Top stories of the Week for March 13th; interview with Reebok President Matt O'Toole


Top stories of the Week for March 13th; interview with Reebok President Matt O'Toole

With Jamie Swimmer

1.    The World Baseball Classic is underway, and this year’s rendition truly is a global event. According to Cynopsis, “the ultimate goal of the World Baseball Classic is to globalize the sport of baseball and celebrate the way the game is played all over the world.” With opening round games being playing in Seoul, South Korea; Tokyo, Japan; Miami; and Guadalajara, Mexico, the event is achieving just that. Outside of the MLB postseason, this event is MLB Network’s “most important exclusive live content.” Team USA has hopes of reaching the finals for the first time behind the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Buster Posey, and Andrew McCutchen, while the Dominican Republic is aiming at winning back-to-back titles like Japan did back in 2006 and 2009. GEICO is the presenting partner for MLB Network’s telecast of the event, while over 50 other sponsors from 15 countries across five continents are involved in the event as well. MLB endeavors to be as global as the NBA and NHL, and more global than the NFL. A tremendous logistical undertaking with the number of rounds, countries, and nationalities – but an ambitious project which has the support of Major League Baseball’s power structure.

2.    The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament generated $1.24 billion in national spend in 2016, according to Kantar Media, and continues to score steady gains in national TV revenues. That marks a 4.7% rise over the previous year and includes game programming and studio shows on CBS and Turner. General Motors ranked at the top of brand investment with $93 million, followed by AT&T at $80 million; Coca-Cola with $47 million; Capital One Financial at $46 million; and Volkswagen at $39 million. To that end, the NCAA and Turner Live Events, alongside Coca-Cola and Capital One announced the lineup for the 2017 NCAA March Madness Music Festival in conjunction with the Men’s Final Four. The three-day, free music festival sees The Chainsmokers playing on April 1, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at the Capital One JamFest on April 2, and Aerosmith headlining the JamFest on Sunday. Obviously, sponsors incredibly interested in the activation, advertising spend, and general awareness around March Madness.  It is clearly a combination of alumni avidity, dramatic “one and done” bracket excitement, and the social bonding aspect of a tournament with a clear winner at the end of 30 days.

3.    With March Madness and the Final Four being one of the most-watched sporting events of the year, sponsors are increasingly willing to spend big to catch onlookers’ attention. According to WalletHub, there has been a 4,535% increase in the value of the tournament’s TV rights since 1986, thanks largely to the $19.6 billion paid by CBS/Turner Broadcasting to acquire the TV rights for the NCAA Men’s Tournament from 2011-2032. Social media has also had a larger presence throughout the event, with 56 million Twitter and Facebook impressions being generated during last year’s national championship – that number is up 112% from the 2015 National Championship. In terms of landing a 30-second ad during the championship game, sponsors will have to pay nearly $2 million for a spot, which pales in comparison to the $5 million that sponsors had to pay for a 30-second ad during Super Bowl LI. Welcome to the digital era, remembering that the CBS decision to stream the NCAA tournament seemed controversial at the time, but now commonplace in an attempt to finally monetize digital revenues.

4.    March Madness is always one of the best times of the year for sports fans, but it is also one of the most expensive times of the year. The 2017 Final Four is projected to have a positive economic impact of $100-$150 million for the host city and is set to welcome around 125,000 visitors to the Phoenix area – 90% of which will be coming from out of state. In terms of the social aspect of the tournament, it was estimated that around $8.9 billion were wagered illegally on last year’s March Madness and “roughly 3.5 million extra cases of beer were produced to keep up with increasing demand.” The “untold story” of the tournament is the economic impact on the early round cities – from $25 to $50 million per location. 

5.    As the BNP Paribas Open enters its second week, Evian tapped tennis player Madison Keys for a global endorsement contract, making her the first American endorser of the water brand. Keys, who is repped by WME-IMG and advancing through the Indian Wells tournament, will be featured in ad campaigns and point-of-sale displays at Evian’s retail channels in North America, and she will participate in new product launches. The 22-year-old Keys last year broke into the WTA Top 10, won her second WTA title and reached the year-end WTA Finals. Other Evian endorsers in tennis include Maria Sharapova and Stan Wawrinka. Golfers Melissa Reid and Lydia Ko also endorse Evian. Perfect timing to announce a new water endorsement deal: at a desert tennis tournament with daily temperatures in the 90s.

6.    The Oakland Raiders may finally have their fate determined in a matter of weeks. According to the L.A. Daily News, the NFL’s owner-comprised stadium and finance committees are “poised to recommend the Raiders’ relocation request to Las Vegas be voted on at the league’s annual meeting in three weeks in Phoenix.” The Raiders presented the league with a strong case for relocation after multiple failed attempts at finding a new stadium site in the Bay Area. Bank of America, the anticipated financier, was present for the team’s presentation, which was “viewed by the committee as a critical competent.” The Raiders appeared to have "hit the necessary notes with the 18 owners making up the stadium and financing committees to move forward on a vote," but nothing will be officially decided until the vote is passed and the team secures a lease for their pending Las Vegas stadium site. Just as with the Rams last year and Chargers early this year, the Raiders will capture the headlines in Trumpian fashion until a final decision is approved by the owners. Seemingly, the Vegas puzzle is close to being solved, and the city of Oakland realizes that this is truly “their last shot.”

