"The Sports Professor" Rick Horrow delivers the latest business/sports stories of the week, plus a great interview with Cris Collinsworth on the dominance of the Patriots and Pro Football Focus.com.
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Here are the "15 to Watch" stories of the week, with Tanner Simkins.
1. March Madness looks to its 2017 Sweet Sixteen – but that’s hardly the annual tourney’s most significant number. According to the networks, CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV averaged 8.2 million viewers for the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament, up 4% from last year. For the tourney to date, including Tuesday and Wednesday's First Four games, the networks are averaging 7.8 million viewers, up 5% from the same point last year. Further, Nielsen Sports has put together key insights around the tournament, highlighting how fans engage with the event. Most March Madness bracket participants (71%) say they watch games at home, 12% will watch at a bar, restaurant, or other public location, and 24% use a computer to check scores. The tournament reached 97 million viewers last year across 73 telecasts. These big numbers are the reason that CBS/Turner last year signed an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension with the NCAA for the March Madness broadcast, putting the tournament's annual TV value at over a billion dollars. Now that’s a significant digit.
2. Like the diehard college hoops fans who flock to NCAA tournament regional sites, advertisers and sponsors are equally drawn by the March Madness allure. A recent Nielsen Sports Fan Trender survey found that more than half of bracket entrants are between the advertiser sweet spot ages of 25 and 54. And those who compete in a March Madness pool are backed with plenty of brainpower, with nearly half holding a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. While TV ratings this year are strong, “Brands have shown us that ratings don’t matter when it comes to the NCAA Tournament,” said rEvolution EVP of Media Larry Mann. “While matchups and storylines can bring value, brands know that a huge audience will tune in regardless.” NCAA Tournament ad revenue comes primarily from automotive, telecommunications, and restaurant brands. Wendy’s joined this year for its “Drive to the Final Four” integrated campaign, which includes television advertising, experiential, merchandising, and PR. Also returning are March Madness mainstays Capital One, AT&T, Coke, Allstate, Buick, and others. This ultimate collegiate sports experience is a no brainer for brands – which give the tourney an “A” year after academic year.
3. As their signature golf event tees off in Carlsbad, CA, Kia Motors America inked a multi-year renewal of the brand’s LPGA relationship as its "Official Automotive Partner.” Kia now has a presence at seven tournaments, including two Majors, the ANA Inspiration and the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, in addition to Kia Classic title sponsorship. “Kia and the LPGA have experienced tremendous growth in visibility and awareness as a result of our partnership," said Kimberley Gardiner, Kia director of marketing communications. Another key aspect of the Kia Classic is Women’s Leadership Day, presented by the LPGA and Servant Leadership Institute. The exclusive forum for professional women features a keynote by Sempra Energy EVP Martha Wyrsch and a panel discussion spotlighting women executives from the LPGA, Los Angeles Clippers, LA2024, and SDG&E. I am proud to moderate this event, which joins the Indy Women in Tech Championship Presented by Guggenheim as LPGA events with a strong focus on women’s workplace success.
4. Indian Wells is a place for great tennis – and the food isn’t bad, either. The BNP Paribas Open saw more than 438,000 fans pass through its gates in 2016, making it the most-attended WTA/ATP tennis tournament in the world behind the four Grand Slams. And they didn’t go hungry. This year, a multitude of unique Southern California dining experiences were incorporated into the Indian Wells Tennis Garden’s Stadium 1 – now the second-largest tennis stadium in the country, with a seating capacity of 16,100. Atop the menu is Wolfgang Puck’s Michelin Star rated Spago, which joins Stadium 2’s Chop House and Nobu as onsite fine dining options mixing world class food with world class tennis. "We create large and small scale events across the country,” says Carl Schuster, CEO of Wolfgang Puck Catering, “but the BNP Paribas Open is a unique opportunity for us to partner with a truly premier event and venue. Wolfgang is a big tennis fan and with many of our clients in attendance, the restaurant offers an exceptional guest experience right inside Stadium 1." The Indian Wells upgrades come at a time when tennis venues across the globe are undergoing massive construction, led by the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at the U.S. Open, in the middle of a reported $550 million renovation.
