1. After this week’s kickoff celebration, the NFL is set to stage four international games this season, three of which will be held at Wembley Stadium after English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur fell behind on its stadium construction plans. The three London matches will be held in consecutive weeks starting on October 14. The first will feature the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders, the second one (October 21) will pit the Tennessee Titans against the Los Angeles Chargers, and the third match (October 28) will showcase the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles against the London regular Jacksonville Jaguars. In addition to these three games, the Kansas City Chiefs will square off against the Los Angeles Rams on November 19 at the iconic Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico. This season is set to mark the fourth year in a row that at least three games were held in London and another in Mexico, highlighting the league’s continued international push and growing brand presence outside of the United States. International growth is also a critical strategy for a league facing declining numbers at home, both in stadiums and on tv.
2. NFL teams are now allowed to sell sponsorships directly to casinos that operate sportsbooks. According to SportsBusiness Journal, a committee of NFL owners met and agreed to relax the league’s rules regarding partnerships with casinos ahead of the new season. As part of the new rules, casinos will not be allowed to promote the sports books directly, “but teams will be able to accept advertising from casinos and daily fantasy sites that operate sportsbooks in shoulder programming and during preseason game telecasts.” Teams will be able to profit from the direct partnership, though they will not be able to accept any sort of revenue sharing coming from business they drive to casinos and gambling websites. Teams are also now allowed to sell stadium naming rights to casinos, a move that is largely believed to benefit the Oakland Raiders upon their move to Las Vegas. All of these changes mark some of the NFL’s first steps in navigating an environment where sports betting is legal across the country – conversely, the new NFL season begins the first true test of revenue viability for the states that have legalized sports betting to date.
3. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has signed a deal to become the highest paid player in NFL history, keeping him in green and yellow until he is at least 40 years old. According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Rodgers, 34, and the Packers both head into the new season confident of the foreseeable future, assuming No. 12 can stay healthy. The four-year, $134 million deal comes on top of Rodgers’ current deal, which came as a five-year, $110 million extension that he signed back in 2013 — he has two more years left on that one. The agreement “ends months of negotiations” between Packers Executive VP and Director of Football Operations Russ Ball and Rodgers’ agent, Athletes First CEO David Dunn, and reports of the final numbers “indicate that the Packers were able to stand firm on their refusal to do anything but a standard contract.” While Rodgers’ numbers are higher, recent mega contract extensions for Odell Beckham, Jr. ($18 million/yr, $65 million guaranteed), Aaron Donald ($22.5 million/yr, $87 million guaranteed), and Khalil Mack ($23.5 million/yr, $90 million guaranteed), speak volumes about the health of the league.
4. Hyundai has secured sponsorship rights for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” kickoff show. According to AdAge, the NFL’s official automotive sponsor enters the 2018 season “looking to assume a bigger role on game day.” The original 2015 deal between Hyundai and the NFL “offered little direct advertising exposure during NFL games on FOX, CBS, and NBC, leaving the door open for deeper-pocketed brands to own game day telecasts.” Hyundai Motor America CMO Dean Evans said, “You can buy the sponsorship, and then if you don’t have enough money to run enough TV commercials, you almost don’t look like the sponsor.” Evans added, “When you’re watching football this year, it’s going to feel more like Hyundai is the sponsor.” Hyundai will also “sponsor a three-part digital series called ‘Cover 2’” that will “give fans a closer look at some league rivalries.” The series is produced by Huntington Beach-based ad agency Innocean. Hyundai also “continues its partnerships with six teams” for the 2018 season – the Cardinals, Dolphins, Rams, Steelers, Texans, and Vikings. The details behind this partnership are a terrific example of the creative ways that brands look to activate around the NFL, particularly in the digital space.
5. The Cleveland Browns could potentially build a roof to enclose FirstEnergy Stadium instead of electing to build a new stadium from scratch. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, the Browns head into their 20th season at FirstEnergy Stadium, with the facility’s most recent renovation, a $125 million venture of which $95 million was financed by the team, occurring way back in 2015. A new stadium would cost “well over $1 billion” and while building a roof to enclose the stadium would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, it would not cost ten figures. The construction of a roof would surely present several foreseen and many more unforeseen obstacles that go beyond financing, but staying in the same location would give the team another chance to “see the area around the stadium developed and fans provided easier access to a facility that was ill-conceived from the beginning.” Fresh off the signing of Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and a well-received turn on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” the Browns now need a house worthy of bringing down when their play on the field dictates such a move.
