1. The Pac-12 task force has revealed its recommendations to reshape college basketball, most notably stating that the NCAA should end its one-and-done rule. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the task force was created in the wake of the ongoing FBI scandal that has shaken up college basketball this season. The task force stated that changes should be made to the recruiting process and championed the adoption of college baseball rules, where players either turn pro right out of high school or commit to staying in college for at least three years. These recommendations will only be implemented with the support of the NBA and the NBAPA, but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has supported the need for change in wake of the scandal. One of the biggest current problems with the notion of paying players is AAU basketball and its impact on recruiting. The task force “recommends to start making recruits, and their families, aware of the rules early in high school” while removing the AAU system entirely. Dispensing with the AAU system also includes the side benefit of giving the shoe companies that fund the tournaments a lot less sway over basketball and its players.
2. University administrators are beginning to voice their opinions on the current state of college basketball and the NCAA. According to SportsBusiness Journal, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, NCAA President Mark Emmert, and Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir joined NCAA.com’s Andy Katz for an interview regarding the ongoing FBI scandal that has ripped through college basketball. “To hear this type of thing going on in the game itself gives us pause and concern, and we want to, hopefully, eradicate it as quickly as possible,” said Muir after hearing news of the FBI’s involvement. Emmert’s comments were more directed toward player marketing and how student-athletes can make a name for themselves: “If you’re a college basketball player with professional aspirations, whether it’s in basketball or just whatever your profession is going to be, I can’t think of a better marketing device than playing in the NCAA tournament.” The panel agreed unanimously that it would be “pure chaos” if players were allowed to sign individual endorsement deals. With so much support at the top levels of the NCAA and the NBA it is clear – major changes are likely coming to college basketball during the off season.
3. With the Dallas Cowboys set to host the NFL Draft in April, plans for events at AT&T Stadium have been announced by the team. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the draft will be held from April 26-28 in the NFL Draft Theater, which will be built on the stadium’s field. More than 250,000 fans have already registered for a chance to win free seated tickets inside the space at AT&T Stadium. Last year’s NFL Draft weekend in Philadelphia was considered a massive success, and also marked the first Draft to be held outdoors, but the 250,000 registered fans “represents a 50% increase over last year” at this point. A State Fair-like setting is expected to be set up to complement the Draft itself, with the Cowboys offering “a cornucopia of attractions outside of the stadium that they hope will keep fans occupied throughout the three days.” While “everything is bigger in Texas,” the 2018 Draft also continues the NFL’s ever-growing ambitions to make the sport a year-round appointment event and provide entertainment to everyone in the family.
4. MLB has created a new two-day FoodFest in New York that will feature food items from all 30 major league ballparks. The first-ever MLB FoodFest will be held April 21-22 near New York’s Bryant Park, with each club selecting one concession item to represent the franchise. The event will also feature interactive exhibits and art celebrating baseball’s ties to popular concession items such as hot dogs, and incorporate MLB sponsors Nathan’s and Coca-Cola. Among the more notable club items featured will be the D-backs’ churro dog — a churro inside of a donut topped with frozen yogurt, chocolate sauce, caramel and whipped cream — the Astros’ chicken waffle cone that features popcorn chicken and mashed potatoes inside of a waffle cone, and the Royals’ brisket nachos. Tickets will be priced at $25 for food only, providing samples of all 30 club items, and $40 for food and beer. Development of the MLB FoodFest was led by the league’s internal marketing and social team with logistical assistance from New York-based agency MKG. The FoodFest sold out in just two days, and is already proving so popular that MLB is taking names for a waiting list for future locations.
5. Acting USOC CEO Susanna Lyons told the IOC that three American cities are interested in hosting the 2030 Winter Olympics. According to SportsBusiness Daily, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Reno/Tahoe, respectively are the three parties that have expressed a desire to be included in talks going forward. While none of the cities was noted to have an interest in hosting the 2026 Winter Games, which has a bid deadline of March 31, the IOC is considering awarding both the 2026 and 2030 Olympics simultaneously – similar to what the international governing body did this past Fall when it awarded the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics to Paris and Los Angeles at the same time. The Salt Lake City bid group did note that the city could be ready in 2026 “if called upon,” but 2030 remains the preferred cycle to host. Meanwhile, the Utah bid leaders “don’t believe Colorado can produce top-flight Olympic facilities for anywhere close to the cost of what Salt Lake City can provide.” Another factor in Salt Lake’s bid may be the recent relocation of Mitt Romney to the state – Romney served as the savior CEO of the 2002 Games held there.
