1. If the Las Vegas Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup, it will be devastating – to Vegas sports books, that is. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Golden Knights were such long shots to win the NHL championship before the beginning of the season in October that some places initially offering bets as high as 500 to 1. That has left some of the city’s sports books exposed to mid-six-figure liabilities if the team caps a magical season by winning it all. According to the Nevada Gaming and Control Board, Nevada took $11.6 billion in gambling revenues in 2017 and the sports books accounted for $249 million of that total — just over 2.2%. Frank Kunovic, director of specialty games at Caesars Entertainment, said the Golden Knights account for 17% of the betting tickets and 14% of the money risked in the Western Conference. (The Pittsburgh Penguins have the most bets.) However, if the Golden Knights beat the Kings to win the Western Conference Championship and advance, the sports books’ financial risk isn’t likely to bankrupt casinos. One bookmaker likened the losses taken by a Golden Knights Stanley Cup victory as comparable to a very bad NFL Sunday.
2. Education technology leader EVERFI has announced a new digital education partnership with Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. In honor of Ovechkin’s 1,000th NHL game, the star forward has committed to providing digital education opportunities to 1,000 Washington, D.C. area students. The new partnership will focus on a series of critical skills learning opportunities that include digital citizenship, entrepreneurship, and health and wellness for middle and high school students. Each of these digital courses will be embedded into school curriculums at no cost to students, families, or school districts. Ovechkin and EVERFI are working together to identify students in Washington, D.C. as well as schools in Maryland and Virginia to participate in the program. Implementation of the program will start in schools as the Capitals take part in the 2018 NHL playoffs and will continue during the 2018-2019 school year. In Pittsburgh, the Penguins Foundation has also partnered with the Rite Aid Foundation and the Pennsylvania State Attorney General to combat the opioid epidemic. They will make EVERFI’s Prescription Drug Safety course available at no cost to Pittsburgh-area students. This time of the year is when hockey matters most. EVERFI has helped the league identify what’s even more important.
3. Colin Kaepernick is back in the news after the Seattle Seahawks postponed a workout with the former 49ers quarterback after he declined to say that he would stop kneeling during the national anthem. According to ESPN.com, the Seahawks may ultimately bring Kaepernick back in for a workout, though no decision has been made yet on that. A source close to the team said that the team “asked Kaepernick what his plans would be for his off-field activities if he were to play football” in 2018 and that Kaepernick said that he “didn’t know.” The Seahawks were said to “want a firmer plan from Kaepernick about all of his off-field activities – including but not solely limited to kneeling for the anthem – and how that might impact football.” Coach Pete Carroll and Executive Vice President John Schneider are responsible for deciding on whether or not to bring Kaepernick in for a tryout. While the Seahawks are among the most progressive teams in the NFL, Kaepernick could still prove to be more of a distraction than the team can afford.
4. FedEx has agreed to become the title sponsor of the WGC event moving from Akron to Memphis next year. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, dates for the tournament have not yet been set, but it is most likely to take place in late July or August. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan noted that the deal with FedEx is a “long term agreement,” though financial details have not yet been disclosed. FedEx’ sponsorship of the PGA Tour served as a “major impetus behind why Memphis is hosting such a prestigious event moving forward.” FedEx last May “announced a 10-year extension to its sponsorship agreement of the PGA Tour’s season-long points race,” keeping a close partnership with the PGA Tour for years to come. Akron is set to replace the departing WGC event with the PGA Senior Players Championship at Firestone Country Club from 2019-2022.
5. The U.S. Open “will use a 25-second serve clock at this year’s event, which will be the first time such a system will be deployed in the main draw at a major tennis tournament,” according to the New York Times. Players will now have 25 seconds “from the end of a point to serve for the next one.” If they do not, the first violation “will incur a warning, followed by the loss of a point and then the loss of a game.” The U.S. Open will “also enforce a seven-minute warm-up period before each match to ensure they start on time.” Violators could be fined $20,000. USTA Managing Director of Corporate Communications Chris Widmaier said, “Pace of play is a major issue in sports today. We recognize that and we want to be ahead of it.” The U.S. Open “experimented with the serve clock during last year’s non-main draw events.” An on-court clock “will be visible to players and spectators alike.” The chair umpire will run the clock and “be given leeway to delay the start of it in certain situations: after a particularly long point late in a grueling match, in hot and steamy conditions.” Citizen (watches) has served as the official timekeeping sponsor of the U.S. Open for many years, will be interesting to see if they further activate around the new serve clock system.
