1. After nearly five hours of voting, Gianni Infantino was elected the new FIFA President on Friday, replacing Sepp Blatter as the leader of international soccer’s main governing body. Infantino outlasted Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa by a vote of 115-88 in the second round of balloting; both Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein and Jerome Champagne made it to the second round but neither got any support from voters. The win came after Infantino marginally won the first round of balloting by a count of 88 to Salman’s 85. Infantino steps into one of the world’s brightest spotlights after years stricken with international scandal, corruption, and bribery from some of the organization’s top executives. Fox Sports 1’s Rob Stone reported that Infantino five months ago “wasn’t even a candidate to be FIFA President, and now he is the ninth man to be handed the honor.” Soccer officials hope their new president will lead them in the right direction with more transparency at all levels of operation.
2. With the Kobe Bryant Retirement Tour heading into its final stretch, Kobe showed his forward thinking with his formation of Kobe Studios, an arm of Kobe Inc. In an effort to bring others’ stories to life in a variety of media, Kobe said that his “passion is now creating the story. Creating the story and finding the best possible way, the medium which that story can live.” Movies, books, and “any area in which content is distributed and created” are all set to be Kobe Studios’ distribution methods. Kobe Inc., which is based in Newport Beach, is a multi-level business and has been regarded as something of a creative factory for the NBA legend. The founding of Kobe Studios marks Kobe’s nearly complete transition into retirement, which is set to begin at the end of this season.
3. The NCAA’s plan to expand its roster of bowl games last year featured three sub-.500 teams – Nebraska, Minnesota, and San Jose State – participating. As troubled as the NCAA was with that, concern is growing due to four cities recently indicating their interest in applying for NCAA bowl certification for the upcoming season. According to USA Today, Austin, Texas, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and St. Louis, Missouri have all inquired about gaining the rights to host a game. With at least 40 bowls set for 2016, we will likely see "some sort of waiver approved" by the NCAA Football Oversight Committee for participation by teams under .500 and sent to the NCAA D-I Council for approval. Even if any of the four applying cities get their certification approved, it is unlikely that any of them would host a game in 2016.
4. Due to the complexity of the planned retractable roof, opening day of the Atlanta Falcons new arena has been pushed back three months. June 1, 2017, now marks opening day for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as steel fabricators tasked with the job of creating the sunflower-shaped retractable roof are taking longer than originally anticipated. The retractable roof is one of the two defining features of the new stadium – the other being a 58-foot-high oval video board, which will be built into the roof opening and will surround the field – and is supposed to be able to open and close in seven minutes. But there is still good news surrounding the construction.
5. Nike co-Founder & Chair Phil Knight is known to be philanthropic, but his $400 million donation to Stanford University takes philanthropy to a whole new level. The donation will create the Knight-Hennessy Scholars programs, “an ambitious graduate-level scholarship program – larger in scope” than the Rhodes Scholarships at the University in Oxford. According to the San Jose Mercury News, this gift represents that largest cash donation form an individual in Stanford history. The program will admit 100 high-achieving students each year – one-third from North America and two-thirds from the rest of the world, all of whom will receive three years of full tuition and living expenses. Despite attending the University of Oregon, Knight has had a history of making generous donations to Stanford’s academic programs. Back in 2006, Knight donated $105 million to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. At the time, that marked the largest individual donation in the university’s history.
6. Public support is a crucial component for any major sporting event’s bid, and the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic push appears to becoming more popular among L.A. County residents. According to a poll conducted by Loyola Marymount University, more than 85% of the L.A. County residents support to some degree the region hosting the ’24 Games. Of the poll’s more than 2,400 respondents, 54.4% said they “strongly support” L.A. hosting a third Olympic Games, 30.8% said they “somewhat support” the bid, 5.5% said they are “somewhat opposed” to the Games, and 5.8% responded saying that they strongly oppose the bid. This poll marks the first independent one conducted on the Los Angeles community’s Olympic support, and marks an 4% overall increase compared to the USOC’s poll from this past August – which revealed only an 81% support rate from local residents.
7. Time Inc., the parent company of Sports Illustrated, just signed a broad-based content and sales partnership deal with Hong Kong-based broadcaster ASN Ltd. This deal marks a major international expansion for the SI brand, but also has significant implications for ASN Ltd., which will rebrand its two sports networks from ASN and ASN2 to SI and SI2 under terms of the deal. The two current ASN channels combine to reach 29 million homes across a dozen Asian territories, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The two partners in the deal will work together, collaborating on daily programming development, with content from existing SI video extensions in the U.S. being repurposed to help build out the rebranded networks. This deal marks the first time Sports Illustrated will have a round-the-clock TV presence since the CNN/SI 24-hour sports news channel went offline in 2002.
8. With the Golden State Warriors determined to break the 1996 Chicago Bulls record for the best regular season record in NBA history, fans have taken notice of what a special season it has been thus far. Heading into the final stretch of the season following the All-Star Break, viewership across TNT, ABC, and ESPN is up 4%, with games averaging 1.96 million viewers, compared to 1.87 million viewers at the same point last season. Similarly, Regional Sports Networks have seen a 4% bump in viewership numbers, as teams are averaging a 2.7 local rating – a tenth of a point above last year’s 2.6. ESPN, itself, is up 6% over last year, but WatchESPN is having the platform’s best NBA regular season yet. With mobile digital consumption on the rise, the average minute audience for games streamed on WatchESPN is up an astounding 82%, while average unique viewers is up 73%.
