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Volume 21 No. 13

Leagues and Governing Bodies

John Kristick has a multifaceted role as executive director of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada joint bid.
Photo: united bid committee

Working out of spare office space at MLS’s headquarters in Manhattan, John Kristick has spent the last 10 months fixated on three numbers:

 

Expected days until the start of the 2026 World Cup — totaling more than 3,000.

 

Days until June 13 — the day the FIFA Congress will vote on the 2026 World Cup bids, now less than 100 days away.

 

Days until Friday’s deadline to submit the World Cup bid to FIFA — a countdown that reaches zero this week.

 

“We’ll take a breath, and then it’s back to work,” Kristick said of passing his first milestone since being appointed executive director of the United Bid Committee last June, representing the joint bid between the U.S., Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup.

 

Kristick was tasked to complete a bid process in 10 months that normally takes double that, the result of an expedited process suggested by CONCACAF and agreed upon by FIFA.

 

By definition, Kristick’s role makes him responsible for organizing the bid, but in practice it sees him serve as everything from a World Cup advocate, to a negotiator with cities, states, stadiums, sports commissions and governments, to a soccer strategist laying out a blueprint for investment if a World Cup is hosted here, to a diligent editor making sure that every “i” is dotted.

 

“It takes an extremely delicate touch to balance all of these pieces while also understanding that there are also deadlines that have to be met,” said Sunil Gulati, the former chairman of the bid committee, who appointed Kristick.

 

Gulati pointed directly to Kristick’s experience in international soccer as one of the key reasons for his appointment — he’s been involved in every World Cup dating back to 1994, working in areas including sponsorship, broadcasting and marketing support. Most recently, Kristick was global CEO for ESP Properties, WPP’s first dedicated sports agency.

 

He was managing director of the U.S.’s failed bid for the 2022 World Cup. “Obviously we didn’t win, and life goes on, so all I can look back on is that from a technical bid submission standpoint I think we did a lot of wonderful things,” he said.

 

While after the loss he joined WPP, Kristick admits that “my heart was still thinking what would happen if the U.S. was able to bid again.” He reached out to Gulati frequently, letting him know he would love to be part of any future bid.

 

While Kristick has leaned heavily on his experiences around the World Cup in this bidding process, several significant intricacies new to the bidding process have kept him and his team of 25 on their toes. Two such examples are the expanded World Cup format — the 2026 edition will be the first to feature 48 teams and 80 total games, compared to 32 teams and 64 games in previous World Cups — as well as new, more enhanced bidding regulations that came from FIFA as a result of the corruption that plagued the bidding around previous tournaments.

 

Most notably though is the effort of the bid to include three countries jointly hosting the World Cup for the first time. The only other time that more than one nation hosted a World Cup was in 2002, when Japan and South Korea jointly hosted.

 

While that has presented logistical challenges, Kristick said it’s also served as a point of motivation. “To see the amount of support we’ve had not only across the cities, but across the three countries as well, it’s not only remarkable but it’s inspiring to me when I think about it,” he said.

 

Alan Rothenberg, who oversaw the successful U.S. World Cup bid in 1994 and the Women’s World Cup in 1999, said that Kristick’s combination of global executive experience and deep FIFA knowledge makes him one of the few people who can juggle all of the various stakeholders.

 

“In the past, you could figuratively put the bid on the back of an envelope — now you’re faced with a much more stringent set of documents,” Rothenberg said. “There’s a level of complexity in this bidding process that we’ve never seen before, so to have someone who has extraordinary knowledge of the international world of soccer who is very through is crucial.”

 

Kristick said the group’s more than 700-page submission has nearly 50,000 separate agreements between cities, stadiums, training sites, airports and transit systems, and governments. The bulk of that will be sent to FIFA as a digital bid book, while a separate executive summary will be translated into seven different languages and delivered by hand to FIFA in Zurich.

 

Once March 16 passes, the bid committee will provide FIFA with any additional explanation requested. FIFA also will schedule an official tour to inspect the facilities and plans presented in the bid.

 

Nearing the middle of April, the FIFA Council — formally known as its executive committee — will develop an evaluation report and recommendation, which it will give to the entire voting body for consideration on June 13.

