15 to Watch: Top stories in sports and business for the week of June 12


15 to Watch: Top stories in sports and business for the week of June 12

With Jamie Swimmer & Tanner Simkins

1.    Forbes has released its annual ranking of the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes.  The top 100 earned a total of $3.11 billion over the last 12 months, a slight decrease from last year’s $3.15 billion.  Endorsement income also declined slightly, down 4% to $887 million this year.  The top spot on the list still belongs to Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, with earnings of $93 million. Before Ronaldo, either Tiger Woods or Floyd Mayweather topped the list for 15 straight years. The elite athlete list comprises players from 11 different sports. Basketball dominates the list, with a record 32 NBA players among the top 100, led by No. 2 LeBron James ($86.2 million) and No. 5 Kevin Durant ($60.6 million). Rounding out the top 5 are No. 3 Lionel Messi ($80 million) and No. 4 Roger Federer ($64 million). Twenty-one countries are represented on this year’s World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list, with Americans the most prevalent at 63. The top golfer was Rory McIlroy at No. 6 ($50 million). Forbes’ numbers include all salaries and bonuses earned June 2016-June 2017. Massive TV contracts continue to fuel salaries and overall athlete compensation, but as cord-cutting diminishes TV revenues, look for these numbers to plateau or even decline in coming years. 

2.    It’s the greening of the frozen tundra. This week, the 2017 U.S. Open Championship roars into Wisconsin’s Erin Hills with a projected total economic impact of $130 million, with $65 million of that directly in Milwaukee, according to Visit Milwaukee. More than 35,000 fans will be on site each day of the tournament, with an additional 5,000 volunteers and 2,000 media, USGA officials estimate. According to the USGA, the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan generated approximately $102 million for the state’s economy. This is the first time the U.S. Open will be held in beer- and brat-happy Wisconsin, and the USGA predicts 365,000 12-ounce servings of beer will be poured and 100,000 sausages served at Erin Hills. While the grounds will no doubt be teeming with Packers fans, Golf Channel notes that PGA Tour pro Rickie Fowler will be among them. Fowler will "swap out his week-to-week golf bag for a green and yellow version" in a nod to Green Bay. In American golf, there’s no bigger stage than the USGA’s annual championship – look for tie-ins galore as the cameras start rolling in Wisconsin this week.

3.    This Sunday, the PGA Tour is hoping that Dad will help stem its viewership tide. The Tour has not seen an increase in final-round TV viewership since the Farmer's Insurance Open in January, joining a growing list of sports properties to see a decline in audience this year. Even golf’s top moments this year have not been immune -- Sergio Garcia’s Masters playoff triumph was down 11% from last year, while Si Woo Kim’s victory at The Players Championship was the event’s lowest final round since 2014. Dustin Johnson's wins in two WGC events also saw final-round declines over 2016. The trend comes as a surprise to some in the golf community, but savvy industry observers cited growing digital viewership, wins by unfamiliar players and golf’s transition into the post-Tiger Woods era as reasons for the decline. While marquee players Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth have carded wins, fellow stars Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day have yet to join them. While pundits continue to bemoan golf’s post-Tiger decline and lack of a true superstar, at least the Tour and its U.S. Open broadcast partner Fox can look forward to a Father’s Day broadcast in which a large number of dads choose the couch over the kids. 

4.    In the meantime, we may soon see PGA Championship calendar musical chairs. Ahead of the U.S. Open, and acknowledging partner PGA Tour’s flagging TV ratings, PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua said in a video released to its 28,000 members last Wednesday that the organization has been "conducting studies for the last four years on whether to move the PGA Championship from August to May." Bevacqua said that he will "meet with his executive board later this month at Sunriver in Oregon, the site of the PGA Club Pro Championship, to give more of an update." He "repeated the motivation for moving the PGA, to avoid conflicts every four years with Olympic golf." On paper, the Olympic excuse looks plausible. The more likely reason is that no one really wants to go up against the NFL on Sunday, even in the preseason. 

5.    As the Big 12 reacts to the sudden retirement of one of its Hall of Fame coaches, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, at the Sooners’ helm for 18 years, the conference has announced that its members will share $348 million from the 2016-2017 school year. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, nine of 10 member schools will receive $34.8 million, with a "portion of Baylor’s share to be at least temporarily withheld in the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal." The $34.8 million lags behind what SEC and Big Ten schools generally receive, but "well ahead" of the ACC and Pac-12. The Big 12 distribution is up from $30.4 million per school from the 2015-2016 school year. Said Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec, "Without even taking into account the [football] championship game and ongoing negotiations with Fox and ESPN, the distributions are going to go considerably above $40 million." Meanwhile, Oklahoma President David Boren said the announcement "should hush speculation" about the conference losing members. With the revived football championship and solid TV contracts, the Big 12 should remain on solid financial footing for at least the next decade. But the college sports arms race never sleeps.

