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.

Podcast with Jessica Gelman, CEO of Kraft Analytics Group


Podcast with Jessica Gelman, CEO of Kraft Analytics Group

with Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins

1.    This week’s NFL Draft in Philadelphia promises to be a special event, and sponsors are clamoring to get involved. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the outdoor event in Philly has signed at least 15 active sponsors, including the likes of FedEx, Visa, Budweiser, Bridgestone, Tostitos, Xfinity, Skittles, Hyundai, and Courtyard by Marriott. The organizing committee plans to directly engage fans though the NFL Draft Experience presented by Oikos Triple Zero. It will feature “a 100-yard zip line as part of its activation in the Draft area, which is the equivalent of 25 football fields.” Event officials have confirmed that the outdoor draft will be a “rain or shine event.” The actual draft will take place in a 3,000-seat theater constructed outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art downtown. This year’s draft promises to be a success, with “more than 168,000 fans” having signed up so far for the NFL Draft Experience through the Fan Mobile Pass. Folks at Radio City Music Hall should be kicking themselves after they let the NFL Draft “get away” three years ago. The league now clearly sees the value of this “roadshow,” and it looks like a rotation process will carry the day – just like the Super Bowl.

2.    Major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four have historically provided a positive economic impact for host cities. But how much economic impact will the NFL Draft provide in Philadelphia? According to CBS Philadelphia, skeptics wonder if Philadelphia will see any economic boost, while others have no doubt about the money that is bound to pour into the city. “The exposure we will get really all over North America is just amazing,” said Independence Visitor Center President and CEO James Cuorato. “You almost can’t put a price tag on that.” Officials expect the event price tag to hover around $25 million, though the city will only pay $500,000 as part of the agreement for hosting. The rest of that sum will be split between the NFL and private donors, making this an attractive investment for Philadelphia if it ends up turning a profit on the week. The economic impact number provides ample justification for the number of cities expressing long-term interest in a future draft:  Canton, Detroit, Green Bay, Jacksonville, LA, Dallas, Denver, and Kansas City.

3.    The NCAA will officially allow North Carolina to host tournament games. According to the News Observer, the NCAA has reversed its tournament ban on the state after “last month’s replacement of HB2,” a discriminatory legislation against LGBTQ identifying persons. The new state law includes a “modified version of HB2’s restrictions on local-government protections for LGBTQ people.” Charlotte was not selected to host opening rounds of the men’s NCAA tournament at the Spectrum Center during recent bidding, though the Greensboro Coliseum and PNC Arena in Raleigh will both host that event’s opening rounds in coming years. The 2020 games to be played at the Greensboro Coliseum mark the first time the arena will host tournament games since 2012. “Of the 133 bids North Carolina collectively submitted, the NCAA awarded the state 26 events that include a total of 36 championships.” North Carolina learned a difficult lesson:  mega-event relocation is similar to other industries and is a highly competitive, economically advantageous environment.

4.    April is a busy month in the sports world: NBA and NHL playoffs and the beginning of the MLB season. But April also means it is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month and the Strikeout PD! Challenge from The Blechman Foundation, Sport has been a focal point of the Foundation since its start in 2012.  In its first two years, the Foundation partnered with the National League’s stolen base champion to encourage pledges for PD research based on every stolen base. This year, the Foundation is partnering with Miami Marlins’ starting pitcher Tom Koehler in the Strikeout PD! Challenge, which urges supporters to pledge funds for PD research based on Koehler’s April strikeouts. Using baseball as a platform, the Foundation has received national television and print media attention. More importantly, the Baseball Challenge, along with the Foundation’s other work, has made a real and positive difference in PD research. The Blechman Foundation’s Strikeout PD! Challenge demonstrates the power of sports to help respond to personal challenge. Brilliant example of a thoughtfully targeted charity, and how sports can help accomplish significant philanthropic goals.

5.    It’s official: Serena Williams is having a baby, and tennis collectively holds its breath. While it is widely anticipated that Williams, unquestionably women’s tennis greatest player of all time, will return to WTA play after giving birth to her first child sometime this fall, her absence leaves a Tiger Woods-esque void in the sport, and it’s unclear whether any rising tennis star, paralleling golf, will be able to take her place. On the plus side, Williams’ absence heightens the spotlight for returning champions Maria Sharapova (whose doping ban just ended) and Victoria Azarenka (who likewise had a baby) – the two are now under less pressure knowing they won’t have to face Serena anytime soon. And marketing execs point out that her pregnancy will make Williams even more attractive to corporate sponsors touting motherhood and family products. On the downside, as it builds up to the year’s second Slam in Paris, the WTA is suddenly left with no marquee mademoiselle. From Rome to Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and Flushing Meadows, the time is ripe for tennis’ next true superstar to show her mettle. 

