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Volume 26 No. 203
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SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead -- PGA Tour Stays The Course

The coronavirus is surging across the south, particularly in Florida, as the NBA, WNBA and MLS plan their restarts in the Sunshine State beginning next month.

But the impact is being felt elsewhere with today’s cancellation of the New York City Marathon, the latest victim of the virus on the sports calendar.

The PGA Tour is also seeing the challenge of playing in the bubble as more players and caddies tested positive this week prior to the upcoming Travelers Championship. The surge also comes as MLB today released its stringent list of protocols as the league looks to begin play next month. One provision: pitchers may carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture instead of licking their fingers.

-- John Lombardo

 

PGA TOUR TO STRENGTHEN PROTOCOLS AFTER POSITIVE TESTS

  • The PGA Tour is making adjustments to its safety protocols after three positive tests this week in advance of the Travelers Championship, reports SBJ's John Lombardo. 

  • The Tour announced today that golfer Cameron Champ, Ken Comboy (caddie for Graeme McDowell) and Ricky Elliott (caddie for Brooks Koepka), tested positive for COVID-19, with Koepka and McDowell withdrawing from the tournament as preventive measures. Webb Simpson also withdrew out of an abundance of caution after a family member tested positive. Chase Koepka, who qualified on Monday for the tournament, also withdrew after he played a practice round with his brother and McDowell.

  • “I haven’t tested positive for COVID-19, but as I’ve said all along, I’m taking this very seriously,” Koepka said. “I don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize the health of any player in the field or his ability to compete.”

  • One takeaway from a hectic day on Tour? How challenging it is to mitigate the risks, despite strict protocols.

  • “While we have been thorough in building and implementing a program that mitigates as much risk as possible, we knew it would be impossible to eliminate all risk -- as evidenced by the three positive tests this week,” the Tour said in a statement released this afternoon. “We need to use these developments as a stark reminder for everyone involved as we continue to learn from an operational standpoint."

  • PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan this afternoon on Golf Channel said, "We're all learning to live with this virus and we all need to learn to live with this virus. ... It's pretty clear that this virus isn't going anywhere." He added that there will be "serious repercussions" for any player or other Tour individual not following the safety protocols.

 

Brooks Koepka withdrew from the event today after his caddy Ricky Elliott tested positive for COVID-19
Brooks Koepka withdrew from the event today after his caddy Ricky Elliott tested positive for COVID-19
Brooks Koepka withdrew from the event today after his caddy Ricky Elliott tested positive for COVID-19

 

TURNER OPTING OUT OF REMAINDER OF UEFA DEAL

  • Turner Sports told UEFA that it has opted out of its Champions League contract -- a move that probably means that Turner will not carry any more matches, according to multiple sources. SBJ’s John Ourand Mark J. Burns have been pursuing this story for the past couple of days and learned that Turner execs called UEFA last week to say that it will exercise a clause in its contract to get out of carrying league games when it starts up again this summer and for all of next season. Univision still holds Spanish-language rights to the UCL through 2024.

  • UEFA will look to re-sell English-language rights for the next two seasons over the next several weeks. Sources said that UEFA has not held any discussions with potential U.S. media companies for the rights this year and next. CBS is the most logical partner, given that last November the network agreed to buy the rights to the event from the fall of 2021 to the spring of 2024. ESPNNBCFoxAmazon and DAZN also should expect calls. A possibility still exists that UEFA will ask Turner to carry the games this August, completing the season that Turner already started until play was suspended in March.

  • The big question will come down to price, particularly this year. In August, the UCL will be staged as a single-elimination tournament in Portugal. UCL play was suspended in mid-March due to COVID-19. CBS and Univision will pay a combined $150 million per year; Turner and Univision’s current deal is valued at close to $100 million per year, with Turner paying more than $60 million per year. It is not known how much CBS committed to pay as part of the new deal.

  • Turner shocked the business in 2017 when it grabbed the UCL rights, partially as a way to build a subscriber base for its streaming service B/R Live. During its only full season with tournament, Turner carried marquee games on TNT and streamed the rest of the event. The decision to opt out makes business sense for Turner, given that it already knows that it’s losing rights to CBS in 2021 -- combined with the prolonged stoppage of play this season due to COVID-19. 

 

MLB OPERATIONS MANUAL OUTLINES STRICT IN-GAME PROTOCOLS

  • MLB's 101-page operations manual, a copy of which was obtained by SBJ's Eric Prisbell, includes comprehensive protocols for diagnostic and antibody testing as well as a host of procedures for teams to follow if a player, coach or staff member tests positive for the virus.

  • The document also includes more nuanced in-game protocols in hopes of minimizing the chance of contagion. Among them:

    • Players, umpires and on-field personnel should stand at least six feet apart during the singing of the National Anthem and God Bless America. When the ball is out of play, fielders are encouraged to retreat several steps away from the baserunner. Firstand third-base coaches should remain in or behind the coach's box and shall not approach a baserunner, fielder or umpire on-field. And players on opposite teams should not socialize, fraternize or come within six feet of each other before the game, during warm-ups, in-between innings or after the game.

    • All non-playing personnel must wear face coverings at all times in the dugout and bullpen. Players and all on-field personnel must make every effort to avoid touching their face with their hands. Spitting is prohibited at all times in team facilities (including on the field). Chewing gum is permitted.

    • All pitchers may carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture in lieu of licking their fingers. Water is the only substance allowed on the rag. Pitchers may not access the rag while on the pitching rubber and must clearly wipe the fingers of his pitching hand dry before touching the ball or the pitcher’s plate.

