15 TO WATCH/5 SPORTS TECH/POWER OF SPORTS 5: RICK HORROW’S TOP SPORTS/BIZ/TECH/PHILANTHROPY ISSUES FOR THE WEEK OF JANUARY 6
with Jacob Aere
- The sports world and beyond remembers David Stern. Former Commissioner David Stern took the NBA into the modern era over the course of his 30 years as Commissioner after he assumed the role in 1984. By the time he left the Commissioner’s office in 2014, a league that had once struggled for a foothold had grown into a more than $5 billion-a-year industry. The NBA’s longest-serving commissioner, Stern was credited with transforming the NBA into the global powerhouse it is today, overseeing major uplifts in commercial revenue and media coverage, domestic and international expansion, and a surge in global popularity. Under Stern, the NBA added seven new franchises, including two in Canada, and grew into a commercial behemoth. It also created the WNBA in 1997 and a developmental league, now known as the G League, in 2001. Thanks largely to Stern, the NBA is now revered as a sports industry pioneer and innovator. Rick had the privilege to work with Commissioner Stern on the formation of the Miami Heat and the eventual Oklahoma City Thunder, as well as interviewing him numerous times. He will be greatly missed.
- Endeavor acquired majority equity ownership stake in experiential hospitality leader On Location Experiences from existing investors. Last week, Beverly-Hills based agency giant Endeavor announced that it had acquired On Location Experiences. The reported $660 million deal will give Endeavor a majority stake in the hospitality and live events company, which works with the NFL, the NCAA, and the PGA Tour, among other entities. The NFL, through its strategic investment arm, 32 Equity, will continue to be a minority shareholder and retain its seat on the Company’s Board of Directors. On Location will seek to enhance its existing sports and entertainment offerings, including its long-term relationship with the NFL, by leveraging Endeavor’s access to content and experiences across entertainment, sports and fashion. The deal will also help to strengthen Endeavor properties, including the UFC, which it acquired in 2016 for $4 billion. Former Bloomberg, Westwood One, and Time Inc. executive, Paul Caine, will lead the newly integrated entity. The deal is the latest in a flurry of acquisitions by major Hollywood talent agencies as they expand into other entertainment disciplines, particularly music and sports.
- Led by FOX, NFL broadcast partners were quick to tout seasonal gains as the NFL regular season concluded last Sunday. FOX Sports reported that the 2019 NFL regular season handed the channel with its best viewership in three years as America’s Game of the Week, while pregame studio shows FOX NFL Sunday and FOX NFL Kickoff scored new ratings records. For the complete 2019 regular season, FOX NFL recorded an average audience of 19,236,000 viewers, resulting in an uptick of 7% over versus 2018 while America’s Game of the Week averaged 24,356,000 viewers, up 10% compared to last year’s average. With an average audience of 5,002,000, FOX NFL Sunday saw a viewership increase of 6% compared to last year (4,719,000 viewers) while FOX NFL Kickoff delivered its best season ever with 1,349,000 viewers, up 3% from last season. Across digital platforms, NFL on FOX had its best regular season ever, with the streaming audience growing 57% over last year. As the NFL Playoffs intensify, with some fresh faces beating playoff stalwarts over Wild Card Weekend (So long, Patriots), expect game broadcast ratings to intensify as well.
- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says retirement “unlikely” after Patriots early NFL Playoffs exit. Tom Brady said that he “plans to be back” for his 21st NFL season next year, when he will be 43 years old, following the Patriots’ 20-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in the AFC Wild Card. According to the Associated Press, Brady said it is “pretty unlikely, hopefully unlikely” that he would retire. Said Brady, “I love playing football, I love playing for this team. I’ve loved playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. I don’t know what it looks like moving forward.” Brady’s final pass of the game was intercepted and “returned for a pick-six to seal the game.” It “wasn’t the way for a legend to go out on any stage.” Brady added, “I just don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m not going to predict it. No one needs to make choices at this point.” Forbes and other sources estimate that Brady’s net worth is an estimated $275-$300 million, $196 million from NFL earnings rounded out by endorsement income from brands including Under Armour, Aston Martin, UGGs, and Sam Adams beer.
