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Volume 27 No. 53

SBJ Football: NFL Faces The Music

We put up our Christmas tree last week. I’m usually quick to complain about premature holiday decor, but it’s a pandemic. We needed some cheering up.

NFL, Teams Scramble To Adapt To Music Industry Threats

The NFL will conduct meetings with teams tomorrow and next week to address the warnings some have received from lawyers representing the music industry, threatening fines for using copyrighted music on social media posts, sources said.

The letters, first reported by CBS’ Jonathan Jones, in many cases target music that’s on stadium PA systems while video is shot, which then can be heard on the resulting social or digital posts. Typically, teams have rights to play music in venue, but not distribute it socially.

Two sources said they expect the meeting to be “informational,” but one suggested the league should consider fixing the problem with a comprehensive, leaguewide license. Without a legal fix, teams will likely have to cull their archives and make big changes to how they produce content going forward.

Going back over everything ever created would be a time-consuming, costly endeavor, one team media source said. But with fines potentially rising into the six figures per violation, “It’s probably worth it when compared to the risk” of continuing to operate without a contractual solution, this person said.

Browns, Wicket Finding Success With Facial Recognition

The Browns are pleased with the results of an ongoing experiment to allow touchless entry to FirstEnergy Stadium with facial recognition software created by Wicket, Wicket, a spinoff of the in-venue ad measurement firm ISM Connect. Wicket makes camera tech that can identify fans even with masks on, allowing them to walk through ticket gates while complying with CDC guidelines.

More than 365 ticket-holders have opted in, Browns VP/IT Brandon Covert said, and none have been identified incorrectly so far. A key selling point for Wicket, compared to say, CLEAR, is that the data and images collected by the Browns stay with the team -- for the single purpose of Browns or FirstEnergy Stadium use, Covert said.

“Masks are a problem,” said Wicket VP/Venue Partnerships Jeff Josephson, but they can still get a reliable identity based on the parts of the face still exposed. “There’s no exception to the rules requiring a mask, and we had to be able to operate in those confines.”

The Browns already use Wicket for access control at team HQ, and will also implement it for back-of-the-house access at the stadium. They also envision using it for line optimization once crowds return in full, Covert said. For fans that opt in, “this will be for fan experience only,” he said.

An Update On Dan Snyder's Court Battles

Daniel Snyder’s lawyers are busy in courtrooms across the country, even as the team’s front-office makeover continues apace. An already remarkable flurry of litigation has only picked up recently, with big money and fierce rivalries hanging in the balance.

Last week, as the N.Y. Times reported, Snyder’s three minority partners -- Fred Smith, Robert Rothman and Dwight Schar -- sued him in federal court, asking a judge to allow their combined 40% interest to be sold as a unit for $900 million, which Snyder has blocked so far.

Meanwhile, Snyder’s quest to wring information out of his enemies expanded anew, with him seeking court permission to subpoena former GM Scot McCloughan’s wife, Jessica, and his agent, Peter Schaffer. He thinks they -- along with Schar and former team employee Mary Ellen Blair -- know something about articles that appeared on an India-based website that, without basis, accused him of being involved in sex trafficking (He’s suing the publisher for defamation, too.)

It’s impossible to predict how this all plays out. Some key questions: Does Snyder’s theory that Schar was involved in the effort to besmirch Snyder ultimately matter to the future of ownership? Does a court allow the minority owners a path out? Will the NFL’s investigation into sexual harassment inside the team uncover anything newly problematic for Snyder? Most insiders continue to believe -- based on what’s currently known -- that Snyder’s control of the team is secure.

Speed Reads

  • The Seahawks' CenturyLink Field will become Lumen Field after the naming-rights sponsor rebranded in September. The change is pending final approval by the Washington State Public Stadium Authority, which is expected today.

  • The NFL and Visa plan to make Super Bowl LV in Tampa cashless, a long-expected move in light of the pandemic. The switch also covers the Super Bowl Experience fan festival during the preceding week, as well as all future Super Bowls.

  • Pepsi saw a big jump in value earned on sponsored digital content during Week 10 of the NFL season, highlighted by the announcement that The Weeknd would be the Super Bowl halftime performer, according to new data from Zoomph. Compared to the average post from the NFL accounts this season, the league's post announcing The Weeknd got 8.5x more engagements on Facebook and 3.4x more on Twitter.

  • SBJ this week recognized leaders in sports facility design and development, and the list has deep ties to NFL venues. Gensler's Jonathan Emmett directed the vision for the Cowboys HQ and training facility, The Star, in Frisco, while HKS' Lance Evans led the design of the new $5 billion SoFi Stadium in L.A. Barton Malow's Len Moser is overseeing construction of the Panthers’ new $1 billion HQ and training facility, while Daktronics' Jay Parker worked on Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s halo display. SBJ also honored Dolphins President & CEO Tom Garfinkel for his creativity and influence in the design and positioning of Hard Rock Stadium. Check out our full list here.

  • Some interesting new podcasts coming from SiriusXM. Chris “Mad Dog” Russo will roll out "Digging Up The Past," with the first episode taking a deep dive into the history of Thanksgiving NFL games (including interviews with Bill Belichick, Earl Campbell and Bill Parcells). "Podversaries" will tell stories behind some sports rivalries, including an episode highlighting Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
  • UBS Global Wealth Management has launched an Athletes & Entertainers Strategic Client Segment, and the group will be led by former NFLer Adewale Ogunleye, who joined the firm in 2019.