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Volume 26 No. 178
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SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- Racing Fans Could Be At Brickyard In July

I’ve been entertained by, though not particularly hopeful about, some of the unique proposals to restart the nation’s major pro sports leagues.

First there was the idea of MLB’s isolated bubble city in Arizona, and now the hockey world is buzzing about a potential 24-team playoff bracket. I’m not holding my breath. But even I have to admit that it’s starting to sound an awful lot like the NBA may soon be back in our lives.

ESPN reported today that the league will issue new guidelines near the end of the month that will allow teams to recall players. And there are reports saying Walt Disney World in Orlando has emerged as the frontrunner to play host to the remainder of this year’s NBA season. The plan seems to make plenty of sense on paper. Disney offers ample housing and amenities, and the single venue would give the league firm control over operations. Not to mention that the NBA has a close relationship with Disney-owned ESPN.

There remain some hurdles, perhaps none bigger than virus testing. Last week, Commissioner Adam Silver told the NBA Board of Governors that any return would hinge on frequent-enough testing that infected individuals could be quarantined before sparking an outbreak, and it remains an open question whether the NBA will be able to procure enough tests to fully protect its players.

But can you imagine what it would be like if they pull it off? We just saw a basketball documentary average nearly six million live viewers across 10 hours. There’s no telling what sort of reaction real, live basketball could spark.

--- Chris Smith

 

STORIES YOU NEED TO READ:

 

MARK MILES INCREASINGLY OPTIMISTIC ON FANS FOR BRICKYARD

  • Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles says he is increasingly optimistic that the Brickyard 400 weekend will be held with fans in July, setting that up as the likely first NASCAR race back with spectators in attendance, reports SBJ's Adam Stern.

  • Miles, who oversees IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told SBJ that the state of Indiana is currently heading toward a re-opening that could include allowing fans inside the Brickyard on July 4 weekend, when a NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader is scheduled to be held. NASCAR is currently scheduled to run without fans through June 21, with the following weekend at Pocono Raceway still not confirmed but likely to run without fans if it does go ahead.

  • Miles said that he and other IMS execs are spending an “enormous” amount of time developing social distance guidelines for the Brickyard 400, and a related placard leaked onto Twitter this past weekend showing some of the fan guidelines. According to the image, that would include wearing a mask (which would be provided if a fan didn’t have one), temperature monitoring and social distancing. 

  • Any attendance for the Indy weekend would likely be so limited in this climate that the Brickyard wouldn’t have to put a cap on the amount of people in attendance. However, Miles would not be drawn into speculation about what it may have to do for the much-better attended Indy 500 in August, aside from saying he thinks fans "will want to be back.”

  • “Nothing is final, but I think it’s quite likely that in all sections of the grandstands, we’ll provide a way for fans to not sit on top of each other and beside each other, so social distancing inside the grandstands,” Miles said. “(We’re working on) the full monty, everything you can think of, from how do you disinfect and clean the place, do you do it every 10 minutes or every hour, where do you stand in a queue -- it is a considerable amount of detail for every part of the operation and fan experience.”

 

 

MLB, UNION STILL AT ODDS OVER REVENUE SHARING

  • There is no certainty at this point that MLB will formally present the union with the 50-50 revenue-sharing plan that owners approved May 11, sources tell SBJ's Eric Prisbell. The reason the league may go in another direction with a player compensation proposal is because union chief Tony Clark has already called the plan a non-starter, equating it to a salary cap.

  • It is also lost on no one that the clock is ticking if MLB hopes to start Spring Training 2.0 around June 10 and start a truncated 82-game regular season around July 4. The last formal meeting between the two sides was May 12; the next meeting has yet to be scheduled. 

  • As of this afternoon, the league was still weeding through myriad financial document requests the union made more than a week ago. The league has yet to respond to requests that sources said relate to revenue derived from regional sports networks and ballpark villages; discussions the league is currently having with television partners and a host of other revenue-related matters. MLB is expected to respond to at least some of the requests.

  • The league has sought to tackle health and safety protocols with the union before the two sides confront thorny player compensation issues. The union, which received the 67-page draft of MLB's health and safety protocol proposal late Friday, has been in the process of soliciting input and reaction from players and is expected to provide feedback to the league soon.

  • Among the issues that players have pinpointed that warrant further clarity and dialogue: the frequency of diagnostic COVID testing and the contours of an opt-out policy if a player is not comfortable playing, regardless of whether he has underlying conditions. 