6.    While the PGA Tour is seeing ratings declines, ABC averaged 19.51 million viewers for the first 4 games of the Warriors-Cavaliers series, making it the most-viewed NBA Finals on record through three games and the best for any NBA Finals since NBC’s coverage of Bulls-Jazz in 1998 (Michael Jordan’s swan song). The 19.51 million viewers is up from 17.7 million viewers at the same point last year, and up from 18.5 million viewers two years ago. And while the NBA postseason has been a bit of a snooze fest save for Friday night’s dramatic Cavaliers must-win, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post thinks the league will "enter the summer as an ascendant league, a cultural and global giant created through progressive marketing and aggressive social media." In a culture "growing more individualistic, the NBA has employed nonrestrictive policies on sharing video online and exposing its players’ personalities." While the NFL "restricts the use of video highlights and markets teams and the league over players, the NBA has made up ground among millennials." Some in the NBA "believe it could eventually surpass the NFL as America’s dominant sports league." The NBA has a leg up on the NFL internationally; global exposure could help drive interest at home.

7.    At Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal gets El Decimo, while Jelena Ostapenko claims her maiden. In a remarkable juxtaposition of circumstance, the French Open has crowned two new champions. On the men’s side, new old champ Nadal returns to hoist the Coupe des Mousquetaires after a three-year Roland Garros drought, claiming title Number 10 and passing Pete Sampras on the all-time Grand Slam victory list, with 15 to Sampras’ 14. On Saturday, unseeded Latvian Ostapenko bested Romania’s Simona Halep to not only win her first Grand Slam, but her first professional title ever. Besides the men’s and women’s champions, each of whom pocketed $2.3 million for their win, the big winners at Roland Garros over the weekend were adidas – which saw both women finalists take the court in identical adidas spring collection outfits – watchmaker Richard Mille, thrilled to see Nadal back on Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday in his $850,000 Richard Mille model, and Nike, which immediately introduced the NikeCourt Tennis Classic El Decimo w/ suede upper, clay orange accents to honor Nadal’s 10th win on Paris clay. While Nadal was celebrating his 10th French Open championship, all-time career Slam leader Roger Federer, with 18, is already in England prepping for the grass court season and would-be Wimbledon title #8. 

8.    David Beckham has moved closer to securing the requisite land to build a stadium for his proposed Miami MLS franchise, which the former England captain hopes to launch by 2021. The Miami-Dade Commission voted nine to four in favor of approving a $9 million deal to sell Beckham’s group, Miami Beckham United, nearly three acres of county land in that city’s Overtown district. The land is currently in use as a county truck depot. It would complete the required nine-acre site for a planned 25,000-seat stadium on the Miami River. Beckham's group had already purchased six acres of land next to the site at the cost of $19 million, but he will still need to receive city approval before venue construction can start. “By purchasing the last piece of land needed for our privately-funded stadium, Miami Beckham United is achieving another major milestone on the way to Major League Soccer formally awarding Miami a franchise,” read an MBU statement. As Miami Beckham United moves one step closer to its new pitch, the crosstown Marlins have yet to announce a new owner. Let’s hope the long-suffering MLB franchise can achieve that before 2021.

9.    Oak View Group (OVG) has secured mayoral blessing to remodel Seattle’s Key Arena after Seattle Partners, fronted by AEG and Hudson Pacific Properties, withdrew its $521 million rival offer. On Thursday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray "officially announced OVG as his administration's choice to renovate KeyArena" and introduced Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and TPG Capital co-Founder David Bonderman as "partners in the project," according to the Seattle Times. Murray said that his goal is to "complete the KeyArena deal before he leaves office at the end of the year." OVG's $564 million proposal "includes a partnership with major concert company Live Nation and would involve building 'an entirely new arena' under the venue’s existing roof, which is expected to be given historical landmark status." Murray said that OVG's bid was "preferable to a bid" by AEG-led Seattle Partners because it had the "best design." Seattle is the only market in the U.S.’ top 25 without an NBA or NHL team. While Live Nation will make concerts a significant part of the schedule mix, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it pretty clear that hockey is the immediate target – expect him to focus more intently on Seattle now that the NHL postseason is over and the Penguins hold the Cup.

10.    Thanasi Kokkinakis, the Australian tennis player known as “Special K,” is being sued by Kellogg’s. Kokkinakis’ name is a bit of a mouthful, so you can forgive him for going by a nickname. The player known as "Special K" is being sued by the cereal giant because he is attempting to use the nickname commercially. Kokkinakis planned to use the nickname on a clothing line, but Kellogg’s has moved to block those plans on the grounds that it owns the Australian trademark to "Special K" after introducing the cereal there in 1959. "The Kokkinakis Company has applied to register Special K as a trademark and we are defending our trademark," a cereal company spokesperson told the BBC. Kokkinakis, 21, made his pro tennis debut in 2013 but has been hampered by injuries since 2015. His appearance at this year’s French Open was his first Grand Slam since the 2015 U.S. Open. He was defeated in the first round by Kei Nishikori. A hearing in the case was held Thursday in Australia and the parties will meet in mediation in late August. Look for Kellogg’s to prevail – unless Kokkinakis wins a Slam, in which case he may get a cereal box endorsement instead.

