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Volume 27 No. 52
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SBJ Unpacks: MLS Expansion Delayed In Three Markets

It’s funny how expectations have changed. At first, I was dismayed to learn there’d be no gallery at The Memorial, the PGA Tour stop that was something of a tradition for me growing up in Ohio.

After four months of lockdowns, and endless off-the-field drama around the return of sports, I’m pretty happy it’s happening at all, fans or not.

-- Ben Fischer

  

SOURCE: STADIUM DELAYS AMONG REASONS FOR MLS EXPANSION DECISION

  • MLS is postponing the inaugural seasons of three expansion clubs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on stadium construction and business operations, reports SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. Charlotte’s debut will move from 2021 to 2022, while St. Louis and the Sacramento Republic FC, which currently plays in the USL Championship, will begin play in 2023 instead of 2022.

  • A source familiar with the situation said that there have been delays in Charlotte’s renovation of Bank of America Stadium in addition to construction delays for Sacramento’s new 21,000-seat stadium. At this time, it’s hard to determine if St. Louis’ new stadium is still on its original projected timeline, the source said. The decision to delay was made by Commissioner Don Garber and the league’s expansion committee.

  • Austin FC is still scheduled to debut in 2021 at their new stadium. Team President Andy Loughnane tweeted this afternoon: “Unwavering commitment from Club ownership, stadium+training facility progress, onboarding of key partners/staff/roster, pace of ticket sales, and pent-up demand from supporters to launch ATX's major league team serve as our compass.”

  • Tepper Sports & Entertainment President Tom Glick, whose organization operates the Charlotte MLS club, said in a Twitter video interview: “This is a case where more time will be a benefit. We now have 20 months until the spring of 2022. It’s the perfect amount of time. ... This is a club that we are establishing for Charlotte and for North and South Carolina that’s going to be around for the next 100 years or more.”

 

 

NFL PROCEEDS TOWARD CAMP DESPITE UNION QUESTIONS

  • The week ends without a final deal between the NFL and NFLPA on COVID-19 mitigation procedures or how pandemic losses will affect players’ salaries, but it’s all systems go for the opening of training camp, SBJ’s Ben Fischer reports. This could set the stage for a union grievance if the sides don’t come together soon.

  • On a 90-minute conference call with reporters on today, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said: "The league has made the decision that they want to start training camp on time. The role of the union is to hold them accountable on how to make sure it's safe to open camp now.” Owners met privately today, saying afterwards they would continue to implement health and safety protocols developed so far with the union, and promised to “address additional issues in a cooperative way."

  • The deadlock may come to a head as soon as Monday, when rookies and some veterans for the Chiefs and Texans have been instructed to report to camp. Others will follow over the coming two weeks. Players say they’re concerned about testing frequency, quarantining, acclimation periods, and don’t even want to discuss economics until those are settled.

 

TOKYO VENUES, SCHEDULE SECURED FOR 2021 SUMMER OLYMPICS

  • Tokyo Olympics organizers told the 136th session of the IOC that they’ve secured the use of the Games’ planned venues, reports SBJ’s Chris Smith. Organizers have also finalized the schedule for next year’s Games, which remain nearly identical to the version originally prepared for 2020, and are now tasked with determining how to safely hold the Olympics in the midst of a pandemic.

  • “We believe that COVID-19 countermeasures are the biggest issue and biggest challenge,” said Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto. The organizing committee has partnered with the governments of Japan and Tokyo to deliberate potential countermeasures and will specifically consider areas like immigration control, enhanced virus testing and transportation, among others. Organizers expect to face an increase in costs, though Muto said the full scale of the additional expenses won’t be clear until this fall.

  • In a press conference following today’s session, IOC President Thomas Bach said his organization and Tokyo organizers continue to review contingency plans, including the possibility of hosting the Games with limited or no spectators. Bach also expressed little concern over the narrow six-month window now separating the Tokyo and 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, even arguing that the short time span may prove beneficial: “The awareness of the Olympic Games from Tokyo can be transferred, at least in part, to Beijing 2022,” said Bach.

  • This week’s session, the first ever to be conducted by video conference, also included the election of two new IOC VPs in John Coates (Australia) and Ser Miang Ng (Singapore), as well as two executive board members in Mikaela Cojuangco-Jaworski (Philippines) and Gerardo Werthein (Argentina). Five IOC new members were also elected, including current World Athletics President Sebastian Coe.

 

SPORTS PRODUCTION ROLLS WITH THE PUNCHES WITH NO FANS

  • MLS has been an interesting TV experiment without fans in the stands in Orlando. Fox Sports pumps in crowd noise on linear TV, while ESPN does not (Fox does offer a no-noise option online). For games on ESPN, there is a clear sound of participants via more than 30 microphones across three fields, wireless cameras and remote-controlled transmitters buried just under the grass.

  • ESPN Remote Operations Specialist Kevin Cleary told Sports Video Group News: “We’re able to hear an enormous amount of interaction between players and teams and officials on the field, more than we’ve ever heard for soccer before. We’re constantly picking up conversations between players and coaches and officials. If you’re a fan of soccer, you’ve never heard it like this.”

