15 TO WATCH/5 SPORTS TECH/POWER OF SPORTS 5: RICK HORROW’S TOP SPORTS/BIZ/TECH/PHILANTHROPY ISSUES FOR THE WEEK OF JANUARY 13
with Jacob Aere
- Bets are piling up on LSU, leaving sports books around the nation with lopsided action on a college football championship game that is setting up to be big for bookmakers. Bookmakers are reporting significant betting interest on the championship game, with 80% to 90% of the bets on LSU. According to ESPN, heading into the weekend, LSU was a consensus six-point favorite over Clemson in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship in New Orleans. From the East Coast to the Gulf Coast to Las Vegas, the betting public is all over LSU, including some big wagers. Last Tuesday, Las Vegas sportsbook operator CG Technology reported taking two bets totaling $200,000 on LSU. William Hill U.S. said Clemson-LSU was on pace to be the “biggest-bet college football game of all time.” Jeff Davis of Caesars Sportsbook said the last championship game he could recall that had this one-sided of action was Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. Take note: the underdog Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8, and Nevada sportsbooks won a net $19.6 million, the most ever on a Super Bowl.
- ATP Player Council President Novak Djokovic has called for Australian Open organizers to “consider delaying the year’s opening grand slam event if smoke haze from the bushfire emergency threatens players’ health.” According to ABC.net.au, Djokovic said that the Player Council “would meet ahead of the tournament to discuss options, including a possible delayed start to the tournament.” Djokovic added that his reps had been in contact with Tennis Australia CEO and Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley and had been “monitoring air quality in both Melbourne and Sydney,” where the final rounds of the inaugural ATP Cup just wrapped. Tiley in a statement said the officials have “committed substantial extra resources” to monitor air quality.” And he quickly shut down suggestions that the start of the tournament could be delayed, reminding the media that Melbourne Park features three courts with fully retractable roofs, and that the tennis complex also includes eight indoor courts with “some form of cover.” The Australian Open begins January 20.
- Tennis Australia has hedged its bushfire bets. Tennis Australia, according to The Australian, stands to “pocket a huge cash payout potentially worth tens of millions of dollars” should a significant amount of play be lost at the Australian Open because of adverse conditions. The payout would be a “result of a canny and groundbreaking insurance deal” the governing body struck for the first time a year ago with insurers Lloyds of London and Hiscox. While Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley “would not disclose the exact terms,” TA would reportedly receive well north of $100 million in the “worst-case scenario of the cancellation of the Open.” Smoke from the fires has created hazardous conditions in Melbourne, and it remains "unclear where ground pass holders are expected to take cover if matches are suddenly abandoned due to hazardous conditions.” So far, however, the Sydney Morning Herald notes that the haze “hasn’t stopped fans from lapping up tickets” for the Open. Pre-sales are “already up for the crown jewel” of Australian tennis.
- Heading into its conference championship weekend, NFL viewership is up, which should affect media rights negotiations. The NFL averaged 16.5 million viewers per game during the 2019 regular season, up from 15.8 million in 2018 — the league’s second consecutive annual increase of 5%. The rebound in viewership from the previous two years, according to Axios Sports, will give the NFL higher leverage when negotiating new distribution deals with media partners. Currently, the NFL gets around $1 billion annually from each the three broadcast networks that air Sunday games (CBS, FOX, and NBC), over $1 billion from ESPN to air Monday night games, and around $1.5 billion from AT&T’s DirecTV to distribute its Sunday Ticket package. Among predictions about where NFL rights will land in the future, SportsBusiness Journal posits that global streaming service DAZN come close to picking up rights to NFL Sunday Ticket. And Lightshed Partners predicts that CBS will lose Sunday afternoon NFL rights to either NBC or ABC, given price increases, and that FOX will retain its rights. Most of the NFL’s current media deals expire in 2022 or sooner, and experts predict that prices will go up significantly in the next round of deals.
- Two-thirds of Americans support college players being allowed to earn money through endorsements according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. As the NCAA mulls new rules about athlete endorsement and Name, Image, and Likeness compensation, the study found that support for the NCAA allowing college athletes to cash in on their names, images, and likenesses is particularly high among young adults, as well as black Americans and Hispanics. “The opinions of the public in general are very important because they are reflected in the attitudes of universities, who are the ones that actually make the rules,” NCAA President Mark Emmert told the Associated Press. Another interpretation of Emmert’s comments and a peek into the crystal ball on the issue: if two-thirds of Americans support the proposed rules, that likely means two-thirds of college and university boosters, the influential lifeblood of athletic departments, do as well.
