Another Intersport Brand Engagement & Content Summit is in the books. Our eighth iteration of the event wrapped up on Thursday, so we want to thank all of you who made it out to Chicago for another great event. Also a big thanks for our speakers, panelists and sponsors.
Day 2 on Thursday began with our first live "Deep Dish" morning show, where Intersport's Charlie Besser and Brian Graybill joined SBJ's Abe Madkour and Terry Lefton to chat for 30 minutes about the state of sports business, sponsorship and marketing (check it out here if you missed the live version).
The panel discussed Heineken USA CMO Jonnie Cahill's remarks to open the conference on Wednesday, where he impressed upon the execs in the audience to not focus so much on impressions. Lefton said of his takeaway from Cahill: "The focus on metrics and analytics has pushed it. I think ideally, it's a blend of black magic and science. And we're still trying to find the equilibrium. And with the advent of the analytics guys, we're sort of being pushed and we're finding somewhere in the middle." Besser believes analytics can "become a crutch and it can be a reason to not do things." Besser: "Trying to create joy, that's the fun stuff and that's where the art meets science and that is what separates the great marketers from the pretenders."
A panel on Wednesday looked at the success of the Browns and the Bud Light Fridge this past season, and Graybill during "Deep Dish" said of the effort from A-B InBev, "It was fun, because obviously it leveraged their partnerships and their IP with the NFL and the Browns, which is important. Not every brand -- despite having the use of the marks or the access to the marks -- does a particularly good job of developing them. But it was a great idea and something that would never pencil out theoretically on paper." Besser said of the industry becoming too stat-focused: "That would clearly be no fun."
Lefton said he is watching CBD/pot and jersey patches. He said of the growing CBD sponsorship category: "There are deals with people like Martha Stewart. Is that mainstream enough for you? Three PGA [Tour] golfers, three cars in the Indy 500." Besser added, "We have unleashed our sales force to make sure that they're talking to all of the CBD manufacturers." Besser also noted he's watching compensation for college athletes. Graybill is still watching the rollout of sports betting and how legislatures continue to move on the issue.
MAKING A DENT
The first panel discussion on Thursday revolved around tips for driving brand value through authentic and engaging experiences (i.e. breaking through the noise). NASCAR's Tim Clark discussed how his sanctioning body is moving away from one title sponsor to a multi-sponsor approach at the premier level. Clark: "I don't want you to have to go make a phone call to a broadcast partner and then make a phone call to the track and then make a phone call to the brand department and the partnership marketing department or the team. ... Our new sponsor model is designed to attack that."
Allstate has been using ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit as an endorser, and the brand's Dan Keats said while having the longtime college football analyst deliver content is great, "how do we get him doing more things showing off his expertise?"
One of the better moments from Day 2 came during a discussion with around Sleep Number's partnership with the Vikings. At the end of the session, the NFL's official sleep and wellness partner surprised attendees announcing it would be giving away one of their beds, and did so by putting a sleep number tag under a chair. The big winner? Blue Jackets Partnership Activation Specialist Victoria King, who was kind enough to share her excitement on Twitter. Congrats Victoria!
We've been keeping an eye out on the #SBJEngage during the last few days. Some of our favorite Twitter engagements:
USA Swimming's Kara Raney brought up the moment from Tuesday night's Royals-White Sox game, where the first pitch went a little awry and hit a cameraman standing near the mound (most attendees were likely listening to owner Jerry Reinsdorf give a great talk on baseball and leadership). But Raney tweeted, "Oh the irony of being at this game to kick off the #SBJEngage conference (aka 48 hours of talking about engaging social/marketing content." Needless to say, Raney was right on the money, as the clip of the wild pitch has gone viral and is now NBC Sports Chicago's most-watched clip ever.
Opendorse's Sam Weber was a fan of Jonnie Cahill from Heineken USA and the message he delivered on Day 1. Weber tweeted: "Think first. Count second. Great brand lessons." POV Sports Marketing's Molly Arbogast was also a fan of Cahill's remarks, tweeting, "Impressions are good, but driving connection and joy moves the brand forward. Well said."
Big brands, big properties and big plans highlighted Day 1 at the eighth annual Intersport Brand Engagement & Content Summit in Chicago. Attendees heard messages from some of the top brands in the business, such as Heineken, Adidas, BMO Financial, AT&T, Verizon, Mastercard, Quicken Loans, Mondelez, Biofreeze, A-B InBev and Toyota. Big-time properties like the NBA, Falcons and Browns and media entities like ESPN and Twitter also delivered key insights for attendees on Day 1, which closed out with Baron Davis giving everyone a look into how an athlete pivots from All-Star basketball player to multifaceted content producer.
SETTING THE PACE
Heineken USA CMO Jonnie Cahill delivered a strong, upbeat keynote address to start the day. After being introduced by Intersport President Brian Graybill, Cahill gave a great presentation about reaching consumers -- complete with well-timed jokes about his own Irish heritage and 5’4” stature. Beyond having the audience in stitches, Cahill had great insight: “As brand owners, we have been losing our way, if we’re honest. We have to change how we do things. Too many people lament the loss of the good old days, but we are in an amazing moment in this business. We can target people like never before and we can measure everything.”
MOVE THE BALL FORWARD
One of the panels on Day 1 that delivered some stronger opinions involved a discussion on women breaking barriers in sports. On the stage were Twitter’s Laura Froelich, ESPN/NBC soccer analyst Kate Markgraf and Pac-12 Networks/NBCSN anchor Kate Scott. The three women had a good back-and-forth on the history and habits of watching women’s sports. The trio had great energy and made strong cases advocating for the changing of the consumption habits of women’s sports.
One number that stood out: 4%. That’s the percentage of sports coverage dedicated to women, according to Adidas research. Froelich called that number “unacceptable.” Markgraf added that expanding coverage of women’s sports allows athletes to be less aggressive and more selective in building their own brand.
Mastercard’s Emily Neenan and Riot Games’ Naz Aletaha spoke about the long process the two sides had to go through to strike a deal -- like two years from the first meeting to get pen to paper on a pact. The duo walked the crowd through the process and what took so long. It was a new space for Mastercard, and the brand took its time to make sure it was partnering up with the right group in the emerging esports space.
Aletaha: “The whole objective is to tap into the passions of their consumers and elevate their experiences and that's actually what we strive to do day in and day out for our fans. So, the alignment was there and the rest is history now. ... Getting a global deal done at two big companies comes with its nuance and you're getting a lot of buy-in and a lot of alignment across many different teams and different folks.” Neenan: “I was asked to present this to our board, which is unheard of. We're not presenting (UEFA) Champions League or Australian Open or some of these other global properties that are wonderful partners. But this was something that we knew was quite literally, pun intended here, a game changer.”
Some of the other key sessions from Day 1:
Verizon’s Andrew McKechnie and McCann’s Dan Donovan walking people through the process on how a Super Bowl spot around first responders got done.
Execs from BMO, the NBA and AT&T talking about Drake’s impact on the NBA Playoffs right now.
A look at how Kevin Durant is changing the game and showing his own vulnerabilities on “The Boardroom” on ESPN+.
A crowdsourcing session where attendees shared ideas and networked, with session questions discussed later in the day along with key takeaways.
The Browns and A-B InBev looking back at the success of the Bud Light Fridge.
Biofreeze explaining how it reaches the hard-to-reach young, active demo
MVPindex, Toyota and the Falcons chatting about upping their game around social media content
BARON DAVIS WRAPS THINGS UP
Baron Davis was the final Q&A to end Day 1, and he provided some levity to close out yesterday's discussions. Davis retired in 2015 but had long been working on what would come during his post-NBA days. That started early in his career, when he interned in the summers for his agents at the time -- Arn Tellem and Bob Myers -- in order to learn more about the business. Davis would later take on cameo roles in Hollywood and hang around the sets to get better acquainted with the production side of the business. Flash forward to 2019 and he now has his own production company. He also got a healthy chunk of change by being an early investor in Vitaminwater.
Davis’ tales of playing for some of the NBA’s less-than-stellar ownership groups drew laughs from the audience. He said of playing for the Hornets (under George Shinn), Warriors (Chris Cohan), Clippers (Donald Sterling) and Knicks (James Dolan), “I probably played for the worst NBA owners in sports team history. Every time I went somewhere, they’d say, ‘Hey, you know you play for the worst owner?’ and then I’d get traded, and they’d say, ‘Hey, you got traded to the worst owner.’”
Some of the top lines from Day 1:
Heineken’s Cahill on the approach he has with his team, “The golden rule with the partners we work with is very, very simple -- crap in, crap out. And if the brief isn't right, send it back, because I promise you one thing happens -- your clients admire you more.”
Mastercard’s Neenan on a deal with Riot Games, “They are clearly industry leaders. They've been around forever. They know what they're doing. When we talked to others, it was evident that they also had been very thoughtful in how they were going to bring brands on board. And I said I would not say this word, but I'm going to use it once, in an 'authentic' manner.”
Markgraf on athletes controlling their brands now, “They're controlling their access points, whereas before, we had to create all the content. Now they can just be the content, and they don't have to be anything but themselves. There's a liberty there, but it also improves performance, which is a cyclical effect.”
Davis on which former players he used as role models, “Jamal Mashburn, guys like that. I'm really into the athletes that are actually building things and doing it themselves and actually building their teams themselves. Mashburn, he was one of my better players, so I learned a lot from him. Also Junior Bridgeman. He's just the ultimate success story."
About 75 VIP guests of Intersport took in Chicago’s first fireworks show of the year last night aboard the Anita Dee Yacht. Guests left the hotel around 6:45pm CT and boarded the private yacht at DuSable Harbor. They were then treated to a tour along Lake Michigan and a river architectural tour while enjoying drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres, that included short rib, mozzarella and basil sandwiches, fish tacos, crab cakes and a dessert bar. Many of the Chicago residents, including Intersport Founder Charlie Besser and his colleagues, served as tour guides pointing out the city’s historic sites to the out-of-towners. The weather held up, and there was a beautiful sunset, capped off by a 20-minute fireworks show overlooking Lake Michigan.
