Expect NCAA to Move Goal Posts on Name, Image and Likeness

NCAA 200x200

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill (SB206) last Friday – the news was disclosed during an episode of Uninterrupted’s ‘The Shop’ on Monday – that will permit collegiate athletes in the state to both profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) and hire an agent to represent them come January 1, 2023. NCAA bylaws currently forbid student-athletes from taking benefits beyond the value of a scholarship and considers individuals who have profited from their participation in college sports (or hired an agent) to be ineligible. The governing body has yet to issue comment on “next steps in California,” but previously maintained that the “bill would remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports.” SB206 does not allow colleges and universities to pay student-athletes directly.

Howie Long-Short: Newsom, a former collegiate athlete himself, believes the bill will “initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation.” That seems like a safe bet. Back in August, New York introduced a statute akin to SB206 that would also award 15% of athletic department ticket sales revenue to student-athletes; and South Carolina recently announced it would consider its own version of a ‘Fair Pay’ bill.

The NCAA rightfully believes “that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field.” SB206 gives the California schools a significant recruiting advantage, which is why Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez said his school would no longer be scheduling non-conference games against them. The NCAA could try to exclude California colleges and universities from sanctioned competitions (think: March Madness), but the eight Pac-12 schools not located in the Golden State are certain to oppose any outcome that would further the competitive disadvantage that the conference is at. Remember, for every game a P12 team plays in the NCAA tournament, the conference gets a $1.7 million pay-out over six years.

The more likely outcome is the NCAA decides to move the goal posts once again. The COO at one P5 school pointed to the organization’s history of “overcoming tough challenges” (think: Title IV, Ed O’Bannon lawsuit) and suggested “this [will be] no different than that.” ‘Fair Pay’ is a “massive shift in how the NCAA currently thinks and operates”, but our source strongly believes that “everybody in the profession will come together to figure out the best way to resolve name, image and likeness for collegiate sports and the student-athletes.

The cat is out of the bag now that SB206 has been signed into law – the NCAA has until 2023 to figure out a solution. Our source suggested it won’t take nearly that long and said he/she expects coaches, administrators and the governing body to immediately begin working on re-balancing the playing field.

It’s highly unlikely that major national corporations will look to sign relatively unknown college kids over mainstream celebrities, so most (let’s exclude the footwear companies from this discussion) of the NIL deals that will be struck will be done on a local level. While it is possible – okay, likely – that boosters will line the pockets of football and basketball prospects, one must wonder what happens at schools where those dollars generate little ROI in the form of wins? One could argue that NIL makes it more likely talent will concentrate at the top, but that dynamic already exists.

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DraftKings Introduces Venture Studio, Athlete Network and VC Fund

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DraftKings has introduced the formation of DRIVE, a new venture studio and athlete network. General Catalyst, Accomplice and Boston SEED are backing the actual investment fund. The pre-seed and seed stage companies that the fund invests in will go through the studio’s 12-month program. DraftKings intends on leveraging its brand, internal resources (think: engineering, product development) and wide network of influential contacts across the sporting landscape to give those companies the best chance of success. The fund has not yet made its first investment.

Howie Long-Short: There are at least 25 team-backed investment operations, in addition to the 40+ sports-specific funds (several of which are backed by team owners), so there is a lot of VC money being poured into a relatively small sports-tech market. Many of the team backed funds lack deal flow because the people sourcing them are business or marketing executives without a venture background. That shouldn’t be a problem here. Co-founder Rashaun Williams has spent the last 8 years in VC (he was an investment banker at Goldman & DB prior) and has invested in over 120 startups. DRIVE also has three other full-time investment professionals (Janet Holian, Kiki Mills Johnston and Julian Fialkow) on staff.

The DraftKings brand and venture studio will prove to be beneficial, but it is the athlete network that provides the DRIVE fund with a real differentiator. Athlete investors are attractive because in addition to their capital, senior investment associate Julian Fialkow says, “they’re almost like free marketing and they have the channels – whether it’s on television or social media – to promote products and services.