- Oh no – Overtime, Ohio State battle over “O” trademark. New York-based sports network Overtime filed suit in federal court last Monday in a trademark dispute with Ohio State University over the letter “O.” The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that digital programming provider Overtime Sports wants a legal declaration allowing the continued use of its “O” mark, following a cease and desist letter issued by the university this year. According to the federal suit, “The differences between the parties’ trademarks and manners of use prevent any likelihood of confusion. … There are numerous O marks, O-formative marks, and O designs in use by third parties in connection with the relevant goods and services, such that consumers will not presume that all goods and services offered under O or O-formative marks emanate from a common source.” One party not yet trying to trademark an “O” – LSU’s colorful Coach O, Ed Orgeron. That might change if he wins a national championship come Monday.
- Quicken Loans has signed a multiyear NFL sponsorship for its Rocket Mortgage brand in an effort to seek greater brand awareness and preference. The move comes just in time for marketing activation during the NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl. To support its new designation as the NFL’s first official mortgage sponsor, Rocket Mortgage is immediately launching a national Super Bowl “squares” game, in which consumers “owning” a box with a particular score are eligible to win $50,000 each time the score changes. Two “lucky square” holders will win $500,000 each toward the mortgage on their dream home. Marketing support will include digital, social and TV ads. Pro Football HOFer Barry Sanders will serve as spokesperson for the program; golfer Rickie Fowler has been a Rocket Mortgage spokesperson since 2015. A Super Bowl LIV spot featuring the two seems likely, as Rocket Mortgage advertised during the game in 2016 and 2018.
- The USGA teamed up with actor Don Cheadle to boost the value of public golf to golfers, courses, and communities throughout the country. Cheadle will also serve as a U.S. Open brand ambassador, lending his voice and stature to the championship. FOX Sports viewers got a glimpse of the USGA’s relationship with the Oscar-nominated Cheadle with a 15-second U.S. Open tune-in advertisement that ran nationally during last Sunday’s broadcast of the NFC Playoff game between the Saints and Vikings on FOX. It will continue with projects throughout the year, including advertising during the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers on FOX next Sunday and the launch of the new U.S. Open brand campaign at the USGA’s Annual Meeting at the Pinehurst Resort in February. While Cheadle is not Tiger Woods, the respected actor should bring some gravitas and diversity clout to the USGA’s efforts to continue to widen its net with the golfing public, particularly among minorities and younger demographics.
- Topgolf’s IPO could value the company at over $4 billion. Topgolf International Inc., an operator of driving ranges with a party atmosphere, has selected banks for an initial public offering that could value the company at about $4 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. The Dallas-based company is reportedly working with banks including Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Bank of America. Its IPO could come as soon as this year. The company’s driving ranges, which “bring the spirit of a bowling alley to the golf course,” have bays that can accommodate up to six players who can track their balls electronically while ordering food and drinks. Some venues feature rooftop bars, restaurants, shops, pools, and concert halls. The company has locations in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, with others opening soon in Canada, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates, according to its website. The company’s backers also have included Callaway Golf Co., which acquired a minority stake with other investors in a deal completed in 2017.
- Just hours after news broke that Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg was spending $10 million on a Super Bowl ad, word came that President Trump would do the same. “President Trump made the unprecedented decision to keep the campaign open following his first election, which allows us to do things like buying a Super Bowl ad,” Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, was quoted in the New York Times. Super Bowl ads are rarely deployed in presidential politics due to the high cost and inefficiencies of paying to reach a national audience rather than focusing on key states. The buy highlights Bloomberg’s massive spending power. And it’s just the start of what’s likely to be a huge spending year for Trump. Bloomberg has already spent $170 million on ads this election cycle, while the Republican National Committee just announced that it raised $463 million in 2019 and has nearly $200 million cash on hand. It’s worth noting that the Super Bowl lands just one day before the Iowa caucuses.