TALKIN’ ABOUT PRACTICE
Following the end of Day 1, around 150 conference attendees hopped on trolley buses for a night at the Blackhawks’ practice facility. The 125,000-square-foot venue that opened in late 2017 has two regulation-sized NHL rinks and is heavily used by the community (a pickup game was taking place during the reception). Attendees got facility tours at Fifth Third Arena, including a look at the locker room that is a replica of the one at United Center. Even the Blackhawks’ logo in the center of the practice locker room gets treated with the same reverence. Team employees noted that when the lights go out, the one above the logo stays lit so the logo can remain visible and nobody walks across it. The logo light even has its own backup generator.
With Stanley Cup Final Game 2 on in the background, attendees dined in the weight room with a menu consisting of chicken and jack cheese quesadillas, mini cheeseburgers, caprese flatbread, spinach and mushroom quesadillas, beef wellington, mini cheesesteaks, chili-garlic shrimp satay and vegetarian spring rolls.
DRIVING THE DAY
Here are the top sessions for today that will wrap up this year’s summit:
A look at the new NHL documentary on Willie O’Ree -- including a talk with the Hall of Famer.
Puma and Cloud9 discussing their esports deal.
How Sleep Number is making NFL inroads with teams like the Vikings.
An examination of how real estate development around sports venues can help with fan and brand engagement, featuring the Cubs’ Crane Kenney and Hickory Street Capital’s Eric Nordness.
A walk-off win for the home team is a great way to end any game at the ballpark, but that’s how the 2019 Intersport Brand Engagement & Content Summit began last night at Guaranteed RateField in Chicago. Shortly after arriving at the ballpark on the eve of the conference, attendees saw White Sox 2B Yolmer Sanchez single in the winning run past five infielders (the White Sox and Royals were finishing a game delayed from the night before). It certainly put White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf in a good mood as he addressed attendees in a Q&A with SBJ Publisher & Executive Editor Abe Madkour in between games.
REINSDORF TALKS CHISOX, MLB, LEADERSHIP
On what he was thinking in the bottom of the ninth of the game that just ended: “I was trying to figure out -- with the bases loaded and nobody out -- how we could screw it up.”
On the state of his club: “It’s a process we’ve been going through. We decided a few years ago that we didn’t like being in the middle. We didn’t like being mediocre. And the only way to get good was to get bad.”
On the length of MLB games: “I don’t think people care about how long the game is as long as it’s an exciting game. If it’s a 2-1 game that takes three and a half hours, then there’s something wrong. Now if it’s a 10-9 game and takes three and a half hours, it’s exciting.”
On players showing personality, “I love it. That’s why the NBA is so popular. The players have personality and they show it. And people like it. There’s no reason why baseball players shouldn’t be able to. ... You don’t want to be an idiot about it. Short of acting like a fool, I’m all for players showing enthusiasm.”
On what his role is as CEO, “To do as little as possible. That’s a serious answer. It’s not intended to be funny. The job of any good CEO, whether it be a sports team or IBM or General Motors, is limited to several things: long-range planning, public relations and hiring the right people to do the various jobs and making sure they talk to each other.”
On those working in sports business being fortunate, “I think about that a lot. I was a lawyer in an earlier life, and then a businessman in the real estate business. I liked what I was doing in those days. But think about coming to a ballpark every single day and how good that is and being in a business where you’re interacting with athletes that people are dying to get near -- we’re very lucky.”
On dealing with the media, “I’ve learned to not dislike it.”
Following Reinsdorf’s remarks, attendees in the Terrace Suite along left field took in the second Royals-White Sox game and munched on all-beef hot dogs, barbecue pulled chicken, three-cheese mac cavatappi pasta, soft pretzels with beer cheese, a Southside nacho bar, cole slaw, Italian chopped salad, grilled Caprese squares and some specialty desserts via Levy Restaurants. There was also a sampling with team partner Goose Island Beer Co. (definitely try the Chicago-based brewer’s Next Coast IPA if that’s your jam). White Sox ambassador and 1983 AL Rookie of the Year Ron Kittle also stopped by the suite. Asked about the toughest pitcher he had to face, Kittle immediately went to Bret Saberhagen. KIttle also reminisced with SBJ's Jim Sullivan about a game at Fenway Park when Bruce Hurst took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The night also ended well for the ChiSox, as they rallied from a 3-0 hole in the first inning for a 4-3 win to take the doubleheader on the South Side.
DRIVING THE DAY
After attendees arrive and grab some breakfast -- including Irish steel cut oatmeal, scrambled all-natural eggs, hickory-smoked bacon, chicken apple sausage and cheesy hash-brown casserole -- there are some of the hot sessions lined up for the morning of Day 1 at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown:
A keynote address from Heineken USA CMO Jonnie Cahill
Execs from the NBA, Adidas, BMO Financial and AT&T talk what’s resonating with fans
ESPN’s Connor Schell and Jay Williams join Kevin Durant’s business partner, Rich Kleiman, to talk about the NBA superstar’s Thirty Five Ventures and his new ESPN+ show, “The Boardroom.”
In the afternoon…
A panel on the success of the Bud Light Fridge around the Browns
Intersport’s Charlie Besser interviews Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner
Biofreeze CMO Michael McGoohan talks reaching young, active consumers
Mondelez exec Jackie Mrozinski discusses ROI in esports
A chat with Baron Davis on the NBA and film business
SIGHTS & SOUNDS
Is that an F1 car parked out front of the Renaissance Chicago Downtown? Why yes it is. The car sitting outside the front entrance to the hotel is meant to bring attention to the F1 festival at Soldier Field on June 8.
If you’re in the room today, use conference hashtag #SBJEngage
Tonight’s group activity: networking at the Blackhawks’ practice facility, Fifth Third Arena. Not a bad place to catch some of Game 2 in the Blues-Bruins Stanley Cup Final.
The hardware and accolades were spread around at the 12th annual Sports Business Awards last night, as the industry came together for a big night. The evening was rocking early as the biggest names in the business gathered. Amy Campbell was an amazing host for the red carpet, interviewing many of sports business' top players -- which also went out on our live feed! When the night turned to trophies, guests saw new industry faces, stalwarts and pioneers take to the stage. Soccer took home a few wins -- including MLS' Don Garber for top executive and AtlantaUnited for best team. The MLS club also saw its home venue -- Mercedes-Benz Stadium -- win the award for top facility. The NBA also kept up its run of success at the event, taking home league of the year for the fourth time. It was also a night for new tech -- with ESPN+ and the Clippers/Second Spectrum's CourtVision winning awards. While MGM Resorts Int'l took home the award in the breakthrough category, it was a breakthrough night for Wasserman, which won its first SBA in corporate consulting. All in all, it was a great night for the industry. Even those without a trophy seemed happy at the end of the night. Octagon's David Schwab called the event "first class."
WINNERS AT 2019 SPORTS BUSINESS AWARDS
Mobile Fan Experience
U.S. Open tennis
Mitch Barnhart (Kentucky)
MGM Resorts Int'l
Don Garber (MLS)
In accepting the award for executive of the year, Garber took time to praise his former boss while at the NFL, Paul Tagliabue. “He was my model,” said Garber, who spent 16 years at the NFL before taking over MLS in 1999. “Over the past 20 years, many times I have asked myself, ‘What would Paul do?’” Even Tagliabue would have to be impressed by what Garber has done. MLS highlights over the past year included the successful launch of LAFC, expansion plans for Austin, helping save soccer in Columbus and record crowds in Atlanta. Garber: "'When will soccer in America make it?' We hear that all the the time. When I see what’s going on tonight, ... that question has been answered; soccer has made it in our country.” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered another strong message as well when accepting for top league. During his acceptance speech a year ago, he urged those in attendance, “Don’t stick to sports,” and he sounded a similar call to action from the podium this year. “Through sports we have the ability to bring people together, increasingly people on a global basis together to frankly do what governments in many cases are no longer willing or able to do,” he said. Zach Leonsis of the Wizards and Monumental Sports Network was in the crowd and also gave a Twitter shoutout to the NBA for its win.
Is there such a thing as being too kind? During his speech accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award, longtime PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem went to great lengths to heap praise on his predecessor, Deane Beman, as well his successor, Jay Monahan. While many may have wanted Finchem to have more time in the spotlight on stage, it's just not his style. As was noted this week in SBJ, it took a while to convince Finchem to even accept the honor. When SBJ's Abe Madkour and John Lombardo visited with him at PGA Tour HQ, Finchem spent much of the speech focused on others like Beman, Monahan, Tiger Woods, Hale Irwin and Davis Love III. When Finchem did focus on his tenure, he talked about the importance of the First Tee program, and called on all leagues to go to where the youth are in an effort to grow their game -- which drew wide applause.
LOUD & PROUD
Perhaps the loudest table celebration of the night went to the USTA, which picked up the win for event of the year (U.S. Open). The group went nuts when the award was announced. Once on stage, Gordon Smith, who is set to retire this year, called the win "shocking" and admitted he did not have an acceptance speech prepared for the category. More than a dozen people from the USTA crowded into a small room to celebrate just moments after the win. It was one of the biggest groups of the night, with a photographer struggling to fit them all in a picture. The USTA's Kirsten Corio also tweeted, "Yes!!!!!!! The @usopen IS the BEST!!" But the USTA wasn't alone in having a big contingent on stage, as the NBA and ESPN also had a healthy presence for their respective wins.
Our recipient of the Celebration of Service Award gave a poignant talk on empowering young women through sports. PowerPlay NYC advances the lives of inner-city girls through a year-round program and fills a need, especially for girls of color living in poverty. Founder Ellen Markowitz called receiving the honor "surreal." She added of the 20-year-old organization: "What we’re trying to do is develop leaders and it’s hard work. So, to receive this kind of recognition really means a lot." Markowitz also implored the crowd, many of them local like her organization, to donate to the cause. “You can text GirlPower, one word, to 243725. And, mental math, there are about a thousand of you, $25 each ... we can do this!”
