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


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 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, 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: June 19


15 to Watch: June 19

with Jamie Swimmer
 and Tanner Simkins

1.    27 year-old Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open, and his brand is about to soar higher than one of his impossibly long drives. Koepka, a Florida native and Florida State standout from a very athletically-gifted family, has won only one other event on the PGA Tour, and is one of a large pack of talented 20-something golfers who, as the Washington Post puts it, are “the age that got full-blown ‘Tiger Slam’ Eldrick Woods at their most impressionable age.”  Currently World No. 22, Koepka will be seeing his own moving day in the coming weeks as his ranking improves, and the $2,160,000 winner’s purse he received on Sunday is eclipsed by endorsers joining the ranks of Nike, Michelob Ultra, and Paylocity. First Brooks, now Brooke – as in Henderson. The Canadian phenom, winner of Sunday’s Meijer LPGA Classic, and her LPGA peers next take their considerable talents to Northwest Arkansas for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. The growing LPGA tournament is a boon for the region, and vice versa.

2.    Days after the University of Oklahoma softball squad won their fourth Women’s College World Series there, Oklahoma City-based Fields & Futures announced two major partnerships to renovate youth athletic fields and finish what they started. For the last five years, Fields & Futures has partnered with the Oklahoma City Public School system to renovate 42 school athletic fields, many in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The organization has finished 20 of the fields, and now, with a partnership with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and $1.5 million matching gift and seven-figure marketing plan investment from Delaware Life, it can not only finish the remaining 22 fields, it is developing a blueprint for a much larger footprint. Already, Oklahoma City has seen grades, attendance, and graduation rates improve at the seven schools where fields have already been built. And as Delaware Life President Dan Towriss adds, “Investing in Fields & Futures provides a solid foundation for our company and a great inspiration and motivation for kids to stay in school, graduate, and thrive in life.”

3.    Despite not going No. 1 overall in the MLB Draft, high school pitcher Hunter Greene is still being heralded as the future of baseball. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Greene, a product of MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, California, was drafted second by the Cincinnati Reds, making him the “highest draft pick of any alumnus from that program.” His fastball tops out at 102 MPH, prompting him to call himself a “monster” at that position; Greene also plays shortstop, and the Reds have not ruled out the possibility of him becoming a two-way MLB player. Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke of Greene coming from the Urban Youth Academy, “This is huge for our game…We hope these programs will continue to produce players like Hunter.” Greene has also participated in several events for the league’s ongoing Play Ball initiative, and said he is “embracing a role of helping spur youth participation in baseball, particularly among African-Americans.” As we saw in the wake of last week’s tragic congressional baseball game shooting, baseball still firmly remains America’s pastime, in spirit if not in actual ticket sales and TV ratings. And diversity, as Greene represents, remains a baseball cornerstone.  

4.    It’s happening – the fight the fans wanted. Floyd Mayweather Jr. will officially square off in the boxing ring against Conor McGregor. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, the “improbable boxing match” is set for August 26 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. UFC President Dana White reaffirmed that there will be no UFC fights that day, “strictly boxing matches.” Financial terms to the match and the split between Mayweather Jr. and McGregor have not yet been revealed to the public, “but it’s certain that Mayweather will earn the lion’s share of the purse and PPV money after raking in more than $200 million for the record-selling Manny Pacquiao bout alone.” Nowadays, Mayweather won’t step in the ring for anything less than $100 million, so one figures he will not walk away from this fight with shallow pockets. The number to beat: the record 4.6 million PPV buys for the 2015 Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.

5.    On the heels of a season that saw a ratings decline for Sky Sports, the EPL is considering a schedule shakeup. According to the London Times, EPL clubs are now mulling the possibility of playing matches on Saturday nights. One specific proposal is to “target a peak-time television audience with kickoffs at 7:45 pm local time” in England. Sky Sports’ Premier League viewership fell off by 14% last season, leaving the network needing to recoup and make a positive change. Saturday scheduling was “discussed during the league's summer shareholders' meeting last week ahead of the upcoming launch of the tender process for its next domestic broadcasting deal.” A final decision is “expected this autumn, when clubs will also decide how many fixtures to make available to broadcasters” between 2019-2022 when the “rights for those seasons are sold” early next year. Another group no doubt welcoming the scheduling change? Pubs and sports bars, which would see a double-digit business surge from the evening matches.

