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Volume 27 No. 26
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SBJ Unpacks: Orlando City Close To Being Sold

Tonight in SBJ Unpacks: Orlando City SC appears set to be the latest pro franchise to change hands. 

  • Gayle Benson's new investment firm closes initial funding round
  • Top NFL fan concern shifts from pandemic to election
  • Cowboys' Elliott tops NFL jersey sales in Mexico/Latin America
  • EA Sports reaps benefits of stay-at-home
  • Yahoo Sports GM on navigating unique fantasy season

 

SOURCES: ORLANDO CITY OWNER CLOSE TO SELLING TEAM

  • Orlando City SC Majority Owner Flávio Augusto da Silva is nearing the final stages of a sale to an unknown buyer, multiple sources tell SBJ’s Mark J. Burns and Chris Smith. It’s unclear if other assets within the Orlando Sports Holdings LLC portfolio -- which include the NWSL Orlando Pride, USL League One Orlando City B and Exploria Stadium -- would be included in the sale. Sources cautioned that talks could still break down and a deal might not be reached. The potential buyer is believed to be based in North America.
  • Orlando joined MLS in 2015 after da Silva paid a $70 million expansion fee. The team has quietly been on and off the market since at least 2018, according to several soccer and finance sources. Finance sources have referred to the long-running sale efforts as one of the worst-kept secrets in sports, and one finance source said that, in 2018, there was a stretch when Orlando was the only major U.S. pro team available.
  • Sources have characterized the soccer investment by da Silva as just that -- an investment and business transaction where he could eventually turn a profit. In other words, da Silva wasn’t getting involved in the league for the long-haul.
  • In March 2018, da Silva sold down his ownership of the operation, selling an 8.63% stake in Orlando Sports Holdings LLC to investor Albert Friedberg. The transaction valued the entire operation at $490.5 million and left da Silva with a nearly 79% stake. Last year, da Silva publicly floated the idea of a further sell-down to Brazilian publication Estadão.
  • Orlando recently had a separate minority transaction where Jed Kaplan, part-owner of the Grizzlies and English second-tier soccer club Swansea City, purchased a LP stake from a former minority owner.

 

GAYLE BENSON CLOSES FIRST INVESTMENT ROUND FOR NEW ORLEANS FIRM

  • Saints Owner Gayle Benson's new venture capital firm has closed its first fund with external backing from key New Orleans-area companies such as Entergy Corp. and the Raising Cane’s restaurant chain, reports SBJ's Ben Fischer.
  • Benson Capital Partners in a statement said that the $50 million Benson Capital Fund I is the largest locally created venture fund in New Orleans history. It will target “fast-growing, scalable companies” in hopes of developing entrepreneurship, innovation and job growth. The fund will be led day-to-day by Managing Director Mike Katz, a veteran of Battery Ventures and Naspers, and Director Caroline Crumley, a Citigroup veteran.
  • Benson said she hopes the fund can create more success stories like her husband, the late Saints Owner Tom Benson. “While there remains limited investment capital in the Gulf South, we felt it was important that we try to fill that troublesome gap and support the next generation of great entrepreneurs,” Benson said. “It is important that we continue to be a catalyst promoting economic development for our region. This is just the first step.”

 

NFL RESEARCH: TOP FAN CONCERN SWITCHED FROM PANDEMIC TO ELECTION

  • After the pandemic shutdowns started in March, COVID-19 topped the list of fans' concerns and anxieties for months, according to the NFL’s regular surveys. But recently, the election has leapfrogged over the pandemic as the top non-football preoccupation, NFL CMO Tim Ellis said.

  • In the NFL Sports Poll Tracker dated Oct. 7, 83% of NFL fans said they were very/somewhat concerned about the election, compared to 81% who said the same about the pandemic. It was the fourth time in five weeks the election topped the pandemic, whereas prior to that the pandemic held the top spot, writes SBJ's Ben Fischer.

  • Both topics have rated very high all year, with at least 7 in 10 fans citing both the pandemic and election as big points of concern in every poll the NFL shared with me. Throw in high responses for a recession and civil unrest, and it’s totally unprecedented for sports to have so many challenges breaking through.

  • Ellis thinks there’s some upside. Since he joined two years ago, Ellis has wanted to personalize the NFL’s brand with a “helmets off strategy” -- leading with players’ personal interests and passions instead of the NFL’s traditional policy and procedures reputation. Social causes like racial equity and get-out-the-vote do just that, and Ellis says it’s paying off. “It shows an image of a progressive, evolving brand that I think is really … It's going to help us future-proof the NFL.”

 

EZEKIEL ELLIOTT TOPS NFL JERSEY SALES IN MEXICO/LATIN AMERICA

  • The NFLPA, via its licensing and marketing arm NFL Players Inc., this week entered into a multiyear agency agreement with Exim to expand its licensing portfolio throughout Mexico and the Latin America region. SBJ's David Broughton takes a look at the Top 25 officially licensed NFLPA jersey sales, according to Fanatics, in Mexico, Central and South America from March 1-Sept. 30.

