SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Execs Talk Path Forward For Sports
When I woke up this morning and perused the headlines, I was struck by how they seemed less dire than the past couple of weeks. New York appeared to be flattening the curve. Some of the government’s most serious predictions appeared to be unfounded. And in Germany, the Bundesliga announced plans to restart the season June 30.
But we’re not out of the woods yet. Not even close. A widely circulated story today quoted Santa Clara County executive officer Jeffrey Smith as saying that he didn’t expect “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.”
SBJ Publisher & Executive Editor Abe Madkour asked several industry figures to offer advice as the sports business community deals with the pandemic. I want to share two responses with you.
The first comes from Neal Pilson, founder and president of Pilson Communications:
“COVID-19 is going to be with us for quite a while. The idea that our fall sports season can start on time could be a fantasy. The experts are now predicting that while some areas of the country will improve, other areas will see hot spots developing well into the summer. Working backwards from a September launch of the NFL and college football, the players will have to be in camp on or close to August 1 and the decision to open camps has to be made much earlier than that, perhaps June 1 or 15. That's less than 60 days from today. Camps and locker rooms are a petri dish for spreading the virus and to bring 300 to 400 people to each camp from all over the country on or about August 1 would be a huge risk both from a medical perspective and financially. One infection and you have to close everything down. It's not going to happen. Our fall sports season will have to be delayed and possibly canceled. Sorry.”
The second comes from Estee Portnoy, a senior vice president at JUMP.DC:
“We need to find ways to give back to our communities -- especially health care professionals and first responders who are on the front lines. Their selflessness is a reminder to all of us that we will only get through this together.”
Feel free to email me if you have advice that can apply to the sports community.
Stay safe, everybody.
-- John Ourand
PROSKAUER’S JOE LECCESE BULLISH ON LEAGUE GOVERNANCE MODELS
- Sports business will survive the current pandemic due in large part to established leadership throughout the industry, according to Proskauer’s Joe Leccese. Speaking at the CAA World Congress Comes To You event earlier today, Leccese was bullish on leaders’ ability to pull through the tough times ahead.
- “Reputations can be made in moments of crisis -- and obviously they can be lost as well," Leccese said. "But I think in the sports business, more reputations will be made than not. Each of the major leagues has excellent leadership.” He added that the current situation validates “why U.S. leagues are organized the way they are.” Leccese: “During boom times everybody says, ‘Why are they so conservative?’ Well, in times of crisis, nobody asks those questions. Everybody says, ‘Thank God we have strong governance models with conservative principles and a spirit of partnership among the owners in those organizations.’ That was true after 9/11. It was true in 2008. And I think it's truer than ever today. We have people leading organizations that were designed to survive stressful moments, which is why I'm very optimistic that the industry will emerge in a very strong position once this is done.”
- Leccese said he views the path forward as an community-wide effort to return to normalcy as soon as possible. “At moments like this, we all fall back on our relationships, both business relationships and professional relationships. I think that those are the things that have steered us through prior crises, which is people treating one another like real partners and not partners in name only. The same spirit will take hold for the majority of the industry here and we will find a way through all of this. … While this is not what any of us expected for our 2020, we will persevere, we will get through this.”
MYERS TALKS DIFFICULTIES WITH REMOTE NBA TEAM OPERATIONS
- Warriors President of Basketball Operations & GM Bob Myers told today’s CAA World Congress Comes To You attendees that the sports industry is in the "first quarter of a tough game, and we're down in this game, but we can come back, and we will.” He continued: “It feels daunting. It feels difficult. But this country is tremendous, and human beings are. I have great faith.” Myers said in sports, industry execs have to "meet adversity just like we meet success.” Myers: “Within failure, I think there's a great saying that says, ‘Adversity is a much better teacher than success,’ and I fully believe that.”
- Myers emphasized that basketball is “not a remote business ... so you're limited.” Because of this, he and the basketball operations department have shifted their focus to mental preparation. He said, “At this point, it's really maintaining the psychological component of hoping the season gets back, and then physically for these players.” Myers noted that coach Steve Kerr and his staff check-in with the guys, while coaches also conduct conference calls with one another. “To be honest, it's hard," he said. "We're not running a software business. We're not running a business where you can do it that well remotely.”
- He also spoke to the uncertainty of the current times and how that lack of clarity has impacted the league’s potential return. “The main focus in the conversations with the league is, ‘Listen, until we know we can do anything safely, we're not going to do it,’ which I think is the right way to go and the only way to go, for that matter,” he said. Still, Myers notes the Warriors “want to play basketball and we understand that that's also a source of entertainment for people, if we can do it safely.” He said the team is relying “heavily on the leadership of the league.” Myers said of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: “We couldn't have a better leader in these moments.”
SNAP EXEC TALKS CONTENT STRATEGY DURING SPORTS SHUTDOWN
- Snapchat has been growing its sports ties for several years, and although the shutdown has certainly presented challenges in growing those relationships, the social media platform is determined to not let these times slow down its efforts. Snap Head of Sports Partnerships Anmol Malhotra, speaking today during the CAA World Congress Comes To You, said supporting the platform's partners during this difficult time is of the upmost importance. “We want to make sure a resource for them as best we can,” he said.
- Malhotra noted there are a number of league partners still producing content for Snapchat. The NFL is proceeding with free agency and the draft, and Malhotra definitely noticed one transaction in particular. “We were all happy when Tom Brady gave us news to talk about across the sports world,” he quipped. The UFC and WWE have also been posting archival footage and “best of” across the platform, with the NBA posting old games and highlights. Malhotra: “We're trying to take advantage of utilizing the archive content that many of our league partners have and broadcast partners have.”
