projects are drawing up contingency plans” in the case that political sanctions are not lifted on the Middle Eastern country. Beyond the eight brand new state-of-the-art soccer stadiums that need to be built in the next five years, Qatar needs a new metro system for the capital city Doha “and 60,000 hotel rooms” – no small task. Both British and American firms have played large roles in Qatar’s plans thus far, “including star architects Foster + Partners and Zaha Hadid Architects, who have designed a venue each, historic engineer Arup and U.S. program managers CH2M and Aecom.” This is just another on a long list of issues that have plagued Qatar ever since it was awarded the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, alongside concerns about bribery, human rights violations, and the heat. In fact, it’s still not inconceivable that FIFA will elect to hold the event elsewhere at the 11th hour.

5.    When it comes to winning a bid to host the Olympics, public support plays a crucial role. And Los Angeles has just that. According to a new IOC-funded research report shared by SportsBusiness Journal, the LA 2024 bid has more public support than Paris’s bid. The report notes that “78% of L.A. residents said they support the effort to host the Games, with only 8% opposed.” On the other hand, Paris has support from only 63% of its population, with another 23% opposing the bid. These surveys further explain the dwindling number of major Western cities willing to host the costly Games. And “Paris’ higher opposition could be problematic for the IOC, which has seen numerous American and European bids die in the face of local political objections and is keen to put the politics of bids to the side.” In light of the limited interest among qualified hosts and the ever-escalating costs, this coming week’s verification that both the 2024 and 2028 Games will be awarded in September is looking like a solid win for the IOC, regardless of which city comes first.

6.    This year’s Open Championship will feature a notable shift, but not one that comes on the course. According to ForTheWin.com, the 2017 Open Championship will “award the prize fund in U.S. dollars in recognition of the fact that it is the most widely adopted currency for prize money in golf.” Brexit is considered to have played a big role in this decision with the ensuing weakening of the British Pound. Many players are not happy with this shift because being paid in pounds as opposed to dollars typically means more prize money due to the exchange rate. “In 2007, for example, when the GBP/USD exchange rate tipped over 2 GBP per $1, winning the British Open was the most lucrative prize of the four majors.” This year, the exchange rate stands at “1.2 GBP per $1. The British Open winner received less than any other major winner in 2016,” and this year appears to follow the same narrative. Whether counted in dollars or pounds, this year’s winner stands to receive a record $1,845,000 – hardly pocket change in any nation.

7.    As the European Tour and select American events look at format changes geared to attracting younger fans, a successful golf company is pioneering a new way of getting millennial consumers engaged. With 16 years of consecutive growth, Global Value Commerce is benefiting from double-digit sales increase year over year (15%), totaling nearly $60 million in transactions yearly. While many golf retailers are losing money or going out of business altogether – witness TaylorMade, GolfSmith, and Nike – GlobalGolf.com is thriving as a secondary market expert providing name brand equipment such as Callaway, Cobra, and Titleist at discounted prices. Backed by the PGA Value Guide, consumers new to the game know they’re getting quality clubs at the best prices. GlobalGolf.com has capitalized on millennials and consumers looking for the sweet spot between quality and affordability. Since the 2009 market crash, consumers’ “deal” mentalities have allowed companies like Nordstrom Rack, Aldi, and Off Fifth (Saks) to develop and enjoy substantial growth, just like GlobalGolf.com has done in the golf space.

8.    NHL free agents are starting to follow the lead of their NBA counterparts when it comes to free agency decisions. According to the Chicago Tribune, NHL free agents are now picking their preferred destination over taking more money from a less-preferred team. The most recent examples of this include Brian Campbell and Patrick Sharp passing up on more money these past two summers to join the Chicago Blackhawks, while “Joe Thornton could’ve gotten a multiyear deal from someone but wanted to stay with the San Jose Sharks.” New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk ultimately elected to sign with the club on a shorter, less-lucrative deal than what another team offered because the opportunity to play for the Rangers gives him the chance to “fulfill a lifelong dream” of chasing the Stanley Cup in New York. This is a new trend in the NHL and should only continue to escalate going forward.