  

TOP NFL PLAYER JERSEY SALES IN MEXICO/LATIN AMERICA (MARCH 1-SEPT. 30)
RANK
PLAYER
RANK
PLAYER
1
Ezekiel Elliott
14
Nick Bosa
2
Juju Smith-Schuster
15
Drew Brees
3
Jimmy Garoppolo
16
Ben Roethlisberger
4
Julian Edelman
17
Josh Allen
5
Dak Prescott
18
Zach Ertz
6
James Conner
19
Khalil Mack
7
Russell Wilson
20
Christian McCaffrey
8
Lamar Jackson
21
Carson Wentz
9
Tom Brady
22
Dalvin Cook
10
Aaron Rodgers
23
Derek Carr
11
Patrick Mahomes II
24
George Kittle
12
Phillip Lindsay
25
J.J. Watt
13
Amari Cooper
 
 
Download the
Chart

 

 

EA SPORTS REAPS BENEFITS OF STAY-AT-HOME

  • EA is “one of the many industries continuing to benefit from stay-at-home tailwinds” during the pandemic and is “seeing record demand for new releases, like ‘FIFA 21’ and record engagement on its network,” according to CNBC’s Julia Boorstin.

  • EA CEO Andrew Wilson, appearing on CNBC, said through the past six months the company has launched titles such as “UFC,” “Madden” and “FIFA 21” and “nearly doubled our e-sports programming.” Wilson said the “demand coming out of the gate” for “FIFA 21” was “really, really strong and continues to be really high. We’re reaching daily active user records.”

  • Wilson: “We’ve had tens of millions of people come into our network during COVID, to add to the hundreds of millions of people that we already had. We’re seeing them engage deeply in the new games that they’re playing even as parts of the world are kind of moving past COVID right now. Our expectation is that this growth we’ve seen wasn’t unnatural. It really was just an acceleration of a trend that we had already started to see pre-COVID.” 

 

YAHOO SPORTS GM ON NAVIGATING UNIQUE FANTASY SEASON

  • Yahoo Sports GM Geoff Reiss today stressed two key reasons why parent-company Verizon’s “deep and multifaceted” business relationship with the NFL has been so vital.

  • The first involves effectively navigating the fantasy football season amid COVID-related scheduling changes in the NFL. Reiss told SBJ’s Andrew Levin, “We’re not waiting to pick this stuff off of Twitter or the AP wire. We’re in regular contact with the league.” He added the NFL has “done a terrific job of keeping us informed as to the way they’re thinking is evolving and the way the different scenarios have played out.”

  • In addition, Reiss pointed to Verizon’s role as the official 5G provider of the NFL, saying 5G will “afford a depth of experience” in-stadium that “just isn’t practical today.” He explained, “The shorthand for the way I think about it … is that, when we’re attending sporting events live, we have a tendency to have to sacrifice a lot of the creature comforts we associate with watching games at home. (But) a lot of those comforts are going to get reintroduced with what we do in-stadium now because of 5G.”

  • For more insights from Reiss, check out today’s episode of “SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead” podcast, focusing on the business of fantasy sports -- its past, present and future.

 

 

SPEED READS

  • NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills on a call with the media this afternoon acknowledged fans will start to see more and more players sent home from team facilities during the week due to "so much overlap" in symptoms between the flu/common cold and COVID-19. Sills: "We'll see that happening more and more frequently." SI's Albert Breer tweeted, "This one will be an issue, no doubt."
  • The Saints today continued their feud with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, tweeting out a list of NFL games that have been played in domes or enclosed stadiums with fans this season. The team noted there have be "no instances" of reported COVID clusters or outbreaks in these situations. Cantrell this afternoon said she had "no problems with (the) Saints having games in Baton Rouge," adding playing at LSU would be a "good solution for right now."
  • An email in February documenting possible concerns about the coronavirus' impact on the stock market "quickly spread through parts of the investment world," including to Panthers Owner David Tepper, the founder of Appaloosa Management, according to the N.Y. Times. The memo was written by William Callahan, a hedge-fund veteran and member of the Hoover Institution board, who attended a "three-day gathering of Hoover’s board."

  • SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference will "keep our attention on doing the best possible work and adjusting when issues arise" after a number of COVID-19 issues surround the conference this week, according to Yahoo Sports. This week's Vanderbilt-Missouri and LSU-Florida games were both postponed due to the virus, and Alabama coach Nick Saban and AD Greg Byrne both tested positive yesterday. Sankey noted this has been the SEC's "first messy week,” as there had been no SEC games canceled in the first three weeks of the season. Sankey: "Our testing plan has been effective. In this environment, there’s always going to be the potential for disruption. We’ve seen it in other leagues, now we’re experiencing it for the first time.”

  • Rockets GM Daryl Morey today stepped down after 13 years, and the team “quickly promoted” Exec VP Rafael Stone to fill the void, per the Houston Chronicle. Assistant GM Eli Witus also “will move up.” Sources said that Morey’s decision was “100 percent” his own. Morey became “one of the most well-known" GMs in sports but was "embroiled in controversy when he tweeted support for Hong Kong protestors … and causing an enormous rift with the NBA.”

 

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. Tonight, the final Sports Business Daily section from the Intersport Brand Innovation Summit is free, outside the paywall. Below are the headlines.

    • Social Media Strategy Helps MLB Keep Fans Engaged This Season
    • How UnitedHealth Group Helped Create A Major Charity Golf Match
    • 49ers Put More Focus On Fans, Community During Pandemic Season
    • ViacomCBS Exec Jacqueline Parkes On Reaching Young Demographics

 
 
SBJ UNPACKS -- THE ROAD AHEAD

 

 

 

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.