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Volume 24 No. 154

Wednesday 9:00am ET....Today's News....ESPN Braces For Layoffs

  • ESPN To Cut About 100 Employees; Layoffs To Be Made Public Today
  • FedEx Signs Multiyear Extension With NFL, Adds Global Activation
  • USA Basketball To Remain In Colorado Springs At New Offices
  • Rockets Owner Leaves Courtside Seat To Yell At Game Official

Start your morning with Buzzcast, a 3-minute podcast on today's top stories.

Today: Lessons from campus and a longtime Caps connector (and former SBD staffer) profiled in DC.

ESPN To Cut About 100 Employees; Layoffs To Be Made Public Today

ESPN will lay off around 100 of its on-air and online anchors, reporters and analysts today, sources tell THE DAILY. So far, no specific names have been confirmed; they are expected to start becoming public this morning. ESPN is not announcing officially who is getting let go. Most of the people who are being laid off are not based in Bristol, which means much of the talent will learn their fate via a phone call. Execs making those calls this morning include Senior VP/Event & Studio Production Stephanie Druley, Senior VP/”SportsCenter” & News Rob King and Senior Coordinating Producer Seth Markman.

Rumors of the job cuts have been swirling for months. With a declining subscriber base (ESPN has lost more than 1 million subs since January, according to Nielsen) and increased rights fees (ESPN’s new multi-billion dollar deal for the NBA started last fall), ESPN needed to make budget cuts. A year and a half ago, ESPN laid off around 300 employees for many of the same reasons. Back then, the names were not well known to most of ESPN viewers. Today’s cuts will include names that viewers know well.

ESPN President John Skipper sent an email to all employees this morning alerting them of the pending cuts. He wrote, “We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week. A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs.” Skipper’s email talked about ESPN’s changing “content strategy” that has seen the network launch a personality-driven “SportsCenter” and focus more on digital.

“A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions,” Skipper wrote. “Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent – anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play – necessary to meet those demands.”

FedEx Signs Multiyear Extension With NFL, Adds Global Activation

FedEx has extended its long-running sponsorship of the NFL to stay on as the official delivery service partner of the league, the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl. Financial terms of the multiyear extension were not disclosed. The deal will mark the continuation of the FedEx Air & Ground NFL Players of the Week and Players of the Year awards program. As part of the new agreement, FedEx will also have a “much closer tie” to the NFL’s international games in London and Mexico, which includes signage, hosting, and deliveries among other things, according to FedEx Senior VP/Integrated Marketing & Communications Patrick Fitzgerald. FedEx has been an NFL sponsor dating back to the '00 season.

USA Basketball To Remain In Colorado Springs At New Offices

USA Basketball "has committed to remain in Colorado Springs" following "more than a decade of uncertainty." The NGB today will announce plans to move from its current building to a new downtown location. Construction on the offices is "scheduled to begin this summer, and USA Basketball plans to move in by the end" of '17. This "ends a long struggle for Colorado Springs to keep the organization." Glendale, Ariz., in '08 announced USA Basketball "would move to the Phoenix suburb" as part of a $53.8M project. But by '10, the "move was off." Tempe, Ariz., in '13 also floated plans for a $436M project (Colorado Springs GAZETTE, 4/36).

Rockets Owner Leaves Courtside Seat To Yell At Game Official

Rockets Owner Leslie Alexander during last night's Game 5 against the Thunder "left his courtside seat during live game action to yell at referee Bill Kennedy in the final seconds of the first quarter." NBA Exec VP/Communications Mike Bass in a statement said an "investigation is underway." Basketball HOFer Hakeem Olajuwon "tried to grab the owner's arm, but he kept walking." It "appeared Alexander was complaining about a call that wasn't made before he sat back down."  The Rockets won the game at Toyota Center to clinch the first-round series (ESPN.com, 4/26).