9.    Longtime MLB umpire Angel Hernandez has sued the league, alleging racial discrimination. According to the L.A. Times, Hernandez, who has umped for almost 25 years, is claiming that MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre “has a history of animosity towards [Hernandez] stemming from Torre’s time as manager of thex New York Yankees.” Hernandez cites the fact that he has not been assigned to many World Series games coupled with not being promoted to crew chief. The ump was born in Cuba and now lives in Florida. Specifically, the lawsuit “alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Ohio state laws.” MLB has not issued a comment thus far; however skeptics surrounding the issue are noting that Hernandez “seems to see something nobody else does” in his claims against Torre. With the possible exception of Derek Jeter and Big Papi, perhaps no one in present day baseball is revered more than Torre – expect extra scrutiny as the courts take up the matter.

10.    “Horns up, Limes in!” That’s the new campaign being rolled out by Corona Extra to celebrate being named the official sponsor of the University of Texas Longhorns. According to kvue.com, the campaign will be visible all around Texas’ DKR Stadium at home football games this coming season. The move for Corona marks yet another massive step toward marketing the beer in American sports, as this five-year deal makes “Corona the first imported beer brand to partner with a university in the United States.” Expanding on Corona’s longstanding ties in soccer and boxing, the company is making a push into collegiate football by partnering with one of the country’s leading programs. “There really isn’t anything more emblematic of the state of Texas than the storied history of the four-time football national champion Texas Longhorns,” said John Alvarado, VP of Marketing for Corona Extra. “Corona is honored to be a part of the legendary Longhorns lore.” Tellingly, according to multiple sources, in-stadium alcohol sales earned the university $1.8 million in 2016. No surprise they are partnering with a growing beer brand.

11.    Superstar forward Lionel Messi will stay put in Barcelona until at least 2021 after re-signing with the La Liga and European powerhouse. According to Bleacher Report, Messi’s current contract was set to end next summer and Barca has been intent on resigning him for some time. Messi’s new four-year deal is reportedly worth an astounding “£500,000 per week,” while also giving him an additional £43.8 million “renewal premium.” The new deal sees Messi’s release clause jump up to $340 million; the contract is expected to be finalized and signed within the coming weeks after initial terms were agreed on in principal between both sides. Club President Josep Maria Bartomeu “personally took charge of the negotiations” when doubts began to circled regarding Messi’s future with his childhood club. Messi follows the footsteps of his fellow strikers Neymar and Luis Suarez in “committing his future to the club.” Messi is such a hero to Barca fans that any complaints about him earning more each week than most Spaniards will earn in a lifetime, in a nation where unemployment is continually high, are never more than murmurs. 

12.    Together, NASCAR drivers seem to agree about wanting more merchandise income, with many drivers not even making six figures from merchandise sales. According to NBCSports.com, under the current NASCAR deal with Fanatics, teams only get 9% of merchandise revenue, which is typically “divvied into thirds between the team, driver and sponsor,” contributing greatly to the small amount of total merchandise-related income drivers see at the end of the day. Under terms of the 10-year deal, Fanatics takes 75% of the revenue – admittedly lopsided terms. When NASCAR’s merchandising boom was at its "peak more than a decade ago, a top star’s revenue share hovered" at $3-4 million annually. But now their merchandise income "isn’t commensurate with the biggest stars in dirt-track racing,” and most of the sport’s biggest stars are struggling to pull in $1 million of merchandise income now. Perhaps the NASCAR drivers should hire Josep Maria Bartomeu.

