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Published by Sports Business Journal, 2022-05-20 11:53:19

Sports Business Journal — May 23, 2022


MAY 23-29, 2022
VOLUME 25 ISSUE 8 • $10.95

And We’re Back!
The SBAs returned in person with a record-setting, star-studded crowd,
including Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin, our Sports Executive of the Year.

PAGES 6-14

Denny Hamlin: Driving hard, Moody Center: Texas Longhorns, In-Depth: Why new multisport
speaking out on and off the OVG ready to take unique megaplexes are a big draw for
track to reinvigorate NASCAR partnership to prime time
youth sports and tourists


Nomination deadline is
June 13, 11:59 PM ET

Learn More at









Alex Rodriguez joined “ MONEY TALKS
the Professional We were second in recruiting last year. [Texas]
Fighters League A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their
team — made a deal for name, image, likeness.
as an investor and ”We didn’t buy one player, all right? But I don’t know
board member, if we’re gonna be able to sustain that in the future
part of PFL’s $30 because more and more people are doing it.

million funding round. — Alabama football coach NICK SABAN; Aggies coach JIMBO FISHER heatedly denied the allegation

Premier Lacrosse League is bringing back
DIVISION its Championship Series, initially used during
the pandemic, and utilize a revised format that it
The Pac-12 is dropping hopes will strengthen the sport’s case for inclusion
its North and South
in the 2028 Summer Olympics.
alignments; the NCAA
Division I council said

it would relax
restrictions on



Getty Images (3) Equal Footing 2.3M
Viewers on TBS for the New York
The decades-long battle for equal pay for the U.S. women’s national soccer team — a fight taken up by Rangers’ 4-3 overtime win against the
fans, like this one at the SheBelieves Cup in March 2020 — was finally resolved in a historic victory for Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 on
women’s sports in America. As part of a new collective-bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer that runs May 15, the most for a first-round
through 2028, the men’s and women’s teams will now be paid the same rate for game appearances and NHL playoff game on cable.
tournament victories, while the two also will pool their World Cup bonuses and distribute them equally.
W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M Amount raised by Major League Cricket
to fund expansion into the United States
starting in 2023.

MAY 23-29, 2022 | 3

FORUM Pulling back the curtain
on SBA judging debates
I NSIDE THE JUDGING for the Sports Business from the influential efforts executed at Climate The entire contents
PUBLISHER AND Awards, for the first time in awards his- Pledge. of this magazine are
EXECUTIVE EDITOR tory, there was serious discussion and copyrighted by Street &
debate about ties and co-winners. ■ AMONG THE OTHERS: Best in Property Con- Smith’s Sports Business
THIS WEEK sulting, Sales and Client Services was a de- Journal 2022 with all rights
League of the Year was, for the second year manding deliberation, as these agencies were reserved. Street & Smith’s
MEDIA in a row, the most contested category. Every involved in the biggest deals of the year — from is a registered trademark
15 L IGHTING IT UP nominee had some support. Despite a small AEG Global Partnerships’ record-breaking of Leaders Group Holdings
pocket of passionate advocates, the NFL deal with, to Wasserman’s work LLC. Reproduction or use,
Amid the early suc- couldn’t get traction despite its strong business with the NFL on international marketing without permission, of
cess of the Chicago year because of its high-profile controversies. rights, to Oak View Group’s parade of deals. editorial or graphic content
Cubs’ Marquee Sports The NHL had such a good story around a new But in the end, the judges were drawn to CAA in any manner is prohibited.
Network, questions lin- media deal, a new franchise and inclusion ef- Sports’ broad offering around big ticket items Street & Smith’s Sports
ger about streaming. forts that I thought it might sneak in as a sur- in sponsorship sales and media consultancy. Business Journal (ISSN-
By Erik Bacharach prise winner. The SEC was widely respected … Sports Breakthrough of the Year offered a 1098-5972) publishes up
for adding two key members to the conference, broad range of nominees, and it will fall on to 49 print or digital issues
MEDIA but judges were eager to see more in the future. SBJ to offer more clarity around the criteria. each year, for $325 a year
16 HARD TO FOCUS It ultimately came down to the WNBA and the While early support was around Omaha Pro- by Street & Smith’s Sports
UFC. This featured a very engaged back and ductions and the Manning brothers’ success- Business Journal, at 120
ON GOLF forth, and in the end, it seemed the UFC pre- ful alternative broadcasts, many judges didn’t West Morehead Street, Suite
Players and executives vailed because of its amplification of both male think it was new enough. There were pockets 310, Charlotte, NC 28202.
involved with LIV Golf and female athletes, its overall success in sign- of support for all the innovative team building In Canada $390 per year,
continue to stumble over ing significant sponsorship deals and driving that Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin are includes GST and all other
Saudi Arabia’s role in the ESPN+’s business, and connecting with a doing around 23XI Racing, but judges were countries $504, includes
startup league. young, diverse, engaged fan base. This was impressed by the rapid introduction of Cryp- a one-year subscription
one of the better debates I’ve witnessed over to the marketplace and its massive and expedited air delivery
By John Ourand the years. investments around top-tier sports properties, (GST#139794580).
which has upended the financial services cat- Periodicals postage paid at
LABOR Team of the Year was also competitive, as egory. … Sponsor of the Year is a fun debate Charlotte, NC, and additional
17 O NES TO WATCH all six franchises had support. But the conver- and leaves the judges wanting to see more mailing offices. Street &
sation soon focused around four — the Golden metrics on market growth and ROI. They loved Smith’s Sports Business
Two separate agen- State Warriors, Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta the efforts around Duke’s Mayo but considered Journal is a publication of
cies launched by Tracy Braves and Tampa Bay Lightning. Judges were that an effective “campaign of the year” and Leaders Group Holdings
McGrady, Jermaine impressed with the Warriors’ continued out- not fitting a broader sponsor of the year rec- LLC. Street & Smith’s Sports
O’Neal and Mike Miller standing business performance with strong ognition. Two companies received most of the Business Journal is an equal
prepare for the NBA Draft. season-ticket sales, ticket renewals and over- attention — Caesars Sportsbook for its brand- opportunity employer.
By Liz Mullen all revenue. The turnaround of the Rams and ing efforts and infrastructure at venues, and
the progress the team has made in Los Ange- Constellation Brands: Beer Division, for its POSTMASTER: Please
OPINION les was a strong story, and the Braves’ incred- specific marketing and activation. It was the send address changes
32 I MPORTANT MOVE ible hold on its fan base, their revenue gains successful story of how Constellation gained to Street & Smith’s
and the draw of The Battery and Truist Park significant market share for its Modelo and Sports Business Journal —
Naomi Osaka’s creation nearly won over the room. But voters kept Corona brands through sports activation that Subscriber Services,
of Evolve is about more coming back to the consistent excellence of earned it the final nod. … Sports Event of the P.O. Box 36637,
than building her own the Lightning, the team’s respected business Year saw a lot of love around what NASCAR Charlotte, NC 28236-6637.
agency. It’s about literal performance matching its on-ice product and did with its Busch Light Clash at The Coli- If the Post Office alerts
agency. the efforts of owner Jeff Vinik and his orga- seum and how Circuit of the Americas lever- us that your magazine is
By Shira Springer nization in engaging with the community. The aged Formula One’s growing popularity undeliverable, we have no
Lightning’s strong community efforts had during its race last October, but those didn’t further obligation unless we
CLOSING SHOT tremendous appeal with the judges and, I be- reach the respect for what MLB did in creating receive a corrected address
34 IN THE OKC lieve, may have been the difference maker. a visually stunning story in an Iowa cornfield. within 3 months.

Oklahoma City embraces Sports Facility of the Year quickly was a There were incredibly creative and innova- FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE
the Women’s College debate on two facilities: Climate Pledge Arena tive efforts among all nominees, and it re- CALL 1-800-829-9839
World Series, with a larg- and SoFi Stadium. Several judges told their sulted in a very competitive selection process.
er fan fest and expanded firsthand experiences of being at a number I hope this offers a glimpse into the hard work For article reprints, please
sponsor activity. of the venues, and while SoFi was seen as the and thoughtful debate of the judges. contact celebrate@
By Erik Spanberg one that will have the most volume and host
the biggest events in the future, judges focused Abraham Madkour can be reached at or call customer service at
OPINION. . . . . . . . . . 32 on the authenticity and long-term sustain- a[email protected]. 1-800-829-9839.
CLOSING SHOT. . . . 34 ability impact of Climate Pledge. Judges felt
that the buildings of the future will all learn
Cover image by
Marc Bryan-Brown SBJPODCASTS

4 | M AY 23-29, 2022 BUZZCAST

Check out Buzzcast in Sports Business Journal’s Morning Buzz, our podcast that looks at the top sports business stories of the day.






A record crowd of more
than 1,100 people filled
a ballroom in midtown
Manhattan for the Sports
Business Awards, which
had been held remotely
each of the past two
years because of the

‘Effing Awesome’ since struck up a friendship. Marc-Bryan Brown
“He took a risk that was really unusual,” Mill said of Kraft, who
That was the best way to describe the industry’s feeling as the
Sports Business Awards returned in-person BY ERIK BACHARACH is 55 years his senior. “A wealthy sports owner with a young kid
from the ghetto who’s a rapper.”
T HE INDUSTRY’S BIGGEST EVENT was bigger than ever. A
record 1,100 people. A record 96 nominees. A sixth-floor, Before walking to the microphone to accept the award, Kraft
purple-hued ballroom at the New York Marriott Marquis shared a lengthy onstage embrace with Mill, then went off-script
in Times Square overflowing with bold-faced names from as he voiced his feelings for his friend.
the sports business, including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver,
LA28 Chairman Casey Wasserman and Oak View Group CEO Tim “This guy is special. You all see that,” Kraft said. Then, a bit
Leiweke. deeper into his 10-minute acceptance speech, Kraft ad-libbed again
with further praise for Mill.
All of that may explain why an entertainer used to performing
on stage in front of tens of thousands of people was the most nervous “This guy is effing awesome!”
person in the room at the 15th annual Sports Business Awards. The roar from the crowd was just one of dozens of moments that
Meek Mill could sense the significance of the moment. Being there, reflected the buzz in the room. After two years of virtual versions,
the famed rapper told host and ESPN reporter Laura Rutledge the SBAs were back, and as SBJ Publisher and Executive Editor
backstage, was too important to miss. Abe Madkour noted at the top of the program: “The key is we all
are here together tonight.”
Mill was there to introduce Robert Kraft as Sports Business Jour- Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer who
nal’s Lifetime Achievement Award honoree. He spoke candidly at accepted the Event of the Year award for MLB at Field of Dreams,
the podium for five minutes about Kraft’s impact on him, about said Wednesday’s ceremony was a hot ticket in the league office.
how the New England Patriots owner had visited Mill while he was More than 20 MLB employees wound up attending, able to celebrate
imprisoned in 2018 for violating his parole, and how the two had in the moment as the league won in the category for the first time
after being nominated twice previously.
“The fact that we haven’t really been able to do this for a while,
it was a pretty cool feeling to be up there [on stage],” Marinak said.
“And then before the dinner, at the cocktail reception, seeing so



many people that I haven’t seen in a Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin took home the award for Sports Executive of the Year. SPORTS BUSINESS
couple years was really special.” AWARDS WINNERS
to be a first, and there will be others to he called “one of my closest friends in
As others celebrated the return of follow. … The great part about being first the world.” Winners from the 15th
the SBAs in person, ESPN President is that there are no more firsts, and that annual Sports Business
Jimmy Pitaro emphasized that it was it will become commonplace.” “I don’t think there’s anybody who’s Awards, listed in the order
a good moment to also celebrate the made more of a difference over decades they were presented at the
return of sports fans. Among the evening’s other notable to the sports industry,” Rubin said before Marriott Marquis in New
winners were UFC as League of the Year, directly addressing Kraft. “And for me, York City. America SCORES
“It wasn’t too long ago when many the Tampa Bay Lightning as Team of the I consider myself to be so lucky to be by was also recognized with
folks in this room, including me, were Year and Constellation Brands: Beer your side so many times, to be a sponge the Celebration of Service
questioning whether the sports fan Division as Sports Sponsor of the Year. to you, to watch you, to learn from you. honor, while Robert Kraft
would return,” Pitaro said as he ac- … I’ve learned so much from you in the was presented with the Life-
cepted the Best in Sports Media award The evening’s final honor was Sports sports business, so many things, but I’ve time Achievement Award.
on behalf of ESPN, which won for the Executive of the Year. Perhaps fittingly, learned more from you about how to be
sixth time in the category. “And I think it went to Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin, a better human, how to make the world Sports Event of the Year
if you fast forward to today and you see who had been nominated three times a better place.” MLB at Field of Dreams
our packed stadiums, our packed are- previously and who started his speech
nas, if you look at our ratings, espe- by praising his team and their relentless There was one other assist Kraft pro- Best in Sports
cially with these NHL playoffs, the NBA focus on fans, as well as the industry as vided Rubin, and it came at the beginning Technology
playoffs, I think it’s safe to say that the a whole. “They go to bed every night ob- of the latter’s acceptance speech. It served Dapper Labs
sports fan is back and they’re not going sessed with how to create the best expe- as a perfect chef’s kiss on the evening
anywhere.” rience for the fans. … We couldn’t do it that resonated as strongly as it did only Best in Property
without everybody in this room. We because it came in front of a packed, en- Consulting, Sales and
One consistent theme in recent years would be nothing, absolutely nothing, gaged crowd that had been waiting three
at the SBAs — no matter how they were without all of you.” years to reconvene at this ceremony. Client Services
held — has been the significance of CAA Sports
sports, and this year’s edition was no Rubin spent the biggest portion of his “This guy,” Rubin said while gesturing
exception. “The most important thing acceptance speech praising Kraft, whom toward Kraft, “is effing awesome.” Best in Digital Sports
that differentiates this industry,” Kraft Media
Getty Images (2) said at the conclusion of his speech, “is Robert Kraft had a hug and some high praise for Meek Mill during the ceremony. ESPN+
the platform it gives you to impact your
community and champion for causes Sports Facility of the Year
you are passionate about.” Climate Pledge Arena

