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 CNBC.com, 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.