With Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins
1. NFL owners at their spring meetings in Chicago last week unanimously voted to move Super Bowl LV in 2021 from the under-construction Hollywood Park stadium to Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. The future home of the Rams and Chargers will now host Super Bowl LVI in 2022. The Super Bowl move stems from the Inglewood facility’s opening being delayed by a year due to this winter’s heavy rains. Hosting the 2021 Super Bowl there would have required a waiver from owners, as NFL rules require stadiums to be open for two seasons before they can host a Super Bowl. The owners also eased the league’s widely-derided ban touchdown celebrations: moves that mimic violence or are sexually suggestive and taunting are still banned, but group celebrations and using the football as a prop are now allowed. Commissioner Roger Goodell met with more than 80 current and former players in developing the new policy, which did not require an owners vote. It is widely believed that Goodell relaxed the celebration rule mainly to lighten the league’s image as the “No Fun League.” Both the Super Bowl move and the celebration allowance are part of the NFL’s constant effort to “get it right,” – especially in a period when ratings are down.
2. Nashville is experiencing an outbreak of Stanley Cup fever. The Predators are preparing for their first Stanley Cup Final, against the resilient Pittsburgh Penguins, and from the downtown corridor to the newfound fans watching at home, it’s clear that Nashville is solidifying its identity as a hockey town. "The impact on the downtown – not just the recent playoff success, but the last three or four years, it’s been building every year – has been dramatic. The contribution of this arena, the team and the events to the downtown economy. It’s just amazing,” Predators Chairman Tom Cigarran, told the local business journal. The Tennessean notes a 30% increase during the regular season on FS Tennessee, and a 10.9 local rating for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Ducks that is the "latest in a string of all-time highs.” Predators star P.K. Subban has joined Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota as one of the "most marketable sports figures in Nashville,” and Subban, second in NHL playoff jersey sales, has the "personality, the flair, the following, the power to bring hockey to new fans." Another major winner in the Predator’s run: Bridgestone, naming rights holder for the Preds’ home ice.
3. The NBA Finals are here, and the world got the Cavs-Warriors rematch it was waiting for. As the Washington Post puts it, at the "end of these boring playoffs," there will be a Finals "full of drama" and a chance for this to become a "true, cross-conference rivalry capable of carrying the league…give me two super powers marching indomitably toward a rubber match over mediocrity disguised as parity any day." The Washington Times writes a third consecutive Cavs-Warriors Finals was "practically preordained entering the season," and these playoffs "have an 'Are we there, yet?' feel, like a long road trip with your kids in the backseat." Warriors co-Owner Joe Lacob claims the team is "on a mission" after losing in the NBA Finals to the Cavaliers last season, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Lacob said, "We're not done. We got to go back and get some of what kind of feels taken from us last year." The Warriors are the first team in NBA history to enter the Finals having gone 12-0 in the first three rounds of the postseason. Every sport needs a signature brand rivalry: Michigan-Ohio State, Yankees-Red Sox, Nicklaus-Palmer, Federer-Nadal, and in the fairly newly-minted Cavs-Warriors rivalry, we may have the most recent chapter in the NBA.
4. Ahead of the NBA Finals, The NBA unveiled finalists for six major awards that honor top performers from the 2016-17 regular season. The awards include Kia NBA Most Valuable Player, Kia NBA Rookie of the Year, Kia NBA Sixth Man Award, Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Kia NBA Most Improved Player, and NBA Coach of the Year. The winners for these awards will be revealed during the inaugural NBA Awards on TNT, taking place on June 26. Among the contenders are: James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and Russell Westbrook for the Kia NBA Most Valuable Player award. The NBA Awards will feature six new fan-voted award categories: Dunk of the Year, Best Style, Block of the Year, Assist of the Year, Game Winner of the Year and Top Performance of the Year. Besides the individual category winners here, the other champion is obvious – Kia, which has staked a major claim in the NBA via awards and All Star Game sponsorship.
5. Perhaps the kids who robbed IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti at gunpoint in the drive-thru lane of a restaurant near Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week took this too literally: For the second consecutive year, Taco Bell is teaming up with the NBA for the “Steal a Game, Steal a Taco” promotion, where the first team to “steal” a win on the road during the 2017 NBA Finals will give American consumers a free Doritos Locos Taco. “Crunch time during the NBA Finals has a whole new meaning when a stolen win on the road means everyone in America can again win a free Doritos Locos Taco from Taco Bell," said Marisa Thalberg, Chief Marketing Officer, Taco Bell Corp. “Regardless of which team ultimately wins the championship, we love that the real winners will be taco fans everywhere." The NBA Finals is a top-tier platform for a sponsor like Taco Bell, who must be thrilled to be aligned with Cavs-Warriors Chapter Three.”
