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Volume 26 No. 179

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus And Sports

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- MLB, Union Look To Thread A Needle

As mass protests consume some of the nation’s biggest cities, we’ve seen the sports world respond with a flood of statements. Leagues, teams, execs, coaches and athletes have declared their support of black Americans who are once again taking to the streets to have their voices heard.

It’s an important step, yet it’s also never been clearer that words are not enough. In the NFL’s own words, "There remains an urgent need for action.” But what will that action be? It’s easy to proclaim commitment, much harder to back it up. I look forward to seeing how our sports leaders help turn the current pain into future progress.

--- Chris Smith 

 

SEASON LENGTH TAKES PRECEDENT IN MLB NEGOTIATIONS

  • As the clock continues to tick, the focus of the negotiations between MLB and the union has quickly shifted to the potential length of a regular season. One day after the union presented the league a counter-proposal that entailed playing a 114-game regular season, MLB is eyeing an even shorter season than the 82-game schedule it had initially proposed.

  • The news was first reported by ESPN's Jeff Passan, who tweeted that a regular season consisting of as few as 50-plus games is possible. If players are to be paid a prorated salary based on the number of games played, which the union insists was agreed on by both sides in their March 26 agreement, then the length of season is obviously critical to what is economically feasible.

  • MLB believes it will lose more money the longer the regular season goes. The other critical issue is when the postseason would end. The union proposed ending an expanded postseason in November. MLB has been steadfast that even with an 82-game regular season and an October postseason that there is legit risk of the virus' second wave shutting down the playoffs.

  • One relevant thing to keep in mind from the union's counter-proposal was that the union did introduce one element to negotiations that could ultimately steer both parties on a path toward resolution: Deferrals.

  • A way for both sides to thread a needle and reach a compromise may be to negotiate a percentage of salaries with interest to be deferred to both 2021 and 2022, even if the 2020 postseason is played. Those close to the union have told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that deferring salaries with interest was, in general, the likeliest middle-ground compromise, adding that they were disappointed when told that MLB didn't share that sentiment.

 

SOURCES: NASCAR CONSIDERS ALLOWING FANS THIS MONTH

  • NASCAR is evaluating allowing fans back at its races as soon as later this month, possibly at Homestead-Miami and/or Talladega, according to sources cited by SBJ's Adam Stern

  • The sanctioning body has held five Cup Series races plus a handful of lower-level events since returning in mid-May, all of which have been behind closed doors. NASCAR originally announced that all events in June would be held without fans, which made Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4 weekend the presumed first possible event back with fans.

  • However, sources said in recent days that NASCAR is now studying whether to allow a reduced capacity at events later this month where local rules would allow for it. NASCAR will continue with no fans at least through this weekend at Atlanta and a midweek event the following Wednesday at Martinsville. The series then goes to Homestead, Talladega and Pocono to close out the month. Pocono already announced that its event will be without fans due to a requirement by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

 

COMPLEXITIES AROUND THE RETURN OF COLLEGE SPORTS

  • The NCAA has cleared D-I programs to resume workouts and rolled out guidelines for schools to follow as they allow athletes to return to campus. At the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, located in a city in which cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise in recent weeks, that return will begin with voluntary workouts, likely in the middle of the month.

  • Bill King discussed the complexities of that resumption -- and the vast and continued impact of the pandemic on college sports -- with Charlotte AD Mike Hill on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  • “Patience is a virtue more than ever right now because we are all making projections based on other people’s best guesses,” said Hill, who is in his third year at the rapidly growing school, which last season made its first bowl appearance. “That’s not how we like to operate. You prefer to make data-driven decisions based on information that is solid, so you then can develop your strategies and move ahead. ... We’re doing the best we can with the information we have at hand. ... Ultimately you do have to start making some choices. We’re in that process now related to voluntary workouts, return to campus and what the fall might look like with practice and competition.” 

 

 

USTA COMMITTED TO ORIGINAL U.S. OPEN DATES

  • USTA Chief Exec of Professional Tennis Stacey Allaster said that if the NGB's board does decide to go forward with the U.S. Open, she expects it to be "held at its usual site and in its usual spot on the calendar," with the main draw scheduled to start Aug. 31, per Howard Fendrich of the AP. Allaster said, "The idea of an alternative venue, an alternative date ... we’ve got a responsibility to explore it, but it doesn’t have a lot of momentum.” She added an announcement should come from “mid-June to end of June."

  • Fendrich reported the USTA "presented its operational plan to a medical advisory group Friday; now that will be discussed with city, state and federal government officials." Allaster said, "We are spending a lot of time and energy on all the models, including no fans on site. The government will help guide us.” Meanwhile, USTA Chief Revenue Officer Lew Sherr said it is “less and less likely” spectators would be at the U.S. Open this year. 

 

TENNIS CHANNEL GOES DEEP INTO THE ARCHIVES

  • The Tennis Channel All-Star Fantasy Showdown, a simulated tournament pitting ATP and WTA players from the past 20 years against each other, commences June 8. Tennis Channel will use one actual, historical match -- Pete Sampras vs. Roger Federer or Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka, for example -- from its archive for each player pairing, with the winner of the rebroadcast match advancing in the fictional tournament bracket.

  • The men’s event will run from June 8-12, followed by the women June 15-19. Tennis Channel’s on-air talent will walk through the matches as they’re aired, as if the tournament was actually taking place. Nine of the matches that Tennis Channel picked have never been shown in the U.S. before. 

  • “We’re trying to figure out ways to entertain our audiences in this rather unsettled time,” Tennis Channel Director of Programming John MacDonald told SBJ’s Bret McCormick. He added that the showdown is an "opportunity for us to try things from a programming standpoint" that the channel would not have had before the current situation.

 

GETTING BACK TO WORK WITH FOX SPORTS’ BARRY LANDIS

  • Fox Sports lead NASCAR producer Barry Landis has moved from the production truck to the network’s Charlotte studio during the sport’s return to the track, working alongside the broadcast talent and two other producers. “We're separated, obviously, it is a large control room,” he explained. “We have workstations set up where we can at least see each other, which is nice. Sometimes being able to just read somebody's face is a pleasant thing to be able to do.” The rest of Fox’ workers are either at the track or in the L.A. studio.

  • Landis has been focusing on effective communication, a priority since the entire team isn’t together at one location. He said, “You didn't have to be overly-structured (before), as far as taking a look at elements for a show or pulling an announcer aside to talk about something because everybody was around. … The challenge, for sure, is the preparation. You’ve got to structure things a lot more stringently.”

  • With fewer staffers at the track, Fox has developed an instant messaging service for each NASCAR team to communicate directly with the network for race updates. Landis: “That has really helped get information that's pertinent to the broadcast, that we would be missing, had we not put that in place. … The race teams have really gravitated towards it and the system has worked out quite well, both from each teams’ competition side as well as their public relations side.”

  • Landis has been renting an apartment in the Charlotte area for the past few weeks, but today was headed home to western New Jersey to spend some time with his wife and kids, since NASCAR won’t hold a Wednesday race this week. “I’m extremely excited to get home for a few days, if for nothing else to take my dog for a walk,” he said.

 

Landis has been working from the Charlotte studio during NASCAR's return to the track the last two weeks
Landis has been working from the Charlotte studio during NASCAR's return to the track the last two weeks
Landis has been working from the Charlotte studio during NASCAR's return to the track the last two weeks

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: TECH, INNOVATION MARK NEW LANDSCAPE

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Havas Media Senior VP Jeff Gagne, who writes under the header, "Innovation And Tech Are Rising Up To Transform Sports."

  • "What should have marked a banner year for sports transformed into an almost empty season. Early bright spots included iRacing, NASCAR’s answer to esports, featuring actual professional drivers at home in digital racing simulators, and an all too familiar Zoom-style NFL Draft. While a far cry from the pent-up anticipation fans -- and marketers -- had prior to that fateful mid-March day when the sports world stopped, these innovations mark the types of considerations that each sport will need to take to pave a path forward."

  • To read Gagne's contribution, click here

 

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S SBJ

 

SPEED READS 

  • In response to MLS' threat of a lockout, players from around the league "declined to show up for training" today, per ESPN's Jeff Carlisle. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Atlanta United players "didn't turn up for the voluntary, in-person workouts," while the Minneapolis Star Tribune "reported the same for Minnesota United." A source said that players from the Crew also "didn't attend practice." FC Cincinnati issued a release stating that players "did not attend voluntary workouts."

  • The Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and nonprofit Own the Podium are committing C$5 million to efforts to restart Canadian high-performance sports, writes SBJ's Chris Smith. The new funding, which will be directed by the OTP-led Return to Sport Task Force, is intended to help provide safe environments for athletes returning to training and competition.

  • ESPN's Brian Windhorst writes under the header, "How The Trust Between Adam Silver And Chris Paul Will Shape The NBA's Restart." This is "unfamiliar territory and a stress test to Silver's way of doing business." By the time next season comes, if the "relationships the NBA commissioner has cultivated with all parties come away unscathed, it will be a minor miracle."

  • Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said today that having fans at Dolphins games "remains a possibility this fall," and he has "spoken with the team about having what would equate to as many as 13,000 fans for home games at Hard Rock Stadium." Per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson and Adam Beasley, that would mean the stadium would be at roughly 20% capacity for the NFL season.

 

  

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • MLBPA Proposal Seen As Progress, But Still Tough Sell For Owners
    • Sources: NBA BOG To Vote On Disney Return-To-Play Plan Thursday
    • NHL Plans To Test Players Daily When Season Resumes
    • D-Backs Furlough Or Eliminate More Than 25% Of Employees
    • L.A. Sports Teams Outline Return-To-Play Protocols In Signed Letter
    • AP Finds 97 Teams Eliminated From 4-Year Schools Amid Pandemic
    • States Could Accelerate Sports Betting Expansion Due To Pandemic
    • Delaware North Studying "Safer Stadia" To Establish Best Practices

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- NBA Sets Its Sights On Late July

The end of this week has been shrouded in disheartening current events. Let’s all make sure we try to recharge mentally and spiritually these next couple days.

At least the NBA has provided some positive sports news as we head into the weekend. At deadline, a breaking news report says the league has identified July 31 as its target return date, a day we can all circle on our calendars.  

Stay safe friends.

--- Bret McCormick 

 

NBA'S TARGET DATE NOT FINAL 

  • Despite the report mentioned above, a source told SBJ's John Lombardo that no final decisions have been made on the NBA's return. Discussions at the NBA Board of Governors Friday meeting included a restart format that would feature 16-24 teams. The clubs would most likely be seeded in current Eastern and Western conferences at Disney World in Orlando.

  • Other format talks focused on 16 teams seeded with a play-in format that could include the next four to eight teams. The source added that there are still a lot of questions of what the specific protocols will be.

  • ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, appearing on "The Jump" late Friday afternoon, said Commissioner Adam Silver ultimately is "going to largely make the decision" to come back. Wojnarowski: "He's not going to get consensus here, and he knows that. ... What he's going to try to do, is take as many elements that might impact any number of groups, and incorporate them into a plan. Everyone's not going to get what they want. Everyone's going to feel like they were a little short-changed. But that's what compromise is."

 

TIME OF THE ESSENCE IN MLB NEGOTIATIONS

  • The prevailing wisdom, despite all the acrimony, is that MLB and the union will strike a return-to-play deal at the 11th hour when the two dueling parties collide with a hard and fast deadline, writes SBJ's Eric Prisbell. But keep this in mind: The deadline is soft.

  • If you reverse engineer the process of starting the season around July 4, which has been the target date, the week of June 10 would mark the start of a three-week spring training 2.0. Players would also need at least a few days -- perhaps more for players living outside the country -- to travel to their respective markets or spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida. Then they would undergo diagnostic testing -- with results processed through MLB's Utah-based lab and available within 24 hours -- before spring training starts. In order to accomplish all that in June, time is of the essence. 

  • The primary complication in pushing the start date beyond July 4 would be how then to fit in the proposed 82 games, or more if the two sides agree on a 100-plus game regular season. That would require a creative scheduling model incorporating additional double-headers unless MLB wants to extend the regular season through October. And at least at this point, MLB clearly does not want to do that because it feels that staging a lucrative, expanded postseason in November comes with a heightened risk of a potential second wave of the virus.

  • MLB could earn as much as $1 billion from the expanded postseason, a prospect that is key to the economic feasibility of playing a shortened season in the first place. So while the deadline for a deal may be soft, a start date beyond July 4 could hamper the chances of playing 82 or more regular season games. 

 

 

NASCAR TEAMS BEGIN TO REAP RETURN BENEFITS

  • NASCAR has transferred purse money into teams' bank accounts from the initial Darlington races, sources tell SBJ's Adam Stern, another sign that the sport's economy is working its way back after the coronavirus shutdown.

  • The stock car series became one of the first sports in the U.S. to return following the pandemic in mid-May and has since pulled off its initial plan to run four Cup Series races, plus a handful of lower series events, over two weeks. It now heads to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.

  • While there were a handful of reasons NASCAR wanted to return as quickly -- and as safely as possible -- there may have been no greater reason than making sure teams could survive. Out of all the sport’s key stakeholders, teams likely had the greatest need to return as quickly as NASCAR did, while the sanctioning body, venues and media partners are better built to withstand such a shutdown.

  • Teams derive around 75% of their annual income from sponsorship, and sponsors for many teams started withholding checks during the shutdown. Most of the rest of the 25% comes from revenues related to on-track action like race purse, and those dollars also stopped during the pandemic.

  • Last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway represents one of the biggest race purses of the season, so the money from that event will be particularly welcome once it hits teams’ bank accounts. While NASCAR’s biggest teams would have been able to withstand a slightly more prolonged shutdown, the sport’s mid to smaller teams were in a much more perilous position in terms of having zero cash flow, so the re-opening of the sport may have come just in the nick of time for some of those outfits.
     

 

USA CYCLING FULFILLS SPONSOR OBLIGATIONS WITH VIRTUAL RACES

  • USA Cycling is leveraging virtual race platforms to remain engaged with its members and fulfill sponsor obligations, reports SBJ’s Chris Smith

  • The main avenue of participation has been through virtual race and training platform Zwift, which had been in conversations with USA Cycling before public health concerns shut down public gatherings like race events. USA Cycling Chief Commercial Officer Bouker Pool: “When COVID hit, we really ramped up the opportunity to focus on the virtual world and give our members, our athletes and our event directors a platform or place to engage and continue to compete.”

  • The result was the USA Cycling Virtual Race League, with races taking place every Wednesday from late April through the end of June. The event is open to all but has also involved professional cyclists, and Pool says there’s been an increase in membership sales tied to virtual racing and spikes in race licenses sold on days when the series is promoted. 

  • The virtual races have also provided USA Cycling an opportunity to fulfill sponsor obligations at a time when the real-world race calendar is wiped clean, as major sponsors like Levi’s and Champion have been worked into the digital offerings. “We’ve integrated them into the title of the event, and the promotion and the content,” said Pool. Sponsors are also involved in event prizing; Levi’s and Champion have contributed gift certificates, while endemic sponsors like Shimano and KT Tape have donated equipment. 

 

STATE OF THINGS: NHL, NWSL MAKE MOVES

  • Significant progress was made this week in North America’s return to sports, particularly in the team sports realm, which so far has been the most difficult to navigate during the pandemic, writes SBJ's Bret McCormick.

  • The NHL became North America’s first major sports league to announce a plan to return to action, though specific dates were largely absent, while the NWSL unveiled a plan to play a tournament at a single location in Utah beginning June 27. That date would currently make the women’s soccer league the first team sports organization to return to play on this continent.

  • Check out SBJ's website for a rundown of major sports leagues/organizations and where they currently stand with regard to the resumption of play.

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH NHL PANTHERS PRESIDENT MATT CALDWELL

  • NHL Panthers President & CEO Matt Caldwell is eager to get back in the office in June after having spent the better part of the last three months working from his home in Ft. Lauderdale. With the NHL on the brink of returning to the ice, the Panthers on Monday will begin “Phase 0,” as the organization prepares for a limited return on June 15. 

  • The plan is to have 50% of the staff work in the office on alternating days and potentially have one full work-from-home day a week. “We’re probably going to try that for a few weeks and see how it goes,” Caldwell said. 

  • Caldwell, a 2018 SBJ "Forty Under 40" honoree, is excited about the NHL’s plans for a 24-team tournament to finish off this season, and right now the primary goal is getting players ready and making sure the Panthers are prepared for the unique conditions. “Once training camp starts, we (will) have a lot more personnel in there,” he said. “So, we’re going to be very diligent with testing. We had to create a budget -- this is all stuff that we weren’t planning to do (before the pandemic).” Caldwell is also excited about the format: “Nothing’s going to be perfect. It’s hard to appease everybody. But you can tell a lot of thought went into it. It was great collaboration between the league and the players.”

  • One takeaway from working from home for Caldwell has been about becoming more efficient. “Most businesses probably meet too much,” he said. "It’s really forced us to be like, ‘okay, what’s most important to get on a Zoom and get to the bottom line?’” One quarantine routine Caldwell will try to keep with him is morning walks. “I was very diligent on trying to keep a workout early in the morning and then when I get back, take a walk with my wife and daughter before the sun really starts beating down on us here in South Florida,” he said.

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: ESPORTS' PATH FORWARD 

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Baltimore-based ad/marketing firm imre executives Jurgen Castro and Stefen Lovelace, who write under the header, "Esports Is The New Normal, And Opportunities Abound." 

  • "Every brand is watching audiences once averse to the concept of esports flock to them as they seek distraction, giving it a shot and some even finding themselves enjoying virtual games. It’s not hard to imagine a future where people stay hooked on esports to get their offseason fix and continue to watch their favorite athletes perform in a different kind of arena."

  • To read their contribution, click here.

 

CHECK OUT THE PRINT ISSUE OF SBJ THIS WEEK

  • Don’t miss this week’s issue of SBJ. Meanwhile, if you’d like to receive the print issue at your home office, update your delivery address at any time within your account settings here. If you have any questions about how and where to receive your print copy of SBJ, please email help@sportsbusinessdaily.com.

 

SPEED READS 

  • If and when the NHL resumes play later this summer, it could have an entirely new look and feel on television, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer appeared on a podcast episode of NHL Studios' "The Rink" earlier this week, saying that there will be a focus on audio, experimental cameras and closer shots of the ice. Mayer: “You want to hear the sounds of the NHL. You want to hear the players. You want to mic them up where we can. …  I think camera-wise, everything just coming down lower, showing the speed of the game.”

  • With California "poised to authorize the resumption of major sporting events, the teams and venues within Los Angeles County banded together Friday to tell county supervisors precisely how those events could be held safely," per the L.A. Times' Bill Shaikin.

  • The MLB Draft is "getting NFL Draft-style TV coverage this year," with ESPN "getting in on the action" to broadcast the event for the first time since 2008, writes SBJ's Austin Karp. MLB Network, "which has had the event in recent years, will still have its own separate production" 

  • Monster Energy Supercross is among the circuits returning to action this weekend. The series will resume on Sunday at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. It’s the first of seven made-for-TV Supercross races on NBC or NBCSN. No fans will be in attendance, but fans are being given the option to buy a custom poster. Those posters will be positioned in seats at the venue.
  • Fox Sports Regional Networks President Jeff Krolik, who ran the Fox-branded RSNs for the past 15 years, will leave his position on Aug. 30 -- around one year after Sinclair assumed control of the channels. Despite the challenges facing the RSN business -- from cord cutting to the lack of live sports during the pandemic -- Krolik told SBJ's John Ourand that he is leaving the business in good shape. “Live local sports is a great business,” he said. “It’s a terrific segment of the media business to be in. ... When baseball returns, that’s going to be a national story. No disrespect, but the return of ‘Property Brothers’ isn’t.”

  • Golf outlet The Fried Egg reports the PGA Tour will replace the July 9-12 John Deere Classic, which was canceled yesterday, "with a second consecutive tournament at Muirfield Village." The Memorial "will be played as an expanded invitational and the following week will be a traditional full field event."

  

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • Boston Mayor Expects Return To Normalcy For '21 Marathon
    • NFL Keeps Momentum, With Some Coaches Likely Back Next Week
    • Gary Bettman: Money Not Driving NHL's Return-To-Play Plan
    • No MLBPA Response Thursday, But Union Steadfast On Player Pay
    • Many MLB Clubs Extend Stipends To Minor Leaguers, Some Make Cuts
    • WNBA Starting To Prepare Restart Plan With Fanless Games
    • Big 12 To Slash Operating Budget By 10% Next Fiscal Year
    • TMS Hosting IndyCar Without Fans Despite New Rules In Texas
    • Annika Sorenstam To Award $50,000 In Grants To Symetra Tour Players

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- NFL Stays The Course

With the Bundesliga playing again, it wasn’t going to be long before the rest of European soccer found its way back. That time will be mid-June for both the English Premier League, which earlier today announced plans for a June 17 return, and Italy’s Serie A, which was cleared to restart on June 20.

Closer to home, there’s no indication that any of the major U.S. leagues are quite ready to set a date, though all are working toward it, with varying rates of progress -- which we’ll cover here tonight as well as curated via SBD’s News You Need link near the bottom of this newsletter.

--- Bill King

 

NFL COACHES COULD COME BACK TO WORK NEXT WEEK

  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he expects some coaches to be allowed back to team facilities next week, a big step toward keeping the league on schedule for the 2020 season, reports SBJ’s Ben Fischer. He did not provide an exact date, but said it will come as part of the league’s “next phase” of reopening team offices shuttered due to the pandemic.

  • Starting Monday, teams may reopen “ticket offices, retail shops and other customer-facing facilities,” if allowed by local law, Goodell said in a memo. Employees of those departments will count against the maximum of 75 workers allowed on site under the NFL’s original return-to-work rules. Coaches and players won’t be allowed back until all teams can return to work by law, but Goodell said almost all states with NFL clubs have either relaxed restrictions or are expected to soon.

  • “We are actively working with Governors and other state and local authorities in those states that have not yet announced definitive plans and will confirm the precise date on which coaches can return to the facility as soon as possible,” Goodell wrote.

  • Separately, the league extended the virtual offseason by two weeks to June 12. It had been slated to end tomorrow. Work continues with the NFLPA to determine rules and procedures in which players might get back to in-person practices. 

 

HAVE CONTENTIOUS NEGOTIATIONS ALREADY COST MLB?

  • In the wake of Max Scherzer's late Wednesday tweet, it is clear that the union and MLB are miles apart on economics and entrenched in their positions, writes SBJ's Eric Prisbell. It begs the question: Regardless of when and if both sides strike a return-to-play agreement, how much goodwill has the sport already squandered by a negotiating process colored by rancor, mistrust and tension?

  • Both sides are aware of the ugly optics. They've been unable to change the public narrative of two well-heeled parties -- billionaires versus millionaires -- squabbling over billions amid a health and economic crisis.

  • Baseball envisioned a prime opportunity to be the first North American team sport back in action this summer, providing the nation something familiar and comforting -- ESPN's Karl Ravech said baseball is like your favorite blanket. It's wanted to give the country something to rally around. That still may occur. But even if baseball returns by July 4, which is increasingly appearing like an optimistic target date, it may only have center stage to itself for about three weeks.

  • The NHL and NBA both may begin their playoffs in late July, a scenario that would give the sports-starved television viewer appealing options other than regular-season baseball. MLB and the union may well reach a player compensation deal in the coming days, but it remains to be seen what toll the contentious negotiations have already taken on its fan base.

 

 

STUDENT ATHLETES OPINE ON RETURN TO CAMPUS, COST CUTTING

  • Athlete Viewpoint is one of the few sources with feedback from college athletes. Jennifer and Michael Cross’ business, which typically conducts anonymous surveys of student-athletes to learn about their college experience, asked 3,677 respondents a series of questions about returning to play, with 48% responding from late April to early May. Here are some of the notable results:

    • Only 14% said they’re worried about coming back to campus without a vaccine.
    • Three-quarters of athletes do not want their competitive season shortened.
    • 68% think they should be allowed to return to compete, even if their school doesn’t have in-person classes this fall. Another 12% said they shouldn’t return until all students do.
    • Their greatest concern (84%) is getting back to campus this fall and then being forced to leave before the end of the semester.
    • 65% are optimistic or extremely optimistic about returning to campus in the fall.
    • 76% have some level of concern about their friends’ health; 64% expressed the same level of concern about their own health.

  • Athlete Viewpoint also collects anonymous comments. Here are three that stood out:

    • On saving money: “Focus only on the essentials, like safety equipment. Stop buying unnecessary stuff. … No one needs five pairs of sneakers.”
    • To play or not to play: “I honestly do not think any sports should take place until quick testing (or a vaccine) is available before every event.”
    • Student athlete life: “Evaluate pre- and post-game meals and training table. There’s a lot of food.”

  • For more from Athlete Viewpoint's findings, see Michael Smith's SBJ College newsletter.

 

NHL CLUBS INSTITUTE VARIOUS SEASON TICKET REFUND/CREDIT OPTIONS

  • With the NHL regular season officially canceled, some teams have started issuing more instructions to their season-ticket holders for obtaining refunds and credits for the missed home games, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns.

  • The Penguins had six remaining games, and season-ticket holders can apply that money toward the 2020-21 campaign or request a refund altogether. Those who purchased tickets to just one of the six games through the Penguins can apply that money toward a future game or obtain a refund. Fans who purchased single game tickets through Ticketmaster will receive an automatic refund in as soon as 30 days. Similarly, Wild fans who purchased tickets to canceled games through either the team or ticket platform Fevo will receive a full refund within 30 days. 

  • Some teams, like the Flyers and Maple Leafs, have already instituted plans for the 2020-21 regular season, writes SBJ’s Karn Dhingra. All Flyers season-ticket members were given the opportunity to defer April and May payments toward next year’s season memberships. Those fans could then use their credit for the six canceled home games for this season and apply it to the next scheduled payment in June. For the Leafs’ season ticket members, their first payment for next season was deferred from April to June.

  • Clubs such as the Blues have opted for a flexible approach while still trying to retain gate revenue. Season-tickets holders’ balance for unplayed games will be applied toward next season, the team said. Still, if an individual doesn’t want a credit and would prefer a refund or apply that money toward a single ticket or group package, for example, the Blues said it would work with that person to find the best option.

 

NFL, UNION FINALIZE DEAL WITH EA SPORTS THROUGH 2025

  • The NFL and NFLPA both finalized deals today with EA Sports to extend the exclusive Madden video game franchise through at least 2025, with an option for 2026, reports SBJ's Ben Fischer. The deal is the "biggest and widest-reaching gaming deal” yet for the league, the parties claimed, making EA Sports a key player across all aspects of the NFL and the union’s efforts to develop new young fans through digital platforms -- including social media strategy, esports, new NFL-themed games and content marketing.

  • “The last time we did this deal, we weren’t thinking about things like integrating broadcast, things like fantasy, and how all those things can come together in a singular platform,” said EA Sports VP/Global Brand Management Anthony Stevenson. “Those just weren’t conversations we had. Whereas when we sat down for this, it was really at the center of it.”

  • Terms were not disclosed, but a source familiar with the deal valued the pact at between $900M-$1B for the NFL, and between $600M-$700M for the NFLPA depending on sales. For more, see today's issue of Closing Bell.

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH MELT CEO VINCE THOMPSON

  • MELT CEO Vince Thompson has been taking as positive approach to remote working as he can over the past several months. “I’m cooking more. I’m exercising more. I'm getting better quality sleep. I'm having more quality interactions with my staff,” he said.

  • While parts of Georgia are beginning to re-open, Thompson said his Atlanta-based marketing agency won’t open its office just yet, as he wants to mirror what his clients are doing, most of whom are still working from home. That hasn’t slowed things down in his eyes, though. “We've been able to do some things for the organization that we weren't able to do for a long time because we were on the hamster wheel,” he said. 

  • Thompson has made sure to check in on his clients’ well-being lately. “We're all in the very relationship-driven business,” he said. “Your clients are your family. You want to make sure they're okay.” He spends a few hours each day reading about the status of other industries, looking for any lessons he can learn and apply to sports’ eventual return. Thompson said he is taking a “matrix approach,” speaking frequently with broadcasters and athletic directors to discuss all the potential options for college football this fall.

  • The MELT U intern program has been forced to go virtual this summer, something Thompson thinks will be a big benefit for all involved. “We may have a thousand kids enrolled this summer,” he said. “We can get access to more speakers now because they don't physically have to come in.” Another bright spot for Thompson has been slowing down and taking in more of his surroundings. “We've had a beautiful spring here and I think we probably have always had beautiful springs, but maybe I'm just noticing more,” he said.

 

Thompson earlier today participated in a webinar on the business of sports
Thompson earlier today participated in a webinar on the business of sports
Thompson earlier today participated in a webinar on the business of sports

 

CHECK OUT THE PRINT ISSUE OF SBJ THIS WEEK

  • Don’t miss this week’s issue of SBJ. Meanwhile, if you’d like to receive the print issue at your home office, update your delivery address at any time within your account settings here. If you have any questions about how and where to receive your print copy of SBJ, please email help@sportsbusinessdaily.com.

 

SPEED READS 

  • The Boston Marathon today was canceled for the first time in its long history. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said during a briefing outside City Hall that organizers have "determined that the race, initially pushed back from April to September 2020, was 'not feasible' this year." Boston Athletic Association CEO Thomas Grilk said that the BAA will "offer a virtual marathon" anytime between Sept. 7-14.

  • Sports betting stocks are "surging despite the lack of live games," per Axios' Jeff Tracy. Since going public on April 24, DraftKings' stock is up 82%, while Penn National Gaming -- which acquired Barstool Sports in January -- is up 130%. Tracy: "This surge signals a wider truth about the sports betting industry -- it is uniquely suited to emerge from the pandemic virtually unaltered."

  • WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert sounds closer to announcing a plan of action for the league to begin its season. Engelbert told the Washington Post's Kareem Copeland that in the initial weeks after delaying the original May 15 tip, "(Scenarios) were changing every other day. Whether it was medical protocols, the operational logistics, how many courts do you need, etc. That’s starting to settle a little bit. I would call them now a few base scenarios and then permutations off of those." Engelbert also conceded that whenever games do start up, they are "likely be fanless."

  • French Tennis Federation General Director Jean-Francois Vilotte is still moving ahead with plans for a September French Open, but conceded today that a fan-less event would be a "last resort." Villotte told the AP, “I have a hard time understanding why restaurants and shops are allowed to re-open, but we can’t do so at a big event like ours.” One of Vilotte's possible pain points? Last year's French Open "broke its attendance record" with 520,000 fans.

  • The Ringer's Bryan Curtis writes under the header, "Five Ways Pandemic-Era Sports on TV Could Be Better Than Ever." The COVID-19 crisis has "grounded sports producers for two months, offering them a rare chance to stop and think about what we see." Now they "have some wild ideas that just might reshape the way we watch games on TV."

  

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • Sources: MLBPA Wants More Games, Full Prorated Salaries
    • NBA Unlikely To Make Decision On Season By Friday BOG Meeting
    • NHLPA's Don Fehr Goes Deep On Negotiating For League's Return
    • Testing Could Be Biggest Hurdle For NHL In Plans For Return
    • Bruins Pay Team, Arena Employees After NHL Season Canceled
    • Viagogo, StubHub Face Steep Climb Without Live Events, Heavy Demand

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- MLB, NBA Return Plans Still In Flux

Did anyone ever believe in a smooth MLB restart given the divide between the union and owners? Both sides are negotiating a deal to salvage an 82-game season to be played in front of no fans at the start. Talks continue as players and management battle over salaries and COVID-19 safety protocols.

Both sides face the prospect of financial devastation from a canceled season, so it seems compromise eventually will prevail. But major obstacles remain and a history of distrust between the union and club owners can’t help.

--- John Lombardo

 

WHAT'S NEXT FOR MLBPA?

  • Now that the MLBPA has left no doubt about its displeasure with MLB's economic plan, what's the union's next move? SBJ's Eric Prisbell reports the union believes the league slow-walked negotiations by waiting two weeks before presenting a plan. MLB believes it was forced to formulate a new plan after the union quickly nixed the floated revenue-sharing structure.

  • If the union does offer a complete counterproposal, two elements may be introduced into the negotiations: lengthening the season and/or deferring a portion of player salaries with interest to 2021 or beyond. There are complications with both.