Mitch Barnhart received the honor for AD of the Year, and the longtime Kentucky administrator has put in his dues. He's now the second-longest-tenured AD in the Power Five, behind only Oklahoma's Joe Castiglione and tied with UCLA's Dan Guerrero (just under 17 years for both men). Praise for Barnhart poured in on social media when the news broke. Florida AD ScottStricklin tweeted, "Mitch is a dear friend and mentor. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had in college athletics if not for @UKMitchBarnhart. Thanks for being the man and servant you are, Mitch. This is such a well-deserved honor." UK Deputy AD DeWayne Peevy said of his boss and mentor, "Well-deserved honor." UK President Eli Capiloutotweeted of Barnhart's tenure as AD, "We have reached unprecedented levels of academic and competitive accomplishment. This award recognizes his deep and compelling commitment to students and to the academic mission of the institution." The Athletic's Kyle Tuckertweeted, "Barnhart has become one of the most respected ADs in America. Big honor here." Barnhart even took to Twitter during the event to thank people: "Truly a testament to the incredible work our student-athletes, coaches and staff have done to build a program to make the #BBN and the Commonwealth proud."
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
We knew that having Gritty at the event last night was a wild card, and the Flyers' mascot didn't disappoint. The winner for Best in Social Media walked the red carpet and posed with attendees -- wearing a suit of course. During the ceremony, the mascot sprayed confetti when its nomination was announced. Prodigy Sports' Mark Gress Jr. also proved to be prescient, asking on Twitter before the night started whether a host, presenter or award recipient would reference "Game of Thrones" at the event. Gritty easily checked that box when accepting the award.
AN INDUSTRY GATHERS
Anyone and everyone was gathered at the Marriott Marquis last night. Many attendees showed up early to pregame the event and mingle with colleagues and acquaintances from the business. Among those on the 8th floor early were Atlanta United's Darren Eales, Turnkey's Len Perna and Genesco's Bill Hudock. Scout Sports & Entertainment's Michael Neuman and GEICO's Melissa Halicy were also gathered early. Once the doors opened, attendees posed for photos and interviews on the red carpet, including the likes of Oliver Luck (XFL), Russell Silvers (AEG), Tim Pernetti (Endeavor), Peter Laatz (Engine Shop), Ray Anderson (Arizona State), Molly Mazzolini (Infinite Scale), Jimmy Pitaro (ESPN), Gary Stevenson (MLS), Greg Walter (Charlotte Motor Speedway), David Mingey (LA2028), Alan Gold (Evolution Media Capital), Hannah Storm, (ESPN), Rob DeAngelis (CAA Sports), Peter Feigin (Bucks), Ben Sutton (Teall Capital) and David Berson (CBS) -- who was honored earlier in the day by the UJA Federation of New York.
NEWS & NOTES
CBS' Tracy Wolfson did a fantastic job as emcee steering the awards, which went for around two hours. She joked early about breaking the glass ceiling for women hosting the SBAs, which drew a big applause. She then quickly followed up with the punchline about being only the second host we've had (MikeTirico emceed last year).
Not surprising, but some of the biggest responses on Twitter for a winner last night was for, well, Twitter, which won in mobile fan experience. Twitter Sports' TJ Adeshola, who accepted the award on stage and compared his platform to the world's largest sports bar, wrote on Twitter, "WE WON!!! To say I’m humbled would be an understatement. I have the luxury of working with the best team in all of sports: @TwitterSports. Not to mention, the absolute pleasure of working with THE best partners in all of sports. Thank YOU all." Former NBA player and current G League Capital City Go-Go GM Pops Mensah-Bonsutweeted about Adeshola, "Congrats to my brother @TJay on his award ... Keep doing your thing bro." Twitter's Laura Froelich also wrote, "I’m so grateful for this award. Thank you SBJ, our incredible @TwitterSports team of whom I’m beyond proud, and our partners, without whom there’s no way we win this."
Minor League Baseball was in on the action last night, as the organization was up for breakthrough. Upon seeing their GM, Allan Benavides, walk the red carpet, the Single-A Eugene Emeralds tweeted, "Looking sharp, @AllanEmsGM."
The sports industry's best talent will gather tonight at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square for the 12th annual Sports Business Awards, presented by Sports Business Journal. We'll be celebrating and recognizing the leaders, visionaries and day-to-day practitioners who personify excellence in the business. A crowd of nearly 850 is expected for the signature event. Get your refresher on the 86 nominees in 17 competitive categories.
Head to the 8th floor for tonight's pre-event reception, which starts at 5:30pm ET. Follow the signs, check in, stroll down the red carpet. Hors d'oeurves and bartenders will be going strong until 7:00pm, when dinner gets started down on the 6th floor. The awards program is set to start at 7:50pm.
To keep up with the winners tonight, follow @SBJSBD and the hashtag #SBJawards on Twitter. Also keep an eye out for breaking news emails for subscribers listing tonight's winners. Read SBD tomorrow and next week's SBJ for complete coverage of the awards.
FACES IN THE CROWD
The Master of Ceremonies for the evening is Tracy Wolfson of CBS Sports. We're thrilled to have a pro like Tracy hosting. She'll set a great tone for the night. Leading up to the event, we've got SI Now host and Eagles team reporter Amy Campbell as our red carpet host. She'll be grabbing quick interviews with guests. ESPN’s Hannah Storm and NFL Network’s Kay Adams will also serve as presenters during the evening.
Want high-profile names making their way to festivities?
Phil de Picciotto
HONORING A GOLF POWERHOUSE
It took a long time to convince Tim Finchem to accept our honor for Lifetime Achievement, and we're ecstatic the longtime PGA Tour commissioner will be on hand tonight to accept the award. Finchem has always been well known for his dogged preparation, and we expect to see some of those moot court speech skills he honed at UVA law school to come out tonight during his speech. He will be introduced by Jay Monahan, the man who succeeded Finchem at the helm of the PGA Tour. Read John Lombardo's profile of Finchem from SBJ this week, which includes a look at how he used his power and influence to expand the game of golf.
TAKING THE STAGE
Here are some of the presenters for this year's awards:
MGM Resorts' Lance Evans (Digital)
Turnkey's Len Perna (Event Marketing)
Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority's Lisa Motley (Event)
iX.co's David Nugent (Talent Representation)
Teall Capital's Ben Sutton (Athletic Director)
NBC Sports' Pete Bevacqua (Breakthrough)
Fox Sports' Mark Silverman (Property Consulting, Sales & Client Services)
LA84 Foundation's Renata Simril (Sponsor)
Mobilitie's Christos Karmis (Facility)
Players' Tribune's Jaymee Messler (Team)
LA2028's David Mingey (Corporate Consulting, Marketing & Client Services)
XFL's Oliver Luck (Media)
A SALUTE TO SERVICE
This is the third year we'll be honoring a group with our Celebration Service Award, with the Homeless World Cup and PeacePlayers taking the first awards, respectively. Tonight, the recipient will be PowerPlay NYC, which has advanced the lives of girls ages 8-18 through a year-round offering of youth programs. PowerPlay NYC will be represented on stage by Rutgers women's basketball coach Vivian Stringer. If you're unfamiliar with PowerPlay, read about them in this week's SBJ.
After the reception, attendees can expect a menu for dinner that includes options like pan seared chicken breast, roasted oyster mushrooms, bean medley, butter mashed potato and rosemary chicken jus. Dessert options included cheesecake, white velvet chocolate mousse with strawberry/mint gelee and meringue hive.
SEEN & HEARD
Leaders Group, the new operating company that includes SBJ, Leaders, Newzoo and Esports Observer, held an private dinner for more than 45 execs at Del Frisco’s in midtown Manhattan last night. SBJ/SBD Publisher & Executive Editor Abe Madkour and Leaders CEO Jimmy Worrall welcomed the group and talked about the importance of Leaders Week in New York, with Leaders hosting its flagship conference over four days and SBJ hosting the Sports Business Awards tonight. They also introduced new Leaders Group Chair Whitney Shaw and CEO Warren Thune, who talked about his vision for Leaders Group going forward.
Attendees included NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Mark Tatum, MLS Deputy Commissioner Gary Stevenson, On Location Experiences CEO John Collins, NBC Sports Group President Pete Bevacqua, CAA Sports co-Head Mike Levine, Delaware North co-CEO Jeremy Jacobs Jr., Atlanta United President Darren Eales, A-B InBev Head of U.S. Sports Marketing Nick Kelly, Nielsen Sports Managing Dir Glenn Lovett, BITKRAFT Esports Ventures Founding Partner Jens Hilgers, iX.co Chief Commercial Officer Dave Nugent, Concacaf CCO HeidiPellerano, Roundhill Investments CEO Will Hershey, Newzoo CEO Peter Warman, CFO Thijs Hagoort and Head of Sports & Media Nick Rend. Attendees chose from a menu that consisted of filet mignon, prime ribeye, prime strip, seared salmon with lobster tomato jus, sesame-seared tuna and pan-roasted natural chicken. Sides were potatoes au gratin and asparagus with roasted pistachios, while dessert included lemon cake and chocolate mousse.
SHOUTOUT TO THE VOLUNTEERS
The SBJ staff tonight will be aided by volunteers from UConn, Penn, Colgate, Springfield College and Penn State. Say hello! These are some bright, young students who may be your boss one day.
In previewing the NBA All-Star Weekend, Hornets Owner Michael Jordan set clear expectations for out-of-town visitors on the game’s locale. “This is a very unique, fun small-town city,” he said, later stressing that Charlotte is a "small city -- not New York, not L.A., not Chicago. But you can still do a lot of things and meet great people.” That proved to be prophetic, because while we are biased living and working in Charlotte, Jordan’s sentiments echoed what we heard from a lot of visitors this weekend. The city provided a small, compact event with great hospitality. Sure, we wish the weather was better -- and certainly warmer. Yes, some were looking for more things to do. But Charlotte offers a tight footprint that is easily walkable, with solid restaurant options and lively party venues. Overall, the city showed well. The hometown Charlotte Observer writes the city “did itself proud,” while ESPN "SportsCenter" anchor Randy Scott on Monday morning noted Charlotte "put on a great show" and the vibe at Spectrum Center was "strong." Local WCNC-NBC anchor Fred Shropshire said All-Star was a "lively" event, while WCNC's Rachel Lundberg said it was the city's "hottest weekend."
