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Volume 27 No. 53

SBJ Unpacks: NFL Focused On Preventing Spreads Within Teams


Tonight in SBJ Unpacks: The NFL reports a new single-week high for positive player tests, but the league remains confident in its ability to prevent spread.

  • 2021 Pro Bowl will take place virtually
  • Collinsworth's Pro Football Focus set to expand
  • Cubs' Theo Epstein stepping down after nine years
  • Salt Lake City-Utah Winter Games bid comes into focus
  • fuboTV co-founder on going public amid the pandemic
  • 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 Confident It's Minimizing Spread Within Teams

Seventeen NFL players tested positive for COVID-19 last week, a new single-week high water mark for the league, according to NFL/NFLPA data published today. However, overall cases including team staff declined from 56 to 52 week to week, a positive sign amid a nationwide 31% caseload increase in that time, according to the N.Y. Times’ 7-day rolling average.

The NFL believes its efforts to prevent spread within teams have mostly been successful, writes SBJ's Ben Fischer. NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said genome testing -- which can indicate where the infected person got the virus -- shows that “the new cases that are coming in, are coming in from the community.” 

Buttressing his confidence, Sills said, was a growing body of COVID cases where contact tracing found no “high-risk” close contacts with an infected player, coach or staffer. That is proof teams are following social distancing and mask protocols, and limiting the spread and competitive challenges created by the disease, he said.

Sills said the NFL faces a higher risk of COVID-19 spread during the holidays like the rest of society, and the league, teams and union have tried to emphasize the importance of sticking with precautions as families gather. “We know it’s a period of vulnerability,” Sills said.

NFL Holding Virtual Event In Place Of Cancelled Pro Bowl

The NFL's 2021 Pro Bowl "will take place virtually, with players going head-to-head in Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL ’21 video game" at some point early next year, reports CNBC.

EA Sports and the NFL have "teamed up to create a week-long series of virtual match-ups that will include celebrities, football legends and current players, leading up to the main event -- a game of Madden between the league’s best players." The exact date of the game is still being determined. NFL Executive VP/Club Business & League Events Peter O'Reilly called the virtual event an "opportunity to connect with young fans in a way that’s really accessible."

The NFL canceled the original iteration of the Pro Bowl just last month, giving it flexibility to add a week to the regular season without moving Super Bowl LV from Feb. 7. The game had been slated for Jan. 31 at Allegiant Stadium.

The NFL is "working out the details of the broadcast arrangement with Disney-owned ABC and ESPN, but the event will be broadcast across all major social media channels," per CNBC.

Collinsworth's Pro Football Focus Set To Expand

Cris Collinsworth’s data analytics firm Pro Football Focus is "renovating its offices, adding new sports to its lineup and planning a hiring spree," per the Cincinnati Business Courier.

PFF has "expanded into the other half of its building at 1208 Central Parkway, near Music Hall," which "essentially doubles its space." The expansion came about partly due to data experts' need for a "studio to record podcasts and videos to post on YouTube."

The firm also "plans to increase its employment by 33% in the next year," per CEO Neil Hornsby. He "expects to grow from 100 full-timers now to 133 by late 2021." Part of the reason for that growth is the company’s "plans to add two sports to its coverage areas: soccer and rugby." Hornsby said internal research "showed they were the ones we could make the biggest impact in."

PFF has been "thriving despite the pandemic, as the NFL season began on schedule and college football got going after a delay," the Courier writes. The company has had no pay cuts or layoffs, which Hornsby "credits to Collinsworth’s leadership."

Cubs' Theo Epstein Stepping Down

Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein is "stepping down" on Friday and will be succeeded by GM Jed Hoyer, per the Chicago Tribune.

Epstein spent nine years at the helm of the Cubs, "spearheading a rebuilding effort that resulted in five postseason appearances and a World Series title" in '16. Epstein in a statement said, "I believe this is the right decision for me even if it’s a difficult one. And now is the right time rather than a year from now. The organization faces a number of decisions this winter that carry long-term consequences; those types of decisions are best made by someone who will be here for a long period rather than just one more year."

Epstein did "not reveal his post-Cubs plans, but has said in the past that he would be interested in the ownership of a team."

Salt Lake City-Utah Bid For Future Winter Games Comes Into Focus

The Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, which is preparing to submit a bid to host the Winter Olympics in either 2030 or 2034, today provided media with an update on its progress, reports SBJ’s Chris Smith.

