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Published by Sports Business Journal, 2020-12-31 10:22:54

Sports Business Journal — Jan. 4, 2021


JANUARY 4-10, 2021
VOLUME 23 ISSUE 37 • $10.95



With economic pressure
mounting, Cole Gahagan
has accelerated the
transformation of
Learfield IMG College.

PwC’s annual report details how digital and In-Depth: From marketing and media
DEI offer opportunities for revenue growth as to esports and entertainment, these are
the trends and trendsetters to watch in 2021.
sports look to recover from the pandemic.





Amount of PPP loan the PITTSBURGH PENGUINS got to help cover their rent at PPG Paints Arena,
making them the only team in the four biggest U.S. leagues known to accept the federal loan.

YouTube subscribers for DUDE PERFECT,
a team of trick shot artists whose channel earned $23 million,

largely through ad revenue, the third-highest on the site.

The NBA opened its To honor Lionel Messi’s record-setting 644 goals scored with a single club, Budweiser
season by playing JA10N. sent 644 individually numbered bottles to each of the 160 different goalkeepers he
in home markets HBO debuts “Tiger,” has scored against during his nearly two decades with FC Barcelona.
for the first time a two-part documentary
since mid-March, on TIGER WOODS, at
and it had 10 more 9 p.m. ET.
sponsors than last



As of Thursday, 19
college football bowl

games had been
canceled with lost ad
revenue totaling more
than $20 million for

ESPN alone, and
other games were
being compromised
by players electing to

sit out.

Getty Images (2); @budfootball Twitter; Courtesy of HBO “ MONEY TALKS
To be completely honest, if we
didn’t have a season, I’m not sure
”if our league would still be here.
— NWSL Chicago Red Stars midfielder DANIELLE COLAPRICO

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 3


Our new events how progressive organizations are developing human capital and The entire contents
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Buzz, our daily five-minute look at
the stories of the day.


CLOSING SHOT. . . . 26
Cover image by Sam Anise for
Learfield IMG College Superstar Racing Despite the tumultuous BDA Sports’ Bill Duffy From cherishing time with LeBron James led
Experience sets its inau- circumstances under says his experiences family to the importance athletes in U.S. leagues
gural season schedule, which he was hired, working with WME of communication, in the number of social
plans TV production and Will Wilson seems like a Sports led to the recent executives share what last media followers, adding
pursues sponsorships. natural fit at U.S. Soccer. partnership agreement. year taught them. 26 million in 2020.

By Adam Stern By Mark J. Burns By Liz Mullen By SBJ Staff By Bret McCormick



A ‘courageous

Learfield IMG College moves quickly to new

strategy under Cole Gahagan. BY MICHAEL SMITH

C OLE GAHAGAN had just finished his last
video conference of a long day in late
March when he received an unexpect-
ed phone call from Atairos Group Chair-

man Michael Angelakis, whose private equity firm

is the majority owner of Learfield IMG College.

Angelakis had surprising news: Longtime Learfield

President and CEO Greg Brown had stepped down

and the company’s board of directors voted unani-

mously to appoint Gahagan to the top job.

“The baton has been passed with great confi-

dence,” Angelakis told Gahagan, who was hired

from Fanatics in December 2019 to eventually suc-

ceed Brown, just not so quickly and not under such

turbulent times in the midst of a pandemic.

Brown’s resignation and Gahagan’s promotion

were jointly announced on April 3 in a move that

drastically accelerated the timeline for a leadership

change. Gahagan, who had started in early January,

was supposed to spend 2020 easing into the job and

broadening his contacts in the collegiate space over

12-18 months.

Instead, he assumed leadership of a company

whose viability was under intense scrutiny because

of how much it relied on live events to generate ad-

vertising and sponsorship revenue. COVID-19 had

brought the games to a halt last spring, including

March Madness, and threatened football in the fall.

Gahagan kept hearing the words of Pat Battle, the

former CLC president who emerged as a key adviser

on the company’s board and helped recruit him.

“Adapt or die,” Battle said bluntly.

Planning to learn Learfield IMG College’s business in 2020, Cole Gahagan was promoted in April LEARFIELD IMG COLLEGE’S long-term plan was to Sam Anise for Learfield IMG College
with accelerated expectations to move from live events to focus on a new digital content strategy. transform itself from a sponsorship sales organiza-
tion into a digital, data and content business. That’s
why Gahagan was hired.

COVID and its financial toll, especially on live
event businesses, created an inflamed sense of ur-
gency for Gahagan to accelerate the changes. New
data analytics products and programming, even
an esports competition, were fast-tracked for release
in 2020.

There was no time to waste. Like most live en-
tertainment companies, Learfield’s 2020 balance
sheet told a grim story. Between $75 million and
$100 million in traditional sponsorship deals had
to be renegotiated, made good or shifted into some
other type of asset.



