with Jamie Swimmer
- With the NFL Combine just around the corner, top prospects are getting ready to prove their value to executives and scouts and fans are getting ready to enjoy the NFL Combine Experience. According to InsideIndianaBusiness.com, the NFL announced last year that it would keep the Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis through 2020, and the city is getting ready to put on the show. With interactive games, access to drills, and autographs, this year’s revamped Combine could generate up to $10 million in economic impact alone for the city. This positive impact is a key reason that the NFL was so willing to hand the event to Indy for five years. The March 2-5 event will be the 31st anniversary of the Combine being held in Indianapolis. Top prospects such as UNC’s Mitch Trubisky, who could be the No. 1 overall pick, stated that he plans on throwing at evaluation. Long-term stability leads to enhanced economic impact for Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Colts. While the draft, Pro Bowl, and Super Bowl continue their national rotations, look for the Combine to solidify its strong roots in Indiana.
- The PGA Tour under new Commissioner Jay Monahan is pushing hard to better the fan experience, including creating a more “customizable viewing experience,“ according to Golfweek. Those initiatives include allowing viewers to "call up leaderboards and statistics at will, compare players’ performances versus the field,” and virtually immerse themselves in situations like hitting shots at the 16th hole of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The Tour is also "transitioning to the next generation of ShotLink, which will generate more extensive data on players’ performances more quickly.” ShotLink+, as it has been dubbed, will “entail a complete overhaul of the system” that has been in place for the last 15 years. And PGA Tour Senior VP/Information Systems Steve Evans said that before year’s end there likely will be “new statistics on various types of putts – uphill vs. downhill, putts breaking right or left for right-handed or left-handed players.” Since professional golf is mostly consumed on TV, keeping abreast of immersive technology is critical to capturing the next generation of golf fans.
- Duke Men’s Basketball continues to push the ball up the court by improving fan engagement via the newest release of #DukeMBBStats. The product is a database of men’s basketball statistics on every student athlete who has ever played for Duke Men’s Basketball…dating back to 1906! The site is powered by SAP’s HANA cloud database, and was developed by Duke’s analytics partner LSI Consulting. Ryan Craig, Executive Director of Digital Strategy for Duke Athletics created a collaborative project plan which included Duke undergrads and Fuqua students to design and build the site. Baseline box score stats and SportVU integrated shot charts are available, and much more data is planned in the near future, including Computational Journalism, Player insight analytics, Player Comparisons, ‘Create your own’ infographics, Formulaic advanced metrics, and more. The Duke stats product is yet another example of technology and creativity in the future of sports, affecting on-field performance and off-field experience.
- The Los Angeles Lakers are making big moves, but this time it is not on the court. According to the L.A. Times, the team had one of the “most drastic days in the history of the Lakers” after President Jeanie Buss fired Executive Vice President/Basketball Operations Jim Buss, who is also her brother, General Manager Mitch Kupchak, and Vice President/Public Relations John Black. Going forward, the team will be led by NBA and Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who was named President of Basketball Operations shortly after the front-office reshuffling. Speaking to his reputation as a control freak, Johnson said, “I’m going to make sure I set the strategy and set the tone. This organization is going to be about excellence on and off the court…Everybody will have a clear role.” These moves by Jeanie Buss represent drastic changes to the team’s internal organization, and also reaffirm her power. Short-term turbulence will hopefully lead to long-term gain, at least in Jeanie Buss’ mind. Forbes pegs the Lakers’ value at $8 billion, up 11% from last year, and #2 in the league. Obviously, much room to prosper.
- As one of their primary investors turns his attention to the Lakers, Dodgers’ game broadcasts for the fourth consecutive season “could go unseen by a majority of fans” in the L.A. TV market, according to the L.A. Times. Charter Communications confirmed that it “does not anticipate reaching agreements with DirecTV or any other cable or satellite provider to carry the Dodgers-owned SportsNet LA channel by the time the regular season starts.” The Times notes Charter “inherited the channel last year in its merger with Time Warner Cable,” which agreed to pay the Dodgers $8.35 billion over 25 years for exclusive local TV rights. In November, the Department of Justice sued AT&T, “alleging its DirecTV subsidiary had violated antitrust law by sharing information about SportsNet LA negotiations with other carriers.” If the case is thrown out – a hearing is set for March 13 – AT&T would “appear to have little incentive to pick up the Dodgers channel.” Wild card: whether new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will support the DOJ in pursuing the suit.