The evening offered a quintessential Best in Sports
example. Mia Baez, a 14-year-old who Social Media
attends school in West Harlem in New Drone Racing League
York City, read a poem about equality
for women in sports that she wrote as Best Talent
part of her participation in America Reresentation of the Year
SCORES, an after-school program that
uses soccer, poetry and service learning Wasserman
to engage and support under-resourced
communities across the country. Amer- Athletic Director
ica SCORES was presented with the of the Year
Celebration of Service award during the
ceremony, and each table at the event Sandy Barbour, Penn State
had QR codes that allowed attendees to
learn more about the organization. Best in Agency Creativity
and Innovation
“It just shows me how people want Wasserman
to hear what I have to say,” Baez said
of her opportunity to read her poem in Best in Sports Media
front of some of the top leaders in sports ESPN
Sports Breakthrough
Hours earlier, news broke about the of the Year
U.S. Soccer Federation reaching an
agreement with the women’s and men’s
national team unions that ensures equal Sports Sponsor
pay, a cause Baez has been champion- of the Year
ing for years. “It made this night even
more special,” Baez said. Constellation Brands: Beer
That, Sandy Barbour said, is the
power of sports. Sports League
of the Year
“Sport is special in that way,” said UFC
the Penn State athletic director who is
set to retire this summer. “We saw it Sports Team of the Year
in Mia.” Tampa Bay Lightning

Those in attendance also saw it in Sports Executive
Barbour. In her third time being nom- of the Year
inated for Athletic Director of the Year,
she became the first woman to win the Michael Rubin, Chief
award. Executive Officer, Fanatics

“Well,” she said, “there’s always got MAY 23-29, 2022 | 7

W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M




Trophy Season A. Tim Leiweke, Oak View Group; I. Rene Ramos, Constellation Brands;
Sports Facility of the Year Sports Sponsor of the Year
AFTER EXITING THE STAGE, THE WINNERS GATHERED B. Chris Marinak, MLB; Sports Event J. Russell Wolff, ESPN; Best in Digital
C. Robert Kraft (with Abe Madkour, K. Jason Ranne, Wasserman; Best
left, and Meek Mill); Lifetime Talent Representation of the Year
Achievement Award L. Sandy Barbour, Penn State; Athletic
D. America SCORES; Celebration of Director of the Year
Service Award M. Wasserman; Best in Agency Creative
E. Steve Griggs and the Tampa Bay N. Paul Danforth, CAA; Best in Property
Lightning; Team of the Year Consulting, Sales and Client Services
F. Juan De Jesus and Dapper Labs; O. Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN; Best in Sports
Best in Sports Technology Media
G. Michael Rubin, CEO, Fanatics; P. Drone Racing League; Best in Sports
Sports Executive of the Year Social Media
H. Gene Tinner Jr., UFC; Sports Q. Preston Peters,; Sports
League of the Year Breakthrough of the Year


KM OP Q All photos by Marc Bryan-Brown



PRESENTERS A A. Jessica Gelman (second from left) pre-
Sports Event of the Year sented the award for Best in Social Media.
Gary Gertzog, President, Business
Affairs, Fanatics B. Former New England Patriots wide

Best in Sports Technology, co- receiver Julian Edelman was in atten-
presented by SportTechie
dance to see his former boss, team owner
Taylor Bloom, CEO, SportTechie
Robert Kraft, be
Best in Property Consulting,
Sales and Client Services honored with

Alisha Pope, Head of Sports & SBJ’s Lifetime
Sponsorship Strategy and
Development, MGM Resorts Achievement

Best in Digital Sports Media Award.
Monica Aksamit, Bronze Medalist,
Saber Fencing, 2016 Rio Olympic C. Oak View
Group CEO Tim
Sports Facility of the Year
Denis Braham, Shareholder and Leiweke pre-
Chair of the Sports Business and
Media Industry Group, Winstead sented the award

Celebration of Service for Best in Sports
LaVonte Stewart Sr., Executive
Director, Lost Boyz Inc. Media.

Best in Sports Social Media D. Jon Patricof,
Jessica Gelman, Chief Executive
Officer, KAGR CEO and

Best Talent Representation of co-founder
the Year
of Athletes
Nana-Yaw Asamoah, Vice President
of Business Development, National Unlimited. D
Football League
Athletic Director of the Year
Ben Sutton, Founder and Chairman, Forty outside judges joined four SBJ judges to help determine winners as the 2022 Sports Business Awards. The
Teall Sports & Entertainment judges made up committees that deliberated on 13 of 17 awards given out on May 18. Athletic Director, Sports
Executive, Celebration of Service and Lifetime Achievement were selected separately by SBJ committees.
Best in Agency Creativity and
Innovation Caroline Acosta, Pac-12 Networks Haynes Hendrickson, Playfly Sports Leadership Academy All photos by Marc Bryan-Brown
Kari Cohen, New York Red Bulls LJ Holmgren, Columbia University Jill Monaghan, Generator Studio
Brian Yost, COO, Las Vegas John Cordova, Marketing Advisors Kate Howard, Eventellect Jonathan Norman, Tepper Sports
Convention and Visitors Authority Kirsten Corio, USTA Vincent Ircandia, Stellar Algo & Entertainment
Alexandra Dell, Sportfive Jim Kadlecek Elisa Padilla
Best in Sports Media Howard Deneroff, Westwood One Matt Kauffman, The Montag Group Len Perna, TurnkeyZRG
Tim Leiweke, CEO, Oak View Group Sports Janeen Lalik, Fanatics College Will Pleasants, Wasserman
Marie DeParis, SNY Geoff Lester, Vivid Seats Brandon Rhodes, Overtime
Lifetime Achievement Brandon Doll Larry Lundy, Lundy Marketing Seth Rubinroit, NBC Sports
Meek Mill Pete Giorgio, Deloitte Group Andre Schunk, Gold Rabbit Sports
Ishwara Glassman Chrein, Clay Luter, Ticketmaster Mary Scott
Sports Breakthrough of the Year Chicago Fire Christian Matthews Kim Stone, The Heat Group
Kirsten Corio, Managing Director, Glenn Gray, Buffalo Groupe Stephanie Maes, MGM Resorts Gene Tinner Jr., UFC
USTA Kevin Griffin, D.C. United Rob McQueen, McQueen Janelle Wells, University of South
Ben Gumpert, Elevate Sports Consulting Florida
Sports Sponsor of the Year Ventures Corinne Milien, The Winning Edge Lee Zeidman, Arena
Nicole Jeter West, CEO, Underdog

Sports Team of the Year
Kenneth Shropshire, CEO, Global
Sport Institute at Arizona State

Sports League of the Year
Burke Magnus, President,
Programming and Original Content,

Sports Executive of the Year
Eli Manning

1 0 | M AY 23-29, 2022


A C. Longtime television executive B C
Joe Cohen (left) and Drew
A. SBJ’s Abe Madkour with Kraft. Sheinman of Brand Velocity
B. NASCAR President Steve
Phelps was nominated for Sports Partners.
Executive of the Year.

All photos by Marc Bryan-Brown

W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M MAY 23-29, 2022 | 11




1 2 | M AY 23-29, 2022 A. A close-up of the


B. The Duke’s Mayo team

spices up the banquet meal.

C. SBJ Publisher and

Executive Editor Abe

Madkour and ESPN’s Laura

Rutledge take the stage.

D. Elizabeth Lindsey,

Shelley Pisarra, Eileen

Silvergleid and Thayer


E. Lost Boyz Inc.’s LaVonte

Stewart Sr., Vada Manager

and Kenneth Shropshire

F F. Chuck Baker, Len Perna
and Haynes Hendrickson

Thoughts “This is the moment in time where we get to build
and focus on our product, and really continue to
of the night grow our network in our community. So we’re
excited by the challenge. And we’re not going
“The sports business is stron- anywhere.”
ger than ever and it’s got
more opportunity than ever. … Preston Peters,
Sports fans are some of the
most passionate people in “We harnessed sports with insights and analytics.
the world, and I think after Once you do that, sports can be your rocket fuel.
COVID, people just wanted to Modelo is the No. 2 beer brand in the U.S. We
have fun. What better way to think it will be No. 1 within a few years and sports
do that than with sports? It’s has been a big part of that.”
great to see that resilience.”
Rene Ramos, Constellation Brands
Michael Rubin, Fanatics
All photos by Marc Bryan-Brown
“We will be very shortly a mainstream sport. The only thing separating us is the
years of existence. When you look at all of the accomplishments and the accolades
and the fan growth and all of those different ingredients that we have like every
other mainstream sport, there’s no reason if you put us up against any of those, and
you give us 70 more years, that we’re not at that stature.”

Rachel Jacobson, Drone Racing League



MAY 24, 2023

A big thank you to our sponsors, nominees and attendees for
making the SBJ 2022 Sports Business Awards a great success.



W W W. S P O R T S - B U S I N E S S - A W A R D S . C O M

Charlie Turano
B B. Nick Baker, of the night
AC Mike Kitts, Rene
Ramos and “There is no industry that has been
Russell Silvers kicked as hard as this industry —
C. NBA the sports industry, the live enter-
tainment industry, the music indus-
Commissioner try, the facility industry — over the
Adam Silver last two years. COVID kicked our
ass. Not a lot of people wanted to
shares a few words help us off the floor and the mat.
There weren’t a lot of people talk-
with Lifetime ing about the pain and what you all
had to go through, and yet, like
Achievement most things in life, this industry led
the way back. It led with, not only
Award honoree how we keep people safe, but ulti-
Robert Kraft. mately making sure we gave the
world a reason to cheer.”

Tim Leiweke, Oak View Group

“Even with our success, we still
operate with a kind of chip on our
shoulder and still think there’s a
huge amount of growth left for the
UFC in the U.S. and around the
world, so the way we feel, it’s just
the beginning for us.”

Lawrence Epstein, UFC

All photos by Marc Bryan-Brown



Sign of the Times Kenney said that a direct-to-consum-
er Marquee product could mean “no
[third party] standing between us and
our fans” — so not only would the game

be delivered directly to the viewer, but

that viewer would be able to explore

The Cubs’ Marquee to Nielsen. But that hasn’t detracted our partner? Is it Major League Base- ticketing, merchandise and perhaps
Sports Network has been from the network’s strong start. ball? Sinclair’s in negotiations with the sports betting.
a hit, but the streaming league, so maybe,” said Kenney. “Is it
“I don’t think many people, espe- ESPN? Maybe. Is it my friends at NBC, No matter how Marquee morphs to
cially today but even just two years ago, meet its audience, Kenney knows that

question lingers would have believed that a new network who have Peacock? Maybe that’s where catering to hardcore Cubs fans must
with only one pro team could start up you go. Maybe it’s none of them. Maybe remain the emphasis. “I think in two

CRANE KENNEY let his imagination spill and be successful,” said Craig Sloan, we do it ourselves.” years, it’s a way more robust experience

onto the whiteboard in response to a chief operating officer at Playfly Sports, Marquee general manager Mike Mc- between the fan and the network,” he

simple question he posed to a small whose sales division, Home Team Carthy said the network feels a sense said.

group: “If we were going to create the Sports, represents every RSN within of urgency in pursuing a direct-to- Marquee also makes a point of actu-

best channel on Earth to serve Cubs the U.S. “And yet the Cubs and Crane consumer product because it is trying ally listening to those fans.

fans, what would it look like?” and Marquee have done that.” to best meet its consumers. In its first year, for example, Marquee

This was years ago, long before the

February 2020

BY ERIK BACHARACH launch of what
is now Marquee

Sports Network,

and Kenney, the

Cubs’ president of business operations,

was soon writing down one big idea

after another. There’d be wall-to-wall

coverage. A-list talent, both behind the

scenes and in front of the camera. Top-

tier tech. Long-form documentaries.

Hour-long pre- and postgame shows.

Clean, crisp visuals.

Kenney’s whiteboard quickly ran out

of white space.

The channel, operated by both Sin-

clair Broadcast Group and the Cubs,

debuted as what may prove to be the

last new linear television regional

sports network in America. Two years

later, much of what filled that white-

board has come to pass. Longtime ESPN

broadcaster Jon Sciambi was brought

in to handle play-by-play duties and

paired with former big league pitcher

Jim Deshaies. Beth Mowins last year

became the first woman to call a Cubs

regular-season game. Michael Santini,

who previously spent years running Longtime ESPN broadcaster Jon Sciambi (left) and former big league pitcher Jim Deshaies serve as the network’s lead duo.