Courtesy of Learfield IMG College On top of that, the peak selling pe- Learfield IMG College provides Fanbase dashboards to clients. and it sped up what we were thinking in terms of
riod for football season — spring and pursuing some of these new opportunities.”
summer — was severely mitigated by Pyne and Gahagan have talked regularly throughout the pan-
the uncertainty caused by the pan- demic, spurred by the business relationship between Bruin’s While the leadership change wasn’t a surprise,
demic. No one knew for sure if there Two Circles and Learfield IMG College. Two Circles has been the timing was, even at the highest levels of the
even would be a season until August. vital in supplying the data infrastructure for Fanbase, which is company. Brown is regarded as a pioneer in mul-
in use at 86 Learfield IMG College schools now since it launched timedia rights with endless contacts at the ath-
Learfield IMG College took a $125 in May at no cost to the clients. letic director and commissioner level. He elevated
million injection of cash from its lend- Learfield’s value from $100 million to $1.3 billion
ers in September to help cover opera- The company says it has aggregated 20 million fan records so over three acquisitions in the decade before engi-
tions and make deferred rights fee far by compiling data across its different businesses, ranging neering the $2 billion merger with IMG College
payments to its school clients. from CLC to Sidearm Sports, Paciolan and others. that closed on Dec. 31, 2018.

All the while, Gahagan pressed for- “The conversations with Cole have been kind of invigorating,” But the bulky integration of two such large com-
ward with the transition to digital Pyne said. “His vision for collegiate marketing is the marriage of panies went slower than expected in 2019 and the
programming that would run across technology and data to reinvent the college platform. It’s not ‘out anticipated financial rebound in 2020 was snuffed
official school websites, new podcasts with the old, in with the new.’ It’s adding to what already exists.” out by COVID.
aided by the acquisition of Solid Ver-
bal, and LevelNext, the esports series. BATTLE, WHO WORKED with Pyne to build IMG College and main- Gahagan and Brown remain in regular contact,
tains deep roots in the college space, championed Gahagan as with Brown assisting wherever he has a relation-
Digital advertising currently ac- the company’s next leader, often referring to him as “the 2.0 guy ship. But Gahagan’s fingerprints are increasingly
counts for 10% to 20% of college spon- that a 1.0 company needs.” found on the business.
sorships, the company said, compared
to more than 40% in the professional Now a co-chair of the Learfield IMG College board alongside WHERE WILL this transformation lead Learfield IMG
leagues. The company needed to start Angelakis, Battle proved instrumental in showing Gahagan that College? There almost certainly will be attrition
moving in that direction much more he could modernize the company based on experiences at cus- from 210 collegiate properties, which will create
aggressively. tomer-focused businesses like Fanatics and Ticketmaster. openings for smaller rivals.

“Everything that’s happened in “Gosh, we probably spent a hundred hours on the phone before Legends last month closed a new 10-year agreement
2020, as difficult as it’s been, has given he took the job,” said Battle, who continues to be an important with Georgia Tech, a former Learfield IMG College
us the opportunity to accelerate new source of feedback for Gahagan. “Greg saw that it was time for school. Playfly Sports is the newest entry into mul-
initiatives and take them to market Cole to take over and it’s been a crazy nine months, but compa- timedia rights, while Fox College Sports, JMI Sports,
sooner,” Gahagan said. “That’s, for nies will adapt or die in an environment like this. Cole saw that Van Wagner and Teall Capital pose threats to pick
sure, been the biggest positive.” off schools in what has turned into a highly com-
petitive space after the blockbuster merger.
The multimedia rights giant had
never done business in a world with- There will always be schools that don’t want to
out live events, but it learned on the be one of 200 or more clients, while others prefer
fly, so much so that it has adopted the scale a larger company can deliver.
“Courageous Transformation” as its
theme for 2021. Getting Learfield IMG College to the point where
its business is less about its number of schools and
When it comes to delivering brand more about establishing new ways of connecting
impressions on game day, “We’ve mas- with the fans will be the ultimate test.
tered that as an industry,” Gahagan
said. “But when you think about serv- Industry insiders wonder if the company can
ing up ads to fans wherever they are, adapt to monetizing its digital school rights while
content creation across official ath- maintaining the value of stadium signage and more
letic sites, through social handles and traditional advertising.
through podcasts, those are opportu-
nities in the digital space where we “There are countless examples of big, successful
can grow.” businesses that have reshaped our thinking on
consuming content, from Netflix and Hulu to Bar-
About 15% of the company’s con- stool Sports,” Gahagan said. “They’re the ones who
tracted revenue is not reliant on game were willing to think about content differently.”
day anymore, a figure that is expected
to grow as more new digital content When asked what Learfield IMG College will look
is introduced. like in the next five years, Gahagan said, “If I do
my job right, we’ll be a lot bigger, but we’ll feel a
Fanbase, its new data analytics prod- lot smaller. That’s my objective … for every school
uct, quickly became a front-and-center and brand to have highly specialized, highly per-
ambition for the company and its 210 sonalized partnerships. Our job is to grow the in-
collegiate properties, including blue- dustry, grow the business and deliver the benefits
chip brands Alabama, Michigan, North of scale and size, while still feeling small.”
Carolina, Ohio State and Texas. New
initiatives such as a digital college That’s what Gahagan had in mind a few weeks
sports trivia show, “The Fan Exam,” ago when he sat with Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard
made their debut this fall. Unilever and for three hours at the Cyclones’ team hotel in Dal-
Wells Fargo were two major sponsors las, where they were playing in the Big 12 football
who bought into the new initiatives. championship game. Iowa State is a longtime
Learfield client and Pollard counts Brown among
“It would be hard to accelerate the his closest friends.
new vision if everything was business
as usual,” said George Pyne, founder “You can talk about strategy and vision, but it’s
and CEO of Bruin Sports Capital, who a people business,” Pollard said. “The vision is
formed the original IMG College in Cole’s area of expertise. I just want to do business
2007. “What the pandemic has done with people I trust and who share a passion for our
is force everyone to think more clear- industry. … The more people get to know Cole, the
ly about where they’re headed.” more they’ll feel better about the future of Learfield
with him running it.”

