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Volume 25 No. 85

On The Ground

SBJ All-Access at the CFP: School's Out

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.

CROWD SURFING:

  • 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.

 

Did you like what you read? Did we miss something? SBJ/SBD is always looking to improve our products, so reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessdaily.com) with any comments/concerns/etc. Also, feel free to share our newsletters -- and encourage others to do the same!

SBJ All-Access At The CFP: South Bay Blitz

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.

Sports Business Executives Look Ahead To 2019

Happy New Year! As we look forward to 2019, we asked a handful of execs to weigh in with their thoughts on the year ahead -- from resolutions to stories to watch.

What is your personal resolution for 2019?

  • ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus: “A renewed commitment to physical fitness and wellness … plus more nights in Connecticut!”

  • Prime Video “TNF” analyst Andrea Kremer: “Continuing to remind myself each day how grateful I am for my husband and son, plus my myriad professional opportunities and challenges.”

  • N.C. State AD Debbie Yow: “Try to savor successes, rather than mentally check them off a list and immediately move to other goals not yet realized.”

  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles: “Less email and more time communicating personally. Read more.”

  • Dodgers Exec VP & CMO Lon Rosen: “To help break the Dodger Stadium attendance record for a second straight year, while logging at least 200 classes on my Peloton … or at least more classes than (Dodgers President of Baseball Operations) Andrew Friedman and (Dodgers manager) Dave Roberts.”’

  • Fox Sports Exec VP/Digital David Katz: “I’d like to exercise more, continue to improve as a manager and (hopefully) see a Baltimore Ravens playoff game!”

  • UFC COO Ike Lawrence Epstein: “Read, read and read. I have about 10 books that I bought in 2018 that I didn’t get a chance to start. I plan to do better in 2019.”

  • Arizona State’s Global Sports Institute CEO Kenneth Shropshire: “I am resolved to be more focused on obtaining and distilling great, impactful sport research, from Arizona State University and elsewhere, into digestible formats. People and entities that need the knowledge may not access it if it’s not in quick-read formats, documentaries, podcasts or intriguing events. That and bogie golf.”

  • Thirty Five Ventures Partner Rich Kleiman: “Talk less, listen more.”

  • Warriors Chief Revenue Officer Brandon Schneider: “Manage my calendar better so there is more time left in the day aside from meetings!”

  • SeatGeek Exec VP/Client Partnerships Jeff Ianello: “I’ve banned myself from one singular resolution. My goal is to ‘level up’ my activity each month in critical life areas. Thus, get a little better each month in a sustainable way. 1. Fitness 2. Diet 3. Meditation 4. Coaching Conversations 5. Reading. Level down on iPhone time while I’m with family.”

  • Fanatics co-President/Direct-To-Consumer Retail Jack Boyle: “To take my family -- six of us, including three kids in college -- on a two-week vacation across Europe this summer. I’ve never taken two weeks off, so finding a gap in the busy sports calendar and preparing mentally is just as important as the actual trip planning!”

  • ESPN The Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alison Overholt: “Meet new people: I’d like to connect with at least one new person in a meaningful way, every month in 2019. It’s so easy to become heads down, focused on the tasks at hand, and defaulting to the familiar, whether that’s people or processes or ideas or habits. This year I want to remind myself how much energy I draw from new ideas and experiences, which pretty much always flows from meeting new people.”

  • Galaxy VP/Marketing, Communications & Digital Brendan Hannan: “To continue to grow and evolve the LA Galaxy and Dignity Health Sports Park brands. And to beat Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a foot race.”

  • NBC Sports Group VP/Direct-To-Consumer Services Portia Archer: “I enjoy all kinds of music and recently purchased a new guitar. In 2019, I’d like to practice and play much more guitar, and finish a song (or two) that I’ve begun writing.”

  • Challenged Athletes Foundation co-Founder Bob Babbitt: “In 2018, we gave out 2,806 grants totaling $4.3M through CAF to get challenged athletes the adaptive sports equipment they need to stay in the game of life through sports. In 2019, my resolution is for CAF to help even more challenged athletes pursue their dreams.”

