Top Stories of the Week; NFL Sr. VP Peter O'Reilly on Super Bowl planning

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Top Stories of the Week; NFL Sr. VP Peter O'Reilly on Super Bowl planning

with Jamie Swimmer



1.    Now that Super Bowl 51 is in the books, the NFL will turn its attention to its routine and not so routine challenges. Whether or not you were thrilled with the Patriot’s fifth NFL championship in the 2000s or feel that they have officially now assumed the New York Yankees’ role as the Evil Empire of sports, once the off-season starts, all 32 NFL franchises return to a neutral playing field to hammer out their most pressing business issues. At the top of the 2017 list are two major challenges: resolving the league’s franchise relocation issues out west, and beginning to think about renegotiating the existing CBA, now at the halfway mark of its 10-year term. While five years out may seem like it’s way too premature to plan for the next round of NFL-NFLPA CBA negotiations, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith just ruled out renewing the current CBA, pointing to several issues, including the league’s concussion protocol, player discipline, and whether players should continue to give the league stadium credits (which reduce revenue shared with players so teams can invest in stadiums). After he handed the Patriots the Lombardi Trophy, Commissioner Roger Goodell should now be able to put “Deflategate” squarely in the rear view mirror and focus on league business, including relocation, early CBA strategizing, declining ratings, and international expansion.

2.    For thousands of current and former college athletes, a $6,000 check may soon be on the way thanks to the settlement of a far-reaching class action case on Friday. The NCAA and 11 Division I conferences "agreed to create" a nearly $208.7 million fund for the benefit of current and former D-I basketball and FBS student-athletes, settling the "monetary claims portion" of a grant-in-aid class-action lawsuit, according to the association. The settlement, announced in a Friday statement, will be "funded entirely from NCAA reserves, and no conference or member schools will be required to contribute." The settlement is "subject to approval by the court and will award class members money up to, but not exceeding, their full cost of attendance.” Other aspects of the class action suit remain unresolved, including an effort to eliminate all restrictions on compensation for student athletes. While the NCAA has stated it will “vigorously oppose” all portions of the lawsuit seeking “pay for play,” the next stage of the process will focus on changing existing rules so that collegiate athletes receive more compensation. Stay tuned.

3.    After picking up so much momentum in a short period of time, the Oakland Raiders’ hopes of relocating to Las Vegas are beginning to dwindle quickly. According to the L.A. Times, Goldman Sachs, the bank that originally said it “would finance” the Raiders’ new stadium, “pulled away from the project.” The Raiders told the NFL that the bank would fund their planned $1.9 billion stadium despite Las Vegas Sands Chair & CEO Sheldon Adelson withdrawing from the deal last week, but that is no longer the case. Sources close to the deal reported that Goldman Sachs pulled out because Adelson rescinded his support of the stadium. State Senator Aaron Ford suggested that public money for the stadium "could be diverted for other purposes if the situation isn't quickly resolved." Those who know Adelson well confidently stated that there is very little hope of the businessman reentering the deal. Marc Davis, Las Vegas, and Nevada will surely scramble to replace the “missing equity piece.” But NFL Commissioner Goodell’s statement that no investors in a team or facility can have any ownership stake in a casino may be what makes the effort go bust – it’s virtually impossible to find deep-pocketed investors in or around Vegas with no casino ties.

4.    The Baltimore Ravens are planning on investing $120 million as part of a three-year project to renovate M&T Bank Stadium. According to the Baltimore Sun, the project will become the team’s biggest investment in facility upgrades to date; it will add “elevators and escalators, enlarge the end zone video boards and improve the sound system and kitchen facilities.” On top of the Ravens’ investment, the Maryland Stadium Authority also pledged $24 million to the project. "We need to keep making improvements,” said team President Dick Cass. “You can’t ever stop. You have to keep putting money into your stadium.” The 19-year-old stadium had its Wi-Fi improved in 2013 as part of a $45 million investment that saw concourses and concessions upgraded as well. In today’s NFL landscape, teams continually open new mega stadiums and renovate older ones; the Ravens are playing catch-up. The M&T Bank Stadium renovation is the next in a long line of major upgrades around the league – as leases with stadiums built in the 1990s come up for renewal or renegotiation and technological standards and fan comfort coalesce in new improvements.

