1. From top seed Virginia to final picks Arizona State and Syracuse, it feels as though everyone involved in March Madness is on the bubble this year. As noted by the AP and elsewhere, college basketball is in trouble. When the brackets were revealed on Selection Sunday, Kansas, Villanova, and Xavier joined Virginia as Number 1 seeds. But those teams, along with the other 64 contenders, will play against the backdrop of an NCAA investigation in which bribes and payoffs made bigger headlines than no-look passes and buzzer beaters. The tourney begins Tuesday with play-in games featuring UCLA and St. Bonaventure, then kicks into full swing Thursday and Friday at eight regional sites around the U.S. Shortly after the April 2 championship game in San Antonio, a commission led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will likely deliver recommendations from an investigation triggered by an FBI probe that led to charges last fall against coaches, agents, shoe company employees, and others. No fewer than 12 tournament teams have been named by either the FBI or media investigations that allege coaches and others have directed payments and improper benefits to recruits and players – breaking rules that define both the NCAA and the “student-athletes” who created the $1.06 billion in revenue the NCAA earned in its 2017 fiscal year.
2. In all, the NCAA landed nearly $1.1 billion in annual revenue during the 2017 fiscal year, according to an audited financial statement released by the association last Wednesday. According to USA Today, that number marks the first time in NCAA history that it has surpassed the $1 billion threshold, with the statement also showing more than $956 million in expenses in the 2017 fiscal year alongside $105 million in profit. The rise in revenue came as a result of increases from TV and marketing fees in addition to investment income and increased revenue from championship events, according to the report. Television rights packages with tournament broadcast partners CBS and Turner accounted for more than $800 million of its revenue. That $800 million figure and the $8 billion the networks have agreed to pay to broadcast the tourney through 2032 also gives March Madness announcers some incentive to not mention the FBI investigation during courtside broadcasts.
3. As the NCAA tournament prepares to tip off this week, the NBA is likewise “preparing to get involved again with elite high school basketball players,” according to ESPN and other sources. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and “several of his top advisers have been engaged in listening tours and information-gathering missions with an array of stakeholders for months.” That has included formal meetings with the NBPA about “adjusting the so-called ‘one-and-done’ age-limit rule.” A plan is “expected to include the NBA starting relationships with elite teenagers while they are in high school.” It would ultimately “open an alternate path to the NBA besides playing in college and a way 18-year-olds could earn a meaningful salary.” Another benefit of the new NBA plan? It would undoubtedly cut down on the under the table payments and improper benefits being alleged in the current FBI investigation of NCAA coaches and players, as the top-tier recruits who stand to receive such compensation will likely forego college altogether, returning the college basketball environment to the “amateurs.”
4. With March Madness upon us, the personal finance website WalletHub has released its NCAA Tournament Stats and Facts infographic as well as its report on 2018’s Best Cities for College Basketball Fans. To find 2018’s top spots for NCAA hoops, WalletHub crunched the numbers on more than 280 U.S. cities using nine key metrics. They range from the number of teams per city and the winning percentage of each to stadium capacity and social-media engagement. The survey identified the best cities for college basketball fans as #1 Chapel Hill, NC; #2 Lawrence, KS; #3 Los Angeles, CA; #4 Durham, NC; and #5 Lexington, KY. WalletHub also noted that the $8.98 million salary paid to college basketball’s highest paid coach, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, compared very favorably to the $1.4 million combined for Duke’s president and the North Carolina governor, and that the difference between the average NBA rookie’s salary ($2.36 million) and a D1 men’s basketball scholarship for a year ($130,000) is a factor of 18x. Get those brackets filled out before Thursday, and let the unofficial U.S. hoops holiday begin.
5. Woods-stock is back. Tiger Woods moved to 149th in the Official World Ranking, up from 388, and won $572,000 in prize money with his (tied for) second place finish in the Valspar Championship. And when it comes to picking up a check, according to GolfWorld there’s no state he’d rather be in than Florida. Woods has now earned $20,553,868 in the Sunshine State, or slightly more than 20% of the $100 million he’s made in the U.S. Ohio ($16,335,145) ranks second on the list and California comes in third ($16,057,684), followed by Georgia (those four green jackets help) at $13,372,311. After three PGA starts so far this season and plenty of fist pumps and power shots that remind golf fans of the Woods of old, it feels like this might be the year that Woods can finally bring his magic back to the sport. Golf fans seem to agree, as ticket prices have skyrocketed in recent days for those who want to watch Tiger compete in the Masters for just the second time since 2013. According to TicketIQ.com, the average price of a single-day ticket at Augusta this year is a whopping $2,948.42 on secondary markets. Compare that to $2,592.91 for last year’s Masters. A renewed Tiger Mania has effectively increased the price of entry at Augusta National by 20%. And we’re still four weeks, and several tourneys, away.