6.    Golf – and indeed all sports – are always talking about creative ways to attract the next generation of fans. Nickelodeon may well have just nailed the best way to do so. Nickelodeon has announced that it will have a presence at The Players Championship in two weeks, marking the first time the kids channel has attached itself to a golf event. Nickelodeon will be part of the McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation Kid Zone, which will include a SpongeBob SquarePants mini-golf challenge and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Puttskee. Nickelodeon will carry golf-themed programming as part of its “NickSports Presents Golf Rocks Weekend” May 12-14 on Nicktoons. On May 15, Nicktoons will show a previously-filmed Mega Golf Challenge with the cast of the Nick show “School of Rock” and PGA Tour and LPGA players. While young superstars like Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and defending Players Championship champion Jason Day definitely help bring down the golf fan demographic, the Nickelodeon approach goes straight to where young would-be golf fans live. In Nick’s case, that’s a cartoon pineapple under the sea.

7.    Former NFL running back Ray Rice is trying to flip the script of his life with his inclusion in a “social responsibility program” that will be presented to NFL teams. According to USA Today, the NFL “came to Rice as it planned its program for its fourth year of social responsibility education, which is focused on prevention and bystander intervention.” In his new role, Rice recorded a short interview segment that will be part of an hour-long program. Rice has not played an NFL game since 2013, back when a domestic violence incident with his wife became public. This marks the first time that the former running back has worked formally with the NFL since the tape of his assault was released. “I've been building relationships with (the NFL front office), and it's a mutual thing,” said Rice. “It’s part of our responsibility to reach out for not the on field opportunity but off field too.” Social responsibility cannot be mandated or required, and Rice seems to be genuinely concerned with rehabilitating his career and sharing lessons learned.

8.    British soccer may soon face a sharp divide in a post-Brexit United Kingdom. According to the London Independent, the FA and the English Premier League are setting up for likely contentious negotiations over the post-Brexit work permit regulations.” With work laws and legislation set to change after the official withdrawal from the EU, “work regulations will have a dramatic impact on English soccer (on both domestic and international stages) as well as the wider global soccer landscape.” The clash between the FA and EPL will most likely be a result of the FA trying to ensure domestic players’ EPL job security, while the EPL is primarily focused on developing the strongest teams possible, regardless of nationality. The FA will “almost certainly attempt to use Brexit to create more opportunities for English players” by restricting opportunities for “all but the best” EU and European Economic Area footballers seeking to play in England. We spoke last year about the possible impact Brexit may have on European soccer competitiveness. Warnings may actually be coming true.

9.    For the third time, the opening date for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta has been postponed. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the new Atlanta Falcons stadium will now open with a preseason football game on August 26. The prior postponed opening date was set for July 30, when MLS expansion side Atlanta United FC was scheduled to play a match there. With that, AMB Group CEO Steve Cannon noted that the demolition of the Georgia Dome has been “put on hold until we are 100 percent certain of achieving our certificate of occupancy.” The sunflower-shaped retractable roof has caused the majority of the delays due to the complexity of its shape and operability. Cannon said that the roof is “currently about three-fourths installed” and that it will be “fully operable when the stadium opens” in late August. Historically, postponement of openings has been a common occurrence – especially given the complexity of construction and operation. As long as the facility runs smoothly once it opens, people will forget the glitches from this Spring.

10.    New media deals have deepened the pockets of all NFL teams over the past few years, but some franchises continue to complain about the massive revenue gap that still exists from top to bottom. According to USA Today, Bengals Vice President Troy Blackburn said the revenue disparity between teams is the “largest it’s ever been in NFL history.” Even though teams “equally share the revenues of NFL television contracts and a portion of ticket sales, they don't share other local stadium revenues with each other, leading to the rising gap.” “Underprivileged,” teams like the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders chose to relocate in order to lessen the revenue gap. By 2030, it is projected that even more low-revenue teams will face “the same pressure” to relocate. The disparity can be seen with some small market teams paying over 60% of their revenue to players, while large market teams are paying only 40%. The NFL continues to face an ongoing issue of “financial and economic parity.” How to distribute revenue to the players, big market owners, and small market owners to keep them all satisfied is an ongoing concern – not just one that is raised during Collective Bargaining negotiations.