 

Players will have to stand at least six feet apart during the singing of the National Anthem
Players will have to stand at least six feet apart during the singing of the National Anthem
Players will have to stand at least six feet apart during the singing of the National Anthem

 

KIA TOPS AD SPENDS FOR PREMIER LEAGUE'S RETURN

  • Kia was the biggest advertiser during the EPL’s return to action this past week, according to iSpot.tv, spending $158,000 during coverage on NBC Sports, NBC, Telemundo and NBC Universo. Overall, 90 brands spent $2.1 million and generated 148.4 million impressions from Wednesday-Sunday, per SBJ's David Broughton.

  • Approximately 1,829 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19 during that period and one person tested positive. In 10 rounds of testing dating back to mid-May, 12,057 tests have detected just 18 positive tests, a rate of less than 0.2%. The EPL spend was Jim Beam’s second-highest commitment in June, just behind Discovery Channel’s ‘Naked and Afraid.’

BRAND (ADS RUN)
TOTAL SPEND
MINUTES OF AIR TIME
Kia (2)
$158,000
10.5
Jim Beam (2)
$123,000
12.25
Geico (5)
$116,000
4.5
Progressive (8)
$104,000
6
Verizon (3)
$103,000
4.25
Download the
EPL TV advertiser spend

 

NFL TO TARP OFF LOWER SEATS, ALLOW TEAMS TO SELL SIGNAGE

  • NFL teams have been told they will be able to sell camera-visible signage to local sponsors for the first time during the 2020 season, sources told SBJ's Ben Fischer, a step one sales exec said would “significantly” defray pandemic-related revenue losses.

  • Under a plan shared with team presidents yesterday, the first six to eight rows of seating in every stadium -- including on-field suites -- will be off limits to fans this season. That move is officially to protect players, coaches and team staff from coronavirus exposure, but it would also free up that space to become lucrative sponsorship assets.

  • Sources said those seats will be covered by tarps that could include sponsor logos, similar to how EPL teams repurposed empty seating sections for ads during that league's return to play last week. The plan will be presented to owners at a meeting tomorrow. 

  • Read more here.

  

ATLANTA-BASED TENNIS EXHIBITION TO ALLOW FANS NEXT WEEKEND

  • The DraftKings All-American Team Cup will be held July 3-5 in Atlanta, the latest in a series of tennis exhibition events that have filled the calendar while the ATP and WTA are suspended, writes SBJ's Bret McCormick.

  • GF Sports is organizing the event, which splits the top-eight-ranked American men’s tennis players into two squads for a team competition over three days at the Life Time Athletic & Tennis facility. GF Sports owns two ATP Tour tournaments, including the Truist Atlanta Open, which was canceled due to the pandemic. 

  • The event will allow ticketed fans into the stadium court at 30% total capacity, with social distancing in place. That means room for 450 fans in addition to 25 VIP tables, which also will be socially distanced.

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: FUTURE OF MOBILE VIEWING

  • Tonight's op-ed is from Portland-based consumer engagement platform Airship Senior VP Mike Herrick, who writes under the header, "Mobile Viewing Propels New Era Of Tech And Marketing Innovation."
  • "While sports marketing and fandom were already changing due to second-screen experiences, they are about to be changed at a much greater pace due to COVID-19-based realities. ... Because of this odd situation, sports teams and their broadcast TV/radio network partners will be experimenting with creative, technology-driven ways to keep fans at home engaged with not only the game but the entire production."
  • To read Herrick's full contribution, click here.

 

 

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S SBJ

 

SPEED READS

  • Even in the midst of a pandemic, MLB is scheduled to see a healthy increase in its media rights fees. So, too, is the NHL. All sources predict that the NFL will break the bank. What, then, should we make of the Bundesliga, which signed a new deal with Sky and DAZN for 2021-25 at a slight decrease? John Ourand breaks it down tonight in SBJ Media.

  • A virtual workshop meeting with U.S. host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup is scheduled for July 7, FIFA confirmed to SBJ's Mark JBurns. Sources have described next month’s rescheduled meeting, which follows FIFA’s postponement of a workshop in Dallas on March 16-18, as a way to re-ignite discussions amid the global pandemic and proceed toward outlining next steps in the host site bidding process. 

  • What will NBA games look like in Orlando after a nearly four-month layoff for the players? Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd: "My prediction? It’s going to be choppy, at times it’s going to be bad. It’s going to be unpredictable. It’s going to be uneven. And what you saw with Avery Bradley is just the first little domino to fall.”

  • Obstacle race organizer Tough Mudder has announced a new virtual race series called Tough Mudder Challenges, reports SBJ’s Chris Smith. The series of three-week events, which will run monthly from July through the end of the year, will be live-tracked on a new digital platform that will allow participants to sync wearable fitness devices. Each month, participants will have to complete four event-long challenges, like total distance or elevation, as well as weekly “flash obstacles.” Registration opens tomorrow and the first event, the Grand Canyon Challenge, begins on July 9. 

  • NBCSN and the Olympic Channel are rolling out two-plus weeks of Paralympic programming. Tonight and tomorrow night, NBCSN will carry rebroadcasts of the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, including Gold-Medal games in wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and wheelchair rugby. Mike Tirico and Ahmed Fareed will co-host. Fareed will also host Instagram Live broadcasts featuring American Paralympians from the NBC Olympics account for a half hour before NBCSN programming begins. Starting Monday, the Olympic Channel will air two full weeks of primetime rebroadcasts of the 2019 World Para Swimming and World Para Track & Field championships. 

 

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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.