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

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

with Jamie Swimmer



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Beyond the Scoreboard" Stories of the Week: Super Bowl Edition

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"Beyond the Scoreboard" Stories of the Week: Super Bowl Edition

With Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins

1) SUPER BOWL ECONOMIC IMPACT Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium is expected to “bring upward of $500 million for the city of Houston,” according to BizJournals.com. Last year’s Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, California, brought in around $350 million of economic impact and the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, generated just under $720 million. But one thing Houston has on its side over its two predecessors is its layout and the proximity of NRG Stadium to the city’s major economic hubs. In 2015, Phoenix was the economic center of the region, but the game was played 20 minutes away in Glendale. Last year, the game was played in Silicon Valley, but fans stayed and shopped and dined all throughout the Bay Area in the days leading up to the game. The week leading up to Super Bowl LI center around “downtown Houston, the Galleria and Reliant Park, all of which are in Houston proper and Harris County. The geographic triangle will hold a majority of the daytime and nighttime activities, hotels and transportation,” Ric Campo, chairman of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, told the Houston Business Journal.”

2) TRAVEL/HOSPITALITY/GOLF The city of Houston is pulling out all stops to ensure a successful Super Bowl Weekend. The Texas city has been the hub of many major sporting events over the past years – the Super Bowl LI venue, NRG Stadium, also hosted last year’s epic NCAA March Madness Final. According to the Houston Chronicle, the “thriving city” boasts “warm winter weather, 20,000 reserved hotel rooms, a 72,000-seat retractable-roof stadium,” a nine-day fan festival at Discovery Green leading up to the Big Game and a “no-fly zone over the entire city.” The hosting venue, formerly known as Reliant Stadium, most recently hosted Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, when the New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers. Less than a week out from Super Bowl Sunday, the forecast for game day, February 5, is "partly cloudy" and a high of 73 degrees.

Warm weather Super Bowl sites are always a boon for golf-related hospitality, and Super Bowl LI is no different. Among other outings planned this week are the official Houston Super Bowl Host Committee invitation-only event and the NFL Foundation’s annual star-studded “Legends on the Links,” held this year on Friday at Golf Club of Houston, home course to the PGA Tour’s Shell Houston Open. There is perhaps an unusual sense of urgency around Super Bowl-related golf events this week. Since the Big Game is in Minnesota next year, that pretty much rules out any golf – and a quick search of the TopGolf website doesn’t reveal any “coming soon” locations of the popular driving range chain in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area any time soon, either.

3) TICKETS Super Bowl LI seeing significant international growth: According to the latest sales data from StubHub, ticket prices for Super Bowl LI are holding, and while things can always change in the open market in the last days leading up to Sunday, this one may stack up to be the most affordable Super Bowl in recent years. Compared to this time last year, the average ticket price sold is $4,697, down 11% from this time last year. It’s hard to beat the anniversary bonanza that was Super Bowl 50, in beautiful San Francisco, that also happened to be Peyton Manning’s last football game. StubHub also reports that international demand is higher than ever, with nearly 10% of total sales coming from purchasers outside of the U.S., and as far away as Australia, Hong Kong, Brazil, Israel, and South Africa. Tickets from Canada and Mexico account for more than 7% of total event sales alone. The Super Bowl is an international “bucket list” phenomenon. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, the NFL has worked hard to grow the game across the globe, and create the hype that is the Super Bowl. As the NFL has grown, so too has StubHub, now making its marketplace available in 47 countries around the world, which speaks not only to the global ticket popularity, but the access now provided to it.


4) TICKET ALLOCATION A Super Bowl ticket is one of the most high-demand tickets around, and while secondary market ticket prices are slightly down, according to StubHub, ESPN.com reports that changes in ticket allocation means fewer tickets were initially available on StubHub than in previous years. Only 1,800 tickets were listed on StubHub following the AFC and AFC championship games, “which industry insiders say is roughly half of the usual volume.” On Location Experiences received 9,000 tickets to sell with the stipulation that 1,500 each had to be earmarked for Patriots and Falcons fans. On Location was created as a result of brokers short-selling Super Bowl XLIX tickets in Phoenix, ensuring that nobody was getting scammed. Every active NFL player still gets two Super Bowl tickets. Sources report that roughly half the league's teams handed the players their tickets, while the other half will make their players pick them up in Houston, which will make it harder to flip them.

