with Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins
1. This week’s NFL Draft in Philadelphia promises to be a special event, and sponsors are clamoring to get involved. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the outdoor event in Philly has signed at least 15 active sponsors, including the likes of FedEx, Visa, Budweiser, Bridgestone, Tostitos, Xfinity, Skittles, Hyundai, and Courtyard by Marriott. The organizing committee plans to directly engage fans though the NFL Draft Experience presented by Oikos Triple Zero. It will feature “a 100-yard zip line as part of its activation in the Draft area, which is the equivalent of 25 football fields.” Event officials have confirmed that the outdoor draft will be a “rain or shine event.” The actual draft will take place in a 3,000-seat theater constructed outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art downtown. This year’s draft promises to be a success, with “more than 168,000 fans” having signed up so far for the NFL Draft Experience through the Fan Mobile Pass. Folks at Radio City Music Hall should be kicking themselves after they let the NFL Draft “get away” three years ago. The league now clearly sees the value of this “roadshow,” and it looks like a rotation process will carry the day – just like the Super Bowl.
2. Major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four have historically provided a positive economic impact for host cities. But how much economic impact will the NFL Draft provide in Philadelphia? According to CBS Philadelphia, skeptics wonder if Philadelphia will see any economic boost, while others have no doubt about the money that is bound to pour into the city. “The exposure we will get really all over North America is just amazing,” said Independence Visitor Center President and CEO James Cuorato. “You almost can’t put a price tag on that.” Officials expect the event price tag to hover around $25 million, though the city will only pay $500,000 as part of the agreement for hosting. The rest of that sum will be split between the NFL and private donors, making this an attractive investment for Philadelphia if it ends up turning a profit on the week. The economic impact number provides ample justification for the number of cities expressing long-term interest in a future draft: Canton, Detroit, Green Bay, Jacksonville, LA, Dallas, Denver, and Kansas City.
3. The NCAA will officially allow North Carolina to host tournament games. According to the News Observer, the NCAA has reversed its tournament ban on the state after “last month’s replacement of HB2,” a discriminatory legislation against LGBTQ identifying persons. The new state law includes a “modified version of HB2’s restrictions on local-government protections for LGBTQ people.” Charlotte was not selected to host opening rounds of the men’s NCAA tournament at the Spectrum Center during recent bidding, though the Greensboro Coliseum and PNC Arena in Raleigh will both host that event’s opening rounds in coming years. The 2020 games to be played at the Greensboro Coliseum mark the first time the arena will host tournament games since 2012. “Of the 133 bids North Carolina collectively submitted, the NCAA awarded the state 26 events that include a total of 36 championships.” North Carolina learned a difficult lesson: mega-event relocation is similar to other industries and is a highly competitive, economically advantageous environment.
4. April is a busy month in the sports world: NBA and NHL playoffs and the beginning of the MLB season. But April also means it is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month and the Strikeout PD! Challenge from The Blechman Foundation, www.blechmanfoundation.org. Sport has been a focal point of the Foundation since its start in 2012. In its first two years, the Foundation partnered with the National League’s stolen base champion to encourage pledges for PD research based on every stolen base. This year, the Foundation is partnering with Miami Marlins’ starting pitcher Tom Koehler in the Strikeout PD! Challenge, which urges supporters to pledge funds for PD research based on Koehler’s April strikeouts. Using baseball as a platform, the Foundation has received national television and print media attention. More importantly, the Baseball Challenge, along with the Foundation’s other work, has made a real and positive difference in PD research. The Blechman Foundation’s Strikeout PD! Challenge demonstrates the power of sports to help respond to personal challenge. Brilliant example of a thoughtfully targeted charity, and how sports can help accomplish significant philanthropic goals.
5. It’s official: Serena Williams is having a baby, and tennis collectively holds its breath. While it is widely anticipated that Williams, unquestionably women’s tennis greatest player of all time, will return to WTA play after giving birth to her first child sometime this fall, her absence leaves a Tiger Woods-esque void in the sport, and it’s unclear whether any rising tennis star, paralleling golf, will be able to take her place. On the plus side, Williams’ absence heightens the spotlight for returning champions Maria Sharapova (whose doping ban just ended) and Victoria Azarenka (who likewise had a baby) – the two are now under less pressure knowing they won’t have to face Serena anytime soon. And marketing execs point out that her pregnancy will make Williams even more attractive to corporate sponsors touting motherhood and family products. On the downside, as it builds up to the year’s second Slam in Paris, the WTA is suddenly left with no marquee mademoiselle. From Rome to Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and Flushing Meadows, the time is ripe for tennis’ next true superstar to show her mettle.
