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.

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.