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


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 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.

15 to Watch: June 19


15 to Watch: June 19

with Jamie Swimmer
 and Tanner Simkins

1.    27 year-old Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open, and his brand is about to soar higher than one of his impossibly long drives. Koepka, a Florida native and Florida State standout from a very athletically-gifted family, has won only one other event on the PGA Tour, and is one of a large pack of talented 20-something golfers who, as the Washington Post puts it, are “the age that got full-blown ‘Tiger Slam’ Eldrick Woods at their most impressionable age.”  Currently World No. 22, Koepka will be seeing his own moving day in the coming weeks as his ranking improves, and the $2,160,000 winner’s purse he received on Sunday is eclipsed by endorsers joining the ranks of Nike, Michelob Ultra, and Paylocity. First Brooks, now Brooke – as in Henderson. The Canadian phenom, winner of Sunday’s Meijer LPGA Classic, and her LPGA peers next take their considerable talents to Northwest Arkansas for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. The growing LPGA tournament is a boon for the region, and vice versa.

2.    Days after the University of Oklahoma softball squad won their fourth Women’s College World Series there, Oklahoma City-based Fields & Futures announced two major partnerships to renovate youth athletic fields and finish what they started. For the last five years, Fields & Futures has partnered with the Oklahoma City Public School system to renovate 42 school athletic fields, many in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The organization has finished 20 of the fields, and now, with a partnership with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and $1.5 million matching gift and seven-figure marketing plan investment from Delaware Life, it can not only finish the remaining 22 fields, it is developing a blueprint for a much larger footprint. Already, Oklahoma City has seen grades, attendance, and graduation rates improve at the seven schools where fields have already been built. And as Delaware Life President Dan Towriss adds, “Investing in Fields & Futures provides a solid foundation for our company and a great inspiration and motivation for kids to stay in school, graduate, and thrive in life.”

3.    Despite not going No. 1 overall in the MLB Draft, high school pitcher Hunter Greene is still being heralded as the future of baseball. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Greene, a product of MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, California, was drafted second by the Cincinnati Reds, making him the “highest draft pick of any alumnus from that program.” His fastball tops out at 102 MPH, prompting him to call himself a “monster” at that position; Greene also plays shortstop, and the Reds have not ruled out the possibility of him becoming a two-way MLB player. Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke of Greene coming from the Urban Youth Academy, “This is huge for our game…We hope these programs will continue to produce players like Hunter.” Greene has also participated in several events for the league’s ongoing Play Ball initiative, and said he is “embracing a role of helping spur youth participation in baseball, particularly among African-Americans.” As we saw in the wake of last week’s tragic congressional baseball game shooting, baseball still firmly remains America’s pastime, in spirit if not in actual ticket sales and TV ratings. And diversity, as Greene represents, remains a baseball cornerstone.  

4.    It’s happening – the fight the fans wanted. Floyd Mayweather Jr. will officially square off in the boxing ring against Conor McGregor. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, the “improbable boxing match” is set for August 26 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. UFC President Dana White reaffirmed that there will be no UFC fights that day, “strictly boxing matches.” Financial terms to the match and the split between Mayweather Jr. and McGregor have not yet been revealed to the public, “but it’s certain that Mayweather will earn the lion’s share of the purse and PPV money after raking in more than $200 million for the record-selling Manny Pacquiao bout alone.” Nowadays, Mayweather won’t step in the ring for anything less than $100 million, so one figures he will not walk away from this fight with shallow pockets. The number to beat: the record 4.6 million PPV buys for the 2015 Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.

5.    On the heels of a season that saw a ratings decline for Sky Sports, the EPL is considering a schedule shakeup. According to the London Times, EPL clubs are now mulling the possibility of playing matches on Saturday nights. One specific proposal is to “target a peak-time television audience with kickoffs at 7:45 pm local time” in England. Sky Sports’ Premier League viewership fell off by 14% last season, leaving the network needing to recoup and make a positive change. Saturday scheduling was “discussed during the league's summer shareholders' meeting last week ahead of the upcoming launch of the tender process for its next domestic broadcasting deal.” A final decision is “expected this autumn, when clubs will also decide how many fixtures to make available to broadcasters” between 2019-2022 when the “rights for those seasons are sold” early next year. Another group no doubt welcoming the scheduling change? Pubs and sports bars, which would see a double-digit business surge from the evening matches.