MLB Network’s production depart-

ment, was hired as senior vice president Earlier this month the network an- “We’re always interested in being had its broadcasters wear a coat and

of programming and production. nounced plans to carry up to 16 games on the cutting edge with the ultimate tie. It wasn’t a fit for the blue-collar

The Cubs now broadcast all of their of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. Still, even deliverable to our consumer,” McCar- audience. Also in 2020, the telecast’s

spring training games; their previous with the expansion and the promising thy said, “but there isn’t any contrac- score box was crammed with informa-

cable home, NBC Sports Chicago, only beginning, Marquee already finds itself tual clock ticking to make us feel that tion. Soon after, Marquee ditched the

carried five per season. In 2021, Mar- at a crossroads. As traditional cable way. It’s how we’ve approached things ties and de-cluttered the score box.

quee produced more than 250 hours of bundles lose subscribers, the network from the beginning. Between our two It’s that ability to pivot, to be recep-

Cubs pregame and postgame coverage. is actively exploring ways to move for- ownership groups, there’s a lot of ag- tive to feedback, and to ultimately be

And there’s a state-of-the-art studio ward amid a landscape that is trending gression to get it right. And I think in full control of the product that has

across the street from Wrigley Field, toward direct-to-consumer services. you’ll see something along those lines Kenney most looking forward to the

bringing fans more of the environment Marquee currently is carried by dis- shortly.” network’s future, however it’s deliv-

Courtesy of Marquee Sports Network from the famous Friendly Confines tributors such as Comcast and DirecTV The RSN’s linear TV business may ered.

instead of a downtown studio used by and on services including DirecTV Now be in decline, but the value of local “We were shortchanging our fans

NBC Sports Chicago. and fuboTV. Kenney said the Cubs are sports rights still is high. with the way broadcasts had gone [be-

The Cubs’ struggles this year — they weighing a DTC streaming option, and “[RSNs] are still driving significant fore Marquee],” he said. “We now have

lost 14 of 17 games at one point — have that it could be available as soon as the ratings,” Sloan said, “at a time when, the ability to do so much more, to prop-

affected viewership figures, as Mar- 2023 season. Sinclair, meanwhile, is frankly, ratings are hard to come by erly tell the story of a 162-game season.

quee’s 1.85 rating in prime time in Chi- planning to launch a streaming service no matter what type of content it is. So We love baseball, we love the game, and

cago from April 7-30 was the area’s around its Bally Sports RSNs later this there’s long-term certainty there. The we love the opportunity we have to

fourth-highest rated program in the 7-10 year. uncertain part is that distribution ve- share it with our fans in really deep

p.m. time slot over that span, according “Who do we and Sinclair choose as hicle.” ways.”

W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M MAY 23-29, 2022 | 15


The new league’s other issue is geopo-

litical. Most LIV employees to whom I’ve

talked have tried to focus on building a

new league to compete with the PGA Tour.

But as executives and players have

botched answers to questions regarding

Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses —

including its role in the murder of jour-

nalist Jamal Khashoggi — it’s become

impossible to focus only on golf.

In February, Phil

The abrupt Mickelson was quot-
ed in a book excerpt
departure last saying that he’s will-
week of Sean ing to overlook Saudi
Bratches, LIV

Golf’s chief abuses if it will help
commercial the PGA Tour to re-
officer, came form.
on the heels of
more missteps Then earlier this
in trying to month, when Nor-

explain ties with man was asked about
Saudi backers. the Saudis’ involve-

ment in Khashoggi’s

murder, he answered,

“Look, we’ve all made mistakes.”

Months after it announced its planned

schedule, it’s clear that LIV Golf execu-

tives still are having trouble communicat-

SPORTS MEDIA ing the Saudi involvement in a way that will placate
both the media and the public. It isn’t a coincidence
Loss of Bratches highlights challenges that Bratches’ resignation came just days after Nor-
facing LIV Golf as Norman, others man’s incendiary comments.

The loss of Bratches is a blow to LIV Golf. During
his six months, Bratches oversaw the new league’s

continue to botch Saudi message strategy on sponsorships and media rights. He hired
legendary broadcaster David Hill to set up a pro-
duction team that would produce events.

S EAN BRATCHES’ ABRUPT RESIGNATION from LIV LIV Golf will stream its first tournament, June Bratches was so well respected inside LIV Golf
Golf last week highlighted two of the main 9-11 from the Centurion Club outside of London, that some in the golf press thought that he should
struggles that the Saudi-based league is ex- for free via YouTube. It also will stream on LIVGolf. be the one running the league.

In an editorial published last month, Jim Nugent,

periencing as it nears its first tournament. com. the founder and publisher of Global Golf Post,

Bratches was LIV Golf’s chief commercial officer The problem LIV Golf has found is that almost wrote, “As Norman’s successor, Bratches could be

for the past six months and was considered the most all of the U.S. media companies that compete for the bridge builder who could get a meeting with

respected business executive in the organization. sports rights already have deals with the PGA Tour. anyone in golf and find ways to mesh Golf Saudi’s

His hiring back in No- Amazon, CBS, ESPN and NBC have U.S. rights long-term vision with the game’s existing ecosystem.

vember gave the league deals with the PGA Tour and made it clear that That’s the only way LIV is going to have real suc-

instant credibility, given they were not interested in carrying LIV Golf events. cess.”

his sterling reputation Fox Sports had a few early talks, but its executives

that stemmed from a also were not interested. John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sports-

three-decade career at Plus, Warner Bros. Discovery has internation- Follow him on Twitter

ESPN and four-year stint al PGA Tour deals, which doesn’t leave a lot of @Ourand_SBJ and read his weekly newsletter and

at Formula One. outlets for LIV Golf. listen to his weekly podcast.

Bratches tendered his

resignation at the begin- Upfront sports marketplace plays a major
ning of last week. LIV

BY JOHN OURAND Golf CEO Greg Norman advertising role for Fox, other networks
informed company ex-

ecutives of Bratches’ de- THERE’S A REASON I spent so upfront marketplace. expects to see ad rate increases

parture on Wednesday, much more time at the upfront “My expectation is that we’ll reach double digits this year

and word spread around the sports community over advertising market this year as sell out a higher percentage compared to last year, Evans

the next two days. compared to previous ones. this year than we typically do by said.

One of the league’s biggest struggles thus far That’s because it’s become 5 to 10%,” said Mark Evans, Fox Other sports will see lower

comes down to the simple issue of timing. The such a bigger sports market- Sports’ executive vice presi- increases — probably in the

league announced its debut schedule just two place than previous years. dent of sales. “And then that mid-to-high single-digit range,

months ago — a short lead time considering how It’s become so big for sports remaining 15-20% will really Evans said.

aggressive the PGA Tour has been in dissuading that Fox Sports, for example, start ramping up.” “The NFL will lead that rate of Getty Images

its partners from dealing with the upstart league. typically expects to sell 75% to The sports ad marketplace is change conversation without a

Take LIV Golf’s media deals — or, better yet, lack 80% of its NFL inventory in the so frothy that Fox Sports doubt,” he said. — J.O.

of media deals — for example.



LABOR AND AGENTS Portland State forward Khalid Thomas, Oklahoma
State guard Avery Anderson and Texas Tech for-
Agencies started by former ward Kevin Obanor.
NBA players prep for draft
T HREE FORMER NBA PLAYERS — Tracy Mc- McGrady and O’Neal are not certified, but they
Grady, Jermaine O’Neal and Mike Miller sons, Frank said. hired veteran NBPA-certified agent Rich Gray and
— who recently launched two separate agen- The fact that LIFT could represent multiple first- newly certified agent Deddrick Faison as agents,
cies are representing players likely to be selected as well as attorney Hal Biagas as chief operating
round prospects and another agency is led by two officer. Biagas worked at the NBPA, Wasserman
in the June NBA Draft. bona fide former NBA superstars has the agent and Excel Sports Management.
business buzzing. It’s the latest twist in a cutthroat
McGrady, a seven-time All-Star, and O’Neal, a and conversely glamorous business that is always McGrady and O’Neal both got to know Biagas
filled with drama. well because they, like Miller, were clients of former
six-time All-Star, are close agent Tellem, who last worked at Wasserman before
The agent business has evolved from one-man (it becoming an executive. O’Neal said he and McGrady
friends and launched is still primarily male-dominated) shops to mega have talked with Tellem about their agent business
agencies, to Hollywood getting involved when Cre- and he has given them advice. “He says, ‘It’s a tough
Seven1 Sports & Enter- ative Artists Agency started a sports division in business.’ He gave us some tools we could use. Arn
2007. The next wave happened when rap mogul Jay-Z is like a father figure to us.”
tainment Group during entered the business followed by musical artist Lil
Wayne and, more recently, Quality Control Music, Both McGrady and O’Neal knew about the cut-
the pandemic. The agency which launched QC Sports. throat nature of the business going in, but learned
a lot of lessons firsthand in their first year of re-
is named for the jersey Many successful agents were former players in cruiting. And they also had to deal with another
college or in the pros, but none really at the super- former NBA player as a competitor in Miller.
numbers they wore in the star level of McGrady and O’Neal. While some say
it’s a new threat to the status quo, others say it “I think they actually have a pretty good, a re-
NBA. O’Neal wore No. 7 won’t work. ally good, draft class this year,” O’Neal said of
Miller’s agency. “They have two kids we were talk-
and McGrady wore No. 1. “It’s going to work; it’s going to work,” O’Neal ing to. I am OK with saying that because that
said in a telephone interview last week. “I will tell sparked the competitive part, that sparked me and
Miller, who played guard you why. It’s just like any other business; it’s the Tracy’s inner competitor.”
people that made it work.”
and forward for 17 years O’Neal said it “absolutely” helps that they are
McGrady and O’Neal are like brothers, as they former star athletes because they understand ath-
BY LIZ MULLEN in the NBA, co-founded an became friends as teenagers and have stayed in letes who aspire to be stars.
touch post-playing days, talking once a week. They
agency called LIFT Sports decided to launch the agency in 2020 and are rep- “We wish nothing but the best for Mike,” O’Neal
resenting their first draft class. said. “He is a fellow alumni. In that part, you want
Management and passed to see him be successful. It’s no different than play-
Gonzaga forward Drew Timme and Kansas for- ing against him when he was on the Grizzlies or
the National Basketball Players Association agent ward Jalen Wilson, who led the Jayhawks to a the Magic; we have a personal relationship with
national championship, head up Seven1’s draft class. him. But we feel like we are going to go get it, not
test last year. He is representing Duke forward Paolo The agency is also representing UNLV guard Don- just against him, but every other agency, too.”
ovan Williams, USC forward Chevez Goodwin,
Banchero, who is viewed as one of the best players Liz Mullen can be reached at

available and could go No. 1 overall. [email protected].

Miller and partner Daniel Frank are represent- Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

ing several other players, including Wake Forest

guard Alondes Williams, Duke forward Wendell

Moore and Alabama guard JD Davison. LIFT is

owned by Miller, Frank and Donnie McGrath, the

former Providence and European basketball player.

Miller, the No. 5 pick of the 2000 draft, was orig-

inally a client of former agent Arn Tellem, but

switched to Dan Fegan and Frank after Tellem left

the agent business to become vice chairman of

Palace Sports & Entertainment

in 2015. Fegan died in a car ac-

cident in 2018.

Miller, who won two champi-

onships with the Miami Heat,

retired in 2017 and worked as

an assistant coach at the Uni-

versity of Memphis under

Penny Hardaway. He began

looking to do something differ-

ent when the pandemic hit.

Frank convinced Miller to be

an agent. “I was one of many

people that was essentially

courting him, including team

front office staff,” Frank said.

One of the reasons Miller chose

to become an agent is because,

of other options, it would allow

him to spend more time with his


w h i c h h e The agent busi-
wanted to do ness is buzzing

Getty Images (3) after spend- over the ven-
ing his life
traveling tures started by
during 17 Tracy McGrady,
NBA sea- Jermaine
O’Neal and Mike

W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M MAY 23-29, 2022 | 17



Denny Hamlin plows
ahead with calls to
reinvigorate NASCAR

SBY ADAM STERN nnnnn aged, you’ve got to get with the times.”
PEAKING TO THE MAN who runs NASCAR, Denny Hamlin stirred the social media pot last
Hamlin made one thing clear. An informal survey of around a dozen in-
Over a conversation at Atlanta Motor Speedway in dustry executives across several different month during a rain delay at Bristol Motor
March, the 41-year-old Hamlin told Jim France, the stakeholders shows the debate is split over Speedway when he took to Twitter to join fans
77-year-old chairman and CEO of NASCAR, that until Hamlin’s outspoken nature. Some insist that who believed the Fox broadcast booth had
he and his business partners see a change in NAS- a hard-charging young team owner like Ham- spread confusion over how the cars were being
CAR’s business model, all further major investments in the team lin is exactly what NASCAR needs, while oth- scored when the delay was called. This was
— charters, a splashy new headquarters — are on hold. ers are more skeptical of his brash approach. the second year of NASCAR’s experiment to
None of those critics wanted to speak pub- turn Bristol into a dirt track and there were
It was a bold exchange in a sport where drivers over the past licly about the issue. different scoring rules as a result.
decades have largely been expected to stay in their lanes when it
comes to issues off the track. And it was directed toward none other Hamlin knows he has critics and takes it “How do you expect [people] at home to know
than the son of NASCAR’s founder. all in stride. [what the f---] is going on if the story tellers on
TV don’t know?” Hamlin pondered candidly
But Hamlin knows few filters, whether it’s with competition, as “It’s very hard to convince dinosaurs they to his 772,000 Twitter followers.
he’s become one of the most successful drivers in the sport’s his- must eat differently,” he said. “I want change.
tory, or with business matters, as he grows his presence as a team If we’re going to appeal to a new audience be- It was a rare public rebuke of a key NAS-
owner. Having Michael Jordan in his corner as a co-owner of that cause our [current] audience is aging or has CAR partner but some stakeholders have
23XI Racing team has given Hamlin an even greater stage for his privately called for the sport’s broadcasters
push for change.

His outspoken approach comes at a time when NASCAR exper-
iments with ways to build the sport’s popularity — ranging from
scheduling shake-ups to this year’s introduction of the Next-Gen
race car — and to improve the sport’s business model.

Whether the pace of change is quick enough for Hamlin is ques-
tionable. From social media, to private industry meetings, he
freely and frequently weighs in on hot-button issues. The debate
in the industry is whether Hamlin is a visionary who is improving
the hidebound sport with much-needed constructive criticism, or
whether he’s got too many assumptions for such a young team
owner and is needlessly blunt.

There have been missteps along the way, and Hamlin acknowl-
edges he still has much to learn as an owner. Just don’t expect him
to take his foot off the gas.

