1. The field for the Final Four in San Antonio is set. Cinderella story Loyola University-Chicago faces off against the University of Michigan on one side of the bracket, while heavyweights Villanova University and the University of Kansas will square off on the other. Loyola-Chicago, appearing in San Antonio as an 11 seed, is looking to capture the school’s second national title after already capturing the hearts of college basketball fans. The Ramblers are just the fourth 11 seed to reach the Final Four in the modern era of March Madness, joining the likes of VCU (2011), George Mason (2006), and LSU (1986) — all three other teams lost in the semifinals. Michigan is currently riding a 13-game win streak down to Texas, as big man Moritz Wagner leads the Wolverines into action. Kansas edged perennial title contended Duke University by four in overtime to reach the Final Four, while Jalen Brunson and Villanova ran through the field in the East Region. Lest you think Loyola’s Sister Jean’s coaching abilities are pure nunsense, the former player and coach has been a Chicago sports hero for a half century. And as London’s Guardian noted, “An unconventional tournament demands an unconventional hero.”
2. Upwards of $300 million. That’s the economic impact of the Final Four on its host city over the past few years. The 2017 Final Four in Phoenix generated a regional economic impact of $324.5 million, according to a study by Arizona State University’s W.P Carey School of Business, which was generated by out-of-town visitor spending, organizational spending, and ripple spending effects of the event. The average visitor stayed slightly more than four days, and spent about $487 per day. Additionally, about $11.7 million in tax revenue was generated in taxes that were split between area cities, Maricopa County, and the state of Arizona. In 2016, the third time in the tournament’s 78-year history that “Space City” hosted the Final Four, Houston generated about $300 million in revenue during the Final Four, which helped taxpayers feel better about the $8 million subsidy provided by the state of Texas. San Antonio, aided by rabid Loyola-Chicago fans who haven’t seen their team advance this far in the tourney since 1963, should reach the $300 million benchmark. It also doesn’t hurt that the four semifinal teams all hail from areas still mostly covered by ice and snow.
3. As many conferences and NCAA officials continue to offer recommendations for reform in college basketball, the Big East has proposed replacing the current one-and-done rule with a new two-or-none policy. According to ESPN.com, the conference’s recommendations follow those put forth by the Pac-12, calling for similar changes to be made immediately in college basketball in wake of the FBI probe. The Big East’s two-or-none rule would mean that a player would either have to commit to playing at least two years of college basketball at the minimum, or else the high school player would declare for the NBA draft and forfeit future college eligibility. Additionally, the Big East has put forth the idea to create an elite-player unit (EPU) that would concentrate on providing guidance to players with serious and legitimate NBA aspirations. The recommendations went to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is leading the NCAA’s commission on college basketball. Any recommendation under Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman’s signature will merit serious consideration. Looking at the big picture, it’s worth noting bankruptcies NBA players experienced over the past years, including Allen Iverson, Antoine Walker, Latrell Sprewell, Eddy Curry, Derrick Coleman, Eric Williams, Darius Miles, and Kenny Anderson. While not all of these players were one and done, they clearly could have gotten more either out of their time in college or stockpiling wealth in the NBA.
4. Reese’s and the NCAA are celebrating ten years of the brand’s partnership in March Madness, with activations that have included Reese’s Final Four Friday and Reese’s National Association of Basketball Coaches College All-Star Game. This year, Reese’s will hit Final Four weekend by continuing its support of the U.S. military through a community event in partnership with Wounded Warrior Project. David “The Admiral” Robinson and Reese’s NABC College All-Star Game players will distribute 200 Easter baskets to veterans and their families. Reese’s Final Four Friday on March 30 is where fans can experience entertainment throughout the day, including during the Final Four team practices, the Reese’s NABC College All-Star game, and other Reese’s experiences. Clearly, this partnership gives the Sweet Sixteen its just desserts.
5. The Oakland Raiders have released renderings and plans for their new stadium in Las Vegas. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the planned $1.8 billion venue will feature a below-ground bowl and nine clubs, among other things. The field will be 20 feet below ground level, allowing about half of the fans to walk up to their seats and the other half to walk down, reducing overall congestion. The stadium will be fully enclosed, but will have north-facing folding lanai doors. “We obviously need to be enclosed because of the climate, but having those doors and seeing what some other teams have done around the league to get an open-air feature, we were able to take the best of those ideas and then appropriate them,” said Raiders President Marc Badain. In total, the club areas will have 8,000 premium seats, three of them at field level, including two on opposite sides of the field at the 50-yard line. This project marks the next “new new thing” NFL stadium trying to outdo its predecessors, which is no easy task with the likes of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium as benchmarks.
