SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead -- A Leaner Learfield IMG College
All eyes turn to Utah this weekend, where tomorrow, the NWSL will attempt to become the first unionized team sport back since the pandemic hit.
It won’t be perfect (see the Orlando Pride’s decision to withdraw from the Utah event). But it’s more than other team-sport leagues have figured out so far, and every property, sponsor and broadcaster will be watching closely to see what works, what doesn’t and what they can learn.
MLB and the NBA’s continued progress toward play also help us end the week on a high note -- even as the renewed spread of COVID-19 has authorities in Texas, Arizona and Florida fearing the worst.
-- Ben Fischer
LEARFIELD IMG COLLEGE RESTRUCTURING MEANS LOST JOBS
- Learfield IMG College has undergone another phase of leadership adjustments, while also reducing its workforce by 11% as part of a broader restructuring, reports SBJ’s Michael Smith. The media and tech company with deep roots in college sports has eliminated roughly 200 jobs as it continues to adjust to the COVID-19 induced economic downturn.
- The company said in April that it furloughed an unspecified number of employees for 90 days, a period that comes to an end on July 15. With the 90-day deadline approaching, Learfield IMG College said today that it would bring back more than half of those employees to their old position at the same salary. The privately held company, based in Plano, Texas, has 2,000 employees. It said the cuts were spread evenly across the business. Those receiving severance were told yesterday and today.
- Additionally, new President & CEO Cole Gahagan has done some shifting within the company's C-suite. CLC Exec VP & Managing Director Cory Moss and Paciolan President & CEO Kim Damron have moved onto the leadership team, and will now report directly to Gahagan. CLC and Paciolan are both Learfield IMG College companies. Moss and Damron were both on SBJ’s Power Players list last year; Damron also was an SBJ Game Changer.
- Chief People & Culture Officer Kristine Schroeder will report to Gahagan as well. She has been instrumental in leading HR through the Learfield and IMG College merger and implementation of a new HR and payroll system. Learfield vet Andy Rawlings, who oversaw revenue, last month said that he planned to step down. His last day is Tuesday.
NBA CONTINUES MOVING TOWARD SEASON RESTART
- After the NBA and the players' union today finalized their restart agreement, Commissioner Adam Silver said on a media conference call this afternoon that the league comes to its restart with “a lot of humility” and that COVID-19 “has changed every facet of our lives.” SBJ's John Lombardo notes call also included NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum along with NBPA President Chris Paul and NBPA First VP Andre Iguodala.
- Silver said that no options are risk free and that the challenge is to find a safe and responsible way to operate. He added that he believes that the league has developed a safe and responsible plan to restart the season. Silver added he is concerned with the virus surge in Florida and throughout the country, but that the bubble will continue to be a safe setting.
- On the business front, Tatum said that sponsors will have floor signage and the league is working on a plan for hundreds of fans to appear on in-arena video boards. Silver said there will be a deep communal connection using unique camera angles, virtual concerts and halftime performances. Roberts said that the league and the union have worked to mitigate the risk as much as possible. “We go into it optimistic,” she said.
NFL TEAMS BELIEVE TARP SPONSORSHIPS WILL HELP MINIMIZE LOSSES
- NFL teams are bullish on the sales potential of the new signage they’ll be allowed to place on the tarps covering the first 6-8 rows of seats in stadiums this year, believing they can go a long way toward minimizing sponsorship revenue losses, SBJ’s Ben Fischer reports. It’s a “crown jewel asset,” said 49ers CRO Brent Schoeb. “There’s no magic bullet for everybody, but we think this is going to be pretty loved by our partners.”
- Clubs acknowledge that modern sponsorship strategy -- particularly at the team level -- usually tries to be more sophisticated than mere logo placement, often counting on fan engagement, giveaways and product sales that depend on live crowds. Having said that, even the least-watched of the NFL game windows draw many millions of viewers and are regularly the most-watched broadcast in local markets by a wide margin. Local sponsors have never had access to that audience before. “Objectively it does deliver tremendous brand exposure on a national basis,” said one team exec.
- The full details of the new policy, approved by owners Thursday, are still forthcoming, but one source expected between 14-16 spots available on the tarps. Teams don’t expect to take those assets to new sponsors, instead focusing on using them to recoup lost value for existing sponsors.
- On the ticketing side, the tarp policy is the NFL’s first official indication that stadiums will not be able to accommodate full crowds -- barring some unforeseen, major shift in the pandemic. Teams surveyed today said they’ve received little feedback from customers with seats in the first eight rows so far, believing most season-ticket holders understand their seats are in flux.
NBA, UNION RELEASE PLAYER TEST RESULTS
- The NBA and the NBPA today jointly announced player coronavirus test results in advance of the league’s restart at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on July 30, notes SBJ's John Lombardo. Of 302 players on June 23, 16 players (5%) tested positive for coronavirus. The league and the union said that any player who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until he satisfies public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician. Commissioner Adam Silver said of the results: "It came in where we expected it. None of the 16 were seriously ill in any way and that was a big relief."
- No player names were released with the test results. Some players, like the Pacers' Malcolm Brogdon and Kings' Jabari Parker, have publicly acknowledged their positive results. The results come as the virus rate surges in Florida five weeks from the NBA’s restart in Orlando, where the effectiveness of Disney bubble will be in the spotlight.