THE WEEKEND OF MJ: In typical Jordan style, the host owner was incredibly selective about his public appearances. The Washington Post writes Jordan was "nearly invisible at the league’s annual showcase” and had a “light private schedule.” We bet Jordan and his exec team would differ on that take, as the HOFer was the hit of the NBA Tech Summit, threw one of the most talked about parties of the weekend, was at the NBA’s announcement of its new Basketball Africa League and made a surprise appearance -- his first -- at the NBA Legends Brunch. NBA All-Star Weekend is always a celebration of the game and its stars over the years, and no legend had more buzz around him than Jordan.
STARS COME OUT: Sunday's All-Star Game followed the traditional script -- lots of offense and alley oops with soft defense as Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 178-164. But make no mistake, the NBA had no shortage of star power at this game. Among those sitting courtside for the game on Sunday night -- 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Quavo, Chris Tucker, Spike Lee, Guy Fieri, JB Smoove, Steve Stoute, David Tepper, Robert Kraft, Michael Rubin, Bill Russell, Julius Erving, David Robinson, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, Fat Joe, and J Cole. Also spotted a few rows off the floor were Dabo Swinney, Tony Dungy and John King.
ELECTRONIC COMPONENTS: The Tech Summit, held Friday, could be the toughest ticket of All-Star weekend. Seriously. Talk to any league exec and they will say how they are asked more about Tech Summit passes than game tickets. The event ran from 8:30am-1:45pm and packed a ballroom on the second floor of the Westin hotel. After a compelling opening by Commissioner Adam Silver on the fan experience and customizable jersey of the future, the day was filled with a mix of panels and one-on-ones. While presenting the customizable jersey, Silver joked, "We may put (Fanatics Chair) Michael Rubin out of business." Much of the discussion focused on the future, such as the impact of sports betting, personalization, athletes as storytellers and converting Gen Z to sports fans. Yet, as much as people are there to network and hear about the future, it was a figure from the past that kept people's attention, as a standing-room-only crowd packed the convention hall to hear Jordan’s one-on-one with Michael Wilbon. We can’t remember such a packed room for the Tech Summit, or the number of people taking photos. Jordan touched on the game today, his ownership of the Hornets, and, of course, the legacy of the first Dream Team. Meanwhile, an interview between AT&T's Randall Stephenson and Recode’s Peter Kafka generated great buzz. Stephenson talked about the promise of 5G and how it could impact sports. And not to be overlooked was a lively owners panel on the future of sports betting that included playful -- we think -- jabbing between the Kings' Vivek Ranadive and Mavs' Mark Cuban, as well as the Cavs' Dan Gilbert and Wizards' Ted Leonsis. An unexpected highlight -- every cappuccino came with an NBA logo on top of the foam.
WAKE-UP CALL: Saturday morning’s NBA Newsmaker Breakfast was held before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 700 people at the Westin was widely regarded as the most compelling discussion of the weekend. The conversation focused on leadership and America’s role in the world, and featured former CIA Dir John Brennan, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The session was moderated by CBS' Gayle King, who had fun introducing the panel, calling Dempsey the “most decorated Knicks fan” after Spike Lee; Rice acknowledged she loved to dance to hip hop and Led Zeppelin, while Haley talked about the challenge of being an intense basketball mom and Brennan talked about how President Obama called him “jumping John” because he could dunk a basketball despite being only 6'1". But after the playful intros, it was a serious and thoughtful discussion about the state of America, its role in the world and the Trump administration that at times got tense and received plenty of response (some of it partisan) from an engaged audience.
HOME GAME: SBJ hosted a few events during All-Star weekend. Thursday more than 130 guests treated to a panel discussion on "The Future of the NBA -- A Drive For Innovation." Panelists included the NBA's Amy Brooks, Wizards' Zach Leonsis, MGM Resorts' Scott Butera and ESPN's Burke Magnus. Execs from the Pelicans were nice enough to bring a King Cake from New Orleans. BofA's Marcus Smith found the baby inside the Mardi Gras tradition, hopefully bringing a year of good luck. Later on Thursday, Adam Silver stopped to greet SBJ staff. That night, SBJ hosted a private dinner for around 30 industry execs at Capital Grille. On Friday, SBJ HQ was host to an open house. Among those stopping by were ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro, the 76ers' Hugh Weber, Charlotte Sports Foundation's Danny Morrison, Sports Media Advisors' Doug Perlman, Proskauer's Brad Ruskin, 49ers/Elevate's Al Guido, Good Karma Brands' Craig Karmazin, U.S. Bank's Steve Vogel and Bill Mulvihill, O'Melveny's Irwin Raij, Octagon's Lisa Murray, Turnkey's Haynes Hendrickson, VaynerSports' Justin Giangrande and NFL Jets' Jon Toth.
DANCE MOVES: The Booth Playhouse on Thursday night hosted a sneak peek of scenes from “The Last Dance,” the highly-anticipated 10-part documentary focused on the ’97-98 Bulls that will be released in ’20. The event was put on by the NBA, ESPN, Netflix, Mandalay Sports and Jump23 and emceed by Hannah Storm. She was joined on stage during the event by the film’s director, Jason Hehir (“The Fab Five,” “The ’85 Bears”) and Scottie Pippen. At the end of the event, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos appeared on stage together to talk about the film. ESPN execs/personalities in the crowd included Adrian Wojnarowski, Stephanie Druley, Libby Geist, Cassidy Hubbarth and Adam Schefter (accompanied by his young daughter, Dylan). Also in the crowd: Ted Leonsis, Fred Whitfield, Charles Oakley, JA Adande, Lindsay Czarniak and Mike Tollin.
FINDING TIME: The Legends Brunch was held Sunday afternoon at the Charlotte Convention Center and as usual, drew one of the biggest audiences of the weekend. Jordan's surprise appearance saw him playfully joke about his 56th birthday and about how he still looked better than his contemporaries. He also acknowledged that former college teammate Sam Perkins lobbied him for months to attend the Legends event. Jordan did take a serious tone in addressing the impact of those who played the game before him and how they will never be forgotten.
FIT FOR A QUEEN CITY: One new element to the All-Star event lineup was the intro of the FQ Lounge, which was presented by the Female Quotient, a female-owned business focusing on advancing equality in the workplace. FQ Lounge is a convening place for panel discussions and networking and has been held at such events as the Adobe Summit, Davos and CES. The event at All-Star week was held over three days at a two-floor WeWork space in uptown. Jump DC Senior VP Estee Portnoy worked with the NBA to bring the concept to Charlotte and moderated a panel discussion on “The Female Trailblazers” in front of a standing-room audience on Sunday afternoon. Event sponsors were the Hornets, BofA, AmEx, SAP, Jordan Brand and WeWork.
HIVE MIND: The Hornets hosted guests all weekend at The Key, the team's VIP Lounge located on the top floor of the SpringHill Suites next to Spectrum Center. The lounge featured food stations, two bars well-stocked with products from event sponsors Jack Daniels and Budweiser, an FS Southeast-branded photo station and pool table with Hornets logo emblazoned on the felt. Hornets execs spent time all weekend going back and forth between the arena and the lounge, with team President Fred Whitfield seen heading into the space on Saturday night.
RING BEARER: Warriors President & COO Rick Welts was spotted in Charlotte sporting his Basketball HOF ring, saying it is “really the only one that’s size-appropriate.” However, in a dilemma which can only be described as “first world,” Welts said that while he does not often wear his championship hardware, he actually has seven other rings from which to choose -- four from NBA championships, two WNBA rings and one from the G League.
PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ: The Ritz Carlton near Spectrum Center was the place to be for business meetings and exec and owner sightings. The hotel eventually restricted access to its lobby to only those with credentials. At BLT Steak, adjacent to the Ritz lobby on Saturday afternoon, Dan Gilbert was eating with Translation’s Steve Stoute and AT&T’s Mark Wright. The Bucks' Marc Lasry, coming off a two-rebound effort in 16 minutes of play at the Celebrity Game on Friday night, stopped by their table to chat. Later, Vivek Ranadive strolled in for a late lunch, along with Pat Riley and family. Sitting at the bar was Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace having a quiet lunch, while Dodgers CFO Tucker Kain met up with colleagues. Knicks superfan Spike Lee was eating breakfast solo on Saturday. Also spotted on Saturday at the hotel was Marv Albert and Grant Hill.
VIRTUAL INSANITY: The Intel VR production crew was in full force to capture Turner Sports' All-Star telecasts. For the All-Star events, VR cameras at Spectrum Center were clearly visible from the baseline, hanging from the backboards and along the scorer’s table. There is generally a team of about 10 inside the truck for regular-season games, but during All-Star, that number rose to 15. For All-Star Weekend, Stephanie Ready and Rip Hamilton were not in the production truck. They called the game from inside the arena, but with one caveat -- the two broadcasters were positioned on the opposite side of the court from the main courtside camera that sits on the scorer’s table. See more on the VR effort in Monday's SBD.
PARTY SCENE: There was a vibrant party scene in Charlotte around All-Star week -- too many to get to here. Among those that kicked off the week were CAA Sports’ party for Dwyane Wade at The Fillmore on Thursday night featuring a private dinner for about 200 guests and numerous tributes to the future HOFer from people who played a role throughout his career....The large contingent of NBA execs started swarming Charlotte early in the week. A few in the PR department were spotted at the Cellar at Duckworth’s for dinner in uptown on Wednesday, including Mike Wade, Amanda Thorn George, Chase Kressel, Jacinda Ortiz and Chantal Romain. Also spotted at Duckworth’s that night was the NBA's Amy Brooks with some co-workers from the TMBO staff....On Thursday night, Excel Sports Management had a casual gathering at Crave dessert bar in uptown.
