15 TO WATCH/5 SPORTS TECH/POWER OF SPORTS 5: RICK HORROW’S TOP SPORTS/BUSINESS/TECH/PHILANTHROPY ISSUES FOR THE WEEK OF DEC. 11
with Jamie Swimmer & Tanner Simkins
1. Making prestigious bowl games and staying ranked in the AP Top 25 means more than just football glory for some universities – it means priceless exposure. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, TCU has reaped the rewards of consistent on-field success from an admissions standpoint. Before 2010, when the Horned Frogs won the Rose Bowl, the university was receiving around 6,000 applications for 1,600 spots in their freshman class. Seven years later, following multiple top-10 finishing seasons, TCU receives nearly 26,000 applications for those same 1,600 spots. “There are so many people now talking about TCU,” said athletic director Chris Del Conte. “There is a direct correlation between the success of our football program on the national stage and a variety of areas. One is applicants. Two is the amount of people wanting to give back. I tell everyone, a rising tide floats all boats.” Defending national champion Clemson has seen a similar trend, with spikes in webpage visits and application submissions coming immediately after their win over Alabama last year.
2. College football bowl season is upon us, which means players gift baskets are here as well. According to SportsBusiness Journal, this year’s gift packages are as flashy and excessive as ever, with bowl-eligible teams receiving items from PlayStation’s to $300 VISA cards and everything in between. Per NCAA rules, college football bowl games are allowed to give up to 125 players on the participating teams gift packages of up to $550 in value. On top of that, participants are allowed to receive awards worth up to $400 from their school and another $400 from their conference for a bowl appearance. The ultimate winners are CFP title game qualifiers though, since players on those teams are allowed these same totals for their second game as well. “All told, a player can rake in the equivalent of $5,620 in gifts if his school runs the table and wins the national championship.” Of course, for the schools winning the CFP National Championship, the benefits are tenfold that amount, in terms of exposure, prestige, and recruiting currency – just ask Alabama and Clemson.
3. Oklahoma City-based Fields & Futures celebrates its annual Bowtie Ball this Thursday, coinciding with the premiere of Episode Four of its related TV property, “The Power of Sports.” Fields & Futures founder Tim McLaughlin says he invited former University of Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops to speak at the Bowtie Ball because Stoops has been such an influence with student-athletes. The ball will be held December 14 at Oklahoma City’s Chevy Bricktown Events Center, and is presented by SandRidge Energy, Mercy Hospital, TotallyTickets.com, and Group One Thousand One. Stoops will discuss the role coaches fill in a community, and the responsibilities that role carries to impact and shape the lives of young athletes. In parallel, “The Power of Sports” Episode Four, produced by FOX Sports Southwest and airing nationwide, focuses on the city of Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and the healing forces in that community brought forth by the Astros, Texans, and Rockets. Perhaps no two regions feel the power of sports more than Houston and central Oklahoma right now, as the former continues to bask in the glow of a World Series championship and the latter gears up for a CFP Playoff battle come New Year’s Day.
4. The issue of sports gambling has finally reached the Supreme Court after years of debate. According to Forbes, at issue in Christie v. NCAA, the court heard arguments concerning whether U.S. states can legalize sports betting and “whether the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, a 25-year old federal law, infringes on states’ rights.” New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed a bill back in 2014 to authorize sports gambling in casinos and racetracks statewide, which means he has gaming advocates on his side of the issue. If Christie wins, a widespread reform is expected to sweep through the gambling industry nationwide, “while curtailing the influence of an illegal, underground market estimated to be $150 billion annually.” Following New Jersey’s lead, 15 states across the U.S. introduced their own sporting gambling bills in 2017, ranging from New York to Hawaii. If a federal regulatory scheme is not provided in the runoff of Christie v. NCAA, industry expects expect a possible “patchwork, state-by-state eruption of sports gambling.”
