Saudi Show “Crown Jewel” Remains on WWE’s Event Calendar

Crown Jewel

Despite reports to the contrary, “Crown Jewel” remains on WWE’s calendar of events indicating the November 2nd show in Riyadh, will go off as planned. Political and diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, have driven several high-profile companies to cut business ties with the Kingdom and have brought on calls for WWE to cancel the high-profile show. Sports Illustrated reported that several of the company’s stars are uncomfortable with the idea of performing in Saudi Arabia, citing the country’s “poor record with human rights” as the reason for their apprehension; WWE female stars are still banned from performing in the Kingdom. WWE has not made a formal announcement on the status of the show, but is said to be monitoring the situation. 

Howie Long-Short: If WWE does pull the plug on show, it’ll be a big upset; Dave Meltzer (Wrestling Observer Newsletter) had insisted it would take “State Department” intervention or “Trump himself” for WWE to walk away from this event. Why? “Crown Jewel” isn’t your average house show, it’s the 2nd PPV quality show in a 10-year pact with the Kingdom, worth $450 million, and the decision to cancel the event could torpedo the lucrative deal.

Should the WWE end their relationship with the Saudi’s, they’ll join Endeavor and Virgin as companies that ended profitable deals in the name of morality. Richard Branson has put a halt to the Saudi’s $1 billion investment in Virgin’s space tourism venture, while Endeavor is reportedly terminating a $400 million investment agreement that would have given the Saudi’s a 5-10% stake in the company. Of course, both of those entities are privately held; WWE has shareholders to answer to.

Q2 ’18 was another landmark quarter for the WWE. The company posted record quarterly revenue (+31% to $281.6 million) and reported it had nearly doubled operating income (to $21.2 million) from the prior year quarter; the +31% revenue increase represents the company’s greatest YoY sales increase in 2 years.

In addition to strong financials, WWE reported significant growth in digital engagement; video views rose +58% YoY (to 14.4 billion) and the number of hours consumed watching WWE content across digital/social grew a staggering +71% YoY (to 509 million hours). The company also just crossed the 30 million subscriber threshold on YouTube, a figure that represents a larger following on the platform than that of the NBA, NFL, MLS, MLB, NHL, PGA TOUR and NASCAR combined. While YouTube subscribers don’t directly correlate into dollars, WWE Network subscriptions do; and the company reported paid subs rose +10% (to 1.8 million) during the quarter ending June 30th. The company will report Q3 financials on 10.25.

WWE shares are up +168% YTD, they’ll open at $84.29 on Wednesday 10.17.18.

Fan Marino: The controversy surrounding whether “Crown Jewel” should take place seems to be greater than the demand for the actual event within Saudi Arabia. Originally scheduled to be held in a 70,000-seat venue, tempered local interest has driven the event’s relocation to 25,000-seat King Saud University Stadium.

While certainly no cause for panic (they just signed lucrative long-term broadcast deals for RAW and SmackDown Live), it should be noted that the Monday Night Raw posted its 2nd lowest rating ever against Monday Night Football on 10.1; when just 2.08 million viewers tuned in for the show’s final hour (despite an appearance from Shawn Michaels). The Chiefs/Broncos game posted the highest MNF rating in over a year that evening.

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Modell Law, Haslam Group Likely to Keep Crew in Columbus


A consortium that includes Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is closing in on a pact with MLS that would keep the Crew in Columbus, current owner Anthony Precourt had intended on moving the team to Austin. The announcement comes after the Columbus Partnership (local group opposed to the move) sued Precourt and MLS to prevent/stall the plans, claiming they violated the “Modell Law”; an Ohio ordinance that requires pro sports teams playing in taxpayer funded venues to give 6 months’ notice prior to any proposed relocation and to offer local buyers the opportunity to keep the franchise in the city. The proposed agreement, which includes plans for a new downtown soccer stadium in Columbus, gives Precourt the rights to the Austin market (largest without an MLS team) and the promise of an expansion franchise by 2021; the Austin city council has already approved plans to build a new $200 million stadium at McKalla Place.

Howie Long-Short: Should the deal be completed, it’s likely that the Haslam Group will purchase the rights to operate the Crew franchise from MLS, while Precourt maintains his equity stake in the league and Soccer United Marketing (the league’s for-profit arm).