  • Red Bulls General Counsel & Chief Talent Officer Djenaba Parker: “Finish reading the 10-12 books (at a minimum) I have identified as ‘must reads’ for either my personal or professional growth and development … and add to the list. I am already telling myself that it must happen in 2019!”

  • MLL Atlanta Blaze Owner Andre Gudger: “Become more organized: Organization has been the key to success in my world. In 2019, I will chronicle all of my activities in a daily journal to ensure that all of my tasks have been followed through to completion.”

  • PlayerPager CEO Adam Salazar: “To empower more high school athletes who wouldn’t normally have the resources to earn athletic scholarships to college, so they can advance to the next level personally, academically and athletically.”


    The sports business story you are watching most closely in 2019?

  • ESPN’s Burke Magnus: “The sale of the FOX RSNs by Disney.  A close second place would be the free agent signing of Kevin Durant by the New York Knicks.”

  • Andrea Kremer: “The future of USA Gymnastics, and how can such organizations actually prioritize the care, health, and wellbeing of their athletes, not just shoot for Gold.”

  • IMS’ Doug Boles: “Transition of the Indy 500 to NBC after 54 years with ABC; sports betting; and esports.”

  • Fox Sports’ David Katz: “Seeing how many state legislatures will approve sports gambling and how aggressively it rolls out to fans.”

  • SeatGeek’s Jeff Ianello: “The evolution of the sports betting category and the monetization (or not) of esports.”

  • Fanatics’ Jack Boyle: “The increased prominence of women across the sports landscape as executives, stakeholders and influencers, which is exciting as the industry continues to diversify. At Fanatics, women’s merchandise is our fastest-growing sector, and with more brands bolstering their female assortment, I am expecting even higher growth in 2019.”

  • Galaxy’s Brendan Hannan: “The advancement of broadcast rights and further development of digital streaming for live sports.”

  • MLL Blaze’s Andre Gudger: “At MLL, the amount of diversity entering the fastest growing sport in North America has me excited for 2019 and beyond. Also, I’ll be closely following the ever-increasing marketing and streaming deals with major social media providers.”


    Who is an executive you are watching most closely in 2019?

  • ESPN’s Burke Magnus: “NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.”

  • Andrea Kremer: “Amazon VP/Global Sports Programming Marie Donoghue. The e-commerce behemoth continues to expand its sports portfolio, and the former ESPN executive with journalistic chops is leading the way.”

  • IMS’ Doug Boles: “Professional Lacrosse League co-Founder Paul RabilFeld Entertainment COO Juliette Feld Grossman and NASCAR President Steve Phelps.”

  • SeatGeek’s Jeff Ianello: “NBA President of Team Marketing & Business Operations and Chief Innovation Officer AmyBrooks: one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with, now charged with further innovating the NBA.”

  • MLL Blaze’s Andre Gudger: “Falcons and Atlanta United Owner Arthur Blank. His recent success with Atlanta United has me on the edge of my seat to see how he will continue to propel and transform MLS.”

Responses edited for clarity and consistency. Read more thoughts on the new year in the Jan. 7 issue of SBJ.

 

Thank You From Abe Madkour And SBJ/SBD

As we end 2018 and look forward to the promise of 2019, we want to thank all of you for your support throughout the year. We continue to try and offer products that you want and need as we seek to inform the sports industry and bring it together.

So, with New Year’s Eve upon us, here are some of our favorite stories of the year, as well as the ones that showcased the people who are driving the industry forward or making us think.

We hope you enjoy these stories as much as we did.

In 2019, we will continue to deliver you quality news, information, trends, analysis and data. You will see the launch of news verticals allowing you to go deeper on topics of interest. We will build and enhance our events, with more networking efforts designed to bring the industry closer together. We will also be a building out our offerings around data, insights and analytics via our RG Live product. So, we have a lot on our “to-do” list -- and we look forward to completing it and serving you better.  Please let us know if we’re missing anything!

Have a safe and happy New Year, and we send along our best wishes for an awesome, prosperous and healthy 2019!

 

Abe Madkour
Executive Editor

 

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Top Stories In Sports Business

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Top Stories In Sports Business

Between shakeups at major sports networks to scandal at Olympic governing bodies, 2018 had its fair share of big news. On this final Sunday of 2018, we look back on some of the stories of the year in sports business that stood out as industry-shaping narratives.  

