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Volume 27 No. 53

SBJ Unpacks: NFL Stadiums Reconsidering Fans As COVID Spreads

Tonight in SBJ Unpacks: Three NFL teams backtrack on hosting fans as COVID caseloads surge nationally.

  • Marlins handle flood of press requests for Kim Ng
  • Libby Geist latest executive to leave ESPN
  • NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament relocates to one site
  • Bill Daly says NHL temporary realignment likely to start next season
  • Airbnb SEC filing shows concern over Olympic sponsorship
  • Endurance racing's current state and future potential
  • This free newsletter keeps you up to date on the biggest challenges facing sports. Click here to sign up to receive nightly updates on the industry's winding road to recovery.

NFL Stadiums Reconsidering Fans As COVID Spreads

Three NFL teams that had opened their stadiums earlier this season announced today that they will backtrack, shutting down ticket sales for their upcoming games as COVID-19 caseloads surge nationwide, writes SBJ's Ben Fischer.

The Washington Football Team, the Eagles and Ravens all cited new local regulations in shutting down the experiment in pandemic crowds. The Eagles said fans will be told if the situation changes for any of their remaining three home games; Washington and the Ravens limited their announcement to this week’s games only.

However, there’s little reason to believe public health authorities will reconsider without a major change to the pandemic’s status, and NFL insiders believe gate receipts may have already hit a high-water mark. There now are 16 teams in the NFL with current authority to host ticketed crowds, not including small friends and family exceptions. 

Marlins' Historic GM Hiring Drives Flood Of Press Requests For Kim Ng

Marlins VP/Communications & Broadcasting Jason Latimer says that the team received more than 50 press requests from network, non-sports and international outlets for new GM Kim Ng since the announcement of her hiring was made on Friday.

Latimer tells SBJ's Lucas Smith that the Twitter post announcing Ng’s hiring on the official team account was the most-ever engaged tweet in Marlins history. Ng made the media rounds this morning, appearing on ABC’s “GMA,” NBC’s “Today” and “CBS This Morning” to talk about her historic hiring.

Ng's hiring "provided a genuinely wonderful moment, and a chance to get the sports world's attention for the right reasons," according to SI's Stephanie ApsteinMLB Commissioner Rob Manfred a few minutes after the news broke said, "It really is a historic thing for our sport. For that side of the business, to have a woman in the GM’s job, it really is an amazing accomplishment for her. ...  It is heartening for people who work in the game a long time. Stay at it. Your opportunity comes."

Libby Geist Set To Leave ESPN Next Year

Early next year, Libby Geist will be leaving ESPN, where she is VP & Executive Producer of ESPN Films and Original Content. Geist marks the second senior production executive to announce plans to leave the network, following Connor Schell, ESPN’s Executive VP/Content, who will leave in January, reports SBJ's John Ourand.

Neither Schell nor Geist were part of ESPN’s layoffs that saw around 500 job cuts this month. Geist, who was a member of SBJ’s "Forty Under 40" class in 2019, said that she does not plan to return to work right away, opting to stay at home with her children.

Geist played a senior role in ESPN’s documentary production, including the Oscar-winning “O.J.: Made in America” and the Emmy-winning “The Last Dance.” In an interview, Geist said she was especially proud of the 2013 documentary series “Nine for IX” celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX. See tonight’s SBJ Media for more on Geist's departure.

NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Relocates To One Site

The NCAA D-I Men’s Basketball Committee today decided to relocate the entire 2021 NCAA Tournament to one location instead of the typical 13 predetermined preliminary round sites. The NCAA in a release explained that it became apparent to the committee that conducting the championship at 13 preliminary round sites spread throughout the country would be very difficult to execute in the current pandemic environment.

The committee has decided the championship should be held in a single geographic area to enhance the safety and well-being of the event. As a result, NCAA staff are in preliminary talks with the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis to potentially host the 68-team tournament around the metropolitan area during the coordinated dates in March and April. Indianapolis was already slated to host the Men’s Final Four from April 3-5, 2021.