  • If players are to be paid for each game, the union could propose that the regular season include more than the proposed 82 games. But that wouldn't address MLB's claim that some teams are assured to be worse financially if they play games in empty ballparks versus not playing games at all, or MLB's claim about losing more than $600,000 on average for each game played in a shortened season.

  • The other issue is how to fit extra games in. On the front end, it's already becoming a challenge to start the season around July 4, much less earlier. And MLB already harbors concerns about staging the postseason as late as October, much less pushing it back later, because of the risk that a second wave of the virus could deny the league some $1 billion in revenue from an expanded playoff structure.

  • As for deferring a portion of player salaries, even if some sort of sliding compensation scale is used, the union does view deferrals as an intriguing compromise option and the most likely one to be broached. But MLB believes such an option is not feasible because the economic crisis in 2021 is not expected to be markedly better. Could deferring a portion of salaries beyond 2021 be an option? It's unclear if the union would be on board.

 

 

FINALIZED NBA RETURN PLAN NOT LIKELY BY FRIDAY

  • As Friday's NBA Board of Governors conference call meeting nears, there is a greater focus over restart specifics, but clarity may not come by the end of the work week, according to sources cited by SBJ's John Lombardo

  • While the NBA has confirmed that they are in discussions with Disney, the league continues to discuss format scenarios while crafting safety protocols. One source said that while the board call comes as part of a regular two-week discussions schedule, it will narrowly focus on particulars of the restart, including format.

  • Late this afternoon, ESPN cited sources saying the league and NBPA are "progressing on a plan that would allow for a limited number of family members to join the players for the season's resumption inside an Orlando bubble environment." This report comes after traction on the NBA's plan "waned over the last several days," as not every team is "motivated" to be in Orlando, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

  • Meanwhile, the NBA may not be the only game in town if the league restarts this summer. New reports now say MLS is considering using the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex for a shorter return tournament, setting up Orlando as a hub for major U.S. sports leagues as they resume play. Disney CEO Bob Chapek on CNBC today also threw his support behind both leagues' return in the city.



EA SPORTS SEES BIG INCREASE IN TV EXPOSURE FOR ITS TITLES

  • A quick pivot by EA Sports during the pandemic delivered the publisher more linear TV time in April than in all of 2019 combined, according to SBJ’s Adam Stern. EA had plans for 2020 to expand its live esports presence for titles such as Madden, FIFA and Apex Legends, but coronavirus put the brakes on much of that. But with networks like ESPN needing fresh content to fill programming hours, EA moved fast to make online competitions available for those highly-visible networks.

  • Todd Sitrin, Senior VP & GM of EA’s competitive gaming division, told SBJ, “All traditional sports shut down and are still shut down, which meant gaping holes in certain broadcasters’ schedules. ... Millions of people been exposed to esports in this time period.” Sitrin: “This is going to have resonated with a lot of them.”

  • Sitrin noted EA is at somewhat of an advantage in publishing games that are based on traditional stick-and-ball sports -- games that are easy to understand for a typical ESPN viewer, as opposed to more complex titles. Sitrin said that EA has also been able to take advantage of many pro athletes being stuck at home. Many of those athletes -- including Travis Kelce, DeAndre Hopkins and Melvin Gordon -- have participated in EA celebrity tournaments.

 

NHL RETURN PLAN OFFERS "GLIMMER OF HOPE"

  • Reactions poured in today to the NHL's official restart plan, with Sportsnet's Chris Johnston writing Commissioner Gary Bettman "offered a glimmer of hope," and that is "not something his North American-based counterparts have yet been able to do." There was a "decidedly optimistic tone to the NHL’s message despite it being delivered without ironclad guarantees, promises or even timelines." 

  • The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont wrote, "Let’s give NHL owners, and more so the rank and file stick carriers, an A-plus for effort, good intentions, and risk tolerance." In Ottawa, Don Brennan writes NHL fans "should be thankful for what happened" yesterday, as their league "has a plan to play." Brennan: "The NBA doesn’t. Neither does MLB." Not everybody will like the plan, but the league "knew that was going to be the case going in." At least they "came up with something." 

  • SBJ's John Ourand in tonight's SBJ Media newsletter notes the NHL did not offer a lot of details about how its playoff plan will look from a TV perspective, but cites sources that U.S.-based RSNs expect to be able to carry their teams’ first-round playoff games, though those plans still have not been communicated to them.

  • For more on the NHL's plan, see today's issue of SBD

 

WORLD TEAMTENNIS: GREENBRIER SAFEST OPTION FOR TOURNEY

  • World TeamTennis CEO Carlos Silva shared more details about the league’s decision to hold its 18-day competition in July at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Silva said that the WTT considered locations in Las Vegas, California, Texas and Florida, among others, but that The Greenbrier won out, in part because of the enclosed nature of the resort. The ability to host fans was another differentiating factor in The Greenbrier’s favor, an offering that none of the other potential host sites could promise. 

  • Everyone involved with the WTT competition, including 60-plus players and coaches, will stay at the resort, limiting possible virus exposure. Anyone connected with WTT will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival, then subject to temperature monitoring throughout the subsequent three weeks. The WTT is allowing 20% fan capacity at the resort's 2,500-seat tennis stadium. Families that attend matches can sit together, but other groups of fans will be seated at least six feet away.

     

WORKING FROM HOME WITH ESPN'S MARIA TAYLOR

  • ESPN host Maria Taylor opted to head home to Atlanta rather than stay in her N.Y. apartment during quarantine, just as she was in the process of moving. “I closed on a house in February. … There were some renovations that need to be done and I had already set those wheels in motion, so now I'm kind of living through the renovations,” she said. Taylor has been doing regular Instagram Live videos, especially during the NFL Draft, and has been a part of the “NBA Countdown” stay home editions released on social media every Tuesday and Thursday.

  • Taylor has a big light in her office for any video hits she does from her laptop or iPad. And while there have been no big tech issues for her, she admitted bringing guests in can be a challenge. She said, “We might have very good setups and we might have good Wi-Fi … but the person you're interviewing usually doesn’t and there’s really nothing you can control with that.” Taylor: “You almost during the interview have to be like, ‘hey can you move the phone this way or turn that way?’ And you're like live producing while it's happening.”

  • Taylor has added at least one skill to her repertoire recently. “When I first moved, I actually started painting the room upstairs, so I consider myself a semi-professional painter now,” she said. And besides living in what she calls a “construction zone,” she seems to have found her groove. Taylor: “It’s interesting to just have a routine. I'm so used to being on and off a flight. …  But it definitely took, I would say, like two and a half weeks to feel just comfortable being still, which is not the norm for me.”

 

Taylor has been doing regular Instagram Live videos from Atlanta, and has been a part of the “NBA Countdown” stay home editions
Taylor has been doing regular Instagram Live videos from Atlanta, and has been a part of the “NBA Countdown” stay home editions
Taylor has been doing regular Instagram Live videos from Atlanta, and has been a part of the “NBA Countdown” stay home editions

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: DRAWING UP A NEW PLAYBOOK

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Scout 360 Property Strategy & Analytics' Scott Savran, who writes under the header, "Our New Sponsorship Economy: Will You Innovate, Or Simply Maintain?"

  • "Sponsorship has become more intelligent and buyers and sellers are making more data-informed decisions than ever before. This evolution has been amplified as all parties look to understand the impact this pause will have in the short and long term. A new playbook is needed so properties can accurately value their media, audience and brand impact."

  • To read Savran's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS 

  • SBJ's John Ourand has the viewership breakdown for Sunday's "The Match II" audience: TNT with 3.363 million; TBS with 1.365 million; HLN with 650,000; and truTV with 289,000. Ourand: "Given the success, it’s easy to see why all sides would want to put a third event on the calendar. But sources cautioned that 'The Match II' -- coming in the middle of a sports shutdown with a foursome that displayed incredible chemistry -- essentially caught lightning in a bottle." See more in SBJ Media.
  • Baseball America's Kyle Glaser reports as of right now, the Padres are the only MLB team to "commit to paying their minor leaguers through August AND have no furloughs/layoffs for their baseball employees through October." Glaser: "'I'm told GM A.J. Preller was a driving force in making this happen with ownership. He deserves a lot of credit for helping to keep people employed and the minor leaguers paid."
  • English Premier League clubs have "unanimously voted to resume contact training" as "Project Restart" moves to phase two. Players will be able to "train as a group and engage in tackling while minimising unnecessary close contact," a statement said. EPL CEO Richard Masters said last Friday that he was "as confident as we can be" about resuming the season in June.

  • The Grand Slam Tennis Tours MatchPlay 120 Series kicked off this week in several locations across the U.S., one of a handful of no-fan tennis exhibition events that have popped up all over the globe during the pandemic. The series, featuring numerous top-300 ATP and WTA pros, is being streamed for free on Grand Slam Tennis Tours’ website. GST Director of Marketing Kyle Ross, who is running the six-week event from his mother-in law’s house in Rhode Island, caught up with Bret McCormick on the latest SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • NHL Offers Hope For Return Of Sports With Official Restart Plan
    • NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr Says Safety Key For League's Return
    • Latest MLB Player Compensation Plan Not Well-Received By Union
    • Some NBA Teams Not Motivated To Be In Orlando For Restart
    • A's Begin To Implement Furloughs Amid MLB's Work Stoppage
    • Brewers Owner Working With State, City On Miller Park Return
    • Sports Union Leaders Talk Resuming Play, Athlete Safety
    • Wizards' John Wall Providing Rent Assistance To DC Families

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- The Iceman Cometh?

Today, the NHL became the first of the major pro sports leagues to formally unveil its return to play plan, although it’s just that at this point. A plan. There’s no guarantee the league will resume play based on local government guidelines and safety protocols amid COVID-19. However, there’s now more optimism and positive news than ever.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said on a media Zoom call this evening that it’s conceivable to believe the NHL could resume play in late July or early August. But, yes, even that isn’t engraved in stone.

Be well. 

--- Mark J. Burns 

 

BETTMAN OUTLINES NHL'S RETURN

  • NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman today announced the league’s return to play plan, while also confirming the regular season is over, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns.

  • Assuming local government health guidelines and safety protocols allow, 24 teams will resume play in a playoff tournament hosted between two hub cities that haven’t yet been determined. The 10 cities under consideration include Toronto, Las Vegas, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Dallas, L.A., Minneapolis/St. Paul, Vancouver and Pittsburgh. Bettman said that the top four teams in each conference will play a three-game round robin to determine playoff seeding. The bottom eight teams in each conference will play a best-of-five play-in series.

  • Each club will be allowed up to 50 people in their hub city. Bettman said that comprehensive testing “will be in place” in both cities. He also said that the NHL will likely have to make a decision on the two hub cities in about three weeks. The league is still targeting early June for voluntary individual workouts for players at teams' training facilities. Formal training camp won’t begin until at July 1 at the very earliest, according to the plan.

 

DOLPHINS GET CREATIVE WITH HARD ROCK SPACE

  • The Dolphins unveiled two new concepts today for social distancing-compliant event spaces at Hard Rock Stadium, including a drive-in movie theater for 230 cars inside the seating bowl, reports SBJ’s Ben Fischer. Also, the stadium’s south plaza will be redesigned to accommodate small groups for “intimate viewing experiences.” 

  • The drive-in will show classic films and historical Dolphins content, and also be available for graduation ceremonies and the like. Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel said the team has been working for weeks to find ways to use the space to provide safe options for gathering. Food and beverage will be available at events with an online ordering system and delivery. 

  • Garfinkel: “It’s a fundamental human need to physically experience and celebrate events and experiences together, and we’re trying to provide options for everyone where they can be safely socially distant and socially present at the same time.”

The Dolphins' drive-in movie theater at Hard Rock can fit up to 230 cars inside the seating bowl
The Dolphins' drive-in movie theater at Hard Rock can fit up to 230 cars inside the seating bowl
The Dolphins' drive-in movie theater at Hard Rock can fit up to 230 cars inside the seating bowl

 

MLBPA "EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED" IN COMPENSATION PLAN

  • MLB presented the MLBPA with a new player compensation plan this afternoon that entails a sliding scale of compensation instead of a revenue-sharing structure, a source told SBJ's Eric Prisbell. The plan was not well-received, as the union said it was "extremely disappointed" in the proposal that involves massive additional pay cuts. The union also says the two sides remain far apart on health and safety protocols.

  • The presentation signals the start of formal negotiations between the two sides that hope to strike a deal in the next week in order to start spring training 2.0 around June 10. The plan details that players who earn the most would take the largest cuts in salary while those earning the least would receive most of their guaranteed salaries.

  • At the heart of what the two sides dispute: How much money will owners lose during an 82-game season played in empty ballparks, and therefore how much can owners afford to pay players? MLB believes it will generate some $3 billion in revenue during an 82-game season in empty ballparks. It believes paying players prorated salaries, as the union says was the agreement in March, based on an 82-game season would eat up some $2.4 billion of that. But the union is skeptical of MLB's revenue projections. 

  • Shapiro Negotiations Institute CEO Andres Lares, who has advised pro sports teams for more than a decade on player contracts, trades and sponsorships, said owners have long separated other revenues from those that are included in game-day revenues shared by MLB. Lares: "This is not necessarily a malicious practice by owners, nor is it only to protect it from sharing it with players. There are many other reasons to do so -- however, it does often feel, to the players, that they are getting a cut of a smaller pie. I don’t see these changing and as a result there will always be some level of mistrust about the numbers between the league and the players, but not one that is insurmountable based on the dollars at stake."


BANC OF CALIFORNIA EXITS NAMING-RIGHTS DEAL WITH LAFC

  • LAFC is back in the market for a venue naming-rights partner, as Banc of California has announced it will restructure a 15-year, $100 million deal for the downtown L.A. venue -- a pact that was the richest among MLS-specific stadiums, writes SBJ's Karn Dhingra. Banc of California, which signed the deal in 2016, will remain the team’s primary banking partner and collaborate with LAFC on other projects.

  • The venue was set to host this year’s MLS All-Star Game before the pandemic forced the cancellation of the tentpole event. But MLS has already said LAFC will host the 2021 game. When Banc of California reported quarterly earnings a month ago, a report from Zacks Equity Research noted the bank’s shares have lost about 37% of their value since the beginning of the year and the company has “not been able to beat consensus revenue estimates over the last four quarters.”

 

FOX SPORTS PLEASED WITH NASCAR VIEWERSHIP UPON RETURN

  • Fox Sports Exec VP/Research, League Operations & Strategy Mike Mulvihill told SBJ's Adam Stern that the NASCAR Cup Series “has a good chance to finish this season about even with last year’s viewership despite a rained out Daytona 500 and a 10 week interruption,” adding that this “would be a remarkably positive result.” NASCAR got four Cup races in before the season was suspended, and it is now one of the first properties to have returned.

  • After two events at Darlington, Fox is averaging 5.15 million viewers after six events, off 3% from 5.31 million last year. This does not take into account the Coca-Cola 600 viewership from a couple days ago. Mulvihill said he was particularly struck by how 30% of viewers for the first Darlington race had not watched any prior races this year, and that the average viewer tuned in earlier and stayed longer than usual, which “are all signs of a pent-up demand for sports.”

  • “From the beginning NASCAR was clear about their intent to be the first major sport back -- they made it happen and now they’re being rewarded for their effort as they have the stage largely to themselves for the next six weeks,” Mulvihill wrote in an e-mail.

  • Tomorrow night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR will run its second mid-week Cup race after running the first one since 1984 last week. That event -- impacted by rain -- averaged 2.087 million viewers, which was slightly lower than some industry expectations. Mulvihill said Fox is hopeful it can "grow the audience for upcoming Wednesday races with better weather and against softer primetime competition.”

 

 

COLLEGE CONFERENCES LOOKING FOR COST SAVINGS IN REGIONAL SCHEDULING

  • Several conferences looking to save money have turned to scheduling games closer to home, especially in sports other than football and basketball, writes Michael Smith in tonight's SBJ College newsletter as well as in this week's edition of SBJ. The American Athletic Conference is discussing a plan with its members to schedule the regular season as independents, giving them the freedom to arrange more games closer to home and cutting down on travel costs. Then AAC schools would come together at the end of the season for conference championships in sports like volleyball, soccer, baseball and lacrosse.

  • Cost-cutting ideas like this have been around for years, but with schools looking to cut back on 2021 budgets, they’re becoming more realistic. Louisiana AD Bryan Maggard over the weekend brought back the call for his conference, the Sun Belt, to merge or realign geographically with Conference USA. Both conferences span the Mid-Atlantic through Texas, making travel an expensive proposition at a time when they’re desperate to cut costs. Maggard: “It doesn’t make good economic sense to put teams on airplanes and fly over schools that you can drive to. That’s the ultimate change that needs to happen.”

 

 

TRAIL BLAZERS' LILLARD: NOT INTERESTED IN "MEANINGLESS GAMES"

  • Trail Blazers G Damian Lillard told Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes that he won't participate in a resumed NBA season this summer if his team doesn't have a "true opportunity to get into the playoffs."

  • Lillard, whose team currently sits 3.5 games out of the eight seed in the Western Conference, said, "If we come back and I don't have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I will show up to work, I'll be at practice and I'll be with my team. I'm going to do all that and then I'm going to be sitting right on that bench during the games. If they come back and say it's something like a tournament, play-in style, between the No. 7 and No. 12 seeds, if we're playing for playoff spots, then I think that's perfect."

  • Meanwhile, NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts said the "overwhelming" sentiment among players during team-by-team virtual calls conducted over the past week has been that "they really want to play" and resume the season, most likely in late July at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando. The NBA board has a meeting on Friday, which is "expected to provide further clarity on plans to return."

  

WORKING FROM HOME WITH ISE CRO JAKE STONE

  • Independent Sports & Entertainment Chief Revenue Officer Jake Stone has enjoyed escaping the L.A. commute during quarantine, which, along with a lack of travel, he says has vastly improved his sleep schedule. “Much to my fiancée’s dismay, I’ve turned our dining room table into my central command center from 7:00am to 7:00pm. We are living together in a 1 bedroom apartment and I’m just happy that she hasn’t kicked me out yet,” he said.

  • Stone feels ISE has done well working remotely, as plenty of virtual communication had been the norm for many of the agency’s employees already. “A laptop and phone are the only true necessities,” he said. “A large part of our business involves spending time in-person with our clients and partners -- this aspect has definitely been affected the most.”

  • The creation of new social experiences and facilitating digital partnerships has been a priority for ISE. Stone pointed to their work during the virtual NFL Draft with new Raiders WR Henry Ruggs III (repped by Roosevelt Barnes and Jovan Barnes) and his viral bathrobe moment with partner Old Spice.

  • Stone in his spare time has enjoyed watching “Ozark,” “Billions” and “The Office” reruns (for about the 15th time, he claims) over the past two months. Stone: “I’ve continued my daily workouts (modified with bodyweight exercises and resistance bands) and attempt to spend as much time outside as possible hiking and on the beach, which are thankfully now open again! It’s been a bonus to spend more time with my fiancée (at least for me) and I enjoy attempting to cook dinner with her every night.”

 

Stone has turned he and his fiancee's L.A. apartment into an ISE command center during quarantine
Stone has turned he and his fiancee's L.A. apartment into an ISE command center during quarantine
Stone has turned he and his fiancee's L.A. apartment into an ISE command center during quarantine
 

FORCE MAJEURE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

  • After listening to an informative presentation on the force majeure clause during a virtual conference earlier this year, two University of Miami law school administrators knew they needed to get something similar in front of their students. Miami is now offering a nine-week course focused on the clause that’s found in many contracts and has become such a prominent part of the sports business world during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • "Peter (Carfagna) and I that Friday evening after the conference started texting about the need to take this and create a summer course on these issues, because of how they were moving so quickly, how interesting they were and how complex they were,” said Greg Levy, associate dean of the University of Miami law school, while speaking to SBJ’s Bill King for the latest edition of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

 

SPEED READS

  • The Wall Street Journal's Ben Cohen & Louise Radnofsky write under the header, "Why The Sports Comeback Has Begun." In the "brave new world of sports, a single positive test might not even stop a game," just a little over two months after Rudy Gobert's test "was enough to wipe out billions of dollars." Now leagues are "proceeding under the assumption that players and coaches testing positive is inevitable." The future of sports is "contingent on baking that risk into their plans."
  • Rory McIlroy told the BBC that the majority of players would like to see September's Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits "pushed back until 2021 so that they can play in front of crowds and have the atmosphere that makes the Ryder Cup so special." McIlroy: "My personal hunch is that I don't see how it is going to happen, so I do not think that it will happen. ... The players are the ones that make the Ryder Cup. If they are not on board with it and don't want to play then there is no Ryder Cup. I see it being pushed back until 2021 and, honestly, I think that will be the right call."

  • At deadline: the 2021 Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships, slated for March 1-6 at Vail Mountain Resort in Colorado, has been canceled. Burton CEO John Lacy: "This was a difficult call to make since we’re so many months away from the next Burton U.S. Open, and we’re not sure what will be happening with the pandemic nine months from now. ... There is too much at stake due to the potential public health risk and the financial risk for Burton to invest millions in an event that could end up being cancelled.”

  • With momentum for a Pac-12 football season in front of fans gaining steam, the San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner makes the case for the conference to "plan for intra-squad exhibitions, with fans, in the middle of August." Wilner: "If schools expect 15,000 to 20,000 in the stands for the home openers, invite 2,500 to the exhibition. That would allow the operations staff to test procedures and protocols with a multi-week cushion available to make changes and solve problems that arise."

 

  

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • MLB, Players Union Facing Pivotal Week In Discussions On Return
    • Troy Vincent Says NFL Planning For Full Stadiums When Season Begins
    • NBA Has Friday Deadline To Decide On Return-To-Play Format
    • Still Work To Do For Approval On NHL's 24-Team Playoff Format
    • New York Gov. Cuomo Clears Pro Teams To Begin Training In State
    • Cubs Face Uphill Financial Battle With Or Without MLB Season
    • Angels Cut Back Scouting Department Ahead Of MLB Draft
    • Michigan President Says No Football Without Students On Campus
    • NWSL Planning For June 29 Return, Knockout-Style Tournament

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- USOPC Undergoes Layoffs & Furloughs

A couple of days ago, while chatting about the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, I asked our baseball writer, Eric Prisbell, how his family spent their long weekend last year.

Turns out they traveled to Reno for a basketball tournament his son was playing in. The team finished fourth in a stacked field that came from across the West Coast.

His son was nine.

There won’t be families traveling to Reno, or Vegas, or most other popular travel sports destinations for tournaments this weekend. But things are opening up in many states. Some see that as promising news. Others are terrified by it. I confess to alternating between the two.

The resumption of youth sports is the topic of our latest SBJ Unpacks podcast, which you can read more about below. You’ll also find an item from Eric on the MLBPA’s response to the league’s initial recommendations on health and safety protocols tied to the resumption of play. Included is a request for more frequent COVID-19 testing than was proposed.

There’s a connection between those two.

If professional athletes aren’t comfortable returning to the field without daily testing, how are parents supposed to feel about their kids going back with little more than the advice to stay 6 feet apart, wash their hands and skip the high-fives?

The Unpacks newsletter will take a break starting on Friday for the holiday weekend, returning Tuesday. See you then.

--- Bill King

 

COST-CUTTING MEASURES CONTINUE FOR USOPC

  • The USOPC has enacted a round of layoffs, furloughs and reassignment offers in an effort to further reduce its expenses, reports SBJ's Chris Smith.

  • According to a letter to key stakeholders from USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland, 139 employees were impacted by the latest cost-cutting measures. “I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of this change. It is significant,” wrote Hirshland. There were 51 layoffs and 33 furloughs, in addition to 23 temporary workers having their assignments ended and 32 team members being offered reassignment opportunities. Sources said that affected employees were informed by a phone call this afternoon, and that the layoffs were throughout the organization, including long-time senior staffers and junior-level employees. 

  • In late April, Hirshland said that the USOPC was planning to trim its quadrennial budget by 10-20% to account for the revenue slowdown caused by the Tokyo Games being postponed by one year. In today’s letter, Hirshland wrote that, “Over the past four weeks our leaders have worked with the support of a cross-functional team … to evaluate their strategic priorities, operational mandates, current budgeted investments and the skills and people required to accomplish their objectives over the next 4.5 years." Hirshland also acknowledged that the road back will be a long one: “It has become clear that it will take months, and not weeks, for us to return to full operation, particularly at our training centers in Colorado Springs and Lake Placid.”

  • The first major expense reduction came two weeks ago, when more than 30 USOPC staffers accepted a voluntary severance package. Departures included Senior VP& Managing Director of Marketing & Media Brian Gordon, VP/Athlete Safety Wendy Guthrie and Associate Director of Athlete Marketing Chris Coleman. The USOPC was expected to proceed with a program-by-program review that would result in further staffing reductions.

  • Amid the waves of cuts, the USOPC is also in the process of hiring for several executive-level positions. The organization recently posted a job listing for a Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer, and other openings include VP/Finance and VP/Communications.

 

TIMING OF PLAYER PAYMENTS LIKELY KEY IN MLB LABOR TALKS 

  • The union's response this afternoon to MLB's draft of health and safety protocols, a source told SBJ's Eric Prisbell, was "wide ranging" and included notes on the following issues: testing frequency; protocols for positive tests; in-stadium medical personnel; protections for high-risk players and family; access to pre- and postgame therapies and sanitization protocols.

  • The union had been collecting feedback from players and medical professions all week. While the 67-page draft has been widely viewed as exhaustive, players' focus was increasingly on the frequency of testing. Some believe that rapid-response testing, with samples sent to MLB's centralized lab in Utah, should be administered more than multiple times per week and likely daily. 

  • With MLB expected to make a formal player compensation proposal to the union in the coming days, don't be surprised to see the variable of timing of payments begin to emerge in conversations between the two sides, writes Prisbell.

  • MLB (50-50 revenue sharing) and the union (prorated salaries) have been in a stalemate for nearly two weeks, with neither pitching another salary structure. The notion of deferring a portion of players' salaries with interest could begin to garner more traction, even though two sources familiar with owners' thinking told SBJ recently that the plan is not feasible because the economic picture is not expected to be markedly better in the spring of 2021. 

  • One source familiar with the union's thinking told SBJ: "I am chagrined to hear them say that. To me, that's the most obvious alternative. If they have concerns about timing or cash flow, there may be things that can be done. If it's simply about, 'We want you to give us $500 million to play games, that's not going to work.'"

 

 

YOUTH SPORTS AT A CROSSROADS

  • The sports that have made their return have done so backed by elaborate plans that included foundational changes, some at substantial expense. Most included COVID-19 testing for competitors and support staff. Yet in many states, kids soon will return to practices, games and tournaments, restricted only by a limit on how many of them can gather in one place. But is it safe? Is it time?

  • SBJ’s Bill King examined the difficult decision coming soon for a nation of anxious -- and in many cases torn -- youth sports parents with the Aspen Institute’s Tom Farrey on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  • "The (USOPC) issued what I think are really strong return-to-play guidelines,” said Farrey, executive director of the institute’s Sport & Society program. “What you have are a lot of organizations who are not paying attention to (those) and are just sort of drawing up their own ideas on how to bring back play. They’ve been waiting for the CDC guidelines which came out yesterday -- also super solid. But these are advisory. And the only group that needs to check off on return to play is that local public health official.”

  • In many cases, the impetus to return quickly is driven by travel team and event operators whose businesses were crippled in the past two months. “People are just trying to figure this out,” Farrey said. “And they’re itching to get back to organized play and to games -- because it’s their business. Mortgages need to be paid. I understand that entirely. But it’s making a lot of parents nervous.”
     

 

D-I COUNCIL GIVES HOPE THAT FOOTBALL COULD START ON TIME

  • The NCAA Division I Council voted to lift the moratorium on athlete activities, clearing the way for football and basketball players to begin voluntary workouts on campus as early as June 1, writes Micheal Smith in tonight's SBJ College newsletter. That’s an important hurdle to keep football on course for season kickoffs on Aug. 29 and Sept. 5. “We encourage each school to use its discretion to make the best decisions possible,” said Penn AD Grace Calhoun, who chairs the council. “Reopening our campuses will be an individual decision, but should be based on advice from medical experts.”

  • Notre Dame moved the start of its fall semester up two weeks early to Aug. 10, a move that AD Jack Swarbrick said on a LEAD1 webinar has paid immediate dividends. Swarbrick: “One of the things that's been most rewarding about it is it gave us a target that we really needed. We needed the university to say, ‘Here's the goal, here's what we're shooting for, let's all head for it.’ And I've noticed a big change in energy from it.”

 

SURVEY: SPORTING GOODS BUSINESS FEELING THE PINCH

  • A new survey of the Sports Fitness & Industry Association’s membership adds some definition to what was already assumed about the sporting-goods business in the age of COVID: things are bleak, writes SBJ's Terry Lefton

  • In the online survey among the SFIA membership base of sporting-goods manufacturers, retailers, and marketers, 30% reported that sales crashed more than 75% in April, compared to the same month in 2019.

  • Additionally, 70% of those responding said sales were down more than 25% for April, compared to the same year-ago period. Supply-chain disruptions were experienced by 81% of respondents.

  • Nearly all of the industry’s brick-and-mortar retail distribution was closed in the initial months of the current health crisis. Product categories showing positive results included home fitness equipment and at-home sports equipment.

  • According to the survey, the industry believes fitness will be the first segment to come back. Team sports, according to the survey, are considered most likely to return in the fall.


 

 

FORMER WORLD NO. 1 NOT IMPRESSED WITH PGA TOUR PROTOCOLS

  • While stars like Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka have said they will be ready to tee it up once the PGA Tour returns in Ft. Worth next month, Australian Adam Scott will not play in the Tour’s first six tournaments back due to concerns over safety protocols. Scott, who is in Australia during the shutdown,  said, “They are being fairly thorough, but my initial reaction was I was surprised it wasn't tighter than it is." 

  • Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard predicted Scott's comments are “going to be echoed by other players, particularly international players.” Hoggard: “If you compare what the PGA Tour’s health and safety plan is to other professional leagues -- I mean the NBA reported last week that they’re going need somewhere in the neighborhood of 17,000 tests to get back to playing. Granted, basketball is much different than golf. But if you compare it, if the PGA Tour needs about 400 test a week, which is what we were told, that's about 5,000 tests by the end of the season. It’s not even close."

  • Other news across the golf circuit today: The ShopRite LPGA Classic, pegged for July 29-31 just outside Atlantic City, has been rescheduled again because of the coronavirus pandemic and now hopes to be played Oct. 2-4; while the European Tour is working towards a late July restart in the U.K.

 

STATE OF THINGS: A STEADY CLIMB

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH OLYMPIC CHANNEL GM MARK PARKMAN

  • When the Olympic Channel was forced to close its Madrid HQ earlier this spring, GM Mark Parkman retreated home to quarantine with his family near Athens, Ga. There are 27 nationalities among the network’s 100 or so employees, which means staffers are now spread throughout Europe, the U.S. and even Africa. Parkman was impressed with how everyone transitioned to fully remote operations. “We basically switched that over in a matter of two or three days,” he said.

  • Working remotely has given the Olympic Channel a chance to experiment with some new technology; Parkman highlighted the utilization of streaming platform Kiswe around replay broadcasts of Dream Team games from the ’92 Barcelona Olympics. “We have our commentator Tom Kirkland in his apartment in Madrid and Rob Perez, the influencer with Action Sports Network. … We did that kind of building off the Jordan ‘The Last Dance’ documentary,” Parkman noted.

  • Parkman has been waking up quite early with most Olympic Channel employees at least 6 hours ahead, typically starting work around 2:30-3:00am and ending around 5:30-6:00pm. “That’s one of the drawbacks of remote working. … People are working longer and harder than ever because there's nothing else to do,” he said. Most of that hard work is spent preparing for the June 3 debut of “Rulon Gardner Won’t Die,” the first of four Five Rings Films documentaries being released this year.

  • Returning to a re-opened Spain in mid-to-late June is Parkman’s current goal, pending government decisions. He urges everyone to stay as positive and active as possible. How has he done it? Parkman: “I have been able to get a bit more regimented on my fitness and workout schedule … and I’ve taught the dog how to catch a frisbee, so that's been one of the biggest accomplishments.”