- The Big Easy readies for the CFP National Championship Game. The 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship will take place in New Orleans at 7 p.m. CST on January 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where Fiesta Bowl Champion Clemson will face Peach Bowl Champion LSU for the overall title. Various events will take place around the city leading up to the game. The Allstate Championship Tailgate Plaza will host the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live! concert series throughout the weekend at Woldenberg Park featuring free concerts from H.E.R., Nas, Bastille, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Megan Trainor, Judah & the Lion, and Tim McGraw. The Playoff Fan Central will take place at the Convention Center January 11-13 with 200,000 square feet of interactive experiences that are free and family-friendly. And Eckrich Taste of the Championship, presented by Thrillist, will take place at Mardi Gras World on January 12. This fundraising event for the CFP Foundation’s Extra Yard for Teachers Initiative will feature dozens of dishes and drinks made by some of New Orleans’ best chefs.
- Sentry has extended its run as title sponsor of the Maui Sentry Tournament of Champions since becoming the sponsor in 2018, locking in a long-term deal that runs through the 2029-2030 PGA Tour Season. The new 10-year deal replaces the insurance company’s original five-year agreement, which was announced in August 2017. “On behalf of the PGA Tour, thank you to Sentry Insurance for its long-term commitment to the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the betterment of the Maui community,” said Andy Pazder, PGA Tour Chief Tournaments and Competitions Officer. “Sentry’s partnership has been integral in the tournament’s success in the last three years and we’re thrilled at today’s announcement.” The calendar year’s first PGA Tour event, eligible only to 2019 season tournament winners, came to a thrilling close on Sunday night, with Justin Thomas besting Patrick Reed in a multi-hole playoff.
- The LPGA readies for the kickoff of their 2020 season as well. Next week, the LPGA kicks off its 2020 season in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions Presented by IOA, a $1.2 million purse event similar to the PGA Tour’s Sentry in that it is only open to 2019 tournament winners. In two weeks, the LPGA and Group1001 kick off regular LPGA Tour action with a new event in Boca Raton, Florida. The inaugural Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio will be held January 20-26 at Boca Rio Golf Club and feature a 108-player field competing for a $2 million purse. As a key part of tournament week, the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio will host the Women’s Leadership Summit presented by Versant Health with top female leaders from a variety of industries, creating a space to empower women, develop and strengthen skills, build networks, and inspire change. The new Boca Raton event is a counterpart the Group1001-sponsored Indy Women in Tech LPGA tournament, which also features multiple educational events for women.
- FanHub expanded its relationship with the ATP, building and launching the first-ever bracket challenge game for the inaugural ATP Cup, currently underway in Brisbane, Perth, and Sydney, Australia January 3-12. “Tennis has long been one of the sports where fans have enjoyed competitive gaming and being able to work with the ATP in building this bracket challenge will be a great way to expose this unique, first-time event to a global audience,” said Andrew Cronyn, Managing Director FanHub. “The free to play game enables the ATP to engage with fans throughout the tournament, giving them a reason to keep coming back to ATP’s digital platform and bringing the sport of tennis to the forefront. We believe this will help set a year-round standard for sports like tennis and golf to consistently grow their fan base like never before.” The ATP Cup kicked off the 2020 ATP Tour season with broadcast coverage in more than 180 territories worldwide. The multi-city ATP event, and the upcoming Australian Open, will help to draw much needed aid to fire ravaged Australia, currently facing the worst outbreak of summer bushfires in its history.
- In the wake of record low ratings for their annual New Year’s Day outdoor game, no progress is yet evident on discussions of NHL Olympic participation. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that there is “really nothing new” on possible Olympic participation at the moment, but there will be “further discussion in the near future,” according to The Athletic. Daly said, “I imagine it will be discussed further with the NHLPA in connection with any resumption of talks relating to a potential CBA extension. But, we and the NHLPA will also need to get a better understanding from the IIHF and/or IOC regarding the conditions on which NHL players would be invited to the Olympics. That remains a question as to which we do not have a lot of clarity at this point.” NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said the players have “made it clear that they want to participate” in the Olympics. He said, “We want to find a way to do that.” More discussions are expected before the end of the month, between the league, the NHLPA, and the IIHF.
- U.S. Soccer has numerous issues to tackle as it enters a critical year. As the Los Angeles Times puts it, “U.S. Soccer is a mess.” Disarray within the federation that manages the beautiful game in America has resulted in a governing body without a CEO or full-time coaches for 13 of its 14 age group national teams and one that “has an operational deficit that is expected to top $20 million for the 2020 fiscal year thanks to a half-dozen high-profile lawsuits. U.S. Soccer is also entering a second year without a labor contract for its men’s national team, and is embroiled in a pay-equity lawsuit with the World Cup-winning women’s national team. Later this month, the women’s squad opens qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where it could become the first team to ever win the World Cup and Olympics in consecutive years. And the struggling men’s team is now gathering to train for both Olympic qualifying and the 2022 World Cup. All the distractions are something U.S. Soccer can ill afford heading into what should be a pivotal year.
