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Volume 24 No. 135

World Congress of Sports

Soccer may be on a literal and figurative roll in North America, but three leaders of the game say scoring the '26 FIFA World Cup for the region will take it to another level. “It’s a big opportunity for all of us,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “Major League Soccer came out of the popularity and legacy of the ‘94 World Cup. Think of where we are 23 years later. We hope we’ll have a nine-year runway to take that and supersize it and work around that opportunity post-World Cup to build something bigger, better, stronger for all our stakeholders.” No one is taking the World Cup for granted, though. U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said, “We were the prohibitive favorite once before, so I don’t want to be over-optimistic.” Gulati said if the expedited bid process is approved, there could be a decision by June '18 at the World Cup in Russia.

DIVVYING UP THE GAMES: As for who gets which games in the tripartite bid, FIFA VP and CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said the infrastructure in the U.S. made it the natural choice to host the latter stages and final match. “I don’t think it was much of a discussion,” he said. “For once everyone looked at it from a game or region perspective instead of playing your house card. We took a holistic view of the tourney and the region, and think collectively this is in the best interest of football for the region.” Garber added, “It’s about shifting the power of this very, very powerful and valuable sport to the soccer infrastructure in this part of the world.” As to whether Mexico feels short-changed by the proposed schedule, Gulati said, “Mexico would play in the first round and they’d have their own matches. I hope they think those would be good. In the end everyone has been very pragmatic about it, the ability to bid 48 games without building new stadiums. We’re the only ones that can do that. It was a good discussion and a friendly one.”

SUPPORT FROM THE TOP: On support from the Trump administration, Montagliani said, “It doesn’t matter if it’s a World Cup or the Olympic Games, you’ll always have to deal with an administration. With all due respect, it doesn’t matter if it’s this administration or another one. If you talk to FIFA staff, it hasn’t always been easy (dealing with Russia). ... The White House has given thumbs up for that bid. You have to deal with it. It’s part of our job.”

WHAT WENT DOWN: SBJ/SBD's Abe Madkour, Ben Fischer and Eric Fisher discuss the wide range of topics discussed during Day 2's panels at World Congress.

Wasserman Chair & CEO Casey Wasserman is leading L.A.’s '24 Olympic bid, but he said his agency will not have an inside track in handling the Games’ sponsorship sales, which are projected to come close to $2B. "Wasserman isn’t in the sponsorship sales business,” he said on a panel at the '17 CAA World Congress of Sports. “Believe me, of all the things I would do to make money, chairing this bid on a volunteer basis is definitely not one of them, nor for my company. I’m very proud to be a volunteer. I’m doing this because I love the Olympic movement.”

WORKING WITH THE GOVERNMENT: Wasserman and USOC CEO Scott Blackmun agreed that the L.A. bid’s prospects did not change when President Trump took office. “We started this process and there was one president,” Wasserman said. “There may be another one when we finish this process. Those things come and go, as in every country. We are one step removed from being a political entity. We think that’s a good thing. Sports and politics don't usually mix very well, so we try to avoid that.” Wasserman said that Trump “has been incredibly supportive,” but added that his group has been engaged with the U.S. government since before Trump was elected. “Through a change in the president, we have stayed consistent with mostly the same people. We will continue that until we host the games,” he said. Blackmun told a story about a recent competition USA Archery hosted in Las Vegas. “On less than a week’s notice, we were able to get 22 Iranian archers into the country because we had the full cooperation and support of Homeland Security and State,” he said. “Our government is really supportive of this initiative.”

THERE ARE ALWAYS ISSUES: With the '18 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, Blackmun compared North Korea’s nuclear weapons testing to concerns over water quality at the Rio Games and terrorism and gay rights legislation in Sochi, Russia. “I would be lying if I told you I hadn’t thought about it,” he said. “Our job is to make sure that we inform our team, that we travel our team over there and that we provide them with the best possible chance of stepping on the medal stand. We have a great relationship with the State Department and the U.S. government. It’s really going to be up to them to advise us how we can operate in the safest possible manner.”

Quick Hit:
* Wasserman said, “If you want to get rid of traffic in L.A., you either make every day a Jewish holiday or you have the Olympics.”

SELECTION SHOW: SBJ/SBD's Ben Fischer and Abe Madkour discuss the big decisions facing the IOC at its September meeting. Does the Olympic body award both the '24 and '28 Games simultaneously, and if so, does Paris or L.A. go first?

The documentary “O.J.: Made in America” not only took home an Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards, but it also literally changed the game for both ESPN and future filmmakers to be considered for the honor. ESPN Senior VP & Exec Producer for Original Content Connor Schell said he was not worried about breaking the format when the finished product was nearly eight hours long. Even though it honored the film, the Academy still rewrote the rules to say that multi-part or limited series will no longer be eligible for awards consideration. “Is this TV? Or is this film?,” said Schell. “I never contemplated that or cared about it. It was, 'Can we tell a really good story and put it out as many places as people can experience it?'”

