Rick Horrow's 17 Unique Happenings in Sports in 2017: Top Storylines, Iconic Events, Interesting Brands, Hot Trends, and More

Rick Horrow's 17 Unique Happenings in Sports in 2017: Top Storylines, Iconic Events, Interesting Brands, Hot Trends, and More

Rick Horrow's 17 Unique Happenings in Sports in 2017: Top Storylines, Iconic Events, Interesting Brands, Hot Trends, and More

By: Tanner Simkins @TannerSimkins

  1. L.A had a big year in 2017 - Olympics, Chargers, Rams, and more.  Here we focus on LA 2028: Los Angeles was awarded the right to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in late July, bringing the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since 1996. This will now mark the third time that the City of Angels will host the Olympics, following its turns in 1932 and 1984. In an unprecedented move, Paris was simultaneously announced as the host in 2024 by the IOC. According to WDTN, Los Angeles’ plan is to create a “New Games for a New Era” by utilizing the area’s existing infrastructure to successfully orchestrate a low-risk, financially responsible, and sustainable Olympics. The first official bid was announced back on September 1, 2015. Upon being officially granted the right to host, United States Olympic Committee Chairman and U.S. IOC Member Larry Probst said, “Today is one of the most significant days in the history of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements – and it’s one we’ve been waiting to celebrate for many years.”

  2. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria impacted communities across the country. According to Facebook, their digital community rallied to help those in need by raising more than $20 million in the biggest fundraising effort for a single crisis in 2017 on Facebook. J.J. Watt and others helped raise over $20 million for areas affected in Texas. Other notable and inspiring aid storylines were uniquely powered by sport, social influence, and tech.

  3. From the tragic shooting to O.J. Simpson being released, Las Vegas had a year to remember in 2017. The Las Vegas Knights became the NHL’s newest team this year, starting their inaugural campaign at the brand new T-Mobile Arena right off The Strip, and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders announced their planned departure to Las Vegas. The Raiders are planning to leave the Bay Area in 2020 if everything goes according to plan following a 31-1 vote in favor from NFL team owners. The team is banking on a $750 million public contribution toward their new 65,000, $1.7 billion domed stadium. The public money is expected to come from an increase in hotel room tax in the surrounding metropolitan area. Meanwhile on the ice, the Golden Knights have had an incredible amount of success through their first stint of games, sitting tied for first place in the Western Conference after 33 games, including an impressive 14-2-1 record at home.

  4. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor dominated media headlines for months leading up to their August bout in Las Vegas. In the end, undefeated and undisputed boxing champion Mayweather came out on top in what was coined “The Money Fight.” The switch from MMA to professional boxing was a risky one for McGregor, but appeared to pay off financially. According to the London Telegraph, Mayweather’s guaranteed purse going into the fight was $100 million and McGregor’s was $30 million. On top of that, Mayweather’s projected earnings from pay-per-view is anywhere in the range of $150-200 million, bringing his total profit from the night’s work up to $300 million. Some reports have the total take up to $400 million. The fight at T-Mobile Arena lasted a full nine 3-minute rounds plus 1:05 of the tenth round before the fight was called off. Mayweather finished his professional boxing career 50-0, and some sources project his career earnings to be as much as $1 billion in total.

  5. Bitcoin was a money making machine in 2017. Bitcoin and any of the other 800+ cryptocurrencies are digital-based currency and are not controlled by a central authority such as a government or bank. Supporters praise its use in secure transactions over the internet via the blockchain, a technology that records cryptocurrency transactions chronologically in a public digital ledger. If you invested $75,000 in Bitcoin one year ago instead of buying a luxury vehicle for example, that same stake would be worth about $1 million today. Naturally, athletes with disposable income are fueling the craze even more and adding to the viral nature of the trend. Also interesting: sports organizations like the Sacramento Kings accept BitCoin as payment at their facility.

