15 TO WATCH/5 SPORTS TECH/POWER OF SPORTS 5: RICK HORROW’S TOP SPORTS/BUSINESS/TECH/PHILANTHROPY ISSUES FOR THE WEEK OF DEC. 18
with Jamie Swimmer & Tanner Simkins
1. The LPGA recently unveiled its 2018 tournament schedule, which will "again feature 34 events," and a record $68.75 million in total prize purses. According to the LPGA, that number tops the $65 million that was paid out during the 2017 season. While "three events are gone" from the 2018 calendar, "three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China." The UL International Crown at Jack Nicklaus Golf Korea is largely expected to be one of the most sought-after tickets in the history of women’s golf. An "expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship" at a to-be-announced site in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The following week will mark a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club in a "new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company." The 2018 upgrades to the LPGA calendar come on the heels of successful inaugural events in 2017, including the innovative Indy Women in Tech Presented by Guggenheim tourney, contested on a golf course that bisects part of iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway and comprising tournament week events that promoted women’s advancement in STEM-related fields.
2. The structure of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s new five-year, $200 million contract is considered a win for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. According to USA Today, despite not fully getting what he wanted, Jones is pleased with the performance-based incentives tied to Goodell’s contract. The new contract comes after months of back-and-forth between the two controversial football icons. “If Roger comes in and knocks it out of the ballpark, he’ll really be rewarded,” said Jones. “You’ve got to hope that he has that kind of performance. There are no easy layups here on bonuses.” The NFL will now also change its bylaws in the coming weeks, an adjustment that is expected to give the owners power to vote on the compensation committee. Sources around the NFL have noted that this is likely to be the commissioner’s final extension, though Goodell stated that he has not “made any determinations.”
3. As part of a $53.4 billion deal that is going to reshape the entertainment landscape as we know it, Disney will purchase several properties of 21st Century FOX. According to ABC, Disney is set to acquire FOX’ movie and TV studios and cable networks, though FOX News, FOX Business, and FOX Sports were not included in the deal. Disney CEO Bob Iger, who confirmed his role at the company until at least 2021, noted that the deal will help provide content for ESPN’s new OTT service and for a new Disney-branded OTT service, which are being launched in 2018 and 2019, respectively. “This clearly will jump-start those efforts, give us more content, more producing capabilities for those services,” said Iger. Despite not getting FS1, FS2, and FOX’ stake in the Big Ten Network, Disney will get the company’s stake in Hulu and its RSNs. The 22 RSNs will now complement ESPN without much overlap, giving sports fans even more choices and more access to their favorite teams.
4. The next four NBA All-Star Game locations are now set after the league announced Indianapolis will host the mega event in 2021. According to the Indianapolis Star, Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indy will be the centerpiece of what is sure to be a great weekend of action. The Pacers and Owner Herb Simon pushed hard to win the bid and were pleased with Commissioner Adam Silver’s announcement. Silver noted the city’s experience hosting big events, such as the Final Four and Super Bowl, were factored in when making the ultimate decision. Discussions were held about whether the game should be held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse or Lucas Oil Stadium – home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts – which can hold significantly more people. “The feeling is that we’re more an arena sport than a dome sport,” said Silver. “There’s no doubt we could sell out a dome, but we like the intimacy of being at Bankers Life. We belong in an arena.” With the addition of the NBA ASG and prestige events such as the well-received Indy Women in Tech LPGA tournament, Indianapolis continues to climb higher atop the sports mega event pantheon.
5. Fake news has now leaked into the sports world. According to the Washington Post, multiple false webpages, one of which closely resembled that of the Washington Redskins, appeared online touting a Redskins name change to the Redhawks. The fake webpages, created by “an alliance of American Indian activists,” have since reignited the controversial debate about the team’s nickname. The sites were convincing enough to fool multiple people into reposting the links on social media, bringing to question the political correctness of the Redskins’ name yet again. On top of the fake team page, the other news sites looked like ESPN, the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, and Bleacher Report. Real people tied to the organization were cited in the articles, including Coach Jay Gruden and owner Daniel Snyder. Any doubts about a potential name change were quickly shot down by Redskins Senior VP/Communications Tony Wyllie: “The name of the team is the Washington Redskins and will remain that for the future.” It’s only a matter of time before the Tweeter in Chief, temporarily a Washington resident, weighs in on the controversy.