5.    Twelve cities have formally applied for MLS expansion bids, but only four of these hopeful markets will eventually land a team. According to Soccer America, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego, and Tampa are all vying to join the growing domestic soccer league. The bid groups "include owners with interests in the NFL, NBA and MLB," while eight "have had interests in teams" in NASL and the USL. A MLS expansion committee is expected to begin reviewing applications later this month focusing on three areas: “Ownership, stadium details; and financial projections, corporate and soccer support.” Two of the selected franchises will hopefully begin play in 2020, with the other two to follow. Speaking of the 12 applicant cities, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, “All great cities, support of proven leaders, and passionate fans.” MLS now faces the standard tradeoff that all leagues analyze:  significant expansion revenue and higher franchise values vs. the long-term harm of overexpansion. 

6.    In a push to make the game safer and more popular for kids, USA Football “intends to introduce a drastically altered youth football game.” According to the N.Y. Times, there has been a sharp decline in youth football participation over the past few years in response to the concussion crisis sweeping through the sport. The organization has “created a new format that brings the game closer to flag football and tries to avoid much of the violence in the current version.” Teams will now play with between six and nine players on the field instead of the traditional 11, the field will be smaller, and all kickoffs and punts will be eliminated. "There are, legitimately, concerns among parents about allowing their kids to play tackle football at a young age,” said Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy, who is on the USA Football Board of Directors. “So they can look at this and say they’ll be more comfortable that it is a safer alternative.” All youth football organizations (including Pop Warner and USA Football) are experimenting with various safety measures, format changes, and contact restrictions in order to “stay ahead of the concussion science.”

7.    Pittsburgh Penguins Center Sidney Crosby finished atop the list of best-selling NHL jerseys during the first half of the 2016-2017 season. According to Yahoo Sports, Crosby’s sensational 2016 campaign, one that included a Stanley Cup title last season and a spot in the top three on the total points list this season, resulted in him having the highest-selling jersey for all of 2016. Meanwhile, jersey sales for Toronto Maple Leafs Center Auston Matthews through the first three months of the 2016-2017 season reflect his status as a "rookie sensation," as his sweater was the "second-highest-selling jersey" on Shop.NHL.com. Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane finished third on this year’s list; he led the NHL in jersey sales back in 2014 but slipped after sexual assault allegations last season. Rounding out the top five are Blackhawks Center Jonathan Toews, who “led the NHL in jersey sales” in 2015, and Edmonton Oilers Center Connor McDavid. The NHL is in astronomical health in many ways. Their “superstars” represent the younger demographic (Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid) combined with the “old guard” of Crosby, Kane, and others. A good mix for the future.

8.    The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will have a weirdly unique feature: the medals that will be awarded to athletes will be made from recycled materials. According to Reuters, organizes in Tokyo said that the medals will be “forged from recycled metal from old mobile phones and appliances donated by the general public to give them a sense of direct involvement in the Games.” On top of keeping the general public involved, this move will also save costs after the initial budget “ballooned” to more than $26.4 billion at one point. The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee hopes to gather as much as eight tons of metal – 40kg of gold, 2,920kg of silver and 2,994kg of bronze – to meet the required amount of materials needed to properly make the Olympic medals. Several million units of mobile phones will be required to meet the "eight-ton target," the organizing committee said. A national recycling effort will officially begin in April. A symbolic but important effort to focus on environmental concerns – that will be one of the Tokyo Olympic legacies going forward.

9.    Sports have recently acted as a popular medium for athletes and teams to express themselves politically and socially, and “The Bridge Tournament” is set to become another example of just that. According to Xinhua, border-region Mexican and American soccer teams are planning to “play a tournament to protest the wall U.S. President Donald Trump plans to build along the two countries’ shared border.” The new president drew a significant amount of criticism during his campaign for his proposal of a wall and how to fund it, and the criticism has only escalated since he announced his intention on following through with the initial plan. No date has been set for The Bridge Tournament yet, but invitations have already been sent out to potential participants. “The event will pit three teams from each country, including Ascenso MX side Correcaminos, Tampico Madero and Reynosa from Mexico, against U.S sides Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas and Rio Grande Valley FC Toros.” A welcome symbolic and practical attempt to maximize “hands across the border” given the obvious political concerns. In this case, sports may help show the way for better regional cooperation.

10.    San Diego State’s impressive 80-game regular-season sellout streak is over and the university is now struggling to keep its students interested in the team. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, last season saw a 10-15% no-show rate for students at basketball games at Viejas Arena, with the trend escalating this season. Around 700 students “failed to collect free tickets” to SDSU’s game against Wyoming, equating to around 30% of the 2,500-person student section remaining empty. It has been “seven seasons since all student tickets were not claimed for a conference home game with school in session.” The university has begun to float the idea of converting 500 of the student section seats into season tickets for paying fans, but no move has been made yet. The “cash-strapped athletic department” seems likely to make this switch in the near future because these additional season tickets “could generate an additional $500,000” for the university. The team has been consistently successful both and off the court. Long-term marketing techniques are sometimes necessary to sustain interest between championship caliber teams. 