FRIDAY NIGHT FESTIVITIES: There were a number of can’t-miss events, and Michael Jordan’s official bash on Friday night was easily the hardest party ticket of the weekend....Fahrenheit, a bar 21 floors up that offered nighttime views of the Charlotte cityscape, was the site for Optimum Sports' soiree. Among those at the event were Optimum's Dale Song and Jeremy Carey, the Magic's Charlie Freeman, Turner Sports' Michael McLochlin, Getty Images' Carmin Romanelli, The Players' Tribune's Joe Carney and ReKTGlobal's Dave Bialek....Nielsen Media hosted a reception at Essex Bar & Bistro. Among those in attendance were Nielsen Sports' Lyndon Campbell and Jon Stainer, Learfield's Matt Ryan and Bespoke Sports' Jonathan Norman....Sapphire Sport also held an event at 204 North Kitchen & Cocktails.....Budweiser Live was located at EpiCentre Charlotte, with a concert headlined by French Montana....The Fillmore played host to the NBA on TNT Road Show, which had a packed house at the concert hall. Turner's Craig Barry was among the network execs on hand for the party scene.
SATURDAY SCENE: Saturday saw a slew of parties across Charlotte. Facebook threw a party at The Punch Room on the 15th Floor of the Ritz Carlton. Hosted by Facebook’s Dan Reed and Brandon Gayle, guests included the Bucks' Lasry, Warriors' Kirk Lacob and Brandon Schneider, Octagon’s Jeff Austin and his wife, Denise, and Overtime’s Jeff Weiner....Under Armour hosted a private event for friends and clients at Fleming's Steakhouse....The Zak Brown Band headlined Turner’s annual party at The Fillmore.
ON TO CHICAGO: That's a wrap from Charlotte for the '19 All-Star Game. The Windy City on Sunday also unveiled its logo for next year's game, which features elements from the city’s flag, as well as the Bulls’ signature colors and font.
Heading into the weekend in Atlanta, a couple of themes are emerging. The hospitality among local volunteers rivals Minneapolis last year. Everywhere we have gone, volunteers are seeking to assist and help, or just asking how the day is going. The positive attitudes have helped the experience. Meanwhile, as expected, the city’s notorious traffic showed up. On Thursday at rush hour, downtown streets were a parking lot just trying to get to the area around Centennial Olympic Park. Another element that is obvious is increased security around the media center and team hotels. At the media center, credentials are checked and swiped as much as three times before one can access Radio Row. It’s the first time we can remember such diligent security. The main downtown hotels -- the Hyatt Regency where the Patriots are staying and the league HQ at the Marriott Marquis -- have heavy, armed security surrounding them. How tight is security this year? For the first time, guards are physically touching media credentials before allowing the press into certain areas. The reason, according to one of the guards, is that security found some fake credentials are thicker than the real ones. That appeared to be a nod to Barstool Sports Founder Dave Portnoy, who was evicted from Super Bowl media day earlier this week when he was found sporting a fake credential. As an aside, it’s also very convenient for industry meetings in the lobby of either the Hyatt or Marriott Marquis, which sit back-to-back.
UNION JUNCTION: The NFLPA’s annual presser on Thursday may not have been as well attended as the NFL commissioner's address on Wednesday, but it surely is less bland. NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith was in usual form, joking with reporters and calling out what he thought were dumb questions, and as always, sharing the stage with players. Smith, as he has before, strongly suggested he expected a lockout in two seasons when the CBA expires. Seated on the dais with him were key player reps Sam Ocho, Russell Okung, Mike Thomas, Mark Herzlich, Adam Vinatieri, Zach DeOssie and union president Eric Winston. New this year was the appearance of a retired player on the stage, Dewey McClain. The NFLPA cannot legally represent retirees, and at times there has been stress between the union and former players. But Smith talked about the ways the union has gone the extra mile to help retirees. The occasion also saw the Alan Page Community Award, essentially the union’s version of the Man of the Year award, go to Rams OT Andrew Whitworth. His wife and three kids accepted the award on his behalf, which comes with a $100,000 gift to a charity of his choice. The union also named two new board members for NFL Players Inc. -- former model Kathy Ireland and Jenny Abramson, the founder of Rethink Impact, a VC fund that invests in female-run tech companies.
DOUBLE COVERAGE: As the NFL’s official truck brand, Ford had two activations on the ground in Atlanta. The auto brand worked with communications GTB on the efforts. The Built Ford Tough VR Drive-In was set up at Super Bowl Live at Centennial Olympic Park, while the Ford Hall of Fans is a platform celebrating dedicated fans. Visitors to the drive-in are able to hop into a Ford F-150, Super Duty or new Ford Ranger, then strap on a pair of VR goggles and head for Atlanta from a variety of locations around the country. The Hall of Fans activation saw six nominees get the chance to be enshrined alongside players at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The public was then asked to cast their vote, and HOF President & CEO David Baker will notify the winner by giving a celebratory knock on the winning fan’s hotel room door.
VIRTUAL INSANITY: The Rams and Chargers at an event in Atlanta on Thursday hosted a VR demonstration/tour of their Inglewood stadium scheduled to open in 18 months. L.A. Sports & Entertainment District CTO Skarpi Hedinsson said the VR originally was developed so videoboard operators could program content. That’s because the 70,000-square-foot video board is a giant, center-hung oval, with both sides beaming content. That means fans see the board differently based on their seats, so the oval will have different content on different parts of the screen. The content programmers don’t have a physical stadium yet to sit in, but the VR allows them to sit in the seats and watch the video board.
FEEDING FRENZY: The battle for feeding the press on Radio Row escalated on Thursday, with longtime media personality Tony Bruno bringing in Moe's Southwestern Grill for the stations surrounding him, while Evander Holyfield passed out platters of select Angus Beef during his early morning appearances. That was after both Hormel and Pizza Hut scored big points on Wednesday, feeding the entire room at their tables. While Bud Light has been flowing easily for the press, and even tequila made it into the lounge Thursday, the suggestion box for upgrades included requests for a wine partner. Beyond Holyfield, other boxing names looked to take over Radio Row this week, including Danny Jacobs and Deontay Wilder making the rounds, as well as Showtime President of Sports & Event Programming Stephen Espinoza. DAZN also had a media coverage spot talking boxing and more.
PREP WORK: With Hard Rock Stadium hosting in 2020, the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee has been on the ground this week -- shadowing the Atlanta host committee and taking notes on best practices. But next year’s host committee chair, Rodney Barreto, is no stranger to the big game. “This is my third time chairing a Super Bowl Host Committee, and I’ve been involved with Super Bowls for 30 years -- it’s so fun to see the evolution of the game.” Barreto noted it has been 10 years since the South Florida market last hosted a Super Bowl, and the landscape and essence of the city has transformed. Barreto: “People should not be surprised with our level of sophistication. Miami is not only the most exciting city in America; we believe it’s the most exciting city in the world.”
EVEN FLOW: As it has for the past several years, the Liberty-owned Caribbean network Flow Sports has been in Atlanta all week covering Super Bowl week. Flow Sports Managing Dir Sean Riley credits his net's NFL coverage (it has a 16-game package) with helping the league grow its popularity in the Caribbean. But Riley said Flow has room for more growth, as the NFL still lags behind cricket, track and field, soccer and the NBA. “It depends on where you live,” he said. “In places like Curaçao and Bahamas that associate very closely with the United States, the NFL rules the day. In places like Jamaica and Trinidad, the NFL is in the top six, but certainly not top of mind.”
BUZZ WORDS: On the campus of Georgia Tech on Saturday, the NFL will host its 1st & Future event, which is a competition designed to spur innovation in athlete safety and performance. NFL Network’s Scott Hanson will moderate a panel with Commissioner Roger Goodell and Falcons President & CEO Rich McKay on leveraging the latest tech to modernize the game. Hanson will also emcee the pitch competition, and new GT football coach Geoff Collins is among the judges.
A TRADITION LIKE NO OTHER: No, it’s not The Masters, but veteran PR exec Joe Favorito laughed about a five-year tradition he and his wife have on Super Bowl Sunday -- taking in a Broadway matinee. Favorito, who is in Atlanta until Friday, will get back to New York to take his wife Laura to a 3:00pm performance of “Network” -- which should get him home in time for the Super Bowl kickoff. Also, a shout out to Favorito for his inside scoops from Radio Row.
JUST IN TIME: CAA found the venue for its annual Super Bowl party this year this past Sunday, just four days before the event. With more than 700 revelers planning to attend, the agency needed a bigger space. The Patriots and CBS had plans for Thursday night parties at The Roof at Ponce City Market. But both released their holds, and it became available to CAA. Guests included Bills QB Josh Allen, WFAN’s Mike Francesa, NFL Network’s Melissa Stark, Fox Sports Exec VP/Content Charlie Dixon and Barstool Sports CEO Erica Nardini.
THURSDAY GATHERINGS: Agent Sandy Montag held his annual Super Bowl party at the Barcelona Wine Bar -- Inman Park with a who’s who of attendees, including CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus and President David Berson, ESPN Senior VP/Production Business Divisions Traug Keller, NBC's Mike Tirico, CBS’ Ian Eagle and NFL Network’s Dan Hellie....At Tavernpointe in Midtown, 16W Marketing’s annual Super Bowl shindig, hosted by agency founders Frank Vuono and Steve Rosner, included on-air talent like Phil Simms and Leslie Visser, as well as many business names, including NBC Sports & Broadcasting Chair Mark Lazarus and Pro Football HOF’s Baker....Ahead of the brewer’s largest Super Bowl TV ad buy yet, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s happy hour at Twin Smokes BBQ was hosted by VP/Consumer Connections Joao Chueiri and Head of U.S. Sports Marketing Nick Kelly. The event attracted a slew of team marketers, including Hawks Exec VP & CRO Andrew Saltzman, Ravens Senior VP/Corporate Sales & Business Development Kevin Rochlitz and NFL Giants VP/Media & Partnerships Dan Lynch....Experiential agency Huge put on a panel in midtown focusing on women in sports, with panelists including Hawks Chief Diversity Officer Nzinga Shaw, Atlanta United Senior Dir of Marketing & Fan Engagement Sarah Kate Noftsinger and ESPN Senior Dir of PR Keri Potts....Pepsi hosted its Rookie of the Year brunch party in Atlanta to celebrate Giants RB Saquon Barkley. The brunch was hosted by ESPN's Sam Ponder, with HOF RBs Franco Harris, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin in attendance. Giants WR Sterling Shepard and his wife, Chanel Iman, were also at the event.
