1. The U.S. Justice Department charged 14 people affiliated with FIFA of corruption and bribery. Allegations include wrongdoing that goes back more than two decades, including $110 million in bribes linked to the 2016 Copa America tournament, which will be held in the U.S. Tip of the legal iceberg; 209 nations and 41 associations, $5.7 billion in World Cup-related revenue last event. With numerous guilty pleas and a global investigation, look for this story to get larger in the months ahead. It's extremely rare to see a six-page Department of Justice press release, especially with language from top IRS officials: “IRS Criminal will continue to investigate financial crimes and follow the money wherever it may lead around the world, leveling the playing field for those who obey the law.” This story will not go away for years.
2. The NBA Finals begin on Thursday in Oakland. The Golden State Warriors' Western Conference Finals-clinching win over the Houston Rockets averaged 8.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched NBA game on ESPN since the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. The game also marked ESPN's second-most viewed telecast of the year behind the College Football Playoff championship. Amazing season for Adam Silver and the NBA. The average NBA team is now worth $1.1 billion, 74 percent more than last year and the biggest one-year gain since Forbes began valuing teams in 1998. The Warriors are the seventh highest-valued team, worth $1.3 billion, versus the Cavaliers, worth $915 million (15th). Twitter is normally dominated by soccer and WWE, but Steph Curry was No. 1 last week according to MVPIndex and LeBron James was No. 2. Expect that to continue.
3. The Stanley Cup Final begins on Wednesday in Tampa. The average NHL team value rose 18.6 percent during last year to an all-time high of $490 million. The 12-year, $4.6 billion agreement for Canadian television with Rogers and a blockbuster NBC deal leads to unprecedented stability. This year's Final features a clash between the $625 million net worth Blackhawks (fifth in the NHL) and the $180 million net worth Tampa Bay Lightning (ranked 29th). The Lightning's economic fortunes undoubtedly will change as Jeff Vinik plans long-term development opportunities in downtown Tampa to coincide with the renovation of Amalie Arena. Commissioner Gary Bettman continues his tenure as the senior statesman of NHL commissioners, appointed when Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” led the Billboard charts on Feb. 1, 1993. The NHL had $400 million in revenue when he was hired compared to approximately $4 billion today. Congratulations, commissioner.
4. The French Open heads toward its final weekend in Paris. Even though she exited Roland Garros much earlier than she had hoped, Caroline Wozniacki did not leave empty-handed. While in Paris, she and her marketing agent, Lagardere Unlimited's Drew LeMesurier, completed a one-year deal with Italian coffee brand Lavazza, the company's first-ever athlete endorsement. Lavazza recently signed deals with the French Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon. The epicenter of the tennis business is Paris and London through July. It's not surprising that major corporate deals are signed by world-class agencies using the tournament as a negotiation setting.
5. American Pharoah goes for the first Triple Crown win since 1978 this weekend at the Belmont Stakes. There will be major coverage of the race on the NBC family of sports networks. A multitude of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners have failed at the longer and more exhausting Belmont Stakes, but annual excitement during the seven-week period continues to rise. It would be a major shot in the arm for horse racing's economic malaise if American Pharoah comes through and could be viewed as one of the most important horse races in history from that perspective.
6. The NFL heads into post-Deflategate training camp preparation. As originally reported by the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Texans will be featured on the HBO series “Hard Knocks” this season, marking the team’s first appearance on the show. The Texans will become the 10th team featured on “Hard Knocks,” and owner Bob McNair believes the show will bring positive attention to the NFL. Tom Brady will appeal the Deflategate ruling in four weeks. Expect a fairly rapid resolution after that so as to reset the NFL season as training camps open in mid July.
7. The NFL has begun the process of establishing a relocation fee for the team, or teams, that might move to Los Angeles, and the cost for moving could be in excess of $500 million. The relocation fee could vary from market to market, with the nearby San Diego Chargers paying less than the St. Louis Rams. Six Missouri state legislators have sued Governor Jay Nixon and the public board that owns the Edward Jones Dome to block funding of a new NFL stadium in St. Louis. The suit alleges that Nixon’s stadium-financing plan illegally uses $250 million in taxpayer money. The NFL's process on relocation value, vote and territory will undoubtedly coincide with the final best offers from St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego. The California cities of Carson and Inglewood are providing great NFL leverage for this textbook process.