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 7


ringer car will be for top-name drivers. The Balboa

car, a reference to the famous “Rocky” movie, will

be for an underdog such as a local short-track cham-

pion who is familiar with, and a fan favorite at, a

certain venue.

Evernham is heading up the competition side of

SRX alongside new hire Ryan McKinney, a longtime

industry veteran who will serve as director

of competition. Evernham, who led Jeff

The SRX series Gordon to several NASCAR championships

will have a strong at Hendrick Motorsports, said motors will
presence in the be built by Ilmor Engineering, which also
Midwest, including supplies motors to NASCAR Camping
Eldora Speedway’s World Truck Series teams.
famed dirt track.
Jared Frood, a longtime right-hand man

of Stewart, is serving as general manager

of SRX. His brother, Stewart-Haas Racing President

Brett Frood, is also doing work for the series on

behalf of Stewart and Eldora Speedway.

On the business side, Montag said he’s had at

least six production calls with CBS recently and

that the sides are working on everything from cam-

era placement to booth composition. SRX hired

SRX sets debut schedule, veteran motorsports producer Pam Miller to han-
works to secure sponsors dle production, and the series ambitiously projects
it will draw about 4 million viewers per event.

Dan Weinberg, CBS Sports executive vice presi-
dent of programming, said SRX “has all the ingre-
dients for a great television experience with races
under the lights in prime time featuring legendary

drivers competing at historic venues.”

The staff for SRX is still being built out while

SUPERSTAR RACING EXPERIENCE this week is rolling sell tickets to the events. The venues range in ca- The Montag Group provides support. Shamrock

out its 2021 schedule, an important step for the de- pacity from about 10,000 to around 30,000 and, under Sports & Entertainment CEO Brian Corcoran has

buting series. Meanwhile, company executives say terms of SRX’s deals, the tracks will be responsible been retained to find a title sponsor, and SRX offi-

they’re making progress on securing drivers, final- for selling tickets. cials said they’re making progress on finding spon-

izing television plans and finding sponsors. SRX obviously wants significant attendance, but sors but have not yet made any announcements.

The series was founded last year and is scheduled given the pandemic and local SUPERSTAR RACING The series owners believe
health guidelines, the series EXPERIENCE SCHEDULE their product will differentiate
to debut in June. It is co-owned by would take 50% capacity as a itself not only by racing at his-
win, said Sandy Montag, CEO toric tracks but also doing so
BY ADAM sports business veteran George Pyne, of The Montag Group. Date Track with a high horse-powered car
STERN racing legend Tony Stewart, NAS- designed to be fairly equal for
CAR Hall of Fame crew chief Ray A key for SRX will be to pro- all participants and showcase
vide a compelling mix of driv- Stafford Motor Speedway,
Evernham, and The Montag Group. June 12 Stafford Springs, Conn.

SRX has signed deals with six

historic short tracks and secured broadcast slots ers capable of drawing June 19 Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway a driver’s talent. SRX goes as

on Saturday nights on CBS. It is developing the car television viewers. So far, SRX June 26 Eldora Speedway, New far to say, “This is racing the
model and talking with owners of major motorsports has announced eight of its 10 Weston, Ohio way it was meant to be. This is
leagues and teams, including NASCAR’s Jim France full-time drivers, and they’re an July 3 what fans want. No complex
and team owner Rick Hendrick, to get them ac- eclectic mix of largely either July 10 Lucas Oil Raceway, point systems. No prima don-
quainted with the project. It is finalizing the list partly retired or near-retired Indianapolis nas. Just racing.”
of 10 full-time drivers plus some guest drivers. people who have raced in sev-
Slinger (Wis.) Speedway Evernham, Stewart and

The schedule will feature a heavy dose of Midwest eral forms of motorsports. That July 17 Nashville Fairgrounds Pyne have taken pains to say
flavor but will open its season in the Northeast on includes IndyCar favorites Speedway that SRX does not want to di-

June 12 at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut. Hélio Castroneves, Tony rectly compete with other mo-

The remaining five races are in Iowa (Knoxville Kanaan and Paul Tracy; NASCAR Hall of Fame mem- torsports series. Some in the industry wondered

Raceway); Ohio (Eldora Speedway); Indianapolis bers Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte; and former For- whether tension was emerging when NASCAR

(Lucas Oil Raceway); Wisconsin (Slinger Speedway); mula One driver Mark Webber. SRX is also dropped Eldora, a track owned by Stewart, from its

and Tennessee at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speed- emphasizing racial diversity, with former NASCAR/ Truck Series schedule for next year. However, Ever-

way. The tracks offer a mix of paved and dirt racing IndyCar driver Willy T. Ribbs and NASCAR Drive for nham said that’s not the case.