7.    Following the team’s eagerly-awaited regular season MLS debut, Atlanta United still has a lot of work to do to improve the fan experience. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the club drew the fourth-largest soccer crowd in the world on opening weekend, but Bobby Dodd Stadium was still plagued with problems. Some fans “complained of lines as long as 20 minutes to get into the stadium, and as long as an hour to purchase a beer” in one section. One fan said that there were “fights at the nearest concession line because of people trying to cut into line.” The fan added that a “lack of ushers didn’t help.” The team is temporarily playing its home games at Bobby Dodd Stadium on the Georgia Tech campus while the Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is being completed across the city. Atlanta United President Darren Eales pledged that the problems would be addressed “immediately.” This appears to go beyond a normal opening day “shakeout” experience. The key, of course, is how “fan friendly” the response for the second game will be. Fans are usually forgiving as long as the team understands the need for immediate improvement.

8.    With most of the Olympic commotion surrounding where the 2024 Summer Olympic Games will be awarded, cities are slowly starting to prep bids for the 2026 Winter Games. According to Reuters, the Swiss Olympic Committee’s executive board has “voted to back Sion’s bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.” A formal bid has not yet been put forth by Sion, since the decision “still has to be ratified” by the 86 Swiss Olympic sports federations, the “so-called sport parliament,” in April and “could face a referendum” before it is officially presented to the International Olympic Committee. The IOC is pleased to see another city join the discussion to host an Olympics after many cities have been scared off lately “by the size and cost of the Games or pressured by local opposition.” Budapest recently withdrew its bid for the 2024 Olympics after facing mass public opposition, while Rome dropped out earlier due to a lack of funding. As far as Los Angeles and Paris for Summer 2024, the IOC seemingly is in a win-win situation (at least with two cities). The charter requires each city to be selected seven years before the respective games. There is a move afoot to award 2024 and 2028 together. Legalities aside, the IOC is in an increasingly difficult position of cultivating and maintaining interested bids – they should find a constitutionally accepted method of taking advantage of this situation.

9.    NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is taking matters into his own hands to ensure the Coyotes stay in Arizona. According to Sporting News, Bettman wrote a “sternly worded letter” to state lawmakers asking them to support a bill that would help the Coyotes land a new arena. The letter was “sent to the Arizona Legislature, advocates for Senate Bill 1149, which would green light public funding” for a proposed $395 million arena in Phoenix. As part of the letter, Bettman stated that the team’s current facility, Gila River Arena, is not capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise. Coyotes Majority Owner & Chair Andrew Barroway wrote his own letter to state lawmakers, agreeing that the team “cannot survive in Glendale.” “The NHL first needs to make the case for a state-funded arena to the taxpayers,” responded State House Speaker J.D. Mesnard. “We’re not seeing a lot of enthusiasm that the public wants to foot the bill for a new arena, and until the NHL can win over taxpayers, they’re going to have a tough sell at the Legislature.” This seems to be the same “dramatic period” as impacted the Houston Oilers, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Colts, Charlotte Hornets, and others. Cities and states that believe a replacement franchise is imminent after one leaves finds the going expensive, turbulent, and almost impossible.

10.    Following an early-round departure from the ACC Tournament, Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim seized the opportunity to rip Greensboro, North Carolina, the event’s past host city. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, Boeheim stated, “There's no value in playing in Greensboro. None. It's there because the league's been there and the office is there and they have a 150 people [staff] that the ACC needs. That's why it's there. It should not be there.” The longtime Syracuse coach wants to see the tournament played in major cities like Washington, Atlanta, or New York City, which would likely result in higher attendance and more media attention. The ACC Tournament is being held in Brooklyn this year and next year at the Barclays Center before its scheduled return to Charlotte in 2019 and Greensboro in 2020. This year’s tournament in New York marks the farthest north it has even been held. Interesting rhetorical controversy over a North Carolina mega-event location is all effectively irrelevant until HB2 is resolved and replaced. 

11.    Marking a big step forward for Nike and the sportswear industry as a whole, Nike announced its planned release for the Nike Pro Hijab. According to the L.A. Times, this spring 2018 launch will mark the “first foray into high-performance headgear for Muslim women athletes.” Despite smaller sportswear brands having already entered this space with Islamic clothing, Nike is the first “major” global sports brand to do so. The Oregon-based sportswear company sees an increasing demand for this product. The U17 Women’s World Cup in October in Jordan “marked the first time Muslim players were allowed to wear headscarves” while competing in a FIFA event and last year, Danish brand Hummel partnered with the Afghan Football Federation to “integrate hijabs into the women’s kits.” Select Muslim professional athletes have been testing prototypes of the Nike Pro Hijab for the last year and are eagerly awaiting the official release. A major market differentiator for Nike with an incredibly sensitive and entrepreneurial cultural evolution. Look for other brands to follow suit, though without the benefit of being branded a “cultural pioneer.”