5. In related tennis news, Oracle Corp. has created the Oracle U.S. Tennis Awards, two $100,000 player grants that will be awarded annually at the BNP Paribas Open to assist young U.S. players as they transition from college tennis to the pros. The two $100,000 grants will be awarded to a male and female professional who has demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship and an aptitude for success on the pro tour. They must have played collegiate tennis prior to turning professional. "Making the transition from college to the professional ranks is a real challenge,'' said Oracle CEO Mark Hurd. “We hope these awards will provide young players with support to develop their games and improve their mental and physical fitness. Our goal is to grow the program and we invite input and support from other companies who are committed to U.S. athletics.'' The awards will be administered by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, the governing body of college tennis. Recipients will be selected by the newly-created Oracle US Tennis Awards Advisory Council, a six-member body that includes inaugural members Chris Evert, Todd Martin, and Ilana Kloss. The “uncommon denominator” between the BNP Paribas Open and the Oracle awards is obviously Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who joins Mark Cuban, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer as billionaire technology owners making a difference in sports.
6. Last fall, it was announced that Amazon.com was pursuing video rights to a wide range of sports, including tennis and rugby. Now, Amazon is getting into the music festival business, too. According to a recent job listing, Amazon plans on having a major presence at upcoming music festivals. The company is reportedly looking to hire a Senior Program Director in the music department. The role of the director will be to “dramatically improve the experience of the 32 million people that attend music festivals each year.” The company suggests they will have a physical presence at the festivals, offering services such as on-site food and product delivery and custom merchandise available for purchase; the company will also provide festival-goers with amenities like free Wi-Fi, water, and mobile charging stations. The synergies between music festivals and major sporting events are obvious – don’t be surprised to see Amazon getting into the sports event management biz as well.
7. In an effort to "restart negotiations over a labor dispute that has put their participation in the upcoming IIHF World Championships in jeopardy," USA Hockey is "expected to reach out to players" on its women's national team, as well as their reps. According to ESPNW.com, the federation had "asked players to respond" by 5:00pm ET Thursday to an email request "asking each to individually state whether she intended to play in the tournament" beginning March 31. However, members of the team "declined to respond." USA Hockey Senior Director of Communications Dave Fischer in an interview late Thursday night said that the deadline was "never intended to be any sort of ultimatum." Philadelphia-based attorney John Langel, who reps the players, said that he had "not yet heard directly from USA Hockey but the players welcomed reopening negations that could avert their boycott." The players are seeking improvements including girls’ hockey program development investment, more competition during non-Olympic years, and a living wage increase – USA Hockey currently provides only $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period every four years. Just like their soccer counterparts, the women of USA Hockey are well-organized, feisty, and determined. Their boycott continues to show the relevance of Title IX and vigilance in improving women’s sports overall.
8. El Clásico is coming to Miami. The rivalry between La Liga clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid is coming to Miami this summer. The game is scheduled as part of the International Champions Cup and will be played on July 29th at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. The game is not the only event that will be taking place, as there will be nearly an entire week filled with activities leading up to “El Clásico.” It is not surprising that Hard Rock Stadium was chosen as the location for this match, as Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross is also the owner of the International Champions Cup. This is the first time the two teams will face off on American soil, and only the second time they will face off outside of Spain. MLS continues to expand and evolve; American broadcasts of EPL and European games expedite North American soccer popularity. Therefore, the summer “European soccer window” for major exhibition matches in North America are more important than ever to continue the soccer momentum.
9. Adidas-owned CCM Hockey is back up for sale for the second time in the last year, according to the Financial Post. CCM Hockey is one of the largest manufacturers of hockey equipment and hockey apparel in the world, and currently has deals in place with several NHL superstars, including Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. CCM President Philippe Dubé said that the company is committed to closing a deal at this time, and also that a new owner is “a great opportunity for the brand to increase its hockey-equipment market share.” Beginning next season, adidas will have the exclusive license to manufacture NHL jerseys, which may be one of the biggest factors in why they decided to once again pursue selling the brand. As hockey’s popularity continues to increase, the sale of any “hockey specific” enterprise will be fruitful for the sport and assist with long term stability.
10. NBC Sports has agreed to one-year deals to televise both Great Britain’s Epsom Derby and the United Arab Emirates’ Dubai World Cup. The moves come as NBC looks to expand the network’s global coverage of horse racing events. NBC already has long-term deals in place to broadcast the four major horse racing events in the U.S. — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes, and the Breeder’s Cup. The network also previously signed a deal to broadcast England’s Royal Ascot, which will premiere on the network this year, with coverage beginning on June 20th. Financial terms of the two new deals were not disclosed. Niche sports are the order of the day as they focus on their avid fans, corporate sponsors, and television viewing. International horse racing events are no exception.