surfaces. “I’ve not had one person say,

“When we announced all this, The series is finalizing the list of 10 ‘That’s a terrible idea; you’re mess-
we said we were going to the full-time drivers and some guest drivers, ing everything up,’” said Evern-
heartland, and [this announce- ham. “Everyone thinks it’s a great

ment underscores that] we’re and is out selling a title sponsorship. idea and working together is good
going to be in the heartland,” for everyone.”

said Pyne, founder and CEO of Thus far, the series has amassed

Bruin Sports Capital and former NASCAR COO. Diversity member Ernie Francis Jr. set to take part. a social media following of 27,000 accounts on Twit- Getty Images

The executives say they structured the track Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the lineup ter, nearly 9,000 on Instagram and nearly 7,000 on

sanctioning agreements to share in revenue and will be in the format. Evernham said drivers can Facebook. SRX has merchandise for sale on its

provide incentives for track owners to market and race in a “ringer car” and a “Balboa car.” The website.



U.S. Soccer aiming for culture change

WILL WILSON STARTED his new role as the CEO of cited the importance of “evolution, rapid growth
and the need for us to mature as an organization.”
U.S. Soccer on March 30 in the midst of a tumultu-
The organizationwide process took months of
ous time for the federation — and one that was soon internal interviews and forced U.S. Soccer to look
at itself through a critical lens. The DEI Council
to become much more rocky both for himself and was designed to ensure that the organization is
staying true to those principles and values.
his new organization.
“They’re not just words,” said Wilson. “They are
Less than three weeks earlier, Carlos Cordeiro things that we want to live by,”

had resigned as the organization’s president just There have also been additions made to U.S. Soc-
cer’s leadership. Wilson, who was the only executive
days after apologizing for the arguments it put forth to take a pay cut, added to his executive ranks with
two significant hires. In late July, he added Karen
in a equal pay lawsuit with the U.S. women’s na- Leetzow, formerly the general counsel of NASCAR,
as the organization’s chief legal officer. In Septem-
tional soccer team. About 30 full- ber, David Wright was brought on as chief com-
mercial officer after having spent the past four years
BY MARK J. time staffers were let go in April, as the chief marketing and commercial officer at
BURNS the same time Wilson announced Minor League Baseball. According to Wilson, Wright
he would take a 50% pay cut through will be tasked with growing U.S. Soccer’s sponsor-
ship portfolio — which already includes the likes
the end of the year. A slate of can- of AT&T, Budweiser and Visa, among others —
through working with SUM. On Monday, it will
cellations due to the pandemic announce an extension through 2023 with GoGo
squeeZ, which will continue to be the official fruit
would limit the national teams to just nine games snack of the federation.

for the women and three for the men. In June, John Kristick, president of Premier Partnerships,
a Santa Monica-based sponsorship sales and con-
President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former USWNT sulting agency that operates extensively in soccer,
said Wright’s hire comes “at a really, really critical
player, apologized for the organization’s lack of time for the commercial side.” He mentioned that
U.S. Soccer’s commercial rights deal with SUM
leadership on issues of race and led an effort to expires in 2022, an opportunity that Kristick is
keeping a watchful eye on heading toward the 2022
repeal a 3-year-old rule mandating that players stand and 2026 Men’s World Cup events, the latter of which

for the national anthem in the wake of social justice will be staged in North America.
“With the ’26 World Cup, you have to
protests across the country. That same month, the think that the time is ideal for them to
be able to find the right strategy and
AP reported that the organization faced a project- partner to leverage those rights,”
Kristick said.
ed deficit of $28 million for this fiscal year. Neither Wilson nor Wright would
specify any of the categories U.S. Soc-
The biggest issue, perhaps, was the ongoing law- cer is targeting in 2021, but Wright
too noted the opportunity facing soccer
suit between the U.S. women’s team and the fed-
in this decade and beyond.
eration over issues of working conditions and equal “We have an eight- to 10-year run un-
like any period of time for our sport
pay claims. On Dec. 1, the two sides settled the in this country,” he said.
In addition to the World Cup, the
former matter, giving the four-time World Cup- Will Wilson took over as CEO on March 30, later add- 2028 Summer Olympics will be held
winning USWNT equitable access as the men’s team ing Karen Leetzow (below top) as chief legal officer in Los Angeles, giving the sport yet
to everything from charter flights and hotel accom- and David Wright (below bottom) as CCO. another opportunity to reach new
modations to venues and support staff. The equal fans, introduce the sport to different
segments of the population and iden-
pay lawsuit is ongoing. Europe and the Arena Football League, among oth-
tify players at a younger age. In particu-
Two days later, Wilson addressed his grand plans ers, overseeing a large national organization seems lar, Wilson said U.S. Soccer needs to do a
better job of making the Hispanic community feel
from his new home of Chicago. “We have a pretty like a natural fit. like it’s a part of the federation, but also highlight-
ed how that could translate to any other demo-
ambitious mission of being the preeminent sport “Soccer, of all of the sports, is the one graphic.
“There’s a great expression: Demography is des-
in the United States,” he said. that really embraces all cultures,” said tiny,” said Wilson. “It’s our opportunity and respon-
sibility to figure out how to communicate with all
The realization of that goal may be years away, Wilson, who was first introduced to of the soccer-loving cultures that make up the
United States.”
but in Wilson, the organization has a leader in place U.S. Soccer during his four years at

committed to moving the ball forward. He has had MLS and Soccer United Marketing,

extensive personal and professional experience the league’s commercial ar m.