Compared to recent years, Super Bowl ticket sales “weren’t as brisk” in the hours following the Falcons’ and Patriots’ wins in their respective conference championship games. According to ESPN.com, Super Bowl LI tickets are being allocated differently this year than how they had been in past years. “Many of the tickets that used to flow from teams to brokers through hospitality sponsorship deals were given by NFL owners" to hospitality firm On Location Experiences, which is partly owned by the owners' venture fund. As reported by the firm, Patriots fans had made more reservations to be in attendance than Falcons fans, though that is subject to change as Super Bowl Sunday gets closer. "The Falcons fans are the wild card. But, for the packages we're selling, they have the strong corporate base in Atlanta to do well," said On Location Experiences CEO John Collins.

5) TEAM VALUATIONS Similar to last year’s Super Bowl between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, this year’s Super Bowl features one team with a franchise value in the top half of the league facing another team with a franchise value in the bottom half of the spreadsheet. According to Forbes’ 2016 NFL Franchise Valuations, the New England Patriots are the second-most valuable team, valued at $3.4 billion – trailing only the Dallas Cowboys. On the other hand, the Atlanta Falcons are the 19th-most valuable team at “only” $2.125 billion. To honor his franchise’s Super Bowl LI berth, Falcons Owner Arthur Blank is planning on paying for every single employee in the organization to attend the Big Game. This will represent more than 500 employees who Blank will cover, following the move that Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson made last year when he paid for everyone on the team’s payroll – interns included – to make the trip to San Francisco.

6) TV/NEW MEDIA The Super Bowl is always one of the year’s most-watched live television events, and this year’s contest between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons should be no different. In 2015, Super Bowl XLIX became the most-watched Super Bowl in NFL history, when 114.4 million viewers tuned into NBC to watch the game. With more televisions and mobile devices capable of streaming the game, this year might break that marker. According to The Gazette, 16% of Super Bowl LI viewers plan to watch via online streaming apps or the web. Fox Sports is delivering free live-streaming in-game video including the halftime show through its Fox Sports Go apps for tablets and connected TV and at FoxSports.com. 

After the game, the Super Bowl hangover ensues. Kraft Heinz Co., the maker of Heinz Ketchup, claimed that more than 16 million people call in sick the day after the game. The company believes “Super Bowl Monday” should be a national holiday, hence why “it started a somewhat tongue-in-cheek campaign by giving its salaried employees the day off” and took it a step further by posting a petition on Change.org to make the day a national holiday.

7) COMMERCIALS Five million dollars. That is what it is going to take if you want to air a commercial during Super Bowl LI on Fox. According to Variety, 30-second advertisements are being shopped around for a minimum of $5 million, a seemingly ridiculous number for such a short period of time. This threshold has been topped only a few times over the past years on select networks, but has never been set as the bare minimum for the Super Bowl by any network. CBS sold most spots for between $4.5-$4.7 million in 2015 and raised the figure to just shy of $5 million for Super Bowl 50 in February. Some sources close to Fox have reported that the network is actually looking for companies that are willing to pay between $5.5-$5.7 million, not just a flat $5 million. Many in the sports business and advertising industry call this a ridiculous move on Fox’s part, saying that they will not fill all of their spots if they keep their price tag this high. Back when the first Super Bowl was aired on television, it was simultaneously streamed on two networks: a 30-second ad cost approximately $42,000; the $5 million price tag this year is a far cry from that.

