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Volume 20 No. 42

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The ATP will electronically call lines for its new year-end tournament in November, removing the eight lines officials for each match and potentially laying the groundwork to radically change how tennis looks on television.

The ATP is experimenting in other ways for its Next Gen ATP Finals, designed for top players who are 21 and younger. But in removing lines officials, a step the ATP plans to announce today, the sport is signaling that it does not like the look of a cluttered court that’s long been the standard in tennis and certainly since television first started airing it.

“This could be a landmark moment for officiating in our sport,” said Gayle Bradshaw, the ATP’s executive vice president of rules and competition. “Our athletes work incredibly hard, and they deserve the very best and most accurate officiating we can offer.”

It’s more than just getting the calls right, though, since players can already call for an electronic replay review at many events. Lines officials are often seen in TV close-ups of the players, and sometimes standing in front of sponsor logos. A senior broadcast executive at one of the Grand Slams, discussing the subject, noted delicately that the lines officials are often out of shape, a sometimes jarring contrast to the elite athletes on the tours.

The electronic system is provided by Hawk-Eye, the Sony-owned replay outlet that provides reviews for most of tennis. The new system beeps when the ball lands out. The event will have a chair umpire, and an official in a remote location will call foot faults.

Brad Gilbert, a former top player and coach and now a commentator for ESPN, has long been an advocate for change in tennis, but cautioned that changing something as ingrained as lines officials is tough. He also worried about the cost of the new system and whether it would be used on every court.

The cost of electronic line review costs about $80,000 a court for three weeks, which has kept tournaments from adopting the technology on every court. Only one, the BNP Paribas Open, has it for all matches. Presumably a system that also calls the ball out could be even more expensive.

However, a source close to the ATP wrote in an email that most tournaments are already spending money on electronic review, so “it’s a question of how much the system would be in addition to that.” The source noted that the tournaments could also save money on line umpire fees, food, housing and transportation.

The Next Gen Finals is designed to showcase the top emerging talent on the ATP and tinker with the presentation and rules of the game. Other experiments include best-of-five-set matches that have four-game sets and no tiebreaks, and no lets on serves. The ATP is still negotiating to air the event in the U.S.

Tennis, like many sports, is concerned about keeping up the pace to appeal to attention-starved millennials, and is looking for ways to quicken the game’s cadence. The U.S. Open recently tried serve clocks during its qualifying tournament.

The Next Gen ATP Finals is scheduled for Nov. 7-11 in Milan. It will feature the top-seven players 21 and younger on the ATP Tour plus a wild card. The winner earns $390,000.

Houston Texans President Jamey Rootes was in a Mercedes-Benz Superdome suite on Saturday, Aug. 26, in New Orleans during the second quarter of the team’s third preseason game when his phone vibrated. It was a text from the team’s affiliate station with a stark message from the station’s meteorologist: Contrary to earlier reports, Hurricane Harvey would hit Houston in hours, and with near biblical rainfall.

Thus began a frantic nine-day, on-the-fly sojourn for Rootes and his staff as they had to reschedule not only the fourth preseason game in Houston, but the Texas Advocare Kickoff game between LSU and BYU, set for the following Saturday at the Texans’ NRG Stadium.

“Here’s a stat,” he said, “Ticketmaster said we set a record for refunds in one week.” In the week, he said, the team refunded 200,000 tickets and sold 100,000 (this is in part because after rescheduling the fourth preseason game for Dallas, that too was canceled to allow Texans players to go home).

The team had an emergency plan already in place so senior managers would know when to call in and start reacting to events, critical in the crazy days that followed for Rootes. After the Saints game, the team rerouted to Dallas. Rootes got to his bed in the Marriott Las Colinas at 6 a.m. Sunday and after two hours of sleep his phone rang. It was ESPN, calling about the fate of the Advocare game. Three hours later Doug Thornton, who runs SMG’s venues, including NRG Stadium and the Superdome, called offering the Superdome for the college game, now just six days away.

