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Volume 26 No. 178
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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





  • 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).


  • 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.




  • 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."



  • 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’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.



  • 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.



  • 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



  • 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.



  • 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.


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  • 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






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 ( and we'll share the best of it.