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Volume 27 No. 53

SBJ Unpacks: NFL Gets Proactive

 

Tonight in SBJ Unpacks: The NFL mandates all teams to follow "intensive protocols" with COVID surging nationally.

  • NBA sponsors gear up for virtual Draft night
  • Under Armour, Univ. of Cincinnati agree to buyout
  • Quarantine issues latest complication for Australian Open
  • MLB closes Midtown headquarters until at least February
  • Indians' Chernoff frontrunner for Mets' baseball ops position
  • Baseball pundits pay tribute to Theo Epstein's legacy
  • Execs expect esports investments/deals to pick up
  • The biggest sponsorship challenges for teams in 2021
  • 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 Expands Virus Procedures Again, Fearing Worse Outbreaks

With COVID surging nationally, the NFL is now mandating all teams follow the “intensive protocols” starting Saturday, reports SBJ's Ben Fischer. That means all meetings are virtual, and masks on at all times, including practice. Until now, the intensive protocols were only required for teams with positive tests or exposure to teams with positive tests.

Primarily, the new league-wide requirement means that all team meetings must be virtual or outdoors and socially distanced. Twenty-eight of 32 teams had already used the new procedures at least once since they were first introduced Oct. 1.

In a memo, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the rules are being made standard for two reasons: The growing spread of the novel coronavirus across the U.S. has made teams more vulnerable, and growing evidence that the intensive protocols have prevented worse outbreaks when utilized. Since the advent of the “intensive protocol” and a rule that anyone with “high-risk” contact with an infected person must quarantine for five days, the league has avoided widespread schedule disruption.

The rules are a sign that the NFL expects the challenge to only increase in the final seven weeks of the regular season. “The upcoming holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving next week, will introduce new risks of exposure that we need to address now,” Goodell wrote.

Meanwhile, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports "nearly the entire Raiders starting defense is going on the COVID-19 list because of high-risk close contacts, but all are eligible to play" Sunday against the Chiefs "if they continue to test negatively."

NBA Sponsors Gear Up For Activation Around Virtual Draft

NBA corporate sponsors have finalized activation plans for tonight’s virtual Draft, delayed five months from its scheduled date, writes SBJ's Terry Lefton. 

The three-hour telecast will originate from ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., studios, but since players will not be in attendance, there will be 15 satellite trucks domestically and four overseas in France, Greece, Israel, and Spain, determined to capture the initial reaction of those draftees and enable them to receive virtual congratulations from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said, “This is such a special night for players who have worked all their lives to get here. Our job is to introduce the next generation to fans, create an experience for players that will allow them to show their joy and express their style.’’

The league has sent swag kits to 39 potential draftees, which include New Era caps for all 30 teams, so they can wear the correct one, as they are selected. Also included is a Spalding ball, and tech products from league sponsors Microsoft, Oculus and Beats, which will air new creative on tonight’s broadcast.

The NBA has a total of 14 sponsors activating. State Farm returns for the eighth consecutive year with presenting sponsorship rights and will brand several content pieces within the ESPN show and on social/digital channels. See Sports Business Daily for a list of more planned activation from sponsors. Also, check out today's "SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead" podcast with NBA VP/Live Production & Entertainment Carlton Myers.

Under Armour, Univ. Of Cincinnati Agree To Buyout

Under Armour has reached a deal to "get out of a $50 million sponsorship with the University of Cincinnati," according to documents obtained by the Baltimore Business Journal.

A "buy-out agreement" between UA and Cincinnati "terminates a prior apparel deal five years before it was set to expire." The agreement, effective July 1, requires UA to pay a $9.75 million exit fee to Cincinnati and provide $3.65 million worth of product through June of 2021.

UA has been the official outfitter of Cincinnati athletics since July 2015, when both sides "entered into a 10-year, $50 million partnership." For UA, the decision to end its sponsorship of Cincinnati "comes as the sportswear maker is exiting numerous deals as part of a major cost-cutting overhaul."

Quarantine Issues Latest Complication For Australian Open

The Victorian Government’s "refusal to allow" players competing in January's Australian Open to enter Melbourne in December has some worried that the tournament will be "scrapped unless overseas players can train while in quarantine," per The Australian

Tennis Australia as of now will be "forced to consider staging next year’s Open without a solitary warm-up event" and Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has "given no guarantee they will be allowed to practice while in their two-week quarantine." TA in a statement on Wednesday said it "continues to work closely with the Victorian Government on staging the Australian Open." With a hard Jan. 18 start date, rescheduling for later in the year is "majorly complicated because of the crammed ATP Tour calendar."

MLB Closes N.Y. HQ Until At Least February

MLB has informed workers at its Midtown Manhattan HQ by email that its offices will be closed until at least February, reports SBJ's Terry Lefton. 

MLB staffers had been operating on a staggered schedule since around Labor Day. The news comes as pandemic numbers are rising throughout the country. In N.Y., schools are closing tomorrow for the city’s more than 300,000 students, with the second wave of the pandemic surging. They had been open for the past eight weeks.

