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Volume 27 No. 87

SBJ Unpacks: Bill Hancock On CFP Title Game, Possible Expansion

Tonight in SBJ Unpacks: Bill Hancock doubles down on his expectation that the CFP title game will go on as scheduled next week.

  • NCAA's vote on NIL may be in jeopardy
  • New relationships key to NFL's Wild Card Weekend
  • Barstool Sports is not Bills' mystery naming-rights partner
  • Oak View Group, Elevate partner on new Manchester arena
  • CAA promotes James Burtson from CFO to President 

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Hancock "Confident" CFP Title Game Goes Off As Scheduled

CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock today said he is “certainly hopeful and confident, frankly,” that the National Championship game will be played this Monday, Jan. 11. Amid reports of COVID-19 issues within the Ohio State football program, Hancock said, “It’s obviously a big event, and people have worked for years on putting this game on.” He added, “It would be tricky to have to change. It’s tricky to change a regular-season game, and that would be multiplied for a game like this one.”

Hancock joined our Andrew Levin on the latest “SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead” podcast to break down preparations for the game and challenges the CFP has faced amid the pandemic. Among the takeaways:

On whether the committee had to alter some factors it valued when deciding the best-four teams during a pandemic-altered season: “Those didn’t change. When the playoff was created eight years ago, our founding fathers, I’ll call them, never dreamed there would be a pandemic. But the protocol they wrote back then has held up.”

On whether expanding the playoff could help to quell financial losses from the pandemic: “If there are games from an expanded playoff, where would that money come from? There’s only a finite amount of money out there in the world. If the money were to some way come from the regular season, that wouldn’t do us any good. But a decision about the format, whenever it’s made, will not be made because of money.”

See more from Hancock in tonight's SBJ College newsletter.

NCAA's Vote On NIL May Be In Jeopardy

The NCAA’s long-awaited vote on name, image and likeness legislation is scheduled for Monday, but industry insiders tell SBJ's Michael Smith there is ongoing conversation about tabling the vote. The NCAA’s Division I Council sent its members a 125-page agenda for Monday’s meeting that included the NIL proposal. But some members of the council have questioned whether they should move forward with a vote, given the legal challenges the NCAA already faces.

Reason to go ahead and vote: If the Division I Council punts on a vote Monday, it will be a bad look. The perception will be that the NCAA is kicking the can down the road again on athlete compensation. By moving forward with a vote, assuming it passes, the NCAA can put NIL legislation in effect, even if it’s imperfect. The rules still can be modified over time. It’s important for the governing body to do more than just say it supports NIL legislation; it needs to act on it.

Reason to table the vote: There are simply too many external forces at work to follow through on a vote Monday. Between the NCAA’s upcoming appointment with the U.S. Supreme Court, the college athletes bill of rights and the five states that already have signed NIL laws, there’s too much that can change between now and implementation in August. Besides, there remains a need for clarity on a number of important NIL restrictions and some additional time could be helpful.

There are compelling arguments for both scenarios. As of this afternoon, the vote remained part of the agenda for the NCAA convention, which will run through next week virtually. If the D-I Council vote passes, the Division I Board of Directors would have to make it official next Thursday. Then we’ll know for sure the state of NIL in the NCAA.

For more details on the NCAA vote, click here.

New Relationships Key To NFL's Wild Card Weekend

Most coverage of the NFL’s distribution expansion for the Wild Card games has focused on the new fans they hope to reach -- kids, families, cord-cutters and Spanish speakers, writes SBJ's Ben Fischer. But NFL Media Exec VP & COO Hans Schroeder says don’t sleep on the business relationships developed by those deals too. 

“These new experiences can bring in new advertisers and new brands, particularly on some of the other platforms,” Schroeder said. “As we broaden the availability on the distribution side, we think there’s real opportunity for our partners on the advertising side as well.”

To be clear, any new ads sold on Nickelodeon or Freeform will be modest revenue generators for the media companies, at best, since the audiences will be small. But the chance to at least talk to different brands with an eye to the future is useful, Schroeder said, as the league continues its quest for new relationships.

Schroeder emphasized the ads will be “appropriate for the audience,” which would seem to limit some of the most consistent NFL advertisers (like beer and pharmaceuticals, to name two) on kid-focused channels. (CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus said last month many of the ads will be the same.)

Meanwhile, NBC Sports reports Sunday's Browns-Steelers playoff game in Pittsburgh "remains on, but the NFL surely is holding its breath after two more Browns players ... went on the COVID-19 reserve list Thursday." The league has "maintained it will not reschedule any game, including a postseason game, for competitive reasons, only medical."