6.    The world’s top-paid athlete has been accused of $16.6 million in tax fraud from 2011-2014. According to the Financial Times, Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is “coming into conflict with the country’s tax authorities,” as Spanish prosecutors are coming after yet another high-profile soccer player. Ronaldo’s estimated annual pay is around $93 million; the prosecutors after Ronaldo claim that he “sought to hide at least a part of that wealth from the country’s tax authorities.” They also claim that No. 7’s failure to comply with authorities from 2011-2014 was “voluntary” and “conscious.” “The accused made use of a corporate structure created in 2010 to hide from the tax authority income generated in Spain through image rights,” stated the prosecutors. These claims come on the heels of a similar case, in which Barcelona forward Lionel Messi was found guilty of tax fraud by a Spanish court and handed a 21-month suspended jail sentence. Regardless of who actually designed the tax evasion scheme, “the buck stops here” in Athletes, Inc. The bigger an athlete’s brand, the more policing is required to ensure compliance with multinational authorities. 

7.    The Australian government has officially backed the country’s bid to land the 2023 Women’s World Cup. According to ABC, the government will financially support Football Federation Australia (FFA) to build a successful bid proposal. The federal government will “provide initial funding worth $753,900, with a further $3 million to be made available should it be satisfied the bid has a chance to be successful.” This carefully crafted, two-tier financing system comes as a completely contradictory approach to the one the Australian government took to backing “Australia’s disastrous bid for the 2022 World Cup, for which FFA received A$45.6 million in federal funding.” Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra are speculated to be the planned host cities for the 24-team tournament. The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada proved so successful, monetarily and image-wise, that governing bodies everywhere now believe that they can profit from hosting the competition.

8.    South Korea is trying to formulate a joint bid with neighboring Southeast Asian countries to attract the 2030 FIFA World Cup, but is expected to face early “road blocks” in doing so. According to Yonhap, China reportedly wants to stage the World Cup on its own, Japan “has been lukewarm to the joint bid proposal,” and communist North Korea brings a complex set of its own challenges to the table in trying to formulate a partnership for a global soccer tournament. FIFA President Gianni Infantino met with South Korea President Moon Jae-in and Korea FA President Ching Mong-gyu to discuss the initial stages of creating a joint bid for the Southeast Asian region. While there is still plenty of time before the bid will be awarded, the joint bid between Uruguay and Argentina will undoubtedly come in as the favorite to land the 2030 World Cup, which will “mark the centenary of the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay.” It looks like the 2026 joint North American World Cup bid shared by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will prevail – and with the cost of hosting such mega-events, joint bids among neighbors are becoming the norm.

9.    The Portland Marathon is facing a serious threat of being canceled after city officials denied a race permit. According to Willamette Week, city officials cited a strain on police overtime hours as their primary reason for denying the permit. The Portland Marathon has been run for 45 straight years now, but the race set for October 8 appears to be coming to an end this time around. The race is organized by a nonprofit, Portland Marathon Inc. Last year, about “6,000 people ran in the race, and another 3,000 people ran in the half-marathon.” Marathon officials released a statement on the race’s Twitter page, saying, “We’re working with the City of Portland to preserve our traditional, iconic 20-year course and most importantly provide a safe event for all.” The denial of a permit comes as the tipping point in the Portland Police Bureau’s six-month warning to race organizers that the route needs to change to reduce police officer overtime. Unfortunately, big sporting events are terrorist targets now, so adequate public safety and security needs to be firmly in place regardless of additional costs.