  6. The latest youth craze in classrooms and on sporting grounds are fidget spinners. These are brightly colored, hand-held trinkets that spin, have buttons to push, or otherwise keep hands occupied. The aptly named fidget spinners are supposed to enhance concentration, reduce anxiety, and stimulate learning. The devices aimed to curb ADHD have gone viral on social media this past year for everyday non-therapeutic use and sports marketing staffs across the country have tapped into the trend. Here’s one example: One manufacturer, SpinnersOnly, has licenses in the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA and at the peak of the craze had all their products on backorder.

  7. The total solar eclipse featured the path of totality in North America, so naturally sports across the country were caught up in the excitement. During this celestial event, the longest period when the moon completely blocked the sun from any given location along the path was about two minutes and 40 seconds. The last time the contiguous U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979. The first point of contact was in Oregon and covered the center of the country until total eclipse ended near South Carolina. From there, the lunar shadow left the United States, but the process left us with many images and memories from sports. The NFL’s Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, and others ended practice early and handed out glasses to watch. The MLS Whitecaps wore eclipse-themed jerseys at their game, and other similar natured storylines took place.

  8. Topps found a way to again reinvent the card business as its ToppsNOW brand sold over one million cards, giving fans access to the best moments in baseball, the UFC, and MLS the day after those moments happened. How impactful is ToppsNOW? The day after Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels, the company sold 17,000 cards of his press conference alone.

  9. The Drone Racing League took another step toward mainstream sports business conversations in 2017, adding big time investors, expanding their relationship with ESPN, and creating new streams of revenue like licensing. They will continue to evolve with new tech, fan engagement, global venues, and partners in 2018, which will keep them on the “must watch” list for the future.

  10. Ever-growing popularity with the sport, a new commissioner, owners with deep pockets and a digital first mentality has put the National Lacrosse League, aka box lacrosse, into the growth column at the end of 2017 and into 2018. Expansion in key markets like New York, Dallas, and San Francisco, an intriguing take with Native American athletes (they have more than any other sport in the U.S.), and the explosion of indoor play on the college and high school levels across the country makes NLL a candidate for comeback league of the year for 2017-18.

  11. Despite the departure of Keith Dawkins to FIRST TEE, Nickelodeon's Nick Sports had a breakout year, from bigger relationships with all the major sports to special events around Super Bowl, The NHL Winter Classic, and the ever-growing Kids Choice Sports Awards. As the channel looks to engage with a new audience, sports will be as key going forward as it was in 2017.

  12. Run by two former Nebraska football players, the Opendorse platform takes several thousand elite athletes, tracks all their social relevance, and pairs them with brands. An infusion of investment money and growing partnerships with the leagues and teams have made them a “must look” for companies that want to marry social, athletes, and activations together for big ROI.

  13. Growth company XTech has revolutionized, mostly by word of mouth, the next area of focus in protective padding: shoulders and legs. They custom design lightweight, shock resistant, waterproof, malleable pads that are now the rage in the NFL, elite colleges, and high schools. Who requests them? Odell Beckham and Von Miller, among many. Who doesn’t? Aaron Rodgers and Jameis Winston, both who suffered serious shoulder issues wearing the old fashioned, and unregulated, bulky plastic pads.

  14. Online education leader EVERFI focuses on teaching, assessing, and certifying students in the critical skills that real life demands. Their digital course offerings address the issues that put pressure on students and their families and traditionally have not been taught with common standards or quality. They made sports headlines in 2017 by partnering with with major sports leagues, teams, foundations, athletes, and entertainers. EVERFI enhances communities and education programs, like STEM for example, at no cost to schools by partnering with organizations big and small.

  15. Lavar Ball and the Ball family seemed to always be in the media in 2017. Whether it was oldest son Lonzo Ball being a top pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA draft, youngest son Melo Ball routinely dropping close to 100 points in his high school games, the founding and growth of Big Baller Brand, Lavar’s headline-grabbing antics, the family’s reality show, middle son and UCLA forward LiAngelo being arrested for stealing while in China, then news of Melo and Gelo going pro in Lithuania, and now talks of Lavar founding a junior pro league for top high school prospects as an alternative to college, 2017 seemed to be the year of the Ball family.

