10 to Watch the Week of 09/05/17

If anyone out there still doesn’t think that sports is all about passion and joy, you weren’t paying attention this Labor Day weekend.

We saw thrilling come-from-behind wins in college football (UCLA overcoming a 34 point deficit to stun Texas A&M; #25 Tennessee defeating home town Georgia Tech in double overtime after a second half two touchdown deficit) and tennis (Argentina’s ailing Juan Martin del Potro, down two sets and two match points to Austrian Dominic Thiem and rallying to win in five sets, buoyed by an international chorus of singing fans; Madison Keys digging deep in the 3rd set to put four American women in the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the first time since 2002). More importantly, we saw sports responding in a huge way to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, via tens of millions of dollars in team, league, and individual pledges. While sports alone can’t rebuild homes or eliminate the very real natural and political threats to our world, it remains a constant reminder of the power of the human spirit, and the collective might of teamwork and cooperation.

The LPGA makes a return to the Hoosier State.

The LPGA travels from Portland, Oregon, to the capital city of Indiana this week as a world-class field of 144 professionals from 26 different countries descends on Brickyard Crossing Golf Club for the inaugural Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim. This is the Tour’s first stop in Indiana since the ninth Solheim Cup in 2005, where the U.S. captured the first of three consecutive victories, the only time that has been accomplished in Solheim Cup history. The IWiT Championship will be the LPGA’s final domestic event until the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., in November. It is also the last event before the Tour travels to France for the fifth and final major championship of the season, The Evian Championship. The 2017 LPGA schedule includes the addition of four new tournaments and an increase of $4.35 million in total official prize money. More to the point in Indianapolis, the IWiT Championship offers opportunity, in the form of a week’s worth of educational events, to the thousands of women attending who are looking for new or expanded careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
Despite Hurricane Harvey not reaching Dallas, the Cowboys-Texans game in Arlington was cancelled to allow the Texans to “return to their families in Houston.”

The storm has been so devastating in Houston thus far that football became an afterthought for the Texans. Any one of the 40,000 people who initially purchased a game ticket is eligible for a refund, or they can choose to donate the funds to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The game was the fourth and final preseason scrimmage for the Texans, so the team felt that missing the last game would not adversely affect their season-long performance. The move drew much praise from media across the country, as many noted this was the “right decision.” The Texans are scheduled to open the regular season against the Jacksonville Jaguars; they made it clear that “not only do they want to play at NRG Stadium on September 10 if at all possible, but they believe it’s important for the city that they play at home.” At present, it’s looking good for the Texans and their fans to start their season at home.

 

According to SwingbySwing.com, one industry that has taken a significant regional toll from Hurricane Harvey is golf.

Harvey has devastated South Texas, causing a humanitarian disaster along with the storm surge while causing businesses to shut down due to flooding. Since golf courses are all outdoors and cannot really be protected from the elements, many regional courses have flooded completely, with water expected to sit for days after the rain stopped. “I just can’t even start imagining how much damage there will be,” said Steve Timms, President and CEO of the Houston Golf Association. “Obviously, it’ll be significant. One thing we do is that greens and tees are built up out of the 100-year floodplain to protect them. But this is not a 100-year event. It’s more like a 500-year event.” The flooding is so bad in some areas that tall trees look more like bushes since only their top leaves stick out above the water. At the Golf Club of Houston, home to the Shell Houston Open and the University of Houston golf teams, collegiate coaches used kayaks to rescue their teams’ expensive electronic training equipment from the course, which was under close to nine feet of flood water.

 

Just over a year ago, Los Angeles pulled out all stops to lure an NFL team back to Southern California. Flash forward to today and America’s second-biggest city has two teams.

But neither has had a warm welcoming from the Los Angeles fan base. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the “Fight for L.A.” between the Rams and Chargers is not what many expected it to be, since the Chargers could not even attract enough fans to fill the 27,000-seat StubHub Center for preseason games. When the Chargers suited up for a preseason game against their crosstown foes at the Coliseum, they “ran onto the field to mostly boos in a mostly empty” stadium. Both teams have low expectations for the upcoming season, which means attendance across the board should be poor. It is “fairly clear that the Rams’ honeymoon is over – and the Chargers might never get one.” While wins will add fans, a huge subset of Los Angeles’ NFL fans still have hearts that belong to the Raiders, soon to relocate to a Las Vegas playground a mere four hours’ drive from L.A.