 

Parkman is logging long work hours in quarantine, but still found time to teach his dog, Dune, how to catch a frisbee
Parkman is logging long work hours in quarantine, but still found time to teach his dog, Dune, how to catch a frisbee
Parkman is logging long work hours in quarantine, but still found time to teach his dog, Dune, how to catch a frisbee

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: TWO-WAY STREET

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from PR firm DKC Exec VP Dave Donovan and Syracuse professor Brad Horn, who write under the header, "Navigating Post-COVID-19 Requires Listening, Adaptation To Rebuild Fan Trust."

  • "The ability for brands, leagues and venues to restore trust in the public will depend on the industry’s capacity to listen to consumers first. To create an experience that is reminiscent of what they’re used to doing, prior to mid-March, we must first know their fears, thoughts and hopes are on entering a stadium or arena, walking into a gym, or going to a concert."

  • To read Donovan and Horn's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • SNY has "canceled two late-afternoon studio programs, 'The Thread' and 'LoudMouths,'" moves that "resulted in the layoffs of about 20 people who worked on the shows," per Newsday's Neil Best. SNY said in a statement, "For 15 years, we have made adjustments and improvements to ensure SNY’s health and sustained growth. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to do a comprehensive assessment of our business, and we are, again, responding with changes."
  • The Atlanta Business Chronicle's Eric Jackson reports PGA Tour Superstore is "gaining business and opening doors in new locations" despite many other retailers "hanging on for dear life" during the pandemic. The Atlanta-based golf retailer, which is owned by Arthur Blank, "opened its 43rd location on Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. in a 38,000 square foot space."

  • Alabama football coach Nick Saban, wearing a mask, urged others to wear masks and practice social-distancing measures in his latest PSA posted by the school to Twitter this afternoon. The Birmingham News' Mike Rodak reports Saban and Alabama AD Greg Byrne have been "among a small group of staffers working inside Alabama’s athletics facilities in recent weeks."

  • Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet is having a hard time imagining hockey in a post-COVID-19 world, which could include bans on spitting, handshake lines, and of course, fights. He told ESPN's Greg Wyshynski, "What it really comes down to is that whatever you're dealt, you have to deal with it. I have a tough time seeing (it). How do you tell a guy that's in front of the net, trying to fight for position, there's a whistle and there's no scrum? That's going to be a tough one. How do you make sure there's no scrums?  ... It's going to change a lot of the look of the game. It really will."
  • Ballast Point Brewing and The Padres Foundation will donate $1 to Feeding San Diego for each case of Swingin’ Friar Ale that is sold from March through June 30, writes SBJ's David Broughton. Swingin’ Friar Ale, the official craft beer of the Padres, made its debut on Opening Day 2019 to commemorate the team’s 50th anniversary season. The beer is named for the Padres’ iconic Friar mascot and is available only in San Diego.

 

Swingin’ Friar Ale made its debut on Opening Day 2019 to commemorate the Padres' 50th anniversary season
Swingin’ Friar Ale made its debut on Opening Day 2019 to commemorate the Padres' 50th anniversary season
Swingin’ Friar Ale made its debut on Opening Day 2019 to commemorate the Padres' 50th anniversary season

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • Sources: Many In NBA Believe Games Will Resume In Late July
    • Some MLBers Worry That New Safety Protocols Are Too Stringent
    • Graduations At Globe Life Field Could Be Test Case For MLB Games
    • NHL Looks For New Ways To Engage With Fan-Less Restart "Obvious"
    • Adam Scott: PGA Tour's Current Safety Protocols Are Too Lax
    • ShopRite LPGA Classic Rescheduled Again, Moved To October
    • NWSL Tournament Matches In Utah Might Allow Select Fans To Attend
    • Sources: Cubs Latest Team To Implement Pay Cuts For Employees
    • Hockey HOF Going To Electronic Vote Due To Coronavirus
    • Ballast Point Brewing Team Up With Padres For Charitable Effort

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Racing Fans Could Be At Brickyard In July

I’ve been entertained by, though not particularly hopeful about, some of the unique proposals to restart the nation’s major pro sports leagues.

First there was the idea of MLB’s isolated bubble city in Arizona, and now the hockey world is buzzing about a potential 24-team playoff bracket. I’m not holding my breath. But even I have to admit that it’s starting to sound an awful lot like the NBA may soon be back in our lives.

ESPN reported today that the league will issue new guidelines near the end of the month that will allow teams to recall players. And there are reports saying Walt Disney World in Orlando has emerged as the frontrunner to play host to the remainder of this year’s NBA season. The plan seems to make plenty of sense on paper. Disney offers ample housing and amenities, and the single venue would give the league firm control over operations. Not to mention that the NBA has a close relationship with Disney-owned ESPN.

There remain some hurdles, perhaps none bigger than virus testing. Last week, Commissioner Adam Silver told the NBA Board of Governors that any return would hinge on frequent-enough testing that infected individuals could be quarantined before sparking an outbreak, and it remains an open question whether the NBA will be able to procure enough tests to fully protect its players.

But can you imagine what it would be like if they pull it off? We just saw a basketball documentary average nearly six million live viewers across 10 hours. There’s no telling what sort of reaction real, live basketball could spark.

--- Chris Smith

 

STORIES YOU NEED TO READ:

 

MARK MILES INCREASINGLY OPTIMISTIC ON FANS FOR BRICKYARD

  • Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles says he is increasingly optimistic that the Brickyard 400 weekend will be held with fans in July, setting that up as the likely first NASCAR race back with spectators in attendance, reports SBJ's Adam Stern.

  • Miles, who oversees IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told SBJ that the state of Indiana is currently heading toward a re-opening that could include allowing fans inside the Brickyard on July 4 weekend, when a NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader is scheduled to be held. NASCAR is currently scheduled to run without fans through June 21, with the following weekend at Pocono Raceway still not confirmed but likely to run without fans if it does go ahead.

  • Miles said that he and other IMS execs are spending an “enormous” amount of time developing social distance guidelines for the Brickyard 400, and a related placard leaked onto Twitter this past weekend showing some of the fan guidelines. According to the image, that would include wearing a mask (which would be provided if a fan didn’t have one), temperature monitoring and social distancing. 

  • Any attendance for the Indy weekend would likely be so limited in this climate that the Brickyard wouldn’t have to put a cap on the amount of people in attendance. However, Miles would not be drawn into speculation about what it may have to do for the much-better attended Indy 500 in August, aside from saying he thinks fans "will want to be back.”

  • “Nothing is final, but I think it’s quite likely that in all sections of the grandstands, we’ll provide a way for fans to not sit on top of each other and beside each other, so social distancing inside the grandstands,” Miles said. “(We’re working on) the full monty, everything you can think of, from how do you disinfect and clean the place, do you do it every 10 minutes or every hour, where do you stand in a queue -- it is a considerable amount of detail for every part of the operation and fan experience.”

 

 

MLB, UNION STILL AT ODDS OVER REVENUE SHARING

  • There is no certainty at this point that MLB will formally present the union with the 50-50 revenue-sharing plan that owners approved May 11, sources tell SBJ's Eric Prisbell. The reason the league may go in another direction with a player compensation proposal is because union chief Tony Clark has already called the plan a non-starter, equating it to a salary cap.

  • It is also lost on no one that the clock is ticking if MLB hopes to start Spring Training 2.0 around June 10 and start a truncated 82-game regular season around July 4. The last formal meeting between the two sides was May 12; the next meeting has yet to be scheduled. 

  • As of this afternoon, the league was still weeding through myriad financial document requests the union made more than a week ago. The league has yet to respond to requests that sources said relate to revenue derived from regional sports networks and ballpark villages; discussions the league is currently having with television partners and a host of other revenue-related matters. MLB is expected to respond to at least some of the requests.

  • The league has sought to tackle health and safety protocols with the union before the two sides confront thorny player compensation issues. The union, which received the 67-page draft of MLB's health and safety protocol proposal late Friday, has been in the process of soliciting input and reaction from players and is expected to provide feedback to the league soon.

  • Among the issues that players have pinpointed that warrant further clarity and dialogue: the frequency of diagnostic COVID testing and the contours of an opt-out policy if a player is not comfortable playing, regardless of whether he has underlying conditions. 


SPORTS INNOVATION LAB TURNS FOCUS TO SPECTATOR-LESS GAMES

  • Sports Innovation Lab is hosting a two-day remote “hackathon” starting tomorrow, with the hope of finding solutions to challenges created by a possibly extended future of spectator-less games, reports SBJ’s Ben Fischer. Sports Innovation Lab co-Founder & President Josh Walker said another goal is to get the industry out of the “doom-and-gloom, sports-are-canceled mindset,” and start thinking about “not just bringing sports back, but bringing sports back better.”

  • About 130 people are signed up, Walker said, and they’ll work for two days, in groups of 10, to build a PowerPoint deck or short video about some kind of product or idea. The broad remit: To find new ways to build the “power of togetherness” in sports without relying on live crowds. Possible areas of focus include crowd noise, pre-game gatherings, in-game fan interactions and creative food options. 

  • After 48 hours of thinking and developing, a team of experts will review the final products. The five best teams will be asked to present their ideas to C-level execs from SIL clients including Coca-Cola, DraftKings, Intel, Legends, NFL, NHL and Octagon, among others. During the 48 hours, participants will see live and pre-recorded appearances from guests including Premier Lacrosse League co-founder Paul Rabil and MLB Chief Product Officer Vasanth Williams, among others.

 

 

SECOND ITERATION OF "THE MATCH" ALL-IN ON FUNDING COVID RELIEF

  • There will be a series of on-course challenges from Medalist Golf Club during this Sunday’s broadcast of "The Match: Champions for Charity," in which the teams of Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning, and Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady, will compete for additional funds for COVID-19 relief on top of the $10M they already are donating alongside WarnerMedia, per SBD's Andrew Levin. 

  • The biggest challenge, dubbed the “Michelob Ultra Hole In One Challenge,” would trigger an additional donation of up to $25M by WarnerMedia if one of the players aces No. 8 or No. 16. There also is the “Capital One Club Challenge,” which will see each player play the par-4 fifth hole using just one club of their choosing, with the low score on the hole earning an additional $250,000. There likely will be other challenges as part of the broadcast, and something will be donated even if a challenge is not beaten.

  • For more on "The Match," see tomorrow's issue of SBD.

 

PBA AMONG FIRST PROPERTIES TO RETURN TO BROADCAST TV

  • The Professional Bowlers Association will be back in action on June 6, the first of three no-fan events that will air on Fox or FS1 over the next two months, writes SBJ's Bret McCormick

  • The first of the three is a Fox-televised contest, running from 7:00-9:00pm at Bowlero Jupiter in Florida. PBA stars will compete in a Strike Derby, attempting to roll as many strikes as possible in 2-minute spans.

  • The PBA has been on pause since March and a number of events have been rescheduled for later in the year. PBA CEO Colie Edison said she and the tour are "excited to be one of the first properties bringing live sports back to broadcast television." 
  • The second fanless PBA event will be held June 13, also on Fox, from 6:00-8:00pm, using the sport’s popular one-ball format and including women’s tour pros, too. A third event will be televised in July on FS1, with the date still to be determined.

 

BUSINESSES LOOK FOR PROTECTION FROM COVID-RELATED LAWSUITS

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter today to Congress asking to take steps to protect businesses from being sued by customers and employees who may contract COVID-19, according to SBJ’s David Broughton.

  • From the letter: “Despite employers’ best efforts to comply with public health guidance, many are concerned that they will be forced to defend themselves against a wave of lawsuits. Their concern is driven by the fact that each day brings news of more lawsuits that have already been filed. That is why Congress should provide a safe harbor that holds truly bad actors accountable, but that protects those employers who are working to follow public health guidance. Specifically, temporary protections should remain in place for the duration of the pandemic crisis and response that cover:

    • Businesses that work to follow government guidelines against COVID-19 exposure claims.
    • Healthcare providers and facilities on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.
    • Manufacturers that repurposed production and distribution to provide PPE, sanitizers, and other needed countermeasures.
    • Companies that have donated their stock of supplies to hospitals and medical professionals.
    • Public companies that could face securities lawsuits, including those driven largely on stock price drops resulting from the global pandemic under the spurious assertion that management failed to warn investors.” 

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH GF SPORTS’ RICH LISK

  • Rich Lisk has been getting plenty of use out of his basement lately, which he said is half office, half gym. Lisk, who serves as Exec VP with live events and sports media entertainment company GF Sports, has developed a pretty good daily schedule. “I wake up at 7:00am and start my workout routine along with my wife Terry,” he said. “Each day I hold an 11:00am department Zoom call and then a second one to finish the day at 5:00pm in order to game plan for the next day.”

  • Lisk has had his eye on any and every live event lately, taking notes for the N.Y. Riptide's eventual return to NLL matches at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (GF owns the team). Lisk: “I have been watching various leagues and events that I may never normally take in, including UFC and Korean baseball, to find some takeaways that we can apply to our evolving business. We have taken the proactive approach and have already established several hypothetical scenarios.”

  • Virtual happy hours every Friday at 4:00pm have been a highlight for Lisk. “It's fun learning what music, films and books we have all been consuming during these times,” he said. Those happy hours also allow him to show off his sports memorabilia collection -- including a Philadelphia Soul signed helmet by owner Jon Bon Jovi (Lisk previously served as the Arena Football League team's GM).

  • Lisk is grateful for the extra family time working remotely has provided: “Our son Bump starts my day with an exercise routine that entails push-ups and meditation. I then go for a 4-5 mile run which helps clear my mind. Since Starbucks has re-opened, my daughter Gabrielle and I have been making mid-afternoon visits to re-caffeinate for the remainder of the day. What I have enjoyed most is having the opportunity to sit down with my wife and three kids at the dinner table every night.”

 

Lisk has been utilizing his basement during quarantine as part office, part gym
Lisk has been utilizing his basement during quarantine as part office, part gym
Lisk has been utilizing his basement during quarantine as part office, part gym

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: RESTORING FINANCIAL HEALTH

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Connecticut-based attorney Erin Norton, who writes under the header, "Small Adjustments To 2017 Tax Code Would Do Wonders For Sports Recovery."

  • "Two small adjustments to the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) could play an important role to help to bring back these industries and restore the social connectivity that sports and entertainment bring to our lives. ... The changes would not only benefit the athletes and owners, but also the communities rallying around them. As we come back from this time of social isolation, the restoration of sports and entertainment events will have a palliative effect on community spirit."

  • To read Norton's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • The San Francisco Business Times' Ron Leuty reports that in the weeks before the virus shuttered Chase Center, the Warriors and partners Uber and Alexandria Real Estate Equities "refinanced a $300 million-plus construction loan for two office buildings alongside the new arena in a deal that allowed them to receive millions of dollars." Leuty: "The timing couldn't have been more fortuitous."

  • An "outbreak of the coronavirus at Bryant-Denny Stadium has endangered the safety of the construction crew and subcontractors" working on the Alabama football venue renovation project, per the Birmingham News. More than 10 construction workers have tested positive for COVID-19, but the number "could be much higher." With so many exposures, there is a "fear that more positive cases linked to the job site are inevitable."

  • Live Nation Entertainment, the parent company of Ticketmaster, raised $1.2 billion from a secured debt offer that will pay out 6.5% interest per note when they mature in 2027, reports SBJ's Karn Dhingra. Live Nation President & CEO Michael Rapino said the offering was made to add liquidity to the company’s balance sheet and withstand any foreseen scenario well into 2021. 
  • ESPN's Andrea Adelson & Heather Dinich note college athletic departments are "grappling with the same dilemma as the rest of the country -- desperate to reopen because of dire financial challenges while trying to prioritize the health of unpaid student-athletes." The "logistics of implementing a testing regimen at one athletic department -- let alone hundreds across the country -- is an overwhelming concept, raising issues including cost, feasibility, and the ramifications of positive test results."
  • Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson said the NFL’s safety protocols for the 2020 season prove how committed the league and its players are to moving forward amid the pandemic, as the loss of games or a full season would “resonate probably more with football players than anybody else.” Robinson: “The guys all know they’re on a clock in the NFL, more than any other sport. Those guys want to play. They’ll listen to Von Miller tell how scary it was to have coronavirus … but (they’re) going to go out there and earn the money.”

  • Sales of outdoor and sports toys surged by $193 million during April, a 51% increase over the same time period last year, per new data from NPD Group. The category contributed 53% of the total growth in the toy industry during that time period. Categories that experienced strong dollar gains include skate/skateboards/scooters (+107%) and sports activities/games (+25%).

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • Email Suggests MLBPA Was Aware Of Potential Compensation Changes
    • Triple Crown Could Benefit From Virus-Caused Rescheduling
    • Extended Closure Of U.S.-Canada Border Could Hamper NHL Return
    • Alberta Premier Makes Case For Edmonton To Be NHL Hub City
    • Stars Owner Wary Of Returning Without Fans, Anticipates Flexibility
    • MLSPA Makes Counterproposal On Salaries For '20 Season
    • NFLPA President Notes "Long List Of Hurdles" Left To Play In '20
    • T'Wolves Doctor, Mayo Clinic Conducting NBA Antibody Study
    • NASCAR's Gregory Says Business Concerns, Pandemic Led To Layoffs
    • MLB Giants To Pay Full-Timers Through Sept., Some Take Pay Cuts

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- NFL Practicing Caution For Players, Coaches' Return

It certainly feels as if momentum around the return of sports is growing.

As of today, NFL team facilities can re-open in limited fashion -- if allowed by states -- though football activities will have to wait. Meanwhile, negotiations to allow MLB to play in ballparks with no spectators continue.

As the traction -- at least for the moment -- grows, so too do the logistics and planning that make for some jarring changes. The organizers of the Belmont Stakes today said they plan to run the race on June 20 as the first leg of the Triple Crown instead of the traditional third and final leg.

But an upside-down sports schedule and TV-only audience is far better than a dark summer. I have to admit a newfound fascination watching old games, like the helmet-optional 1984 Stanley Cup playoffs.

--- John Lombardo

 

STORIES YOU NEED TO READ:

  

NFL UNDECIDED ON WHEN PLAYERS, COACHES CAN RETURN TO FACILITIES

  • Despite a growing sense of optimism about the NFL season, top league execs declined to predict when players and coaches would be allowed to return to league facilities, writes SBJ's Ben Fischer. “We’re not putting dates on this calendar at this point, because I’m looking (at) this not as date-based, but science and technology-based,” said NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills during a conference call with reporters.

  • Earlier today, NFL teams were allowed to bring some business-side staffers back to team facilities for the first time since March 25 if local health laws allow. But that’s small potatoes compared to resuming football activities, which must start by July to avoid delaying training camps and the preseason. Sills said the NFL and NFLPA still want to see gains in COVID-19 testing capacity and accuracy, as well as to better understand how to manage exposure if a player or staffer tests positive.

  • “All of those things are continuing to evolve, and when we and the Players Association together feel like we’re at a point of satisfaction with that science, we’ll be ready to move forward,” Sills said. The NFL expects that some players will test positive, and they’re developing policies to handle that eventuality, he said. Sills took a more cautious tack than Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said last Friday in a memo that a return for some players could come “as early as next month.”


SOURCES: NFL OWNERS APPROVE RAISING DEBT LIMIT FOR TEAMS

  • NFL owners at their meeting today raised the debt limit for teams from $350 million to $500 million, a step designed to help teams weather the expected economic impact of the pandemic, sources told SBJ's Ben Fischer. Owners also allowed Roger Goodell and the owners’ finance committee to borrow more money at the league level if necessary. 

  • The 43% increase in the debt ceiling comes just two years after a decision to increase the limit from $250 million to $350 million. In 2019, the league allowed owners to borrow an additional $150 million against non-controlling shares of the team as a means of increasing liquidity. 

 

 

MLS CANCELS BIG EVENTS, INCLUDING ALL-STAR GAME

  • MLS canceled three tentpole events this afternoon, including the All-Star Game set for Los Angeles, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns, The game was previously scheduled for July 29 between MLS all-stars and top Liga MX players. The league plans to give this year's host venue, Banc of California Stadium, another opportunity to host in 2021.

  • The league also announced the cancellation of the Leagues Cup, which includes top MLS and Liga MX teams, as well as the Campeones Cup. The latter features the MLS champ and the winner of the Mexican league. The Campeones Cup will return next year, while both MLS and Liga MX plan to play the Leagues Cup in 2021.

 

MLB SOURCES: DEFERRING PLAYER SALARIES NOT FEASIBLE

  • With a wide chasm currently separating MLB owners from players on compensation for an abbreviated season, a potential compromise has been bandied about recently: deferring a portion of players' salaries, with interest, until 2021.

  • But two sources familiar with the owners' thinking told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that is not a feasible middle-ground solution because the economic crisis is clearly not a one-year issue. They shared similar sentiments that there is great uncertainty about what operations for 2021 will look like, and a salary deferment plan merely takes the sizable economic issues from this year and moves them to next year and beyond.

  • One source: "Deferrals just don't get you anywhere. Owners just don't have the revenue. The economics don't work." The issues on the ticket revenue front for 2021, they say, are multifaceted: How many fans will state and local officials permit in ballparks early in 2021? How comfortable will fans be in attending large, or relatively large, gatherings? And how will the nationwide economic crisis affect fans' discretionary income? All questions are critical to the long-term picture.

  • An MLB source with direct knowledge of the drafting of the league's 67-page health and safety proposal said the league is soliciting input on the detailed draft from the union, team execs, players and state and local health officials. That process is expected to play out this week.

  • In the meantime, on the financial side of the collective bargaining negotiations, it remains to be seen how MLB responds to the union's request for myriad financial documents and whether the league will still formally present the union with a 50-50 revenue-sharing plan since union chief Tony Clark called the plan a non-starter. 

 

HARVEY SCHILLER LOOKS AT THE ROAD AHEAD

 

PREMIER LEAGUE REVEALS SIX POSITIVE CASES FROM CORONAVIRUS TESTS

  • The EPL “revealed that six players or staff tested positive for coronavirus in its first two days of testing,” per The Guardian. The league carried out 748 tests on Sunday and Monday and said that the positive tests were "spread across three clubs." No further details were given and it is "understood the league is awaiting results from one more club." The Bundesliga earlier this month announced 10 positive results from 1,724 tests on players and staff at clubs in the top two tiers.

  • Sky Sports' Bryan Swanson writes the fact that there are six positive tests "must be taken seriously," but those figures also show that the virus is "not widespread" in EPL clubs at the moment, at least not amongs the 40 people tested per club. Up to 50 people from each club "will be tested in each round going forward, twice a week, after a request by clubs, meaning up to 2,000 test results a week will be provided" to the EPL. Prenetics, the company conducting the tests, told Sky Sports that it "can cope with increased demand."

 

 

BIG WEEK SHAPING UP FOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL

  • The NCAA D-I Council meets tomorrow and the moratorium for on-campus activities, which runs through May 31, is on the agenda, writes Michael Smith in tonight's SBJ College newsletter. The council, which is the chief rules-making body, could vote to lift the moratorium. If that happens, it would set the table for schools and conferences to bring their athletes back to campus.
  • The SEC is poised to takes its own action when university presidents meet on a call Friday. If the campus leaders agree, they could reopen athletic facilities as soon as June 1. Based on recent comments from multiple ADs in the conference, it would be surprising if they don’t. Other conferences will likely follow. The SEC, however, has not officially announced a vote on resuming athletic activities.
  • College football's 2020 season starts with limited games on Aug. 29 and a full slate on Sept. 5. That gives athletes a full 6-8 weeks to condition in July and hold training camps in August. That’s been considered best-case scenario all along and if campuses re-open athletic facilities in June, those dates appear within reach. It’s worth reminding how quickly things have changed -- almost by the hour -- over the last 10 weeks. 

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH FLYERS CFO BLAIR LISTINO

  • While most sports execs have been making do from kitchen tables and living room recliners during quarantine, Blair Listino has been fulfilling her duties as CFO of the Flyers, Wells Fargo Center and Spectacor Gaming from what she calls a “she shed” in her backyard in Media, Pa., about 30 minutes outside Philadelphia. Listino: “My husband called it a bar. I call it a shed. … It has electricity and heat and air conditioning and a fan, but it's just a shed.” Her strategy: “I actually say goodbye to my children when I leave so they think I'm going to work … and I walk outside to my 10-step commute.”

  • It’s impossible to predict what coronavirus protocols will look like next month or even next week, so Listino has stayed busy making as many preparations as she can. “From a financial standpoint, I think I have modeled out just about every possible scenario of what we could do,” she said. “It started off with really simple scenarios at the start and now it's become much more complex with considering a social distancing model.” Listino: “We're trying to be creative and then we're also trying just to make sure that we follow the guidelines of both the NHL and the NBA.”

  • Microsoft Teams is the top choice of communication for Listino. “My staff is very creative in putting backgrounds on to make me smile or laugh during the day,” she said. Those can range from the Wells Fargo Center to “Game of Thrones” to a group shot in Listino’s infamous “she shed” and of course, the one and only Gritty. Between it all, Listino tries to keep a normal routine: head outside at 9:00am, pop back in for lunch and return for dinner around 6:00pm. “Since we’ve been in quarantine, I’ve only missed one dinner, which would never happen (otherwise),” she said.

  • With bars and restaurants unavailable, Listino and her husband decided to learn how to make cocktails at home. One favorite so far? “The Filibuster.” Ingredients include an egg white, maple syrup and bourbon. “It’s a really interesting drink. I’ve enjoyed it and it’s really pretty, too,” Listino said.

 

Listino makes a point to pop back into the house for lunch with the family during each work day
Listino makes a point to pop back into the house for lunch with the family during each work day
Listino makes a point to pop back into the house for lunch with the family during each work day

 

SPEED READS

  • Fox Bet launched in Colorado today, becoming the sixth sportsbook site to roll out since the state opened for legal and regulated sports wagering at the start of the month, writes SBJ's Bill King. It joins BetMGM, FanDuel, DraftKings, BetRivers and PointsBet USA in what will be a crowded market, with at least 20 sites in the licensing pipeline. Fox Bet also operates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Also today, online betting giant Bet365 announced that it will join the fray in Colorado via an access deal through land-based Century Casinos.
  • The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey, on “The Big Picture” podcast, said the current absence of most sports is an “amazing issue" when considering the marketing of summer tentpole movies, such as the upcoming "Tenet" from director Christopher Nolan, "because sports (are) the most popular live entertainment and frankly the most popular entertainment that we have in our culture.” Fennessey: “The way that people become aware of most other things in our culture -- TV shows, movies, products -- is from people sitting around watching sports. … If you’re not driving around looking at billboards, and you’re not watching Sunday NFL or the NBA Finals, without those things, how do you even become aware of ‘Tenet’?”

  • Boston Marathon organizers "remain in active consultation with governmental entities to see if they can avoid canceling the event for the first time in 124 years." Even with the marathon postponed to Sept. 14, the "magnitude of ensuring runners and spectators stay safe and do not become vectors of the coronavirus is a colossal one," writes the Boston Globe's Michael Silverman.

  • SI's Pat Forde writes in regards to the revamped Triple Crown, one of the "most rigid sporting constructs in American history has been temporarily reinvented in a way that could be really good." Forde: "The Belmont, which sometimes is huge and sometimes a complete anticlimax, gets first run; the Preakness, forever the overlooked middle child, has a chance to stage a grand finale; and the Derby will retain its cachet as America’s greatest race."
  • The NLL N.Y. Riptide and the franchisees of Jersey Mike’s on Long Island have partnered to provide lunch to about 60 area senior rehabilitation, nursing and care centers that have been impacted by the pandemic. The Riptide and Jersey Mike’s have dropped-off lunch at 16 locations per week the last three weeks and will have one more round of drop-offs tomorrow morning.

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • New York, California, Texas Pols Offer Hope For Return Of Sports
    • Player-Salary Issue Remains Critical Hurdle For MLB's Return
    • Fertitta To Trump: "Momentum Is Building" For NBA's Return
    • MSE's Ted Leonsis Believes Leagues Will Return Using "Bubble" Cities
    • Bettman: NHL Looking At 8-9 Sites As Options To Resume Season
    • Dana White Calls Out HBO's John Oliver For UFC 249 Criticism
    • Kings To Furlough Portion Of Full-Time Employees For Four Months
    • PBR Unveils Plan For Fans To Attend South Dakota Event
    • IWBI Forms Advisory Panel For New Facility Health-Safety Rating

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers opened yesterday. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- NASCAR, Fox Earn High Marks At Darlington

Last Saturday morning found me splayed out on my couch -- steaming mug of coffee close by and European soccer streaming on the TV. It could have been the beginning of any weekend in the McCormick household during the past six or seven years.

My normal routine was back, even if Bundesliga fans were not.

Many other Americans experienced the same return of some sort of sports ritual last weekend, whether early morning soccer or popping beers Sunday afternoon while watching actual NASCAR racing at Darlington, not the virtual substitute fans had subsisted on for weeks. The silence of the venues is eerie, a little weird at first, but beggars cannot be choosers, especially during this moment in world history.

But good news followed the promising weekend. It appears starved sports fans will get an increasingly steady drip of live sports, without fans, to help take their minds off the all-encompassing pandemic.

Just this morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted “New York State is ready and willing to partner with major sports teams that are interested in playing games safely, without fans. If our professional sports teams can make it work (& be safe) on their end, we’re supportive.” And Gov. Gavin Newsom said later in the day that pro sports could potentially return to California, without fans, by the first week of June.

It looks like more Americans’ sports viewing routines, while altered in noticeable but not unbearable ways, are beginning to return.

--- Bret McCormick

 

STORIES YOU NEED TO READ:

  

NASCAR SEES STRONG VIEWERSHIP ON FOX FOR RETURN RACE

  • Fox averaged 6.32 million viewers for the return of live NASCAR Cup Series racing yesterday from Darlington Raceway, marking a 38% uptick over the last race from Phoenix prior to the shutdown (4.58 million on March 8).

  • SBJ's Austin Karp writes the audience from Darlington also was a three-year Cup Series high for races outside the Daytona 500, dating back to Atlanta in '17 (6.6 million viewers the week after Daytona). That Atlanta race from ’17 also was the last time any non-Daytona race topped 6 million viewers. The last time any Darlington race drew over 6 million was in ’14 (6.04 million in mid-April).

  • There was a 47% increase among males 18-34 as well (compared to last race before shutdown), which was the largest increase among any demo for Fox yesterday. Greensboro led all markets with a 9.5 local rating, followed by Charlotte (9.1) and Indianapolis (8.9). Some of the biggest markets in the country also saw large gains compared to the last race before the shutdown, with L.A. up 150%, S.F.-San Jose-Oakland up 130% and Chicago up 127%. The race was almost the same exact audience as “The Last Dance” episode 1 premiere (6.34 million across ESPN/ESPN2).


FOX NASCAR PRODUCTION A SUCCESS AT DARLINGTON

  • SBJ's John Ourand writes Fox' production at Darlington largely went off without a hitch. “I was just proud,” said Fox Sports Executive Producer, Exec VP and Head of Production & Operations Brad Zager. “We all want sports back. We knew they weren’t coming back in the exact same way they left us pre-COVID. To see everyone at Fox embrace it and put NASCAR back at time same high level people expected, the first word that popped into my mind at the end of the race was ‘proud.’”

  • Producer Barry Landis was at Fox’s NASCAR studio in Charlotte; director Artie Kempner was at the track in Darlington. Graphics and replays came out of a Los Angeles studio. “Every aspect of our production yesterday was something that we’ve done before,” Zager said. “It’s just never been done on one show.”

  • For more from Zager and his team, see tonight's issue of SBJ Media.

 

 

ATHLETIC FOOTWEAR MARKET FEELS PANDEMIC PINCH

  • Perhaps the ultimate defining statistics for the age of coronavirus: sales of athletic shoes plummeting, while sales of slippers during this time of home quarantine doubled in April from a year ago. All this occurred at a time when the entire domestic footwear market was in a steep sales decline, reports SBJ's Terry Lefton.

  • That’s the word from market researcher NPD Group, which tracked total U.S. footwear sales for April at $1.2 billion, a 56% decline vs. April last year, along with total footwear sales in the last 12 months (ending April 2020) to $31.5 billion, an 8% decline vs. the prior period.