10.    The 20-year naming rights deal between the Seattle Mariners and Safeco Insurance is coming to an end after the 2018 season. According to the Tacoma News Tribune, the deal will not be extended beyond next year, drawing an end to a partnership that was formulated back in 1999 when the ballpark first opened. The Mariners noted that they have already started “preliminary talks” with potential new partners for a naming rights deal – no partners have been identified yet. Safeco Insurance President Tyler Asher sent an email to all company employees announcing the decision to “give up the naming rights, citing the desire to spread its investment across marketing partners and key growth programs.” Consulting firm Bonham/Wills and Associates President & CEO Thomas Wills yesterday said that he “believes the Mariners' search for a new partner will be a quiet one that results in a long, lucrative deal, possibly from a local firm.” The naming rights footrace between the Mariners and newly-announced Key Arena redevelopers is officially on. Amazon, Microsoft, Costco, Boeing, and other big regional companies take notice – you’re about to be seriously courted.

11.    The disparity in spending, revenue, and donations between college athletics programs is stark, and the University of Michigan’s football team trip to Rome proved just that. According to the Detroit News, Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manual said that the team’s trip “will wind up costing between $750,000 and $800,000,” all of which was covered by an unrestricted financial gift by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The trip was led by Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, who took his players to Rome after finals for a “week of sightseeing and team bonding, in addition to three spring practices.” The optional trip for the football team is just one of the multiple trips that University of Michigan varsity athletics teams took or plan on taking; Michigan’s tennis team went to France for a week, playing in tournaments before stopping by the French Open, while the women’s basketball team is heading to Italy in August. College recruiting just took a big international ante-upping: the arms race now requires a passport.

12.    University of Kentucky coach John Calipari is not happy with the SEC’s decision to shift to a 20-game conference schedule. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Calipari stated that this move is for “the networks” and will directly hurt “flexibility and versatility in nonconference scheduling.” The ACC is preparing to make a similar move in the 2019-2020 season, when the conference will jump from 18 conference games to 20. That switch stems from an agreement between the ACC and ESPN “when the ACC Network was announced to launch.” Kentucky typically plays a very strong nonconference schedule, annually competing against some of the nation’s top opponents in some of the best early-season tournaments. “What you do is, you take away some of those kind of games that have been good to us,” said Calipari. “North Carolina, for example: If they go to 20 games we won't have any more series with North Carolina, so I'm not for it.” Memo to Cal: Please check Kentucky athletic P&L sheet under line item “revenue, broadcast rights” and see if that alters your thinking about the sway of “the networks.”

13.    The snowboarders competing in 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will have a great tune-up event about one month before they compete in South Korea. According to the Aspen Daily News, Snowmass in Aspen will host a U.S. Grand Prix snowboarding event just prior to the start of the Olympics this coming winter. On the other side of the coin, skiers competing in PyeongChang may not have the same luxury. The U.S. Ski Association has not revealed its plans for its own U.S. Grand Prix around the same time as the snowboarding event. The 2016-2017 U.S. Grand Prix tour season featured events at Copper Mountain, Colorado; Solitude Mountain, Utah; and Mammoth Mountain, California. The possibility of a skiing U.S. Grand Prix was discussed at the bi-monthly meeting of the Snowmass Marketing, Group Sales, and Events board, but an official decision on giving the event the green light is still pending. The Grand Prix tour is a smart product offering. Piggybacking on the Winter Olympics is even smarter.

14.    A week after Oak View Group was selected to renovate KeyArena in Seattle, a group lead by Chris Hansen proposed financing details for a new arena in Sodo. According to, Hansen’s proposal would be completely privately financed and outlines its superiority to a KeyArena renovation in regard to “parking and transportation” while the Sodo plan also “asks for no tax revenue from the city following completion of construction.” The proposal also “claimed they were years ahead of any KeyArena development after years of effort.” Any additional funds needed to build the arena would be financed by J.P Morgan, as explained in a financing letter attached to the proposal. Doubts as to the viability of a Sodo project have remained ever since the departure of Los Angeles Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer, but the confirmation of J.P. Morgan’s presence in the deal silences those. Hansen’s proposed arena would cost more than $500 million. And Ballmer is now focused on a new arena for the Clippers in Inglewood, CA, adjacent to the new Rams-Chargers stadium under construction there.