 

That day, it is also likely that Kristick will help make the final presentation of the bid in front of the entire 211-member FIFA delegation.

 

“The opportunity for this event to happen in North America, and the idea that the 2026 World Cup can be our collective north star to drive the sport even further on this continent — I don’t need a better motivator than that to drive me forward every day,” he said.

Drivers Joey Logano (left) and Kurt Busch shoot an episode of Discovery’s “Fast N’ Loud.”
Photo: nascar

As NASCAR heads into its annual trip to Southern California this weekend, the spotlight shines on its Los Angeles-based entertainment marketing division, which has lined up at least a half-dozen new, unannounced projects.

 

This weekend’s NASCAR national series action is at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., about 50 miles from L.A., where NASCAR’s satellite office opened in 2000 to weave the brand into Hollywood and pop culture. The office is headed up by Zane Stoddard, vice president of entertainment marketing and content development.

 

Among the new ventures being developed are two separate original animation projects, one movie and one for TV; multiple shows with Discovery Channel; a digital series with BuzzFeed; and movie projects with the likes of sports media veteran Ed Goren and the Hallmark Channel.

 

“We are in a space that is different than some areas of our business in that we have to try to put a lot of irons in the fire in order to get a few things to hit,” Stoddard said.

 

Among the most notable new projects is animation as NASCAR works to expose the sport to younger and more diverse audiences. The sport’s biggest success thus far in the animation space is its work with Disney’s “Cars” franchise.

 

One of the new animation partnerships is a project with ShadowMachine, the award-winning animation studio that’s worked on shows like “Robot Chicken” on Cartoon Network and “BoJack Horseman” on Netflix. The project, which does not have a distribution deal, will be shot with the intention of having it distributed either on linear television or a streaming video-on-demand platform. The other animated project underway is with Burbank-based studio Legendary Entertainment, which has co-produced films with Warner Bros. including “Superman Returns” and “The Dark Night Rises” in recent years.

 

NASCAR declined to provide details on the content themes for either of the animated projects beyond saying that they “will have fun, non-driver characters, living both inside and outside the NASCAR world, with real NASCAR drivers voicing some characters.”

 

Movie projects include a drama that NASCAR has partnered on with Goren, who has 47 Emmy Awards to his credit. The film, which does not have a distribution deal, is set to look at the “Winged Warrior” era, a short stretch in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Chrysler built cars with high rear wings to compete with the dominant Fords.

 

NASCAR is working on a multi-film project with the Hallmark Channel. Stoddard said the content could turn into a NASCAR-centric series that would play out over the course of multiple movies. The timing of the movie releases has not been disclosed.

 

Also on the TV front, NASCAR is building on its relationship with Discovery, which is one of the top purveyors of automotive-related content on cable and has seen success with programming such as “Fast N’ Loud,” which is a show based around the crew of the famous Gas Monkey Garage finding run-down cars to restore. NASCAR and Discovery are co-producing “Twin Turbos,” which premiered late last month and centers on a young racer who is trying to make it to NASCAR and works on intricate car restorations with his father to raise funds. Team Penske driver Joey Logano is making regular appearances on the show, as he’s mentoring the young racer.

 

Beyond that show, NASCAR and Discovery have struck a deal to develop a show based on a track in Alaska that a few years ago became the only facility in the state to be sanctioned by NASCAR.

 

NASCAR also has partnered with producer Mark Burnett and MGM on a scripted series that it says is akin to “Friday Night Lights” set in stock car racing. That will go to market this spring.

 

Some of the L.A. group’s work has already played out this year. It hosted several celebrities at the Daytona 500, including actress Charlize Theron, and secured television roles for drivers. For example, driver Ryan Blaney plays an FBI agent in an upcoming episode of NBC’s “Taken,” had a voice role in Marvel’s “Spiderman” on Disney Channel and is co-hosting an episode of Nickelodeon’s “Crashletes” in April alongside fellow NASCAR driver Darrell Wallace Jr.

 

This week, the group is hosting another mixer event between drivers and decision makers in the entertainment industry. It will shoot Blaney’s “Glass Case of Emotion” podcast at its L.A. office, is tentatively scheduled to shoot a new BuzzFeed series with three to four drivers, and will host around a combined 200 celebrities and entertainment executives at the track during the weekend’s action.