11.    The MLS All-Star Game will bring in another heavyweight for this year’s contest, announcing that Real Madrid has signed on to play the August 2 game at Soldier Field. The contest will take place on FS1. This will be the first time that Real Madrid will take part in the MLS All-Star Game. Elsewhere in pro soccer, the NFL is "helping to fund" EPL club Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium and has contributed US$12.8 million to the project so far, according to The initial payment, recorded in the club's financial results, will "go towards the tailoring" of the 61,000-seat stadium to host of NFL games. Tottenham has agreed to a 10-year deal for the NFL to "host a minimum" of two games per year at the stadium, which is expected to open for the start of the 2018-19 season. The NFL will also "pay the club a set fee every time it uses the venue." NFL Executive VP/International Mark Waller has said that the NFL "hopes to have a permanent franchise in London" by 2020. More win-win examples of cross-pollination between the world’s premier football forms.

12.    Fallout from FIFA’s massive corruption scandal under former President Sepp Blatter continues. According to the Abu Dhabi National, two thirds of available sponsorship slots still remain unsold for next summer’s 2018 World Cup in Russia. At this stage in the commercial cycle for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, “most sponsors were in place but so far only 10 of up to 34 deals” have been confirmed for 2018. FIFA has six of its eight top-tier sponsors already signed on, but five of those are existing sponsors from past World Cups; Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda is the only new top-tier sponsor to sign up thus far. FIFA wants to sign five to seven more second-tier sponsors and up to 19 more regional sponsors. As it currently stands, Russia’s Alfa-Bank is the only regional sponsor, though up to 20 sponsors can fill this category. Unfortunately, controversy will follow the World Cup in the foreseeable future – starting with Brazil three years ago, then Russia next year, then the issues surrounding the Qatar bid four years from then.

13.    Just the other week, Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter were named as two of the competing parties bidding for the Miami Marlins, but no more. According to Fox Business, Bush and Jeter are now “working to make a joint bid,” as opposed to submitting separate bids. The two leaders are pooling their resources together for a bid that is likely going to surpass $1 billion. Bush and Jeter could "face a competing bid from an investor group led by Tagg Romney," the son of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Tagg Romney is Managing Partner at Boston-based investment firm Solamere Capital. Sources close to the deal note that Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria is looking for the “richest offer” from the competing bidders groups. MLB owners have to approve the sale, which takes some of the power away from Loria. As in any asset-selling process, the auction should drive up value considerably (regardless of the Marlins on-field performance).

14.    Following the NCAA’s move to reinstate championship events in North Carolina, the ACC has done the same. According to the Charlotte Observer, ACC championship events are returning to North Carolina, and contracts with venues that had multiyear agreements with the conference were “extended a year to compensate for games that were relocated” following the HB2 drama. North Carolina has historically been a hub of ACC championships, so the HB2 repeal is a big deal for the conference. The football conference championship is set to be played at the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium through 2020, though the men’s basketball tournament will remain at the Barclays Center next year. Other conference championships making their return to North Carolina next academic year include “women’s basketball, baseball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s and women’s tennis.” As we have noted, the lifting of the ban in North Carolina should quickly restore a number of events at all levels – including a future NBA All-Star Game.

15.    The 2017 CAA World Congress of Sports hosted a debate over one of the hottest topics in sports today: athlete activism. According to SportsBusiness Journal, a “spirited debate” was held about whether athlete activism ultimately helps or hurts individuals in their search to attract endorsements deals. “We try to not be in social issues, though we are moving toward that because we have to,” said Adidas Group North America President Mark King. “But we certainly won’t associate with athletes that are going to cause our brand something we don’t represent and we don’t stand for.” Athletes such as LeBron James have been very outspoken on social issues as of late, all without losing any potential endorsement deals, but “such stances are much more dangerous for rank-and-file players.” Colin Kaepernick is a recent example of an outspoken athlete without commensurate on-field success, making him a riskier endorser. This debate will not be resolved at a sports industry summit, nor through the media.  It will be a combination of thoughtful leadership, inspiring action, and long-term behavior change.

