1. The new MLS season is upon us, having kicked off with a full slate of games this past weekend. Entering its 23rd season, MLS is growing at an explosive rate, with record-breaking attendance and consumption and new expansion teams in Atlanta, Minnesota, and Los Angeles. According to the LA Times, MLS expansion club LAFC made its debut against the Seattle Sounders and is planning for a successful 2018 campaign on and off the pitch. From a merchandise standpoint, LAFC is hoping that its new white, gold, and black jerseys will “fly off the shelves” like Atlanta United FC’s did last year in their inaugural MLS season. “After watching what happened in Atlanta, we all expect that LAFC is on course to do the same thing,” said MLS Vice President of Licensing Mike Walker. The new club waited until late January to sign its first official kit sponsor when it inked a deal with YouTubeTV. The three-year deal is valued at $18 million. The challenge moving forward for the league is keeping abreast of all its moving business parts as successfully as it has managed to do with fewer franchises in the past.
2. As MLS kicks off its 2018 season, the league also detailed plans for the eMLS Cup, the association’s first major foray into esports. According to a Cynopsis interview with MLS marketing executive James Ruth, MLS’s push is two-fold. “Our first aim is to create a platform that speaks to our significant existing fan base of gamers. The other is to get MLS in front of a legion of gamers who are touching our sport through FIFA 18. That includes gamers here in the U.S. and Canada and around the world since FIFA is one of the world’s most popular games,” Ruth said. MLS clubs can hold open tournaments, inviting local gamers to compete to play for the club in eMLS, or select an established gamer to represent them. The league is finalizing what the eMLS partner landscape is going to look like for its 23 blue chip brands who partner, and looks forward to the first major eMLS event, the inaugural eMLS Cup at PAX East April 5 – 8.
3. Selection Sunday and March Madness are right around the corner, but there has already been a great deal of drama across college basketball these past few weeks. According to Yahoo Sports, amid the FBI’s investigation into college basketball and the wiretap allegations against Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott is calling for help from NBA players. “The most influential voices have the opportunity to persuade the NBA and the NBA Players Association that they ought to let high school players go to the NBA if they are ready,” said Scott. “I think that’s one of the key pillars to the solution space here.” One of the main pain points under discussion is the process of recruiting high school athletes. Scott is proposing that the NCAA requires a three-year minimum, much like what is prevalent in college football and baseball, eliminating the “one-and-done” rule that has caused so many problems for the NCAA. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant had little trouble transitioning directly to the NBA from high school, and reside among the all-time greats. It’s not far-fetched to think that even less talented players could immediately make their mark on the NBA straight from high school.
4. College basketball is rightfully assuming the spotlight as our calendars have turned to March. With conference tournaments well underway at this point and NCAA tournament bids looking to be punched, Selection Sunday is slated for March 11 and early round play tournament will begin days later with play-in games. This year’s Final Four will be held in San Antonio, Texas, on March 31 and the National Championship will take place two days later on April 2. According to the NCAA.com, the NCAA is planning to launch “Next Generation Sunday” to celebrate the future of college basketball with out-of-town visitors and attendees. Next Generation Sunday is meant to target high school athletes and prospects, providing them with “educational, life skills and competitive programming as part of the Final Four experience.” The decision to roll out this program is coming at a critical time for the NCAA amid the FBI investigation and scandal.
5. EVERFI partners with Charles Barkley on educational content. Washington, DC-based EVERFI, which operates digital education programs for the NFL, NHL, and MLB, will work with TNT analyst Charles Barkley on an African-American history initiative available at no cost to high school students in Alabama and Mississippi. EVERFI will deliver a curriculum including short-form documentaries from Round Mound Media, Barkley’s production company. Barkley, who is from rural Alabama, plans to produce content on topics specific to his home region, which was at the center of the Civil Rights movement. “I was born and raised in rural Alabama at the dawn of the Civil Rights era, and I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to American heroes like Medgar Evers, John Lewis, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Barkley said. “Every child in my home state should have the keys to knowledge of their history so they can achieve great things in their own lives. This initiative helps accomplish that.” The innovative course will engage tens of thousands of students in the Mississippi Delta region, which includes Barkley’s hometown of Leeds, Alabama, all at no cost to students, their schools, or school districts.
