15 to Watch: December 19, 2016
with Jamie Swimmer
Here are the "15 to Watch" stories of the week in the world of sports, business, marketing and endorsments for the week of December 19, 2016.
Minnesota ends boycott
It’s Still a Wonderful College Football Life in San Diego. The National Funding Holiday Bowl as announced will remain intact after the University of Minnesota football team ended its boycott of all activities after players for the first time "absorbed the painful details of a lengthy report on the sexual assault investigation that led to 10 player suspensions," according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Details of the 80-page report "revealed to most players late Friday…'changed the narrative' of the situation." Facing "heavy national criticism," the players "knew they were losing negotiating leverage.” The boycotting Minnesota players sought to have their 10 teammates’ suspensions lifted before traveling to play Washington State in the December 27 bowl game, but meetings with Board of Regents members as well as a conference with UM President Eric Kaler and AD Mark Coyle "didn’t produce the concessions the players sought.” On the pro football side, San Diego fans are becoming resigned to the increasing likelihood that the Chargers will play their last game in town in two weeks, as chair Dean Spanos has realistically run out of economic options in the market.
In the Windy City, Tiger Woods is taking the lead in an innovative golf course renovation. Even Woods prepares to get back into competition at the beginning of 2017, the “second phase” of his career with TGR is making strides as well. Following successful unveilings of golf courses designed in Texas and Mexico, Woods has received the nod in the renovation of two nine-hole Chicago courses that have aspirations of hosting PGA Tour events. Jackson Park and South Shore will be renovated by Woods’ TGR Design firm and combined into an 18-hole championship course. On Sunday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the formation of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA), a nonprofit charged with improving Chicago Park District courses and golf facilities, expanding youth golf programs, and most significantly, raising money to make the $30 million Jackson Park/South Shore project a reality. Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly said the goal is to have an 80%/20% split of private and public money – and like the recently-announced Indy Women in Tech Championship Presented by Guggenheim, the project represents a terrific investment by the golf industry and Corporate America in the next generation.
Expect more international football
The NFL has been playing more games overseas in recent years, and that trend will only accelerate going forward. According to ESPN.com, NFL Executive Vice President/International Mark Waller "laid out the framework of a strategic plan" in which the league "hopes to develop a following that makes the NFL at least a 'top-five' sport in five different regions or countries." Apart from the United States, where football is the most popular sport, the league hopes to grow in the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Mexico, and Germany. As part of the NFL’s International Series, three games were played in London this season and another in Mexico City. The three games in London this season drew 242,373 fans, but the league "made its most notable progress in the local broadcast market." The BBC "airs two NFL-related programs during the season, one on Tuesday nights and one on Saturdays." As the NFL finalizes its “franchise musical chairs” for the Raiders and Chargers (presumably before Super Bowl LI), emphasis shifts to looking at other markets – domestically and internationally. Games in these countries are not as important as the grass roots foundation laid – youth football, fan avidity, corporate support, and the like.
Lack of diversity in baseball
MLB, which has a diverse player pool but a complete lack of diversity on the management level, is ramping up its push to fix that problem. According to the Washington Post, Commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff are "attempting to push through an ambitious culture shift at every level of a sport still run largely by older white men," bringing up this issue at the league’s recent winter meetings. The league is now launching new initiatives as part of its “social responsibility” outreach, aimed at every team under MLB’s reach – from minor league franchises all the way to the 2016 champion Chicago Cubs. “On big things like diversity and social responsibility, you have to keep beating people over the head at meetings. Baseball people are so busy, and they’re so focused on other stuff, you have to keep reinforcing it in whatever you do,” said MLB Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem. Now that labor peace has been firmly extended, Commissioner Manfred sees a mandate to improve certain aspects of the game – diversity rises to the top of that list.
NBA All-Star Game to Cleveland?
Defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers are pushing forward with a $140 million upgrade of Quicken Loans Arena, which should make it a favorite to land a future All-Star Game upon completion. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the plan is to “make the 22-year-old arena competitive by creating more space for dining, bars and public gathering.” The costs for the project will be split between local taxpayers and the Cavaliers, with exiting taxes on hotel rooms and arena tickets set to “pay most of the public’s share.” The facility will be open during construction and the upgrades should all be complete by 2020. The plan still needs to be approved by both the county and city councils and Destination Cleveland’s Board of Directors. Civic leaders fear that "without a renovation, Cleveland will stop attracting top entertainment acts," even though the Cavs will stay at the Q regardless. The Cavaliers have become the definitive “civic support mechanism” for the Cleveland region – especially with their unexpected comeback last June. The upgraded facility will also provide a catalyst for mega-events – like the All-Star Game – which should add additional impact for the city once referred to as “the Mistake by the Lake.”
