With Jamie Swimmer and Tanner Simkins
1. Saturday marks the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby, held each May at Louisville’s historic Churchill Downs. Ahead of the Run for the Roses, the personal-finance website WalletHub released reports showcasing fun facts about the first leg of the Triple Crown and which states have the biggest gambling problems. (Nevada unsurprisingly was #1 on that list, followed by South Dakota and Montana.) Among the fun facts, WalletHub revealed that more than 127,000 Mint Juleps are served each year, and 522,000 beer cans consumed. Fashionable headgear is on display, as roughly 90% of female attendees embrace the time-honored tradition of wearing big hats at the race track. And last year, $192.6 million was wagered on the Derby, with $151.8 million paid on winning tickets. Historically, only 35 mounts have followed up a Derby victory with a win in the Triple Crown’s second leg, the Preakness Stakes. And a mere 12 have then sealed the deal in the Belmont Stakes. The chance to see history is nevertheless just one element of what makes the Kentucky Derby so special, along with its fan-friendly traditions and annual pomp and circumstance.
2. In tandem with the attendance-breaking NFL Draft – over 250,000 attended the event in Philadelphia – the NFLPA locked in a partnership with rideshare company Lyft for the upcoming season. The partnership launches with Lyft providing ride credits to rookies. Additionally, all active players will be eligible to receive $250 in ride credits, as well as the ability to earn additional credits through an ongoing social influencer promotion. Players will be able to redeem Lyft credits in 30 of 32 NFL cities. “This partnership will do so much for our players,” Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc. said. “First and foremost, it allows players league-wide to have a consistent and safe option for rides. But more than that, Lyft will provide career and business opportunities for both active players and those transitioning to life after football.” With more and more players cutting their careers short due to the threat of concussions and other debilitating injury, long term career and financial planning have never been more critical, and the league will clearly benefit from the Lyft deal as well.
3. In related NFL news, NFL players, newly-minted rookies and veterans alike, can now own and commercialize their personal biometric data after the NFLPA struck a deal with human performance tracking company Whoop. Each player will be given a wrist-worn, custom-designed monitoring device called the Whoop Strap 2.0, which will capture information on sleep and recovery as well as other data. Under the deal, players will be able to sell their individual data through the NFLPA's group licensing program, in what is the first time a pro sports players association has partnered with a wearable tech company. “Every day, NFL players produce data that can translate into physiological and financial opportunities,” said Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc. “We see partnering with Whoop as the first step in harnessing this exciting technology.” Biometric data has become central to the NFL Combine, leading into the Draft, and with sports fans embracing fitness trackers at record rates, it was inevitable that sports leagues would incorporate this technology into business strategies.
4. Even though MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred insists that nothing has been finalized, a group of investors led by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and including retired New York Yankees star Derek Jeter has reportedly agreed in principal to purchase the Miami Marlins. The deal, which is subject to approval by MLB, is understood to be worth upwards of $1.3 billion, with Bush set to become the Marlins’ controlling owner and Jeter likely to play an active role in the new ownership group. The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson reports that “at least five investors” are involved in the group, although “the identity of those other investors was not immediately known” when news of the deal broke on Tuesday. Other bidders for the Marlins, who are being sold by owner Jeffrey Loria, a New York art dealer who purchased the team in 2002 for $158 million, including Tagg Romney, the son of one-time US presidential candidate and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Quogue Capital founder Wayne Rothbaum. It is in MLB’s best interest to get this deal finalized ASAP, especially with the MLB All-Star Game coming to Miami in July. Look for closure by the end of May.
5. FIFA has confirmed that video replays will be used at the World Cup for the first time in 2018. The Associated Press writes that FIFA President Gianni Infantino told an audience in Santiago that “at the 2018 World Cup we will have video referees, because so far the results are very positive,” adding that "we are going to help the referee to not make any mistake, or commit less mistakes, and we are going to give a bit more of justice to football." In other FIFA news, according to the AP, FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait is "resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.” As FIFA lurches toward next year’s World Cup in Russia, and in the wake of massive scandal it has weathered, timing is critical for soccer’s senior governing body to get its house in order, on both the performance and management sides.