  • “Athletic brands that were outperforming the market before the pandemic continued to do so, and those that under-performed did not improve," said NPD Group Senior Sports Industry Advisor Matt Powell. "Two standout brands in April were Hoka One One and On Running, both of which had strong increases despite the steep declines within the overall market. These running shoe brands also helped the performance category to fare better than the industry -- a story we haven’t been able to tell in quite some time."

 

PANASONIC LEVERAGING OLYMPIC SPONSORSHIP PLATFORM

  • As brands cut back their marketing budgets, Panasonic is increasingly leaning into its Olympic partnerships, reports SBJ's Chris Smith. The company most recently joined with the Michael Phelps Foundation to introduce $100,000 in new grants for the Foundation’s IM Healthy initiative, an interactive health and wellness program offered to Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The new round of funding, which was an expansion of Panasonic’s existing relationship with MPF, coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month and offers emotional and mental health programming for children isolated by COVID-19 lockdowns. 

  • Panasonic CMO Lauren Sallata says the company is leveraging its Olympic sponsorship platform to both generate social impact and introduce the brand to younger generations. “A lot of the work we’ve been doing … is to really continue to establish a relationship with future buyers, millennials and Gen Z,” said Sallata. “So we embarked on designing this campaign, and in order to connect with these generations, we felt that we could leverage a really important asset to us, which is the Olympic sponsorship.”

  • In January, Panasonic, which most recently renewed its Olympic sponsorship in 2014, introduced a team of four American athletes through which the brand aims to reach younger generations: Phelps, swimmer Katie Ledecky, karateka Sakura Kokumai and Paralympic long jumper Lex Gillette.

  • The goal is to support existing platforms through the brand’s Olympic athletes. “Instead of trying to stand up distinct and separate programs, we wanted to work through existing programs,” said Sallata. Earlier this year, Panasonic provided financial backing for Ledecky’s “Dive Into STEM Education” program, which offers math and science curriculum resources to middle schools in five cities, and Sallata says there “will be more to come” with Kokumai and Gillette. 

 

 

GOLF STAKEHOLDERS COLLABORATE ON NEW PSA

  • Golf’s leading organizations have rolled out a new 30-second PSA spot as part of its “Back2Golf” program that emphasizes golf and social distancing as states around the country begin to reopen, writes SBJ's John Lombardo. The spot, which includes the Warriors' Steph Curry, PGA Tour pro Matt Kuchar and LPGA pro Nelly Korda, began running this past weekend on CBSGolf Channel and CBS Sports Network, and will continue to run across the golf TV and digital outlets.

  • The Back2Golf effort is part of the We Are Golf coalition that includes the PGA of AmericaPGA TourUSGA and LPGA. The new campaign is led by the PGA of America with Ideas United of Atlanta as the agency of record. The PSA stresses the importance of social distancing practices while playing golf and the campaign will also include another 60-second spot later this spring that will feature other Tour and LPGA pros and celebs.

  • The campaign is part of the Back2Golf’s three-phased approach to golf that aligns with the federal government’s broader plan to re-open the economy. Each phase includes operational protocols when it comes to social distancing, the sanitation of physical facilities and the health of staff members.

 

PGA TOUR CHARITABLE BENEFICIARIES SCRAMBLE AMID UNCERTAIN TIMES

  • The March 17 cancellation of the PGA Tour Zurich Classic of New Orleans left dozens of local charities with sudden and deep financial holes, among them the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation. The charity’s lone full-time employee, Jennifer Kelley, helps steer one-time “crisis grants” to Louisiana service industry workers in times of need. “We can give them a hand up when they really don’t have anywhere else to turn,” Kelley told SBJ’s Bret McCormick.

  • But the Zurich Classic’s cancellation meant that the Fore!Kids Foundation, the tournament’s primary charitable beneficiary, was out around $1.5 million. That money would have been dispersed to dozens of groups, including the LHF. The LHF’s presence at the Zurich Classic centers on a high-class hospitality tent called the Fidelity Bank Champions Club, which allows Kelley to make most of the group’s annual budget of over $100,000. But that evaporated in an instant. “It was sobering, it was scary,” Kelley said. “To have that kind of money just go away was devastating.”

  • Just over a month later, the tournament’s title sponsor, Zurich North America, decided to make the Fore!Kids Foundation financially whole. The amount that the LHF will receive is not set in stone yet, but Kelley predicted it would be over 50% of what they could have made from the tournament. “So, March, not so great. April, a little tiny bit of sunshine,” she said, laughing.

  • There are about 100,000 people employed in hospitality and tourism-type industries in the New Orleans metro area, alone, “and all those people are looking to us for help right now,” Kelley said. Zurich’s decision to fill the charitable funding gap was critically good news for Louisiana service industry workers, some of whom have rent checks, air conditioning or paid medical bills because of the LHF. 

  • Read more about the sports industry’s philanthropic efforts in this week’s SBJ.

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH RICH KLEIMAN

  • Rich Kleiman decided to leave N.Y. shortly after the city began to shutdown and quarantine with his family in Southampton. As Kevin Durant’s business manager, Kleiman has plenty to keep him busy, from his work with Thirty Five Ventures, to “The Boardroom” series on ESPN+ and trying to figure out when the NBA will return. Kleiman stays on the move, taking his calls from all over his house -- bedroom, kitchen, living room, office -- and even venturing outside or to his car at certain points. He’s enjoyed staying in touch with Durant and others during this unprecedented time. “I’ve found those long phone calls to be really therapeutic and inspiring,” he said.

  • Kleiman’s daily contact with Durant hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic. “Maybe early in the quarantine we were speaking more because we all have time,” he said. “Everyone I think is speaking to the people they’re closest to more than ever because we're all in uncharted waters. ... Kevin and I love talking about the world … and staying on the pulse of everything that’s going on.”

  • Storytelling has become the focal point of Thirty Five Ventures, through “The Boardroom” and documentaries, most recently “Basketball County,” released on Showtime last week. Kleiman feels the quarantine may have even helped speed up their production process. “We've had the time to really focus and lock in and create,” he said.

  • Cultivating new relationships is one of the most important parts of Kleiman’s business, but of course it is not the same when you can’t actually meet face to face. “I've been able to do it to a degree,” he said, “and truly have introductory meetings on Zoom and get to know people and then end up almost having like a wine meeting in the afternoon the way I would go out for drinks with somebody.” Kleiman has also realized he needs to make time for himself in between the video chats and phone calls. “Sometimes just having openings in your schedule to do that ... it’s helped me a lot in this time,” he said

 

Kleiman in quarantine takes calls from all over his house, including his kitchen, living room and office
Kleiman in quarantine takes calls from all over his house, including his kitchen, living room and office
Kleiman in quarantine takes calls from all over his house, including his kitchen, living room and office

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: FOR THE GREATER GOOD

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Prosek Partners Associate VP Aidan O'Connor, who writes under the header, "Sports Can -- And Must -- Rise To A Level Of Public Leadership."

  • "The variety of recovery strategies across states, coupled with public division over when to reopen the economy, underscores why sports organizations must proactively engage stakeholders at a regional level if they are to realize their full potential as contributors to economic recovery."

  • To read O'Connor's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • USGA Senior Managing Director of Championships John Bodenhamer said the delayed U.S. Open at Winged Foot scheduled for September will be "significantly scaled back" if it is played. The targeted number of people "permitted to be on-site each day at the Open will be around 2,000." With a typical complement of fans, that number "would usually be around 40,000," per Golfweek.

  • SI's Albert Breer had two takeaways from Saturday's Bundesliga action relative to the NFL. Breer: "A) That we’ll become desensitized to the empty-stadium effect by the time football season rolls around; and B) the echoes of players and coaches will 100% force NFL teams to adjust the way they communicate on the field."
  • ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports one issue “up for consideration” in the modified CBA between the NBA and players union is a new amnesty provision that would allow teams to immediately waive a player due to reduced revenues. Windhorst, on the “Hoop Collective” podcast, said, “With the possibility that the salary cap and the luxury tax line may fall … you could waive a player and he comes off of your books. You’ve still actually got to pay the salary, and a lot of cases the players’ contracts are set up that if that happens the salary gets paid over a number of years, but you could basically ... get a get out of jail free card.” That provision could affect high-profile players on non-contending teams, including John Wall, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Windhorst: “This was going to be a pretty lame free agency, (but) if that happens, we could see some big-time action.”

  • Group fitness studios have had to "shut down their live studios and watch their revenue dry up" amid the pandemic, writes Vox' Alex Abad-Santos. Mass layoffs "hit companies like Solidcore, a Michelle Obama-endorsed pilates class, and SoulCycle competitor FlyWheel. Former employees told Vox that SoulCycle also has had "two rounds of layoffs itself." While some companies, like Barry’s Bootcamp, have "adjusted and taken their classes online or on apps, they’re still not making the same kind of revenue they would if their studios were open."

  • Live golf returned on Sunday with the TaylorMade Driving Relief charity event on NBC. No Laying Up’s Chris Solomon gave credit to the production team for giving their best effort amid the current circumstances. “Four of the top players in the world, at Seminole, televised with announcers under the hardest possible conditions -- I would imagine as far as CDC safety and all the protocols you have to follow -- and all of the brands that had to be involved in this and for all of it to go to a good cause. The fact that they got all that right is extremely impressive.”

  • Nearly half of men, but just one-third of sports fans aged 60+, feel that pro athletes should be paid while the games are on hold, according to a study conducted last month by Arizona State’s Global Sport Institute. The online survey registered opinions of more than 750 adults in the U.S., U.K., Australia and South Africa, from April 18-27, and balanced to each country’s current census data. In another survey, 75% of sports fans in the U.S. said they have started wearing a mask or scarf in public places to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For more of the GSI survey results, see this week's edition of SBJ.

 

Have you started wearing a mask or scarf in public places to prevent the spread of COVID-19?



U.S.
FEMALE
MALE
18-34
35-59
60+
Yes
75%
58%
52%
57%
59%
46%
No
25%
42%
48%
43%
41%
54%
Do you agree or disagree with: Athletes should still be compensated for canceled games



U.S.
FEMALE
MALE
18-34
35-59
60+
Strongly agree
16%
11%
11%
15%
12%
6%
Agree
29%
26%
36%
35%
31%
27%
Neither agree nor disagree
26%
37%
29%
31%
32%
38%
Disagree
21%
19%
16%
15%
19%
18%
Strongly disagree
8%
7%
8%
5%
7%
11%
Download the
Chart

 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • NASCAR Pleased With First Post-Shutdown Race, Logistics
    • Bundesliga's Return Displays "New Reality" Of Live Sports
    • MLB Proposes Massive Overhaul Of Health-And-Safety Protocols For '20
    • Will MLB, Union Budge As Return-To-Play Plan Comes Into Focus?
    • MLB Contends Prorated Salaries To Result In $640K Per Game Loss
    • Sources: NHL Makes Progress On 24-Team Format Upon Eventual Return
    • NBA Balancing Financial, Safety Concerns Amid Return Talks
    • Don Garber Says Full MLS Season Becoming More Challenging
    • Report: NWSL Looking At Tourney Format Outside SLC This Summer
    • Boston Mayor Open To Games This Summer, But With Proper Protocols
    • John Elway, Peyton Manning Contribute To Colorado Relief Fund

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

ONLINE NOMINATIONS FOR GAME CHANGERS NOW OPEN

Join us as we host our 8th annual Game Changers Conference on October 27-28 at the Crowne Plaza Times Square, New York City.  The Game Changers Conference is a two-day event that will focus on the multiple ways in which women intersect with sports. Built into the program are ample networking opportunities, as well as a recognition period of our 2020 Honorees. Click here to view the nomination page.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- All Systems Go At Darlington

There are still many hard questions facing the return of sports, but one big one appears to finally be getting answered in a good way: COVID-19 testing.

The total number of tests conducted in the U.S. topped 10 million on Thursday, according to The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project, with Monday and Thursday posting the two biggest daily gains in testing since the start of the pandemic. Now, more than 300,000 people are being tested daily, a dramatic increase from most of the last two months.

Testing still must become far more common to actually stop the pandemic, but those stats are an incredibly positive trend for leagues that have conditioned their return on easy, frequent testing for all participants. 

Meanwhile, we’ll be watching two more test cases this weekend: Bundesliga action starts in Germany on Saturday, the first team sport outside of Asia to return, and then NASCAR drops the long-awaited green flag at Darlington on Sunday. 

--- Ben Fischer

 

STORIES YOU NEED TO READ:

 

PHELPS: NASCAR "GOING TO KEEP PEOPLE SAFE" AT DARLINGTON

  • On Sunday morning, about 900 workers that NASCAR has deemed essential will load into their cars, haulers and motor coaches and drive to Darlington, S.C., for a race that will be unlike any before it, writes SBJ's Bill King. They will be admitted to the speedway at rigidly scheduled times, go through health screenings, and then head off to their assigned positions, masked and socially distanced whenever possible.

  • There will be no practice laps. No qualifying runs. Drivers will walk, masked, from the relative solitude of their RVs to the complete solitude of their race cars, start their engines, and go. Fox’ announce team will call the race from a Charlotte studio, complemented by a single pit reporter at the track.
  • NASCAR President Steve Phelps discussed the vast array of changes that go along with the sport’s return on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  • “The plan we have in place is dozens of pages long,” Phelps said. “And it has been vetted with local, state and federal health officials to make sure we are going back and folks are going to be safe. Non-essential personnel, like me, will be outside of the footprint. But if you think about our sport, all the crews and the drivers and officials. The production people. It’s about 900 people. But the protocols are in place. And we are confident we are going to keep people safe. We would not go back if we thought otherwise.”

  • How does NASCAR define “essential” in the context of a race? “For starters, if you asked people in this industry who are essential personnel, there would be more than 900 who raised their hand,” Phelps said. “I had a sales guy email me and say, ‘Hey, I’ll do the testing; do the whole thing. I want to be in the garage that first race back at Darlington.’ I thought to myself: There is no one to sell anything to. I would suggest that would be non-essential personnel.”

 

 

MLB CLUB PREPARES "ANTIBODY POSITIVE" BALLPARK SECTION

  • According to one National League team, if you've tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, meaning that you've already recovered from the virus, you will have qualified to sit in a special "Antibody Positive" section of their ballpark once small gatherings of fans are allowed to return to MLB venues.

  • A club exec told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that they anticipate creating designated sections in the ballpark for individuals who are certified to be antibody positive. "Maybe there'd be less social distancing restrictions in those sections," the executive said, "because those folks are able to sit closer together and have more contact because of their status of being positive for the antibodies."

  • Several execs across the sport said they are optimistic that small gatherings of fans -- a few thousand -- will be permitted to return to most ballparks at some point later this season. But Dr. Daniel Eichner, president of the Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory that will conduct routine testing for MLB players and staff, told SBJ it remains unknown in the medical community whether everyone who possesses COVID antibodies has immunity from contracting the virus again and, if so, for how long.

  • Another concept the club executive broached is re-purposing luxury suites for groups like a collection of people who work in the same office space (once work-from-home policies are eased), because their work relationships establishes them almost as an extended family. In the suite, they'd have their own restroom and food, and would be able to be closer physically because of their status as colleagues.

  • "They are kind of like a cluster, in a good way, of people who are cleared to be around each other," the executive said, adding that the opportunity to have some fans return to games in 2020 would afford teams the chance to "at least beta test on a smaller scale some of these new practices and protocols because that will be invaluable to get us prepared for 2021."

 

 

ATP, WTA TOURS EXTEND SUSPENSION OF PLAY THROUGH END OF JULY

  • The ATP and WTA announced this morning that the two tours will extend their current suspensions of play through the end of July, impacting 10 more tournaments and bringing the total number of top-level pro tennis tournaments altered by the COVID-19 pandemic to 46, writes SBJ's Bret McCormick. Tennis has stood still since March 11 when the BNP Paribas Open was canceled the night before the tournament was to begin.

  • The ATP and WTA both suspended play in April, a competition pause that ran through July 12 until this most recent extension. Two American ATP tournaments, the Hall of Fame Open (starting July 13) and Truist Atlanta Open (starting July 27), were caught up in the ATP’s half of the suspension extension, along with events in Sweden, Mexico, Croatia and Austria. Events in Hamburg and Switzerland that also fall under the new suspension had already been imperiled by bans on large gatherings thru Aug. 31 in their respective countries. Four WTA events were additionally impacted, including tournaments in Sweden, Switzerland, Romania and Latvia.

  • For more on this story, click here.

 

UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF ROGERS CUP "DEVASTATING" FOR TENNIS CANADA

  • If Tennis Canada is unable to hold the men’s half of the Rogers Cup this year, the organization would lose about $24 million, according to Tennis Canada CEO Michael Downey. Downey told SBJ’s Bret McCormick that the organization is hugely dependent on the tournament, half of which is held in Montreal and half in Toronto.

  • The women’s portion in Montreal has already been called off due to a local government ban on large gatherings. The men’s half starts Aug. 10 in Toronto and Tennis Canada is exploring holding a no-fan tournament. ATP competition is suspended through the end of July and Downey said he expects the tour to decide in mid-June on whether the August events will go forward, or not. “To lose Montreal and probably to lose Toronto is going to be devastating for us,” said Downey. 

  • Following the April 11 cancellation of the women’s portion, and in anticipation of bad news regarding the men’s half of the event, Tennis Canada began reducing expenses, eliminating 40% of its staff, instituting furloughs, and reducing the pay of some employees by 25%. There will be major cutbacks in grassroots tennis funding in the country over the next few years, Downey said, but even with those expense-saving efforts, Tennis Canada is still going to lose at least $17 million this year.

  • The financial struggles are especially disappointing given the momentum that Tennis Canada carried into 2020. In 2019, Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam, the country reached the finals of the Davis Cup and a handful of young Canadian men continued their steady climbs up the ATP rankings. “To start the year with such expectations and then basically, within three months, kind of have the rug pulled out from under the sport in the country is just shocking,” said Downey.
     

 

SURVEY: REMOTE WORK COULD BECOME PERMANENT SOLUTION

  • Around 43% of CFOs are considering making remote work a permanent solution for any role that can accommodate it, while less than two-thirds are “very confident” their company can create a safe workplace environment for employees, according SBJ’s David Broughton, citing a new industry survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

  • Additionally, 47% of the CFOs are planning to develop additional alternate sourcing options for their supply chains. and 50% are looking at worker protections, improving benefits and improving staff well-being. PwC has fielded a comparable study of 300+ CFOs and finance leaders in the U.S. every other week dating back to March 9, for a total of five surveys. 

  • “We’re hearing across the board from the CFO community there’s a real focus on not only how do you protect a culture in this environment where there’s a lot of remote working and working differently, but also how do you evolve a culture and reshape it so it’s competitive going forward,” said Tim Ryan, U.S. Chair & Senior Partner of PwC. He said that even though having employees work remotely is “not without its challenges, work is able to get done.”

  • Separately from CFOs, PwC surveyed 400+ workers who have been working remotely or have had to stop work altogether during this crisis. Of this group, more than half said that their top concern preventing them from going back to work is the fear of getting the virus; 24% are unwilling to use public transport for their work commute; and 21% cited a significant reason why they wouldn’t be able to come back to work is that they are currently responsible as a parent or a caregiver for others which require them to stay at home.

  

WORKING FROM HOME WITH WSC SPORTS’ DANIEL SHICHMAN

  • For WSC Sports co-Founder & CEO Daniel Shichman, figuring out which time zone he’s virtually headed to is a daily occurrence. The artificial intelligence-driven video production platform is based in Israel, but also has offices in N.Y. and Sydney.

  • Shichman’s typical non-stop travel to clients across the globe has turned into video conferences on Zoom, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or Slack. He tries to spend time with his three boys until about 10:30 each morning before he starts working. “I spend most of my time in back-to-back video calls or phone calls. Whenever there is a phone call, I can go outside and kick some football (soccer) -- I got pretty good at free kicks,” he said.

  • WSC -- which has helped the NBA produce highlights and powered the PGA Tour’s “every shot” initiative that rolled out at the The Players (one round played) this year -- has not slowed down on client projects since sports shut down. “We're working together with them on how they can utilize their archived content in a smarter way, how they can use existing content in new ways and interactive formats, what they can pitch their sponsors,” Shichman said.

  • WSC Sports has even added 18 clients in recent weeks. Shichman: “The fact that we can help them automate this content creation in the cloud, which means they don't need to come to the office, was really appealing for a lot of them.”

  • Israel has begun to relax some of its shutdown restrictions, such as schools re-opening. WSC Sports will continue working from home for the time being, though. Shichman’s advice is to “over communicate” with your teammates, and overall, he’s been impressed with the industry. “I can honestly say only good things. It's a hard situation for everyone. … And everyone is working together, from our experience, really well together and everyone understands that we're in a very unique situation.”

 

Shichman tries to spend time with his boys until about 10:30 each morning before he starts working
Shichman tries to spend time with his boys until about 10:30 each morning before he starts working
Shichman tries to spend time with his boys until about 10:30 each morning before he starts working

 

STATE OF THINGS: SLOWLY BUT SURELY

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: SPORTS' INDISPENSABLE VALUE

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from 17 Sport CEO & Founder Neill Duffy, who asks, "What can sports do to be considered an essential service?"

  • "What we need right now is a radically different approach that takes an infinite view on the role that sports can play in building a resilient society. In short, sports needs a just cause -- a purpose beyond just delivering entertainment and $$$ -- that it can rally all of its stakeholders around and leverage to fuel the birth of Sports 2.0 as an essential service to society."

  • To read Duffy's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • The Ringer's Ryan Hunn writes under the header, "The Bundesliga Is Back In Body But Not In Spirit." Professional soccer in Germany will resume this weekend, but "safety concerns and 'ghost games' played in empty stadiums mark the occasion with melancholy rather than celebration." For more on the league's return, see SBD Global.

  • Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby voiced serious doubt Friday morning as to whether there will be a COVID vaccine before the fall football season. Bowlsby, appearing on Austin-based KVET-AM, said, "We're going to have to find ways to co-exist with the disease. ... This will be very expensive to disinfect and make game situations as safe as possible."

  • Canaccord Genuity analysts Maria Ripps and Michael Graham released their quarterly report on esports. Some key takeaways: 1)  Given viewership, esports ad revenue should hold up relatively well during the pandemic; 2) The esports betting market is heating up and DraftKings should benefit with its daily fantasy competitions.
  • Spire Sports + Entertainment is now officially the majority owner of the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits and Rapid City Rush, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. The vote by the ECHL’s BOG was unanimous. Charlotte-based Spire Sports, a talent management and consulting agency, already possessed a minority interest in the Rush during the 2019-20 season.

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • Report: MLB Likely To Halt Revenue Sharing Among Clubs In '20
    • Manfred Says MLB Will Provide Extensive Testing For Players, Staff
    • Nolan Arenado Weighs In On Blake Snell's Comments, Health Risks
    • NASCAR Sees Return To Track As Opportunity To Gain Fans
    • Flames GM Suggests News About NHL Restart Coming Next Week
    • MLS Extends Small Group Training Moratorium Through June 1
    • Stars To Undergo Second Round Of Furloughs Affecting Front Office
    • ATP, WTA Tours Extend Suspension Of Play Through End Of July
    • Conor McGregor Surprises Hospital Workers With Medical Gear

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

SIGN UP NOW FOR LEADERS WEEK DIRECT: MAY 18-21

  • Across the week, you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in sports, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and Amazon VP/Global Sports Marie Donoghue. Each day offers two hours of streamed content, where industry leaders will examine how the future of sport will change. In addition to the main content stream, there will be in-depth breakout sessions that will address specific challenges, plus networking with industry peers.
  • You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. For more details, click here.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- MLB Eyes Rapid-Result Testing

Not since the deep, dark winters that were common in the '80s and '90s have MLB and the MLB Players Association stood swords ready at so ill calculated a time.

Whether this is a misunderstanding, a misread or a negotiating tactic by either side, the fact that they have so visibly become just that -- either side, as opposed to two about to put aside their differences -- is a mistake.

Reasonable baseball fans -- the overwhelming majority of them -- would not quarrel with any player who opted to forfeit a salary rather than wade into the great unknown with their health, and that of their loved ones. They might even forgive owners who thoughtfully, and regretfully, cancelled the season because even after reasonable compromise, the finances were far from penciling out. They would mourn. But they would return, cap in hand, when called.

But if this is perceived as a dispute over money -- billionaires arguing with millionaires, yet again, this time when fans in some MLB markets are waiting in line for donated food -- it will be a pox on both their houses so deep and wide, it will make them long for the days that came after the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

It’s hard to envision the PA accepting a deal that ties payrolls directly to revenue, as the owners have suggested. But perhaps a guarantee can be negotiated -- a reduction of contracts to a set percentage, based on what clubs will lose from ballpark revenue if no fans are allowed in.

Were these normal times, you could chalk this up to artful negotiation -- management and union each operating with an eye on the clock, knowing that it wasn’t until zero hour approached that the best deal would reveal itself.

These are not normal times.

--- Bill King

 

MLB PRESENTING PROTOCOLS FOR ROUTINE RAPID-RESULT COVID TESTING

  • By the end of this week, MLB plans to present to the union and all 30 clubs more than 80 pages of medical protocols that are expected to detail the league’s plans for routine rapid-result COVID-19 testing of players and essential game-day employees, reports SBJ's Eric Prisbell. Those tests could be administered daily if circumstances warrant. Testing would be conducted by a centralized Utah-based lab used frequently by MLB, in part to avoid detracting from medical services that may be needed for the general public.

  • The health and safety components of MLB’s return-to-play plan are the critical issues being addressed first with the union -- before contentious player compensation issues are tackled -- as both sides look to forge an agreement to start a historic 82-game regular season in early July, which would at least initially begin in spectator-less ballparks. An MLB official with direct knowledge of the proposal spoke to SBJ about medical protocol specifics on condition of anonymity because they are not finalized.

  • For frequent testing of asymptomatic individuals, samples will be sent to the Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory in Utah, which is MLB’s minor league drug testing laboratory that has now been converted to a COVID-19 testing lab. The Utah lab will do the testing because the infrastructure of collectors and how to ship samples is already in place. The turnaround time will be 24 hours. Dr. Daniel Eichner, the president at SMRTL, also helped spearhead the recent antibody study in which thousands of MLB employees submitted to antibody tests.

  • For more on MLB's testing plans, click here.

 

 

BORAS REITERATES MLB PLAYERS WONT GIVE ANY MORE CONCESSIONS

  • MLB agent Scott Boras reiterated to SBJ's Liz Mullen that all of his about 100 player clients are steadfastly behind the MLBPA's position that the players already have a deal on player compensation  Boras also said that the league could make millions on media rights if games are played under the terms of the agreement MLB and the MLBPA negotiated and signed in March. 

  • Although the agreement the union signed with MLB in March says nothing about revenue sharing, it does say that owners will supply as many games is as economically feasible, and Boras said those conditions exist now, even during the pandemic. "The owners will make millions of dollars from the media and sponsorship, apart from what they get for attendance," Boras said. "You have to question, why did the owners sign that deal? They knew it was economically feasible to play a season as long as they knew they only had to offer as many games as the virus would allow."

  • Boras said he has not made any layoffs from his agency, Boras Corp. Boras: "I don't expect them to, in any way, bear the consequences of the operation and ownership of this company. They are salaried employees. Just like when we have gains, they don't benefit from the gains."

  • For more from Boras, click here

 

 

PROPERTIES, AGENCIES FORM TENTATIVE PLANS FOR OFFICE RETURNS

  • With states beginning to open up across the sports industry, there’s initial talk of returning to brick-and-mortar offices, which have been closed since mid-March, reports SBJ's Terry Lefton. Rules will vary widely by state, and there will surely be a fairly sizable portion of staffs that will stay virtual. But for the first time, there’s some consideration being applied to what a post-pandemic office environment will look like.

  • USA Triathlon, shuttered since March 10, hopes to re-open its Colorado Springs offices June 1. CMO Chuck Menke said the plan is to have no more than half the NGB’s 60 staffers in the office at once, making scheduling the imperative. “Our office manager is assembling a war chest of masks," said Menke. “For now the plan is not to have any meetings there that aren’t virtual and I’m thinking anyone’s conference rooms won’t be used for a while.’’

  • Paragon Marketing Group has temporarily closed its Chicago office and will operate solely from its suburban SkokieIll., location, where it occupies a full wing of a building. Again, it will be a rotational system, with around a third of the employee base working from the office at any one time. “Normally, around a third of our employees are out doing events on a given day, and we’re anticipating that being the case again in the somewhat near future,’’ said Exec VP & Partner Tony Schiller, who is hoping to be back as soon as July. “That could be ambitious, but we need to be prepared."

  • At licensed sports hard-goods giant WinCraft, 450 of the 600 employees in March are now back at the WinonaMinn., plant and HQ.  The pandemic has catalyzed enough demand for masks that the licensed collegiate, MLBNHL and NASCAR masks are being called “Our fastest product launch ever” by WinCraft President John Killen. He added there is “less than three weeks from conception to retail shelves.” Around 80 office employees have returned and are practicing social distancing at every other desk.

  • “Everyone’s looking at some sort of phased in approach and how to reconfigure your office for the most social distance,’’ said Drone Racing League President Rachel Jacobson. “When 95-100 percent of your workforce is remote, everyone’s thinking who it is that’s absolutely critical any more in an office,’’ she said.

 

WINDS SHIFTING TOWARD HAVING FOOTBALL IN THE FALL

  • College officials are warming to the idea of playing football this fall -- even if the rest of the student body isn’t allowed on campus, writes SBJ's Michael Smith. That marks a significant change from the previous two months of quarantine. This week, Smith brought that issue up to a well-connected Power 5 AD. “That sentiment is changing,” the AD said. Sentiment is shifting based on three main reasons:

    • Revenue, of course. Football accounts for up to 80% of the revenue for an FBS athletic department, so even a shortened season would be better than nothing.
    • There’s a strong desire for a return to normalcy, and sports can lead the way.
    • We know more now than we did 4-6 weeks ago.

  • For more on the chances of football this fall, see the rest of tonight's SBJ College.

 

CHARGERS LAUNCH SWEEPSTAKES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

  • The Chargers will give away a three-month sponsorship in a new sweepstakes for small businesses hit hard by the pandemic, SBJ’s Ben Fischer reports. The winner of “Bolt Up Your Business” will receive promotional assets at Chargers.com, two custom video pieces created and distributed by the Chargers’ content team and a co-branded lead generation sweepstakes promoted by the team. 

  • More than 1,000 businesses entered the contest in its first day, which is being promoted primarily on LinkedIn, said Chargers CMO Steve Ziff. "What can you do to help a small business if you’re a football team?” Ziff said. “You can give them direct business, and the other side is giving them the ability to tap into your assets to help them grow.”

  • Current exclusivity deals with major sponsors and other NFL rules limit the contest significantly, with major business categories including beer, casual dining and lending prohibited. But the rules still leaves room for many mom-and-pop stores in the L.A . area who would benefit by the brand alignment, Ziff said.

  • The winner will be picked on May 25, and the sponsorship will run from June to August. The Chargers hope to eventually enlist a larger B-to-B sponsor to power the concept on a long-term basis. Official rules price the media assets offered in the giveaway at $25,000 for tax purposes, but an annual deal with an NFL team would sell for at least several times that on the open market. Ziff declined to comment on the price.

 

WORLD SURF LEAGUE AIMS TO "INNOVATE AND RESET"

  • The World Surf League encompasses thousands of competitors from 52 countries, with events in 20 locales. In the midst of a pandemic, that globalism presents an obvious challenge to first-year league CEO Erik Logan, who was promoted to the job in January. The WSL season was supposed to start in Australia in late March, but the circuit remains suspended. The WSL’s next status update will be made in early June.

  • The WSL is looking at how to deal with fans when (and if) the tours relaunch this year. Some competitions are held at remote locations where having throngs of fans wasn’t an issue. But others, like some of the Brazilian events, can draw 40,000 fans to the host beach.

