With Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins
1. Ahead of this week’s The Players Championship, the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida has opened its largest-ever exhibit highlighting golf’s “Fifth Major” and its venue, TPC Sawgrass. "The Players Experience," according to the Florida Times-Union, is an "1,800-square-foot tribute to the 43-year history of the PGA Tour event." It includes a nod to the 11 Hall of Famers who have won the tourney, and past champions "have donated memorabilia from their victories." An interactive display is devoted to the par-3 17th and its "Island Green," with a "quiz on 17 trivia and a large-screen enactment of what it's like to hit a tee shot" there. Other exhibits honor Hall of Fame members Deane Beman and Pete Dye for creating the tournament and the course; the contributions of its more than 2,000 volunteers; and the tournament’s charitable efforts, which contributed more than $85 million to the community since 1977. From the European Tour’s new GolfSixes format to the Zurich Classic’s team play and this Hall of Fame exhibit, golf’s visionaries are bringing fresh energy and creativity to the sport in order to better grow the game.
2. While Paris 2024 Olympic bid organizers are trying to keep politics out of the picture, the French presidential election continues to serve as the backdrop of the city’s battle to land the Games. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Paris 2024 co-Chair Tony Estanguet confirmed that the divisive election has not changed anything with the committee’s planning and execution. “We knew along the journey of the bid we'd have different elections,” said Estanguet. “We want to reduce the involvement of the political world. They are there to support. They are there to be tough. But we decide where to put the Olympic Village. The sport movement will be responsible for delivering the Games.” Paris remains as the favorite over Los Angeles currently, though tides can turn before the IOC September vote. Both cities are considered heavyweights and are each vying to host the Olympics for the third time. While organizers try their best, it is virtually impossible to keep politics out of the Olympics, especially where the IOC is involved. Look for newly-minted French President Emmanuel Macron to have an impact on both the Paris and L.A. bids.
3. He’s not even on an NBA team yet, but Lonzo Ball – and his father LaVar – are already making waves in the league with the release of a $500 shoe. The family’s Big Baller Brand just introduced the ZO2 Prime, which retails from $495-$695, while “an autographed version of is listed on bigballerbrand.com for $995,” according to Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. The shoes are "available for pre-order to be shipped by November 24." Comparatively, the most expensive version of Kevin Durant’s signature Nike shoe, the KD 9 iD, is $195, while teammate Stephen Curry’s Under Armour UA Curry3Zero is $119.99. And the "most expensive Jordan Brand shoe is the $400 Air Jordan 5 Retro Premium." LaVar Ball has repeatedly told media the family decided to produce their own shoes when none of the major shoe brands offered equity as part of endorsement deals reportedly in the $2 million annual range. Jordan, Durant, and Curry earned the right to put their name on expensive collectible shoes. Ball hasn’t run a single NBA play, and while the sticker shock value is getting the brand some publicity, it’s no sure thing the strategy will pay off for the family over time. Let your feet do their talking ON the court.
4. A bidding war is about to go down in Miami. According to the Miami Herald, a group led by Tagg Romney, son of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has “submitted a bid slightly higher” than the one Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter put in. The joint bid from Bush and Jeter to buy the Miami Marlins was for $1.3 billion, and the team is currently deciding which bid to accept. While the Marlins will be making this decision on their own, MLB must approve the transaction before it comes to fruition. Sources said that Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria recently "struck a non-binding agreement – a handshake deal" – that Bush would be "given first opportunity to buy the team if he was able to provide proof of financing and quickly sign a purchase agreement." The Marlins "fully expected that Bush would be able to close the deal." While the deal will go down in Florida, the real news about this transaction will come from New York, as no ownership transfer will transpire without MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s approval.