“The things we did 15-20 years ago are not the things you have
to do now,” Hamlin said. “I’m not saying I’m always right. Some-
times in retrospect months or years later I’m like, ‘Eh, I don’t know
if that was completely right.’ But at the same time, I’m passionate
about it. I really want this sport to take off.”



blood. … Us old dogs get into a habit of, ‘If it ain’t broke, just do what
you have been doing,’ but the young folks have new ideas and we need
to accept it to elevate the sport to where it’s never been before.”


First coming into NASCAR in 2004, Hamlin is now an elder statesmen

of the sport’s driving corps, one known to have sharp technical skills in

stock cars and able to win at a variety of tracks. Although he hasn’t won

a Cup Series championship, he has three Daytona 500 victories and 47

wins overall in the premier series, the 17th-most of all time and a total

that could get him into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Driver contract details are not released in NASCAR but Hamlin is one

of the best-paid drivers in the sport, one of the few remaining who still

makes upward of, or into, eight figures annually, thanks in part to a

lucrative sponsorship deal between Joe Gibbs Racing and FedEx. His

deal with JGR is expected to be at least through next season.

Being one of the few remaining drivers who was around during NAS-

CAR’s ascent in the early 2000s, descent in the 2010s and its more stable

period in the 2020s, has given Hamlin a unique vantage point — even

more so when taking into account that he’s now a driver for one team

and co-owner of another.

Hamlin sat courtside for Charlotte Hornets games years ago, an op-

portunity that allowed him to strike up a friendship with Jordan, who

owns the NBA franchise. That relationship led to Hamlin gaining a per-

The veteran NASCAR sonal endorsement deal with Jordan Brand in
driver and now
team owner doesn’t 2011. It was a good match for Hamlin, who listens
shy from taking the to hip hop, appeared in a rap video last year with
sport’s leadership Post Malone, and has long worn Jordan Brand
shoes around the racetrack.

to task. Hamlin eventually convinced Jordan to enter

NASCAR as a team owner. America had just

witnessed racial upheaval in 2020, and the sport’s response left Jordan

seeing an opportunity to be a positive force for social change. 23XI took

to the track in the NASCAR Cup Series for the first time in 2021 and won

a race in that debut season.

23XI’s mission is to have an impact in the areas of diversity, equality

and inclusion. The team has hired a host of new staff from outside the

industry, including many who are minorities, and has set up the 23XI

Speed Institute to increase DEI efforts including scholarships, paid in-

ternships, job opportunities and executive training. “We’re just trying

to do things differently because this sport does need to change,” Hamlin

said. “Michael came in here because he saw an opportunity to have a

platform that his fan base has not really been exposed to.”

23XI is a two-car team in the NASCAR Cup Series, with drivers in

Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch, and it has a laundry list of sponsors:

Columbia Sportswear, DoorDash, DraftKings, Dr Pepper, Embrace Home

Loans, Jordan Brand, Leidos, McDonald’s, MoneyLion, Monster Energy,

Root Insurance and Toyota.

As expected, it’s been a learning curve for Hamlin as a co-owner. He

brought in NASCAR veteran executive Steve Lauletta as team president,

and he’s also aided by the agency that represents him, Prosport Manage-

ment, which has well-connected executives at the helm, including Rod

to be more serious and competent in their eyebrows, and Hamlin questioned why he Moskowitz.
presentation. found out about the move only via social
media instead of being informed privately Hamlin also has benefited by working with Jordan, who has become
At a recent NASCAR Team Owner Coun- ahead of time.
cil meeting, Hamlin took the microphone legendary off the court for his empire with Nike, and Jordan’s right-hand
and asked NASCAR executives on stage, The project involved Hendrick Motors-
including President Steve Phelps, a point- ports, but team owner Rick Hendrick isn’t man, Curtis Polk, an executive with the Hornets and an investor in 23XI.
ed question about how news was dispersed critical of Hamlin’s approach. He said
about a NASCAR initiative involving rival NASCAR needs fresh perspective to effect Said Hamlin, “I’ve gotten educated quite a bit with the business side
team Hendrick Motorsports and the 24 change in a sport that favors tradition.
Hours of Le Mans race. of things: How does marketing work, how do you keep sponsors happy
“We need to think outside the box if we
NASCAR announced plans in March to want to elevate the sport and really crank and just so many other different aspects of a team that I didn’t have my
enter a Hendrick-branded Chevy in the 2023 it up and move it forward,” said Hendrick,
edition of the race in a move to grow the the most winning team owner in NASCAR hands on as much as a Joe Gibbs Racing driver.”
sport internationally. However, in the ul- history. “We’ve got so many good young
tracompetitive world of motorsports, the people and different folks in like Michael A driver who also is an owner of his team has been common through-
idea of a sanctioning body working on a Jordan and Denny, Trackhouse (with Jus-
project with one hand-picked team raised tin Marks and rapper Pitbull), just fresh out NASCAR history, but a driver racing for one team while co-owning

another is less so. It makes for a demanding schedule.

Hamlin starts off a typical work week on Mondays with a competition

lunchtime meeting for 23XI before he has a JGR competition team meet-

Getty Images ing in the afternoon. On Tuesdays, he has Zoom calls and a debrief ses-

sion with his No. 11 team at JGR. On Wednesday, he has a 23XI ownership

meeting followed by a 23XI competition meeting two hours later. Those


W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M MAY 23-29, 2022 | 19


CONTINUED FROM PAGE 19 Hamlin joined NASCAR needs.
“It’s going to be
meetings last 60 to 90 minutes. Thursday, Hamlin the celebra-
says he’s on “dad duty” to his daughters, Taylor and important to have
Molly. On either Wednesday or Thursday he’ll find tion after 23XI people like Denny as
time to also do some work with a simulator to prepare driver Kurt part of ownership,”
for the upcoming weekend’s race. Busch, right,

“I don’t know how he balances the two because he won in Kansas
is a real competitor,” Polk said. “He’s a real worker
at his craft and in between races he spends tens and this month. said Jeff Gordon, the
tens of hours doing simulator work or going over
data with JGR and then he has to come over and work NASCAR Hall of
at our shop, so it’s like he’s doubled his job.”
Fame member and vice chairman of
Hendrick Motorsports. “He’s very
Jordan’s presence is helping NASCAR in its bid to
re-invent itself, but Hamlin is the day-to-day manag- active and has a lot of ideas, and what
ing partner at 23XI and so he’s often the center of
attention as a result. I see in him is similar to myself: a

Being a driver and a team owner means Hamlin passion for racing and looking at
straddles a line that adds to the intrigue around him.
He had to answer questions earlier this year when what can be done down the road when
there was an announcement around a new drivers
council that he is part of, as some wondered if that he’s done driving.”
would be a conflict of interest. Drivers have been
facing pay cuts from team owners in recent years, Hamlin noted that NASCAR has
for example, so that could create a push-pull conflict
never been more receptive to change
between drivers wanting maximum payouts and team and that the collaboration in the industry is legiti-
Hamlin often turns to Twitter to air his opinion
about issues facing the sport: owners wanting to rein in that cost. mately at an all-time high.

On Race Track Conditions At the time, Hamlin tweeted: “The drivers and the Polk has described NASCAR as a “sleeping giant,”

“(T)racks are taking all of the money yet not teams align 95% of the time. When that 5% is in play something Hamlin noted that he agrees with but
reinvesting it back into their facilities. If the teams
showed up with fenders ripped off and junk pit I will step aside on those issues. One thing is for sure. added: “The key word there is sleeping, and you can’t
equipment/pit boxes NASCAR would have a seri-
ous problem with that. Why can’t we treat the ALL parties have 1 common goal and that is to GROW just keep sleeping. We have to make changes.”
tracks the same?”
the sport.”
On The Schedule
Polk said that he and Jordan have been working nnnnn
“36 weeks of the same is a bad formula for long
term success.” with Hamlin in particular on what a better financial

On Rough Driving model for the sport might look like. Teams have long 23XI’s goal this year is to get both of its cars in the

“In 2017 it wasn’t ok. In todays world. ‘High felt that the sport’s media revenue split is unfair; playoffs, but there’s work to do. 23XI didn’t score its
stakes’ ‘do whatever it takes’ ‘playoffs on the line’
blah blah, it’s all fair game. The game has changed 65% of money from a race goes to the track, 25% first win of the 2022 season until May 15 in Kansas.
and it’s just expected now. Everyone runs over ev-
eryone. Doesn’t matter if it’s for 1st or 10th.” goes to teams and 10% goes to the sanctioning body. Hamlin was blunt about this season so far for 23XI,

On How NASCAR’s Reveue Split Teams rely on sponsorship for about 75% of their calling it a “f------ nightmare,” but was encouraged by
Should Mimic F1’s
revenue. the Kansas win. He maintains that Wallace has stepped
“Seems favorable for all parties. 2B in revenues
for the league. 1B of that going to the teams. Hamlin is now taking that knowledge and using it up his driving levels and that new driver Busch is
What’s not to love about a rising tide. ??”
to spread the word about what he feels is a much- also doing well, but the team has negated those gains,

needed change to the business model. After Sports largely through mistakes by pit crews. “Right now,

Business Journal reported in February on teams’ bid shoring that up is our No. 1 focus.”

to change the model, Hamlin accepted an offer from Last year, 23XI paid a record $13.5 million to ac-

a motorsports podcast host asking to come on his quire a second charter, even though Hamlin had

show and discuss the topic. spoken out about how he felt charter prices were

Given their take of revenue, tracks have found overvalued.

themselves in Hamlin’s crosshairs. When IndyCar That’s where it comes back to that conversation

had a lackluster crowd this year at Texas Motor Speed- this year with France. While 23XI intends to eventu-

way, Hamlin responded to a tweet from a reporter ally expand, the team is placing any plans to buy

about the topic by calling out track owners and ask- further charters or develop a new headquarters on

ing them to market more. “Tracks make a killing and hold until teams figure out whether they’ll be able

need to be held to higher standards instead of putting to get more TV money with the next media rights

money in their pockets.” deal, which will start in 2025. 23XI also wants a

clearer picture on the costs of operating

“It’s very hard to convince dinosaurs the new generation of race cars.
they must eat differently. I want “I will go on the record saying that I had

a meeting with Jim France and my message

change. If we’re going to appeal to a was clear that we need to stop talking about
new audience because our [current] cutting,” Hamlin said. “Cutting does not
audience is aging or has aged, equal growth. If we start working collec-
you’ve got to get with the times.” tively then we can grow this sport togeth-
er. But the business model will have to
change for that to happen. We at 23XI have

big plans. But those plans are on hold until

Hamlin did have one notable slip-up earlier this we see change.”

season. Quick to react to hot-button issues, he tweet- It’s a lot to handle for Hamlin. But after years of

ed a meme after the Talladega race from the ani- NASCAR wondering who its next generation of team

mated show “Family Guy” that included an owners was going to be, he’s one of the major ones

Asian-American female driver. The meme made light to step up so far alongside others, including Gordon,

of an on-track incident with Kyle Larson, who is Marks, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Asian-American. Hamlin later deleted the tweet and “Some people don’t like me because I’m not a good

apologized, writing in a new tweet that “it was a ol’ boy farmer in Georgia, but it ain’t me. I’m sorry

poor choice of memes and I saw how it was offensive,” to disappoint you, but that’s not me,” Hamlin said. Getty Images (2)

but NASCAR still gave him an extra sensitivity train- “If you had 36 of them it’d be a pretty boring sport;

ing course. you need different personalities at times, and I am

Missteps aside, Hamlin’s outspokenness and fresh who I am. I know I push the envelope at times, but

perspective are what many in the sport believe I’m not going to change for anyone.”




A major goal for
Moody Center
was to create a
venue that looks
alive for events.

Julia Robinson (2) Texas’ unique Moody Center partnership with Oak View Group’s desired 15,000 seats for concerts and other live shows.
OVG gives the Longhorns a free state-of-the- That innovation, designed by the venue’s architects, Gensler, was critical to

art arena, the city a glistening music venue. Moody Center’s existence. The arena’s owner, UT, and its developer and opera-
tor, OVG, needed different buildings. But in the end, everyone got what they

S EVEN VELOUR FABRIC-COVERED panels represent the collaboration and OVG assumed all the risk (and po-
compromise required to produce one of college sports’ most unique tential reward) of building, operating
venue development deals, the Moody Center in Austin. and booking a new venue on a prime
The panels need just five minutes to descend from the Moody Center’s plot of land owned by UT in one of the
rafters and block off the new arena’s upper bowl, creating a more intimate 10,000- world’s music capitals. It then gave
seat basketball environment for the University of Texas Longhorns. When the that venue — the most expensive col-
garage door-like panels are stashed away in the ceiling, the venue expands to lege basketball arena in history, cost-
ing roughly $380 million — to the
university for free, with the promise
that UT would never go backward on
the revenue it made at its former bas-
ketball home, the Frank Erwin Center. One of Moody Center’s state-of- the-art

“I’ve never been this happy to give features is an under-seat cooling system.
this much money away,” said OVG
founder and CEO Tim Leiweke, smiling.

When Moody Center opened in mid-April, there seemed to be lingering disbe-
lief that a deal born with UT’s desire to pay nothing for a new arena worked out
for all parties involved. During a ribbon-cutting speech, UT Athletic Director
Chris Del Conte joked, “Can you imagine having an arena for ‘f,’ ‘r,’ ‘double e’?”

Could the UT-OVG partnership provide a repeatable blueprint for colleges and
private developers in the future? It’s hard to imagine a fit as perfect as the one
in Austin.