  • “When we get back to competition, we’re assuming it’s going to be a no-fan experience,” Logan told SBJ’s Bret McCormick on the latest SBJ Unpacks podcast. “That’s actually OK. I think our sponsors understand that. The fact that we made this pivot to a media company a year ago has really been leveraging all the great distribution and great content that we have, so from that perspective I think we’re already ahead of the game. Our business model isn’t so predicated about butts on beach.”

  • Working out of his garage, surrounded by surfboards hanging from the walls, Logan said WSL is using the pandemic pause to innovate and reset. The organization will announce major alterations to its competition structure in July, driven in part by Logan asking his staff to think about aspects of pro surfing that they would change if allowed. That turned into a list of ideas, some of which will become reality following further encouragement from the WSL board to take advantage of the pandemic’s norm-shattering impact. “When we rethink broadcast, when we rethink travel, we rethink staffing, all of those sort of things, new opportunities open up,” said Logan.

 

Logan over the past couple months has been working out of his garage, surrounded by surfboards hanging from the walls
Logan over the past couple months has been working out of his garage, surrounded by surfboards hanging from the walls
Logan over the past couple months has been working out of his garage, surrounded by surfboards hanging from the walls

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH RED BULLS EXEC JOE STETSON

  • After quarantining in their N.Y. apartment for eight weeks, Red Bulls Chief Marketing & Revenue Officer Joe Stetson and his family temporarily relocated north of the city to a friend’s vacant house in Westchester. Stetson has been trying to get a head start on his day around 6:00am before his kids, Penelope and Isaac, wake up. “By 9:00am I head into a separate room to do my virtual meetings/calls -- I average about 12 video/phone calls a day to take me to about 7:00pm. My wife, Stacey, has been my savior throughout this, as she and the kids will bring me meals (including a killer avocado toast) and plenty of coffee to my desk.”

  • Communication amongst Red Bulls staffers has improved during this time, Stetson said, mainly due to GM Marc de Grandpre’s edict to stay engaged and in constant contact with each other. “That has become a real positive and has caused us to execute really well despite the challenges,” Stetson said. One bright spot was Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara’s virtual address to the entire organization, talking about his family of first responders in N.Y., including his girlfriend (nurse), father (FDNY) and brother (NYPD). Stetson: “His emotional message really provided a unique perspective for all of us to consider.”

  • Stetson is certainly enjoying a break from apartment life: “Although I admit I could use more exercise, I have been getting my steps during the days during business phone calls that are video calls (three miles yesterday pacing around outside).”  He added, “I do love the fact that I am home in the evening to play with the kids and help give them a bath and put them to bed.” When Stetson isn’t watching continuous episodes of “Hey Duggee” and “The Loud House” with his kids, he’s been enjoying “The Last Dance” and has been digging into Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Leadership In Turbulent Times.”

 

Stetson and his family have temporarily relocated to a friend’s vacant house in Westchester
Stetson and his family have temporarily relocated to a friend’s vacant house in Westchester
Stetson and his family have temporarily relocated to a friend’s vacant house in Westchester

 

SPEED READS

  • As the NHL "contemplates how to turn empty arena games into must-see television spectacles," virtually transporting fans into those barren stands to watch playoff action "would have been a game-changer," writes ESPN's Greg Wyshynski. But a source who has worked on the NHL's VR ventures said, "Unless the camera tech and compression technology gets better, it would be a very hard lift to have VR be the primary broadcast." Until then, Wyshynski writes, virtual reality is "still a pipe dream for the NHL."
  • Tonight in SBD Global: The EPL has been told by the U.K. government that it "must show some matches free-to-air" and put more money into the English Football League and grassroots game "as a condition for restarting this season." The EPL is in negotiations with its broadcast partners Sky and BT over "finding a solution to showing some matches free-to-air when the season resumes."
  • As sports do return, the crowds may skew toward an older audience, as younger people are feeling the brunt of the unemployment crisis, writes SBJ's David Broughton. Around 38% of the more than 36 million jobless claims that have been filed since mid-March were done so by workers aged 18-34, meaning the youngest American adults are the most impacted by job loss right now, per data from polling company CivicScience.

 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • MLB Concerned About Second Wave Of COVID-19 Impacting Playoffs
    • Scott Boras Reiterates Players Won't Give Any More Concessions
    • Sources: Silver Aiming For Decision On NBA Season Restart In 2-4 Weeks
    • British Columbia Premier Pitches Province To Host NHL Games
    • Sporting KC To Test Players As MLS Moves Toward June Restart
    • Timbers, Thorns Owner Expects To Lose Tens Of Millions Due To Hiatus
    • USTA Begins Exploring Alternative Host Sites For U.S. Open
    • NASCAR To Have Healthcare Workers Serve As Grand Marshals
    • Nationals' Dave Martinez Designs "Stay In The Fight" Masks

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

SIGN UP NOW FOR LEADERS WEEK DIRECT: MAY 18-21

  • Across the week, you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in sports, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and Amazon VP/Global Sports Marie Donoghue. Each day offers two hours of streamed content, where industry leaders will examine how the future of sport will change. In addition to the main content stream, there will be in-depth breakout sessions that will address specific challenges, plus networking with industry peers.
  • You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. For more details, click here.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- NFL Team Facilities Likely Locked Until June

Are the floodgates starting to open?

After a couple of slow months in which news about pro sports leagues possibly returning to action came at a trickle, shows like ESPN’s “SportsCenter” suddenly have a lot more to cover as a host of comeback plans emerge.

On top of UFC and the Professional Bull Riders already restarting, and German soccer and NASCAR joining this weekend, the NBA, NHL, MLS and MLB all appear to be making strides toward a possible return, although many hurdles remain. Meanwhile, plans are already set for the PGA Tour and IndyCar to resume action in June.

There’s still the potential for setbacks that could send leagues back to the drawing board, both on the health and labor fronts. MLB appears to have the most serious issues to work through with players. And college sports have a complex couple of months ahead.

But for now, the return of pro sports in 2020 -- across the team and individual levels -- is looking more and more realistic.

---  Adam Stern

 

STORIES YOU NEED TO READ: 

 

NFL EXTENDS VIRTUAL OFFSEASON BY TWO WEEKS

  • The NFL today extended its “virtual offseason” period from May 15 to May 29, giving teams two more weeks to conduct educational or other training programs remotely, SBJ’s Ben Fischer reports, indicating the league does not expect to be able to return to facilities until at least June. These programs are intended to replace offseason workouts that would normally be ongoing this month.

  • By Friday, all 32 teams must submit plans for re-opening their facilities to non-player employees, the first step of returning to normal activities. The return of players are the subject of ongoing talks with the NFLPA. In a memo today, the league said those plans will be communicated to teams as soon as possible once complete. To date, the NFL has not changed its stance that no teams will be allowed to go back to work until local regulations allow all teams to return to offices.

  • Since mid-April, the league has allowed classroom instruction, non-football education and workouts to be conducted online due to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing players to earn bonuses tied to offseason participation. Offseason activities, virtual or otherwise, must end by June 26.


NBC SPORTS TALENT ALL AGREE TO TAKE PAY CUTS

  • All of NBC’s on-air sports talent agreed to voluntary pay cuts as the network grapples with figuring out how to move forward with no sports and a tight ad sales marketplace. The salary cuts are described as temporary and in the 5-10% range, sources said. Every one of NBC’s on-air personalities agreed to the cuts, which will be in effect until the end of the year, sources said. Last week, NBCUniversal senior management took 20% pay cuts and employees making more than $100,000 per year saw their salaries cut by 3%.

  • NBC Sports Group President Pete Bevacqua: “Our on-air personalities reached out to see how they could contribute to helping our company during this difficult time, and all have voluntarily accepted temporary pay reductions. It’s another reminder of the truly great team we have at NBC Sports and how we’re all working together to get through this immense challenge.”

  • The moves come nearly a month after ESPN asked its 100 highest-paid commentators to take a voluntary 15% pay cut over the ensuing three months. Three weeks ago, Fox asked many of its top paid talent to take temporary 15% pay cuts that also run for three months, through July. CBS is the only broadcast who has yet to cut salaries of their on-air talent. One source estimated that 90% of the on-air sports talent have agreed to pay cuts when asked.

 

 

PGA TOUR STRESSES SAFETY FIRST BEFORE FANS CAN RETURN

  • The PGA Tour today outlined their restart plans and guidelines beginning on June 8 at the Charles Schwab Challenge with no fans, no hospitality, and no revenue generating pro-ams, writes SBJ's John Lombardo. The first four events beginning with the Schwab will be held without spectators, and Tour execs aren’t saying exactly when fans will be allowed back at tournaments. 

  • “When we issued the revised schedule, we stipulated in there that for at least the first four tournaments we would play without spectators onsite,” said Andy Pazder, Chief of Operations & Competitions for the Tour. “I considered that all along to be a placeholder, and not some sort of a line on a calendar that we were pushing for the week of July 6-12 to be a point in time where we begin allowing some number of fans. We are not wedded to any specific date. Obviously, it's going to be dependent on local, state and federal regulations that will largely dictate when we're able to resume having some number of fans."

  • When the Tour does decide to allow fans back on the course, it will be done in a gradual manner. 

  • “I would absolutely anticipate that whenever that occurs, it would initially be on a limited basis to ease ourselves back into spectators being onsite,” Pazder said. “We obviously hope that there will be a point in time this summer where we are able to welcome back our fans onsite, but ... we're only going to return to golf when we can do it in a safe and responsible manner, and it's certainly not going to be just so we can hit some target date that isn't supported by the local state and federal authorities.” 

 

TECH COMPANIES CONTINUE TO EYE OPPORTUNITIES IN FAN EXPERIENCE SPACE

  • N.Y.-based technology company LiveLike's new integrated fan experience product is gaining more traction in conversations with many tier-A broadcasters, federations and sports leagues around the world, according to CEO & co-founder Miheer Walavalkar. The accelerated conversations, which have picked up steam during COVID-19, reflect the likelihood of spectator-less games, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. Through its technology and software development kit (SDK), Walavalkar explained, LiveLike can embed a social viewing experience into a league, team or media company’s existing app as another way to engage with at-home viewers. 
  • Fans can then vote for their favorite players, chat with others, answer trivia questions and polls, offer game predictions and participate in a virtual cheer meter, among other options. Walavalkar said that whether the cheer meter in particular gets captured inside a venue via a noise machine or jumbotron is being considered by key stakeholders, though he declined to mention specific names. 

  • Walavalkar, a 2018 SBJ "Forty Under 40" honoree, said, “Partners are already seeing how the younger generations are interacting with content on platforms like TwitchInstagramYouTube and TikTok. What we’re telling them is if you want to provide that kind of experience in your owned and operated app, that’s where LiveLike comes into the picture.”  

 

ON-AIR TALENT TRIES TO STAY SHARP AMID UNPRECEDENTED TIMES

  • There may not be many live games for sports broadcasters to call, but according to one talent rep, some of the top analysts are still plenty hard at work. “In a time when business isn’t usual, these guys act and prepare like it’s business as usual,” 16W Marketing partner Steve Rosner told SBJ’s Chris Smith.

  • For football broadcasters in particular, much of the day-to-day is no different than years past, since everyone is still preparing as if the NFL season will begin on schedule. Rosner’s client list includes on-air talents like Howie Long, Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms and Cris Collinsworth, and he says much of the focus has been on how they can continue to contribute to their partners. “In trying times, you want to be supportive and be there for the companies that you are involved in. Whether it’s media companies or endorsement relationships,” said Rosner. Long is doing a weekly show on Fox, while Simms and Esiason recorded exclusive content around the NFL Draft for corporate sponsors to share with their employees. 

  • Ron Darling, another Rosner client, is usually calling Mets games for SNY this time of year, but he’s now doing studio shows and writing for SNY instead. “They want to be good partners, they want to help when they can,” said Rosner. Yet while they remain busy, many broadcasters have also begun feeling the financial squeeze of the ongoing shutdown. Last month, SBJ’s John Ourand reported that ESPN had asked its 100 top-paid commentators to take a 15% pay cut, and some on-air talent at Fox Sports have reportedly taken 15% salary reductions. Now comes the latest news from NBC Sports. Rosner also notes that new endorsement opportunities have largely dried up as corporations trim their marketing expenses. 

  • Rosner’s focus these days is on constant communication, with phone calls largely replacing texts and emails. “Talking to them two or three times a week now is nothing really new. The conversation might be different,” said Rosner. “Now, you want to be in touch, first of all, to make sure everyone in the family is healthy. And you want to talk to them about what else they think they might want to do right now to help out their media partners.” 

  

 

ARAMARK ROLLS OUT HYGIENE PROGRAM

  • Concessionaire Aramark has teamed up with Jefferson Health, a Philadelphia-area healthcare system to create a new hygiene program for the venues and other facilities the company manages around the world. Notably, the EverSafe program will use artificial intelligence, robotic contact tracing and other mobile technology at venues to help limit the spread of COVID-19, writes SBJ's Karn Dhingra.

  • The program is “designed to empower employees, students, patients, customers, and guests to feel more confident and safe, wherever they work, learn, play, explore, recover, and rehabilitate,” according to a company release. EverSafe takes health and hygiene recommendations from the CDC and the WHO on how to go about reopening workplaces, educational institutions, hospitals, and sports arenas. Aramark said its new service offering will also be customizable, based on client needs and local government requirements. 

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH TEAMWORKS CEO ZACH MAURIDES

  • Teamworks Founder & CEO Zach Maurides says he can generally fit everything he needs to do his job -- laptop, iPad, phone -- in a backpack. So, he’s had no trouble getting work done from his basement in Durham, N.C. Maurides estimates his time is spent equally working solo and video conferencing -- Zoom for clients and Google Hangouts internally. “Early on it was probably like 25% interfacing, 75% individual work, but now it's a little bit closer to 50/50,” he said. Maurides: “You have got to figure out a direction for the organization and then you have to effectively communicate it.”

  • Teamworks began making contingency plans for the coronavirus in January, bracing for any potential impact it could have on the athlete engagement platform’s business. “When we made the decision on March 12th to close our office and move to work from home, that was already something that we had vetted. … I'm grateful for my senior leadership team and the fact that they were paying attention to this,” Maurides said. Shortly after that, Teamworks began offering its service to non-customers for free to help out during the time of the coronavirus.

  • One successful initiative Teamworks led recently was a mental wellness webinar that was attended by 600 pro and college head coaches, Maurides said. “The stress that everyone's going through with all of this … that was the number one thing, number one piece of content we put out, that's what people are focused on and rightly so,” he said.

  • Maurides, a 2020 SBJ "Forty Under 40" honoree, said his best advice to get through this tough period is to trust your gut and take action. He said, “You're not going to have perfect information and the worst thing you can do is stand still. … It has brought us back to the early days of our business where you just move forward. If you have to adjust while you're running, adjust, but don’t stand still.”

 

Maurides has had no trouble getting work done from his basement in Durham, N.C.
Maurides has had no trouble getting work done from his basement in Durham, N.C.
Maurides has had no trouble getting work done from his basement in Durham, N.C.

  

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: TAKING STOCK

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Fairleigh Dickinson professor Dale Caldwell, who provides a "timely self-reflection tool for the sports industry."

  • "It is common knowledge that exercising and playing sports is good for your health. Researchers have also found that being an active sports fan can play an important role in enhancing a person’s emotional, psychological and social health. Sports fans have higher self-esteem, are less lonely and, contrary to popular belief, are no more aggressive as a group than nonsportsfans. Sports is like comfort food. ... The 'invisible wounds' of this pandemic can affect sports fans and people that work in sports in ways that go unnoticed without serious self reflection."

  • To read Caldwell's contribution, click here. Also, see below for Caldwell's self-reflection map, and be sure to listen to the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast where Caldwell discusses techniques to navigate a time of unprecedented, wide-spread stress.


 

SPEED READS

  • Tonight in SBJ Media: NASCAR'S iRacing Pro Invitational Series averaged an impressive 1.04 million viewers over seven weeks on Fox and FS1, reports SBJ’s Austin Karp. The biggest audience came March 29 (1.34 million viewers), which was the first race carried on the Fox broadcast channel. 
  • Texas AD Chris Del Conte said he is "fully optimisitc" there will be Longhorn football this calendar year. He told the Austonia News, "There will be football at (Darrell K Royal) this fall." Del Conte said he has "four committees working on issues relating to the athletes, staff, the games and game management when or if they're played." If football happens, "chances are other fall sports -- mainly women's volleyball and soccer -- also will receive the go-ahead."

  • Spire Sports + Entertainment has agreed in principle to the purchase of the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits, reports SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. The league’s BOG will officially vote tomorrow, according to Todd Mackin, president of the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush, also owned by Spire. The Swamp Rabbits were previously owned by South Carolina Pro Hockey, LLCSpire Motorsports, a division of Spire, is already cross-promoting the relationship between the organization and the Swamp Rabbits. At Darlington Raceway on Sunday, Spire’s No. 77 Chevrolet will sport the ECHL team’s branding.
  • UMass, as one of the few independent programs at the FBS level, is in a “unique position” when it comes to planning during the pandemic, per the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “Football is a little bit of an outlier for us,” UMass AD Ryan Bamford said. “There are so many inputs to that decision. We are dealing with 12 different opponents and 12 different situations. Some of those are other independents so we are getting in alignment with them. There’s been a lot of talk about what the season is going to look like. We’ve put together a whole host of different models.”

  • This week's Scottsdale Open, a 54-hole mini tour golf event that carries a $135,000 purse, is "enjoying the extra juice because it is the only game in town," writes GOLF.com's Alan Shipnuck. With "pretty much every other professional golf circuit shuttered," 162 players, including a handful of PGA Tour pros, each paid between $795 and $1,095 (depending on how early they signed up) to enter the event. Like the Outlaw Tour and Cactus Tour, the independently operated Scottsdale Open is "able to proceed under Arizona’s permissive rules and regulations toward the coronavirus." 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • MLB, Union Take First Step On Return, But Economics Not Discussed
    • Scott Boras Says His Players Won't Move Off Previously Agreed Deal
    • Illinois Gov. Suggests MLBers Accept Return Proposal For Fans' Sake
    • NBA Owners Encouraged By Efforts To Lessen Health Risk Upon Return
    • PGA Tour Releases Health & Safety Plan Outlining Protocols For Events
    • MWC's California Schools Face New Issues With Campuses Not Reopening
    • NCAA President Emmert Not Mandating Uniform Sports Return
    • Several MLS Clubs To Decide Soon Whether To Accept PPP Loans
    • NFL Will Be Interested Observers In Bundesliga's Return This Weekend
    • Penguins Instituting Employee Furloughs Through September
    • Mariners To Reduce Salaries To Avoid Furloughs, Layoffs For Now
    • SMU QB Raises $50,000 To Assist Dallas' COVID-19 Relief Efforts

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

SIGN UP NOW FOR LEADERS WEEK DIRECT: MAY 18-21

  • Across the week, you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in sports, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and Amazon VP/Global Sports Marie Donoghue. Each day offers two hours of streamed content, where industry leaders will examine how the future of sport will change. In addition to the main content stream, there will be in-depth breakout sessions that will address specific challenges, plus networking with industry peers.
  • You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. For more details, click here.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- MLB's Return Caught In A Pickle?

Like many, I began my morning by reading about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s plan to warn the Senate Health Committee of the “needless suffering and death” that could be associated with a premature reopening of the nation. Yet while the headlines have largely focused on the possibility of sparking a new outbreak, what struck me most in today’s testimony was Fauci’s indication that a resurgence of cases is inevitable. “There is no doubt, even under the best of circumstances, when you pull back on mitigation you will see some cases appear,” said Fauci.

That doesn’t mean we can’t lift restrictions, but Fauci was clear that the only way to do so is with the backing of an extensive response plan: “It’s the ability and capability of responding to those cases with good identification, isolation and contact tracing that will determine whether you can continue to go forward.” Those words seem especially relevant to the sports world’s leadership as leagues around the globe begin eyeing a return to play.

If positive tests are inevitable, then any return plan must be able to answer a very vital question: What happens next?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver had an answer to that question in last week’s conference call, suggesting frequent testing would allow individual players to be isolated before putting others at risk. Other leagues haven’t been so cautious. UFC 249 went ahead despite positive tests, and the Bundesliga returns this weekend even though an entire team has already been forced to quarantine at home. We won’t be celebrating these returns for long if they precede new rounds of outbreaks.

As we clamor for the return of live sports, let’s all keep in sight the simple fact that we are far from out of the woods. Be mindful, be patient and, most of all, be safe.

---  Chris Smith

 

MLB, UNION NEGOTIATIONS JUST GETTING STARTED

  • At the onset of negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA, both sides made predictable opening moves, writes SBJ's Eric Prisbell. MLB's return-to-play plan, approved yesterday by owners, included a revenue-sharing element that the league must have known would prompt a quick reaction from the union. That's exactly what happened when union chief Tony Clark said that a revenue-sharing plan is a non-starter. The next negotiating move by either side is the one to watch. 

  • Is the union willing to budge at all from its stance that players should receive prorated salaries based on the number of games played in 2020 because that's what the two sides agreed upon in March? There is no indication to date that it will back off from that. It equates a revenue-sharing plan to a salary cap, and that is a hard no in the union's eyes. There's also the understanding that any concession players make now could set the stage and tenor for negotiations over a new CBA, which expires in December 2021.

  • The unknown here is precisely what level of financial distress some clubs will be in if they have to play spectator-less games for most, if not all, of a shortened 2020 season. They won't open their books. But the next move by MLB should give some indication of how owners view the financial feasibility of starting a shortened season in ballparks without fans. 

 

DOES MLB HAVE MOST TO GAIN BY RETURNING TO PLAY?

  • Despite the current tenor between MLB and the players’ union, FS1’s Colin Cowherd and Jon Morosi believe there is too much ample opportunity for baseball to capture the sports spotlight for negotiations to drag on much longer. Cowherd earlier this afternoon on “The Herd said the current situation could give baseball something it hasn’t had in years: “Talk-show debates nationally … and social currency.”

  • Morosi said both MLB and the union “realize that if they’re among the first major team sports to come back, they have a special place at the table, culturally speaking.” Morosi: “That’s what baseball needs, and in the midst of everything we’re going through, there is that opportunity.” One example of how the sport can capitalize on its return is to let the players “introduce themselves to the country in a way they really haven’t before.” Morosi: “You’ve got some great young stars in baseball now who are really accessible, we just haven’t heard from them maybe as much as we’ve been listening. It’s a great opportunity for baseball and baseball players to reach out in that way.”

  • Asked for a timeline of when talks could become more productive, Morosi said it was “no accident that this proposal was made here in the middle part of May with plenty of runway before spring training would begin about a month from now.” He added, “We’ll probably hear through the media in the next couple weeks strong statements on both sides, maybe even some hints that an agreement is unlikely. But I still believe, because of everything that’s at stake right here, that there’s a better than 50-50 chance that there’s a meaningful agreement made.”



 

NFL OWNERS TO VOTE ON ALLOWING NEW LEAGUE-LEVEL BORROWING

  • Scoop from SBJ's Ben FischerNFL owners will vote next week on a measure allowing Commissioner Roger Goodell and the finance committee to increase league-level debt to cover pandemic-related losses, sources said. The permission to increase borrowing will be decided concurrently with a proposal to raise teams' debt limit from $350M to $500M, a 43% increase.

  • Teams typically can either access the league-level credit facility or borrow independently. While no decision has yet been made on whether the league will follow through with additional borrowing, authorizing the finance committee to take that step is a recognition that some teams may encounter difficulties borrowing on their own, one source said.

  • Both steps come after NFL CFO Joe Siclare and his team conducted stress tests on all 32 teams, exploring how their books would fare during the worst-case scenario for NFL teams -- spectator-less games in which players would still be due their full salaries while teams lost most of their local revenue. Because of the league’s strong national TV contracts, most of the financial stress caused by that scenario would be felt by teams.

  • For more from Fischer on league-level borrowing, click here

 

NASCAR TEAM SPONSORS TO PAY TRIBUTE AT DARLINGTON

  • Several NASCAR team sponsors will run special paint schemes for Sunday’s race at Darlington that thank health care workers and others on the frontline of the pandemic response, reports SBJ's Adam Stern. M&M’s Chocolate, DeWalt and Caterpillar are three brands who are running such paint schemes, while a host of other companies are also expected to take part. 

  • M&M’s scheme on Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota shows two of its famous characters on the rear quarter panels of the car -- one of which is wearing a nurse’s hat and the other of whom is wearing a hard hat and safety glasses like a construction worker. Caterpillar’s scheme is part of a company-wide campaign to thank truckers and other community members who are moving their areas forward amid the pandemic. Its paint scheme on RCR’s No. 8 Chevrolet reads: “Thank you for keeping the world working.”

  • Sunday’s race is going to lean heavy into honoring health care workers, as Fox also announced today that it has worked with its local affiliates to select 36 health care workers across the country who will serve as special grand marshals in a video clip that will show them simultaneously giving the command to start engines. 
     
  • Meanwhile, NASCAR hasn’t yet announced the name of Sunday’s Cup Series race, but sources say the name could involve thanking frontline heroes as well.

 

 

 

LPGA SET TO DEBUT VIRTUAL OFFERING AT FAMED COURSES

  • Add the LPGA to the list of properties rolling out virtual competition during the pandemic, writes SBJ's John Lombardo. Beginning tomorrow, the LPGA will launch LPGA eTour Live, a match-play esports competition in a partnership with the online World Golf Tour by Topgolf.

  • Eight LPGA and developmental Symetra Tour players will play head-to-head in a series of seven nine-hole, online matches twice a week beginning tomorrow, culminating with a championship match on Wednesday, June 3. All matches will stream live on LPGA and Topgolf digital platforms at 2pm ET. Tomorrow’s first match between sisters Jessica Korda and Nelly Korda will feature Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course, home to the 2022 and 2027 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

  • Players can choose from numerous famed courses in the WGT portfolio, including the Old Course at St Andrews, Oakmont Country Club, Pinehurst No. 2 and Pebble Beach Golf Links.  

  

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY DECISION COULD IMPACT FOOTBALL

  • There are still a full three months before the 2020-21 school year is set to begin, but the California State University chancellor has already made a call, and it looks like there will be no in-person classes on its 23 campuses this fall, with just a few exceptions. SBJ's Michael Smith writes that’s significant because most university leaders have said it would be extremely difficult to justify playing sports if students are not allowed on campus. This could potentially impact three football-playing Mountain West schools -- Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State.

  • Chancellor Tim White, speaking to trustees a few hours ago, explained that his decision was based on data from the coronavirus outbreak and forecasts that indicate it could spread further. White left open the possibility of changing his mind if circumstances in California change. There was no statement on the impact on athletics, but the sense today is that this is a discouraging development for college athletics this fall. It also shines a brighter light on the conversation about how to conduct a season if some schools play football and others don’t.

 

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH ATHLETES FIRST PARTNERS’ JENE ELZIE

  • Athletes First Partners Chief Growth Officer Jene Elzie has been sheltering-in-place with her boyfriend in Cold Spring, N.Y., a town about 50 miles north of NYC. “We are surrounded by nature, which is a nice break from the apartment life,” she said. Elzie is keeping things simple, despite her original ideas for remote working. “I had dreams of a sit-stand desk, multiple screens and one of those ergonomically correct chairs,” she said. “But then I realized that a laptop, a phone and a beautiful countryside view is the peak of my home office ambitions.”

  • Athletes First Partners, a sister agency of Athletes First -- which repped the most first round NFL draft picks this year -- has employees scattered across the eastern seaboard. Many have temporarily relocated from N.Y. “Regular check-ins are essential,” Elzie said. “For my team, it’s not so much about what you’re doing and when, but is about how are you doing?” She believes it is of the upmost importance to “maintain humanity” right now. That means pivoting towards more relatable content and stories. “Our work with the NBPA and the Retired Players Association continues to keep going, and the work we have seen their leadership take on … has been really impressive,” she said.

  • Elzie -- a former Stanford gymnast -- sticks to a fairly tight regimen: “Wake up, meditate, breakfast, exercise, work, relax/happy hour, rinse, repeat,” she spelled out. “Structure is a core component of my own sanity, so I find it works out well. And, we have a dog and a cat to keep us entertained ... or maybe we keep them entertained, I’m not sure.”

  • Quarantine has allowed Elzie to catch up on some U.S. TV shows she missed out on while living in London most of the last decade working for the NBA. Right now, she’s knee-deep in “The Walking Dead” and “The Americans.” Elzie has also learned to play chess recently. “Our nightly games have taught me how useful it would have been to learn chess earlier in my career,” she said. “Strategy is a skill, skills are like a muscle, muscles only develop with exercise.”

 

Elzie has been taking advantage of her countryside view while working from home in Cold Spring, N.Y.
Elzie has been taking advantage of her countryside view while working from home in Cold Spring, N.Y.
Elzie has been taking advantage of her countryside view while working from home in Cold Spring, N.Y.

  

SPEED READS

  • In tonight's SBJ College, Michael Smith catches up with AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference is taking a hard look at regionalized scheduling for sports other than football and men’s/women’s basketball to help schools save money. Smith writes that makes a lot of sense for the AAC and other far-flung conferences like the Sun Belt and C-USA to cut costs.
  • The NBPA has "started polling its membership" about how individuals "stand on a return to play this season," according to sources cited by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. NBPA regional representatives -- including Tim McCormick and Frank Brickowski -- were "among the union officials polling players with a yes or no question on their current desire to return to play this season amid the coronavirus pandemic."
  • USA Gymnastics has canceled all premier events through the end of 2020, per SBJ's Chris Smith. New dates were announced for the U.S. Classic (May 22, 2021) and the national championships (June 3-6, 2021). New dates for other premier events, including the Olympic Trials, have yet to be determined. Tickets to this year’s events will be rolled over for the 2021 editions, though ticket holders will also be offered the opportunity to request refunds. The 2020 National Congress & Trade Show will be reformatted into a virtual event.
  • Cablefax notes that FuboTV CEO David Gandler yesterday in an interview with Canaccord Genuity analyst Maria Ripps said that the streamer “remained largely unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic” through Q1, in part because the platform “focuses a large portion of its marketing budget towards the start of the NFL season” in Q3. Gandler: “Even advertisers that were specific sports advertisers are still now looking to get into non-live, short of adjacent programming because they believe seasons will start soon. … Things will recover going into the fall, which is really when you’ll see significant growth in our sub numbers.”

  • TNT's Ernie Johnson said it's been a "drastic change" being home every night with his family outside Atlanta rather than at the Turner studios for the NBA Playoffs. Johnson and his wife Cheryl spend their time checking in on his mother, who lives 45 minutes away, and taking care of their son Michael, who has muscular dystrophy. Johnson told SBD's Joe Perez, "I keep saying we'll get through this. And I still believe we will, but, man, every day is kind of like, let's get through this day and then we'll get through tomorrow. We'll worry about tomorrow when it gets here.” For more from Johnson, check out today's issue of SBD.

  • Based on an analysis of how seven other countries introduced sports back into the economy, Navigate projects the earliest resumption of U.S. team sports to fall between August 29 and October 5. Some individual sports like golf or MMA might resume quicker, and creative solutions that differ from the usual league format and require less outside contact and travel could move team sports sooner as well. Here's a quick overview of the seven countries.

 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • MLBPA Sees League's Revenue-Sharing Proposal As A "Non-Starter"
    • Columnists: MLB, Union Need To Hash Out Differences To Save Season
    • MiLB Warming To MLB's Contraction Plan Amid Pandemic
    • Extending CBA Opt Out Lets NBA Deal With Pandemic Realities
    • Details Emerge On MLS' Possible Orlando Return Plan
    • Disneyland Dallas? Cuban Talks Potential Arena Changes
    • Warriors' Chase Center Layoffs Largest Confirmed In Bay Area
    • USC's Clay Helton Says Conference-Only Schedule A Possibility
    • Dodgers' Baseball Brass Taking Care Of L.A. Healthcare Workers

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

SIGN UP NOW FOR LEADERS WEEK DIRECT: MAY 18-21

  • Across the week, you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in sports, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and Amazon VP/Global Sports Marie Donoghue. Each day offers two hours of streamed content, where industry leaders will examine how the future of sport will change. In addition to the main content stream, there will be in-depth breakout sessions that will address specific challenges, plus networking with industry peers.
  • You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. For more details, click here.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- The New Fan Experience

Greetings from my home outside of Dallas. Texas has been among the most aggressive states in the reopening process, as Gov. Greg Abbott on May 1 allowed for all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls to reopen at 25% capacity. It's been interesting, just anecdotally, to drive around popular eating areas and see scores of patrons out enjoying the beautiful weather, dining in close proximity and walking in clusters, most without masks.

