with Jamie Swimmer,  Tanner Simkins

  • As Congress prepares to debate the Republican tax bill this week, the NFL is pushing back against a provision that would get rid of tax breaks for communities and states that borrow money to fund stadiums. According to the Wall Street Journal, the league’s opposition is the latest in a “series of political clashes this football season.” NFL Executive VP/Communications Joe Lockhart said, “We believe that the construction of new stadiums and renovations of stadiums are economic drivers in local communities. If the idea is to promote economic growth, this would be a step backwards.” Public funding of sports stadiums, and municipal bond tax exemptions that often underwrite such deals, have recently “come under fire from members of both parties.“ According to a Brookings report, subsidies for NFL stadiums cost $1.1 billion, and that study "didn’t include” Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which was in part financed by about $200 million in municipal bonds. If the provision remains in place, several high-profile planned sports facilities could be impacted, including the Raiders’ Las Vegas stadium and extensive renovations to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
  • As the NBA season intensifies, E-Poll Market Research has unveiled its annual list of the NBA’s most marketable players. Topping the E-Score list is the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, who slightly edged out LeBron James. Though LeBron has a higher Awareness than Curry, research shows Curry as the more appealing of the two former MVPs, with an Appeal of 57% versus LeBron’s 41%. Interestingly, three of the top five most marketable players – James, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Durant – are signed with Nike. And two players on the top 10 list are not signed with any of the major sports brands. Dwyane Wade is with Li-Ning, and Klay Thompson has a deal with Anta. Among the NBA’s most marketable up-and-comers are Giannis Antetokounmpo, a.k.a. the Greek Freak, and Lonzo Ball, who has made headlines with his decision not to sign with a major sponsor and instead push his own Big Baller Brand. E-Poll notes Ball has the lowest Appeal at 29%, possibly due to the hype around his “overexposed” father, Lavar.
  • The Houston Astros are official World Series champions. After one of the most dramatic and entertaining Series in sports history, the Astros topped the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7 to claim the title. The excitement of the Series caused secondary market ticket prices to soar for the final game, as StubHub’s average sales price for Game 7 was $1,791, more than $600 above the average price for Game 1. Low-end tickets for the ultimate matchup drew prices north of $1,300, well “above the full-park average price for Games 1 and 2 at Dodger Stadium.” According to data from SeatGeek, the average resale price for a Game 7 ticket was $1,740, which is comparably low in relation to last year’s Game 7 price of $2,420 for the Indians-Cubs series. Former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard last night tweeted that “triangulating pricing and inventory tonight, it looks like sellers will make >$40 million on Game 7.” Next, look for the Dodgers and Astros to raise across the board ticket prices in 2018 – and for other MLB clubs to follow suit.
  • This year’s World Series is sure to go down in history as one of the “most memorable” Fall Classics ever staged. According to the Wall Street Journal, a record 25 home runs were hit between the Astros and Dodgers, while two games were decided by one run, three games were decided by two runs, and another was “tied in the ninth before a late scoring flurry.” World Series MVP George Springer led the way with five home runs of his own. “What this Series has done with the sport is hopefully have people around the country that just appreciated the emotion that’s in our game, the youthfulness that’s in our game, the drama that’s come with this series,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. Heading into the offseason, the Dodgers are the early favorites to win the 2018 World Series at 5-1 odds. The Astros are tied for second with the Cleveland Indians, at 6-1. Thanks to an electric postseason, MLB is anticipating more fans are already counting down to Spring Training than baseball has seen in decades. And the best evidence of a baseball resurgence will be seen if Little League sign-ups are up come spring.
  • Injuries to some of the league’s best and brightest players continue to plague the NFL this season – with business implications. According to SI.com, with Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson’s ACL tear, eight “’face of the franchise’ players have been lost to season-ending injuries this year.” Joining Watson is Andrew Luck (Colts), Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Joe Thomas (Browns), Eric Berry (Chiefs), J.J. Watt (Texans), and David Johnson (Cardinals). As of November 1, 295 players had been placed on injured reserve this season – up from 277 at the same time last year. Watson had been one of the league’s breakout players this season, as he was “one of the most genuinely exciting, thrilling things that has happened to the NFL this year or in recent memory.” The news of Watson’s ACL tear comes at a bad time for the NFL, which is already fighting to keep its ratings up. Losing marquee, fan-favorite players will only ensure the league loses more viewers in the short term.
