1. As Ovie leads the Caps to a 2-0 lead over Tampa Bay, the real NHL Stanley Cup Playoff nerve center seems to be out west. According to the CBC and other sources, a deafening, “frenzied, white-clad sellout crowd” of 15,321 attended the Jets’ 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Finals Game 1 at Bell MTS Place on Saturday night. Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, who “helped establish Winnipeg as a hockey town, was in the house. Throughout Winnipeg, Jets merchandise is “flying off shelves, downtown offices are filled with workers wearing Jets jerseys and organizers are having to cap attendance at 20,000 for street parties on game nights” outside the arena. The “public display of passion surpasses the glory days of the Jets 40 years ago.” Stars of the three-time World Hockey Association teams are in town to “mark the 40th anniversary” of winning the 1978 Avco Cup. Meanwhile, about 3,700 fans “decked out in Knights jerseys, hats and T-shirts turned out Saturday afternoon at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center” for a Game One watch party, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Whether or not they advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Golden Knights have now officially set the bar really high for expansion franchises in virtually any sport.
2. A recent U.S. Professional Sports report indicates that the NFL gives its fans the worst game-day fan experience among American pro sports leagues (including the “Big Four” plus NASCAR, PGA, MLS, WNBA, and ATP). The NFL finished last in 8 of the 9 live-event experiences tracked by the Tempkin Group among 10,000+ fans, scoring the lowest in parking, concessions, and bathrooms. The news wasn’t all bad for the NFL, however. It remains the most popular sport to watch on television by a wide margin: 50.8% of those surveyed enjoy watching the league on their couch (MLB came in second at 37.9%). And parking prices and convenience proved to be a big deal with NFL fans, traditional tailgaters all. Those surveyed rated parking as the worst part of the NFL game-day experience. The price to park your car outside of an NFL stadium varies across the league, but can cost between $25 and $75 (AT&T Stadium in Arlington); often still requiring a 10-15 minute walk to the stadium entrance. It’s clearly a valid concern. For those who think this survey is another sign that the league is failing, think again. NFL broadcast deals are so large, the league could play games in empty stadiums and still generate more revenue than any other pro sports league in the U.S.
3. Commission of College Basketball Chair and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice clarified her stance on whether collegiate athletes should be paid or not. Rice stated that student-athletes from all participating NCAA sports “should be able to make money from their names, images and likenesses.” According to USA Today, Rice defended her initial stance on the issue and the commission’s work regarding its findings on men’s basketball following the FBI scandal that shook the sport. While noting her personal opinion on the topic of paying athletes, Rice made it clear that the NCAA cannot enact any significant change before the pending cases are settled and the appropriate legal framework is established. “Students ought to be able to benefit from name, image and likeness but you can’t decide a program until you know the legal parameters,” said Rice. For proponents of paying college athletes, this appears to be their best chance of bringing that change to fruition due to Rice’s reputation, power, and respect.
4. Organizers from North America continue to pitch the 2026 World Cup bid merely weeks away from the official FIFA vote in Moscow. According to the London Independent, one of the biggest selling points of the joint bid from the United States, Canada, and Mexico is that it stands to be exponentially more profitable for FIFA that the Moroccan bid would. FIFA would end up profiting more than $10.8 billion were the bid to go to North America over Morocco, per bid organizers. In total, with three countries hosting together and an expanded field of 48 countries competing in 2026, U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro claims that it would be “the most successful World Cup ever,” driving $14 billion in revenue. In a day and age where FIFA is trying to rid itself of any signs of financial corruption, the opportunity to net nearly $11 billion from the one-month tournament still might be too appealing to pass up.
5. The potential sale of NASCAR is currently being discussed by the France family, the majority owners of the racing organization. According to Reuters, the family is reportedly working with investment bank Goldman Sachs on exploring its options for a sale, which could include giving up a majority stake. NASCAR’s exact value could not be established, but sources close to the company noted that it “could be worth several billions of dollars.” As a comparison, Liberty Media spent more than $8 billion, including debt, back in 2017 to acquire Formula One. The France family also owns International Speedway Corp, the racetrack-owning entity, though there has been no indication thus far whether or not ISC would be included in the NASCAR sale. NASCAR is currently in the midst of a 10-year television deal that is worth an average of $820 million annually. No agreement has been reached yet; the family is at the “exploratory stage” trying to find the right type of deal.