But just today Dallas County tied its high of new COVID-19 cases in a day with 253. It will be instructive to see how the behavior of those who are venturing out more in states with partial reopenings affects the reported number of new cases in a couple weeks, for better or worse.

For me, the social scene here underscores how different things are across the country. That city-to-city variance is really important to a league like MLB, which enters a critical period the next few weeks as it looks to solidify a return-to-play plan. MLB ideally wants to start its season in the home venues of all 30 teams, but that could be complicated by local guidelines.

Negotiations are expected to begin on Tuesday with the union about the plan, which entails starting a quasi-spring training next month and the season officially in early July. That will start discussions between the two sides about several issues, including medical protocols, testing and player compensation, which is seen as the biggest hurdle standing in the way of a restart. Another important week ahead. 

Stay safe and well, everyone.

---  Eric Prisbell

 

STORIES YOU NEED TO READ: 

 

CUBAN/MAVERICKS WORKING ON STAGGERED FAN ARRIVAL STRATEGY

  • Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban said the American Airlines Center staff has begun planning for staggered fan arrivals should the NBA season return. Cuban, appearing on ESPN Dallas Radio this afternoon, took listeners through a scenario where fans in a limited capacity could sign up for an arrival time at a specific parking spot, and then through a deliberate process be guided to a pre-determined gate before eventually arriving at their seat.

  • Cuban: “We may do that almost like Disneyland. Do it like there’s a procession and you have people guiding you to your seat. Or the example I use is more like a haunted house where you wait in line and you go through the haunted house, but you’re not allowed to touch anything, and everybody just is guided to their seats at the right time. … It may take a little bit longer for everybody to get into their seats to start the game, but we’ll accommodate that and go from there."

  • Meanwhile, Cuban said he does not have a preference between the NBA returning in a bubble city like Las Vegas or Orlando, as both have the necessary infrastructure to house the league. He said, "But Vegas isn’t really going to be Vegas, and Orlando isn’t really going to be Orlando until all the primary attractions get open." 

  • Asked if he was in favor of permanently shifting the NBA calendar to December-August in wake of the pandemic, Cuban said, "I’ve been asking for that for 15 years. We have the opportunity to establish ourselves starting Christmas Day when we start on ABC. The only reason we haven’t done it in the past … is over the summer, historically the number of households watching television dropped dramatically. … But television is different now. … Those dog days of summer, all of us sports fans just cry for more than just baseball.”  

 

SUBTLE CHANGES MAKE BIG DIFFERENCE FOR UFC BROADCAST

  • Facing the prospect of producing Saturday’s pay-per-view in an empty 15,000-seat arena, UFC made several production changes to make sure the event showed well on TV. Production changes -- more than mere tweaks -- came from the way UFC handles audio, video and social, according to UFC Exec VP/Operations & Production Craig Borsari.

  • Audio: Typically, UFC has microphones in the audience to incorporate the sound of the crowd in the telecast. With no crowd, UFC obviously didn’t need those mics, so it focused on putting more mics by the octagon. Saturday’s telecast picked up conversations between fighters and their corners more crisply than before. It picked up audio of punches when they landed -- even jabs. The mics picked up seemingly every grunt and groan during the night. “It exceeded my expectations,” Borsari said. “We knew that we were going to get cleaner audio. I didn’t expect it to be as sharp as it was.”

  • Video: With no crowd, UFC was able to train its cameras on the octagon. Viewers flipping channels who may have seen the prelims on ESPN may not have known that the arena was empty, since the cameras and lighting were trained on the fighters. Borsari: “It came off looking like it was a normal event, which is what our objective was. We weren’t going to shy away from any shots that had empty seats because that’s the situation that we’re in. But at the same time, we wanted to present a product that looked as close to what we’ve done in the past as possible.”

  • Social media: One problem UFC producers wanted to solve was trying to figure out how, with no fans, the audience could be part of the broadcast, Their solution was to implement real-time social media posts into the telecast, including from NFL influencers like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Christian McCaffrey. “We wanted to connect socially with the viewer at home,” Borsari said. “This was a way to provide a voice to celebrity and media.”

 

 

GOLF CHANNEL'S RICH LERNER ADAPTS TO SCALED DOWN PRODUCTION ELEMENTS

  • Golf Channel's Rich Lerner will handle play-by-play duties this Sunday for the TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins game featuring Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff. For Lerner, it's a chance to "get out of the house, and get on the highway," even if he won't be on site at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. Instead, he'll have the call from a studio at PGA Tour Entertainment headquarters in St. Augustine alongside his NBC Sports counterparts Paul Azinger, Gary Koch and producer Tommy Roy

  • Lerner told SBJ's Thomas Leary this weekend's undertaking "will be a new reality for a lot of us in terms of how we’re going to produce live golf." Lerner: "Typically, we would all be at the site with a pretty substantial build out. ... Those days for the foreseeable future are over." Lerner said he, Azinger and Koch will practice social distancing during the broadcast, along with every other protocol and safety measure "followed to the letter." 

  • Lerner said of expectations for the broadcast across NBC, Golf Channel and NBCSN, "The simplest way to put this is that for the foreseeable future, golf productions will have as small a footprint as they can. ... We all have high standards. I don’t think that will change. But I think there will be an adjustment period in terms of just what is possible. I think without putting words in anybody’s mouth, 'clean' will be a word that will be heard. … Simple might win the day. Straight forward might win the day. Where we might have wanted to deliver some sort of elaborate element, some of that may be scaled down."

  • Meanwhile, Golf Channel tonight will premiere a two-part special, "Celebrating the PGA Championship," hosted by Lerner in a week where he had planned to be in San Francisco for the year's second major. For more from Lerner, see tomorrow's issue of SBD

 

MSG SPORTS RELEASES FIRST FINANCIAL REPORTS SINCE SPIN-OFF

  • The Madison Square Garden Sports Corporation released its Q3 financial report, its first since its predecessor the Madison Square Garden Co. spun off its entertainment business into a new company in April, reports SBJ's Karn Dhingra.

  • With the current NBA and NHL seasons suspended, MSG Sports noted there “is virtually no revenue being recognized, including revenue related to tickets, sponsorship and signage, suites and local media rights.” But with the majority of the NBA and NHL regular seasons mostly complete before the pandemic hit, MSG Sports said it’s well-positioned to currently weather the pandemic’s effects on the company’s finances. 

  • MSG Sports currently has $315 million in liquidity. The company has $100 million in unrestricted cash and cash equivalents, and $200 million in borrowing capacity under two loan facilities with Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. and $15 million available under an unsecured revolving credit facility associated with the Knicks. MSG Sports has $350 million in outstanding debt under senior secured revolving credit facilities. As of March 31, the company’s deferred revenue obligation related to the sports business is $85 million, with half related to the 2019-20 NBA and NHL seasons, which would be addressed through refunds, credits and or make-goods.

  

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH LEGENDS’ TODD FLEMING

  • As Legends’ lone Austin-based employee, Global Sales VP & GM Todd Fleming was used to working remotely when he wasn’t traveling, so the transition to a full at-home schedule wasn’t too disrupting. Regular video conferences with international partners also had him prepared for the onslaught of Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls that have ensued. “I feel busier than pre-COVID and I think that's a good thing,” he said. “I’ve gotten even further in bed in the projects that we're on and working with the management team and our clients to make sure things are progressing.”

  • Fleming, a 2018 SBJ/SBD "Forty Under 40" honoree, likes to keep the mood light when he can, like giving out an award for the best office setup or screen background on one of his weekly project calls with around 20 people. “It’s been fun to flip on the video and see what everybody’s setup looks like,” he said. Fleming has been overly impressed with Legends’ internal communication. “I don't feel disconnected,” he said. “If anything, I feel more included.” And during this time Fleming would certainly rather have too much communication with his teams than not enough: “I wanted them to see my face. I needed to see their faces. The conversations have been great.”

  • Despite sports’ uncertain future, Fleming has found partners to be optimistic about planning ahead. “People are viewing sports as a release and that's put us in prime position to be still heavily active on the phones … with the clients and we're seeing a ton of success and people still willing to commit their hard-earned dollars towards the future.” Fleming: “We're just helping them strategically think through the proper way to re-open.”

  • With summer vacations on hold for now, Fleming gave his two youngest boys (ages 12 and 10) a backyard camping experience this weekend. “What should have been a 15-minute process to put the tent up, some way, somehow I turned into two hours,” he said. “I taught myself what not to do so I should be good the next time that we do this. And I decided to really, really rough it by running a couple extension cords and putting the TV out there.” In the end, they were able to brave the Texas elements. And how was Fleming feeling on Monday morning? “A little sore,” he admitted.

 

With summer vacations on hold, Fleming gave his two youngest boys (ages 12 and 10) a backyard camping experience this past weekend
With summer vacations on hold, Fleming gave his two youngest boys (ages 12 and 10) a backyard camping experience this past weekend
With summer vacations on hold, Fleming gave his two youngest boys (ages 12 and 10) a backyard camping experience this past weekend

 

STUDY: MAJORITY OF HOUSTON SEASON-TICKET HOLDERS PLAN TO RENEW

  • An overwhelming majority of season-ticket holders of Houston’s professional sports teams plan to renew with their plans, while casual fans are less committed to attending games in the COVID-era of sports, according to a survey of 178 local fans conducted by Professional Sports Partners, a Houston-based sports sponsorship sales and marketing firm. 

  • PSP found that 92% plan to renew, while 29% of fans who purchase individual tickets to games are undecided. Of the 132 respondents who were planning to attend an event in Houston before it was cancelled, 67.5% are still planning to purchase a ticket in 2020. Only 7.1% said they do not plan to attend an event, while 25.4% said they were undecided. 

  • With football season on the horizon, PSP found that 93% of fans surveyed want to see the Texans increase the number of hand-sanitizing stations at NRG Stadium and 57% want to see both better concessions and social distancing standards at the venue.

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: PROGRAMMING ADJUSTMENTS

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from sports media consultants Ed Desser and John Kosner, who write under the header, "Looking For Truth In Programming And Distribution? Follow The Money."

  • "Everyone is talking about how and when sports will return. Few are addressing the pain to come: the great adjustment and renegotiation chain. For now, force majeure language in nearly all agreements forestalls this process."

  • To read Desser and Kosner's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • Early numbers are showing that Saturday’s UFC 249 was a pay-per-view success for ESPN+. Sources told SBJ’s John Ourand that ESPN’s streaming service logged north of 700,000 buys, which is a really good number for any card that does not feature Conor McGregor.

  • The NBA's agreement with the NBPA to "extend the 60-day window that preserves the league's right to terminate" the CBA came just three days after Commissioner Adam Silver's league-wide conference call. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, on “The Hoop Collective” podcast, said Silver “pretty much came out and said that the CBA we have … cannot handle this.” Windhorst: “The reason he’s got to stay really close to the players on this, is that at some point here, there’s going to have to be an adjustment to the NBA business model. Whether it’s a short-term adjustment for next season, or whether it’s a long-term adjustment which no one I think knows yet. But the last thing the NBA needs is a labor problem on top of a virus problem. And (Silver) I think is trying to get out in front of it.”

  • Hours after ESPN’s Enrique Rojas reported the 2021 World Baseball Classic would be canceled, Baseball America's Kyle Glaser cites sources saying that the event is "being postponed to 2023" pending the approval of World Baseball Inc., a joint board that includes MLB and MLB Players Association representatives. 

  • The N.Y. Times' Belson & Ward go deep on the hurdles that remain for the NFL's return. If teams are sequestered, injured players "may need to go to a hospital, which are hotbeds for the infection." Players acquired in a trade or through free agency "may need to be quarantined before joining their new team." Extra steps will be "needed to protect teams traveling to away games." And the number of cases is "expected to spike in the fall and winter, in the heart of the NFL season."

  • SI's Chris Mannix looks for boxing to follow the UFC's lead in returning to stage live events. Combat sports are "uniquely equipped to hold major events during this pandemic." Mannix: "Save for the upper echelon of fighters, live gates are dwarfed by broadcast revenue. The number of people needed to pull an event off is relatively small. The strain on testing isn’t what it would be for team sports." Mannix: "UFC has made its decision. Now boxing must make one, too."

  • Golfer Justin Thomas, a member of the PGA Tour player advisory council, sounds ready to tee it up next month in Ft. Worth. He told ESPN's Bob Harig, "I'm 120% comfortable and confident. I'd start next week if I could. I know the tour is not going to let us start and [would] not be running tournaments if they didn't think it was safe and smart." Thomas said he has told other Tour players to accept the unique circumstances, like no fans, at the Tour's first events since March. "The sooner everyone realizes that and accepts it, the better. If we don't play Colonial, there's nothing we can do about it. All I can do is control what I can do and who I can't be around. There will be a lot of guidelines and rules. But I plan on playing a lot."

 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • MLB Owners Meeting Today To Discuss Plans For '20 Season
    • MLB-MLBPA Battle Could Be Biggest Obstacle To Playing In '20
    • Study Shows 0.7% Of MLB Staff, Players Have COVID Antibodies
    • NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Tells Players To Prepare For Worst
    • Emmert Stresses Students Must Be On Campus For Sports To Return
    • Dr. Fauci Suggests NFL Season Might Not Be Entirely Fan-Less
    • Source: NHL Down To Two Return-To-Play Scenarios
    • AHL Officially Cancels Rest Of Season, Including Calder Cup
    • Sources: MLS Return Plan May Include Hosting All Clubs In Orlando
    • WNBA Owner Hopeful On Season, But Says Fans Wouldn't Be Allowed
    • Louisville Slugger Maker Ends Mass Furloughs After PPP Grant
    • Robert Kraft Auctions Super Bowl LI Ring As Part Of All In Challenge

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

SIGN UP NOW FOR LEADERS WEEK DIRECT: MAY 18-21

  • Across the week, you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in sports, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and Amazon VP/Global Sports Marie Donoghue. Each day offers two hours of streamed content, where industry leaders will examine how the future of sport will change. In addition to the main content stream, there will be in-depth breakout sessions that will address specific challenges, plus networking with industry peers.
  • You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. For more details, click here.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Back In The Octagon

Today started with a devastating monthly job report showing 14.7% unemployment, a rate the U.S. hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. It ended with a modest rally on Wall Street, with the S&P 500 up about 2%.

That sense of profound gloom punctuated by some optimism pervaded the sports world, too, where the UFC says it's all-systems-go for UFC 249 tomorrow in Jacksonville, set to be the biggest sporting event in the U.S. in nearly two months.

To me, the most intriguing question of the day was found on the NFL ticket markets, which kicked into life after the 2020 schedule was released Thursday. I say that because it’s a measure of what really matters: The fans’ opinions on the risks posed by live sports, and their own gauge of how quickly they think things will go back to normal.

What did buyers think about purchasing tickets to football games in September given the situation? Mixed bag. Per my colleague Karn Dhingra, SeatGeek said demand had doubled year-over-year; Tickets For Less said volume was down 20%. Reports have been all over the place. But in any case, it appears to be better than the worst-case scenario some had feared. 

--- Ben Fischer

 

ALL EYES ON UFC'S RETURN IN JACKSONVILLE

  • UFC joins the short list of early resumers this weekend when it puts on a pay-per-view event in Jacksonville, the first of three spectatorless events in eight days for the promotion in that city.

  • With a 25-page plan that will revamp its operation, in a state that is one of the first to re-open, the rest of the sports industry will be watching closely. UFC COO Lawrence Epstein discussed that plan, which mandates social distancing but does not completely lock fighters and staff away from the outside world, with Bill King on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  • “What we’ve done is about as good as you can get if you’re going to do an event in a somewhat urban environment,” Epstein said, drawing distinctions between the UFC’s plan and that of Professional Bull Riders, which is holding its first three events on a remote ranch north of Oklahoma City. “There are a lot of things you can do to create a de facto bubble.” 

  • UFC has reduced staffing to less than half of the 300 typically used at its events, housed in a single hotel with few outside guests. It has secured more than 1,200 test kits to be used during a week-long stay. It will implement social distancing, limiting groups to certain zones of the arena based on their responsibilities. But it won’t create a perimeter to restrict their movement, instead advising them to act responsibly.

  • “One of the challenges is that states are opening up,” Epstein said. “It’s no longer a situation where it’s only essential businesses or that most hotels are closed. In Florida, most hotels are taking reservations from anybody. There’s no doubt as time goes on the virus is still going to be an issue. So creating these de facto bubbles is going to get more challenging. And that’s where we get back to the shared responsibility, where this stuff can be accomplished if everybody holds up their side of the bargain.”

 

 

NASCAR MOVING QUICKLY TO LAND TITLE SPONSORS FOR NEWLY ARRANGED RACES

  • With NASCAR set to return to real-life racing in nine days, executives across the sport have been working on a variety of business deals to get affairs back in order, reports SBJ's Adam Stern. NASCAR is in the advertising market seeking title sponsors for its newly arranged races, sources say, and it has also been in touch with local track sponsors and government officials regarding the three venues that were just stripped of a race. Meanwhile, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch said on an earnings call Wednesday that the appetite from his network’s advertisers for the May 17th event at Darlington Raceway is robust.

  • The sanctioning body is busy on all those tasks and more after a hard week that included deep layoffs across tracks and other departments.

  • Sources say that NASCAR has been looking for one company to title sponsor both Cup Series races and the single Xfinity Series event at Darlington over that four-day span, but that it’s also evaluating just selling them individually if need be. A source said the May 17th Cup event on its own was going for a price in the high six figures. If NASCAR is not able to find a sponsor in time for the makeshift races, it’s possible it could just give the entitlements to some of its premier partners -- Geico, Coca-Cola, Xfinity and Anheuser-Busch -- to give them extra value.

  • Meanwhile, tomorrow’s Pro Invitational Series iRacing event will be the finale for NASCAR’s esports effort; advertisers that bought into the series during the shutdown included IBM, Verizon, Progressive and FedEx.


GENESCO CEO TO SPONSORS: "LEAN INTO THE KNOWN"

  • NFL sponsors and other brands wondering about football marketing this fall should follow the league’s lead on the schedule release and “lean into the known,” said Genesco Sports Enterprises CEO John Tatum, whose clients include league sponsors A-B InBev and PepsiCo, and a series of team-level sponsors. Tatum told SBJ's Ben Fischer, “The NFL’s not going away, so I think about things like packaging and sweepstakes and so forth around the Super Bowl, you should absolutely market and build those programs. ... But absolutely realize that if something were to happen, you wouldn’t want to be locked into things like dates, and that could change.”

  • Some of Tatum’s “knowns” include messaging. An emphasis on honoring front-line workers in health care and other industries will work, and sponsorship giveaways will likely shift to hand sanitizers, masks and the like. Hospitality can be assumed to shift to more controlled, small-group suites away from big open gatherings, too. Less known is any expenditure or plan that relies on big crowds at games, or exact dates.

  • Tatum addressed the marketing dynamic after the schedule release last night, approving of the NFL’s decision to commit to schedules even with all the variables in play. “It’s better to be positive and proactive,” he said, suggesting it was better to have plans that might need to be changed than no plans at all. “Everyone’s got an opportunity to adapt if you swing the bat.”

 

SURVEY: TEAMS MAY BE FACING LONG-TERM ATTENDANCE CHALLENGE

  • A survey by Kantar Sports MONITOR, which examined sports fans’ attitudes about the COVID-19 pandemic, found that while 26% of fans indicate that they’ll go to sporting events as soon as it’s allowed, two-thirds say they’ll only do so if they’re sure it’s safe (45%) or won’t go until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed (20%). And an additional 8% of sports fans say they won’t go to sporting events anymore -- which, while a low number, would represent a sizeable hit to teams’ bottom lines if fans follow through with this sentiment.

  • The survey was fielded from April 23-29 among 2,000 Americans who self-identified as sports fans. It also found that 76% of sports fans’ daily routines are either extremely or very interrupted by the pandemic, compared to 61% of non-sports fans.

  • One issue becoming more relevant is hygiene. The survey found:

    • 62% of sports fans agree, “No matter what the product is, I will pay more if I know it's clean and sanitized” (vs. 53% of non-sports fans).
    • 75% of sports fans believe it’s somewhat/very likely in five years that, “People will no longer shake hands.”
    • 68% of sports fans believe it’s somewhat/very likely in five years that, “Facemasks will be a normal part of public life in America” (vs. 61% of non-sports fans).
    • 37% of sports fans are extremely or very worried about cash exposing them to the coronavirus (vs. 20% of non-sports fans).

  • To see more of the survey, click here or visit www.sportsatlas.com.

 

  

PUBLIC MESSAGING TOP OF MIND IN MLB-UNION TALKS

  • MLB and the MLBPA are expected to begin negotiations next week over the league’s return-to-play plan once the league provides the proposal to the union, per SBJ's Eric Prisbell. The most contentious issue promises to be players’ salaries. How the two sides, whose relationship has been quite strained, come to a resolution may be neither smooth nor swift. What will be interesting to monitor is the public messaging. It’s lost on no one how bad the optics will be if both sides are seen as squabbling over millions while the nation confronts the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression.

  • The two sides reached a rather quick agreement in late March on stipulations related to a 2020 season, but the language in that agreement is left to interpretation. The union believes they’ve already agreed that players will receive prorated salaries based on the number of games played. MLB believes negotiations should be reopened now that it looks like the season would start in fan-less venues, which means ticket revenue would be nonexistent for some, if not all, of the season.

  • Among the primary questions: What incentive do owners have to play 80-100 games in a regular season without asking players to take a pay cut if many, if not all, games would generate no gate revenue? Will players be willing to take pay cuts while also possibly putting their health at some risk by playing in 2020? Which side will bend, and how long will it take for a resolution to emerge? It’s a huge hurdle to clear before a season can start.

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH RYAN DEMPSTER

  • Ryan Dempster and his family spent almost 40 days quarantining in different rental homes around Lake Geneva, Montana, before returning to their home in Chicago. That certainly made for some interesting video shots for the MLB Network and Marquee Sports Network analyst. Dempster now sets up shop in his basement, where he has an office with accommodating lights, camera and a green screen. “The kids only run through every once in a while, so that's good,” he said.

  • Dempster and Marquee had plans for him to host a monthly late-night style talk show in front of a live studio audience called “Off The Mound” this season. For now, Dempster has pivoted to hosting a weekly show on Fridays from his home, featuring interviews with players and personalities over video chat. Anthony Rizzo and Mike Trout were some of the first guests. Dempster took inspiration from the likes of Jimmy Fallon continuing his talk show remotely, and his goal is to let guests “have a little bit of fun and (for) people to see that human vulnerable side of them.”

  • Dempster, who pitched nearly nine seasons with the Cubs, knows the team wasn’t expecting their RSN to be getting off the ground with no baseball being played. “They're launching a network right in the middle of a pandemic, unbeknownst to them, and that's tough,” he said. “Being somebody who was hired on at the beginning, I wanted to make sure that we had every possibility for the network to thrive a little bit. So, they let me kind of take the reins on it -- which has been great -- booking guests and ideas within the show.”

  • Should MLB return this summer, count Dempster as a fan of the league’s proposal for three divisions based on geography, which would mean teams like the Cubs and White Sox would play each other many more times than in a normal season. “Wow, talk about a really cool thing for the city, to help a city that's had to be in lockdown and bring a lot of banter and a lot of fun stuff amongst Cubs fans and White Sox fans,” he said

 

Dempster sets up shop in his basement, where he has an office with accommodating lights, a camera and a green screen
Dempster sets up shop in his basement, where he has an office with accommodating lights, a camera and a green screen
Dempster sets up shop in his basement, where he has an office with accommodating lights, a camera and a green screen

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: SOUNDS OF SILENCE

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Gad Yair, an Israel Institute visiting professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who writes that Tom Brady and LeBron James both may never play again in front of fans.

  • "Careers are at stake. Age plays a big role in sports -- just ask Brady, who turns 43 this summer. Athletes who trained for the Tokyo Games may lose their opportunity. High school and college players, meanwhile, may not get a chance to make their mark and get attention from recruiters."

  • To read Yair's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • The NHL's reopening plan has "shifted" from completing the regular season to "instead staging a 24-team tournament that would include a best-of-three play-in round," according to sources cited by Larry Brooks of the N.Y. Post. Issues related to testing -- "procuring enough kits, swabs, and attendant equipment and labs to enable regular testing with rapid results -- remain outstanding."
  • From ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski late Friday afternoon: "In municipalities where coronavirus testing has become readily available for at-risk healthcare workers, (NBA) teams opening facilities for voluntary workouts will be allowed to administer Covid-19 tests to asymptomatic players and staff."
  • The Patriots will allow season-ticket holders who are considered high-risk for COVID-19 to get a refund for 2020 and hold their seats for 2021. In an email earlier this week to current ticket-holders, the team said people at risk “because of age or underlying health condition” can seek the relief if they ask before the 2020 season starts. According to the CDC, that includes anyone over 65, or anyone who has lung disease, serious heart conditions, diabetes, severe obesity or otherwise compromised immune systems, such as cancer survivors. It’s too early to say exactly how requests will be handled, but it’s not the team’s intention to seek medical documentation. Earlier this week, the Jaguars also said anyone “facing a COVID-19 medical hardship” is eligible to “take a year off with no effect on their membership status or loss of their seats.”

  • The Single-A South Atlantic League Charleston RiverDogs on Friday released details of how they will have Riley Park Field ready when baseball returns. The detailed plan “follows the journeys of fans, employees, and on-field personnel from the moment they arrive at the ballpark until the moment they leave.” They are the first MiLB team to publicly release such a plan, per SBJ's David Broughton.

  • Esports Observer's Graham Ashton writes how the timing of the pandemic "could hardly have been worse for the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), which had brought on numerous new commercial partners for the 2020 season, and was preparing its debut live event in the Hungarian market."

  • Name, image and likeness issues aren't necessarily at the top of the list for Jamie Pollard during the pandemic. The Iowa State AD told the Ames Tribune, "Put it on the pile of challenges right now. There are two ways of looking at it: You probably couldn’t pick a worse time to put that challenge into the mix, but then you might not have been able to find a better time, because if we’re dealing with new stuff, might as well deal with it all at the same time."

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • Sources: NHL Shifts Return Plans To 24-Team Tournament
    • NHL Cancels Games Slated For Europe During '20-21 Season
    • Several NBA Execs Concerned About Psychological Effects Of Return
    • Changes Abound For IndyCar's Restart Plans In Texas
    • Impact Denied Use Of Training Facility Despite MLS Plan
    • Newsom Still Not Convinced Fans Will Attend NFL Games In California
    • Miami-Dade Mayor Expecting Sparse Crowds Initially When Sports Return
    • CFL Commish Says League Likely Facing Canceled Season
    • Jumbotron Contractors At Barclays Center Not Paid During Shutdown
    • Saints Donate Food To Rival Cities As Part Of '20 Schedule Reveal

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

SIGN UP NOW FOR LEADERS WEEK DIRECT: MAY 18-21

  • Across the week, you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in sports, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and Amazon VP/Global Sports Marie Donoghue. Each day offers two hours of streamed content, where industry leaders will examine how the future of sport will change. In addition to the main content stream, there will be in-depth breakout sessions that will address specific challenges, plus networking with industry peers.
  • You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. For more details, click here.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Testing, Testing

The most intriguing number that has made its way across the virtual desk here at the home offices/school/kennel the last few days is 1,200. That’s the number of antigen and antibody tests that the UFC had in tow as it headed to Jacksonville for what figures to be a closely watched back-in-the-saddle pay per view event Saturday night.

When the Professional Bull Riders circuit made its return, the PBR said it tested each of about 140 people on entry and exit. It had no problem sourcing them and was not torched for it the way the NBA was when it tested some of its players and staff. The UFC will have four times that many test kits available. 

It said it is returning only because it is comfortable with the availability of tests, particularly in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry were eager to land its events. It also pointed out that its tests were secured on the commercial market, outside of the standard supply chain to health care workers and first responders.

We’ll find out this weekend whether anybody minds. But that still won’t tell us much about what sort of backlash the major pro leagues will face if they intend to test regularly as part of a return, as all have indicated.

It’s good to see the hope that comes along with the release of the NFL schedule, which has become an event unto itself in recent years, perhaps strangely, but surely. It’s good to hear about calls and Zooms between leagues and owners and players unions, trying to get plans in place, just in case.

But my eyebrows raised when I saw 1,200.

Did yours?

--- Bill King

 

CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: LEAGUES NEED "SAFETY-FIRST" MINDSET

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom today again threw cold water on any hopes of returning to sports normalcy in the short term, reports SBJ's Ben Fischer. Newsom: “It’s difficult to imagine a stadium that’s filled until we have immunity, until we have a vaccine." But he also said sports are "incredibly important in terms of spirit and pride that a community, state and nation can build."

  • In response to a journalist’s question about the NFL’s schedule release tonight, Newsom also said there were a lot of questions to answer about even playing with no fans. "Do they quarantine the rest of the team if an offensive lineman is practicing with a defensive lineman, and they (have) tested positive? What happens to the rest of the line, what happens for the game coming up next weekend? It’s inconceivable to me that that’s not a likely scenario, so it’s a very challenging question you’re asking.”

  • Newsom said he’s been talking “collaboratively and cooperatively” with a wide range of sports properties, including MLB, MLS, UFC, the NFL and various unions. About the return of sports in general, he said: "I hope to be able to answer that question sooner than later. But it’s a very tough question for these leagues to answer, because they must have a safety-first, health-first mindset, and there are conditions that persist in this state and this nation that make re-opening very, very challenging.”

 

 

ESPN'S KARL RAVECH SKEPTICAL OF JULY START FOR MLB

  • ESPN's Karl Ravech, who has been on play-by-play duties for KBO games, told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that he is "very skeptical" about MLB being able to start its 2020 season in early July. South Korea, a nation of some 51 million, has taken strong measures with testing, isolating infected people and contact tracing. "Where they are compared to where we are in the measures they have taken, we are not currently close," Ravech said. "Doesn't mean we won't be in June or July, but we are not close to what they are doing. If that is sort of the floor, we are not near the floor yet, let alone the ceiling."

  • MLB is expected to present a return-to-play proposal to the union in the coming days. In addition to addressing player salaries for a truncated season, players' health and welfare concerns need to be allayed. Achieving player unanimity on that front is tricky, Ravech said. "When you are talking about a pandemic and exposing a husband, a father, whatever the role that the player plays, you have to absolutely recognize the consideration of the children, the wives, the moms, the dads, whomever they may be. I find it is going to be a real big hill to climb to get everybody to say, 'Okay.' It feels like there is going to be some risk to go back no matter what." 

  • Drew Rucinski, a pitcher for the NC Dinos, gave Ravech and his team insight into required KBO protocols for players. Players are told to remain in the hotel on the road, and they don't really venture out. There are twice-per-day temperature checks. If someone records a 99.5-degree reading or higher, he is removed from the facility and then tested for COVID-19. Players wear masks everywhere, including in the clubhouse. When they play, they take them off. Ravech: "The great part of what we are doing with KBO is we are seeing it in action. It can be done. It is not something that is impossible to achieve. But we have a long way to get to their way of life." 

 

FLOSPORTS SEES SPIKE IN TRAFFIC FOR IN-HOUSE ORIGINALS DURING SHUTDOWN 

  • FloSports has been churning out original content to fill the void left by the ongoing shutdown of live sports, reports SBJ's Chris Smith. Since the OTT platform prioritized in-house originals following the mid-March lockdowns, live viewership of its original programming is up 253%, and original content now comprises more than half of FloSports’ total videos watched. It previously accounted for just 4%.

  • "Once live sports started to fall, we immediately pivoted to original content,” said Amy Loesch, FloSports Senior VP/Marketing. “We have over 20 films or docu-series that are in development across six different sports verticals, so what we’ve been doing is just looking at our schedule and trying to build an appointment schedule to keep our fanbase engaged.” Tomorrow night, FloSports will debut “The Crossing,” a documentary about the treacherous journey taken by Cuban defector Anthony Echemendia as he made his way to the U.S., where he won both state and national championships before committing to wrestle at Ohio State.

