10 to Watch Week of 09/13/17

The 2017 NFL season is officially underway.

This past offseason was full of drama, excitement, and big names making big headlines. The Atlanta Falcons have a new stadium that still has problems with its roof, Tom Brady and his Patriots are favorites to win it all again, and Colin Kaepernick remains a free agent. With that, the NFL is kicking off the new season with a full head of steam. According to NFL Marketability Research conducted by E-Poll Market Research, the NFL brand still has the highest awareness of all professional sports, while remaining the “most entertaining” and “better than competitors.” The New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, and Arizona Cardinals came out as the “most appealing” NFL franchises, while the two Los Angeles clubs – the Rams and Chargers – came in the bottom two slots. Individually, Larry Fitzgerald is the most appealing player in the league and Brady has the highest awareness among his peers. The NFL remains the gold standard among U.S. pro sports leagues, and actions by many, many NFL players and other athletes throughout the traumas of Hurricane Harvey and Irma – such as the Texans’ J.J. Watt raising over $30 million for Harvey relief – remind us that while every athlete can’t win an MVP award or stand atop an Olympic podium, true winners have hearts of gold.
After failing on a bid to buy the Houston Rockets back in 1993, Landry’s owner, CEO and billionaire Tilman Fertitta finally got what he wanted.

According to ESPN.com, Fertitta has reached a deal with current team owner Les Alexander to buy the franchise for a record price of $2.2 billion. If the deal goes through, it would “eclipse the record” of $2 billion that Los Angeles Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer paid in 2014. The NBA Board of Governors will have to approve Fertitta as the next owner of the team before he officially takes control. The Houston-based billionaire has worked in sports before, as he was one of the original investors in the Texans. In 1993, Fertitta offered $81 million to buy the Rockets, but lost out to Alexander, who bought the team for $85 million. Just under 25 years later, Alexander is set to sell the team for over 27-times the price he bought it for…talk about a Return on Investment.

 

Little Caesars Arena is finally open.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the new home of the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons had its ribbon cut after architectural firm HOK managed to pull off a major “balancing act – creating a new mega-structure huge in its proportions that nonetheless contributes to the surrounding street life…” To build the arena and appropriately fit it into the surrounding community, the playing surface was placed about 40 feet below street level. In doing so, the profile of the arena is lower as to not “loom over its surroundings.” The deconstructed design puts all of the Red Wings’ offices, retail stores, and the box office outside the arena itself. HOK is being praised for its efforts to integrate the facility into the neighborhood in a non-dominating way. The use of varying types of brick and window treatments make the outside structure look like “a row of traditional urban buildings not unlike many others that line Woodward Avenue.” In economically challenged Detroit, a new arena to be shared by two of the city’s pro sports franchises is a welcome addition, providing economic impact as well as boosting community pride.

 

The joint bid from the United States, Mexico, and Canada for the 2026 World Cup should win the hosting rights, unless a “crazy action” by President Donald Trump and his administration prevents it from doing so.

According to SportsBusiness Journal, those are the paraphrased words of Relevant Sports Chair Charlie Stillitano, whose group runs the popular International Champions Cup. The joint North American bid still sits as a “firm favorite” to win over a last-minute bid submission from Morocco when a decision is announced next June. “The only thing that could possibly derail (the bid) is some crazy action on the part of our government, but I can’t even imagine that,” said Stillitano. “It’s ours to lose. I can’t imagine we won’t have the World Cup.” With an expanded field of 48 teams set to compete in the 2026 World Cup, the host of the tournament will be set to “bring in a lot of money.” With stadiums in Houston and Florida among the proposed sites to host World Cup matches, let’s hope that those traumatized communities will be able to use the ensuing years to rebuild from 2017’s terrible storms and widespread destruction.

The Golden State Warriors may bring the Bay Area millions of dollars in positive economic impact, but that does not mean they are exempt from paying their bills.

According to the East Bay Times, the reigning NBA champions “have not paid a cent” for their 2017 NBA Championship festivities in Oakland following their victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. In total, the team owes up to $816,000. The Warriors are currently questioning “how the parade bill tripled in cost from an early estimate and wants to sort out the bill with the city.” Immediately after the parade, Warriors Vice President/Communications Raymond Ridder said that the team “planned to shell out” $4 million to cover all the costs, but that has not happened yet. Oakland officials are also asking the team to pay $244,000 for the cost of their 2015 NBA Championship parade. The city sent a $1 million bill to the team on July 19, with a due date of August 18, but ‘no money has changed hands.” While the city of Oakland owes the team an explanation, the Warriors have an obligation to crack open their well-stuffed vaults and pay for their fair share of the parade, if not more.