EVERYONE IN ON THE ACTION: The suburban SunTrust Park and The Battery are 13 miles away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the Braves’ ballpark and surrounding development are nonetheless the site of a wide variety of events over the weekend. The ballpark itself will host the Celebrity Flag Football Challenge on Saturday, which includes Doug Flutie, hip hop artist Quavo, Michael Vick and Michael Irvin. The game, expected to draw in excess of 15,000 people, is part of a larger SunTrust Confidence Classic being held at the complex this weekend. Meanwhile, Shaquille O’Neal on Friday night will play host to a carnival-themed party at The Battery, with headliners including Diplo, Migos, Tiesto, Lil’ Jon and T-Pain. Other Friday festivities in the complex include a boxing event at the Coca-Cola Roxy as part of Barstool Sports’ Rough N’ Rowdy amateur circuit. Meanwhile, execs from MillerCoors have temporarily set themselves up at the Omni hotel in The Battery. Braves President & CEO Derek Schiller: “This is precisely the sort of thing that we contemplated when we built the ballpark and The Battery -- that they would be community anchors and see a lot of activity during situations like this."
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: The party scene in Atlanta picks up with the weekend beginning. The Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest at State Farm Arena will see Aerosmith and Post Malone take the stage....Sports events and media company Thuzio, co-founded by Tiki Barber, will host an invitation-only party at Sweetwater Brewery. It will be hosted by Bleacher Report’s Adam Lefkoe and include interviews with RBs Adrian Peterson and David Johnson....Shamrock Sports & Entertainment will be hosting a Super Bowl Social at Fado Irish Pub in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood from 4:00-6:00pm....Cam Newton is opening Fellaship, his new cigar bar/restaurant in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood. Atlanta-based agency MELT is running the activation. MELT Chair & CEO Vince Thompson said, “It’s also a great story about current and former pro athletes flocking to Atlanta for business, commerce and entrepreneurial opportunities. Expect more lifestyle-type activations coming from Cam under the Fellaship brand."
THE DAY BEFORE: The College Football Hall of Fame, just a few blocks from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will see plenty of action on Saturday. In the afternoon, the venue will host an exclusive party being put on by Fanatics’ Michael Rubin, with Meek Mill and Cardi B set to perform. Big-time guests are expected, including Peyton Manning, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Hart, Aaron Judge and Baker Mayfield. Later at the HOF, Sports Illustrated’s “Saturday Night Lights” party will include Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne….The final night of the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest at State Farm Arena will feature Bruno Mars and Cardi B....Over at the sprawling Atlantic Station mixed-used development in midtown, which also plays host at an ATP event every year, DirecTV has erected a three-tier, 72,000-square-foot venue for its Super Saturday Night party. Foo Fighters is headlining the event, with Atlanta rap duo Run The Jewels also performing. It’s the 13th year for the DirecTV bash....Maxim’s Big Game Experience at The Fairmont will feature Foxx, Future and Diplo....Rolling Stone is hosting its annual party in midtown at Goat Farm Arts Center, with Ludacris set to headline....At Newton’s “Fellaship” bar/restaurant, Baseball HOFer Frank Thomas will unveil his new 404 Vodka brand.
GAME DAY: On Location Experiences is hosting a trio of parties at the Georgia World Congress Center on Sunday for its guests with a VIP package. John Fogerty and Daughtry are among those slated to play. A tailgate menu has been curated by "Top Chef" winner Joe Flamm. Marcus Allen and Jesse Palmer are among the hosts....The NFL Tailgate Party will be headlined by Tim McGraw. Aloe Blacc will play earlier in the day as part of a performance for CBS’ “Super Bowl Today” pregame telecast....The HyperX Esports Truck, a mobile competitive gaming arena owned and operated by Allied Esports, will wrap up its free event at the Super Tailgate Party.
This newsletter was edited by Austin Karp. SBJ is always looking to improve our products, so please reach out with any news/comments/concerns/etc (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, feel free to share our newsletters -- and encourage others to do the same
It’s just over 72 hours until kickoff for Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and so far, things have been running smoothly in Atlanta. The compact downtown area with the stadium, Georgia World Congress Center, State Farm Arena, hotels, bars and other venues has been good for logistics. After some brief fears of snow hitting Atlanta, the weather forecast looks solid heading into the weekend. Sunday has a 50% chance of rain, so let’s hope all those tailgates and pregame festivities have tents ready to go. But overall, the weather has cooperated far better than in 2000, when an ice storm in Atlanta wreaked havoc on Super Bowl XXXIV. The bigger story thus far has been reaction to Roger Goodell’s State of the NFL press conference yesterday. Media reaction to the commish has been harsh, as many have hit on Goodell’s seeming indifference to many important issues, including the now-infamous no-call from the Rams-Saints NFC Championship (and yes, there are billboards in Atlanta with #SaintsGotRobbed). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon perhaps summed up a lot of the media reaction, saying Goodell is acting with a “lack of courage” and coming off as “gutless.” But one thing is for sure -- Goodell would much rather be defending an issue like pass interference instead of issues like player kneeling, concussions and domestic violence which have dominated his presser in recent years.
MEET THE PRESS: Since the NFL moved Goodell’s annual press conference from its traditional Friday slot to Wednesday afternoon in 2017, the event has had a bit more of a muted feel. We understand the strategy. Get the presser out of the way earlier in the week and prevent the league’s issues -- many of which may be controversial or negative -- from seeping into the weekend and distracting from Sunday’s game. It’s a sound strategy that makes sense. But the presser used to be the place to see everyone associated with the game at the highest business levels. Having it on Wednesday means far fewer owners, media execs, corporate partners and others associated with or connected to the game. There were still plenty of bold-face names along the walls or sitting in the audience, from leagues execs like Brian Rolapp, Jeff Pash, Joe Sinclair and Jeff Miller to CBS execs Sean McManus and David Berson. Also in attendance were the Patriots’ Robert and Jonathan Kraft, as well as Falcons Owner Arthur Blank, Rams Exec VP/Football Operations & COO Kevin Demoff and Pro Football HOF President David Baker.
RAPID RESPONSE: It was still a solid networking room, just less than it previously was. As far as Goodell’s appearance, he again sported a casual look -- sans tie -- marking the third year in a row he’s donned the sports jacket and open-collar shirt. He stood before a very simple backdrop and the press conference lasted for 50 minutes with 28 questions. Eight questions were focused on rules, officiating and instant replay. Here’s the rundown of questions:
• Status of minority coaching hires
• Atlanta as Super Bowl host and hosting potential for the future
• Uncertainty around California stadiums/Raiders home
• Future of Josh Gordon
• NFC Championship officiating
• Expanding instant replay
• NFL future in the U.K.
• Officiating/rules and commissioner oversight
• Instant replay expansion
• Image of NFL related to halftime show acts
• Being a fan of the NFL vs. responsibilities of being commissioner
• NFC Championship officiating
• Expanding the number of officials
• Weather for Super Bowl Sunday/roof open or closed?
• Future of Broncos ownership
• The Mexico market for the NFL
• Why aren’t halftime acts doing a press conference this year?
• Growth of NFL around the world
• Growth of Hispanic fan base
• Why did league/Goodell wait so long to address NFC Championship officiating?
• Jerry Jones’ ownership stake in Legends and any conflict of interest?
• Trend in Atlanta of value-based concessions pricing
• Drug policy and approval of medical marijuana
• President Trump’s belief there are too many penalties
• Colin Kaepernick’s lack of a deal to play in the NFL
• Why hasn’t Kaepernick been signed?
• Future Super Bowl venues and disability access to stadiums
• The Kraft family’s ownership of the Patriots
• Discipline for Kareem Hunt/Reuben Foster
EYES ON THE BALL: CBS' McManus looked relaxed at a lunch just before Goodell’s press conference. He commented that Wednesday would be the last “fairly quiet” day before the craziness of Super Bowl week took hold. McManus said that he is still waiting to see how the “personality” of this year’s game takes shape. But he cited the storyline of the Patriots dynasty against the upstart Rams. “The teams have totally different personalities,” he said. “That old versus young is a really exciting story that will probably continue to gain traction as more of the discussion this week will start turning towards the teams and the game.” CBS and the NFL are entering the game with a lot of momentum. McManus said the AFC Championship thriller was one of the most compelling live events he’s ever produced. When asked for a ratings prediction for Sunday, McManus quipped, “No. 1-rated and most-watched show of the year.”
TURN UP THE RADIO: The word from PR pros is that Radio Row this year was a hit, boosted by an ideal location. Unlike last year’s cramped layout at the Mall of America, which was 20 minutes away from Minneapolis, this year’s Radio Row occupies a large, open space at the Georgia World Congress Center. One of the more popular execs at the event has been Brian O’Connell. The Seahawks’ director of broadcasting was tabbed by the NFL to handle logistics around Radio Row. Giants RB Saquon Barkley and Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster had the largest entourages around Radio Row yesterday, each with their own video crews in tow. Each group was easily 10-15 people deep. NFL Network personality Ian Rapoport used some of his time on Radio Row to promote L.A.-based Don Francisco’s Coffee. Also at Radio Row to promote their own new football startups were Don Yee (Pacific Pro League), Oliver Luck (XFL) and Jeff Lewis (American Flag Football League). Luck, making the rounds with PR handler Stephanie Rudnick, sounded energized when conversation turned to pending TV deals. Luck: “All the talks we’re having show how popular this sport really is.”
LEARN TO WORK HARD: One interesting tidbit this year is that three college stations -- Fordham, St. Bonaventure and Syracuse -- have had a Radio Row presence. That’s an unusually high number and a testament to these students being aggressive and getting credentialed. Alabama RB Josh Jacobs also worked a full day on Radio Row, getting on site at around 8:15am and not leaving until after 4:00pm. He was there for SeatGeek and XTech panels. Meanwhile, look for a larger review of Radio Row by The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis on Friday.