“This one will be unique,” said Leiweke, who has now built and opened 21
arenas. “This market was unbelievable, we got lucky. It’s very unique to find a
major university in need of an arena and an emerging, fastest growing market


W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M MAY 23-29, 2022 | 21


A Better Deal in the U.S. without an arena. Those are
hard to find. But they’re there.”
Another benefit of a private devel-
oper building a venue for a public SOME LEEWAY
university? It was at least 35% to The university’s desire to expand the
40% cheaper, said Gensler Principal
Jonathan Emmett. Had UT built the Dell Medical School campus set the
venue itself, many more stakehold-
ers would have been involved and wheels in motion for a new arena about
many more design reviews required.
And because public universities like six years ago. UT officials were eyeing
UT use taxpayer money, they tend to
purchase the most expensive, long- land next to the medical school’s mini
lasting equipment — for example, an
HVAC system built to last 70 years, campus, which happened to be inhab-
instead of buying a perfectly fine
system built to last 35 years (when it ited by the longtime home of Longhorns
would likely be replaced either way).
basketball, the Erwin Center. The
Not Served On Ice
venue, built in 1977, is imbued with
Moody Center does not have an ice
chiller system, so it won’t be making memories from more than four decades
ice or hosting hockey. Designing the
building for potential future hockey of games, concerts and graduations, but

use would have pushed the seat- it maintains all the aesthetic charm of
ing bowl out, reduced the venue’s
intimacy, and distracted from its two a nuclear reactor and was ripe for re-
primary uses: Texas Longhorns bas-
placement regardless of the medical
ketball and live events.
school’s needs. Seven velour panels can be lowered, creating a smaller basketball capacity for UT.
Avoiding A Hot Seat
Carl Hirsh, managing partner at fa-
Moody Center’s lower bowl features
positive displacement ventilation, an cilities consultancy Stafford Sports, remembers his first A MAXIMIZED ARENA
under-seat cooling system designed conversation with former UT President Greg Fenves, who Most financing deals for new sports venues include a

by Henderson Engineers and only said that he wanted a new arena, and he didn’t want to pay ground or building lease and rent, said Alan Hoffman, chair
otherwise in use at Golden 1 Center
in Sacramento. The system moves for it. of Winston & Strawn’s Project Finance practice. But, Hoff-
cool air below fans’ seats, allowing
“Austin is in a very unique situation in that it is the man said, the Moody Center deal is set up as a 35-year ser-
it to rise naturally, a more efficient
system than relying solely on sys- music capital of the world, so that did give us some leeway,” vices agreement in which OVG operates the building and
tems up in the rafters to push cool air
said Hirsh, who was hired by the university to consult on doesn’t pay rent. There was a ground lease during construc-
down 90 feet.
the project. “In my head, I was probably thinking 75% or tion that allowed OVG to build on UT-owned land, but that
Do-It-Yourself Snacks
something along those lines, but you never know until you was terminated once the project was completed.
OVG Hospitality, which is handling
concessions at Moody Center, do it.” “We, being UT, didn’t need to manage a building,” said

has extensively deployed Toshiba Hirsh worked with Gensler and AECOM Hunt to create Hirsh. “It helps with the rest of the athletic program if we’re
self-checkout kiosks, 86 in total,
compared to 190 staffed points of a preliminary design for what became Moody Center. The not funding a venue that is only used on a limited basis, as
sale. The self-checkout kiosks al-
lowed OVG Hospitality to double the concept made sense — especially with Austin lacking a opposed to this building that will be maximized.”
amount of POS they could get into
the building, according to its presi- modern concert venue — except for the unusual asterisk Bodie and OVG knew that UT would never give a private

dent, Ken Gaber. attached to the plan: UT’s unwillingness to fund the project. company rights to their campus without concessions. In

Concert Ready An RFP seeking a development partner was posted in this case, that meant a guarantee that UT would never go

One more indication of how impor- 2017, but Hirsh said there were really only two entities that backward from the revenue it was bringing in at Erwin
tant live music is to Moody Center
(and OVG): The venue has a grab- could take on such a job, OVG and AEG. OVG was selected, Center. Longhorn athletics will take all concessions, park-
and-go market on the event level to
serve fans with concert tickets down and negotiations to figure out deal parameters commenced. ing and ticket revenue from UT basketball games.
on the floor, a rarity (if not a first)
among venues that host sports, too. OVG used the same negotiating team from most of its OVG and its partners, including Live Nation; Charles

— B.M. recent deal-making with landowners, whether the city of Attal, who founded the Austin City Limits Festival; and actor

Seattle or Empire State Development in New York. OVG’s and UT booster Matthew McConaughey, will take 100% of

in-house counsel, Randi Bernstein, led the effort, along revenue from OVG events. The two parties are sharing pre-

with Sarah Watterson, with outside help from Winston & mium seating and sponsorship revenue. Before the building

Strawn’s Jason Goldstein, who has worked closely with even opened, OVG had sold eight founding partnerships,

OVG during the developer’s recent arena-building spree. totaling more than $20 million in annual revenue.

Hirsh and Winstead’s Denis Braham helped UT. Both sides “If you’re a lender looking at a deal like this, the first thing

were motivated to make the deal happen. you want to make sure is there are enough revenues being

“We knew this was the right building and the right mar- generated at the arena to cover your debt service,” said Hoff-

ket so we wanted to be flexible in how we looked at the man. “That is issue 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.”

world, so that we could accomplish it,” said Francesca Bodie, At the start of the 11th year of the deal, the two sides go

OVG president of business development. to a 50-50 revenue split on OVG events, too, a hint at the date

“Everything was with the predication of win-win,” said by which OVG thinks it could be made whole. Leiweke said

Del Conte. “It was really unique; first time I’ve ever seen OVG is hoping to book at least 150 non-Texas basketball

it.” events annually at Moody Center.

n Capacity: 15,000-plus n Seat provider: Irwin Seating Julia Robinson
n Tenants: University of Texas men’s and n Suites/premium areas: 44 suites and
women’s basketball porch suites; 57 loge boxes; 3 premium
n Owner: University of Texas clubs; 1 super VIP club; 2,000 club seats
n Operator: Oak View Group n Premium area capacity: 3,912
n Cost: $375 million n Naming rights: Moody Family
n Architect: Gensler n Legacy/founding partners: Dell Tech-
n Owners’ rep: CAA Icon nologies, Brown Distributing, Truist, Ger-
n General contractor: AECOM Hunt mania Insurance, and Indeed
n Structural engineer: Martinez Moore n Concessionaire: OVG Hospitality
Engineers n Soda pouring rights: Coca-Cola
n Mechanical/electrical/plumbing en- n Video boards: Daktronics
gineer: Henderson Engineers n Wi-Fi provider/DAS provider: Verizon



“This will be one of the five busiest arenas in the A Big Re-Leaf: Eight massive oaks moved,
United States right off the bat, because of music, just replanted as part of effort to save Austin’s trees
doing unbelievable business on music,” he said.
ANYONE WHO SAW a 400,000-pound live oak tree points in the root ball, elevating the tree. Deflat-
Austin’s music reputation is well known. But while rolling down an Austin street back in 2019 cer- ed balloon bags are positioned under the tree and
the city — the nation’s fastest growing with about a
million inhabitants — is littered with gritty dive bars tainly would have looked twice. The tree was one then inflated, allowing the tree to move.
and intimate live music spots, and hosts one of the
country’s largest music festivals, Austin City Limits, of eight oaks, each roughly a hundred years old, Each tree’s journey lasted at least a day and in
the outdated Erwin Center couldn’t accommodate
major arena touring acts. that were moved to make way for the Moody Cen- some cases two, despite traveling no farther than

Just north of the Erwin Center, Moody Center now ter’s construction. half a mile. The trees aren’t allowed on highways,
sits on a site that slopes downhill from I-35 toward
Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. It has a Austin is guarded with its tree canopy — any and Hillis and his crew prefer to keep them off
360-degree glass façade, a direct reaction to its pre-
decessor’s imperviousness. tree with a trunk diameter measuring 19 inches public streets. They were kept in various spots

“When there is an event going on, whether you’re or greater is protected to within the Moody Center construction site’s lim-
driving by or walking by, you really know that some-
thing is going on,” said Laura Broderson, Gensler’s BY BRET McCORMICK some degree — so the expan- its.
lead project architect for Moody Center. “It’s meant sive trees couldn’t just be “Logistically, and from a time duration, it ranks
to pull people in.”
chopped down and chewed in the top three or four jobs I’ve done,” said Hill-
Eighty percent of fans will enter Moody Center
through the Dell Plaza and west-side main entrance. into mulch. Environmental Design Inc. was is.
From that direction, the building’s striking exterior
is lined with 400 black anodized aluminum fins. A brought in to not only move the trees, and their Three trees were returned to the Moody Center
soffit covered in a Spanish wood resin product called
Prodema juts out from the roof and resembles the roughly 35-foot-diameter root balls, away from site in February, and three more were moved to
shape of a guitar’s pickguard.
the construction site but keep them
Beneath the Prodema-covered overhang sits a
somewhat disguised second-floor terrace overlooking alive for more than two years, at a
the plaza, with sweeping, and shaded, views of down-
town Austin, the Texas Capitol building, and the UT total cost of at least six figures per
tree, then re-establish them around
“Whether it’s halftime, or you just need a break,
or an extra beer, it’s going to be a really cool space Moody Center’s Dell Plaza.
to be in,” said Broderson.
Jon Hillis, the general manager of
Another Prodema-covered soffit inside the west
entrance and a main concourse lined with murals by Environmental Design Inc.’s Central
local artists underscore the feeling that live music
is as important to the building as sports. Designers Division, said the vision was to save
tried to extend that Austin-specific vibe into the
venue’s premium areas, too, including its porch suites, that large, 100-year-old canopy. “Re-
a suggestion from McConaughey and a nod to the
city’s residents’ propensity to hang out on their locating trees is a tool. We’ve proved
porches and visit with neighbors.
the efficacy and the viability of doing
Austin-based firms Dell and Indeed put their names
on Moody Center’s two largest premium clubs, which it, and the city has deemed that it’s
face each other from opposing sidelines on the venue’s
100 level. In the east end zone sits the Moet & Chandon a form of preservation to relocate
Imperial Lounge, which spawned from OVG’s broad-
er deal with the brand that includes other OVG ven- them, rather than just leave it.”
Austin’s tree ordinance specifi-
And the event-level Germania Insurance Club is
adjacent to UT’s basketball locker rooms — sepa- cally protects trees that are “heritage
rated only by a glass wall so fans can see the Longhorns
take the court. Reserved seats in that club, with access size,” at least 24 inches in diameter.
to all concerts but excluding UT basketball tickets,
range from $19,500 to $22,500 per seat, with five to Several of the Moody Center trees Each of the eight live oak trees weighed about 400,000 pounds.
seven-year terms.
were in the 40-inch trunk diameter
Even still, designers had to create more high-end
spaces in the venue’s upper corners late in the process, range. different locations on UT’s campus or a nearby
and there remains a premium seating waitlist.
Moving trees that are around 70 feet wide re- park; another tree remains in stasis, still await-
Without an open-minded collaboration, the design quired a process that Environmental Design has ing its final spot. While waiting for relocation,
portion of the Moody Center project could’ve devolved
into tug-of-war. But UT and OVG established their perfected over 37 years. Ahead of the move, the the trees were constantly backfilled with fresh
must-haves early in the process, allowing Gensler to
work primarily with OVG from thereon. trees were pruned and given ample nutrients to dirt and irrigated. If that upkeep was maintained,

strengthen their health. Then, the root ball is Hillis said the trees could be kept alive for many

established with a trunk inches-to-root ball inch- years in such a state.

es ratio of 1:10, leaving plenty of extra room around “It’s not cheap,” said Hillis. “Kind of relative,

what’s called the “critical root zone” to limit stress right? We’re moving 400,000-pound living things

on the tree. A pipe platform is inserted at key and making sure they’re still alive.”

CAA Icon While Moody Center contains some of the hallmarks much less certain. Leiweke said three universities
of OVG buildings — eight loading docks within the visited Moody Center in the week before and after
venue reached by a tunnel and performing artist- the venue officially opened to scope out the product
exclusive spaces — the upper bowl closure system is of OVG and UT’s partnership.
the first of its kind. UT was adamant that it didn’t
want upper bowl seats to be covered by drapery or “We would be open to talking to a variety of uni-
scrim, which looks impermanent and “hokey,” to versities if they felt this partnership could work,”
use Del Conte’s phrasing. Bodie said. “It’s complicated, so the universities that
we have had dialogues with haven’t figured out how
The panels can in fact enhance the venue’s atmo- to get to that next step.”
sphere because imagery can be projected onto them,
whether UT Longhorn logos and coloring, or spe- But Texas did, and it was able to bring overlooked,
cific projections for concerts or sponsors. but critical, contributions to the deal. One of the best
examples was the university’s ability to get Red River
Stephen Collins, OVG senior vice president of Street, which ran through the middle of the future
development, called it “a fantastic system” that OVG Moody Center site, redirected using the kind of clout
will use again as it opens arenas in which live en- a major state university tends to possess.
tertainment exists on level tenant footing with sports
teams. “This doesn’t work if they don’t realign Red River
and they realigned Red River,” said Leiweke. “Do
Whether that will be at another college arena in we find another partnership this good? We’ll find
which OVG assumes the entire construction bill is out.”