“There’s literally in-

“We have a pretty ambitious frastructure in every
country in the world.

mission of being the preeminent Soccer has the power to
sport in the United States.” unite people of all cul-
tures. That’s something
that drew me in.”

The culture that

outside the U.S., and he spent four years as the ex- needs the most attention right now

ecutive vice president of international business is the one at U.S. Soccer. Last July,

and special events for Major League Soccer and Wilson formed a Diversity, Equity and

Soccer United Marketing from 2008-12 before head- Inclusion Council composed of an

ing to Wasserman, where he served as co-head of advisory committee totaling five senior

football (and represented his nephew, former In- executives as well as nine other staffers,

dianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck). who are driving the council’s efforts to adopt

Isiphoto; Courtesy of U.S. Soccer Wilson, 53, was born in London, went to Kenyon a more inclusive and welcoming culture internal-

College in Gambier, Ohio, earned his MBA from a ly that will then manifest itself externally.

school in Monterrey, Mexico, and has worked in Championing DEI efforts is the first of three key

Scotland — where he met his wife, who is Australian new principles, that, along with four new values,

— and Switzerland. He refers to himself as “a third- will be formally unveiled to the broader U.S. Soccer

culture kid” — one who is accepting of all cultures membership in February, Wilson said.

but doesn’t really have ownership of any particular When asked if the establishment of the new prin-

one. ciples and values was a result, at least in part, of

After a career that has included stops at NFL organizational missteps by past leadership, Wilson

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 9


PwC report looks at revenue streams
that could help sports industry recover

THE NORTH AMERICAN SPORTS INDUSTRY heads into generation opportunities for the Relative to other industries, how well was

2021 with revenue recovery front of mind, and a industry, including an increasing the sports industry prepared to face the
COVID-19 crisis?
new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers gives willingness from leagues and teams

some direction of where properties might turn to to allow advertising in spaces previ- 1.0% 1.1%

start healing their balance sheets. ously off limits. Exam- Don’t know/abstain Excellent

The annual PwC reports typically proj- BY BRET ples include MLB
ect out five years, but the latest version McCORMICK positioning ads on the
being released this week limits its projec- pitcher’s mound, or spon-

tions to the next 12 to 18 months, due to sor patches popping up 13.0%
the financial damage inflicted by the on jerseys and equipment Above average

pandemic. Sports betting, expanded advertising across different leagues.

inventory, digital engagement with fans, and ad- “When you’re trying to identify

dressing diversity, equity and inclusion issues are and fill revenue shortfalls, you start 31.0%
the biggest areas of potential growth and impact to look at things that maybe in the
for sports properties in the coming year and a half, past you haven’t,” Keenan said. “Re- Below
the report shows. ally, everything seems to be open average

PwC’s previous Top three industrywide now.” PREPAREDNESS
report, released in opportunities and threats Sports betting
late 2019, projected 25.5%
the continent’s holds much promise
as well. Twenty-six Very poor

sports industry OPPORTUNITIES THREATS American states and
would grow from a jurisdictions have
$71 billion business 1Enhanced Impact of health passed legislation
in 2018 to $75.7 bil- and safety crises legalizing sports bet-
lion in 2020 and digital media fan ting in some way in
eventually to more experience the last two years

2Creation and Reduced financial 28.4%
resources to
monetization of invest/innovate
digital assets

than $83 billion by Innovation in media Dominance of since a key Supreme Average
2023, but that Court ruling. Keen-
growth has un- 3rights packaging major tech firms as an said it’s likely
doubtedly slowed gateway to content that more states ap-
and distribution

PwC Sports Survey of 800 sports industry leaders. PwC Sports Survey

now. “I don’t see prove some form of sports betting to the value of media rights deals.

this as turning a light switch on for sports to fully as they address their own budget shortfalls. The pandemic sped up the pace of technological

recover,” said PwC sports practice leader Michael According to the most recent research from the adaptation and Keenan thinks there is staying power

Keenan. American Gaming Association, the NFL, MLB, NBA for some of the digital engagement that was devel-

With government restrictions on large gatherings and NHL alone stand to gain a collective $4.3 billion oped in the last nine months, including unique TV

still widely in place, PwC expects revenue derived annually in direct and indirect revenue from legal camera angles and virtual experiences for fans

from ticket sales, premium seating, parking and sports gambling. Beyond just sponsorship signage, watching from home. Those elements provide ad-

concessions to remain unreliable in 2021. At the Keenan foresees more partnership-driven deals, ditional inventory to sell to advertisers and gener-

same time, costs related to COVID mitigation will helping teams keep their fans engaged. In turn, ate revenue.

continue to increase for at least part of the year. sports properties will be able to accumulate valu- Sports betting and digital fan engagement have