MAN ABOUT TOWN: We spotted agent Don Yee walking to Radio Row, and chatted with him about his efforts with the Pacific Pro League, which is set to launch next year, as well his Super Bowl clients, Tom Brady and Julian Edelman.
• On the messaging for Pacific Pro: “We are here to introduce people to our new Commissioner, Ed McCaffrey, as well as our new CEO, Jamie Hemann. We also have a good story to tell around our founding partner Adidas and our latest sponsor, South Korea-based tech firm I-ON Communications. So it’s all about spreading the word before our scheduled launch in July 2020.”
• On seeing his clients before Super Bowl LIII: “I anticipate seeing them briefly before the game on Sunday. It’s a humbling experience to be part of another Super Bowl with them, and I am just grateful for the opportunity to work with them. Both are very special people.”
ON A MISSION: RISE -- the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality -- is holding a number of events in Atlanta this week, including youth events and an exhibit at the NFL Experience called “Champions of Change.” Today, there is a civil rights tour and a town hall titled “Reclaiming The Dream.” Over coffee at the Hyatt Regency, RISE board member Paul Tagliabue and new CEO Diahann Billings-Burford said the efforts are part of a mission to be more proactive. “Our focus is how to keep RISE on our mission of educating the sports community and empowering sports leaders to address racism to make our country better,” Billings-Burford said. RISE worked with the Rams and Dolphins this season on community-based efforts around racism, and both Tagliabue and Billings-Burford noted the success of “RISE With The Rams,” a 10-week program focused around two vastly different high schools in SoCal. We sat with RISE the same day that the Players Coalition held its inaugural media availability, and RISE execs commented how they see both groups’ efforts as complementary and additive.
REFORM MOVEMENT: The Players Coalition awarded six grants totaling $2 million to criminal justice and educational reform groups at a Super Bowl press conference. The group is funded through $90 million from the NFL. Board members who presented are Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins, Panthers WR Torrey Smith and former NFLer Anquan Boldin. “This is a big day for us,” Boldin said in describing the group’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
STILL ANGRY? 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is making appearances on Radio Row today on behalf of NFL sponsor Zebra Technologies. The company makes player tracking devices that generate next-gen stats. Normally, Saints coach Sean Payton would make the rounds as Zebra’s paid endorser. Zebra Sports VP/Business Development John Pollard wouldn’t quite say if the swap is because Payton doesn’t want to talk about the now infamous no-call in the NFC Championship, but he did point out Payton is making VIP appearances for Zebra this week in Atlanta.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME: The downtown Hyatt Regency and Georgia Tech’s football facilities were among the locales blanketed with Patriots signage, serving as the host hotel and practice site for the team, respectively, while in Atlanta. Robert and Jonathan Kraft were spotted walking through the Hyatt lobby yesterday morning with staff and security as they got their bearings for the venue. Falcons Assistant GM Scott Pioli, who was with the Pats from ’01-08, also was seen coming into the Hyatt for meetings, while Pats Dir of Football & Head Coach Administration Berj Najarian was in the lobby talking to staff as well. Meanwhile, the Rams are staying at the JW Marriott Atlanta Buckhead, which is closer to where they were practicing -- the Falcons’ training facility in Flowery Branch.
HAPPY TIMES: CBS Sports PR maven Jen Sabatelle held an impromptu happy hour for reporters in Atlanta at Prime Meridian at the Omni. CBS' McManus, Berson and Exec VP/Programming Dan Weinberg were on hand. The N.Y. Post’s Andrew Marchand, The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis, CBS Digital’s Will Brinson and Pete Prisco and the voice of the Bills, John Murphy, were among the revelers....The Super Bowl Host Committee held a party for media members on Tuesday night at the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta, complete with sea lion presentations for attendees. Wolfgang Puck also was on hand to dish out bao buns and other tasty treats.
AROUND TOWN: Excel Sports’ Alan Zucker, marketing agent for Peyton and Eli Manning, was working the phone early Wednesday morning in the Ritz Carlton lobby....Premier Lacrosse League founder Paul Rabil did a Q&A on Wednesday as part of the NFLPA’s One Team Collective pitch day at the Switchyards Downtown Club....CBS Sports Radio’s Jim Rome was seen walking through the lobby of the Omni on the way to Radio Row....Fox Sports Senior VP/Talent Aimee Leone, while walking in to get her media credential, was reminiscing about her trip to Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics while working for NBC....Execs from Showtime Sports, led by Chris DeBlasio, enjoying dinner at Ecco in midtown Atlanta.
I KNOW YOU! It's not every day that people run into a grade school classmate, let alone during Super Bowl week. DC-area Blessed Sacrament School was well-represented during Goodell's press conference, with SBJ media reporter John Ourand (Class of 1981) and NFL security consultant George Kucik (Class of 1979) on hand. During the NFL season, Kucik works security for Ravens games.
THURSDAY NIGHT SOCIAL CLUB: The Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest gets started tonight. It’s the first of three nights of concerts at the Hawks’ State Farm Arena. Tonight’s show includes the likes of Ludacris, Migos and Lil Jon -- as well as some late-addition star power in Ciara and 21 Savage….CAA Sports is hosting a cocktail party at Hotel Clermont....Bud Light will be hosting a happy hour at Twin Smokers BBQ....The NFLPA will host its VIP Party at the Stave Room....The Super Bowl Live event at Centennial Olympic Park continues as well, featuring a country & rock theme on Thursday night.
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Clemson’s 44-16 win over Alabama in the CFP National Championship last night officially put a bow on the 2018-19 college football season. After a weekend of bad weather that created a challenging narrative leading up to Monday, Mother Nature delivered clear skies around the South Bay in time for the game, and Levi’s Stadium looked like a fantastic setting for the playoff finale. There were also plenty of questions about attendance in Santa Clara during the lead-up to the game, but there was a near-capacity crowd of 74,814, and the look on ESPN’s broadcast made it seem like there were plenty of butts in seats in Santa Clara. While the rating was down on ESPN, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler did what they always do -- which is deliver a top-notch game broadcast. CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock put his best foot forward on his Twitter feed last night: “Another great end to the college football season.”
PRIME NUMBERS: ESPN drew a 14.6 overnight rating for Clemson’s 44-16 blowout win over Alabama in the CFP National Championship last night, marking the lowest rating for a college football national championship since Bama-LSU in 2012. Clemson-Alabama is down 13% from Bama’s thrilling overtime win over Georgia last season. The 14.6 rating includes the MegaCast options offered on ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNews. Two years ago, Clemson’s 35-31 last-minute win over Bama drew a 15.3 overnight. Through three quarters of last night's game, ESPN was actually tracking even with that game from two years ago, but the score never got close again. Despite the decline, the 14.6 is cable TV's best overnight rating in a year.
HE’S A GAMER: ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro last week was down with a case of the flu but rallied over the weekend in time to make the championship game. He was spotted on the field pregame, making the rounds with Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger and chatting up ESPN staffers. During the game, ESPN MLB analyst Alex Rodriguez and his girlfriend Jennifer Lopez were among those in Pitaro’s suite at Levi’s Stadium. For pregame at the ESPN private hospitality tent, the network brought in two pro cornhole players. One battled Terrell Owens in a head-to-head match. Among the Bama alums at the ESPN event were Shaun Alexander, Landon Collins, Derrick Henry, O.J. Howard and Julio Jones. Clemson alums included Tajh Boyd, Shaq Lawson, C.J. Spiller and actor/comedian Rob Huebel. Meanwhile, ESPN’s final roster of CFP sponsors for 2018-19 included:
PARTY TIME: Tailgate Guys had a 10-tent setup outside Levi’s Stadium yesterday in its first game as a CFP official vendor. Parker Duffey, Tailgate Guys President & CEO, said sales started slowly before picking up steam over the weekend, so he was pleasantly surprised by game day to find all 10 tents sold. Each tent accommodates 50 people, but some had several more people. Duffey said he hopes to build more business in New Orleans next year.
DUCK COMMANDER: Oregon AD Rob Mullens for seven weeks during the football season transforms into the CFP Selection Committee Chair. This marks Mullens’ third season as a member of the committee but the first in which he chaired the group. His appointment is a direct reflection of the respect his AD peers and conference commissioners have for him. Mullens talked to SBJ about his experiences:
On CFP expansion: “There’s somehow this perception that this committee has some say. We have no say. This committee’s job is to rank the top 25, that’s all.”
On leadership style: “The committee works because there are 13 experts who care deeply and work extremely hard. As the chair, you want to make sure every angle is explored so that we capitalize on the expertise in the room.”
On the CFP staff: “Bill Hancock is a real pro. They’re really a tremendous aid in preparing for the (CFP selection) TV show, but you can’t prepare for every question.”
On ditching his glasses after the first CFP TV show: “It became a huge topic of conversation in my office, and even in my own home.”
HUDDLING UP: Having the CFP Championship in Silicon Valley afforded the opportunity for several groups to host tech-focused events. The CFP (with Wasserman), Facebook (with JMI Sports), Octagon and NACDA (with Learfield) were among the organizations to bring people together. The CFP for the first time sponsored a Tech Summit at San Jose State. Wasserman organized Saturday’s event, which drew more than 100 vendors, commissioners and ADs, including USF’s Mike Kelly, Kansas State’s Gene Taylor and Georgia Tech’s Todd Stansbury. Attendees heard from the CFP’s Hancock and Ticketmaster’s Tim Martin, and also had a pair of panel discussions on esports and how tech is impacting athletic performance.
Martin said of ticketing changes: “Sixty percent of our transactions are happening on mobile devices. We’ve seen 34 percent year-over-year growth on mobile transactions and we have 35 million downloads of the Ticketmaster app. So the shift is happening dramatically.”
Martin added of digital ticketing for college students: “They’ll forget their student ID, but they’ll never forget their phone.”
Intel Sports’ Howard Wright: “Data is the new oil and the stadiums are the new oil fields.”
The NFL’s Damani Leech said of new tech developments: “Does the technology work? It can’t work just 90 percent of the time; people’s jobs are at stake. It has to work every down in every environment -- cold, hot, sleet, snow.”