- Topgolf transformed the Seattle Mariners ballpark, Safeco Field, into exactly that, a Topgolf. The global sports and entertainment giant introduced their new “Crush” product last weekend, bringing the revolutionary driving range concept to areas that aren’t lucky enough to be in one of their 34 U.S. locations. According to the Seattle Times, with baseball season still six weeks away, 6,000 people cycled through Safeco over Presidents Day weekend to experience Topgolf — a six-target fusion of bowling and darts at the driving range. Topgolf’s Toptracer technology is used now on the PGA Tour, and has launched golf into the digital age. Safeco Field is the first stadium to introduce Topgolf Crush — essentially a pop-up version of the game. And it won’t be the last: the game will next visit Camping World Stadium in Orlando in March. A great example of a global sports entertainment community that puts a different spin on golf and breathes fresh air into the sport.
- Major League Baseball might have found itself a new streaming partner: Facebook. According to Reuters, MLB and the social media site are in talks to “live stream one game per week during the upcoming season, which could be a key win as the social media platform works to offer more live sports.” Over the past few years, social media platforms have significantly increased their sports streaming involvement, including Twitter’s deal with the NFL. Facebook "pushed to sign deals with owners of sports rights to live stream their games, going after an audience” that other social media platforms are currently trying to tap into as well. The two sides are still in preliminary talks and it is unclear which games or what teams would be streamed via Facebook in 2017. If an MLB deal is struck, it would complement Facebook’s live streaming of Liga MX matches, global basketball games, and table tennis. Facebook continues to increase its product line, market reach, and global penetration. Look for more international live stream deals in the years ahead.
- Despite recently losing the Chargers, the city of San Diego is making a serious push to attract an MLS team by 2020. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, officials unveiled San Diego’s proposed $1 billion-plus “Soccer City” project. The project “would include up to 4,800 homes, more than 3 million square feet of office and retail space, 55 acres of parks and nearly as many parking spaces as currently exist” at the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site, where the Chargers used to play. This is all part of a plan to win an expansion team for the 2020 MLS season; San Diego is one of 12 competing cities. The proponents will now “present their plan to San Diego city voters in the form of a ballot initiative that will require about 72,000 registered voters to become valid.” The City Council will need to approve all this by June if it wants to meet MLS expansion deadlines. Clearly, the key is to maximize the economic feasibility of a multipurpose stadium – using the opportunity to attract other major events and college programs. Also, it will be important to capitalize on the political and civic momentum generated by leaders who want a quick deviation and replacement from the vagabond Chargers.
- To some people, money isn’t everything. For Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, a move to the Chinese Super League would make him the “world’s best-paid player,” but he is reportedly uninterested in the potential shift. According to Sky Sports, Rooney has offers of up to $934,100 a week to play in China, but he “unlikely to leave.” The two clubs that have serious interest in Rooney are Guangzhou Evergrande, which is managed by Felipe Scolari, and Beijing Guoan, which “finished fifth in the CSL last season.” Chinese Super League clubs are only allowed to have three foreign players in their starting lineups, meaning that clubs are willing to pay hefty sums for select international players. Three clubs “still have a slot available for a foreign player” – Tianjin Quanjian, Jiangsu Suning and Beijing Guoan.” Rooney, who became United’s all-time leading goal scorer earlier this season, is speculated to be at the tail end of his career in Manchester. China – making an incredible economic and social push and attempting to quickly dominate the sport of soccer. Money does not always buy happiness, however.
- The race to land the 2024 Olympics just got smaller with Hungary’s decision to withdraw Budapest’s bid. According to Reuters, the Hungarian government formally announced the decision, citing a “lack of political and national unity behind the application that it blamed on the opposition.” Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos had suggested the city “might quit the race” after local opponents of the bid “submitted a quarter of a million signatures in a petition demanding a local referendum in Budapest on the issue.” Now only two “powerhouse” candidates remain: Paris and Los Angeles. Rome was one of the final candidates but elected to withdraw its bid months ago; Hamburg withdrew back in 2015. A formal decision on the host city is set for September. As it currently stands, “bookmakers have Paris as the favorite but rate Los Angeles as a close runner-up.” The choice now comes down to a philosophical one between a city that has proven its ability to host an Olympics with minimal disruption and maximum long-term legacy (Los Angeles), compared to a city boasting a romantic return to Europe and a celebration of economic tradition and history (Paris).