13.    The Toronto Raptors are now the ninth NBA team to sign a jersey patch sponsorship for this coming season after inking Sun Life to a three-year deal. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the Toronto-based company will have a patch with “the anchor of a CSR program promoting diabetes awareness and prevention.” Financials are reported to be valued at C$5 million annually, which is right on par with some of the other NBA jersey patch sponsorship deals that have been signed thus far. Expanding beyond just the jersey patch, “The deal includes rights with the group benefits, life insurance and retirement planning portions of the insurance/financial services categories, along with courtside signage, along with digital and social ad inventory for Sun Life.” Sun Life has been an official sponsor of the Raptors for four years now, but this new deal escalates the company’s involvement with the team. Sun Life didn’t last long as a stadium sponsor in elder-leaning Miami – let’s see if the company’s retirement products gain more traction in their home market.

14.    New pro sports arenas and stadiums aim to “wow” fans, and the Milwaukee Bucks hope to do just that with their new facility. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the “Panorama Club” is set to be one of the key features of the team’s new arena. Fans will get a catwalk-high view of the entire court from the club, which presents the team with yet “another sponsorship or naming rights opportunity” and even “perhaps a bidding war.” Bucks President Peter Feigin said a deal of “several million dollars over a seven- to 10-year term” was likely for what he called a “branding opportunity.” The name the club holds right now is merely a placeholder until the right sponsor comes knocking at the Bucks’ door. At capacity, the club can hold 500-600 people and will allow fans a dual view of both the court and the new entertainment district the team plans to build to the east of the arena. Just look at the move as a new kind of “sponsor density” – the Bucks are not only building out, they’re building up.

15.    On the heels of Amazon’s massive deal to acquire Whole Foods, the online conglomerate has now signed a new deal with France’s National Basketball League, the LNB. According to Le Parisien, the three-year deal between the LNB and Amazon will see a new online store for French clubs’ gear being sold. LNB President Alain Béral said, “We wanted to develop our digital presence, and after discussions, we are celebrating an association with a great company.” This comes as the first official partnership that Amazon has struck with a professional sports league, though the company does have a presence in digital sports streaming that is only continuing to grow. Starting in September, “all club products” of the French league will be available online for fans to buy around the world. While basketball continues to grow internationally, it’s clear this deal would have never happened without the blueprint created by the NBA many years ago. 

15 to Watch: July 3rd

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15 to Watch: July 3rd

with Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins

1.    Hey, it’s better than eating baseballs. Every 4th of July, the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest takes over Brooklyn’s Coney Island, with 35,000+ fans joining in the quirky Independence Day celebration. Heading into Tuesday’s competition, Joey Chestnut and Matthew Stonie, are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the Major League Eating circuit. The rivals, both from San Jose, have headlined the event for the past five years. Here, courtesy of Forbes, are some key stats surrounding the foodie fest to be broadcast live on ESPN3. 70: Record number of Nathan’s hot dogs eaten by Chestnut in 2016. $10,000: Payout for first place in each division of the contest. (Second place receives $5,000, third place $2,500, fourth place $1,500, and fifth place $1,000.) $400,000-$500,000: Estimated Major League Eating Circuit prize money. 1,000,000,000: Based on a recent report commissioned by MLE, the number of consumer impressions in the U.S. alone around the Hot Dog Eating Contest. Social media numbers are also sky-high for the event, which could be considered a pioneer in reality sports TV “lifestyle” programming. Happy 4th. 




2.    If you are into consuming baseballs, however, next week’s MLB All-Star Game in Miami should sate you. Baseball’s official All-Star Game website lists game tickets at $280, while StubHub is listing a “Full Strip” of tickets – All-Star Sunday, Home Run Derby, and the game itself – starting at $313, while game tickets start at $180 and Home Run Derby tickets are going for $130 on StubHub. (Dave George of the Palm Beach Post suggests the best place to catch a Giancarlo Stanton on Aaron Judge dinger might be “the left-field terrace behind the Budweiser Bowtie Bar.”) And no longer will the MLB All-Star Game dictate World Series home-field advantage. Starting this year, as laid out in the most recent collective bargaining agreement, the American and National League All-Stars will be playing solely for bonuses. Notes George, “Each player on the winning team gets $20,000, and World Series protocol returns to rewarding home-field advantage to the team with the best regular-season record.” Fourteen All-Star game results directly tied to the World Series, and the American League won 11 of them. And if the Dodgers-Padres game I attended on Sunday is any indication, baseball still has much work to do on its “pace of play” improvements. 