  • Loesch notes that original content isn’t a new priority, as FloSports has a team of more than 60 employees producing its in-house shows and films, though it may have been overshadowed before. “It’s always been a big focus for us, though maybe it didn’t get the attention that it deserved because our live sports are really the main reason why people come to Flo,” said Loesch. “But it’s definitely one of the ways that we are able to bring ... these underserved sports to our fans.”

 

  

STATE OF THINGS: LEAGUES/TEAMS EYE RETURN TO ACTION

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH ACC COMMISSIONER JOHN SWOFFORD

  • ACC Commissioner John Swofford has been making the most of his home office in Greensboro, where he makes use of his many screens -- laptop, iPad and iPhone -- for nearly-nonstop video conferencing. “I have video calls each morning with the other Power 5 commissioners, twice a week with our athletic directors and once a week with our league presidents,” he said. “I’ve also been on a number of calls with our football and basketball coaches (each group connects weekly) as well as our faculty athletics directors, senior woman administrators, television partners (ESPN and ACC Network) and a few sessions with all 32 Division I commissioners.”

  • Swofford has been part of virtual meetings using WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, FaceTime, and GoToMeeting, just to name a few. “Having the ability to communicate using so many different technology platforms has allowed us to stay connected better than we probably realized was possible,” he said. The ACC has had multiple full staff calls and weekly senior staff video conferences, in addition to Swofford’s numerous individual calls each week.

  • Each day for Swofford includes a walk with his wife, Nora, and a movie most evenings -- one of his recent favorites was “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.” And as you might expect, Swofford has been glued to ESPN on Sunday evenings with the rest of the sports world. “I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Last Dance,’ which allows me to revisit many fond memories of Michael’s time at North Carolina,” said Swofford, who was the Tar Heels’ AD for Jordan’s three years in school.

  • Swofford is working hard to facilitate the return of college athletics, which he believes will be an important part of the country coming back together, when the time is appropriate. But longing for sports comes in at least second place for Swofford during quarantine. “The one thing that I miss more than anything else is interacting with my grandkids,” he said. “We communicate all the time, but nothing replaces having them here with us, or traveling to spend time with them.”

 

Swofford has been part of virtual meetings using WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, FaceTime, and GoToMeeting, just to name a few
Swofford has been part of virtual meetings using WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, FaceTime, and GoToMeeting, just to name a few
Swofford has been part of virtual meetings using WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, FaceTime, and GoToMeeting, just to name a few

 

NEWS YOU NEED TO SEE

  • Top NFL and team officials reached out to governors and mayors in NFL cities ahead of tonight’s schedule release, emphasizing that they understand the games are subject to government and public health approval, reports SBJ's Ben Fischer. The calls have mostly been to be certain the politicians know the schedule is coming, and to communicate that the league is preparing many alternatives if the coronavirus pandemic prevents the schedule from happening as written. Most important, sources said, is to minimize the chance that politicians see the schedule release as a challenge to their authority to prevent large gatherings.

  • Turner will simulcast "The Match: Champions for Charity" across TNTTBStruTV and HLN on Sunday, May 24 at 3:00pm ET, with the Bleacher Report app carrying pre-match coverage, reports SBJ's John Ourand. Turner Sports unveiled specifics around the long-rumored show, which will pit Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in a charity match that will see WarnerMedia and the golfers donate $10M to COVID-19 relief. The event will be held at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe SoundFlaExcel and Lagardère Sports are the tournament organizers. The two companies cut the media deal with WarnerMedia and Turner Sports.

  • CAA Sports co-Head Howie Nuchow stressed the importance of leadership concepts during the final day of the CAA World Congress Comes To You virtual event. "People will always tell you who they are. You just have to listen." By observing leaders in an organization, employees can assess, "One, are you working in a place where you could be proud of, whether it's the ethics or how people are approaching problems? Are they running away from problems? Are they being as innovative as they possibly can? Are they communicating? How are they delivering bad news? It's very easy to be good to people during the good times. This is a time when you learn a lot about the people standing to the left and the right of you." 

 

SPEED READS

  • At deadline, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the "most likely scenario” for his league at this time is no 2020 season. He told TSN's David William Naylor that the CFL is a "valuable and integral part of Canadian life and it’s future is very much in jeopardy.” The league is currently "operating off funds paid in advance by fans, sponsors and broadcasters."

  • Live Nation is waiting on NBA, NHL and MLB schedules in order to figure out when postponed concerts can be rescheduled, per SBJ's Karn Dhingra. Once restrictions are lifted, live music (91%) will be the most likely type of event attended followed by movies (87%), theater (78%) and sports (75%), according to a Live Nation-commissioned survey of ticket buyers.
     
  • The 76ers-backed tech incubator, Sixers Innovation Lab, has pumped more funds into N.Y.-based Hydrant, a sports drink startup that creates single-use powder packages for use in 8 to 16 oz. of water. Sixers Innovation Lab is part of a mix of new and existing investors pumping $5.7 million in Series A funding into the hydration company, including RX3 Ventures, of which Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is a partner.

  • The Rams and vendor Suite Experience Group have started selling single-game tickets to luxury suites at SoFi Stadium online, a departure from the traditional customized sales process in premium seating. Rams VP/Strategy Dan August acknowledged the challenges faced by the sales team during the pandemic, which has hit the L.A.-centric entertainment and live event industry particularly hard. He told SBJ's Ben Fischer, "This season could be impacted and the NFL’s come out with refund policies ... but long term we feel good about this.”

  • Emory University professor Zach Binney, who specializes in quantitative theory, shed light on how difficult it will be for leagues to return to action in front of fans despite the best-laid plans. He told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck, "A lot of people just look at the nationwide numbers in the U.S. Something that’s really important to understand is that I would argue that we don’t have one epidemic in this country, we have a whole bunch of epidemics in different areas at different stages. … It’s hard to say where are we as a nation, because it’s really almost where are we as individual states or even individual cities within a state."

  • PLL co-Founder Paul Rabil believes by switching the league’s season to a two-week tournament in quarantined conditions they have “unlocked a model” that other leagues can replicate should they have the ability to do so. Rabil, on his “Unbuckled Chinstrap” podcast, acknowledged the plan “certainly doesn’t project the longevity that pro sports seasons have,” but it still presents opportunity for a league that’s “still very much competing for market share and sports fans and attention of sponsors.”

 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • A-B InBev Will Look To Renegotiate Sponsorships Amid Sports Shutdown
    • Only A Few NBA Teams Plan To Open Facilities At First Availability
    • MLB's July Return Proposal Brings Optimism, But Some Hurdles Remain
    • NFL Encouraged On Chances For Full Season; Testing Will Be Key
    • Sporting KC CEO Wants MLS To Be First U.S. Major League To Return
    • UFC To Use 1,200 Coronavirus Tests For Fight Cards In Jacksonville
    • Plans For Fall Campus Re-Openings Could Mean On-Time CFB Season
    • MLSE Extends '20-21 Season Ticket Payment Date After Fan Backlash
    • Live Nation Preparing First Socially Distanced Concert
    • Pitt Coaches, Pro Teams Donate $800,000 To Fund Vaccine Research

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

SIGN UP NOW FOR LEADERS WEEK DIRECT: MAY 18-21

  • Across the week, you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in sports, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and Amazon VP/Global Sports Marie Donoghue. Each day offers two hours of streamed content, where industry leaders will examine how the future of sport will change. In addition to the main content stream, there will be in-depth breakout sessions that will address specific challenges, plus networking with industry peers.
  • You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. For more details, click here.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- League Execs Talk Strategies For Staying Relevant

My girlfriend and I are driving 10 hours tomorrow morning from Harrison, N.J., to metro Detroit to retrieve the last of my childhood belongings from my parents’ condo that they’re in the midst of selling. For once, I’m looking forward to being in a car for a full day. It’ll give me a chance to blare some country music.

Like most recent days, the sports world continues to try and pick up steam with returning to action. Today, the Professional Lacrosse League announced it’ll switch to a two-week quarantined format this summer in either the Southeast, Midwest or Mid-Atlantic while the UFC is prepping for a return to the Octagon on Saturday evening in Jacksonville. Despite the positive news, there’s still the stark reality of how COVID-19 has impacted the sports business as NASCAR experiences another round of layoffs

On a lighter note, the grand finale of our CAA World Congress Comes To You event wrapped up this afternoon with a virtual happy hour. We hope you enjoyed the conversations with the NBPA’s Michele Roberts and Fanatics’ Michael Rubin, among others. We look forward to seeing you all in person at one of our events soon.

Stay safe and be kind to one another. 

--- Mark J. Burns

 

WNBA COMMISH LOOKS TO BUILD MOMENTUM FOLLOWING VIRTUAL DRAFT

  • The WNBA was the first league to shift to a virtual draft on ESPN due to the pandemic, and the league’s successful effort served as a blueprint for the network as it prepped for the NFL Draft. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, speaking at today’s virtual CAA World Congress Comes to You event, credited the partnership with ESPN for being able to “pull that off in a fairly short period of time.” Engelbert feels she came away from the effort a little more knowledgeable about the process and equipment needed for such an undertaking. Engelbert: “I had four iPads -- one sending in the picks, one sending in the feed from ESPN, one with a variety of backups and lights and tripods. I now know how to work every version of every tripod.”

  • The commish also was happy with the virtual personal touch she was able to give draftees. “We sent them an augmented reality gift box where they would scan a Snapchat icon and what would pop up would be a message from me.” 

  • While there was buzz around the draft and the selection of Sabrina Ionescu at No. 1, building off the momentum is a challenge. The WNBA was scheduled to begin its season on May 15, but that start is delayed indefinitely. Engelbert: “One of the reasons we wanted to continue with the draft (virtually) is because our rosters need to be set and these women's dreams need to be met, and so coming off of that, now we can think innovatively on how to keep the conversation going around marketing these household names.”

  • Some of the ways the WNBA may try to innovate is holding doubleheaders with NBA teams that share arenas once play does begin. The league also may try and broadcast games before or after NBA telecasts and take advantage of the hole in the sports calendar that was going to be occupied by the Tokyo Olympics. Engelbert: “We had no games scheduled from July 13-August 13. Can we use that opportunity now because of COVID-19 and the delay in the season to fill that with some broadcast windows?”

 

 

OVERWATCH LEAGUE DELIVERING VALUE DESPITE LACK OF IN-PERSON EVENTS

  • The Overwatch League amid the pandemic moved its events online only, and Commissioner Pete Vlastelica during CAA World Congress Comes to You stressed his belief that the pivot has worked. Vlastelica: “Necessity is the mother of invention. We learned that this is viable, and we learned that it's viable at a time when it was essential. But because it's viable and very efficient, we'll be able to bring this into a world where it's not as essential, but still as efficient, in order to make our steady state operation that much better.”

  • Esports have gained a lot of attention as one of the only competitions still pressing on amid the pandemic. Vlastelica said OWL has shown its brand partners that it "can continue to deliver value." He said, “Same is true of our media partners, where we're continuing to deliver all the hours of live content that we're committed to.” Still, he recognizes that the overall health of esports depends on the health of traditional sports. “It doesn't give me any joy to know that we're one of the only professional sports leagues that's still in action,” he said.

  • Vlastelica also addressed OWL’s homestand schedule which was to be used throughout this season, saying that the few events that did take place in the U.S. before the shutdown were rewarding. “When the hometown team walked out, the fans were on their feet screaming,” he explained, “The fans weren't just there for the game or because they love the league. They were there to root on their home team. ... That was the thing that we were trying to prove. That was the bet that we had made.”

  • Vlastelica knows that the current situation will not last forever, but he believes that lessons learned from the homestands and from navigating the crisis will, as companies strive to keep their products relevant and to produce them in ways audiences are looking for. Vlastelica: “Certainly that's the way we're going to be approaching the world post COVID.”

 

BARSTOOL GETS IN ON VIRTUAL HOCKEY TOURNAMENT

  • Barstool Sports' hockey podcast "Spittin' Chiclets" this week launched a EA Sports "NHL 20" tournament dubbed the "The Barstool Chiclets Cup," writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. The best-of-three, single-elimination format will be co-hosted by Spittin’ Chiclets personalities and former NHL players Paul Bissonnette and Ryan Whitney. The tournament, which includes NHL players, company staff and Twitch streamers, is sponsored by DEVOUR Frozen Foods and broadcasted across Spittin’ Chiclets’ social media channels and Barstool’s website. Matchups air Tuesday and Friday evenings beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

  • Barstool CEO Erika Nardini: “We’re spending a lot of time right now playing with what are sports and what’s the blend of sports, humor and comedy. It’s taking all sorts of different expressions. ... [The Cup] felt like a much better thing to watch than just watching athletes play a game. It feels like much more of an event.” 

 

NHL EXECS RAMP UP SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT DURING SHUTDOWN

  • NHL CMO Heidi Browning said on the first day of the league’s shutdown in March, it initially decided to cease all communication on social media and focus on informative statements from Commissioner Gary Bettman and updates from clubs. “As the pause continued and we realized that this was going to last for an indefinite period, we felt that it was really important to evolve away from just peer communication." Browning said the focus then became a "strategy of communication, community, and connection."

  • Long before officially deciding to work from home, NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer said the league put together a living room-friendly technology program for its producers, editors and employees to create original content. On the takeaways from this experience to apply moving forward, Browning said she wants to continue doing more. “If there’s one wish I have for the gift out of this crisis it would be to slowly change hockey culture as it relates to social media participation, both in the locker room and off the ice.” Mayer said the league’s focus on content evolved into the connection of people and ideas and emphasizing substance over style. Since sports is one of those universal languages around the globe, Browning said leagues everywhere have a responsibility to try and unite and encourage people through uplifting messages.

  • Mayer said the league is listening to those in charge and will not return until it is safe for players, personnel and fans. “I do feel at the end of the day … how important sports is to bring the world back together again. … How we can change the world and have a positive impact is actually quite exciting to me and our team at the NHL,” Mayer said.

 

 

SPORTING KC PRESIDENT OPTIMISTIC ON MLS SEASON AS INDIVIDUAL WORKOUTS RESUME

  • If MLS can resume play in mid-June, a full 2020 season is still doable, according to Sporting KC President & CEO Jake Reid. On a media conference call this afternoon, Reid added that even if matches don't resume until later in the summer or early fall, the league "could put together some semblance of a season.” Reid: “Clearly, you’re not going to get all 34 games in at that point.” 

  • Starting today, several MLS clubs such as Sporting KC, Inter Miami CF and Atlanta United FC, conducted voluntary individual workouts at their outdoor training grounds, notes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. When asked about testing players, Reid said that there aren’t tests yet, but did say that “ultimately if we get back to the group [training] stage, that’ll be completely critical. We cannot go back to any type of group training until we have tests.” Reid also said that if matches resume this year in various cities, “you’ll see chartered flights across the board.”

 

SPONSORS KEEPING CLOSE WATCH ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S STANDING

  • The decision of whether to play college football in the fall is intertwined with the larger question of whether to open college campuses across the country, in states that likely will take varied approaches to re-opening. There’s no telling what the season will look like, if there is a season at all. Amid all that uncertainty, how do the sponsors that have tied their brands to college sports make plans and chart courses?

  • SBJ’s Bill King examined that question in the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast with Vince Thompson, founder and CEO of MELT Sports & Entertainment, an Atlanta-based sports marketing agency that has done extensive work in college sports.

  • “With our clients, we’re adapting against a four to five to six bucket scenario," said Thompson, describing a range from a full return with fans in the stands to no season at all, anywhere. “Any sports sponsorship is tied into consumer behavior; a reach, a target, and certain eyeballs that you want to reach to drive consumption, purchasing and consumer behavior. If all of that is being consumed in the home environment, we’ll shift that definition of experiential, digital, social and retail."

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH WINNING STREAK SPORTS CEO CHRIS LENCHESKI

  • After decades in motorsports and agency life, Winning Streak Sports CEO Chris Lencheski was used to toiling “AWH,” or away from home, well before the shutdown started. “Every game there’s an away game,’’ he told SBJ’s Terry Lefton. Still, for a guy used to more than a hundred nights annually on the road, becoming accustomed to the current state of quarantine has taken some adjusting for the leader of Granite Bridge Partners’ licensed products company.

  • Lencheski is a resident of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., but he has been spending the past seven weeks or so with his wife and four daughters in Center Valley, Pa., a Lehigh Valley town, centrally located between N.Y. and Philadelphia. With four distance learners under one roof, and a wife who is a school administrator, bandwidth is as critical in this household as food and paper goods. So, there is no hesitation when you ask Lencheski about his technology MVP. “My Eero WIFI is terrific on all four floors,’’ he said.

  • Broadband efficiency throughout their home is especially important, since the Lencheskis have been swapping “home office” locations often to avoid boredom. Lencheski himself is often in the downstairs study/library, but for the increasing amount of video calls, he might escape to the basement location.

  • “This is my longest stretch of time being in one place in decades,’’ said Lencheski, who has been developing Winning Streak’s direct-to-consumer offerings and its technology platforms during the quarantine. Sports licensing has been as hard hit by the coronavirus as any business outside of hospitality and travel, but Lencheski sees it improving from its current standstill to a fourth-quarter recovery, pending heath circumstances, and potentially aided by the return of football and holiday demand.

 

Lencheski typically works from the downstairs study/library, but often changes location to avoid boredom
Lencheski typically works from the downstairs study/library, but often changes location to avoid boredom
Lencheski typically works from the downstairs study/library, but often changes location to avoid boredom

 

THAT'S A WRAP! FINAL THOUGHTS FROM CAA WORLD CONGRESS COMES TO YOU 

 

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: NOW, MORE THAN EVER

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Craig Howe of Rebel Ventures, who pinpoints the four ways that sports can stay in the game amid the pandemic.

  • "As an industry, the sports business thrives on values that are associated with winning. Perseverance, dedication, and an unending pursuit of excellence both on and off the field are hallmarks of any client we’ve worked with, no matter what the sport. Now, more than ever, the sports industry needs to embody these values."
     
  • To read Howe's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • The Packers and American Family Insurance are teaming up to provide $20,000 in the form of ready-made meals to frontline workers in Northeast Wisconsin. The team and AFI will deliver thousands of meals to hospitals during Nurse Appreciation Week beginning today through May 12, and police and fire stations during Police Appreciation Week from May 10-16.
  • The Ringer's Michael Baumann writes under the header, "The Joy and Anxiety of Watching KBO’s Return." Baseball is back in South Korea, but "as therapeutic as it is to watch a hitter work the count again, it’s hard to escape what this may mean for an ill-advised return for MLB." Unlike South Korea, the "worst is yet to come in the United States."

  • The future of the brick-and-mortar gym stands in question as home workouts rise during the time of the coronavirus. The Wall Street Journal's Avantika Chilkoti reports fitness centers are ready to "experiment with digital offerings and other ways to lure people back when lockdowns ease."

  • Around 64% of U.S. adults would get vaccinated to protect themselves against COVID-19 were one to become available, according to a recent survey conducted by Morning Consult. 14% say they would not and 22% are unsure.

 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • MLB Confident It Can Return In '20, But More Outbreaks A Concern
    • UFC Felt No Pressure To Be First Sport Back, But Glad It Is
    • NASCAR President Sees Restart As Opportunity To Draw New Fans
    • Changing Attack: PLL Switching To Two-Week Tournament This Year
    • NHL Hopes To Push Forward With Phase 2, But Will Move Cautiously
    • 76ers Giving Season-Ticket Holders Options Amid Crisis
    • Alouettes President Hopes For Call On CFL Season In Coming Weeks
    • Tennis' Return In '20 Doubtful; Attention Turns To Australian Open
    • World TeamTennis Could Play Whole Season In One City
    • Wild Ride: PBR's Return Gets Attention Of CBS' Stephen Colbert
    • Minnesota United Donation To Help Community Around Allianz Field

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

SIGN UP NOW FOR LEADERS WEEK DIRECT: MAY 18-21

  • Across the week, you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in sports, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and Amazon VP/Global Sports Marie Donoghue. Each day offers two hours of streamed content, where industry leaders will examine how the future of sport will change. In addition to the main content stream, there will be in-depth breakout sessions that will address specific challenges, plus networking with industry peers.
  • You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. For more details, click here.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Dolphins Put Safety First At Hard Rock

Battered by the coronavirus, Disney this afternoon reported a sharp 63% drop in adjusted quarterly earnings compared to the same period last year. But new CEO Bob Chapek kept a stiff upper lip in his statement released after the markets closed. “While the COVID-19 pandemic has had an appreciable financial impact on a number of our businesses, we are confident in our ability to withstand this disruption and emerge from it in a strong position."

Closed theme parks, shuttered box offices, canceled cruises and a lack of live sports on ESPN are all hurting Disney, which stands to continue to feel the pain during its current quarter as the pandemic continues.

That said, it isn't all doom and gloom for the Mouse House. The ESPN+ subscriber base rose to 7.9 million in Q2, up 20% from Q1. The success of "The Last Dance" and the NFL Draft also boosted ESPN's primetime viewership in April by 11% compared to the same month in 2019. Meanwhile, the company said Disney Shanghai is re-opening on May 11, which could provide a template for the hard-hit Disney parks division, as well as other large-scale U.S. vacation destinations.

Speaking of ESPN, any Samsung Lions fans out there? Until today, chances were slim at best that anyone could name one team in the 10-team Korean Baseball Organization. But after ESPN this morning began its KBO broadcast schedule with the Samsung Lions playing the NC-Dinos in an empty stadium, sports-starved fans in the U.S. got at least a glimpse of live baseball, and perhaps a model of what MLB could look like whenever the game returns. 

Stay safe everyone.

--- John Lombardo

 

DOLPHINS GET HEAD START ON 'NEW NORMAL"

  • The Dolphins made news when they revealed a vision for what a return to Hard Rock Stadium might look like for their fans, socially distanced not only while in their seats, but on their way to and from them. The franchise also recently announced that the stadium will be the first to sign on for a 20-point cleaning certification program, which will include training on what it will take to remove not only spilled beer and mustard, but pathogens such as COVID-19, when venues are filled with fans.

  • Dolphins President & CEO Tom Garfinkel explored those and other changes that may come as part of the “new normal” when sports eventually return with Bill King on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  • “Cleaning is often thought of as does it smell nice and does it look nice. It’s aesthetics,” Garfinkel said. “Real cleaning is about removing pathogens. Removing bacteria. Removing viruses. You’re never going to remove 100%. We live in that environment and our immune systems are the strongest defense we have. But at the same time, to be in a clean environment where we’ve removed the pathogens and we’re doing everything we can to make it as safe as possible is what we want.”

 

USTA COMING AROUND ON U.S. OPEN WITH NO FANS

  • The USTA’s attitude on hosting the U.S. Open in N.Y. without fans has warmed greatly in recent weeks. That scenario seemed unlikely last month, especially when USTA CEO Mike Dowseall but dismissed the idea on April 16. But Chief Revenue Officer Lew Sherr spoke with SBJ’s Bret McCormick late last week and explained the organization’s shifting thinking.

  • “Two months ago, it just didn’t feel like you could stage the celebration or the spectacle that is the U.S. Open in a no-fan scenario and have it be what we think of as the U.S. Open,” Sherr said. “As we’ve gone forward, I’ve come around to recognizing what an achievement it would be to play, and how much our fans are missing the game and would be excited to see the competition, and that you need to think about it differently. It’s a different event. It would be broadcast differently, it would be consumed differently, it’s not just playing the U.S. Open as you know it, with empty seats.” 

  • Sherr said he’s been surprised by sponsors’ positive reaction to the U.S. Open’s no-fan option, with some viewing it as a potentially historic event. And thanks to media-rights deals, sponsors still would be able to reach an enormous global audience. Sherr: "Keep in mind, we have 850,000 fans who attend, but we’ve got hundreds of millions of fans who still watch the Open around the world and will never step foot on the grounds. ... We had to adjust ourselves and I think the times have adjusted as well.”  

 

 

KBO BROADCASTS COULD BRING MORE INNOVATION STATESIDE

  • Starting its 2020 season in fan-less ballparks, the Korean Baseball Organization reportedly played games with some cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands and with the murmur of crowd noise heard on the ESPN broadcast. Whenever sports return in the U.S., expect such broadcast-related innovation. Fox Sports Senior VP/Field & Technical Operations Michael Davies told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that he's been studying fan-less games like Orioles-White Sox at Camden Yards in 2015, as well as international soccer matches, for guidance. The KBO games could also prove instructive.

  • In planning for the potential of televising fan-less games, Davies said creative possibilities abound. Execs are engaged in discussions, he said, about the value of using augmented reality to create "virtually covered seats," perhaps creating so-called replacement fans or even a canvas that displays a more exciting visual than empty stands. They are also discussing the "technology and knowhow" of piping in crowd noise, either for just the home viewing audience, or potentially for the players/coaches/staff in the venue. The noise would be nuanced and varied depending upon stadium location and game circumstances. Davies also noted fan-less games should allow for more creative use of flying cameras and drones to capture new camera angles.

  • On piping in crowd noise, Davies said: "It wouldn't just be, 'OK, crowd on, crowd off.' It's not a laugh track. There's a lot of nuance in terms of what that crowd is reacting to and how they are reacting. It's something that video game developers pay special attention to because they need to have the appropriate crowd noise put in to match any game situation. In a live situation, you may have to have a person who is literally scoring the game or making authentic crowd noise. You'd need to have different sounds coming from different parts of the stadium in order to be more authentic about what that audience experience sounds like. The murmur of the crowd is also vital. Once you get into it, you figure out it's not that easy and it's probably more of a manual process."

 

OTHER TAKEAWAYS FROM OPENING DAY IN KOREA

  • Putting safety into perspective: The N.Y. Daily News' Jane McManus: "ESPN should start this broadcast with an explanation of the societal conditions that must be met before live sports are possible, and how the U.S. is no where close. ... Sports aren’t magically appearing in South Korea, baseball has tentatively arrived due to the hard work of public health experts there, and relentless testing. Don’t sugar coat this for American sports audiences."

  • Missing the fan experience: Former MLBer Seth Frankoff: "This is really cool for the game of baseball globally and most especially for the country of South Korea. The only unfortunate part is folks abroad won’t get to see the true atmosphere passion of KBO baseball without fans in the stadium." The L.A. Times' Victoria Kim, who was covering LG Twins-Doosan Bears: "Korean baseball fandom is really something to behold, it feels bizarre without the crowds, chants, songs and thick smell of fried chicken."

  • Passions run high: ESPN's Marly Rivera: "Finding it hilarious that now bat flips are being celebrated... can you imagine that?!? Having FUN while playing baseball?!? Welcome to the baseball Latin America has always known... insert eye roll...🙄." DAZN's Jake Mintz: "What if celebrating baseball with batflips is ok everywhere?" Meanwhile, the "ESPN Daily" podcast this morning went deep on the "secret history of the Korean bat flip," with host Mina Kimes reliving her 2016 trip to cover the KBO.

  • Did you miss today's KBO games? Don't fret. Bears-Twins at 5:30am ET on ESPN2.

 

 

IMG TENNIS RAISES CHARITABLE FUNDS WITH VIRTUAL EVENT

  • IMG capitalized on all of its associated resources and star power to put on the “Stay At Home Slam” last Sunday, a virtual video game tournament featuring some of the agency’s biggest talents. Each of the 14 competitors, ranging from tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Maria Sharapova to singer Seal and NFL star DeAndre Hopkins, earned $25,000 for a charity of their choice, while the tournament-winning duo of tennis pro Taylor Fitz and TikTok star Addison Rae took home $1 million for their charity, No Kid Hungry. All of the celebs and athletes that competed are WME or IMG clients.

  • In part because of Osaka’s relationship with Nintendo, the tournament’s seven doubles pairings played each other in Mario Tennis Aces, a video game for the Switch device. The athlete-celebrity pairings, presence of tennis legends John McEnroe and Billie Jean King, and the goofy nature of the video game were intentional. “We wanted to have fun and give away a lot of money,” Max Eisenbud, IMG Tennis Senior VP, told SBJ’s Bret McCormick. “That came across really well. You got to see the different people’s personalities, you got to see some competitiveness, but in the end it was a lot of fun.”
     
  • Eisenbud’s tennis division drew on the capabilities and connections of six other branches of Endeavor to put together the event in less than a month. WME’s digital group arranged a deal for the tournament to be streamed on Facebook Gaming. Endeavor Content’s Film 45 unit produced the stream, which peaked at 38,000 viewers. Nineteen separate posts to the live stream drew 3.4 million views. “Everybody was on the same page about wanting to have fun, wanting to bring tennis players and celebrities together, and, again, most important, to be able to donate some real money to help what’s going on with this pandemic,” said Eisenbud. “It ticked so many boxes.”

 

Each of the 14 competitors, ranging from Sharapova to Ryan Tannehill, earned $25,000 for a charity of their choice
Each of the 14 competitors, ranging from Sharapova to Ryan Tannehill, earned $25,000 for a charity of their choice
Each of the 14 competitors, ranging from Sharapova to Ryan Tannehill, earned $25,000 for a charity of their choice

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH NLL DEPUTY COMMISSIONER JESSICA BERMAN

  • The living room office of NLL Deputy Commissioner & Exec VP/Business Affairs Jessica Berman has everything she needs: computer, printer, white board, office supplies, and a view of her front yard in Westchester, N.Y.. The setup has its pros and cons. Berman: “My two dogs sleep on the couch … and my kids do their home schooling about 20 feet from my desk on the dining room table, which means I can keep my eye on them. … But it also means that we are very much in each other’s workspace.” 

  • The NLL has been beta testing a new digital content strategy, led by Exec VP/Broadcast & Content Joel Feld and VP/Marketing Katie Lavin, and ongoing engagement across all NLL platforms has grown followers during the league’s offseason. Berman has been applying something she learned from NHL CMO Heidi Browning during her time in hockey: “Focus on humans over highlights, and that has proven to be successful.”

  • Quarantine has felt a bit like “Groundhog Day” to Berman. “There is no difference between yesterday, today, and tomorrow. … Every single day feels the same -- Saturday feels no different from Wednesday,” she said. Some lines have also been completely blurred. “For example, being on an important work call while my son is practicing the trumpet in the background,” Berman noted. She’s been trying to call at least one person a day to catch up. And professionally, she launched a weekly virtual happy hour for the league office staff.

  • Berman and her boys started watching Netflix' “All American” together, which gave her the chance to explain the meaning of “binge watching” to them. They are also huge “Survivor” fans (Parvati and Tony are a few of her favorites this season, for any other fans out there). For exercise (12:30 or 6pm depending on the day), Berman runs, takes a spin on her Peloton, does yoga, strength training or gets outside for a hike if the weather cooperates.

 

Berman on a typical day sets up shop in her living room with a view of her front yard
Berman on a typical day sets up shop in her living room with a view of her front yard
Berman on a typical day sets up shop in her living room with a view of her front yard

 

SPEED READS

  • The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo made the case for why a salvaged NBA postseason would be an important step in the right direction for the sports industry, even if it wouldn’t solve larger societal issues still at hand. Speaking on “The Bill Simmons Podcast,” Russillo said, “It isn’t just the owners and the players and then us selfishly having something. It’s everybody. Knowing that people at ESPN could be losing jobs, or furloughed. They’d be safer. Same thing TNTABC. And then every single podcaster, any blog that has any revenue-generated to covering basketball. Yes, it’s not waitresses and waiters and bartenders and that kind of thing. But we’re still talking hundreds of people being more secure if we have a product to cover.” Simmons: “Probably thousands.”

  • Atlanta United FC will be one of the first teams to participate in voluntary individual player workouts at their training ground beginning tomorrow, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. The announcement comes after MLS said last Friday that it would allow clubs to open up their outdoor practice fields for individual workouts based on guidelines from state government and public health officials. Workouts for Atlanta this week will be tomorrow and Friday with 6-7 players involved in each of the three separate daily sessions, the club said. Media won’t have access to the workouts. The MLS moratorium on small group and full team training sessions is still in place through May 15. 
  • Sharks President Jonathan Becher, whose team is supporting more than 1,800 part-time staffers through a COVID-19 relief fund, won't hear about the possibility of raising ticket prices next year to compensate for financial losses. Becher: "No. Absolutes in life are a terrible thing to say, but no. It's not something we've been thinking through. I currently can't imagine a circumstance where that would happen. ... Hockey is built as a blue-collar sport. I don't want to give up that tradition."

