with Jamie Swimmer & Tanner Simkins
1. As the Cowboys prepare for their annual Thanksgiving Day game, quarterback Dak Prescott helped kick off a partnership with Tostitos to "raise money for The Salvation Army during the holiday season." According to the Dallas Morning News, Tostitos will "make a donation for every bag of its new Yellow Corn Bite Size tortilla chips purchased now through the end of the year, up to $500,000, to support local Salvation Army chapters." The Cowboys have a fruitful history with the Salvation Army – last year, running back Ezekiel Elliott’s famous Red Kettle Leap touchdown celebration sparked a $250,000 bump in holiday donations. On the flip side of seasonal activity, however, ticket prices for games at Lambeau Field have plummeted – due in part to the Packers’ on-field struggles this season, but more to the opening of Wisconsin’s deer hunting season. Prices for the game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving weekend "also are down,” according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, “but at $115 are the highest of the next four Packers games." While this news might cause some NFL execs to throw up their hands and say “Oh Deer,” in general this portends good momentum for the NFL as the holiday season gets underway.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Arrelious Benn has teamed up with leading educational technology company EVERFI to launch the PhoneHome Financial Scholars program. According to EVERFI, Benn got a late start to his career after coming out of college due to early injuries, preventing him from launching his own foundation at the onset of his career. Now the captain of the Jaguars’ special teams unit, Benn has launched PhoneHome, his own public-facing brand, to bring financial literacy education to 10 schools (five high schools, five middle schools) in his hometown of Washington DC. Benn's motto is PhoneHome: When he is not playing well or life hits him hard, he “Phones Home” to bring himself back to his roots. Benn will wear special customized PhoneHome cleats during Week 13 of the NFL season, when players are allowed to wear cleats designed to support their own personal causes. Another strong addition to holiday and year-round initiatives from both the NFL and EVERFI. Kudos to all involved.
3. The NFLPA's business arm, NFL Players Inc., has launched REP (Representing Every Player) Worldwide, a player marketing and licensing group that will take on the WNBPA and the union for the USWNT as its first clients and partners. The NFLPA is the majority stakeholder in the venture, but the WNBPA and the USWNTPA will also have equity stakes as founding partners. Under terms of the agreement, REP will work to create and manage sustainable group licensing and player marketing programs. NFL Players Inc. President Ahmad Nassar will serve as REP Chairman, while NFL Players Inc. VP/Licensing & Business Development Steve Scebelo will be involved day-to-day. The new venture also will be overseen by an athlete advisory board and an executive board, each comprising reps from its founding partners. REP’s initial services will include strategic planning, leveraging athlete IP group rights, structuring licenses and sponsorships, consulting on marketing activation strategy, and driving support for players and licensees at retail. Additionally, REP will work on developing unique content opportunities across platforms through ACE Media, the NFLPA’s content and production subsidiary. The Players Tribune was a game changer in terms of giving pro athletes a direct voice. Now, leagues and PAs are playing catch up.
4. The biggest regular-season college basketball tournament of all time is set to take place this weekend in Portland. According to the Portland Tribune, The Phil Knight Invitational – being called PK80 – is a “two-venue, three-day, 16-team, 24-game extravaganza” that will feature some of the country’s preeminent basketball programs. Among those included are Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon, UConn, Texas, and Florida. The event will honor Nike founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday and all he has done for college basketball over the years. The 16 Nike-sponsored schools are broken into two eight-team brackets, “Victory” and “Motion,” with the former playing at the Moda Center and the latter playing at the Memorial Coliseum. Ten of the past 14 NCAA champions will be represented, while local teams Portland and Portland State will be included in a field comprised mostly of national title contenders. Now that’s hardwood fire power.
5. Ahead of MLS Conference Championships starting November 21, Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron claims the best-selling MLS jersey this season. Overall, first-year club Atlanta "boasts five players in the top 25, second-most of any team in MLS," according to NBCSports.com. Defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders have "six players in the top 25," including three in the top 10. The list is based on jersey sales at MLSStore.com since the beginning of 2017. Right after the December 9 MLS Cup, the league will hold a board of governors meeting in New York to discuss expansion, and according to the Tennessean, Nashville is now "widely seen as a favorite" to land one of two expansion teams, especially after the Nashville Metro Council just approved $225 million in bond funding for a $275 million soccer-specific stadium. Twelve cities are "in the hunt for MLS' next round of expansion, with Sacramento considered the clear front-runner, and Cincinnati and Detroit viewed as other top contenders for the two slots." The robust number of cities vying for a MLS franchise are a clear indication of widespread confidence in the league’s growth and popularity moving forward.