  • Sports marketing is a lot tougher nowadays due to the industry’s position at the crossroads of politics and culture. According to SportsBusiness Journal, leading marketers noted at the 2017 Sports Marketing Symposium that reaching fans has become a more difficult task than in the past. “We have to be more like real brands,” said New York Giants VP & CMO Mike Stevens. “We have to be storytellers. We have to get our message out because the truth is, negative stories get a lot of coverage.” Philadelphia 76ers CMO Katie O’Reilly spoke about how difficult it is to maintain a solid brand identity and integrity in the modern era of sports. Social media and a digital presence have given teams, leagues, and organizations more platforms to market their products to fans, while simultaneously giving them more channels to monitor and regulate. “You have to make sure you’re aware of social issues and how your fan base feels about that,” noted NASCAR Senior VP & CMO Jill Gregory. In this era of heightened sensitivity, it’s virtually impossible to develop a marketing plan that won’t offend someone, somewhere – even when your basic stage is a ballpark or court.
  • Rwanda’s new Gahanga cricket stadium is more than just a venue for the national team, it is a reminder of how far the country has come since the 1994 genocide. According to The Independent, Rwanda national team captain Eric Dusingizimana described the stadium as “a dream come true.” Longstanding President Paul Kagame was present for the opening ceremony, a day that has been six years in the making. The new stadium’s name is “the Lord’s of East Africa” and was constructed using 66,000 handmade tiles without using concrete – “the same way as Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia although with the added bonus of actually being finished.” The pavilion will also serve as an HIV testing center and restaurant going forward, giving it a true place in the community apart from just cricket. Previously, Rwanda’s only other cricket stadium was at École Technique Officielle, the site of a “notorious” 1994 massacre and the location of the film “Shooting Dogs.” A poignant example of the healing power of sport – even in a country still rebuilding from a tragedy that unfolded over two decades ago.
  • In wake of the controversial comments made by Houston Texans Owner Bob McNair, head coach Bill O’Brien is being praised by his players for his response. According to the Houston Chronicle, Texans players have since described their coach as “a rock – a voice of reason whose leadership helped avoid a near mutiny” ahead of their game against the Seahawks. McNair seemingly compared NFL players to inmates in prison during an owners meeting, which did not go over well with his team. Texans players wanted to show that they were angry with McNair’s comments, leading them to consider skipping a game. O’Brien won his players’ trust “throughout the ordeal” by showing his unconditional support for them, while simultaneously convincing them that taking the field was the right thing to do. Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones was in the room with McNair and is “adamant that McNair was not talking about NFL players.” This is a situation in which words speak louder than actions – and in today’s highly-charged political climate, it is imperative for McNair and others in leadership positions to think long and hard before they speak.
  • With Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension being mulled over by the NFL, Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones is claiming that his star running back is a “victim of an over-correction” by the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Jones thinks that Goodell is overcompensating for his mishandling of the Ray Rice domestic violence issue, and that Elliott is being penalized for Rice. “Two years ago this wouldn’t be an issue, before Ray Rice this wouldn’t have been an issue because the Commissioner shows where he really wants to come down when he did with Ray Rice,” said Jones. Rice initially was handed a two-game suspension after a video was released of him punching and dragging his then-girlfriend out of an elevator, while Elliott was handed a six-game suspension without video evidence. Jones noted the discrepancy here is “unbelievable,” especially considering the debate that Elliott might be innocent. The incident is only the latest battle of wills between Goodell and NFL owners, and may well impact Goodell’s contract extension.
  • The NFL currently hosts four games in London annually, but that number might soon be rising. According to PA Sport, Commissioner Roger Goodell “hinted at increasing the number of U.K. games” before the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings took the field at Twickenham Stadium in London last week. The league currently has a 10-year deal in place with EPL club Tottenham to play games at new White Hart Lane. The club’s soon-to-be-completed stadium in North London will be able to hold 61,500 spectators, and could even feature a retractable turf field specifically for NFL games. While Goodell hinted at the possibility of adding more games, NFL U.K. Managing Director Alistair Kirkwood currently feels that four games is “the right number of games for London to host at the moment and is not ruling out a return to Twickenham Stadium in the future.” Within the next few seasons, four games will likely become six, especially if White Hart Lane is a white hot hit.