6. The St. Louis Cardinals’ status as a first-class organization was confirmed after trading Stephen Piscotty to the Oakland A’s, allowing him to be closer to his ailing mother. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Piscotty’s mother, who lives in the Bay Area, was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year. The personnel move is being praised by all parties, in and out of the league. A’s Executive VP/Baseball Operations Billy Beane said that he was aware of the illness and family situation, though he brought it up during trade talks with the Cardinals out of respect. “That’s what makes the Cardinals one of the classiest organizations in sports,” said Beane. While Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak noted that “You are never making a player trade simply for geographic or sentimental reasons,” the Cardinals’ acquisition of left fielder Marcell Ozuna from the Miami Marlins helped the team cover its bases. Look for the good karma to help carry the Cardinals, always contenders, deep into the 2018 MLB postseason.
7. David Beckham’s seemingly endless desire to bring an MLS team to Miami might finally be realized as soon as late January. According to the Miami Herald, the MLS Board of Governors recently approved Beckham’s newly-structured ownership group, which added Jorge and Jose Mas and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son to accompany Beckham’s longtime business partner Simon Fuller and Sprint President and CEO Marcelo Claure. MLS had been looking for more local representation in the ownership group, which Beckham addressed by adding the Mas brothers. The club, set to be named Miami Beckham United (MBU), is still working to finalize plans to build a soccer-specific stadium. MBU agreed to purchase three acres of land from Miami-Dade County this past summer and plans to combine that with an adjoining six-acre parcel, but local landowner Bruce Matheson “filed a lawsuit alleging that the county violated the law by not opening up the sale to competitive bidding.” It’s politics as usual in South Florida, but with MLS keeping a close watch on the situation, it should be resolved smoothly, and soon.
8. American Airlines has stepped in to support a PGA Tour event at Colonial Country Club in 2018. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Fort Worth-based airline will financially back the event to keep it at its current location, though American Airlines Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Matt Miller declined to disclose a specific sum. A group of civic leaders, including U.S. Representative Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, have been pushing since October to find a major financial sponsor for the May tournament, ever since grocer Dean & DeLuca backed out of its six-year commitment to host the event. Other local businesses are expected to step forward and help out as well, potentially co-sponsoring with American Airlines. XTO Energy is in discussions to sign on, while AT&T Chair and CEO Randall Stephenson is currently reviewing a $2 million sponsorship request from the tournament. Not helping the situation is the embarrassment of sport riches that is North Texas – would-be local and regional sponsors have the option of supporting virtually every pro sport that exists, and the collegiate landscape there isn’t too shabby, either.
9. The Oakland A’s are on the shortlist to open their 2019 campaign in Tokyo, Japan. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, MLB is planning a season-opening series at the Tokyo Dome in two years’ time following Japanese Pitcher/Designated Hitter Shohei Ohtani’s decision to join the Los Angeles Angels. Baseball is also set to be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so this series is expected to stir up some excitement for the sport’s inclusion in the Games. The Angels are assumed to be a lock for the series, setting up a homecoming event for Ohtani. The A’s are known to “typically request to be considered for international trips because the front office and coaching staff believe the experience to be a good one for players.” The team does not mind giving up two home games – unlike the majority of other teams in pro baseball – because international trips have proven more lucrative than the first two games at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. International games in Asia are also much easier for West Coast-based teams – a fact lost on no one.
10. The University of California – Berkeley (Cal) appears set to have its athletic department reconfigured. According to the San Jose Mercury News, university Chancellor Carol Christ’s master plan for the athletic department calls for building a “fiscally and competitively sustainable long-term model.” The model requires having access to every necessary morsel of information before ultimately determining the right size and scope for the department going forward. In FY 2017, Cal finished with a $16 million deficit, and is projecting the same for the current fiscal year. Christ calls for basketball and football – the main revenue-generating college sports – to become more competitive on a national level. “Cal has a long tradition with Olympic sports,” said Christ. “Where there has been schizophrenia on campus…has been football and basketball. That’s where the big discussion has to happen.” About 54% of the total debt load (believed to be approximately $440 million for the Memorial Stadium and Simpson Training Center projects) will be shifted.
