18 Feb

15 + 5 + 5 To Watch : 21819

15 TO WATCH/5 SPORTS TECH/POWER OF SPORTS 5: RICK HORROW’S TOP SPORTS/BIZ/TECH/PHILANTHROPY ISSUES FOR THE WEEK OF FEBRUARY 18 with Jacob Aere

  1. NBA players are All-Stars on social media, too. When Axios Sports examined the social media followings of every All-Star starter across the four major sports, they expected the star-driven NBA to come out ahead — but not to the magnitude by which the league led other sports. For starters, the Lakers’ LeBron James has more followers on Instagram and Twitter – over 89 million – than every NFL, MLB, and NHL All-Star starter combined. James also has more than twice as many as the next closest NBA All-Star starter – Steph Curry, with more than 37 million. Comparatively, in the NFL, J.J. Watt has the strongest social presence among NFL Pro-Bowlers, with over 8.8 million followers. In MLB and the NHL, stars Mike Trout and Alex Ovechkin respectively have almost the same exact number of followers across both platforms, as do Matt Kemp and Connor McDavid. It’s also notable, and regrettable from a branding standpoint, that on the NHL All-Star rosters showcased in San Jose last month, 15 starters had either (a) no Twitter account, (b) no Instagram account, or © neither.
  2. NBA reveals “Jersey of the Future” at Tech Summit. As part of the NBA’s All-Star break in Charlotte, Commissioner Adam Silver debuted a slate of futuristic tech at the NBA Tech Summit on Friday, including unveiling the league’s “jersey of the future.” According to Hashtag Sports, Silver pulled up an app on his phone and “changed the number and name on the back of a jersey that was displayed on the side of the stage. With the push of a button, the jersey shifted from repping for a Kemba Walker model to giving Stephen Curry a shout-out to going old school in a Michael Jordan model.” The futuristic jerseys weren’t the only innovation discussed at Friday’s high profile summit. Silver also announced plans for facial recognition ticketing, hologram mascots, and virtual reality glasses to take future basketball fans from their couches directly into a virtual arena. The NBA has long led the way in terms of tech innovation among America’s sports leagues. It’s no wonder Silver has reportedly turned down overtures to helm the NFL and other major institutions.
  3. Embody closes $3.6 million investment round to advance a new standard of care for Achilles and Rotator Cuff repair.  Embody, the DARPA-funded start-up developing collagen-based implants for the treatment of sports medicine injuries completed its first outside funding round.  To date, the company has received $14 million in non-dilutive funding.  DARPA’s interest is based on the prevalence of Achilles and Rotator Cuff injuries with Navy SEALs and other elite warfighters. Embody plans to launch their Tapestry implants in early 2020 and plans to raise a Series A financing round later in 2019. Embody’s focus is aligned with the needs of high-performance athletes with their mission to restore pre-injury performance following tendon and ligament injuries. With high-profile athletes such as the NBA’s DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall recently suffering debilitating Achilles tears, the spotlight now shifts to sports medicine leaders such as Embody to shorten the recovery process and get the athletes back in the game. 
  4. MLB in 2019 will “commemorate the 150th anniversary of professional organized baseball with a season-long series of uniform features and content integrations across its league-run media platforms.” According to Sports Business Journal, the league’s celebration will begin on Opening Day in late March with “special cap patches worn by every player.” The cap application has “never been done to celebrate a major anniversary in baseball, but it will be similar to special postseason patches worn on the side of player caps.” There also will be a “uniform patch worn all season on the right sleeve of player jerseys.” Those sleeve patches “recall similar ones used to celebrate baseball’s 100th anniversary” in 1969 and 125th in 1994. MLB also is planning an “extensive series of anniversary-driven multimedia content commemorations of great moments in baseball history that will run on MLB Network, MLB.com and the league’s official social media channels.” It truly is a celebratory year, as the NFL is also celebrating its 100th anniversary and other key milestones of sport also unfold, which we will document throughout the year.