Sources: Chernoff Leader In Clubhouse For Mets' Baseball Ops

Indians GM Mike Chernoff has "emerged as a leading candidate to become the Mets’ new president of baseball operations," sources told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

In recent days, the Mets "formally requested permission to speak with Chernoff about the job, and there were strong indications on Wednesday morning that the Indians will grant Chernoff the ability to interview for the position." While Chernoff has "declined numerous opportunities to pursue jobs elsewhere" in his time with the Indians, new Mets owner Steve Cohen has "pledged to dedicate significant resources toward building a sustainable winner."

Chernoff's father, Mark, works for WFAN in NYC -- the "current Yankees and former Mets radio flagship station -- as vice president of programming."

Baseball Pundits Pay Tribute To Theo Epstein's Legacy

As questions surround Theo Epstein's next move following his departure from the Cubs, baseball pundits paid tribute to the legacy the 46-year-old has already built throughout his career. 

MLB Network’s Ron Darling said Epstein has “done so much, not only in his time in the game, but at such a young, delicate age that I don’t know if anyone, even a lot of the execs today that are starting so young, will ever be able to equal what he’s done.” The N.Y. Post's Joel Sherman said Epstein is an “historic figure in the game.” CBSSN’s Adam Schein said Epstein is “one of the best executives in the history of sports.” 

MLB Net's Chris Russo: "He won with the Red Sox. He won with the Cubs. You slay two dragons like that, there’s not a whole heck of a lot left.” The Boston Globe's Alex Speier writes Epstein was the "face of something larger in the sport, the transfer of prominence from players to executives and the rise of the front-office superstar." 

The Athletic's Joe Posnanski writes under the header, "What Should Theo Epstein Do Next? How About Save The Game Of Baseball?" MLB Net's Russo: “Theo’s going to resurface. That’s all there is to it. He’s too young, and he’s too good.”

Read more on Epstein's possible next move in Sports Business Daily.

Execs Expect Esports Investments/Deals To Pick Up

The economic and societal impact of COVID-19 was significantly reflected in responses from 255 industry decision-makers surveyed by The Esports Observer and law firm Foley & Lardner to identify challenges and opportunities in the nascent industry.

TEO's Tobias Seck notes that while the first wave of COVID-related shutdown policies in March caused esports investment and deal activity to drop, 73% of respondents believe such investments and deals will increase throughout Q4 and into Q1 2021. More than half of the participants cite the drivers of this trend as:

  • Continued social distancing boosting engagement with video games and esports (61%)

  • The growth of online streaming platforms (61%)

  • Increased movement of big brands into esports sponsorships (52%).

Check out the complete Esports Survey 2020 report here.

Outside Contributors: Sports Properties Face Stark New Realities

Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Sportsdigita founder & CEO Angelina Lawton, who writes under the header, "The Biggest Sponsorship Challenges for Teams in 2021."

"Sports properties, already in fierce competition with other suitors for brand-sponsorship commitments, are facing some stark new realities. With consumer markets increasingly fragmented into smaller, distinct submarkets, and with brand clients becoming thriftier about where they devote their advertising dollars, teams and leagues are finding the hard sell to only be growing harder."

To read the full contribution, click here. Also, be sure to check out Lawton's SBJ Game Changers profile from October.

Speed Reads

  • Padres Chair Ron Fowler is stepping down from his position and will be replaced by General Partner Peter Seidler. MLB owners approved Seidler as the team’s control person in a vote this morning. The San Diego Union-Tribune's Annie Heilbrunn tweeted, "It can’t be overstated how much Ron Fowler has contributed to this team and this community. Fowler will continue to work with Seidler/Padres (and with MLB) in an advisory role. If you know Ron, that means 90 hours a week instead of 100."

  • The Cowboys placed their coaching staff in a "COVID-19 bubble" at the Omni Hotel near the team's practice facility, but still plan to increase attendance at AT&T Stadium, according to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said that the organization "will continue to increase attendance at AT&T Stadium despite Texas' standing as the leading state with COVID-19 cases and overall coronavirus surge around the rest of the country." Jones said that he is "proud of how the Cowboys have handled the virus at home games, increasing attendance each week culminating with a new COVID-19 record for crowd size" in last Sunday's loss to the Steelers with 31,700 fans. The Dallas Morning News reports no timetable has been articulated, but indications are this bubble for football operations "will remain in place at the Omni Hotel for the remainder of the Cowboys season."

  • The Pac-12 is "hurtling toward a significant policy reversal after the athletic directors agreed this week to allow non-conference games if a league matchup is canceled because of COVID-19 issues," according to sources cited by the San Jose Mercury News. The change "requires approval from the presidents and chancellors, who had previously banned non-conference games for the 2020 season." Sources said that the presidents "discussed the issue" yesterday but it is "not known whether a vote was taken." The Pac-12 has already canceled five games, largely because of outbreaks at Utah and Arizona State.

News 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: