Welcome to SportBusiness Group’s US Digest, rounding up the news and developments coming out of the world’s biggest sports market
Seattle NHL bid gains $100m and another Leiweke
Oak View Group, the Seattle NHL expansion hopeful, has received a double boost. First, a $100m cash injection from private equity group Silver Lake. Second, the much-anticipated arrival of veteran sports executive Tod Leiweke. The younger brother of Oak View chief executive Tim Leiweke has left his role as NFL COO after three years, and has strong history in Seattle sports – with roles at the Seahawks and Sounders – and the NHL, at the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks. After a hugely successful ticket drive, Seattle is all but certain to be awarded the expansion slot.
MLB takes big swing with exclusive Facebook deal
MLB and Facebook have signed the first exclusive rights deal between a major US sports league and a streaming-video platform. Facebook Watch has been awarded sole global rights to 25 weekday afternoon games (most on Wednesdays) next season. MLB is determined to attract a younger audience and cord-cutters – notably, the league’s 30 teams unanimously approved the deal. The partnership, worth $30m-35m, is also another big step into live sports rights from Facebook, even if the time slot is likely to limit audiences.
New York Cosmos count the cost of NASL demise
The New York Cosmos will miss out on any sponsorship revenue following the cancellation of the 2018 NASL season. "Since we are not playing, we don’t get that money," Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso told SportBusiness International in an interview. The Cosmos will play in the semi-pro NPSL this summer and "hope to be back in 2019" but, Commisso said, this depends on the league’s legal challenge to US Soccer. Meanwhile, executives from independent soccer clubs met in Chattanooga last weekend to discuss a way forward outside of the MLS-USL partnership.
Twitter ties up MLS streaming agreement
Elsewhere in sports streaming, Twitter has secured non-exclusive rights to MLS games. In a three-year deal, the social media giant will show at least 24 live matches per season. Games broadcast in Spanish on Univision will be shown with English commentary, in the US only – beginning with LA FC's 5-1 win at Real Salt Lake last weekend. Twitter, like Facebook, believes securing sports rights will not only attract users but – the holy grail – keep them engaged.
NHL finally breaks the ice with esports
The NHL is taking its first foray into the world of competitive esports. The NHL Gaming World Championship, based on EA Sport's NHL 18, will feature one-on-one games between players from the US, Canada and Europe. The final takes place in Las Vegas in June, with a prize pool of $100,000. Games will be streamed on Twitch, while regional finals will be televised on NBCSN, Sportsnet in Canada and Viasat in Sweden. For the NHL, this is “absolutely a phase one test”. But there is already some concern over the one-on-one format, with the belief that 3-on-3 or 6-on-6 play is better suited for competitive esports tournaments. Meanwhile, Arlington, Texas, plans to build the biggest esports venue in the US.
Baltimore Orioles to let children in for free
The Baltimore Orioles – who have one of the lowest attendances in MLB – have come up with a bold initiative to attract a younger audience: let them in for free. Adults who purchase an upper-deck ticket can bring two children (aged nine or under) for no cost. The Orioles are also expanding entertainment and concession options for kids at Camden Yards. Baltimore ranked 23rd in home attendances last season, with their lowest per-game total since 2011. It’ll be welcomed by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who has made youth outreach a priority. The median age of MLB television viewers (57) is significantly older that of the NFL (50), NHL (49) and NBA (42).
Also this week
- The latest suitor for NFL's Carolina Panthers? Fanatics owner and internet entrepreneur Michael Rubin. Rapper Sean Combs and NBA star Stephen Curry are reportedly joining Rubin's ownership group.
- MLS and Mexico's Liga MX have announced a strategic partnership, featuring an annual battle of league champions, the Campeones Cup, starting in September. There are also plans for an MLS-Liga MX All-Star Game.
- The Tiger effect is as strong as ever. Tiger Woods' near-win at the Valspar Championship was the highest network TV golf audience for a non-major in five years.
- More than $10bn will be bet on March Madness but only three per cent legally. CBS and Turner are live-streaming 21 games in virtual reality (for a fee).
- ESPN Plus gains more exclusive content: Kobe Bryant's new NBA series Detail and a documentary series on select NBA rookies.
- Vancouver has been dropped as a potential host city for the 2026 World Cup. The decision comes after the province of British Columbia raised concerns over costs.
- Why ESPN boss Jimmy Pitaro has one of the toughest jobs in US media.
- An examination of the strained relationship between the NFL and ESPN.
- Why all signs point to a drop in MLB attendances in 2018.
- Golden State Warriors fans will be hit in the pocket after move to new arena.
- How fan clubs play a pivotal role for LaLiga's push in the States.