Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 26 No. 134
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- IOC On The Clock

 

Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams set the tone for Monday when he issued a warning: “This week, it’s going to get bad.” Adams was sternly voicing his concern that Americans aren’t doing enough to distance themselves from others.

By this afternoon, Adams’ words appeared prophetic, although not in the way he intended. Veteran Canadian IOC member Dick Pound predicted the Tokyo 2020 Games will be postponed, echoing similar remarks made earlier Monday by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The IOC continues to say it’s evaluating options, but most Olympic insiders believe the only question is when the Games will be rescheduled, not if.

-- Michael Smith
 

 

SOURCES: COACHES DROVE CONCERN WITHIN USA SWIMMING

  • USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey’s request for USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland to seek a postponement of the Tokyo Olympics last Friday came after more than two weeks of concerned calls from swim coaches around the country, sources told SBJ’s Ben Fischer. The outbreak earlier this month started to disrupt preparations for the normally-blockbuster U.S. Swimming Trials in late June. At that same point just a few weeks ago, IOC President Thomas Bach said the words “cancellation” or “postponement” weren’t even discussed at an IOC board meeting.

  • Only about 50 swimmers make Team USA, but more than 1,700 typically post times that qualify them for the trials, a 10-day event that sells more than 200,000 tickets to CHI Health Center in Omaha in June. The moment campuses started to close training facilities, swimmers who use those pools registered their concerns to USA Swimming's HQ in Colorado Springs -- complaints about fairness considering not all pools were closed, and their own safety.

  • Last Friday, USA Swimming held five back-to-back conference calls with 80 national team athletes, open-water swimmers who have already qualified, coaches and Omaha Sport Commission leaders. It produced an overwhelming consensus behind sending the letter. Hirshland knew it was coming, but Hinchey didn’t tell other national governing body leaders on a conference call of the NGB Council that same day. Since then, others have joined the call to postpone and now it appears to be a virtual certainty.

  • Late this afternoon, USA Gymnastics joined USA Swimming and USA Track & Field in advocating for the IOC to formally postpone the Olympics. Those are the three biggest U.S. NGBs during any Summer Games, and they combined to win 77 out of Team USA’s 121 medals in Rio 2016.

 

VIRTUAL RACING A BIG SUCCESS FOR NASCAR

  • NASCAR’s virtual race on Sunday provided the industry with a strong boost from all corners of the sport, SBJ’s Adam Stern writes. The race was called the Pro Invitational Series and it aired on FS1, giving it the look and feel of an actual race at a time when there are practically no live events. NASCAR, Fox Sports, teams and drivers came together over the past 10 days to put together this unique presentation of simulated racing. 

  • The broader sports world took notice. The event on the iRacing platform -- which was co-founded by Roush Fenway Racing co-owner John Henry in 2004 with Dave Kaemmer, who runs the business as CEO -- took over the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter by mid-race and remained either No. 1 or No. 2 for close to three hours, including after the race as positive reviews flooded in after a photo finish. Race winner Denny Hamlin, who edged out the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a last-lap, last-turn pass, said he did more media interviews and appearances for yesterday’s win than he does for a normal race, aside from his two Daytona 500 victories.

  • iRacing runs on PCs and some younger or less successful drivers have very rudimentary setups. But Hamlin, a veteran driver at Joe Gibbs Racing, has a rig that costs around $40,000 and includes motion elements that, for example, will tilt his body one way or the other as he drives on banked turns.

  • The virtual series will continue this weekend from Texas Motor Speedway, and is expected to again be aired by Fox, which had both talent and producers practicing social distancing methods yesterday at its Charlotte studios. The invitational, the opening race in the series, produced rounds of good feedback for NASCAR at a time when a diversion was welcomed. Fox also sold ads for the broadcast, which might prove promising as NASCAR looks to grow the series.

 

 

ENDEAVOR HALTS EQUITY BUYBACK PAYMENTS

  • Endeavor has suspended equity buyback payments to agents and execs due to the economic uncertainty related to the pandemic, SBJ's Liz Mullen reports. The payments were set to be made April 5. It was going to be the second opportunity for WME and IMG agents and Endeavor execs to liquidate equity in the absence of Endeavor being a public company. Endeavor withdrew its IPO last September.

 

ANHEUSER-BUSCH REDIRECTS DOLLARS TO FIRST RESPONDERS

  • According to an early evening note from Anheuser-Busch VP/Partnerships Nick Kelly, the brewer will redirect $5 million of its marketing activation budget to support COVID-19 first responders through the American Red Cross. Kelly wrote: “We are working closely with the Red Cross to identify locations that could help facilitate these donations and may reach out soon for assistance. … In the meantime, we are converting our company’s tour centers in Fort Collins, CO, Merrimack, NH, and Saint Louis, MO to conduct daily blood drives and will be donating media air time to the Red Cross in support of their public service announcements. Budweiser will launch a campaign Tuesday that heroes those on the front lines and asks Americans to consider donating blood at one of the Red Cross’s many locations."