11. Russian hockey players from the Kontinental Hockey League will be allowed to compete in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics as neutrals after receiving support from Moscow. According to Reuters, the KHL voted in favor of letting its players play in the Olympics, following a similar decision by the Russian Olympic Committee. The KHL comprises 27 teams, with member clubs based in Belarus, China, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Russia, and Slovakia. These moves come in the wake of Russia’s ban by the IOC for a state-sponsored doping scandal at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Just last month, KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko hinted that the league “could bar its players from competing at the Olympics in retaliation for doping investigations against Russian athletes.” The absence of KHL players at the February Games could have dealt a “serious blow” to Olympic hockey, one of the Games’ most-popular sports, considering that players from the NHL will not be allowed to play. Time will tell if NHL players return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 – despite league brass insistence to the contrary, global pressure on the NHL may be too great for another holdout.
12. U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis is preparing to host Super Bowl LII, and the title sponsor’s name “will be everywhere.” According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Minneapolis-based bank is looking to take advantage of being in the spotlight when the projected one million visitors come to the Twin Cities and millions more tune in to watch the game on February 4. While U.S. Bank is technically only a sponsoring partner of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and not the Super Bowl itself, the company has purchased advertising space on local TV and will have a physical presence all around the city. U.S. Bank will “partner with VISA to take over the McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks restaurant on the ground floor of its corporate office.” The restaurant “will be converted into U.S. Bank’s Possibilities Lounge, extending its ‘Power of Possible’ marketing campaign, and will be part of the Super Bowl Live experience along Nicollet Mall.” Just another example of creative marketing and activation around the Super Bowl – look for much more to come between now and February 4.
13. ESPN is currently under scrutiny for its “toxic environment,” as one female employee described the company culture. According to the Boston Globe, multiple current and former employees say that problems for women working at ESPN “run deep.” On-air reporter Adrienne Lawrence filed the most recent sexual harassment complaint against her own company. “ESPN has failed to address its deeply ingrained culture of sexism and hostile treatment of women,” said Lawrence, who accused fellow ESPN anchor John Buccigross of sending her unsolicited shirtless photos. Buccigross sent Lawrence a series of text messages calling her things like “dollface,” “longlegs,” and “dream girl.” ESPN’s environment at its headquarters has been described as one where men make “unwanted sexual and romantic advances under the guise of networking or mentoring, and ‘mark’ women as their own by spreading false rumors about sexual relationships with female employees.” It was only a matter of time before the sports industry caught up with entertainment and politics in bringing sexual harassment and abuse to light. Look for many more such offenders to be unmasked in early 2018 and beyond.
14. U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors recently met to revamp and rework the responsibilities of several major positions within the organization. According to ESPN.com, the BOD met in Toronto, and there was consensus among the board members on several key issues. The primary topic was the role of the president: he or she is now going to be more of a chairman of the board as opposed to an executive president (presumably with fewer day-to-day responsibilities). This comes as a stark difference from how current U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati has operated while in office. Gulati's management style “was of someone who took a hands on role in just about every aspect of the USSF's business, often making decisions independent of the board.” With that, a new General Manager-type position is going to be created, with that elected figure set to oversee the Men’s National Team, with that head coach reporting to the new GM. This new move will put the USSF more in line with the structure of most pro sports franchises, MLS included.
15. Two of USA Gymnastics’ largest sponsorship partners have decided not to renew their contracts with the governing body amid one of the worst sexual assault scandals reported to date. According to the Orange County Register, P&G and Kellogg’s will no longer be affiliated with USA Gymnastics, discontinuing years of partnering. Kellogg’s was one of the corporate sponsors most closely identified with USA Gymnastics, often featuring the faces of top American gymnasts on its boxes. P&G Associate Director of Media Relations and Social Media Tressie Rose said, “Our previous partnership terms with USAG have been fulfilled. We will evaluate whether to renew our partnership next spring, in light of our longer term priorities and continued actions on their part.” Former USAG Doctor Larry Nassar has pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges and state sexual assault charges in Michigan. While sexual harassment and assault charges unfortunately abound these days, Nassar’s offenses should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law as they were all committed against defenseless children entrusted to his care. There should be no leniency here.
Power of Sports 5
1) Billionaire Ken Griffin, Chicago Fire lead effort to build 50 new mini soccer fields. “I’ve played soccer pretty much my entire life,” said Griffin, the richest person in Illinois. “I’m a huge fan. I’ve been coaching my son for several years. My girls play…Soccer is a team sport. That’s really important.” Griffin, along with the Chicago Fire, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, and the city of Chicago, have joined forces to build 50 mini-fields in underserved neighborhoods in Chicago over the next five years. The official announcement was made Wednesday afternoon at Gage Park on the Southwest side, where two of the tennis court-sized fields were built this summer. “It’s another investment in our neighborhoods,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday. “It’s what parents want to see for their kids, which is a great sport, safe sport in a safe space.” These court-sized fields will have an asphalt surface, soccer lines, small goals, and a surrounding fence to keep the ball contained. Each will cost roughly $60,000 to build. In addition to the fields, the Soccer Foundation plans to offer after-school soccer programs, training and leagues.