6.    The world’s top-paid athlete has been accused of $16.6 million in tax fraud from 2011-2014. According to the Financial Times, Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is “coming into conflict with the country’s tax authorities,” as Spanish prosecutors are coming after yet another high-profile soccer player. Ronaldo’s estimated annual pay is around $93 million; the prosecutors after Ronaldo claim that he “sought to hide at least a part of that wealth from the country’s tax authorities.” They also claim that No. 7’s failure to comply with authorities from 2011-2014 was “voluntary” and “conscious.” “The accused made use of a corporate structure created in 2010 to hide from the tax authority income generated in Spain through image rights,” stated the prosecutors. These claims come on the heels of a similar case, in which Barcelona forward Lionel Messi was found guilty of tax fraud by a Spanish court and handed a 21-month suspended jail sentence. Regardless of who actually designed the tax evasion scheme, “the buck stops here” in Athletes, Inc. The bigger an athlete’s brand, the more policing is required to ensure compliance with multinational authorities. 

7.    The Australian government has officially backed the country’s bid to land the 2023 Women’s World Cup. According to ABC, the government will financially support Football Federation Australia (FFA) to build a successful bid proposal. The federal government will “provide initial funding worth $753,900, with a further $3 million to be made available should it be satisfied the bid has a chance to be successful.” This carefully crafted, two-tier financing system comes as a completely contradictory approach to the one the Australian government took to backing “Australia’s disastrous bid for the 2022 World Cup, for which FFA received A$45.6 million in federal funding.” Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra are speculated to be the planned host cities for the 24-team tournament. The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada proved so successful, monetarily and image-wise, that governing bodies everywhere now believe that they can profit from hosting the competition.

8.    South Korea is trying to formulate a joint bid with neighboring Southeast Asian countries to attract the 2030 FIFA World Cup, but is expected to face early “road blocks” in doing so. According to Yonhap, China reportedly wants to stage the World Cup on its own, Japan “has been lukewarm to the joint bid proposal,” and communist North Korea brings a complex set of its own challenges to the table in trying to formulate a partnership for a global soccer tournament. FIFA President Gianni Infantino met with South Korea President Moon Jae-in and Korea FA President Ching Mong-gyu to discuss the initial stages of creating a joint bid for the Southeast Asian region. While there is still plenty of time before the bid will be awarded, the joint bid between Uruguay and Argentina will undoubtedly come in as the favorite to land the 2030 World Cup, which will “mark the centenary of the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay.” It looks like the 2026 joint North American World Cup bid shared by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will prevail – and with the cost of hosting such mega-events, joint bids among neighbors are becoming the norm.

9.    The Portland Marathon is facing a serious threat of being canceled after city officials denied a race permit. According to Willamette Week, city officials cited a strain on police overtime hours as their primary reason for denying the permit. The Portland Marathon has been run for 45 straight years now, but the race set for October 8 appears to be coming to an end this time around. The race is organized by a nonprofit, Portland Marathon Inc. Last year, about “6,000 people ran in the race, and another 3,000 people ran in the half-marathon.” Marathon officials released a statement on the race’s Twitter page, saying, “We’re working with the City of Portland to preserve our traditional, iconic 20-year course and most importantly provide a safe event for all.” The denial of a permit comes as the tipping point in the Portland Police Bureau’s six-month warning to race organizers that the route needs to change to reduce police officer overtime. Unfortunately, big sporting events are terrorist targets now, so adequate public safety and security needs to be firmly in place regardless of additional costs.

