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Volume 27 No. 8
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SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Summer Semester For College Football?

As we come to the end of the week, LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan summed it up well when he told me: “Right now, two days in coronavirus time seems like two weeks.”

Consider just how much has changed over the dizzying course of the past five days. In a week that began with the not-unexpected, but nonetheless jarring delay of the Olympics until 2021 and included Thursday's missed Opening Day for MLB, there was a steady stream of other postponements and cancellations, along with layoffs and salary cuts as the impact of the coronavirus cut deep.

The outlook continues to be grim as the virus spreads across the U.S., which now leads the world in confirmed cases. As the numbers and casualties mount, President Trump this afternoon signed into law a $2 trillion relief package.

One news nugget of note that came during all the turmoil of the week is Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s deal to buy the Forum from MSG for a reported $400 million, a move that helps clears the way for Ballmer to build his planned $1 billion self-funded arena in Inglewood, Calif.

It’s not the price that the billionaire Ballmer paid that is striking or that the agreement itself is all that earth-shattering. Instead, the deal stands as a reminder that at some point -- and no really knows when -- the sports industry eventually will bounce back and games will resume.


-- John Lombardo
  

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL LOOKING AT ALTERNATIVES FOR 2020

  • Amid a growing concern that the college football season could be pushed back, or even canceled, an alternative could come into play -- moving the season up to July, August and September, writes SBJ’s Michael Smith. Every other scenario has the season starting later in the fall, at a time when the coronavirus could be returning for another round of infections as the cool weather returns and a vaccine most likely unavailable until 2021. But staging an abbreviated college football season in the summer presents an opportunity to play games when the warm weather could help prevent the spread of the virus.

  • Such a drastic move would depend on a number of factors, according to sources Smith talked to this week:

    • Would campuses be open and able to properly staff games?
    • Would media partners be receptive to such a radical idea? Given the pent-up demand for live events by then, perhaps so?
    • Would fans turn out for football in the summer, especially with temperatures in the 90s? Would they even be permitted inside the stadium?
    • Could athletic departments recoup some of the revenue they’ve lost by staging a summer season?
    • How would a season work? It would almost have to be conference games only. Teams could start with a June mini-camp, July training camp and eight or nine games in August and September with no postseason.

  • These are questions that take time to answer, but alternative scenarios like summer football will be discussed by commissioners and athletic directors who will be desperate to play this season. There’s no guarantee that a fall season would succeed, and it might be more likely to fail if the virus returns. A summer season could be the only way to play college football in 2020.

 

JOE BUCK STAYING SHARP WITH TWITTER VIDEO VOICEOVERS

  • While texting with Joe Buck last week, Fox Sports Chair Eric Shanks suggested that, in the absence of games, Buck should use his pipes to announce some of life’s mundane tasks. They were kidding at first, but after a short back-and-forth, the conversation became more serious. Shanks said, “I’ll have some people at Fox contact you.”

  • That conversation has resulted in around 30 Twitter posts where Buck uses his familiar voice to narrate videos that people that have sent to him. Those tweets have accounted for about 7 million views, Buck told SBJ’s John Ourand. “I thought it would probably go nowhere -- maybe make a little bit of a dent on Twitter, if at all,” Buck said. “I never expected that it would connect.”

  • Buck asked his Twitter followers to send him videos. He says he tends to pick ones that have children and/or pets. He uses a Zoom recorder to put a track down; sends the track to a Fox technician, who puts it together and sends it back to Buck. Because it’s cycled through Fox, the network has to get clearance from the person who sent it in before it can release it. “The ones that are getting out are the ones that were sent to me three days ago.”

  • Buck’s favorites so far?

  • “That is what this thing is all about,” Buck said. “Sometimes when you’re left to your own devices, maybe these families are reconnecting or connecting in a way that they hadn’t before. That’s a small silver lining in this really scary time in our country.”

 

 

NASCAR'S SHIFT TO iRACING DONE ON THE FLY

  • As sports shut down across the globe and Americans began to hunker down at home, one U.S.-based sport -- NASCAR -- was uniquely positioned for opportunity, SBJ's Bill King writes. An opportunity to create a competitive event that could be run safely. To give a starved sports network programming. To give its fans a campfire around which to gather, and escape. And to give the racing industry something to work on.

  • In today’s “SBJ Unpacks” podcast, NASCAR Managing Director of Gaming Scott Warfield talks at length about the property’s quick veer into the well-established, but little-known world of virtual racing, which it shifted to immediately after canceling its race in Atlanta on March 13. “We decided to build the plane while we flew it,” Warfield said, “And that’s the god’s honest truth.” NASCAR heads into its second iRacing event buoyed by viewership of 903,000 in its quickly assembled debut on FS1 last weekend. Those viewers averaged 59 minutes watched, Warfield said, with 225,000 of them tuning in to a Cup Series telecast for the first time this year.

  • “When you talk about, 'What’s the value of what we’re doing with this series?' -- or with esports in general -- we’re in it and we’re spending the money because long term, it’s going to help us get younger and more diverse," Warfield said. “And that is what that number helps with.” Some hints of what’s new heading into Week 2: “We’re looking at celebrities that can be involved in terms of commands to start engines and other typical race dignitary roles,” Warfield said. “You’re going to see the international piece pop.” Sunday’s race will air live on TSN in Canada and on Fox Sports Mexico, as well as in the U.K., India and Australia through distribution by IMG, Warfield said.