  • Looking inside the TV booth, longtime NBA play-by-play announcer Mike Breen, on the ESPN Daily podcast, said calling games without fans will be completely different. “There are times that the crowds have chants that become part of the broadcast because they’re chanting something that either has something to do with the game or something to do with a player, and you take your cue from that and it’s something that you need to address,” he said of fans. “You really do take your cue from them a lot, and that’s why this is going to be such an intriguing thing for all of us.” 

  • Breen, who will be in Orlando for the games, noted some warmup matchups will likely experiment with piping in crowd noise or music, but no final decisions have been made. “If I have to pull back and talk less, I will,” Breen said of a no-noise game. “While the ball is in play, to counter the silent ambiance, there will be certain instances where we might talk now where wouldn’t have in the past. But I think there’s something about the hearing the sneakers squeaking, the ball bouncing, guys calling out screens, coaches calling from the sidelines. If you can capture some of that, if that truly does come through for the viewer at home, then I think it would be important for us to talk a little bit less.”

 

An array of microphones and wireless cameras are capturing clearer sound during fan-less MLS matches

 

WORLD SURF LEAGUE FORMS PLANS FOR 2021, BEYOND

  • World Surf League this morning canceled its 2020 season and announced that major changes to its competitive format will be enacted over the next 18 months when pro surfing restarts, writes SBJ's Bret McCormick

  • Two of the changes will generate extra buzz and content opportunities for the WSL and its broadcast partners.

    • The 2021 institution of a one-day, scheduled world championship final is a first, enabling WSL to name the day and time that the sport’s world champs will be crowned (champions were previously determined by points standings with no set date for a resolution).

    • The second change, beginning in 2022, will see the WSL’s Championship Tour, its top level, create a mid-season cut that reduces the tour’s field by half. That gives the WSL what CEO Erik Logan called a “marketable event,” and broadcasters an interesting story to explore mid-season.

  • Logan took over as CEO on Jan. 1, and the WSL was two weeks away from starting its season when the pandemic hit. By April, conversations turned to future possibilities, as well as sorting through varied solutions with some of the tour’s big name sponsors like Corona, Red Bull, Jeep, IKEA and all the major surfing brands. Logan said it was obvious to sponsors that 2020 was a no-go, but that they wanted to know that WSL had a plan to move forward.

  • Logan said that he was 100% empowered by WSL ownership to consider every aspect of the business and competition. “We’re invigorating, innovating and driving the sport forward and doing the things necessary to propel us for the next 10 years.” 

 

MLS PROGRESSING WITH COVID PROTECTION

  • After the departures of FC Dallas and Nashville SC from the MLS is Back Tournament due to too many positive COVID-19 cases, the league now appears to have a tighter hold on the Orlando bubble, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. In back-to-back league disclosures on July 14 and July 16, no person as part of the delegation -- players, coaches, referees, staffs and other personnel -- staying at the host hotel have tested positive for COVID-19. That includes testing 1,227 people from July 12-13 and 1,124 people from July 14-15.

  • Meanwhile, Co.Protect, a branded protective equipment provider, is now a supplier of single-use facemasks for MLS teams, including those participating in the bubble. The company, which was co-founded by LAFC co-Owner & President Tom Penn, has provided almost 300,000 custom masks to MLS to date. Its deal with MLS is the organization’s first entry into pro sports. The custom masks feature club logos for teams, the league logo for MLS staff and the Professional Referee Organization’s logo for referees.

  

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: ESPORTS EXPANDS PROFILE

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Will Deller & Alex Grigg in the London office of global law firm Bird & BirdThey write under the header, "Coronavirus And Esports -- Adapting To A New Reality." 
  • "In the face of COVID-19, digital content has had to adapt and evolve like never before. But in a world where live content is scarce, esports has shown itself to be remarkably adaptable, expanding its profile both on mainstream television and on streaming platforms."
  • To read the full contribution, click here.

 

 

SPEED READS

  • Positive news out of the latest round of MLB-MLPBA testing through Thursday: 6 of 10,548 samples (0.05%) tested positive. The past week also "included a 5-day period in which no new positives were reported." Five of 6 the positives were players and one was a staff member, per the N.Y. Post's Joel Sherman.

  • Texas A&M VP/Brand Development Shane Hinckley told ESPN that the athletic department expects to weather the pandemic better than most schools. "I saw what Arizona did," he said, referencing that school's decision to make across-the-board furloughs and pay cuts, including to athletics. "Right now, Texas A&M is not going through that process. But there are divisions that are looking at eliminating open positions, not rehiring ... and there may be some staff loss, based upon what each unit decides to do, but that's definitely not the general consensus across the board."

  • Pacers Owner Steve Simon is putting his money to work during the pandemic with a recent investment in Ergatta, a Brooklyn-based home fitness startup. Simon was part of a $5 million funding round for the company which makes a connected rower product that Crunchbase notes “seems more like e-sports than fitness.” Ergatta co-Founder & CEO Tom Aulet: “It is part video game, part sports.” 

  • Americans continue to find an outlet via sports amid the pandemic. Golf equipment sales in June were up 50%, while racquet sports were up more than 33%. Basketball equipment -- outside of shoes -- were also up 25%, per data from NPD Group VP & Senior Sports Industry Adviser Matt Powell.

  • The Colonial Athletic Association's BOD on Friday voted to suspend conference football competition in the fall due to continuing concerns associated with the pandemic.

 

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.