- In an era in which legislation such as California’s newly minted Assembly Bill 5 aims to correct inequalities in the workplace, Sports Illustrated staffers announced their intention to unionize, seeking better workplace protections amid turmoil at the legacy brand. The union, according to CNN, represents about 80 staffers in print, digital, and video. Sports Illustrated’s magazine staffers were already a part of the NewsGuild of New York, but digital staffers were not. Now, both print and digital will be included in the new union that is also with the NewsGuild. In October, Seattle-based startup Maven took ownership of Sports Illustrated from magazine conglomerate Meredith Corporation and immediately laid off about 40 staffers. Of the roughly 80 staffers eligible for the bargaining unit, more than 90% “signed a petition supporting the union drive.” Their effort to join the NewsGuild “comes at a time of turmoil for the magazine.” In a letter to management, staffers requested a “pay-equity study; an increased focus on minority hiring; clarity for workers on extended temporary contracts; and clear protocols for handling harassment.”
- RIP Pete Dye. Pete Dye, who designed many of America’s most famous golf courses and became known as the "Picasso” of golf architecture for his distinctive layouts, passed away last week at age 94. “I think of Pete like Picasso, somebody that has created a nontraditional design, whether it’s a painting, a sculpture or a golf course. He was so innovative in a profession that is very traditional,” summed up golf course designer Arthur Hills. Dye designed more than 100 public and private golf courses worldwide, including PGA Tour and Major courses that include Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, home of the 2020 Ryder Cup; PGA West Stadium course in La Quinta, California, this week’s stop on the PGA Tour’s 2020 West Coast Swing; The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, South Carolina; and Harbour Town Golf Links in neighboring Hilton Head. And then there’s the island Par-3 17th hole at Ponte Vedra Beach’s TPC Sawgrass, perhaps the most photographed hole in golf history outside of Augusta National’s Amen Corner. Rick enjoyed his sit-down interviews with Dye, most memorably at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
- Tensions surrounding the Middle East continue to loom over the European Tour’s “Desert Swing.” Concerns are “growing” over the European Tour’s “Desert Swing” over the next three weeks after Iran “threatened to ‘unleash Hezbollah’ across the Gulf as military tensions build.” The Abu Dhabi Golf Championship is set to take place this week, followed by the Dubai Desert Classic and Saudi Arabia International. The European Tour, according to the London Telegraph, was “confident at the start of the week that its schedule would not be affected by the conflict.” Several U.S. golfers are “due to play in Abu Dhabi,” and the region is “vital for the Tour’s ongoing prosperity and officials will be loath to cancel or even postpone.” In the U.S., Phil Mickelson and others will be skipping next month’s Waste Management Open to play in the lucrative Saudi Arabia tourney. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth is now a factor for sport and sports events, whatever the controversy. In the near future, it seems likely that a very big golf name is going to align itself with the kingdom – or take a stand by turning its money down.
- The NHL 2020 Winter Classic between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars was the least-watched edition of the annual ice hockey game since it was first played in 2008. According to Nielsen, the Stars’ 4-2 win over the Predators on New Year’s Day roped in only 1.97 million viewers for NBC. The figure represents a drop of almost one million on last year’s edition of the game, which saw an audience of 2.94 million tune in for the Boston Bruins’ win over the Chicago Blackhawks. In related news, the NHL has selected the head coaches for its January 25 All-Star Game at St. Louis, with Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals, Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins, Craig Berube of the Blues, and Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights getting selected due to their points percentage in their respective divisions. Since the upcoming NHL All-Star Game is in the home of the Stanley Cup Champion Blues, the league has high hopes for good ratings and attendance for its annual midseason celebration.
- In conjunction with the Protect the Pitch program, which continues to lead the industry in stadium sustainability and clean energy efforts, LA’s Dignity Health Sports Park has installed 12 new Volta electric vehicle charging stations that will be available to guests free of charge at all events. Volta designs electric vehicle charging networks for forward-thinking businesses seeking to provide seamless, simple and free charging. Volta designed Dignity Health Sports Park’s charging network as a foundation for further expansion to match the park’s rising electric vehicle demands. Projecting out based on the average Volta station impact in Los Angeles, Dignity Health Sport Park’s 12 stations will offset an estimated 250,000 pounds of CO2annually. The MLS LA Galaxy and Dignity Health Sports Park have launched numerous sustainability efforts to reduce carbon footprint and become more sustainable through the Protect the Pitch initiative. As increasing numbers of Galaxy fans drive electric cars, Dignity Health Sports Park’s partnership with Volta is a perfect complement to the club’s Protect the Pitch sustainability initiative.
