15 to watch (Week of 3.21.16)
Rick Horrow's "15 to watch"
CSN Bay Area Sports Business Insider Rick Horrow takes you off the field with his 15 top Biz Ball trends for the week of March 21.
White Sox hurting sponsorships?
1. Will the White Sox’ controversy surrounding the team’s request to limit the presence of Adam LaRoche’s 14 year-old son Drake threaten the team’s relationship with sponsors and fans? As the Chicago Tribune noted, “an organization that prides itself on being a family suddenly was being painted as 'anti-kid.'" Yes, it’s probably not “good for luring future free agents.” But with a ballpark sponsor roster whose starting lineup includes McDonald’s and Pepsi, and online advertisers such as Chegg Tutoring Solutions and Great Clips, the White Sox front office clearly needs to remain hyper aware of alienating key business partners – not to mention fans who have come to appreciate the Chisox for their Kids Club, Family Sundays, and youth baseball support. The New York Daily News notes the MLBPA and MLB – a major Boys & Girls Clubs of America backer – declined to comment on whether a "league-wide policy" on the presence of players' children was "needed in the wake of the LaRoche case.”
Cultures coming together
2. As President Obama continues his historic trip to Cuba, baseball will be on a diplomatic mission of sorts in the country this week as well. On Sunday, thousands of Cuban nationals cheered the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years. Obama and his family were accompanied by American baseball royalty – joining them were Rachel and Sharon Robinson, wife and daughter of MLB trailblazer Jackie Robinson. On Tuesday, MLB will field an exhibition game at Havana’s Estadio Latinamericano featuring the Tampa Bay Rays vs. the Cuban national team. It hasn’t been nearly as long since an MLB contingent paid a visit to Cuba – the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game there in 1999. But the Rays are very mindful of their ambassadorial role. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase the game, not just the beauty of the game but its power in terms of bringing together cultures," Matt Silverman, Rays president of baseball operations, told USA Today. “Baseball is helping pave the way for some of the changes and we’re excited to be a part of it."
Music on the hardwood
3. March Madness enters week two, and fans’ eyes begin to turn away from their busted brackets to the entertainment extravaganza that is the Final Four. Most recently, NCAA and Turner Live Events, joining Corporate Champions AT&T, Coca-Cola and Capital One, unveiled its lineup of musical acts performing at the 2016 NCAA March Madness Music Festival in conjunction with the Men’s Final Four in Houston. The free, three-day music festival will take place at Discovery Green in downtown Houston starting April 1. The AT&T Block Party will feature performances by Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, with additional acts to be announced. On Saturday, April 2 the Coca-Cola Music Mix will feature Jason Derulo, Conrad Sewell and more. On April 3, the Capital One JamFest features Pitbull and Flo Rida, who join previously announced headliner Maroon 5. Overall, announcement of these diverse entertainment offerings is music to basketball fans’ ears.
Nike on top
4. Nike has made a small surge this season in terms of its deals with high-seeded NCAA Tournament teams. In 2015, nine of the 16 teams seeded 1-4 sported Nike's swoosh on their shoes and jerseys. This season, according to SportsBusiness Daily, that number made a slight surge up to 10. Nike and its affiliated brands clothe, in some fashion, 44 of the 68 schools starting this year’s NCAA men's basketball tournament, down from 51 last year. The Jordan brand outfitted two teams, North Carolina and California, and three teams rocked Nike shoes with Russell Athletic jerseys. Under Armour made a surge this year outfitting 10 teams, up from six last year and nine from two years ago. Adidas outfitted 14 teams this year, up from 11 last year. While Nike is clearly agonizing alongside anyone who had Michigan State going to the Final Four in their now-busted bracket, the Oregon company can take pride in its Ducks dueling Duke in the Sweet Sixteen.
Dell hits the links
5. It’s pretty clear that the PGA Tour didn’t leave its heart in San Francisco as it migrates deep into the heart of Texas this week. Golf-wise, Austin is probably best known as the college town that spawned diehard Longhorn alum Jordan Spieth. From a technology perspective, Austin has long been synonymous with hometown PC giant Dell. What’s not as well known, as the World Golf Championships annual match play event moves to Austin after a stint in San Francisco’s Harding Park last year, is that new title sponsor Dell has built a significant presence in Silicon Valley. Beginning in 2011, Dell acquired Bay Area startups and purchased enough office space in Santa Clara to house hundreds of employees. Having a solid presence in the Valley can be as big a brand play for companies not based there as titling one of golf’s four annual WGC events, which are broadcast in 240 countries and can reach one billion homes. The WGC Dell Match Play event moves to Austin through 2019; this is Dell’s first foray into major golf sponsorship.
