SBD/May 24, 2013/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
Mercury C Brittney Griner, the No. 1 overall pick in the most recent WNBA Draft, not only is “being counted on to lead the Mercury to a third WNBA title, she's expected to open a gateway from the WNBA to new fans across the U.S. and beyond,” according to John Marshall of the AP. Griner’s "dunking dexterity has made her a celebrity, a regular on the sports highlight shows and a recognizable name even to casual sports fans.” Lynx G Seimone Augustus said, "Even if people don't know her or know about her game, they've heard about the girl that can dunk." Mercury GM & coach Corey Gaines said, "It's our responsibility (to watch out for her), but it's also our responsibility to help the league." The WNBA, which opens its season on Monday, has had “its share of players who came into the league with plenty of hype," from former WNBAer Chamique Holdsclaw to Mercury G Diana Taurasi to Sparks C Candace Parker. But few have “generated the kind of buzz Griner has circulating around her.” The Phoenix market “seems to have embraced Griner's arrival, with her image repeatedly splashed across local newspapers, not to mention a multi-story banner of her dunking hanging from a downtown building" across from U.S. Airways Center. The Mercury, "not surprisingly," have "crafted their marketing and ticketing promotions around Griner, but so have other teams.” In addition, Griner and the Mercury will appear on “six of the 14 games on ESPN and ABC, starting with Monday's home opener” (AP, 5/23). USA TODAY’s Scott Gleeson noted Griner on Monday “plays her first game in a league she's projected to bring to life behind her never-before-seen athleticism on the court and her effervescent personality off the court.” ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck said, "This is the most anticipated season other than when the league started" (USATODAY.com, 5/23).
NEW LOOK FOR LOGO: The WNBA unveiled a new league logo for this season, and Commissioner Laurel Richie said, "As we sat and looked at the athleticism and diversity of our players, we wanted to make sure that we were presenting ourselves in the marketplace in way that reflected that." The biggest change was "updating the silhouette in the logo." Richie: "We call her 'Logo Woman' and she's really a composite of that 11-12 current WNBA players. We love the fact that their athleticism, taking it to the hoop versus dribbling -- we think that is a better reflection of the level play and level of competition in the league today" ("WNBA Preview Show," NBA TV, 5/23).
The Indianapolis 500 being won by any of the 11 American drivers entered into Sunday's race could "deliver a needed jolt to an Izod IndyCar Series," whose popularity "still lags well behind NASCAR," according to Nate Ryan of USA TODAY. Crowning a U.S. winner "would cement a resurgence for homegrown talent in IndyCar." In addition to a "third of Sunday's 33-car field being comprised of American drivers, seven are running for the 2013 championship -- a five-year high." A win by Marco Andretti would "reawaken links to legendary names and storied history," while drivers Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden "represent hope for developing Generation Y stars." A win could "launch any of them on the road toward becoming a household name." Repucom, which tracks the exposure of drivers and sponsors across several sports, noted three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti, a Scot, received "twice as much media value last year as series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay" (USA TODAY, 5/24). In L.A., Louis Brewster notes Andretti and fellow Americans Ed Carpenter starting on the front row leads ABC analyst Eddie Cheever to "believe it could be a good day for this country." Cheever, who won the race in '98, said, "There is a whole new guard of drivers that are on their way and the Americans are, I would say, very well positioned to win this 500. We might be starting a brand new dynasty on Sunday" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 5/23). RACIN' TODAY's John Sturbin wrote under the header, "The Yanks Are Storming Gasoline Alley" (RACINTODAY.com, 5/22).
THE NEXT GENERATION: The AP's Michael Marot wrote drivers like Andretti, Graham Rahal, JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe and Simona de Silvestro are "bold, budding stars," and they "represent a whole new kind of IndyCar driver -- the guys and gals who could finally become this series’ cornerstone fixtures for a generation to come." They are "getting chances to prove themselves and they seem committed to hanging around for a while." Incoming IndyCar President of Operations & Competition Derrick Walker: "Who can't see the future? We need more of them. We need to make sure that when they come up through the ranks, there's a future for them." Marot noted the new faces are "challenging the grizzled vets ... and it's given the series a new look." Franchitti: “It’s a cycle isn’t it? It was the same way when Mario and A.J. were transitioning out. This group is no different. That’s what happens" (AP, 5/22). SI's Lars Anderson notes this IndyCar season has been "one of the most compelling in recent memory," with three different winners in the first four races. Hinchcliffe said, "I truly believe the sport is turning a major corner. The quality of our on-track racing right now is higher than any other form of American motor sports" (SI, 5/27 issue).