LEGALIZED SPORTS BETTING GROWS
When the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 in May to overturn a federal law that restricted sports betting to Nevada, it triggered a flurry of legislative and commercial activity that seven months later only promises to intensify. Eight jurisdictions now have authorized legal sports betting as of year’s end, with at least a dozen more expected to take up the matter in 2019. Meanwhile, MGM Resorts moved quickly to become an official sports betting partner with the NBA, NHL and MLB. William Hill also jumped on the train, signing team sponsorship deals with the Golden Knights and Devils. DraftKings and FanDuel, in a shift from what was their core business of daily fantasy sports, have emerged as some of the leading operators of sportsbooks.

NEW LEADERSHIP AT ESPN
Disney’s Bob Iger picked Jimmy Pitaro to head up ESPN in March, replacing John Skipper, who resigned suddenly just a few months before. In the ensuing nine months, Pitaro has made his mark on the company by cultivating a calmer atmosphere and repairing relationships with some of its biggest partners. Under Pitaro’s leadership, Bristol has started to shed the criticism that its programming and anchors became too political. As the national anthem controversy died down, ESPN’s relationship with the NFL looks to be the best it has been in years, with the league just last month agreeing to have ABC carry NFL Draft coverage in 2019.

DISNEY ACQUIRES 21ST CENTURY FOX ASSETS, BUT PUTS RSNs UP FOR SALE
The biggest sports media story of 2018 may very well hold the same title in 2019, and that is the fate of Fox’s 22 RSNs after a sale to Disney. The Mouse House picked up the RSNs as part of its $52 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox’ entertainment assets. But in June, the Department of Justice said Disney would have to part with its newly acquired RSNs in order for the larger deal to get federal regulatory approval. As we head into the new year and the closing of the Disney-Fox deal, the RSNs could fetch upward of $20 billion. The big question, however, is whether Disney will be able to find one buyer to take all 22 RSNs, or will have it have to sell them off to several bidders?

NASCAR UNDERGOES CHANGES
Turnover at NASCAR during 2018 will be felt both in the boardroom and on the track in this coming year and beyond. Jim France replaced his nephew, Brian France, as NASCAR Chair & CEO in August after the latter was arrested for DUI in the Hamptons. Jim and niece Lesa France Kennedy are now quietly restructuring the sport, with a stunning $1.9 billion bid by NASCAR to acquire ISC in November. Meanwhile, after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship last year, Furniture Row Racing decided midway through 2018 that it would shut down after the season. That came after losing key sponsor 5-hour Energy and seeing its alliance fees with Joe Gibbs Racing nearly triple in cost. The closure shocked many in the industry and has given added urgency to NASCAR’s efforts to help teams overhaul financial models to make them more viable. 

SEATTLE LANDS THE NHL
After the rousing expansion success of the Golden Knights in Las Vegas, the NHL’s next stop will be Seattle. A group led by financier David Bonderman and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer paid a $650 million expansion fee for the league’s 32nd team, which is expected to launch in time for the 2021-2022 season. At the center of this bid was a bold vision for what is now KeyArena. The building will undergo an $850 million redevelopment by Oak View Group, whose CEO Tim Leiweke was deeply involved in the efforts to land Seattle an NHL team. And at the helm of the franchise will be Tim's brother, Tod Leiweke, who left his role as NFL COO for a return to the Pacific Northwest, where he once ran the Seahawks.

NEW CEO AT USOC; TURMOIL AT USA GYMNASTICS
In the run-up to the 2018 Winter Olympics, Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for sexually abusing hundreds of gymnasts, many of whom bravely shared their story in open court. That proved to be the start of a tumultuous year for the U.S. Olympic movement. USOC CEO Scott Blackmun resigned just after Pyeongchang, and USA Gymnastics -- already under new leadership -- kept enraging the women who had been abused through tone-deaf appointments and bad communication. The USOC’s choice to replace Blackmun, Sarah Hirshland, took over in August and has moved quickly, forcing out USA Gymnastics CEO Kerry Perry and later beginning the process to decertify USA Gymnastics, an unprecedented step for a NGB of that size.