5. As the NBA Playoffs builds to the conference finals, seventeen NBA franchises have committed to fielding teams in the inaugural NBA 2K esports league set to launch in 2018. Teams were asked to pay a buy-in fee in the low six figures to join the league, a joint venture of the NBA and Take Two Interactive, which publishes the 2K series. Teams will be operators, not owners. Brendan Donohue, the esports league’s newly named Managing Director, said, “We were hoping for half the teams to jump on board, and we got more than that. There are still a lot of teams very interested in joining in upcoming years." There are notable absences at launch, including the Rockets, who in December named Sebastian Park the league’s first Dir of Esports Development, and both Los Angeles teams. L.A. is an epicenter of the esports industry in North America. As esports leagues become more firmly entrenched, it’s no surprise that the major sports leagues are finding ways to turn their digital properties into esports gold. Expect the NFL to jump in the esports arena next, perhaps followed by MLS and/or FIFA/UEFA (tracking the global popularity of the FIFA video games).
6. Tickets are now on sale for The NFL Experience Times Square, an interactive attraction opening in November, and the NFL and partner Cirque du Soleil have released details about the experiences available. The attraction will offer fans “a chance to step into the shoes of an NFL player through various physical challenges, augmented reality, immersive elements and a 4D cinematic experience with exclusive content from NFL Films.” Fans will be able to participate in a vertical leap test and blocking sleds, receive one-on-one instruction from a hologram of a NFL legendary coach, learn a play in a space that replicates a coach’s classroom; test their skills by completing a game-winning pass to their favorite receiver, and share the stage with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Why Cirque du Soleil? The NFL views the partnership as the meeting of the minds of two iconic global brands – and certainly no one is better at creating spectacular, jaw-dropping multimedia content than the Canadian acrobatic troupe.
7. The University of Michigan rarely has a tough time filling up The Big House in Ann Arbor, but this coming football season’s ticket sales are poised to break records. According to the Detroit News, the university’s season-ticket base “will reach 93,000 this fall, a mark it has not seen” since before the 2007 season. Season tickets typically hover around the 90,000 marker, which is set by the university, though the team’s recent success under Coach Jim Harbaugh has contributed greatly to the spike in season ticket sales. The athletic department added more season tickets because of an increased demand for them, for the “renewal rate among existing ticketholders currently stands” at an astounding 99%. Of the 93,000 season tickets being offered this coming season, 21,000 are allocated for students, which is also the “highest it’s been” since the 2007 season. In an era when student interest in their school’s sports is on the wane, it will be instructive to see how many of the 21,000 student seats are filled come fall.
8. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott ended up No. 1 on the NFLPA Top 50 Player Sales List for fiscal year 2016-2017, becoming the first rookie to hold that honor. The list, according to the players association, is based on total sales of officially-licensed NFL player merchandise for the year that began March 1, 2016, and ended February 28, 2017. Rankings include all NFL player-identified merchandise and products sold by more than 80 official NFLPA licensees via online and traditional outlets with retail sales exceeding $1.6 billion. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished No. 2 for year-end sales, while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had held the top spot through the end of Q3, finished in the No. 3 position despite winning the Super Bowl. Elliott’s feat proves that rookies who become major contributors on the field have the ability to equally enhance their sport’s bottom line off it. Kudos to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for creating the marketing platform that helped propel Elliott and Prescott to the top of the list.
9. It looks like the New York Jets are already throwing in the towel for this coming season. According to the New York Post, Jets Owner Woody Johnson came as close as he could to labeling this coming season a “rebuilding year” without actually using the word “rebuilding” to describe his outlook. In an interview on ESPN Radio N.Y. 1050, Johnson said, “The way I want to be judged this year, hopefully from the fans’ standpoint, is watch how we improve during the year, look at each individual on the team and see how they’re getting better. If they’re getting better, that’s a mark of progress.” Talking about consistent improvement across the board over winning games, Johnson also noted that making the playoffs is not a clear expectation has for Coach Todd Bowles in the wake of a 5-11 season in 2016. Even though the Jets nabbed LSU safety Jamal Adams at #6 in the just-completed NFL Draft, Sports Illustrated gave the team a C- for its draft strategy overall. Small wonder that owner Johnson is exercising extreme caution when managing fan expectations.
10. The Boston Red Sox are in the process of revoking tickets of fans who used racial slurs toward Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones. According to the Boston Globe, Red Sox Owner John Henry and President Sam Kennedy met with Jones to inform him of the steps the team is taking to handle the situation. Jones personally suggested fining fans who taunted him, but Kennedy suggested that fines are “probably in the hands of the police.” This issue is being handled both on the club level with the Red Sox and also at the league level with MLB officials and executives getting involved to ensure this is an isolated incident. Though it is nearly impossible to directly control what people say at ballparks, banning fans from coming back the Fenway Park would send a direct message that there is zero tolerance for racist behavior anywhere in sports.