5. The PGA TOUR is one of the most charitable organizations going, and thanks to a last-minute change to the developing tax bill, it can stay that way. According to GolfDigest.com, a provision in the Senate’s tax-reform act could have had a major impact on the way the PGA Tour and other pro sports leagues file and pay their taxes. However, an 11th-hour adjustment to the bill avoided a major shake-up. The site explained: “The PGA TOUR seems to have dodged a bullet…when the Senate’s tax-reform act passed without a provision in it revoking the TOUR’s cherished tax-exempt status. As late as Friday, a 14-line subsection titled ‘Repeal of Tax-Exempt Status for Professional Sports Leagues’ was still included in the publicly-available version of the bill. Although the TOUR is not commonly thought of as a “sports league,” it is one for the purposes of the bill and the IRS. The provision also threatened the tax status of the LPGA and the PGA of America, the latter because it runs golf tournaments such as the PGA Championship, the Women’s and Senior PGAs and the Ryder Cup. But the provision went missing from the final version of the Senate bill. It appears for now that golf organizations are safe.
6. Heading into college football’s bowl season, the coaching carousel has already started to spin, with huge buyouts coming from major programs around the country. According to the LA Times, Arizona State, Arkansas, Texas A&M, and UCLA have each paid over $10 million apiece to buy out their respective head coaches. Todd Graham was paid $12.1 million to leave Arizona, Bret Bielema was given $11.8 to leave Arkansas, and former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin got $10.4 million. Jim Mora’s buyout at UCLA is still being negotiated, but he could receive more than $12 million after negotiations. “It’s really interesting,” said UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, when asked about the buyout’s size. “When you talk about where UCLA athletics was in 2002 when I first got here and where we are now, certainly that wouldn’t have been an option back in the day.” While these numbers might seem high, the reported buyouts from some of the country’s top coaches are significantly bigger, with Alabama’s Nick Saban ($26.9 million) and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney ($40 million) having the two biggest.
7. Is the NFL too violent? That is the question people are asking in wake of the recent brutality seen in games this season, especially over the past few weeks. According to the Washington Post, multiple players have been suspended this past month for excessively violent actions – from JuJu Smith-Schuster and George Iloka for their illegal hits to the head in their Monday Night Football matchup to Michael Crabtree and Aqib Talib for getting into a fight on the field. A.J Green was also fined for putting Jalen Ramsey in a chokehold following a play, and Rob Gronkowski “delivered what might be the ugliest hit of the season” when he dove on Tre’Davious White, who was “already face down on the turf after he intercepted a Tom Brady pass.” Many of the recipients of these brutal hits have then been evaluated for concussions, which have become an increasing problem in the NFL over the past few years. While football is inherently a violent sport, many onlookers have described the recent violence “uncomfortable to watch” – which could translate to lost fans and revenue for the league.
8. With Russia officially banned from the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, officials from the country have since described the punishment as “war,” “racism,” and “genocide.” According to the Guardian, the ban coming from the IOC delivers a “body blow to a nation that prides itself on its sporting prowess and was ecstatic over its victory in the 2014 Winter Olympics medal count.” The punishment comes as a surprise to many close to the IOC, which had never dealt a punishment this severe in the past. Russia’s flag will not be flown anywhere in PyeongChang, though select athletes from Russia will be allowed to compete under a special designation – Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) – while wearing a neutral uniform bearing the Olympic rings. Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that “Russia is partially to blame for the situation,” but further noted that the IOC used the doping allegations against his country in a “dishonest way” to issue a blanket ban for the Olympics team.
9. Now less than two months before the opening ceremony in PyeongChang, ticket sales for the 2018 Winter Olympics have finally started to pick up. According to USA Today, after months of lagging sales – both domestically and internationally – the IOC and the PyeongChang Organizing Committee (POCOG) noted that sales have finally started to gain some much-needed traction. Total sales have now reached 55% of the total allocated amount, which is a far cry from the initial target, but they have “tripled since the torch relay arrived in South Korea at the end of October.” With the Games so close, the IOC and POCOG do not expect 100% of the tickets to sell out, but are hoping to get 90% of them sold by the start of the Olympics. “They’ve always said there would be a boon and a last-minute surge of sales,” said IOC Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi. Even though U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley last week called the U.S.’ presence at the South Korean Games “an open question,” the USOC remains firm in its resolve that the American team will participate, despite North Korean threats.