Committee Chair Cindy Crane revealed that the committee and the USOPC both sent letters on Oct. 30 to IOC President Thomas Bach to express their continued willingness to host a future Winter Games. “That was really a formal step … in a more informal process to convey our enthusiasm and intent,” said Crane, who added that Bach quickly responded, expressing his “support of our intent and interest, but also (offered) high recognition for what we are doing in the space of sport and our legacy.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who co-signed the committee’s letter, joined the call to express his support. “I believe to my soul that (there) is no place better prepared or better capable of hosting a Winter Olympics than here in Utah and the Salt Lake area,” said Herbert. 

The committee held its first governing board meeting last month, formally adopting its core principles, a diversity and inclusion resolution and policies pertaining to code of conduct, ethics and conflicts of interest. Committee CEO Fraser Bullock added that committee leadership has been in touch with LA28, particularly in regards to the question of whether the Utah committee should target 2030 or 2034; if Utah hosts the Winter Olympics in the former year, it will follow about 18 months behind LA28. Committee leaders said there is currently no hard timeline for making a formal bid.

Dealing With The Uncertainties Of Planning Amid A Pandemic

Across every business, but especially sports and others which rely on crowds, it’s been a year of ceaseless scenario planning, writes SBJ's Terry Lefton.

It’s become customary to work on three or four things simultaneously, with the only surety being that just one will reach fruition. One example: NBA corporate sponsor AT&T is formulating three separate activation plans for the next All-Star Game, which may or may not take place.

“We’ve torn down [planned] activations for the Final Four, The Masters, and the Tribeca Film Festival -- there was a lot of emotion attached to those,” said AT&T Assistant VP/Sponsorships & Experiential Marketing Shiz Suzuki. “We’ve built up a lot of emotional resilience.’’

It’s been eight months of uncertainties. That’s been challenging for the properties, sponsors and agencies which together accomplish the peculiar alchemy that is sports marketing.

For more, see today's issue of SBJ Marketing.

fuboTV Co-Founder On Going Public Amid A Pandemic

Sports-first television streaming company fuboTV raised $197 million in gross proceeds through its early October IPO, and today, co-Founder & CEO David Gandler discussed why now -- amid the pandemic -- was the right time to go public.

Gandler stressed fuboTV is “uniquely positioned in terms of playing three secular trends.” He told SBJ’s Andrew Levin, “You have, obviously, the secular decline of television: one. You have the shift of TV advertising dollars moving to connected devices. And then, for fubo, the third one, which is relatively close, is online sports wagering.” Gandler concluded, “We consider ourselves a sports-first, cable TV-replacement service. For those three trends, it was really the right time to take this company public.”

He also discussed how the company will utilize the funds, listing building out the technology team and investing further into advertising. Gandler said, “We’ll continue to develop addressable technologies to drive CPMs. We’ll continue to invest in machine learning to be able to surface the most appropriate content. … Obviously, we’ll spend that money driving subscriber growth.”

Gandler on the future of content distribution: “Ultimately, bundling wins,” he said. “We all like aggregation. We like services like Netflix and Spotify. And we like going to big superstores like Costco or Walmart or Amazon, marketplaces. I don’t think that’s going to change. There’s a value in having everything in one place, personalized for you and your family. I’m a big believer in aggregation.”

For more insights from Gandler on fuboTV’s present and future, check out today’s episode of “SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead.”

Speed Reads

  • The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee is launching a new marketing portal for Team USA athletes, per SBJ's Chris Smith. The Athlete Marketing Platform, which is being built in partnership with athlete marketing facilitator Opendorse, will become available for Team USA athletes to join in January and go into full effect in March. At its core, the platform is intended to provide an avenue for more Team USA athletes to access sponsorship money that’s often not available at an individual level. “It’s really the idea of trying to look and see, from an athlete standpoint, how we could have more athletes have an opportunity to engage with partners and have earning potential on their individual brands,” said USOPC Chief of Athlete Services Bahati VanPelt.

  • NCAA Senior VP/Basketball Dan Gavitt said that the NCAA "hopes to confirm Indianapolis" as the sole host city for this year's NCAA Tournament by Jan. 1, according to the Indianapolis Star. Gavitt on a conference call said, "Preliminary discussions are solely with Indianapolis, but we do have other cities on a list to consider should it not materialize (with Indy) the way we hope it will." Besides the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium, "gym possibilities locally include Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Farmers Coliseum, University of Indianapolis and Marian University."

  • The CFP management committee will "discuss delaying" the 2021 event when it meets tomorrow afternoon, according to sources cited by the San Jose Mercury News. The move to "formally discuss a delay -- it’s on the agenda -- came at the request of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott." However, sources said that "does not indicate a change is imminent."

  • N.Y.-based Levels, which makes a wearable that tracks blood sugar levels, has raised $12 million in seed funding, per TechCrunch. Cavaliers G Matthew Dellavedova was among the investors in the round, which was led by Andreesen Horowitz.

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