Precourt wanted to move the club from Columbus because without a new stadium and a larger season ticket base, he didn’t believe the franchise was financially viable; so, plans to build a new venue in Columbus solves half the problem. The other half won’t be as easy, as Columbus ranks dead last (23rd) in league attendance (12,120) and they’re not within 2,000 fans of the 22nd ranked Chicago Fire (14,516). You can’t blame the apathy on market size either (though they are amongst the smallest in the league), FC Cincinnati (joining MLS in ‘19) plays in a smaller TV market (32 v. 34), against lesser competition and averages over 25,000 fans/game; a figure that would place them 4th in MLS (behind just Atlanta, Seattle and Toronto).

Fan Marino: It’ll be ironic if the “Modell Law”, named after Art Modell (the man who moved the Browns to Baltimore in ’96), is responsible for keeping the club in Ohio.

While Modell is most often associated with the franchise relocation to Baltimore, he was one of the NFL’s most influential owners. It was Pete Rozelle, Gene Klein and Modell that struck a deal with TV execs in ’62 changing the league’s fortunes forever; he also served on the committee that negotiated the AFL-NFL merger, pushed for revenue sharing in the league’s early days, worked on the first MNF contract and hired the league’s first African-American GM.

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NJ Sports Betting Licensees Report “Stunning” September Handle, Revenue

New Jersey

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement reported that the state’s 8 licensed sportsbooks took in a “stunning” (depending on who you ask) $183.9 million in bets during the month of September, nearly double (+92%) the amount wagered in August; the start of the NFL season ($90 million wagered on league games) and the launch of several new mobile sportsbooks (see: Caesers/Bally’s, Paddy Power/FanDuel, SugarHouse/Golden Nugget) are responsible for driving the growth. Online/mobile wagering has already surpassed the state’s retail business, as 56.5% ($104 million) of all sports bets placed were made through those channels. The $23.9 million (+166% MoM) held by the state’s bookmakers, after bets were paid out (except for futures), represented just shy of 8% of the total handle. The state was entitled to keep $2.6 million in tax revenue from sports betting operations.

Howie Long-Short: DraftKings and FanDuel sportsbooks are taking in 2/3 of all New Jersey sports betting revenue and nearly 90% of all the revenue generated from online/mobile applications. Resorts Digital (DraftKings’ license holder, privately held) reported 35% ($8.5 million) of the state’s Sept. revenue, while competitor Paddy Power (FanDuel’s license holder, PDYPY) posted 30% ($7.2 million); no other licensee did more than 10.5%. It’s worth noting that while most DraftKings revenue comes from its online/mobile applications, just 39% ($2.8 million) of FanDuel’s comes from those channels; the majority of their revenue ($4.4 million) comes from their Meadowlands retail location.

As for the state’s other retail locations, The Borgata (a MGM Resorts International property) reported the most sports betting revenue ($2.39 million) amongst all land based casinos; while the William Hill (WIMHY) sportsbook at Monmouth Park racetrack kept $2.2 million, up from $900K in August (+144%).

Fan Marino: Expect October’s handle to exceed September’s strong result. In addition to a full slate of NFL and CFB games (as we had in September), the MLB postseason began on October 1st, the NHL season started on October 3rd and the NBA season will get started this evening.

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The Future is Female (Sports)


The Future is Female (Sports)

A newly released Nielsen survey (51% of those polled were male) indicated that 84% of sports fans (across 8 key global markets including the U.S. and U.K.) hold an interest in women’s sports. While interest in watching female competition is greatest when tethered to a male sporting event (think: MMA, tennis), 45% of those polled said they would consider attending a women’s sporting event and 46% said they would watch women’s sports more regularly, if they were more readily available on broadcast television (i.e. not an OTT service). Those supportive of women’s sports say they’re “more progressive and inspiring, less money-driven, more family-oriented and cleaner than men’s sports.”

Howie Long-Short: For all the talk that the average (see: male) sports fan isn’t interested in the women’s game, Nielsen’s gender-balanced survey base would seem to indicate otherwise; as would the 150 million fans who tuned in for UEFA Women’s Euro ’17 and the 51,000+ who showed up to watch the Liga MX Femenil final. Shares of Nielsen Holdings (NLSN) declined 25% on news Buy unit (think: data service) Q2 revenue declined -4% (to $789 million). NLSN will report Q3 earnings on 10.25.