Top Five Tech
- Vince McMahon’s XFL has signed a multiyear deal with Genius Sports that’s designed to protect the fledgling football league from improper sports betting. As reported by Bloomberg and relayed by Hashtag Sports, London-based Genius Sports, which has similar partnerships with golf’s PGA Tour and soccer’s English Premier League, will help the XFL build a so-called integrity program to guard against fixed games. As part of that, Genius, owned by private equity firm Apax Partners, will offer around-the-clock monitoring of pregame and live betting markets to detect unusual activity. During the XFL’s centralized training camp this month, Genius will conduct betting-focused educational workshops with players, coaches and game officials. The XFL will play during a relatively slow time in U.S. pro sports, with only the NBA and NHL regular seasons in action. Football has long been the most bet-on U.S. sport – especially during Playoff periods like this past weekend’s slate of thrilling NFL games. According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, football accounts for about 34% of all sports betting within the state – a number that will likely only increase.
- WWE made $13 million off of YouTube advertising revenue in 2019. According to Tubefilter, WWE’s YouTube channel is larger than those of the NBA, the NFL, MLB, and the NHL —combined with a whopping 52.8 million subscribers. And WWE uploaded a staggering average of 510 videos per month with content ranging from full matches to behind-the-scenes clips. This had them outpacing their sports league counterparts by hundreds of videos a month. Furthermore, there is no off season with the WWE so there is always lots of content. In 2019, WWE’s channel brought a monthly average of 756.4 million views, putting in up in the ranks of the most-watched YouTube channels. But WWE is making around $1.40 per 1,000 views, a number far below YouTube’s reported average CPM of $7.60 due to the fact that the wrestling content is not ad friendly for many sponsors. Even if the WWE only pulled in $13 million, the amount of eyeballs on their content in an era where traditional TV viewership continues to dwindle for all sports may be worth more than AdSense’s earnings for the company.
- The Raider’s future Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas is the pinnacle of technological connectivity. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, the $2 billion, 65,000 seat stadium will feature the fastest optical internet service available with Allegiant Stadium covered by 1,700 managed Wi-Fi access points and 40-gigabit optical internet connections to deliver high-speed bandwidth for every mobile device in the venue. Cox Business, the commercial division of Cox Communications, will also power nearly 2,200 Cisco Vision dynamic screens and signs throughout the stadium – promising a memorable, interactive fan experience. Furthermore, Cox will offer engaging activations like the Cox Virtual Meet and Greet at the stadium to create memorable moments for fans by changing the way they interact with the game and their favorite athletes. The stadium aesthetically looks like the future from the outside with its “Black Hole” inspired design and the high-tech feel of the building delivers on its future-forward sports business.
- Spotify is looking to reach into daily sports podcasts in its upcoming expansion. According to Bloomberg, Spotify Technology SA is developing several daily sports shows, which is a big part of the music-streaming giant’s push into original podcasts. The Swedish company will likely start with a single show and then increase its workload. Spotify is considering a number of options, including audio programs tailored to fans of specific teams, but so far it is known that one program will be a recap of the day in sports and run about 10 minutes. The company hired Amy Hudson earlier this year to oversee sports, and she has talked with Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, about making shows. Spotify is eager to reduce its reliance on music, and has pinned much of its future on the growth of podcasting. With sports being one of the most popular genres in traditional radio and podcasting, it will be a strategic move for the company to build out its slate of original and exclusive shows and become a platform more similar to Apple’s podcast, music, and video network.
- The NBA boosts its online presence with more Twitter live games. According to SportsPro, the NBA, Twitter, and Turner Sports have announced a multi-year extension to their partnership that increases Twitter’s amount of live games and on-demand content on the social media platform. The deal was first signed in January 2019 and will now offer a live streaming option for the second half of at least 20 regular season NBA games, the NBA All-Star Game, and 16 playoff games, including the Western Conference Finals. The U.S. geo-locked Twitter feed features an isolated-camera on a player voted on by users, with NBA influencers and veteran basketball star Channing Frye on commentary. Additional engagement features includes voting on users’ favorite plays, moments, and teams to watch during pre-game warm-ups for select games. Since joining Twitter in 2009, the NBA has built one of the largest Twitter communities in the world, with more than 437 million followers globally across all league, team, and player platforms. The additional live streamed games should further establish it as one of the online sports league titans.