Rootes wasn’t just worried about the games, but his hometown, the team’s contribution and his own personal situation (his home was spared and his family safe).

On Monday, the team began practice at the Cowboys facilities (another quick fix Rootes had to work out). He and his staff began refunding the fourth preseason game, agreed to play that game in Dallas, and soon after reached an agreement with Thornton to move the college kickoff game.

“When you take something you have worked on for 18 months and built a crowd of 65,000 and try to re-create that in four days, I don’t care who is playing in the game, it’s a little bit challenging,” he said.

On Wednesday, the day before what would have been the fourth preseason game, he flew to New Orleans, where the next day he met with SMG, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Sugar Bowl staff and New Orleans Saints executives. All pitched in to promote the Advocare game (they sold 54,000 seats).

Some Texans staff members who were still in Houston, 15 in all, also needed to get to New Orleans. Houston’s airports were closed, so some drove to Dallas and flew, and some just drove.

The team also had to start thinking about whether it could play the first regular-season home game Sept. 10 as scheduled at NRG Stadium, but that decision became easier when the Astros successfully played games at Minute Maid Park on Sept. 2 and 3. NRG Stadium did not suffer the Harvey-related flooding that much of Houston did.

It was tougher for the 15 to 20 team employees who were left homeless or whose cars were destroyed. The club has begun a grant and loan program for them, and are under orders from Texans owner Bob McNair to do the right thing.

“Two principles I live by: Never make a decision before you have to, but when you have to make it be decisive,” Rootes said. “Second: Is it the right thing to do and how do you pay for it, and never mix the two.”

As for Rootes, perhaps his biggest hurdle was staying clean. When he first left for New Orleans he packed for two days and ended up on the road for nine.

“I did text my wife. … I said, ‘How often do you have to wear a garment before you consider it dirty?’” he said, laughing. After using hotel sinks and laundry, he shopped at a Tommy Bahama in New Orleans for more clothes, and picked up a baseball cap with the word “Relax” on it. That hat became a message, he said to his staff.

“It’s all going to be OK,” he explained.

Rootes and his staff are now back in their Houston offices, as back to normal as possible as their city embarks on recovering and rebuilding.

Even as one of Major League Baseball’s younger leaders, Executive Vice President Chris Marinak has still been around long enough to see a lot of different situations. But never had he experienced the scheduling complications created by the one-two punch of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The recent, destructive storms in Texas and Florida prompted the shift of a late August series between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and then last week relocated a New York Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays series to Citi Field in New York and flipped a Milwaukee Brewers-Miami Marlins set from Marlins Park to Miller Park.

Prior to last month, MLB had made weather-related relocations to neutral sites only three prior times: in 2004, 2007 and 2008 due to two hurricanes and heavy snow. But in nearly matching that mark over a single fortnight, Marinak, the rest of the league office, the participating teams and the MLB Players Association had to balance a wide array of factors. Among them: getting the games played without disrupting October’s postseason calendar or having excessive numbers of doubleheaders; compliance with the collective-bargaining agreement; travel considerations; hotel room availability; facility and staff readiness; and weather.

The Yankees played the Tampa Bay Rays at the Mets’ Citi Field.
“There’s really no playbook for a situation like this, certainly not when they stack up like this, and every situation is different,” said Marinak, who along with MLB Chief Operating Officer Tony Petitti was a key figure in the rescheduling efforts. “You just have to figure out what’s happening, look at all the available data, make an honest assessment, and then make the best decision. But in each situation, we considered at least four or five different venues.”

That consideration of alternate ballparks brought its own share of challenges. In the case of the Rangers-Astros series last month, the Rangers refused to switch home series with the Astros, and the Astros didn’t want to play at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, as the home team. That disagreement prompted Astros owner Jim Crane to say, “I’ve told anybody that if the situation was reversed, I would have [switched the series]. I would have given them a break.”