12.    Amid an overall sportswear industry consolidation, Dick’s Sporting Goods is trying to expand its reach. According to, company Chair & CEO Ed Stack outlined a plan to “continue grabbing share” by “opening stores in markets where competitors’ bankruptcies left a gap” and by “targeting new customers in existing markets where one of those chains failed.” The company plans on being more patient in site selection for future expansion, and will also cut 20% of its lower-volume venders to focus on the more important ones. “It’s difficult to do,” said Stack. “It’s difficult to tell people we have done business with for a long time that we are not going to do business going forward.” The company also plans to start carrying more of its own private-label gear and equipment, cutting down expenses and dependency on out-of-house brands. This coming fiscal year Dick’s plans on opening 43 new locations – 19 of which are “former Sports Authority stores.” A tough road for all retailers as given the ease of Internet shopping – way beyond sports. Hopefully, brands consolidate, get smarter, and stay alive.

13.    The Atlanta Braves’ new ballpark is just about ready for action with the MLB season right around the corner. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SunTrust Park, which was open for the first time for a media tour, was described an a “photogenic expanse of green” with 41,000 green seats to complement an action-ready field. But before the venue will officially open on March 31 for an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, a multitude of things still need to happen. The suites and club spaces “must be outfitted with furniture, fixtures and equipment.” Some of the technology systems, including Wi-Fi, are “still being installed.” And a “punch list of minor fixes, which numbered almost 30,000 items at one point, continues to be worked through.” SunTrust Park is a more intimate park than its predecessor, Turner Field, with about 9,000 fewer seats, many of which are closer to the field. 2017 an unprecedented year in Atlanta sports – two new stadiums opening with four months of each other. Reminding folks of the positives (and some negatives) surrounding the 1994 Summer Olympics. 

14.    Politics and sports do not always have a direct impact on each other, but they do for Tottenham in England. According to the London Evening Standard, Tottenham Director Donna Cullen confirmed that the cost of the club’s new White Hart Lane stadium project “has increased substantially due to Brexit.” The new 61,000-seat stadium is set to open for the 2018-2019 season, and the “final bill” is set at $973.2 million. Tottenham’s original estimate was less than half of that price. “Brexit has added a straight 20 per cent on costs for foreign goods due to the exchange rate, overtime working and increased construction costs similarly,” said Cullen. “This new ‘estimated’ figure relates predominantly to the stadium with some elements of substructure for the other builds, particularly the Tottenham Experience.” The club made its first cost estimate over seven years ago, so combining inflation and the runoff from Brexit have landed the project at nearly $1 billion. Stadiums across the globe have similar cost overrun issues. The key is not the nature of the excuses, but the technical and legal remedy. Who pays the cost overruns? How are they managed? And how is it sold to the public?

15.    Las Vegas Motor Speedway will now host two NASCAR weekends beginning in fall 2018. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, LVMS will become the “only venue” in the United States to have “weekend triple-headers of the three national divisions in both appearances.” This comes hand-in-hand with the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority unanimously approving a “seven-year sponsorship and marketing agreement,” plus $500,000 a year to “market both the spring and fall events, beginning January 1.” This move to bring an extra weekend to LVMS “has nothing really to do with racing,” as the action “has been great at New Hampshire.” SMI owns the track, which means it can still sell the naming rights to races, but “’Las Vegas’ must be in the name and logo” of all events there. The Nevada city’s sports business is booming as the NHL Golden Knights are set to start next season and the city could welcome an NFL franchise – likely the Raiders – in coming years as well. Las Vegas is in an unprecedented position to capture the economic impact of two “Super Bowl-type” weekends. Tourism, travel, hotel, and restaurant infrastructure is busy year round with a community understanding the leverage and economic impact created.

Top stories of the week; Interview with Cris Collinsworth


Top stories of the week; Interview with Cris Collinsworth

"The Sports Professor" Rick Horrow delivers the latest business/sports stories of the week, plus a great interview with Cris Collinsworth on the dominance of the Patriots and Pro Football

Listen to the "Beyond the Scoreboard" podcast:

Watch the interview with Cris Collinsworth here:

Here are the "15 to Watch" stories of the week, with Tanner Simkins.

1.    March Madness looks to its 2017 Sweet Sixteen – but that’s hardly the annual tourney’s most significant number. According to the networks, CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV averaged 8.2 million viewers for the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament, up 4% from last year. For the tourney to date, including Tuesday and Wednesday's First Four games, the networks are averaging 7.8 million viewers, up 5% from the same point last year. Further, Nielsen Sports has put together key insights around the tournament, highlighting how fans engage with the event. Most March Madness bracket participants (71%) say they watch games at home, 12% will watch at a bar, restaurant, or other public location, and 24% use a computer to check scores. The tournament reached 97 million viewers last year across 73 telecasts. These big numbers are the reason that CBS/Turner last year signed an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension with the NCAA for the March Madness broadcast, putting the tournament's annual TV value at over a billion dollars. Now that’s a significant digit. 

