with Jamie Swimmer & Tanner Simkins
1.Wrapping up the 2017 NFL regular season, viewership numbers were down for the second straight year. According to SportsBusiness Journal, viewership was down across the NFL by 9% this season, marking a 20% drop for the league overall over the past two seasons. Media rights holders and broadcast partners all saw declines in their numbers when compared to 2016, with even worse ones when comparing numbers to 2015. Primetime packages – Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, and Thursday Night Football – all turned out disappointing numbers, yet still drew significantly more viewers than traditional scripted television shows. NBC’s Sunday Night Football (SNF) averaged 18.175 million viewers per game over the course of the season, beating out FOX’s second place average of 17.659 viewers per game. SNF “remains on pace to be the most-viewed primetime show for the seventh straight year, which would be a record for all TV dating back to 1950.” Despite an exciting finish to Sunday’s Panthers-Saints game and a close one in Kansas City, nothing in the overall lackluster NFL playoffs so far suggests that viewer numbers will trend any direction but down.
2.A new ESPN report cites New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady, and owner Robert Kraft having “serious disagreements.” According to the report, the New England dynasty has won five Super Bowls together, yet some serious differences have been undermining the trio as of late. The three most powerful figures in the organization “differ on Brady’s trainer, body coach and business partner Alex Guerrero; over the team’s long-term plans at quarterback; over Belichick’s bracing coaching style; and most of all, over who will be the last man standing.” Those interviewed as part of the report have noted serious tension rising within the organization, with many calling this the last year that all three men will be together in Foxborough. Kraft, Brady, and Belichick were supposed to meet in late December to “clear the air,” but the meeting never happened. Outside of New England, the NFL is facing a serious case of Patriots fatigue. While the purported end of the road for the triumvirate won’t be good for the team, it might in fact be excellent for the league.
3.The Australian Open begins on January 15, with or without some of the world’s best players. According to the London Telegraph, numerous notable players have withdrawn from the Grand Slam event in Melbourne, including World No. 1 Andy Murray. The British star “reluctantly made the call to pull out of his second successive Grand Slam with a long-standing hip injury.” Serena Williams, 23-time Grand Slam winner, also withdrew from the tournament, noting that “Although I am super close, I’m not where I want to be. I can compete – but I don’t want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time.” Williams was eight weeks pregnant with her daughter Olympia when she won the tournament last year. Spaniard Rafael Nadal and six-time Aussie Open winner Novak Djokovic are both questionable, leaving tournament organizers “sweating over which marquee players will actually turn up and be fit enough to see out the fortnight.” While global ratings for tennis’ first slam of the year will likely be down due to all the top-level withdrawals, look for some fresh faces – aka new brands – to emerge in Melbourne this year as a result, which will boost the long term health of pro tennis.
4. As Tiger Woods confirms his first starts of 2018, reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Callaway. The agreement, made official on January 1, will see the Spaniard use 14 Callaway clubs, Chrome Soft balls, and display the company’s logo on both sides of his hat. Garcia began testing new equipment last year after ending his 15-year partnership with TaylorMade. The deal sees Callaway add to its impressive roster of golf stars, which already includes five-time major champion Phil Mickelson and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson. Meanwhile, Garcia has extended his longstanding apparel and footwear deal with adidas, which has also confirmed new tie-ups with PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Woods will make his 2018 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open later this month, his first official PGA Tour event since he missed the cut at the same tournament a year ago. Woods has won the event at Torrey Pines near San Diego seven times, the last in 2013. He also announced that he will be playing the Genesis Open at Riviera, run by the Tiger Woods Foundation, in February. Woods looked impressive in the Bahamas last month, and if he sticks around for the weekend at Torrey, look for his sizeable fan base to show up, in person and in Nielsen numbers.