Members of the athlete network will go through “an immersive five-week internship program.” Fialkow explained that participants will learn about everything from “building a robust portfolio, to investing in companies at varying stages and buying real estate.” While the goal is most certainly to educate, the hope is that “participants invest in the portfolio companies or join in a board member or advisory capacity.

The DRIVE athlete network isn’t starting from scratch. Williams serves as a financial advisor to more than 150 professional athletes – so there is an existing network to tap into – and Grant Williams (Celtics), Thaddeus Young (Bulls), Matt Light (Patriots) are all already on board. The program is open to both current and retired players.

DraftKings is the majority shareholder in DRIVE, but they are two independent entities; each company has their own board, committee and CEO. In fact, DRIVE does not exist to serve DraftKings interests and the goals of the industry agnostic fund are not aligned with the gaming operator’s business plan. That said, most of the opportunities that the fund is likely to look at will be sports technology related. Fialkow believes that there are opportunities for advancements in “contentwhere people watch, how people engage, how people learn sports and how people cluster data. The rise of wearable devices has created a big opportunity at the intersection of sports and knowledge.

Fan Marino: Fialkow said that a venture studio backed by the likes of DraftKings and General Catalyst will be attractive to athletes that struggle to identify if investment opportunities are “authentic or real.” There are countless stories of athletes that have been lured by conmen into nefarious schemes, perhaps none are as wild as the one orchestrated by financial advisor Peggy Ann Fulford. It might just the best piece of journalism that you’ll read this week. Sports Illustrated: The Peggy Show’.

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Corporate Sponsors Finding Stadium Naming Rights Deals “Are Working”

SoFi

There has been a bevy of activity relating to stadium naming rights agreements over the last six weeks.

  • SoFi secured the rights to the new NFL stadium in Inglewood, California with a 20-year pact worth at least $30 million annually.
  • The Denver Broncos announced Empower Retirement agreed to a 21-year deal to replace Sports Authority on the stadium at Mile High. The venue has been without a corporate sponsor since the sporting goods retailer liquidated back in 2016.
  • Miami-Dade County disclosed that American Airlines would not be renewing its sponsorship of the house that Dwayne Wade built when their 20-year agreement expires in 2020.
  • US Bank allowed its deal with the venue formally known as Riverfront Arena in Cincinnati to expire after two decades as the naming rights sponsor.

Both American Airlines and US Bank will continue to maintain a presence at those venues. Neither building has announced a replacement for their long-time partners.

Howie Long-Short: The Inglewood project and the stadium at Mile High both have new naming rights partners, but the value of those two deals differs tremendously. Financial terms of the Broncos-Empower Retirement pact were disclosed. It’s reasonable to assume that the agreement looks more like the $150 million over 25 years that Sports Authority agreed to back in 2011, than the $600 million deal SoFi signed. It should be noted that SoFi’s agreement with the Rams and Chargers did not include the financing of the stadium – typically one of the ways a financial institution can recoup money a naming rights agreement.

The new venue in Los Angeles was able to set a new ceiling on the naming rights market because “there’s just not many buildings scheduling 16 consecutive regular-season NFL games.” Michael Neuman, managing partner, Scout Sports & Entertainment explained that “it’s an opportunity that might come across once each decade,” so the competition is steep. The last time it happened, MetLife set the bar agreeing to pay the Jets and Giants $20 million annually.

But it’s not just Rams and Chargers games that will bring attention to the venue and by proxy the online financier. The stadium is set to host the ’22 Super Bowl, the ’23 CFP National Championship Game, one to three ’26 World Cup game(s) and the opening and closing ceremonies of the ’28 Olympics. The value in those events is most certainly baked into the price tag.

Expect to hear about more of these high-profile naming rights agreements. Many of the stadium sponsorship deals struck in the 90s – when the boom began – were for 20 or 25 year terms and have expired or soon will. Priorities have shifted and leadership has changed at many companies over that time leading Neuman to believe that there may be “a wealth of opportunities for new brands to enter the space” on the near horizon. It is not clear why American Airlines elected to not to renew its deal in Miami. The company has 10 years remaining on a 30-year agreement with Dallas’ NBA arena.