6. In meetings through Wednesday in Florida, NFL owners turn their attention from Los Angeles to the hands that feed them. Now that the league’s future in L.A. is not a key agenda item for the first time in two decades, NFL ownership is apparently focusing on, among other things, gloves. More specifically, according to the Los Angeles Times, the NFL Competition Committee will discuss "how to regulate the gloves worn by virtually every player, but in particular those worn by receivers, who make once-impossible catches now look routine." The Competition Committee will also cover a "host of other potential tweaks to the game” – and it’s likely that NFL SVP Jeff Miller’s acknowledgement of the link between football and CTE will come under discussion as well. Meanwhile in St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch reports football operations at Rams Park will "shut down this coming Thursday." Seven tractor trailers en route to California are hauling roughly 660,000 pounds of “equipment, files, weights, furniture and footballs.”
FIFA takes the loss
7. FIFA reports its first loss in 13 years. Soccer’s governing body reported a $122 million loss in 2015, a year in which it spent "months reacting to a continuing corruption case" in the U.S and a "parallel criminal inquiry in Switzerland," according to the New York Times. FIFA's financial disclosure shows expenses totaled $1.3 billion, $62 million of which "was spent on legal fees" and $26 million on communications. The report was the latest effort to “advance the characterization of FIFA as a victim of its former leaders' corruption and an organization newly serious about change." It also revealed that former FIFA President Sepp Blatter took home $3.76 million last year, while former FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke earned $2.1 million. The report came out days after FIFA asked U.S. officials "for a share of the money they are set to collect from soccer officials who have so far pleaded guilty in the Justice Department's case."
8. Ford Motor Company has become the first three-time recipient of the NASCAR Driving Business Award, which is bestowed upon the Official NASCAR Partner that demonstrates leadership and results through its participation in the NASCAR Fuel for Business Council. Highlights from Ford’s success in 2015 included selling more than 3,500 vehicles through its “Partner Recognition Program”; co-marketing programs with MillerCoors, Goodyear and SiriusXM that resulted in nearly 900 vehicles sold, and executing multiple deals that eclipsed $5 million in value. And just in time for Easter, NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson announced the launch of the 2016 Blue Bunny Helmet of Hope campaign, which will award $125,000 to five non-profit organizations in May. The initiative allows fans and consumers to nominate their favorite education-focused charities, including Parent/Teacher Associations, to receive a “$25,000 grant, a Blue Bunny ice cream party, and special recognition on Johnson’s race helmet.” From cars to roadside treats, helping surrounding communities has always been a key part of the NASCAR roadmap.
Two teams come together
9. The NHL Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks have arranged an online fundraiser to benefit 20 year-old Matt Olson, a Minnesota native and junior hockey player who sustained serious spinal cord injuries in a game last month. According to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, Olson was injured February 21 when he slid headfirst into the boards at Sears Centre Arena during a U.S. Premiere Hockey League game between his team, the Chicago Cougars, and the Iliana Blackbirds. The injury paralyzed him from the shoulders down. Starting this week, the Wild and Blackhawks will auction off items on their websites, with proceeds going to Olson’s medical costs. The items include travel packages with the two teams, dinner with Hockey Hall of Fame member Denis Savard, and a 2016 “Team Minnesota” Stadium Series coaches’ jacket. The auction will run until noon on Wednesday, March 30. Serving the community is always a first order of business In the NHL, and elsewhere in pro sports.
Eyes on the prize
10. Even though the Golden State Warriors dropped a game to San Antonio on Saturday night, extending the Spurs’ home winning streak at AT&T Center to 44 games, Warriors fans shouldn’t be too concerned. It seems long ago, but as recently as 2014 the Warriors actually lost an NBA playoff series, falling in the first round in seven games to the Los Angeles Clippers. Since then, however, it’s been a complete role reversal. The Warriors won a title and are the heavy favorites to win another in June. Along the way, the Warriors have steamrolled the Clippers, their opponents this week, winning five consecutive regular season meetings and six of the last seven. The final regular-season matchup between the two teams is Wednesday at Oracle Arena. The Warriors have 13 regular-season games remaining, and on Sunday, power forward Draymond Green confirmed that the team is getting serious about breaking the 72-game single-season win record held by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls.