For more stories of the year, check out the Dec. 24 issue of Sports Business Journal.

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Influential People In Sports Business

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Influential People In Sports Business

Plenty of execs and personalities made their mark on sports business in 2018, from new team owners to game-changing front office personnel to athletes who pushed for societal change on their various platforms. Below are a select few names that we felt made an impact over the past year. 

MAVERICKS CEO CYNTHIA MARSHALL
The respected former AT&T senior executive brought a no-nonsense, inspirational approach to a Mavericks club stung by a sexual harassment scandal and subsequent seven-month investigation. Marshall’s ability to quickly instill a new culture within the franchise -- including hiring and promoting several women to executive positions -- won the attention of the industry.

NETS MINORITY OWNER JOE TSAI
In April, NBA owners approved the sale of 49% of the Nets to Tsai, the Taiwanese-Canadian co-founder of China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba. With a path to full ownership by the 2021-2022 season, Tsai is sure to extend the global reach of the team and its parent company, BSE Global. The franchise’s total valuation based on the sale is $2.35B, setting a new NBA record.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE
When an FBI investigation produced charges of fraud against 10 people linked to college basketball, the NCAA knew it had to react quickly. So it turned to Rice, a former Secretary of State, to chair a committee that was charged with creating a set of reforms. The outcome included new rules on agent engagement, summer basketball camps, tougher penalties for cheating and extended eligibility for players who enter the NBA Draft and aren’t selected. While critics said the committee didn’t go far enough, Rice’s leadership set the tone for new guidelines that give college basketball a chance to hit the refresh button.

PANTHERS OWNER DAVID TEPPER
Any time someone spends $2.275 billion to buy an NFL team, a record amount, their influence is obvious. Without Tepper, a longtime hedge fund manager and among the wealthiest individuals in the U.S., the price might have fallen, or the league might have had to accept a substandard purchase. His signing of safety Eric Reid, who had been the first player to join Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem, also cemented Tepper as a new force within the NFL.

UCF AD DANNY WHITE
No AD did more to generate publicity than UCF’s Danny White. Whether you agree with his tactics or not, there’s no question his claim that the undefeated Knights were the true national champions after the 2017 season did more for the school and the American Athletic Conference than any other event in the conference’s first five years.

ALY RAISMAN
Winner of three Gold Medals across the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, Raisman is one of the dozens of gymnasts who spoke out this year about the rampant sexual abuse by former team doctor Larry Nassar and has emerged as a leading advocate for abuse survivors like herself. She called for an independent federal investigation of the USOC and USA Gymnastics and is a highly-sought-after speaker across the country.

For more names in sports business that stood out in 2018, check out the Dec. 24 issue of Sports Business Journal.

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Hits/Misses In Sports Business

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Hits And Misses In Sports Business

Merry Christmas! We hope everyone celebrating is unwrapping some solid gifts this morning. Our gift to readers today -- we look back at what worked well in 2018, and what may have missed the mark. So sit back, relax and use that new phone or tablet your family got you to do some light holiday reading. 

 

HITS

TRUE GRIT: The Flyers are near the bottom of the NHL Eastern Conference standings, but their garish new mascot Gritty has turned out to be one of the bigger viral hits of the year -- both in and outside of sports. The googly-eyed orange mascot even made Entertainment Weekly's list of "10 Things That Rocked The Internet In 2018." Descriptions of Gritty have ranged from an orange version the Dodgers’ Justin Turner to Cookie Monster on meth. Hats are off to the Flyers’ marketing department for this crazy creature.

Photo: GETTY IMAGES

CALIFORNIA LOVE: Much of the talk in the NFL this year has been the success of the Rams and Chargers in L.A., but the city’s pair of MLS teams made their share of headlines as well. LAFC was a rousing success in its debut season, clinching a playoff spot and drawing raucous crowds that filled the new Banc of California Stadium. LAFC’s cross-town rival, the Galaxy, made a splash of their own with the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish superstar sent Galaxy fans into a frenzy with his brash attitude and highlight-reel goals, while his jersey became MLS’ best-seller by the end of the season.