The first generation of naming rights deals lacked sophistication. Brand marketers assumed that simply having their name and logo on a building would influence the purchase funnel. That thinking has changed over the last decade as consumers now have access to more information than ever before with connected mobile devices. It’s widely accepted within the marketing community that to cut through the clutter “there needs to be a deeper more amplified approach to activation – a year-round commitment to supporting the needs of the fans in that community.

Those that have made the effort have found “stadium naming rights partnerships are working.” Neuman says that the research indicates “naming rights partners have connected emotionally with fans on levels other sponsors have yet to achieve and are influencing purchasing decisions more so than any other relationships the team has.” For that reason, expect both the the Miami and Cincinnati arenas to find new sponsors willing to pay an annual increase over their expiring deals.

Fan Marino: It’s not clear who will replace American Airlines in Miami, but I’m certain it won’t be BangBros; the South Beach based pornography company that bid $10 million per year for the naming rights. Any chance of the Heat taking the bait likely came to an end when the club found out the company was proposing a change to the name of the venue from American Airlines Arena to The BangBros Center (The BBC).

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Early Entrants: Vol. XX – Endeavor Likely Going to Market Without On Location Experiences

Editor Note: ‘Early Entrants’ is a series of sports business ‘rumblings’ before the news breaks.

Endeavor

Endeavor Likely Going to Market Without On Location Experiences

Endeavor Group Holdings, Inc. will go public (NYSE: EDR) on Friday (9.27), but it appears as if the company will do so without having closed on On Location Experiences. Remember, back on August 2nd, the WSJ reported that the talent and media conglomerate was delaying their IPO in part because it was “closing in on” an acquisition of the premium experiential hospitality provider.

One source tied to an OLE stakeholder has since told JohnWallStreet that narrative was nothing more than “a folly” – taken by the media at face value as the asset would have “sexy’d up” the debt-laden company – and said that they haven’t heard any discussions that would indicate the transaction would be completed within the next 48 hours. In fact, there’s no guarantee that a deal ever gets done; it’s not as if the NFL & co. are looking to dump the widely profitable business and a failed IPO could impact Endeavor’s interest in and/or ability to fund the purchase.

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CBS Sports “Inching Towards” Deal with Licensed Gaming Operator

ESPN (Caesars), Turner Sports (Caesars) and Fox Sports (The Stars Group) have all announced high-profile sports betting partnerships over the last seven months. A pair of well-connected gaming industry sources tell JohnWallStreet that CBS Sports is “inching towards” a deal of their own with a licensed operator. While it remains unclear who the licensee is, the “broad gaming and daily fantasy partnership” is expected to be marketing based with the licensee advertising across all of CBS’ digital assets; the deal is also expected to contain a linear component.

“Overbearing Control Owners” Add to Struggles for Limited Partners in Sacramento, Memphis

Sports Business Journal published a story on Monday entitled “Hornets sell stake, but limited partners hard to find” that focused on the struggles associated with selling non-voting minority interests in NBA teams at current valuations and the proposed fund that would buy the shares from minority partners struggling to get out of their investments. Sacramento and Memphis were cited as examples of clubs with minority shareholders hurt by the inefficient, illiquid secondary market for non-controlling team interests; OKC is another club with a limited partner(s) unable to find a buyer.

Those in Sacramento and Memphis are also facing headwinds that do not plague L.P.s in other markets. Multiple sources familiar with the league’s available investment opportunities have suggested that those two teams’ “overbearing control owners” have made what is already a difficult task even more challenging.

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Comcast Adds DAZN In Effort to Slow Migration, Claw Back PPV Boxing Revenues

Comcast

Comcast has announced a distribution deal with DAZN that will make the app available to Xfinity X1 and Xfinity Flex subscribers through their set-top box. The sports-centric streaming outfit will join the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and Pluto within Comcast’s applications library.