The 2024 Olympics
Only three cities remain in the running to land the 2024 Summer Olympics – Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest – but new challenges may arise if one is awarded the 2028 Games instead of the 2024 event. IOC President Thomas Bach recently stated he is “contemplating major changes to bidding rules and did not rule out awarding two Games at once.” “The city that doesn’t get '24 is still going to feel they lost out,” said St. Lucia IOC member Richard Peterkin. “But maybe at least, you can live with it.” The final candidates are all planning and hoping for the 2024 Olympics, as being handed the 2028 Games would only bring four more years for potential problems or complications to arise. “We [LA 2024] are absolutely laser focused on bidding for the 2024 Summer Games, and no thought or consideration is being given to any future games, whether it’s ’26, '28 or beyond,” said USOC Chair Larry Probst. Cities are more worried about their post-Olympic legacy than ever before, and therefore most mega-regions are willing to take the considerable infrastructure risk. As a result, the IOC may find it appropriate to secure as many commitments as possible from interested bidders. One strategy would be to award multiple games at the same time.
Soccer coming to Minnesota
Big social step for Australian sports commission
In a big step toward more gender equality in sports, Kate Palmer has been named the first female CEO of the Australian Sports Commission, the country’s premier sports agency. According to The Australian, Palmer, the outgoing Netball Australia CEO and former chair of the Victorian Institute of Sport joins the ASC at a time Olympic sports are "desperately seeking revenue sources to remain internationally competitive." Ahead of assuming her new role, Palmer boldly commented on the underwhelming performances of top sport executives in the country. “If you look across sport and look at the CEOs in the key Olympic sports, these are quality people who are capable of much, much more than they are doing,” said Palmer. The new ASC CEO has been described as “an innovator and change agent” by her peers. An international headline with global implications – Kate Palmer may be viewed as the highest-ranking female global sports executive. Obviously, more to come.
Nike running for a record
Nike is trying to do what has never been done before: break the two-hour marathon barrier. Signing three of the top distance runners in the world, Nike is launching an “ambitious plan” called Breaking2, according to Runner’s World. The three runners agreeing to “forgo the lucrative spring marathon season” are Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea. Though the company "hasn’t disclosed how much the project will cost, or what financial incentives the athletes will have, it’s a safe bet the sums involved are substantial." Nike is keeping much of the Breaking2 plan "under wraps for now, and many of the details are still being finalized." The sub-two-hour marathon these runners will try to run is expected to be run on a closed course, at a time and location beneficial and marketable for Nike. Every week, Nike, adidas, and Under Armour break through with a new mega-deal. As the three titans joust for market share and entrepreneurial leadership, the industry benefits – players, agents, teams, and leagues.
MJ wins trademark case
Despite Michael Jordan winning a recent trademark case in China, lawyer Matthew Asbell said that battle is “far from over.” According to SportsBusiness Journal, Asbell claims that Jordan’s popularity is the real reason he won the lawsuit against Chinese company Qiaodan Sports Co., which sells shoes and sportswear. “Jordan, the owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, is widely known as Qiaodan in China,” which is the direct transliteration of his name and brand. “The thing is that Michael Jordan won the case in China because his name is so famous in China,” said Asbell. “Not every sports franchise out there is going to be considered famous to the extent that they are going to be able to overcome a similar problem, and Michael Jordan had to fight this for a long time.” The original lawsuit was filed in 2012 and was just approved by China’s top court. Trademark litigation in sports is usually difficult, costly, and lengthy. While world-class athletes will go to any length to protect their brand and image, clever entrepreneurs attempt to carve into their global reach – with the courts left to arbitrate.
Raiders staying in Oakland?