  • The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, are now less than 100 days away. According to Reuters, less than one-third of total tickets have been sold, though organizers still remain optimistic about selling the lot before the Opening Ceremony. The Olympic torch relay started at the beginning of November, which should help spur more domestic interest in the Games. In an attempt to sell tickets within South Korea, organizers are targeting “schools, government organizations and public companies” with block ticket deals for low-demand events. Almost all Olympic venues are being finished currently or have already been completed, while restaurants for fans are being built in empty fields around the Olympic Stadium. The bobsled track and ski-jump mountain are being lauded as the Games’ most stunning images, “nestled in the hills near the stadium.” Efforts will only ramp up as the event draws closer in the coming weeks. President Trump’s South Korean visit in the days ahead will also doubtless draw global attention to the region, and to the Games.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks are still in the hunt to find a naming rights partner for their new downtown arena. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the team is not willing to compromise its standards just to sign a sponsor immediately, but rather will wait for the right fit in order to enhance its brand equity. “We think there’s a tremendous value,” said Bucks President Peter Feigin. “The Giannis (Antetokounmpo) effect is a big deal. It’s kind of exploded for us on an international basis, so all of a sudden, the prospects of who to work with have changed over the last six months.” Feigin noted that “in a perfect world” the team would sign a blue chip international brand, but at this point the team is open to smaller, regional concerns. Antetokounmpo, from Greece, has really helped push the Milwaukee brand across the globe, so the team is trying to capitalize on that movement.
  • U.S. Soccer Vice President Carlos Cordeiro has entered the running to become the next U.S. Soccer President. According to ESPNFC.com, Cordeiro is currently Sunil Gulati’s right-hand man, so many assumed that he would support his “longtime friend and colleague” if Gulati chose to run for reelection. Instead, the former Goldman Sachs partner penned a letter to potential voters outlining a platform that calls for significant structural changes within the U.S.S.F., a bold financial growth strategy, and plans to bid to host the men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups in 2026 and 2027, respectively. “U.S. Soccer has achieved a lot over the last 25 to 30 years, but I think we’ve hit a plateau,” said Cordeiro. “This is not about Sunil. I’ve decided to take the plunge here because I think it’s about the federation and how I fit into that.” The election will take place in February, and more candidates are sure to enter to field before then. Stay tuned.
  • Detroit is pulling a major audible with their hopeful MLS expansion bid. According to the Detroit News, officials working to bring an MLS franchise to the city have scrapped the idea of building a soccer-specific stadium and now plan on using Ford Field as their preferred site. Architects working on the bid found that the NFL Lions’ home field can be made into a state-of-the-art soccer stadium. Up to this point, a soccer stadium was being planned on the site of Wayne County’s unfinished jail in Greektown, though that is no longer being considered. “We concluded that the downtown location of an MLS stadium is paramount to an MLS team’s success,” said Palace Sports & Entertainment Vice Chair Arn Tellem. “And no MLS stadium sits in a better downtown location than Ford Field.” It remains to be seen whether MLS approves of this move away from a soccer-specific stadium, as the league has been trending towards building facilities specific to its sport for many years now.
  • Questions are circulating as to whether MLS misled San Antonio officials in regard to landing an expansion team. According to the San Antonio Express-News, Bexar County (Texas) Judge Nelson Wolff recently asked a local district attorney to investigate the matter. In 2015, MLS encouraged local San Antonio officials to purchase Toyota Field for $9 million and submit a bid for an expansion franchise. That purchase came “two years after Crew Chair Anthony Precourt had obtained the legal right to relocate the Crew to Austin.” Wolff notes that he was told by MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott in 2015 that the league “would not add both San Antonio and Austin as expansion cities,” which is problematic now that the Columbus Crew seem likely to move to Austin. Precourt denies claims that the team reached an agreement to use University of Texas facilities starting in 2019. Since the two cities are so close together, it may be possible for a compromise to be reached so that soccer fans from both markets can enjoy “their” regional team.