6. The NFL is busy activating behind its first two big events leading to the 2018 season: the just-completed Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and the NFL Draft in Dallas (April 26-28). While the Combine is highly anticipated by NFL fans, they are not allowed into Lucas Oil Stadium to watch. To accommodate them, the NFL last year tested the NFL Combine Experience, and this year ramped it up even further in the Indiana Convention Center March 1-4. According to MediaPost, people attending the Combine Experience had “the opportunity to watch (on-screen) skills and drills from inside [the stadium].” The NFL also set up stations for fans to try many of the workouts that players are undergoing in the stadium. In 2017, a record 250,000 fans attended the NFL Draft in Philadelphia, as well as 1,800-plus accredited media. According to the NFL, the multi-day 2017 Draft “generated more than $94 million in economic impact for the city, surpassing initial projections and supporting an estimated 30,000 local jobs.” The Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium holds more than 100,000, so the league is expecting a new Draft attendance record, and is activating with a mass audience in mind.
7. In the wake of a highly successful NHL Stadium Series event at Annapolis, Oak View Group “opened a waiting list” for season-ticket deposits for a potential Seattle NHL team Saturday morning after “receiving 33,000 total deposits” since the ticket drive began Thursday morning, prompting OVG to shut it down at 5:00pm PT Friday. OVG CEO Tim Leiweke said that those making deposits will “receive a ‘priority number’ by next week in the order in which they paid their reservation fees.” OVG then “expects to have a computerized seating configuration of KeyArena worked out by April and will begin contacting people by May about seat location and pricing.” Leiweke said that his next priority is “hiring a team president and getting expansion approval for Seattle on to the agenda” of the NHL BOG meeting in June (SEATTLETIMES.com, 3/3). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said of the Seattle group, “They have begun what looks like an amazing expression of interest. Obviously, that’s one of the many factors that we have to evaluate as we go through the expansion process.” But he added of Seattle’s standing in the expansion process, “There are some boxes we have to evaluate and check before the board gets anywhere close to having to make a decision” (CALGARY HERALD, 3/3). If there was ever any “lingering doubt about Seattle as a viable expansion destination, it was mostly put to rest Thursday” by the ticket drive’s strong start.
8. RSE Ventures President and CEO Matt Higgins has promised five soccer matches at Hard Rock Stadium in 2018, “including one involving ‘one of the top teams in the world.” According to the Miami Herald, the Brazilian men’s national soccer team, which has “made Hard Rock its second home, will almost certainly be back this summer.” The ATP/WTA Miami Open also “will remain in South Florida,” moving to Hard Rock Stadium from Key Biscayne in 2019. The Drone Racing League also races “through Hard Rock Stadium.” RSE is “rumored to be involved in efforts” to bring F1 to South Florida, as officials were in town in November “scouting locations.” It would “make sense” that RSE and co-Founder Stephen Ross “have interest, since they tried to buy the league just three years ago.” Ross said, “When we created RSE Ventures, one of our main goals was to drive economic value and improve the economy in South Florida through bringing international events to Miami…Matt and I want to continue to position Miami as a global entertainment destination in the most aspirational city in the world with each new event.” Ross, Higgins, and RSE have made excellent progress toward Ross’ stated goal of turning my hometown of Miami into a hotbed of sports and corporate innovation.
9. The USGA has announced that the 18-hole Monday playoff for the U.S. Open and all USGA Open Championships will be replaced with a much more time-friendly alternative. Beginning this year, the USGA will hold a two-hole aggregate playoff in the event of a tie after 72 holes of stroke play. If the players are still tied, they’ll continue in a sudden-death format. The playoff format will be implemented across all four of the USGA’s Open championships. “We know how important it is for everyone in the golf world to see play conclude on the Sunday of a major championship,” said USGA executive director Mike Davis. “After receiving input from a variety of constituents, including players, fans, volunteers, officials and our broadcast partners, it clearly came across as something that everyone valued and would benefit from.” There hasn’t been an 18-hole playoff in the U.S. Open since Tiger Woods’ stirring victory in 2008. The Masters has a sudden-death playoff format to determine its champion, while the PGA Championship and The Open use a three- and four-hole aggregate playoff, respectively. It’s high time this change was made, as the Monday playoff has long been untenable to the players, fans, hosts, and advertisers alike.
10. LeBron James’ foundation in Akron, Ohio is now $224,023 richer thanks to a recent donation. The DAP Championship — Cleveland’s Tour Finals event that showcases future PGA talent – raised the funds at its Labor Day tournament held at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood. This is not the first time the foundation has benefited from the annual tournament, with some $447,000 donated over the last two years. Parent company of Maryland-based DAP, which manufactures caulk and related products, is the Medina County-based RPM International. “After partnering with the LeBron James Family Foundation in anticipation of the DAP Championship, I was humbled by the foundation’s mission and goals,” said Ron Rice, president and chief operating officer of RPM, in a statement. “We are honored to support the foundation and the Fall 2018 opening of the I Promise School for the public school students in Akron.” The foundation helps select school kids and their families in James’ hometown of Akron through programs to keep the students in school and work toward good grades, with a goal of a high school diploma and free tuition at the University of Akron.