The lack of game-day revenue means that the able data about their fans and those betting on them. clear revenue potential, but the social justice move-

firm’s original projections of $20.2 billion for Keenan also sees sports gambling as an accelerant ment that took hold in the U.S. last year represents

ticket sales and $14.9 billion for mer- more of an opportunity for sports prop-

chandise sales in 2020 will be severe- erties to make a positive societal im-

ly downsized. And although By when do you think the sports pact, according to the PwC report. That
make-goods and contract revisions industry will have fully recovered starts with bolstering diversity, equity
will soften the losses in the media and inclusion (DEI) within their own
rights and sponsorship categories — to pre-COVID-19 levels? organizations. Among the firm’s sug-

the industry’s No. 1 and No. 3 biggest gestions are embracing a culture of

categories — the chaos in 2020 will 0.1% 8.7% 43.4% belonging, establishing organization-
certainly mean an end to the sports wide accountability, and benchmarking

industry’s 10 consecutive years of 2020 2021 2022 and analyzing data, which can highlight
year-over-year growth. where DEI change is needed.

PwC’s report suggests many teams The PwC report cites an August 2020

will face near-term liquidity issues, 27.1% 10.9% 5.7% ESPN survey that found 71% of sports

which may prompt some to consider fans support teams and athletes who

increasing their borrowing or selling 2023 2024 2025 speak out on social justice and racial
minority interests. Revenue shortfalls equality issues. There will be critics

led to personnel and operations budget 4.0% Don’t know/abstain of sports properties taking clear stanc- Getty Images
cuts this past year, which could hinder es, but as the report notes, “not taking

properties’ ability to invest and inno- a position is no longer perceived as

vate in the coming months. PwC Sports Survey taking the higher ground, as it had
But the pandemic created revenue been for decades.”




with agent Jim Ornstein on many media busi-

nesses for Nash.

In the spring of 2020, Duffy represented Sabrina

Ionescu, a friend of his son’s growing up, and helped

Bill Duffy her select an off-the-court agency. She selected WME
(shown with
Orlando Sports as her marketing firm with Duffy acting as
Chairman her playing contract agent.
Dan DeVos)
provides “So we were able to work together again,” Duffy
WME deep
connections said of WME Sports. “And I had firsthand experience
in sports.
over the last six months, experienced the brilliance,

the synergy, the working dynamic, and Sabrina is

just as happy as she can be. So it’s been these two

experiences that’s reinforced my belief that this is

the right move and it’s the right fit for me.”

The partnership with Duffy is the latest push by

the sports division of the Hollywood agency into

representing talent on the playing field. WME

bought IMG in 2014 and represents top tennis play-

ers and golfers through that acquisition.

In the team sports area, WME has long repre-

LABOR AND AGENTS sented high-profile athletes and sports personalities

Duffy said the time was right for for marketing, broadcasting, entertainment and
partnership with WME Sports
other off-the-playing-field business. Clients include

NFL Hall of Famer-turned-broadcaster Michael

Strahan, LeBron James and Serena Williams.

But the agency was not involved in playing contract

work until recently.

P ROMINENT NBA PLAYER AGENT BILL DUFFY has In September 2019, WME partner Jon Rosen be-
had plenty of opportunities to sell his agen-
cy, or partner with a larger Goran Dragic, and a total of 100 pro basketball play- came MLB Players Association-certified so he
ers worldwide.
could represent Houston Astros shortstop Carlos
Karen Brodkin, co-head of WME
Correa, who will be a free agent after the 2021 sea-

agency, over the past two decades, but Sports along with Jordan Bazant and son. WME also hired powerful basketball coaches

he has always turned them down. Josh Pyatt, said that in the last few agent Bret Just in November 2019.

“Over the years, I literally commu- weeks WME and BDA have talked with Over the summer and into the fall

nicated with almost everybody in the and consulted multiple clients a day and of 2020, WME became a big player in

space, just by happenstance or by de- discussed business partnerships and the business of NFL player on-field

sign,” Duffy said last week. “I’ve always opportunities. “The partnership is very representation, when it hired Brian

been very independent, in terms of real,” she said. “It’s every day.” Ayrault and Ben Renzin, who have

building a culture in how I would like In addition to working in partnership represented many top NFL players,

to represent athletes.” on WME’s basketball business, Duffy is including brothers Joey and Nick

But last month Duffy’s BDA Sports, being tapped as a strategic adviser on a Brodkin Bosa and quarterback Joe Burrow.

an NBA practice that was founded in BY LIZ MULLEN multitude of business, Brodkin said. “He More moves could be coming, and
1996 and is believed to be the longest has relationships that go far beyond just
Brodkin said WME Sports will be opportunistic.

tenured Black-owned sports agency, NBA player relationships,” she said. “We are looking, myself and my two partners who

formed a strategic partnership with WME Sports. “And given the diversity of not just WME Sports and co-run WME Sports, at other opportunities in other

Duffy said he sold “a small stake” to WME Sports, WME, but the larger Endeavor company, Bill has sports verticals other than the ones that we have

and still retains ownership of BDA. But, he said, already proven to be a resource in terms of other built over the last 14 months — in coaching, football