11.    MLB clubs through this past Sunday were averaging 29,269 fans per game, relatively flat compared to 29,223 for the same time frame last season. The Dodgers, who have led all teams in average attendance for four straight seasons, are once again leading the way in 2017 with 45,311 per game, though that number is down slightly from last year. The Cardinals, Giants, Cubs, and Blue Jays round out the top five. The Braves, who opened new SunTrust Park this season, are not surprisingly seeing a 33% increase following 20 seasons at Turner Field. The Indians have seen MLB's biggest gain at the turnstiles, up over 37% at Progressive Field. In Kansas City, the Royals have the sharpest drop among MLB teams, while the Rays, down 12% to date, have the league’s lowest average with 14,719 fans and are on pace for their lowest attendance figure since 2005. The Mets and Diamondbacks are also seeing double-digit drops at the gate. Look for all those numbers to pick up now that it’s summer, school is out, and fans prepare to vote their favorite players into the MLB All-Star Game in a month. 

12.    The IOC Executive Board has endorsed a plan to give both Paris and L.A. the Summer Games in the next decade. The first phase of this departure from Olympic bidding protocol will come July 11-12, when the full IOC membership meets in Switzerland to ratify the Board’s plan. If they do, the USA would be assured of its first U.S. Summer Games since 1996 in Atlanta. The IOC, LA2024 and Paris '24 then would enter negotiations over order before the regularly scheduled IOC meeting September 13 in Peru, as IOC President Thomas Bach says he wants the two cities to agree on who goes first before a final vote. Bach would not say exactly what the membership would be voting on at the IOC session in September if an agreement is reached, or not. Olympic watchers believe that plans are already being made to have Paris go first in 2024, but Bach insisted there are no done deals. Additional TV revenue, funds for youth sports, and other financial concessions have been mentioned as leverage for LA should that city agree to wait an additional four years for their Games. Changes in the global political climate and/or further acts of terrorism could alter the scenario before September as well.

13.    The IOC Executive Board on Friday also finalized the Tokyo Games program. The Olympics’ governing body added 15 medal events, "including doubling mixed-gender events from nine to 18," according to NBC Sports. Additionally, 3-on-3 basketball "will make its Olympic debut" in Tokyo in 2020. Mixed-gender relays will debut for swimming, track and field, and triathlon. The Tokyo Games will feature 339 medal events, up from 306 for the 2016 Rio Games. The IOC said that the changes are "more youthful, urban and female focused." While surfing has been on the board as a potential new Olympic sport for some time, look for its Olympic debut to hold off until the Games likely comes to Los Angeles in 2024 or 2028. 

14.    Former USOC sponsor British Petroleum (BP) will return to the American Olympic movement, but in a diminished capacity. BP has just signed a deal to sponsor six U.S. Paralympic teams through 2020. In the new deal, BP will help cover training and travel costs of the six Paralympic national teams the USOC manages directly: swimming, track and field, cycling, alpine skiing, nordic skiing, and snowboarding. BP is already sponsors the International Paralympic Committee through 2020. The reworked relationship means the energy category is open for the USOC, along with commercial banking, beer, hotels and online brokerages. BP does not get the rights to the Olympic rings or Team USA Paralympic marks in the deal, only the intellectual property of the individual teams. Terms were not disclosed, but the new Paralympic team-level deals are presumably worth a small fraction of the cost of BP’s full-fledged USOC sponsorship, which was worth more than $3 million annually. Of its 26 sponsors for the Rio Games, the USOC successfully renewed 19. Look for that number to increase dramatically if L.A. gets the nod.

15.    Derek Jeter pioneered athlete-centric journalism with The Players’ Tribune, and now LeBron James, LRMR Management Founder Maverick Carter, and partners are "betting some of the most compelling sports content in the shifting entertainment landscape will be created by the athletes themselves.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Uninterrupted, the James-backed digital media company, is the "latest evolution of a movement in which athletes, celebrities and other public figures are using social media and other technology to control their images." In the process, they are "loosening traditional media’s grip on the way sports is delivered and consumed." Uninterrupted’s multimedia offerings "include full-length documentaries, web series and a growing podcast network." Some of its shows have been "licensed by traditional media outlets such as Fox Sports;" Shows also "appear on YouTube, Instagram and Uninterrupted’s own website." Ventures like Uninterrupted are "limited in their power to supplant traditional media because there is no substitute for live games." However, more athletes have realized the leagues "don’t own their personalities and likenesses -- and there are now more vehicles than ever to satisfy fans’ craving for an unfiltered view and make money along the way." Interestingly, James and the Warriors Draymond Green will star in Uninterrupted’s latest project, “The Shop,” a 30-minute talk show set in a barbershop. Off-court revenue trumps on-court rivalry.

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

1:13 - The Celtics came away with a 105-100 win in Portland on Friday night. Find out why Chris Mannix is calling this the best Celtics win of the season.

6:05 - Mannix discusses details about Kyrie Irving’s ‘minimally invasive’ procedure on his knee and what his level of concern is with A. Sherrod Blakely and Gary Tanguay.

10:03 - Michael Holley and Tom Curran discuss what NFL players, including Devin McCourty, are doing beyond the gridiron by being active in criminal justice reform discussions held at Harvard this week.



Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

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“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”