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Volume 27 No. 87

SBJ Unpacks: NHL Ready To Break The Ice

Tonight in SBJ Unpacks: In the words of our own Mark J. Burns, of course the NBA is trying to steal the thunder from the NHL's opening night.

  • NHL clubs ready for fluid ticket protocols
  • League exec Brian Jennings on the NHL's new asset opportunities 
  • Has NBA player empowerment gone too far after James Harden drama?
  • Fanatics seeing record sales for Alabama championship merch
  • Tokyo Olympic organizers continue prep amid growing doubts
  • MLB suspends all political donations following Capitol riot

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NHL Drops Puck On Unique 2020-2021 Campaign

The first of 116 consecutive days of NHL regular-season hockey began tonight with a five-game schedule, none of which will actually have fans in attendance. To start, just three teams -- the Stars, Coyotes and Panthers -- will have limited fans in attendance, though that could change throughout the season, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. 

Panthers COO Sean McCaffrey told SBJ that BB&T Center will have a different makeup to accommodate up to 25% capacity (about 5,000 fans). A "Red Reminders" program -- socially-distanced messaging combined with Panther paw floor markers -- will help guide fans inside and outside of the arena. The Panthers redesigned bathrooms to install all touchless sinks and paper towel dispensers while the club also set up QR codes in the building so fans could scan and access the web for ease-of-use with mobile ordering. Point-of-sales have also been upgraded. McCaffrey: “We thought this was a catchier way to market the program. Protocols are in place, they’re ever-present and visible. It’s simple and easy for fans to understand.”

Outside of no or limited fans, arguably the biggest difference to the season will be the amount of new sponsorship inventory available to clubs, including helmet ads, expanded bench signage and advertisements on the glass, among other opportunities. To date, 26 of the NHL’s 31 teams have secured at least one helmet sponsor.

NHL Clubs Ready For Fluid Ticket Protocols

While most NHL clubs will not have fans to start the season, organizations are still working through ticketing protocols with season-ticket holders and premium customers, notes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. The Ducks, who won’t have fans initially at Honda Center, were expected to provide season-ticket holders options as early as yesterday, according to President of Business Operations Aaron Teats. Those included rolling over their money from this season to 2021-22 and receiving a 5% incentive credit on their balance, asking for a refund on their account balance but still remaining as a member for next year or asking for a refund altogether.

“The ups and downs and the bumps in the road that we’re all going to experience getting through COVID, it’s not going to be simple on anyone. At the end of the day, if (season-ticket holders) say, ‘The Ducks treated me fairly,’ then we’re doing our job,” said Teats, who added that he anticipates a majority of fans will roll over their balance.

The Devils have already experienced a similar result, as the club had over 98% of their season-ticket base roll over their monies from 2020-21 to next season, the club said, though some accounts asked for a partial refund. In order for fans to maintain their seat location, tenure and benefits over the course of this campaign, season-ticket holders needed to keep a minimum of 25% of what the value of their plan is for next year with the Devils. Team VP/Sales & Service Brian Norman: “We don’t want to alienate any members of our season-ticket base. … We understand that we’re in this for the long haul. We’re looking to build something that’s sustainable and successful.”

Read more on the ticketing challenges facing teams, with and without fans, in this week’s hockey preview in the print issue of SBJ.

Rockets Move Disgruntled James Harden To Nets

The Rockets have "sent James Harden to the Nets in a blockbuster four-team trade that also involves the Pacers and Cavaliers, completing the unhappy star's exit from Houston and setting up a potential superteam in Brooklyn," sources told ESPN.

Axios' Kendall Baker: "I don't want to say Harden (and Kyrie in a different sense) represent the NBA as whole, but has the 'Player Empowerment Era' gone off the rails? What are we even doing anymore? Superteams and offseason drama are fun, but ultimately it's not enjoyable rooting for frontrunners."

See more on the Harden fallout in tomorrow's issue of SBD.

Fanatics Seeing Record Sales For Alabama Championship Merch

Alabama fans are buying CFP championship gear at a faster pace than ever before, according to Fanatics data cited by SBJ's Michael Smith.