If you (a sports league) build it (a fan base), they (the sponsors) will come. FC Barcelona is a good case study, as the club recently signed the most lucrative sponsorship deal in women’s pro sports history with Stanley Black and Decker (SWK). The 3-year pact (begins in ’18-’19), makes the tools and household hardware retailer the first main jersey partner in FC Barcelona women’s history. In mid-September, Stanley Black & Decker spent $234 million to acquire 20% of MTD Products (see: lawn and garden care power equipment). Shares hit a 6-month high on September 21st ($154.36), but have steadily declined (-15%) since; they’ll open at $130.92 on Friday October 12.

Fan Marino: It’s been announced that beginning with the 2019 season, World Surf League controlled events will offer female competitors prize money equal to that of their male counterparts; they currently earn just 50% of what the men take home ($100,000) for a World Tour win. While the progress is noteworthy, it’s should be noted that the WSL only made the decision to revamp its prize pool after a photo of a male surfer posing with a check 2x the size of the female’s next to him caused an uproar.

It’s not just the pay that is getting better for female athletes, in the NWSL their beginning (i.e. some teams) to receive better facilities (see: Utah Royals FC’s $1 million locker room) and medical treatment (see: Orlando Pride’s traveling masseuse) too; a far cry from the ice baths Sky Blue FC is taking in garbage cans. Interested in catching a NWSL match? A&E carries the Saturday Game of the Week on Lifetime.

Fun Fact: Did you know? The USWNT ’15 WC Final match was the highest rated soccer game in U.S. history.

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Champion Driver, Team President Robert Hight on the Business Side of Drag Racing

Robert Hight

With 3 races left in the NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship (their playoff system), Robert Hight is atop the leader board (50-points ahead of J.R. Todd). Aside from being a 2x champion driver, Hight serves as the President of John Force Racing (the team he races for). Robert was recently in New York and JohnWallStreet had the chance to sit with him to discuss how drag racing became a billion-dollar business, why NHRA has one of the youngest fan bases in sports and the importance of car sponsorships.

JWS: Drag racing has become a billion-dollar industry. Where is the money coming from?

Robert: It’s really driven through sponsorships and attendance. Fans have to come to the races and then we need them to tune in on TV. It (the sport’s economics) really changed when Fox Sports took over (the television contract in 2015) and our viewership grew by more than 70%, because you need eyeballs on your sport (to generate the big sponsorship dollars).

JWS: NHRA has one of the youngest fan bases among all sports properties. Why is that?

Robert: It fits the new generation. They (the fans) don’t have to sit in the stands and watch cars go round and round for 3-4 hours. There’s some racing, you go back in the pits – there’s some entertainment back there – watch some more racing; it just fits the attention span of today’s youth.

JWS: Is the NHRA business model so reliant on sponsorship that if a team were to lose a major sponsor, they would be forced to fold-up shop?

Robert: It costs $4 million to run a single NHRA Funny Car for a full season. We could not compete if we lost a sponsor, the hope would be to find a new one. Our organization signs long-term deals (to avoid that fate). We don’t sign year-to-year deals, it’s a 3-year minimum.

JWS: Nearly all NASCAR tracks are publicly owned. Is that the same with NHRA drag strips?

Robert: No, most of them are private – a lot of family owned tracks, but Bruton Smith owns quite a few of our events and honestly, they are the best events we go to. Beautiful tracks, beautiful facilities, very well run.

Howie Long-Short: Robert’s primary sponsor is Advance Auto Parts (AAP). Back in August, the company reported Q2 earnings. Sales (see: brakes, batteries & Spring related categories) rose +2.8% YoY (to $2.33 billion) with comparable stores growing sales +2.8% (nearly twice the +1.5% max projected for FY18), as EPS climbed +24.6% YoY (to $1.97). AAP also announced its board had approved a $600 million share repurchase program to replace the $500 million program ($415 million remained) approved back in ’12. Shares are +12.6% since earnings were reported in mid-August and are +54% YTD. They’ll open at $163.17 later this morning (10.11.18).

Fan Marino: Bruton Smith is the founder and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, a publicly traded company (TRK) that owns 9 racing venues (that hold NASCAR, IndyCar and NHRA events); Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway. Back in early August, the company reported Q2 total revenues had declined -2.4% (to $4.2 million) as the company “experienced poor weather during almost all of the events it held during the quarter.” TRK shares will open at $16.64 on Thursday (10.11.18), just north of their 52-week low.