Conflicting events at Yankee Stadium, including an NYC FC soccer match, prevented a simple flip of the Yankees-Rays series. The Marlins, meanwhile, were prepared to play host to the Brewers at Marlins Park, despite extensive flooding and power outages in the Miami area. But team President David Samson said the region and public resources still had “other needs that must take priority at this time.”

For each of the three relocated series, tickets were sold at flat or heavily discounted rates, with the upper decks closed and the ticket proceeds largely going to cover the expenses of staging the games. The Rangers-Astros series, which drew a total of 12,993 for the three Tropicana Field games, operated at a fiscal loss.

The Astros, Rays and Marlins will now be eligible to file business disruption insurance claims to help cover lost revenue from the missed home games. Those claims will be made individually by the clubs, but they will each draw from a leaguewide insurance policy MLB brokers on behalf of all 30 teams.

The 2018 schedule, released last week, includes an earlier-than-ever domestic start of March 29 and several additional off days for each team, provisions of the labor deal designed foremost to give players more rest during the six-month grind of the regular season. But Marinak said those additional open dates will be helpful should more situations like hurricanes Harvey and Irma arise.

“In the cases this year, there weren’t a lot of extra dates for us to work with,” he said. “But next year’s schedule does offer some additional options if we unfortunately find ourselves in this case again.”

The NBA is launching a new advertising effort for the upcoming season called “I’m Why” that includes three new spots and, eventually, new commercials from all 30 NBA teams.

The “I’m Why” effort is the latest iteration of the NBA’s “This Is Why We Play” global advertising campaign that the league created in 2015.

Translation is the NBA’s agency of record, and the “I’m Why” campaign begins this week with spots to appear on NBA TV and the league’s digital and social media outlets.

The “I’m Why” marketing effort begins this week with spots to appear on NBA TV.
Photo by: NBA
The new ads include a 30-second and 60-second spot called “Tipping Off 2017” featuring highlights from last season, while a new 60-second “Golden State’s Homecourt Advantage” spot focuses on a member of the Warriors’ game-night staff responsible for covering Oracle Arena’s 19,596 seats with gold shirts before playoff games. The “Homecourt” spot will air locally in the Bay Area on Sept. 30 and is the first of the 30 original team spots to be unveiled throughout the season.

“This year we wanted to go deep and talk about what drives the game, whether it is a player or someone who works in the arena,” said NBA Chief Marketing Officer Pamela El of the league’s plan to roll out ads from each NBA team. “We will produce 30 unique spots, one for each team telling a story of that team. It will be much more personal.”

The third 60-second spot in the “I’m Why” campaign is the “I’m Why Mexico 2017” ad that will run only in Mexico as the league marks its 25th year of playing games in that country. The Mexico City Games in December feature the Brooklyn Nets playing the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 7 followed by the Nets playing the Miami Heat on Dec. 9 at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico.

The spot, to begin running in Mexico this week, was created by Havas and is the first NBA ad to be run specifically in Mexico.

“It is the first time we have done an original piece to highlight games in that market,” El said.

The league also will create additional new spots around its Christmas Day games and for its prime-time Saturday night broadcasts on ABC.

“We will have messaging around all of our tent-pole events,” El said.

As it establishes itself as a marketing property fully independent of the NBA, the league’s players’ association has established a separate business unit for commercial activities, including merchandising, sponsorship, events and content.

The new unit, National Basketball Players Inc. (not to be confused with the NFLPA’s Players Inc.), will have its own profit and loss statement and payroll, and was established as a for-profit company.

Earlier this year, the NBPA took its commercial rights in-house for the first time in 20 years. They had been leased to the NBA. Chief Marketing Officer Jordan Schlachter has promised membership better returns for their intellectual property immediately. Now he says “that was less of a dollar-and-cents decision, it was really about having control of their own destiny and who we are in business with.”

Clarence Nesbitt (left), Jordan Schlachter, Que Gaskins and Josh Goodstadt are among those guiding the new effort.
Three new hires at the new unit will oversee a staff of eight, expected to quickly expand.

