13 May

15+5+5 To Watch 51319

15 TO WATCH/5 SPORTS TECH/POWER OF SPORTS 5: RICK HORROW’S TOP SPORTS/BIZ/TECH/PHILANTHROPY ISSUES FOR THE WEEK OF MAY 13 with Jacob Aere

  1. Ahead of the PGA Championship, the PGA of America is making a landmark investment of $2.5 million over the next five years in PGA reach to incubate and grow the PGA WORKS platform. PGA WORKS is a strategic initiative designed to diversify the golf industry’s workforce. The platform began with the PGA WORKS Fellowship and has grown to include scholarships, career exploration events, and the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship, held at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, May 9-12. These key programs inspire and engage talent from diverse backgrounds to pursue employment positions across the golf industry. “We recognize that in order to fulfill the PGA of America’s mission of serving our PGA Members and growing participation in the sport of golf, we must expand the dimensions of diversity represented in the industry’s workforce,” said PGA of America Chief People Officer Sandy Cross. “It is critical for people to see others from similar backgrounds and experiences working in the sport.” Golf is an $84 billion industry, and PGA WORKS programming generates significant awareness of careers throughout the game, while helping to diversify the workforce so that it mirrors America.
  2. Thanks to Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka…and John Daly, fitness and longevity take center stage at this week’s PGA Championship. As the PGA of America prepares to host its annual Major this week, PGA Tour veteran and former PGA Championship winner John Daly is also making headlines in New York. For the first time since pro Casey Martin, Daly has received approval to use a golf cart during the tournament, citing arthritis in his knees that prevents him from navigating the hilly Bethpage Black course. While Daly is an old school product of the Tour – he reached his peak before hitting the gym was a regular part of the pro golf regimen – “today’s crop of PGA Tour pros, led by the likes of Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka, are finely-tuned athletes, seeking out fitness and recovery techniques that will keep them healthy on the course much longer,” said Jeff Conroy, CEO of regenerative medicine leader Embody, which has developed an innovative collagen based microfiber implant designed for use in Achilles’ and rotator cuff repairs – a common affliction in golf. Between rotator cuff and Achilles injuries, Embody’s orthopedic solutions address a combined market exceeding 750,000 surgical cases in the U.S. annually. 
  3. Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles predicted “a 3-5% uptick in attendance over last year" for Saturday’s sixth edition of the Indianapolis Grand Prix, according to the Indianapolis Star. Boles “would not reveal exact numbers,” but the newspaper estimated there were “around 35,000 fans in attendance for last year’s race.” Boles said this year’s attendance may be “even bigger.” He said that credit for the “anticipated increase belongs at least in part to fans and drivers’ growing acceptance of the Grand Prix as the official kickoff of May.” Boles added that the race could have a new entitlement sponsor “hopefully soon,” but there is “nothing imminent on the horizon.” Angie’s List held the entitlement sponsor “mantle for the first three iterations of the race but was forced to bail” after 2016 when facing financial woes. While “having an entitlement sponsor is ideal, it’s not critical to the race’s long-term health.” Boles said that the Indianapolis Grand Prix, even “without Angie’s List or another sponsor, is a profitable race based on ticket sales alone.” The race was also profitable for winner Simon Pagenaud, who overcame the competition and the rain for win number 12 for him and number 205 for Team Penske in its 51-year IndyCar run. 
  4. This year’s Stanley Cup parity is the "world Commissioner Gary Bettman envisioned” when the league instituted a salary cap in 2005,“ according to the Associated Press. While all four division winners have been eliminated, Bettman "prefers to call it ‘competitive balance,’ and it’s the thing he trumpets the most about the state of the league.” There is “not a lot of national buzz” when teams from Raleigh and Columbus meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, and absent a potential Bruins-Sharks Stanley Cup Final, there are “some combinations that don’t exactly sizzle for those who aren’t avid fans.” NBC Sports reported the “highest first-round ratings in the network’s history.“ If more big markets go out, that picture "could change and interest could wane, but Bettman believes it all evens out over time.” There are many other positive factors besides ratings. In Raleigh, according to insider sources, thanks to their playoff run, the Hurricanes have already sold $3.6 million in new ticket business for next season. 
  5. NBA League Pass nets huge subscriber surge due to overseas talent. According to Hashtag Sports, Denver Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokić was instrumental to that huge increase in subscribers in his native country throughout the 2018-19 season, evident by a 400% spike in subscriptions to the over-the-top service in Serbia. Similarly, Slovenian star Luka Dončić, who plays for the Dallas Mavericks, also spearheaded a 186% rise in League Pass subscribers in his native country. The surge in overseas viewership could also be the result of changes to the NBA’s global digital offering, which now includes an option on its International League Pass that allows fans to buy any ten-minute period in a game for .99 cents. While the Denver Nuggets were eliminated by the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday, the 2019 NBA Playoffs are showcasing more international talent than ever. When the playoffs began, 60 players from 29 countries were represented. Now, international players such as the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Mirotic and the 76ers Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving continue to draw eyeballs from abroad – and the NBA is better off for it.