 

“Los Angeles is a place where it’s real easy to be a [proverbial] tree falling in the forest in terms of events, so we wanted to be real surgical about it,” Stoddard said.

The NASCAR-themed “Logan Lucky” wasn’t a major box office hit but still was viewed as a success by the film’s creators, according to Zane Stoddard, NASCAR’s vice president of entertainment marketing and content development.

 

The film, released in theaters nationwide last year, centered around a heist at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It had a production budget of $29 million and has grossed $27.8 million in the U.S., according to Box Office Mojo, leading outlets like Recode to say the movie flopped. The film, which was distributed in about 40 countries, earned another $19.6 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, taking the total figure to around $47.4 million.

 

Producer Steven Soderbergh told Recode that at his request, the film spent a “hugely disproportionate amount” of its marketing budget on digital advertising rather than television advertising, which he in retrospect viewed as a mistake. Soderbergh wanted to try a new model with the film where there was no studio company involved, making it more like an independent movie.

 

“It actually did live up to expectations,” Stoddard said. “It was a new model to try to make a movie without a studio, so the budget was very small; it’s made over $50 million at the box office [worldwide], everyone’s making money; by most definitions, including the reviews … it was wildly successful.”

— Adam Stern

Austin Dillon’s wife Whitney is said to be involved in a pilot presentation.
Photo: getty images

CMT is in the early stages of developing a reality show on the lives of NASCAR drivers’ spouses, according to sources, as the industry looks to further show off the lifestyle element of the sport.

 

The show is still being developed and could be scrapped before airing. But sources said a production company has already shot a pilot presentation in recent months, as CMT ponders whether to give the concept the green light.

 

CMT declined to comment about the project. The sanctioning body is not participating in the show, so the likely title of it would be “Racing Wives,” as opposed to “NASCAR Wives,” sources said, since the NASCAR acronym is trademarked.

 

The precise cast of the show has not been revealed but sources said those involved in shooting the pilot presentation include Samantha Busch, wife of Kyle Busch; Ashley Busch, wife of Kurt Busch; Whitney Dillon, wife of Austin Dillon; Jordan Fish, longtime girlfriend of Denny Hamlin; and Mariel Lane, a Monster Energy Girl who is engaged to Richard Childress Racing pit crew member Paul Swan.

 

The time of day the show would air and when it would launch also were unclear last week.

 

The idea to host a show based on the lives of spouses of NASCAR drivers comes after TLC tried to do a similar show with different producers and wives in 2010. That project ultimately got scrapped before it ran due to disagreements between the cast, NASCAR Media Group and TLC. The subjects of that show, which was to be called “NASCAR Wives,” were DeLana Harvick, wife of Kevin Harvick; Kelley Earnhardt Miller, sister of Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Angie Skinner, wife of Mike Skinner; and Shana Mayfield, wife of Jeremy Mayfield.

 

Reports at the time said TLC had ordered at least eight half-hour episodes of “NASCAR Wives” and that the project cost NASCAR Media Group close to $200,000 in production expenses, despite the series ultimately never airing.

 

CMT picking up a new version of the show would give the sport another avenue to reach younger and female fans. CMT has recently seen strong growth, as the network said that February of this year was its best performance in that month in four years, leading the channel to deliver its 15th consecutive month of year-over-year ratings growth.

The PGA Tour is launching its first augmented reality app that will deliver 3-D interaction with featured holes from various tournaments. The rollout of the PGA Tour AR app will begin this week during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

 

The app will be available initially on iPhones and iPads. It will work through each device’s camera. Users will point their device toward any flat service and on their screen see a 3-D perspective of the featured holes and shot trails, and have the ability to compare shots between golfers.

 

The app will allow fans to compare shots between golfers.

In addition to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the AR function will be featured at the Players Championship and the Tour Championship, with plans to eventually feature at least one hole for the app at every event on the tour’s schedule.

  

“Initially we will have six holes where you can see that hole in a 3-D view that allows you to see the elevation changes,” said Rick Anderson, chief media officer for the tour. “As you are looking at it, you can pull data that shows where different players hit their shots. Eventually, you will be able to look at the app and see shot trails with live data.”