Comcast is the first major U.S. distributor to partner with DAZN, but it won’t be the last. The OTT streaming service has launched an initiative entitled ‘DAZN for Operators’ designed to be a “turnkey opportunity for cable, satellite, mobile and internet providers to offer DAZN’s premium sports content [within their native environment].”

Howie Long-Short: DAZN has found “great success with platform distribution relationships” before. Namely with NTT Docomo in Japan (via mobile phone) and Sky Italia in Italy (via set-top boxes). EVP of North America, Joe Markowski, is confident that the ‘DAZN for Operators’ initiative will translate in the U.S. He says, “given the power that sport carries in maintaining and growing a subscription base, every operator is seeking out sports content.”

From the DAZN perspective this deal is about growing the number of screens with their application. Partnering with the number one cable provider in the U.S. puts DAZN in “tens of millions of households” and “opens up many more doors [in terms of other potential distribution partnerships].” It also creates a “tremendous marketing pipeline and provides the company with a platform to heavily promote key content” (think: GGG-Derevyanchenko, Ruiz-Joshua II).

Markowski acknowledges that DAZN wants to be a pure-play OTT service – DTC subs are the most valuable – but says that the company has come to the realization that as long as “entertainment is delivered through traditional linear cable” (which looks to be the foreseeable future) the business needs to deliver content within that ecosystem. Maximizing audience size has become DAZN’s number one priority.

As for Comcast, its deal with DAZN aligns with a broader strategy to increase integrations with internet content providers. The company believes it can slow subscriber migration to “connected TV platforms like Apple TV or Roku” if it can keep those viewers within its own environment. The last thing the company wants is a subscriber flipping off their TV set on a Saturday night to watch DAZN fights on their phone or laptop.

But this is as much of a revenue play for Comcast as it is a method of retaining subscribers. Remember, when DAZN inked Canelo, Joshua and GGG they took 3-6 lucrative fights/year – that otherwise would have been distributed through pay-per-view – away from cable operators. Comcast now has a chance to claw back some of those lost dollars. DAZN will pay for the right to use Comcast’s pipes and the telecom conglomerate is entitled to keep 15 percent to 30 percent of all DAZN subscriptions revenues generated through its platform (in line with the Apple app store).

Over the last 30 years it has been customary for distribution platforms to receive 50% of PPV boxing sales revenues. Canelo-GGG I did 1.3 million buys at $85. If distributors sold 100% of the buys (they didn’t, some were bought direct from the rights holder), they would have split more than $55 million. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that DAZN’s ability to court some of boxing’s biggest stars has cost PPV distributors north of of $100 million over the last 12 months.

Fan Marino: DAZN has a particularly strong fight card for the balance of 2019. In addition to GGG-Derevyanchenko (10.5) and Ruiz-Joshua II (12.7), Canelo Alvarez is fighting Sergey Kovalev on November 2nd. The company also has cards headlined by Oleksandr Usyk and Naoya Inoue and KSI-Logan Paul II in the 4th quarter. At $19.99/mo. (or $99.99 year) it’s a no brainer for the boxing fan. Comcast hopes to convey that message to the average sports fan.

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American Football Becoming a Global Game

International Series

The NFL is viewed as a domestic sports league, but the popularity of the league’s international series and an increase in the number of international buyers purchasing tickets to games stateside would indicate the league’s efforts to grow its fan base abroad are working. Back in late August, StubHub revealed that ticket demand for the 2019 international series (includes: 4 games in the U.K. and 1 in Mexico) rose +55% YoY, while international buyer sales are up +19% YoY.

Enthusiasm for American football is spreading across the globe. The league determined that the number of avid football fans in the U.K. rose +25% to 4 million in 2018, making it the 3rd most popular sport in the country. There’s serious momentum for the game in Germany with avid fan growth up between +15% and +20% YoY and league EVP, chief strategy and growth officer, Chris Halpin says that Brazil has become a “really strong consumption market” for the league. Australia, Mexico and Canada, where the NFL has become the number two sports league (behind the NHL), are also growth markets. If you’re looking for a common thread between all of these countries, they’ve all sent home-grown players to the NFL – players who then serve to advocate for the sport in their homeland both during their playing careers and in retirement.

