Welcome to SportBusiness Group’s US Digest, rounding up the news and developments coming out of the world’s biggest sports market
New pro football league gets headstart on XFL
A rival to the NFL is coming sooner than expected. The Alliance of American Football league will launch in 2019 – a year before Vince McMahon's planned XFL reboot – and will be broadcast on CBS Sports. The eight-team AAF is looking to appeal to gridiron fans during the NFL offseason: the first game will be on Feb 9, a week after Super Bowl LIII, and help to find teams for players who do not make NFL rosters. It will be run by Charlie Ebersol, the son of NBC executive Dick Ebersol, and has several wealthy investors. A series of rule changes are designed to complete games in less than two-and-a-half hours, while average ticket prices will be $35. Can the AAF and XFL co-exist? We'll see.
NFL Draft to have unprecedented TV coverage
Meanwhile, next month's NFL Draft will be broadcast on an alphabet soup of channels. Fox, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and the NFL Network will all broadcast the event from Arlington, Texas, ensuring its greatest-ever reach. For the first time, the entire three-day event will air on network TV, with FOX airing the first two days (rounds 1-3) and ABC showing day three (rounds 4-7). Such interest proves how much of a draw the NFL remains for broadcasters despite its supposed ratings problem. If anything, with all the streaming access as well, there is a danger of over-saturation.
North American World Cup bid plays down Trump effect
The leaders of the North American 2026 World Cup bid this week doubled down in their assertion that Donald Trump's administration will not be a factor ahead of the June 13 vote against Morocco. US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro has predicted record revenues if the USA-Canada-Mexico bid emerges victorious. He estimated 5.8m tickets would be sold, generating $2.1bn. The bid leaders have travelled around the globe in recent weeks in the search for votes. Meanwhile, details have emerged about the punishing Fifa contract that led to Vancouver – and other cities – pulling out of the race to become host venues.
MLB to expand international push with London series
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are taking their historic rivalry to London. Following in the footsteps of the NFL and NBA, the MLB teams are poised to play a two-game series at the London Stadium in June 2019. The series is part of MLB's expanded international push: regular-season games will be staged in Puerto Rico and Mexico this year. MLB staged a home run derby-like event in London last year to showcase baseball for a European audience, which commissioner Rob Manfred has long been keen to attract. “It’s following the leader – the NFL,” said one expert.
Oakland A's ask fans to name their price for tickets
The Oakland Athletics continue to innovate in attempts to attract fans. The A's will allow supporters to pick their price ($1 minimum) for regular-season home games on Wednesdays. Revenue from the tickets – in section 322 only – will go into the team's community fund. The initiative follows the 'Treehouse Pass', which offers fans a social experience – such as pool, ping pong, foosball tables and DJs – for $29.99 a month in a specially-designed area of the Coliseum. The A's also received nearly 300,000 requests for free tickets to their 50th-anniversary game, on April 17 against the Chicago White Sox.
Phoenix, Sacramento and Cincinnati step up MLS efforts
Three cities hoping to join MLS this year have stepped up their efforts of late. Sacramento, who are in the search for a new investor, have reportedly been courting billionaire grocery magnate Ron Burkle, who was involved in two attempts to purchase the city’s basketball franchise, the Kings. Cincinnati are focusing on stadium sites in Oakley and Newport after a deal couldn’t be reached for a West End site. Phoenix, outsiders who have recently been making up ground, released renders of a 21,000-seat, $250m stadium. David Beckham's Miami franchise, meanwhile, has expanded its search for a stadium site despite already supposedly choosing the Overtown neighborhood.
Also this week
- The Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast on a different network for the first time since 1965 after IndyCar signed a media-rights deal with NBC Sports from 2019.
- Ahead of the US Open's 50th anniversary, the USTA has launched a new advertising campaign, with a video narrated by actor Alec Baldwin, as well as a new logo.
- Gayle Benson is the new owner of the Saints and Pelicans in New Orleans following the death of her husband Tom. The NFL and NBA approved the ownership transfer.
- Rugby union grows ever more popular in the States: NBC will broadcast the European Champions Cup, as well as the Six Nations and Aviva Premiership. Major League Rugby has signed a streaming deal with ESPN.
- The NASL is looking to strike down the "anti-competitive" Professional League Standards in an amended lawsuit against USSF. MLS has been added as a defendant.
- Tiger Woods' resurgence continues to boost NBC's golf ratings even while going against March Madness.
- Michael Rubin has dropped out of the race to buy the Carolina Panthers after bidding climbed above $2.5bn.