SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Consumer Demand Evident In Brady Jersey Sales
The news got worse each day this week. Even as I’m writing this, headlines are filled with lockdowns in California, Illinois, New York. Our borders to both the north and south are closed, and all experts have warned that the situation will get worse before it gets better.
Still, there have been heartwarming signs in this long and weird week starting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who has become the unquestioned leader of the sports business, consistently setting the agenda for his colleagues. His Wednesday night interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols is a case-in-point. He struck the perfect chord with his tone and demeanor, combining seriousness with humility and optimism. His idea for a charity game involving medically cleared NBA players was praised throughout the industry.
As I reported stories this week, I was struck by the amount of optimism throughout the country’s media companies. Make no mistake: media executives understand that there’s a long, painful road ahead as our country deals with this worldwide pandemic. But there’s optimism that when we do get through this, sports will be a vehicle used to bring normalcy back to American lives.
To that end, our lead story tonight is not about the effects of the virus. It’s about the power of sports and the ability of one player to lift the spirits of an entire market.
Stay safe, everybody.
– John Ourand
BRADY ADDITION MOVES BUCS GEAR UP THE CHARTS
- Outside of packaged goods -- especially toilet paper, it seems -- American consumer demand is at ebb tide, according to SBJ’s Terry Lefton. However, Tom Brady’s defection to Tampa Bay after 20 years and six rings with the Patriots had NFL fans reaching for their mouse and credit card to buy his Buccaneers jerseys today -- the first day it was available. Brady's jersey was the top seller during the last regular season and it was a top-five seller over the past 10 seasons.
- However, with the Bucs set to release a new jersey design next month, the sites are showing nothing but a plain white jersey with Brady’s name on it, and the number “0,” along with proviso that the product will be shipped “no later than July 17.”
- Nonetheless, across the Fanatics networks of sites, which includes NFLshop.com, Brady is the top-selling player, and the Bucs are the top-selling NFL team. The Patriots are second. More Bucs licensed goods have been sold today on those sites than during the past two weeks.
USA SWIMMING PUSHING USOPC TO CALL FOR OLYMPIC POSTPONEMENT
- Tim Hinchey, CEO of USA Swimming, formally requested that the USOPC advocate for postponing the Olympics until 2021, according to SBJ’s Chris Smith. In a letter to USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland, Hinchey wrote: “Our world-class swimmers are always willing to race anyone, anytime and anywhere; however, pressing forward amidst the global health crisis this summer is not the answer. … Our athletes are under tremendous pressure, stress and anxiety, and their mental health and wellness should be among the highest priorities."
- This marks the first time an NGB openly has pushed back against the USOPC, which earlier today reiterated its intention to compete in Tokyo. Hinchey told SBJ that the decision to speak out was the result of “a lot of listening” and the realization that USA Swimming needed to provide guidance not just to its Olympic hopefuls, but to the thousands of swimmers at lower levels of the sport. “As an organization and as a leadership team, it became more important for us to focus on the health and safety of everyone,” said Hinchey. In response, Hirshland and USOPC Chair Susanne Lyons released a statement that promised the concerns would be relayed, but that the USOPC would grant the IOC the "opportunity to gather more data and expert advice before insisting that a decision be made."
- A postponement would have tremendous financial impacts for USA Swimming, which would lose this year’s Olympic Trials, currently scheduled for June 21-28. The event draws more than 200,000 fans to Omaha every four years, and in 2016, USA Swimming reported $4.6 million in total event revenues, which are typically less than $1 million in non-Trials years. For now, USA Swimming still is proceeding as if the Trials will run on schedule. The current back-up plan is a closed-door Trials without fans, and Hinchey says Plan C is to select the Olympic team based on past performances, though details of that system have not yet been finalized.
GOODELL PENS LETTER TO "NFL FAMILY"
- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter to the “NFL family” on Thursday about the COVID-19 pandemic, thanking staffers for their hard work and providing rationale for keeping offseason league business going during the crisis. “We are hopefully providing our fans a small but welcomed respite from the critical matters at hand with some exciting football news and optimism about the upcoming season,” Goodell wrote in the letter obtained by SBJ’s Ben Fischer. He also suggested the NFL will be rolling out more plans in response to the crisis.
- “While there have been changes to the way we work and some of our plans, we have an unwavering commitment to upholding the NFL’s legacy of unifying and lifting the spirit of America, and bringing out the best in our fans and in our communities around the world,” Goodell said. “You’ll hear more from us in the days and weeks ahead about how we intend to demonstrate that commitment well beyond our fields. And I hope you'll share your ideas on how we can do that.”
COLLEGES STILL WORKING WITH ATHLETES
- College athletes have access to physical therapy, mental health care, academic support, nutrition and most other services from the athletic department, even as campuses shut down, SBJ’s Michael Smith reports. Many athletes have decided to return home to wait out the pandemic, but others, including foreign athletes and those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, are opting to stay in off-campus housing.