2) Toronto wins first MLS championship and builds opportunity for youth in Toronto. Through the league’s MLS Works program, which strives to improve the lives of people through sport, Toronto FC players and MLS executives unveiled a new Toronto FC-branded multipurpose room at the WoodGreen community facility in Toronto. WoodGreen is a founding United Way of Toronto member agency and is one of the largest social service agencies in Toronto, offering more than 75 innovative programs to some 36,000 families and residents of Toronto’s most marginalized communities. The new multipurpose room, which includes a reading and lounge area, furniture, computers, and multimedia equipment, will benefit hundreds of teens and young adults associated with WoodGreen’s “Newcomer Youth Services” program, and the renovation will enhance the free programs WoodGreen provides to youth new to Canada; programs include sports, counseling, workshops, health and wellness, homework, and arts clubs. MLS Works and Toronto FC are also providing financial support for WoodGreen Community Services’ Youth Soccer League. Toronto FC’s Soccer Development team will conduct youth programming and clinics, while the financial support will provide new equipment and apparel for year-long programming, including access to indoor facilities during the winter.
3) Olympic Channel debuts docu-series highlighting transgender athletes. With fewer than 60 days to go before the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games begin in South Korea, the world is watching as athletes prepare for a chance to represent their country. But who gets a chance to compete? And better yet, who should get a chance? That’s one of the questions driving “Identify,” a new series produced by the Olympic Channel that highlights the inspiring stories of five transgender athletes looking to achieve their dreams and break down barriers. “Identify” will roll out online as a short-form, five-episode docu-series produced in partnership with Vice. The series is part of more than 7,000 pieces of short- and long-form content produced by the Olympic Channel to showcase the Olympic ideal of overcoming challenges and covers topics including training, sustainability, sports science and nutrition, and historical footage.
4) Every single member of this NFL team registered to vote. Here’s why that’s so cool. This month, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins announced that each and every player on the team was now registered to vote. The team’s example of positive civic engagement off the field couldn’t be more valuable in the current political climate. America’s track record when it comes to participating in the democratic process leaves a lot to be desired. Only 60.2% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. While some people decided to sit this one out, about half of all eligible nonvoters weren’t even registered. Earlier this year, Pew Charitable Trusts published a report on what keeps people from getting registered to vote. Though some just say they’re not interested in voting, Pew found that millions of people want to vote, but either haven’t gotten around to it (27% of those not registered), find the process too inconvenient (9%), or don’t know how to get registered (6%). By making a public show of how easy it is to register, the Dolphins are reminding the public to register themselves and to make sure their voter information is up-to-date. But most importantly, they’re showing that the value of participating in the democratic process begins with signing up.
5) Ex-NBA star Charles Barkley pledges $1 million to black women in Alabama for startups. Former NBA star Charles Barkley has pledged to provide start-up capital for black women in Alabama. Barkley announced on TNT that he will put up $1 million for IT startup ventures to express the pride he felt following the result of the recently completed senate race in the state. “That does not mean restaurants and hair salons, black women,” he said. “That means start-ups.” African American voters, specifically females, managed to shift the narrative and hand victory to Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore, who has been plagued with numerous sexual assault allegations involving minors. “Black women really came out and supported Doug Jones,” Barkley said. During campaigning, the Alabama native urged voters to “stop looking like idiots” and rid themselves of Roy Moore. “When people in your own party say they won’t vote for you or support you, that’s a dead giveaway. It’s amazing,” said Barkley. “I am begging and urging everybody to get out, call all your friends. We’ve got to, at some point, we’ve got stop looking like idiots to the nation.” The former NBA star also pointed fingers at the Democratic Party, saying the party has taken the support of minorities for granted. "It’s time for them to get off their ass and start making life better for black folks and people who are poor," Barkley said. “It’s time for us to make a difference. Everybody in life wants the same thing, we want our children to be safe and for them to go to a new school.”