6. FIFA is in the works to add two major international tournaments after teaming up with Saudi Arabian, Chinese, and American investors. According to the AP, the new partnership over 12 years is worth $25 billion and is likely to make an already-busy global soccer calendar even busier. One of the tournament ideas being floated is an expanded Club World Cup. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that he is trying to make it a 24-team tournament that is played every four years, starting in 2021. The Club World Cup is “currently a seven-team event played each December and usually won by a European club,” and a revamped event would “kill off the mostly unpopular Confederations Cup.” The second tournament idea being floated is the addition of the Nations League, which would become FIFA’s second-tier competition, replacing the Confederations Cup. The new events have the potential to secure long-term revenue “for many of the 211 FIFA member federations” who rely heavily on the global governing body for financial support. It appears soccer is taking a page from pro golf and tennis – creating prestigious new international events that encompass more, and lucrative, markets.
7. Major League Baseball is making progress toward more racial equality amongst its players, with Opening Day rosters this year having the highest percentage of black players since at least 2012. According to the AP, approximately 8.4% of rosters comprised black players, up from 7.7% last year and 8.27% the season before. The league attributed the increase “at least partly to its efforts to increase baseball youth participation with programs that include Urban Youth Academies and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI).” The RBI program first launched in 1989 and the Urban Youth Academy was founded back in 2006 in Compton, California. New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks and Oakland A’s left fielder Khris Davis are just two of the nearly 150 players who have been drafted into the league after attending the Compton Academy. MLB made its calculation based on the 750 players who were active on March 29, not including the other 127 who were disabled, suspended, or on paternity leave.
8. Monster Energy has officially agreed to renew its NASCAR Cup Series title sponsorship for one additional year. According to SportsBusiness Journal, news initially broke that Monster could sign on for up to two years, but the two sides ultimately decided on a single year in light of NASCAR’s desire to change its sponsorship model. Monster’s initial deal with NASCAR was worth $40 million over two years, though financial details have not yet been disclosed this time around. NASCAR COO Steve Phelps said that “changing the current model would be akin to what the EPL did in 2016, when it went from having one title sponsor to a handful of official partners that get league assets,” including one lead brand. The overall model has not yet been finalized, but NASCAR was intent on not signing a long-term title sponsor with the pending change. One potential outcome is the implementation of an “umbrella-like” model that would involve speedways, racing teams, television partners, and NASCAR all in one.
9. Lakers investor Patrick Soon-Shiong is close to finalizing a deal that would make him the biggest stakeholder in MLS club DC United. According to Bloomberg News, upon completion of the deal, which is expected to close by the end of April, DC United would be valued at an MLS-record $500 million. Soon-Shiong and DC United Managing General Partner & CEO Jason Levien are together buying the stake currently held by General Partner Erick Thohir; Levien is set to increase his stake in the team while keeping his current position with the club. Thohir owns 78% of the team and has been looking to divest his take for over a year now, with Levien controlling the other 22%. One of the biggest reasons that Thohir has been trying to decrease his financial investment in the club is distance. As Chairman and minority owner of Inter Milan as well, Thohir currently lives in Indonesia, with sources noting that “over time, his interest in DC United waned and…he rarely visits the team.” Soon-Shiong, a longtime L.A. sports investor, also just completed his purchase of the Los Angeles Times, and is being hailed as a good community steward as a result.
10. Memphis Grizzlies Owner Robert Pera will keep his controlling interest in the NBA franchise despite rumors of a potential sale. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Pera recently engaged in a buy-sell process with investors Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus to forgo his majority stake in the Grizzlies. In order to retain control of the team, Pera had to commit to either “buying Kaplan’s and Straus’ shares at a valuation price set by them, or Pera could have decided to sell his shares of the team at that price.” Both sides were given 60-90 days to engage in “good-faith negotiations,” and the resulting outcome is that Pera will buy out Kaplan’s 14% stake and Straus’ 14% stake too. Despite being an “absentee figure with the organization,” rarely attending games or conducting interviews, Pera’s deal means that the Grizzlies will now be valued between $1.3-1.4 billion – a large sum for a small-market team. Memphis’ reputation as a sports city of note will only increase next year when the WGC event moves there from Ohio.