15.    The Golden State Warriors have not yet decided if they will visit the White House following their NBA Finals triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to the S.F. Chronicle, pending an invitation, the Warriors are unsure what they will do. The team issued a public statement denying any claims that the players “unanimously voted to boycott a visit to the White House,” which has become tradition for the annual NBA champions. Despite that, there is “reason to believe at least some of the players – many of whom publicly have derided President Trump's administration – wouldn't...accept an invitation.” Warriors co-Owner Joe Lacob responded to the question as to whether or not his team will make the visit very bluntly. “I can’t believe we’re getting this question already,” said Lacob. “That’s something we’ll worry about at the time. That’s a long time from now.” Two major factors favor the Warriors NOT making the trip: President Trump isn’t a basketball guy, and basketball isn’t a President Trump guy. 

15 to Watch: Top stories in sports and business for the week of June 12


15 to Watch: Top stories in sports and business for the week of June 12

With Jamie Swimmer & Tanner Simkins

1.    Forbes has released its annual ranking of the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes.  The top 100 earned a total of $3.11 billion over the last 12 months, a slight decrease from last year’s $3.15 billion.  Endorsement income also declined slightly, down 4% to $887 million this year.  The top spot on the list still belongs to Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, with earnings of $93 million. Before Ronaldo, either Tiger Woods or Floyd Mayweather topped the list for 15 straight years. The elite athlete list comprises players from 11 different sports. Basketball dominates the list, with a record 32 NBA players among the top 100, led by No. 2 LeBron James ($86.2 million) and No. 5 Kevin Durant ($60.6 million). Rounding out the top 5 are No. 3 Lionel Messi ($80 million) and No. 4 Roger Federer ($64 million). Twenty-one countries are represented on this year’s World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list, with Americans the most prevalent at 63. The top golfer was Rory McIlroy at No. 6 ($50 million). Forbes’ numbers include all salaries and bonuses earned June 2016-June 2017. Massive TV contracts continue to fuel salaries and overall athlete compensation, but as cord-cutting diminishes TV revenues, look for these numbers to plateau or even decline in coming years. 

2.    It’s the greening of the frozen tundra. This week, the 2017 U.S. Open Championship roars into Wisconsin’s Erin Hills with a projected total economic impact of $130 million, with $65 million of that directly in Milwaukee, according to Visit Milwaukee. More than 35,000 fans will be on site each day of the tournament, with an additional 5,000 volunteers and 2,000 media, USGA officials estimate. According to the USGA, the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan generated approximately $102 million for the state’s economy. This is the first time the U.S. Open will be held in beer- and brat-happy Wisconsin, and the USGA predicts 365,000 12-ounce servings of beer will be poured and 100,000 sausages served at Erin Hills. While the grounds will no doubt be teeming with Packers fans, Golf Channel notes that PGA Tour pro Rickie Fowler will be among them. Fowler will "swap out his week-to-week golf bag for a green and yellow version" in a nod to Green Bay. In American golf, there’s no bigger stage than the USGA’s annual championship – look for tie-ins galore as the cameras start rolling in Wisconsin this week.

3.    This Sunday, the PGA Tour is hoping that Dad will help stem its viewership tide. The Tour has not seen an increase in final-round TV viewership since the Farmer's Insurance Open in January, joining a growing list of sports properties to see a decline in audience this year. Even golf’s top moments this year have not been immune -- Sergio Garcia’s Masters playoff triumph was down 11% from last year, while Si Woo Kim’s victory at The Players Championship was the event’s lowest final round since 2014. Dustin Johnson's wins in two WGC events also saw final-round declines over 2016. The trend comes as a surprise to some in the golf community, but savvy industry observers cited growing digital viewership, wins by unfamiliar players and golf’s transition into the post-Tiger Woods era as reasons for the decline. While marquee players Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth have carded wins, fellow stars Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day have yet to join them. While pundits continue to bemoan golf’s post-Tiger decline and lack of a true superstar, at least the Tour and its U.S. Open broadcast partner Fox can look forward to a Father’s Day broadcast in which a large number of dads choose the couch over the kids. 