Twitter Beats Expectations In Q1, Continues Live Streaming Push

Twitter reported Q1 revenue of $548M, "down 8% year-over-year but topping Wall Street expectations" of $512M. The company said that it "streamed more than 800 hours of live premium video" in the quarter from "content partners across more than 450 events reaching 45 million unique viewers." Of those 800 hours, "51% were sports" (VARIETY.com, 4/26).

Meanwhile, Twitter has reached a deal with CONCACAF to live stream the final match of the '16-17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. Tonight's match featuring Liga MX clubs Tigres UANL and C.F. Pachuca will be "available to logged-in and logged-out Twitter users" in countries including the U.S. and Canada. A 30-minute pregame show starting at 9:30pm ET "will be included" in the stream (ADWEEK.com, 4/25).

WME Signs Jim Thome, Reps Him In Contract As MLB Network Analyst

WME has signed former MLBer Jim Thome and negotiated his new deal to serve as an analyst for MLB Network. WME agents Jim Ornstein, Josh Levy and Stan Kaufman are representing him. MLB Net today announced it has hired Thome as a studio analyst, debuting on "MLB Tonight" on Monday. Thome first appeared as a guest analyst on the net in February. His new TV job is in addition to his role with the White Sox as a Special Assistant to Senior VP & GM Rick Hahn, which he began in '13.

Dalian Wanda Group Signs Deal To Sponsor World Marathon Majors

Dalian Wanda Group has signed a deal with Abbott World Marathon Majors to sponsor races, the "latest move by Wanda to expand its global sports business." The deal "will see Wanda hold three WMM races in the Asia-Pacific region" over the next 10 years, "including a race in China." WMM events consist of "six of the world's most well-known marathon races," including the Boston Marathon and TCS N.Y. Marathon (REUTERS, 4/26).

Ohio State President Opposes Notion Of Paying College Athletes

Ohio State President Michael Drake said that he "would oppose paying college athletes as if they were professional players." Drake, speaking yesterday on a panel at the Economic Club of DC said the "student-athlete relationship has served our students and our country well for decades." Drake added the current scholarship system has been "overwhelmingly successful in helping people to get an education." On the same panel, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said paying college athletes "would get in the way of them being students first and foremost, and athletes second" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 4/26).

Nissan Expands Soccer Portfolio With Nashville SC Jersey Deal

Nashville SC has signed a deal with Nissan to become its first jersey sponsor. Nashville, whose U-23 PDL team will begin play in May ahead of its launch in the USL in '18, joins EPL club Manchester City and the Mexican National Team’s U.S. tour in Nissan’s soccer sponsorship portfolio. Terms were not disclosed, but sources close to the deal said it is a record for a PDL team. Nashville SC earlier this week signed a deal with Under Armour to serve as its jersey and official apparel provider through '18. Nissan, which employs more than 12,000 in the area and has its North American HQ in Franklin, Tenn., also has the naming rights at the Titans' stadium.

Speed Reads....

Golf's ruling bodies "issued a new decision on the Rules of Golf that limits the use of video evidence and could spare players from being penalized even if they violated a rule." This comes as a "swift response to increasing debates" over TV reviews (AP, 4/25).

Pegula Sports & Entertainment today will announce plans to renovate the Hi-Temp Fabrication building in Buffalo into a "mixed-use facility that will include office space for Labatt USA." The project "may include a ground-floor restaurant and small brewery, additional retail or commercial space, or even apartments" (BUFFALO NEWS, 4/26).

The Missouri Valley Conference today will visit the Univ. of Nebraska-Omaha to "explore the university as a potential expansion candidate." MVC expansion "wouldn't be shocking," and UNO "would seem to fit the profile of the league's current schools" (OMAHA.com, 4/26).

U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Cortez Mastro (D-Nev.) have sent a letter to the NCAA "asking them to no longer refuse to allow New Jersey to play host" to D-I NCAA championships. Both states have laws permitting betting on NCAA games (NORTHJERSEY.com, 4/25).

The Hawks named Verizon the team's official wireless provider (Hawks).

The USGA yesterday named Newport Country Club in Rhode Island host of the '20 U.S. Senior Open (Mult., 4/25).

