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1.24.20 Rick Horrow sits down with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan

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1.24.20 Rick Horrow sits down with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan

Edited by Tanner Simkins

In the latest edition of Rick Horrow's Sports Business Podcast, Rick Horrow sits down with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan and takes you through the biggest sports business stories of the week. 

Family-friendly Gainbridge LPGA event offers something for everyone. Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio kicks off this week with 108 of the world’s best female golfers teeing it up in the four-day championship, January 23-26. Event officials have outlined additional family-friendly and affordable tournament week offerings for the whole community. The tournament kicks off on Monday with the Gainbridge Junior Golf Clinic at Osprey Point Golf Course. LPGA Players and certified golf instructors will be on hand to offer free golf instruction to kids ages 5 and up. On Tuesday, #GainbridgeLPGA is teaming up with Versant Health for a Women’s Leadership Summit that will feature a panel headlined by female business leaders, a fireside chat with a LPGA Tour pro, and presentations from pioneering female leaders. Next weekend, A.D. Henderson University School will offer free onsite STEM activities for kids of all ages. “Gainbridge is committed to making sure the week is affordable for the entire family and that there is something for everyone, beyond golf,” said Lesley Baker, Executive Director. “We are thrilled the tournament is able to offer several programs throughout the week in year one, and we invite everyone in the community to come out and experience the event.”

 

NHL All-Star Game takes the ice and the streets in St. Louis. The NHL has lined up its roster of activations for the 2020 NHL Fan Fair, the official fan festival of the2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend, running January 23-26 in St. Louis. Partners gearing up for the event include Enterprise, Honda, New Amsterdam Vodka, Truly, Discover, Dunkin’, Bud Light, GEICO, Great Clips, MassMutual, and SAP. Highlights of the four-day, family-friendly festival include autograph sessions featuring former and current NHL All-Stars; a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit featuring the St. Louis Blues; NHL memorabilia and trophy displays, including the Stanley Cup; and the sixth annual NHL Mascot Showdown featuring all 29 NHL Mascots. Additionally, the NHL and Green Day will build on their multiyear partnership with the band’s headlining performance at the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game on January 25. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees will perform outside Enterprise Center shortly before they take the stage inside during the second intermission presented by Ticketmaster. The performance – as always, aimed at expanding hockey’s demographic reach – will be televised as part of the live All-Star Game broadcast on NBC and throughout Canada. 

 

The WNBA and its players’ union have come to terms on a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement that includes higher salaries, improved family benefits, and better travel accommodations. This represents a turning point for women’s basketball and could ultimately lead to a substantial shift in how female athletes — across all sports — are compensated. The average WNBA cash compensation will reach nearly $130,000, and top players will be able to earn upwards of $500,000. Players will also receive a full salary while on maternity leave, and an annual child care stipend of $5,000. WNBA teams, which provide housing, will now guarantee two-bedroom apartments for players with children. And while players will still have to fly commercial, they’ll finally get their own individual hotel rooms. “We believe it’s a groundbreaking and historic deal. I’m proud of the players; they bargained hard, they unified, they brought attention to so many important topics,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. The implications of this agreement reach beyond basketball into the larger workplace, at a time when women are demanding increased pay and benefits, on their merit and as a challenge to historically unequal pay.

 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred came down hard on the Houston Astros last week for illegally stealing signs in 2017. Penalties Manfred imposed included a $5 million fine, the forfeitures of several top draft picks, and one-year suspensions from the game for manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow – who were subsequently fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. While the Astros have suffered irrevocable damage as a result of this investigation, ripple effects extend far beyond Houston. Former Astros bench coach and Boston manager Alex Cora was also fired by the Red Sox for his involvement in the Houston sign-stealing, and former Astros player Carlos Beltran, whom the Mets hired as manager just days before the first sign-stealing story broke, was canned and thus had the shortest tenure in Mets history. The sign-stealing scandal also likely extends beyond Boston and Houston, and the league will have no choice but to pursue all future leads now that the precedent has been set. While MLB’s strict punishment will likely help dissuade teams from breaking the rules, further action is still required to quell public concerns about cheating.

NASCAR Countdown: 1 Final Time For The G.O.A.T.

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NASCAR Countdown: 1 Final Time For The G.O.A.T.

NBC Sports Washington is counting down big NASCAR moments leading up to the Daytona 500. Be sure to check out our other coverage below.

We’ve hit on a lot in this countdown. From the best Daytona 500 finishes, to silly season moves, to Hall of Famers and everything in between.

But with one day remaining until the Great American Race, this day is reserved for one specific driver who happens to be hanging up his full-time driving helmet at the end of the season.

The greatest NASCAR driver of all-time: Jimmie Johnson.

When Jeff Gordon told Rick Hendrick to hire Jimmie Johnson, it’s safe to say he didn’t expect the then mid-20s California kid to surpass his success in the Cup Series. But right off the bat, he showed signs he had it.

It took Johnson 10 races to reach Victory Lane, albeit at his home track of Auto Club Speedway. And then three races later, his first of a NASCAR record 11 wins at Dover International Speedway. The baby-faced California kid was no longer a dirt motorbike racer on two-wheels. He was a full-fledged stock car driver.