NHL's Daly: Temporary Realignment Likely For Next Season

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said a temporary realignment is the "most likely scenario" for starting next season, with the objective to "cut down on travel and the risk associated with travel," according to the Toronto Star.

Daly said that the league is still "working on multiple schedules, continues to target a Jan. 1 start to the season, and is likely to ask the players for more financial concessions" in order to start the season. NHL players are deferring 10% of their salaries, while "offering the owners a further" 20% cut in pay. That "amounts to players receiving just" 72% of their salaries.

But sources said that owners "want commissioner Gary Bettman to ask for a larger deferral percentage from the players."

Airbnb SEC Filing Shows Concern Over Olympic Sponsorship

Airbnb in its S-1 filing today made reference to its global sponsorship with the IOC, articulating how the pandemic has created uncertainty for the potential of the deal reached last November.

Airbnb wrote in the filing, "As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we realigned our organizational priorities to further increase our focus on individual hosts and brand marketing, while reducing performance marketing. Our brand marketing efforts are expensive and may not be cost-effective or successful. For example, in November 2019, we announced a partnership with the International Olympic Committee for nine years to cover the next five Olympic Games.

The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the 2020 Olympics, and the continued uncertainty around COVID-19 and other geopolitical factors could undermine our ability to realize the value of the partnership. If our competitors spend increasingly more on brand marketing efforts, we may not be able to maintain and grow traffic to our platform.”

Outside Contributors: Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Octagon Senior VP/Marketing Ian Hall, who writes under the header, "Endurance Racing’s Current State and Future Potential."

"Athletes want to race, and virtual racing is almost the only way for racers to scratch the competitive itch. The number of 'net new' participants in virtual racing is surprising and encouraging. Almost one-third of the 13,000 runners in the Virtual Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon were participating in their first-ever marathon. Rev3 Triathlon has seen a similar dynamic, as  more than 30% of its virtual triathlon participants had never competed in a Rev3 triathlon before. Other major race organizations are seeing similar spikes in participation."

To read the full contribution, click here.

Speed Reads

NASCAR tracks lost an estimated $150 million to $175 million in combined ticket revenue this past season, according to estimates from industry executives familiar with the sport’s finances. Like most sports this year, NASCAR was forced to finish its 2020 season with little to no fans at many races because of the coronavirus pandemic. As the sport looks forward to 2021, it again faces a situation where crowds will almost certainly be limited for at least the first quarter or two of the year, although the industry is holding out more hope for the second half of the year after a vaccine could be widely distributed. See more from Adam Stern in this week's print issue of SBJ.

DraftKings shares jumped 9% when markets opened Friday, after the company "reported its third-quarter earnings, indicating sports betting remains popular," according to the Boston Globe's Anissa Gardizy. DraftKings reported "third-quarter revenue" of $133 million, a 42% "increase compared to the same period last year." The company said that "on average, more than 1 million paying customers used DraftKings during each month of the last quarter," which represents a 64% "increase year-over-year."

The "increasingly bitter battle for control" of the Washington Football Team took a "significant turn on Friday when three of the team’s limited partners, who together own 40 percent of the club, asked a federal judge to allow them to sell their shares as a group," according to the N.Y. Times. Such filings are "rare in the opaque world of buying and selling" NFL teams, but by taking it to court, the minority shareholders are "signaling the depth of the discord" with majority Owner Dan Snyder.

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 the headlines.

NFL Week 10 Report: Ian Eagle Aces "Hail Murray" Touchdown Call

Warriors' Lacob Gives Insight Into Plan To Bring Back Fans

ADs Believe Fall Break On Campus Could Benefit College Football

Some Minorities Critical Of NFL's Diversity Hiring Incentive Plan

Latest SBJ Podcasts

Check out the most recent editions of our SBJ Unpacks podcasts:

FloSports Senior VP/Global Rights Acquisition Phil Wendler discusses the pandemic's impact the subscription-based, OTT platform’s content and rights-acquisition strategies.

Ironman Group CEO Andrew Messick on how the outfit kept athletes engaged virtually during its hiatus, as well as how it has safely returned to hosting in-person races.

New PGA of America President Jim Richerson on his goals for the future of the association.