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

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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 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.

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

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

With Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins

1.    Ahead of this week’s The Players Championship, the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida has opened its largest-ever exhibit highlighting golf’s “Fifth Major” and its venue, TPC Sawgrass. "The Players Experience," according to the Florida Times-Union, is an "1,800-square-foot tribute to the 43-year history of the PGA Tour event." It includes a nod to the 11 Hall of Famers who have won the tourney, and past champions "have donated memorabilia from their victories." An interactive display is devoted to the par-3 17th and its "Island Green," with a "quiz on 17 trivia and a large-screen enactment of what it's like to hit a tee shot" there. Other exhibits honor Hall of Fame members Deane Beman and Pete Dye for creating the tournament and the course; the contributions of its more than 2,000 volunteers; and the tournament’s charitable efforts, which contributed more than $85 million to the community since 1977. From the European Tour’s new GolfSixes format to the Zurich Classic’s team play and this Hall of Fame exhibit, golf’s visionaries are bringing fresh energy and creativity to the sport in order to better grow the game.

2.    While Paris 2024 Olympic bid organizers are trying to keep politics out of the picture, the French presidential election continues to serve as the backdrop of the city’s battle to land the Games. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Paris 2024 co-Chair Tony Estanguet confirmed that the divisive election has not changed anything with the committee’s planning and execution. “We knew along the journey of the bid we'd have different elections,” said Estanguet. “We want to reduce the involvement of the political world. They are there to support. They are there to be tough. But we decide where to put the Olympic Village. The sport movement will be responsible for delivering the Games.” Paris remains as the favorite over Los Angeles currently, though tides can turn before the IOC September vote. Both cities are considered heavyweights and are each vying to host the Olympics for the third time. While organizers try their best, it is virtually impossible to keep politics out of the Olympics, especially where the IOC is involved. Look for newly-minted French President Emmanuel Macron to have an impact on both the Paris and L.A. bids.

3.    He’s not even on an NBA team yet, but Lonzo Ball – and his father LaVar – are already making waves in the league with the release of a $500 shoe. The family’s Big Baller Brand just introduced the ZO2 Prime, which retails from $495-$695, while “an autographed version of is listed on bigballerbrand.com for $995,” according to Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. The shoes are "available for pre-order to be shipped by November 24." Comparatively, the most expensive version of Kevin Durant’s signature Nike shoe, the KD 9 iD, is $195, while teammate Stephen Curry’s Under Armour UA Curry3Zero is $119.99. And the "most expensive Jordan Brand shoe is the $400 Air Jordan 5 Retro Premium." LaVar Ball has repeatedly told media the family decided to produce their own shoes when none of the major shoe brands offered equity as part of endorsement deals reportedly in the $2 million annual range. Jordan, Durant, and Curry earned the right to put their name on expensive collectible shoes. Ball hasn’t run a single NBA play, and while the sticker shock value is getting the brand some publicity, it’s no sure thing the strategy will pay off for the family over time. Let your feet do their talking ON the court.

4.    A bidding war is about to go down in Miami. According to the Miami Herald, a group led by Tagg Romney, son of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has “submitted a bid slightly higher” than the one Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter put in. The joint bid from Bush and Jeter to buy the Miami Marlins was for $1.3 billion, and the team is currently deciding which bid to accept. While the Marlins will be making this decision on their own, MLB must approve the transaction before it comes to fruition. Sources said that Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria recently "struck a non-binding agreement – a handshake deal" – that Bush would be "given first opportunity to buy the team if he was able to provide proof of financing and quickly sign a purchase agreement." The Marlins "fully expected that Bush would be able to close the deal." While the deal will go down in Florida, the real news about this transaction will come from New York, as no ownership transfer will transpire without MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s approval.