MLB Advanced Media President Bob Bowman Podcast


MLB Advanced Media President Bob Bowman Podcast

This week, "The Sports Professor" Rick Horrow talks with Bob Bowman, President of Business & Media for Major League Baseball. Listen to the podcast below.

Here is the video version of the interview, recorded at Sloan this year.

As always, the top business stories in the sports world for the week, with Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins.

1.    As the NBA post season gets well underway and baseball settles into the new season, E-Poll Market Research takes a look at the metrics surrounding sports’ reigning MVPs, as well as public opinion of Russell Westbrook and James Harden ahead of this year's NBA MVP award. The MVP is a key distinguishing factor in establishing an athlete’s marketability, and MVPs often see an explosion in awareness and appeal from winning the award, like reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry. Using E-Score Celebrity data, the firm found that among reigning MVPs, Curry is the most popular. His 50% “Awareness” score among sports fans is 2.5 times higher than the next MVP, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.  And with the 2017 NBA MVP race narrowing to a two-man contest between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, E-Poll found that Westbrook’s 56% “Appeal” is 10 points higher than Harden’s, whose “Awareness” is 13 points higher than Westbrook’s due in part to his earlier relationship with Khloe Kardashian. However, both men fall well short of Curry’s pre-MVP “Appeal” score of 72% during the 2015 season. Curry’s popularity shot up dramatically after his MVP win, increasing by 20 points. This year’s winner will have to wait to see if there is a similar effect – as will their current and would-be sponsors, who will likewise be dramatically affected by the award.

2.    Fnatic has become the latest esports team to see an influx of investment money. The team is receiving a $7 million financing round with a board of investors including the likes of Raptor Group, which owns AS Roma and the Boston Celtics; Hersh Interactive Group, co-owners of the Houston Astros; and Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab. “There has been strong growth in esports…but the major shift has been in the acceptance and inclusion by sports franchises, media companies and high profile individuals," Fnatic Founder Sam Mathews told Forbes. "We’re incredibly excited by the opportunities available within esports, and having world class investors and advisors only enhances our ability to address these opportunities and continue to innovate.” According to market researcher Newzoo, the esports market now has close to 150 million regular enthusiasts and another 125 million occasional viewers, and is expected to be a $1.1 billion business by 2019. With new permanent venue Esports Arena Las Vegas scheduled to open early next year, and many more to come, those who dismiss esports as a fad or “fake sports” do so at their peril.

3.    The United States, Mexico and Canada are teaming up to submit a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the North American countries have joined forces and are now looking to fast-track the historically “long, arduous process” of securing World Cup hosting rights. Multiple high-ranking officials said that CONCACAF is planning to make a proposal at May's FIFA Congress that “could accelerate the entire process,” which would normally be expected to last until 2020. In the proposal, the CONCACAF bid “will ask the world governing body's 211 members for a unique, noncompetitive window” in which it would prepare a report that “showcases the technical specifications of its bid, covering everything from stadium capacities and infrastructure to hotels and transportation.” Under the proposed bid, the U.S. would host significantly more games than its neighbors: 60 out of 80 total games and all matches from the quarterfinals on. While the CONCACAF bid looks like it could be a lock, politics and economics could heavily impact the bid and process. Stay tuned.

4.    The Chicago Cubs not only have a new World Series banner to show off, but a newly-renovated Wrigley Field. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs used their home opener against the Dodgers to debut The Park at Wrigley, which is just one piece of the still-under-renovation stadium project. A large video screen on the team's new office building “showed the Cubs' historic 10-inning victory against the Indians” during the Dodgers game and “showed off part of the third phase” of the $750 million Wrigley Field upgrade. There was a ceremony “marking the opening of what the Cubs referred to as Wrigleyville's new town square and a year-round gathering place for neighbors, families, fans and visitors.” Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and his real estate company designed, built, and financed The Park at Wrigley, which should allow the community to more deeply engage with the team.

5.    After seeing all Canadian NHL teams fail to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs last year, Rogers Media is expecting a “reversal of fortune” thanks to five Canadian teams reaching the postseason this season. According to the Globe & Mail, Rogers Media made a “billion-dollar” media bet on the NHL last year, but the company has yet to see the returns it initially expected due to the Canadian teams’ collective slump. The actual deal is set at 12 years and is worth C$5.2 billion over that span. Last year, TV ratings for Rogers fell 61% during the NHL postseason. The Maple Leafs “led a resurgence” along with the Canadiens, Senators, Oilers, and Flames that will “see hockey audiences back in the seven-figure range.” Rogers President of Sportsnet Scott Moore said, “Obviously, team performance drives a lot of it. I feel like there’s a lot of excitement about the sport generally and in some key markets. For us, that’s obviously good.” It’s also good for the NHL, as Canada traditionally represents one of hockey’s most fervent fan bases.