9. While there may not be any boycotts from snowboarders for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the tension between the IOC and the snowboarding community is still palpable. According to USA Today, the extreme sport is brought "into the national consciousness once every four years," but to think that snowboarding's relationship with the Olympics "has smoothed in the 18 years since it made its debut is to miss the nuance." Athletes are still extremely concerned about contest and course safety, qualification events and governance. U.S. Olympics gold medalist snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg summed up the community’s concern well by stating, "You don't have the best people going to the best contest. You don't even have the best courses anymore. Some of the courses you qualify on in the Olympics are terrible." Snowboarders still prefer the X-Games over the Olympics, as the X-Games was the event that first gave the extreme sports its first big stage. The Olympics are primarily seen as an international exposure touch point for snowboarders, with the X-Games being the main event.
10. In an attempt to keep up with its ACC counterparts, Boston College AD Brad Bates recently announced plans for a $200 million makeover of the varsity sports and intramural athletic facilities. According to the Boston Herald, the college will invest in three projects on available land adjacent to Alumni Stadium and the Yawkey Center. The football team is set to “be a major beneficiary of the planned field house,” for the team will no longer be forced to rent out an indoor facility when faced with inclement weather – they had to do so this past year during an intense rainstorm the day before a game against Louisville. While BC has not started the bidding process on the approved projects, the announcement leaves University of Miami as the only ACC school without a current plan for an indoor football facility. Bates spoke about his excitement and need for the facelift. “It’s a major game-changer for both athletics and our student body. It will be a recruitment vehicle, and at so many levels this will be an amazing resource for our entire BC community.”
11. International soccer has been the victim of severe racism and discrimination by players and fans throughout history, and despite the community’s push to end the bigotry, the overall culture of the game has not completely changed. But English Premier League powerhouse Chelsea took a major step in the right direction with its newly launched network for gay fans. According to Pink News, the club said that it will assist a fan who is setting up a supporters’ network alongside the Gay Football Supporters Network. Owned by billionaire Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich, Chelsea stated, “The club is proud of celebrating our diversity with our Building Bridges initiative working hard to fulfil the vision of a club and community which is welcoming to all, regardless of race, religion, sexuality or gender.” This marks a massive step toward equality, acceptance, and the end of discrimination in soccer around the world. Hopefully, other clubs and soccer governing bodies will hop follow Chelsea’s lead going forward.
12. The San Diego Chargers are still determined to find a new San Diego home. The Chargers recently announced plans to “pursue construction of a stadium and convention-center complex” in downtown San Diego, “sidestepping a proposal by Mayor Kevin Faulconer to replace Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the team intends to put its project before voters in November. If the Chargers were to move downtown, the 166-acre Qualcomm site would be repurposed and used by San Diego State and UC-San Diego, along with the riverfront park. The city’s mayor continues to insist that a Mission Valley stadium would be completed quicker and would not raise taxes, but after not being selected to move to L.A., Owner Dean Spanos has made his intention to move downtown crystal clear. Despite the downtown bid set to face an onset of political and financial hurdles, Spanos and his crew “judged the quest as worthwhile.”
13. Electing to extend its title sponsorship of the PGA Tour Honda Classic though 2021, Honda has the longest naming rights relationship on the Tour. Under previous terms, the Honda’s title-sponsorship contract was set to expire this week after having been on the tournament since 1982. The tournament has drawn increased popularity and attendance ever since moving to PGA National back in 2007. Despite terms of this deal not yet being disclosed, World Golf Foundation CEO Steve Mona estimated that naming rights for a PGA Tour event usually range anywhere in the ballpark of $4-$8 million. The only tournament that comes close to having a sponsor as dedicated as Honda is the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, in a corporate partnership since 1986.
14. Populous, a sports architecture company that built the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, is consulting on the design of a new soccer stadium in Pune, India. In an attempt to “scale up” Indian soccer, Pune is planned to become the host of “six world-class sporting venues,” according to Leisure Management. Libero Sport Business revealed that they are working with Indian firm DSK Group on a design to build a “Dream City” in Pune – hoping to build a soccer stadium, a cricket ground and basketball and tennis arenas in the township. The soccer stadium on which Populous is consulting will be built next to the soccer academy DSK “established in partnership with Liverpool FC.
15. After an arbitrator ruled in favor of Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA, the NFL is being required to “return what its union calculates” is more than $100 million to the shared revenue pool between the league and its players, according to the Wall Street Journal. The arbitrator in the debate found that NFL owners “had mischaracterized” about $120 million of ticket revenue over the past three season, making an exemption to keep about $50 million in salary away from the players. While the NFL “would not confirm the figure,” NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy wrote in an email that the ruling was due to a "technical accounting issue under the CBA involving the funding of stadium construction and renovation projects." Players receive 40% of "local revenues, which mainly come from tickets sales, 45% of sponsorship money, revenues from the post-season and NFL Ventures, such as NFL.com and the NFL Network, and 55% of the revenues from media deals.” The withheld money represents a significant portion of the local revenues players were owed.
Jamie Swimmer contributed to this story.