SPORTS INNOVATION LAB TURNS FOCUS TO SPECTATOR-LESS GAMES

  • Sports Innovation Lab is hosting a two-day remote “hackathon” starting tomorrow, with the hope of finding solutions to challenges created by a possibly extended future of spectator-less games, reports SBJ’s Ben Fischer. Sports Innovation Lab co-Founder & President Josh Walker said another goal is to get the industry out of the “doom-and-gloom, sports-are-canceled mindset,” and start thinking about “not just bringing sports back, but bringing sports back better.”

  • About 130 people are signed up, Walker said, and they’ll work for two days, in groups of 10, to build a PowerPoint deck or short video about some kind of product or idea. The broad remit: To find new ways to build the “power of togetherness” in sports without relying on live crowds. Possible areas of focus include crowd noise, pre-game gatherings, in-game fan interactions and creative food options. 

  • After 48 hours of thinking and developing, a team of experts will review the final products. The five best teams will be asked to present their ideas to C-level execs from SIL clients including Coca-Cola, DraftKings, Intel, Legends, NFL, NHL and Octagon, among others. During the 48 hours, participants will see live and pre-recorded appearances from guests including Premier Lacrosse League co-founder Paul Rabil and MLB Chief Product Officer Vasanth Williams, among others.

 

 

SECOND ITERATION OF "THE MATCH" ALL-IN ON FUNDING COVID RELIEF

  • There will be a series of on-course challenges from Medalist Golf Club during this Sunday’s broadcast of "The Match: Champions for Charity," in which the teams of Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning, and Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady, will compete for additional funds for COVID-19 relief on top of the $10M they already are donating alongside WarnerMedia, per SBD's Andrew Levin. 

  • The biggest challenge, dubbed the “Michelob Ultra Hole In One Challenge,” would trigger an additional donation of up to $25M by WarnerMedia if one of the players aces No. 8 or No. 16. There also is the “Capital One Club Challenge,” which will see each player play the par-4 fifth hole using just one club of their choosing, with the low score on the hole earning an additional $250,000. There likely will be other challenges as part of the broadcast, and something will be donated even if a challenge is not beaten.

  • For more on "The Match," see tomorrow's issue of SBD.

 

PBA AMONG FIRST PROPERTIES TO RETURN TO BROADCAST TV

  • The Professional Bowlers Association will be back in action on June 6, the first of three no-fan events that will air on Fox or FS1 over the next two months, writes SBJ's Bret McCormick

  • The first of the three is a Fox-televised contest, running from 7:00-9:00pm at Bowlero Jupiter in Florida. PBA stars will compete in a Strike Derby, attempting to roll as many strikes as possible in 2-minute spans.

  • The PBA has been on pause since March and a number of events have been rescheduled for later in the year. PBA CEO Colie Edison said she and the tour are "excited to be one of the first properties bringing live sports back to broadcast television." 
  • The second fanless PBA event will be held June 13, also on Fox, from 6:00-8:00pm, using the sport’s popular one-ball format and including women’s tour pros, too. A third event will be televised in July on FS1, with the date still to be determined.

 

BUSINESSES LOOK FOR PROTECTION FROM COVID-RELATED LAWSUITS

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter today to Congress asking to take steps to protect businesses from being sued by customers and employees who may contract COVID-19, according to SBJ’s David Broughton.

  • From the letter: “Despite employers’ best efforts to comply with public health guidance, many are concerned that they will be forced to defend themselves against a wave of lawsuits. Their concern is driven by the fact that each day brings news of more lawsuits that have already been filed. That is why Congress should provide a safe harbor that holds truly bad actors accountable, but that protects those employers who are working to follow public health guidance. Specifically, temporary protections should remain in place for the duration of the pandemic crisis and response that cover:

    • Businesses that work to follow government guidelines against COVID-19 exposure claims.
    • Healthcare providers and facilities on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.
    • Manufacturers that repurposed production and distribution to provide PPE, sanitizers, and other needed countermeasures.
    • Companies that have donated their stock of supplies to hospitals and medical professionals.
    • Public companies that could face securities lawsuits, including those driven largely on stock price drops resulting from the global pandemic under the spurious assertion that management failed to warn investors.” 

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH GF SPORTS’ RICH LISK

  • Rich Lisk has been getting plenty of use out of his basement lately, which he said is half office, half gym. Lisk, who serves as Exec VP with live events and sports media entertainment company GF Sports, has developed a pretty good daily schedule. “I wake up at 7:00am and start my workout routine along with my wife Terry,” he said. “Each day I hold an 11:00am department Zoom call and then a second one to finish the day at 5:00pm in order to game plan for the next day.”

  • Lisk has had his eye on any and every live event lately, taking notes for the N.Y. Riptide's eventual return to NLL matches at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (GF owns the team). Lisk: “I have been watching various leagues and events that I may never normally take in, including UFC and Korean baseball, to find some takeaways that we can apply to our evolving business. We have taken the proactive approach and have already established several hypothetical scenarios.”