5.As we head deeper into the NFL playoffs, sponsors, marketers, and branding agencies alike have their eyes set on the Super Bowl to create the most memorable commercial. According to Variety, NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LII on February 4th is quickly approaching for companies that are spending millions of dollars on 30-second ads. “The Super Bowl is a very big deal for us,” said BMG Senior Vice President/Marketing, Commercials, Film & TV Alex Flores. The going price for a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl tops $5 million, prompting companies to wait until closer to game time to reveal any details regarding their commercials. Last year, Ad Age reported that 51 advertisers paid a total of $385 million to reach an estimated 112 million viewers, “representing 2.3% of total U.S. broadcast network TV ad spending for the year.” To increase overall engagement with agencies, NBC has been offering package deals for the Super Bowl and PyeongChang Olympics, for which it also holds media rights.
6.Lithuanian pro basketball team Prienu Vytautas, the new home of brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball, has "withdrawn from the Baltic Basketball League this season. The team will instead play in the Big Baller Brand Challenge, a series of five 'friendly' games intended to get the brothers extensive playing time," according to ESPN. The team "announced it will show each of the games on Facebook." A source said that Prienu expects the Balls "to generate" about $120,000 in revenue for the team, "including an undisclosed amount" Facebook is paying to show the Big Baller Brand Challenge games. The Ball brothers’ only significant accomplishment – including Lonzo, now playing for the Lakers – is selling out Chino Hills high school basketball games for multiple seasons. But it’s clear that father LaVar Ball will not let up in his efforts to be a disruptor and build the Big Baller brand on an international stage. As such, the Ball family will continue to be a must-watch in 2018.
7.The new home for the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams is beginning to take shape, slowly and steadily. According to the L.A. Times, the two NFL teams’ Inglewood stadium is more than a quarter complete. An unexpected series of heavy rains pushed the opening date back from 2019 to 2020, so an irrigation system was added to the site in order to prevent any further delays related to rain. The stadium will be one of the most technologically-advanced and integrated stadiums in the world, designed to accommodate virtually any team or event on the fly. “This is going to be basically digitized to the point where, you flip the switch, and it’s all branded Chargers,” said Chargers Chair Dean Spanos. “Flip another switch, it’s branded all Rams. Flip another switch, it’ll be two colleges playing here.” The stadium is projected to cost $2.6 billion, though that number could balloon if any unexpected obstacles or problems arise before the expected 2020 opening date.
8.After factoring in the three rules to deem an NFL team eligible to appear on HBO’s Hard Knocks, only six teams are eligible: The San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, and Washington Redskins. Initially, it seems to be an interesting list, but two of the teams have made it clear that they want nothing to do with the show. San Francisco 49ers General Manager John Lynch spoke to NBC Bay Area about the prospect of being selected for Hard Knocks: “I love the show, but I think some things are best left behind closed doors. I fundamentally have a problem with cutting players and things of that nature on camera. It’s not something we’d be thrilled about.” The Baltimore Ravens told HBO that their facility renovation last year would make it a logistical nightmare to be on the show, and again want to be left out of consideration this year. My money’s on the Cleveland Browns. With the top draft pick and fans devoted enough to turn out for a 0-18 “victory” parade in bitter cold, the franchise seems deserving of the HBO “honor.”
9.With UCF wrapping up an undefeated season after topping Auburn 34-27 in the Peach Bowl, the College Football Playoff could be headed toward an expansion in the coming years. According to ESPN.com, the Knights’ 13-0 season was the only undefeated one in FBS, yet the team was left out of the CFB semifinal. UCF’s schedule was cited as a main reason for the university not replacing Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, or Oklahoma. “UCF is an excellent team, but you still have to take into account who each team played and defeated during the regular season,” said CFB Executive Director Bill Hancock. Sources close to college football believe that No. 12 UCF’s perfect season could be used as a reason to expand the playoff to eight team, which many think will inevitably be the case. Regardless, UCF is proud of its season and has already made plans for a parade back in Florida. UCF has good reason to be proud of its season, but an eight-team playoff is going to be a difficult argument to make with university administrators. While it may eventually happen, the short term requires better thinking about how to ensure a quality team like the Knights gets in despite not playing in a Power Five conference.
