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Volume 22 No. 23

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Teams will be able to sell sponsorships on their Weibo channels. Weibo is China’s top social networking platform.

The NBA is giving its teams more international digital and sponsorship rights as the league looks to broaden its already strong overseas fan interest.

Effective immediately, the NBA has expanded the number of platforms on which teams can distribute international content to include Twitch, Reddit, TikTok and separate team Facebook Watch accounts. Teams previously could place international content only on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.

Teams for the first time can now, without league approval, post new and customized content that is targeted to fans in a particular country or create content that is for a global audience. Teams can continue to make available limited highlights from individual games on social media platforms outside of China. In addition, the NBA no longer will require translations for team-developed content in different languages. No live content is included in any of the changes.

The goal, according to the league, is to help teams better reach fans in international markets, and make it easier for teams to create more compelling, unique and locally relevant content in various countries.

Along with the expanded content rights, the league has made another significant change related to international marketing by allowing teams to sell sponsorships on Weibo, China’s leading social networking platform where all NBA teams have their own channels.

Effective immediately, teams can sell sponsorships on their Weibo channels as part of a test for the rest of the season. However, teams cannot use game highlights on their Weibo channels.

“We have tried to adjust our rules to grow globally, especially on social media,” said Amy Brooks, NBA chief innovation officer and president of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations division. “What we have done is to enable teams to post content on social media channels and make it seamless. We want to align our rules by how social media works and we want teams to share their content everywhere.”

The new policies have teams optimistic in their efforts to grow their brands internationally and to cash in on Weibo sponsorships.

“Every team wants to build fan bases in different countries and now we can customize and centralize the messaging,” said Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin. “It is the beginning of a big move. It recognizes that teams have tremendous reach. My feeling is you will wind up with dozens of paying advertisers on Weibo.”

It’s too early to gauge the value of selling sponsorships on Weibo, but team executives said that offering ads on Weibo will drive the value of current and future deals.

The new approach comes as the NBA at the start of the season had 108 players from a record-tying 42 countries on team rosters. About one-quarter of all NBA players are international and all 30 NBA teams had at least one international player on their rosters at the start of the season.

“It provides an opportunity for teams to market themselves globally,” said Chris Heck, Philadelphia 76ers president. “We are working to strengthen our data intelligence that will allow us to target our fans’ likes and dislikes and ultimately provide content they desire.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps pushed back against the notion that recent layoffs were just a sign of belt tightening.
Photo: Getty Images

While NASCAR laid off dozens of employees last month, President Steve Phelps said the move was more about doubling down in key areas as opposed to downsizing.


Between people laid off and open positions that will not be filled, about 50 to 75 jobs were eliminated that affected employees at offices across the country, according to sources. The jobs represent less than 5 percent of NASCAR’s workforce.


The layoffs included many longtime NASCAR employees on both the competition and business sides. Given the number of people laid off and how long many of them were tenured, NASCAR likely trimmed several million dollars off its bottom line.


But in an interview with Sports Business Journal, Phelps disputed the notion that the layoffs were a belt-tightening maneuver as the sport tries to stabilize. Instead, he said the restructuring is one aspect of a wider rethinking of the sport under Chairman and CEO Jim France.


France is challenging his top lieutenants to spend more time and money on what’s most important to reversing the sport’s fortunes. As part of that, according to Phelps, NASCAR is spending more money in areas it feels are key to putting on exciting races that fill grandstands and get good TV ratings. That also includes investing in new initiatives such as esports and sports gambling, while it reduced headcount in areas less integral to the core aim.


Some departments that saw their headcounts trimmed include NASCAR’s Green and analytics/insight departments, but Phelps said that other employees will now just juggle more duties, as opposed to NASCAR moving away from those initiatives.


Phelps’ direct reports have been streamlined down to four. Those are Steve O’Donnell, who oversees competition; Craig Neeb, who oversees technology and consumer innovation and has a dual role at track operator International Speedway Corp., which NASCAR is in the process of acquiring; Daryl Wolfe, who oversees sales and partnerships and also has a dual role at ISC; and Jill Gregory, who has been overseeing marketing and will now add media and communications to those duties.