6. Need data to prove that the U.S. is in fact the biggest international sports market? Here’s some more food for thought for new ESPN honcho Jimmy Pitaro. According to a newly-released global industry survey, the worldwide sports media rights market is valued at $49.5 billion. American sports rights holders take in 36% ($18 billion) of that total, with the NFL ($7.3 billion), NBA ($3.9 billion) and MLB ($3.4 billion) regarded as three of the four most valuable sports media properties in the world. The English Premier League ($4.5 billion) is the only non-U.S. based sports media property generating more than $3 billion per year in revenue. For reference purposes, the Champions League, La Liga and Serie A bring in $2.2 billion, $1.9 billion, and $1.5 billion, respectively. Major shifts in sports consumer preferences and tastes, as well as the NFL’s recent troubles, will likely cause Pitaro to more closely evaluate opportunities outside of U.S. borders for ESPN.
7. Churchill Downs, Inc. has announced it will acquire casinos in Pennsylvania and Mississippi, as it prepares to capitalize on legalized sports betting. The company will buy the Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie, PA (for $178.9 million) and the Lady Luck Casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi (for $50.6 million), from current owner Eldorado Resorts. Both Pennsylvania and Mississippi have passed sports betting legislation that would change their laws, should the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor. Churchill Downs also owns brick-and-mortar casinos in Illinois, Kentucky, and Louisiana — three other states actively working towards sports betting legalization. While Presque Isle Downs & Casino is among the lowest revenue-generating casinos in Pennsylvania, it is a significant acquisition for Churchill Downs. Pennsylvania recently legalized online gambling and the law passed covers mobile wagering on sporting events when permitted by federal law. While land-based casinos are profitable, mobile sports betting really has Churchill Downs excited. TwinSpires, the company’s online horse betting platform, accounted for $256.7 million in 2017 revenue. You can assume the company will look to quickly turn their database of users betting on the ponies into mainstream sports gamblers.
8. In Miami, the new MLS ownership group inches closer to its stadium site. According to the Miami Herald, David Beckham and Jorge Mas met this week with Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez about building an MLS stadium on the city-owned Melreese Country Club, “floating a 180-acre alternative” near Miami International Airport. Mas and his brother Jose have discussed with Gonzalez “how the Melreese park could mesh with the Mas ambitions for a sprawling soccer complex.” Gonzalez is entertaining the “possibility of renting at least a sizable portion of Miami’s largest park and a public 18-hole golf course to a for-profit soccer stadium and commercial complex.” Miami has always been a hotbed of public-private investment – much of which has deserved a raised eyebrow or two – and the new proposed mixed-use soccer stadium is only the most recent footnote in that grand tradition.
9. The NHL and NHLPA, in conjunction with Live Nation, announced dates, local start times, locations and ticketing information for the 2018 NHL Global Series and the 2018 NHL Global Series Challenge. In January, the NHL announced that the Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, and Winnipeg Jets will play regular-season games in Europe as part of the slate. The Oilers and Devils will play their 2018-2019 season-opening game against each other in Gothenburg, Sweden on October 6, while the Panthers and Jets will face off in a pair of regular-season games in Helsinki, Finland on November 1-2. Prior to the New Jersey-Edmonton season-opening matchup, the Devils and Oilers will complete their training camps in Europe and will each play in an exhibition match as part of the 2018 NHL Global Series Challenge. Even though we didn’t get to see NHL players complete in the Olympics this year, the Global Series Challenge gives hockey fans around the world a taste of the NHL – and allows the league, rather than the IOC, to control the schedule and the accompanying revenue.
10. Tom Brady gets a buzz cut for charity and raises $6.5 million. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady just got a buzz cut for a cancer research institute. Brady was the mystery guest at last Thursday’s “Saving by Shaving” annual fundraiser for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Brady showed off his new look on Instagram after his long, brown hair was shaved down with a razor. Granite Telecommunications holds the event at its headquarters in Quincy, Massachusetts. The company pledged to give over $5 million to the cancer institute if 1,000 people shaved their heads or beards. Granite Telecomm says 1,200 people participated this year, and it will contribute $6.5 million for its fifth annual event. “It’s great to see you guys out here. I know you’re doing great work and I know we are going to continue to do the same,” Brady told the crowd. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker stood beside Brady. “It’s a great statement about him as well as a great statement about how much people appreciate the chance to do this on behalf of such a great cause,” Baker said. Saving by Shaving has raised close to $15 million in four years.