2.    Like the diehard college hoops fans who flock to NCAA tournament regional sites, advertisers and sponsors are equally drawn by the March Madness allure. A recent Nielsen Sports Fan Trender survey found that more than half of bracket entrants are between the advertiser sweet spot ages of 25 and 54. And those who compete in a March Madness pool are backed with plenty of brainpower, with nearly half holding a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. While TV ratings this year are strong, “Brands have shown us that ratings don’t matter when it comes to the NCAA Tournament,” said rEvolution EVP of Media Larry Mann. “While matchups and storylines can bring value, brands know that a huge audience will tune in regardless.” NCAA Tournament ad revenue comes primarily from automotive, telecommunications, and restaurant brands. Wendy’s joined this year for its “Drive to the Final Four” integrated campaign, which includes television advertising, experiential, merchandising, and PR. Also returning are March Madness mainstays Capital One, AT&T, Coke, Allstate, Buick, and others. This ultimate collegiate sports experience is a no brainer for brands – which give the tourney an “A” year after academic year.

3.    As their signature golf event tees off in Carlsbad, CA, Kia Motors America inked a multi-year renewal of the brand’s LPGA relationship as its "Official Automotive Partner.” Kia now has a presence at seven tournaments, including two Majors, the ANA Inspiration and the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, in addition to Kia Classic title sponsorship. “Kia and the LPGA have experienced tremendous growth in visibility and awareness as a result of our partnership," said Kimberley Gardiner, Kia director of marketing communications. Another key aspect of the Kia Classic is Women’s Leadership Day, presented by the LPGA and Servant Leadership Institute. The exclusive forum for professional women features a keynote by Sempra Energy EVP Martha Wyrsch and a panel discussion spotlighting women executives from the LPGA, Los Angeles Clippers, LA2024, and SDG&E. I am proud to moderate this event, which joins the Indy Women in Tech Championship Presented by Guggenheim as LPGA events with a strong focus on women’s workplace success.

4.    Indian Wells is a place for great tennis – and the food isn’t bad, either. The BNP Paribas Open saw more than 438,000 fans pass through its gates in 2016, making it the most-attended WTA/ATP tennis tournament in the world behind the four Grand Slams. And they didn’t go hungry. This year, a multitude of unique Southern California dining experiences were incorporated into the Indian Wells Tennis Garden’s Stadium 1 – now the second-largest tennis stadium in the country, with a seating capacity of 16,100. Atop the menu is Wolfgang Puck’s Michelin Star rated Spago, which joins Stadium 2’s Chop House and Nobu as onsite fine dining options mixing world class food with world class tennis. "We create large and small scale events across the country,” says Carl Schuster, CEO of Wolfgang Puck Catering, “but the BNP Paribas Open is a unique opportunity for us to partner with a truly premier event and venue. Wolfgang is a big tennis fan and with many of our clients in attendance, the restaurant offers an exceptional guest experience right inside Stadium 1." The Indian Wells upgrades come at a time when tennis venues across the globe are undergoing massive construction, led by the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at the U.S. Open, in the middle of a reported $550 million renovation.

5.    In related tennis news, Oracle Corp. has created the Oracle U.S. Tennis Awards, two $100,000 player grants that will be awarded annually at the BNP Paribas Open to assist young U.S. players as they transition from college tennis to the pros. The two $100,000 grants will be awarded to a male and female professional who has demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship and an aptitude for success on the pro tour. They must have played collegiate tennis prior to turning professional. "Making the transition from college to the professional ranks is a real challenge,'' said Oracle CEO Mark Hurd. “We hope these awards will provide young players with support to develop their games and improve their mental and physical fitness. Our goal is to grow the program and we invite input and support from other companies who are committed to U.S. athletics.'' The awards will be administered by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, the governing body of college tennis. Recipients will be selected by the newly-created Oracle US Tennis Awards Advisory Council, a six-member body that includes inaugural members Chris Evert, Todd Martin, and Ilana Kloss. The “uncommon denominator” between the BNP Paribas Open and the Oracle awards is obviously Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who joins Mark Cuban, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer as billionaire technology owners making a difference in sports.

6.    Last fall, it was announced that was pursuing video rights to a wide range of sports, including tennis and rugby. Now, Amazon is getting into the music festival business, too. According to a recent job listing, Amazon plans on having a major presence at upcoming music festivals. The company is reportedly looking to hire a Senior Program Director in the music department. The role of the director will be to “dramatically improve the experience of the 32 million people that attend music festivals each year.” The company suggests they will have a physical presence at the festivals, offering services such as on-site food and product delivery and custom merchandise available for purchase; the company will also provide festival-goers with amenities like free Wi-Fi, water, and mobile charging stations. The synergies between music festivals and major sporting events are obvious – don’t be surprised to see Amazon getting into the sports event management biz as well.

7.    In an effort to "restart negotiations over a labor dispute that has put their participation in the upcoming IIHF World Championships in jeopardy," USA Hockey is "expected to reach out to players" on its women's national team, as well as their reps. According to, the federation had "asked players to respond" by 5:00pm ET Thursday to an email request "asking each to individually state whether she intended to play in the tournament" beginning March 31. However, members of the team "declined to respond." USA Hockey Senior Director of Communications Dave Fischer in an interview late Thursday night said that the deadline was "never intended to be any sort of ultimatum." Philadelphia-based attorney John Langel, who reps the players, said that he had "not yet heard directly from USA Hockey but the players welcomed reopening negations that could avert their boycott." The players are seeking improvements including girls’ hockey program development investment, more competition during non-Olympic years, and a living wage increase – USA Hockey currently provides only $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period every four years. Just like their soccer counterparts, the women of USA Hockey are well-organized, feisty, and determined. Their boycott continues to show the relevance of Title IX and vigilance in improving women’s sports overall.