Que Gaskins began this month as PI’s chief brand and growth officer. Gaskins has more than 25 years of marketing and merchandising experience, including 13 at Nike and Reebok, three as general manager of the Allen Iverson brand and three heading Nike’s Eastern territory (Maine to Miami). Most recently he was executive vice president of strategic marketing and brand partnerships at Def Jam Recordings.

Gaskins sees four distinct opportunities for the new unit. “There are obvious commerce opportunities; content opportunities — which every brand is looking for; cultural opportunities at big events like the All-Star Game; and community opportunities, when you think about the growing impact of our players as cultural influencers,” he said.

The other part of Gaskins’ job is to “establish what this brand (PI) means and tell the story about what the union means inside and outside,” said Schlachter, who crafted the strategy of breaking away from the NBA, along with NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts.

The sponsorship side of the house is also being revitalized. Formerly, the NBPA sold assets around its “One Court” players headquarters at the All-Star Game. Now it is developing year-round opportunities, which will certainly include the now-unbranded full-court on the fifth floor of the union’s Midtown New York City headquarters. Meanwhile, with the next All-Star Game in Los Angeles, this year’s “One Court” at the London Hotel in West Hollywood will be its largest yet. Event opportunities include everything from camps (the NBPA ran a weeklong camp in New York City this summer for more than 100 kids), golf tournaments and instructional opportunities.

Clarence Nesbitt is the new general counsel for PI. He was with Nike for nearly 10 years, most recently as director of global brand business affairs.

Josh Goodstadt joined the NBPA in August as executive vice president of licensing. Most recently, he was vice president of global licensing and retail at HBO.

The Wilf family, owners of the Minnesota Vikings, are bringing their background in real estate to bear in the Twin Cities, where the team is building the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, its new headquarters and practice facility.

The club also recently announced the formation of the Minnesota Vikings Foundation. The Vikings have long offered grants through their Vikings Children’s Fund, but the new foundation will also create its own programs to serve the community.

Team President Mark Wilf talked to Nick Halter of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, an affiliated publication, in an interview that’s been edited for length and clarity.

Why are you going to a more hands-on approach with your charity?

Wilf: We want to make as big an impact as possible. While we had an incredible history with the Vikings Children’s Fund and raised $12 million for community organizations, we just wanted to rebrand and restart. We want to fundraise, but also be hands-on. We think it’s part of building a first-class organization, that our staff is involved and we put real events on in the community that have a tangible benefit.

This is going to still be about youth and the health and education of youth and some of the disparities among youth in how they are treated.

 Your family’s background is in real estate [in New Jersey] and you’re getting into that locally with your Eagan practice facility. Do you see the family getting more involved with local real estate?

Wilf: We have our hands full with Eagan right now, but the reality is we have properties now in different parts of the Twin Cities and we’re a believer in the Twin Cities market. But right now we are focused on the 40 acres in Eagan. … That will take up most of our organizational efforts between now and March, when we open.

We have a canvass of 200 acres that can be made into a destination for the community and the region, and we can make it really community oriented, whether it’s “Friday night lights,” the Vikings Hall of Fame or training camp.

 Once you get further along in Eagan, will you focus more on the old Winter Park [headquarters] site in Eden Prairie or the parking lots you own near U.S. Bank Stadium?

Wilf: The property downtown near the stadium is relatively small, but that is full of potential for development, as is Eden Prairie. We’re able to juggle a few things. We’re always exploring opportunities as to how to best utilize the properties and enhance the development, but like I said, Eagan is still the lion’s share of our work going forward.

 What’s the renewal rate for season tickets this year?

Wilf: We’re at a 99 percent-plus renewal rate for season tickets. We’ve worked through the wait list to add new season-ticket members. Roughly 90 percent of the stadium is committed on a seasonal basis, and we still have a waiting list for season tickets.

Despite the strong interest, we are always looking for ways to enhance the strong fan experience. We are going to have new food and beverage options this year. We will have additional art pieces. We are going to enhance the app, which has over 300,000 users now. More cell phone charging stations.