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Death, Taxes and Olympic Spending Over Budget


The Japanese government’s Board of Audit has determined the country will spend at least $25 billion in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics, nearly 4x the amount projected in their ’13 winning bid ($7.3 billion at the current exchange rate). In December 2017, the Tokyo organizing committee operated under the assumption that the 2020 Games would cost $12 billion, but in January ’18 Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike authorized a project that included “barrier-free facilities for Paralympic athletes, training programs for volunteers, and advertising and tourism plans”, adding $7.1 billion to the budget. Some poor accounting (Tokyo organizers excluded $5.6 billion in expenses from the initial budget) and an increase in national government spending (+$5.8 billion) has pushed the total expenditure on the Tokyo Games to just shy of $25 billion, with the event still 2 years away.

Howie Long-Short: The only guarantee in this life as certain as death and taxes are the Olympics coming in over budget. In fact, “The Oxford Olympics Study 2016” was unable to identify a single Olympiad that came in on or below budget.

The reason the math ($12 + $7.1 + $5.6 + $5.8 = $30.8, not $25) doesn’t make sense is because of ongoing disputes surrounding what is (and what is not) an Olympic expense (think: road construction, incoming tourism) and who bears the responsibility for paying for it. The IOC and local organizers claim much of the money being spent is on “regular administrative costs”, expenses that fall “outside of the overall Games budget.”

It’s remarkable that local organizers and the IOC have said they’ve been committed to cutting spending (by using existing venues, slashing other construction costs) over the last several years and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are still going to cost upwards of $27 billion, as a “large amount of spending is expected to continue after 2018 leading up to the event”, but tight deadlines and little transparency between government branches, the IOC and local organizers makes it difficult to control costs.

Wondering who is going to pick up the $25+ billion check? The IOC will contribute $1.7 billion and sponsorship, merchandise and ticket sales should account for another $3.6 billion; the balance (80%) falls on Japanese taxpayers.

Fan Marino: The IOC has a new TOP sponsor with Allianz (OTC: AZSEY) agreeing to an 8-year deal (begins in ’21, runs through ’28 LA Summer Games) worth an estimated $400 million; an agreement that also extends the company’s global partnership with the IPC. The German insurance provider intends on using the games to “demonstrate its digital transformation and attract younger customers”. While Allianz has minimal sporting presence in the U.S. (American Jews haven’t gotten over their association with the Nazi party), the company holds the naming rights to 2 major European venues; Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena and Juventus’ Allianz Stadium. For those wondering, the IOC generated $1.02 billion from its TOP sponsorship program during the 4-year cycle ending in ’16, a +7.6% increase over the quadrennial ending in ’12.

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“LeBron James Effect” on Ticket and Merchandise Sales


LeBron James’ arrival in Los Angeles has already begun paying dividends for the Lakers; according to the team, merchandise sales are up 100% YoY through the team’s first 2 home preseason games. While the “LeBron James effect” (the NBA version of the Tiger Woods effect) has helped the Lakers to sell fan gear, it’s yet to impact primary market ticket or sponsorship sales; by the time James signed to play in Tinsel Town on July 9th, little sales work remained for the ’18-’19 season. James has made his mark on the secondary ticket market, the average price to see a Lakers home game this year is up +427 YoY (StubHub); the “LeBron James effect” has had the opposite impact on Cleveland, where his former franchise has seen season ticket sales plummet.

Howie Long-Short: James will certainly have an impact on ’19-’20 primary ticket sales, the club has already stated its intention of increasing ticket prices at Staples Center next year. The question is how much will the price rise? The team is said to be using StubHub to determine the intrinsic value of their tickets and claims demand is so great they could sell out a building with 31,000 seats, 10,000 more than Staples Center has.

One way to play the LeBron James effect is via the NBA’s exclusive licensing and manufacturing partner, Fanatics. e-Commerce has exploded from 1% of all licensed pro league merchandise sales to 20% within the last decade and according to NBA commissioner Adam Silver the company “owns the marketplace” (they are expected to do $2.3 billion in ’18 sales and founder Michael Rubin believes that figure could eventually reach $10 billion). Fanatics isn’t public, but Softbank (SFTBY) and Alibaba (BABA) are investors.

Fan Marino: The NBA season gets started next Tuesday night (October 16th) with 2 games (Philadelphia at Boston and Oklahoma City at Golden State), the Lakers open on the road (on 10.18) at Portland. According to StubHub, their home opener against Houston (on 10.20) has the highest average ticket price ($934) of any NBA game this season.