  16. Social protests in sports, the Kaepernick effect, and kneeling continued in 2017. Early in the NFL season, President Trump said NFL owners needed to fire the “sons of bitches” who “disrespected the flag.”  After that, the loudest response came from a long list of current and former NFL players who took to social media to criticize the president for his comments. RISE, founded by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, is an organization doing what it can to ease tensions. RISE is dedicated to harness the unifying power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress led by an unprecedented alliance of professional sports leagues, organizations, athletes, educators, and sports professionals that uses sports to promote understanding, respect, and equality. Also of note: a new FOX Sports television show, "The Power Sports" presented by Group One Thousand One, delves into conversations with industry thought leaders to understand how different sports and business organizations are creating grassroots opportunities to engage youth and help drive positive social change.

  17. 2017 was a major step forward for women’s rights. International Women’s Day was the No. 1 most talked about moment in 2017, doubling from last year, with people around the world talking, sharing, and posting in celebration of women and related issues. The Women’s March in D.C. and satellite marches across the country, "leaning in," fight for equal pay, and the "Me Too" movement also moved the needle. Many sports organizations got in on the action; the LPGA’s Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim Life is a strong example, bringing attention and investment capital to the goal of increasing the participation of women in the STEM and tech workforce.

We Miss The Premier League, too: How a Chelsea fan found her team

We Miss The Premier League, too: How a Chelsea fan found her team

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The hope is the EPL is back on NBC sometime soon. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too. 

Our first week continues with a look at the Premier League supporters’ clubs that thrive all around D.C. and the metro area, including Chelsea’s Beltway Blues, who gather together most Saturday mornings from August through May to cheer their team. 

It started for Allison Kasic during a six-month study abroad semester in London 16 years ago. 

A junior at Bucknell University in 2004, a big sports fan who grew up playing and watching soccer, Kasic was searching for a connection to her new home. She found it right there in her west London neighborhood at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea FC's grand old stadium where they’ve played soccer in some form since 1905.  

“When I showed up, high on my priority list was asking ‘Alright what are the local teams?’ I just loved watching live sports,” Kasic said. “The club kind of chose me in that respect. And I’ve stuck with it since then.”

Kasic, who grew up in Colorado but moved to the D.C. area after college, has done more than that. She is chapter chair of the Beltway Blues supporters’ club, which meets most weekends at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington, and is the national chair of Chelsea in America, a coalition of five regional Chelsea supporters' groups made up of 35 local chapters throughout the United States. 

Sports provides an emotional connection we’re all missing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Four Courts, open again for takeout orders since May 8 but unable to host watch parties for now, averages 40-to-50 Chelsea fans on any given Saturday or Sunday – much more for big matches, fewer maybe for the 7:30 a.m. EST start times. They all have a story. Kasic was hooked when she skipped a night class during her semester abroad and went to a pub with a friend who just happened to be an Arsenal fan. 

That was the year of The Invincibles when Thierry Henry and the Gunners won the Premier League title and won or drew every single Premier League game. No losses on the record. Arsenal had beaten the Blues three times already that season and also played to a draw in the first leg of a Champions League quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge. It just didn’t look like Chelsea was capable of beating their London rival. 

Until that wonderful April night back at Highbury, Arsenal's famed old home ground, when Chelsea rallied from a 1-0 deficit at halftime to win it in the 88th minute on a Wayne Bridge goal. The Invincibles might have raised their Premier League trophy at the end of that season. But they wouldn’t be crowned champions of Europe. The Blues saw to that and then the next season won their first Premier League title in 50 years. 

Kasic, a self-described John Terry fan, the legendary Chelsea defender, stuck with it when she came home to the States, but it wasn’t easy. Premier League games weren’t readily available like they are now on NBC and its platforms. She found herself looking up scores on the internet the year Chelsea won that long-awaited title in the 2004-05 season.

