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Volume 20 No. 42

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NeuLion, the NHL’s technology partner behind league flagship digital products GameCenter and GameCenter Live, has produced team-branded mobile applications for 14 NHL clubs this season.

The new team-specific iOS and Android-based apps provide real-time game data, postgame video highlights, multiple alert settings for each club, editorial content, interactive team rosters and photo galleries. The apps also integrate with each club’s Twitter and In-stagram feeds.

“These are not your typical sports apps with a little hockey video to go with them,” said Chris Wagner, NeuLion executive vice president and co-founder. “It’s a true hockey app. We wanted to create a true hockey experience for the dedicated fan of a particular NHL club.”

Eight teams from the NHL’s Western Conference introduced new apps at the start of this season: Anaheim, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Six teams are from the Eastern Conference: Carolina, Columbus, Florida, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the New York Islanders.

The other 16 NHL clubs have existing arrangements with providers.

“Over time, we hope to have more teams using the NeuLion apps,” said Steve McArdle, NHL executive vice president of digital media and strategic planning.

Shawn Tilger, senior vice president of business operations for the Flyers, said his club’s app has been downloaded by more than 50,000 fans since it was launched on Oct. 1.

“We did a lot of research about apps and considered developing our own,” Tilger said. “But the league’s partnership with NeuLion made the decision to go with theirs easy for us.”

There are advantages for the clubs partnering with NeuLion. Since the league and clubs use a common technology platform devised and operated by the company, content sharing is easier. The NeuLion platform also provides the clubs with a fast publishing capability so that live and on-demand content can be quickly delivered to fans.

“We first started talking about developing these team apps in May,” McArdle said. “Obviously, our relationship with NeuLion means that we’re able to get quality work done quickly.”

McArdle and Wagner declined to disclose how much the apps cost the clubs. Teams are entitled to sell local sponsorships of the apps.

“We are actively pitching sponsorships and expect results soon,” Tilger said. “But, for us, the app is more of a vehicle to create compelling content for our fans. I’m confident that it’s going to help us with everything from increasing our TV ratings to selling more merchandise and tickets.”

The apps are free for users and can be downloaded from Apple and Android app stores.

The NFL is considering spinning off its event hospitality business into a separate company, sources close to the league said.

The NFL has been approached by a company in the hospitality space to form a joint venture with the league’s NFL on Location unit, which provides exclusive travel packages to the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, draft and London regular-season games.

If the NFL did spin off the business, it would be a first for the league to take a unit and remove it from the NFL corporate body. The idea is that once removed from the league’s multilayered oversight, and in conjunction with the other party, NFL on Location could grow quicker than within the NFL. NFL on Location employees would work for the new business rather than for the NFL.

If the league moves on the initiatives, many details still remain to be resolved, including working with the NFLPA on how revenue is counted toward the salary cap. Sources said the NFLPA has not yet been contacted about the potential move.

The NFL declined to comment.

Other details would include the joint venture structure with the other company, the identity of which could not be determined, and how NFL on Location interacts with clubs it seeks to align with for new packages.

— Daniel Kaplan

It’s been a rough season so far for the Jacksonville Jaguars, with their winless start through five games and all by blowout margins. Not surprisingly, it has shown at the gate.

Team President Mark Lamping said the club is down 10 percent in ticket sales, though he declined to offer specific figures.

The team is not in danger, however, of having its games blacked out by the NFL rule that requires at least 85 percent of seats sold to ensure local telecasts. The Jaguars are committed to buying any unsold tickets to ensure that does not occur. So far, that has not happened because the team is using the NFL’s policy on complimentary tickets. This allows teams to take 17,000 comp tickets during a season and count them against unsold tickets, Lamping said. The team should soon use up its comp ticket allotment, he added.

ABOVE: After an 0-5 start, the Jacksonville Jaguars are down 10 percent at the gate, team President Mark Lamping says. BELOW: Owners don’t want teams dodging “Hard Knocks.”
The Jaguars seat 67,246 at EverBank Field, down from the stadium’s capability of seating 76,867 for games.

NOT BLACKING OUT: Speaking of blackouts, the NFL is on pace to set a record low for number of blackouts, which is seven in 2006. Through Week 5, no games had been blacked out. Last year, there were 15 for the full year, down from 16 in 2011 and 26 in 2010.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week declined to project how many blackouts there might be in 2013, but he credited the teams with aggressive policies to ensure more fans come to the games in an era of deluxe in-home entertainment systems. That said, the Tampa

Bay Buccaneers’ decision to ensure all of their games are not blacked out by buying up needed tickets is a big help. Last year, the Bucs suffered six blackouts, or more than a third of the league total. The Bucs were projecting before the season only two blackouts at most, but that was before a winless start through the first quarter of the year and controversy off the field.