6. The asking price for the Carolina Panthers has risen so much that top bidders are beginning to drop out. According to Bloomberg News, the franchise is now reportedly going for $2.5 billion, prompting Fanatics Founder and Executive Chair Michael Rubin to drop from the race. Rubin had the financial backing of Alibaba Executive Vice Chair Joe Tsai, but that was not enough to warrant paying the incredible sum of money. Rubin is willing to pay more than his initial bid, but is only interested in paying near what he deems the right price. Still, at least four serious bidders are in the mix to purchase the NFL franchise, including Bedrock Industries CEO Alan Kestenbaum, “reportedly backed by Canada’s third-richest person in Jim Pattison.” Steelers investor David Tepper and Sherman Financial Group Founder and CEO Ben Navarro have all previously submitted bids, while North Carolina-based SAS Institute CEO Jim Goodnight is also in the mix. With $2.5 billion now the going rate for an NFL franchise, the league will soon be forced to recognize that its long-standing family and small investor group ownership structure will need to expand.
7. David Beckham and his Miami MLS ownership group are still searching for a site on which to build a soccer-specific stadium in South Florida. According to the Miami Herald, the Miami Beckham United ownership group has reopened its search to include “multiple locations” after supposedly finding the right piece of land previously. “We’re actively looking at five or so sites,” said co-owner Jorge Mas. The Mas brothers and Beckham want to build a 25,000-seat stadium somewhere other than Overtown, “the Miami neighborhood that has been the Beckham group’s announced site since late 2015.” One obstacle that the group faces is a crunch for time. Public speculation is that the team will need to get a stadium ballot measure crafted and approved to meet an April deadline, a few months before the city’s primary election in August. Potential site options include one near Jackson Memorial Hospital and another near Melreese golf course – neither of which presents a smooth path.
8. MLB attendance has declined 3% since 2012, and speculation exists that 2018 attendance figures will continue to drop, perhaps by as much as an additional 3%. Teams in full rebuild mode such as Miami, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay; teams coming off disappointing 2017 seasons like Toronto and Washington; a waning honeymoon effect in markets like Atlanta (attendance was up 24% last year when they opened SunTrust Park); and an off-season that lacked significant free agency activity are among the reasons ticket sales are expected to decline for a third straight season. Fewer than 73 million people attended MLB games in 2017, the first time the league has failed to hit that mark since the 2010 season. Declining attendance over the last seven years likely has more to do with artificially-inflated attendance figures 2001-2010, propped up by the opening of new ballparks, than an overall lack of interest in the game. Throughout 2001-2010, fully one-third of MLB teams opened new stadiums. Since that era, just two have – the Marlins in 2012, and the Braves in 2017. If you build it, they will come…at least for a few years. And you’d better win.
9. The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament has gotten off to a great start. According to the AP, overall attendance for the first two rounds reached its highest mark in a decade, with an average of 5,067 fans per game through the first 48 contests. The regional contests had similarly strong numbers, as some of the biggest teams in the country sold thousands of tickets many days in advance of the games actually taking place. “It’s the new teams, Mississippi State and South Carolina drew really well,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “It’s good to have more teams doing well.” Defending national champion South Carolina came into this year’s tournament with the goal of attracting more than 10,000 people per game; the team has been able to deliver on that goal thus far. In the team’s opening round win over North Carolina A&T, 11,085 fans were present, and then another 10,307 showed up for the team’s second round win over Virginia. Sunday’s winners Mississippi State and Louisville —and the winners of Monday’s Elite Eight matchups between No.1 UConn and No. 2 South Carolina, and No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Oregon – will play in the Final Four in Columbus, Ohio on Friday.
10. Calgary is forging forward with its bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics after creating the Olympic BidCo. According to the Calgary Herald, city councilors recently voted in favor of providing another $2.5 million to help fund the entity, “on the understanding that provincial and federal governments must also come through with matching financing support” for the hopeful Olympic bid. The most recent funding approval tops off the city’s $9.5 million commitment for the BidCo, with the province and federal governments expected to round off the remaining sums of money, bringing the total amount up to $30 million. Calgary Bid Director Kyle Ripley noted that as of last summer, the projected cost to host the Games would be in the ballpark of $4.6 billion, though he further cited that modifications to the city’s plans would likely cause that number to rise. “We’re anticipating that number to be higher, we’ll have an exact number likely in June,” said Ripley. Like the ever-escalating price tags for NFL teams, Olympic hosting costs will increasingly involve more partners, more constituents, and more burden on taxpayers.