Howie Long-Short: The avidity of the English football fan is clear. The two international series games scheduled at Tottenham’s new venue sold out in 45 minutes. It took a bit longer – roughly one hour – to sell the two games at Wembley; of course, the venue holds 18,000 more fans. Halpin says that the league is “about 10x over-subscribed” on ticket waiting lists for games in the country.

There is currently “considerable over-demand” for the NFL product in the U.K., what is not as clear is if that demand would hold should the league expand its international offering; earlier this year it was reported that the league was considering the idea of increasing the slate to eight games. Halpin acknowledges that selling single game tickets to four games is different than selling a ‘London season ticket’.

Did you know? Last season’s Eagles-Jaguars game at Wembley was the “most in-demand regular season game, in terms of secondary market demand, in NFL history.” A prominent Jaguar fan base – remember, the team has regularly played games in England since ‘13 – combined with the rare opportunity to see the defending Super Bowl champions live made the game a particularly tough ticket.

There is constant speculation about the possibility of placing a franchise permanently in London and the league acknowledges it is “always testing the [market’s] ability to [support] a franchise – [evaluating] endemic [interest], corporate support and most importantly fan energy and ticket demand.” But the U.K. isn’t the only international market that the league would consider. Halpin said that “Mexico City and Toronto [also] have the fan bases to support a team.

That doesn’t mean fans in those cities should start saving for personal seat licenses. Once the Rams, Chargers and Raiders move into new buildings next season, Halpin says the league feels as if it’s in “pretty good position with [its] 32 franchises.” There are no immediate threats for relocation and the league is highly unlikely to upset the balance that eight, four-team divisions provides.

Fan Marino: The NFL plays regular season games abroad, while international soccer leagues continue to serve the U.S. sports fan meaningless ‘friendly’ exhibitions. It wasn’t always that way. The league played pre-season games overseas throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s, but decided if it was going to make the trip, it might as well put its best product on the field; the sophisticated sports fans can tell the difference between elite-level competition and glorified practice. To build a following in a new market a pro sports league needs to make a commitment to the local fans. They need to know the league is serious if they’re going to invest their time, money and emotions in the games.

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Loss of Prominent QBs Will Not Impact NFL’s National Television Ratings

Ben Roethlisberger

Week 3 will be the first NFL weekend in 15 years without Drew Brees (hand, 6 weeks), Ben Roethlisberger (elbow, season-ending) or Eli Manning (benched) starting a game at quarterback. Andrew Luck (retired), Nick Foles (clavicle, 10 weeks) and Sam Darnold (mono, 4 weeks) will all be sidelined this week, as well; and Cam Newton’s (foot) status for Sunday is currently deemed questionable.

The rash of early season injuries to players at the league’s most prominent position would seemingly pose a threat to its television ratings – when viewership dropped by – 10% back in 2017, it was a common narrative within the media to blame the decline on injuries to star players (see: Luck, Rodgers and Watt) – but a closer look at the ’17 season indicates that the depressed fan interest was the result of many of the league’s most popular franchises experiencing down years; 6 (Dallas, Green Bay, Denver, Seattle, Chicago and Washington) of the 10 most popular clubs (based on website traffic) missed the post-season. Former CBS president Neal Pilson said that “over the course of a season, the loss of a given quarterback or even a couple of quarterbacks will not have a measurable impact on national ratings.”

Howie Long-Short: Players getting injured is part of the game. While it’s undeniable that star power commands media attention, Pilson explained that viewership behavior is really impacted by “the wins and losses of the league’s most popular teams, the match-ups and the quality of the games. Ratings are going to rise for a game that goes to overtime and decline for a game that ends 40-0, regardless of which quarterbacks are playing.

