15 to watch (Week of 5.9.16)
Rick Horrow's "15 to watch"
CSN Bay Area Sports Business Insider Rick Horrow takes you off the field with his 15 top Biz Ball trends for the week of May 9.
No American Pharoah yet
1. Saturday's Kentucky Derby, won by 2-1 prohibitive favorite Nyquist, attracted a crowd of 167,227 to Churchill Downs, the "second-largest attendance in the race's history and the second-highest all-sources handle for the day,” according to early reports from Bloodhorse. Wagering on the full Kentucky Derby Day program totaled $192.6 million, only 1% off the record set last year, while "wagering from all-sources on the race" was $124.7 million, down 10% from 2015. NBC earned a 9.4 overnight rating Saturday for the race segment of the Kentucky Derby, which saw favorite (and Detroit Red Wings namesake) Nyquist pull away late. That number is down 13% from a 10.8 last year for American Pharoah's win in the same window, which marked a 23-year high for NBC. With the unbeaten favorite pulling off the win, anticipation now builds exponentially for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the May 21 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
2. In what may go down as one the biggest shocks in sporting history, English Premier League side Leicester City has won the league title. This marks the first top-tier championship for the Foxes in their 132-year existence, and the first club outside of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal to win the EPL title in the past two decades, according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2002, the club seemed poised to fold, but a last-minute rescue by ex-player Gary Lineker and his consortium kept the team afloat. Even a year ago, LCFC barely avoided relegation – finishing 14th in the league standing – but now they sit atop the world’s most lucrative soccer league and are in line to make nearly $219 million as a result of the championship. This increased revenue will help close the massive budget gap between the club and its top-tier opponents. To put things in perspective, Manchester United has "spent more on new players in the last two years under their current manager than Leicester City have in their 132-year existence."
3. The L.A. City Council on Friday "unanimously approved plans for a privately financed" $250 million stadium in Exposition Park, clearing the way for MLS expansion club LAFC to "begin construction on the most expensive soccer-specific project" in league history. The 22,000-seat stadium will be the "centerpiece of a 15-acre complex that will include a conference center, restaurants and a soccer museum," according to the L.A. Times. It will be constructed next to the Coliseum, on the site of the 56-year-old Sports Arena. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer, with a completion target of March, 2018 for LAFC’s first home match. The news comes at the same time an appointee of governor Jerry Brown has accused L.A. Memorial Coliseum commission president, county supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, of failing to be transparent and running "an imperial presidency" as commission leader. The appointee, Bill Chadwick, also accused Coliseum staff of failing to be forthcoming when he asked questions about the qualifications of a person eventually selected to assist the panel in talks with the NFL.
New mascot coming
4. After retiring Chief Illiniwek nearly a decade ago, the University of Illinois is now in the hunt for a new athletic mascot. The university’s chancellor has approved the formation of a committee to begin the search for a new mascot, according to the Champaign News-Gazette. Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson plans to get a committee of 10 to 12 people together in order to draw up a process and timeline going forward. The committee will include students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members in order to achieve a diverse set of voices. The NCAA pressured Illinois back in 2007 to retire Chief Illiniwek, arguing that it was a racist symbol denigrating Native Americans. Despite some students continuing to wear Chief apparel around campus, the university will push hard for all students to adopt a new mascot that more appropriately “embodies the values and traditions of the campus.”
5. Beach volleyball has finally received the validation it deserves after years of being overshadowed. This past weekend in Gulf Shores, Alabama marked the first-ever NCAA beach volleyball national championship. Only seven years ago, the NCAA officially labeled beach volleyball “an emerging sport,” With this championship, it has now been brought up to NCAA championship-level classification faster than any other sport, according to USA Today. The double-elimination tournament in Alabama comprised eight teams – three from the Pac-12, and one each from the ACC, Atlantic Sun, Big West, WCC and Sun Belt – and took place over three days. Cal-Poly coach Todd Rogers, 2008 Olympic gold medalist, discussed the sport’s further validation. “The NCAA wouldn't have bothered adding it if they didn't think it would be successful,” he said. “I'm sure [they said] 'We need to get this in our fold, because this stuff is blowing up on the Olympics level and we need to have this for these kids to be able to play.”
