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Volume 27 No. 88
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SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead -- Accusations Rock Washington NFL Team

NASCAR’s All-Star Race last night at Bristol Motor Speedway may have provided a glimpse of hope with the event drawing some 22,000 fans, the largest crowd for a sporting event since the shutdown, but White Sox and Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf today added a dose of reality for the sports industry.

He told USA Today that the pandemic has cost his two teams and the United Center an estimated nine-figure loss. You can bet Reinsdorf’s fellow pro sports owners are feeling his pain.

-- John Lombardo

  

REPORT: SEXUAL HARASSMENT RAMPANT AT WASHINGTON NFL TEAM

  • Fifteen former female Redskins employees have accused senior team executives of sexual harassment in a Washington Post story published today, painting a dark picture of rampant misconduct and lax oversight throughout the franchise. The story dropped shortly after 5:00pm on Thursday, culminating a week of growing speculation about the damaging story, writes SBJ's Ben Fischer

  • Owner Daniel Snyder and former team president Bruce Allen both escaped direct implication of wrongdoing in the article, but the women “expressed skepticism the men were unaware of the behavior they allege,” according to the Post. Furthermore, they blame Snyder for an understaffed HR department that was incapable of proper employee oversight and a “sophomoric culture of verbal abuse” that trickled down into the rank-and-file.

  • The primary targets of the women’s complaints are:

    • Former COO Mitch Gershman, who left in 2015.
    • Former President of Business Operations Dennis Greene, who left in 2018 after his role in selling access to cheerleaders came to light.

  • Three executives who left the organization after the Post started its reporting:

    • Senior VP/Content Larry Michael (he retired Wednesday);
    • Director of Pro Personnel Alex Santos and Assistant Director Of Pro Personnel Richard Mann III (both fired Sunday.)

  • The Post said that Snyder “routinely belittled top executives,” according to three former members of his executive staff. While the one anecdote about Snyder in the article was not sexual in nature, it describes Snyder ridiculing Greene for being a collegiate male cheerleader and ordering him to do cartwheels for his entertainment.

  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM NASCAR ALL-STAR RACE

  • More than 20,000 race fans flowed through the gates and into their seats Wednesday night for NASCAR’s All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Some have cheered this as progress. Others gasped at the perceived risk. 

  • SBJ’s Bill King discussed the machinations required to bring thousands of fans back to a sporting event and dug into some important takeaways from it with Speedway Motorsports chief strategy officer Mike Burch on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  • Chief among them: The challenge of bringing thousands into, and out of, the facility while keeping safe spacing between them. While SMI dealt with entry by assigning arrival times with each digital ticket, Burch worried that keeping fans from rushing out together would prove difficult.

  •  “I thought, checkered flag falls, it’s just going to be a stampede and people are going to be climbing over the seats,” said Burch, whose company will welcome thousands of fans to another of its speedways this weekend when NASCAR runs at Texas Motor Speedway. “Everybody stayed in their seats ... and then everybody actually waited for the ushers to come and say you can go. ... I was really surprised at how conscientious the fans were. They really exceeded our expectations on that front.”

  

NEW STUDY IDENTIFIES PANDEMIC IMPLICATIONS FOR SPONSORSHIP

  • The impact of racial and social justice issues was examined in wave six of MKTG's SRI research arm's ongoing study of the pandemic’s implications for sponsorship and event marketers, writes SBJ's Terry Lefton.

  • SRI did an online survey of 493 people in June, age 18-and-above, just weeks after the death of George Floyd. The survey sample was structured to represent the U.S. population.

    • A mixed consumer sentiment was indicated. Since Wave 1 of the study in March, those feeling “hopeful,” increased from 29% to 41%. However, there were increases from those saying they were nervous (26%, up 5 points) and scared (17%, up 5 points). Those emotional indicators had been in general decline since March.

    • While 94% of those surveyed listed COVID-19 as the news story they are following “somewhat/very closely,” racial and social injustice was fourth at 86%, and ahead of the presidential election at 84%.

    • After weeks of protests, social justice and racial equity are more top of mind, but still polarizing. Around 53% of the respondents agreed that brands should “do more to combat racial and social injustice,” versus 20% who disagreed, and 27% with no opinion. Half of those surveyed said they would “support a brand that takes a stance on social issues,” with 22% disagreeing, and 28% neither agreeing, nor disagreeing.

  • “Brands have to careful when marketing in this environment, but consumers are open to it. They are engaging in it,” said MKTG Senior VP Doug Hall. “But there are still a fair amount who say it's not a place for brands, so proceed with caution.”
     