The Oakland Raiders have passed another hurdle in the push to stay in the Bay Area after Oakland officials and Alameda County officials “gave the go-ahead” to negotiate “with Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and his group.” According to the East Bay Times, Lott believes that he still needs to convince team owner Mark Davis on the deal, with pressure mounting for Davis to pick up and move to Las Vegas. Lott’s proposal is "probably Oakland’s last shot" at keeping the Raiders from leaving town, but questions "remain whether it will pass muster with the Raiders and the NFL owners." The next 60 days will be crucial for Lott to convince officials of his bid. Sources said that “the $1.3 billion development would be financed with $200 million each from the city and the NFL, $300 million from the Raiders and the rest from Lott’s investment group.” Five months ago, the Oakland sports future looked bleak: no Warriors, but probably no Raiders nor Oakland A’s. While the Warriors have found a permanent home across San Francisco Bay, the Raiders seem to be willing to give Alameda County and the developers one last shot; and the A’s are rejuvenating their efforts under a Rob Manfred one-year timetable. Changing emotions, financing, and politics.
The Dallas Mavericks have been less-than-stellar on the court this season, but the team continues to extend its league-leading sellout streak past 600 games. While all seats technically have been purchased for home games, fans have turned up in underwhelming proportions to see the Mavs play. Of the team’s 15,000 season ticket holders, many are “choosing to stay away” from the American Airlines Center, and seats are “being given away to large groups or traded out with corporate sponsors,” according to the Dallas Morning News. Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban has been un-phased by this trend and has used it as an opportunity to connect with the local community. “And every week we're short, you're going to see police officers, their families, kids, military, their families, kids, schools, their families, kids, nonprofits, their families, kids,” said Cuban. A great example of a team maximizing its support in creative marketing and community outreach – regardless of its on-court performance. Pressure is on all executives to develop a product that transcends wins and losses – entertainment, youth appeal, high-tech arena – all in an attempt to maximize “de-couching.”
Staying away from Sochi
Following up on Russia’s state-sponsored doping scandal, Sochi “will not host the 2017 bobsleigh and skeleton World Championship,” according to the BBC. While Sochi boasts some of the finest and most-modern winter sporting facilities in the world after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics, a new city “will be named for the March event” in forthcoming weeks. According to Russia's RIA news agency, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the decision to strip Sochi of the championships was “politicized and without grounds.” The IBSF defended the move by saying that it wanted to focus more on the sport itself rather than any potential surrounding complications or allegations. One senior figure inside the sport said that teams "worried about the safety of officials and athletes, and about the impact of competing in a country that was not compliant" with WADA regulations. Sochi is desperately attempting to shed the perception of a post-Olympic “white elephant.” The doping controversy and the worldwide reaction regarding Russian venues certainly does not help. Let’s see what happens to the 2018 World Cup as well.
China looking to lure soccer talent
Much like MLS, the Chinese Super League is investing heavily in international talent to draw more attention. According to the South China Morning Post, CSL side Shanghai SIPG is set to open the winter transfer period with “with a bang” thanks to its “latest record-breaking deal” to bring Oscar over from Chelsea. The deal is set to be worth as much as $75.8 million, pending the settlement of “some bureaucratic details.” If settled for this amount, it “would surpass the Asian transfer record of $58.1 million that SIPG paid” for fellow Brazilian Hulk this past June. And it looks like the record will not "last long," with Argentine side Boca Juniors and Argentina international Carlos Tevez "linked with a move to Shanghai Shenhua" for $101 million. Even though the product is nowhere comparable to the EPL or other top European leagues, the Chinese Super League is offering to double or triple players’ wages. The Chinese government has made a worldwide push for soccer dominance – facilities, franchise purchases, youth development. All ingredients for rapid success if resources continue to be available.
Strong words from Richard Sherman
Outspoken Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is leading the push to end Thursday Night Football, calling the games an “absolute poopfest.” According to the Seattle Times and published via The Players’ Tribune, Sherman is speaking out against the NFL for its contradictory stance on player safety, saying that there is not enough time in between Sunday games and Thursday games to adequately allow the body to recover from the beating it took on game day. "They make this huge stance about player safety and then you put players in tremendous danger,” said Sherman. “There’s really not much you can do right now. It’s part of the revenue, etc. The league probably has something else up their sleeve. Might have a Friday night game planned, who knows?” The opposite side of the situation is that while teams are forced to play merely four days after their Sunday game, they are given an extra three days to prepare the following week. An articulate Richard Sherman notwithstanding, these issues will be discussed at the bargaining table, not as part of a media controversy.