6. Last Friday’s Dick Vitale Gala “raised a record-setting” $3.7 million in funds for The V Foundation benefiting pediatric cancer research, “surpassing the goal” of $3.5 million. According to the Bradenton Herald, during the event’s 13 years, a “total of more than” $25.2 million has been raised. Guests at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota included Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, ESPN’s Mike Greenberg, and Florida State men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton. The John Saunders V Foundation Award “was given to” ESPN’s Chris Berman and Shelley Smith. Next year’s event is May 10 at the same location, and guests will include ESPN’s Chris Fowler, Alabama men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson and Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney. The 2019 Saunders Courage Award will go to ESPN’s Holly Rowe and Coach Lee Corso. Through its work on behalf of the V Foundation and other causes held dear by its on-air talent and league and team partners, ESPN has long been a worldwide leader in philanthropy as well as a…well, you know.
7. Activision Blizzard, the American entertainment company that boasts one of the strongest gaming portfolios in the world, is fielding new teams for next season’s Overwatch League. According to ESPN.com, an expansion slot is set to cost between $30-60 million, depending on a multitude of factors. As the game publisher continues to negotiate this number with prospective buyers, the exact price has not yet been finalized. Sources said that among the factors are “general population of the area where the team would be based and the number of players who play Overwatch within that region.” Additionally, sources said that if a single market has “multiple interested buyers, the price is subject to being raised as those suitors bid against one another.” For OWL’s inaugural season, which kicked off this past January, the 12 competing franchises paid $20 million each to enter. Just last summer some of the top North American esports organizations, such as Cloud9 and Immortals, were valued at $100-140 million, but are now valued at around $160-200 million. This sharp increase surely contributes to the heightened expansion free that Activision Blizzard will ask for.
8. Next year will mark the first time that MLB will play in Europe, with London fans being treated to one of the best rivalries in baseball – the New York Yankees vs the Boston Red Sox. According to the London Evening Standard, the two-game regular season series will be played at London Stadium at the end of June. Europe has long since been one of the only global markets that Major League Baseball has yet to tap into, while the league has deep roots across Asia and the Americas. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred first started talks about a potential series in London with city Mayor Sadiq Khan in 2016, “and is adamant this is just the beginning.” Two more games are already in the works for 2020 at London Stadium potentially between two different teams. “We’ve been looking for the right opportunity to come somewhere in Europe,” said Manfred. “We think that London is the perfect place and we’re excited about bringing over one of the great rivalries.” Why let the NFL and NBA have all the fun? The inroads made by those leagues are clear indicators that fans across the pond are ready to embrace more and more America-centric sports.
9. NBA, Intel Capital launch venture partnership. The NBA and Intel Capital announced a sports and entertainment technology innovation collaboration called the “NBA + Intel Capital Emerging Technology Initiative.” The multiyear collaboration will foster the identification, formation, and growth of technology companies that have the potential to impact the future of the NBA, sports and entertainment. This new initiative was introduced at the Intel Capital International Summit last week and will give attention to applied sciences that may improve the NBA’s on-court product, its fan expertise, or the broader sports business. “Venture investments in sports reached $1.5 billion in 2017, and the subsequent five years in sports might be outlined by much more know-how disruption,” stated Wendell Brooks, president of Intel Capital. “With this new initiative, the NBA and Intel Capital purpose to deliver in depth human and know-how assets into corporations we consider will lead the subsequent wave of transformation in sports and leisure.” The NBA and Intel have a tech partnership in place that started last year.
10. Duke basketball walk-on set to travel for cause. Duke men’s basketball walk-on Brennan Besser plans to bike, walk, and run from Seattle to New York this summer to raise awareness and funds for his charitable foundation. “Basketball, even though it’s a game that we all love, serves, really, as a vessel for the leadership coaching that (Mike Krzyzewski) teaches us,” Besser said. “The bike, I know that this is exciting … but it’s really just a vessel for the broader message.” Besser’s roughly 70-day journey starts May 16 and will wind more than 3,400 miles across the U.S. At most stops along the way, he hopes to hold basketball clinics or other events with the goal of generating $1 million for the Walk On America Foundation, which supports charities that help the intellectual and developmental disability community. “What we’re hoping to do is shine a light on a part of the American community that doesn’t have that strong of a voice,” he said. Krzyzewski describes Besser as a “one-of-a-kind walk-on” because “the spirit he brings is infectious on this team. Besser’s inspiration is his older sister Jacqueline, who at age 23 is nonverbal with impaired motor skills and communicates largely through a tablet computer.