5.    As the NBA Playoffs builds to the conference finals, seventeen NBA franchises have committed to fielding teams in the inaugural NBA 2K esports league set to launch in 2018. Teams were asked to pay a buy-in fee in the low six figures to join the league, a joint venture of the NBA and Take Two Interactive, which publishes the 2K series. Teams will be operators, not owners. Brendan Donohue, the esports league’s newly named Managing Director, said, “We were hoping for half the teams to jump on board, and we got more than that. There are still a lot of teams very interested in joining in upcoming years." There are notable absences at launch, including the Rockets, who in December named Sebastian Park the league’s first Dir of Esports Development, and both Los Angeles teams. L.A. is an epicenter of the esports industry in North America. As esports leagues become more firmly entrenched, it’s no surprise that the major sports leagues are finding ways to turn their digital properties into esports gold. Expect the NFL to jump in the esports arena next, perhaps followed by MLS and/or FIFA/UEFA (tracking the global popularity of the FIFA video games).

6.    Tickets are now on sale for The NFL Experience Times Square, an interactive attraction opening in November, and the NFL and partner Cirque du Soleil have released details about the experiences available. The attraction will offer fans “a chance to step into the shoes of an NFL player through various physical challenges, augmented reality, immersive elements and a 4D cinematic experience with exclusive content from NFL Films.” Fans will be able to participate in a vertical leap test and blocking sleds, receive one-on-one instruction from a hologram of a NFL legendary coach, learn a play in a space that replicates a coach’s classroom; test their skills by completing a game-winning pass to their favorite receiver, and share the stage with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Why Cirque du Soleil? The NFL views the partnership as the meeting of the minds of two iconic global brands – and certainly no one is better at creating spectacular, jaw-dropping multimedia content than the Canadian acrobatic troupe.

7.    The University of Michigan rarely has a tough time filling up The Big House in Ann Arbor, but this coming football season’s ticket sales are poised to break records. According to the Detroit News, the university’s season-ticket base “will reach 93,000 this fall, a mark it has not seen” since before the 2007 season. Season tickets typically hover around the 90,000 marker, which is set by the university, though the team’s recent success under Coach Jim Harbaugh has contributed greatly to the spike in season ticket sales. The athletic department added more season tickets because of an increased demand for them, for the “renewal rate among existing ticketholders currently stands” at an astounding 99%. Of the 93,000 season tickets being offered this coming season, 21,000 are allocated for students, which is also the “highest it’s been” since the 2007 season. In an era when student interest in their school’s sports is on the wane, it will be instructive to see how many of the 21,000 student seats are filled come fall.

8.    Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ended up No. 1 on the NFLPA Top 50 Player Sales List for fiscal year 2016-2017, becoming the first rookie to hold that honor. The list, according to the players association, is based on total sales of officially-licensed NFL player merchandise for the year that began March 1, 2016, and ended February 28, 2017. Rankings include all NFL player-identified merchandise and products sold by more than 80 official NFLPA licensees via online and traditional outlets with retail sales exceeding $1.6 billion. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished No. 2 for year-end sales, while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had held the top spot through the end of Q3, finished in the No. 3 position despite winning the Super Bowl. Elliott’s feat proves that rookies who become major contributors on the field have the ability to equally enhance their sport’s bottom line off it. Kudos to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for creating the marketing platform that helped propel Elliott and Prescott to the top of the list.

9.    It looks like the New York Jets are already throwing in the towel for this coming season. According to the New York Post, Jets Owner Woody Johnson came as close as he could to labeling this coming season a “rebuilding year” without actually using the word “rebuilding” to describe his outlook. In an interview on ESPN Radio N.Y. 1050, Johnson said, “The way I want to be judged this year, hopefully from the fans’ standpoint, is watch how we improve during the year, look at each individual on the team and see how they’re getting better. If they’re getting better, that’s a mark of progress.” Talking about consistent improvement across the board over winning games, Johnson also noted that making the playoffs is not a clear expectation has for Coach Todd Bowles in the wake of a 5-11 season in 2016. Even though the Jets nabbed LSU safety Jamal Adams at #6 in the just-completed NFL Draft, Sports Illustrated gave the team a C- for its draft strategy overall. Small wonder that owner Johnson is exercising extreme caution when managing fan expectations.

10.    The Boston Red Sox are in the process of revoking tickets of fans who used racial slurs toward Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones. According to the Boston Globe, Red Sox Owner John Henry and President Sam Kennedy met with Jones to inform him of the steps the team is taking to handle the situation. Jones personally suggested fining fans who taunted him, but Kennedy suggested that fines are “probably in the hands of the police.”  This issue is being handled both on the club level with the Red Sox and also at the league level with MLB officials and executives getting involved to ensure this is an isolated incident. Though it is nearly impossible to directly control what people say at ballparks, banning fans from coming back the Fenway Park would send a direct message that there is zero tolerance for racist behavior anywhere in sports.