- ESPN’s Zach Lowe on "The Jump" said if there is anything that is a consensus among players, coaches, and GMs -- outside of the teams that really want to go because they can win -- "It’s sort of like, ‘I’m little bit concerned, the Orlando numbers are getting scary, the bubble is getting a little more permeable because of that. But you know what, we’re still going to go.'"
SURVEY: SOCIAL DISTANCING IS BIGGEST RETURN-TO-WORK CHALLENGE
- As some sports execs return to the office, 79% of organizations in a survey released today by S&P Global Market Intelligence feel that social distancing practices will be the biggest challenge to resuming their normal in-office operations, writes SBJ's David Broughton.
- Approximately 575 IT decision-makers took part in the Voice of the Enterprise: Digital Pulse Coronavirus Flash Survey conducted May 26-June 11 by 451 Research, a division of S&P.
- Additionally, in an open-ended option to the question, "As employees return to work, what will be the greatest operational challenges for your organization?", executives were most likely to be concerned about employees having “less focused execution,” leading to a “drop in productivity due to new physical constraints (masks, distancing) and more chatter.”
OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: EVENT CANCELLATION INSURANCE
- Tonight's op-ed is from international sports consultant and former FIFA agent Miro Gladovic, who writes under the header: "Wimbledon Inspires New Landscape Of Insurance Strategy."
- "Event cancellation used to be a term reserved for a snowed-out ballgame or a rock concert canceled due to a band member falling ill. COVID-19 has taken the term to a new level. However, a league or concert promoter cannot merely pick up the phone and call an insurance company to seek out a policy that will protect them from an existing event. It’s like calling Geico as your house is being swirled around in a tornado. It doesn’t work that way. However, this pandemic will change the nature of sports and live events forever, as it highlights an unspoken security blanket that is not restricted to mere event cancellation."
- To read Gladovic's full contribution, click here.
WORKING FROM HOME WITH BUCCANEERS TICKETING CHIEF BEN MILSOM
- The business side of the Buccaneers organization is still working remotely, and Chief Ticketing Officer Ben Milsom has settled into a comfortable process. “I am lucky to be able to have a separate space in my house where I have been set up for the past three months. Fortunately, we got a new phone system about a year ago that was made for remote working. Balancing my family's schedule with what I am doing was a challenge at first, but now we have all settled into our routines.”
- Working from home isn’t without its hiccups, though. “For some reason, at critical times on calls, my headset will go out,” Milsom shared. “I never imagined how frustrating that can be. Another fun thing that has happened is my 10-year-old son will walk into my office when I’m on calls and wave to the other people on the call, that always helps to break the ice.”
- The Bucs saw a surge in demand for tickets when Tom Brady became the team’s new QB, but uncertainty about fans attending games this fall has created a unique challenge for the ticketing staff. Milsom, an 2018 SBJ “Forty Under 40” honoree, is focusing on keeping conversations and relationships going with season-ticket members. “During times like this, it helps to call and check in on people and talk football,” he said. “It helps to take people’s minds off of the current situation.”
- As live sports slowly start to return, Milsom has been enjoying the EPL and NASCAR, while his kids have been getting into WWE. “I now find myself being put into wrestling moves at really wild times during the day,” he admitted. But fending off his kids’ “attacks” isn’t the only way Milsom is staying active. “Being a Type 1 Diabetic, exercise is critical,” he said. “So, I have been working out in my garage a lot. I also have a friend who is an intense runner, so every once and a while he will crush my spirits and indulge me on a run around our neighborhood.”
- Want to share what your work-from-home setup is like? Reach out to SBJ's David Rumsey.
CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S SBJ
- Don’t miss this week’s issue of SBJ. Meanwhile, if you’d like to receive the print issue at your home office, update your delivery address at any time within your account settings here. If you have any questions about how and where to receive your print copy of SBJ, please email email@example.com.
- The Int'l Tennis Federation today scrapped both the Davis Cup and Fed Cup finals for 2020 because of the pandemic. The AP notes "both competitions will resume next year."
- With the pandemic translating to fewer fans in the stands (or no fans in some cases), the trend of cardboard cutouts of fans is picking up. Baseball teams in Taiwan and South Korea have tried it, as well as some German soccer clubs. Now, MLB's Giants are getting on board, allowing season-ticket holders to “send in an image of themselves to be placed onto a cutout that will be displayed in the stands during home games.” Some businesses, like Indiana-based DS Smith, are looking to capitalize on such an opportunity. The corrugated packaging supplier plans to “produce recyclable cardboard replacement spectators.” It is “launching its design and manufacturing plans, which includes an initial approach” to the NBA, MLB and MLS.
- The Premier Lacrosse League's return amid coronavirus isn't until late next month, but the league is already on the board for sports bettors seeking some new action. Gambling consultant Sara Slane noted that William Hill U.S. has posted the first-ever odds for the league as it gets set for a bubble return in Utah.
- Morehouse College today canceled its fall sports seasons (football and cross country) due to COVID-19. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes the D-II school is among the first colleges in the country to cancel football amid the pandemic.
- MLB put out a unique graphic on how the league plans to test and social distance this season.
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. Select stories from Sports Business Daily are free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:
SBJ UNPACKS -- THE ROAD AHEAD
- Check out the most recent editions of our "SBJ Unpacks" podcasts around COVID-19:
- Heat President of Business Operations Eric Woolworth on the NBA’s return plan, the league’s role in promoting social justice and much more.
- Michael Smith on the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases at some of the country’s top football programs.
Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll share the best of it.