The NFL’s position as the most watched league – by a mile – all but guarantees that even if the most popular teams falter or a series of nationally televised blowouts were to occur and ratings were to fall off, broadcast rights fees will grow in the upcoming round of negotiations – which is why Pilson hesitates to compare ratings on a week-to-week or even a year-to-year basis. The former network executive says that “in terms of the value delivered, the NFL is an overwhelmingly dominant television property. Networks and sponsors all understand that there are no alterative options. There is no other league in the U.S. that can deliver the audience size and attractive demographics that the NFL can.” For perspective, the NFL pulled down 67.1 ratings points in week 1 (excluding NFL Network). The second ranked television property generated less than 20 ratings points.

NFL ratings are up +5% across the board through 2 weeks. Pilson believes that the increased media attention on off-season events (think: combine, draft, training camps) has positively impacted early-season fan engagement. The league’s renewed focus on “Sunday and Monday night matchups and its ability to move games between networks on Sunday afternoons, which has allowed networks to clear much larger coverage for key games,” have also helped to boost ratings. For reference purposes, in 2017, the NFL and NBC did not swap out a single SNF broadcast and margin of victory was 14+ points in 10 of the 18 games.

Fan Marino: Luck’s retirement just prior to the start of the season lowered expectations in Indianapolis, Newton’s injury has dampened spirits in New Orleans and Darnold’s diagnosis has let the air out of Jets fans’ sails, but the excitement level remains high in New Orleans, Jacksonville and with the New York Giants as Teddy Bridgewater, Gardner Minshew and Daniel Jones are next in line. On a national level, the performance of those clubs moving forward is relatively inconsequential; none are top 5 draws.

The same can’t be said about Pittsburgh. While Steeler’s fans are hopeful Mason Rudolph is the heir-apparent to Roethlisberger, should he struggle it could impact league ratings. Pilson said “Pittsburgh is the one team that is both important to the NFL and could experience a decline in national attention if they start losing.

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WWE Partners with Endeavor Audio, Embraces Audio as a Medium

Endeavor-Audio

Back in late August, Endeavor Audio and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) announced a partnership that will result in the launch of the WWE Podcast Network. The superstar-focused series will be the wrestling promotion’s first foray into audio programming, though a pair of WWE stars – The Bella Twins – maintain their own pre-existing relationship with audio-first entertainment studio. It won’t be the first time the two companies have worked together. Endeavor Streaming now powers the back-end of the WWE Network platform.

Howie Long-Short: Endeavor Audio creates, produces, develops, markets, monetizes and distributes podcasts, predominantly within the entertainment genre. Sports is a category the company wants to pursue, so partnering with the leader in “sports-entertainment” seems logical. As for WWE, they’re simply the latest sports-centric content producer to embrace digital audio as a medium – following ESPN, The Tennis Channel and The Ringer. While Vince McMahon’s promotion likely could have ventured into the space alone, the company lacks the audio expertise needed to create a truly successful podcast network.

Endeavor sees podcasting “as a way to drive new audiences, to increase revenues and to develop I.P.;” it also happens to be cheaper and faster to produce a podcast than it is to churn out video content. Endeavor audio head of marketing Lisa LaCour cited ‘The Bellas‘ as an example of a podcast that could be monetized beyond “the spots and dots of audio. The girls have a very large rabid fan base, so putting the show on tour, developing merchandise and exploring television and film opportunities are all ways to potentially monetize the I.P.

Podcasting ad revenues are currently just a small fraction of what brands spend on television spots. That’s because “[podcast] listener numbers are not yet comparable to the television viewing audience” and advertiser interest to date has been limited to direct response businesses (like: Casper and ZipRecruiter). LaCour says, “a good podcast might do 500,000 downloads; the standard number [for a successful podcast] is low, it’s probably closer to 150,000 downloads.” Recent interest from “brand marketers” may be a sign that podcasting revenues will soon begin to close the gap.