11.    With social media playing an increasingly large role in pro athletes’ lives, some coaches and managers have begun to regulate how their players use such platforms. According to the London Independent, Manchester United Manager José Mourinho “instigated a crackdown” on his players’ social media usage. Mourinho noted his frustration with how much information his players make public online and has since made rules to control the usage of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Man U players “have been told that the club does not want them to publish any pictures from training, from the 48 hours leading up to a game or especially from the team bus on the way to games.” Mourinho wants his players “fully focused” on game days while also restricting “the flow of information out of the club, especially at sensitive times.” While social media is an unparalleled promotional platform, expect stances like Mourinho’s to become increasingly prevalent across all professional sports domestically and internationally.

12.    Wimbledon organizers have announced that singles tennis champions will receive $2.84 million each, an increase of about $250,000 for "both the men's and women's winner." The total prize pot increases to $40.8 million, up from $36.3 million last year. According to Reuters, All England Club Chair Philip Brook said that the club "had 'taken into account' exchange rates, but that the 'Brexit effect' had not been instrumental in their calculations." Meanwhile, the All England Club confirmed that Wimbledon's second roofed court – Court No. 1 – "will be completed in time" for the 2019 championships. Let’s face it – Wimbledon could be held on a playground for lunch money and it would still attract the world’s top players, drawn to its storied history and prestige. The real arms race in tennis is winning the battle against the elements that begets more TV time that begets more revenue.

13.    Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains a free agent more than eight weeks into free agency, but is that because of his on-field performance or off-field protesting? According to the S.F. Chronicle, some believe Kaepernick has still not been signed “because of his decision to kneel during the national anthem before games last season,” while others think his “on-field regression and potential distractions he’d bring to a franchise” are the real reasons he has not been picked up yet. Even since he led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, the quarterback’s on-field performance has dipped considerably, while coinciding with his social protesting. It was reported a week before the start of free agency Kaepernick "would stand for the anthem" in 2017. Whether he "stands or not," Kaepernick "probably won’t be able to fade into the background, even though he most likely will be a backup." And let’s be clear – if Kaepernick’s on-field skills hadn’t deteriorated, he’d be on a team, regardless of political acts that haven’t really harmed anyone but him.

14.    Following in the footsteps of other Power Five conferences, the ACC has committed itself to launching its own television network by 2019. According to Awful Announcing, ACC Commissioner John Swofford wrote a memo to conference Athletic Directors informing them that ESPN President John Skipper has confirmed plans to launch the network are “full speed ahead.” The new network hopes to be as successful as the Big 10 Network, which has been live for years now. ESPN plans to put all of its “muscle and support” toward the ACC Network to make it as financially successful as possible. ESPN currently has a deal in place with the ACC that runs through 2036, so it is in the network’s best interest to ensure the financial success of the new channel. Florida State AD Stan Wilcox thinks the network “will be successful” despite the recent talent cuts at ESPN. No one expects ESPN to go quietly into the night, and forging ahead with high-profile partnerships and expansion plans is one way to maintain the confidence of advertisers and parent Disney.

15.    University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban "got a healthy raise and a few more years on his deal," as the Alabama Board of Trustees compensation committee approved a new contract through the 2024 season worth an average of $8.2 million annually. According to AL.com, the deal includes a $4 million signing bonus, giving Saban total compensation of $11.15 million in 2017. The structure of the deal is "different from those in the past," as Saban's "base pay actually went down" while "annual completion bonuses" were added. USA Today sports investigative reporter Steve Berkowitz also noted that Saban's 2017 earnings will be "by far the greatest amount paid to a college athletics coach" since USA Today Sports began tracking those numbers in 2006…and that Saban's $4 million signing bonus is greater than Coppin State's total athletics revenue for the 2015 fiscal year. Ball’s in your court, University of Michigan Board of Trustees. How long before Jim Harbaugh – he of the $9 million in annual compensation via life insurance policy – comes knocking?