4.    In the meantime, we may soon see PGA Championship calendar musical chairs. Ahead of the U.S. Open, and acknowledging partner PGA Tour’s flagging TV ratings, PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua said in a video released to its 28,000 members last Wednesday that the organization has been "conducting studies for the last four years on whether to move the PGA Championship from August to May." Bevacqua said that he will "meet with his executive board later this month at Sunriver in Oregon, the site of the PGA Club Pro Championship, to give more of an update." He "repeated the motivation for moving the PGA, to avoid conflicts every four years with Olympic golf." On paper, the Olympic excuse looks plausible. The more likely reason is that no one really wants to go up against the NFL on Sunday, even in the preseason. 

5.    As the Big 12 reacts to the sudden retirement of one of its Hall of Fame coaches, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, at the Sooners’ helm for 18 years, the conference has announced that its members will share $348 million from the 2016-2017 school year. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, nine of 10 member schools will receive $34.8 million, with a "portion of Baylor’s share to be at least temporarily withheld in the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal." The $34.8 million lags behind what SEC and Big Ten schools generally receive, but "well ahead" of the ACC and Pac-12. The Big 12 distribution is up from $30.4 million per school from the 2015-2016 school year. Said Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec, "Without even taking into account the [football] championship game and ongoing negotiations with Fox and ESPN, the distributions are going to go considerably above $40 million." Meanwhile, Oklahoma President David Boren said the announcement "should hush speculation" about the conference losing members. With the revived football championship and solid TV contracts, the Big 12 should remain on solid financial footing for at least the next decade. But the college sports arms race never sleeps.

6.    While the PGA Tour is seeing ratings declines, ABC averaged 19.51 million viewers for the first 4 games of the Warriors-Cavaliers series, making it the most-viewed NBA Finals on record through three games and the best for any NBA Finals since NBC’s coverage of Bulls-Jazz in 1998 (Michael Jordan’s swan song). The 19.51 million viewers is up from 17.7 million viewers at the same point last year, and up from 18.5 million viewers two years ago. And while the NBA postseason has been a bit of a snooze fest save for Friday night’s dramatic Cavaliers must-win, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post thinks the league will "enter the summer as an ascendant league, a cultural and global giant created through progressive marketing and aggressive social media." In a culture "growing more individualistic, the NBA has employed nonrestrictive policies on sharing video online and exposing its players’ personalities." While the NFL "restricts the use of video highlights and markets teams and the league over players, the NBA has made up ground among millennials." Some in the NBA "believe it could eventually surpass the NFL as America’s dominant sports league." The NBA has a leg up on the NFL internationally; global exposure could help drive interest at home.

7.    At Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal gets El Decimo, while Jelena Ostapenko claims her maiden. In a remarkable juxtaposition of circumstance, the French Open has crowned two new champions. On the men’s side, new old champ Nadal returns to hoist the Coupe des Mousquetaires after a three-year Roland Garros drought, claiming title Number 10 and passing Pete Sampras on the all-time Grand Slam victory list, with 15 to Sampras’ 14. On Saturday, unseeded Latvian Ostapenko bested Romania’s Simona Halep to not only win her first Grand Slam, but her first professional title ever. Besides the men’s and women’s champions, each of whom pocketed $2.3 million for their win, the big winners at Roland Garros over the weekend were adidas – which saw both women finalists take the court in identical adidas spring collection outfits – watchmaker Richard Mille, thrilled to see Nadal back on Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday in his $850,000 Richard Mille model, and Nike, which immediately introduced the NikeCourt Tennis Classic El Decimo w/ suede upper, clay orange accents to honor Nadal’s 10th win on Paris clay. While Nadal was celebrating his 10th French Open championship, all-time career Slam leader Roger Federer, with 18, is already in England prepping for the grass court season and would-be Wimbledon title #8. 