NEED FOR SPEED: In Cleveland, Elton Alexander writes there has been "a lot of talk about getting more speed at the 500," and IndyCar claims the "initiative is front and center." Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles said that one of the first duties for Walker, who officially takes his new role on Monday, will be "getting cars to faster speeds." Walker: "In the short term we'll look for incremental changes to our cars through components such as aerodynamics, horsepower and tires." Alexander notes IndyCar has "dialed back the mph since Arie Luyendyk set the record of 237.498 mph" in '96. Safety issues and financial concerns "outweighed all others." But with new and safer technology, IndyCar is "ready for teams to look for more speed" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 5/24).
NOT THE SAME: In San Diego, Bill Center writes he believes the Indianapolis 500 is "still the No. 1 event in motorsports," but it "no longer is ... compelling." The race is "not close to being the event it once was." The field is "weak," as the back rows "are packed with survivors rather than drivers who raced their way into the race with last-hour runs." The "sad thing is, the Indy 500 is no longer must-see-TV" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 5/24).
As NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway “continue to deal with falling ticket revenue,” they also are concerned about a trend of fans “waiting to buy tickets until days or hours before the race, instead of planning trips in advance,” according to a front-page piece by Dunn & Scott of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Race execs said that lower attendance is “largely due to the economy.” But they also are “pouring money into making the race-day experience at the track more distinctive to attract more fans -- especially the younger audience, which has decreased.” While NASCAR TV ratings “remain flat,” federal securities filings show that admissions revenue “collected by NASCAR’s top track operators in 2012 fell for a fifth straight year.” A large portion of the stands at CMS along the track’s backstretch that “used to be filled with fans is covered with a U.S. flag that serves as a tarp,” while the 57,000 seats on Daytona Int'l Speedway's backstretch "will be closed for July’s Cup race because of the decreased demand.” But Scott & Dunn note NASCAR is “addressing the attendance problems” in a recently-announced, five-year “Industry Action Plan For Growth.” Among the document’s topics is the “Event Experience,” which focuses on how tracks can “(enhance) the ‘Big Event’ feel afforded to NASCAR races.” That measure is done by “reinforcing the Chase for the Sprint Cup as the sport’s marketing centerpiece and improving at-the-track experiences with concerts, enhanced driver introductions and ‘highlight(ing) iconic participation of pop culture stars.’” Singer Blake Shelton, for instance, will “perform a prerace concert” Sunday at the Coca-Cola 600. ISC Investor & Corporate Communications Senior Director Charles Talbert: “We think we’re pulling the right levers” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/24).
WAYS TO STAY RELEVANT: In Charlotte, Tom Sorensen writes NASCAR is “shrinking, not growing.” Race tracks “struggle to sell tickets” and racing struggles to “be relevant.” Sorensen wonders, “How does NASCAR stop the slide?” Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “You’ve got to make this environment almost like the fair came to town. You’ve got to ... provide a lot more activity for fans and give them things that get them involved prior to the race and even after the race.” He added, "I know that stuff costs money. It’s not cheap. But it’s what brings people to the race track" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/24).
CHARLOTTE'S WEB: SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith has softened somewhat over his threat to move the fall Sprint Cup race in Charlotte to Las Vegas, but ESPN's Ryan McGee said, "You have to honor his bluff because his pile of money is so big and because his resume says he will take crazy chances." McGee: "If anyone else was doing this, then you just kind of call their bluff and say, 'Okay, whatever, you haven't even filled out the paperwork.'" ESPN's Ricky Craven said, "I'm not going to attempt to undermine Bruton Smith, and it would be a big mistake to challenge him or dismiss his thoughts and his ideas. But it's not reasonable, in my mind, that Charlotte would ever lose a race. This is home turf (for) so many of the teams. … At the very core, Charlotte is synonymous with NASCAR racing. So the idea of having one race a year in Charlotte is extremely remote." Driver Regan Smith: "I would hate to see a race leave Charlotte. … We'll all race wherever the race is at, but certainly I think we've all got our hearts here and would not like to see it leave here" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 5/24).
TAKING THE CHECKERED FLAG: In Charlotte, Jim Utter lists the “25 most influential people, places and things in NASCAR.” The Gen 6 Sprint Cup Series car/competition takes the top spot, followed by the economy, fans, Twitter/social media and the France family (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/24).