- U.S. men’s national soccer team cancels Qatar training camp amid escalating tensions in the Middle East. The USMNT is moving the team’s training camp out of Qatar back to the United States as a “precaution” given heightened tensions in the Middle East following the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Suleimani last Thursday. According to the Los Angeles Times, the camp was scheduled to open Sunday in Doha, host city for the 2022 World Cup, but now will be staged in Bradenton, Florida. Though Doha is 950 miles from Baghdad – the center of the current conflict – “tensions in the region have escalated.” The Washington Post adds that U.S. outposts and personnel have “braced for retaliatory attacks.” The last thing the struggling USMNT needs at this point in time is to worry about a potentially life-threatening military conflict. USMNT officials did the right thing in moving the camp to Brandenton and out of harm’s way.
- A lawsuit blaming Pop Warner for two fatalities is dismissed in federal court. According to the New York Times, a federal court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Pop Warner, stating that the two women who sued the youth football organization had no proof that their sons’ deaths later in life were linked to any head trauma they had sustained over a decade earlier as youth football participants. The judge in the case, ruling for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, said the mothers did not show sufficient links between any head trauma their sons may have suffered while playing Pop Warner football and their behavior later in life. The judge added that the plaintiffs had discounted other contributing factors, including the “social and biological.” The case, which was set to go to trial this month, was a benchmark for head-trauma related cases against sports organizations. Pop Warner, meanwhile, continues to refine and improve its football safety practices each year, with the constant input of renowned doctors as well as football experts, and remains the gold standard of youth football organizations nationwide.
- The NBA G League secondary competition has announced the addition of Mexican professional men’s basketball team Capitanes next season, its first franchise based outside the U.S. and Canada. Established in 2016, the Mexico City outfit will become the NBA G League’s 29th team from the start of the 2020-2021 season, and will play their home games at the Gimnasio Juan de la Barrera, based in Mexico’s capital. The announcement was made during a press conference ahead of Dallas Mavericks 122-111 victory over the Detroit Pistons in Mexico City on December 12, the first of two regular-season games played in the Hispanic nation during the ongoing 2019-2020 season. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said: “Bringing an NBA G League team to Mexico City is a historic milestone for the NBA which demonstrates our commitment to basketball fans in Mexico and across Latin America. As the first G League franchise based outside of the US and Canada, we look forward to welcoming Capitanes to the NBA family.” The schedule for the 2020-2021 NBA G League season, which tips off next November, will be announced in August, 2020.
- Sports teams using machine learning tech to drive sponsorship revenues. According to JohnWallStreet, the sports industry has begun to place a greater emphasis on data capture and analytics, particularly as it relates to on-field performance. But while sports has become big business, Adam Grossman, founder of Block Six Analytics (B6A), suggests “from an economic and financial perspective – in terms of understanding concepts like asset valuation, cash-flow and regression – it remains behind the times.” To help bring the industry up to speed, Grossman developed a sponsorship evaluation platform that values sports assets in the same manner “that venture capitalists, private equity firms and investment banks look at investment opportunities.” B6A’s proprietary sponsorship model translates traditional fit and engagement benchmarks into probabilistic revenue growth metrics. Over the last 10 months, more than a dozen pro sports organizations have begun using Block Six technology to drive sponsorship revenues. Sports sponsorships sellers naturally seek brand partners that are demographically aligned. While most teams and media entities have managed to gather insights on their own, “the challenge has always been capturing the demographic data needed to ensure audience alignment, so that both parties can achieve their goals.”
- A century ago last Friday, the New York Yankees purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for $100,000. Why it mattered, courtesy of Axios Sports: “The sale changed the course of history, as Ruth became the face of baseball over the next decade, helped save the sport’s popularity in the wake of the Black Sox Scandal and finished his career as the G.O.A.T.” In his first season in New York, Ruth hit 54 home runs, which was more than any other team except the Philadelphia Phillies, who hit 64 as a team. And in 1923, Ruth led the Yankees to their first of 27 World Series titles. Meanwhile, in Boston, the Red Sox were cursed by his departure for nearly a century before finally breaking through in 2004 and winning their first World Series in 86 years. And a final fun fact: Exactly 53 years after the Babe’s historic signing, George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees from CBS, making January 3 the most significant date in Yankees franchise history.
