Alabama has been selected as the fourth and final seed in the College Football Playoff over Big Ten champion Ohio State. According to ESPN, the Crimson Tide will now face top-seeded Clemson in the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, a semifinal rematch of last year's national championship game. On the other side of the playoff, Big 12 title winner Oklahoma will play Georgia, crowned SEC champions after topping Auburn, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The championship game will be played in Atlanta at brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium – the site that just hosted the SEC Championship. If they advance past Oklahoma in the semifinal, Georgia would be playing an in-state game in front of what is likely to be a home environment with the national title on the line. Ohio State came in at fifth in the rankings, followed by Big 10 runner-up Wisconsin at sixth. Once again, the CFP slotting comes with a side dish of huge national intrigue and debate – catnip to the CFP Selection Committee, broadcast partners, and host cities.
The SEC concluded conference championship weekend with the highest attendance number, outpacing the other Power 5 conferences. According to the Washington Post, 76,534 people were in attendance to see Georgia defeat Auburn 28-7 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, just edging out the 74,372 fans that packed Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina for the ACC Championship between Clemson and Miami. The Big 10 finished in a far third with 65,886 onlookers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, still more than a thousand more than the 64,104 fans that witnessed Oklahoma's 41-17 victory over TCU at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Apart from attendance, conference championship games drew great TV ratings across the board. "CBS and FOX were big winners," as CBS led the way with an 8.4 overnight rating for the SEC Championship, "marking the game's best figure since the Auburn-Missouri shootout in 2013 drew an 8.7 overnight." FOX turned out an 8.0 rating for the Big 10 title game, "marking the second-best figure on record since it started in 2011." It's officially bowling season – look for my comprehensive breakdown of the numbers behind all of college football's bowls next week.
The NFL has reached an unprecedented agreement with its players to partner on a plan that will address social justice issues considered important to American communities. According to ESPN.com, the league has agreed to contribute $89 million over the next seven years on select projects dealing with "criminal justice reform, law enforcement/community relations and education." Eagles' safety Malcolm Jenkins and former wide receiver Anquan Boldin led the Players Coalition in negotiations with the league office. This agreement comes as the "NFL's largest contribution to a social issue" to date, surpassing its efforts with Salute to Service and Breast Cancer Awareness/Crucial Catch. The new agreement was slightly tainted after news came out of players leaving the coalition due to dissatisfaction with how Jenkins and Boldin had handled the negotiations to date. A source close to the issue noted that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "was furious when it was reported that players were breaking off." A good move by the league on many levels – let's see how the players respond, or not, during pregame ceremonies in the coming weeks.
Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville, and Sacramento have been announced as the four finalists to land an MLS expansion team this coming year. According to the Detroit News, two of the four cities will be selected in 2017 to receive a team, while the two unsuccessful finalists will rejoin eight other cities in competing for the 2018 expansion bids. Detroit's bid presents an interesting twist since the city's proposal calls for a team to play at Ford Field, home of the NFL Lions, instead of in a soccer-specific stadium. In the other three cities, financing for soccer-specific stadiums has either been approved or is still pending official approval. Despite the lack of a soccer stadium, Detroit's bid satisfies other criteria that could ultimately make the difference in helping it win. MLS officials have said that they are "seeking owners with comparatively more money than some of the earlier and current owners, as well as experience owning sports franchises." Detroit's bid is "spearheaded" by Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert and Pistons Owner Tom Gores, and also includes Lions Owner Martha Firestone Ford. Gilbert, Gores, and Ford have also been powerful forces behind downtown Detriot's gradual renaissance. An MLS franchise would only bolster this effort.
As the holiday season unfolds, Dallas Mavericks point guard Seth Curry continues to partner with online education leader EVERFI on an important local Venture. In September, the 27 year-old Curry, son of NBA alum Dell Curry and younger brother of Golden State Warriors star Stephen, through his foundation launched Venture, EVERFI's entrepreneurship program, in middle schools throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Curry has taken an active role in engaging and encouraging students "to think entrepreneurially about business and life." The program's digital course uses case studies, interactive business simulations, and personal development activities to teach important basic business skills. Not only will the students be taught how to think entrepreneurially, they will develop their own personal business plans along with a roadmap for academic and career success. Together, the partners hope to reach hundreds of students in the first year of this initiative. Kudos to Curry, and EVERFI, for challenging kids to dream big about their business futures – the vast majority of which won't involve multimillion dollar NBA and/or shoe deals.