6. Sodexo has acquired Centerplate for $675 million from Olympus Partners, resulting in a merger of two long-standing sports concessionaires. Centerplate President and CEO Chris Verros will lead the combined business in the United States. For Paris-based Sodexo, the deal boosts its sports portfolio beyond the dozens of college venues it already serves in North America. Among others, Centerplate’s big-league accounts include AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Lucas Oil Stadium, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and Hard Rock Stadium. Centerplate client Levi’s Stadium has its concessions and premium catering business out for bid, according to sources. The purchase ends more than eight years of Centerplate ownership under private equity firms. Olympus Partners bought Centerplate in 2012 from Kohlberg & Co., which had acquired the vendor in early 2009. This merger furthers the consolidation trend not only in sports but in other industries. In this case, let’s hope the umbrella economies of scale continue to leave room for regional tastes brought to bear by local restaurant storefronts in-stadium.
7. The battle between Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to escalate. According to the Wall Street Journal, the league has accused Jones of “trying to sabotage its contract negotiations” with Goodell. The conflict between the two began after Jones called for more transparency in regard to Goodell’s contract extension and salary arrangement. Jones called for the commissioner’s new salary to have more incentive and performance bonuses tied in, as opposed to a high guaranteed amount of money. Goodell is reportedly seeking slightly less than $50 million in annual salary as part of the new deal and has been paid over $200 million during his tenure as commissioner. The league has since called Jones’ conduct “detrimental to the league’s best interests.” Tension “has grown so severe that the topic of removing Jones has been discussed by at least some owners.” However, according to multiple sources, Goodell’s proposed contract extension is on track to get done despite recent controversies, and many expect it to be completed at or before the December 13 NFL owners' meeting in Dallas.
8. Falling TV rating continue to worry the NFL and league officials. According to Bloomberg, falling ratings are a “major concern” for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, prompting daily talks around the league office as to how they can fix this increasingly negative trend. The NFL is currently stuck in a similar position as other professional sports leagues in the United States – struggling to attract and engage new and younger viewers. The drop in ratings for NFL games may seem troubling for the league and its advertisers, but increased streaming and non-traditional consumption of digital content is “consistent with the viewership drop for television broadly.” The NFL has historically been able to quickly fix any negative trends, though the movement away from traditional TV is more than a trend, it is a generational movement. Broadcasting games on platforms that millennials use is a necessity for any sports entity that wants to remain competitive in the current digital landscape.
9. While the Oakland A’s push to finalize plans for a new ballpark, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred thinks that the team’s proposed site near Laney College “has some really appealing aspects.” According to SportsBusiness Journal, some concerns remain with the site due to the impact a new MLB stadium could have on the neighborhood and college with potential displacement of businesses and residents. Despite that, Manfred remains positive on the team’s choice of location. “One of the things that we’ve learned about building ballparks, particularly in urban areas, is that they have a way – miraculously or otherwise – of improving the overall development around them,” said Manfred. “And if the A’s can get this done, it would be another example of that.” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is personally in favor of the Howard Terminal site near the Bay waterfront, as opposed to the one near Laney College. Regardless of where the new ballpark ends up, it will be in Oakland – as opposed to Fremont or San Jose, other local sites the franchise has looked at over the years.
10. The NHL held preliminary talks at its offices in New York with Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta about the viability of bringing an expansion team to Houston. According to The Athletic, the NHL refuted any claims that it is “actively looking for relocation options,” but rather is in the very early stages of evaluating a potential opportunity. “If Houston were to express interest in having an NHL franchise, under the right circumstances, it’s something we might want to consider,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. An expansion team would likely play at the Toyota Center alongside the NBA’s Rockets, which has a hockey capacity of 17,800. “As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston, but it will have to be a deal that works for my organization, the City, fans of the NHL throughout the region, and the NHL Board of Governors,” wrote Fertitta in a Tweet. Southern expansion has for the most part been kind to the NHL, but has been most successful in “snowbird” states populated by hockey-happy cold climate expatriates. While Houston doesn’t fit that mold, it’s a great sports town. Stay tuned.