- E-sports have become increasingly popular in recent years, and now they will have their own arena. According to the Las Vegas Sun, Toronto-based Millennial Esports is “set to open a 15,000-square-foot e-sports arena” in Las Vegas. The facility will open with a three-day “Halo” tournament. The arena, which is a first of its kind, “features a 200-seat arena with stadium-style seating and a main room for up to 500 people with a stage, a green room and a VIP room.” Basketball stadiums and other indoor arenas have recently been converted into e-sports stadiums for tournaments, but this move to open a sport-specific facility signifies to increasing interest in the professional gaming world. Audio and visual components “include an LED video wall with theater lighting and sound, plus cinema projectors in the arena.” The facility also “has a concession stand and a merchandise area where fans can purchase tough-to-find video game-related items.” E-sports is now reaching tens of millions of people, and becoming the fastest growing sport on the planet. Cynics who predicted its niche demise are now attempting to hop on an ever-expanding bandwagon.
- Coming off their first World Series win in over 100 years, the Chicago Cubs are rolling out a new marketing campaign with the tagline “That’s Cub.” According to ChicagoBusiness.com, Cubs players and coaches used that mantra throughout last season in the clubhouse, but it is now being publicized. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon used the phrase in Spring Training interviews the other week, and some players have been “donning the slogan on T-shirts” in Mesa, Arizona. The team’s marketing department is turning the slogan into “the theme that will adorn billboards, TV spots and CTA bus ads beginning next month.” Epstein first brought the saying to the team in 2013 and it has stuck ever since. The Cubs have capitalized on their on-field success with massive spikes in apparel sales and an increased marketing presence around the city. The Cubs seamless preseason marketing campaign attempts to capitalize on long-term stability, prior success, and future challenges. So far, the tagline seems to be working magnificently.
- Instead of extending an offer for over $200 million, the Sacramento Kings elected to trade All-Star center Demarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. According to CSNBayArea.com, the Kings cited a desired culture change as the main reason for shipping Cousins off to the Bayou. A source said that the Kings “grew tired” of Cousins’ “constant issues on the court.” The team’s entire basketball operations side, including coach Dave Joerger, was part of the decision to trade Cousins. This move marks a “complete reboot” for the Sacramento-based franchise, and is something that many say “should have occurred before the team stepped into Golden 1 Center.” “We’re going to play hard, we’re going to play with a lot of fun and improve everyday and try and compete and try to make the playoffs,” said Kings VP/Basketball Operations & General Manager Vlade Divac. “If not, we’re setting up ourselves in a good place to move forward.” Like the trade or not, the Kings end up with more long-term “assets” while the Pelicans create a clearer path to short-term relevance. It now remains to be seen whether either or both can take advantage of the opportunities.
- With House Bill 2 in place, the ACC is still reluctant to award any championship games to North Carolina. According to ESPN.com, the ACC plans on announcing future conference championship sites in May, and North Carolina remains “in limbo.” The ACC in September “pulled all its conference championship games” from North Carolina for the 2016-2017 season in the wake of HB2’s instatement, just as the NBA pulled the 2017 All-Star Game and moved it to New Orleans. “We won’t be in a situation like we were last year – with September decisions, in terms of our championships going forward…” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. The NCAA removed all championships from North Carolina as well for this year, but it is in the process of evaluating North Carolina’s fit for events between 2018-2022. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper last week said that he “needs House Bill 2 to be repealed by the end of February so the state doesn’t lose out on future NCAA championship events.” After the successful New Orleans All-Star weekend, North Carolina should clearly understand the necessity of political changes to continue to attract all industries (not just sports).
- Rate of play has been a big talk in MLB lately, with significant changes finally coming to the game. According to the Tampa Bay Times, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to make intentional walks automatic and are discussing several other changes to the game. Despite Commissioner Rob Manfred publicly criticizing the player’s union, talks between both sides are “ongoing.” Among the leading topics of discussion are “putting a two-minute limit on replay reviews” and implementing a 30-second limit for managers to decide whether to challenge calls or not. Players believe that new rule changes to speed up games will “cause so much collateral damage to the sport that the game will become unrecognizable.” “If you put a clock on baseball, you take away the sanctity of the game and the character of it,” said Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. “I understand trying to speed up the game to create more action, but this isn’t football.” Rob Manfred attempts to put his immediate stamp on the future of the game – armed with studies and focus groups featuring preferences for millennials.