The NBA is preparing for a trip to Mexico this week, with the Brooklyn Nets set to play the Oklahoma City Thunder there on December 7 and the Miami Heat two days later. According to SportsBusiness Journal, despite the league's continual push to expand its international presence, playing games across the border mid-season is "tough" due to travel considerations. "We've spent so much time on preventing four games out of five nights completely, dramatically limiting the number of back-to-backs," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. "If they travel internationally, they need rest when they get there and they need rest when they get back, because we know there's a correlation between fatigue and injury." Historically, London and Mexico City have been two popular destinations for hosting regular season NBA games, with other preseason matchups being played in countries as far as China. One of the focal points this offseason was making a schedule to protect players from overbearing travel, so it's hard to see how this reality matches up to that mindset.
The NFL Experience Times Square opened Thursday, with Pro Football HOFer Michael Strahan, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Giants WR Brandon Marshall ushering through the first groups. NFL Experience President Daniel Boockvar described the 40,000-square-foot, four-floor space to SportsBusiness Journal as a cross between the Pro Football HOF, Disneyland, and Dave & Busters. Admissions fees are $39-$44, with no discounts for children. The space expects to draw 1 million visitors in its first year, which translates to admissions revenue of at least $39 million. The centerpiece of the Experience is an immersive, 180-seat theater that shows a 10-minute NFL Films-produced movie. The 2,000-square-foot, fourth-floor concession and gift shop can morph into an event space, which is already booked for future events. The Experience is a joint venture between the NFL and Cirque du Soleil; AEG and the NFLPA are also partners. The NFL expects that the Times Square location, league-wide promotion, plus the interactive football skills elements, will make the Experience a must-see for NFL fans visiting the Big Apple.
Organizers of the Miami Open tennis tournament have agreed a deal to relocate the event to Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. The agreement, which still requires approval from Miami-Dade County commissioners this week, will see the event moved from its traditional home in Key Biscayne to the recently renovated, 65,000-seat NFL stadium in 2019. Showpiece matches at the tournament, a top-level event on both the men's and women's tennis tours, will be held inside Hard Rock Stadium, with other matches taking place on adjacent grounds. The Miami Open has been held in Key Biscayne, near downtown Miami, since 1987. The event's future had been in doubt since its promoters, International Players Championship, a subsidiary of IMG, had a request to upgrade the site rejected by an appeals court in 2015. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had indicated that he would be interested in developing a new $53 million tennis complex at the Hard Rock Stadium site in order to keep the event in South Florida. Interesting move by Miami Open leadership. Part of the tournament's attraction was the island ambiance of Key Biscayne, which will be hard to match at Hard Rock.
With the groups for the 2018 World Cup in Russia officially set after the draw at The Kremlin, the countdown to kickoff has officially begun. With that, FIFA Commercial Director Philippe Le Floc'h "insisted the 2018 World Cup will make its income target despite major nations like the U.S. and Italy failing to qualify." According to the AP, FIFA has an ambitious income target of $5.66 billion for the 2015-2018 sales period. The success of sponsorships deals has varied across regions, with the North American market stalling. FIFA has been tasked with finding four North American sponsors in a new, "and stalled," regional sales program. Despite FIFA's confidence in hitting its marker, others outside of the international soccer governing body are not so optimistic. The backdrop to 2018 World Cup sales "has included uncertainty over FIFA's exposure to prosecution, falling oil prices, sanctions imposed on Russian businessmen, and issues with the next host in line, Qatar." All of these uncomfortable hurdles make it all the more likely relatively scandal-free (at least for the moment) North America will land hosting rights to the 2026 tournament.
English top-tier soccer side Manchester City is set to put pen to paper on a deal with Germany sportswear brand Puma to replace Nike as their official kit supplier, according to UK media. The Daily Mail has reported that the agreement is worth as much as $67 million per year – a significant increase on the club's current deal – and will begin in the 2019-20 season. Nike agreed a six-year kit partnership with Manchester City in 2013 worth $109 million, but the American sportswear company's existing partnership is due to come to an end at the close of the 2017-18 season. The agreement would be the largest commercial deal in the Blues' portfolio. Puma is the official kit supplier of fellow Premier League side Arsenal, who agreed a five-year deal with the German sports apparel company in 2013 worth $40 million per year. Manchester City is currently at the top of the Premier League in 2017-18, eight points clear of home rivals Manchester United and unbeaten in their opening 13 games. While the deal won't directly affect World Cup matchups, you can bet that Puma has World Cup marketing opportunities in its sights.