11.    The NWSL will now have its games streamed on Lifetime after A+E Networks “purchased an equity stake” in the league. According to the K.C. Star, weekly matches will be streamed on the network and there are plans to launch NWSL Media, “which will oversee live streaming of all matches.” NWSL Media will "serve as the commercial branch for the league, overseeing its broadcast and sponsorship rights." It will also "administer a new website and phone app." The TV deal with the NWSL and Lifetime is set for three years, marking the “top broadcast arrangement in the league’s history.” Another part of the deal will see Lifetime’s logo placed on all official league jerseys with a patch on the right sleeve. Due to the 4:00pm ET slot that NWSL games will have on Lifetime, NWSL games and MLS games will “go head-to-head at least 10 times this year” when men’s games air on ESPN. Lifetime may have provided a “life line” to the league – with the hopes that the product and demographic appeal can carry the day and reenergize momentum.

12.    The NFL is looking to expand its International Series in Canada. According to the Toronto Sun, the NFL scouted four Canadian stadiums in 2016 as “candidate sites for possible future regular-season games.” Rogers Centre and Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, and B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver were the four venues considered, as confirmed by NFL Executive Vice President/International Mark Waller. The league was primarily evaluating the locker rooms and whether or not the venues met the NFL’s technological standards. Waller noted that the NFL has "not yet reached a conclusion on a Canadian venue," nor does it "disclose findings of such information missions," but the league will be heading back to Mexico next year regardless of what happens north of the border. The NFL recently confirmed a game between the Raiders and Patriots will be played at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City next season. Inevitable and positive news by the NFL to expand its reach north of the border while continuing to work with the CFL.

13.    The Tennessee Titans and the NFL are at odds about the team’s ownership structure and whether or not it “complies with league rules.” According to the Nashville Tennessean, Controlling Owner Amy Adams Strunk took over for her sister, Susie Adams Smith, in March 2015 and each owns 33% of the team; the remaining ownership stake is “split among three other family members.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the ownership situation in Tennessee by saying, “The fundamental aspect of our policy is to make sure that we have an individual who has the ultimate authority over the franchise, and to make those decisions, including league-vote decisions, as well as locally, and it’s clear – it’s clear to the ownership group and it’s also clear to the membership.” When Amy Adams Strunk took over in 2015, the league levied a six-figure fine on the franchise, but that did not ultimately change the situation. Look for these ownership and transition issues to be resolved as soon as possible, especially with the evolving estate tax laws and the need for stability and clarity in the Nashville market.

14.    The departure of star player Elena Delle Donne to the Washington Mystics is almost surely going to negatively affect the business of the Chicago Sky. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the WNBA franchise is losing “not only one of the faces of the WNBA, but one of the most marketable female athletes in the country.” Since being drafted by the franchise in 2013, the Sky’s ticket sales have risen by 27% to a “franchise record of 7,009 per game at Allstate Arena last season.” The Sky also “signed a landmark five-year local TV deal with Weigel Broadcasting shortly after drafting Delle Donne,” putting the team in 8 million local TV homes. The Sky said that they also “ranked in the top three of the WNBA's 12 teams in sponsorship revenue last year.” When she joined the team four years ago, the Sky immediately launched a “Delle Donne deal” on season tickets, helping to boost sales. Without their star player to build their business around, the on-court and off-court success of the Chicago Sky remains uncertain. As always, a team and league depends on the stability of its superstars. As a result, they continue to look for stability and “sizzle” at the box office and on television.

15.    Broadcasting legend Brent Musburger has officially retired, and the sports world will miss his on-air presence. Musburger capped his 50-year broadcasting career by calling the Georgia-Kentucky men’s basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Following the overtime game, “a video aired of some of Musburger’s best broadcasting moments, followed by his closing remarks,” according to ESPN. “What a road we’ve traveled together,” reminisced Musburger. “Thanks so much to you for sharing your time with me, (what) great memories we had over the last almost 50 years.” The former broadcaster will be remembered for his “unique ability to tell a story and paint a picture for the fans,” as longtime broadcasting partner Dick Vitale noted. He is set to retire to his new home in Las Vegas, where he will take his first break from broadcasting since he began decades ago. The torch is passing from many of the media icons – Dick Enberg, Verne Lundquist, Vince Scully, now Brent Musburger. From a business perspective, the older viewing demographic will lose some of its reason to watch.

Top stories of the week; Interview with Cris Collinsworth

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Top stories of the week; Interview with Cris Collinsworth

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

Listen to the "Beyond the Scoreboard" podcast:

Watch the interview with Cris Collinsworth here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.