A's go digital
6. In an attempt to enhance the club’s digital footprint, the Oakland A’s are offering a monthly subscription for all 16 May home games, according to S.F. Business Times. The $99 package is meant to help compensate for the lack of attendance the team has seen – the A’s have been in the lower third of MLB attendance for more than a decade. After fans buy a “Ballpark Pass,” they will be able to access their tickets via the team’s app. A's Executive Director of Ticket Sales & Operations Steve Fanelli said, "It's like Apple Music or a Netflix subscription. We're finding people are willing to pay for a monthly subscription rather than specific dates." The Oakland A’s now become one of eight MLB teams to pitch “Ballpark Passes” this year, joining the Angels, White Sox, Phillies, Pirates, Brewers, Braves, and Reds. The franchise piloted a similar campaign last year and sold 200-300 passes – the club is aiming for a similar target this month.
7. Staying true to its position as the exclusive non-alcoholic beverage supplier of the team since its inception in 1966, Coca-Cola has signed a 10-year deal with AMB Sports & Entertainment to continue to provide drinks for the Atlanta Falcons. The Atlanta-based company now becomes a founding partner of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Falcons and Atlanta United FC, opening in June 2017. While financial terms of the deal have not been released, founding partnerships are typically worth at least seven figures annually. The $1.5 billion, state-of-the-art facility is expected to be one of the most technologically advanced stadiums in the world. Coca-Cola now joins a long list of stadium founding partners, including Equifax, The Home Depot, NCR, Novelis, SunTrust, IBM, and American Family Insurance. With its cutting edge design and solid sponsorship, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a virtual lock to host a Super Bowl within five years of its opening.
Full of fun
8. While they are playing some of the best baseball in MLB, the Chicago Cubs may now also be the best dressed team in the league. For the team’s last road trip, held in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, Cubs manager Joe Maddon mandated that his players “wear a minimalist zany suit” for the duration of the away stretch. With that, online retailer OppoSuits is using the Cubs to spark some serious business, according the the Chicago Tribune. A team spokesperson said that almost all of the players went to OppoSuits with the hope of finding a “zany” design. Players have been seen wearing everything from camouflage to plaid to patriotic Stars-and-Stripes; even Maddon got in on the fun when he put on a “crisp blue suit and matching tie covered in tulips.” OppoSuits, hoping to capitalize from the Cubs’ recent interest in their clothing, is now projected to make over $10 million in sales this year.
Problems for C-USA
9. Despite Conference USA’s planned boost for its football and basketball TV profile for 2016-2017, TV money is not expected to increase, according to the Norfolk Virginia-Pilot. Commissioner Judy MacLeod acknowledged that a lack of TV money is not the only problem faced by her conference, but one that other mid-major leagues are trouble-shooting as well. C-USA seems likely to earn around $6 million annually through TV deals, but that number pales in comparison to the Power 5 conferences. Said MacLeod, “Right now, the television market is horrible…We have young people who work in our office who don’t have cable or DirecTV. The pool of money that’s there is going to the big guys. The Big Ten and the SEC are must-see TV.” Despite a lack of TV-related money, the commissioner did note that the conference would try to make up the revenue in other places – most likely in marketing and broadcast agreements.
Changing the focus
10. After a nine month strategic review, Adidas is now talking to potential buyers for the bulk of its golf unit, according to Bloomberg News. After operating for nearly 20 years, profitability for Adidas golf has suffered enough as of late to push the Germany-based company toward trying to sell 60% of its golf business; a buyer will be sought for TaylorMade, Adams golf clubs, and Ashworth polos and cardigans. Adidas-branded golf shoes and clothing will constitute the 40% not sold. The TaylorMade-adidas Golf business posted sales of about $1.5 billion in 2012, but "they have steadily declined in recent years." It posted sales of $1.04 billion last year. Tour pros Justin Rose, Jason Day, and Sergio Garcia all carry TaylorMade clubs; while Adidas North America president Mark King called TaylorMade a “great brand,” he noted that the decision to sell it stems from the company’s desire to “focus more on the momentum that we have,” instead of continually trying to recover golf division deficits.
