15 to Watch: June 19


15 to Watch: June 19

with Jamie Swimmer
 and Tanner Simkins

1.    27 year-old Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open, and his brand is about to soar higher than one of his impossibly long drives. Koepka, a Florida native and Florida State standout from a very athletically-gifted family, has won only one other event on the PGA Tour, and is one of a large pack of talented 20-something golfers who, as the Washington Post puts it, are “the age that got full-blown ‘Tiger Slam’ Eldrick Woods at their most impressionable age.”  Currently World No. 22, Koepka will be seeing his own moving day in the coming weeks as his ranking improves, and the $2,160,000 winner’s purse he received on Sunday is eclipsed by endorsers joining the ranks of Nike, Michelob Ultra, and Paylocity. First Brooks, now Brooke – as in Henderson. The Canadian phenom, winner of Sunday’s Meijer LPGA Classic, and her LPGA peers next take their considerable talents to Northwest Arkansas for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. The growing LPGA tournament is a boon for the region, and vice versa.

2.    Days after the University of Oklahoma softball squad won their fourth Women’s College World Series there, Oklahoma City-based Fields & Futures announced two major partnerships to renovate youth athletic fields and finish what they started. For the last five years, Fields & Futures has partnered with the Oklahoma City Public School system to renovate 42 school athletic fields, many in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The organization has finished 20 of the fields, and now, with a partnership with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and $1.5 million matching gift and seven-figure marketing plan investment from Delaware Life, it can not only finish the remaining 22 fields, it is developing a blueprint for a much larger footprint. Already, Oklahoma City has seen grades, attendance, and graduation rates improve at the seven schools where fields have already been built. And as Delaware Life President Dan Towriss adds, “Investing in Fields & Futures provides a solid foundation for our company and a great inspiration and motivation for kids to stay in school, graduate, and thrive in life.”

3.    Despite not going No. 1 overall in the MLB Draft, high school pitcher Hunter Greene is still being heralded as the future of baseball. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Greene, a product of MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, California, was drafted second by the Cincinnati Reds, making him the “highest draft pick of any alumnus from that program.” His fastball tops out at 102 MPH, prompting him to call himself a “monster” at that position; Greene also plays shortstop, and the Reds have not ruled out the possibility of him becoming a two-way MLB player. Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke of Greene coming from the Urban Youth Academy, “This is huge for our game…We hope these programs will continue to produce players like Hunter.” Greene has also participated in several events for the league’s ongoing Play Ball initiative, and said he is “embracing a role of helping spur youth participation in baseball, particularly among African-Americans.” As we saw in the wake of last week’s tragic congressional baseball game shooting, baseball still firmly remains America’s pastime, in spirit if not in actual ticket sales and TV ratings. And diversity, as Greene represents, remains a baseball cornerstone.  

4.    It’s happening – the fight the fans wanted. Floyd Mayweather Jr. will officially square off in the boxing ring against Conor McGregor. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, the “improbable boxing match” is set for August 26 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. UFC President Dana White reaffirmed that there will be no UFC fights that day, “strictly boxing matches.” Financial terms to the match and the split between Mayweather Jr. and McGregor have not yet been revealed to the public, “but it’s certain that Mayweather will earn the lion’s share of the purse and PPV money after raking in more than $200 million for the record-selling Manny Pacquiao bout alone.” Nowadays, Mayweather won’t step in the ring for anything less than $100 million, so one figures he will not walk away from this fight with shallow pockets. The number to beat: the record 4.6 million PPV buys for the 2015 Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.

5.    On the heels of a season that saw a ratings decline for Sky Sports, the EPL is considering a schedule shakeup. According to the London Times, EPL clubs are now mulling the possibility of playing matches on Saturday nights. One specific proposal is to “target a peak-time television audience with kickoffs at 7:45 pm local time” in England. Sky Sports’ Premier League viewership fell off by 14% last season, leaving the network needing to recoup and make a positive change. Saturday scheduling was “discussed during the league's summer shareholders' meeting last week ahead of the upcoming launch of the tender process for its next domestic broadcasting deal.” A final decision is “expected this autumn, when clubs will also decide how many fixtures to make available to broadcasters” between 2019-2022 when the “rights for those seasons are sold” early next year. Another group no doubt welcoming the scheduling change? Pubs and sports bars, which would see a double-digit business surge from the evening matches.