6. Golf – and indeed all sports – are always talking about creative ways to attract the next generation of fans. Nickelodeon may well have just nailed the best way to do so. Nickelodeon has announced that it will have a presence at The Players Championship in two weeks, marking the first time the kids channel has attached itself to a golf event. Nickelodeon will be part of the McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation Kid Zone, which will include a SpongeBob SquarePants mini-golf challenge and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Puttskee. Nickelodeon will carry golf-themed programming as part of its “NickSports Presents Golf Rocks Weekend” May 12-14 on Nicktoons. On May 15, Nicktoons will show a previously-filmed Mega Golf Challenge with the cast of the Nick show “School of Rock” and PGA Tour and LPGA players. While young superstars like Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and defending Players Championship champion Jason Day definitely help bring down the golf fan demographic, the Nickelodeon approach goes straight to where young would-be golf fans live. In Nick’s case, that’s a cartoon pineapple under the sea.
7. Former NFL running back Ray Rice is trying to flip the script of his life with his inclusion in a “social responsibility program” that will be presented to NFL teams. According to USA Today, the NFL “came to Rice as it planned its program for its fourth year of social responsibility education, which is focused on prevention and bystander intervention.” In his new role, Rice recorded a short interview segment that will be part of an hour-long program. Rice has not played an NFL game since 2013, back when a domestic violence incident with his wife became public. This marks the first time that the former running back has worked formally with the NFL since the tape of his assault was released. “I've been building relationships with (the NFL front office), and it's a mutual thing,” said Rice. “It’s part of our responsibility to reach out for not the on field opportunity but off field too.” Social responsibility cannot be mandated or required, and Rice seems to be genuinely concerned with rehabilitating his career and sharing lessons learned.
8. British soccer may soon face a sharp divide in a post-Brexit United Kingdom. According to the London Independent, the FA and the English Premier League are setting up for likely contentious negotiations over the post-Brexit work permit regulations.” With work laws and legislation set to change after the official withdrawal from the EU, “work regulations will have a dramatic impact on English soccer (on both domestic and international stages) as well as the wider global soccer landscape.” The clash between the FA and EPL will most likely be a result of the FA trying to ensure domestic players’ EPL job security, while the EPL is primarily focused on developing the strongest teams possible, regardless of nationality. The FA will “almost certainly attempt to use Brexit to create more opportunities for English players” by restricting opportunities for “all but the best” EU and European Economic Area footballers seeking to play in England. We spoke last year about the possible impact Brexit may have on European soccer competitiveness. Warnings may actually be coming true.
9. For the third time, the opening date for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta has been postponed. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the new Atlanta Falcons stadium will now open with a preseason football game on August 26. The prior postponed opening date was set for July 30, when MLS expansion side Atlanta United FC was scheduled to play a match there. With that, AMB Group CEO Steve Cannon noted that the demolition of the Georgia Dome has been “put on hold until we are 100 percent certain of achieving our certificate of occupancy.” The sunflower-shaped retractable roof has caused the majority of the delays due to the complexity of its shape and operability. Cannon said that the roof is “currently about three-fourths installed” and that it will be “fully operable when the stadium opens” in late August. Historically, postponement of openings has been a common occurrence – especially given the complexity of construction and operation. As long as the facility runs smoothly once it opens, people will forget the glitches from this Spring.
10. New media deals have deepened the pockets of all NFL teams over the past few years, but some franchises continue to complain about the massive revenue gap that still exists from top to bottom. According to USA Today, Bengals Vice President Troy Blackburn said the revenue disparity between teams is the “largest it’s ever been in NFL history.” Even though teams “equally share the revenues of NFL television contracts and a portion of ticket sales, they don't share other local stadium revenues with each other, leading to the rising gap.” “Underprivileged,” teams like the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders chose to relocate in order to lessen the revenue gap. By 2030, it is projected that even more low-revenue teams will face “the same pressure” to relocate. The disparity can be seen with some small market teams paying over 60% of their revenue to players, while large market teams are paying only 40%. The NFL continues to face an ongoing issue of “financial and economic parity.” How to distribute revenue to the players, big market owners, and small market owners to keep them all satisfied is an ongoing concern – not just one that is raised during Collective Bargaining negotiations.