Five Top Tech

1. We could soon be watching Esports competitions in the Winter Olympics. Last week in Switzerland, representatives of the Olympic movement met to discuss where Esports could fit into the Olympic picture. The move could become a landmark development for Esports as they continue to gain momentum on the global stage. Ubisoft Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Geoffroy Sardin said about the potential addition: “We’re proud to be part of the Esports exhibition leading into the Winter Olympics that will provide fans with more ways to engage with the sports they love. We have been developing ‘Steep Road to the Olympics’ in close relation with the IOC and we are now looking forward to this competition.” If the Olympic committee approves the addition of Esports into the most prestigious athletic competition in the world, the public outcry could be intense. Regardless of which side of the court you are on in terms of Esports being a sport or not, the worldwide increase in interest is changing the spectrum.

2. Facebook continues to look into making more investments into broadcasting sports on their platform. Facebook has been live streaming IPL soccer games, and could expand to other sports in the future. The potential broader entrance of Facebook into the sports streaming arena could be a cause of concern for both Amazon and YouTube, who agreed to large partnerships to stream live sports this year.  Misha Sher, Vice President of Sports and Entertainment at MediaCom told SportTechie, “Facebook will almost certainly bid on major sports rights so it’s a question of when rather than if. I believe it will happen in the next 12-18 months and it will disrupt the way these rights have traditionally been sold. I think the recent bid for the IPL rights is a clear indication of their ambition. Facebook will want to lead in disrupting this space and the upcoming Premier League rights will likely be their first bet.” If Facebook expands its sports streaming realm, consumers will have a bevy of options to watch their favorite teams play every week. Whether it’s the NFL, MLB, NBA, or other sports, Facebook could create a new problem for cable networks now struggling to not be left in the dust.

3. Game Four of the World Series brought Augmented Reality and traditional marketing into the fold at the same time. Before that game, Mastercard and MLB collaborated on a message that was read by Astros star shortstop Carlos Correa. The message encouraged fans in the park to donate to Stand Up To Cancer, another MLB partner. Mastercard’s Executive Vice President of North American Marketing and Communication said of the gesture, “We’re proud to come together with MLB, our cardholders and partners for the seventh consecutive year and advance SU2C’s mission. It’s truly special to thank baseball fans at the World Series through AR for their commitment towards the fight against cancer.” Fans could see the message if they had the MLB Ballpark app, which encourages fans to use it to buy food, tickets in order to better help MLB teams build personalized database profiles. Teams are now able to collect more personal data than ever before thanks to features like the BallPark app, to be used in traditional partner marketing as well as their philanthropic ventures.

4. If you attended an MLB World Series game in Houston last week, you were treated to some of the greatest World Series action we have seen in a long time. Thanks to newly-installed 360 degree cameras, you could also see exactly where you were during each game. SportTechie describes the technology as the cameras take “multiple images thousands of times during a game, then pieces them together to create a giant 360-degree photo that shows in detail every person there. Fans can go online to find themselves and tag the photo on social media.” With the new technology in place, the fan experience has been improved. And with a better fan experience, an organization builds trust. MLB knows that attending a World Series game can be a bucket list event, especially if your favorite team has advanced to the Fall Classic. While it doesn’t seem like much more than just a picture of a person at a game, that 360-degree photo cements a lifelong memory for that fan.