Top stories of the Week; George Pyne Podcast

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Top stories of the Week; George Pyne Podcast

With Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins

1.    Ahead of this week’s The Players Championship, the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida has opened its largest-ever exhibit highlighting golf’s “Fifth Major” and its venue, TPC Sawgrass. "The Players Experience," according to the Florida Times-Union, is an "1,800-square-foot tribute to the 43-year history of the PGA Tour event." It includes a nod to the 11 Hall of Famers who have won the tourney, and past champions "have donated memorabilia from their victories." An interactive display is devoted to the par-3 17th and its "Island Green," with a "quiz on 17 trivia and a large-screen enactment of what it's like to hit a tee shot" there. Other exhibits honor Hall of Fame members Deane Beman and Pete Dye for creating the tournament and the course; the contributions of its more than 2,000 volunteers; and the tournament’s charitable efforts, which contributed more than $85 million to the community since 1977. From the European Tour’s new GolfSixes format to the Zurich Classic’s team play and this Hall of Fame exhibit, golf’s visionaries are bringing fresh energy and creativity to the sport in order to better grow the game. 






2.    While Paris 2024 Olympic bid organizers are trying to keep politics out of the picture, the French presidential election continues to serve as the backdrop of the city’s battle to land the Games. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Paris 2024 co-Chair Tony Estanguet confirmed that the divisive election has not changed anything with the committee’s planning and execution. “We knew along the journey of the bid we'd have different elections,” said Estanguet. “We want to reduce the involvement of the political world. They are there to support. They are there to be tough. But we decide where to put the Olympic Village. The sport movement will be responsible for delivering the Games.” Paris remains as the favorite over Los Angeles currently, though tides can turn before the IOC September vote. Both cities are considered heavyweights and are each vying to host the Olympics for the third time. While organizers try their best, it is virtually impossible to keep politics out of the Olympics, especially where the IOC is involved. Look for newly-minted French President Emmanuel Macron to have an impact on both the Paris and L.A. bids.


3.    He’s not even on an NBA team yet, but Lonzo Ball – and his father LaVar – are already making waves in the league with the release of a $500 shoe. The family’s Big Baller Brand just introduced the ZO2 Prime, which retails from $495-$695, while “an autographed version of is listed on bigballerbrand.com for $995,” according to Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. The shoes are "available for pre-order to be shipped by November 24." Comparatively, the most expensive version of Kevin Durant’s signature Nike shoe, the KD 9 iD, is $195, while teammate Stephen Curry’s Under Armour UA Curry3Zero is $119.99. And the "most expensive Jordan Brand shoe is the $400 Air Jordan 5 Retro Premium." LaVar Ball has repeatedly told media the family decided to produce their own shoes when none of the major shoe brands offered equity as part of endorsement deals reportedly in the $2 million annual range. Jordan, Durant, and Curry earned the right to put their name on expensive collectible shoes. Ball hasn’t run a single NBA play, and while the sticker shock value is getting the brand some publicity, it’s no sure thing the strategy will pay off for the family over time. Let your feet do their talking ON the court.


4.    A bidding war is about to go down in Miami. According to the Miami Herald, a group led by Tagg Romney, son of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has “submitted a bid slightly higher” than the one Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter put in. The joint bid from Bush and Jeter to buy the Miami Marlins was for $1.3 billion, and the team is currently deciding which bid to accept. While the Marlins will be making this decision on their own, MLB must approve the transaction before it comes to fruition. Sources said that Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria recently "struck a non-binding agreement – a handshake deal" – that Bush would be "given first opportunity to buy the team if he was able to provide proof of financing and quickly sign a purchase agreement." The Marlins "fully expected that Bush would be able to close the deal." While the deal will go down in Florida, the real news about this transaction will come from New York, as no ownership transfer will transpire without MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s approval.