10. Current U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati will not run for reelection next year. According to the Washington Post, it remained unclear for some time as to whether or not Gulati would run for reelection, though the United States’ failure to qualify for this summer’s World Cup in Russia made it highly unlikely that Gulati would win if he decided to keep his name on the ballot. With Gulati now out, the emergence of Soccer United Marketing President Kathy Carter as a candidate shines some light on who Gulati wants as his successor. Despite not officially endorsing her, “it is clear she has his support.” In order for a candidate to get his or her name on the February ballot, a candidate needs three nominations from USSF members. Carter “will undoubtedly get them.” Being the only truly qualified female in the field “should help her chances, even though the voting delegation is largely male.” Late entry Hope Solo, former USWNT goal keeper, is not considered a viable candidate by most accounts.
11. The four finalist expansion cities each made their last pitch to MLS in hopes of landing a team this coming year. According to Soccer America, representatives from Sacramento, Cincinnati, Nashville, and Detroit assembled at the league’s headquarters in New York, including mayors from three of the four cities. The MLS Board of Governors is set to meet within to next week to decide which two cities will be slated to begin league play in 2020, and an announcement will come shortly after that. Each bid had questions and issues from the expansion committee, with the four bidders being given a few days to get back to the league with their responses. “It couldn’t have gone better,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who showed up to the meeting with “boxes containing materials on the city’s Railyards soccer stadium plus bottles of Northern California wine.” Each city presents a strong candidate portfolio with impressive financial backing and solid plans for success, putting the MLS in a great position to strengthen the league in coming years.
12. Plans for a new Oakland A’s stadium at Laney College seemed like a guarantee merely weeks ago, but that is no longer the case. According to the S.F. Chronicle, the team’s push for a new 35,000-seat ballpark in downtown Oakland near Lake Merritt was “derailed” after the community college district that owns the land “halted talks” with the team. The A’s had already hired a design team to map out a stadium and the surrounding developments and had support from Peralta Community College District Chancellor Jowel Laguerre. The news “shocked” the A’s, who previously noted that there was no Plan B if the site near Laney College didn’t work out. In a closed-door meeting, the college district’s Board of Trustees ordered Laguerre to end his talks with the A’s, despite his prior approval of the team’s plan. The A’s had previously considered building a new stadium at the Coliseum site, but the team is still hoping to reach an agreement to build near Laney College. This latest development only continues more than a decades’ worth of relocation frustration for the franchise, which has explored multiple seemingly-viable new sites in the East Bay and San Jose only to reach a dead end with each.
13. The Tampa Bay Lightning are nearing a deal that would keep them in their home city until at least 2037. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Lightning are working with Hillsborough County (Florida) and hope to have an agreement in place and signed by January. The team’s current Amalie Arena lease is set to expire in 2027, so the contract would be to “exercise two five-year options to extend the current lease” by another decade. In exchange for agreeing to stay, Hillsborough County would then commit $61 million to maintenance and upgrades for the Lightning’s home arena over the next two decades. The money will “come from the fifth cent of the Tourist Development Tax, a fee assessed on each night’s stay at a hotel or motel.” If the Lightning leave “before the lease expires, the team would have to reimburse the county half of its outstanding debt related to the arena.” A bed tax is a proven means of financing sports facilities – I have successfully gotten such legislation passed in several cities – as it taxes visitors rather than residents. This strategy should also prove successful in Hillsborough County.
14. Wembley Stadium has been granted the rights to host four more matches during Euro 2020 after construction on a new stadium in Brussels, Belgium, has seen serious delays. According to the London Independent, the Belgian city was originally included as part of the tournament’s 13-country host list, but has since been dropped from the slate. England’s iconic Wembley Stadium was already scheduled to host the two semifinals and the final, but will now also host three group games and a round of 16 match-up. The Brussels Eurostadium has seen significant delays “involving the applications for construction and environmental permits.” Euro 2020’s unique, multi-country format was former UEFA President Michel Platini’s idea to celebrate the tournament’s 60th birthday in grand fashion. With Brussels no longer included, Baku, Rome, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Glasgow, London, Bilbao, Dublin, Budapest, and Munich will all host group stage matches. With significant issues surrounding the next two World Cup sites, Russia and Qatar respectively in 2018 and 2022, Euro 2020 should see added interest and relevance.