 

The app later this year will be updated to provide an on-course AR experience where fans at a tournament will be able to hold up their device in front of any hole and the technology will display shot trails for selected players live or during a past round.

 

Mastercard is the official launch partner of the PGA Tour AR app, which will be available for free through the iTunes app store. Mastercard will have exclusive branding within the app and will showcase the app in fan areas at Bay Hill Club and Lodge during this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Possible Mobile, part of the creative agency Possible, worked with the tour to develop the app.

 

The rollout is the latest high-tech initiative by the tour to attract and engage more fans.

While the United States, Mexico and Canada bid group campaigns for the 2026 World Cup, details about the rival Morocco bid highlight the challenge the united bid faces.

 

On the surface, the two bids show a clear gap in the preparations necessary to handle the bid. For example, 31 NFL stadiums across the U.S. alone already meet and exceed FIFA’s venue standards, without including stadiums under construction in Inglewood, Calif., or Las Vegas. In addition, no money has been earmarked for public projects to meet the needs of the tournament, a vast difference from just about any World Cup hosted in recent memory.

 

In comparison, Morocco only has six of the required 14 venues and does not have a single stadium that meets the 80,000-seat minimum required for a World Cup Final. Upgrading those six facilities to FIFA minimums and building eight other venues would require billions of dollars, let alone other infrastructure investments such as airports and roads.

 

The united bid is touting the commercial opportunity of bringing the World Cup to such a large sports market — of particular significance since FIFA has not signed a new partnership with a company based outside of Russia, China or Qatar since the 2014 World Cup.

  

Morocco is attempting to do the same though, as its bid documents lean heavily on the time zone factor, noting that the bulk of World Cup viewers in Europe would see games in prime hours, leading to additional sponsor investment.

 

To most, it would appear that the united bid should win quite handedly. However, the geopolitics that surround FIFA voting, and a change in the voting structure itself, has the united bid in a much more precarious position and will require a massive campaign.

 

In previous elections, a World Cup host was selected by FIFA’s executive committee, 24 of the highest-ranking officials in world soccer. The process was corrupt at best, and the bid rigging that took place among the group is at the core of an investigation led by the U.S. Department of Justice.

 

To combat that issue, FIFA altered its voting process, now bringing it in front of its full 211-country membership. A winning bid must receive a simple majority, but since there are four countries effectively bidding for this iteration that are not allowed to vote, the winning number is at least 104 votes.

 

Morocco is a member of the African Football Confederation and is expected to get the backing of the 53 other members of that bloc. The united bid will likely receive the 32 other votes from its CONCACAF federation.

 

While the united bid is expected to receive at minimum the bulk of the votes from Europe’s 55-vote UEFA confederation and the 11-member Oceanic Football Confederation, two significant issues put the remaining votes at risk — U.S. President Donald Trump’s influence on the country’s world standing, and the ongoing DOJ investigation, which has rankled many of the sport’s power brokers.

 

“It is mostly guesswork right now, but the fear is that the fact that the united bid is the most compelling bid from a pure economic standpoint may be ignored because of some things that have happened in the U.S.,” said Alan Rothenberg, who has led several U.S. World Cup efforts. “In the past it was concentrated to 24 people in 24 countries — now it’s a huge task to make your case politically to 211 countries.”

 

The united bid shifted its strategy last week to broaden that appeal, with former U.S. Soccer President and FIFA Council member Sunil Gulati stepping down from chairman of the bid, in favor of the three standing U.S., Canadian and Mexican federation presidents serving as co-chairmen, covering more ground and stressing the mutual involvement of the three countries, as opposed to a heavily U.S.-led effort.

 

The key areas of the world for the united bid will be in South America, where many believe the 10-member CONMEBOL is bitter over the DOJ investigation and may side with Morocco, and the 46-member Asian Football Confederation, where the chief power brokers are more focused on ensuring economic success in the next World Cup cycle following what appears to be 2018 and 2022 events with lower revenue expectations.

 

“We never thought this would be a slam dunk, and anyone who thinks they have a complete vote count on this now is predicting things that no one can.” Gulati said.