Here are some other hits that grabbed our attention in 2018:

 

MISSES

LIGHTING A MATCH: A practice round featuring Tiger and Phil at The Masters sparked what was supposed to be one of the showdowns of the year. Dubbed “The Match,” the PPV duel in Las Vegas the day after Thanksgiving promised side bets, trash talk and exhilarating golf. But the event fell short of many observers' expectations. A technical glitch on the new B/R Live streaming platform forced Turner Sports to take down its $19.95 paywall for the event and refund those who had paid. Meanwhile, Woods and Mickelson only made awkward small talk on the course, and a hesitant PGA Tour decided it wanted to limit the amount of side bets that could be made. But Turner felt the event was still a success, and will try the event again next year.

Photo: GETTY IMAGES

PACING THEMSELVES: A slow MLB free agency period put a damper on the early part of 2018, and a lack of player signings even led to some talk of a possible Spring Training boycott. The MLBPA even planned a Spring Training of its own for unsigned players. Some team execs, including the Red Sox’ Dave Dombrowski, called it the slowest offseason they had ever season, while others noted the lack of signings were hurting business aspects like ticket sales. The current offseason market is considerably hotter, with big names like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado expected to find new homes and big paydays.

Here are some other misses that grabbed our attention in 2018:

  • Calgary's effort to bid on the 2026 Winter Games fails to generate enough public support, and voters decide the 1988 Olympic host will not try for a repeat performance.

  • The NFL is forced to move Chiefs-Rams -- arguably the game of the season -- out of Mexico City due to poor field conditions at Estadio Azteca.

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Memorable Sports Business Quotes

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Memorable Sports Business Quotes

They said WHAT? As with every year, 2018 had some real head-turning quotes from people around sports. From the insightful to the hilarious, we continue our look back at the year in sports business and offers up some of the better quotes -- for better or worse -- of 2018. 

With Christmas Eve upon us, we hope everyone has a safe and joyful holiday. Keep your eyes peeled on Christmas Day as we unveil the hits and misses in sports business for 2018. 

 “He's the needle, the only one that moves us that exponentially” 
-- Golfer Kevin Kisner, on the effect Tiger Woods had upon his return to regular PGA Tour play.

“It's disgusting. It's corrupt. It's just wrong”
-- NCAA President Mark Emmert, on charges made by federal investigators on corruption in college basketball.

“If I had a daughter right now, I couldn't put her in it. I can't even trust USA Gymnastics”
-- Gold Medal-winning gymnast Shawn Johnson East, on the NGB in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.

“It was easier to get information out of East Germany before the Wall went down than the Patriots”
-- NBC's Al Michaels, on trying to get the Patriots to explain why CB Malcolm Butler was not playing in Super Bowl LII.

“It means you’re relevant again, if people are starting up with that stuff again. That people are concerned about us”
-- Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner, on the team’s “Evil Empire” nickname resurfacing.

“Trying to forcibly get the players to shut up is a fantastically bad idea”
-- Jets Chair & CEO Christopher Johnson, on potential changes to the NFL’s national anthem policy.

“Find people around you that are really, really willing to tell you when you’re full of it”
-- Retiring Utah AD Chris Hill, on what he would tell his successor.

“I say this lightly, but we’re just trying not to screw things up”
-- USA Curling CEO Rick Patzke, on the sport’s increased profile after the Pyeongchang Games.

“I'm not saying we need to go full Happy Gilmore and start trotting around the golf club like we're riding a horse. But we can loosen things up on a first tee box, where everybody is tight as it is anyway”
-- ESPN's Jordan Rodgers, on the PGA Tour Zurich Classic introducing walk-up music for golfers.

“I’m not here to make it kinda work. I’m here to make it work”
-- Tod Leiweke, on serving as President & CEO of the Seattle NHL expansion franchise.

“Radio can be a real sewer pit, and there’s a lot of backstabbing and knife-throwing and all that other stuff that goes on. We try to stay above all that stuff, but unfortunately you can’t, and three people basically have gotten screwed”
-- WFAN’s Boomer Esiason, on Mike Francesa’s return to the N.Y. station.

“Somewhere there's somebody that read the entire 60-page report and is like, 'Where is page 61 where we talk about the money?'”
-- ESPN's David Jacoby, on the Commission on College Basketball's report.