8) ATLANTA FALCONS IMPACT Within a matter of months, the Atlanta Falcons will open their brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The facility cost approximately $1.5 billion and will be open in time for kickoff next year. The stunning structure comprises top-to-bottom windows on one side and a “sunflower-esque” retractable rooftop. The team’s Super Bowl appearance has been a huge bonus for their push to sell all of their Personal Seat Licenses (PSLs). The Falcons recently surpassed the 75% PSL sales marker and is expecting to be 100% sold out within weeks, especially if they defeat the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. According to the Falcons, they are “getting more than 700” requests per day for PSLs since topping the Packers in the NFC Championship. Falcons Owner Arthur Blank’s new stadium will definitely rival AT&T Stadium in Dallas and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as the crown jewel of the NFL.

9) FUTURE GAMES Across the NFL, team owners continue to reinvest in stadiums, all trying to one-up the most recent state-of-the-art facility that opens up. Having a new stadium means an increased likelihood of drawing mega events, such as the Super Bowl and the Final Four. This past year, the Minnesota Vikings played their first game at U.S. Bank Stadium, which is set to host next year’s Super Bowl. Down in Miami, Steve Ross and the Dolphins completed their facelift of Hard Rock Stadium, and across the country in Los Angeles the new City of Champions Stadium is being planned to host both the Chargers and Rams. Despite ongoing scrutiny, public money is being spent on these massive facility projects because with a new stadium comes more positive economic impact for the surrounding area. In Houston’s case, the economic impact of Super Bowl LI is expected to offset the complete public cost to build the stadium, which should be around $500 million.


10) TRUMP  Newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump may make another kind of history: in a week he could become the first sitting president to attend the Super Bowl. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Trump currently has no concrete plans to attend the game, though it is public knowledge that he is friends with Tom Brady and Robert Kraft. The president is also friendly with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who wrote Trump “a note of support around the time of the election.” “Our friendship goes back many years, and I think anybody that’s spent more than five minutes with me knows I’m not a political person," Belichick said in reference to the letter. “The comments are not politically motivated, I have a friendship and loyalty to Donald.” Trump boasted about the letter while stumping in the New England area. “The biggest reason why it likely won’t happen” is that it would “almost assuredly be a logistical and security nightmare” to get him into the game.

15 to Watch: The top sports and business stories of the week of January 23rd

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15 to Watch: The top sports and business stories of the week of January 23rd

with Jamie Swimmer

1.    If downtown Los Angeles doesn’t wash away by next weekend, after record rains, the city, Staples Center, and host LA Kings look forward to hosting the NHL’s best during the league’s annual All-Star break. Sunny skies are predicted for NHL All-Star weekend, comprising the annual skills contest, 3 on 3 All-Star game, and mobile “Centennial Fan Arena,” featuring the league's Museum Truck, an "interactive virtual Zamboni ride station,” and photo ops with the Stanley Cup. The All-Star game, in its second season as a division-based, 3 on 3 mini-tournament with a $1-million prize on the line, takes place Sunday. The All-Star weekend takes on extra importance this year, as it is one in a series of year-long events celebrating the NHL’s centennial milestone. A major highlight is Friday’s recognition of 100 of the greatest NHL players of all time – including, of course, “Great One” Wayne Gretzky. Like most All-Star contests, the NHL’s annual celebration is all about exciting and entertaining the fans, and next week’s Hollywood-adjacent extravaganza will be no different. Just expect more famous faces behind the glass.


2.    Wayne Gretzky won’t be the only sports GOAT in Southern California next weekend – Tiger Woods is set to make his 2017 PGA Tour debut at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course. While the newly-revamped Torrey Pines course will play the same – difficult, especially following strong rough-lengthening rains – new partnerships and resulting fan amenities, including new food and beverage and entertainment options, are changing  the way this PGA tournament is conducted. And with Woods and local favorite Phil Mickelson on course, this year’s Farmer’s will surely be crowded, and noisy. Tournament Director Peter Ripa has recruited extra marshals for duty this year, and anticipates doubling the 22 million viewers the tournament enjoyed in 2016. While the tournament might not break attendance and viewership records, one of its partner charities, Boys to Men Mentoring, a local program for fatherless teenage boys, once again has the opportunity to break the world record for number of surfers on one wave during Saturday’s One Wave Challenge. Innovative fan experiences and abundant philanthropy are hallmarks of the PGA Tour, and the Torrey Pines event is no exception. Watching a healthy Woods and Mickelson is only part of the fun.