Responding to their increasing global popularity and demand, La Liga President Javier Tebas confirmed that the top-flight Spanish soccer league is looking into the possibility of hosting a match outside of Spain. As reported by Reuters, heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid played an exhibition match against each other in Miami this past July, which was considered a success. The league is currently reviewing options to host one or two of its 380 matches outside of Spain. If pulled off, this would mark the first time that the league has done so. "We are thinking about it," said Tebas. "The first match abroad would probably be in the United States." Over the past few summers, some of Europe's best teams have embarked on tours throughout the U.S. as part of the International Champions Cup, but those were merely exhibitions that infrequently showcased each team's top players. La Liga is evaluating a two-year target to host a league match abroad. American sports leagues have been the trailblazers in in-season international play. It's only a matter of time before other international leagues follow.
San Diego State recently unveiled plans for a mixed-use stadium in Mission Valley where the Chargers used to play. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the university is hoping to purchase the 166-acre, city-owned cite at fair market value and develop the land. Included in the plans are a 35,000-seat stadium for SDSU football games, "two hotels, 4,500 housing units for students, faculty and the public, retail space, office buildings to share with SDSU departments and researchers, and about 90 acres of parkland, plazas and walkways." The stadium would also be designed to accommodate a pro soccer team, since San Diego is in the mix to land an MLS expansion team in the future, while remaining expandable if an NFL team ever returns to San Diego. SDSU students will not be expected to contribute to the funding of the project by way of increased student fees, nor will the university tap into state funds. External consultants value the project at $3 billion, and it would also likely ensure that the Holiday Bowl remains in San Diego after a 39 year run so far.
Telemundo is preparing for its first go-round as the holder of the Spanish-language media rights for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Telemundo has already built a studio on Moscow's Red Square for all of its pregame, halftime, and postgame shows. The network is also planning on broadcasting some of its World Cup programming from FIFA's international broadcast center in Moscow and more from its new $250 million headquarters outside Miami. The NBCU-owned network does not expect its viewership numbers to take a hit with the absence of the USMNT, instead focusing on culture and the tournament's international appeal to keep its ratings up. The main Telemundo broadcast network "will air 56 of the tournament's 64 games, with the eight others on cable channel Universo." NBC Olympics President of Production & Programming and Telemundo World Cup Executive Producer Jim Bell said that there will be "well over 500 hours' of live programming." While the sidelining of the USMNT is not a disaster for Telemundo, it could well be for FOX, which holds U.S. broadcast rights to the tourney after a winning $200 million bid.
"The Game" is moving to Fenway Park next season. According to the Boston Globe, the annual matchup between Harvard and Yale will be leaving the traditional campus sites in exchange for one of the country's most historic venues. Boston-based Harvard will serve as the home team when the two sides square off for the 135th time. The Harvard-Yale matchup sells out at both schools' respective campus venues on an annual basis, with attendance for the 2016 matchup listed at 31,662. The Harvard Athletics Department confirmed that the two schools have not played each other at a location other than Harvard Stadium or the Yale Bowl since 1912, so this comes as a significant change in the rivalry. "Fenway is a super fan experience, and I know our student-athletes will be very excited about playing our biggest rival at a sold-out Fenway Park," said Harvard coach Tim Murphy. Even though it's not a Power Five conference matchup, this iconic rivalry definitely deserves an iconic venue, and the bigger capacity for fans that comes with it.
While they might not get as much attention as the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB – the "big four" in America – non-major sports leagues are quietly finding success in the shadows. According to SportsBusiness Journal, owners from teams in the NLL, MLL, and WNBA recently highlighted their individual successes at SBJ/SBD's inaugural Dealmakers in Sports conference. The NLL recently added two new expansion teams in San Diego and Philadelphia, while New England Black Wolves Co-Owner Mike French noted that a new MLL franchise could cost between $3-5 million. "There's a lot of markets, a lot of upside, and a lot of potential," said French. Seattle Storm Co-Owner Ginny Gilder spoke at the conference about the expansion fee for landing a WNBA team in the current business landscape, noting that the league would probably charge a new owner between $8-10 million. These storylines might not be top headlines above those from the Big Four, but teams in non-major leagues are slowing starting to establish themselves more firmly.
