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Volume 25 No. 177
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Deputy Commissioners See Opportunity In Expansion, Esports

A lot of issues, problems and opportunities cross the desks of the deputy commissioners of the major sports leagues in the U.S., and three of them were at the ’18 SBJ Dealmakers in Sports conference to talk about how their leagues navigate the new sports economy. Here are some of the insights we gained from NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Mark Tatum, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott.

GAMING IN THE U.S.: With the NBA and the NHL recently signing deals with MGM as an official gaming partner, both Daly and Tatum spoke about how their longstanding relationships with the company made the deals rather easy. MGM acquired a WNBA team for Las Vegas and the league plays summer games there, and MGM is a partner in T-Mobile Arena. Tatum said that from the league perspective, the deal will allow fans an opportunity to "come into a safe environment with real NBA data and best-in-class integrity provisions.”

EXPANSION EFFORTS: MLS has been the most aggressive North American major pro sports league in recent years, adding multiple teams, and Abbott noted that the league has plans to go from its current 24 to at least 28 teams. The league continues to focus on the strength of incoming ownership groups, as well as the location of their potential stadiums. The NHL has also found success in its expansion to Las Vegas with the Golden Knights and appears poised to award a new franchise to Seattle next week at its BOG meeting. Daly said that the equation for the board is whether expansion “adds value to the overall league property. It’s a decision that they made with Vegas that it would, and certainly the first-year experience has proven that to be true.”

GOING GLOBAL: While expansion is less of a priority for the NBA domestically, Tatum said the league is considering international growth. Mexico City, where the league will play two games later this season, could offer an entry point into Latin America and skirt some of the time zone issues that a team would face in Asia or Europe. Tatum said the league might look to put a G League team in Mexico City to test it and is also evaluating doing partnerships with local leagues in places like India, similar to the partnership it has with the top basketball league in Brazil. “We want to provide players who are growing up in these countries a pathway to the professional game,” he said. “That is how affinity to the game becomes the strongest.” 

BULLISH ON ESPORTS: All three leagues are also working on various esports projects, with the NBA launching its NBA 2K league, and NHL and MLS both launching gaming efforts this year. All three deputy commissioners noted the role that gaming can play in terms of fan engagement and development. “If we can turn esports players into season ticket holders, or even single-game ticket holders, that’s a good thing,” Daly said.