15. Mexico City is close to getting an NBA G League franchise, with plans to put a team south of the border as soon as next season. According to the New York Times, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver noted that such a move would be done in an attempt to gauge the viability of putting an NBA franchise there. “Mexico is a flourishing basketball market with growing fan interest and increased youth participation,” said Silver. A G League team would be owned and operated by local entities. Next season, the G League is set to have 27 teams affiliated with NBA franchises, with the ultimate goal of having all 30 NBA teams linked directly to a G League subsidiary. While that is the goal, a Mexico City franchise “would likely begin operations before the G League reaches 30 NBA-owned franchises.” Mexico City is currently the leading candidate among Mexican cities to land a team, but Silver noted that other locations could be considered if a move south is confirmed.
Power of Sports 5
1. Sports Unions Join The Labor Fight At Vox. Staffers at Vox Media announced plans to unionize. Should the effort prove successful, Vox’s entire roster of sites, including Curbed, Eater, Polygon, Racked, Recode, SB Nation, and The Verge, would join the Writer’s Guild of America East, which boasts digital media publications such as Gizmodo Media Group, HuffPost, and Vice among its ranks. “There is no better way to cultivate that innovation, and champion our values, than to unionize,” the nascent Vox Union said in a statement published on its website. “An empowered team is an ambitious team, and the greater transparency and collaboration offered by a union will allow us to thrive and take risks in an ever-changing industry.” The Vox Union, which has set up a dedicated Twitter account to help distribute its message, received an unexpected signal boost from all four major sports league unions. The four unions representing pro baseball, basketball, football, and hockey players all called on management to formally recognize the union
2. Fanthropic Launches Game-Changing Digital Philanthropic Community. Fanthropic, the first-ever digital philanthropic community dedicated to today's avid sports fan, announced its official launch with a once-in-a-lifetime NBA Christmas Day experience. Harnessing the passion of fans and the power of teamwork, Fanthropic is the destination, combining sports and philanthropy, where fans win rare experiences and memorabilia while giving back to great causes in their communities and nationwide. At launch, Fanthropic will ha five experiences coming available to raise money for worthy causes and charitable initiatives Harnessing the power of athletes, teams and their passionate Fans, raise Money and awareness. "As a lifelong sports fan, I understand the unique bond between sports teams and their loyal supporters," said Jarred Snyder, co-founder of Fanthropic. "Through our work, Fanthropic provides fans with unparalleled access to their favorite teams, allowing loyal sports fans to give back and make a real and lasting impact in their communities."
3. Herd players pause football to help kids. As the Marshall University football team prepares against Colorado State in their upcoming New Mexico Bowl they took part in their annual Kick-Off For Kids Toy Drive with Walmart. The toys go to less fortunate children in the Tri-State. The event has become a staple for Marshall and one that head coach Doc Holliday has seen grow over the last five years." Our kids embrace this and they love doing it," Holliday said. "Every year, it seems like it gets bigger and better. It's great for our kids to give back to the community that has given so much to them." Holliday said for many of his players, being able to give back to those less fortunate hits home personally because many of them have been in those same situations. "A lot of these kids that we have out here, they grew up like that - as those kids who needed those kind of things - so they understand it, relate to it and enjoy doing it," Holliday said.
4. Vonn happy to mix sport and politics ahead of Olympics. Lindsey Vonn says she won't stop expressing her political views, though her main goal is regaining her Olympic downhill title. Vonn told reporters "I mean, it's not necessarily my place to be sticking my nose in politics, but as an athlete I do have a voice." Looking ahead to the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea, Vonn told CNN she hoped "to represent the people of the United States, not the president."Though Vonn did not mention President Donald Trump by name, the athlete activists she said Friday she admired included Colin Kaepernick. The president has responded to the NFL quarterback by posting confrontational messages on Twitter. "People like Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe and Colin Kaepernick," Vonn said in the post-race interview zone. "There's definitely been a lot of people that have made their voice heard and made a positive impact."
5. Shaq-A-Claus is Coming to Town. NBA Hall of Famer teaming up with seven companies to bring gifts and cheer to elementary schools in Henry County, Georgia. Christmas is coming early for nearly 800 elementary schoolchildren in the Atlanta area as Shaquille O'Neal – aka Shaq–A–Claus – visits local elementary schools next week. This marks the 15th year that Shaq–A–Claus has delivered holiday gifts and cheer to underprivileged children around the country. O'Neal's longtime girlfriend, lifestyle blogger and author Laticia Rolle, will play the role of Mrs. Claus. "Nothing is more rewarding than making a child's Christmas a little brighter when their families may not have the means," said O'Neal. "And doing so in the community we call home is extra special. Thank you to my business partners for helping to make this happen."