8.    El Clásico is coming to Miami. The rivalry between La Liga clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid is coming to Miami this summer. The game is scheduled as part of the International Champions Cup and will be played on July 29th at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. The game is not the only event that will be taking place, as there will be nearly an entire week filled with activities leading up to “El Clásico.” It is not surprising that Hard Rock Stadium was chosen as the location for this match, as Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross is also the owner of the International Champions Cup. This is the first time the two teams will face off on American soil, and only the second time they will face off outside of Spain. MLS continues to expand and evolve; American broadcasts of EPL and European games expedite North American soccer popularity. Therefore, the summer “European soccer window” for major exhibition matches in North America are more important than ever to continue the soccer momentum. 

9.    Adidas-owned CCM Hockey is back up for sale for the second time in the last year, according to the Financial Post. CCM Hockey is one of the largest manufacturers of hockey equipment and hockey apparel in the world, and currently has deals in place with several NHL superstars, including Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. CCM President Philippe Dubé said that the company is committed to closing a deal at this time, and also that a new owner is “a great opportunity for the brand to increase its hockey-equipment market share.” Beginning next season, adidas will have the exclusive license to manufacture NHL jerseys, which may be one of the biggest factors in why they decided to once again pursue selling the brand. As hockey’s popularity continues to increase, the sale of any “hockey specific” enterprise will be fruitful for the sport and assist with long term stability.

10.    NBC Sports has agreed to one-year deals to televise both Great Britain’s Epsom Derby and the United Arab Emirates’ Dubai World Cup. The moves come as NBC looks to expand the network’s global coverage of horse racing events. NBC already has long-term deals in place to broadcast the four major horse racing events in the U.S. — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes, and the Breeder’s Cup. The network also previously signed a deal to broadcast England’s Royal Ascot, which will premiere on the network this year, with coverage beginning on June 20th. Financial terms of the two new deals were not disclosed. Niche sports are the order of the day as they focus on their avid fans, corporate sponsors, and television viewing. International horse racing events are no exception. 

11.    24 Hour Fitness and the U.S. Olympic Committee have agreed to extend the company’s sponsorship through the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. As part of the agreement, USOC experts are required to certify 24 Hour Fitness personal trainers in workouts designed specifically for Olympic sports. 24 Hour Fitness has been a sponsor of Team USA since 2003 and assists in staffing the USOC’s on-site training centers at the Olympic Games. The USOC will also work with 24 Hour Fitness to create digital workout routines that can be shared on the company’s fitness app. The financial terms of the new deal were not disclosed. Similar to all other USOC sponsors, 24 Hour Fitness will receive an exclusive 60-day negotiation window to extend their sponsorship rights if Los Angeles ends up winning the bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Good that the Olympic movement has attracted some additional sponsors – reversing the escalation of sponsorship cancelations over the last six months. Assume that the USOC and LA2024 will be working hard to attract event more sponsors if a successful decision for 2024 is made later this summer.

12.    It’s official – Toyota has become the NHL Las Vegas Golden Knights’ first sponsor. The Golden Knights have agreed to a three-year partnership with the Japanese automaker. The deal will make the Southern Nevada Toyota Dealers Association the preferred non-luxury automotive partner of the team. The deal also includes branding elements at T-Mobile Arena consisting of a Zamboni wrap, an in-ice logo, and two dasher board signs. Toyota is currently a sponsor of 13 other NHL teams, and the deal with the Golden Knights is reported to be very competitive as compared to equivalent deals in markets of a similar size. The Golden Knights continue to be involved in discussions with multiple companies for the remaining three in-ice sponsorships, according to a team representative. The Golden Knights are off and running in the boardroom as well as on the ice. It’s hard to believe that only a few months ago, Las Vegas was a small “gambling and entertainment town” with no hope for major league sports. Now, they have a hockey franchise, two NASCAR races, and the reasonable likelihood of the NFL.

13.    President Donald Trump is not the only boss to yell “You’re Fired” in DC. Thursday was the first day of the new league year in the NFL, and as most teams looked to use free agency to fill the glaring holes in their rosters, the Washington Redskins created a much larger void in their front office. The Redskins fired General Manager Scot McCloughan on Thursday, just two years into a four-year contract. McCloughan was fired due to his “ongoing problems with alcohol,” according to the Washington Post. Now, during one of the busiest times of the year in NFL front offices and with the Draft just over a month away, the Redskins find themselves scrambling to find a new leader for their organization. One name that has been mentioned as a potential replacement is NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, but don't expect the Redskins to rush into making a decision. Insiders have said that they expect the Redskins to wait until after the Draft to decide on McCloughan’s replacement. While Trumpesque office shakeups don’t always lead to increased victories, they certainly demonstrate a renewed commitment to improving the on-field product in DC.