6.    The world’s top-paid athlete has been accused of $16.6 million in tax fraud from 2011-2014. According to the Financial Times, Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is “coming into conflict with the country’s tax authorities,” as Spanish prosecutors are coming after yet another high-profile soccer player. Ronaldo’s estimated annual pay is around $93 million; the prosecutors after Ronaldo claim that he “sought to hide at least a part of that wealth from the country’s tax authorities.” They also claim that No. 7’s failure to comply with authorities from 2011-2014 was “voluntary” and “conscious.” “The accused made use of a corporate structure created in 2010 to hide from the tax authority income generated in Spain through image rights,” stated the prosecutors. These claims come on the heels of a similar case, in which Barcelona forward Lionel Messi was found guilty of tax fraud by a Spanish court and handed a 21-month suspended jail sentence. Regardless of who actually designed the tax evasion scheme, “the buck stops here” in Athletes, Inc. The bigger an athlete’s brand, the more policing is required to ensure compliance with multinational authorities. 

7.    The Australian government has officially backed the country’s bid to land the 2023 Women’s World Cup. According to ABC, the government will financially support Football Federation Australia (FFA) to build a successful bid proposal. The federal government will “provide initial funding worth $753,900, with a further $3 million to be made available should it be satisfied the bid has a chance to be successful.” This carefully crafted, two-tier financing system comes as a completely contradictory approach to the one the Australian government took to backing “Australia’s disastrous bid for the 2022 World Cup, for which FFA received A$45.6 million in federal funding.” Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra are speculated to be the planned host cities for the 24-team tournament. The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada proved so successful, monetarily and image-wise, that governing bodies everywhere now believe that they can profit from hosting the competition.

8.    South Korea is trying to formulate a joint bid with neighboring Southeast Asian countries to attract the 2030 FIFA World Cup, but is expected to face early “road blocks” in doing so. According to Yonhap, China reportedly wants to stage the World Cup on its own, Japan “has been lukewarm to the joint bid proposal,” and communist North Korea brings a complex set of its own challenges to the table in trying to formulate a partnership for a global soccer tournament. FIFA President Gianni Infantino met with South Korea President Moon Jae-in and Korea FA President Ching Mong-gyu to discuss the initial stages of creating a joint bid for the Southeast Asian region. While there is still plenty of time before the bid will be awarded, the joint bid between Uruguay and Argentina will undoubtedly come in as the favorite to land the 2030 World Cup, which will “mark the centenary of the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay.” It looks like the 2026 joint North American World Cup bid shared by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will prevail – and with the cost of hosting such mega-events, joint bids among neighbors are becoming the norm.

9.    The Portland Marathon is facing a serious threat of being canceled after city officials denied a race permit. According to Willamette Week, city officials cited a strain on police overtime hours as their primary reason for denying the permit. The Portland Marathon has been run for 45 straight years now, but the race set for October 8 appears to be coming to an end this time around. The race is organized by a nonprofit, Portland Marathon Inc. Last year, about “6,000 people ran in the race, and another 3,000 people ran in the half-marathon.” Marathon officials released a statement on the race’s Twitter page, saying, “We’re working with the City of Portland to preserve our traditional, iconic 20-year course and most importantly provide a safe event for all.” The denial of a permit comes as the tipping point in the Portland Police Bureau’s six-month warning to race organizers that the route needs to change to reduce police officer overtime. Unfortunately, big sporting events are terrorist targets now, so adequate public safety and security needs to be firmly in place regardless of additional costs.

10.    The 20-year naming rights deal between the Seattle Mariners and Safeco Insurance is coming to an end after the 2018 season. According to the Tacoma News Tribune, the deal will not be extended beyond next year, drawing an end to a partnership that was formulated back in 1999 when the ballpark first opened. The Mariners noted that they have already started “preliminary talks” with potential new partners for a naming rights deal – no partners have been identified yet. Safeco Insurance President Tyler Asher sent an email to all company employees announcing the decision to “give up the naming rights, citing the desire to spread its investment across marketing partners and key growth programs.” Consulting firm Bonham/Wills and Associates President & CEO Thomas Wills yesterday said that he “believes the Mariners' search for a new partner will be a quiet one that results in a long, lucrative deal, possibly from a local firm.” The naming rights footrace between the Mariners and newly-announced Key Arena redevelopers is officially on. Amazon, Microsoft, Costco, Boeing, and other big regional companies take notice – you’re about to be seriously courted.