Top Five Tech
- Cheez-It kicked off the college football playoffs with a Twitter contest. According to Marketing Dive, the snack brand encouraged football fans during the Cheez-It bowl to share photos and videos of themselves watching the game on Twitter using the @CheezIt handle and campaign hashtag #ScoreCheezItEntry for a chance to win a year’s supply of the square cheese snack. Additionally, fans who attended the December 27 game could purchase Cheez-It themed menu items at the stadium such as the Coney Island Cheez-It Dog and the Cheez-It Walking Tacos. The brand even created limited edition boxes of the product featuring the logos of Washington State and the Air Force, the two teams competing in this year’s game. Cheez-It is jumping on the opportunity to connect with sports fans during this year’s college football playoffs and upping its game by serving classic game-watching food that features its cheesy crackers for stadium attendees. By tying the brand into a social media campaign for those watching the game, Cheez-It forced the hand of football watchers to create user generated content and make the snack nearly as important as the game itself.
- “Apex Legends” gets its own tournament series in 2020 through EA. According to Engadget, EA and developer Respawn Entertainment will invite the game’s top PC players to compete in the Apex Legends Global Series. In all, EA says the tournament circuit will consist of 12 global live events, including four “Majors,” in 2020. Some of the live events will be hosted by EA, with the remaining ones put together by esports organizations like PGL and GLL. The first three Majors will feature 100 three-person teams, while the fourth and final one, the Apex Legends Global Series Championship, will spotlight the top 60 teams in the world. That event will boast a $1 million prize pool, with more than $3 million on the line throughout the year. With approximately 70 million players globally, Apex is one of EA’s most important properties, but it’s in an extremely competitive market that includes games like Fortnite and Overwatch, which have growing communities of 200 million and 50 million players respectively. EA will host the first online tournament for Apex Legends on January 25, with the first Major event starting on March 13.
- Sony and Verizon are bringing 5G to sports broadcasting. According to Mobile Marketing Magazine, Sony and Verizon collaborated to demonstrate how 5G technology and streaming can be used in live sports broadcasting during the NFL’s Texans vs. New England Patriots game on December 1. A camera person from NBC Sports used Sony’s PXW-Z450 shoulder camcorder to capture the game and the video was sent through to a production room in the NRG Stadium in Houston with the help of Sony’s prototype transmitter box, Xperia 5G mm Wave device, and finally, Verizon’s 5G Ultra-Wideband network. The result was an almost real time broadcast sent to NBC producers without any hiccups. In the future, the same 5G-connected cameras could be used to transmit to remote production teams that aren’t located at the site of the sporting event. In the future, another advantage to 5G is the use of wireless connectivity, so cameras can use all angles and positions to capture the games.
- FuboTV has dropped the FOX regional sports networks from its offering after their recent purchase by Sinclair. According to SportsPro, the U.S. sports streaming service’s subscribers will no longer have access to 22 networks that provide local telecasts of games featuring 17 NBA franchises, 14 MLB teams, and 13 NHL teams. Among the channels to be canceled on FuboTV is YES Network, which Disney sold at the end of last year to a group comprising MLB’s New York Yankees, Sinclair, and internet giant Amazon. The reasoning for FuboTV to drop the RSNs was that their standalone rates were not in line with the company’s mission of providing low cost value for customers. FuboTV is the latest provider to drop the RSNs after satellite operator Dish Network and its over-the-top service Sling TV failed to come to a new agreement with FOX last July.
- The biggest sports business winners of 2019 include Russell Wilson, the L.A. Lakers, and Amazon. According to Forbes, Wilson has his seventh Pro Bowl appearance, ranking him among the leading active players. He’s also played a role in efforts to bring an MLB team to Oregon, and over the summer he joined the ownership group that bought Joe Roth’s stake in the MLS Seattle Sounders. Further, Wilson signed a record-setting contract worth $140 million over four years, and he ranks No. 14 in Forbes Sports Money Index. Meanwhile, Amazon sits at No. 12 in Forbes’ SMI accounts which measures the importance of business relationships throughout the sports world thanks to its athlete sponsorships and new agreements with the NFL and MLB. And the Lakers jumped up five spots to No. 4 thanks to acquiring Anthony Davis; they are currently rocking a 27-7 record as of January 3 and have a tight rivalry with their hometown rivals the Clippers. While Nike, Barcelona, and LeBron James remain the top three on Forbes’ SMI list, watch out for the tech companies to keep climbing in the coming year.
