Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 45

Events and Attractions

This year's draft, as in 2016, will be at MLB Network in Secaucus, NJ.

Major League Baseball is considering major shifts for its annual draft held each June, such as a new location or date, in an effort to elevate the important but lightly regarded event.

MLB, along with key entities and partners such as the MLB Network, Minor League Baseball and the NCAA, are looking at several possible measures such as moving the event out of MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J., where it’s been since 2009, and adjusting the league schedule so no games are played during the draft. A more radical step under discussion would shift the draft to July near the All-Star Game.

“We’re trying to figure out what the best period is for the draft for all parties involved, balancing all the interests between marketing, player development, and so forth, and really providing the right showcase for the young talent entering our game,” said Peter Woodfork, MLB senior vice president of baseball operations. “We have several departments — baseball operations, special events, marketing — all looking actively at what we can do.”

MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark said the union has not had substantive discussions about the draft with the league, but any changes must be collectively bargained.

“If MLB has ideas for making the draft a better event, we look forward to having that discussion,” Clark said.
Expanding the fan appeal and prominence of the MLB draft has been a priority of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred since he took office in early 2015. But despite the increasing importance of player development and young talent to MLB clubs, the event faces several obstacles not present in the far more popular NFL and NBA drafts.

Among those challenges: nearly all MLB draft picks require several years in the minor leagues before reaching the majors; the draft occurs in-season and in the same broadcast window as regular-season MLB games; college baseball has a far lower profile compared to college football and basketball; and many college players are still competing for their teams while the MLB draft happens.

This year’s MLB draft starts tonight in Secaucus. Woodfork said the 2018 event will likely stay in the early June time slot with schedule adjustments to avoid competing MLB games. But bigger changes are possible for 2019 and beyond, and many executives around the game are enthused about what a shift to the All-Star Game break could do for the draft.

“Baseball’s All-Star event is still the best of all the sports, right? Better than the Pro Bowl, better than the NBA All-Star Game. … If you can bring the draft to something that already has eyeballs and blow it out on a bigger stage, it could be something compelling,” said Brodie Van Wagenen, CAA Baseball co-head.

In advance of those potential moves, efforts are already underway to drive more fan interest toward the MLB draft. The Minnesota Twins, which hold the top overall pick this year, will hold their first draft party at Target Field today and will show both in-house and MLB Network draft coverage on its ballpark video board.

“Picking first overall isn’t something you want to do very often because that means you had a bad season last year,” said Twins President Dave St. Peter. “But we do want to take advantage of this both with the team and with the fans, and are putting a real focus against this.”

MLB Network itself and have expanded their efforts profiling more top prospects through features on TV and online destinations such as The network plans to have four draft prospects on-site tonight for the draft broadcast, including California high school player Hunter Greene, who is expected to be one of the top selections and was recently featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. MLB Network and coverage will also be supplemented by content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

“We’re now trying to help viewers learn about the top prospects earlier and earlier before the draft, and the preparation we do for the draft is as comprehensive as we do for anything we have all year,” said Rob McGlarry, MLB Network president.

Even getting to this level is a significant step forward for an event that wasn’t even televised live until 2007.

The MLB draft last year drew an average of 279,000 viewers while the NBA draft averaged just under 3 million viewers last year, and the first round of the NFL draft in April drew 6.7 million on ESPN and 2.5 million on the NFL Network. The NFL, additionally, has further elevated its draft in recent years by moving out of its traditional New York locale to other cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia and building large fan festivals around the event.

“You don’t start with a dime and expect to be where the National Football League is in two years. You’ve got to build it up,” said Gil Brandt, former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel and a key figure in the rise of the NFL draft. “There is a good deal of interest in baseball. But you don’t ever hear about [top prospects]. … You’ve got to create an identity of who they are.”

The Stanley Cup Final matchup between ever-popular Pittsburgh and newcomer Nashville is fueling team merchandise sales, despite a shortage in jerseys created by a coming change in suppliers.

Through Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final last Monday, in-arena sales were up 12 percent over last year’s Pittsburgh-San Jose series, and both franchises have established record per caps.

All that as the team jerseys, the highest-priced items at merchandise stands, are essentially sold out.

The NHL knew more than a year ago that jerseys could be in short supply for this final as the deal wound down with league licensee Reebok, said Jim Haskins, NHL group vice president of consumer products licensing. Adidas takes Reebok’s place as part of a seven-year agreement starting next season.

“It’s quite a balancing act when you’re essentially turning off one spigot and turning another one on at the same time,” Haskins said. “When you’re doing the booking, you have to look at the possible outlooks — what if it doesn’t go well? The great news is that we’re sold out.”

Predators jerseys were plentiful on fans but in short supply at in-arena merchandise stands.

Carlos Bernal, president of Delaware North Sportservice, the in-stadium merchandiser at Bridgestone Arena, said that the per caps during the Stanley Cup Final are up five times compared with what is normally seen during regular-season games. The rest of the playoffs saw per caps more than double the regular season, with increases coming each round, an indication that the lack of jerseys to sell hasn’t dampened fans’ interest in spending.

“The decision made to change the jersey manufacturer clearly is what it is, but quite frankly with the numbers we are seeing, the enthusiasm for all the products have more than made up for that,” Bernal said. “Ultimately does it hurt sales? It’s hard to say, but I think people have their jerseys from the season and now want what’s new and unique.”