Also aiding the likelihood of a record low number of blackouts is that two other winless teams through the first quarter of the season, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, boast strong and loyal fan bases.

Where will any blackouts come from? The Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers have struggled in the past to sell out in outdated stadiums, while the Buffalo Bills last week were on the verge of a blackout. Of course, comparing 2013 with the blackout low of 2006 is a bit apples to oranges. In 2006, teams had to sell out 100 percent, whereas last year the league adopted the new 85 percent threshold.

BOFA TO ADVISE FALCONS: The Atlanta Falcons chose Bank of America as the team’s financial adviser for its stadium project. The team is receiving $200 million in public funds but has to come up with the remainder of what is expected to be a $1 billion project.

Bank of America will advise on choosing a lender, which may end up being the bank itself. The bank also will advise on what type of debt to choose, and the mix of equity, debt and contractually obligated stadium revenue that will go to paying the Falcons’ share.

Bank of America’s Elliott McCabe is the lead on the assignment.

HARD LINE ON “HARD KNOCKS”: Teams may be compelled to appear on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” the docu-series that tracks a single team during training camp. Owners voted that only a team which has made the playoffs in the preceding two years, or has a new coach or has been on “Hard Knocks” in the previous half-decade can bow out if the league can’t find a volunteer.

The New York Giants voted against the measure, and it will be interesting to see which team becomes the first one selected involuntarily.

INS & OUTS: Frank Supovitz, NFL senior vice president of events, was hobbling around the meetings with his leg in a brace and a crutch in hand. At a sponsor flag football event in Baltimore on July 29, he was knocked over by someone on the field — he still doesn’t know who — and shattered his fibula. A colleague had to rent a van to get him back to New York. It may take a full year for Supovitz to walk normally again. He pledges no more flag football games. … Even owners get stopped: Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis was spotted here trying to enter a credentialed area without his credential on and was stopped by a security guard. He good-naturedly dug through his pockets, searching in vain, before Goodell happened by and pledged for his owner. Goodell, as it happened, did not have a credential on, either — but, of course, everyone knows the commish. … Other than the protester who came to the basement meeting area of the Ritz-Carlton here and threw some pamphlets on the ground before security escorted him out, the Washington Redskins name controversy did not provide the circus it could have. Goodell answered the question as he always has — the name is up to the team, the moniker is not meant to be offensive, but we respect all opinions — and team owner Dan Snyder appears to be done talking about it. The local press was out in force, but this meeting offered them little content.

The days of wealthy NFL clubs subsidizing their lower-revenue brethren are likely nearing an end.

That is because clubs bringing in the most revenue are no longer contributing to a long-running fund that was designed to assist teams in need of money to help maintain competitive balance. The pool of money making up the league’s supplemental revenue sharing fund recently passed $100 million, which triggered a provision ending the revenue transfer.

The revenue transfer is no longer needed because teams are taking a larger share of total league revenue after the 2011 collective-bargaining agreement, which saw a significant percentage shift of dollars to owners from the players. The league at the time privately expressed hope that the supplemental revenue sharing program would no longer be necessary at some point during the 10-year deal.

The prospect of eliminating the program, though not immediately on the horizon, ironically could revive the old debate between high- and low-revenue teams despite the well-documented financial health of the league.

“My guess is it will be extinguished,” Joe Ellis, the Denver Broncos’ team president, said leaving the NFL owners meeting last week in Washington, D.C., where the issue was debated.

But not all clubs are in favor of such a move and believe the fund should remain.

Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, said there should be a rainy day fund because he is worried about a revenue disparity of nearly double between the top-revenue club and the lowest-revenue club among the league’s 32 teams. He did not name specific franchises.

“It is concerning to me when someone is doubling the lowest-revenue team,” he said. “My feeling is I would like to see less disparity between the three at the top and the three at the bottom.”

Such revenue disparity between clubs would not be new, but the hope has been to narrow the revenue gaps over the years to maintain a team’s ability to spend up to the salary cap on players.

The NFL shares between half and three-quarters of all — national and local — revenue evenly among the 32 teams. That has not always been enough, though, to ensure competitive balance, so the league started the SRS program in the 1990s.

After the fund was established, it wouldn’t be out of the norm to have a number of high-revenue clubs shifting dollars to the lower quartile of clubs in the league, which would cause friction and even public rebuke from some owners who criticized the business acumen of their league partners. In this time, more than $200 million annually shifted between high- and low-revenue clubs to ensure competitive balance. Meanwhile, leading up to the 2011 CBA talks, the NFLPA often contended that the real problem in the league was not between owners and players, but was between the rich and poor in the NFL.