3.    While it still appears quite green around the grounds, Wimbledon turns 140 this year, and celebrates a host of other milestones as well. Not only is the All-England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) celebrating its 140th Wimbledon Championships, but 2017 marks the 90th anniversary of the first live Wimbledon radio broadcast, the 70th anniversary of its first live championship match TV broadcast, and the 50th year we have been able to watch televised Wimbledon action, in all its green glory, in color. Sports media has gotten global since then, as confirmed by Chinese media giant Sina Sports inking an agreement with the AELTC to become an official Wimbledon partner for the next three editions. Beginning with the 2017 tournament and running until 2019, Sina will help to promote Wimbledon in China, delivering news, highlights, live scores and other exclusive content via its popular Sina Weibo social platform. And while it’s not a nice round milestone number, in case you’re wondering, Wimbledon finally incorporated yellow Slazenger tennis balls into play in 1986, a full 14 years after the ITF sanctioned them for use. (Slazenger has been the official ball at Wimbledon since the early 1900s.)


4.    Fresh off his second NBA Championship, the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry has agreed to a five-year, $201 million extension – the "richest contract in league history." Curry, represented by Octagon, is the "first NBA star who will sign a supermax contract," crossing a $200 million threshold that "eventually will become the norm for the NBA's biggest superstars,” according to ESPN. The Warriors will "finalize the contract once the free-agency moratorium ends Thursday." Curry, as the San Francisco Chronicle notes, has been the "biggest bargain in sports for the past four seasons," and has "had his big payday coming." He has "helped make everyone around him rich.” The NBA has revealed that its salary cap for next season is $99,093,000, and the luxury tax line is $119,266,000, which are slight decreases according to the league’s projections in April. Further, the minimum team salary" for 2017-2018 is $89,184,000, representing 90% of the salary cap. Regardless of Curry’s raise and the new NBA numbers, Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber will keep their core championship team for at least one more season. 




5.    Golden State Warriors veteran forward Andre Iguodala has not called it quits on his playing career yet, but that does not mean he hasn’t started thinking about post-NBA life. According to the Wall Street Journal, Iguodala has teamed up with media channel Cheddar to “create a late-night-style variety show called ‘Evenings with Andre.’” He hopes that the show – which is set to feature interviews with guests from business, technology, sports, and entertainment – will ultimately be picked up by a premium TV network or streaming service. If no premium buyers emerge, Cheddar will “broadcast it on Facebook, Twitter and its own streaming platforms.” Iguodala, who has been with the Warriors for a few years now, may “tap his Silicon Valley connections to interview startup founders.” Cheddar, the startup founded by former BuzzFeed executive Jon Steinberg, which offers “live-streamed business news programming aimed at younger audiences, says it reaches more than 1 million live viewers daily.” Yet another example of on-court success and championship rings begetting off-court opportunities for business-savvy athletes.

6.    The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will feature an interesting twist to keep fans engaged: The Games’ “urban sports venues” will be open for public use while the Olympics are in progress. According to Kyodo, International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates confirmed that fans on the ground in Tokyo during the Olympics in three years will actually be able to use certain venues for recreational use. To name a few of the urban venues set to be open, the sporting homes of “skateboard, sport climbing and BMX freestyle” will be fair game. “We're very pleased with this. As you know, we have introduced on your recommendation the new sports of sports climbing, skateboarding and surfing,” said Coates. “And then recently, in cycling we've introduced BMX freestyle and with these sports what we want to do is bring them to the people, have them available to the people of Tokyo.” The more lifestyle sports, popular with young amateurs, are adopted by the IOC, the more these millennials will be inclined to watch the Games. Being able to compete “side by side” with Olympians in actual competitive venues only ups the interest factor.