 

 

SUN BELT DELAYING FOOTBALL CALL UNTIL "LATEST POSSIBLE TIME"

  • For the time being, the Sun Belt Conference still has its sights set on a 12-game football season, writes SBJ's Michael Smith. While the prospects for that plan appear to get more challenging by the day, Commissioner Keith Gill is not ready to make any fundamental adjustments, even if COVID-19 cases are trending the wrong way in much of the Sun Belt’s footprint. Gill: “We’re focused on a 12-game regular season; that’s what we’re talking about. … I try to be an optimist even though we certainly have some tough choices ahead. But right now, we’re not going to make any decisions that we don’t have to make.”

  • Two Sun Belt schools -- Arkansas State and Appalachian State -- lost games when the Big Ten decided to go to a conference-only schedule. The implications for several more Sun Belt teams could be far greater if the SEC or ACC drop non-conference opponents. Until those Power Five conferences decide on a schedule in the next 2-3 weeks, it will be difficult for the Sun Belt to proceed. Gill: “We’ll be around that same timetable. Our philosophy has been to delay making any decisions until the latest possible time.”

  • A few more reactions from Gill:

    • On playing the 2020 season in the spring: “We really haven’t had many conversations about that. The spring is the last resort. Spring football is better than no football.”

    • On playing or not playing: “Everyone acts like it’s this binary choice. ‘If you play, people will get infected and if you don’t play, they won’t.’ It’s not like that. It’s a pandemic, so people are going to get infected. But you watch the data and you listen to health professionals. That’s what is really important. The virus is dynamic and ever-changing, so it’s not like you can say, ‘Do this and that will happen.’ You do your best to mitigate risk.”

    • On having athletes on campus vs. at home: “I would say, in a vacuum, you would rather have them in the collegiate environment working out with people who are hypersensitive to cleanliness, they’re inundated with medical personnel, and every day people are being educated about COVID vs. the local gym. I think there is a legitimate argument that it’s better to be on campus.”

 

LPGA LEANS ON NEW & CURRENT PARTNERS AHEAD OF RESTART

  • The LPGA is turning to both new and current partners to help with its health and safety efforts around its restart, writes SBJ's John Lombardo. The tour will return with the LPGA Drive On Championship set for July 31-Aug. 2 at Inverness Club in Toledo, to be followed by the Marathon LPGA Classic held Aug. 6-9 at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio.
  • The tour has signed a deal with Whoop to supply all players, caddies, and staff across the LPGA Tour, Symetra Tour, and Ladies European Tour with more than 1,000 wearable bands that identify elevated respiratory rates that may indicate COVID-19 before the onset of symptoms. The deal also makes Whoop the official fitness wearable provider of the LPGA and comes after the PGA Tour provided Whoops' wearables to its players last month.

  • The LPGA also signed a new deal with Theraworx Protect to become its official hygiene solutions provider, providing hand and facial sanitizers for the tour. Cambia, a LPGA sponsor since 2014, is now the tour’s official mask partner and will provide masks to all players, caddies and staff when the season resumes late this month.
 

ESPN PREPARES PRODUCTION CONTINGENCIES AMID PANDEMIC

  • ESPN is promising that “College GameDay” will air this fall should there be a college football season, but it “won’t look like the traveling circus fans have grown accustomed to over almost three decades,” according to the AP's Ralph Russo. ESPN VP/Production Lee Fitting said, “We’re still determining what ‘GameDay’ would look like this season and, frankly, it could be different every week. ... It could be potentially on the sidelines of an early game. It could be on the concourse in a stadium. It could even still be on campus. Will there be thousands of fans behind our set screaming like we’ve known it the last however many years? Absolutely not.”

  • Meanwhile, ESPN today announced that Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez will be calling "Sunday Night Baseball" games from a studio in Bristol, while the plan is to have analyst Buster Olney on-site at this point in time. Vasgersian told the N.Y. Daily News, "I'm not sure what would be weirder -- calling a game from a studio, or calling a game from inside a ballpark (with no fans)." 

 

STATUS OF SPORTS LEAGUES

 

SPEED READS

  • The Falcons and Panthers are the latest NFL teams to offer season-ticket opt out options for 2020. The Falcons today "started communicating" their plan for expected crowd limitations with season-ticket holders, informing them that "money already paid for 2020 season tickets will remain on their account." The Panthers in an email to season-ticket holders wrote, "In order to accommodate as many PSL Owners as possible in this reduced-capacity scenario, we plan to make a limited number of home games available to each account."