5.    As the NBA Playoffs builds to the conference finals, seventeen NBA franchises have committed to fielding teams in the inaugural NBA 2K esports league set to launch in 2018. Teams were asked to pay a buy-in fee in the low six figures to join the league, a joint venture of the NBA and Take Two Interactive, which publishes the 2K series. Teams will be operators, not owners. Brendan Donohue, the esports league’s newly named Managing Director, said, “We were hoping for half the teams to jump on board, and we got more than that. There are still a lot of teams very interested in joining in upcoming years." There are notable absences at launch, including the Rockets, who in December named Sebastian Park the league’s first Dir of Esports Development, and both Los Angeles teams. L.A. is an epicenter of the esports industry in North America. As esports leagues become more firmly entrenched, it’s no surprise that the major sports leagues are finding ways to turn their digital properties into esports gold. Expect the NFL to jump in the esports arena next, perhaps followed by MLS and/or FIFA/UEFA (tracking the global popularity of the FIFA video games).

6.    Tickets are now on sale for The NFL Experience Times Square, an interactive attraction opening in November, and the NFL and partner Cirque du Soleil have released details about the experiences available. The attraction will offer fans “a chance to step into the shoes of an NFL player through various physical challenges, augmented reality, immersive elements and a 4D cinematic experience with exclusive content from NFL Films.” Fans will be able to participate in a vertical leap test and blocking sleds, receive one-on-one instruction from a hologram of a NFL legendary coach, learn a play in a space that replicates a coach’s classroom; test their skills by completing a game-winning pass to their favorite receiver, and share the stage with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Why Cirque du Soleil? The NFL views the partnership as the meeting of the minds of two iconic global brands – and certainly no one is better at creating spectacular, jaw-dropping multimedia content than the Canadian acrobatic troupe.

7.    The University of Michigan rarely has a tough time filling up The Big House in Ann Arbor, but this coming football season’s ticket sales are poised to break records. According to the Detroit News, the university’s season-ticket base “will reach 93,000 this fall, a mark it has not seen” since before the 2007 season. Season tickets typically hover around the 90,000 marker, which is set by the university, though the team’s recent success under Coach Jim Harbaugh has contributed greatly to the spike in season ticket sales. The athletic department added more season tickets because of an increased demand for them, for the “renewal rate among existing ticketholders currently stands” at an astounding 99%. Of the 93,000 season tickets being offered this coming season, 21,000 are allocated for students, which is also the “highest it’s been” since the 2007 season. In an era when student interest in their school’s sports is on the wane, it will be instructive to see how many of the 21,000 student seats are filled come fall.

8.    Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ended up No. 1 on the NFLPA Top 50 Player Sales List for fiscal year 2016-2017, becoming the first rookie to hold that honor. The list, according to the players association, is based on total sales of officially-licensed NFL player merchandise for the year that began March 1, 2016, and ended February 28, 2017. Rankings include all NFL player-identified merchandise and products sold by more than 80 official NFLPA licensees via online and traditional outlets with retail sales exceeding $1.6 billion. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished No. 2 for year-end sales, while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had held the top spot through the end of Q3, finished in the No. 3 position despite winning the Super Bowl. Elliott’s feat proves that rookies who become major contributors on the field have the ability to equally enhance their sport’s bottom line off it. Kudos to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for creating the marketing platform that helped propel Elliott and Prescott to the top of the list.


9.    It looks like the New York Jets are already throwing in the towel for this coming season. According to the New York Post, Jets Owner Woody Johnson came as close as he could to labeling this coming season a “rebuilding year” without actually using the word “rebuilding” to describe his outlook. In an interview on ESPN Radio N.Y. 1050, Johnson said, “The way I want to be judged this year, hopefully from the fans’ standpoint, is watch how we improve during the year, look at each individual on the team and see how they’re getting better. If they’re getting better, that’s a mark of progress.” Talking about consistent improvement across the board over winning games, Johnson also noted that making the playoffs is not a clear expectation has for Coach Todd Bowles in the wake of a 5-11 season in 2016. Even though the Jets nabbed LSU safety Jamal Adams at #6 in the just-completed NFL Draft, Sports Illustrated gave the team a C- for its draft strategy overall. Small wonder that owner Johnson is exercising extreme caution when managing fan expectations.


10.    The Boston Red Sox are in the process of revoking tickets of fans who used racial slurs toward Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones. According to the Boston Globe, Red Sox Owner John Henry and President Sam Kennedy met with Jones to inform him of the steps the team is taking to handle the situation. Jones personally suggested fining fans who taunted him, but Kennedy suggested that fines are “probably in the hands of the police.”  This issue is being handled both on the club level with the Red Sox and also at the league level with MLB officials and executives getting involved to ensure this is an isolated incident. Though it is nearly impossible to directly control what people say at ballparks, banning fans from coming back the Fenway Park would send a direct message that there is zero tolerance for racist behavior anywhere in sports.