  5. The Chicago Cubs have confirmed the launch of their own regional sports network (RSN) that will become the exclusive home to “Cubs-centric” broadcasts from 2020. The new partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group sees the creation of Marquee Sports Network (MSN), ending the split of Cubs games between WGN-TV, NBC Sports Chicago, and the local ABC affiliate, WLS-TV. All live games will now air on the Cubs’ own network alongside pre and post-game shoulder content, in addition to other local sports programming. Both the Cubs and Sinclair will have equity in the joint venture, and according to the Sports Business Journal, the team is set to see improved earnings, since annual rights fees previously brought in less than $70 million a year from NBC Sports Chicago’s before equity distributions. Sinclair will lead many back-end functions for Marquee Sports Network such as distribution and staffing, with Cubs Productions video development unit also heavily involved. The move was anticipated when the Cubs didn’t re-sign with NBCSports Chicago alongside other local sports team during recent negotiations. ESPN reported that the new network could add college basketball to its programming lineup as it looks for live sport during the MLB offseason.
  6. Before the 2018 running of the Great American Race, Daytona International Speedway was closing in on its fourth consecutive sellout for the Daytona 500. According to sources and an analysis of the track’s ticket site, the 101,000-seat track had about 1,500 tickets left to sell as of last Friday for Sunday’s race, and announced a sellout on Saturday. ISC tracks can declare a sellout when within 1.5% of a true sellout, so DIS already was on the verge of that range on Friday. The ISC-owned venue has sold out every Daytona 500 since the first race after the $400 million Daytona Rising renovation in 2016. Despite a crash-packed final stage on Sunday, Denny Hamlin won the 2019 Daytona 500 in a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing – not a bad way for that storied garage to start the season. 
  7. As NASCAR revved up for the season opening Daytona 500 on Sunday, the organization laid out a slate of sponsor activations with its partners taking place throughout the weekend. Among them, according to multiple sources, was Busch. The “Official Beer of NASCAR,” said cheers to 40-years of NASCAR support with the Busch “Car To Can” promotion. Ford led with a digital and social fan-focused campaign rolling out a Mustang-related clip per day via Twitter in the 10 days leading up to the Mustang’s first time taking the track on Sunday for the Daytona 500. Additionally, Ford is creating a larger Mustang four-part documentary series that features the making of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race car. Monster Energy had numerous activations on-site that include the Harley Davidson stunt team and Freestyle.com FMX shows throughout the weekend. And last but perhaps most relevant, considering NASCAR’s roots, Sugarlands Distilling hosted tastings and meet and greets with cast members of the Discovery Channel Show “Moonshiners.”
  8. Overtime banks $23 million from Carmelo Anthony, Victor Oladipo, Spark Capital, and others. According to Hashtag Sports, the digital sports media startup focused on high-school athletes has raised $23 million in Series B funding. Venture-capital firm Spark Capital led the round, which brings the two-year-old company to $33.5 million raised to date. Others participating include MSG Networks and NBA players Victor Oladipo and Carmelo Anthony. With the latest funding, Overtime has a valuation of around $100 million. The company launched with short-form content centered on high-school basketball stars, and over the past year has expanded its coverage to include soccer, football, esports, and women’s basketball. Overtime also is looking to launch live in-person events and activations and is eyeing international expansion. People continue investing in Overtime because they’ve smartly monetized through branded-content deals and nascent ecommerce and merchandise business, and look to be a rising star in the youth sports digital media space.
  9. FILA has extended its partnership with the top ranked American male in tennis, World No. 9 John Isner. FILA has partnered with Isner for the past three years, and during that time he has risen to a career-high ranking and captured six titles, including his first Masters 1000 singles crown at the 2018 Miami Open. Isner had a career-best 2018 season in which he earned three titles – two in singles in Atlanta and Miami, and one in doubles at Indian Wells. He also registered impressive performances in the Grand Slams, reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon and quarterfinals at the U.S. Open. Isner currently holds 19 career titles: 14 in singles and five in doubles. FILA has a long and distinguished tennis history that includes endorsements of ATP Tour and WTA athletes, tennis tournaments. and organizations, including the BNP Paribas Open, the Tennis Hall of Fame Open, the Rogers Cup and Coupe Rogers, the Western & Southern Open, the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, the Rakuten Japan Open, and the Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship.
  10. U.S. Club Soccer and LaLiga North America have announced an expansion of their technical partnership first signed in August, 2015. The long-term extension continues a valuable relationship in youth soccer that has provided various coaching education resources to the American game, directly educating thousands of coaches and impacting even more players. It also points to LaLiga North America’s commitment to growing soccer in the U.S. LaLiga North America is a joint venture between LaLiga and Relevent Sports, which serves as the exclusive representation of LaLiga in the U.S. and Canada for all business and development activities. The operation supports the league’s growth in the U.S. and Canada through consumer-related activities including youth academies, development of youth soccer coaches, marketing agreements, consumer activations, exhibition matches, a coaching education series, and plans to have an official LaLiga Santander match played in the U.S. In 2019 and beyond, the two organizations plan to increase their Players First commitment by creating additional coaching development opportunities, extending LaLiga scouting to U.S. Club Soccer members, and offering exclusive benefits to Players First-licensed clubs and others.