MLS Sounders GM & minority Owner Adrian Hanauer does not think the addition of NYC FC will be the "end of the story" when it comes to league expansion, according to Joshua Mayers of the SEATTLE TIMES. Hanauer said, "How and when the next expansion happens, I couldn’t say, but there are certainly a lot of big, important markets left in this country." Hanauer: "I know most leagues around the world have 16, 18, 20 teams, but this is just a different beast in North America. When you look at the size of Canada and the United States put together, to compare that to another league around the world and suggest that we should have 20 teams, as well, I just don’t think is realistic long-term." He said expanding into the Southeast "is another step along the way." Hanauer: "It’s just clear that there’s a big fan opportunity, big television opportunity that just doesn’t exist today" (SEATTLETIMES.com, 5/23). Rapids President Tim Hinchey said he thinks having 20 teams "is a great number," but he added, "No doubt, we’ll be at 24 by 2022." Hinchey: "We can’t not be in the southeast. I think Orlando is pretty serious. I’ve heard they’re very solid. They’ve been connected to Stoke City." He noted Orlando City Soccer Club Owner & President Phil Rawlins is "very well funded." In Denver, Nick Groke noted the Tampa Bay Mutiny (one of the original 10 teams in MLS in '96), and the Miami Fusion (which joined in '98), "both disbanded in 2001." MLS contracted back to 10 teams in '01, and the league has "moved slowly to get back to 20 teams." Hinchey: "I like Don Garber’s pragmatic approach. I like that we walk before we run. They’re learning from the franchises that struggled" (DENVERPOST.com, 5/23).
TAKING A BIG STEP FORWARD: The DENVER POST's Groke writes NYC FC "represents a giant step forward for MLS" as the announcement "alone probably increased the value of the league and its teams significantly." Hinchey said having the Yankees and EPL club Manchester City behind NYC FC will "move the needle commercially in MLS." Groke notes NYC FC "becomes only the second MLS team with direct ownership ties to the English Premier League -- joining the Rapids." Club Owner Stan Kroenke also owns Arsenal. Hinchey: "This continues to show the long-term success of MLS. And I think it will help with television rights. It's not just about growing the league, it's about growing the sport" (DENVER POST, 5/24).
EUROPEAN VACATION: In N.Y., Jack Bell reported for the first time since '05, a team from the U.K. "will not ... play a collection of stars from Major League Soccer in the 2013 all-star game." The league "has yet to announce who the opposition will be, but probably will in the next few weeks." It also is unlikely that La Liga club Real Madrid will be the All-Star Game opponent, as the club "is part of the Guinness International Challenge Cup" (NYTIMES.com, 5/21).
The National Women's Soccer League six weeks into its first season has "drawn more than 101,494 total fans to 24 league games, a respectable average of 4,229 at each game," which is a notable figure as the league's survival ultimately will "come down to whether fans support the teams," according to Anne Peterson of the AP. The Portland Thorns, averaging 13,342 fans per game at Jeld-Wen Field, have "undoubtedly boosted" the league average. The other extreme is Sky Blue FC, which is "drawing the fewest fans with an average of 1,586" at Rutgers' Yurcak Field. The NWSL believes that it is "better positioned to succeed" than WUSA and WPS, the two former pro women's soccer leagues in the U.S., "because of its association with the North American soccer federations, which pay the salaries of their national team players to help keep costs down." U.S. women's national soccer team G Hope Solo and MF Megan Rapinoe "should join" Seattle Reign FC next month, which will help the team "see a boost to the average of 1,815 fans that have been attending games at the Sounders' 4,000-seat training facility just outside Seattle." Reign Owner Bill Predmore:, "We're looking at this as a very long-term project. I had no expectations that we were going to get 10,000 fans to show up on Day 1." Peterson notes the "main knock on the NWSL is that it was launched so quickly." NWSL Exec Dir Cheryl Bailey said that she "understands, but it was important to launch in a year without a world championship, so that fans could have access to elite players, and they in turn could maintain training in an off year" (AP, 5/24).
KEEPING THINGS QUIET: In Portland, Allan Brettman writes while Nike "tends to go big" when it releases new soccer uniforms, the company "just isn't bragging it up this time" with its releases of NWSL jerseys. The "lack of a signed contract between the league and Nike may account for the company's uncharacteristic silence on behalf of sport." Nike was an NWSL partner "from the get-go, as a ball emblazoned with a Swoosh appears on a Nov. 21 news release announcing the league" (Portland OREGONIAN, 5/24).