5. For NBA Teams, every small advantage can go a long way over the course of an 82-game season. Accordingly, the Chicago Bulls are implementing a new way of tracking and analyzing their players’ sleep patterns, and how they can affect play on the court. One change the team made after analyzing early data was moving their shootaround back one hour, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., in order to give players a few extra crucial minutes of rest. Chip Schaefer, Chicago Bulls Director of Sports Performance, said in a statement, “We felt there was enough data to collect at home. What we are looking at is particularly back to backs and late-night returns, what their sleep patterns were — not to be intrusive on them but rather to advise us and our coaching staff on the scheduling of practices and shootarounds and things like that. I think it’d be very helpful not only to the NBA but to the world of professional, elite sports in general.” The Bulls could change the way the NBA evaluates player rest. This season in Chicago may not be great in terms of wins and losses, but the team is taking necessary steps to change the way their future players will be trained. Time will tell if the new-look Bulls will also be the well-rested Bulls.

Power of Sports 5

1. ESPN Opens Community Sports Facility in Bangalore. This week, as part of its global “safe spaces” initiative, ESPN representatives gathered with community leaders and local residents in Bangalore to celebrate the opening of a new multifunctional sports facility dedicated to the local community. The facility is the first of its kind to be built in Asia. The court was refurbished by members of the local community alongside ESPN and Disney employees. The facility will host several development programs focused on teaching the local youth valuable life-skills and empowering them to reach their full potential.

2. Los Angeles Chargers Helping Feed the Homeless. The Los Angeles Chargers are underwriting a new initiative to help serve 30,000 meals to people in need throughout the most underserved areas of Los Angeles. The initiative will be presented at Summit LA17, a local flagship ideas festival in downtown LA. Chargers owner and chairman Dean Spanos will be present at the event, along with Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung, to help serve meals and to inspire others to take action.

The movement is being operated in conjunction with Robert Egger and the L.A. Kitchen, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reclaim local, healthy food that would otherwise be discarded and use it to provide healthy meals to local citizens in need. The groups participating in the movement hope that their efforts will inspire others across the country to follow in their footsteps and help feed those in need in their own city.

3. Anthony Rizzo Announced as Recipient of 2017 Roberto Clemente Award. Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was announced as this year’s Roberto Clemente Award recipient before Game 3 of the World Series last week. The award is given out annually to the player who best represents Major League Baseball through a combination of extraordinary character, philanthropy, and community involvement.

The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation assists pediatric cancer patients and their families. Over the last five years, the foundation has contributed more than $4 million to programs that provide financial assistance to children and their parents. Earlier this year, the foundation also made a $3.5 million donation to the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Rizzo makes frequent trips to many of the hospitals across the city to visit with the children currently undergoing treatment. Rizzo was a five-time nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award before winning this season.

4. Former Raven Hosting Celebrity Cornhole Tournament Fundraiser. Former Baltimore Raven Matt Stover is hosting a Celebrity Cornhole Tournament at the Baltimore Museum of Industry to raise money for his Players Philanthropy Fund. Plenty of Baltimore’s biggest celebrities are expected to attend the event on Monday night, including current Baltimore Ravens Justin Tucker, Brandon Carr, and Brandon Williams. Other athletes confirmed to be attending the event are Baltimore Oriole Mike Wright and lacrosse star Paul Rabil, among others. Tickets for the event are being sold for $75 and include tickets for dinner and a drink.

The Players Philanthropy Fund is a public charity that helps athletes, entertainers, and other philanthropists maximize their charitable giving while protecting their finances and reputation. Stover co-founded the organization alongside philanthropy expert Seth McDonnell after retiring from the NFL in 2011.

5. Saudi Arabia to Allow Women into Sports Stadiums. Beginning next year, Saudi Arabian women will be allowed to attend sporting events in stadiums in three of the country’s major cities, according to a statement issued this week by the General Sport Authority.  According to the report, families will soon be able to enter the stadiums in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. Saudi Arabia’s governing body for sports has said that the preparations would begin immediately to get the three venues ready for the accommodation of families by early 2018. The selected stadiums are the homes of six teams in the Saudi Professional League. This decision is the latest in a series of changes aiming to give Saudi Arabian women more freedom. Last month, the country made a public decree announcing that women will be allowed to drive for the first time in history, beginning next June.

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