Gregory added media as part of the departure of Steve Herbst, who served as NASCAR’s SVP of broadcasting and production and helped strike the 10-year media rights deal with Fox Sports and NBC Sports that delivers $820 million to the industry annually. Other notable departures included Norris Scott, vice president of analytics and insights; and Blake Davidson, vice president of consumer innovation.


“It’s not moving away from green or analytics; it’s the integration of groups into other groups that we think work well together and where there’s some synergies,” Phelps said. “If there’s savings from that, then we can redirect dollars.”


Overall, Phelps says NASCAR’s founding France family is upping its investment in the sport — such as the $1.9 billion bid to acquire ISC.


One area where NASCAR is already revealing it will be spending more money is with paid advertising. NASCAR has traditionally used its own digital/social channels and the house ad inventory from its media rights partners to advertise. But after a pilot program last year where NASCAR says it saw positive results after doing paid advertising in a couple of key markets, the sanctioning body is fully rolling the plan out this year. One person familiar with the plan said NASCAR will spend between $10 million and $20 million on paid advertising this year, a range Phelps would neither confirm nor deny. Phelps said the advertising will be mostly local and will be on channels beyond just those owned by Fox and NBC.


“Like any good company, you take a step back and look at what’s going to grow your business, and we do the same thing,” Phelps said. “We did it to understand, ‘What are those areas frankly where we didn’t need people in those boxes or roles, and what roles do we need? What do we need to double down on from a structural standpoint and people standpoint and then frankly from a resource standpoint, and how can we do that? And what are new initiatives that we can look to re-deploy resources — whether people or money — in those areas to help drive the business?’”

Kim Davis, who joined the league as an executive VP in 2017, has retooled the Hockey is for Everyone campaign.
Photo: NHL / Getty Images

The NHL will recognize Black History Month as a league for the first time this month, as it is aiming to further broaden and bolster its efforts around diversity and inclusion.


It’s just one part of the way the NHL is rethinking its Hockey is for Everyone messaging, an effort that aims to use the sport and the league’s reach to drive social change — done in conjunction with the NHL Players’ Association — as well as to celebrate its growing diversity. Historically, that message was somewhat contained to league- and team-level events and content in February that centered around the work the NHL was doing in support of the LGBTQ community.


Now the league will amplify that overarching message year-round, while having specific monthly spotlights on different initiatives and communities. The enhanced effort is being championed by Kim Davis, who joined the league in November 2017 as executive vice president overseeing social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs.


Davis said that the goal is to demonstrate three major aspects — the league’s commitment to growing its fan base and educating both the avid NHL fan and the broader sports fan; celebrating the accomplishments of all groups, particularly those that have been underrepresented in hockey; and showcasing the culture the NHL is trying to create across its teams and league office.


“We’ve retooled Hockey is for Everyone to be that umbrella, where under it we will be continuing to build and put a spotlight on these different initiatives,” Davis said.


Black Hockey History Tour

New York: (Rangers, Feb. 2)

Newark, N.J.: (Feb. 5-6)

Nashville: (Feb. 9-10)

Tampa: (Feb. 14-16)

Philadelphia: (Feb. 23-24)

Washington, D.C.: (Feb. 25-27)

Note: Stops done in conjunction with the local NHL team.

That will begin in earnest with Black History Month, which is celebrated in the U.S. and Canada throughout February. The NHL will kick it off with an event in New York with the Ice Hockey in Harlem organization, partnering with the Aspen Institute and its project play initiative, which aims to grow sports participation.


The league also has put together a traveling black hockey history museum, which it created in conjunction with American Legacy, an organization that highlights the historical contributions of African-Americans. The 525-square-foot mobile museum will showcase the history of black hockey, including items from the Hockey Hall of Fame and of current NHL players. The league is hoping to have current and retired players appear at the six tour stops in conjunction with the teams in Nashville, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Tampa and Washington, D.C. The teams and the league have partnered on planning events at community rinks, schools and at the various arenas.