THE ’30’ EVOLUTION: Schell said ESPN’s “30 for 30” series has come a long way from its genesis a decade ago. “As consumption has changed and the way people watch TV has fundamentally changed and binge-watching has evolved, long-form has evolved to just mean ‘complete,’ whether that’s 17 minutes or 480 minutes,” he said. “You can get people to engage with something no matter how long it is if you do your job well.” And now that the mold has been broken, Schell is excited about the expanding universe of content delivery options. “Now I’m thinking, How do we innovate?” he said. “Because now there’s a lot of people telling non-fiction stories in interesting ways. If you think about all the places ESPN content is consumed, you can break formats. Things don’t have to be 22 minutes long with eight minutes of commercials. They don’t have to fit into a one-hour session.”

The experience, and not the cost, is the primary factor driving people to venues, said panelists at the '17 CAA World Congress of Sports. In a bit of a shot at AMB Group CEO Steve Cannon, who on Wednesday said that stadium operators had lost their way by overcharging for food, the response was that cheap food is not going to win the day. “We have a different approach to food, it is not just about price sensitivity, but about the quality of the food,” said NBA Kings President Chris Granger, whose team opened Golden 1 Center this past season. Asked if he agreed with Cannon’s remark that venues selling $8 hot dogs had lost their way, Granger replied, “It depends on the hot dog. It depends on the quality.” StubHub GM for North America Perkins Miller said his company’s research showed that customers value experience as much as, if not more than, price. To that end, new venues, and renovations, are now geared toward communal spaces. “It is about creating places that people can socialize in and not looking at their tickets and saying row 4 seat 2,” said ICON Venue Group Founder & CEO Tim Romani, whose company helped develop Golden 1 Center. There are about 500 people a game who never go to their seats at that arena. “The building was designed to foster social interaction,” Granger added. Brian Murphy, the VP/Creative Product & Strategy at STRIVR Labs, which offers virtual reality areas at arenas and stadiums, said there are many fans milling around and looking for things to do other than watch the game. “I am hearing the word experience, experience, experience,” Murphy said. “That is what we create.”

THEMES ON THE FAN EXPERIENCE: SBJ/SBD's Eric Fisher and Abe Madkour take time to discuss the themes of the fan experience panel this year.

Four members of the SportsBusiness Journal '17 class of Champions: Pioneers and Innovators in Sports Business, received their awards during a luncheon Thursday at the CAA World Congress of Sports. Later that day, they shared some of their stories, opinions and experiences. Here are a few excerpts from the discussion:

* Nike’s George Raveling, on the next step for basketball globally: “Three-on-three basketball I’m certain will become an Olympic sport. It exposes unique talents. The game is so fast that size is not a factor. In 15 years … there will be a college national championship. The Ice Cube and Iverson thing is good and bad. People don’t take it seriously because of the celebrity part of it. FIBA has invested millions in it and it’s coming.”

* The Dodgers’ Janet Marie Smith, on behavior changes at ballparks: “There are not 56,000 people that want to sit through nine innings with a scorecard in their lap anymore. We’ll have a sellout at Dodger Stadium and it seems like half of them are on the concourse. We’re watching the game in our pocket, but we’re social animals, so I hope the thought of going to the ballpark will not leave our psyche.” Goren Media Group Founder & CEO Ed Goren, a former Fox Sports exec, chimed in: “It’s nice your fans can roam around. One of the worst things in baseball for TV is you get the centerfield camera and you see the empty seats behind home plate because those people are feeding themselves."

* Smith, on what she is most proud of: “After Camden Yards opened in Baltimore, cities across American woke up and realized that sports is good for urban revitalization. This was after the era in the ‘60s and ‘70s when sports were used for urban renewal and wiped out neighborhoods and it was cast in doubt if there was any synergy. Camden Yards spawned a whole generation of teams … wanting to move into their city and be a part of the urban revitalization. It’s been good for America and for sports.”

* Goren, on his biggest influence: “My father. He was a sportswriter and PR director for the Rangers when hockey was hockey, with six teams, real men -- no helmets, no goalie masks. Men!”

* Levy Restaurants Founder & Chair Larry Levy, on his biggest influence: “My mother set the culture of our company and I admired her and looked up to her. The other is (Starbucks founder) Howard Schultz. We started at the same time. He allowed me to invest in his company, thank god. We talked about leaders and how, as CEO, your every move is watched by everybody.”

* Raveling, on his biggest influence: “I had a collage of them. It was Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin and Malcolm X. They embodied something that’s lacking domestically and probably globally. They viewed themselves as servant leaders and what’s lacking today is courageous leadership. They were willing to put their lives on the line everyday for things they believed in. They were visionaries.”