- He also noted some partners are not dependent on game highlights -- outlets like Whistle Sports, Wave Sports and Overtime. “Several of their shows have continued to run with really no changes,” he said. Finally, Malhotra has not forgotten about ESPN, which has a popular “SportsCenter” show on Snapchat. He said, “They're continuing to kind of talk about culturally relevant things happening across not just the sports world, but across the world generally. They're continuing to kind of produce content every day.”
WORKING FROM HOME WITH MONUMENTAL SPORTS’ ABBY BLOMSTROM
- Monumental Sports & Entertainment Exec VP & Legal Counsel Abby Blomstrom has been fighting for space in her family’s D.C. rowhouse while working remotely for the past several weeks. Blomstrom originally didn’t have a personal desk like her two kids -- ages 12 and 14 -- did for school, but when the new normal became clear, her husband made a dash to IKEA for an extra one for them to share. “I have a moveable office -- mostly based at our kitchen table,” she said. “But with roving and snacking middle schoolers, that’s not always a good idea for video or non-video calls, so I move to quieter places in other parts of the house as necessary.”
- The MSE organization -- which operates the Capitals, Wizards and WNBA Mystics -- has been using Zoom and Microsoft Teams for communication. “I’ve learned that no one looks good on a video call,” Blomstrom admitted. “But the technology has been great so far -- and it is helpful to be able to see people’s faces.” MSE’s executive task force has been in daily contact to address evolving issues and in turn has been providing daily email updates to staff with key internal business information, local and national coronavirus-related news, and remote working tips.
- While Blomstrom’s household may be a little cramped with the entire family around 24/7, she has noticed one pleasant change. “There’s no more morning scramble,” she noted. “Being at home has allowed everyone to settle into their own school and work routines. I don’t have to get up as early to fit in a run with the dog.” Blomstrom added, “It has been great to be able to take walks in the evenings as a family -- it helps everyone to recharge and be together in a way that we wouldn’t normally have time for."
- Want to share what your work-from-home setup is like? Reach out to SBJ's David Rumsey.
SURVEY: FANS TURNING TO NON-SPORTS TV DURING PANDEMIC
- According to a CivicScience survey of more than 2,000 American sports viewers age 13 and older, less than 20% say they’re turning to alternative sports-related content -- including reruns of past games, sports talk shows, and more -- to replace watching live games on TV during the pandemic. The Pittsburgh-based research group operates real-time, in-market reader surveys for hundreds of news outlets, content and social networks nationwide, generating over 80 million monthly answers to privacy-compliant polls. Below are some results from the recent survey.
- CableFax noted that Pivotal Research adjusted its 2020 and 2021 expectations for Comcast to "better reflect the likely effects of COVID-19, mostly on NBC." With the Tokyo Olympics delay, Pivotal also is "predicting significant cuts to NBC advertising forecasts."
- The cancellation of spring practices has put new college football coaches in a difficult situation. Take Willie Taggart as Exhibit A. The Naples Daily News notes the new FAU coach "never even had a chance to watch his players in pads before the pandemic struck and life was put on hold." Taggart and his coaches are "attempting to install their system ... through video conferencing."
- The Univ. of Minnesota laid out three scenarios around how the athletic department’s finances "might unfold amid uncertainty on when regular athletic activities could return in the COVID-19 crisis." Projected losses in the three scenarios:
- “Best case” though spring: $10 million
- “Moderate” into summer: $30 million
- “Severe” into fall: $75 million
- Sports intelligence firm MarketCast recently released some survey results for April. Some results that stood out: Industry execs expect the live sports hiatus to add fuel to fandom when the industry eventually bounces back (generally expected to happen more than three months from now). Until then, athlete-generated content seems to be the practical alternative. Meanwhile, and unsurprisingly, the sports business outlook has hit rock bottom at 2% net optimistic. The only other time we’ve been in single digits was in November 2008 (8%).
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:
- Pair Of MLB Owners Say Games Without Fans In Arizona A Tough Sell
- NHL Franchises' Credit Ratings Could Face Decline In '20-21
- Podcasts Hosts Debate Whether NBA, NFL Would Return First
- Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy Gets Pushback On May 1 Return Date
- Learfield IMG College Institutes Furloughs, Salary Cuts To Some Staff
- Top Rank's Arum Says Boxing Won't Be Returning "Anytime Soon"
- Golfer Organizes Secret Golf Match Play Series For COVID-19 Relief
- Sporting Goods Companies Helping Produce Medical Supplies
SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19
- Check out the most recent editions of our "SBJ Unpacks" podcasts around COVID-19:
- As MLB eyes a potential return in Arizona, SBJ's Bill King & Eric Prisbell examine the potential and the possible pitfalls of this particular path back.
- Crisis communications expert Matthew Hiltzik talks about how to talk to fans, staff, sponsors and each other during an unprecedented global crisis.
- Tom McMillen, the former congressman who now heads the association of D-I athletic directors, discusses the impact of the pandemic on athletic departments and athletes.
- Dev Pathik, Founder & CEO of Sports Facilities Advisory, discusses how the COVID-19 quarantine has impacted youth sports facilities.
- Pro player Noah Rubin discusses the state of tennis, how the Wimbledon cancellation could be a sign of more to come and how he has had to adapt to the pandemic.
Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (email@example.com) and we'll share the best of it.