 

POSTPONED OLYMPICS HURTS FITNESS PARTICIPATION NUMBERS

  • The prospects of a postponed Olympics represent yet another open wound for sporting-goods manufacturers, notes SBJ's Terry Lefton. Sports & Fitness Industry Association President Tom Cove talked about consumers being forced indoors, retailers remaining shuttered and Asian supply lines being weakened. Cove: “Whenever we have a big Summer Olympics and the U.S. teams do well, those sports go up in participation. It doesn’t look like that will happen this year. We normally get an Olympic bounce for sports like swimming, gymnastics, track and field and volleyball. … But the biggest impact will be on the big brand campaigns and product launches.”

  • Other early casualties: gyms, fitness centers and youth sports. With revenue for Q2 looking miniscule or nonexistent, “our companies have to conserve cash,” Cove said. “Where are you going to stop cash outflow? It starts with employees.’’ Companies are dealing with that differently, he said. Some are furloughing, but still paying health insurance, some are laying off, and some are going with reduced hours or reduced pay.

  • As for the shutdown’s impact on fitness participation? Cove: “We anticipate a significant pent-up demand by the third quarter, but the idea of trying to put everything from 12 months into a six-month period means a lot of challenges.”

 

 

BALLPARK DEBUT ON HOLD, SO RANGERS PRESS ON

  • While the large majority of the Rangers' staff is working remotely, longtime Exec VP/Communications John Blake occasionally walks around the team's new ballpark, Globe Life Field, a routine that offers a brief respite from unrelenting COVID-19 coverage, SBJ's Eric Prisbell writes. Today was supposed to have been the first-ever baseball game at the ballpark, an exhibition between the Rangers and the Cardinals, but of course there is no telling when baseball will be back.

  • Until baseball returns, the Rangers' social media team is trying to be very selective in creating content to post, Blake said, and not doing it all in bulk. From a broadcasting perspective, the Rangers' RSN, FS Southwest, will broadcast highlighted games from 2019 in the time slots that their 2020 games would have been scheduled, beginning with Opening Day on March 26. Blake is also working with their radio rights holder to continue some of their weekly programming that they carry in the off-season.

  • Like all franchises, the Rangers are adjusting and trying to maintain as many lines of communication as possible. "Our executive group is in close daily contact and I'm doing the same with my communications team," Blake said. "We are in a unique position of having a new ballpark that continues to undergo finishing touches but for the most part is shut down. On the media side, I'm doing regularly scheduled update conference calls with [GM] Jon Daniels as circumstances warrant. But of paramount concern and attention right now is everyone's health and safety. That's the only priority."

 

INTER MIAMI GETS CREATIVE WITH TEAM LOGO

  • Inter Miami CF has a new, temporary logo that encourages social distancing during the pandemic. It features a separation of what would normally be two interlocked white herons, SBJ’s Mark J. Burns reports. The creative alteration occurred over a 24-hour time span this weekend and launched today. The new MLS club plans to promote similar messaging on social media throughout the week.

  • There’s no determined timeline for how long the new logo will run for, according to team VP/ Community Engagement Chris Allan, as the team takes a “week-by-week approach.” Allan: “Our goal is to service our fans, our staff and community alike, while supporting key messages from organizations such as the CDC.”

 

 

CONFERENCE CALLS NOW THE DAILY NORM FOR MANY ADs

  • Ohio State AD Gene Smith, like his peers, spends most of his time on conference calls, SBJ’s Michael Smith reports. Most days, he can count on four calls -- one with staff, one with the Big Ten, one with the university and one with coaches -- and that's just the minimum. The Big Ten has been conducting daily calls with its ADs, as have the Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and SEC. It’s an opportunity to share the latest news and best practices from one campus to another. While most conferences are using Zoom or Skype to connect, Smith said he’s an old-fashioned call-in guy.

  • Smith relayed a story about the last in-person senior staff meeting he conducted last week. In the practice of social distancing, the staff met in a large ballroom and there was one person per table. “We were more than 10 feet apart,” Smith said. “That was the last time that we were all actually in the office.”

 

CONCESSIONAIRES MAKING LARGE FOOD DONATIONS AROUND U.S.

  • Thousands of pounds of food from canceled or postponed events have been donated by major concessionaires across the country, SBJ's Karn Dhingra reports. Aramark, Centerplate, Delaware North and Levy have directed staff at venues under their management to send perishable food to food banks and non-profits in communities across the country.
  • Aramark has donated 10,760 pounds of food, including 3,300 pounds going from Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

  • Sodexo-owned Centerplate has an ongoing program to donate perishable food items and care packages to hourly employees during the pandemic. Centerplate sent 800 banquet-ready meals to several local organizations, including Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, which supports the homeless and “food-insecure” in Raleigh. Centerplate worked with the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina for distributing the meals.

  • Delaware North’s Sportservice has donated 32,005 pounds of food from its venues, including 6,500 pounds from Little Caesars Arena to local charities in Detroit

  • More than 30 Levy properties have donated about 90,000 pounds of surplus food, which is nearly 40 tons. Staples Center sent 7,000 pounds of food to the Midnight Mission in L.A. and State Farm Arena moved 10,785 pounds to Goodr, a company that helps venues reduce their food waste and distribute food to non-profits, and Second Helpings Atlanta.