6. As the French Open gets underway in Paris, fashion brand Lacoste has "named Novak Djokovic as its new face." Djokovic "will act as a brand ambassador and will appear in advertising campaigns for the French clothing label, according to Women’s Wear Daily. Alongside the clothing lineup, Djokovic will also "star in the brand’s advertising campaign as well as a short film." The announcement "follows the expiration of his five-year deal with Japanese fast-fashion retailer Uniqlo, which appointed him as its global brand ambassador" in 2012. The 12-time Grand Slam winner, currently ranked World No. 2, has had previous deals with adidas and Italy-based Sergio Tacchini. Future initiatives include an "eponymous clothing range" for Djokovic he will wear during competition beginning with this week's French Open main draw. The deal represents a little extra change in Djokovic’s shorts pocket during the Paris fortnight regardless of how far he advances: The French Open’s total prize money this year of 36 million euros ($40.4 million) ranks third behind the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
7. Major League Baseball announced that Minor League Baseball became an official partner of ‘Play Ball,’ baseball’s collective initiative to encourage young people to participate in baseball- or softball-related activities. To kick off the new partnership, MiLB will support the second annual Play Ball Weekend, including spearheading the effort’s official launch with the Oklahoma City Dodgers on June 2, as well as Play Ball Summer with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. ‘Play Ball’ is only one of many exemplary examples of how both MLB and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, ramping up for their major annual conference in Miami in a few weeks, continue to find ways to develop relationships in midsize cities that greatly contribute to health and youth development initiatives.
8. The PGA Tour has officially made it across the pond. Earlier this week, reports surfaced that the Florida-based PGA Tour has opened an office in London. The move was made for a variety of reasons, but the main one appears to be for media rights and sponsorships. European Tour’s CEO Keith Pelley has insisted Europe will provide “a viable alternative to the PGA Tour.” Sources within the PGA Tour insist a London office is sensible given the global sponsorship market and an existing relationship with Sky Sports to cover 31 events per year. Although an official announcement is not expected until mid-summer, the PGA’s London office is already operational, with its prime focus on media rights and tournament sponsorship. The implication is that the PGA Tour will aggressively court sponsors who otherwise might be attracted to European Tour events. Given the fiscal power of the PGA Tour, this is intriguing. The notion golf is edging towards one global tour is impossible to ignore, as is the PGA Tour’s view of London as an important commercial hub.
9. Worldwide retail sales of licensed products last year increased 4.4% to $262.9 billion. According to a study commissioned by the Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association released in conjunction with the trade association's annual expo in Las Vegas, the figure is the highest in the study’s three-year history. The report attributed much of the growth to entertainment, sports, publishing, and celebrity-licensed properties. Royalty revenue from 2016 licensed-product sales reached $14.1 billion, a 1.3% increase over $13.9 billion in 2015. For the third straight year, entertainment- and character-licensed properties were the largest category measured, accounting for 45%, or $118.3 billion, in global retail sales. The U.S. and Canada continued to be the two biggest markets for licensed merchandise and services, with revenue accounting for 57.9% of the global total. The sports category does not include collegiate licensing -- colleges accounted for $5.7 billion on their own. LIMA SVP, Industry Relations and Information Marty Brochstein said that nearly all the collegiate revenue measured in the study comes from a U.S. school, and that almost all of those sales are sports related. Small wonder that the NFL recently bought a 3% equity stake in Florida-based Fanatics. The licensed products category seemingly has no ceiling.
10. Summertime is cooler time, and NASCAR has unveiled premium cooler and drinkware brand Yeti as its new official outdoor partner. Under the terms of the multi-year agreement, Yeti’s stainless steel drinkware, premium coolers, and soft-sided coolers will be developed into NASCAR and team-licensed products. Additionally, the Texas-based company will join the NASCAR Fuel for Business Council, which allows an exclusive group of nearly 55 official partners of the organization to work together and address specific corporate needs. "Yeti is a dynamic and wildly popular brand that will be a welcome addition to our industry and fans,” said NASCAR executive vice president and chief global sales and marketing Officer, Steve Phelps. “There continues to be great momentum surrounding our business as evidenced by nearly 10 new brands entering the sport at the official level this year.” Matt Reintjes, Yeti’s chief executive, added: “We’re proud to be associated with the many influential brands that partner with NASCAR.” NASCAR is particularly revenue-hungry at present, and what could make more sense than an alignment with the current preeminent brand of middle America summer?
