Forum: The stories that caught my interest halfway through 2019
As we shift into the second half of 2019, here are some stories that captured my interest through the first six months of the year.
THE SWIFT DEMISE OF THE AAF: Most startup leagues fail. Still, I was taken aback by the AAF’s dramatic collapse, especially after the football league launched on Feb. 9 to such positive reviews. As Seth Wickersham’s excellent piece for ESPN.com points out, the league never had sufficient capital to succeed. A surprising number of people privately shared their disgust with me at the arrogance, callousness and malfeasance of the league’s founders and eventual investor Tom Dundon. It’s clear that nobody came out of this looking good.
LEVY’S DEPARTURE SPARKS A NEW ERA: David Levy is a Turner Sports original — someone who made sales calls with Ted Turner in the 1980s. Levy is an aggressive risk taker — a well-liked dealmaker who changed the face of Turner’s sports division. His exit, and that of COO Matt Hong, takes away a great deal of institutional knowledge and industry relationships. I am watching to see how Jeff Zucker puts his stamp on the department.
NASCAR’S BIG MOVE: NASCAR’s purchase of sister company International Speedway Corp. should lead to a massive overhaul of the sport — affecting costs, operations, the schedule and the sport’s footprint. This combined with the Smith family trying to take Speedway Motorsports Inc. private could result in seismic — yet needed — changes to turn around NASCAR’s fortunes.
NASHVILLE SOUNDS: Innovation and success around the NFL draft accelerated this April — and so did the host city’s profile as a sports power player. Drawing crowds of more than 600,000 over three days, downtown Nashville was part football festival and part entertainment showcase, and it looked amazing on television. Future host cities will try to top Nashville’s performance, which will only enhance the profile and prestige of the event.
RAPTORS PUSH THE NBA BRAND IN CANADA: The NBA’s business in Canada will never be the same after the Toronto Raptors’ smashing spring and first title. The Raptors and the NBA are “it” for a young and diverse generation of Canadian sports fans.
A HISTORIC HIRE: Kevin Warren replacing outgoing Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany was surprising and historic. Surprising because Warren’s name never publicly surfaced, and his aspirations didn’t seem to be in collegiate sports; historic in that Warren continues as a trailblazer in becoming the first African American commissioner of a power five conference.
APRIL IN AUGUSTA: This is more about redemption and social impact than business, but Tiger Woods’ dramatic win at the Masters will be talked about for generations. I couldn’t believe how many people I heard from on that Sunday who don’t have any interest in sports. No other event captured the imagination and share of voice than Woods’ redemptive run.
MLB GOES TO LONDON: This is one I wish I had seen in person, as MLB finally staked some ground in the U.K. with two very well-executed games between the Red Sox and Yankees. While the games weren’t a clinic, seeing the boisterous crowds of nearly 60,000 per game, the events around London and extensive media coverage gave MLB something to build on.
WELTS STAYS BY THE BAY: The Golden State Warriors announced contract extensions for COO Rick Welts and GM Bob Myers, two leaders pivotal to the team’s massive success. Some sources wondered if the extraordinarily popular and effective Welts would depart after the opening of the Chase Center this fall: Would the 66-year-old have one more run or contemplate dialing it back? But in talking to Welts, you hear the joy for what they are building in the Bay Area — a job he obviously feels isn’t complete.
CAN SINCLAIR GET ACROSS THE FINISH LINE? Will Sinclair’s deal to buy more than 20 regional sports networks from Disney lead to any changes in how fans can watch their teams? That’s the biggest question I have about the deal, which still needs Department of Justice approval. This has been the biggest sports media story of the year and could be a bellwether for bigger changes coming to the national networks. I am expecting business as usual for the RSNs for the foreseeable future, but there have to be some changes.
OTHERS OF NOTE: The overwhelming market response and great business story around the St. Louis Blues winning the Stanley Cup....The troubling behavior toward NBA players from courtside fans, which could escalate and get ugly. … The efforts of the Miami Dolphins and Endeavor in remaking the Miami Open. Tennis at Hard Rock Stadium was creative and by all measures, a stunning success. … Paul and Mike Rabil’s personal passion play around the Premier Lacrosse League. … The growing number of women on NBA coaching staffs and in front offices.
First Look podcast, with a deeper discussion of these stories, at the 21:49 mark:
Abraham Madkour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.