W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M MAY 23-29, 2022 | 23


Multisport Magnets

New venues attract a range of events and tournaments u Operator: Oak View Group
u Funding: Series of tax-exempt bonds
across a variety of youth sports, and the tourism dollars u Architect: CAA ICON
u General contractors: Okland (indoors); Haydon
that accompany them Building Corp. (outdoors)
M ORE THAN $9 BILLION has been committed u Concessionaire: OVG
since 2017 to building venues that cater to be available to local residents in order to succeed, u Video boards: Daktronics (fixed digital score-
to youth and amateur sports, according according to Tom Hazinski, managing director of boards); Lighthouse (LED boards manufacturer);
to Sports Business Journal research, with stake- HVS, a consulting firm for the hospitality industry. ANC (installation)
u Corporate partners: Arizona Milk Producers,
holders increasingly focused on developing year- “From an impact perspective on the municipal- Bell Bank, Coco5, Crescent Crown Distributors,
ity, success comes from tourism spending,” Haz- Edkey, Huss Brewing, Kona Ice, Mountain America
round destination areas, rather than stand-alone, inski said. “But to successfully operate all year Credit Union, Pacific Office Automation, Phoenix
without a deficit, you need households with fami- Children’s Hospital, San Tan Spirits, Super Star Car
single-sport venues. lies within 30-40 minutes, with disposable income.” Wash, Tixr, Toyota
u Hotels: 65 properties / 5,398 rooms
BY DAVID BROUGHTON The 600-acre National It’s a competitive field, with venues often vying The number of hotels/rooms for each market pro-
Sports Center in Blaine, to attract the same events. Over the past three years, vided by STR.
four such youth sports facilities have opened with
Minn., opened in 1990, and similar strategies and varied offerings. Like a desert oasis, one of the biggest (320 acres)
and the most expensive ($280 million) multisport
is largely credited as being BELL BANK PARK (2022) developments ever built opened in January in Mesa,
Ariz., backed by a roster of stakeholders who are
the first such development. More recently, the 1,300- u City: Mesa, Ariz. not usually associated with such projects.
u Cost: $280 million
acre LakePoint Sports campus north of Atlanta u Owner: Legacy Cares (the nonprofit division of The Bell Bank Park complex features a 3,000-seat
Legacy Sports USA)
opened in 2014 and hosts 30 sports year-round at

its 170,000-square-foot arena, eight MLB-sized base-

ball fields and three multiuse fields.

While most of these developments are built to

increase a market’s tourism revenue (and funded

by that same revenue source), the venues also need

The $280
million Bell
Bank Park
is oper-
ated by Oak
View Group,
which also
sold facility
to bring in
more than
$5 million
in revenue

Oak View Group



The facility’s indoor arena in Mesa, Ariz., seats 2,800. PUBLIX SPORTS PARK (2019) the Gulf of Mexico’s turquoise water, provides
a mix of natural and turf fields — all with LED
outdoor stadium, a 2,800-seat indoor arena, 57 indoor vol- u City: Panama City Beach, Fla. lighting — and seating for 1,500 fans. It has
leyball courts, 41 pickleball courts, 22 futsal courts, 20 u Owner: Bay County, Fla. booked 47 weekend-long events from May 1,
basketball courts, 12 beach volleyball courts, eight base- u Operator: Sports Facilities Companies 2022, to April 30, 2023. While the majority of
ball/softball fields, a 17,000-square-foot restaurant and a u Cost: $41 million those are baseball, softball and soccer, the flex-
three-acre amphitheater with a permanent concert stage. u Funding sources: Bay County Tourist ible design allows for lacrosse, rugby, football
In the four months since it opened, every area has hosted Development Council ($35 million); Panama and field hockey.
at least one competition, tournament or entertainment City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau
event, ranging from roller derby to a Special Olympics (primarily funded by a 5% lodging tax) ($6 mil- Mike Higgins, the park’s general manager,
cheer competition that drew 1,300 competitors. lion); real estate developer St. Joe Company said 90% of those events have been national
built an access road and donated 165 acres; or regional tournaments. Next month’s six-day
It’s that diversity and frequency of events that has made Florida Department of Transportation provid- Ripken Baseball tournament (see related story,
the building successful on the playing fields and on the ed infrastructure Page 27), for example, will include 120 teams
ledger. u Architect: Sports Force Parks from multiple states and is projected to gener-
u General contractor: Phoenix Construc- ate more than 6,500 room nights. Higgins, who
“In terms of handling the sales, normally we would have tion spent six years as the NAIA’s director of cham-
turned down a project like this and just focused on operat- u Concessionaire: Sports Facilities Com- pionships prior to taking the Panama City job
ing the site,” said Dan Griffis, Oak View Group’s president panies in February, said they are looking to attract
of global partnerships. “Our original budget projected u Video boards: Nevco cold-weather college baseball and softball teams
$2.5 million annually for sponsorship revenue. We are more u Corporate partners: Lakeland, Fla.- to fill weekday dates early next spring.
than double that. I know for a fact that there are pro teams based Publix Super Markets signed a five-year,
that have had less than $5 million a year in sponsorships.” $500,000 naming-rights deal in February. The market’s 100 hotels generated $33.5 mil-
Also, Culver’s, Geico, Jimmy Buffett’s Margari- lion in room revenue in March, an increase
Griffis said that unlike a venue that is primarily an- taville, Nate’s Sanitation, Pepsi. of 28% and 33% over the same month in 2019
chored by one team, for one season, who might not offer u Hotels: 100 properties / 9,389 rooms and 2018, respectively, according to STR. A
category exclusivity, a place like Bell Bank Park offers 120-room Homewood Suites opened last month
brands year-round exposure to multiple demographics It’s easy to see why the stakeholders in as part of the project and a second hotel is
from around the country. Panama City Beach’s Publix Sports Park are under construction and scheduled to open by
optimistic about the future of the 160-acre out- the end of 2023.
Fargo, N.D.-based Bell Bank, for example, signed a 10- door development: The site opened on time
year naming-rights deal with the goal of increasing its despite Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm Construction on the site’s $41 million,
footprint. Katie Mattis Sarver, the bank’s senior vice that hit during construction in 117,375-square-foot arena, which also will serve
president of community development and a former MLS 2018 and destroyed much of the as an emergency response center, is expected
executive, handled the deal. Gulf Coast community. The park to begin this summer.
was one of the nation’s first
Oak View Group; Sports Facilities Companies (2) In addition to the heavy hitters involved with the cre- sports venues of any kind to re-
ation of the park, Legacy Sports and OVG have assembled open in 2020, as the pandemic led
a staff of sports business industry veterans. Doug Moss, to a shutdown of less than three
for example, is the president of Legacy Cares, the non- months.
profit group that owns the complex, and is the former
president and CEO of the Phoenix Coyotes and president The facility, located minutes
of MSG. from 27 miles of white sand and

OVG brought in Paul Reid to serve as the site’s execu- above: The 160-acre facility
tive chef and director of culinary. Reid held a similar opened in 2019, after surviv-
position at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale (the spring ing Hurricane Michael during
training home to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colo- construction.
rado Rockies) and American Airlines Center; and hospi- right: Ripken Baseball will bring
tality industry veteran Dusk Robinson as food and 120 teams to the site next month.
beverage director. OVG also lured longtime ESPN Wide
World of Sports executive Rodney Reese to be the venue’s MAY 23-29, 2022 | 25
director of sports business development. Olympic gold
medalist Dan O’Brien is the director of performance

While the venue has already booked dozens of region-
al and national events several years ahead, Park Univer-
sity (Gilbert, Ariz.) men’s and women’s basketball, soccer,
volleyball and women’s softball, as well as Arizona Ar-
senal, a youth soccer program, will fill out the calendar.

W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M


THE PODIUM (December 2021)

COMMUNITY FIRST for sports like basketball and volleyball. u City: Spokane, Wash.
CHAMPION CENTER (2019) Ligo, the former University of Wiscon- u Owner and operator: Spokane Public Facilities District
u Cost: $54 million
u City: Grand Chute, Wis. sin-Milwaukee at Waukesha athletic di- u Funding sources: Spokane County, via a state sales tax re-
u Owner: Town of Grand Chute rector who has been at the building since bate to the Spokane PFD ($37 million); Spokane PFD reserves ($12
u Operator: Sports Facilities Compa- it opened three years ago, said the build- million), city of Spokane ($5 million)
nies ing’s stakeholders toured more than 30 u Capacity: 3,000 permanent, 1,000 portable and 237 VIP seats
u Cost: $30 million similar-sized venues over the course of a u Architect: Integrus Architecture
u Funding: 3% lodging tax in the 19- few years to determine what sports would u General contractor: Lydig
town Fox Cities region generate the most tourist revenue, and u Concessionaire: Levy
u Architect-general contractor: Epp- that no other municipality has an amateur u Video boards: Daktronics
stein Uhen Architects and Miron Construc- sports building with an area that can be u Corporate partners: A naming-rights deal with a local com-
tion (design-build) switched from ice to hardwood and back pany will be announced this summer.
u Concessionaire: In-house again. u Hotels: 80 properties / 8,112 rooms
u Scoreboards: Daktronics
u Major corporate partners: Chick-fil-A, The strategy has paid off. Data from STR, The view from The Podium is spectacular, and lucrative.
Cobblestone Hotels, Coca-Cola, Culver’s, which provides market data on the hotel
Hampton Inn, Jimmy John’s and Scheels industry worldwide, indicates that the Spokane’s newest sports venue sits atop a 15-foot basalt forma-
u Hotels: 31 properties / 2,893 rooms region’s 31 hotels generated $12 million in
room revenue in the first quarter of 2022, tion overlooking the fast-growing city of 230,000 and is adjacent
“The arena is booked for 48 of the 52 up 12% over the same three months of 2019
weekends this year, and 75% of those (the arena opened in November 2019). to one of the country’s largest urban waterfalls.
events require travel to the Fox Cities,”
proclaimed Adam Ligo, general manager The Fox Cities Sports Development, a The arena boasts a 200-meter hydraulic, banked running track
of the Community First Champion Center. not-for-profit subsidiary of the Fox Cities
“It’s been even more successful than we Convention and Visitors Bureau, pays that helped lure the 2022 U.S. Track and Field Indoor Champion-
could have imagined.” Clearwater, Fla.-based Sports Facilities
Companies an annual fee to manage the ships to the West Coast for only the second time since 1968. The
Located southwest of Green Bay and building.
northwest of Milwaukee, in a market of weekend-long February event aired live on CNBC and Peacock,
250,000 residents, the Ligo said the building’s revenue, which
164,000-square-foot indoor was $1.6 million in 2021, is expected to giving the arena and the city
facility features an NHL- cover its operating costs.
sized ice rink, a fieldhouse national exposure. In only four
with eight volleyball courts
or four basketball courts, months of operation, track and
and a seasonal arena that
transitions from an ice field events drove 19,290 visi-
rink to hard-court surface
tors to town and generated 9,867

room nights, said Paul Chris-

tiansen, the Spokane Public

Facilities District director of


Although more than half of top: A 200-meter hydraulic,
the 83 events booked at the banked track helped bring the
arena through 2026 are track 2022 U.S. Track and Field Indoor
and field, the track itself was Championships to The Podium.

submerged beneath a $1 mil- above: A venue naming-rights

lion, 2¼-inch subfloor and Ter- deal is expected this summer.

raplas cover when the sport’s

season ended in March and was replaced with 16 hardwood courts Community First Champion Center (2); Spokane Public Facilities District (2)

for the USA Volleyball Pacific Northwest Qualifier. The floor cov-

ering is part of $3 million to $4 million that the PFD has spent on

the building since it opened.

Spokane’s 80 hotels generated $46.7 million during the first

quarter of the year, a 12% increase over the same period in 2019,

according to STR. Events booked in the venue’s first year are

expected to fill nearly 32,000 room nights, double what was pro-

jected when construction began.

That is a key metric, because although the PFD is funded almost

entirely by revenue generated by the venue, any shortfall for bond

payments and/or operating losses will come from the city’s 3.3%

lodging tax.

above: The 164,000-square- Up next, the USA Karate National Championships and Team
foot facility is managed by
Sports Facilities Companies. Trials from June 29 through July 3 is projected to generate 3,000

right: The venue’s seasonal room nights.
arena can switch from an
ice rink to hard-court Christiansen said the PFD, which also operates the 12,000-seat
Spokane Arena, wants to fill the summer calendar with concerts,

as The Podium’s 3,000-6,000 concert capacity “is the sweet spot”

for many shows.



Interest in girls flag football skyrockets

IN 2018, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation All told, 22 NFL teams have some kind

helped launch a pilot program for girls flag football of girls flag football program, ranging from

in Gwinnett County Public Schools outside Atlanta. one-off “jamboree” days to full-fledged

Nineteen high schools fielded teams. leagues. In February, Nike pledged

Next season, the program expanded to $100,000 in equipment and ap-

52 schools in six counties. This fall, 230 BY BEN FISCHER parel to state athletic associa-
schools are expected to field teams with tions that offer girls flag as a

4,600 players across Georgia, where the sanctioned high school sport

state high school association sanctioned the sport or launch a pilot.

in 2020. “A football in someone’s hand means

It’s been a roaring success for the Falcons’ com- they’re more likely to be a fan later,” said

munity relations team, which started out with mod- Roman Oben, the NFL’s director of youth

est hopes of creating new football opportunities in and high school football.

local schools but now sees a national movement. NFL Flag, the recreational leagues

“To be able to include girls on that level, it’s been backed by the NFL and teams, are open

a perfect fit into what we want to do as an organiza- to players age 5 to 18. It’s been developed

tion, to give back and provide that opportunity,” as tackle football participation declines

said Amanda Dinkel, director of community relations amid safety concerns. But targeting girls Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted the Georgia championship in 2019.

for the Falcons. in particular in a formal scholastic en-

Five states have fully sanctioned girls flag football: vironment ensures sustainability and visibility, ational, six-team event last fall, but in a matter of

Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Nevada and Alaska. At Oben said. months that evolved into a 20-team league in coor-

least seven more have launched pilots, including “The Falcons can open their stadium to highlight dination with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The

population-rich California and New York, and the the sport, or we can make it a big deal at Pro Bowl, team’s charity donated $50,000 to the school system,

number is growing rapidly. but unless the structures and powers that be make and CMS Athletic Director Ericia Turner pushed

The Blank Foundation fully funded the initial test it grow as a sustainable sport, it won’t continue to to launch the league quickly. Next step is to get dem-

run in Gwinnett County and the expansion in 2019. evolve,” Oben said. onstrated interest at 106 schools statewide to get

Now that Georgia has reached full sanctioning, each From a sports administration perspective, girls sanctioning.

school is eligible for up to $10,000 in grants to launch flag football has a lot going for it. Comparatively “The energy around this program, it’s incendiary,”

a new program. The program has given 100 grants little equipment and small teams mean lower bar- said Riley Fields, Panthers director of community

in Georgia to benefit about 140 schools so far. riers to entry. It’s a variation on the most popular relations.