- By staying in town, an athlete who might be recovering from a surgery would be able to continue physical therapy at the school’s training center or a university health center where they can be screened before being admitted. Those sessions are being scheduled by appointment so trainers can control the number of people. Nutrition staffs also are preparing food that athletes can pick up.
- As college athletes transition to online classes for the remainder of the spring semester, academic support personnel are working with them through virtual study sessions, Cal AD Jim Knowlton said. He’s relying on coaches to stay in regular contact with their players. Knowlton: “We’re trying to keep our thumb on the pulse of how they’re doing personally, how they’re doing academically, how they’re dealing with things. We’re taking care of the people first and then we’ll worry about what’s happening with the NCAA and the Pac-12.”
- College ADs are preparing for a different financial reality. What does that look like? Read Smith’s story in SBJ on Monday.
1HUDDLE WORKING WITH TEAMS ON REMOTE WORK TRANSITION
- Over the past few days, Sam Caucci, founder & CEO of 1Huddle, has heard from several teams who say they likely will be pulling back on recruiting and cutting seasonal hires. Caucci hasn’t heard as much about full-time staff being laid off. “It is the wrong decision to pull back on engaging with any workforce you are cutting or laying off,” Caucci said.
- Caucci has had many calls with pro teams on how to transition their work force to a remote work setting, SBJ's Karn Dhingra reports. 1Huddle, a mobile and online learning platform to train ticket sales and gameday staff, counts Legends Hospitality, Monumental Sports, MSG, the Dodgers, Lightning and Nets among its clients, has made its platform free for teams willing to offer the service to their frontline labor force.
VIEWERSHIP UP FOR WHISTLE SPORTS AS GAMES GO DARK
- Whistle Sports' total watch time is at a three-year high, with long-form content getting the biggest boost, company execs told SBJ’s Chris Smith. Through the first three weeks of March, consumption of Whistle’s YouTube content on smart TVs and gaming consoles is up 200% over January.
- Whistle President Michael Cohen sees the lull in on-field action as an opportunity for his media company. “Now is a great time to be attaching talent,” says Cohen. “We have the ability to package great talent into the studio projects that we’re working on, and there’s a great window to do that right now.” Studio projects already in the works include the Steph Curry-produced “Benedict Men” for Quibi and “Legacy,” an upcoming series featuring Dwyane Wade, Evander Holyfield, Randall Cunningham and their children.
- Potential programming strategies include re-editing and sharing archived footage on social media, producing more text-based content and curating user-generated videos. That’s in addition to unreleased episodes already in the can. “We are shot pretty far ahead,” said Joe Caporoso, Whistle Senior VP/Content & Brand Platforms. Upcoming episodes of the show “Bad Jokes” will feature Dikembe Mutombo, Muggsy Bogues and Gary Payton.
SPECTRA WORKING TO DISTRIBUTE FOOD FROM ITS VENUES
- Philadelphia-based concessionaire Spectra is working with the Food Recovery Network to donate and distribute food from venues with canceled events due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to SBJ's Karn Dhingra.
- In many cases, Spectra’s vendors already work with local groups to donate excess food, Spectra VP/Culinary Excellence Scott Swiger said: Where they don’t, Food Recovery Network will step in to help the concessionaire. Spectra mostly has held off making any big food and beverage orders as it clears perishable items from its venues. “It varies some by the facility and what's happening, so it depends if a season canceled or is it being pushed back and rescheduled, but we're going to be ready to go once things come back,” Swiger said.
- Some examples: Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, the spring training home for the D-backs and Rockies, donated five pallets of perishable goods to First Step, a division of St. Mary's Food Bank and the Phoenix Rescue Mission. In the college ranks, Wake Forest athletics donated fresh produce to the local Salvation Army.
NBA 2K LEAGUE TO LAUNCH TOURNAMENT
- The NBA 2K League is rolling out “NBA 2KL Three for All Showdown,” an online 3-on-3 tournament where fan-organized teams, female 2K players and social media influencers will compete for the chance to play against NBA 2K League teams and a share of a $25,000 prize pool, SBJ’s John Lombardo reports.
- The tournament will have two stages: the first will feature 32 fan-organized teams competing against each other March 27-29. The second stage takes place March 31-April 3. Each bracket will be best-of-three games series, with the final round matchups being best-of-five.
A FOCUS ON YOUTH SPORTS
- Pro and college sports aren’t the only ones shut down now, as winter turns to spring. So are youth sports, SBJ’s Bill King says. Tomorrow morning, millions will wake up with no games, practices or tournaments for their kids. What does that mean to parents and grandparents and coaches and mentors? And what does it mean to all those kids?