14.    Manchester City has become the first EPL Club to announce an Official Sleeve Partner. Existing club partner, Korean tire giant, Nexen Tire, has renewed its partnership with the club and becomes the first brand to take advantage of the new asset, which kicks in from the start of the 2017/18 Premier League campaign. The Nexen Tire logo will appear on the sleeve of the Manchester City playing shirt for all Premier League games. The partnership has also been extended to include Women’s Super League and League Cup winners, Manchester City Women. Nexen Tire has focused on establishing various marketing platforms in recent years as it expands its global presence. Through the partnership, Nexen Tire will continue to be a significant presence at all Manchester City Premier League and domestic cup matches, helping the Korean brand to grow its visibility and presence across the world. The partnership, celebrated at a signing ceremony at the City Football Academy in Manchester City, was attended by Nexen and City executives, alongside the club’s manager, Pep Guardiola with City stars Gabriel Jesus, İlkay Gündoğan, and Jill Scott. European clubs should have no trouble in generating significant income from this new sleeve opportunity – especially with the brand value, international awareness, and TV exposure of Europe’s top clubs.

15.    As the NHL continues to celebrate its centennial on ice, the league on Friday confirmed plans for the Senators and Canadiens to "celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first league game in Ottawa with an outdoor game at TD Place.” According to the Ottawa Citizen, the NHL's "first outdoor game ever in Ottawa," on Sunday, December 17, will fall three weeks after the CFL's Grey Cup is played at TD Place, which "will be expanded to 34,000 seats." Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk and Canadiens Owner Geoff Molson attended the press event, along with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and "officials from the federal government." The NHL treats its 100th anniversary celebration with great respect. Los Angeles led off the New Year with the All-Star Game and the 100th greatest NHL athletes. Now is an exclusively Canadian celebration, followed by other outdoor events and winter festivities. Look for the NHL to continue to increase its franchise values, television ratings, corporate partnerships, and ultimate revenues.

15 to Watch: Top Business Sports Stories of the Week


15 to Watch: Top Business Sports Stories of the Week

With Jamie Swimmer

1.    This week, over 300 of the world’s best tennis players, including seven former tournament champions, descend on Indian Wells, CA to compete for more than $14 million in front of 400,000+ fans at tennis’ “Fifth Major.” Every top-10 player from the ATP World Tour and WTA is entered for the 2017 BNP Paribas Open. This includes 22-time Grand Slam Singles Champion Serena Williams, seeking to become the first WTA player to win three singles titles at Indian Wells. She joins 17-time Grand Slam Singles Champion and four time BNP Paribas Open singles winner Roger Federer. The tournament also showcases ongoing Indian Wells Tennis Garden renovations, designed to enhance the experience for players and fans alike. Upgrades include top restaurants like Spago; a new year-round hospitality space holding up to 200; satellite broadcast studio; fitness center; and club pro shop. Owner Larry Ellison and staff have truly created a desert tennis oasis, ensuring the game’s top players (and their thousands of adoring fans) return to the Coachella Valley year after year and creating an enviable benchmark for every other tournament worldwide.

2.    Coming off their first World Series title in over 100 years, the Chicago Cubs are now submitting a bid to host the 2020 MLB All-Star Game. According to the Chicago Tribune, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts is working with city officials to put together an “attractive bid” to bring the event to Wrigley Field. Logistics are still being worked out, for the entire weekend spans “essentially five days of festivals and events.” Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney said that the team has “been in contact” with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office and MLB “regarding efforts to fulfill requirements to host the game.” The last time Wrigley played host to the All-Star Game was 1990, so the team hopes that its recent on-field success and ballpark renovations will lure the game back to the Windy City. Baseball’s major “event leverage” comes with the All-Star Game annually.  They award new ballparks, renovations, civic accomplishments, and (in the Cubs’ case) the end of monumental frustration. The game goes to South Florida this year amid rumors of an impending Marlins sale.

3.    The NFL’s first outdoor draft is being hyped up weeks ahead of the selection show. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia is “expecting 200,000 football fans” to show up to the outdoor theatre being constructed in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The theatre will only seat around 3,000 people, and tickets are limited, yet the event should bring hundreds of thousands to the city center. To keep fans engaged, standing room on the Parkway will be “transformed into a festival the size of 25 football fields, open free to the public before and during the draft.” Staging the three-day event is said to cost around $20-25 million, though most of that will be covered by the NFL. The Draft joins the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl as the NFL’s “rotating mega-events.” Each year it is expected to outdraw, outhustle, and outperform the predecessor – leading to more leverage, better public support, and more choices for NFL public/private partnerships.