Analytics – or a lack thereof – is another headwind in the face of the podcasting business. Beyond downloads, there’s currently little insight that can be gained and conveyed to advertisers. Once the consumer downloads the podcast to their phone, there’s no way to tell if the audio was consumed. Apple’s podcast analytics do show how much of each episode was played across all Apple devices.

If you’re looking for some of the advantages that podcasting has over television, start with what LaCour deems “a very engaged consumer. When television goes to commercial, viewers go to the bathroom. Podcast listeners remain tuned in to what is going on.” Podcasting also gives advertisers the ability to reach a younger demographic with +/- 50% of millennials and Gen-Zs now listening to on-demand audio content.

Speaking of Endeavor, according an SEC filing, the company will raise up to $712 million at a valuation between $7.9 billion and $8.3 billion. More to come on the Endeavor IPO later this week.

Fan Marino: WWE podcasts are going to be news and history centric, but LaCour believes there is also an opportunity for the medium to provide WWE fans with “world extension. When the television show ends, we can finish the world in audio. Because we’re working with the people driving the storylines, we hope to be able to push those boundaries.

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Early Entrants: Vol. XIX – Fanatics Expresses Interest in StubHub, May Be Too Late

Editor Note: ‘Early Entrants’ is a series of sports business ‘rumblings’ before the news breaks.

Fanatics

Fanatics Expresses Interest in StubHub, May Be Too Late

Vivid Seats, KKR and Booking.com have all been reported to be sniffing around a potential StubHub acquisition, but one industry insider tells JohnWallStreet that it appears as if Fanatics “just threw their hat into the ring”, too. Michael Rubin’s e-commerce giant presumably sees an opportunity to leverage the wealth of consumer data that the secondary ticketing marketplace controls. Fanatics’ bid is said to be backed by Silver Lake Partners, who is motivated to “keep [StubHub] away from [competitor] KKR.” Fanatics may have missed the boat, though. Our source believes Vivid Seats is “close to a deal.

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NFL Ad Pricing Up in 2019 – Just Not to Level Touted During Upfront

NFL ad pricing has rebounded this season – just not to the level touted during 2019-2020 upfront. AdAge reported that “the average unit cost of a 30-second in-game spot was up between 5 percent and 10 percent compared to the year-ago bazaar”, but the director of media at one prominent buy-side agency suggests the real number is between “three percent and five percent.” He explained that the “networks are bullish during upfronts, but as negotiations go on [brands] get to where they need to be.

Reason for the increase? Brands have realized there’s simply no place else to capture an audience of 25 million people. The influx of non-traditional advertisers buying primetime in-game spots (think: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu) and a tempered political climate (as it relates to player protests) have also helped to change the narrative just one year after the networks experienced steep declines.

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Expect NFLN to Retain Exclusive Live Rights

In week 1, Thursday Night Football on NBC averaged over 22 million viewers. In week 2, NFL Network (NFLN) had the exclusive broadcast rights to TNF and viewership declined -70% to an average of 6.6 million fans. The NFL’s media strategy is predicated on reach and the league’s cable channel is in just 41 million homes (Nielsen counted 119.9 million  for the ’18-’19 season), so it’s worth wondering how NFL Network fits into the upcoming round of media rights negotiations.

EVP of media Brian Rolapp says NFLN will continue to play a prominent role come ’23 and expects that the network will retain exclusive live broadcast rights. “The NFL Network is very important to [the NFL] for a lot of reasons. We still believe the NFL fan is somewhat underserved and NFL Network helps [us to] fill [that] need. NFL Network and the RedZone channel are great properties, but also all of our digital content is produced out of that infrastructure and [the network is] really valuable to us in [terms of] how we engage our fans. The [exclusive] games are an important part of [the NFLN content strategy], so I don’t really see that changing.” Thursday night’s Tennessee – Jacksonville game (9.19) will again be exclusive to NFLN.