11.    With social media playing an increasingly large role in pro athletes’ lives, some coaches and managers have begun to regulate how their players use such platforms. According to the London Independent, Manchester United Manager José Mourinho “instigated a crackdown” on his players’ social media usage. Mourinho noted his frustration with how much information his players make public online and has since made rules to control the usage of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Man U players “have been told that the club does not want them to publish any pictures from training, from the 48 hours leading up to a game or especially from the team bus on the way to games.” Mourinho wants his players “fully focused” on game days while also restricting “the flow of information out of the club, especially at sensitive times.” While social media is an unparalleled promotional platform, expect stances like Mourinho’s to become increasingly prevalent across all professional sports domestically and internationally.

12.    Wimbledon organizers have announced that singles tennis champions will receive $2.84 million each, an increase of about $250,000 for "both the men's and women's winner." The total prize pot increases to $40.8 million, up from $36.3 million last year. According to Reuters, All England Club Chair Philip Brook said that the club "had 'taken into account' exchange rates, but that the 'Brexit effect' had not been instrumental in their calculations." Meanwhile, the All England Club confirmed that Wimbledon's second roofed court – Court No. 1 – "will be completed in time" for the 2019 championships. Let’s face it – Wimbledon could be held on a playground for lunch money and it would still attract the world’s top players, drawn to its storied history and prestige. The real arms race in tennis is winning the battle against the elements that begets more TV time that begets more revenue.

13.    Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains a free agent more than eight weeks into free agency, but is that because of his on-field performance or off-field protesting? According to the S.F. Chronicle, some believe Kaepernick has still not been signed “because of his decision to kneel during the national anthem before games last season,” while others think his “on-field regression and potential distractions he’d bring to a franchise” are the real reasons he has not been picked up yet. Even since he led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, the quarterback’s on-field performance has dipped considerably, while coinciding with his social protesting. It was reported a week before the start of free agency Kaepernick "would stand for the anthem" in 2017. Whether he "stands or not," Kaepernick "probably won’t be able to fade into the background, even though he most likely will be a backup." And let’s be clear – if Kaepernick’s on-field skills hadn’t deteriorated, he’d be on a team, regardless of political acts that haven’t really harmed anyone but him.

14.    Following in the footsteps of other Power Five conferences, the ACC has committed itself to launching its own television network by 2019. According to Awful Announcing, ACC Commissioner John Swofford wrote a memo to conference Athletic Directors informing them that ESPN President John Skipper has confirmed plans to launch the network are “full speed ahead.” The new network hopes to be as successful as the Big 10 Network, which has been live for years now. ESPN plans to put all of its “muscle and support” toward the ACC Network to make it as financially successful as possible. ESPN currently has a deal in place with the ACC that runs through 2036, so it is in the network’s best interest to ensure the financial success of the new channel. Florida State AD Stan Wilcox thinks the network “will be successful” despite the recent talent cuts at ESPN. No one expects ESPN to go quietly into the night, and forging ahead with high-profile partnerships and expansion plans is one way to maintain the confidence of advertisers and parent Disney.

15.    University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban "got a healthy raise and a few more years on his deal," as the Alabama Board of Trustees compensation committee approved a new contract through the 2024 season worth an average of $8.2 million annually. According to AL.com, the deal includes a $4 million signing bonus, giving Saban total compensation of $11.15 million in 2017. The structure of the deal is "different from those in the past," as Saban's "base pay actually went down" while "annual completion bonuses" were added. USA Today sports investigative reporter Steve Berkowitz also noted that Saban's 2017 earnings will be "by far the greatest amount paid to a college athletics coach" since USA Today Sports began tracking those numbers in 2006…and that Saban's $4 million signing bonus is greater than Coppin State's total athletics revenue for the 2015 fiscal year. Ball’s in your court, University of Michigan Board of Trustees. How long before Jim Harbaugh – he of the $9 million in annual compensation via life insurance policy – comes knocking?