Welcome to SportBusiness Group’s US Digest, rounding up the news and developments coming out of the world’s biggest sports market
It's a date: LA Clippers find match in Bumble
The LA Clippers' sponsorship deal with female-driven dating app Bumble is interesting on a number of levels. 1) It shows the increased value of NBA jersey patch sponsorships. Indeed, soon after the Clippers announced their deal with Bumble, the Dallas Mavericks became the 21st NBA team to have a similar partnership. 2) Bumble's founder said she was drawn to the Clippers because they have the largest female leadership team (six executives) in the NBA. It makes perfect sense for NBA teams to try to appeal more to female fans: last season women accounted for 47 per cent of the league's 127m US TV viewers, and NBA viewership among women is up another 16 per cent this season.
Seattle sends strong message to NHL
Seattle's NHL expansion group sold an incredible 25,000 season-ticket deposits in just two hours last Thursday and 33,000 by late Friday afternoon. By the weekend there was a waiting list for fans who missed out. It bodes extremely well for Oak View Group's hopes of becoming NHL's 32nd franchise: three years ago Las Vegas was awarded an expansion team after its group sold 5,000 deposits in the first two days and 9,000 in the first month. A decision is expected by June.
Pitaro replaces Skipper as ESPN president
James Pitaro has been hired as ESPN president, arguably the most powerful position in US sports media. Pitaro, formerly chairman of Disney's consumer products and interactive division, has a strong digital background, having overseen the development of Yahoo Sports. He replaces John Skipper, who resigned suddenly in December. Among Pitaro's first orders of business are the spring launches of OTT streaming service ESPN Plus and expensive new morning TV show Get Up.
'Modell Law' could keep Crew in Columbus
The attempt to stop MLS team Columbus Crew from relocating to Austin, Texas is heading to court. Crew owner Anthony Precourt and MLS are being sued by the Ohio attorney general and the city of Columbus, citing the 'Modell Law'. The untested Ohio legislation was passed in 1996 in response to Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell abruptly moving his NFL team to Baltimore. The law says a sports team using public resources must give six months’ notice and the opportunity for local groups to buy the team before moving. Precourt and MLS "strongly disagree" with the interpretation of the law. (A sports lawyer examines the case.)
North American 2026 World Cup bid changes tack
The North American 2026 World Cup bid has acted quickly following a report it was in danger of losing to rivals Morocco due to anti-US sentiment. To make the United Bid Committee less America-focused, its three federation presidents – Canada's Steven Reed, Mexico's Decio de Maria and the USA's Carlos Cordeiro – have been elevated to co-chairs. Having three leaders on the campaign trail gives a purely logistical bonus to the business of persuading Fifa voters. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has finally agreed to become a bid host city.
TV networks ready to break bank for Manning
How to halt NFL's ratings dip? Peyton Manning. ESPN and Fox Sports are reportedly willing to pay the former quarterback $10m a year to be an analyst on Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football respectively. Both networks believe that Manning's popularity and likability will bring back viewers. "This is a battle for the Midwest. He's super-popular in the Midwest," said one source. Meanwhile, Manning sold his Papa John's franchises just days before the pizza company split with the NFL.
Also this week
- In an effort to speed up baseball, the MLB Arizona Diamondbacks are bringing back the bullpen car (popular in the 1970s) to transport relief pitchers to the field. The Diamondbacks have also found a sponsor in logistics company OnTrac.
- David Beckham's Miami MLS team are increasingly unlikely to play at their planned Overtown site. A golf course near Miami International Airport is being explored as a possible stadium location.
- Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center – home of the Flyers and the 76ers – will get a $250m makeover. Work is expected to be finished by 2021.
- Carmelo Anthony-owned Puerto Rico FC will not field a team this year after the NASL cancelled its 2018 season. The Jacksonville Armada is, conversely, planning to build a new stadium.
- The NCAA passed $1bn in annual revenue for the first time in 2017.
- The NHL released full details of its 2018 Global Series. Regular-season matches will be staged in Gothenburg and Helsinki.
- Will US soccer be forced to adopt promotion and relegation? A lawyer examines the upcoming CAS lawsuit.
- US franchises dominate Forbes' list of world's richest sports team owners.
- Why the NBA and MLB's push for a piece of the action could set legal sports betting back.
- How the value of US sports sponsorship grew by more than $54m in 2017.