3.    As we head into 2017, LA 2024’s Olympic bid is slowly being revealed. According to the LA Times, LA 2024 is planning to split the opening and closing ceremonies between two venues, using both the LA Memorial Coliseum and the new Inglewood NFL venue. The Inglewood site will become the home to both the Rams and Chargers upon completion. Though USC has plans for a $270 million Coliseum renovation, the stadium "dates back to the first time" L.A. hosted the Games in 1932. LA 2024 "needed to feature" the Inglewood stadium, if only to "counteract a sense of 'been there, done that.'" As it is currently planned, the opening ceremony would be held at the Coliseum, paying tribute to its Olympic history, while the closing ceremony would be held at the Inglewood NFL palace, shining a bright light on the city’s future. The Los Angeles region will continue to capitalize on its biggest strength and asset – existing infrastructure and a solid legacy of the success of previous Games. Look for that theme to be continuously emphasized until the successful selection in early fall.

4.    The Golden State Warriors have official broken ground on their new state-of-the-art arena in San Francisco. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the team held a groundbreaking ceremony for their new Chase Center that “resembled Cirque du Soleil more than it did a construction job.” The site where the arena is being built is in the city’s Mission Bay neighborhood, though it was originally planned on being erected at Piers 30-32 until lawsuits stopped that plan in its tracks. The Chase Center is projected to open in 2019 and will have a capacity of 18,000 seats. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and others at the groundbreaking "emphasized that the arena is being built on private property without a public subsidy – a rarity in professional sports." Warriors co-Owner Joe Lacob said, "We are totally good to go. It’s not surreal anymore. It’s real." Lacob and his team have done an incredible job securing the arena commitment in an intense and politically charged environment. As for Oakland, the pressure heats up – they have lost one team, the football team files for relocation, and the baseball team is looking for other sites. Game on, Oakland!

5.    The on-field success of the Super Bowl-bound Atlanta Falcons has played a huge role in the team’s improved Personal Seat License sales. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, PSL sales have risen “from less than 33,000 at the start of the season to more than 41,000 now,” a significant increase in a relatively short period of time. Now, the team has only about 20,000 seats left to sell before the venue opens in the fall, prior to the 2017 NFL season kick off. The Falcons have "received a significant number of leads on potential additional sales" since their win in the NFL Divisional round over the Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons "haven’t said how many seats are in the PSL inventory, but after excluding seats that are part of sponsorship deals, in suites or held out for group sales and other purposes, the number of sellable seats to the general public is believed to be around 61,000." Historically, team performance is directly related to suite, seat, and PSL sales. Fortunately for Arthur Blank and the Falcons, the team is realizing its true potential just as the marketing of the stadium is most important.  Good timing, Falcons!

6.    NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is coming under heavy scrutiny for his choice to attend the NFC Championship game instead of the AFC Championship. According to the Boston Herald, it appears that Goodell is “afraid to show his face” in Boston following Deflategate, which resulted in the suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Similar to the conference championship round, the commissioner elected to travel to Atlanta to see the Falcons take on the Seahawks instead of attending to Patriots-Texans game in Foxborough. Boston columnist Dan Shaughnessy directly challenged Goodell on this topic. "What is the big deal, Roger?” said Shaughnessy. “You are not Salman Rushdie hiding from the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini…You are the commissioner of the NFL. You are the protector of the Shield. You won the Deflategate war. Come back to Foxborough and face the angry nation." Despite this issue being over, emotions still seem to be running high across the league. In a classic case of “you can’t make everybody happy,” Goodell apparently needs an intergalactic transport to get him to both games on the same day. With the Patriots advancing to the Super Bowl to face the Falcons, look for Goodell to craft many favorable media opportunities showing him making nice with the team, Pats fans, and owner Robert Kraft.