10.The Oakland Raiders now have a new head coach in ESPN’s Jon Gruden. According to the S.F. Chronicle, former head coach Jack Del Rio announced his own firing immediately after the team’s season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. A disappointing 6-10 campaign in 2017 came on the heels of a surprising 12-4 year in 2016, giving the franchise Super Bowl hopes and expectations coming into the new era. Gruden previously coached the Raiders from 1998-2001 before moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so he already has ties to the Bay Area franchise and owner Mark Davis. With the Raiders set to move to Las Vegas in the coming years, the team is looking to build some excitement with fans. Commenting on the prospect of convincing Gruden to hang up the microphone in exchange for a whistle, ESPN’s Mike Golic said, “It will certainly be a splash going back to Oakland if this comes to fruition to keep the fan base hyped there.” Hype is good, but W’s are better. Gruden has a short ramp to get back in the swing of the grueling head coach job after his years in the booth.
11.On the heels of cutting around $36 million in player payroll over the past few weeks, new Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter is projecting an “enormous profit” in 2018. According to the Miami Herald, Jeter also expects the team to record sizeable profits for the three years following 2018. The Marlins – and every other MLB team – will receive a one-time payout of $50 million as a result of MLB’s sale of BAMTech to Disney. Jeter’s confidential document that he distributed to potential investors, called Project Wolverine, includes “ambitious revenue goals for tickets, sponsorship and television rights.”
12.The Las Vegas Golden Knights continue to build their fan base and develop their home ice advantage well into their inaugural season. According to LVSPORTSBIZ.com, the NHL club is now starting a waiting list for fans who want to buy season tickets, with deposits starting as low as $100. The team currently has around 14,000 season ticket holders, but is intent on growing that number. While some expansion franchises have faltered on the ice, court, or field in their first seasons, that has not been the case in Las Vegas; as of the first week of January, the Golden Knights boasted a 27-9-2 record, including an impressive 17-2-1 record at home.
13.The South Korean government is starting to crack down on hotels that are charging visitors excessive prices ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. According to USA Today, price-gouging hotels have faced heavy criticism for “ripping off customers.” The Olympics begin with the opening ceremony on Friday, February 9, so the South Korean Ministry of the Interior & Safety plan to conduct an “intensive price clampdown through January 31.” According to data from a Yonhap report, the average price of a hotel in PyeongChang during the Olympics recently spiked to more than $460 per night, “more than triple the normal peak-season prices.” The moves come as part of the government's effort to boost ticket sales for the Games, which have been sluggish and well below the organizing committee’s projected numbers. Local hotel trade groups and the provincial government in Gangwon Province, where the event sites of PyeongChang and Gangneung are located, are also “pressing to get hotels to clean up their acts.” Hotel price gouging is par for the slalom course at the Olympics, just like most other sports mega events.
14.The South Korean Olympic organizing committee in PyeongChang is preparing for a potential late entry from the North Korean delegation in the upcoming Games. According to the Korea Herald, a recent speech following the New Year from North Korean leader Kim Jung-un called for talks with South Korean officials regarding some of the country’s athletes being allowed to compete. Lee Hee-beom, head of the 2018 Olympic organizing committee, said PyeongChang had been “preparing for a long time” for the possibility that North Korea would take part in the quadrennial event. “We’re making preparations in case North Korea sends its athletes, cheering squad and support staff,” commented Lee in a New Year’s address he gave at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium. “The International Olympic Committee has also said several times that it would support North Korea’s participation.” Talks have since been conducted regarding North Korean athletes playing under the country’s name, or forming a joint team with South Korean athletes. While the announcement of North Korean participation will draw national media attention, it will clearly not contribute to increased ticket and hotel room sales in the South.
15.The United States and South Korea have agreed not to hold any joint military drills during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. According to a CNN report following a Korean presidential office announcement, U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea President Moon Jae-in came to a mutual decision on the subject. The joint military drills have been conducted on the Korean Peninsula, prompting North Korean leader Kim Jung-un to call them “a direct threat to Pyeongyang (North Korea).” The move to stop these joint drills is supposed to give South Korea more freedom to speak directly to North Korea about peace talks and the potential inclusion of North Korean athletes in February’s Olympics. The decision coming from South Korea and the U.S. was “announced a day after contact between the two Koreas was initiated in a major diplomatic breakthrough.” Security leading up to the Olympics has been a major concern for fans and visitors, though organizing officials have done their best to reassure a safe and secure event.