11. 24 Hour Fitness and the U.S. Olympic Committee have agreed to extend the company’s sponsorship through the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. As part of the agreement, USOC experts are required to certify 24 Hour Fitness personal trainers in workouts designed specifically for Olympic sports. 24 Hour Fitness has been a sponsor of Team USA since 2003 and assists in staffing the USOC’s on-site training centers at the Olympic Games. The USOC will also work with 24 Hour Fitness to create digital workout routines that can be shared on the company’s fitness app. The financial terms of the new deal were not disclosed. Similar to all other USOC sponsors, 24 Hour Fitness will receive an exclusive 60-day negotiation window to extend their sponsorship rights if Los Angeles ends up winning the bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Good that the Olympic movement has attracted some additional sponsors – reversing the escalation of sponsorship cancelations over the last six months. Assume that the USOC and LA2024 will be working hard to attract event more sponsors if a successful decision for 2024 is made later this summer.
12. It’s official – Toyota has become the NHL Las Vegas Golden Knights’ first sponsor. The Golden Knights have agreed to a three-year partnership with the Japanese automaker. The deal will make the Southern Nevada Toyota Dealers Association the preferred non-luxury automotive partner of the team. The deal also includes branding elements at T-Mobile Arena consisting of a Zamboni wrap, an in-ice logo, and two dasher board signs. Toyota is currently a sponsor of 13 other NHL teams, and the deal with the Golden Knights is reported to be very competitive as compared to equivalent deals in markets of a similar size. The Golden Knights continue to be involved in discussions with multiple companies for the remaining three in-ice sponsorships, according to a team representative. The Golden Knights are off and running in the boardroom as well as on the ice. It’s hard to believe that only a few months ago, Las Vegas was a small “gambling and entertainment town” with no hope for major league sports. Now, they have a hockey franchise, two NASCAR races, and the reasonable likelihood of the NFL.
13. President Donald Trump is not the only boss to yell “You’re Fired” in DC. Thursday was the first day of the new league year in the NFL, and as most teams looked to use free agency to fill the glaring holes in their rosters, the Washington Redskins created a much larger void in their front office. The Redskins fired General Manager Scot McCloughan on Thursday, just two years into a four-year contract. McCloughan was fired due to his “ongoing problems with alcohol,” according to the Washington Post. Now, during one of the busiest times of the year in NFL front offices and with the Draft just over a month away, the Redskins find themselves scrambling to find a new leader for their organization. One name that has been mentioned as a potential replacement is NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, but don't expect the Redskins to rush into making a decision. Insiders have said that they expect the Redskins to wait until after the Draft to decide on McCloughan’s replacement. While Trumpesque office shakeups don’t always lead to increased victories, they certainly demonstrate a renewed commitment to improving the on-field product in DC.
14. Manchester City has become the first EPL Club to announce an Official Sleeve Partner. Existing club partner, Korean tire giant, Nexen Tire, has renewed its partnership with the club and becomes the first brand to take advantage of the new asset, which kicks in from the start of the 2017/18 Premier League campaign. The Nexen Tire logo will appear on the sleeve of the Manchester City playing shirt for all Premier League games. The partnership has also been extended to include Women’s Super League and League Cup winners, Manchester City Women. Nexen Tire has focused on establishing various marketing platforms in recent years as it expands its global presence. Through the partnership, Nexen Tire will continue to be a significant presence at all Manchester City Premier League and domestic cup matches, helping the Korean brand to grow its visibility and presence across the world. The partnership, celebrated at a signing ceremony at the City Football Academy in Manchester City, was attended by Nexen and City executives, alongside the club’s manager, Pep Guardiola with City stars Gabriel Jesus, İlkay Gündoğan, and Jill Scott. European clubs should have no trouble in generating significant income from this new sleeve opportunity – especially with the brand value, international awareness, and TV exposure of Europe’s top clubs.
15. As the NHL continues to celebrate its centennial on ice, the league on Friday confirmed plans for the Senators and Canadiens to "celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first league game in Ottawa with an outdoor game at TD Place.” According to the Ottawa Citizen, the NHL's "first outdoor game ever in Ottawa," on Sunday, December 17, will fall three weeks after the CFL's Grey Cup is played at TD Place, which "will be expanded to 34,000 seats." Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk and Canadiens Owner Geoff Molson attended the press event, along with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and "officials from the federal government." The NHL treats its 100th anniversary celebration with great respect. Los Angeles led off the New Year with the All-Star Game and the 100th greatest NHL athletes. Now is an exclusively Canadian celebration, followed by other outdoor events and winter festivities. Look for the NHL to continue to increase its franchise values, television ratings, corporate partnerships, and ultimate revenues.