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Volume 20 No. 42
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Industry warms to idea of President Trump

President-elect Donald Trump met with President Barack Obama on Thursday after Trump’s election victory.
Sixteen months ago, when President-elect Donald Trump was seeking the Republican nomination, many sports companies decided to keep their distance.

NBCUniversal, NASCAR and ESPN pulled events from Trump properties, upset by some of the candidate’s comments they believed to be racist. Trump even criticized the PGA Tour after it cited sponsorship issues in moving a tournament from one of his golf courses in Miami to Mexico.

But last week, as Trump completed an improbable run to the White House, sports business executives sounded much more optimistic about working with the businessman turned politico. While many still have questions about how the sports business will fare during his presidency, they see the president-elect as someone who has made significant investments and carries deep relationships in the sports world.

After all, he owns 17 golf properties in the U.S. and internationally, and as far back as the 1980s he was a team owner in the USFL. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France campaigned for Trump, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is close with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Ivanka described Silver as a “good friend” in a 2012 tweet congratulating him on being named commissioner.

“I learned early on that you can’t hold grudges [in politics],” said Bob Bowman, MLB president of business and media, a lifelong Democrat who worked in the 1980s as Michigan state treasurer under then Gov. James Blanchard.
Internationally, Olympic leaders are hoping that Trump’s history as a big event-loving dealmaker and sports fan will help Los Angeles’ chances to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Top members of the International Olympic Committee, meeting this week in Lausanne, Switzerland, expressed shock at the news that Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. But few there felt it materially changed the race to host the ’24 Games.

“As it stands now, the very fact that he’s going to be the president, in and of itself, is not the end of the world,” said Richard Peterkin, an IOC member from St. Lucia. “If Los Angeles has a strong enough bid, people will look at it more from the quality of the bid, the attractiveness of the bid and whether it’s that much better than the other bidders.”

During the presidential campaign, some IOC members told L.A. bid leaders that Trump was a liability. But now that he has won, IOC members hope he will comport himself differently, according to Canadian IOC member Dick Pound. Much will be forgotten if Trump proves to be a more conciliatory president than he was candidate.

“He’s no longer a candidate, and therefore does not have to talk like a candidate,” Pound said. “He’s going to have people around him saying, ‘You’re not Donald Trump anymore. You’re president of the United States. You have to comport yourself as a head of state.’”

Trump, with the New York Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire at a Yankees game, is known to be a big sports fan.
Hill Carrow, CEO of Sports & Properties, a North Carolina-based sports consultant practice that works largely in the NGB and Olympic space, acknowledged “a lot of concern of what message” Trump’s election sends to the international community in terms of the U.S. effort to land the 2024 Games. “But Trump could take steps to mitigate that very easily by doing some quick and positive outreach,” Carrow said. “The Olympics are about embracing all ideals, and he would have to show that type of approach.”

It’s not just the Olympics. The same scenario is being played out in soccer circles, where the U.S. is in the running to host the 2026 World Cup. In June, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati cautioned that a Trump presidency could hurt a U.S. bid. He would not comment last week.

Bidding for the 2026 tournament was set to begin last year but was postponed due to the investigation into global soccer corruption led by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the subsequent resignation of former FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Now, FIFA does not expect to begin bid evaluation until January 2019, with a decision on a host being made in May 2020.

Presidents generally have little effect on the sports business, even when they are big fans, like current President Barack Obama, or a former sports team owner like President George W. Bush.

But Trump swept to power by marketing himself as different from normal politicians. His rhetoric espoused an isolationist viewpoint that concerns some sports leagues and brands that have international ambitions.

“I don’t see any significant impact on the team business, but for parts of the industry like sporting goods and retail sales and international business, it will take time to let it play out,” said Jeff Bliss, president and CEO of The Javelin Group. “If he does pull back on our borders or changes our international profile, it will impact the desire for the international community when it comes to following U.S. sports, engaging with the product or even buying sporting goods or licensed merchandise.”

Others, particularly in the golf community, are hoping that Trump’s sporting interests will increase their profile. Trump’s golf interests will be run by two of his children, Ivanka and Eric.

The PGA Tour this year pulled its longtime World Golf Championships event out of Trump’s Doral golf property in Miami and moved the event to Mexico City for 2017. The 2017 U.S. Women’s Open will be played at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., while the PGA of America’s Senior PGA Championship will be held at Trump National near Washington, D.C.

The PGA of America and the U.S. Golf Association said those events will not be moved.

“This is going to be a tumultuous time, and it will reignite the value of sports as a catalyst for healing,” said sports researcher Rich Luker. “And I think the nature of Trump himself is an explosive catalyst for change. That could be motivational to sports, if we have people who are insightful in the way they look at it and can take advantage of it.”

Staff writers Eric Fisher and John Lombardo contributed to this report.