7.    China is largely recognized as the next hotspot for global soccer, and international teams are now pulling out all stops to tap into the budding market. According to the London Daily Mail, English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion is planning to build “up to six soccer towns” across the country to exponentially grow the club’s presence in China. Club owner Gouchuan Lai recently rolled out the plans for bringing these plans to fruition; “the company has signed a deal with local governing bodies in the mountainous Guizhou Province to build its first sports town between Guiyang and Anshun, and the company plans to create 'five or six soccer towns' in the name of their team.” Club owners believe these projects will eventually let the club earn extra revenue “in the form of fresh commercial returns, while also helping them to support Chinese soccer at a grassroots level.” Just like the new Olympic sports, soccer must continue to establish a grassroots beachhead in order to attract new eyeballs and wallets, whether those wallets hold pounds or yuan.

8.    Joint bids to major sports events are on the rise. According to the Calgary Sun, Edmonton could potentially join forces with Calgary to submit a joint bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. Edmonton Mayor Don Iverson has publicly stated that a single city hosting the Games is “fiscally irresponsible,” making more sense to spread the cost and benefit across multiple cities instead. Calgary governing officials have not made any moves yet to include Edmonton in an Olympic bid. But Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that it is “simply too early to talk about accepting Edmonton's support with a potential Winter Olympics and he's not opposed to a partnership.” He added that if Calgary does in fact move forward with a bid, a tie-up with Edmonton “would be deeply examined.” Edmonton boasts the new Rogers Place, and could offer infrastructure that Calgary currently does not have on hand.

9.    Amazon, fresh off its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, has slapped a price tag of up to $2.8 million on its advertising packages for its streams of NFL games next season. According to Reuters, the packages are said to include 30-second spots during the company’s ten live Thursday Night Football games, which it bought in April for $50 million and will be made available to its Amazon Prime Video subscribers. Word of Amazon’s intentions coincided with reports that the king of e-commerce is closing in a potentially game-changing deal with Nike. Reports say the sportswear giant will soon begin selling its merchandise directly on Amazon’s platform rather than through third-party sellers, a move analysts say will reduce sales of counterfeit Nike products on Amazon and give Nike, which has set an ambitious goal of reaching $50 billion in revenues by 2020 despite slowing growth in bricks-and-mortar retail, greater control over how its products are displayed and sold. Nike plays on a big field, Amazon, a bigger one.

10.    The UEFA Champions League will be getting expanded coverage after Fox Sports entered a “partnership with Facebook to broadcast a slate” of games during the upcoming season. According to Philly.com, the games will be aired free of charge for Facebook users and will be available in both English and Spanish. The games are set to be viewable on the Fox Sports and Fox Deportes pages. The package of games will “feature two on each group-stage match day, which encompasses a Tuesday and a Wednesday,” and fans can expect to see one game on Facebook on “each of those days.” The deal also includes “four round-of-16 games and four quarterfinals.” This deal comes as the third soccer-based streaming partnership that the social media platform has struck, coming on the heels of ones with the Mexican league and the MLS. The specific games Facebook will stream have yet to be disclosed. New media is rapidly becoming old hat in the sports broadcasting realm, as Facebook now joins Amazon, Twitter, and Verizon in securing top-level sports rights.