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NASCAR Introduces New Rules Packages to Place Spotlight on Driver Ability


NASCAR has introduced 2 baseline rules packages for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season designed to “promote closer competition and increased opportunities for passing”, as the racing circuit looks to drive fan interest. The revised aerodynamic and engine configurations are expected to “foster tighter racing on the majority of the speedways measuring longer than 1 mile”, a measure intended to return the focus from “engineering and wind tunnels” to the sport’s drivers and “hard side-by-side racing roots.”

Fan Marino: Both television viewership and racetrack attendance are down in ’18, but the last 2 races at Charlotte and Dover experienced YoY growth in TV viewership (attendance figures have not been released). Last Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 race at Dover, DE drew a larger television audience (+1%, 1.26 rating on NBCSN) than the same race at the Monster Mile in ’17 (1.25 rating on NBCSN), despite last year’s event holding greater stakes (it was the round of 16 cut-off race) and the Eagles playing head to head just 75 miles north; the week prior NASCAR’s Cup Series race at the ROVAL (road course/oval hybrid) posted a 1.95 rating (+6% YoY) on NBC. This Sunday the racing circuit heads to Talladega “The Biggest & The Fastest” NASCAR has to offer, expect the television audience to match; the 2017 race recorded the highest viewership rating of any ’17 playoff race (2.84 rating, 4.743 million viewers).

Last weekend, Dover International Speedway became the first NASCAR track (including Las Vegas Motor Speedway) to offer on-site sports betting. Fans in attendance could legally place bets on both the Xfinity and Cup Series races in addition to a full slate of college and NFL games. While it’s too early to determine the impact of the race on October’s handle (DDE reported $3.3 million wagered in September), in the 4 months since Delaware began taking sports bets NASCAR races have seen little to no action; just .02% ($60,000) of the $39.77 million wagered on sports had been gambled on circuit competition.

Howie Long-Short: Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment (DDE) operates the sportsbook at Dover International Speedway. Shares of the company are +152% YTD. They rose +42% when SCOTUS struck down in late May, but the biggest gains this year (+56%) came following July’s announced merger with Twin River Worldwide Holdings (has a retail presence in MS, RI and CO); a union that “will help us grow our business, invest in our people and our facilities and compete more effectively given changes in gaming on the horizon.” Upon closing, Twin River will list shares of the company on the NYSE or NASDAQ.

DDE (reports earnings on 10.24) isn’t the only way to invest in Delaware sports betting; Scientific Games, the state’s primary sports betting contractor, is also publicly traded (SGMS). The company is entitled to 15.6% of the net take with the balance split between state, casinos and horse racing industry.

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Content Marketers Using Insight on Fan Excitement to Drive Decisions


Thuuz Sports is an AI-based metadata and content curation platform for sports content owners and distributors. Their proprietary technology generates automated highlight packages, offers intelligence to content marketers and is used to enhance broadcaster programming guides. JohnWallStreet sat down with Wayne Sieve, EVP of Thuuz Sports to discuss how simply understanding if a game was exciting, is exciting or will be exciting is valuable insight for companies like ESPN+, DirecTV, DAZN and Sling TV.

JWS: Explain how Thuuz measures fan excitement?

Wayne: We built a data science and methodology around measuring game excitement using a simple measurement scale, zero to 100 with 50 being average and 100 being off the charts exciting. As a process, we ingest enormous amounts of third party data – including play by play, social, betting, audio and video – and then we apply our own AI against the data collected. We do our own numerical modeling, predictive records and machine learning, and then perform the data analysis to measure everything from the pace of play, to the quality of the teams playing and the context of the match. We end up with what we call sports event metadata offering a snapshot of fan excitement, in real time, from the home team’s fan standpoint, the away team’s fan standpoint and the neutral fan’s point of view; think of it as something like Rotten Tomato ratings.

JWS: How does a broadcaster take Thuuz’s insight and turn it into something actionable?

Wayne: If a broadcaster knows if a game was exciting, is exciting or is expected to be exciting, they’re able to create a more personalized programming guide. In addition to the score for each fan POV, our technology machine produces 3 headlines for each of the different fan vantage points explaining why the game is rated as such. From there, the broadcaster can use push notifications to drive viewer tune-in.

Marketers can also use the metadata to determine which assets within a programming portfolio should be promoted, insight that leads to better sell-through and conversion rates.

JWS: Thuuz introduced a highlight machine for the 2018 World Cup enabling users to create their own SportsCenter; the teams, games, players and duration were all customizable. Is this the future of how sports fans will get their highlights?