In the first 36 hours after defeating Ohio State for the title, Alabama’s sales are setting an all-time record for what Fanatics calls its hot market merchandise, beating the pace set by LSU last season. Compared to Alabama’s last championship in 2018, sales are up 75% during that 36-hour postgame stretch, Fanatics said.

The company also looked at transactions within two hours after the game ended and found that 90% of all sales were placed on mobile devices, another Fanatics record high.


Fanatics' top-selling product so far has been the Alabama schedule shirt


NHL's Brian Jennings Examines New Assets For Season

The NHL and its 31 clubs will hit the ice this season with plenty of new asset opportunities, and on the latest “SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead” podcast, NHL Chief Brand Officer & Senior Exec VP Brian Jennings joined our Andrew Levin to break down them all.

On player-helmet decals: “It’s three different manufacturers, 13 different models, a lot of different venting, so they’re not all equal. We had to really figure out this matrix of what would be the right square-inch analysis. We were steadfast in making sure it looked professional.”

On tarp seat-covers in facilities versus the NFL’s: “Our field of play and television angles are a little different than the NFL. So, I do think we are mindful of that lower bowl, where you have camera-position one that captures probably 75-80% of the game, and that camera angle does capture that lower bowl. So, I do think there is value.”

On virtual slot in-ice branding: “Virtual is allowing us, with our technology partner SMT, to project onto the ice, so you wouldn’t see it in the building, but from a TV perspective, you can just exponentially get that much more inventory. … We’re going to do some smart experimentation. We’re going to look, and this will likely evolve.”

On the two Lake Tahoe games this season leading to other events like it: “There’s something magical about this ‘mystery Alaska,’ if you will, type of setting. The North American landscape has no shortage of beautiful, pristine areas that we would love to get to.”

NHL News From Sports Business Daily

Tonight, select stories from Sports Business Daily's NHL season preview are free, outside the paywall. Below are the headlines:

Tokyo Olympic Organizers Continue Prep Amid Growing Doubts

A "dramatic rise in coronavirus cases in Tokyo has reignited speculation about the Olympic Games," which are due to open in the city in just over six months' time, per the London Guardian.

Japan today widened its coronavirus state of emergency to "cover more than half the population" as surging infections "sparked warnings of intense pressure on hospitals." Yoshiro Mori, the head of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said preparations would continue, despite "growing doubts." Mori said, "I think we will have to make a very difficult decision around February to March."

The IOC and Games organizers say they have a "toolbox" of measures that will "make it possible to ensure the safety" of 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, as well as tens of thousands of officials and other Games-related staff, but they are "not due to reveal detailed plans" until the spring. The torch relay, involving 10,000 runners, is due to start in Fukushima in late March.

See more in SBD Global.

MLB Suspends All Political Donations Following Capitol Riot

MLB is "suspending all political contributions in the wake of last week’s invasion of the U.S. Capitol," per the AP.

The league in a statement said, "In light of the unprecedented events last week at the U.S. Capitol, MLB is suspending contributions from its Political Action Committee pending a review of our political contribution policy going forward."

MLB is the "first of the major professional sports leagues to say it would alter its lobbying strategy in the wake of the deadly Capitol riots." The Office of The Commissioner of MLB Political Action Committee has "donated $669,375 to Senate and House candidates since the 2016 election cycle."

Speed Reads

  • The PGA Tour's Waste Management Phoenix Open, which will be played Feb. 4-7 at the TPC Scottsdale, will let in "fewer than 5,000 fans Wednesday through Sunday of tournament week because of the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona," per ESPN.

  • A group of marketing/communications execs has founded Stadion Sports, a new advisory firm with the goal of assisting college athletics stakeholders with issues around student-athlete name, image and likeness, per SBJ's Chris Smith. Stadion will provide educational and consulting services to universities, athletic departments, corporate sponsors and student-athletes.

  • Producers of "Jeopardy!" announced this afternoon that Katie Couric, Aaron Rodgers, Bill Whitaker and Mayim Bialik will "serve as guest hosts this season, replacing Alex Trebek, who died in November at age 80 of pancreatic cancer," per the N.Y. Post. Couric, 64, will be the "first female to ever grace the lectern as host."