1. It just got a lot harder to procure a Los Angeles Lakers ticket. In a reported $154 million 4-year deal – and the only sporting news that could supplant the World Cup at the top of the ticker – 4-time NBA MVP LeBron James used Instagram Stories to announce to the world that he is taking his talents to Los Angeles. James, 33, is leaving the Cavaliers for the second time. In contrast to his new Lakers deal, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has paid James $136.6 million in total for his 11 seasons in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, according to ESPN, required everyone with floor seats at the Q to sign deals last February that would lock them in for the next three seasons – a now “let the buyer beware” moment for fans whose team now has 500-1 odds of winning a title. The Lakers deal also makes sense for James, who already owns a home in Los Angeles, as he and longtime business partner Maverick Carter delve deeper into television and film production, not to mention music, fashion, and other cultural and commercial ventures that will now be clamoring for his touch.
2. Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, and the United States Conference of Mayors announced that more than 300 Mayors from all 50 United States and Puerto Rico will host youth-focused, baseball, and softball events in their communities through the end of August. The events, part of the “Play Ball Summer” joint effort, mark the first time in the history of the initiative that mayors from all 50 states have pledged their support. Said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, “The partnership with the U.S. Conference of Mayors is a significant factor for the success of our Play Ball initiative. The central focus of our effort has always been to engage communities that love our game with opportunities for young people to participate in baseball and softball activities. By reaching all 50 states and Puerto Rico, Play Ball has truly become a national movement. We thank all the Mayors for their extraordinary commitment.” I’ve been involved with the U.S. Conference of Mayors Professional Sports Alliance for nearly a decade now, and achieving this level of involvement with the Play Ball initiative is one of our proudest accomplishments to date.
3. Gaming streams outdraw most cable programs as nearly 9 million watch Friday Fortnite. According to JohnWallStreet, more than 8.8 million unique viewers live-streamed Week 4 of Friday Fortnite, an invite-only esports tournament for prize money hosted by well-known streamers and sponsored by UMG; making it the most-watched gaming competition to date. To put that figure in perspective, 5.3 million people tuned into coverage of the first round of 2018 NFL Draft, the 2017 MLB LCS averaged 6.3 million viewers, 7.9 million people watched the season finale of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and the second most watched NBA Conference Finals in 16 years drew just over 9 million fans. Moving forward, it’s expected that esports/gaming competitions will continue to regularly outdraw traditional television programming: Statista projects the number of gaming viewers worldwide to reach 743 million people by 2019, up +22% from 609 million in 2016. Dismiss esports at your peril – there’s a reason why sports leagues, teams, brands, athletes and communities alike are making multi-billion dollar investments in the growth market.
4. The PGA Tour could be facing a multi-million dollar problem thanks to new legislation brought to the U.S. Senate by Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Angus King (I-ME). The bill hopes to address the tax loophole that allows the Tour, along with other pro sports leagues, to enjoy tax-exempt status. The Properly Reducing Overexemptions for Sports Act (PRO Sports Act) hopes to strip the Tour and other leagues of their 501(c)(6) status, resulting in an estimated $100 million in federal tax revenue over the next 10 years. “Professional sports leagues – which are raking in millions of dollars from television rights and membership dues – shouldn’t also be scoring a hole-in-one with their taxes,” Senator Ernst is quoted on her website. This isn’t the first time the Tour and its fellow pro sports leagues have been targeted for their tax-exempt status. Most recently, the Senate Tax Bill included language that hoped to accomplish a similar goal, only to have the PGA Tour pull out all the stops to lobby against it – Jack Nicklaus and Davis Love III traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with legislators, and eventually had the damning language removed from the bill.
5. Rhode Island has become the fourth state in the U.S. to legalize sports gambling. According to JohnWallStreet, Governor Gina Raimondo legalized such activity after signing a bill that ensures 51% of all sports gambling profits go to the state. Sports gambling was only made legal at land-based casinos, meaning that mobile or internet wagering is still illegal for now. Twin River Worldwide Holdings, a privately held company, currently owns two casinos in Rhode Island, the smallest state in the country, with one set to open in September. Legal betting is expected to begin on October 1. While the state acted quickly on this issue, it will be missing out on a significant amount of potential revenue and profit by choosing to keep mobile and internet wagering illegal; “in fact, [the casino is] unlikely to even hit budget projections.” “Governor Raimondo’s budget projects $23.5 million in revenue over the first 12 months. To generate that amount, the state’s two sportsbooks would have to generate +/- $900 million in wagers; that won’t happen.” The Ocean Resort casino in Atlantic City was also quick to capitalize on the groundswell of legal sports wagering interest when its sports book officially opened on Thursday, creating instant PR when the actor Mark Wahlberg arrived to place bets on the Browns, the Eagles, and his beloved Patriots.