11.    Ahead of Wimbledon, the International Tennis Federation is shaking things up a bit. According to the New York Times, the ITF’s Board of Directors has approved a plan to host the final rounds of the Davis Cup men’s team competition and the Fed Cup women’s team competition together over the next three years. By combining the two premier events, the ITF is hoping to create “the World Cup of tennis.” While this decision isn’t final – a two-thirds vote from the ITF’s full membership is necessary to approve this change – the new event “could last from five to nine days, depending on the format, and would be held in the Davis Cup Final’s traditional time slot, in late November.” Another key component the ITF just approved is the first site of the new combined, annual event: Geneva ultimately beat out Turin, Wuhan, Miami, Istanbul, and Copenhagen. A World Cup of tennis, indeed.

12.    Derek Jeter is believed to have enough funds to buy the Miami Marlins. According to SportsBusiness Journal, MLB thinks that Jeter has had “some success in solidifying his investment group” that would ultimately purchase the Marlins franchise. The Miami Herald has confirmed this news, noting that none of the three potential bidding groups for the team have been willing to wager up the $1.3 billion asking price. The Marlins are now “prepared to sell the team for something less, potentially in the $1.2 billion range.” Current Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria has set the goal of selling the team by the end of July, leaving him only a few weeks to get the deal done before his ideal deadline. None of the three bidding groups are considered favorites to land the team as of now, but those close to the deal “have suspected that Loria would lean toward Jeter if all things are equal.” If he succeeds, Jeter joins a rarified group of former standout pro athletes turned team owners, including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Will Peyton Manning be next?

13.    The NFL has confirmed that it will not host a regular season game in China in 2018. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the league has changed its plans and is now targeting the 2019 season to host a game in the Asian country. NFL Executive Vice President/ International Mark Waller even noted that the league is considering playing the opening regular season game of the 2019 season in China, helping to kick off the NFL’s 100th anniversary in grand fashion. “It may make better sense to look at that game as an opportunity to celebrate our hundred years, in the event we can pull it off and as a way to look forward to the future,” said Waller. The NFL has stated that it is in no rush to add another international game to the current slate, with “four London games, one in Mexico, and the start of the Tottenham partnership next season when the club’s new stadium will host two games.” The NFL is acutely aware of not trying to spread itself too thin, especially across multiple oceans.

14.    Questions have been raised over Major League Soccer’s stated timeline for expansion to 28 teams. MLS Commissioner Don Garber stated in January that it hopes to announce its 25th and 26th franchises by the end of the year. In cities across the U.S., almost all of the 12 would-be ownership groups hoping to land a coveted MLS slot have come up against a litany of issues, including political opposition, financial red tape, and continued public apathy towards the use of public money for stadium projects. Of the 12 groups in the running, only Sacramento – whose United Soccer League team, Republic FC, is poised to begin work on a new stadium – has fulfilled all of the MLS expansion criteria. Two of the other early favorites, St Louis and San Diego, have run into public opposition, perhaps as a hangover of recent NFL departures. No group has yet dropped out of the race, but as Sports Illustrated noted last week, it could be that “what was once a sprint contested by 12 fit and fast runners has become a race of attrition that will be won by those left standing.” League expansion is a marathon, not a sprint, and Garber and co. will take all the time needed to get it right the 25th and 26th time.


15.    As it celebrates its signature annual Fourth of July holiday weekend race in Daytona, NASCAR has announced results from the 2017 Fortune 500 study of brands in the stock car sport. The sanctioning body saying results showed that 139, or 28%, of all Fortune 500 companies now invest in NASCAR across teams, tracks, and the series. NASCAR says that is up 7% from last year and continues a trend of the number either being flat or up every year since 2012. NASCAR added that nearly half of Fortune 100 companies are now invested in the sport. In another cross-pollination, Daytona International Speedway on Friday night gave NASCAR fans a look at another increasingly popular form of “ring competition," as USA Today put it, as it hosted MMA exhibition matches from the Professional Fighters League. PFL Exec Chair Russ Ramsey said that the organization is "looking at the possibility of scheduling events at other NASCAR tracks" as part of its 2018 season. From ringing the bell on Wall Street to diversifying its own ring, NASCAR clearly is on an upswing as the second half of 2017 gets underway.