4.    MLS is off and running as it opens its 2017 season bookended by two new expansion franchises. Newcomer Atlanta United has sold more than 30,000 season tickets, appealing to millennials and Hispanic fans alike. Atlanta United will host eight games at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium before moving into Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 30. In Minneapolis, Minnesota United is "confident the club’s first home match" as a MLS franchise will "exceed 30,000 tickets sold," according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. United has "sold out the lower bowl" at TCF Bank Stadium for the March 12 match against Atlanta United, and is "closing in on 11,000 season tickets sold, with a team-imposed limit of 11,842 (tied to state’s lake total)." Elsewhere in the league, Orlando City SC moved in to its new home as it hosted NYCFC for its 2017 MLS season opener. The game at Orlando City Stadium was "sold out for weeks" and was broadcast nationally on ESPN. In front of MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Real Salt Lake drew 19,519 fans for its match against Toronto FC. And a would-be expansion franchise in San Diego announced Landon Donovan as a new member of its ownership group. San Diego could well be a test case – is soccer chipping away at the NFL’s American sports dominance?

5.    Fortress Investment Group is not giving up on its goal to keep the Raiders in Oakland. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the investment group sent “the NFL and the Raiders a proposal to build a new stadium for the team next to their existing venue.” The team is currently committed to relocating to Las Vegas, but league owners still need to meet and vote on the potential move “as soon as the end of March.” “It is unclear how different the proposal Fortress sent in is from the model it agreed to with Oakland in December, which the NFL has rejected.” Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL declined to comment on the proposal or the previously rejected bid, but those close to the matter note that under the last proposal, “Fortress would have developed the land and kept key revenue streams.” To many, this proposal is viewed as the last effort to keep the Raiders in the Bay Area. The Las Vegas deal has a much stronger financial foundation – public support and NFL/Raiders equity. What Oakland has is a tradition of fan support and the presumption that the process be given “one last best chance” to work.

6.    With the 2024 Olympic bid down to only two cities, LA 2024 is ramping up its promotion efforts overseas after signing PR firm Weber Shandwick. According to Ad Age, the PR firm is tasked with providing the bid group with communications support in international markets “where Olympic stakeholders live and work, as well as providing strategic insight into the entire process.” Weber Shandwick “helped support winning Olympic bids for the 2022 Beijing Games, the 2020 Tokyo Games and the 2014 Sochi Games.” Unlike past projects, this firm will not have to roll out a domestic campaign in Los Angeles to win over public support because 88% of the city already supports the bid. This move to hire an international PR agency marks another significant step for LA 2024 to land the Olympics after Budapest recently withdrew its bid; Paris is the only other competing city. While we all know that the Olympic selection process is inherently political, the PR message will focus on legacy, infrastructure support, and an “expectation” that the U.S. should participate in a Summer Games sooner than later. Look for drama in the boardroom between now and the end of the summer.

7.    UCLA guard Lonzo Ball’s father made a bold prediction: his son will be the first player drafted with his own brand. According to ESPN, Lonzo’s father, LaVar Ball, said in a radio interview that if the UCLA star “doesn’t sign with adidas, Nike or Under Armour, whoever…I’ll sign the Big Baller Brand.” The “Triple B” brand is already an active apparel company that was started by the Ball family; it is the brand that Lonzo could be touting upon Draft Day later this year. While this move is still up in the air, LaVar boldly stated his view on the situation, “I’m not looking for no endorsement deal. I’m looking for a marketing and distribution deal.” LaVar has received a great deal of criticism this past season for making outlandish and egotistical comments on behalf of his son, such as Lonzo is “better than Steph Curry” and that “Lonzo would only play for the Lakers.” It is that time of year for hype – family, or otherwise. The astronomical NBA salary cap increase this next year will give this year’s rookie class a significant bounty. 

8.    What is already the wealthiest soccer league in the world, the EPL is still finding new ways to bring in millions of dollars annually. According to the London Daily Mail, Premier League clubs are now “set to earn up to $12.4 million more from sponsorships after talks” to add sleeve sponsorships for next season opened up between league and team executives. Sleeve sponsorships are valued at around one-fifth of a main kit sponsor, which means that clubs such as Manchester United, which receives “$58.3 million-a-year from Chevrolet to be on its shirts, could see a further $11 million invested in the club” on a yearly basis. Contract stipulations with main kit sponsors for a couple of the EPL’s best teams mean that a few notable clubs “will not be able to participate in the deal for next season,” though they will be able to sign a secondary sponsor in following years. Purists beware – the EPL is looking more like NASCAR every day. Why wouldn’t it? Especially if an unused square inch of clothing should now command over $12 million annually for each club. 

9.    As online streaming becomes an increasingly popular way to watch TV, Google has entered the race to win over sports fans. According to the Wall Street Journal, YouTube, whose parent company is Google, is now offering a web-TV service that packages over 40 broadcast and cable channels for $35 a month. YouTube TV will “have all the major broadcasters, including ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, as well as several dozen well-known cable channels, such as ESPN, FX, USA, MSNBC and Fox News.” YouTube TV is set to offer an expansive list of sports channels as well: Fox Sports, FS1, FS2, NBC Sports, Comcast SportsNet, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN News, Big Ten Network, SEC Network, and Golf Channel will all be available for subscribers. A start date has not yet been announced, but YouTube did confirm that it will “roll out the service first in markets where it had secured rights from local affiliates.” The next round of sports rights bids should be one for the ages:  the traditionalists (networks) vs. the “newcomers” (YouTube, Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.). Impact:  more money for teams, leagues, and players.