6. Canton is finally receiving its centerpiece: a new four-star football-themed hotel. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, officials broke ground on the new hotel in the emerging Johnson Controls Pro Football Hall of Fame Village. The hotel is set to open during summer 2019, and is being designed by Dallas-based HKS Architects. Among the hotel's features are “four food and beverage options, including a farm-to-table restaurant, a Shula's Steakhouse and a lobby lounge; a grand lobby with a 40-foot-high ceilings; and 25,000 square feet of meeting space.” The new hotel is meant to be a selling point for Canton to land the 2019 NFL Draft, some of which could take place at the hotel itself. In addition to the football-themed hotel, the Hall of Fame Village is set to include “a youth sports complex, retail stores, what will be billed as the ‘world’s greatest sports bar’,” and an assisted living area for retired Hall of Famers. The Canton renovations are an important step in the NFL’s quest to be a year-round lifestyle brand, from the Super Bowl to the Draft, Hall of Fame, and beyond.
7. In golf, the PGA Tour and the LPGA are finalizing plans to stage a joint limited-field tournament in Hawaii at the start of the calendar year. Though nothing is yet set in stone, the combined men’s and women’s event could be held as soon as 2018 and would likely see tournament winners from the previous season on both circuits come together in an expansion of the PGA Tour’s existing Tournament of Champions, with official status ensuring both sets of players are competing for ranking points and prize money. “It would be an official event for them, and an official event for us,” Mike Whan, LPGA commissioner, told SportsPro in a wide-ranging interview last week. “You’d have both men and women playing the same course at same time on the same days with the same pin placements, but having two different leaderboards because both are actually trying to achieve official results.” With the team format at this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans proving popular, look for both the men’s and women’s tours to continue to add variety to the mix in order to keep long time golf fans engaged and new fans intrigued.
8. While fan involvement in sports is always desirable, TV golf viewers will no longer have the same power to influence with the implementation of Decision 34-3/10 by the USGA and R&A. Effective immediately, a player will no longer be penalized when video evidence reveals things that could not reasonably be seen with the naked eye and/or when a player has made a reasonable judgment based on their knowledge at the time. The decision would prevent the same occurrence that affected golfer Lexi Thompson a few weeks ago at the LPGA ANA Inspiration, when she was penalized four strokes during her final round because a viewer at home emailed in about Thompson incorrectly replacing her ball on the green in the third round, costing her two penalty strokes for the incident and two more for signing an incorrect card. Yes, golf is a game of etiquette and honor, but it’s good to see that common sense has prevailed in this case, and judgements will henceforth be made by the proper rules judges and the ultimate authorities, the players themselves.
9. Tiger Woods has had a steep descent over the last few years, and that drop is only poised to continue after a fourth back surgery. According to Golfweek, “questions about the return of Bridgestone and TaylorMade” as Woods’ sponsors have arisen amidst a lengthy layoff from golf. Typically, endorsement contracts “run three or four years and pay a PGA Tour player a base sum to use a company’s equipment in exchange for the right to use his name and likeness in advertising.” However, aside from “in-store displays and advertisements,” the only visibility Woods has generated since playing last on the European Tour in February “has been for his course design business.” Woods signed a multiyear deal with TaylorMade before this season, but thus far in 2017 he has only played in two events. Several people “well-versed” in sport endorsement deals have echoed a similar sentiment: “They no longer see Woods as a golfer. He is now a brand.” Whether or not Woods’ brand value as a course designer and golf icon will replace companies’ exposure on his shirt and bag during live tournament rounds will become more apparent as his current deals mature and brands decide whether or not to re-up.
10. Quicken Loans Arena has officially been given approval for major renovations that could total up to $88 million. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cleveland City Council approved committing up to $88 million in funding for upgrades at the arena, which would create more space for dining, bars and public gathering. Cuyahoga County has “agreed to sell” bonds to finance the project, while the city's role starts in 2024, when it would begin contributing about $8 million a year “raised from admissions tax on events at The Q.” The Cavaliers are also chipping in to “sweeten the deal” through a series of promises. Among the ones laid out are: match dollar for dollar the amount of money that was committed to debt service on the project from the admissions tax if that exceeds the remaining amount that goes to the city, and to donate all admissions revenues from watch parties at The Q during the NBA Playoffs to help Habitat for Humanity. Public/private financing deals for new builds and renovations are never without controversy, and even though the new Cleveland deal has a “do-gooder” component, expect taxpayer backlash in the short term at least.