Power of Sports 5
New series "Versus" highlights how girls stick together on and off the field. "It really was like being on a team," actor Maddie McCormick told GOOD. "I've been very lucky that I left with some really amazing friendships. I think it was surprising to me, at least as someone who hadn't played sports, how picking up something like this could be so rewarding. It was more rewarding than I ever thought it would be." The series is being produced in partnership with Gatorade and launched in tandem with Gatorade's new campaign, "Sisters in Sweat," featuring tennis star and new mom Serena Williams, which aims to shed light on the growing problem of girls dropping out of sports. In the moving clip shared on social media earlier this week, Williams is talking to a baby and also to all girls around the world, encouraging them to stay in the game and celebrate the lessons learned beyond sports. "Sports will teach you the strength of your allies, whether your bond is by blood or by ball," Williams says in the ad. "Whether she shares the color of your skin or the color of your jersey. You'll find your sisters in sweat."
The Raptors remade their mind-set, not their roster. It's working. Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors, had seen enough high-powered offenses to recognize that the NBA had turned into the Autobahn. Problem was, his players were still chugging along in a Studebaker. But that was all about to change. The Raptors would finally embrace ball movement and the art of spacing. They would rid themselves of their propensity for one-on-one play, which had constipated their half-court sets. They would launch 3-pointers and run the floor while cleansing themselves of their fanatical devotion to midrange jumpers. And the Raptors would do it with essentially the same roster that had been gassing up the Studebaker. "You have to adapt," Ujiri said in a recent interview. Toronto is the site of the NBA's boldest experiment this season. Without shuffling any of their core personnel, the Raptors have sought to reinvent themselves by adopting a free-flowing offense that emphasizes passing, cutting, and 3-point shooting. It might not sound like a novel approach - by now, nearly all of the league's top teams live by these principles - but the Raptors had been one of the few holdouts. After a string of postseason disappointments, it was time to try something new. It was time to join the modern NBA.
A training camp arms female broadcasters for the world of sports. Fueled by her personal experiences of sexism and ageism in the industry, Laura Okmin saw where she could use her own journey to help others. Since founding Galvanize in 2012, Okmin has built a community of young women eager to make their mark in the sports world. Growing up in Chicago, where everyone is arguably a sports fan, Okmin never saw her love of sports as gendered. She received her journalism degree from the University of Kansas and began working her way up the ranks as a sports reporter in Montgomery, Alabama. Eventually, she landed with FOX Sports, where she has served as a sideline reporter, anchor, and host. As one of the few women in sports journalism at the time, Okmin admitted to feeling as though it was her versus the other women. Then, her boss sat her down and said, "I don't compare you to the other women sports broadcasters or other men sports broadcasters. You're terrific on your own." This conversation transformed how she would move forward in her career. "I don't want to be considered good for a woman. I just want to be good," she says.
One MLS player created a transformational website that could save athletes from going broke. Amobi Okugo is an eight-year MLS veteran, and in many ways is the best example of the larger majority of professional athletes around the globe; a steady rank-and-file player who doesn't consume the spotlight. While he isn't a superstar, Okugo's position makes his website all the more powerful. As he says on the site's welcome page, "My goal is to share insight from athletes on all levels financially and increase financial literacy amongst the audience." A Frugal Athlete might best be called The Players Tribune for athletes to give advice on wealth management. Where stars may garner enough career salary to retire comfortably, for most, the end of their professional sports career means not having enough to sustain them through the rest of their lives. When sports ends, a second career has to emerge. "I got the idea shortly after watching ESPN's 30 for 30, ‘Broke,'" said Okugo. "Between that and reading a few articles highlighting athletes who had lost much of their career earnings, I began looking for other athletes that were smart with their money."
LeBron James and Morgan Spurlock team on "I Promise School" documentary. Morgan Spurlock's Warrior Poets and LeBron James' SpringHill Entertainment are partnering on a documentary series that chronicles James' launch of a public school for at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The series, which will begin shooting soon in Akron, will explore the challenges, triumphs, and impact of the LeBron James Family Foundation's efforts to open the "I Promise School," as well as the first-year trials of working within a local public school system aimed at children who are fighting uphill battles every day. The series will also highlight the educators, mentors, and community partners committed to establishing a new approach to education from an early stage. "Being able to create this school to specifically meet the needs of these kids and their families means everything to me," James said. "There are so many kids and families struggling, and we want this school to be a safe, positive place that helps them stay on the right track to earning their educations. Having Spring Hill Entertainment and an amazing filmmaker like Morgan Spurlock here to document this process is huge."