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MLB Moves to New CMS, NHL May Not Be Far Behind

Major League Baseball has announced that Deltatre’s Content Management System, which powers 25 of the largest sports leagues in the world (including the NFL), is now hosting their +/- 300 digital destinations; MLB had an in-house tool, but the CMS went over to Disney as part of the BAMTech sale in 2017. The decision to settle on Deltatre came after a global search and is not surprising with WWE, PGA TOUR having recently made similar moves. It’s the ability to customize and develop on top of a platform that reached 750 million unique visitors in ’18, that makes ‘Forge’ particularly attractive to MLB.

The NHL is the last of the major leagues (save MLB.tv) still running on BAMTech with the Disney entity focused on building out its own well-publicized streaming services. Insiders tell JohnWallStreet that the league will likely make a move when their current rights deal expires in 2021-22 and speculation already exists that the company will look to follow MLB’s lead.

NLL Looking to Raise Profile Through Digital Storytelling    

The National Lacrosse League made headlines in late August when it named NHL executive Jessica Berman as the league’s deputy commissioner. This week the NLL will take another positive step forward when it hosts a business summit for its players. The event, which will take place in Philadelphia on Wednesday (the day after the 2019 NLL Entry Draft), is designed to educate players on best business practices and social media guidelines. The hope is that the digital-first league can continue to raise its profile with captivating storytelling and the support of a media partner (Turner) that has committed to creating more print and video (see: highlights) content around the NLL.

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Real-Time Personalized Virtual Training Fills Hole in Youth Sports Coaching Pipeline

Super Soccer Stars

Super Soccer Stars has announced a partnership with the digital mentoring and coaching platform Famer. Together they will bring real-time personalized virtual training to youth sports for the first time. Super Soccer Stars CEO Adam Geisler says that mobile curriculums – designed to supplement live classes – fill a need in the “coaching pipeline” and will help young athletes to reach their full potential. Geisler acknowledges you can never replicate the “touch, feel and impact of a coach physically being there and developing that camaraderie with a child, [but if] kids have the tools to practice skills and drills on their own or with a parent there will be a compounding effect on long-term participation rates.” It’s worth mentioning that while high school sports participation declined for the first time in 30 years this past academic year, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported that both boys and girls soccer added participants; participation in the sport is up +9% since ’12.

Howie Long-Short: Super Soccer Stars is geared toward young children. While the program goes up to age 12, “the sweet spot is ages 1-7”; there are 100,000 kids in that age group participating in classes nationwide. Because of how young the participants are it’s worth wondering if it’s reasonable to expect virtual lessons to resonate. Famer CEO Rich Abend says that conceptually it’s no different than the technological advancements occurring in education. “Everything is now connected between the teacher and parent, so that mom and dad are clear as to what the child is working on and what they can do to help advance those skills – [virtual training] is meant to be an extension of the classroom. Technology helps to close the communication loop.

The meteoric growth in ‘screen time’ is among the factors contributing to the decline in youth sports participation. Geisler says, “if you can’t beat em, train em; if kids today are going to be consuming media through digital devices, then let’s provide them with media [that can be used in a productive manner].

Supplementing practice with virtual training will enhance an athlete’s skill-set, but Abend says, “when you’re talking about early education it’s really about [working on] executive functioning – teaching kids how to prepare better.” The goal of the digital curriculum is to get kids to take 30 minutes “of the time they’re wasting on devices each day and to use it to make themselves accountable to the organization.

Coaches have been building training regimens for athletes for decades. What makes this partnership innovative is that the video component will “utilize coaches that the parents trust and the kids follow.” Geisler says, “there’s a difference between content and content where the viewer feels a connection.” Peloton has proven that who is teaching the class matters.

Fan Marino: A flurry of deals has had Super Soccer Stars in the news frequently of late. In addition to their partnership with Famer, the nationwide soccer organization announced it will serve as the “Official One-to-Six-Year-Old Youth Soccer Program of the Philadelphia Union” and open its first interactive retail store at the Oxford Valley Mall on 9.20. Parents will be able to drop off kids ages 1-7, giving their tykes a place to “get moving and active” while they shop. The company has plans to expand the concept nationwide.

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