49ers, Santa Clara at odds
11. After an ongoing dispute with the city of Santa Clara over rent payments at Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers have filed for arbitration, according to the S.F. Chronicle. The 49ers want to lower their annual rent from $24.5 million down to $20.5 million, citing substantially greater revenue than originally anticipated to validate their argument. But Santa Clara officials intend on keeping it at $24.5 million annually. 49ers President Al Guido said that the 40-year lease "includes a 'rent reset,' which means the terms can be changed based on operating costs, revenue and outstanding debt." Guido also noted that the team believes that $19 million would have been fair, but “in an attempt to accommodate city leaders” they tacked on an additional $1.5 million. The venue cost the city of Santa Clara less than $136 million to build. Now, the city is reaping benefits way beyond anything expected, especially with Super Bowl 50 held there this year.
12. Ever since Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, it has come under massive scrutiny – most notably for bribing UEFA into giving them the bid. But one of the biggest problems the country now faces is finding suitable grass to use during the competition, according to Reuters. Moving the World Cup from June to November and using air-conditioned stadiums should make playing conditions more suitable for players. But the intense desert sun poses a significant challenge for World Cup Turf Manager Yasser Abdulla Mulla, who manages a research center where botanists from New Zealand and south Asia are nurturing 12 breeds of grass with water and fertilizer. Mulla’s research team has been tasked with finding a grass that can withstand 122-degree weather and dust storms in the summer, while also being “attractive to the eye.” As of now, each field “will absorb an Olympic swimming pool worth of desalinated water every 10 days.”
Baseball's new era with Bryce Harper
13. Washington Nationals’ RF Bryce Harper just signed a 10-year extension with Under Armour in what is believed to be the “largest endorsement deal in history for a baseball player,” according to ESPN.com. While Harper has endorsed UA for five years, this new deal elevates his status to elite with the release of his first signature shoe: The Under Armour Harper One. Baseball stars have notoriously not made as much endorsement money as their basketball, golf, and tennis counterparts, but Harper has been adamant about “bringing baseball to the forefront of attention and fashion.” Under Armour, which surpassed Adidas this year to become the second-largest sportswear company in the United States, behind only Nike, now has Harper, Warriors PG Stephen Curry, golfer Jordan Spieth, and NFL MVP Cam Newton signed under long-term contracts. Harper also has lucrative endorsement deals with Gatorade and New Era, among others.
'The best experience'
14. The Melbourne Cricket Club has proposed a billion-dollar makeover plan for the Melbourne Cricket Ground to local officials, according to The Age. The plan goes beyond upgrading the playing grounds, as it “contains elevated pedestrian podiums stretching from the MCG to Richmond Station and a new hotel and health club.” The project’s second phase would be the construction of the “Sports Link Vision,” a railway linking the MCG, Melbourne and the Olympic Park; it is expected to be complemented by a New York-style “High Line” above the tracks. MCC CEO Stephen Gough said the plan was to ensure the MCG and the precinct did not "rest on our laurels" and "kept improving to stay contemporary and offer the best experience for visitors as Melbourne's population booms." As of now, there is no proposed funding or timeline for project construction, but it is part of a long-term vision for the club that could take up to 20 years to build.
Giving up on Oakland?
15. While the Oakland Raiders search for a new home, one thing is becoming clearer by the day: The Raiders will most likely not be in Oakland for much longer. A San Francisco Chronicle editorial noted that residents “loathe corporate welfare and are savvy enough to realize that stadiums represent a poor return on investment for taxpayers.” Team owner Mark Davis has seemingly given up on trying to find a new home for the team in the Bay Area, with Las Vegas becoming his new focal point for relocation. Many close to the situation have said that it is “hard to see the NFL succeeding in Vegas.” While there might be some buzz around Sin City for the Raiders, attracting 60,000 fans on a consistent basis for home games is another story. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell politely supports the team for evaluating their options. ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski was more critical of the situation when he said Davis "has a better chance of relocating his team to Las Cruces than Las Vegas."