“He doesn’t beat his chest. He doesn’t parade around and say, ‘Look how good I am.’ Sometimes I wish we did a lot more of that for him”
-- Former NFL COO Tod Leiweke, on Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“The NBA is a global brand, they're Starbucks. The NFL is a massive domestic brand, they're Walmart. So on a selling-the-franchise basis, global can elevate a franchise”
-- FS1's Colin Cowherd, on why NBA team valuations are beginning to approach those of NFL clubs.

“I encourage all of you not to stick to sports. Do not stick to sports. Embrace it, celebrate it and let’s use it to build bridges and bring people together”
-- NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, while accepting the Sports Business Award for League of the Year.

“If you cooperate, they will be more lenient toward you if you assault women than if you deflate footballs?”
-- ESPN's Mina Kimes, on the NFL suspending Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston one less game than Patriots QB Tom Brady.

“It's LeBron James. He's already a global entity, so it wasn't necessarily about that”
-- Klutch Sports Group's Rich Paul, who reps James, downplaying the entertainment draw as the main reason James signed with the Lakers.

“It's difficult to get to that point where you say, 'OK, we're not going to be trying to win today’”
-- Orioles Exec VP/Baseball Operations Dan Duquette, on the team embracing a rebuild after trading SS Manny Machado.

“Skeptics likely would not have given George Washington and the Colonial Army a chance against the mighty British either, and we all know how that one turned out”
-- AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, on the conference continuing a push to be part of a Power Six.

“I was dead wrong about the sport in this city. We are in SEC football country, yet when you land here the only thing people want to talk about is Atlanta United”
-- ESPN’s Taylor Twellman, on how Atlanta has defied expectations as an MLS market.

“Thousands of football fans bum-rushing 10 fridges full of not enough beer will be memorable, alright. It's going to be kind of like that limited-edition lifeboat giveaway on the Titanic”
-- CBS’ Stephen Colbert, on Bud Light’s fridges around Cleveland that will open when the Browns win a game.

“You wouldn't put any of these guys in charge of Apple or Amazon, L.L. Bean or Walmart. I mean, you just wouldn't. There's not an elite executive in the bunch -- maybe a couple”
-- The N.Y. Times' Mark Leibovich, author of the new book "Big Game," on NFL team owners.

“We are in the ‘Holy Shit’ business. That’s the business I’m in”
-- UFC President Dana White, on how incidents like the brawl at UFC 229 help the sport.

“I would like to think the NFL could find a way to get these videos before TMZ does”
-- CBS' Bill Cowher, on the NFL not being able to obtain the video of Kareem Hunt.

“There’s been corruption in college basketball since two weeks after Dr. Naismith nailed in the first peach basket”
-- Former Georgetown men's basketball coach John Thompson III.

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Sports Media

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Sports Media

Rise and shine sports fans! Before everyone turns to Sunday morning news shows or setting their lineups for fantasy football or just that next cup of coffee, we look to bring you down memory lane as part of our 2018 rewind for the year in sports business. Today, we're looking back at some of the bigger stories that made noise in sports media. From the offices in Bristol to those at 345 Park Ave. and from the greens of the PGA Tour to the asphalt of NASCAR, read below for a quick look back at what moved the needle in 2018.

And we'll be back again on Monday with some of the best quotes of the year. Have a great Sunday!....

ROCK THE BOAT: ESPN shook up a great many things this year -- particularly within its executive ranks, on its most-visible booth and with its digital product offerings. The biggest change came at the top in the form of new President Jimmy Pitaro. The man who had headed up Disney’s consumer products and interactive media group since 2016 officially took the reins in March. Pitaro’s background in digital media was reported to have been a major plus in his candidacy, and he's needed those skills guiding the World Wide Leader through the ever-changing sports media landscape. Meanwhile, the “Monday Night Football” booth got a complete makeover. The network tapped Joe Tessitore for play-by-play and brought on broadcasting neophyte Jason Witten to replace Jon Gruden in the booth analyst role. The longtime Cowboys tight end has garnered mixed reviews in Year 1 (to put it nicely). For better or worse, the network also experimented with Booger McFarland driving along the sidelines all season. In response to the fast-moving direct-to-consumer work, ESPN also launched its long-in-development ESPN+. The OTT service's highlights have come in the form of a Bob Knight-focused “30 for 30” and “Detail” shows from both Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning. The network also struck a string of new rights deals with the likes of Serie A, UFC, the NHLIvy League and others to fill the service with live content.