6. As the U.S. Open enters its second week, the new Louis Armstrong Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has been drawing mostly positive reviews. According to ESPN, the complex’ five-year, $600 million renovation is now complete, becoming the second stadium to be given an umbrella-like retractable roof on the grounds. The sheltered bowl provides shade for both fans and players most of the time, while also insulating the noise to bolster the atmosphere. “It was beautiful,” said Andy Murray of his first match at the renovated stadium. On the contrary, American Sloane Stephens criticized the venue, noting the numerous distractions during her first Armstrong match. “I think it makes it a little tough to kind of settle down,” said Stephens. “There was a lot going on between the airplanes and the subway behind the court, the concessions being in the lower bowl, and people walking in the games at 2-all, 3-all.” Interestingly, the new stadium has already developed a reputation as a giant slayer, as it’s seen the upsets of top seeds including Alexander Zverev, Caroline Wozniacki, Kevin Anderson, and Simona Halep.
7. Colorful new marketing deals are plentiful at the U.S. Open. In 2018, we have Billie Jean King’s sneaker makeover. The 39 Grand Slam-winning tennis icon is at the center of Adidas’ unusual U.S. Open campaign in which they will transform any kicks–whether they’re Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Puma, or Louis Vuitton–into King’s blue three-striped trainers–an homage to the shoes she wore during her historic “Battle of the Sexes” against Bobby Riggs at the Houston Astrodome 45 years ago. The activation is part of Adidas’ broader “Here to Create Change” platform. Consumers at the Flushing Meadows Adidas store can walk in and get their shoes a BJK makeover for free at the hands of artists using stencils and spray paint. There will also be BJK-revamped Stan Smiths, Barricades, and NMDs available for purchase, at $100, $120 and $140 respectively. The effort is also part of Adidas’ Women’s Equality Day efforts, which includes a film directed by Doug Liman highlighting the lack of representation of female athletes in the media. Women make up only about 4% of the athletes shown on mass media – though viewers might argue that Serena Williams’ spots comprise 90% of U.S. Open broadcast ads.
8. The U.S. golf industry – driven by WE ARE GOLF, a coalition of leading organizations working together to communicate the game’s economic, charitable, environmental, and fitness benefits – launches its #inviteHER campaign. Powered by the LPGA and WE ARE GOLF’s Women’s Task Force, golfers – men and women alike – are encouraged to bring friends, colleagues, and family to join them on the course. “The appetite for golf is at a historic level with a latent demand of 38 million Americans,” says Steve Mona, World Golf Foundation CEO. “Last year, 35% of the game’s 2.6 million new players were female and we are confident #inviteHER is a huge step in the right direction to continue increasing this number.” #inviteHER’s primary objective is to grow awareness and participation among women and girls through the power of an invitation from one of the 24 million American golfers. The game should more closely mirror U.S. demographics as only 24% of the current golf population is female. While grassroots efforts are critical, women’s golf at present lacks a Tiger Woods-caliber star who will fuel young women’s interest in the game.
9. Derek Jeter’s first season in Miami has not been the easiest one. According to the Miami Herald, just as the Marlins have struggled to produce on the field, currently sitting at the bottom of the NL East, the club has struggled even more to get fans in seats at Marlins Park. In an effort to reach out to local fans and capitalize on the city’s international population, the Marlins will “create a section in the right field stands they will call ‘Comunidad 305,’ which translates to Community 305 in Spanish.” Fans in the section can purchase a season ticket for $8 and will be allowed to bring “everything from flags to musical instruments” to games. Speaking of fans in the new section, Marlins President of Baseball Operations Chip Bowers said: “They can (buy those tickets) knowing they’ll be part of a community of people that can come hang out and be a little different, bring bells, whistles, flags, whatever that is to create a really cool vibe.” Overall, the initiative is meant to bring fans from various cultures together to create a World Baseball Classic-type feel for home games.
10. With Stan Kroenke on the verge of taking full control of Premier League heavyweight Arsenal, Arsenal Supporters’ Trust members refused to sell their shares in the club. According to the London Evening Standard, Kroenke currently owns 98.8% of Arsenal after striking a deal to buy ALisher Usmanov’s 30% stake in the club for $716.1 million in August. Supports’ Trust members will not pursue legal action over the takeover from the American businessman due to the “potentially exorbitant costs” that could be incurred from doing so, though the fan group “was seeking to take action over Kroenke’s compulsory purchase of the club.” The AST’s gesture was more symbolic in nature, as it will not actually prevent the takeover from going through. If the club wants to return to its glory days, many fear that Kroenke is not the solution. Kroenke has long since been criticized as a sports franchise owner who cares more about the bottom line than winning cups and titles, something that traditionally-strong Arsenal have been lacking over the past few years.