  • Virtual happy hours every Friday at 4:00pm have been a highlight for Lisk. “It's fun learning what music, films and books we have all been consuming during these times,” he said. Those happy hours also allow him to show off his sports memorabilia collection -- including a Philadelphia Soul signed helmet by owner Jon Bon Jovi (Lisk previously served as the Arena Football League team's GM).

  • Lisk is grateful for the extra family time working remotely has provided: “Our son Bump starts my day with an exercise routine that entails push-ups and meditation. I then go for a 4-5 mile run which helps clear my mind. Since Starbucks has re-opened, my daughter Gabrielle and I have been making mid-afternoon visits to re-caffeinate for the remainder of the day. What I have enjoyed most is having the opportunity to sit down with my wife and three kids at the dinner table every night.”

 

Lisk has been utilizing his basement during quarantine as part office, part gym
Lisk has been utilizing his basement during quarantine as part office, part gym
Lisk has been utilizing his basement during quarantine as part office, part gym

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: RESTORING FINANCIAL HEALTH

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Connecticut-based attorney Erin Norton, who writes under the header, "Small Adjustments To 2017 Tax Code Would Do Wonders For Sports Recovery."

  • "Two small adjustments to the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) could play an important role to help to bring back these industries and restore the social connectivity that sports and entertainment bring to our lives. ... The changes would not only benefit the athletes and owners, but also the communities rallying around them. As we come back from this time of social isolation, the restoration of sports and entertainment events will have a palliative effect on community spirit."

  • To read Norton's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • The San Francisco Business Times' Ron Leuty reports that in the weeks before the virus shuttered Chase Center, the Warriors and partners Uber and Alexandria Real Estate Equities "refinanced a $300 million-plus construction loan for two office buildings alongside the new arena in a deal that allowed them to receive millions of dollars." Leuty: "The timing couldn't have been more fortuitous."

  • An "outbreak of the coronavirus at Bryant-Denny Stadium has endangered the safety of the construction crew and subcontractors" working on the Alabama football venue renovation project, per the Birmingham News. More than 10 construction workers have tested positive for COVID-19, but the number "could be much higher." With so many exposures, there is a "fear that more positive cases linked to the job site are inevitable."

  • Live Nation Entertainment, the parent company of Ticketmaster, raised $1.2 billion from a secured debt offer that will pay out 6.5% interest per note when they mature in 2027, reports SBJ's Karn Dhingra. Live Nation President & CEO Michael Rapino said the offering was made to add liquidity to the company’s balance sheet and withstand any foreseen scenario well into 2021. 
  • ESPN's Andrea Adelson & Heather Dinich note college athletic departments are "grappling with the same dilemma as the rest of the country -- desperate to reopen because of dire financial challenges while trying to prioritize the health of unpaid student-athletes." The "logistics of implementing a testing regimen at one athletic department -- let alone hundreds across the country -- is an overwhelming concept, raising issues including cost, feasibility, and the ramifications of positive test results."
  • Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson said the NFL’s safety protocols for the 2020 season prove how committed the league and its players are to moving forward amid the pandemic, as the loss of games or a full season would “resonate probably more with football players than anybody else.” Robinson: “The guys all know they’re on a clock in the NFL, more than any other sport. Those guys want to play. They’ll listen to Von Miller tell how scary it was to have coronavirus … but (they’re) going to go out there and earn the money.”

  • Sales of outdoor and sports toys surged by $193 million during April, a 51% increase over the same time period last year, per new data from NPD Group. The category contributed 53% of the total growth in the toy industry during that time period. Categories that experienced strong dollar gains include skate/skateboards/scooters (+107%) and sports activities/games (+25%).

 

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:

    • Email Suggests MLBPA Was Aware Of Potential Compensation Changes
    • Triple Crown Could Benefit From Virus-Caused Rescheduling
    • Extended Closure Of U.S.-Canada Border Could Hamper NHL Return
    • Alberta Premier Makes Case For Edmonton To Be NHL Hub City
    • Stars Owner Wary Of Returning Without Fans, Anticipates Flexibility
    • MLSPA Makes Counterproposal On Salaries For '20 Season
    • NFLPA President Notes "Long List Of Hurdles" Left To Play In '20
    • T'Wolves Doctor, Mayo Clinic Conducting NBA Antibody Study
    • NASCAR's Gregory Says Business Concerns, Pandemic Led To Layoffs
    • MLB Giants To Pay Full-Timers Through Sept., Some Take Pay Cuts

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.

 

 

 

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.