Cleveland Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert has pulled the plug on a planned $140 million renovation project for Quicken Loans Arena.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Gilbert made the decision following months of battling over financing for the project. The renovations were designed to keep the 22-year-old arena competitive with other modern facilities around the NBA, as opposed to building a new arena from scratch as other franchises have elected to do. The plan would have created more bars, restaurants, and public gathering spaces. Community groups “opposed spending tax money on the upgrades.” With rising construction costs being one of the main reasons cited by Cleveland City Council Clerk Pat Britt, the Council accepted referendum petitions “submitted by a coalition that opposes Cleveland’s use of tax dollars for the upgrades.” Gilbert hoped that these renovations would ultimately help the Cavs land the 2020 or 2021 NBA All-Star Game. For now, that goal seems about as promising as a half-court shot at the buzzer.

 

The Oakland Raiders are still years away from permanently moving to Las Vegas, but their presence is starting to spread east into Nevada.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, Legends Hospitality is helping pave the way for a successful transition into Southern Nevada for the franchise. The hospitality group recently posted an ad for a suite sales manager for the Las Vegas Raiders via the company’s website. The involvement of Legends “in the universe of the Raiders became known officially in a July 13 presentation to the Las Vegas Stadium Authority board by Icon Venue Group.” In that presentation, Legends was listed solely as a sales and marketing partner, without any other details being given at the time. Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones own a large stake in Legends; Jones was also a big supporter of Raiders Owner Mark Davis in his push to move the team the Las Vegas.

 

Playing in Jacksonville presents a unique twist for NFLers deciding whether or not to protest the National Anthem.

According to the Florida Times-Union, Jaguars players are “reluctant to stage a protest by sitting or raising a fist” during the anthem because of the fan base’s heavy military presence. “In military towns, you have to find a way to take a stance in your own way, speak for what you believe in,” said Jaguars Safety Peyton Thompson. “But you definitely don’t want to offend anybody on either side.” In this situation, “either side” refers to those speaking out against social injustice on one end, while the other comprises military supporters. Jags players have largely remained out of the headlines for any defiant actions during the National Anthem as a direct result of this situation, while other players around the league seem to be following the opposite trend when it comes to protesting.

 

MLB and the China Baseball Association have formally extended their partnership with the intent to spread baseball across “the world’s most populous country.”

According to Xinhua, the two sides first agreed to a partnership back in 2001, calling this a “partnership that benefits Major League Baseball…and sports in China as well.” MLB is trying to win over just a fraction of the 1.3 billion Chinese citizens, which could equate to tens of millions of new fans. To put that number in perspective, the population of the United States is a mere 323 million. “I have said many times that baseball is perfectly suited for China,” commented MLB Vice President for Asia-Pacific James Small. “And there are 1.3 billion people in China who are baseball fans, they just don’t know it yet.” A key part of the new partnership is utilizing MLB’s training expertise to grow and build a strong Chinese national team.

 

San Diego’s unnamed NLL expansion franchise has been bought by Alibaba Executive Vice Chair Joe Tsai.

According to Bloomberg News, Tsai reportedly paid $5 million for the club, which many take to be the “precursor” to other American sports investments. NLL CMO Ashley Dabb declined to comment on the terms of the purchase when asked about them. Tsai recently “expressed an interest” in buying a stake in the Brooklyn Nets. The NLL is a budding league, with teams looking to build lacrosse-specific stadiums and plant expansion teams across the country. The average attendance has surpassed 10,000, which is “up 12% from the previous year.” Sources close to Tsai and the deal noted that the new owner may want to build a new lacrosse arena in San Diego’s East Village neighborhood. Tsai “joins Rams Owner Stan Kroenke as an NLL owner and it is likely NBA owners will become NLL franchisees in the coming years.” With the Chargers leaving town, look for many other pro sports entities to target San Diego as a market filled with restless sports fans who have disposable income to spare.

 

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