7.    Despite not winning a single major this past year, Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy finished as the world’s top-paid golfer in 2016. According to the London Daily Mail, McIlroy raked in a whopping $49.5 million, placing him atop golf’s “rich list” for the first time. He "amassed a fortune in just one year thanks in no small part to winning the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup," and the $10 million bonus that comes with it. While his on-course earnings totaled around $17.5 million, his off-course earnings are what separated him from the pack. Thanks in part to sponsorship deals from companies like Nike, Omega, Bose, and Electronic Arts, McIlroy’s off-course earnings amounted to approximately $32.5 million. Remarkably, Arnold Palmer earned more than anyone else in the game other than McIlroy in the year that he died at age 87: $40 million, "thanks to his portfolio of golf businesses and own brand of iced tea." Arnold Palmer will always be the king of branding and endorsements. He undoubtedly set the standard for Tiger Woods, and now will do the same for McIlroy in his off-the-course branding aspirations and business performance.

8.    The surge of the U.S. dollar has bolstered the domestic economy, but it has been detrimental to many Mexican soccer clubs. According to ESPN.com, Liga MX clubs have been negatively affected by the strengthening of the dollar because “league expenses are in dollars and revenues are in pesos.” Over the past four years, the U.S. dollar has increased its value by almost 10 pesos, which has “made things difficult for football clubs, who are searching for different ways to deal with the devaluation.” For example, “if a player was bought for $8 million in 2013, the equivalent in Mexican currency was 102 million pesos. Now, the same cost in dollars would amount to 176 million pesos.” The reason that the clubs have their revenues in pesos is because most money that the clubs receive, with the exception of TV contracts, come is pesos – ticket sales, food, beverages, etc. The cooperative sports connections between Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. will no doubt continue as parties explore the feasibility of a 2026 World Cup bid. In the meantime, each country struggles with its competitive balance as it relates to exchange rate, facilities, player transfers, and the like. 

9.    The Chicago Blackhawks have one of the best records in the NHL, but the team’s local TV ratings do not reflect that. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the Blackhawks have “posted an average local rating of 3.15” for their 29 broadcasts on CSN Chicago thus far, which is “down 17% from the same point last season.” But these statistics may be a bit skewed due to one critical factor: the team’s early games overlapped with the Chicago Cubs’ World Series run. Three Blackhawks telecasts on CSN Chicago went up against Cubs NLCS or World Series games, "including the lowest-rated game thus far on Nov. 1" against the Flames, which posted a 1.31 rating. Ever since the Cubs ended their season as world champions, the Blackhawks have seen a steady climb in local ratings as eyes turned back to the rink from the diamond. This is clearly a case of continued astronomical expectations coupled with “Cubmania” in Chicagoland. It’s a pleasant problem for Chicago to have: two championship-worthy teams struggling for superiority at the gate and on television.

10.    Things are finally starting to look up for U.S. men’s tennis. After years without a deep pool of domestic talent, “seven U.S. men 20 or younger made it into the 128-player main draw for the Australian Open.” According to the New York Times, “the last time the U.S. had that many 20-or-younger players in a major was the 2006 U.S. Open, and at this week's tournament the country has “more men competing in singles (14) than any other nation.” Many of these budding American players have grown up training together at the USTA’s former development complex in Boca Raton, and are now taking a collective, team-like approach entering major tournaments. Twenty-three-year-old Bjorn Fratangelo said, “It’s really changed the perspective for the players; we do feel as if we’re a small team.” The USTA’s new training complex recently opened in Orlando, where these same players often room and workout together. While Jack Sock and John Isner are the faces of the current American program, look for new, diverse, and talented fresh faces in the years to come. New facilities and programs clearly have that effect on all types of programs all across the globe.

11.    English Premier League clubs in London were recently urged to sign up for the Living Wage initiative by city Mayor Sadiq Khan. According to the Evening Standard, Khan wants the London-based clubs to set an example for other businesses across the city. Owners and chairs from Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, and Crystal Palace were all approached in regard to this and were told that it “could not be right” that so many Londoners “were still struggling to make ends meet.” The mayor believes that all EPL clubs should have to pay staff living wages, but he is strategically starting with only the London-based teams. Current EPL leader Chelsea, which signed up in 2014, is the "only top club in London already paying all its employees" the voluntary London Living Wage. In a letter, Khan said that paying all workers the wage was a “win-win” situation for their businesses as it could “help recruitment, retention and productivity of staff.” The EPL is always a symbolic standard for UK businesses, as well as the rest of Europe. The wage issue should be a major focus in the months ahead.