Power of Sports Five
- Top tennis stars band together to aid Australian bushfire relief. According to CNN, a number of the world’s top tennis stars, including Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki, Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas have agreed to play in an exhibition match to raise funds for Australia’s bushfire relief. Scheduled to take place on January 15 at Melbourne Park’s Rod Laver Arena, the Australian Open Rally for Relief will donate proceeds from ticket sales – priced at $54 AUSD for adults and $35 AUSD for concessions – to the bushfire relief efforts. So far, at least 24 people have been killed by the fires in Australia. Nearly 18 million acres of land have been burned as the country faces its worst blazes in decades. Kyrgios kick-started tennis’ fundraising efforts last week when he pledged $200 AUSD for every ace he hits at upcoming tournaments with a number of other players since joining him. Furthermore, Tennis Australia will also donate $100 AUSD for every ace hit across six tournaments, including the Australian Open, as well as granting $1 million AUSD to help rebuild tennis facilities damaged in the bushfires. The tennis world has been one of the first major sports leagues to go all in to support the Australian bushfires and other leagues will likely follow suit, such as the England Premier League.
- Soccer stars from around the globe will play a bushfire charity match. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the head of Melbourne-based agency Tribal Sports Group, Lou Sticca, took to Twitter last Sunday to flag plans for a star-studded charity soccer match, which could raise huge sums to help alleviate the suffering of people and communities whose lives have been devastated by blazes scorching Australia. The game is likely to be played at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium in May. Many top European and South American players will be in action at the European Championships and Copa America, but big names who are no longer internationals could be lured to Australia to help raise funds. The charity match is one of a number of fundraising efforts being made on behalf of football in Australia to assist those affected by the bushfires. Currently, the next two rounds of the A-League and W-League will be dedicated to raising funds and showing gratitude to emergency services. And the Australian players’ union, Professional Footballers Australia, also used its “Footballers Trust” to donate $1000 for every goal scored in the A-League and W-League over the weekend of January 11-12.
- The Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph game-winning gloves finally find their way to charity. According to ESPN, Rudolph thought he was donating the gloves he wore while catching the winning touchdown in overtime against the New Orleans Saints to a charitable cause. It turns out the tight end was scammed by someone who went directly to eBay to sell his game-worn memorabilia for profit. But Jason King, a lifelong Vikings fan from New Jersey, purchased Rudolph’s gloves after he saw them on eBay. Shortly after making his purchase, King began to see news of the scam circulating on Twitter. Upon seeing Rudolph’s post, King tweeted the tight end that he was the buyer of the gloves and would gladly donate them to charity. Rudolph responded, directing King to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, where he and his wife, Jordan, have done extensive charitable work throughout his nine-year career with the Vikings. Rudolph then said he would send King the gloves he was planning to wear during the Vikings’ NFC divisional playoff matchup against San Francisco. King said he will donate the money he spent on the gloves toward Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone, a space designed to help children and teenagers find a place to play, relax, engage in healing therapies, and socialize at Masonic Children’s Hospital.
- Megan Rapinoe is working with Budweiser to change the perspective on branding the NWSL. According to Yahoo Sports, the NWSL looks to shift from surviving to thriving with a target fan base that needs to change from children to young adults. And there may be a shift on the horizon, thanks in part to Budweiser. With help from U.S. Soccer and Soccer United Marketing, who helped broker the deal, Budweiser signed a multi-year sponsorship with the NWSL as the league’s biggest sponsor to date. Budweiser’s campaign is less of the soft and fuzzy approach the NWSL has seen in the past. Budweiser’s current campaign is a call-out of other brands who claim they care about female empowerment to actually put their money where their corporate mouths are. The ironic campaign features Rapinoe enjoying products from future official sponsors of the NWSL – eating a generic hamburger that could be a fast food chain sponsor or sporting a generic watch that could become the official timepiece of the NWSL. Budweiser is simultaneously supporting women’s sports leagues and proving themselves to be a consistent sports sponsor and beverage – regardless of league or gender.
- The Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young cancels $1 million in medical debt for locals. According to ABC 7 and other news outlets, the 21-year-old star donated $10,000 to a medical debt erasure agency that relieved over $1 million in debt for local residents. Through the Trae Young Foundation, Young donated the money to RIP Medical Debt, an organization that buys and forgives medical debt in the United States, according to a news release. The nonprofit was started in 2014 by two former debt collectors. They use donated funds to buy debt portfolios for those in need. Media reports said the average amount of dissolved debt is $1,858 for about 570 people. Although he didn’t contribute the $1 million himself, Young expanded what his money could do and positively financially impacted hundreds of Atlanta residents.