The WNBA continues to rise, with 2017 attendance numbers coming as the league’s highest in years.

According to SportsBusiness Journal, the average attendance marker of 7,713 fans is the league’s best since the 2011 season, up 0.8% overall from last year. Tickets being bought of StubHub.com were up over last year as well. While this number is positive for the league as a whole, individual teams reported mixed results – some posted double-digit growth while other experienced double digit drop-offs in attendance percentage. Leading the way in the WNBA was the L.A. Sparks, with an average of 11,350 fans per game at the Staples Center, “up a league-best 17.8% from last season and the team’s highest mark since 2002.” The other teams that posted double-digit growth were the Connecticut Sun, Minnesota Lynx – who played home games at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul amidst Target Center Renovations – and the Washington Mystics. Conversely, the Indiana Fever (-12.1%), Atlanta Dream (-20.7%), and Dallas Wings (-26.9%) all experience double-digit falloffs. Athlete personalities rule pro sports, and the WNBA’s next task should be doing more to promote the personal brands of its most marketable stars – like Candace Parker, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Elena Delle Donne.

 The Miami Marlins have a new ownership group, and with that might come a significant cut to the team’s payroll.

According to the Miami Herald, a potential investor who was “specifically briefed” by the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter ownership group noted that they spoke about drastically trimming the payroll, with or without slugger Giancarlo Stanton on the roster. Stanton is due between $25 million and $32 million for each of the next 10 seasons, which is a primary reason that the team’s payroll currently sits at $115 million. If Stanton were to remain with the Marlins, the ownership group would aim to cut the payroll to around $80-85 million, but potentially to as low as $55 million if he is traded. Whether those numbers have “changed since the investor was briefed is unclear, because those conversations happened before the Marlins surged back into wild card contention in recent weeks.” The team is on pace to lose a whopping $50 million this year – even with deeper-pocketed new owners, they may not be able to afford to keep Stanton.

In a move to address the “hidden epidemic” of addiction to gambling in the United Kingdom, the Labour Party is pushing for English soccer clubs to stop signing gambling companies as jersey sponsors.

According to the London Guardian, the proposed policy is “understood to be the first of a series of proposals to curb the power of gambling firms…” Gambling companies have had an increasingly large presence on the front of English Premier League jerseys, with Bournemouth, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Everton, Newcastle United, Stoke City, Swansea City, Watford, and West Ham all wearing betting firms on the front of their jerseys. These nine clubs represent almost half of the 20 clubs that comprise the EPL, showing a drastic shift in the demographic of kit sponsors from what it used to be. Even though many of the betting firms are not from the United Kingdom, their names “are seen on TVs every weekend, during the segments of football that break up the adverts for British bookmakers.” The betting firm genie has been out of the bottle for a long time, and she continues to grow. Don’t look for her to jump back in unless some major match-setting scandal besets the league.

As reported by EverFi, Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Alex Smith used a new type of helmet in the NFL season opener last Thursday night.

 Smith wore Vicis Zero1 helmet, which ranked first out of 33 helmets tested by the NFL and NFL Players’ Association this past year. According to CNBC, after testing the helmet in both training camp and the preseason, Smith was so impressed he not only decided to wear the helmet, he also became an initial investor in the Vicis. When asked about what benefits he sees coming from the new and improved line of helmets, Smith said, “Obviously, I’ve had a little history with head stuff, and for the first time, there seemed to be new technology in the helmet. For me, it was just finally this big science push. You actually had real scientists developing this and thinking about it.” If Vicis is successful in not only convincing NFL players to use their new helmets, but actually stopping concussions, the future of the NFL could be changed. The fear of sustaining concussions and CTE through football is very real, and youth football player numbers have decreased as a result. With a more proven means of preventing head injuries, the NFL could ensure that their sport survives in the coming years.

Following an increasingly popular trend, the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings have become the most recent professional sports franchise to transition to paperless tickets.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Kings are making this move for the upcoming 2017-2018 season, though paper tickets will still be available for fans at a $100 fee during the regular season and at a $40 fee during the playoffs. Kings Vice President/Communications and Broadcasting Mike Altieri noted that the franchise pushed for paperless tickets last season, but the team’s efforts were confounded by the fact that they produced commemorative paper tickets for the teams 50th anniversary year. Some season-ticket holders “renewed for this season with the paper option thinking it would be a special, non-generic ticket and were disappointed.” Altieri added that season-ticket holders get a “membership card with their seat account data and a team store discount.” For many sports fans, a trip to a high profile pro game is not a regular occurrence but a bucket list check box. It’s important to keep providing them with tangible, physical mementos of their experience.

 

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