“We are all in this together on court and off court, relationships and other businesses.” and now basketball,” Brodkin said.

they will all be WME clients going forward.” Duffy formed a partnership with WME Sports in

BDA has represented Hall of Fame players Yao good part because of relationships. When his long- Liz Mullen can be reached at
[email protected].
Ming and Steve Nash and now represents 40 NBA time client Nash retired from playing in 2013, he Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

players, including Luka Doncic, RJ Barrett and signed with WME for media work and Duffy worked

Rising tennis star Kenin’s endorsements include a surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kenin signs with GSE
deal with Motorola. She will wear the After arriving in Australia, Kenin will
GSE WORLDWIDE has signed the top-ranked
American women’s tennis player and world No. 4 logo on her chest. GSE agents quarantine, in accordance with health
Sofia Kenin to an exclusive, worldwide representa-
tion agreement. recently negotiated that endorse- and safety protocols.

Agents Marie Halliday, Chris McCormack and ment. She also has existing deals with The pandemic adversely affected the
John Tobias are representing Kenin. She was
Getty Images; WME; GSE Worldwide formerly represented by independent tennis agent Babolat for tennis racquets and Fila tennis schedule in 2020 — Wimbledon
Ugo Colombini. That deal officially expired on Dec.
31 and her new agreement with GSE Worldwide for apparel, and those two deals will was among the events canceled — but
began on Jan. 1.
expire at the end of this year. Kenin still had a strong year. She made it

Kenin, who recently turned 22, won to the fourth round of the U.S. Open in

the 2020 Australian Open and was Sofia Kenin won the September and the finals of the French
planning to leave for Melbourne this 2020 Australian Open. Open in October.

week for the 2021 event, Tobias said. Kenin is on the U.S. Olympic tennis

The Australian Open is usually held in January, but team and is expected to compete in Tokyo this

was pushed back three weeks due to concerns summer. — L.M.

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 1 1


history of being bifurcated and split with all these
different entities, but maybe the silver lining was
that the pandemic helped us all come together.”

TIM ELLIS, executive VP and CMO, NFL: “We
haven’t had access to players and big production
crews, so we learned that we can still make
highly emotional and impactful creative without
having big productions. We did some great
campaigns with very small crews and social
distancing. It doesn’t necessarily require major
production crews and big budgets to create high-
impact campaigns.”

MARK EMMERT, president, NCAA: “Keep your
eye on those things that are the core values for
your organization, for the enterprise. And you
can learn an awful lot. You can learn how to be
more flexible. You can learn how to be more
responsive. You are forced to make decisions that
you probably wouldn’t have made otherwise,
figuring out which of those are working for you
and which aren’t. Don’t just let the clutter of the
day drive everything.”

TOM GLICK, president, Tepper Sports &
Entertainment: “We’ve all surely learned a
different kind of resilience and patience. We had
to wait for things beyond our control to sort
themselves out and then adapt accordingly. And
of course, just valuing relationships — business
and personal — more than ever.”

T HROUGHOUT 2020, the industry — like the rest of the world — had to pivot to adjust CHARLES GREENSTEIN, senior VP,
to new circumstances, perhaps permanently. As that dramatic year drew to a close, sponsorship marketing, Bank of America: “I was
Sports Business Journal’s staff of writers posed a simple question to several execu- not a believer in all the virtual marketing until
tives across the industry: What has 2020 taught you? Their answers are presented below now. I didn’t see it [as] an opportunity to deliver
(lightly edited for clarity and brevity). — BY SBJ STAFF great, personalized marketing. But there was a
craving for that content beyond my expectations.
PAT CHUN, athletic director, Washington State: “The only path to happiness is to surround It has a great CPM and we found great Getty Images
“For me personally, it’s better self-care. It’s OK to yourself with people who possess a hunger born participation, traction, and pull.”
finish your workout and not cut it short to get into from positivity. Only then can success trump a
the office. It’s OK to try to get into a sleep routine global pandemic.” JIM HUETHER, CEO, Hyperice: “As a leader, the
and get rest. It’s OK to have longer dinners with value of being calm, cool and collected, and being
your family and enjoy time with them more. For SHAWN DOSS, executive VP, sales and able to constantly be a motivator and being stable
me and our staff, the reality is we can’t take care marketing, Elevate: “I have always visualized in a very adverse environment. And spending a lot
of others until we take care of ourselves.” work situations, important conversations, of time with team members that are leaders in the
endurance events and training sessions. Most of organization, an extra amount of time with them
MARK CIARDI, president and CEO, Select Films: the time I visualize everything going well and to make sure we are providing stability in an
“You’ve got to answer what people want, and if the great feelings associated with completing my adverse environment. This year taught every
you don’t then you’re missing out. There’s a shift task. 2020 has taught me it is more important to leader that they need to prioritize how your
in how people consume content, it’s just the way visualize the same situations but focus on when employees are feeling day-to-day and how you can
technology is. If you can serve them, then that’s things don’t go as planned and ‘pre-practice’ my help them because there were a variety of
the way it’s going to go.” reactions/emotions and action plan of how to challenges this year that were affecting people
adjust in these situations. Then once adversity personally in all companies throughout the world.”
TORY DANDY, co-head and managing partner hits, I am better equipped to push through it.”
of football, CAA Sports: “In this very STACY JOHNS, CFO, LAFC: “I’m not home alone
disconnected time, over-communication is MICHAEL DOWSE, executive chairman and CEO, working, but I have a lot of employees who are, so I
critical. In-person meetings are replaced by USTA: “I was not even in my first 100 days when made sure that I was doing right by my fellow
Zoom, FaceTime, or phone calls. Being present is the pandemic hit and I think my big learning employees and the people who work for me. With
imperative, and tending to the needs of others — there that was so powerful was when we formed everyone being virtual, you’ve had to be very
from clients and colleagues to team executives Tennis Industry United on the tennis side and intentional with every communication, and you
and beyond — needed to be reimagined.” then on the professional side of tennis, quickly couldn’t just say, ‘I’ll pop by their office’ or ‘I’ll call
collaborated with the WTA and the ATP, that or text them at some point.’ You had to come up
CHARLIE DIXON, executive VP/content, FS1: we’re all stronger together. Tennis has a rich with a more routine cadence of communication.”