Commercial real estate services firm CBRE runs a full-page ad in the N.Y. Times touting its relationship with the NHL. CBRE helped the league relocate its N.Y. HQ to One Manhattan West: "League Of Its Own" (THE DAILY).

Quick Hits....

"I doubt we will ever get to the point where any sport can say with 100 percent certainty that no athlete is using a performance-enhancing drug. Occasionally, athletes are going to make a bad decision. We have a program in place that is best at catching them if they make that decision" – MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (TRIBLIVE.com, 4/25).

"Let me be honest with you, when we were doing this deal there were two groups that came in for more money than Ari (Emanuel). There was one (offer) for $5 billion" – UFC President Dana White, on the sale of the MMA promotion to WME-IMG (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/25).

"Overall for them it is better. Having a championship game is better. I don't think it makes the committee's job any easier or harder" – CFP Exec Dir Bill Hancock, on the Big 12's reinstatement of a football title game increasing its chances of landing a team in the CFP (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/26).

"My main advice, I mean this sincerely, would be to fire Roger Goodell" – Former NFLer Anthony Gonzalez, on how he would improve the league (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 4/26).

Morning Hot Reads: Immigrant Song

Ahead of the Kentucky Derby, the WALL STREET JOURNAL notes many figures in Kentucky's horse racing industry say that President Trump's "immigration crackdown is causing a pinch." Trainers say that they "depend on a steady supply of foreign labor, primarily from Latin America and Mexico." YAHOO SPORTS goes with the header, "How Trump Presidency Created Quiet Anti-Fascist Movement In America's Soccer Stadiums."

Also:

Twitter Me This....

If you see a tweet we will not want to miss, send it to us at editorial@sportsbusinessdaily.com

Today's Events....

Topgolf will offer free five-minute golf lessons at all U.S. locations, excluding Las Vegas, in honor of National Golf Day.

Today's Back Pages....

The Morning Buzz offers today's back page sports covers from some of North America's major metropolitan tabloids:

 N.Y. Post  N.Y. Daily News Newsday   Boston HeraldChicago Sun-Times

Spanning The Global....

The most-read Global stories today on SportsBusiness Daily:

1) Man City Expands Partnership With China's BNN Technology
2) Tottenham Releases Images Of Ongoing Construction On New Stadium
3) Formula 1 Will 'Struggle' To Agree On Engine Regulations, Renault Dir Says
4) Alex Ferguson's Personal Company Releases Financial Figures Showing £6M Profit
5) Kenenisa Bekele Did Not Wear New Nike Shoes During London Marathon Struggles

Final Jeopardy!

Last night’s “Final Jeopardy!” category was “Numeric Groups.”

“This numeric group was the subject of an April 20, 1959 Time magazine article titled ‘Rendezvous With Destiny.’”

Laugh Track: A Throwback Voice

Actor Hank Azaria appeared on TBS’ “Conan” last night to promote his new IFC baseball-themed comedy, “Brockmire.” Host Conan O’Brien said “you probably attacked” the character of Brockmire, a baseball announcer, “almost through the voice first, trying to figure out what he sounded like.” Azaria said the “baseball announcer voice” he used for the Brockmire character is a “voice that I keyed into as a teenager, the generic baseball announcer voice of the ‘70s.” O’Brien noted in one episode of the show, Brockmire is shown running around the bases naked and asked, “Was that something you were eager to do?” Azaria said jokingly, “I insisted on it.” O’Brien said of Azaria  throwing out the first pitch at a Mets game last week, “It looked like you had the right form and the intensity.” Azaria said he “actually threw a strike and I wanted them to show a video of that, but apparently your staff thought it was more amusing to show me in my silly glasses.” O’Brien: “I’m guessing there may have been some money involved in us showing the clip and we’re not going to spend money on that shit.” Azaria said since he has been promoting the show, he was “in the Mets radio booth last week and I’ve been actually starting to call games.” O’Brien: “I want to hear you do a whole game” (“Conan,” TBS, 4/25).