The biggest sports weekend of the year in Las Vegas in terms of volume from out of town? Super Bowl? March Madness? NASCAR? Nope. It’s this coming weekend when a UFC event, combined with the HSBC Sevens World Series, the only stop for the global rugby circuit in the U.S. in 2017, will bring upwards of 100,000 people from around the world to Sin City. Rugby, especially the fast moving sport of Sevens, is enjoying continued growth as a property in the United States, bolstered by Olympic inclusion, NFL ties like the Patriots Nate Ebner playing on the national team last summer and coaches like the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll implementing rugby tackling techniques into the team’s game plan, a healthy weekly schedule on NBC and an explosion of play on the college and the high school level.
However this weekend, even with March Madness on the horizon, will be the big boost for the sport, with the largest annual gathering of elite men’s and women’s teams from around the globe combining with solid college and club events for rugby nirvana.
How big is it? We caught up with Jon Hinkin, USA Sevens Tournament Director, to get the scoop.
How has USA Sevens been impacted in terms of awareness by Olympic inclusion of the sport last summer? Is it still growing?
We can certainly point to June 2015 as an important date for the USA Sevens as that was when both our Men’s and Women’s teams qualified for Rio. The Olympics gives your sport instant credibility from all sports fans. National teams around the world have been able to attract better athletes to their teams, and therefore, the quality of the sevens was elevated. We were growing well as a sport before the Olympics but had really hit our stride since then, we continue to grow every year and this year we will have our biggest crowd ever over our three-day weekend of March 3 – 5.
What is the most unique aspect of USA Sevens that fans coming for the first time should look out for?
The USA Sevens is one of the most unique events in the world, even among the HSBC Sevens World Series stops, Las Vegas is a bucket list stop. What makes it so exciting, different and fun for everyone is the combination of our event being part Mardi Gras, Olympics and International Festival all rolled into a three-day event. You will see every costume imaginable while fans from every country sing their hearts out and then take a needed break at our Fan Festival. This is all done in an incredibly accepting, respectful, loud and crazy manner. Fans sitting next to each other may be rivals on the field but will be fast friends in the stands.
Does the NFL potentially coming to Vegas help raise rugby’s profile in the city as well, given the commonality between the two sports, and even more crossover in recent years?
Well, I don’t believe it will hurt us! Football came directly out of Rugby and there are many crossover athletes that play both. One of the most successful would be multiple Super Bowl Champion and USA Rugby Olympian Nate Ebner.
This year’s event includes the women for the first time; with women’s rugby rising as well, how does that new element enhance the weekend experience?
We are very excited to be hosting the Women’s Rugby Sevens Series this year and for the next three years in Las Vegas. This gives the rugby fan twice as much excitement over our three-day weekend as our Women Olympians grace Sam Boyd stadium with a very fast brand of rugby. Rugby is an extremely inclusive sport, so we welcome all fans to come out and cheer on our 12 Women’s teams and we guarantee you will be impressed.
This is one of the biggest weekend’s for business for Las Vegas; last year there was NASCAR, this year rugby works with the UFC. Do those testosterone driven events give USA Sevens another boost?
Those events are as happy to have us on their weekend as we are to have them on our weekend. Las Vegas is the perfect environment for these high energy, work hard -play hard personalities and our events never disappoint. We expect to spin the turnstiles 80,000 times at Sam Boyd stadium this year and our fans will be attending cross promotional events with UFC throughout the week.
Lastly, the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship has really expanded as a brand in the college ranks, is there a crossover in terms of interest and awareness with USA Sevens that can help lift both events going forward?
United World Sports (UWS) is the parent company of both the USA Sevens and the Penn Mutual CRC, which are our two biggest events of the year. Collegiate teams will try to qualify for the Penn Mutual CRC through the Las Vegas Invitational (LVI) held in conjunction with the USA Sevens so both events are extremely tied together. Penn Mutual has been a fantastic partner with UWS and continue to grow the collegiate game. They will be here at the USA Sevens supporting teams at the LVI so come on down and catch some amateur rugby before going into the stadium to see the best in the world.