8.    David Beckham has moved closer to securing the requisite land to build a stadium for his proposed Miami MLS franchise, which the former England captain hopes to launch by 2021. The Miami-Dade Commission voted nine to four in favor of approving a $9 million deal to sell Beckham’s group, Miami Beckham United, nearly three acres of county land in that city’s Overtown district. The land is currently in use as a county truck depot. It would complete the required nine-acre site for a planned 25,000-seat stadium on the Miami River. Beckham's group had already purchased six acres of land next to the site at the cost of $19 million, but he will still need to receive city approval before venue construction can start. “By purchasing the last piece of land needed for our privately-funded stadium, Miami Beckham United is achieving another major milestone on the way to Major League Soccer formally awarding Miami a franchise,” read an MBU statement. As Miami Beckham United moves one step closer to its new pitch, the crosstown Marlins have yet to announce a new owner. Let’s hope the long-suffering MLB franchise can achieve that before 2021.

9.    Oak View Group (OVG) has secured mayoral blessing to remodel Seattle’s Key Arena after Seattle Partners, fronted by AEG and Hudson Pacific Properties, withdrew its $521 million rival offer. On Thursday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray "officially announced OVG as his administration's choice to renovate KeyArena" and introduced Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and TPG Capital co-Founder David Bonderman as "partners in the project," according to the Seattle Times. Murray said that his goal is to "complete the KeyArena deal before he leaves office at the end of the year." OVG's $564 million proposal "includes a partnership with major concert company Live Nation and would involve building 'an entirely new arena' under the venue’s existing roof, which is expected to be given historical landmark status." Murray said that OVG's bid was "preferable to a bid" by AEG-led Seattle Partners because it had the "best design." Seattle is the only market in the U.S.’ top 25 without an NBA or NHL team. While Live Nation will make concerts a significant part of the schedule mix, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it pretty clear that hockey is the immediate target – expect him to focus more intently on Seattle now that the NHL postseason is over and the Penguins hold the Cup.

10.    Thanasi Kokkinakis, the Australian tennis player known as “Special K,” is being sued by Kellogg’s. Kokkinakis’ name is a bit of a mouthful, so you can forgive him for going by a nickname. The player known as "Special K" is being sued by the cereal giant because he is attempting to use the nickname commercially. Kokkinakis planned to use the nickname on a clothing line, but Kellogg’s has moved to block those plans on the grounds that it owns the Australian trademark to "Special K" after introducing the cereal there in 1959. "The Kokkinakis Company has applied to register Special K as a trademark and we are defending our trademark," a cereal company spokesperson told the BBC. Kokkinakis, 21, made his pro tennis debut in 2013 but has been hampered by injuries since 2015. His appearance at this year’s French Open was his first Grand Slam since the 2015 U.S. Open. He was defeated in the first round by Kei Nishikori. A hearing in the case was held Thursday in Australia and the parties will meet in mediation in late August. Look for Kellogg’s to prevail – unless Kokkinakis wins a Slam, in which case he may get a cereal box endorsement instead.

11.    MLB clubs through this past Sunday were averaging 29,269 fans per game, relatively flat compared to 29,223 for the same time frame last season. The Dodgers, who have led all teams in average attendance for four straight seasons, are once again leading the way in 2017 with 45,311 per game, though that number is down slightly from last year. The Cardinals, Giants, Cubs, and Blue Jays round out the top five. The Braves, who opened new SunTrust Park this season, are not surprisingly seeing a 33% increase following 20 seasons at Turner Field. The Indians have seen MLB's biggest gain at the turnstiles, up over 37% at Progressive Field. In Kansas City, the Royals have the sharpest drop among MLB teams, while the Rays, down 12% to date, have the league’s lowest average with 14,719 fans and are on pace for their lowest attendance figure since 2005. The Mets and Diamondbacks are also seeing double-digit drops at the gate. Look for all those numbers to pick up now that it’s summer, school is out, and fans prepare to vote their favorite players into the MLB All-Star Game in a month. 

