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US Digest | North American 2026 World Cup bid in danger

Welcome to SportBusiness Group’s US Digest, rounding up the news and developments coming out of the world’s biggest sports market

North American 2026 World Cup bid in danger
The American-led bid to host the 2026 World Cup is far from certain to beat rival Morocco. Why? Growing anti-American sentiment among some Fifa federations. Despite its vastly inferior infrastructure, Morocco has the support of much of Asia and South America, as well as its home continent of Africa: enough to win the vote on June 13. In South America, specifically, there is unhappiness with the US Department of Justice's role in exposing regional executives' corruption. Elsewhere there is ill-feeling over some of Donald Trump's policies, including a travel ban against several Arab countries. Fifa, however, could reportedly earn bonuses of $302m from Fox and NBC if the US-led bid wins.

SeatGeek just the ticket for Dallas Cowboys
SeatGeek is issuing a signal of intent to Ticketmaster by signing a deal with the Dallas Cowboys – the most valuable franchise in US sport – to become the NFL team's primary ticket provider. While the deal represents a massive PR coup for SeatGeek, which has primarily been involved in the resale market, it comes at a price: the Cowboys will reportedly receive a 15-per-cent equity stake in the company in return. The Cowboys' opt-out of the NFL's ticketing deal with Ticketmaster is not believed to be related to owner Jerry Jones's fractured relationship with commissioner Roger Goodell.

Pizza Hut grabs slice of the NFL pie
Less than 14 hours after Papa John's severed ties with the NFL, Pizza Hut moved to become the league's official pizza. Papa John's ended its sponsorship deal nearly four months after its founder blamed slowing sales on player anthem protests, causing its share price to plummet. It is not a complete break-up however – Papa John retains deals with 22 of the league’s 32 teams. Pizza Hut is hoping its partnership, set to run until 2021, will help the company expand to new markets and bolster digital and delivery initiatives

ESPN Plus to have tiered pricing plan
On the day CBS launched its OTT streaming service CBS Sports HQ, Disney boss Bob Iger gave more details on ESPN Plus, his company's own tool to attract cord cutters. ESPN Plus is now due to launch in late March or early April – previously "late spring" – and is likely have a tiered pricing plan as more sports rights are acquired, such as out-of-market MLB and NHL packages. Iger also revealed that ESPN looked at securing NFL Thursday Night Football rights but decided it "didn't make sense".

NBC strikes advertising gold with Winter Olympics
A ratings decline but a huge spike in advertising sales. Despite a seven-per-cent dip in viewership from Sochi, NBC’s Pyeongchang coverage made "more than $920m in national ad sales, a Winter Games record", according to NBC chief Mark Lazarus. NBC averaged a Total Audience Delivery of 19.8m while battling a huge time difference and a relatively poor performance by Team USA. The Olympics were the top-rated programme on US television for more than two weeks, beating CBS, ABC and Fox combined. 

NASL cancels 2018 season after court ruling
As revealed by SportBusiness International, the NASL has cancelled its 2018 season after losing an appeal to have an injuction reinstate its division two status. Jacksonville Armada, Miami FC and the New York Cosmos will now play in the semi-pro NPSL; San Diego-based 1904 FC are finalizing an agreement to play the USL in 2019, while California United will field a team in the amateur UPSL. The fate of Carmelo Anthony-owned Puerto Rico FC is unclear. The league, which is continuing its legal battle with the USSF, will "look at all avenues" to return next year.

Also this week

The Seattle NHL expansion group plans to build a multi-purpose arena that could also house an NBA team in the future. A season-ticket drive begins on Thursday.

The NBA itself is repairing relations with Seattle (still difficult after the 2008 shift of the Sonics) with a pre-season game, between the Warriors and the Kings, in the city.

Staying in the Emerald City, the MLS Seattle Sounders have followed in the footsteps of LA FC by announcing a streaming-rights deal with YouTube TV. Meanwhile LA FC has already sold out their season-ticket allocation.

Anthony Precourt, owner of the MLS Columbus Crew, is still pushing for a move to Austin even though a USL team plans to begin playing in the city next year. The USL is also expanding to El Paso, Texas in 2019.

How can the NFL fix its ratings problems? Look to the NBA, says NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, who has met with several NFL broadcasters.

NBA jersey patches are poised to generate over $350m in value to their franchises through social media alone.

The MLB Tampa Bay Rays, who are looking to fund a new stadium, are poised to sign a new TV contract that could net them over $1bn.

Further reading

How the Golden State Warriors pushed their digital revenue up 300 per cent.

How will the NCAA basketball crisis affect CBS and Turner's $8.8bn media rights deals?

An insight into MLB's framework for legalized sports betting.

A recap of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston.

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