The crowd that gathers at The Four Courts could be as few as 10 people for an early start against a lower club or as many as 300 for big Premier League or Champions League games. The night Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012 you couldn't get in the door even if you showed up an hour before the match.

The crowd is mixed, primarily Americans, but with a few ex-pats from the U.K. who used to be season-ticket holders at Stamford Bridge or ex-soccer players who played the sport in high school or college. Group member Lynn Feldmann had a youth soccer coach who actually played for Chelsea in the 1960s, according to Kasic. Go to any of these game watches and you’ll see how randomly people came to their love for the club.    

Kasic herself tries to go back to London every other year to visit the city and catch a game at Stamford Bridge. Those early Chelsea days she was still a new fan enthralled by the atmosphere at the stadium, but probably didn’t appreciate it as much living in London at the time. It was a return trip that sealed her connection to the team. 

“What was much more emotional for me was the first time I went back to a match in London after I moved back to America,” Kasic said. “It sounds so sappy, but when The Liquidator started, which is one of the songs they always play before kickoff, I started to cry. I was like what am I doing, I’m crying over a song at a sports stadium? But the whole atmosphere is really overwhelming in a good way when you care that much about it.” 

But for now next year’s trip to Stamford Bridge is on hold. There’s too much uncertainty in the world to plan that far into the future. Kasic is just hoping life returns to some sort of normalcy soon and maybe the Premier League will be back this summer for its final nine games. Chelsea, with a young team, sits a surprising fourth in the standings and has a great shot at making the Champions League next season. 

But if this goes on much longer, Kasic laughs, she might even start to miss the Arsenal fans who have their own game watches at The Four Courts. OK. Let’s not get crazy. A rival is still a rival. But devotion to a team is something we all share. Hopefully, that bond is renewed soon.    

“I miss the people at least as much as the actual sport – probably more,” Kasic said. “Even if I’m traveling for work and go to a different city and catch a match with the local supporters’ club somewhere else. It’s a unique segment of American sports fans that we’re purposely waking up early in the morning to watch a sport played in another country. You have common interest with these folks and I’m used to seeing them every week. And for the last couple of weeks our pub hasn’t even been open [inside]. You miss the staff, too. It’s just a big part of our community.”

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Christian Pulisic gets an 'incomplete' in first English Premier League season with Chelsea

Christian Pulisic gets an 'incomplete' in first English Premier League season with Chelsea

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The hope is the EPL is back on NBC sometime soon. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too. 

Our first week begins with a look at surprising Chelsea and Christian Pulisic, the young American trying to find his place on one of the world’s biggest clubs. 

Christian Pulisic is back in London now waiting like the rest of us.

In his first season in England, Pulisic flashed some of the promise that at age 21 makes him the future of American soccer. But he is trying to do something no United States soccer player has ever done – succeed at one of the English Premier League’s biggest clubs. 

An adductor injury knocked Pulisic from the lineup in January. He appeared in 16 games with 12 starts before getting hurt. He also scored five goals – three of them in a remarkable game against Burnley – and had two assists. Time back home with his family in Hershey, Pa. allowed Pulisic time to heal, he told NBC’s Rebecca Lowe in an Inside the Mind interview last Thursday. But he’s back in the U.K. now waiting for word that training can begin again. 

“I’d say I’m fully recovered, ready to go as soon as we get back,” Pulisic said. “I’m really looking forward to that. I was back with the team in training just before this whole thing started.”

That was a frustrating pause to his season before the bigger pause in March thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Chelsea was a surprise before the 2019-20 season was halted. That sounds silly given the Blues won league titles in 2015 and 2017 and have finished outside the top five just twice in the past 16 seasons. 

But there was a fragility to Chelsea, which has been hampered by financial penalties, lost its top player (Eden Hazard) and is on a youth movement that includes Pulisic, whom it acquired from German side Borussia Dortmund last summer. 