6.    The NFL tries to control what its players do off the field, and that could now include fining players for participating in an arm wrestling tournament. According to USA Today, NFL players who competed in the inaugural “Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship” in Las Vegas “without pre-approval” violated the league’s rules against gambling. The competition already took place, but is set to air on CBS over two weekends in May. Notable participants include the Steelers’ James Harrison and Maurkice Pouncey, retired running back Marshawn Lynch, the Dolphins’ Kenny Stills, and the Raiders’ Marquette King and Mario Edwards. The first place prize was set at $100,000, with half of that going to charity in the winning players’ name. Some players spoke out against the impending fines, noting the irony of how the NFL just approved a team in Vegas, yet players can’t go there for a “charity event.” The NFL always goes to extreme lengths to protect “The Shield,” and this incident is no different.

7.    While many teams have been reluctant to reveal their inner workings to the public, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will likely be selected for HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” and are excited about that prospect. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Bucs “believe they are among the top candidates to be chosen.” Speaking about the prospect, team co-Chair Joel Glazer said, “Our players are at a point in their maturity that they would be able to handle it…We'll always be supportive of the league. Nobody is rushing to the podium for that necessarily. But I do feel I have great confidence in this team.” Team executives firmly believe that “Hard Knocks” would be a good way for Tampa and the surrounding fan base to get to know the team on a more personal level. And after multiple seasons, the NFL generally feels that “Hard Knocks” participation is a plus for its teams – or they would have put a stop to it long ago.

8.    Despite having nine years remaining on their current deal with University of Phoenix, the Arizona Cardinals are in the hunt to find a new stadium naming rights partner. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the team is “shopping naming rights to their stadium, but incumbent sponsor University of Phoenix retains the title unless the team finds a replacement.” Regardless of finding a new partner, the university will remain an official team sponsor. University of Phoenix has been the only naming rights partner since the Cardinals’ stadium opened in 2006; the 20-year deal would be worth $154.5 million if carried through to the end of the term. The team noted that it is handling the sponsorship search internally. Following the trend of other teams in the region, the Cardinals might soon follow the Diamondbacks, Suns, and Coyotes as franchises that have all changed their stadium sponsors in recent years. The Cardinals may want to consider reaching out to the other thriving for-profit university headquartered in the market but growing internationally: Grand Canyon University.

9.    Representing a slight but significant change for the franchise, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally unveiled their new logo. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the team’s evolution “took another step forward” with this change. The color scheme is different – “the palette features a midnight blue, lake blue, aurora green, frost white and moonlight grey” – but the image of the howling wolf remains similar to how it has looked in the past. The team noted that the similarities are “meant to represent an evolution, not a revolution.” The look is “meant to represent the current team and the possibilities for its future, but also to honor the past.” The logo is the “first piece in what will be a new identity” for the T'Wolves. New jersey and court designs will be released to the public later this summer to round out the rebranding of the franchise. The T-Wolves, and indeed all sports franchises, should be closely watching the slow eradication of Chief Wahoo in Cleveland. While there’s nothing outwardly politically incorrect about Minnesota’s “howling at the moon,” unlike Wahoo, fans get attached to their teams’ visuals, and should be consulted every step of the way.

10.    The tarps are finally coming off in Oakland. According to the S.F. Chronicle, A’s President Dave Kaval announced that the outfield bleacher tarps on the third deck at the Coliseum will be taken down and that A’s tickets in the third deck “will be $15 for the remainder of the season, and during the next home stand, half the proceeds will go to Oakland Promise, which helps Oakland students attend college.” This move represents the latest one that is met with an “almost entirely positive” response by the Oakland fan base. The outfield tarps initially went up in 2006 to help improve visuals from games with sparse crowds, since the extra capacity was rarely needed. Without the tarps in place, stadium capacity will increase by 12,103 to 47,170. Ever since the tarps went up, fans have been lobbying to bring them down – their voices have now been heard. And with the Oakland Raiders on their way out, local fan interest in the A’s should intensify.