11. The Tampa Bay Rays might only end up paying $150 million of the projected $800 million cost to build a new stadium at the proposed Ybor City site. According to the Tampa Bay Times, that $150 million number comes from the team’s initial projections based on how much their revenues would increase, though it could end up being higher or lower than that. If the franchise wants to make this new stadium a reality it will “need to see support from the community in terms of commitments for season tickets and sponsorships,” with the goal of increasing both by 50%. Negotiations as to who covers the costs are expected to take at least a year. “It’s going to take a lot of oars in the boat to pull this forward, but I know we’re committed,” said Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg. “Nobody wants this done sooner or better than we do, than I do.” Sternberg has proved a good steward for the franchise and the market, and if anyone can get this done, he can.
12. With the field officially set for the 2018 World Cup in Russia this summer, adidas has emerged in the early lead for the shirt-sponsorship battle versus Nike. According to Bloomberg, adidas will outfit 11 of the 32 competing teams, while Nike will represent ten countries. Despite outfitting ten countries, the failure of the United States, Chile, and the Netherlands to qualify comes as a big loss in potential sales and exposure for the Oregon-based company. “The sponsorship stakes are high, with Nike and adidas jointly selling almost $5 billion worth of soccer gear last year.” Nike represented 12 teams back in Rio de Janeiro and adidas had 10, though Puma presented an unexpected challenge for the two heavyweights in 2014 with its eight-country kit sponsorships. This coming World Cup is set to mark a major disappointment for Puma, though, since Italy failed to qualify and now only Switzerland and Uruguay “will represent the leaping-cat logo.” The wild card here: discussions have begun about convening an NIT-like alternate tournament for heavyweights who failed to make the World Cup main draw. Nike, adidas, and Puma are poised to benefit.
13. NWSL club FC K.C. will relocate to Salt Lake City after MLS side Sporting K.C. had no interest in purchasing the two-time NWSL champion. According to the K.C. Star, FC K.C. was put up for sale this year following a league investigation into sexually suggestive emails made public that were allegedly sent by former team owners. The team struggled to draw decent crowds after announcing an attendance of 3,340 at its season opener. The club will now head west to Utah after Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen announced that women’s professional soccer will be coming to that city after securing approval to launch an NWSL team. The new team will play at Rio Tinto Stadium. Hansen’s commitment to increasing soccer’s presence in Utah and on a global level has been visible over the years, with the $73 million, Hansen-engineered Zions Bank Real Academy scheduled to be completed within the coming months.
14. The New York Yankees are looking to get under the MLB’s luxury tax line for the first time since the tax was instituted in 2003. According to SportsBusiness Journal, heading into the offseason, the Yankees only had about $160 million in 2018 player payroll obligations – a number well below the $197 million luxury tax line. The completion of a number of big contracts has helped the team stay under the line thus far, including paying off pitcher CC Sabathia and former third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Speaking of staying under the tax threshold, Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner said, “I believe it’s very attainable. It’s going to give us more flexibility in the immediate years to come if we decide to go over it again. I’ve been saying you can have a world championship-caliber team and not have a $200 million-plus payroll.” If the Yankees do in fact stay below the line, “it will reset its penalty from a 50% tax as a repeat offender to 20%.”
15. The RSM Classic’s future is currently up in the air. According to the Florida Times-Union, it is unclear whether the PGA Tour event will continue to be held the week before Thanksgiving “after several calendar changes take place beginning in the 2018-2019 season.” Tour officials have not yet commented on the RSM’s future past 2017, though sources close to the PGA Tour have noted their uncertainty regarding “what the seismic changes will mean for the tournament in St. Simons Island, Georgia.” Next year, The Players Championship will move back to March, the PGA Championship will move from August to May, and the FedEx Cup Playoffs will shrink from four events to three. “I’m confused on it, so I know if a board member’s still confused on it, the Tour’s still working it out,” said Davis Love III, the RSM Classic host and one of four player-directors on the PGA Tour Policy Board. “It’s too early to tell.” It’s also too early to tell, several years out, whether the PGA Tour’s push to begin its “new season” in October is catching on, vs. a traditional January start. My perspective is that most diehard golf fans still look to January for the season opener.