Wayne: I think it’s a very compelling direction that a lot of content owners should think about going. We’re getting to a point where people are demanding (or certainly are more compelled by) having a personalized experience, especially the younger audience. The days of simply programming what you think audiences are going to like and saying, here it is and that’s all you get, are coming to an end. If you enable a viewer to create their own programming, to have them involved and engaged with the content creation process, then they’re more interested, they’re more engaged and they will interact for longer periods of time. Customizable highlights provide a phenomenal product experience for fans and I think that’s where the market is going and should be going.

JWS: From a consumer standpoint, Thuuz’s most valuable feature is the ability to “catch up to live.” Explain why it’s a “game changer” for programmers in their efforts to engage the fan?

Wayne: Let’s say you stumble across a football game and it’s 28-28 in the middle of the third quarter and are wondering how it got to this point. Our technology enables the viewer to curate and view personalized game highlights in real-time, so they can watch the balance of the game unfold live; a feature that had not previously existed. I think offering a game summary is quite important as a next step in the evolution of how to engage with the fan, because unless you started at the beginning of the game, you don’t know how you got there. I think you’re going to see widespread adoption as the technology becomes more refined.

Howie Long-Short: Thuuz, a privately held entity, has raised $10.7 million over 2 rounds of funding. You can play the company via Liberty Global (LBTYK), who led their $4.2 million Series A round in ’12 or through ITOCHU Technology Ventures; the VC arm of Itochu Corporation. Itochu is among the largest Japanese general trading companies (#215 on ’17 Fortune Global 500 list), with an expertise in textiles, metals/minerals, food, machinery, energy/chemicals and ICT/general products/real estate; the company trades over the counter under the symbol ITOCY.

Fan Marino: Thuuz’s World Cup highlight machine remains active on the Fox Sports website. Select your favorite teams, players, matches and play types (i.e. goals, saves) and enjoy your personal highlight film.

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MLB Attendance Hits 15 Year Low but Fans Still Watching on TV


Major League Baseball attendance declined 4.1% in 2018 (from 30,042/game to 28,830/game), with fewer than 70 million people (69,625,244) visiting league parks for the first time since 2003; it was the MLB’s 5th attendance decline in the last 6 seasons. 17 clubs experienced a YoY regression, with the Marlins (-771,910 fans) and Blue Jays (-878,605 fans) reporting the largest drop-offs; it must be noted that those clubs altered the way they calculated gate receipts prior to the ’18 season.

While MLB experienced a decline in fans at the ballpark, television viewership remains strong; Nielsen reported that between March 29th (earliest opening day ever) and September 30th (final day of regular season) the league’s 29 RSNs (Toronto not included) saw ratings rise +2% YoY. MLB games remain the most watched programming in primetime on cable television in 28 of 29 U.S. markets (Miami is the exception) and 12 RSNs carrying MLB teams are tops in their market in primetime, amongst all programmers.

Howie Long-Short: MLB blamed the attendance decline on the “historically bad weather” in April (102 games were played under 50 degrees), but they should have blamed it on the Marlins and Blue Jays accounting methods; 54% of the league’s total decline can be attributed to those 2 clubs.

Of the 12 RSNs that rank first in primetime within their market, 6 are owned by Fox Sports (Cardinals, Indians, Brewers, Yankees, Royals and Diamondbacks) and will be sold. It’s been reported that Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBGI), YouTube (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN), Blackstone Group (BX), CVC Capital Partners and Apollo Global Management (APO) have all expressed interest in acquiring the block (22) of RSNs. Bloomberg has estimated that the assets could command upwards of $20 billion.

Advertisers value sports properties because a) they’re live (so you can’t fast-forward through commercials) and b) viewership consumption is greater for sporting events than it is for entertainment programming. In fact, the average MLB club has fans tuned in longer than the top 10 primetime television shows combined in their respective markets.

Fan Marino: The St. Louis Cardinals lead the league with an 8.05 rating on Fox Sports Midwest. On the other end of the spectrum, the Chicago White Sox were the only club to post a Nielsen rating under 1 (.68); a figure that indicates fewer than 1% of the total TV households in the Chicago market are tuning in to watch the South Siders on FSN Chicago. The Atlanta Braves experienced the league’s greatest YoY rise, with viewership climbing 79% in 2018 (to a 3.46 rating); a trip to the postseason following 3 straight years of 90+ losses explains the renewed enthusiasm.

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