11.    English Premier League side Everton is trying to build a new stadium, and adding a running track to it could end up making a significant difference. According to the London Times, Everton may consider making a provision for a running track in its proposed $437.3 million stadium to help Liverpool win the bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The host for the 2022 slot is still up for grabs after Durban, South Africa, failed to meet the host city criteria, giving other cities the chance to rebid for the right to host. During dialogue between the club and Liverpool City Council, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson asked the club to “consider including a running track” in its blueprint, which “would allow the arena to host athletics events.” The track would be covered with seats for soccer matches, ensuring fans close proximity to the field, while the track would bring in additional revenue for Everton and the community. As in all modern day sports facilities, both privately and publicly funded, multipurpose use and flexibility remain key to ongoing support.

12.    Seattle is back in the mix for landing a professional sports team now that two groups are “prepared to spend more than $500 million apiece” renovating KeyArena. According to the Seattle Times, Oak View Group and AEG each submitted proposals of more than $500 million and each “involve eventually attracting NBA and NHL teams.” The OVG proposal runs up to $564 million and the AEG bid would involve spending $520 million. Both groups said the arena renovation “could be done” by October 2020 if “no unforeseen delays hit,” with construction beginning before being awarded a professional team in both cases. KeyArena’s iconic roof and general exterior structure are set to be preserved by both AEG and OVG in the renovation process. “We're going to do this and stand on our own two feet,” said OVG CEO Tim Leiweke. “And we believe by doing that we give Seattle its best chance at getting one or two teams.” The OVG-led group also includes Madison Square Garden Co. and Live Nation and is primarily focused on turning the venue into a concert specialist like the Forum in Inglewood. That bid is supported by the band Pearl Jam – ironic since Pearl Jam once sued Live Nation over monopolistic ticketing practices. Want change? Wait 20 years.

13.    St. Louis is officially suing the NFL “over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago.” According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the 52-page suit filed by St. Louis lists the NFL and all 32 teams as defendants as the city “seeks damages and restitution profits.” The plaintiffs claim the Rams and the NFL “made intentionally false statements, unjustly enriched themselves” and “interfered with business expectations.” The suit further claims that the city has lost around $7.5 million in property taxes, $1.4 million in sales tax revenue, and “millions” in earning taxes since the Rams moved to Los Angeles. The NFL is now getting ready to defend itself and its franchises in this case, which is expected to “remain in the Missouri court system because the Chiefs operate in Missouri.” It is unlikely that this lawsuit will move to the federal court, “where defendants without a clear connection to a given state are more likely to get a more fair shake.” It is also unlikely that this lawsuit will result in compensation to St. Louis, if past history is any guide.

14.    Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment wants the Islanders back in the Nassau Coliseum, and it is ready to make further “adjustments” to the facility in order to pull the move off. According to Newsday, BS&E is “preparing to pitch to bring” them back to the recently renovated area. The Islanders moved to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn after the Nassau Coliseum closed to undergo a $165 million modernization. Still, BS&E is ready to invest further in the arena to satisfy any of the Islanders’ remaining concerns – such as having too few of seats. Long Island Association President & CEO Kevin Law said that the presentation will be made to Islanders co-Owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin when they “meet soon to talk about renegotiating the 25-year license agreement with Barclays Center.” Both the Islanders and Barclays Center can “opt out of the deal.” Returning the Islanders to their core fan base should boost the franchise; winning enough games to not miss the Stanley Cup playoffs by one point would help, too.

15.    The NFL Draft has migrated around multiple cities over the past few years, but New York thinks it is time to bring it back to the Big Apple. According to the N.Y. Daily News, New York has “expressed interest” in hosting the NFL Draft in 2019 “and beyond.” This year’s draft is scheduled to take place outdoors in Philadelphia, while the last two years’ drafts took place in downtown Chicago. New York is set to be just one of the multiple cities vying to land to rights to host. Other cities in contact with the league noting their interest in hosting the 2019 draft include “Philadelphia, Canton, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Green Bay, Jacksonville and Los Angeles. Radio City Music Hall appears to be the likely location to host the draft if it does wind up being held in New York City. To the general onlooker, it may not seem that hosting the NFL Draft is a big deal, but it has actually “become as competitive as hosting the Super Bowl” thanks to the positive economic impact it generates. It’s also the second most important tent pole event on the now-year-round NFL calendar, and the league doesn’t take its locale lightly. Expect the draft circus to continue to travel for the foreseeable future.