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Volume 23 No. 18
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Forum: Other stories are rising up amid health crisis

Here are five stories — or themes — that may be associated with COVID-19’s impact on sports business, but aren’t directly related to the pandemic, that have caught my eye.

THE DIN AROUND ENDEAVOR: Everybody is asking what’s going on at this agency, and understandably so. Endeavor and its affiliated companies have high brand recognition, its leaders are charismatic and brash, and the agency touches virtually every area of the sports business. But the headlines haven’t been kind of late: downgraded credit status from B to CCC+ with negative outlook, and concerns over debt level; staff cuts and salary rollbacks; losing its CEO of Endeavor China; and securing new funding while dismissing speculation that it would be forced to sell off assets. Stories on this agency are consistently among the most read in our publications, and while there are plenty of questions about what Endeavor looks like post-pandemic, I don’t know many betting against Ari Emanuel and his leadership team.

THE BUSINESS AROUND NAME, IMAGE AND LIKENESS: Ever since the NCAA released guidelines granting college athletes their name, image and likeness rights, it’s been one of the most hotly discussed topics among those trying to find their place in the NIL marketplace. I’ve heard from several sources looking to create a business around this space — from advising schools, institutions, brands, and athletes, to assisting on compliance, training or commercial opportunities. Most of all, they are curious about the system and how it will work. There will likely be an independent structure where athletes and agents will register and submit their endorsement activity, and everything will be monitored. This is the responsibility of the athlete and their agent. The NCAA, conferences and schools are not expected to play a role in the compensation model, but they will have a place in educating the athletes about their NIL rights. That’s where a third party could be a resource for both schools and athletes. Outside parties could consult and conceivably run the clearinghouse, but it won’t be the domain of the NCAA, conferences or the institutions. Bottom line: There’s money to be made by a number of constituencies. 

THE LEGACY OF “THE LAST DANCE”: Expect more production companies and content creators to be pushing for scripted and unscripted sports-based programming after “The Last Dance.” The reasons are clear: It rated well, was a pop culture hit and demonstrated effective storytelling. Look at what “The Last Dance” did for the NBA, the Bulls and the Michael Jordan brand. If you’re a league commissioner, you are begging for stories like this in the marketplace, and while few match the appeal of MJ, there are other compelling ones out there. Leagues will also see the benefit of making programming widely available, not just on their own platforms. Just a week after “The Last Dance,” ESPN and Tom Brady announced plans for a nine-part series on the legendary quarterback, and the early buzz around “Long Gone Summer,” ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary on the 1998 Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase, is very positive. There are questions: Is there quality, behind-the-ropes archival footage available? Will it appeal to casual fans? We’re going to see a run of pitches and pilots, and that’s a good thing.

THE PODCAST PUSH: There was Penn Gaming purchasing a stake in Barstool Sports, which was largely tied to its valuable podcast library; there was Spotify’s purchase of The Ringer and its interest in what Bill Simmons successfully built around audio; and Amazon is reportedly interested in developing localized sports audio content. Even within our office, our podcast numbers have seen a significant increase in downloads. The issues of discovery and monetization are real, but there are efforts to centralize and aggregate podcasts of various topics under strong brands to make it easier for consumers and advertisers. Podcasts around strong brands and authoritative voices remains a growth stock.

THE REACH OF RAIDER NATION: We’ve written before about what a big hit the Raiders should be in Las Vegas, with so many elements aligned. I was told in early 2019 that sales were exceeding expectations, and that didn’t surprise me. How about doubling expectations? Early on, the team projected PSL sales of around $250 million and as of this month, they were at $550 million at Allegiant Stadium — and growing. The team and its sales agency, Legends, have crushed it, with about 60% of PSL buyers from Nevada and 40% from outside the state. Think of how the revenue fortunes of this organization have changed — the Raiders were consistently among the bottom two teams in the NFL in total revenue. Now they should jump into the top 10 and become a more important and respected franchise. And for the NFL, it’s one less team struggling to keep up with the deep pockets and ambition of the power players.

First Look podcast, with what Abe's watching this week, at the 20:13 mark:

Abraham Madkour can be reached at