US Digest | Woods-Mickelson showdown set for Thanksgiving weekend

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

Woods-Mickelson showdown set for Thanksgiving weekend
More details emerged this week about the $10m showdown between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. 1) It will take place on Thanksgiving weekend, either on Nov 23 or Nov 24 at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas. 2) Cable network TNT has agreed to broadcast the event across its multiple platforms. 3) The duo are considering putting in some of their own money, but only as a side bet. 4). This is no one-off. There are tentative plans for a series of head-to-head matches featuring the world’s top players, with two-man team events also being considered. It all sounds interesting, but how many people will watch?

LeBron gives Lakers instant national TV exposure
LeBron James’ move to the LA Lakers has had an immediate impact on the team’s national TV exposure. The NBA this week released its TV schedule for the first week of the season, Christmas Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day – and, unsurprisingly, the Lakers are prominently featured. LeBron’s first meaningful Lakers game, against the Trail Blazers on Thursday, Oct 18, is on TNT; the Lakers’ Christmas Day clash with the Warriors is on ESPN (in primetime); and the Lakers will face the Warriors again on MLK Day, on TNT. Last year the Lakers had 35 of their 82 regular-season games on national TV, ranking them fifth overall.

France arrest is latest PR nightmare for Nascar
Nascar lurches from crisis to crisis. The arrest of chief executive Brian France for driving while intoxicated and in possession of a controlled substance – and his subsequent leave of absence – has come at the worst possible time for the beleaguered racing series. After losing more than half its attendance and TV ratings in the last decade – as well as a glut of major sponsors – France’s leadership was already under question. His arrest is a PR nightmare for an organization actively looking for fresh investment. In the interim, vice-chairman Jim France – Brian’s uncle – will assume the positions of chairman and chief executive.

ESPN announces Serie A and Top Rank Boxing deals 
A busy seven days for ESPN. Late last week the network signed a seven-year partnership with Top Rank Boxing that runs through August 2025 and includes 54 events a year. On Sunday, ESPN+ aired the Community Shield between Manchester City and Chelsea after weeks of uncertainty whether the game would even be shown in the US. On Tuesday, ESPN signed a multi-year rights agreement with Serie A, most likely in large part down to Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus. There had been little interest among US broadcasters earlier this summer in Serie A rights. Also on Tuesday, Disney boss Bob Iger said subscription growth for ESPN+ was “exceeding our expectations” – but did not reveal any numbers.

McGregor UFC return ‘will gain 2m pay-per-view sales’
Can Conor McGregor’s much-heralded return revive UFC? It is certainly hoped so after its most recent event, UFC on Fox 30, was was the lowest-rated card in the seven-year history of the series, averaging a 1.04 rating and 1,678,000 viewers. The event was 18 per cent down from the July show last year and 41 per cent down from two years ago. The ratings do not bode well for ESPN following its $1.5bn deal to air the MMA series. UFC’s biggest star McGregor is returning in October in Las Vegas, which president Dana White claimed will gain 2 million pay-per-view buys. It sounds like White is trying to hype up the fight but UFC certainly needs a McGregor boost.

Sports gambling paying off already for TV networks
The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a ban on legalized sports gambling has already led to gains in TV advertising revenue. Embattled CBS chief executive Les Moonves told investors in an earnings call that one of its local stations in Philadelphia has received new betting-related advertising dollars and that he expects to see a similar boost in New York. “It’s a category that has unbelievable upside,” Moonves said. This increased demand for ads – resulting from higher audiences in areas that legalize wagering – could ultimately make sports rights even more valuable.

Also this week

  • The NCAA adopted a series of policy and rules changes that it hopes will clean up college basketball, including allowing players who go undrafted by the NBA to return to their university
  • The Memphis Grizzlies unveiled FedEx as their first jersey sponsor, continuing their partnership with the company. The NBA team also play at FedExForum
  • The Orlando Magic will feature in the two NBA Mexico City Games, on Dec 13 and Dec 15 at the Arena Ciudad de México. It is the third consecutive season the NBA will play two regular-season games in Mexico City
  • American billionaire Stan Kroenke is set to take full control of Arsenal after minority shareholder Alisher Usmanov accepted a buyout offer of his 30-per-cent stake
  • Indian Wells could host the Davis Cup as early as 2021 after billionaire Larry Ellison became an investor in the 25-year, $3bn partnership between the ITF and investment group Kosmos that aims to transform the 118-year-old event
  • Erick Thohir’s six-year involvement with DC United is about to end after MLS’s board of governors approved changes in the franchise’s investment group
  • Meanwhile, FC Cincinnati are approaching a 25,000-strong season-ticket base ahead of their inaugural MLS campaign
  • After ending their mythical waiting list to purchase season tickets, the Washington Redskins are now advertising single-game general admission tickets for sale
  • The MMA startup Professional Fighters League has received a $28m equity investment from a group that includes actor Kevin Hart and self-help guru Tony Robbins.

Further reading

Most recent

Tom King looks at how China is getting its sporting calendar back on track, and how the global health crisis has affected some of the weaker industry players in the country.

The Abu Dhabi government has turned the majority of Yas Island into a ten-square-mile safe zone just for the UFC, with each of the 2,500 people on site being tested for Covid-19 on five separate occasions during their stay.

USL executive vice president Court Jeske speaks to SportBusiness about the opportunities and challenges of the USL Championship's return in home venues amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last month, the Infront agency announced the launch of its new initiative, #Sport4Recovery. Adam Nelson speaks to some of the founding partners of the programme about how the scheme aims to highlight the social and health benefits of sport as well as the economic ones.