6. Former Pittsburgh Steelers investor and incoming Carolina Panthers Owner David Tepper has decided to buy out all of the Panthers’ remaining limited partners. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Tepper was first given the choice to only buy out Jerry Richardson’s 48% stake in the NFL franchise, though he will now pick up the option to purchase the remaining 52% from all of the existing team limited partners and own the entire club outright. The decision to do so comes with a hefty price, for Tepper’s purchase value for the Panthers sits at $2.275 billion. The businessman noted his development plans for the area as a primary reason for buying out all of the other partners. “I’m trying to determine the development I want to have in the community,” said Tepper. “So the more development there is in the community, it might make it more difficult to have minority partners.” Tepper’s deal is reportedly set to close in less than two weeks, a testament to both the new Panthers owner’s financial and reputational stability and the NFL’s eagerness to put the Richardson era behind them – the NFL just fined Richardson $2.75 million for workplace misconduct following a lengthy investigation.
7. The Las Vegas Golden Knights have filed a complaint against ticket resale site StubHub over a dispute about playoff ticket sales. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the complaint states that StubHub, the Golden Knights’ exclusive secondary-ticketing site during their inaugural NHL season, owes the team almost $1.5 million in Stanley Cup Playoff ticket sales profits. According to the lawsuit, StubHub “sent a message to customers March 13 – before the Golden Knights clinched a playoff spot – that said: ‘Sell your Golden Knights playoff tickets, cover your season ticket cost.’” The team said it “was not given any advance notice by StubHub” about this communication and “would have expressly objected to it.” After the Golden Knights clinched a playoff spot, season ticket holders were encouraged to stick with the “Knights Vow,” a promotion offered by the club in which fans agreed not to sell their tickets, keeping T-Mobile Arena packed with predominantly Golden Knights supporters. While disguised as a home team benefit, the Golden Knights’ policy was clearly aimed at keeping the bulk of ticket revenue in their pockets, hamstringing fans from profiting.
8. In the wake of the 2018 NBA Draft, the G-League, formerly the D-League, is becoming a more attractive option for NCAA underclassmen and high school prospects. According to JohnWallStreet, the G-League’s increased salary, up to $35,000 from just $19,000, combined with the extensive training and exposure that players are given, has resulted in more young athletes making the jump from high school and college. This past draft class featured 79 underclassmen and 12 international players, and with only 60 players drafted in total, that means hundreds will pursue free agency in hopes of landing an NBA or, more realistically, G-League roster spot. Back in April, highly-touted high school prospect and Syracuse University commit Darius Bazley elected to forgo college and international basketball to join the G-League. While salaries are low at the bottom, it remains possible to make quite a bit of money from being a two-way player in the G-League; last year the NBA added roster spots for two-way players, those designated to split time between the leagues, with salaries up to $385,000 per season.
9. DraftKings selects Kambi to provide sports betting technology. Daily fantasy sports operator DraftKings has identified European technology provider Kambi as the supplier of its new single-game sports betting product. Three weeks ago, DraftKings announced a sports betting partnership with Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino Hotel which followed last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the federal betting ban. But neither party offered any insight into where DraftKings would be getting its new sports betting technology. Now, Kambi Group PLC has announced that it has entered into a “sportsbook agreement” to “provide technology and services” to DraftKings. While the partnership will start in New Jersey, the “multi-year” deal allows for the possibility of an expanded partnership “when commercially agreeable regulatory frameworks are implemented” in other U.S. states. Kambi believes the DraftKings partnership could be lucrative in the long run, but the impact on its 2018 revenue will be “difficult to predict” due to the notoriously glacial pace of U.S. regulatory change.
10. Sacramento Kings mine cryptocurrency, establish scholarship fund. The Sacramento Kings announced a new charitable program, MiningForGood, made possible by the advanced data center and tech infrastructure at Golden 1 Center, the world’s most technologically advanced and sustainable arena. Through a partnership with global cryptocurrency leader, MiningStore.com, the team will install cryptocurrency mining machines in the only Tier 4 data center in a professional sports arena. The Kings are the first team in the world to mine digital currency. With this initial mining program, they are laying the foundation for a multi-year scholarship program to support Sacramento based causes starting with the Build. Black. Coalition – a group of Sacramento community leaders organized to support transformational change for black communities. As cryptocurrency continues to grow in popularity, the MiningForGood program can serve as a blueprint for large organizations and businesses to embrace emerging platforms as an engine for social change.