Five Top Tech
Look inside the Golden State Warriors' $60 million jersey patch deal with Japanese electronic commerce giant Rakuten. When the NBA's Board of Governors approved the sale of jersey sponsorships in the form of 2.5-inch-by-2.5-inch patches in April 2016, many in the sports world wondered how the move to placing corporate names on uniforms would play out. The WNBA had moved to add sponsors to jerseys in 2009, but this would mark the first time that one of the four major North American leagues had engaged in a sponsor logo (outside the official uniform manufacturers). Each of the 30 clubs would be responsible for inking its own deal, creating unique processes and alignments for each market and brand. "Jersey sponsorships provide deeper engagement, with partners looking to build a unique association with our teams, and the additional investment will help grow the game in exciting new ways," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the time. "We're always thinking about innovative ways the NBA can remain competitive in a global marketplace, and we are excited to see the results of this three-year trial."
Stanford is using Facebook Watch to promote Bryce Love for the Heisman Trophy. Stanford has sent many players to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. In the last eight years, they've all come up just short. There was Toby Gerhart in 2009, Andrew Luck in 2010 and 2011, and Christian McCaffrey in 2015; all three finished second in the voting. Gerhart and McCaffrey finished behind Alabama running backs Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, respectively. Luck lost to scintillating quarterbacks in Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III. Now, Stanford has another player in the Heisman conversation - Bryce Love, who trails only Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield in the latest iteration of ESPN's Heisman Watch. And Stanford is trying something new, as the Cardinal took to Facebook's Watch platform to promote the star running back with a new episodic series called "Heisman Love."
GumGum helps New Orleans Pelicans, Saints sponsors see value. While watching highlights of Anthony Davis, a viewer will see some big blocks, rim-rattling dunks, and heads-up passing. GumGum Sports sees something else: the ads. GumGum Sports sees those ads and calculates a Media Value Percentage (MVP) based on amount of time on screen and clarity of view, among other metrics. Last week, the company announced a partnership with the Pelicans and Saints to help them better quantify the value of in-venue advertisements. "This helps our partners feel confident that they are maximizing their sponsorship dollars and better understand what they are getting in return for their investment," Mike Stanfield, Saints/Pelicans Senior Vice President of Sales, wrote. GumGum Sports is a division of GumGum Computer Vision and is less than a year old. "It's tremendous, they want brand sponsors to know they are on the cutting edge of technology," said Ryan Mosher, GumGum Executive Director of Sponsorship Solutions. "If a team or rights holder is not adapting, they are already behind the eight ball."
Mercedes-Benz Stadium scores a first with LEED Platinum certification. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and MLS' Atlanta United, has achieved LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Platinum certification, making it the first professional sports stadium in North America to do so. The two-million-square-foot stadium, which opened in August, features unique sustainable solutions for water, lighting, and overall energy conservation. "We set out to build a venue that would not only exceed expectations, but also push the limits of what was possible in terms of stadium design, fan experience and sustainability," Arthur Blank, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United owner and chairman, said in a statement. "We set a goal of achieving the highest LEED rating because it was the right thing to do for our city and the environment. With this achievement, we have a powerful new platform to showcase to the industry and to our fans that building sustainably and responsibly is possible for a venue of any type, size and scale."
Boston Celtics, GE Foundation launch STEM lab for middle schoolers. The Boston Celtics and GE Foundation are joining forces to launch a new "Brilliant Career Play" mobile STEM Lab focused on enhancing access to STEM experiences and training for Massachusetts public middle school students of diverse backgrounds. The overall goal is to get them more familiar with the field, allowing them to be better prepared for innovative jobs in the future. The mobile lab, which is scheduled to travel to nine different middle schools throughout the state, was launched with the help of Celtics player Aron Baynes. It features tools the students need to become more familiar with STEM careers. "We're incredibly proud to team up with GE Foundation to develop such an advanced mobile laboratory that will greatly impact many middle school students throughout the Boston area," Celtics president Rich Gotham said in a statement. "We've partnered with GE to make sure we're as technologically advanced as we can be on the basketball court, and hope initiatives like this can help inspire the next generation of innovators."