  • For lots more, including details of how it all came together and what the new series means to the overall NASCAR business, check out the full podcast here.

 

DATA SHOWS 2020 MEDIA AD SALES SET FOR 12% DECLINE

  • Magna Global put some numbers on the expected ad revenue decline due to the coronavirus outbreak as part of its March update, notes SBJ's John Ourand. As you might expect, they’re not pretty. Magna predicts that ad sales across TV, radio, out-of-home and print will decline by 12% this year -- down 20% in the first half and down 2.5% in the second half of the year. Digital ad sales will see a 4% lift, Magna predicts, down 2% in the first half and up 10% in the second half.

  • Magna projects that national TV will see a 13% ad sales revenue drop this year; print will see a 25% drop; and radio will see a 14% drop -- numbers that were unthinkable just a few weeks ago. Sports TV, in particular, had been enjoying one its most robust ad markets in history, with big events like the Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament and NBA All-Star Game selling out months ahead of time.

  • Magna: “At this stage, the total market decline anticipated (-3% or -$6.2 billion vs 2019) remains less severe than the decline experienced in 2008-2009 (-20% or -$33 billion vs 2007), mostly because of the weight and resilience of digital advertising today.”

   

NBCSN SIMULCASTING HORSE RACING, BUT NOW WITHOUT SANTA ANITA

  • NBCSN is set to simulcast 12 hours of live horse racing from TVG's "Trackside Live" this weekend, including the Florida Derby on Saturday, SBJ's Liz Mullen writes. "Obviously in a time where there isn't a lot of live sports, its a great opportunity to get horse racing in front of a live audience," TVG CEO Kip Levin told SBJ. TVG, which is dedicated to horse racing, is available in about 45 million homes nationwide, compared with about 80 million for NBCSN.

  • Among the tracks set to be shown are Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs and Oaklawn Park. Racing from Santa Anita Park was supposed included, but this afternoon, the track announced that it was closing live racing temporarily, effective immediately. The move is in accordance with instructions received from the L.A. County Health Department

 

FOX, ESPN USING CLASSIC NFL GAMES TO FILL PROGRAMMING

  • ESPN and Fox will show classic NFL games this spring via agreements with the league, reports SBJ's John Ourand. ESPN on Mondays will show classic "MNF" games, starting with a March 30 replay of the 2018 Chiefs-Rams game. Fox kicks off its schedule the day earlier with a Sunday afternoon showing of Super Bowl LI between the Patriots and Falcons. There will also be a separate set of games lined up for FS1. Below are the planned schedules for Fox and ESPN:

  • ESPN
    • March 30: Chiefs-Rams (from 2018)
    • April 6: Falcons-Saints (from 2006)
    • April 13: Packers-Vikings (from 2009)
    • April 20: Colts-Patriots (from 2005)
    • April 27: Cowboys-Bills (from 2007)

  • Fox/Fox Deportes
    • March 29: Super Bowl LI Patriots-Falcons
    • April 5: Super Bowl XLV Steelers-Packers
    • April 12: Super Bowl XLII Giants-Patriots
    • April 19: Super Bowl XXIII Broncos-Falcons
    • April 26: Super Bowl XXXI Packers-Patriots
    • May 1: Super Bowl XXX Cowboys-Steelers

 

 

SPEED READS

  • ESPN’s Doris Burke this afternoon on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast revealed she has tested positive for the coronavirus. Burke realized she needed to get tested after she “could not be out of bed for five minutes.” Now in recovery, Burke said it took her eight days to get test results after visiting a Philadelphia hospital. Two weeks ago, Burke served as the color commentator for the Mavericks-Nuggets contest that turned out to be the final NBA game before the regular season was suspended.

  • Suns play-by-play man Jon Bloom and color analyst Tim Kempton tonight on Phoenix-based KTAR-AM -- as well as on Twitch -- will become the first announcers to call an "NBA 2K20" matchup on the radio. Suns G Mikal Bridges will man the controllers against 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle as their teams face off.

  • MLB Network’s Bob Costas believes a potentially shortened season presents an opportunity for baseball to experiment with its product, whether that comes in the form of scheduling, rule changes or playoff structure. Costas, appearing on “The Bernie Miklasz Show,” said, “Given the uniqueness of the situation, even fans who prize the continuity of the game, would understand that this is a … once in forever situation. … Now’s the time to put (ideas) on the table and experiment with some portion of them.”

  • DraftKings is adding to the portfolio of video games that fans can bet on. Esports Observer's Kevin Hitt reported "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" has been added to DraftKings' daily fantasy platform. DraftKings already facilitates daily games for both "Rocket League" and "League of Legends" that "work similarly" to that of this new "CS:GO" daily league.

  • Summer and fall concert dates are no longer a sure thing for many sports venues. The latest tour postponement today came from Roger Waters, who was scheduled to hit Little Caesars Arena, Wells Fargo Center, Chase Center, MSG, TD Garden and Fiserv Forum, among many others, later this year. Waters in a statement said his "This Is Not A Drill" tour will take place next year.

 

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.