10.    The 20-year naming rights deal between the Seattle Mariners and Safeco Insurance is coming to an end after the 2018 season. According to the Tacoma News Tribune, the deal will not be extended beyond next year, drawing an end to a partnership that was formulated back in 1999 when the ballpark first opened. The Mariners noted that they have already started “preliminary talks” with potential new partners for a naming rights deal – no partners have been identified yet. Safeco Insurance President Tyler Asher sent an email to all company employees announcing the decision to “give up the naming rights, citing the desire to spread its investment across marketing partners and key growth programs.” Consulting firm Bonham/Wills and Associates President & CEO Thomas Wills yesterday said that he “believes the Mariners' search for a new partner will be a quiet one that results in a long, lucrative deal, possibly from a local firm.” The naming rights footrace between the Mariners and newly-announced Key Arena redevelopers is officially on. Amazon, Microsoft, Costco, Boeing, and other big regional companies take notice – you’re about to be seriously courted.

11.    The disparity in spending, revenue, and donations between college athletics programs is stark, and the University of Michigan’s football team trip to Rome proved just that. According to the Detroit News, Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manual said that the team’s trip “will wind up costing between $750,000 and $800,000,” all of which was covered by an unrestricted financial gift by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The trip was led by Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, who took his players to Rome after finals for a “week of sightseeing and team bonding, in addition to three spring practices.” The optional trip for the football team is just one of the multiple trips that University of Michigan varsity athletics teams took or plan on taking; Michigan’s tennis team went to France for a week, playing in tournaments before stopping by the French Open, while the women’s basketball team is heading to Italy in August. College recruiting just took a big international ante-upping: the arms race now requires a passport.

12.    University of Kentucky coach John Calipari is not happy with the SEC’s decision to shift to a 20-game conference schedule. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Calipari stated that this move is for “the networks” and will directly hurt “flexibility and versatility in nonconference scheduling.” The ACC is preparing to make a similar move in the 2019-2020 season, when the conference will jump from 18 conference games to 20. That switch stems from an agreement between the ACC and ESPN “when the ACC Network was announced to launch.” Kentucky typically plays a very strong nonconference schedule, annually competing against some of the nation’s top opponents in some of the best early-season tournaments. “What you do is, you take away some of those kind of games that have been good to us,” said Calipari. “North Carolina, for example: If they go to 20 games we won't have any more series with North Carolina, so I'm not for it.” Memo to Cal: Please check Kentucky athletic P&L sheet under line item “revenue, broadcast rights” and see if that alters your thinking about the sway of “the networks.”

13.    The snowboarders competing in 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will have a great tune-up event about one month before they compete in South Korea. According to the Aspen Daily News, Snowmass in Aspen will host a U.S. Grand Prix snowboarding event just prior to the start of the Olympics this coming winter. On the other side of the coin, skiers competing in PyeongChang may not have the same luxury. The U.S. Ski Association has not revealed its plans for its own U.S. Grand Prix around the same time as the snowboarding event. The 2016-2017 U.S. Grand Prix tour season featured events at Copper Mountain, Colorado; Solitude Mountain, Utah; and Mammoth Mountain, California. The possibility of a skiing U.S. Grand Prix was discussed at the bi-monthly meeting of the Snowmass Marketing, Group Sales, and Events board, but an official decision on giving the event the green light is still pending. The Grand Prix tour is a smart product offering. Piggybacking on the Winter Olympics is even smarter.

14.    A week after Oak View Group was selected to renovate KeyArena in Seattle, a group lead by Chris Hansen proposed financing details for a new arena in Sodo. According to, Hansen’s proposal would be completely privately financed and outlines its superiority to a KeyArena renovation in regard to “parking and transportation” while the Sodo plan also “asks for no tax revenue from the city following completion of construction.” The proposal also “claimed they were years ahead of any KeyArena development after years of effort.” Any additional funds needed to build the arena would be financed by J.P Morgan, as explained in a financing letter attached to the proposal. Doubts as to the viability of a Sodo project have remained ever since the departure of Los Angeles Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer, but the confirmation of J.P. Morgan’s presence in the deal silences those. Hansen’s proposed arena would cost more than $500 million. And Ballmer is now focused on a new arena for the Clippers in Inglewood, CA, adjacent to the new Rams-Chargers stadium under construction there.