Barstool Sports Not Bills' Mystery Naming-Rights Partner

Ahead of their first home game since 1996, the Bills are zeroing in on a new stadium naming-rights deal, according to an industry source cited by SBJ's Ben Fischer. No other details are currently known, but an announcement could be coming soon. Bills Stadium had been known as New Era Field from 2016 to last July, when New Era and the Bills agreed to end the deal two years prematurely. New Era had been paying about $4 million annually.

The buyer is not Barstool Sports, founder Dave Portnoy confirmed this afternoon via Twitter. Portnoy first raised the prospect in August. A master of stunt social media content, Portnoy felt it necessary at the time to clarify nine minutes later that he was serious. “I wish it was us,” Portnoy tweeted today. “It’s not. We never got a meeting. We tried. But don’t count us out yet for another team.”

CAA Promotes Burston To President, Brings In PwC's Sawdye

CAA promoted James Burtson from CFO to President and named PricewaterhouseCoopers COO Carol Sawdye to the CFO position, reports SBJ's Liz Mullen.

Longtime CAA President Richard Lovett will continue in his role as co-Chair alongside Kevin Huvane and Bryan Lourd. Sawdye has worked as COO for global law firm Skadden, Arps, and was NBA Exec VP & CFO prior to her most recent position at PwC.

Lovett in a statement said Burtson is a "world-class leader with profound insight into the opportunities ahead as the media, sports and technology landscapes, and CAA itself, continue to evolve."

Oak View Group, Elevate Partner On New Manchester Arena

Oak View Group and Elevate Sports Ventures have entered into a partnership surrounding the new 23,500-capacity Co-Op Live arena in Manchester, England. The deal sees sports consultancy Elevate support OVG on strategy, marketing, sales and service for Co-Op Live’s 27 suites, nine lounges and assorted club spaces, totaling roughly 2,300 premium seats and VIP experiential spaces, about 10% of the venue’s capacity. OVG Int'l President Sam Piccione III told SBJ’s Bret McCormick that the premium seating inventory for Co-Op Live is worth £12.5 million pounds (US$16.9 million.)

Elevate Executive VP/Sales & Marketing Shawn Doss said, “The premium opportunities, spaces and amenities that Elevate and OVG will deliver will redefine top tier seating and hospitality trends globally.”

The arena, located adjacent to Manchester City's Etihad Stadium, will be the U.K.'s largest. The project received approval in September 2020, and a 15-year naming rights deal was struck between OVG and UK commerce giant Co-Operative Group later that same month. The building is slated to open in 2023 and will host around 120 events per year and more than a million visitors. 

Elevate will open the Co-Op Live Sales Suite in Manchester this April to drive interest in the venue’s premium options. Elevate will also oversee hires for new Manchester-based roles, including a sales director. Co-Op Live is Elevate’s first international client. 

OVG and Live Nation won the tender to develop a new arena in Cardiff, Wales, in late 2020 and though nothing is confirmed yet, Piccione thinks it’s very possible that OVG and Elevate could work together in a similar capacity for that building too. “Our vision is that as we grow, Elevate will come with,” he said.

Speed Reads

  • The Blues late this afternoon became the latest NHL club to add helmet sponsors after the league opened up the category late last year. The team will have two St. Louis companies - Enterprise and Stifel -- featured in the upcoming season. Enterprise will appear on the white road helmet while Stifel will be featured on the blue home helmet. See Closing Bell for a complete list of NHL team helmet sponsors.

  • Following WNBA Atlanta Dream co-Owner Kelly Loeffler's Senate race loss, the question "turns to what's next for the players and the league -- and to what should be done about an owner who publicly blasted her own players and who ... said the values of the WNBA did not align with her own," according to the N.Y. Times.

  • New Jazz Owner Ryan Smith said he wants to "add value" to the franchise and believes they are "going to probably have to get a little more aggressive as we think about how to take this to the next level, especially in a league where we’ve got a lot of owners who are well-funded and want to win." Appearing on ESPN's "The Woj Pod," Smith said, "The reality is my job’s probably to make one or two or three really difficult decisions a year and just be there to support (head coach Quin Snyder) and support our players.” 

  • ESPN's Heisman Trophy ceremony drew a record-low 1.52 million viewers on Tuesday night for DeVonta Smith's win, though SBJ's Austin Karp writes it is "tough to give an apples-to-apples Heisman award viewership comparison given all the circumstances." Last year, in a "normal" window, the net drew 2.54 million for Joe Burrow's win.

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. Tonight, select stories from Sports Business Daily are free, outside the paywall. Below are the headlines: