Welcome to SportBusiness Group’s US Digest, rounding up the news and developments coming out of the world’s biggest sports market
ESPN Plus adds boxing and soccer content
Streaming service ESPN Plus added more content ahead of its much-anticipated launch on Thursday. The Jeff Horn-Terence Crawford welterweight world-title fight in June will be one of 18 live boxing events over the next year that will be exclusive to the app. Also included are hundreds of fights from the ESPN Big Fights Library and Top Rank archive. Added to out-of-market MLS and home-market Chicago Fire games, meanwhile, are hundreds of matches from the second division USL, the new Uefa Nations League and the English Football League, as well as daily news programme ESPN FC.
Race to buy Carolina Panthers enters final stretch
Then there were two? Ben Navarro and Alan Kestenbaum are now the favourites to buy the Carolina Panthers, with South Carolina businessman Navarro believed to have offered $2.6bn for the NFL franchise. Billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper and Fanatics owner Michael Rubin have pulled out of the running, according to the New York Times, though Tepper insisted he is still involved. Definitely out is Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates, who said the sale price was "higher than I consider to be prudent". A final decision is expected next month.
Fifa inspects North American World Cup bid
Fifa's evaluation task force is in North America this week to inspect United 2026's World Cup bid. The delegation is making a whistle-stop tour of Mexico City, Atlanta, Toronto and New York/New Jersey before going to Morocco next week. Fifa specifically examined the risk of violence in Mexico. It is believed Fifa president Gianni Infantino favours the North American bid, with Morocco recently expressing concern over a changed scoring system that heavily favours infrastructure. Nonetheless, 13 countries have expressed their public support for Morocco, with just Saudi Arabia backing USA-Mexico-Canada thus far.
Hulu hits ice to promote streaming service
Streaming service Hulu has become the official sponsor of the NHL Stanley Cup play-offs, which began on Wednesday, a deal which mirrors that between YouTube TV and both the MLB World Series and NBA Finals. It is hoped the on-air and in-stadium ad inventory will lead to a significant increase in subscriptions from sports fans, as Hulu tries to compete with other OTT streaming services. Meanwhile, two first-round play-off games will be broadcast on the Golf Channel, which is part of the NBC network, “due to programming conflicts”.
Empty seats at MLB stadiums make grim viewing
Monday was a day to forget for Major League Baseball. Of the 12 games that day, five drew fewer than 15,000 spectators, with the Baltimore Orioles and Miami Marlins both setting record low attendances. In frigid conditions, the Orioles' announced crowd of 7,915 was the lowest in Camden Yards history while the rebuilding Marlins had their smallest attendance (7,003) for a game at Marlins Park. The Marlins went one worse/better on Tuesday, drawing just 6,516 fans. Elsewhere, in freezing weather, the Chicago White Sox had an announced paid attendance of 10,377 but the actual figure, it is believed, was 974.
Woods helps give Masters huge ratings spike
The Masters had a significant TV ratings boost in the opening two rounds thanks to Tiger Woods' return – and many viewers stayed for the golf major's dramatic finale. Thursday and Friday ratings were up 40 and 55 per cent, respectively, on ESPN; on Saturday and Sunday they rose 24 and 14 per cent on CBS. Even though Woods was out of contention at the end, his sheer presence can be credited with drawing audiences in. Meanwhile, Augusta National will host the final round of a 54-hole amateur women's tournament next year, on the Saturday prior to the Masters.
Also this week
- The International Champions Cup will stage a women's tournament for the first time. Manchester City, Paris St-Germain, the North Carolina Courage and a fourth team will compete in south Florida in July.
- Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong is reportedly buying into DC United, in a deal that values the MLS franchise at $500m. Owner Erick Thohir is selling his majority stake.
- The Chicago Cubs unveiled a lottery programme to allow fans the chance to land highly sought-after tickets to their games. The MLB All-Star game will be held at Dodger Stadium in 2020.
- The city of Columbus filed a motion to gain a six-month window to find local investors to buy the Crew, whose owner wants to move the MLS team to Austin, Texas.
- Two months after losing the US Soccer presidential election, Kathy Carter is leaving her role as head of Soccer United Marketing to pursue other opportunities, possibly as NWSL commissioner.
- Orlando has been named as the first team in the Alliance of American Football league. A team in southern California is also expected.
- Small market, big price tag. Robert Pera's deal to retain control of the Memphis Grizzlies values the NBA team between $1.3bn and $1.4bn.
- ESPN promises to keep its F1 coverage commercial-free for the rest of the season after an outcry from US fans.
- Tod Leiweke has been officially named chief executive and president of Seattle's prospective NHL expansion team. (Sports Illustrated spoke to both Tod and Tim Leiweke about his arrival.)
- The Miami Marlins are claiming corporate citizenship in the British Virgin Islands…
- … and have decreased in worth in Forbes' MLB team valuations for 2018.
- Facebook got off to a rocky start with its coverage of the Mets-Phillies game.
- Indy Eleven's owner is losing his shirt in an attempt to bring MLS to Indianapolis.
- How Nascar is pivoting to a different business model.
- Why players' unions need to engage on sports betting.