Changes in the CBA narrowed the financial gap between the clubs. Last year, the second season of the CBA, only three teams qualified for funds from SRS based on a complicated league formula, and this year only one team will qualify and receive between $5 million and $10 million, sources said.

With so few teams needing assistance, the SRS pool has exceeded the $100 million funding cutoff. There is a second funding mechanism, however, for the SRS fund. Club-seat premiums — the fee above the price of a ticket for the club areas — are assessed (unless the team received a league waiver to use the premiums for stadium construction), so the fund will continue to rise.

However, that is the issue owners started to discuss at their meeting last week. Why, some asked, keep the fund growing if it is not needed? While the revenue disparity referred to by Irsay still exists, that issue bedeviled the NFL before the 2011 CBA only because it threatened the ability of some teams to field competitive teams. That no longer appears to be the case with the changes in labor costs and teams’ ability to spend to the salary cap.

Irsay may simply be sending a message not to get too comfortable or to forget the issues of the past, but certainly some owners may question why the league is funding a nine-figure fund that is no longer necessary, with the NFL forecasting a flat to minimally rising salary cap for several more years and lucrative new TV contracts starting next year.

Female fans of the NFL feel like they are valued by the league, but believe there are a number of ways to make the game-day experience better for them, according to an NFL-commissioned study completed this month by the University of Central Florida.

Seventy-two percent of women in they study thought they were a “valued participant.”
Photo by: AP IMAGES
SportsBusiness Journal obtained a copy of the internal study, titled “I’m Part Of The Shield, Too: Examining The NFL Game Day Experiences Of Female Spectators And Their Influential Patterns,” the second research effort to come out of the league’s “Diversity and Inclusion With Good Business” campaign.

The report, overseen by C. Keith Harrison, associate professor at the University of Central Florida, is based on data collected by Harrison and his staff during four NFL games last season, two each at Sun Life Stadium in Miami and Coliseum in Oakland. Approximately 1,600 female spectators were asked a series of questions about their NFL game-day experience. Participation was voluntary, and no incentives were provided. Each woman wrote her individual responses directly on the survey.

“The core objective was to learn more about the female decision-making process and overall experiences at NFL games,” Harrison said. “This will most certainly help the NFL, individual NFL teams, sponsors and the league’s other stakeholders to make more informed strategic business decisions.”

In the report, 72 percent of the women felt that they are a “valued participant” of the NFL or a specific team, while 20 percent did not feel valued with respect to their game-day experiences.

More than half (51 percent) of the participants indicated that they were attending the game with family, and 22 percent said that they were attending the game with their husband. Eight percent said they were there “just with girlfriends.”

Women represent approximately 45 percent of the NFL fan base, according to Scarborough Research, and approximately 33 percent of the NFL viewing audience based on Nielsen data.

One area where women felt somewhat left out was in the league’s tailgating culture. In the survey, 28 percent felt that tailgating is exclusively male focused. One of the top suggestions from respondents on how to improve that part of the game-day experience was that teams have women-only port-a-potties.

Robert Gulliver, chief human resources officer at the NFL, said the decision to field the study, and others like it being conducted by UCF for the league, shows how the league recognizes the diversity of its fan base.

“When you look across our operation, you see success stories as a result of integrating diversity into our business,” he said. “The marketing department has ads that celebrate our female fans. Our consumer products department has had a lot of success with the launch of our women’s apparel line. And on the game-day front, our security department continues to make sure our game-day experience is family friendly, which obviously resonates with women.”

Gulliver does not expect any leaguewide game-day mandates to come out of this specific study, but said it will be shared with teams and the information could lead to a better game-day experience.

The women’s study is being replicated at select NFL stadiums, and coincides with the league’s fifth annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month activation. Additionally, this summer the league launched the Women’s Resource Initiative, an outreach effort aimed at engaging players’ mothers, wives and girlfriends in areas of career, health and safety, wellness and lifestyle.

In the study, jerseys were a popular seller.
More variety, please

Female NFL fans want to see more variety when it comes to the licensed merchandise and apparel, according to the results of a recent study that examined the NFL game-day experiences of female spectators.

Approximately 38 percent of female spectators who participated in the study indicated that there was not sufficient variety of apparel at the sporting event.

Overall, 26 percent want to see a wider variety of female fitted T-shirts sold at NFL games, 13 percent want more jewelry and other accessories available, while 5 percent want more intimate apparel options. The following data shows specifics on the buying behavior in the survey:

— David Broughton