The largest activation will take place in Philadelphia, which not only will host the Stadium Series outdoor game between the Flyers and the Penguins but also the annual Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend. The latter event brings together youth players, coaches and directors from all of the NHL-affiliated Hockey is for Everyone programs for a skills competition, an on-ice scrimmage and other off-ice activities. During the D.C. stop, which will be at the Canadian Embassy, a reception also will be held for O’Ree, who broke the NHL’s color barrier in 1958 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year. 


All of these physical efforts will be amplified by content pushed out by the league and its teams, which will range from stories and features published on to Black History Night celebrations across the league during games. NHL Network will also air a roundtable discussion hosted by former NHL player Anson Carter featuring a trio of Hockey Hall of Famers — O’Ree, former Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr and former Team Canada star

Angela James — breaking down barriers in hockey and their personal stories as black hockey players.


“There are so many preconceived notions by so many different audiences — I’m amazed talking to friends of mine who haven’t been hockey fans and the first comment they make is ‘so what, are there like five black people who play the sport?’ No, there are actually 37,” Davis said. “Willie O’Ree is a superstar in hockey, but there are so many others who have been involved in the sport, and we want to celebrate that.”


The topic of racism in hockey surfaced again last month in two separate incidents in Maryland and Michigan in which 13-year-old African-American youth hockey players were the targets of racial slurs during games. Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, the most prominent current black player in the league, sent a direct video message of support to the players, and the Washington Capitals hosted and met with the Maryland-based teenager and his team at their Jan. 9 game against the Blues.


Davis denounced the usage of racist taunts and behavior in hockey and said both she and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman have spoken about this most recent issue. “It is an opportunity for us to take a bolder leadership stance, and no question we are committed to doing that,” Davis said, adding that the league plans to announce additional details on its efforts in the coming days.


The NHL will roll out additional monthlong celebrations and spotlights for the remainder of this season: In March, it will highlight gender equality and women in the sport of hockey. In April, a focus on the league’s NHL Green efforts around environmental and sustainability issues. June will be a celebration of Pride Month. 


The league will go even further in the 2019-20 season, building on those efforts with additional focuses on Hispanic heritage and the First Nations and indigenous community, particularly in Canada.


Davis said this is all part of a larger multiyear strategic plan to not only ramp up league and team efforts on these fronts, but also to better engage sponsors and league partners like USA Hockey on these issues.


“The separation between what is traditionally called philanthropy and business has become much more blurred,” Davis said. “The concept of social impact and corporate responsibility are now business terms, not charity terms.”

The PGA of America, already planning to move its headquarters from Florida to Frisco, Texas, now also plans to open a sales office in Manhattan.

The New York City sales office is expected to house between 10 and 12 employees at 27th Street and Park Avenue where they will spearhead the PGA of America’s corporate sales, sponsorship and media efforts. The organization would not disclose the size or exact address of the office as it finalizes the lease.

“Given the strength of our sales focus, we will have a place that is centrally located,” said Jeff Price, chief commercial officer for the PGA of America. “We’ll keep a sales team there. We will have a strong commercial presence.”

The PGA of America, which runs the PGA Championship and other high-profile events such as the Ryder Cup in the U.S., the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Senior PGA Championship, has been on a sales streak of late with recent new deals with Cadillac, AIG, Michelob Ultra and BMW, which signed on as a worldwide Ryder Cup partner.

Price, who leads much of the organization’s sales efforts, will split time between the New York office, the PGA of America’s current Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., headquarters and eventually the new Texas office when the PGA of America relocates in 2022. A 100,000-square-foot PGA of America headquarters and two golf courses will anchor a $500 million mixed-use development in Frisco.

The New York office is expected to open in March. Kevin Ring, PGA of America chief revenue officer, will be based out of the office and it eventually will house up to a dozen other executives.

The strategy to open the New York sales office comes under the direction of new PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, who replaced Pete Bevacqua, who left in September to become president of NBC Sports Group.

Waugh has wasted little time leading critical moves for the organization. Just a few months into his tenure, the PGA of America has signed a new TV deal with ESPN and CBS, announced the relocation to Frisco and signed several new sponsorships.