Power of Sports 5
1. Jacksonville Jaguars gave 1,000 playoff tickets to refugees. The Jacksonville Jaguars hosted their first playoff game at home since 1999, and the team is using this rare event to partake in an act of generosity. According to an announcement posted on the Jaguars’ website, 1,000 tickets will be dispersed to refugees in Florida. Puerto Ricans who fled the island in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria and are in North and Central Florida, will receive half of the available seats. The remaining 500 seats will go to refugees from other parts of the world who are currently in northern Florida. Per an NBC report, as of Nov. 30, over 200,000 individuals migrated from Puerto Rico to Florida, and between 500,000 and 750,000 will be forced to resettle over the next four years. Though it has been over three months since Maria first struck, 55% of the island’s residents still lack electricity, per Puerto Rican authorities. The governor’s office estimated that they will not meet their goal of restoring power to 95% of homes until February at the earliest.
2. Art exhibition ‘Game Recognize Game’ explores how play inspires change. “Game Recognize Game” art exhibition is on display at the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco. Representing a deep inquiry into the power and potential of sports as a cultural platform for social change, educator Dania Cabello curated the exhibition in partnership with the Oakland Castlemont football team, Soccer Without Borders, and Senda Athletics. In an effort to create an immersive, experiential environment for intergenerational hands-on activities within the exhibit, audience members of all ages were encouraged to play inside the gallery walls. The works from Cabello and fellow artists Arjuna Sayyed, Cece Carpio, Ed Ntiri, Yonas Tesfai, Miguel “Bounce” Perez, and Yvan Iturriaga explore the historical precedents and contemporary context for athletes like Colin Kaepernick who are leveraging sports as a platform for social change. Interactive installations, such as basketball hoops and soccer setups, invite gallery visitors to discover how play can transform public spaces and break down barriers that keep people separated. From the walls of a gallery to the border wall, Cabello wants visitors to imagine play as a physical language that can create space for greater freedom
3. Gus Kenworthy will be the first openly gay athlete to Compete In The Winter Olympics. Since coming out, Kenworthy has earned sponsorships from Visa, Procter & Gamble, United Airlines, Deloitte, and has been honored by the Human Rights Campaign. In February, Kenworthy plans to compete in both slopestyle and halfpipe skiing at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “The thought of being the first openly gay male ever to compete in the Winter Olympics — I totally embrace that,” Kenworthy told Time. “I so badly want to inspire that community and do well for them. It’s f****ing cool.”While Kenworthy is proud to represent his country in the Olympics, he plans on skipping the traditional Team USA trip to the White House. “I have no interest in faking support,” Kenworthy said. A major reason for his decision is Trump’s attempts to ban transgender people from serving in the military. “It shows more courage to leave the house as a trans person than Trump has ever had to show.
4. The V Foundation continues the Cancer Fight 25 Years Later. Nearly 25 years ago, legendary college basketball coach and broadcaster Jim “Jimmy V” Valvano delivered his stirring and emotional speech at the first-ever ESPY Awards in 1993. Despite being weakened from cancer, which took his life less than two months later, Valvano arrived to receive the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award, and his energetic, passionate speech inspired the sports and medical communities to come together to fight cancer. As Valvano’s V Foundation for Cancer Research celebrates its 25th anniversary its leadership is looking to the future. More than $200 million in research has been awarded in research grants, and more than $1 billion in additional funding has been leveraged to create measurable results in the lives of those affected by all types of cancer. One hundred percent of the V Foundation’s donations are put directly towards research programs at leading cancer centers and research facilities nationwide.
5. Turkish Government threatens New York Knicks player With 4 Years In prison. Enes Kanter of the NY Knicks is Turkish. He has been exiled from both his country and his family after calling out Turkey’s dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for his history of repression and brutal human rights violations, describing him as “the Hitler of our century.”Recently, Turkish prosecutors announced they would seek a four-year prison sentence for Kanter in response to a series of comments posted on social media that were critical of Erdoğan. Previously, Kanter was detained at an airport in Romania and had his passport seized. An arrest warrant was issued a week later. We will be following this storyline as Kanter continues to use his playings status as a platform for positive change.