Verizon taking over?
11. The WNBA is nearing a deal with Verizon that will have the company's logo "on the front of 10 of the league's 12 team jerseys" this season, according to SportsBusiness Journal. The deal is the "largest sponsorship by dollar value in the WNBA" and makes Verizon "presenting partner of the tipoff to the WNBA's 20th season." Verizon also will be the league's presenting partner for the playoffs and the WNBA Finals, and the company will title the WNBA All-Star Game starting in 2017. Verizon replaces Boost Mobile as the WNBA's marquee partner after Boost "did not renew" its four-year, $222 million deal with the NBA when it expired last year. Verizon's partnership extends to the WNBA Draft, the WNBA Inspiring Women Luncheon and a “WNBA Top 20 Moments” platform. Tellingly, Verizon will not emblazon jerseys for the Stars or the Sun -- the Stars play in the AT&T Center, while the Sun's marquee partner is Frontier Communications.
Down goes the King
12. As March Madness enters its second week, we may be witnessing the Madness of King Burger. Burger King has exited its corporate partner deal with the NCAA after just two years as a sponsor. The original commitment was for three years. Neither the NCAA nor Burger King would comment on why the deal fell apart before its term was finished, or whether Burger King was required to pay for the final year. Burger King activated on-site and through significant ad campaigns during the 2014 and 2015 NCAA tournaments. Its catchphrase “Watch Like a King” was central to the QSR’s social media activation and giveaways. The company also hired Chris Webber to promote the “2 for $5” sandwich specials in its advertising, and used Turner analysts Seth Davis and Kenny Smith in a spot. Burger King’s departure brings the NCAA’s list of corporate partners and champions down to 17 in all.
PGA Grand Slam gets Trumped
13. It’s the end of the line for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. The PGA of America announced that it was ending the annual event once and for all after cancelling the 2015 tournament amid controversy over the presence of Trump National as host. In a statement, the PGA of America said, “When the PGA Grand Slam of Golf was launched in 1979, the golf world was much different than it is today. The PGA Tour's wrap-around schedule, the European Tour's Race to Dubai, plus other important international events, make the fall schedule very busy and hectic for the top players in the world.” The organization added, “It had also become challenging to attract fans, television viewership and media interest. While we have enjoyed staging the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, given those many factors, the timing is right to discontinue the event.”
14. T-Mobile has renewed its partnership with Major League Baseball, giving all customers a free one-year subscription to the league’s MLB.TV Premium broadcasting service. The deal is the third year the two have partnered, and the free subscription to the OTT digital broadcasting service celebrates a renewed partnership for the next three years. Under the renewed deal, T-Mobile will be the title sponsor of the Home Run Derby during All-Star Week as well as the Junior Home Run Derby, a recently launched nationwide competition for American schoolchildren. T-Mobile customers will be able to access MLB.TV Premium across a number of platforms, including their smartphones, and Apple TV, Chromecast, Playstation and Xbox. MLB.TV will also be added to T-Mobile’s ‘Binge On’ program, which lets customers use a number of chosen services without any impact on their data limit. MLB has already signed major deals with video messaging application Snapchat and Chinese broadcasting firm Le Sports this year.
$30 billion game?
15. Last week in San Francisco, the Open Gaming Alliance (OGA) forecast at its annual Game Developer’s Conference that the global game software market will pass $100 billion in 2019. DFC Intelligence forecast that in 2019, PC games will be the single largest platform at $36 billion, up 35% from the $28 billion generated in 2015. “A major driver of industry growth is not just software but hardware,” said DFC analyst David Cole. “The emergence of eSports and virtual reality is driving consumers to buy high end PC systems to not only play games, but watch others playing games.” OGA director Matt Ployhar, of Santa Clara-based Intel Corp., is also very bullish on PC gaming. “I’m very optimistic that 2016 will be the year that PC gaming finally breaks the $30 billion milestone in software revenues,” Ployhar said.