6. Former NFL COO Tod Leiweke is expected to join the Oak View Group in Seattle as a top executive to help bring an NHL expansion franchise to the Pacific Northwest. According to the Seattle Times, KeyArena is currently being renovated by OVG in Seattle with the hope of landing both an NHL and NBA team in the coming years, though neither has been announced by the respective leagues. An NHL team would likely begin play in October 2020, but a decision is not expected on that until a league Board of Governors meeting in June. Leiweke served as CEO of the Seattle Seahawks from 2003-2010, “doubling their season-ticket base” and advancing them to their first-ever Super Bowl following the 2005 season, so he has prior success in the region with professional sports teams. As noted by a city sportswriter, “He is quite simply the most successful sports executive Seattle has ever known.” If anyone can successfully bring at least one of these pro sports back to Seattle it’s the brothers Leiweke – Tod and his brother and OVG founder Tim, long the AEG CEO.
7. The Canadian government has officially announced its support for the joint North American World Cup bid for 2026. According to the Toronto Sun, the bid from the United States, Mexico, and Canada faces opposition only from Morocco, yet the North African country’s bid is “making a late charge” to win the elusive bid. Canada’s official support is a last push to “coax the FIFA Congress away from selecting Morocco.” “It’s good for our athletes, it’s good for our communities, our economy, our reputation as an international sport leader,” said Canadian Minister of Sport Kristy Duncan. The competitor’s bid proposes a more compact tournament, with stadiums and venues within driving distance from each other, as opposed to the North American bid that would require flying between almost all potential host cities. The Moroccan bid is also being viewed as more favorable for viewership in the European market due to the time zones it encompasses – the European region clearly drives the majority of TV revenue for FIFA.
8. MLS and Liga MX have officially announced the first stage of a strategic partnership between the two North American soccer leagues. According to Pro Soccer USA, MLS and Liga MX clubs will begin competing in the Campeones Cup, the first competition solely between U.S. and Mexican soccer clubs since SuperLiga ended following the 2010 season. “The Campeones Cup is only the first step,” said Liga MX President Enrique Bonilla. “It’s a big step, as [MLS Commissioner Don Garber] said it’s going to be the Super Bowl of soccer in North America…We’re going to work with minor, we’re going to work with best practices …and we’re sure we’re going to have better football for great fans we have in the U.S. and in Mexico and in Canada.” The new partnership also has the aim of going beyond the sport, with hopes that the cup between the two nations will help ease any cultural divides that have arisen in the current political climate. Once again the healing power of sport should prevail, both on the pitch of the Campeones Cup matches and outside of it.
9. As MLS continues to grow in size and popularity across North America, some of the league’s longstanding clubs have started to lag behind. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, MLS Commissioner Don Garber is not worried about the viability of Philadelphia as an MLS city going forward, despite lagging attendance numbers over the past years. “It’s a huge market,” said Garber. “It’s an influential market. We continue to have great faith in the club, its ownership and the market.” Since 2010, the Union’s attendance has declined steadily year over year, going from an average of 19,254 in 2010 to only 16,812 in 2017. As part of the club’s Talen Energy Stadium lease, “if after 10 years the team’s attendance is in the bottom 25% of MLS, the team can pay the county $10 million and leave the venue.” The team has insisted that this will not happen, but the club is running out of time to turn around its downward attendance trend. The team’s success in attracting fans now further impacts the city’s bottom line – expect to see the Philly government lending a subtle marketing hand.
10. Arlington to build America’s largest esports stadium. Arlington already has the largest local monopoly on professional sports with Globe Life Park, AT&T Stadium, and the University of Texas at Arlington’s Maverick Stadium. Arlington officials last week announced a plan to build the largest esports complex in America, a $10 million, 100,000-square-foot facility called Esports Stadium Arlington that would transform the Arlington Convention Center into a space dedicated to housing competitive gaming bouts. “Being on the forefront of new ideas and setting trends is in our DNA and part of who we are as the American Dream City,” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said in a statement. “Esports Stadium Arlington will further cement our city’s status as a national and international tourist destination.” The project will be a joint venture of the city, sports architecture firm Populous, and Esports Venues LLC. The entertainment marketing firm NGAGE Esports will manage the new facility once construction is complete. Esports Venues will have a 10-year lease, with a 10-year renewal option, with the city. The city plans to recoup the money it will spend through lease payments, event revenues, and naming rights.