15.    The Golden State Warriors have not yet decided if they will visit the White House following their NBA Finals triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to the S.F. Chronicle, pending an invitation, the Warriors are unsure what they will do. The team issued a public statement denying any claims that the players “unanimously voted to boycott a visit to the White House,” which has become tradition for the annual NBA champions. Despite that, there is “reason to believe at least some of the players – many of whom publicly have derided President Trump's administration – wouldn't...accept an invitation.” Warriors co-Owner Joe Lacob responded to the question as to whether or not his team will make the visit very bluntly. “I can’t believe we’re getting this question already,” said Lacob. “That’s something we’ll worry about at the time. That’s a long time from now.” Two major factors favor the Warriors NOT making the trip: President Trump isn’t a basketball guy, and basketball isn’t a President Trump guy. 

15 to Watch: Top stories in sports and business for the week of June 12


15 to Watch: Top stories in sports and business for the week of June 12

With Jamie Swimmer & Tanner Simkins

1.    Forbes has released its annual ranking of the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes.  The top 100 earned a total of $3.11 billion over the last 12 months, a slight decrease from last year’s $3.15 billion.  Endorsement income also declined slightly, down 4% to $887 million this year.  The top spot on the list still belongs to Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, with earnings of $93 million. Before Ronaldo, either Tiger Woods or Floyd Mayweather topped the list for 15 straight years. The elite athlete list comprises players from 11 different sports. Basketball dominates the list, with a record 32 NBA players among the top 100, led by No. 2 LeBron James ($86.2 million) and No. 5 Kevin Durant ($60.6 million). Rounding out the top 5 are No. 3 Lionel Messi ($80 million) and No. 4 Roger Federer ($64 million). Twenty-one countries are represented on this year’s World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list, with Americans the most prevalent at 63. The top golfer was Rory McIlroy at No. 6 ($50 million). Forbes’ numbers include all salaries and bonuses earned June 2016-June 2017. Massive TV contracts continue to fuel salaries and overall athlete compensation, but as cord-cutting diminishes TV revenues, look for these numbers to plateau or even decline in coming years. 

2.    It’s the greening of the frozen tundra. This week, the 2017 U.S. Open Championship roars into Wisconsin’s Erin Hills with a projected total economic impact of $130 million, with $65 million of that directly in Milwaukee, according to Visit Milwaukee. More than 35,000 fans will be on site each day of the tournament, with an additional 5,000 volunteers and 2,000 media, USGA officials estimate. According to the USGA, the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan generated approximately $102 million for the state’s economy. This is the first time the U.S. Open will be held in beer- and brat-happy Wisconsin, and the USGA predicts 365,000 12-ounce servings of beer will be poured and 100,000 sausages served at Erin Hills. While the grounds will no doubt be teeming with Packers fans, Golf Channel notes that PGA Tour pro Rickie Fowler will be among them. Fowler will "swap out his week-to-week golf bag for a green and yellow version" in a nod to Green Bay. In American golf, there’s no bigger stage than the USGA’s annual championship – look for tie-ins galore as the cameras start rolling in Wisconsin this week.

3.    This Sunday, the PGA Tour is hoping that Dad will help stem its viewership tide. The Tour has not seen an increase in final-round TV viewership since the Farmer's Insurance Open in January, joining a growing list of sports properties to see a decline in audience this year. Even golf’s top moments this year have not been immune -- Sergio Garcia’s Masters playoff triumph was down 11% from last year, while Si Woo Kim’s victory at The Players Championship was the event’s lowest final round since 2014. Dustin Johnson's wins in two WGC events also saw final-round declines over 2016. The trend comes as a surprise to some in the golf community, but savvy industry observers cited growing digital viewership, wins by unfamiliar players and golf’s transition into the post-Tiger Woods era as reasons for the decline. While marquee players Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth have carded wins, fellow stars Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day have yet to join them. While pundits continue to bemoan golf’s post-Tiger decline and lack of a true superstar, at least the Tour and its U.S. Open broadcast partner Fox can look forward to a Father’s Day broadcast in which a large number of dads choose the couch over the kids. 