10.    With the goal of turning their arena into a “12-month destination,” the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks have unveiled the newly-renovated east side of the United Center. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, renovations include a new office building, fan atrium, restaurants, and a team store. They also provide an “indoor, climate-controlled space for fans to visit the Michael Jordan statue, and to use the ticket windows.” The new atrium is 190,000 square feet and will be open every day from 10:00am-6:00pm, year round. The Bulls and Blackhawks never have much trouble filling seats at the United Center for home games, but this marks a great step for the premier Chicago sports franchises to engage with their fans outside of just game days. Adding the store and restaurants should create a significant amount of buzz around the United Center, as well as a nice bit of extra revenue for the teams. Facility renovations all over the country enter new phases:  lease renegotiations; financial creativity; high-tech tweaks; and new space for merchandise and concessions. Obviously, better for the fans. 

11.    Professional golf may soon experience one of the “biggest shake-ups” in recent history with rule changes looming. According to the BBC, the R&A and USGA are in talks to “make golf quicker and played under more simple, consistent and fair rules.” The new rulebook will be drawn up in “a modern, plain style” that will be written from a “player's perspective.” Some of the most significant changes being considered include removing a penalty for accidentally moving your ball, reducing ball search time from five to three minutes, and relaxing the protocols for “taking free or penalty drops, with the ball dropped from only an inch above the ground, rather than shoulder height.” This comes as the first “substantial review” of the rules in professional golf since 1984. The two governing bodies want to see a simpler game with less contention over some of the nuances affiliated with the game today. Even the most traditional and historical of games undergoes substantial tinkering from time to time. First, baseball’s quest to shorten its game. Is golf close behind? 

12.    Following a poor year of ratings, the NFL is looking to win over a few more fans this coming season. According to SportsBusiness Journal, one key way the NFL is trying to garner more public support is by possibly relaxing its laughable touchdown celebration rules. The Competition Committee is in talks to let players “have fun again” after scoring touchdowns – an area they have cracked down on in recent years following the likes of Chad Ocho Cinco and Terrell Owens. The league’s reputation and ratings plummeted this past season following a series of events. “You think of concussions, you think of serious injuries, you think of domestic violence, you think of people protesting the flag and other things,” noted EPSN’s Israel Gutierrez. “Maybe if you introduce some fun into this and not maintain yourselves as the ‘No Fun League,’ then maybe there are different ways to get your product a little more desirable.” While the NFL aspires to $25 billion per year in revenue, there is always the need to generate new fan support – diverse demographics, superstar promotion, and fan enthusiasm.

13.    On the heels of the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, an economic impact study from the league’s International Series game in Mexico City revealed an “incremental increase” in the city’s GDP. According to the Sports Industry group at EY, the Mexico City game this past season between the Texans and Raiders supported “2,840 jobs in the city” and contributed toward $43 million of total domestic and international tourist spending; the overall economic impact was $45 million. The sellout crowd at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium consisted mainly of domestic fans, though over 9,500 international fans attended and 21,500 fans traveled from other parts of Mexico to get in on the action. These numbers come as great news for the NFL, which has tried to expand its international footprint in all directions. The league currently has more games planned in Mexico and throughout Europe in the coming years. Most recent news about Mexico has not been good. However, the combination of the WGC Golf Championship and the long-term interest for the NFL in Mexico is welcome news for our southern neighbor.

14.    With March Madness right around the corner, Pizza Hut is “stepping up its game with high-top sneakers that allow their wearers to order pizza with a push of a button…” According to Ad Age, Pizza Hut is handing out 64 pairs of their “Pie Tops” to honor the 64 teams that annually compete in March Madness. The shoes are Bluetooth-enabled, making ordering pizza as easy as can be. To promote the release of the shoes, Pizza Hut also released a promotional commercial featuring Grant Hill playing basketball in the shoes before sitting down, pressing the button on the tongue of the shoes, and having a two-topping pizza delivered moments after. Pizza Hut Vice President/Media & Advertising David Daniels said, “We're planning to feature the pie tops with on-air talent.” However, Pizza Hut has not announced yet which people will “wear and interact with the shoes during the broadcasts.” Never too early for basketball promotion, especially with ongoing streaming, constant hype and promotion, and the inevitable appeal to young demographics.

15.    The Las Vegas Golden Knights are officially an NHL team. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Owner Bill Foley made the third and final $500 million expansion payment on behalf of the franchise. “This is the most extensive transaction I've ever done, and I've made $5 billion deals. Even my wife had to sign 20 documents,” noted Foley. Other NHL team owners and Commissioner Gary Bettman were quick to congratulate Foley on officially joining the league. The Knights are the most recent expansion team in the NHL, bringing the total team count up to 31 for next season. The teams’ final expansion payment was not supposed to be completed and processed until April 5, but the league expedited and finalized the transaction five weeks ahead of time. Team General Manager George McPhee was thankful for the quick response on behalf of the league, meaning that the Golden Knights can now participate in transactions before the trade deadline. Las Vegas went from being “radioactive” as a franchise location to the home of one (and maybe two) in the not-too-distant future. Fan orientation, significant public money, and tourism infrastructure all add to the possibilities for success.