Power of Sports Five
- David Stern passes away, but his legacy lives on through NBA Cares. David Stern was dedicated to public service, as is evidenced by NBA Cares, which he launched in 2005. Over its first five years, the program donated more than $100 million to charity. NBA Cares is the league’s global social responsibility program that builds on the NBA’s mission of addressing important social issues in the U.S. and around the world. Causes the platform supports include education, youth, and family development, and health, including Special Olympics, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, UNICEF, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Share Our Strength and GLSEN. NBA Cares programs and participants have provided more than five million hours of hands-on service, created more than 1,300 places where kids and families can live, learn or play, and engaged more than 51 million youth basketball programs in communities around the world. Internationally, NBA Cares has created more than 323 places where kids and families can live, learn, or play in 40 countries – largely thanks to Stern and his legacy.
- Joe Burrow’s Heisman speech raised nearly half a million for charity. According to College Spun, the LSU quarterback inspired many with his words at the podium after winning his Heisman Trophy on December 14. In fact, his speech has raised nearly $500,000 in donations to charitable organizations in Ohio, specifically Athens County, where Burrow grew up. Burrow discussed the southeast Ohio – a very impoverished area and his hometown of Athens, where many children go hungry after school. According to the Daily Advertiser, more than $482,000 was donated to various Ohio charities – such as the Athens County Food Pantry – due to Burrow’s kind words. A large amount of the funds came from Louisiana, his college football team’s home state. As he prepares to play in college football’s National Championship Game next week, Burrow continues to inspire people on and off the field, and he will likely have a strong future in the NFL and be able to keep giving back to Athens County.
- Tennis Australia announces a charity match to support bushfire relief. According to The Guardian, Australian tennis player Nick Krygios’ plans for a massive fundraising effort for bushfire victims has resulted in a tennis exhibition match set to feature some of the world’s top players. Kyrgios kicked off a flood of donations to the fundraising campaign from sporting names around Australia, including American basketballer LaMelo Ball. After Krygios’ initial push, Tennis Australia announced “Rally For Relief,” an exhibition match on Rod Laver Arena January 15. It will also grant $1 million for communities to rebuild tennis facilities. Kyrgios has also pledged $200 for each ace he serves across the Australian summer of tennis. Fellow Australian players Alex de Minaur, John Millman, and Samantha Stosur, among others, also vowed to donate money from their aces while the new ATP Cup got on board. The tournament announced that $100 would be donated to the Australian Red Cross for every ace served over the next 10 days, with the final figure expected to surpass $150,000. Much of Australia is up in flames and sports figures are here to help inspire seismic change across the globe for charitable donations.
- The NBA is set to start a historic league in Africa. According to USA today, the NBA is building a basketball ecosystem in Africa and last month’s scouting combine in New York was an integral step in its inaugural season. Basketball Africa League (BAL) is slated to start in March, 2020 and is the NBA’s first league collaboration with FIBA to operate outside of North America. The NBA has had initiatives in Africa for years, including Basketball Without Borders camps around the continent starting in 2003, an NBA office in Johannesburg in 2010, and NBA Academy Africa which opened in 2017. The NBA has also sold out games played in Africa for years and has had an imprint with various charity organizations through NBA Cares for decades. Each of the BAL’s 12 teams will have a 16-man roster (12 active and four inactive), with at least eight players who are citizens of their respective teams’ home country and up to four from other countries. Each team can have a maximum of two players from outside Africa. The goal of creating BAL in Africa is not only to invest in local talent, but to create an entire system that allows the league to run efficiently from the ground up while also creating jobs within the African countries.
- Justin Bieber accepts challenge from Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington for head-to-head shootout. According to CBS Sports, Binnington saw Biebers skills on display via Instagram videos and extended an invitation via the comments section saying “10 breakaways me vs. you. You score one on me I’ll dye my hair platinum blonde.” The prize of seeing Binnington with platinum blond hair wasn’t enough for the Canadian pop star, so Bieber offered a counter: If he gets scored on, Binnington donates $10,000 to a charity of the singer’s choice. Even better, the NHL now has a great opportunity to leverage this offer for some prime content during All-Star Weekend later this month. St. Louis will host the NHL All-Star Game on January 25, and Binnington will be on hand after earning his first All-Star selection this season for a potential Bieber-Binnington shootout for charity.