4.    In the meantime, we may soon see PGA Championship calendar musical chairs. Ahead of the U.S. Open, and acknowledging partner PGA Tour’s flagging TV ratings, PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua said in a video released to its 28,000 members last Wednesday that the organization has been "conducting studies for the last four years on whether to move the PGA Championship from August to May." Bevacqua said that he will "meet with his executive board later this month at Sunriver in Oregon, the site of the PGA Club Pro Championship, to give more of an update." He "repeated the motivation for moving the PGA, to avoid conflicts every four years with Olympic golf." On paper, the Olympic excuse looks plausible. The more likely reason is that no one really wants to go up against the NFL on Sunday, even in the preseason. 

5.    As the Big 12 reacts to the sudden retirement of one of its Hall of Fame coaches, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, at the Sooners’ helm for 18 years, the conference has announced that its members will share $348 million from the 2016-2017 school year. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, nine of 10 member schools will receive $34.8 million, with a "portion of Baylor’s share to be at least temporarily withheld in the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal." The $34.8 million lags behind what SEC and Big Ten schools generally receive, but "well ahead" of the ACC and Pac-12. The Big 12 distribution is up from $30.4 million per school from the 2015-2016 school year. Said Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec, "Without even taking into account the [football] championship game and ongoing negotiations with Fox and ESPN, the distributions are going to go considerably above $40 million." Meanwhile, Oklahoma President David Boren said the announcement "should hush speculation" about the conference losing members. With the revived football championship and solid TV contracts, the Big 12 should remain on solid financial footing for at least the next decade. But the college sports arms race never sleeps.

6.    While the PGA Tour is seeing ratings declines, ABC averaged 19.51 million viewers for the first 4 games of the Warriors-Cavaliers series, making it the most-viewed NBA Finals on record through three games and the best for any NBA Finals since NBC’s coverage of Bulls-Jazz in 1998 (Michael Jordan’s swan song). The 19.51 million viewers is up from 17.7 million viewers at the same point last year, and up from 18.5 million viewers two years ago. And while the NBA postseason has been a bit of a snooze fest save for Friday night’s dramatic Cavaliers must-win, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post thinks the league will "enter the summer as an ascendant league, a cultural and global giant created through progressive marketing and aggressive social media." In a culture "growing more individualistic, the NBA has employed nonrestrictive policies on sharing video online and exposing its players’ personalities." While the NFL "restricts the use of video highlights and markets teams and the league over players, the NBA has made up ground among millennials." Some in the NBA "believe it could eventually surpass the NFL as America’s dominant sports league." The NBA has a leg up on the NFL internationally; global exposure could help drive interest at home.

7.    At Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal gets El Decimo, while Jelena Ostapenko claims her maiden. In a remarkable juxtaposition of circumstance, the French Open has crowned two new champions. On the men’s side, new old champ Nadal returns to hoist the Coupe des Mousquetaires after a three-year Roland Garros drought, claiming title Number 10 and passing Pete Sampras on the all-time Grand Slam victory list, with 15 to Sampras’ 14. On Saturday, unseeded Latvian Ostapenko bested Romania’s Simona Halep to not only win her first Grand Slam, but her first professional title ever. Besides the men’s and women’s champions, each of whom pocketed $2.3 million for their win, the big winners at Roland Garros over the weekend were adidas – which saw both women finalists take the court in identical adidas spring collection outfits – watchmaker Richard Mille, thrilled to see Nadal back on Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday in his $850,000 Richard Mille model, and Nike, which immediately introduced the NikeCourt Tennis Classic El Decimo w/ suede upper, clay orange accents to honor Nadal’s 10th win on Paris clay. While Nadal was celebrating his 10th French Open championship, all-time career Slam leader Roger Federer, with 18, is already in England prepping for the grass court season and would-be Wimbledon title #8. 