Haskins said the league’s busiest sales period for merchandise is the November-to-January holiday season, especially for the sales of jerseys, knit hats and sweatshirts. At this point, though, T-shirts and collector’s items around the Stanley Cup are among the most popular. The team-record per caps in Nashville and Pittsburgh have been driven by Cup merchandise such as matchup hats, shirts and pucks, as well as hot-market items in Nashville with the “Smashville” tagline and images of catfish, which Predators fans loft onto the ice at games as a slimy salute to their team.

Adidas plans to introduce next season’s jerseys at an event June 20 ahead of the NHL’s expansion and entry drafts. While the jerseys will not be available to the public for sale immediately, preorders will be taken. Haskins said bookings from retailers are already trending well.

Nashville, in its first trip to the final, has been the big story for the league on the merchandise side, and Haskins credited the team’s executives and marketing staff for their work in building fan appeal. Compared to other markets that were new to the Stanley Cup Final in recent years, such as San Jose in 2016, Nashville’s sales are 67 percent higher.

Even for Pittsburgh, which is in its second straight Stanley Cup Final, there was enthusiasm for the merchandise. Penguins President and CEO David Morehouse said the team is up in every business category compared with last year, including overall merchandise sales and per caps. While the Penguins still do have limited jersey inventory left in-arena, Morehouse said he hopes the team’s T-shirt giveaway for every home game makes up the fact that some fans can’t find a jersey to buy. “If and when we do run out of inventory, we’d like to think we’re giving them a free yellow-gold jersey when they come in the door,” Morehouse said.

MORE TV FOR PREDS … : The Predators have caught fire on TV, including posting a 28.0 local rating for Game 4 on NBC, a hockey record for the Nashville market. Those strong ratings have caught the eye of NBC, which featured the team only twice on national broadcasts during the regular season, down from four the previous year. Jon Miller, president of programming at NBC Sports Group, said they “have earned their way on” to more broadcasts next year, based on how the team has performed and the fans’ response.

BUT LESS FOR LEAGUE: While the league and NBC are still working on its broadcast schedule for next season, Miller noted that with NHL players not taking part in the Olympics, the network ultimately will feature the league much less during that 16-day span in February.

“It’s going to be a time when we’re focused on the Olympics,” Miller said. Between the start of the opening ceremony and the end of the Games, it will be “hard to figure out how the NHL fits in that time frame,” he said.

The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series in the U.S. will continue, but its path to future growth under new ownership goes through China.

World Triathlon Corp. finally achieved its goal of buying Rock ’n’ Roll operator Competitor Group Inc. on June 2, more than a year after lenders seized control of CGI and began looking to sell it.

Private equity may have lost interest in CGI as the American endurance event market stagnates, but WTC CEO Andrew Messick said it’s a boost in his efforts to build a dominant global position. It’s the fourth major deal since Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group acquired WTC, owner of the Ironman brand, from Providence Equity Partners in 2015.

“Our friends at Wanda view things first and foremost through the prism of China, and I think they believe, as do we, that there is opportunity for a brand like the Rock ’n’ Roll marathon brand to become a relevant and powerful consumer brand around mass participation events in China,” Messick said.

Once a juggernaut, the Rock ’n’ Roll series saw its growth slow in recent years along with broader declines in American distance running. From 2000 to 2013, the number of Americans finishing a road race annually more than doubled to 19 million, according to Running USA, but then that growth abruptly stopped in 2014 and has declined each year since. Amid that growth in 2012, Calera Capital beat out 31 other bidders to buy the CGI for $250 million from Falconhead Capital.

Rock ’n’ Roll was not immune to the slowdown, building North American race participation by just 2.3 percent in the last four years, according to CGI figures. Messick acknowledged the headwinds in the American market but said Ironman can still grow Rock ’n’ Roll’s race count by leveraging its clout and strength to make the experience better. He also said they might still consider adding events where the geography and timing warrant it.

“The extremely rapid growth that took place in the early part of the century, we haven’t seen,” he said. “But I think our fundamental belief is that there’s never too many really good races, and there’s always opportunities to capture the imagination of athletes through new, innovative approaches.”

The Competitor Group acquisition focused entirely on the Rock ’n’ Roll brand. Messick said Ironman has not yet determined the future of CGI’s media and technology assets, which include Women’s Running and Triathlete magazines and a suite of online registration tools. CGI CEO Josh Furlow and other senior leaders will stay, Messick said.

Rock ’n’ Roll’s current events lineup includes eight races outside of the U.S. and 21 domestic markets, along with a “virtual run.” Messick said Ironman will continue to develop all Rock ’n’ Roll races but noted the future of the Chicago and Brooklyn half marathons are more complicated.

In May, Ironman signed a strategic alliance with the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a confederation of six elite marathon operators, including those in Chicago and New York. “We’re going to work hard to minimize potential conflicts, because we want to all be moving in the same direction,” Messick said. “So we’ll talk and think about the Brooklyn race and the Chicago race within that context, with [New York] Road Runners and [Chicago Event Management CEO] Carey [Pinkowski] and his team.”

Pinkowski and Peter Ciaccia, NYRR president of events, both said they don’t consider the Rock ’n’ Roll events to be direct competitors.

The Competitor Group was formed in 2008 when Falconhead acquired Elite Racing Inc., La Jolla Holding Group and Competitor Publishing Inc. In 2012, it sold the company to Calera. In 2016, a debt restructuring led to lenders to Calera, Ares Management and Golub Capital, taking control of its board.

Ironman was among the bidders in 2012, Messick said, when it was still held by Providence Equity Partners. The two began talking again after the 2016 change in control. “From a strategic perspective it’s always made a lot of sense, and it just took the right set of circumstances,” Messick said.