Welcome to SportBusiness Group’s US Digest, rounding up the news and developments coming out of the world’s biggest sports market
Philadelphia 76ers rise to third in NBA merchandise sales
Trust the process. On the back of the Philadelphia 76ers' long-awaited play-off run and popularity of star players Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the NBA team has climbed to third in sales at the NBA store, trailing only the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Two years ago, by contrast, the 76ers weren't even in the top 10. Warriors star Stephen Curry had the highest-selling jersey for the third year in a row. The 76ers, meanwhile, will face the Dallas Mavericks in two pre-season games in China.
G League players get long-overdue pay rises
Players in the G League – the NBA development league – will now receive $7,000 per month, or $35,000 total next season, in addition to housing and insurance benefits. Last year contracted players earned $19,000 or $26,000. It is hoped the move will make the league a more attractive proposition to high-school players who want to opt out of college, and American talent considering playing in Europe. The pay rise puts G League salaries on a par with those in the NBA 2K League, which will be live-streamed on Twitch.
Advertisers told to expect stronger Thursday Night Football
Fox Sports is confident the NFL will significantly improve the quality of matches on Thursday Night Football when it releases next season's schedule later today (Thursday). Fox executive Eric Shanks told attendees at a recent advertising dinner that the network was "happy to have any of the top games from our NFC package" on TNF. Significantly, the NFL will relax rules that required TNF match-ups be made of teams in the same time zone. The 2018-19 schedule will be announced live on ESPN and the NFL Network.
United 2026 bid picks up votes – but so does Morocco
The North American 2026 World Cup bid took its presumed vote tally to 17 (of the 104 Fifa member votes needed) with the support of the South and Central American federations. United 2026's rival Morocco – which is being visited by the Fifa task force this week – continues to pick up votes, though, with Angola, Kenya and South Africa backing their continental compatriots and 21 Arab States provisionally offering their support. The USA, meanwhile, is second in ticket sales for Russia 2018 despite its team not qualifying.
ESPN Plus to gain NHL, UFC and Little League content
A week after the launch of ESPN Plus, the OTT streaming service continues to add content. 1) Ice hockey: the documentary series Quest for the Stanley Cup, nightly show In the Crease and replays of NHL play-off games. 2) UFC: ESPN and Fox are reportedly teaming up to split broadcasting rights for UFC, in a move that would bring as many as 15 fight nights to ESPN Plus. 3) Little League: more than 150 baseball and softball games. ESPN Plus is also available on Roku platforms.
FC Cincinnati edge closer to MLS expansion slot
FC Cincinnati are on the brink of becoming the next MLS expansion team despite a league board of governors meeting passing without any resolution on Tuesday. MLS officials plan to visit the city's West End site soon after local officials cleared the way for a $212.5m stadium to be built in the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, the club are likely to rebrand from Futbol Club Cincinnati to Fussball Club Cincinnati on joining MLS, to pay tribute to the area's German heritage.
Also this week
- Streaming service Hulu has followed up its sponsorship deal with the NHL Stanley Cup play-offs by striking a similar agreement for NBA on TNT play-off games. The NBA and NHL drew strong ratings during the opening weekend of their play-offs.
- David Beckham's MLS franchise is looking into building a stadium in Doral, deep in the Miami suburbs. New York City FC are exploring a site in south Bronx for their own stadium.
- A group intent on bringing an MLB team to Portland, either through expansion or relocation, has made formal offers on two large areas of land in the city for a potential ballpark.
- ESPN2 will televise the first Women’s International Champions Cup final as part of its coverage of the pre-season tournament, which was unveiled on Tuesday.
- MLB was forced to pull a Cleveland Indians' Jackie Robinson Day cap featuring the racially-insensitive Chief Wahoo logo.
- Adidas wants to sign Colin Kaepernick to an endorsement deal if the controversial quarterback signs with an NFL team.
- Players' unions want a "seat at the table" on legalized sports gambling, and the PGA Tour came out in favour of the issue.
- The Las Vegas Lights have become the first US pro sports team to have a marijuana dispensary as a sponsor.
- Early MLB season start gives schedule makers more wriggle room after a rash of weather postponements.
- Oakland A's free-ticket promotion merely highlights the team's struggle to draw crowds.
- How Detroit Pistons' downtown move improved the franchise's commercial activities.
- The Portland Timbers owner says promotion-relegation won't help player development in US soccer.
- How Snapchat inspires stadium video board technology.