11. The hotly-contested race to land the New Orleans Pelicans’ D-League team has been narrowed down to six cities. According to the New Orleans Advocate, of the final cities vying to host the team, three are in Louisiana and the other three are out of state. Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and St. Tammany Parish are the Louisiana cities competing against Jackson, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida. No timetable has been set as to when a final city will be selected, as the D-League team won’t begin playing until the 2018-2019 season. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry “pinpointed proximity as a primary benefit, and five of the six locations remaining are within a three-hour drive of New Orleans.” Only Shreveport (326 miles) is “beyond that threshold.” Each city has until June 7 to submit its official proposal if it wants to attract the team. The growth of NBA D-League teams holds two advantages for the NBA – growing talent for the future, and ever-widening teams’ fan bases and marketing footprints.
12. With Chicago only two hours away, University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman is looking toward the Windy City to boost the university’s bottom line. According to the Champaign News-Gazette, Whitman intends on marketing in Chicago as a primary way to increase both Illinois’ revenue and spending, both of which “rank in the bottom half of the Big Ten.” The challenge at Illinois is unique from many of its Big Ten counterparts because it cannot simply afford to outspend other universities such as Ohio State or Michigan. "When they have a problem, candidly they are able to throw money at it in a way that we can't,” said Whitman. “What we have to do is be better. We have to hire better people, we have to come up with a better plan and execute that plan in a better way than they do.” The collegiate arms race continues, and the Illini have their work cut out for them, as Chicago is an alumni hotbed for most of the Big Ten, and for nearby Notre Dame as well.
13. In a move to reduce the overall payout disparity between players, the French Open has announced that its prize money will be increased by 12% for this year’s tournament. According to the AFP, Roland Garros Director Guy Forget announced the increase for all players. The general allocation is set to increase from $35 million last year to $39 million this year. There is also a push to award players who take an early exit with more prize money; “players that are eliminated in the first round will take home $38,170, in increase of 33% on last year.” Second round departures will leave with 16% more money than last year. The new payout system explained by Forget is meant to “help the lower level players” instead of catering solely to dominant ones. At the same time, French Open singles winners will still make $109,000 more than they did in 2016, “with a total payout of $2.3 million.” This year’s tournament takes on heightened fan interest as Serena Williams is sidelined by pregnancy and Roger Federer is forgoing most of the clay court season leading up to Roland Garros. Stay tuned.
14. David Beckham’s push to bring an MLS team to Miami has been dragging on for years now, but he is now one step closer to making this a reality. According to the London Daily Mail, Beckham is “set to complete the funding team” for his proposed ownership of an MLS franchise after bringing Eldridge Industries Chair & CEO Todd Boehly on board. The investment banker, who was "part of an American consortium who were interested in buying" EPL club Tottenham Hotspur, “invested instead” in the Dodgers. Some MLS owners are understood to “resent Beckham being able to buy a franchise for a bargain” $25 million as part of his Galaxy player contract terms, when the overall MLS club ownership entry point is now approaching $193 million. Beckham’s push to attract a team has been dragging on for more than three years, with league owners and executives becoming increasingly frustrated. Look for Commissioner Don Garber to get more personally involved in the situation if it isn’t resolved soon.
15. LA 2024 Chair Casey Wasserman is optimistic about the odds of beating out Paris for the right to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. According to the Hollywood Reporter, NBC will not be able to help Los Angeles’s chances of landing the bid due to the IOC’s rules that “prohibit NBC’s involvement in the bidding process and also bar its voters from visiting the potential sites.” Despite that, Wasserman was keen to point out two major advantages that L.A. has over Paris: public support and infrastructure. Up to 88% of Los Angeles locals support the idea of hosting the Olympics, which many credit to the success of the 1984 Games in L.A., and a significant portion of the infrastructure needed to host the Olympics is already in place across the city. Wasserman’s team has “compiled a ‘beautiful 300-page technical plan’ as part of their pitch,” which will be reviewed before the IOC votes on September 13. If the international political scenario remains stable and the U.S. doesn’t find itself at odds with the rest of the world come September, look for L.A. to prevail.