Top Tech 5
1.GameSense sports offers hitters drills to help with pitch recognition. gameSense, which draws on research that began in the late 1970s into anticipatory behavior based on early visual cues, showing a clear distinction between the abilities of experts and novices at quick-reaction tasks. “They were using this video-occlusion method to try and study what seemed like super-human ability…to be able to read these pitches and do what, by all breakdowns, really shouldn’t be possible,” gameSense chief science officer and co-founder Peter Fadde said. Fadde co-founded the application with Tom Pardikes, a sport science psychologist who received his Ph.D. from Virginia Tech and now serves as company president. The program has a bare-bones sensibility in which hitters can choose various pitchers and and see only a fraction of the ball’s flight from the release point before having to select the type of pitch (such as fastball, curveball, changeup, etc.) and whether it would ultimately be a ball or strike.
2.FanDuel sets bitcoin as prize for NFL Playoffs. FanDuel is offering thousands of dollars worth of Bitcoin to users competing in its upcoming NFL fantasy sports playoffs, in what the company says will be the first fantasy football contest to award Bitcoin to winners and the first sports tech company to award cryptocurrency in a consumer promotion. During Week 2 of the NFL Playoffs, FanDuel will host a free, single-entry contest called The Bitcoin Bowl Free Play that will offer one user the chance to win one Bitcoin. It will also offer a multi-entry $3 tournament called the Bitcoin Bowl Tournament with a tiered payout structure of two Bitcoins for first place, a half Bitcoin for second place and a quarter Bitcoin for third and fourth place.
3.Minnesota Vikings first in NFL to launch virtual reality app for Oculus. The Minnesota Vikings’ home, U.S. Bank Stadium, can seat exactly 66,655 fans. That might sound like a gigantic number, but it’s actually in the bottom-third of all NFL stadiums. Knowing that the team’s following is much larger than that 66,655, the Vikings have come up with a new way of bringing fans “inside” the stadium. They are becoming the first NFL team to launch a VR application for Oculus. In creating the app, the Vikings partnered with the Silicon Valley-based Zeality, which specializes in 360 VR and has previously partnered with the San Jose Sharks on an Oculus app. Downloadable in the Oculus store (compatible with Oculus Rift and Gear VR), Vikings VR allows the user to explore U.S. Bank Stadium through 360-degree video and pictures. Footage from every home game played since the stadium’s opening in 2016 is available in the app.
4.How real-time data, insights, emotion can enhance UFC storytelling. UFC’s partnership with HEED hosted a live demonstration to explain how the company uses AI IoT (Internet of Things) to revolutionize the way fans watch fights. A demo was conducted with two UFC athletes, Marc “Bonecrusher” Diakiese and Edson Barboza, participating in a staged sparring match that could generate 70 different insights. The data accumulated from sensors in the gloves and the mat can create a more engaging experience for fans. Artificial intelligence can measure the emotions of the fighters, cornermen and even fans including family members sitting near the octagon.“We want to tell a story,” Kochavi said after the scripted demo. “We are not about statistics of the fight, we are about the story of the fight.” The fighters are to wear sensors inside of their gloves. This way when a punch is thrown, users can be informed of its significance. Data can tell if a punch is within the top-10 percent for a certain weight class, triggering a unique story.
5.No TV? watch sports on 90-inch screens in augmented reality. Imagine watching LeBron James dunk up close via a 90-inch television that’s hanging 10 feet from your seat on the couch. Now imagine if you could watch seven other NBA games on big screens at the same time without having to cover your wall with flat screens. A new augmented reality headset from a company called ThirdEye Gen Inc. that seeks to change the way people consume sports is set to be unveiled next month at the Consumer Electronics Show. Something that separates ThirdEye’s glasses from others is the wide 45-degree diagonal field of view, which he said is the equivalent to watching a 90-inch high-definition screen from a distance of ten feet. That’s significantly wider than, say, Google Glass, which had a 10-degree field of view and wasn’t designed for the long-term consumption of augmented reality content.