Five Top Tech
1) Global sports e-commerce retailer Fanatics wants to take on the U.K. and China markets in an attempt to reach $10 billion in annual sales over the next five years. Jacksonville, Florida-based Fanatics has exclusive licensing deals with everything from NASCAR to the NFL, plus English Premier League soccer teams such as Manchester United and Manchester City. It pairs those with a fast-fashion-inspired logistical operation that lets it sell shirts and caps celebrating on-field achievements mere minutes after the action ends. Now, armed with a $1 billion investment from SoftBank Group Corp.’s Masayoshi Son, fellow billionaire Michael Rubin aims to tackle a tougher challenge: sparking an American-style hunger for sports-team gear in fans from UK to China. Rubin is also a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team. Rubin made magic with Fanatics in North America, and I wouldn’t bet against him on a global runway.
2) Sports Illustrated TV, a subscription-based service on Amazon Channels, is launching. Hoping to find a new revenue stream, Time Inc. is launching Sports Illustrated TV. It will be a subscription-based, over the top streaming service that will be available on Amazon Channels. The monthly cost will be $4.99. It will include 130 hours of movies and original documentaries, including the first five “Rocky” movies, “The Bad News Bears,” and “North Dallas Forty.” The streaming service will not air live sports, nor will it broadcast any sports news or highlights. Variety reports that the service will have various talk programs. In addition, Sports Illustrated TV will show original sports documentaries as well as various docu-series. Mike Tollin of Mandalay Sports Media (director and producer of several “30 for 30” films) and Jonathan Hock have signed deals to produce sports documentaries for Sports Illustrated TV. Rather than spending money on live sports or highlights rights, Sports Illustrated TV will spend time on storytelling – a critical component to reach millennials.
3) AT&T is bringing 5G evolution to Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII. The launch will provide customers in the area with greater connectivity on their devices along with upgraded network capabilities. Along with greater network capabilities surrounding Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium will receive its own upgrades via a Distributed Antenna System (DAS). LTE capacity within the venue has been boosted by roughly 150% since last year. According to AT&T, the stadium’s network alone could provide coverage for the entire city of Minneapolis. Not only will 5G be deployed in Minneapolis, but the company also plans to roll out the network to 19 other cities by year’s end. AT&T is working with numerous global technology partners to ensure a smooth launch. AT&T has been working tirelessly in recent years to ensure better connectivity within stadiums. Last year, for example, at multiple venues, AT&T sent in drones to identify heavily saturated wireless areas during events.
4) Dow Chemical is helping to prep Team USA for the luge in PyeongChang. A partner of the Olympic Games and of Team USA, Dow engineers and scientists are helping the USA Luge Team tune its sleds to get an edge over the competition. Using a web of sensors, GPS data, physics models and lab testing, Dow is helping to improve the team’s speed and agility, while helping racers understand the South Korean race conditions so they can make last-minute adjustments to their sleds. While the company wouldn’t provide specifics, hesitant to give away Team USA’s secret sauce ahead of the 2018 Games, Sam Crabtree, lead R&D manager at Dow who works with both Richard Childress Racing and USA Luge, said Dow has focused on improving the components of the sled’s materials. Also a sponsor of RCR, scientists in Dow’s Materials Engineering Center have worked hand-in-hand with engineers from both RCR and USA Luge for several years on an ongoing basis, using similar formulas and scientific methods to solve problems for both teams.
5) VISA is introducing payment-connected winter gloves and two other wearables that will enable cashless payments at the upcoming Olympic Games in PyeongChang. The company unveiled its plans to offer Olympics attendees smart gloves that contain a dual interface chip with an antenna that will enable contactless payments throughout the venue, where VISA has installed more than 1,000 NFC-enabled point-of-sale terminals. It will also offer four different commemorative Olympic lapel pins that enable payments, and an array of thin, flexible adhesive micro tags that are embedded with NFC chips and antennas and can be attached to a variety of items, such as clothes and bags. “These payment gloves provide a hassle-free way to pay, even when it’s cold,” Park Seung-hi, a South Korean speed skater who has won Olympic medals, said in a statement. These additions follow the introduction of the VISA Payment Ring at the Summer Olympics in Rio in 2016, the first time VISA debuted cashless payment options at the Games. Again, convenience is a must-have for today’s sports fans, especially in such sophisticated, tech-savvy markets as South Korea.