  6. ISM Connect will expand its Allegiant Airline Network with the addition of two new Minor League Baseball teams, the Salt Lake Bees and Boise Hawks, in June and by 20 more stadiums in 2020, nearly doubling the size of the existing network. ISM launched its network across 25 ballparks on the MiLB’s Opening Night, officially introducing the world’s first and only integrated, in-venue smart network of fan engagement technology. ISM Connect has already delivered targeted marketing and custom branded content to an engaged audience of nearly five million MiLB fans. Already, over 15 local and three national brands, including Allegiant, Applegate, and BAM, have joined the network. Across the 25 active ballparks, ISM published 400 pieces of content on Opening Night, including local and national content and advertising. Additionally, several original series went live. "Logo Love” dives into the unique world of MiLB logos and team names, while “Better Up” traces the youth baseball training evolution. Within weeks, fan engagement with the Ballpark Insider social community quickly swelled to nearly 3,000 followers.
  7. The Minnesota Twins have seen one of the largest attendance drops in baseball. In an effort to reverse that trend, they’ve come up with a bold new strategy to get fans back to the ballpark: $5 tickets. The Twins launched a modest $5 ticket flash sale at the beginning of last week, then expanded the offer after the initial discounted seats quickly sold out. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “after 20,000 upper-level outfield seats were grabbed between 6 p.m. Tuesday and 2 p.m. Wednesday, an additional 12,000 standing room ‘ballpark access’ tickets were purchased” by 4 p.m. Thursday. The "ballpark access” tickets provide fans with “entry into Target Field but does not include a seat.” The no-seat strategy, which originated with the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium and morphed into the Golden State Warriors’ $100 monthly Party Passes at Oracle Arena, has now infiltrated baseball via the Mets, Cardinals, and Twins. This modest revenue generator helps fill the balance sheet blanks caused by low attendance, a problem plaguing much of baseball so far this season. Look for other MLB clubs to adopt the practice as the season progresses.
  8. The first phase of a $450 million renovation on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans has begun, the first major work since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Superdome’s first construction phase, according to the Times-Picayune, will include removing 80,000 square feet of interior ramps and installing more elevators and escalators. Initial costs are estimated at $100 million. All four phases are expected to be completed before Super Bowl LVIII in 2024, which the Superdome will host. The New Orleans Saints have agreed to fund a third of the project costs, reportedly $150 million. The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) will contribute $210 million through a bond issuance, pending approval this summer. Kyle France, LSED chairman, said further funds to meet the required $450 million total are still being negotiated with the state, but he hopes any request for taxpayer’s money will be minimal. With these major renovations, New Orleans officials hope to keep the Superdome an attractive option for hosting major sports events. As well as Super Bowl LVIII, the venue is set to host the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2020, and the NCAA Final Four in 2022. 
  9. Trump looks to allow service-academy athletes to go pro. President Trump said last week that he “wants to allow top athletes from service academies to defer their military duty so they can play professional sports.” Trump, while honoring the Army football team with the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, told NBC News and other media outlets, “I’m going to look at doing a waiver for service academy athletes who can get into the major leagues like the NFL, hockey, baseball.” Trump added that the move would “boost recruiting for the service academy’s sports teams.” USA Today noted that the Department of Defense previously "allowed athletes to defer their active-duty service requirement in order to pursue pro sports,” a policy that was implemented by the Obama administration in 2016. However, that policy was "rescinded the following year by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis – just four months into Trump’s presidency.” This policy is a win-win for the athletes and military alike, and should be maintained regardless of who is in the White House.
  10. A Phoenix-area poet buys out the upper deck for WNBA Mercury opener. Poet Christopher Owens, also known as Truth B. Told, recently "purchased the entire 7,000-seat upper level at Talking Stick Resort Arena” for the WNBA Phoenix Mercury’s season opener on May 31, according to the Arizona Republic. Now, Owens is “selling the tickets at a discount for $2-$5 though his company Culture Phx with a goal of having a sold-out arena for a nationally televised game.” The Mercury have “been among the WNBA attendance leaders since their inception but only once have they completely sold out a home game,” the inaugural regular season finale in 1997. Owens said he has “never understood the disparity, but the tide seems to be turning.” Owens is “seeking sponsors to buy 50-ticket packages, at a bargain of $100, so 50 girls’ basketball teams and their families can attend.” He also is “selling single tickets for $5 and a 3-ticket package for $10.” Owens will donate 15% of “whatever he makes to School of HipHop PHX.”