11.    The disparity in spending, revenue, and donations between college athletics programs is stark, and the University of Michigan’s football team trip to Rome proved just that. According to the Detroit News, Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manual said that the team’s trip “will wind up costing between $750,000 and $800,000,” all of which was covered by an unrestricted financial gift by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The trip was led by Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, who took his players to Rome after finals for a “week of sightseeing and team bonding, in addition to three spring practices.” The optional trip for the football team is just one of the multiple trips that University of Michigan varsity athletics teams took or plan on taking; Michigan’s tennis team went to France for a week, playing in tournaments before stopping by the French Open, while the women’s basketball team is heading to Italy in August. College recruiting just took a big international ante-upping: the arms race now requires a passport.

12.    University of Kentucky coach John Calipari is not happy with the SEC’s decision to shift to a 20-game conference schedule. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Calipari stated that this move is for “the networks” and will directly hurt “flexibility and versatility in nonconference scheduling.” The ACC is preparing to make a similar move in the 2019-2020 season, when the conference will jump from 18 conference games to 20. That switch stems from an agreement between the ACC and ESPN “when the ACC Network was announced to launch.” Kentucky typically plays a very strong nonconference schedule, annually competing against some of the nation’s top opponents in some of the best early-season tournaments. “What you do is, you take away some of those kind of games that have been good to us,” said Calipari. “North Carolina, for example: If they go to 20 games we won't have any more series with North Carolina, so I'm not for it.” Memo to Cal: Please check Kentucky athletic P&L sheet under line item “revenue, broadcast rights” and see if that alters your thinking about the sway of “the networks.”

13.    The snowboarders competing in 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will have a great tune-up event about one month before they compete in South Korea. According to the Aspen Daily News, Snowmass in Aspen will host a U.S. Grand Prix snowboarding event just prior to the start of the Olympics this coming winter. On the other side of the coin, skiers competing in PyeongChang may not have the same luxury. The U.S. Ski Association has not revealed its plans for its own U.S. Grand Prix around the same time as the snowboarding event. The 2016-2017 U.S. Grand Prix tour season featured events at Copper Mountain, Colorado; Solitude Mountain, Utah; and Mammoth Mountain, California. The possibility of a skiing U.S. Grand Prix was discussed at the bi-monthly meeting of the Snowmass Marketing, Group Sales, and Events board, but an official decision on giving the event the green light is still pending. The Grand Prix tour is a smart product offering. Piggybacking on the Winter Olympics is even smarter.

14.    A week after Oak View Group was selected to renovate KeyArena in Seattle, a group lead by Chris Hansen proposed financing details for a new arena in Sodo. According to, Hansen’s proposal would be completely privately financed and outlines its superiority to a KeyArena renovation in regard to “parking and transportation” while the Sodo plan also “asks for no tax revenue from the city following completion of construction.” The proposal also “claimed they were years ahead of any KeyArena development after years of effort.” Any additional funds needed to build the arena would be financed by J.P Morgan, as explained in a financing letter attached to the proposal. Doubts as to the viability of a Sodo project have remained ever since the departure of Los Angeles Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer, but the confirmation of J.P. Morgan’s presence in the deal silences those. Hansen’s proposed arena would cost more than $500 million. And Ballmer is now focused on a new arena for the Clippers in Inglewood, CA, adjacent to the new Rams-Chargers stadium under construction there.

15.    The Golden State Warriors have not yet decided if they will visit the White House following their NBA Finals triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to the S.F. Chronicle, pending an invitation, the Warriors are unsure what they will do. The team issued a public statement denying any claims that the players “unanimously voted to boycott a visit to the White House,” which has become tradition for the annual NBA champions. Despite that, there is “reason to believe at least some of the players – many of whom publicly have derided President Trump's administration – wouldn't...accept an invitation.” Warriors co-Owner Joe Lacob responded to the question as to whether or not his team will make the visit very bluntly. “I can’t believe we’re getting this question already,” said Lacob. “That’s something we’ll worry about at the time. That’s a long time from now.” Two major factors favor the Warriors NOT making the trip: President Trump isn’t a basketball guy, and basketball isn’t a President Trump guy. 