  11. The Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA), the non-profit association comprising 2,700 men and women professionals overseeing sports fields worldwide and critical to athletes’ safety, received outstanding participation at its 30th annual Conference and Exhibition in Phoenix. Visit Phoenix confirmed the community received over $3 million from total estimated direct expenditures from conference participants including event attendees, exhibitors, and organizers. The Phoenix Convention Center housed more than 2,300 participants including 1,400 sports turf leaders and 900 exhibitors from 14 countries for four days of industry education, networking events, and product demonstrations. The event was highlighted by a volunteer rebuild of Lindo Park baseball field, two “Seminar On-Wheels” tours of Phoenix area sports complexes, SAFE fundraisers, and the STMA Awards Reception and Banquet. SAFE, the association’s charitable foundation, raised nearly $41,000 through a bowling competition, live and silent auctions, raffles, and a golf tournament at Grand Canyon University Golf Course. Proceeds benefit educational programs, scholarships and grants enriching communities through safe, sustainable sports and recreation fields.
  12. Concacaf, the governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, has revealed that it is expanding the Concacaf League from 16 to 22 clubs, including an additional five Central American teams and one side from the new Canadian Premier League (CPL). Beginning this year, the club competition will additionally serve as the qualifying tournament for teams from Central America for the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, the region’s premier club competition. The Concacaf League will remain a knockout tournament, with a preliminary round now set to kick off in July. The six winners of those two-legged ties will then join the top nine ranked Central American clubs and the runner-up of the Caribbean Club Championship in the round of 16. As well as the eventual winners, an additional five teams will qualify for the Concacaf Champions League through the revamped Concacaf League based on rankings in accordance with the competition’s tie-breaking procedure, a move sure to widen the league’s fan base and boost ratings.
  13. American Family Insurance has secured the naming rights for the Brewers’ renovated Spring Training ballpark in Phoenix. Maryvale Baseball Park will now be called American Family Fields of Phoenix. American Family also has the naming rights for Miller Park via a deal that starts in 2021. The Brewers and the city of Phoenix unveiled $60 million in renovations to the 10,000-seat Cactus League ballpark today. Improvements include a new player agility field, Daktronics video board and flagship retail store, as well as 106,298 square feet of clubhouse and baseball operations spaces. That includes new sports medicine and sports psychology offices. HKS designed the ballpark renovations, while Mortenson led the construction. The Brewers’ renovation is only the latest among a slew of huge improvements to Cactus League facilities – in recent years, the Dodgers, White Sox, Cubs, and hometown Diamondbacks have cut the ribbon on sparkling new ballparks. These improvements keep Phoenix as a top tourist destination every spring. 
  14. GumGum Sports’ NHL Scoreboard tracks media value. GumGum, a new, near real-time artificial intelligence/computer-vision platform used by teams, leagues, and brands to measure the ROI of its deals, tracked 506 sponsors across ten in-arena and on-ice NHL sponsorship placements, leveraging owned and operated social media accounts of 31 NHL teams to measure media value.  At the NHL season midpoint, Instagram was by far the best social media platform in generating media value, with $5.75 million in total sponsor value. Twitter only drove $597,000 in total value, with Facebook at $494,000. The top sponsor was GEICO, with $321,000 in sponsor media value; GEICO is a partner with 21 teams. Notably, Party City, with a single team sponsorship, the New York Rangers, had the fourth-highest sponsor media value total, $145,000, besting NHL TV and Toyota, which had 12 team partnerships and branding in 12 arenas.
  15. And finally, just because this is a holiday weekend, and this seems somewhat random and bizarre though appropriately celebratory. According to Cynopsis Sports, History Channel and Welch’s are partnering for a month-long “Truck Night in America” integration that spans linear and social platforms and brings together the two brands to create a “perfect marriage of grape juice, demolition and big rigs.” The partnership features a challenge where three “Truck Night in America” competitors are tasked with pushing sheds filled to the brim with 55-gallon barrels of Welch’s grape juice over the edge of a 100-foot cliff. If there was ever a cry for stain fighting brands to join a party, this is it. Grape is in your court, Shout, Resolve Spray ‘n Wash, and Oxiclean.