8. Charter Communications within the next few weeks will begin carrying the Time Warner Cable-owned regional sports network SportsNet LA. Distribution of SportsNet LA has been limited since its February 2014 launch as TWC and cable operators have argued over the channel’s high subscriber fee. It could come as a long-awaited breakthrough in Dodgers telecasts in the local market. Since local television brings in a lion’s share of team revenue and the Dodgers have been performing at a division-leading pace, this deal could not happen too soon.
9. Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid could be in jeopardy after it was found that the city’s bid book says the Games would require public money. Boston 2024 has long maintained that the Olympics would be paid for entirely with private funds. With $2.6 trillion of public infrastructure assistance committed to United States cities over the last 30 years, it's hard to fathom that Boston might lose this opportunity, especially given the unprecedented economic, cultural, political and legacy impacts stemming from a successful Games. The irony is that the USOC has the best chance of any it's had in the last two decades of landing the 2024 Olympics given its newfound positive economic relationship with the IOC.
10. Major League Baseball is conducting an economic impact study on shortening the season to 154 games. Among the revenue and expense streams that are being reviewed are ticket sales, concession sales, TV rights and the cost savings of not needing stadium workers for four home games. Commissioner Rob Manfred certainly has the credibility to attempt major changes, especially if he has analytics on his side.
11. The USOC reported $270 million in revenue in 2014, a 7.6 percent increase over 2010, the previous year the Winter Games were held. The growth was attributed to a $29 million gain in rights and licensing fees, according to an IRS form. Kazakhstan has tabled proposed anti-gay legislation that could threaten the country’s hopes of hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics. The decision came after several sports stars urged the IOC to reject Kazakhstan’s bid because of its stance on gay rights. While Summer Olympics generate billions, Winter Olympics still provide a handsome return, especially given the participation by strong, economically vital national governing bodies in sports such as skiing and figure skating. Major “social sports movements” are more likely to succeed before any deal is finalized, unlike the “lip service” given to social rights before the Sochi Games, opposition to anti-gay legislation in Kazakhstan certainly has more leverage at this stage.
12. The Golden State Warriors and Ticketmaster filed motions to dismiss a federal antitrust lawsuit brought by StubHub. StubHub alleges that the pair illegally conspired to force season-ticket holders to use only the Ticketmaster-powered NBATickets.com platform for resale. The Warriors are tending to their major business concerns heading into the NBA Finals, attempting to solidify their ticket reselling rights and expediting the environmental approval for their new arena. Positive excitement and awareness generated from the “championship month fever” couldn’t hurt.
13. Orlando City SC announced that it will be privately funding the entirety of its new downtown Orlando stadium, as well as increasing the stadium’s expected capacity. The decision comes after stadium construction was set back following a delay in $30 million of funding from the Florida legislature. Commitment appeared to be in hand, as Orlando generates incredible excitement over its soccer franchise. Now, the only alternative appears to be writing a private check and hoping for subsequent reimbursement. Good luck.
14. Golf heads to the Memorial and prepares for its U.S. Open in Chambers Bay, Wash. PGA star and Lagardere Unlimited client Jordan Spieth is making the most of his sponsorship deal with AT&T. Spieth was born and raised in Dallas, which also serves as AT&T’s corporate headquarters and was home to last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson Championship. His ties to the area made him a natural ambassador for the telecom giant. Lagardere Unlimited is walking the fine line between generating as much excitement about Spieth and avoiding overexposure. They should be commended in their quality handling of golf’s next superstar.
15. As originally reported by the Miami Herald, fans criticized the Miami Marlins after no players showed up to the team’s charity casino night. While the players denied that the absence was an organized protest against the team’s recent managerial change, the news comes amid reports of growing discontent in the Marlins clubhouse. New manager Dan Jennings is on an early hot seat. South Florida is always a case study for sports turbulence: the Dolphins are using the Ndamukong Suh/DeVante Parker/Ryan Tannehill superstar model to try to win back fans, the NHL draft is buoying the Panthers and the Heat are looking at a rebuilding mode. Will the Marlins be left out?