In most states, an NFL club is involved to one sport in the country, so familiarity is high. And add- There is massive unmet demand, Dinkel said, at

degree or another. The Blank Foundation and the ing a girls’ version helps offset Title IX challenges least everywhere in Georgia they’ve tried so far.

Falcons are reaching beyond Georgia borders, help- created by large tackle football programs. “Once they had interest meetings, and tryouts, hun-

ing in Alabama and Montana, where Blank owns a The low barrier to entry means progress can hap- dreds of girls came to these tryouts no matter what

large guest ranch. pen quickly. The Carolina Panthers hosted a recre- the size of the schools are,” Dinkel said.

Ripken Baseball expands beyond owned really well. What we want to bring to the table is our
properties and explores additional sports structure, our systems and our backing to make their
business bigger.
THE RIPKEN NAME is synonymous with the sport of tournaments in Florida and Texas, all at locations
baseball, both at the professional and youth level. “We turn these tournaments into experiences. We
that Ripken Baseball does not own (see below). Dick’s can bring more scale with marketing and we can
Now, baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. is lead- lighten the burden with the systems that we have in
ing the youth organization he Sporting Goods, recently designated as the official place.”

BY ERIK BACHARACH and his brother, Bill, founded sporting goods store of Ripken Baseball as part of a Kenney, a former executive vice president of live
event marketing for the Harlem Globetrotters, pre-
in 2003, to expand to new loca- new multiyear sponsorship, will be the first brand sented to the company’s executive board in December
tions and, eventually, to a new vision for Ripken Baseball that was much big-
sports such as lacrosse, field hockey and flag football. incorporated in the 2022 RIPKEN SELECT ger than three permanent sites. “On the baseball side,
Still, the goal of Ripken Baseball hasn’t changed. tour. TOURNAMENT DATES we’re so authentic, we’re so pure in terms of the
“Now,” Ripken Jr. said, “we’re just trying to impact experience and what we want to provide to the play-
more kids.” The organization n June 5-10: Panama City er, the coach and the family,” Kenney said. “We want
Nearly 20 years old, Ripken Baseball owns and also is developing Beach, Fla., Publix Sports to be able to scale that into other sports.”
operates facilities in Aberdeen, Md.; Pigeon Forge, plans to expand into Park
Tenn.; and Myrtle Beach, S.C., that draw hundreds other sports through Just how big can Ripken Baseball get?
of players and their families each year. In 2021, each “I think of my dad saying, ‘Don’t get too big for
venue had its highest revenue and team participation acquisitions. Mi- n June 19-4: Frisco, Texas, your britches,’” Ripken Jr. said. “But [when Ripken
counts in the company’s history. The company has Baseball first launched] I wouldn’t have thought that
already begun branching out by building new fields chael Kenney, Rip- Harold Bacchus Community we would have three really successful complexes and
— including four new fields in Pigeon Forge and rep- that the Ripken name would be embraced all the way
licas of Citi Field and PNC Park in Aberdeen — and k e n B a s e b a l l Park across the country. So we want to do it the smart,
staging tournaments at other locations. methodical way, and there is a little bit of an urgen-
The Ripken Select tour debuted last July in Round executive vice pres- n July 17-22: Round Rock, cy to move. We’re really comfortable and happy with
Rock, Texas, through a partnership with Hall of Famer the models that we built. We’ve learned a lot along
Nolan Ryan. This summer, there will be Ripken Select ident who joined the Texas, Old Settlers Park the way. And now we want to apply that so we can
affect more kids so they can have more great experi-
organization in 2019, ences in sports.”

estimated the timeline for the company to be up and

running in other youth sports is three to five years.

Atlanta Falcons “Those other sports are too mature at this level for

us to try to start from scratch,” Kenney said. “So we’ll

make acquisitions, and I do expect multiple acquisi-

tions across the different sports, so we can start with

a base. There’s people out there that are doing this

W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M MAY 23-29, 2022 | 27


Wizards Expanding in the short term, but that is parents understand how to keep a
Youth Basketball Footprint a long-term goal with a lot of ben- young, aspiring player on the right
Throughout the D.C. Region efits.” path, we’re doing the right thing,”
Clancy said.
This summer, the Washington Shannon Clancy, Wizards Director The Wizards Youth Basketball pro-
Wizards Youth Basketball program, of Youth Basketball. “Campers are gram has continued to push into Next up for Wizards Youth
which has been remote for the still learning something, still having the tournament space in recent Basketball: esports. The Wizards,
last two seasons because of the fun, still developing their game, years, highlighted by its local youth along with Wizards District Gaming
pandemic, will host its first series and meeting new people. That tournament, the Jr. Wizards Hoops of the NBA 2K League, have
of in-person summer basket- was No. 1. Then you can add in Fest, which serves as a local quali- already started hosting esports
ball camps since 2019, including that we can bring current and fying event for the Jr. NBA Global camps and clinics in recent years
three in Washington, D.C., three former players around, or that Championship, and the Wizards and plan to push further into the
in Northern Virginia and three in the coaches participate or that High School Showcase, which space with the opening of a
Maryland. campers get tickets to a game. It returns next year. brand-new venue in Gallery Place,
takes what would normally be a adjacent to Capital One Arena.
The program provides several great experience and elevates it “Now that we’re back and
options for young players look- to another level. That’s something running full steam, one of main
ing to develop their games: Jr. we can offer that other programs areas of growth is in the tourna-
Wizards Summer Camps for boys can’t.” ment space, which we feel we’re
and girls ages 6-14, TotShots at The just scratching the surface of,”
St. James for children ages 3-6, The current iteration of the Clancy said. “You have summer
Gameday Clinics prior to Wizards Wizards Youth Basketball program camps that are there, but tourna-
and Mystics games, support for launched in summer 2017 with ments are where youth basketball
local parks and recreation pro- plans to offer a first-class develop- is going. We need to be able to
grams and more. ment experience for local play- carve ourselves into that.”
ers, coaches, and parents – and
“Our No. 1 goal when we cultivate a relationship between Bringing the youth development
launched the Jr. Wizards Summer the organization and its fans at an program full circle, the Wizards
Camps was to create an experi- early age. Youth Basketball program also
ence where, if you stripped away provides focused education for
all the bells and whistles that come “One of our main goals is cre- coaches – including seminars and
with it being an NBA franchise, ating Wizards fans of the future,” engagement in the Jr. NBA Coach
that it was still a good camp,” said Clancy said. “It’s hard to track that of the Year initiative – and parents
of young players.

“We can’t do everything, but if
we can help coaches around the
DMV better themselves and help



No doubt about it: Alexander initiatives and programs to make "The Ovechkin Effect" Brings
Ovechkin is one of the greatest various forms of hockey available Growth to Youth Hockey
hockey players of all time. Not to all.
only has Ovi continually etched draft pick that comes out of this gym class, dedicating 60 hours a
his name into record books since Knowing the D.C. area isn’t area and plays in the league, week to travel hockey or playing
he was selected No. 1 in the 2004 the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" like that’s awesome, that’s absolutely NHL 22.
NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Minnesota with frozen ponds and fantastic. That’s not our focus. Our
Capitals, but also his influence ice rinks aplenty, the Washington focus is to encourage participation As they grow up, youth hock-
off the ice is just as, if not more, Capitals have taken to the streets on all levels and not just those kids ey players have opportunities to
impactful. – and schools – to introduce street looking to play college or at an participate in the Learn to Play
hockey. elite level; we just want them to be (LTP) program presented by World
Hockey participation in the playing and participating in youth Wide Technology or Try Hockey
Washington, D.C., metropolitan Through the Capitals Hockey sports. The real purpose of youth for Free programming presented
area has increased by more than School program presented by sports is to learn life skills you can by ThunderCat Technology. More
200% since he joined the Caps Capital One, the organization has apply to other aspects – you’re than 7,300 players have been
thanks to what’s been dubbed, learning sportsmanship, leadership introduced to the sport via the
"The Ovechkin Effect." donated street hockey equipment and problem-solving skills. Cap’s LTP program since its start
and county approved curriculum in 2016.
"The Ovi Effect has been unbe- across nearly 1,200 schools. The "All of those different life skills
lievable for us just in terms of program currently reaches more you’re learning in sports are really Hockey is – and should be – for
awareness and participation," said than 750,000 students annually. the true benefit.” everyone, and programs like ALL
Peter Robinson, Capitals Director CAPS ALL HER and the Capital
of Youth Hockey Development. "My job is not to make the Not only has regular physical Impact Fund are creating those
next Alex Ovechkin – that is not activity been proven to benefit opportunities and pathways. ALL
Earlier this season, Herndon, Va., what we’re looking to do at all," one’s mental, physical and emo- CAPS ALL HER launched this sea-
native Joe Snively became the first Robinson said. "If we have a future tional health and well-being, but son for girls and women of all ages
player in franchise history to play sport’s lessons and life skills trans- with comprehensive program-
for the team as a native of Virginia. late to the workplace, too. ming that encompasses hockey,
Snively trained at MedStar Capitals business development and net-
Iceplex in Arlington, Va. during his Introducing students to hockey working, and coach and referee
youth and was a participant in and its various iterations at a young education. Created in 2020, the
Washington's Little Caps program. age allows them to grow with the Capital Impact Fund has donated
sport in whatever capacity they $50,000 in grants to help support
To help facilitate that booming want to, whether that means pick- diversity in hockey.
interest, which also saw a mas- ing up a stick a few times a year in
sive spike following the Caps hoist-
ing the Stanley Cup in 2018, the
organization launched a variety of

The Washington Capitals ALL CAPS ALL HER
platform is an initiative that aims to provide
access to hockey and elevate the game for
women and girls in the Washington D.C. area,
while recognizing and supporting female
players, coaches, parents, advocates, and
leaders in the community.

• Youth & Adult Hockey Programming
• Coach & Referee Development
• Professional Development & Networking
• Families of Hockey



3Step builds business by curating a
range of organizations across sports

AS 3STEP SPORTS continues to grow to coach, they’re parents, etc. So we

with one headline-worthy acquisition go in and I say, ‘You keep doing what

after another, there’s an all-important you’re doing, and I’m going to take

question for the budding youth sports the facility management problems

conglomerate: Is this a good fit? away, the finance problems, the mar-

A lot goes into the answer. David keting, sponsor sales, website, media,

Geaslen, founder and CEO of 3Step insurance, registration, apparel, and

Sports, will first have a phone call or we’ll take that all into a central loca-

two with lead- tion. I just gave you 25 hours of work

BY ERIK BACHARACH ers from the back, right? What are you going to do
company he’s
with it? You love volleyball, you’re

considering ac- going to go back and put that back

quiring. He’ll into the kids and the parents.’ And

then travel to visit the company and that’s what’s happened.”

watch one of its games. If Geaslen likes Walker insists growing 3Step has

what he sees — not only how the team never been about hitting a certain

or event operates, but also the people number of acquisitions or revenue

running it — the company will be in- dollars. “It wasn’t ever about the size,

vited to visit 3Step for a discovery it was about the impact. How much

meeting. If that meeting is fruitful impact can we have positively to the

and interest is mutual, the two sides youth sports space?” he said. “The one

begin talking about financials in an cool thing about our company is all

effort to size up what an acquisition of our leadership have either played

might look like. The process has taken youth sports or coached youth sports

anywhere from six weeks to two years. or been involved in it. So we all know

These days, Geaslen estimates only 3Step launched in 2016 and built a foundation by acquiring companies in youth bas- the value it had on us.”

one in 10 inquiring companies makes ketball, lacrosse and volleyball. Later acquisitions included field hockey and more. Geaslen echoed those points before

it past the first phone call. In that way, raising another — his employees — in

3Step has come a long way in a short hopeful companies were reaching out Geaslen said 90% of 3Step’s pro- describing his pride for the impact

amount of time. to Geaslen about joining 3Step, he was gramming is for participants ages 8 3Step is having.

The company launched in 2016 with chasing them. It began with Geaslen to 14. The company has elite clubs and In early April, 3Step sent 10 staffers

a mission of becoming the standard convincing one company each in three events, but also — two from each of

of the youth sports experience and sports to join as an acquisition. In ones that are more 3STEP SPORTS marketing, finance,
basketball, it was Zero Gravity; in developmental in operations and ap-
creating consistency in the industry.

By late 2018, the Wilmington, Mass.- lacrosse, it was 3d Lacrosse; in vol- nature. Companies Sports in which 3Step operates parel, in addition
leyball, it was East Coast Power. From that are absorbed to Geaslen and an-
based organization had 30 employees there, 3Step had the necessary tools by the conglomer- and key acquisitions in each: other executive —
to grow within each youth sport. ate don’t lose their n Baseball: Select Baseball to Louisville, Ky.,
and was generating about $10 million individual brand- n Basketball: Zero Gravity* for a volleyball
“I think we’ve been able to pick that n Fastpitch softball: Seacoast
in annual revenue. Shortly thereafter,

private equity from Fiume Capital

and Juggernaut Capital helped trigger right foundational piece to intro our- ing. “People know United tournament it was

additional growth. And today, more selves into the sport, because they all East Coast Power, n Field hockey: College operating at a con-
talk,” said Walker Jones, the com- West Coast Elite Connection vention center. It
than 700 employees make 3Step Sports pany’s chief marketing officer. “And and Thunder LB3 featured more than
they all listen, even if they’re compet- Lacrosse,” Walker n Football: FBU 100 courts and
a $250 million business. ing with each other. And so once you said. “That’s who n Lacrosse: 3d Lacrosse* thousands of at-
make that foundational piece, that’s they trust.” n Soccer: Seacoast United tendees. None of
The company operates in eight youth the one that’s going to come in and n Volleyball: East Coast Power* the staffers, aside
For would-be ac-
sports (see box), and is about to enter * The director of the club/event company
is now 3Step’s vice president in that sport.
its ninth. In addition to operating the

Under Armour Next program for foot-

ball, volleyball and basketball, and the say to you, ‘You guys need to go buy quisitions, youth from Geaslen, had

3SSB Adidas-sponsored basketball these three other clubs because they sports under the ever been to a 3Step

circuit, 3Step has made 54 acquisitions. get it. They understand and they’ll 3Step umbrella become much more event like this one.