  11. An increase in media exposure could be having a seismic impact on the business of female athletics. In the last few months, multiple big name brands have pumped significant dollars into women’s sports. AT&T signed a multiyear partnership with the WNBA, becoming the first non-apparel company to have its logo featured on the front of all 12 team jerseys. Barclays made the “largest single investment in British women’s sports,” signing a three-year, $11 million sponsorship deal that will see the top league rebranded as the Barclays FA Women’s Super League. And ahead of the Women’s World Cup, Budweiser announced its first-ever sponsorship of women’s soccer, inking a deal with the English national team. Brands have historically ignored women’s pro sports, as have televised news and highlight shows — two realities that go hand-in-hand. As WNBPA Director Pam Wheeler points out, this is the first time in women’s pro sport history that sponsorship deals are being made as the result of “economic decisions, as opposed to emotional connections.” It seems brands are finally realizing that there is serious value here. Now it’s up to the leagues to ensure that this influx of sponsorship cash trickles down to the players.
  12. MLB laid out promotional plans for the London Series 2019, with eyes to highlight the growth of baseball and softball in the United Kingdom as the Red Sox face the Yankees on June 29 and 30. Activities planned during this year’s London Series include a baseball cultural festival, known as “London Yards,” that will include music, baseball virtual reality interactives, Boston and New York cuisine, and, a live screening of the game. Additionally, PLAY BALL Park will serve as the hub for all youth-focused baseball and softball activity, and include a temporary baseball/softball diamond, pitching tunnels, batting cages, and baseball virtual reality portals. MLB and Little League International have also invited four Little League U13 baseball teams based in London to compete in a small, friendly tournament at PLAY BALL Park. By holding games “that count” in Japan and now in London, MLB has joined America’s other pro sports leagues in exporting a real product, not just a soft serve  exhibition, with the goal of attracting a real fan base.
  13. The newest revolution taking place in high school and college sports – AI-automated production – is powered and pioneered by Pixellot. The impact to date has been tremendous and its projected growth is even bigger. In high school sports, in partnership with the NFHS Network, since 2017, Pixellot has installed over 1,500 systems across the country, producing over 100,000 live games, reaching over 25,000 live hours per month. The company is projected to install 20,000 systems over the next seven years, with a goal of broadcasting more than 1 million live high school events per year. In college sports, a new partnership with SIDEARM Sports will lead to producing 50,000+ live college events per year. How does it work? Schools within the NFHS Network or SIDEARM Sports pay an up-front fee to install a Pixellot solution. End-users then pay a one-time subscription fee to gain access to the live games and highlights. And adopting schools gain an additional marketing platform, as well as a new revenue stream for their sports programs.
  14. Is the NFL “quietly collaborating” with the XFL? According to JohnWallStreet, the Alliance of American Football’s inability to secure a formal partnership with the NFL (beyond its relationship with the NFL Network) was a major factor in the decision financier Tom Dundon made to shutter the league after just eight weeks. The NFL’s seeming lack of interest may have a lot to do with the discussions they’re holding with a different upstart football league. JohnWallStreet shared that Vince McMahon’s XFL is “quietly collaborating with the NFL on a variety of rules and technology initiatives.” While news of a collaboration is merely speculative at this point, as the newsletter pointed out. “There’s no reason to expect the NFL to swallow up the startup league before McMahon burns through his $500 million war chest and any allocation of players between the two leagues remains ‘years away.’ But it’s becoming more and more apparent that the XFL is closer to becoming the NFL’s minor league than the AAF ever was going to be.
  15. While most collegiate athletic departments are financial drains on their universities, the University of Nebraska’s athletic department is one of “about two dozen public D-1” schools that operate without assistance. While it’s commonplace for “institutional funding, state appropriations or student activity fees” to prop up those operating at a loss, at Nebraska, not only is the athletic department self-sufficient, it contributes to the school’s academic mission by funding scholarships for non-student-athletes. According to multiple sources, roughly 20% of the 20,000 students enrolled on NU’s Lincoln campus received Husker scholarship money within the last 12 months. In addition to funding $5 million dollars’ worth of academic scholarships, Nebraska athletics gave $5 million to the University’s chancellor to help cover university operational expenses (including support for the student rec center and additional academic support). Nebraska’s athletic department is unique in that it’s one of just a few schools to have consistently generated a net surplus over the last 20 years – the department reported $6.6 million in operating profit in 2018.