The Blues placed 10th as recently as 2015-16, recovered to win the Premier League the next season and were fifth last year before suffering some summer defections. No one knew what to expect. But in his first year as head coach, Chelsea legend Frank Lampard had his team in fourth place with nine games to go. 

There are still nine games to go and no sign yet when the EPL will return as games have in Germany already. Pulisic has a renewed sense of patience. He tried to push through the adductor injury when it originally happened in December and ended up making things worse. 

“I wanted to continue to play at that level,” Pulisic told Lowe. “I was feeling confident, feeling great before the injury. That’s why it was really tough going through that. But it’s part of anyone’s career.”

Other Americans have starred in the Premier League. Goalies Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Friedel (Leicester City) and Casey Keller (Leicester City, Tottenham) had long careers. Field players Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride spent years of their career at Fulham. 

But no one – not even Landon Donavan, who starred at a similarly young age but lost interest in playing in Europe and spent the majority of his career back home in MLS – has attempted what Pulisic is doing. His natural hat trick at Burnley in late October just a month after his 21st birthday made him the youngest to ever do that for the club. It’s been around since 1905. No Chelsea player had done it at all since Didier Drogba in 2010. 

“I’ll never forget coming home after that and sitting down and looking back on what just happened,” Pulisic said. “I was so proud and being able to talk to my family back home. Just scoring and helping the team win and having a great game, there’s no better feeling.”

Chelsea technically remains alive in the Champions’ League, too – though down 3-0 after a home loss to Bayern Munich in the round of 16 just before the virus halted play across Europe and with a road game to come. 

But whether Pulisic gets a chance to force his way back into the lineup this year or must wait until the summer, at best, remains to be seen. There’s no easy way to grade his rookie campaign in England.   

“The word will be ‘inconclusive,’” NBC soccer analyst Robbie Mustoe said last month on an edition of the Two Robbies podcast with fellow analyst Robbie Earle. “We have an inclusive report right now. He scored five goals – three of those is in one game. There’s been flashes of his brilliance that has wowed people at Chelsea. I would argue that we didn’t see it enough.”

Hard to dispute. Even Pulisic would agree. He is also entering a critical part of his career. The United States is desperate to qualify for the 2022 World Cup after a disastrous loss last cycle left Pulisic in tears on a field in Trinidad and kept the Americans out. The U.S. Soccer Federation can’t afford another setback and Pulisic is at the center of those efforts. 

Meanwhile, he also has to show he can play at a club with Chelsea’s ambitions. All due respect to American greats before him, especially Dempsey and McBride. But Fulham’s stadium, Craven Cottage, on the banks of the River Thames, is a 1.5-mile walk to Chelsea’s home ground at Stamford Bridge and it might as well be 1,000. Their goals are not the same. 

Fulham had some nice years in the Premier League with Dempsey, especially, helping them to three top-10 finishes. But it has since slipped a level down to the English Championship League. Pulisic’s aim is so much higher. American soccer hopes for him are so much higher.  

“This is Chelsea,” Mustoe said. “This isn’t a mid-table team that can be OK with a technical player doing things now and again. This has to be all the time. We’ve seen it at times, but we’ve got to see more. More personality. And that will come with time and will come with confidence. But it’s been frustrating for him.”

Chelsea also means competition. Pulisic is 21. But he is surrounded by young talent. English midfielder Mason Mount is also 21 and has started 25 games this season. Scottish midfielder Billy Gilmour, just 18, was called up to the big club in February. English forward Callum Hudson-Odoi is 19 and appeared in 17 games. Tammy Abraham looks like Chelsea’s striker of the future with 13 goals at age 22. The team has already signed Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech, 26, for next season. Playing time must be earned. 

“The Premier League was everything I hoped it’d be and more. The amount of games and everything that goes on, it’s a lot to take in, especially first year,” Pulisic said. “Getting used to it and used to the schedule. There’s pressures there, but I’m enjoying the ride so much. One of the most competitive leagues in the world, if not the best. I’ve learned so much this first year. I’m looking forward to getting back to it.” 

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