11. Summertime is also beach time, and ESPN has inked a deal with Management Plus Enterprises, creators and owners of The World Series of Beach Volleyball to telecast the WSOBV President’s Cup from July 13-16 from Long Beach. The President’s Cup features the top eight beach volleyball teams from the USA, including Kerri Walsh Jennings, competing against the eight best international teams in the world. Matches will run on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 with the telecast kicking off the start of a new relationship with MPE, in which the network will support MPE’s new initiative to expand the WSOBV platform by developing a minimum of three major tent pole beach volleyball events that will take place in the summer of 2018 and be telecast by ESPN. Good own World Series of Volleyball creator Len Amato, and good on USA Volleyball’s longtime sweetheart Walsh Jennings, who appears to have found a new beach after failing to come to terms with the AVP.
12. The TrackTown Summer Series is "expanding this year" with an eye on "sparking greater interest stateside in track and field,” according to the Associated Press. The unique team competition -- the brainchild of USA Track and Field President Vin Lananna, who also serves as president of TrackTown USA -- "made its debut last year in Eugene, Oregon." It was a "one-off meet that was overshadowed by the Olympic Trials and ultimately the Rio Games." However, the "intention was always to expand." This year the series will "consist of three meets in late June and early July" in Portland, Stanford and a championship in N.Y. Four teams are "taking shape" under high-profile GMs: Allyson Felix for the N.Y. Empire, Nick Symmonds for the S.F. Surge, Bernard Lagat for the Portland Pulse, and Sanya Richards-Ross for the Philadelphia Force. Lananna said, "We have the top team in terms of medals and yet a person like Ashton Eaton, who is a double world record-holder and Olympic medalist, can go anywhere in this country in an airport and walk through without one person recognizing him. That's troublesome." It appears professional Track and Field is taking a page from the playbook of the resurging World Team Tennis organization – a grassroots effort to get communities nationwide an up-front opportunity to experience the sport.
13. Nike has re-signed NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. to what is understood to be the richest shoe deal ever signed by a pro football player. Terms of the agreement, first reported by Nice Kicks, have not been disclosed, but ESPN reports that Giants’ wide out Beckham Jr. “has signed ‘a five-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $5 million a year.’ That figure is ‘about two times more than any previous deal Nike had with a football player,’ and was driven up by adidas’ interest in signing Beckham Jr., whose prior Nike contract expired on May 1. Nike "clearly has big plans" for Beckham Jr. that "go well beyond his presence on the football field" according to the Bergen Record. If "certain incentive levels are met," that five-year deal "could escalate to a mammoth 8-year deal" worth up to $48 million. ESPN added that four factors were paramount in Beckham’s negotiating favor: His combination of talent and production on the field. The New York/New Jersey market. His social media reach with more than 8 million followers on Instagram, more than 2.5 million on Twitter and more than 1 million on Facebook." Beckham Jr. frequently appears on lists of the world’s most marketable athletes. Small wonder.
14. It’s long been a staple in tennis, and now FIFA has appointed Hawk-Eye Innovations as the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) provider for a number of imminent soccer tournaments. The ball-tracking and video system is currently used at the ongoing 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup in Korea, and will be used for the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, and the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates at the end of the year. The deal follows a comprehensive process during which interested technology providers were invited to submit their proposals, before being tried at the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, and during various international friendlies. The VAR technology is expected to provide video assistant referees with comprehensive footage in the fastest possible time to enable them to make correct decisions when the on-field officials express any doubt. The agreement is part of an extensive process to trial the use of video technology within soccer, and the use of VAR technology at the aforementioned tournaments will examine the impact of the system on the game.
15. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest and Microsoft are revving up for a 24 Hours of Le Mans esports event. The organizations are lining up the Forza Racing Championship Season 3: The Porsche Cup Elite finals for June 17-18, where the esports contest will run beside the famed endurance race. To open the partnership, ACO is launching an Official Endurance esports Category. Meanwhile, the victors of the Forza RC finals will be awarded their trophy on the same 24 Hours of Le Mans podium as the victors of the race. Over a hundred gamers will be present in the Race Village at Le Mans to take part in the event. From the NBA to Grand Prix, sports leagues are as interested in aligning with the hottest growth sport in the industry as are consumer brands, broadcasters, and arena developers, who are hard at work on a handful of the world’s first esports-specific arenas. Stay tuned.