It has more than 70 distinct brands complement what we’re doing.’” about the sport itself than all the in- “I told them, ‘You’re now going to

under its umbrella. It has executed Added Geaslen: “We don’t need tricacies of running a team or event. see why you market, why you pay for

over 2,500 events, involving more than every club. We need the right clubs. “Volleyball is the reason that people the floor, why you talk to the advertis-

1,800 club teams spanning 41 states. I’m not going to say the best or the that own a volleyball business are ers,’” Geaslen said. “‘You’re going to

Sponsors include ESPN, Gatorade and biggest. Just the right ones with the actually in it,” Geaslen said. “They see it the moment we walk through

New Balance. right people leading them.” want to teach volleyball, they want the door.’”

“We’ve basically created an ecosys- So Geaslen walked through the door

tem that is unlike anything else out “We don’t need every club. We need the right first — backward. Their reactions
were everything to him.
there,” said Geaslen, whose résumé 3Step Sports (4)

includes stints as Scouts Inc.’s CEO clubs. I’m not going to say the best or the “To see them see the impact they’re
biggest. Just the right ones with the right having on all these kids and their fam-
and ESPN’s vice president of high people leading them.” ilies, that’s where I get it,” Geaslen said.
“That’s where I’m getting the reward.”
school sports and recruiting.

It wasn’t always this way. Before



Osaka takes progressive step with Evolve
I N A POWER MOVE befitting the world’s highest-
earning female athlete, Naomi Osaka left IMG something bigger than a tennis star striking out to pursue her career as she sees fit. She’s also show-
and launched her own sports agency earlier on her own. Osaka’s launch of Evolve with her
longtime agent, Stuart Duguid, speaks to the im- ing female athletes there’s no one-size-fits-all way

to advocate for yourself and shape your career.

this month. Osaka told Sportico that the new agen- portance of female athletes taking action. If the Again, it’s all part of a continuum and, fittingly,

cy is “the natural next step in my journey ecosystem you find yourself in doesn’t an evolution.

as both an athlete and a businesswoman, BY SHIRA SPRINGER fit you or your needs or your goals, then At first, the activism and advocacy within wom-
as well as a way to continue being myself why not try to build one that does?
en’s sports focused on culture change. See the 1976

and doing things my way.” The new This is about more than one tennis star Yale varsity women’s crew. The rowers stripped

agency will be called Evolve. and one sports agency. It’s about literal naked in the office of a female athletic administra-

From its name to its athlete-driven focus, Evolve agency. tor to protest unequal treatment and unequal

is very much a bold, bet-on-me statement by the For decades, the default setting in women’s sports locker room facilities. Now, increasingly, activism

24-year-old Osaka. It’s an extension of the tennis was “be grateful.” Athletes appreciated whatever and advocacy combine calls for culture change with

star’s desire to break with tradition, to build a dif- they got from a sports world built by men and for recognition of the outsized role played by money

ferent kind of career, to diversify her business men. But in recent years, the mindset among female and business opportunities. See the Equal Pay fight,

portfolio, to invest in her personal growth, to devote athletes has changed dramatically. the critical tweets about the WNBA’s hard salary

time and energy to the causes and companies that They have sued, protested, campaigned on social cap from Breanna Stewart, the ownership of Angel

matter most to her. media, bought teams and started companies to cre- City FC, the shoe company started by Allyson Felix.

Talking about Evolve, Osaka also said that she’s ate a sports world that better suits them and better In 2019, Felix, the most decorated American track

spent her career “doing things my way, even when serves future generations. They know they need athlete in Olympic history, broke up with Nike

people told me that it wasn’t what was expected or to do more than say “we’re no longer going to sit because of the company’s then-practice of paying

traditional.” True, but she’s not the first, big-name back and be grateful for what we get.” They have less to pregnant and postnatal athletes. When she

pro athlete or even the first tennis superstar to take agency, and they recognize the need to embrace it struggled to reach a sponsorship deal with anoth-

full control of the business side of a career. She in new and innovative ways. er footwear brand, she started her own shoe com-

adds her name to a list that includes LeBron James, Viewed in this context, Osaka and Evolve don’t pany, Saysh. She would finish her career on her

Kevin Durant, Rory McIlroy, Roger Federer and stand apart. Instead, they’re part of a continuum terms and, in the process, diversify her business

Rafael Nadal. She is, however, the first female ath- of female athletes who’ve been activists and advo- portfolio.

lete of the same stature to take the leap. cates in a variety of contexts. Starting a sports There’s a through line from Felix to Osaka, though

Prominent, successful women who do things their agency can be seen as both activism and advocacy. Osaka stands at a very different juncture in her

own way, who forge new paths, get invested with Maybe not in the traditional sense. But that’s even career. The tennis star launched Evolve while she

larger symbolic and societal significance. It’s part better, even more on brand for Osaka. Through works her way back up the tennis rankings. Going

of the deal. And so Osaka and Evolve represent Evolve, she’s advocating for herself and the right back to 2021, as she prioritized her mental health,

Osaka took extended breaks from competi-

tion. She dropped to 85th in the world ear-

lier this year. She now stands at 38th.

But her ranking doesn’t define her or her

success. That’s part of the message behind

Evolve, too.

Her extended absences from the pro ten-

nis circuit certainly haven’t diminished

her success or ambition off the court. Her

earnings from endorsement deals now top

$50 million, and that number reflects a

diverse array of sponsors from Louis Vuit-

ton to Airbnb to Beats to Mastercard. She

holds equity in

Naomi Osaka’s Sweetgreen, Auto-
fittingly named graph, Modern

agency is another Health and other
example of athletes companies. Last
advocating for year, she became
themselves. founder and CEO of

Kinlò, a company

that sells skin care products for people with

melanated, or darker, skin tones.

Duguid told Reuters that Evolve will be

a “small boutique,” and it’s uncertain who

might be added to the client roster. But

whether more female athletes join Evolve

or not, Osaka and her agency, in both

senses, have added to the ongoing evolution

of women’s sports.

Shira Springer writes about the intersec- Getty Images
tion of sports and culture and teaches
leadership communication at MIT Sloan and
journalism at Boston University, including
the course “Sports, Gender & Justice.”





Atlanta Falcons CEO and President Rich McKay, City of Atlanta Chief As part of its Draft Week Community Events Initiative, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and
Equity Officer Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim, NFL Executive Vice President retired player Thomas Davis listened as youth from across Southern Nevada discuss topics such
of Football Operations Troy Vincent, Falcons Director of Community as racial justice, mental health, gender equality and the education gap during the Inspire Change
Relations Amanda Dinkel and others pose with players at the Huddle Legacy Program April 29 at the John D. “Jackie” Gaughan Clubhouse. As part of the
unveiling of a 30-foot dynamic wall display inside Mercedes-Benz program, the NFL Foundation donated $75,000 to Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada.
Stadium dedicated to the trailblazers of high school girls flag football
in Georgia on May 11.

Atlanta Falcons; NFL; Sammy Steinlight; Simon Bruty for Wells Fargo; Tiffany Hofeldt; Jack McCoy; Jeffery Salter / Turn 2 Foundation Inc.; Sports PR Summit NEW JERSEY JEWISH SPORTS HALL THEY’VE GOT SKILLS GAMBLERS KICKOFF EVENT
PGA Tour player Chesson Hadley led an instructional Austin Gamblers majority owner Egon Durban,
Host and emcee Bob Papa, Eli Manning, inductee session for kids at a golf skills clinic hosted by Wells Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke and newly
Tracy Wolfson of CBS Sports, inductee Kenny Albert Fargo and First Tee at Langston Golf Course on May 4 announced Gamblers minority owner Michael
of Fox, Turner and MSG Networks, and Steve Rogers, prior to the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac Dell celebrate the launch of the franchise on
CEO of Kaplen JCC, gathered at the New Jersey Jewish at Avenel Farm. April 28 at Lonesome Dove Restaurant in Austin.
Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony on May 2 at The Gamblers, whose events will be at OVG’s
the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, N.J. new Moody Center on the University of Texas
campus, are one of eight founding franchises
in the new PBR Team Series that begins this


Brad Ruskin, senior partner and At the April 30 gala for the Derek Jeter Celebrity Invitational Rosa Gatti (second from left) and Vada Manager (second
co-chair of the sports law group at golf tournament: Chick Lee, EVP/CFO ICON International; from right) received the inaugural Sports PR Summit Lifetime
Proskauer, accepts the Servant of Jeter, founder of The Turn 2 Foundation; Todd Braverman, Achievement Awards presented by the Newhouse Sports
Justice Award from Adriene Holder, SVP, Warner Brothers Discovery; Turn 2 Foundation Media Center at Syracuse University on May 17 in New York
chief attorney of the civil practice President Sharlee Jeter; and Pete Falcone, owner and CEO City. Joining them were Olivia Stomski and Brad Horn of the
at The Legal Aid Society, during the of JP Sports + Entertainment. The tournament at the Baha S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse.
organization’s 45th annual awards Mar Royal Blue Golf Course in Nassau, Bahamas, contributed
dinner on May 12 in New York City. more than $1 million to Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.

W W W . S P O R T S B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L . C O M MAY 23-29, 2022 | 33


Oklahoma won the
2021 World Series,
its fourth national
title in the past

Pointing Back to OKC

Teams are working their way back to Oklahoma City, where the NCAA Women’s College World
Series will feature a larger fan festival and greatly expanded activation plans by sponsors.


CRAIG CRESS, the CEO of USA Softball, offers a sim- Series was played before near-capacity and sellout be the new standard. Getty Images
ple explanation when asked why Oklahoma City crowds while setting cumulative (115,514 fans) and ESPN’s viewership, according to a company
has become synonymous with the NCAA Women’s per-session (11,551) attendance records.
College World Series. spokesperson, has been consistently strong for much
Liz Turner Suscha, NCAA managing director for of the past decade. Last year, when the University
Years ago, he said, the NCAA was looking for the championships and alliances, said the uncertainty of Oklahoma won its fourth title in the past decade,
softball version of Omaha — home to the men’s surrounding last year has given organizers confi- full series viewership was 1.2 million and the best-
baseball College World Series since 1950 — with an dence heading into this year’s World Series, which of-three finals was watched by an average of 1.9 mil-
emphasis on a central location. But that explains begins June 2 and ends June 9 or 10, depending on lion people. Those figures were 12% and 16%
only how the Women’s College World Series got the length of the best-of-three finals. Regional action higher, respectively, than in 2019 — and 41% and
there in 1990. started last week with a field of 64 teams vying to 34% above 2018.
make it to the World Series.
As for why it’s stayed — and why it’s committed Turner Suscha cited the commitment of the city,
to OKC through 2035? “We’ve been able to keep them “This year will be our first chance to do [every- Oklahoma City-based USA Softball, and ESPN as
here by continuing to make improvements,” Cress thing] with full capacity,” Turner Suscha said. essential to the World Series’ growth spurt. And,
said, providing a humble assessment during a recent she said, current and upcoming enhancements will
interview. As an example, she mentioned the accompanying improve equity and competition on the field. Among
fan festival, which was canceled last year. When it them: adding two days for rest to align more close-
Those improvements include a $27.5 million pub- returns as part of this year’s event, it will be 57,500 ly with the baseball College World Series; expand-
licly funded expansion and renovation of OGE En- square feet, up from 40,500 in 2019. Six of the NCAA’s ing rosters to better protect player health; adding
ergy Field at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex nine World Series sponsors will be featured in the phone lines from the dugout to the bullpen; institut-
completed in 2020. The upgrades included 4,000 fan fest, up from three in 2019. Overall, activation ing video replay; and, next year, installing outfield
upper-level seats that pushed capacity to 12,500 and and promotions by World Series sponsors through- wall padding.
new locker rooms, meeting rooms and media areas. out the 2022 event will increase by 60% compared
with recent years, Turner Suscha said. Cress provided context about the rise of the Wom-
The pandemic briefly interrupted OKC’s softball en’s College World Series when asked how the host
ambitions; the World Series was canceled in 2020. Across the board, interest in women’s softball and city has embraced it.
Last year, the World Series returned, but with fewer its championship event is growing. Consider: Dur-
than two weeks to go before first pitch, organizers ing the first decade of the 2000s, average cumulative “Embrace might be an understatement,” he said.
were planning on 50% capacity because of health attendance for the World Series was 45,371; for the “It’s an institution.”
mandates. Those protocols were relaxed and, despite 2010s, the figure was 72,747. For the next decade,
a narrow window to sell more tickets, the World with the expanded stadium, 100,000-plus is likely to Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business
Journal, an affiliated publication.





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A top destination for professional, amateur and recreational sports, Sarasota County’s blue skies,
blue waters and elite amenities attract athletes near and far. World-class sporting facilities range
from MLB Spring Training stadiums to Nathan Benderson Park’s internationally acclaimed rowing
venue and an outdoor Olympic-size pool at Selby Aquatic Center. No matter your sport or the
season, come for cross-training and competition, stay for sunshine and good times.




Our complex is one of the largest indoor, multi-sport, training and competition facilities in the
world. With more than 750,000 sq. ft. under roof and acres of outdoor recreational space, SPIRE
has the unique capacity to simultaneously host a residential academy, clubs, leagues, tournaments
and championship events, no matter the weather or season. Every consideration has been taken to
create an unparalleled experience.


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