 

HORSE RACING CONTINUES IN SOME PLACES, STOPPED ELSEWHERE

  • SBJ's Liz Mullen notes with horse racing being regulated at the state level and operated without a single league office or commissioner, decisions are all over the map in response to COVID-19. NYRA suspended racing at Aqueduct last week after a worker tested positive, but on the other side of the country, Santa Anita Park was open for spectator-less racing Friday through Sunday and took in $17.2 million in wagering dollars from online sources, Mullen reports. The racing is being allowed by the California Horse Racing Board and Gov. Gavin Newsom because the horses cannot be moved and need to run. Santa Anita Director of Publicity Mike Willman told SBJ. "We were pleased with yesterday’s pari-mutuel handle of $7.1 million and we will continue to donate our profits to charity."

  • NBCSN decided not to simulcast TVG's "Trackside Live" over the weekend, citing concerns around the virus. "We aim to simulcast the coverage next weekend," the network said. Meanwhile, the Dubai World Cup, a $12 million race that attracts some of the best horses and jockeys around the world, also announced that it would be postponed until 2021 to "safeguard the health of all participants."

 

 

SPEED READS

  • In case you haven’t read it yet, SBJ Publisher & Executive Editor Abe Madkour offered a message for readers and the sports industry worth clicking on. Madkour: “My message is simple: You are not alone. We are all feeling this uncertainty. But this industry must collaborate like never before. It’s on us collectively to talk to each other and share ideas, best practices, learnings and failures. Communicate, reach out and find ways our respective organizations can help during this challenging time. Let’s not have the history books say that the sports industry didn’t do its part in leading the world through this unprecedented moment.”

  • March Madness headlines the list of canceled events this month, which prompted Kagan’s media research analysts to come up with these numbers:

    • $902 million -- amount expected to be paid by Turner and CBS in licensing fees for March Madness.
    • $968 million -- revenue generated from advertising from last year's men's NCAA tournament. Turner/CBS already said it had sold out of ad inventory.
    • $60,000 to $75,000 -- cost for a 30-second spot in NCAA early round play.
    • $950,000 -- cost for an ad in the championship game.

    • Of note: Turner will take a bigger hit on the cancellation of March Madness because it was Turner’s year to carry the Final Four, Kagan said.

  • ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reports NHL players and teams “largely shied away from interviews” last week, but that “could change in the coming days, as the league understands the importance of staying relevant.” Meanwhile, players are “getting tested on a case-by-case basis.” Kaplan: “We haven't seen full teams order tests for their players from private companies, like we've seen in the NBA, and according to sources, the NHL testing so far has focused mainly on those who are showing symptoms.” 

  • Ratings for Fox’s Sunday afternoon NFL package have been stronger than CBS in recent years, and with Tom Brady headed from the AFC to the NFC for 2020, Colin Cowherd was quick to note the effects: “Good day for Fox. For years and years, CBS made a lot of money putting Tom Brady on those late [afternoon] games. … Tampa and Tom Brady next year face Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. The L.A. RamsDrew Brees twice. Those are all national TV games. Those are great watches. … Conversely, New England now -- which CBS has leaned on -- is an absolute snooze.” One thing to note, writes SBJ's Austin Karp, the NFL in recent years has more frequently cross-flexed Sunday national windows for Fox and CBS, meaning Brady may still get some time on CBS.

  • Most sports facility construction continues, evidenced by the football operations center on Georgia's campus. DPR Construction, the company that employs the workers, told the Athens Banner-Herald that activity at the site "continued on Monday." The $80 million project will "add an expanded weight room, coaches’ offices, a locker room, meeting rooms and a sports medicine facility."

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told Madison Square Garden officials that it would not need to use its facilities as a site for a coronavirus hospital during the crisis, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann reported via Twitter. “The military is setting up a field hospital just blocks away from the Garden at the Javits Convention Center making MSG redundant geographically,” Olbermann tweeted.

  • F1 is getting racing online in the same way as NASCAR, Tobias Seck of Esports Observer -- a sister publication of SBJ -- notes . Esports organization Veloce was the first to make a foray after the cancellation of the Australian GP a couple of weeks ago, but leading up to this past weekend's canceled Bahrain GP, F1 itself became a competitor, joining up with esports outfit Gfinity. The F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, featuring a number of current F1 drivers, will also use the official "F1 2019" PC video game, developed by Codemasters.
  • Olympians such as Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Shaun White, Aly Raisman, Nathan Adrian, Alana Blanchard, Natalie Coughlin, Hannah Teter, Kelly Clark and Seth Wescott are among those who have donated a signed item to raise money for its COVID-19 charitable effort, Octagon’s Athletes For Relief. Fans who donate to the funds are eligible to win an autographed item. All proceeds benefit the Center for Disease Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which supports local non-profits working in highly impacted and vulnerable areas.

 


SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

 

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.