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Volume 26 No. 178
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SBJ Football: NFL Could Seek Super Bowl Swap For 2024

My mother had an old saying: "You can get used to hanging if you hang long enough.” I’m not sure I’m *used* to our new situation, but I’ve been thinking about that line a lot lately.

 

NFL COULD MOVE SUPER BOWL LVIII FROM NOLA

  • The NFL is considering pulling Super Bowl LVIII from New Orleans, two sources familiar with the issue tell me. Such news would surely disappoint those who annually attend the Super Bowl festivities, as NOLA is always listed as a top spot to the host the event. The problem facing the league? A combination of the new collective bargaining agreement and an early Easter in 2024.

  • Under current scheduling conventions, the game would fall on Feb. 4, 2024. But if owners extend the regular season to 17 games -- a right they successfully bargained for in talks with the NFLPA -- that would push SB LVIII to Feb. 11, just two days before that year’s Mardi Gras. It’s somewhere between highly problematic and impossible for Mercedes-Benz Superdome to host the Super Bowl amid the citywide revelry, experts say.

  • One solution being floated, a source tells me, is to award 2024 to a new bidder -- possibly Las Vegas -- and then give New Orleans the 2025 game, when Mardi Gras isn’t until March 4. Pushing to another year is just one solution, and it still could be possible to save the game through other means, NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy and Saints Senior VP/Communications Greg Bensel suggested.

  • This scenario was discussed during the 2018 bid process, they said, and Bensel said the hosts secured promises that the NFL would find a new year for New Orleans or work to solve the 2024 scheduling dilemma. McCarthy: "We are exploring options with the Saints and the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation for the city to remain the host of the Super Bowl in 2024 or in a future year that would be suitable for both New Orleans and the NFL.”

 

  

NFLPA CANCELS ANNUAL ROOKIE PREMIERE

  • The players’ union has canceled the Rookie Premiere in light of the pandemic, a blow to the annual event that has grown out of its core B-to-B roots into a marketing extravaganza for young NFL players. The event had been scheduled for May 14-17 in L.A.; last year, 40 of the top rookies attended. Since its inception 25 years ago as a content shoot for the trading card industry, the premiere has grown into an intense four days of matchmaking between players and major brands like Nike, Gatorade, Fanatics and Panini, which has served as title sponsor. How important is the event? It’s the only business event explicitly mentioned in the collective bargaining agreement as an excused absence from team activities.

  • Panini America VP Jason Horwath told my colleague Terry Lefton the cancellation hasn’t stopped work. "We’re connecting with the players for content and [autographs] elsewhere,” Horwath said. "We get a ton done there, so not to say that isn’t meaningful to us. All these guys are at home now, so we can still get done what we need to.” The loss of the Rookie Premiere is an illustration of the increasing stress the pandemic is putting on football business even if the regular season is far enough out to still have a chance.

 

THE NFL's PARALLEL PATHS THROUGH COVID-19

  • The Shield cleaned up its coronavirus PR situation a bit yesterday, when Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills gave an interview to NFL Network about the prospects of starting the season on time. Sills gave a realistic, difficult account of what it will take to get back to normal -- needed after Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash told reporters on Tuesday the league was planning on “playing a full season."

  • Pash and the NFL got plenty of blowback for its bullishness, which came just hours after the Chinese government dashed hopes there of a quick rebound from the virus (incidentally, some NFL sponsors tell me they’ve heard the same optimistic message privately). But anybody who interpreted Pash’s comments as some indication of general league cluelessness isn’t thinking very hard -- there’s plenty of clear-eyed thinking going on behind the scenes.

  • More than half the 32 teams have pushed back season-ticket payment deadlines. The league has told licensees they have until July to pay minimum guarantees normally due in April. The NFLPA and the league are talking several times a week about how to handle offseason programs in light of the shutdown, and they are fine-tuning the rules for the NFL Draft in the age of quarantine. Every business I speak with is attempting the same balancing act: Continue with the work you can, trying to put yourself in position to thrive as soon as life goes back to normal, while also being pragmatic about what’s needed in the short term.

 

  

SPEED READS

  • “What he did here was just pure generosity and goodness.” That’s a quote from CNN last night by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking about Patriots Owner Robert Kraft’s role in bringing 1.2 million protective masks to the fight against coronavirus in the U.S., including 300,000 for hard-hit NYC. Cuomo has a rare degree of authority and respect right now, with an 87% approval rating for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and he could not have been more effusive for Kraft.

  • How will college football handle different state-to-state social distancing restrictions come the fall if games are able to be played? The Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud believes administrators will “try to find as many neutral sites” as possible. “Some are more booked than others, but a Saturday at [AT&T Stadium] or Mercedes-Benz Stadium? You could do some things throughout the Southeast and Midwest … It’s not ideal and there’s going to be revenue considerations. … The biggest thing is TV. You want the games to be played. You want to be able to honor those contracts. If that’s the way you have to do it, I think they would work it out.” This will be an issue for the NFL too -- fairness is paramount, but it seems improbable that all 30 markets will be under the same virus mitigation rules by training camp. 
  • It’s full steam ahead for the NFL Draft later this month, and opinions are mixed on whether the league is hitting the right note. Bleacher Report’s Adam Lefkoe: “I’m taken aback at the brashness of the NFL right now. … The NFL is literally the only entity right now that’s like, ‘It’s business as usual. By the way the schedule comes out May 9th, buy season tickets.’ It’s crazy.” Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson felt fan reception would be more positive if owners had done more to support the fight against the pandemic: “For the NFL placing itself in the stance that it does, it has not come together collectively and said here’s something that we are going to do.” (The league says the draft broadcast will include a major philanthropic component). Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd argued the league is giving sports fans a welcome distraction amid trying times: “They’re not seeking perfection. … What they’re doing with the Draft is strength and optimism over doomsday. … The Draft is the most optimistic five, six, seven-day stretch the NFL season has.” 
  • Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins said there has been “zero conversation with the NFL related to any sort of contingency plan for the upcoming season and Super Bowl” at Raymond James Stadium. Higgins this week has tried to take advantage of an open weekend for what was originally supposed to be WrestleMania’s stop in Tampa. He told the “Tampa Bay 55” podcast, “Our focus if anything is the fact that we’re trying to not take for granted that we got a couple weeks back from a planning standpoint that we didn’t anticipate having.”
  • Kirk Ferentz, like most football coaches, is usually neck-deep in spring practices at this time of year, but that of course has changed. The longtime Iowa coach tells the Waterloo-Cedar FallsCourier he has filled the hours in recent weeks by “helping his wife, Mary, clean out a few closets, catching up on some yard work and watching ‘more television in the last two-and-a-half weeks than in the last 15 years combined.’” Ferentz also “indicated that Iowa is not among college football programs using video conferences to attempt to hold regular position group or team meetings to teach football this spring.”

 

 

 

 

Enjoying this newsletter? We've got more! Check out our new "SBJ Unpacks" newsletter focused on the impact of coronavirus on the sports industry.

Something on the football beat catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to either me (bfischer@sportsbusinessjournal.com) or Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it. Also contributing to this newsletter is Thomas Leary (tleary@sportsbusinessdaily.com).