12.    There is no doubt regarding the prestige and honor associated with attending a U.S. service academy, but many prospective student-athletes have been steered away from them throughout the years due to their postgrad service requirement. But last spring’s dropping of the minimum “two-year postgrad active duty requirement” has changed the game for service academies. According to Sports Illustrated, attracting top recruits has become easier for academies thanks to the new policy, which states that “any academy athlete can now turn pro immediately, his or her two years of active duty replaced by eight to 10 years in the reserves.” “For us to continue to have the maximum influence (as an institution), I think it's pivotal that we are able to recruit better athletes,” stated former NFLer and West Point alumnus Caleb Campbell. Not every is jumping for joy though; many traditionalists at the academies firmly believe that all graduates should serve, regardless of their athletic ability. Ironically, the on-field performance of Army and Navy continues to show results, even though it is clearly harder to maintain a consistent and stable quality program on the field.


13.    Defined by lackluster and embarrassing on-court performances over the past few years, the Philadelphia 76ers are finally starting to turn things around, and their merchandise sales reflect that. According to CSNPhilly.com, the 76ers ranked "fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days,” just behind the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Chicago Bulls. Leading the way for the 76ers has been big man Joel Embiid, whose jersey was the fifth-best seller over that same period of time. The Sixers have "ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning" of the 2016-17 season. They “hold the largest year-over-year increase during that timeframe in the NBA this season.” Similar to their increase in merchandise sales, the 76ers have also seen a 10% increase in home attendance from last year to this year. The 82.9% ticket sales rate per home contest represents the “highest attendance the Sixers have had” since Hall of Famer Allen Iverson last played in Philadelphia. The 76ers have had a tremendous history and an intense and avid following – Julius Erving, Will Chamberlain, and Iverson. It will clearly benefit the NBA when (and if) the 76ers, Lakers, and Knicks become “good” again.

14.    Target is making a heavy investment in MLS after signing a multiyear deal to become an official partner of the ever-growing domestic soccer league. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the deal represents Target’s “largest-ever push into team sports.” “As part of its MLS deal, Target will have airtime during league broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision, as well as in-stadium exposure and on-site activation.” Financial details regarding the deal have not yet been disclosed, but the deal has been confirmed as large enough to make Target “one of the largest supporters of soccer in the U.S.” The Minnesota-based retailer also inked a deal with MLS expansion club Minnesota United to put its logo on the front of the team’s jersey. Minnesota United will begin play in 2018 and will eventually move into its own soccer-specific stadium, pending construction. Good for the MLS to secure additional corporate partners – especially a premier consumer brand like Target. Television, stadiums, ownership, market share, and corporate partnerships continue to be the backbone of all sports leagues (including MLS).

15.    As longtime sponsors continue to abandon the USOC, A-B InBev is the latest example of a high-profile partner electing not to renew its contract with the organizing committee. According to SportsBusiness Journal, “the brewer’s Budweiser brand has been the first and only official beer of Team USA since 1984,” and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics marked an end to that streak. With the next three consecutive Olympics being held in Asia (2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea; 2020 in Tokyo, Japan; 2022 in Beijing, China) sponsors are “worried about maintaining fan engagement during far-flung Games.” A-B InBev joins Hilton, Citi, TD Ameritrade, and AT&T as sponsors not renewing contracts with the USOC at this time. “The malt beverage category is now open with the USOC, along with hotels, banks and online brokerages.” All of this is happening despite Los Angeles’s encouraging bid to land the 2024 Olympics. Over time, the USOC will continue to expand and diversify its brand. Assuming Los Angeles is chosen for 2024, and assuming the brand continues to evolve, look for more USOC sponsors to commit at a higher level in the years ahead.