8.    David Beckham has moved closer to securing the requisite land to build a stadium for his proposed Miami MLS franchise, which the former England captain hopes to launch by 2021. The Miami-Dade Commission voted nine to four in favor of approving a $9 million deal to sell Beckham’s group, Miami Beckham United, nearly three acres of county land in that city’s Overtown district. The land is currently in use as a county truck depot. It would complete the required nine-acre site for a planned 25,000-seat stadium on the Miami River. Beckham's group had already purchased six acres of land next to the site at the cost of $19 million, but he will still need to receive city approval before venue construction can start. “By purchasing the last piece of land needed for our privately-funded stadium, Miami Beckham United is achieving another major milestone on the way to Major League Soccer formally awarding Miami a franchise,” read an MBU statement. As Miami Beckham United moves one step closer to its new pitch, the crosstown Marlins have yet to announce a new owner. Let’s hope the long-suffering MLB franchise can achieve that before 2021.

9.    Oak View Group (OVG) has secured mayoral blessing to remodel Seattle’s Key Arena after Seattle Partners, fronted by AEG and Hudson Pacific Properties, withdrew its $521 million rival offer. On Thursday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray "officially announced OVG as his administration's choice to renovate KeyArena" and introduced Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and TPG Capital co-Founder David Bonderman as "partners in the project," according to the Seattle Times. Murray said that his goal is to "complete the KeyArena deal before he leaves office at the end of the year." OVG's $564 million proposal "includes a partnership with major concert company Live Nation and would involve building 'an entirely new arena' under the venue’s existing roof, which is expected to be given historical landmark status." Murray said that OVG's bid was "preferable to a bid" by AEG-led Seattle Partners because it had the "best design." Seattle is the only market in the U.S.’ top 25 without an NBA or NHL team. While Live Nation will make concerts a significant part of the schedule mix, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it pretty clear that hockey is the immediate target – expect him to focus more intently on Seattle now that the NHL postseason is over and the Penguins hold the Cup.

10.    Thanasi Kokkinakis, the Australian tennis player known as “Special K,” is being sued by Kellogg’s. Kokkinakis’ name is a bit of a mouthful, so you can forgive him for going by a nickname. The player known as "Special K" is being sued by the cereal giant because he is attempting to use the nickname commercially. Kokkinakis planned to use the nickname on a clothing line, but Kellogg’s has moved to block those plans on the grounds that it owns the Australian trademark to "Special K" after introducing the cereal there in 1959. "The Kokkinakis Company has applied to register Special K as a trademark and we are defending our trademark," a cereal company spokesperson told the BBC. Kokkinakis, 21, made his pro tennis debut in 2013 but has been hampered by injuries since 2015. His appearance at this year’s French Open was his first Grand Slam since the 2015 U.S. Open. He was defeated in the first round by Kei Nishikori. A hearing in the case was held Thursday in Australia and the parties will meet in mediation in late August. Look for Kellogg’s to prevail – unless Kokkinakis wins a Slam, in which case he may get a cereal box endorsement instead.

11.    MLB clubs through this past Sunday were averaging 29,269 fans per game, relatively flat compared to 29,223 for the same time frame last season. The Dodgers, who have led all teams in average attendance for four straight seasons, are once again leading the way in 2017 with 45,311 per game, though that number is down slightly from last year. The Cardinals, Giants, Cubs, and Blue Jays round out the top five. The Braves, who opened new SunTrust Park this season, are not surprisingly seeing a 33% increase following 20 seasons at Turner Field. The Indians have seen MLB's biggest gain at the turnstiles, up over 37% at Progressive Field. In Kansas City, the Royals have the sharpest drop among MLB teams, while the Rays, down 12% to date, have the league’s lowest average with 14,719 fans and are on pace for their lowest attendance figure since 2005. The Mets and Diamondbacks are also seeing double-digit drops at the gate. Look for all those numbers to pick up now that it’s summer, school is out, and fans prepare to vote their favorite players into the MLB All-Star Game in a month. 