Power of Sports Five
1) The University of Kentucky’s quarterback is inspiring people stricken with Tourette’s. University of Kentucky starting quarterback Stephen Johnson suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome for most of his teenage years. A natural athlete, Johnson always struggled to fit in due to his constant fidgeting, stuttering, and uncontrollable blinking. After years of trying different remedies, meeting with countless doctors, and praying constantly, the ticks finally went away. Now, almost 10 years after his initial diagnosis, Johnson is leading the Wildcats on the field and has them headed to a post-season bowl game. With wins in their final two games of the season, Kentucky could record its first nine-win season in over 30 years. Johnson never forgets what he had to go through to get where he is today, and he is using his success on the field to inspire others who have suffered through the same symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome. Johnson has become a popular public speaker in the Lexington area. This fall, he has addressed more than two dozen local church and youth groups, sharing his story and inspiring others who feel as isolated as he did during his childhood.
2) A creative primary school student In London has organized a charity football tournament. Fred Young, a pupil at St. Stephen's Primary School in London, has organized a charity football and netball tournament to help raise funds for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. Just ten years old, Young was inspired to spring to action after watching a charity football match that raised nearly £30,000 for those affected. Thus far, a total of 34 teams from different schools have signed up for the event, raising more than £2,300 for the Grenfell victims. All of the money raised will be donated to the British Red Cross’ London Fire Relief Fund.
3) Clatsop College is hosting a multi-day charity sports festival. Students from Clatsop Community College in Oregon are hosting a multi-day intramural sports festival and charity drive beginning November 28. Each day will feature a tournament for a different sport. The four sports being played throughout the weekend include dodgeball, soccer, basketball, and Capture the Flag. The event has no entrance fee, though the suggested donation is $2 or a donated item. The students will be collecting donations of canned food, coats, jeans, underwear, socks, blankets, or new toys for children ages 3 to 5 throughout the event. All collected items will be distributed to families in need by the Clatsop Community Action Regional Food Bank, Astoria Warming Center, and Head Start.
4) A courageous UCF linebacker is leading his team to victory despite a serious disability. In 1999, four-year-old Shaquem Griffin went into the doctor’s office to have his left hand amputated. For the first several years of his childhood, Shaquem suffered through intense pain in his left hand after a strand of the amniotic membrane had wrapped around his left wrist during birth. After the pain became unbearable, there was no other option but to remove the hand completely. Determined not to let this affect the rest of his life, Shaquem pushed himself to learn how to do everything just as any other child would, including how to play football. Now, 18 years later, Shaquem is starting at strongside linebacker for the undefeated University of Central Florida football team. Every day, he lives and plays as though he is built the same as every other athlete on the field, even though he may look a bit different. Since taking over as the starter at linebacker, Shaquem has recorded three fumble recoveries and one interception. Last season, he was named the American Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the year. And though his success may be a surprise to many, those who know him aren’t surprised at all. Ever since his surgery 18 years ago, Shaquem has been out to prove himself as the hardest worker in the room, and he shows it in the effort he brings to practice every day, where he inspires the others around him to work harder and be thankful for the talents they have been given.
5) The IOC is launching a program to protect athletes from harassment. The International Olympic Committee has taken an important step to help protect young athletes from harassment and mistreatment. This week, the IOC presented a toolkit at the Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly that they believe will help provide solutions and guidance for sporting organizations around the world. The IOC’s goal is to help organizations implement policies and procedures that will have a long-lasting positive impact on the wellbeing of the country’s athletes. At the upcoming Olympic Games in Pyongchang, the IOC will have a clear structure in place to report any harassment or abuse of athletes. A committee officer will be on-site at the Olympic Village for the duration of the Games, and all reported incidents will be dealt with through a confidential procedure in conjunction with local law enforcement.