- Tom Farrey, the director of the Aspen Institute’s Sport & Society Program, says he hopes absence will lead to even greater fondness for youth sports -- and a re-examination of the direction it has taken in the U.S. “We’re going to want it that much more for our children,” Farrey said. “My hope is that we’re going to want it for all children, not just those in our own home, but kids from lower-income neighborhoods and maybe the kids who aren’t the best athletes who get pushed aside from travel team tryouts. (I hope) we really come back and make room for all those kids because sports is an extraordinary experience and we’re being denied it.”
- For more from Farrey, including recommendations on how to work through this with your kids, grandkids and teams, check out today’s SBJ Unpacks podcast.
- Beginning Monday, XFL players, whose season was formally canceled today, will be free to sign with NFL or CFL teams upon execution of an XFL notice of contract termination, according to SBJ's Ben Fischer. The XFL, NFL and CFL offices have finalized protocol for an XFL player to execute such a notice concurrent with signing an NFL or CFL contract. If an XFL player requests to be released to play for any other pro league, the XFL league office will send the notice to the player and approve his release upon execution of the notice. If NFL or CFL teams conduct tryouts in April or May, XFL players will be permitted to participate while remaining under contract with the XFL. However, XFL players must execute a waiver and release form prior to participating in any tryout.
- USTA Managing Director of Corporate Communications Chris Widmaier tells SBJ's Thomas Leary that with ATP and WTA events canceled through June 7, the U.S. Open Series -- set to begin July 12 -- would represent the “perfect leadup” to the U.S. Open in late August. But whether those seven events, beginning with the Hall of Fame Open in Newport, R.I., remain on the schedule is top of the mind amid daily communications between the USTA, ATP and WTA. Widmaier: “This is a time for over communication and coordination. … We’re going into this with wide eyes and trying to gather as much information as we can from medical and security experts. … There are so many variables, you just can’t really put a stake in the ground at this point.”
- Overwatch League was due to start online-only games this weekend, but California’s stay-at-home order affected production plans for the event to the extent that the league has called off call games, according to SBJ's Adam Stern. The Activision Blizzard Esports group is working on re-adjusting productions plans for upcoming weeks. For Riot Games, the company's League of Legends online-only competitions in North America, Europe and South Korea are all just getting re-started.
- Even if the Olympics do happen, ESPN's Rachel Nichols wouldn't expect NBA players in Tokyo at this point. Appearing on Barstool’s “Pardon My Take” podcast, she had this to say about the best ballers in the world playing for their respective countries: "I just don’t see a way the NBA is sending our elite players ... because I think those guys will be in the playoffs."
- Santa Anita Park outside Los Angeles continued to race today, despite the statewide stay-at-home order put in place last night by Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to SBJ's Liz Mullen. "I don't know the machinations of it, but we got OK-ed," said Santa Anita Director of Publicity Mike Willman. Meanwhile, TVG and NBC horse racing analyst Britney Eurton yesterday tweeted that she is self-quarantining after interacting with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. On March 14, Eurton interviewed New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton, who revealed yesterday that he tested positive for the virus. "She has no symptoms," Eurton's agent Sandy Montag said. "She feels fine."
- At a time when there’s no live sports content, archival specialist Heritage Werks has seen a spike in demand, with every sports property looking for content . That’s resulted largely in “This day is in YOUR TEAM’s history” features for web sites or social teams of times that were already Heritage Werks clients -- around 20, Executive Director Charlie Turano told SBJ’s Terry Lefton. “We trying to provide more touchpoints for teams, at a time that this history and tradition jumps to the forefront,” Turano said. “And most of our researchers were already working from home, so…”
- At presstime, the Bruins remain the only active NHL club which has yet to publicly announce any financial support for gameday arena workers or hourly employees, which led Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to deliver these strong comments to the Boston Herald: “Do something for their workers. Every other team has said they are going to provide financial support for hourly workers who have been hurt by this, and that runs the range of paying their salaries or paying for their living expenses. … I just want them to act now.”
- The NBA has launched "NBA Together," a global community and social engagement campaign around the coronavirus pandemic. The NBA is looking to raise more than $50 million to support people impacted by the coronavirus, an effort that includes the more than $30 million financial commitment already made by NBA and WNBA teams and players to date.
SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19
- ICYMI: Check out the most recent editions of our "SBJ Unpacks" podcasts around COVID-19:
- Tom Farrey of the Aspen Institute's Sport & Society Program talks about the impact of a pandemic on youth sports.
- SBJ examines the pandemic's impact on sports sponsorships with AJ Maestas of Navigate Research.
- Attorney Mikaela Whitman talks about how sports businesses are answering the question, “Am I covered?” and what the insurance market will look like when events return.
- Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill U.S., joins to discuss COVID-19’s impact on sports betting.
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