12.    The IOC Executive Board has endorsed a plan to give both Paris and L.A. the Summer Games in the next decade. The first phase of this departure from Olympic bidding protocol will come July 11-12, when the full IOC membership meets in Switzerland to ratify the Board’s plan. If they do, the USA would be assured of its first U.S. Summer Games since 1996 in Atlanta. The IOC, LA2024 and Paris '24 then would enter negotiations over order before the regularly scheduled IOC meeting September 13 in Peru, as IOC President Thomas Bach says he wants the two cities to agree on who goes first before a final vote. Bach would not say exactly what the membership would be voting on at the IOC session in September if an agreement is reached, or not. Olympic watchers believe that plans are already being made to have Paris go first in 2024, but Bach insisted there are no done deals. Additional TV revenue, funds for youth sports, and other financial concessions have been mentioned as leverage for LA should that city agree to wait an additional four years for their Games. Changes in the global political climate and/or further acts of terrorism could alter the scenario before September as well.

13.    The IOC Executive Board on Friday also finalized the Tokyo Games program. The Olympics’ governing body added 15 medal events, "including doubling mixed-gender events from nine to 18," according to NBC Sports. Additionally, 3-on-3 basketball "will make its Olympic debut" in Tokyo in 2020. Mixed-gender relays will debut for swimming, track and field, and triathlon. The Tokyo Games will feature 339 medal events, up from 306 for the 2016 Rio Games. The IOC said that the changes are "more youthful, urban and female focused." While surfing has been on the board as a potential new Olympic sport for some time, look for its Olympic debut to hold off until the Games likely comes to Los Angeles in 2024 or 2028. 

14.    Former USOC sponsor British Petroleum (BP) will return to the American Olympic movement, but in a diminished capacity. BP has just signed a deal to sponsor six U.S. Paralympic teams through 2020. In the new deal, BP will help cover training and travel costs of the six Paralympic national teams the USOC manages directly: swimming, track and field, cycling, alpine skiing, nordic skiing, and snowboarding. BP is already sponsors the International Paralympic Committee through 2020. The reworked relationship means the energy category is open for the USOC, along with commercial banking, beer, hotels and online brokerages. BP does not get the rights to the Olympic rings or Team USA Paralympic marks in the deal, only the intellectual property of the individual teams. Terms were not disclosed, but the new Paralympic team-level deals are presumably worth a small fraction of the cost of BP’s full-fledged USOC sponsorship, which was worth more than $3 million annually. Of its 26 sponsors for the Rio Games, the USOC successfully renewed 19. Look for that number to increase dramatically if L.A. gets the nod.

15.    Derek Jeter pioneered athlete-centric journalism with The Players’ Tribune, and now LeBron James, LRMR Management Founder Maverick Carter, and partners are "betting some of the most compelling sports content in the shifting entertainment landscape will be created by the athletes themselves.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Uninterrupted, the James-backed digital media company, is the "latest evolution of a movement in which athletes, celebrities and other public figures are using social media and other technology to control their images." In the process, they are "loosening traditional media’s grip on the way sports is delivered and consumed." Uninterrupted’s multimedia offerings "include full-length documentaries, web series and a growing podcast network." Some of its shows have been "licensed by traditional media outlets such as Fox Sports;" Shows also "appear on YouTube, Instagram and Uninterrupted’s own website." Ventures like Uninterrupted are "limited in their power to supplant traditional media because there is no substitute for live games." However, more athletes have realized the leagues "don’t own their personalities and likenesses -- and there are now more vehicles than ever to satisfy fans’ craving for an unfiltered view and make money along the way." Interestingly, James and the Warriors Draymond Green will star in Uninterrupted’s latest project, “The Shop,” a 30-minute talk show set in a barbershop. Off-court revenue trumps on-court rivalry.