12.    The IOC Executive Board has endorsed a plan to give both Paris and L.A. the Summer Games in the next decade. The first phase of this departure from Olympic bidding protocol will come July 11-12, when the full IOC membership meets in Switzerland to ratify the Board’s plan. If they do, the USA would be assured of its first U.S. Summer Games since 1996 in Atlanta. The IOC, LA2024 and Paris '24 then would enter negotiations over order before the regularly scheduled IOC meeting September 13 in Peru, as IOC President Thomas Bach says he wants the two cities to agree on who goes first before a final vote. Bach would not say exactly what the membership would be voting on at the IOC session in September if an agreement is reached, or not. Olympic watchers believe that plans are already being made to have Paris go first in 2024, but Bach insisted there are no done deals. Additional TV revenue, funds for youth sports, and other financial concessions have been mentioned as leverage for LA should that city agree to wait an additional four years for their Games. Changes in the global political climate and/or further acts of terrorism could alter the scenario before September as well.

13.    The IOC Executive Board on Friday also finalized the Tokyo Games program. The Olympics’ governing body added 15 medal events, "including doubling mixed-gender events from nine to 18," according to NBC Sports. Additionally, 3-on-3 basketball "will make its Olympic debut" in Tokyo in 2020. Mixed-gender relays will debut for swimming, track and field, and triathlon. The Tokyo Games will feature 339 medal events, up from 306 for the 2016 Rio Games. The IOC said that the changes are "more youthful, urban and female focused." While surfing has been on the board as a potential new Olympic sport for some time, look for its Olympic debut to hold off until the Games likely comes to Los Angeles in 2024 or 2028. 

14.    Former USOC sponsor British Petroleum (BP) will return to the American Olympic movement, but in a diminished capacity. BP has just signed a deal to sponsor six U.S. Paralympic teams through 2020. In the new deal, BP will help cover training and travel costs of the six Paralympic national teams the USOC manages directly: swimming, track and field, cycling, alpine skiing, nordic skiing, and snowboarding. BP is already sponsors the International Paralympic Committee through 2020. The reworked relationship means the energy category is open for the USOC, along with commercial banking, beer, hotels and online brokerages. BP does not get the rights to the Olympic rings or Team USA Paralympic marks in the deal, only the intellectual property of the individual teams. Terms were not disclosed, but the new Paralympic team-level deals are presumably worth a small fraction of the cost of BP’s full-fledged USOC sponsorship, which was worth more than $3 million annually. Of its 26 sponsors for the Rio Games, the USOC successfully renewed 19. Look for that number to increase dramatically if L.A. gets the nod.

15.    Derek Jeter pioneered athlete-centric journalism with The Players’ Tribune, and now LeBron James, LRMR Management Founder Maverick Carter, and partners are "betting some of the most compelling sports content in the shifting entertainment landscape will be created by the athletes themselves.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Uninterrupted, the James-backed digital media company, is the "latest evolution of a movement in which athletes, celebrities and other public figures are using social media and other technology to control their images." In the process, they are "loosening traditional media’s grip on the way sports is delivered and consumed." Uninterrupted’s multimedia offerings "include full-length documentaries, web series and a growing podcast network." Some of its shows have been "licensed by traditional media outlets such as Fox Sports;" Shows also "appear on YouTube, Instagram and Uninterrupted’s own website." Ventures like Uninterrupted are "limited in their power to supplant traditional media because there is no substitute for live games." However, more athletes have realized the leagues "don’t own their personalities and likenesses -- and there are now more vehicles than ever to satisfy fans’ craving for an unfiltered view and make money along the way." Interestingly, James and the Warriors Draymond Green will star in Uninterrupted’s latest project, “The Shop,” a 30-minute talk show set in a barbershop. Off-court revenue trumps on-court rivalry.