Photo: ESPN IMAGES

RETURN OF THE KING: Nobody knew whether the NFL would rebound on TV coming into the 2018 season after a nearly 20% viewership drop the last two years. And after a sharp drop for the NFL Kickoff that drew another demeaning tweet from the Commander-in-Chief, things did not get off to a good start. But since that point, things have been solid for the NFL. Viewership has been buoyed by record-high scoring and closer games. The rise of young QBs like the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and Rams' Jared Goff, as well as the relative lack of injuries to star players, has also contributed to the ratings being up virtually every week thus far. Heading into the final two weeks of the season, viewership across the league is up 5%, and all media partners are seeing gains, including Fox in its debut season with "Thursday Night Football."

Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Here are some other stories in sports media that grabbed our attention in 2018:

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Sports Marketing

Our Year In Review: A Look Back At Sports Marketing

It’s hard to believe, but 2018 is coming to a close soon. But don’t fret -- SBJ/SBD is ready to take you down memory lane. Today, we offer a look back at the year in marketing. We’ve got stories ranging from the absurdly funny (you know you loved Phil Mickelson and his dancing in a Mizzen+Main spot), the conversation starter (Nike’s zeitgeist-shattering Colin Kaepernick campaign) and the home run branding effort (those Bud Lights went quickly in Cleveland).

So, without further ado, we offer you quick looks at some of the more memorable marketing stories from the past 12 months. Have a great Saturday! (and keep an eye out tomorrow for a review of the year in sports media).

THAT SWOOSHING SOUND: Days before the NFL season began, Nike re-signed Colin Kaepernick and made him the face of its 30th anniversary “Just Do it” campaign, highlighting Kaepernick’s protests against social injustices. The move put Nike directly in the political spotlight, as some applauded the brand for standing with Kaepernick and supporting his movement, while others threatened a boycott of the company. The campaign made headlines for days and ultimately proved to be beneficial for Nike's image, its stock price and Kaepernick.

Photo: NIKE

OPEN-DOOR POLICY: On the heels of the Browns’ 0-16 campaign last year, someone around the Bud Light marketing team had a stroke of genius. The brewer created 10 specially-locked “Victory Fridges” stocked with aluminum 16-ounce bottles to be distributed throughout Cleveland -- but it only unlocked via smart technology once the Browns clinched their first win in 2018. The promotion garnered a ton of coverage and was widely viewed as a funny and smart marketing strategy for Bud Light and the team. Pandamonium finally struck the shores of Lake Erie after the Browns defeated the Jets on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 3 to snap a 19-game winless streak. Dilly Dilly!

Photo: BUD LIGHT

Some of the other highs and lows from sports marketing, sponsorship and advertising during 2018:

  • Phil Mickelson takes the internet by storm and channels his inner Baryshnikov in a lively spot for Mizzen+Main.

  • Roger Federer’s career-long association with Nike ends as he signs a $300 million deal with Uniqlo over 10 years.

  • Puma makes its return to the NBA, signing its first major basketball talent since Vince Carter 20 years ago. The brand makes a big splash by securing No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.

  • MGM Resorts takes full advantage of the SCOTUS ruling on sports betting, signing leaguewide deals with the NBA, NHL and MLB.

  • Papa John's ends its NFL deal early, while teams across MLB end or suspend their deals with the pizza brand following John Schnatter’s alleged racist comments.

  • Looking to appeal to younger fans, the NFL, NBA and MLB all loosen restrictions on shoes and cleats players can wear before, during and after games.

  • CBS, Turner and NCAA sponsor Coca-Cola are upset with a campaign from rival Mtn Dew that features Grant Hill and takes shots at the NCAA’s trademarks around March Madness.

  • Lowe’s is the latest big-name NASCAR sponsor to bow out of the sport, leaving Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 after 17 years and seven Cup Series titles.