He finished fifth in the championship standings his rookie year, but didn’t even win the Rookie of the Year award thanks to Ryan Newman’s stellar campaign. Three more wins in 2003 and a second-place finish in the standings, a whopping eight checkered flags in 2004 and another runner-up finish. He had arrived. He was “big time.” The championships were coming.

After four more wins and another fifth-place finish in 2005, the dominance began. He and crew chief Chad Knaus. 2006: a championship...and 2007, 2008...2009 and 2010. Fives titles in a row, eclipsing Cale Yarborough’s then-record of three consecutive titles.

NASCAR doesn’t get as much attention as the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB. But any sports fan can appreciate dominance when they see it. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick didn’t win five straight. Neither did Shaq and Kobe. It’s the most impressive feat by a team in the modern era of sports. 

After two years of failing to win it all, he returned to championship form, winning his sixth in 2013. NASCAR then again changed the championship format to go to a winner-take-all, championship four style format. And after another two-year break, Johnson did it again.

His record-tying seventh title came in 2016, using his patented passing skills to get by Kyle Larson on a late-race restart to claim his first career win at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a track that had crowned him champion six times, but had never given him the “race winner” title.

His quest to defend the title in 2017 was a tough one. Although he won three times, he finished 10th in the standings, only the third time in his career he’d finished 10th or worse

In recent years, his performance has been lackluster to put it lightly. No wins for the first time ever in 2018, and a missed playoff appearance for the first time ever in 2019. Johnson has gone almost two calendar years without winning a points-paying race.

Sure, age has something to do with it. But his team (Hendrick Motorsports) hasn’t kept up with the times, either. They, along with Chevrolet as a manufacturer, have fallen behind Toyota and Ford in recent years. Performance across the board has suffered.

This past offseason, Johnson announced 2020 would be his final year racing full-time in the Cup Series. Some people blamed his performance as a factor, some blamed age.

I’d chalk it up to a little bit of both. But I’m going to watch Johnson’s 2020 season through the lens of appreciation. It’s not often that you get to live through an era where the best to ever do it competes. Right in front of your eyes.

That’s what we’ve gotten to see from Jimmie Johnson.

Here's the bottom line: NASCAR literally changed the generation of stock cars the field ran three separate times and changed the playoff field three times along the way.

Regardless, Johnson and Knaus continued winning no matter.

After winning his seventh title, the hashtag “#Chasing8” was a rallying cry for Johnson supporters on social media. But after his announcement, he decided to change that hashtag to something a little more sentimental.

“#OneFinalTime”

So when Johnson likely competes in his last Daytona 500, and races at Las Vegas, Atlanta, Dover, leads his final laps, perhaps wins his final race, takes his final checkered flag, the list goes on: appreciate it. Because there’ll never be another Jimmie Johnson.

He’s one of a kind.

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NASCAR Countdown: 2 Potential Breakout Stars

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NASCAR Countdown: 2 Potential Breakout Stars

NBC Sports Washington is counting down big NASCAR moments leading up to the Daytona 500. Be sure to check out our other coverage below.

Each year, there seems to be one or two drivers who open some eyes. Maybe it’s because not much was expected from them prior to the season, maybe it’s because they make headlines, maybe it’s somewhere in between. Here are a couple of drivers who may take the leap from somewhere around “average” driver to Victory Lane and superstardom.

2. Matt DiBenedetto, No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford

It’s not often that a winless Cup driver finishes top five in Most Popular Driver voting, but it’s also not often that someone like Matt DiBenedetto comes along.

As cliche as it is, he’s regarded as the most genuine guy in the garage. He doesn’t come from money, doesn’t bring sponsorship, hasn’t gotten a “good” opportunity to showcase his driving talent in race-winning equipment, but still rakes in fan support like nobody else.

Now, running the iconic No. 21 for the Wood Brothers, he has that equipment. WBR has a technical alliance with Team Penske, essentially putting DiBenedetto in a Penske car and having access to information his quasi teammates Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney have.

Last season’s runner-up finish at Bristol, and the reaction from the fans and DiBenedetto following his heartbreak of coming oh-so-close in a B-tier team pretty much said it all.

To put DiBenedetto in the playoff field in 2020 wouldn’t be a stretch at all. Heck, he could even win a race and give the team their 100th win as an organization. If he delivers on either of those, you could see Guido’s confidence and popularity skyrocket into a new stratosphere.

1. William Byron, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Although well-told, William Byron’s story and rise through the NASCAR ranks is one of a kind. The now 21-year-old began racing on a computer simulation called iRacing, now popular in the racing world and played by hundreds of thousands of people.

“How did he go from playing a video game to racing for one of the most prestigious teams in motorsports?” Well, not so fast. iRacing isn’t a video game: it’s the most realistic racing simulator available to the general public. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, and several other drivers, past, present and future, regularly compete on the forum.

Byron scored five top fives and 13 top 10 finishes last season, and seemed to get better as the season went along. Meshing with seven-time championship-winning crew chief Chad Knaus sure took some time, but once things began to turn a corner, the results showed.

He wound up 11th in the standings and short of Victory Lane, but Byron, given his rapid rise, should be a winner in the Cup Series this season. HMS and Chevrolet have been bullish on the new Camaro that’ll debut on track, and with another year of Cup racing under his belt, 2020 may be the year William Byron puts himself into the conversation as the best driver at Hendrick.

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