 

NFL TEAMS OFFERING SEASON-TICKET REFUNDS
GIVE FANS NO-PENALTY DEFERRAL IF THEY WANT
Bills 
Patriots
Titans
Dolphins
Giants
Packers 
Texans
Jets
Eagles
Rams
Bears
Steelers
Browns
Seahawks
Saints
Bengals
Chargers
Broncos
Panthers
    Falcons    
 
DEFERRING ALL SEASON TICKETS
Chiefs
Ravens
49ers
Jaguars
 
 
Download the
Chart

 

  • The Nationals are "unsure if they will begin this season playing at Nationals Park due to municipal coronavirus protocols," according to sources cited by the Washington Post. The team is "actively exploring alternative sites -- with Opening Day now only a week away." The "main reason for the uncertainty is that players, coaches and staff have to quarantine for 14 days if they are exposed to the novel coronavirus, per the city’s health protocols." D.C. is "unwilling to bend that requirement for the Nationals."
  • ESPN's Greg Wyshynski gave his take on the new NHL CBA, and had fun with one particular aspect hitting home amid the pandemic. Wyshynski, on the "ESPN on Ice" podcast, said, "The players did really well for themselves here. … The one thing that I love about the CBA from a players’ perspective, I feel like it was written by spouses and partners. The amount of stuff that came the way of family members in this CBA is kind of incredible. … The house hunters provision -- wherein the player and his spouse or partner get round-trip business class tickets and baggage paid for where they can go to the place where they’ve been traded or signed and they go house-hunting on the NHL’s dime. … There’s more tangible stuff in this document for spouses than there are for rookies." ESPN's Emily Kaplan: "That provision I felt like was a direct response to the last 25% of this (negotiation) being done when everyone was stuck at home and they’re having to be dads and husbands."

  • The NCAA issued an updated “resocialization” policy that includes protocols for testing in advance of competition. Michael Smith in the SBJ College newsletter writes essentially what you need to know is that athletes should be tested within 72 hours of competition for high-contact sports like football and basketball. If testing cannot be performed, “the competition should be postponed or canceled, or an alternative plan for testing should be developed and agreed upon.”

  • The Wall Street Journal writes under the header, "Is It a Problem That Sports Gets Fast Test Results and You Don’t?" The "sharp difference in testing experiences in a state raging with coronavirus infections is the source of a moral quandary casting a shadow over the American sports restart." With a "finite number of tests and a premium on fast turnarounds, the question now is the same as it was four months ago: whether it’s possible to resume sports without damaging public health."

  • Baseball America's Teddy Cahill reports that while college baseball recruiting has "gone online," it also "hasn't slowed down." Instead of coaches traveling across the country to watch players in person at events, they are "watching the events from home on live streams." One recruiting coordinator said, “Who knew it would be more difficult to get from field to field in Atlanta and building your schedule the night before than pulling up live streams? You’ve got Periscope, PlaySight, FloSports. You’ve got to have 10 different log ins and passwords. What time zone is it in?" 

  • Spotted today at Citi Field: Mets employees installing fan cutouts in preparation for Opening Day, per MLB.com's Anthony DiComo.

 

NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- THE ROAD AHEAD

 

 

2020 SBJ THOUGHT LEADERS RETREAT (VIRTUAL)

  • Aug. 13, 2:00-7:00pm ET (by invitation only)

  • The road ahead has never been more challenging -- and it has never been more important for executive leadership to pause, learn, reflect and relax in order to prepare themselves to step up and navigate what the future holds. This year, we are continuing the tradition of Thought Leaders, creating the industry’s most intimate, senior-level event with a virtual program.

  • Content will include:

    • Mindful Leadership with Pandit Dasa
    • The C-Suite Imperative: Corporate Responsibility & Social Impact
    • The New Fan Experience: A 360-degree approach; a 365-day Journey
    • Reinvented: A Conversation with Agent Leigh Steinberg
    • Supporting Social Justice Reform: Backing Words with Action
    • Navigating the Road Ahead: Fundamental Shifts We Can Expect in the Sports Business (group discussions)

  • In addition to the compelling content, we will have plenty of time for some of the best virtual networking activities of the year, including:

    • Jack Daniel’s whiskey tasting
      Aquimo golf (live challenge)
      Aquimo cornhole (live challenge)
      • Cooking demo with "Iron Chef" Marc Forgione
      • A private set from John Popper and Brian Wilson of Blues Traveler

  • For more information please visit, www.Thought-Leaders-Retreat.com.

 

 

 

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.