11. The MLS All-Star Game will bring in another heavyweight for this year’s contest, announcing that Real Madrid has signed on to play the August 2 game at Soldier Field. The contest will take place on FS1. This will be the first time that Real Madrid will take part in the MLS All-Star Game. Elsewhere in pro soccer, the NFL is "helping to fund" EPL club Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium and has contributed US$12.8 million to the project so far, according to ESPNFC.us. The initial payment, recorded in the club's financial results, will "go towards the tailoring" of the 61,000-seat stadium to host of NFL games. Tottenham has agreed to a 10-year deal for the NFL to "host a minimum" of two games per year at the stadium, which is expected to open for the start of the 2018-19 season. The NFL will also "pay the club a set fee every time it uses the venue." NFL Executive VP/International Mark Waller has said that the NFL "hopes to have a permanent franchise in London" by 2020. More win-win examples of cross-pollination between the world’s premier football forms.
12. Fallout from FIFA’s massive corruption scandal under former President Sepp Blatter continues. According to the Abu Dhabi National, two thirds of available sponsorship slots still remain unsold for next summer’s 2018 World Cup in Russia. At this stage in the commercial cycle for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, “most sponsors were in place but so far only 10 of up to 34 deals” have been confirmed for 2018. FIFA has six of its eight top-tier sponsors already signed on, but five of those are existing sponsors from past World Cups; Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda is the only new top-tier sponsor to sign up thus far. FIFA wants to sign five to seven more second-tier sponsors and up to 19 more regional sponsors. As it currently stands, Russia’s Alfa-Bank is the only regional sponsor, though up to 20 sponsors can fill this category. Unfortunately, controversy will follow the World Cup in the foreseeable future – starting with Brazil three years ago, then Russia next year, then the issues surrounding the Qatar bid four years from then.
13. Just the other week, Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter were named as two of the competing parties bidding for the Miami Marlins, but no more. According to Fox Business, Bush and Jeter are now “working to make a joint bid,” as opposed to submitting separate bids. The two leaders are pooling their resources together for a bid that is likely going to surpass $1 billion. Bush and Jeter could "face a competing bid from an investor group led by Tagg Romney," the son of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Tagg Romney is Managing Partner at Boston-based investment firm Solamere Capital. Sources close to the deal note that Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria is looking for the “richest offer” from the competing bidders groups. MLB owners have to approve the sale, which takes some of the power away from Loria. As in any asset-selling process, the auction should drive up value considerably (regardless of the Marlins on-field performance).
14. Following the NCAA’s move to reinstate championship events in North Carolina, the ACC has done the same. According to the Charlotte Observer, ACC championship events are returning to North Carolina, and contracts with venues that had multiyear agreements with the conference were “extended a year to compensate for games that were relocated” following the HB2 drama. North Carolina has historically been a hub of ACC championships, so the HB2 repeal is a big deal for the conference. The football conference championship is set to be played at the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium through 2020, though the men’s basketball tournament will remain at the Barclays Center next year. Other conference championships making their return to North Carolina next academic year include “women’s basketball, baseball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s and women’s tennis.” As we have noted, the lifting of the ban in North Carolina should quickly restore a number of events at all levels – including a future NBA All-Star Game.
15. The 2017 CAA World Congress of Sports hosted a debate over one of the hottest topics in sports today: athlete activism. According to SportsBusiness Journal, a “spirited debate” was held about whether athlete activism ultimately helps or hurts individuals in their search to attract endorsements deals. “We try to not be in social issues, though we are moving toward that because we have to,” said Adidas Group North America President Mark King. “But we certainly won’t associate with athletes that are going to cause our brand something we don’t represent and we don’t stand for.” Athletes such as LeBron James have been very outspoken on social issues as of late, all without losing any potential endorsement deals, but “such stances are much more dangerous for rank-and-file players.” Colin Kaepernick is a recent example of an outspoken athlete without commensurate on-field success, making him a riskier endorser. This debate will not be resolved at a sports industry summit, nor through the media. It will be a combination of thoughtful leadership, inspiring action, and long-term behavior change.