Kinduct’s Callum Mayer said of tech’s future: “With this explosion of people collecting data, five years from now we’re going to know how that NFL superstar performed when he was 12 years old and a kid will be able to compare himself at that same age to figure out what his projection is and what he needs to be working on.”
ESPN’s Kevin Lopes said of esports: “There’s a lot of outpaced investing, from a team point of view. We’ll see some level of contraction in the future.”
Facebook, in tandem with JMI Sports, hosted a group of about 50 on Saturday at its Menlo Park campus. Reps from three JMI schools were in attendance -- Clemson, Notre Dame and Kentucky -- as well as administrators from four of the power five conferences. Pro Football HOFer Ronnie Lott and Facebook college strategist Nick Marquez were among the speakers on converting viewers into customers, branded content and other revenue-generating ideas. JMI’s Erik Judson, who initiated the session, said his firm is focused on events like this to bring its college clients closer to tech companies in Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, Octagon hosted around 50 people at a “Future of the Fan” event on Sunday morning at the Silicon Valley Capital Club. The panel discussion, moderated by Octagon’s Dan Cohen, explored ways in which the fan experience at games is being impacted by data gathering, legal wagering and other factors. Twitter’s Will Exline, Cisco’s Kevin Dunbar, Courtside Ventures’ Deepen Parikh and Sports Innovation Lab’s Josh Walker spoke on the panel. On Monday morning, NACDA offered a session, sponsored by Learfield, that kicked off with Stanford AD Bernard Muir interviewing SoFi CEO and former NFL exec Anthony Noto. Other speakers included former Florida State AD and new NCAA Exec VP/Regulatory Affairs Stan Wilcox, as well as MGM Resorts’ Jim Murren.
PAY DAY: The distribution of media revenue from the CFP’s ESPN deal to the power five conferences will look similar to the $54M each conference received last season -- with maybe a small bump. A conference receives $6M per team that is selected for the semifinals. An additional $2.25M is paid to each conference with a team in the semifinals to cover expenses. A key difference this year is that the Rose and Sugar bowls are not semifinals, so their payouts are separate from CFP revenue. Both the Rose and the Sugar pay $80M ($40M from the Rose for both the Big Ten and Pac-12, and $40M from the Sugar for both the SEC and Big 12). The additional revenue equates to $3M-$4M for each school in those four conferences. The ACC has a different arrangement with the Orange Bowl. A little more than $80M is distributed to the other five FBS conferences.
The Allstate-sponsored official tailgate party got off to a slow start thanks to a late-arriving crowd (at least compared to prior CFPs). Country rocker Keith Urban took the Capital One-branded stage three hours before game time and before the venue felt crowded.
Dr Pepper had its own private hospitality tent outside the venue.
Among the most unusual activations -- DirecTV set up a working barbershop in the tailgate party, playing off its barbershop-themed TV spot.
Salt Lake City-based graphic designer Infinite Scale was back to wrap Levi’s Stadium with CFP, Alabama and Clemson branding. Infinite Scale has wrapped the championship venue all five years since the CFP launched and has done several events at Levi’s Stadium.
At the Host Committee tailgate: 21 Marketing co-founder and former Visa exec Tom Shepard, who was rocking Bama red with his son. Also there was Steve Hall, president of Charlotte-based Signature Sports Group, the agency working with CFP sponsor Eckrich. Levi’s Stadium partner SAP was presenting partner of the Host Committee’s pregame tailgate and had a showcase ringing the buffet and bar.
THAT’S A WRAP: With the fifth iteration of the CFP in the books, it’s time to look forward to New Orleans for 2020. Weather won’t be a factor for game night at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but fans should likely expect a warmer climate for the lead-up to the game. Last night’s high in Santa Clara was 63 degrees, while New Orleans had a high of 72 yesterday. Looking forward two years, that temperature rises, as Miami had a high of 77 degrees yesterday (Hard Rock Stadium hosts the championship in 2021). The cold comes back into play in 2022, as Indianapolis (high of 55 yesterday) and Lucas Oil Stadium host.
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Can the College Football Playoff Championship make it anywhere? That notion, put forward by CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock, has been put to the test this year for the finale’s fifth iteration. The South Bay area, mainly Santa Clara and San Jose, was working hard to buck any notion that Northern California isn’t a college football hotbed, but a rainy weekend got in the way of outdoor fan events and concerts. While Mother Nature wasn’t quite cooperative early on, it looks like she may play a little nicer tonight for Alabama-Clemson: Part 4, with only a 5% chance of rain for the 8pm ET kickoff. Most years, a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 would create all the buzz necessary for college football’s marquee event. But with these two fan bases having to travel across the country for another title event, secondary ticket prices are down, national hospitality sales are soft and many wonder if there will be empty seats at Levi’s Stadium. But the CFP remains steadfast with a mission to stretch beyond the sport’s Southern foundation and explore nontraditional markets.
SOMETHING NEW: 49ers President Al Guido, who has also been serving as Bay Area Host Committee board president, said of the CFP coming to his neck of the woods, “It’s risky, some would say, but I think it’s smart. For a lot of the noise from people who say this isn’t a football market, I don’t believe that’s been proven out. I give Atlanta (last year’s CFP host) all the credit in the world, but they had Georgia in their backyard. If this game were like 2015 with Oregon-Ohio State, the get-in price might be a little different.”
BRASS TAX: Guido also laid out the math on this event, saying it cost the Host Committee $25-$28M to put on the game, and no public dollars went into it. More than $15M was raised through selling an allotment of 6,100 tickets and 80 suites, most of which went to the corporate marketplace, 49ers sponsors and local fans. Levi’s Stadium suites sold for $75,000-$150,000 each depending on the yard line. The difference of $10M-$13M is being backstopped by the 49ers. The host committee did well selling to its base of ticket buyers from Super Bowl 50, as 40% of buyers from that game in 2016 bought into the CFP game. Guido: “If you look at the inventory we’ve sold and all of the support locally, it’s been nothing but a resounding success.”
SHOW 'EM A GOOD TIME: Three of the CFP’s four official hospitality providers returned for Santa Clara -- Colonnade Group, QuintEvents and Dallas Fan Fares. One provider described sales as “down, largely driven by location.” PrimeSport was not part of the group selling official packages for the first time since the CFP launched. The CFP allots 3,000 of the best tickets and a portion on the suites in the host stadium to the official hospitality packages. Prices ($2,000-$6,000) have stayed relatively flat. The 20-person suites for tonight went for $3,250-$4,000/person. Most hotels offered in packages were in San Jose or Santa Clara. None were in San Francisco and only one, the Ritz-Carlton, was on the coast at Half Moon Bay. Some customers who bought CFP hospitality in the past, but didn’t this season, cited the length of the trip, cost of airfare and the lack of a historically compelling feature, like the Rose Bowl. In order to boost sales, some of the CFP’s top customers were given the opportunity to buy hospitality packages for New Orleans in 2020 if they also bought Santa Clara. In the past, CFP packages have been sold one year at a time.
DO YOU KNOW THE WAY? After many of Super Bowl 50's parties and hospitality events were held up in San Francisco, San Jose city officials promised smooth sailing for the Host Committee (in terms of promotion, permits, cooperation) if they centered the party scene on the south end of the Bay Area. While that scene went without some of the glitz that San Francisco provides, San Jose offered a compact downtown and easier navigation. Some CFP vets said the geography felt more like Tampa for the 2017 CFP game.
WEEKEND PARTY SCENE:
Jon Bon Jovi entertained 1,500 people with an intimate show in San Jose on Sunday night, sponsored by the Bay Area Host Committee.
Greg Brown, President & CEO of the freshly merged Learfield-IMG College, covered a lot of ground. He attended both a Learfield and an IMG event, as the two entities already had planned separate parties in San Jose. With the merger not getting approval until Dec. 31, Brown decided not to disrupt the party planning schedule for Sunday night.
ESPN on Saturday night hosted its own event for partners at The GlassHouse in downtown San Jose.
IMG College entertained with a party at Forager in San Jose.
Elevate Sports Ventures teamed up with Under Armour, Wheels Up and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission for Touchdown Celebration at the charming California Theater in San Jose, with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler stopping by late. Herbstreit was one of several people enthralled by a magician. Former Visa and Nielsen exec Michael Lynch, a Bay Area Host Committee board member, and his wife Susan were spotted at the party before heading to the Bon Jovi show.
W Partners CEO Wally Hayward was one of several proud Chicagoans gathered around a TV last night at the California Theater, only to watch the Bears’ season end on a missed field goal in the NFC Wild Card.
FOUR DOWN TERRITORY:
The Bay Area Host Committee canceled a free concert in downtown San Jose last night due to rain, the final frustration after a weekend-long storm hindered the outdoor aspects of the National Championship party. AT&T Playoff Playlist Live!, the concert venue at Discovery Meadow Park on the outskirts of downtown, had good crowds Friday and Saturday, but the Sunday show -- featuring OneRepublic and Ellie Goulding -- was canceled by 7pm local time.
The Sun Belt Commissioner gets a spot on the CFP Management Committee -- comprising all 10 FBS conference chiefs -- and that role is open with the retirement of Karl Benson. Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search will lead the effort to find the next chief, and candidates are being identified now. Interviews are expected in March, with a commissioner expected to be named in April. One aspect of the search to watch: Will the new commissioner keep the conference office in New Orleans?
Chick-fil-A is the CFP’s official QSR partner, but with only two locations in the Bay Area, there was not enough staff to cook free samples for the Playoff Fan Central. Some lucky media members did get biscuits on Saturday.
At least some fans saw some upside in a long trip to California. On Saturday, three people clad head-to-toe in orange and purple -- and a fourth in crimson -- were spotted walking into Airfield Supply Co., a legal marijuana shop by the San Jose airport.
WILL FANS TUNE IN? Alabama’s thrilling win over Georgia last year was the best CFP Championship audience since the first iteration in 2015. With both CFP semifinals out of hand early on, ESPN execs are likely hoping Bama and Clemson can keep it close and keep audiences tuned in for the duration.