11. With social media playing an increasingly large role in pro athletes’ lives, some coaches and managers have begun to regulate how their players use such platforms. According to the London Independent, Manchester United Manager José Mourinho “instigated a crackdown” on his players’ social media usage. Mourinho noted his frustration with how much information his players make public online and has since made rules to control the usage of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Man U players “have been told that the club does not want them to publish any pictures from training, from the 48 hours leading up to a game or especially from the team bus on the way to games.” Mourinho wants his players “fully focused” on game days while also restricting “the flow of information out of the club, especially at sensitive times.” While social media is an unparalleled promotional platform, expect stances like Mourinho’s to become increasingly prevalent across all professional sports domestically and internationally.
12. Wimbledon organizers have announced that singles tennis champions will receive $2.84 million each, an increase of about $250,000 for "both the men's and women's winner." The total prize pot increases to $40.8 million, up from $36.3 million last year. According to Reuters, All England Club Chair Philip Brook said that the club "had 'taken into account' exchange rates, but that the 'Brexit effect' had not been instrumental in their calculations." Meanwhile, the All England Club confirmed that Wimbledon's second roofed court – Court No. 1 – "will be completed in time" for the 2019 championships. Let’s face it – Wimbledon could be held on a playground for lunch money and it would still attract the world’s top players, drawn to its storied history and prestige. The real arms race in tennis is winning the battle against the elements that begets more TV time that begets more revenue.
13. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains a free agent more than eight weeks into free agency, but is that because of his on-field performance or off-field protesting? According to the S.F. Chronicle, some believe Kaepernick has still not been signed “because of his decision to kneel during the national anthem before games last season,” while others think his “on-field regression and potential distractions he’d bring to a franchise” are the real reasons he has not been picked up yet. Even since he led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, the quarterback’s on-field performance has dipped considerably, while coinciding with his social protesting. It was reported a week before the start of free agency Kaepernick "would stand for the anthem" in 2017. Whether he "stands or not," Kaepernick "probably won’t be able to fade into the background, even though he most likely will be a backup." And let’s be clear – if Kaepernick’s on-field skills hadn’t deteriorated, he’d be on a team, regardless of political acts that haven’t really harmed anyone but him.
14. Following in the footsteps of other Power Five conferences, the ACC has committed itself to launching its own television network by 2019. According to Awful Announcing, ACC Commissioner John Swofford wrote a memo to conference Athletic Directors informing them that ESPN President John Skipper has confirmed plans to launch the network are “full speed ahead.” The new network hopes to be as successful as the Big 10 Network, which has been live for years now. ESPN plans to put all of its “muscle and support” toward the ACC Network to make it as financially successful as possible. ESPN currently has a deal in place with the ACC that runs through 2036, so it is in the network’s best interest to ensure the financial success of the new channel. Florida State AD Stan Wilcox thinks the network “will be successful” despite the recent talent cuts at ESPN. No one expects ESPN to go quietly into the night, and forging ahead with high-profile partnerships and expansion plans is one way to maintain the confidence of advertisers and parent Disney.
15. University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban "got a healthy raise and a few more years on his deal," as the Alabama Board of Trustees compensation committee approved a new contract through the 2024 season worth an average of $8.2 million annually. According to AL.com, the deal includes a $4 million signing bonus, giving Saban total compensation of $11.15 million in 2017. The structure of the deal is "different from those in the past," as Saban's "base pay actually went down" while "annual completion bonuses" were added. USA Today sports investigative reporter Steve Berkowitz also noted that Saban's 2017 earnings will be "by far the greatest amount paid to a college athletics coach" since USA Today Sports began tracking those numbers in 2006…and that Saban's $4 million signing bonus is greater than Coppin State's total athletics revenue for the 2015 fiscal year. Ball’s in your court, University of Michigan Board of Trustees. How long before Jim Harbaugh – he of the $9 million in annual compensation via life insurance policy – comes knocking?