  • A new documentary film from Red Bull Media House about world champion surfer Carissa Moore will premiere this Thursday on Refinery29’s Facebook Watch, reports SBJ's Chris Smith. The digital debut will be followed by a live Q&A with Moore. Directed by Peter Hamblin, “RISS. A Film about More Love with Carissa Kainani Moore” follows Moore through the 2019 World Surf League season and captures her qualification for the Tokyo Games, which will feature surfing’s Olympic debut. The movie was originally slated for a live premiere as part of the Olympics’ "100 Days Out" celebration in N.Y. before the Games were delayed until 2021. “RISS” will be available on Red Bull TV beginning May 11.

  • New Cowboys QB Andy Dalton acknowledged that the pandemic played a significant part in his free agency decision, as Dalton and his family chose to remain in their hometown of Dallas rather than relocate to another part of the country. Dalton told ESPN's Adam Schefter the coronavirus factor was "definitely a part of it." Dalton: "It wasn’t the only deciding factor. But for us to stay close to home, not have to move, not have to figure out the whole logistics of that transition, especially during a time like this when there’s a lot of unknowns of what’s going to happen and when things are going to start up. … (That) all factored into my decision.”

  • This past Saturday in a field adjacent to ANC’s office in Argyle, Texas, area residents took in a “Community Drive-in Movie Night.” Denton County Judge Andy Eads addressed the nearly 300 people who listened on their car radio and gathered to watch “Remember the Titans.” Donations were accepted via Venmo to benefit those in need. ANC, whose parent company is Learfield IMG College, plans to actively market this concept across the nation and looks to do another one in Argyle later this summer.

 

Argyle, Texas, residents recently took in a “Community Drive-in Movie Night" to watch “Remember the Titans”
Argyle, Texas, residents recently took in a “Community Drive-in Movie Night" to watch “Remember the Titans”
Argyle, Texas, residents recently took in a “Community Drive-in Movie Night" to watch “Remember the Titans”

 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • Korean Baseball League Begins Season As World Curiously Looks On
    • No Guarantee NFL Teams Slated For Int'l Games This Year Will Go In '21
    • Texans To Hire Facility Hygiene Coordinator For NRG Stadium
    • Devils Offering Ticket Holders Full Refunds Or Option To Donate
    • USTA Committed To Holding U.S. Open This Year In Some Form
    • Top Golf Organizations Establish Plan To Return, National Protocols
    • Taiwanese Baseball Taking Rigorous Steps To Quell COVID Outbreak
    • Jim Harbaugh, Wife Sarah Donate $100,000 To COVID-19 Fund

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

THE GRAND FINALE! PART 4 OF CAA WORLD CONGRESS COMES TO YOU TOMORROW

  • We’ll have interviews with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, Fanatics Executive Chair Michael Rubin, CAA Sports Co-Head Howie Nuchow, NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, Activation Blizzard Chief Executive Pete Vlastelica, Sports Medicine Research President Dr. Daniel Eichner and top execs from Learfield IMG College, the NHL, CAA Sports and Luker on Trends.
  • There’s also a new time for the finale. Our program starts at 1:45pm ET and ends with a happy hour via Zoom from 4:00-5:00pm. Go to www.WorldCongressOfSports.com to register and gain on-demand access to dozens of interviews and sessions from the previous three World Congress episodes.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Texans Hunting For Dedicated Hygiene Chief

I can track the coronavirus pandemic’s unofficial arrival in the U.S. by my daughter’s growth. Vivie was born March 15 and will be two months old in just more than a week. It’s remarkable how the outbreak has warped time to feel fast-forwarded on some occasions and slow as a sloth during others. But I can always look at my chunky, now 11-pound daughter and have an indicator of the pandemic’s progression that at least makes me smile.

Just as our families continue adjusting to this new life, the sports world continues doing the same. The NFL today scrapped its 2020 international games in Mexico and London, while WorldTeam Tennis announced it will play its season in one location, instead of in the nine cities spread throughout the country. The NHL is busily whittling its list of isolation bubble cities from roughly a dozen down to four, bringing it closer to resuming play. And ESPN has sealed a deal with the Korean Baseball League to give the network some form of live sports content while American properties figure out their next moves.

An ESPN poll released today revealed 76% of respondents supported the return of sports without fans, as long as the participants were quarantined and closely monitored. Count Vivie and me in that group. We’re tired of "Top Chef" reruns.

Stay safe everyone.


--- Bret McCormick

 

TEXANS SEEK FACILITY HYGIENE COORDINATOR

  • The Texans are searching for a new employee: A facility hygiene coordinator to run coronavirus risk mitigation throughout the team’s workplaces, SBJ’s Ben Fischer reports. Giving those duties to a new, dedicated staffer ensures it will remain a long-term priority, said Exec VP/Football Operations Jack Easterby, who described the ideal candidate as someone who will “wake up each morning and go to bed each night thinking about the cleanliness of the facility.”

  • The new hire will report to Geoff Kaplan, coordinator of medical administration, but it’s more of an operations management job than a medical position, Easterby said. The hygiene coordinator will be expected to swiftly implement new virus-protection protocols likely to come from the NFL or public health bodies as sports re-start. Those might include installation of new infrastructure, like touchless doors and sinks, or rules for social distancing in crowded areas, or ensuring supplies of necessary cleaning products or equipment, or educating staff. The person will also oversee Aramark, the Texans’ commercial janitorial contractor.

  • Because the Texans are a tenant in the Harris County-owned NRG Stadium, which is managed by ASM Global, the eventual hire will have less authority over the stadium than Texans-owned offices and practice facilities. But he or she will be contribute to decisions made by the stadium partners, Easterby said. This is the first known case of a major U.S. pro sports team hiring a dedicated industrial hygiene expert, though the NBA has asked clubs to appoint a point person among existing staff, as SBJ’s John Lombardo reported today.

 

DON GARBER: CRISIS HAS ABILITY TO "BRING OUT BEST IN PEOPLE"

  • MLS Commissioner Don Garber will be paying close attention if and when the Bundesliga resumes play, citing his "close relationship" with the league's CEO, Christian Seifert. Garber told FS1’s Rob Stone on the “Fox Indoor Soccer” program, "Christian’s a bright guy. It’s just different there. Their government is so closely associated with the league itself. It’s almost like the league is an NGO. It’s so connected. … They have plans to get back to play without fans. Those are still coming into play. I hope that they’re successful so we can probably learn from some of the challenges that I’m sure they’re going to go through.”

  • Garber is connecting with all of the league’s heads of clubs on weekly Zoom calls to determine how they can “effectively return to play” as soon as possible. Garber also said that “financial issues and challenges” are still top of mind two weeks after the league floated a preliminary proposal for player salary reductions

  • Garber said he’s proud of players staying involved with charitable efforts over the past couple months in their respective cities. “Guys are out there doing as much as they can via social media, some of them are able to get out of their homes and able to do more active things. … These are obviously unprecedented times and crisis I believe brings out the best in people, and at times perhaps it can bring out the worst in people. I like to sort of tap into all the great qualities that we have in our players who have always been connected in their community … Our whole purpose has been sort of this league that wants to be engaged with our fans.”

 

 

JAGUARS TO OFFER REFUNDS ON SEASON TICKETS, DEFERRED PAYMENTS

  • The Jaguars announced today they will give full refunds to any season-ticket holder who asks before the start of the 2020 season, part of a series of adjustments amid the pandemic-caused economic strife. Also, the Jags are selling a 2-year plan that would defer 40% of the cost of 2020 tickets until next year if you buy seats for 2021 as well.

  • Historically, the Jags have had a no-refunds policy, but that was re-evaluated in light of the escalating unemployment and uncertainty about the duration of the crisis, reports SBJ's Ben Fischer. “You could buy our tickets now, but there’s still a bit of uneasiness of what’s in the future, so we’re going to allow you to cancel that transaction if needed before the start of the season,” said Chad Johnson, VP/Sales & Service. The 2-year plan is designed with small- and medium-sized businesses in mind, Johnson said, people who face an extended runway back to normalcy but for whom Jaguars tickets are an important part of their business toolkit.

  • Also, the Jaguars have officially extended the deadline for renewals (to June 5) and the next payment deadline has been pushed back to June 20. The prior deadlines had already been pushed once to late April. Last month, Johnson said the Jags’ top priority during the pandemic -- more than cash flow -- has been preventing the outright cancellations of tickets. "The ultimate success in this season is maintaining our ticket base. That’s the driving factor in everything we did.” The NFL has promised fans their tickets refunds or credits for canceled games, but otherwise has let teams set their own terms this offseason.

 

SPECIAL OLYMPICS FEELING STRAIN AT GRASSROOTS LEVEL

  • Like the rest of the sports world, the Special Olympics has been feeling the financial squeeze of continued COVID-19 lockdowns, reports SBJ's Chris Smith. The organization has a massive global presence, with five million athletes and 100,000 annual events across 172 countries, and it’s been especially pressured at the grassroots level. “Our livelihood happens on the ground in communities all throughout the world,” said Kelli Seely, Special Olympics Chief Marketing, Development & Communications Officer. Seely said that the vast majority, if not the entirety, of local organizations in the U.S. have applied for PPP loans, with some already receiving assistance. Such government support isn’t always available elsewhere in the world, though. “A lot of international programs, especially in Latin America and Africa, have been really hard hit and have required layoffs,” Seely said.

  • At the organizational level, there’s also been a slowdown in philanthropic revenue from increasingly cost-conscious donors. “At an international level, we rely a bit more on corporations and individual donors and foundations,” said Seely. “We’re certainly affected due to the fact that corporations and individuals are watching their money, and rightfully so, very carefully right now.” One avenue of continued support has been partnerships with other sports organizations. Longtime partner WWE recently joined the Special Olympics in launching School of Strength, an at-home workout platform featuring WWE star Becky Lynch, and just last week, a new partnership with the WTA saw tennis players celebrate International Dance Day on social media to raise money for Special Olympics programming.

  • These partnerships typically involve a financial commitment as well as programming support, the latter of which helps the Special Olympics broaden its engagement. “Their reach to their fans and their customers with a message of inclusion and diversity not only builds up a potential donor base for us,” said Seely. “But it also builds up general engagement, bringing like-minded people together. That is just as important, if not more important, than the financial commitment.”

  • The Special Olympics is also in the second year of a five-year fundraising program, The Revolution is Inclusion, which aims to raise $100 million and engage 100 million new people. Seely says the organization is already about two-thirds of the way to hitting the fundraising goal, and it’s so far engaged with around 50 million new individuals. 

 

 

ESPN SURVEY: FANS WANT SPORTS BACK EVEN IF THEY CANNOT ATTEND

  • A majority of sports fans surveyed by ESPN said that they are "in favor of watching televised sports without fans rather than waiting for sports to resume only when fans can be in attendance."

  • The ESPN Coronavirus Lockdown Fan Study surveyed 1,004 sports fans aged 18 or older, and 65% were "in favor of sports returning even if fans can't be in the stands." That approval number "grew to 76% when participants were asked if they support the return of sports without fans in the stands if players were kept in hotels and their contact with others was closely monitored." Whenever sports do return, 88% of study participants who consider themselves avid sports fans said that they "plan to watch as much sports as they can" 

 

HBSE PRESIDENT DRAWS ON HIS EXPERIENCE AROUND HURRICANE KATRINA

  • As president of the then-Hornets during Hurricane Katrina, Hugh Weber led the franchise through a period of such utter devastation, it necessitated the temporary relocation of the team for two seasons to Oklahoma City. It was days before Weber heard from some of his employees, and nights when some weren’t sure where they’d lay their heads.

  • Now president of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, Weber spoke to Bill King about his experiences in New Orleans, and explained how he’s relying on them now, on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  • “On first glance, you’d say: This is a worldwide pandemic and that was a flood. How could they be the same?” Weber said in an interview that drew several parallels between the two crises. “Well, right now, we’re homebound. Our jobs and lives have changed dramatically. But we’re thinking of it through the lens of our community. And in that way, it’s very similar.”  

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH GOLDEN KNIGHTS CMO BRIAN KILLINGSWORTH

  • Golden Knights CMO Brian Killingsworth generally receives a 6:00am wake-up call from his 16-month-old son Knox, which also wakes up his two other boys Cruz (10) and Finn (6). At that point, the family is up and running. Killingsworth starts his workday at 9:00am on a Microsoft Teams call with other team leaders from his bedroom-turned-office and makes sure to check in with Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz, VP/Ticketing Todd Pollock and Chief Sales Officer Jim Frevola throughout the day. “This virtual environment has allowed for more transparency in regards to the human element and seeing families and pets of those we interact with and seeing deeper into the whole person, not just the business professional,” he said.

  • The Golden Knights are focusing on social media and community aid to stay engaged with supporters during the shutdown. The team’s VGK Fit Challenge offered daily workouts demonstrated by broadcasters and in-arena hosts, while the VGK Book Club encouraged fans to read books outlining the greatest stories in sports. “Our fans are craving the communal aspect of being a Golden Knights fan and we want to use our platforms to entertain and interact even more now during this pause,” Killingsworth said.

  • Killingsworth has enjoyed participating in bi-weekly sports industry CMO Zoom chats put on by Nolan Partners. “It has given CMOs in the sports industry the chance to strategize and share ideas for dealing with COVID-19 and the path to getting back,” he said. “Also, this pause has given us the chance to take a deeper look at some new technology-based fan experience initiatives we have been considering.”

  • Killingsworth stays active with lunchtime Kaizen Crossfit workouts outdoors and some form of backyard hockey, baseball, basketball or football with his boys in the evening. “I miss going to the gym but have found really creative ways to try to maintain some level of fitness,” he said. “The plus side has been, if I have an open window in my schedule, I can go ahead and help one of the boys with their schoolwork, or change a diaper, where usually I would be at the office. I’m really trying to find ways to make this time as productive and enjoyable as possible.”

 

Killingsworth makes a point to find time to play various sports with his three boys in the evenings
Killingsworth makes a point to find time to play various sports with his three boys in the evenings
Killingsworth makes a point to find time to play various sports with his three boys in the evenings

 

SPEED READS

  • ESPN will bring live baseball back on Tuesday with Opening Day of the Korea Baseball Organization. Baseball Prospectus' Patrick Dubuque has a fun write-up on what viewers can expect in terms of strategy and style of play. "The 'new' KBO feels like the 'old' MLB, if by old you're willing to travel back thirty years or so to the slap-hitting, pinch-hitting, pre-McGwire 1980s. ... Higher batting average, fewer strikeouts, more balls in play: the KBO is a panacea for the baseball purists who have grown tired of the three true outcomes."

  • The N.Y. Post's Larry Brooks makes the case for the structure of next month's NHL Draft to be "tied to the structure the league adopts for the continuation of the season." Brooks: "The league should recognize that in developing its plan for summer hockey. It seems to me that the best plan is the one that incorporates and energizes as many markets as possible. If the idea is to recoup as much revenue as possible, it should also be to generate as much interest as possible."

  • Sports construction giant AECOM was awarded more than $200 million in contracts by U.S. federal and state government agencies to design and manage projects related to the construction of emergency triage hospitals on the East Coast, per SBJ's Karn Dhingra. Among the projects completed was the conversion of the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center into a 450-bed facility, which began taking patients on April 10.

 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • NFL Schedule Release Will Not Include London, Mexico City Games
    • Some In NBA Circles Worried About Older Coaches, Staff In Restart Plans
    • Some MLBers Concerned About Various Side Effects Of Restart Plans
    • NHL Moves Focus Back To Four-Arena Plan After Short Deviation
    • MGM Resorts Talks To Leagues About Hosting Teams On Vegas Strip
    • NASCAR Wields Responsibility As First Major U.S. Sport Set To Return
    • USTA Official Says Moving U.S. Open To Indian Wells A Possibility
    • Oscar De La Hoya Making Plans For Boxing's Eventual Return
    • Sources: MLB Rangers Instituting Pay Cuts For Half Of Staff
    • Celtics' Steve Pagliuca Helping Lead Fight Against COVID-19

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

THE GRAND FINALE! PART 4 OF CAA WORLD CONGRESS COMES TO YOU ON MAY 6

  • We’ll have interviews with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, Fanatics Executive Chair Michael Rubin, NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, Activation Blizzard Chief Executive Pete Vlastelica, Sports Medicine Research President Dr. Daniel Eichner and top execs from Learfield IMG College, the NHL, CAA Sports and Luker on Trends.
  • There’s also a new time for the finale. Our program starts at 1:45pm ET and ends with a happy hour via Zoom from 4:00-5:00pm. Go to www.WorldCongressOfSports.com to register and gain on-demand access to dozens of interviews and sessions from the previous three World Congress episodes.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.

 

 

 

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Cashless Could Be King For Venues

The more you contemplate the return of sports, even without a single fan in the stands, the more you realize how complicated it will be.

Consider NASCAR, which has set a return date of May 17. Darlington was chosen not only because it’s a two-hour drive from the sport’s hub in Charlotte, but because it is in South Carolina, a state that has taken an aggressive posture toward the re-opening of commerce. And, still, the adjustments the sport will make to its standard event operations are mind-bending.

Think about what the NBA, NHL or MLB will face as they endeavor to re-unite players and coaches, now spread across the country. Even in a business that’s gone all in on analytics, the variables -- medical, societal and geographic, to name just a few -- can be overwhelming.

And that’s just the first step. In order to make its return last weekend, the Professional Bull Riders tour committed to a “bubble” environment locked away from outsiders, complete with social distancing, small working groups, contact tracing, masks and, yes, COVID-19 testing for a group of 140 riders, stock providers and minimal support staff required to put on the event.

The PBR’s plan -- which you can read more about in Monday’s edition of SBJ -- may not be plausible for every tour or league. After all, each is unique. But they do have a few things in common:

People. Fear. Hope.


--- Bill King

 

 

TEAMS, LEAGUES LISTEN TO CASHLESS VENUE PRESENTATION

  • Venues are going to accelerate any plans to go cashless in the wake of the pandemic in an effort to minimize cash handling, which can potentially spread the coronavirus among fans and employees. Mercedes-Benz Stadium just finished its first year going cashless, and SBJ's Karn Dhingra notes the venue gave a virtual presentation today for many in the business interested in going cashless once live sports with fans return.

  • AMB Sports & Entertainment, which operates the Atlanta venue, saved $350,000 through operating efficiencies, spread across 49 events held over the past year at the stadium. Those events brought in 2.5 million fans overall and increased food and beverage sales by 16% over the previous year. To serve fans who preferred to use cash or don’t have access to a bank account, AMBSE placed 10 “reverse ATMs” throughout M-B Stadium. Fans can insert cash and receive a universal debit card that can be used for food and beverage and merchandise purchases inside the stadium or outside the stadium.

  • In addition to safety, M-B Stadium locked in the No. 1 spot for food and beverage, including speed of service, across all NFL venues for the third consecutive year. Roughly 95% of fans noticed the same or an increase in speed at concession lines and at peak times a 20-30 second reduction in wait times

  • Which groups/teams/leagues were among the 900 registered for the virtual presentation? AMBSE exec Heather Sautter broke down the list for SBJ:

    • 28 NCAA athletic departments
    • 1 NCAA conference
    • NHL league office
    • 31 NHL teams
    • NBA league office
    • 28 NBA teams
    • NFL league office
    • 26 NFL teams (not counting the Falcons)
    • MLB league office
    • 24 MLB teams
    • 8 current MLS teams, two expansion teams
    • 1 USL club
    • 1 MiLB club
    • 36 sports venues (not counting M-B Stadium)
    • 10 team ownership groups
    • 17 vendors/partners
    • 23 non-sports venues

 

 

SPRING COLLEGE FOOTBALL WOULD COME WITH BIG CHALLENGES

  • There are many different scenarios floating around college football, one of which is to play the 2020 season in the spring of 2021. It’s clearly not the best-case scenario, but it is compelling enough that some Power 5 commissioners, like the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby, have discussed it as an alternative, albeit an unlikely one. There are many pitfalls, one of which Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel tackled: Would top players skip a spring season to get ready for the NFL combine and draft?

  • The quick answer is absolutely they would, writes SBJ’s Michael Smith. They’re already skipping bowl games to limit the threat of injury. They’d certainly pass on an entire season to protect their draft status and lessen the risk of injury, especially if the season conflicts with important NFL dates like the combine and draft.

  • In talking to several college administrators this week, very few of them see a spring football season as a viable alternative. If football moves to the spring, so does every other fall sport. That means, on a given Saturday in February and March, a campus could be hosting football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, field hockey, soccer and lacrosse competitions, just to name a few. It would be an administrative nightmare, they say. Every college administrator understands the need to collect media-rights revenue from football, but at some point the logistics just don’t work.

  • Another alternative: Play as many football games as possible in the fall, understanding that a full season might not be conceivable. Then, as a money generator, come back in the spring with a game. Each school would schedule a game for mid-to-late April, roughly the time they’d be wrapping up spring practice. It’d be an opportune time to play some of those games that never get scheduled, like Florida vs. UCF. The weather would be ideal, fans would love it and it would be an opportunity to recoup some of that lost revenue.

 

 

AHL, ECHL CLUBS AMONG BUSINESSES GETTING FEDERAL PPP LOANS

  • Minor league hockey teams from the ECHL and AHL are taking advantage of the federal government’s paycheck protection program, reports SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. Of the 26 ECHL clubs, five told SBJ that they’ve applied and received funding, including the Adirondack Thunder, Atlanta Gladiators, Fort Wayne Komets, Rapid City Rush and Indy Fuel. Three teams -- the Tulsa Oilers, Wichita Thunder and Greenville Swamp Rabbits -- said they were denied.

  • Todd Mackin, president of the Rush, said the club was approved for its eight full-time business staff, but didn’t receive funding for its five hockey operations personnel, who were classified under the league’s payroll. The Thunder, which also owns and operates Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, N.Y., received $199,000 as part of one loan, according to team President Jeff Mead. None of the ECHL clubs are directly owned by a NHL team, but the Maine Mariners are owned by Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Flyers.

  • Of the AHL’s 31 active teams, of which are 18 NHL team-owned and two are NBA team-owned, the Binghamton Devils, Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comets applied and were approved for the PPP. Jon Greenberg, president of the AHL Milwaukee Admirals, said the team applied on Monday during phase 2 of the PPP. As of presstime, the Admirals’ documents had been accepted by the Small Business Administration and the government had reserved the team’s funding, but haven’t guaranteed the loan yet.

  • “Our plan, since this ordeal began, has been to keep our entire full-staff of 18 working, knowing that as soon as this ends we will need to move into hyper-speed,” Greenberg said. “We lost eight home games due to COVID-19, which cost us not only significant ticket revenue, but concession and merchandise money -- not to mention potential playoff revenue -- as our team has the best record in the AHL and may not be able to compete for a Calder Cup. At our level, these revenues are our backbone and having the PPP program, while certainly not making us whole, will soften the blow.”

  • Teams not mentioned either didn’t apply for or fit the criteria for the loan, declined comment or didn’t respond altogether. 

  

SPORTS INNOVATION LAB'S LATEST MATRIX HIGHLIGHTS FAN BEHAVIORS

  • Sports Innovation Lab unveiled its new Power Play Index, a matrix through which industry leaders can identify the companies best suited for engaging various fan behaviors. Sports Innovation Lab co-founder Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympic hockey player and SBJ "Forty Under 40" honoree, told SBJ's Chris Smith there are roughly a dozen facets through which fans engage with sports, and the index will rank the standouts in each category. “Any type of action that you want your fans to do, it’s ‘fan engagement, fan engagement,’” said Ruggiero. “We took a really close look at that and we said, ‘What does that actually mean?’ If engagement leads to revenue, can we break that up?” 

  • The first engagement framework the company examined is Connect, which identifies the technology providers that are best positioned to engage with fans through things like digital displays, mobile messaging and touchless transactions. “When the industry is ready to start allowing fans back in the building … what are the things that [fans] are going to need to have the trust to come into the building? And if you’re not investing today in those technology partners … you’re not going to have the necessary tools and partnerships to make sure your fans feel safe and secure,” said Ruggiero.

  • The index ranks companies by tech capability and market validation, as measured by established partnerships with sports properties. Extreme Networks scored top marks, thanks to strong tech -- namely, Wi-Fi 6 and machine learning built into its stadium-specific networks -- and widespread adoption from major sports partners in the NFL, MLS and NCAA

  • Ruggiero said the Power Play Index has been a goal for the company since it was founded three years ago, and its launch was recently accelerated to provide a data-driven tool to industry leaders as they adapt to the ongoing public health crisis. Ruggiero expects her company will roll out indices for the remaining fan engagement pathways, like Bet and Share, about once a month. 

 

Extreme Networks scored top marks, largely thanks Wi-Fi 6 and machine learning built into its stadium-specific networks
Extreme Networks scored top marks, largely thanks Wi-Fi 6 and machine learning built into its stadium-specific networks
Extreme Networks scored top marks, largely thanks Wi-Fi 6 and machine learning built into its stadium-specific networks

 

MLS OPENING UP OUTDOOR PRACTICES TO FOUR PLAYERS PER FIELD

  • MLS confirmed a report from SBJ’s Mark J. Burns detailing how clubs would be allowed to open up outdoor practice fields for voluntary individual training beginning on Wednesday, May 6. Teams must follow local public health and government policies as they allow access to their training grounds. As part of the new protocol, players won’t have access to their training building. The training policy outlines each outdoor field being divided into a maximum of four quadrants, with one player per quadrant training alone without sharing any equipment. Between every session, all training equipment and spaces will be sanitized and disinfected. There will be hand-washing and disinfectant stations for required use before and after the training sessions.

  • Some of the other procedures include players wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) from the parking lot to the field and back to their vehicle. Essential staff must also wear PPE throughout training and maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet from players. Additional measures include players undergoing a standard screening assessment survey before arriving each time at the training grounds as well as temperature checks as they arrive at the facility. Players and staff will have staggered arrivals and departures.

  • With the announcement, the MLS moratorium on small group and full team training also continues through May 15.

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH PRODIGY SEARCH’S MARK GRESS

  • Prodigy Search Partner Mark Gress has a temporary-constructed office in his basement in Philadelphia and has been pleased with how quiet and surprisingly strong the Wi-Fi is down there. Gress has also enjoyed having breakfast and lunch with his wife and two boys (ages 8 and 1) each day. “We try to work with our older son to get two or three homework assignments done before 9:00am, which is fun attempting to do so with minimal coffee consumed by that time,” he said.

  • Prodigy has long used Slack for internal communication, and while some clients have asked to use Zoom, many have continued to prefer phone and email, Gress said. The current climate is certainly difficult for hiring new employees, something Prodigy is well aware of. “Our outreach to (clients) has to be sensitive but we are letting them know we are ready to go when they are, we have candidates in the pipeline or that we’re otherwise here to help,” Gress said. He estimated roughly half of Prodigy’s searches are still active, just at a slower pace, and the other half are on pause.

  • Gress has learned a certain method to making the days go by smoothly. “My older son has benefited the most via Amazon purchases as payment, or bribery, for watching our younger son and helping my wife and I,” he said. “We’ve been taking turns with our youngest and utilizing nap times to the fullest.” Gress also is trying to look on the bright side of the current situation. “This whole thing has been a blessing in disguise in one respect,” he said. “For example, my college friends set up bi-weekly Zoom calls and whomever is free can join just to say hi and check in.”

  • Advice for others? “Keep in touch as much as possible,” Gress said. “It helps with sanity for one but two keeps you engaged. It isn’t about checking on if you are doing work, it is telling people what you are working on or offering to help others where they need help without the human contact.”

 

Gress enjoying the peace and quiet of his temporary basement office in Philadelphia
Gress enjoying the peace and quiet of his temporary basement office in Philadelphia
Gress enjoying the peace and quiet of his temporary basement office in Philadelphia

 

SPEED READS

  • The NBA has officially postponed this month’s Draft Lottery and Combine. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the league’s board of governors “held off on formally pushing back the June 25 Draft date -- although sources still expect that will eventually be done.” Yahoo Sports’ Keith Smith tweeted: “One silver lining that a team just told me: ‘We feel like this is better news than ever that we'll finish the season. Can't have the lottery without the standings being locked. We feel like we'll finish the year.’"

  • Women in Sports & Events (WISE) has postponed its awards luncheon, originally slated for June 10, to March 16, 2021, reports SBJ's Ben Fischer. It will stay at the original location, the Ziegfeld Ballroom in Manhattan. The previously announced honorees are NHL Exec VP/Club Business Affairs Susan Cohig; Disney Springs, Water Parks & ESPN Wide World of Sports Senior VP Rosalyn Durant; Wasserman President of Brands & Properties Elizabeth Lindsey and MLS President & Chief Administrative Officer JoAnn Neale. The group’s WISE/R symposium has also been postponed, and will occur on March 15, 2021, at the TimesCenter in N.Y.

  • The sports shutdown hasn’t stopped the Wilpon family, which still owns the Mets, from making a new tech investment. Fortune.com notes the family’s investment vehicle, Sterling.VC, which operates esports teams competing in Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, was part of a recent $7 million round of funding for San Francisco-based Guilded, which has created a chat platform for gaming communities.

  • ESPN Radio Nashville host Chase McCabe said NASCAR’s May 17 return at Darlington Speedway is a welcome chance for the circuit to be the “only show in town.” McCabe: “This is a huge opportunity for a sport that lost a ton of momentum, then started to get some of it back last year with the revamped rules package.” McCabe also said NASCAR finally “had the right people in place” last year with Jim France and Steve Phelps. McCabe: “I think they’re going to get people tuning in that have never watched NASCAR before simply because there’s a live sport on.” 
  • Virginia is the latest school to see salary reductions, as AD Carla Williams and 71 head coaches, assistant coaches and staff members from the athletic department will take pay cuts through the end of the calendar year. The Hampton Roads Daily Press notes all 20 head coaches “volunteered” for the reductions, which were “either 5% or 10% based on level of annual salary.”

  • Golf.com’s Alan Shipnuck shed light on the risk the PGA Tour could run by coming back too soon in Ft. Worth in six weeks. “If the Tour rushes back to action and there is an outbreak of the virus among players, caddies and/or support staff, the plug would have to be pulled for a very long time to reassess protocols, repair the brand damage and restore trust among the many stakeholders," he said. "The position of the Tour leadership was that they had to cobble together a new schedule and be ready to go ASAP, but ultimately they will be flexible and willing to push things back further.” 

  • Tomorrow will mark the first time since 1945 that the first Saturday in May isn’t highlighted by the Kentucky Derby. But for those seeking a solid mint julep before the re-scheduled Running of the Roses in September, Woodford Reserve, a Derby sponsor, will be on Twitter tomorrow at 2pm ET showing fans how to make their own drink. 


 

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

  • During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:

    • NASCAR Is All Engines Go For May Restart At Darlington
    • Many In NBA Circles Still Optimistic About Finishing Out Season
    • Sources: NHL Now Focusing On Playing Games In Home Arenas
    • MLB Teams Preparing To Use Home Ballparks To Finish Spring Training
    • Mets, Yankees Face Some Backlash For Ticket Refund Policies
    • MLS Allows Clubs To Open Outdoor Training Grounds Next Week
    • Stars To Furlough 20% Of Front Office Staff For Two Months
    • Smaller Tennis Competitions Fill Void From Tours On Pause
    • Pistons, Nets Owners Team Up To Help Detroit Fight Virus

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

THE GRAND FINALE! PART 4 OF CAA WORLD CONGRESS COMES TO YOU ON MAY 6

  • We’ll have interviews with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, Fanatics Executive Chair Michael Rubin, NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, Activation Blizzard Chief Executive Pete Vlastelica, Sports Medicine Research President Dr. Daniel Eichner and top execs from Learfield IMG College, the NHL, CAA Sports and Luker on Trends.
  • There’s also a new time for the finale. Our program starts at 1:45pm ET and ends with a happy hour via Zoom from 4:00-5:00pm. Go to www.WorldCongressOfSports.com to register and gain on-demand access to dozens of interviews and sessions from the previous three World Congress episodes.

 

 

Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.