Talking points: Ryan Donato's goal helps Bruins clinch playoff berth

USA TODAY Sports Photos

Talking points: Ryan Donato's goal helps Bruins clinch playoff berth

GOLD STAR: Jaden Schwartz stepped up and won the game for the Blues with a couple of really good plays in the third period and overtime. He took advantage of a line change and a lax Bruins defense to snap a shot past Anton Khudobin from the face-off circle in the third period that tied up the game, and then went on a one-man rush in overtime before blasting a puck past Khudobin for the game-winner on a beautiful individual play. Schwartz finished with the two goals that represented all of the St. Louis offense, four shots on net, a hit and a takeaway in 20:02 of ice time while logging a plus-2 rating as well. The Blues clearly needed somebody to step up to the plate with Vladimir Tarasenko and the Schwartz was with St. Louis on Wednesday night.

BLACK EYE: The Bruins were quite literally black and blue after a physical, punishing game with the St. Louis Blues. A number of players took heavy hits against a St. Louis team that felt free to throw hits and take runs with Zdeno Chara and David Backes out of Boston’s lineup among other players, and that culminated with Brayden Schenn drilling David Krejci in the second period. It was a hit that earned Schenn a two minute penalty for charging midway through the period, but shouldn’t result in anything more for the Blues forward. The hit wasn’t late, his skates were on the ice when he made contact, and Krejci was crouched down when Schenn made impact on a heavy check with his elbows tucked in, so it looked like a relatively clean hit that isn’t going to be on the radar of the NHL’s Player Safety Department. That physicality for the Blues really seemed to slow down the Bruins a little bit as things went on over the 60 plus minutes of the overtime game.


TURNING POINT: The Bruins actually only got outshot by a 15-13 margin in the second period, third period and overtime, but it was clear that they slowed down in terms of attacking and creating chances as things moved on in the game. By the latter half of the game the Bruins were simply trying to hang on to their one-goal lead, and then after that simply trying to hang in there for the point earned by getting to overtime. They managed to do it, but it was a different wave of momentum in the game once the Blues tied things up in the third period on Schwartz’s first goal. After that the Bruins were scrambling and hanging on, and did just enough to hang in there for a single overtime point for the second game in a row.

HONORABLE MENTION: Ryan Donato made it two goals in two games when he stepped into a loose puck created by an Alex Pietrangelo turnover that bounced off referee Brad Watson after he attempted to throw a puck up the middle of the ice. Donato pounced on the fortuitous bounce and rocked a puck on edge past Jake Allen for the game’s first goal and another affirmation that the 21-year-old can both shoot and score. Donato was pretty quiet after that goal, of course, with a couple of shots on net, but it seemed like a big, heavy hit on him by Dmitri Jaskin in the second period kind of quieted the youngster down a little bit. Still, you’ve got to love the production from a player just getting his feet wet at the NHL level.

BY THE NUMBERS: 100 – The number of points for the Bruins after falling in overtime by a 2-1 score to the Blues, and in getting to the century mark the B’s clinched a playoff spot for the second season in a row.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s step one. Going into the season we wanted to make the playoffs and be a Stanley Cup contender. Right now we got in and we’re going to be a contender, right? Now it’s about being in the best position possible going forward.” –Bruce Cassidy, to reporters in St. Louis about clinching the playoff spot on Wednesday night.


NBCSB Breakfast pod: How Jayson Tatum compares to Paul Pierce

NBC Sports Illustration

NBCSB Breakfast pod: How Jayson Tatum compares to Paul Pierce

1:25 - With half of the Celtics roster on the shelf, we’ve been able to see just how great a scorer Jayson Tatum can be. A. Sherrod Blakely, Mike Girardi and Trenni Kusnierek discuss how Tatum compares to Celtics legend, Paul Pierce.

5:35 - The NFL Competition Committee is giving it their best shot at modifying the ‘catch rule’ and Tom Curran, Kyle Draper and Hardy try to wrap their heads around the proposed changes.

11:02 - The Bruins clinched a playoff berth despite losing to the St. Louis Blues in overtime. Joe Haggerty joins Tom Giles to break down the game, which included another goal by Ryan Donato and a questionable call on a high hit on David Krejci.