Tech Top 5
1) Nike, Google, and BBH just made the world’s coolest basketball courts. Nike, Google, and BBH Singapore have partnered for a remarkable online/offline project called Nike Hyper Court, which brings digital content to beautifully painted physical basketball courts, starting with the Philippines. There are five Hyper Courts so far, spread across five Barangays (districts) of Manila. Each has been painted – with portraits of NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving – by Arturo Torres, the illustrator known for his superhero-style illustrations of rappers and basketball stars. The Hyper Courts feature an on-court digital platform that players can tap into with their smartphones. Without having to use any data whatsoever, players can pull up all sorts of Nike content that will help them with their game – including training drills tailored for different types of players. The more a player uses the platform, the more it learns and makes recommendations.
2) Hubo the Robot carries Olympic torch in South Korea. Carrying the Olympic torch has long been a tremendous honor. With the PyeongChang Winter Olympics two months away, the torch is making its way around South Korea. Interestingly enough, one of the latest runners to carry the torch wasn’t human. Hubo, a robot created by Professor Jun Ho Oh, received the torch from his creator in the city of Daejeon. In order to pass it to the next runner, Hubo was challenged with drilling a hole through a wooden wall made to look like brick. It didn’t seem much of a problem for the KAIST-born humanoid bot. The reason for the brick wall stunt was to demonstrate one of Hubo’s abilities, disaster rescue. It’s designed to be a first-responder bot, and the display put on in Daejeon clearly illustrated that. Hubo won the DARPA Robotics Challenge back in 2015 thanks to its ability to switch back-and-forth between walking and wheeling. By having Hubo carry the torch, Oh hoped to show how far Korea’s robotics industry has come. You’d better have some deep pockets if you’re thinking of purchasing a robot like Hubo. Oh estimates the cost of the bot at $500,000 to $1 million.
3) NBA fans can vote for All-Stars via Amazon’s Alexa starting Christmas Day. NBA All-Star voting begins on the NBA app and NBA.com December 21, and on Christmas Day before five marquee games tip off, there will be voting via Amazon Alexa for the first time. The user must have an Alexa-enabled device, enable the “NBA All-Star” skill, say “Alexa, open NBA All-Star,” and then request to vote for the player of choice. Voters can submit a maximum of one player name per request to Alexa. Users can submit votes for 10 unique players per Amazon account each day from December 25-January 15. Voting for All-Star starters is also available via Facebook using the hashtag #NBAVOTE, and on Twitter, fans can vote by retweeting as well. Each Facebook post and tweet may include only one player’s name. Using Google Search, fans can search “NBA Vote All-Star” or “NBA Vote (insert team name)” to use voting cards. In China, users of Sina Weibo and members of the Tencent NBA community can vote at China.NBA.com/vote.
4) Manchester City fans can get a kick out of Facebook Messenger game. If you’re a Manchester City fan, and watching the English Premier League-leading football club isn’t already taking up most of your time, chances are the team’s new game will take care of that…just as soon as you open Facebook Messenger. In a move apparently to further engage fans – though what fan isn’t engaged by a club with 16 wins and one draw on the season? – Manchester City has launched its first Facebook Messenger game, Manchester City Football Striker. The game pits you against your friends in a competition to knock bouncing soccer balls into the net using different cartoon Man City players on the Etihad Stadium pitch, the announcement revealed. “We are constantly introducing unique ways for our local and global fan base to connect with Manchester City via exclusive content across a broad spectrum of digital platforms,” Nuria Tarre, City Football Group’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement. “With over 27 million followers on Facebook, our social media network represents one of our most important means of reaching our fans and providing them with the content they want to enjoy. Facebook Messenger Instant Games is another way for us to connect with our fans and we look forward to seeing how this new digital offering could grow.”
5) NASCAR live virtual reality deemed successful with more to come. NASCAR experienced a couple of firsts at last month’s Cup Series Championship final. Martin Truex, Jr. won his first championship, and NASCAR’s digital team livestreamed pre-race events in 360-degree virtual reality. NASCAR accomplished the latter by partnering with Ultracast, which is known for next-level video work at motorsports events. “The goal was probably twofold,” said Tim Clark, Managing Director of NASCAR’s Digital Media. “One, we obviously want to bring new content experiences to fans that can’t be at the track. Two was for us to get smarter in the space.” Via NASCAR.com and the NASCAR mobile app, fans accessed areas of Homestead-Miami Speedway that would have previously been unavailable. For example, cameras walked through the garage giving fans a view of the cars from any angle.