Top Tech 5
1. Miami Dolphins’ Ndamukong Suh Invests In Bitmoji Rival Genies. Genies, a startup formerly known as Blend Systems that builds animated emojis that look like their users and react to popular culture and current events, has secured an additional $3 million in strategic funding and added a second pro athlete to its list of investors.. The week upon the official launch of the Genies app, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was named among a handful of other celebrity investors in a new round that values Genies at more than $100 million. In June, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was the first athlete to invest. The app is also backed by NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, as well as artists such as Shawn Mendes.
2. Kevin Durant Collaborates With Overtime To Highlight High School Talent. In 2015, Overtime was launched in order to allow high school athletes, particularly basketball players, to show what they can do in the hope to be noticed by fans and coaches, or in some cases NBA superstars. The Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant last week released a video on his YouTube channel of him watching Overtime video highlights of eight high school basketball players, with the reigning NBA Finals MVP voicing his personal opinions on the young talent and possible future NBA players. “I’m seeing some nice talent,” Durant said in the YouTube video. “I wish good luck to all of these guys. I look forward to following them and getting to see how they improve. We’ll get to see some of these guys in the NBA soon.”
3. Visa, NBC Partner On Dynamic Olympic Shopping Experience. Thanks to a multi-faceted partnership including Visa, NBC, the U.S. Olympic Committee and apparel retailer Fanatics, televised coverage of the Games will include on-air prompts toward an online store where the available merchandise will replicate what’s happening live. Chris Curtin, Visa’s chief brand and innovation marketing officer, said the store “will be choreographed to what you see on air. If you see Hilary Knight with her Olympic USA jersey on in hockey, you’re going to be able to buy that on that website in a way that feels like you’re interacting with the programming itself. We’re going to rotate all of the apparel in and out on the basis of what’s being broadcast on NBC.” The store has already launched but the unique on-air mimicry of apparel will begin with the Opening Ceremonies that will take place on Feb. 8 in the U.S. This builds on other Visa products for the Games, which include wearable payment methods such as pins, stickers and even gloves for those on site in Pyeongchang. Visa is the official payment technology partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Part of the Olympics’ charm, of course, are the naturally arising stories of an underdog prevailing against long odds or a sentimental favorite having a strong finish. While much of the store’s stock will be determined by the pre-planned broadcast schedule, there will be flexibility for adaptations along the way.
4. Apple TV App Now Makes It Easier For Fans To Discover, Follow Sports. Live sports in the Apple TV app is now available as a free software update for Apple TV 4K and Apple TV (4th generation), iPhone and iPad customers in the U.S., enabling them to easily discover content. Fans can identify the teams they want to follow to make sure the live games show up first in their Up Next queue. They can receive notifications when a game is about to start that can appear on-screen and across devices. And for games that have already started, current scores along with the time remaining can be displayed in a new dedicated Sports tab within the app. The Siri Remote makes the discovery process even easier. Participating sports apps in the Apple TV app include ESPN, SiriusXM, and the NBA, which offers NBA League Pass. And with the Amazon Prime Video app the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package. “The Sports tab in the Apple TV app makes it even easier for fans in the US to track the teams, games and moments that are important to them,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, said in a statement. “With these exciting updates, plus our growing collection of 4K HDR movies on iTunes, we continue to deliver an unparalleled entertainment experience to Apple customers.”
5. Xperiel Aims To Turn Sports Venues Into Augmented Reality Consoles. Xperiel, founded by a set of brothers who previously worked as Google engineers, has been rapidly expanding its suite of augmented reality products for the sports industry since announcing a $7 million funding round that included backing from early Google investor Ram Shriram, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball in August 2016. The company now counts the New York Jets, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings among its growing suite of clients, helping them to create apps that take advantage of the existing technology in venues and the mobile devices fans already have to build apps that drive fan engagement and higher-than-usual conversions for brands from interactive ads. Xperiel CEO Alex Hertel said his company is meshing augmented reality with the internet of things in an effort to blur the lines between the digital and physical worlds.