CANDICE STOREY LEE, athletic director,
Vanderbilt: “I’ve learned a lot about just the
resiliency of people. People have just been
tremendous in circumstances that we could have



never expected. I think we talk a lot about being beliefs of people, process and culture ring true and

Optimism Meter flexible and being adaptable and we give speeches to drive this business. That has certainly been one of the

Thinking about your own kids and to each other all the time, but 2020 was an key learnings for me. The other one has been around
particular business, what best
describes your confidence level opportunity to live it out and to put your money the power and the need to stop, listen and move
regarding the next 12 months for
your own business? where your mouth is. And as challenging as that’s forward with purpose and intent, whether that is

38% been, it’s been an opportunity to grow personally listening to the needs of our community and

28% and professionally.” leveraging the

14% incredible platform that
9% 9%
NATHAN LINDBERG, we have to lean in and
0% 0% regional VP, Twitch: make a meaningful

“Livestreaming is a difference and lift up

viable home for more our community.”

than just gamers. In

the world’s most SARA SLANE,

difficult days, when founder, Slane

people were battling Advisory: “Even a

isolation and global pandemic can’t

depression, stop sports betting’s

livestreaming has been explosive growth and

a bright spot to people wanting to be

connect people around entertained. And I can

the globe and give above: Vanderbilt AD Candice Storey Lee “learned a lot about still somehow get work
them a sense of
just the resiliency of people.” done while watching

belonging and an below: Wasserman CEO Casey Wasserman focused on funda- my two sons.”
mentals and advised, “Don’t be worried about the future.”
outlet to feel

connected. The power DASHA SMITH,

of a two-way dialogue executive VP and chief

between content administrative officer,

creators and their NFL: “This year was a

community that exists testament to the

within livestreaming dedication of the

■ Not sure / No response has allowed for people players and league and

■ Extremely pessimistic to connect over video club personnel, to
■ Very pessimistic
■ Somewhat pessimistic games, live sports, excel in an
■ Neither optimistic
music, cooking, environment unlike
nor pessimistic
■ Somewhat optimistic fashion and even just any we’ve ever
■ Very optimistic
■ Extremely optimistic chatting.” experienced. My first

full season at the NFL

ALEX MARTINS, CEO, taught me how the

Orlando Magic: “Be NFL family is resilient

more flexible than ever. and can come together

In particular, how to lead a team when you are not in in the face of formidable challenges.”

Net Optimism person with them as well as how to innovate based on

learnings from COVID-19.” WARREN VIGUS, CEO, Clutch Studios: “Be

Month Pct. resilient in the face of adversity while maintaining

SCOTT O’NEIL, CEO, Harris Blitzer Sports & an open mind for change. Always to be willing to

December 2019 81% Entertainment: “I have learned the value of the help others when your time, talents and resources

January 2020 84% family dinner. I have learned that complex problems can allow you to make a positive impact.”

can be solved with creative solutions when you have

February 2020 83% time and the right people.” CASEY WASSERMAN, chairman and CEO,

March 2020 2% Wasserman: “Make sure the way you operate the

JON PATRICOF, co-founder and CEO, Athletes business is based on fundamentals that are just

April 2020 5% Unlimited: “The power of aligning the athletes and sound. Don’t be worried about the future, but just

May 2020 7% the league has been just tremendous. Having the focused on everything today in the present. And the

June 2020 2% athlete voices involved at every step of the way and second piece of that is, if you have and maintain

really aligning and putting a lot of power in the and work hard to create a culture that’s positive and

July 2020 6% hands of the athletes has been just dramatic. And supportive of the entire employee base, it allows

August 2020 4% it’s highlighted for me how different that is from you to manage some difficult situations. One thing

some of the traditional league structures.” that’s certain is there will always be difficult

September 2020 32% situations.”

October 2020 25% MARK PIEPER, CEO, ISE Baseball: “Focus on the

bigger picture. Most of the things we stress about in ROD WOOD, president and CEO, Detroit Lions:

November 2020 32% business and life are not worthy of the energy we “2020 has taught me that you can’t really plan for

AP Images; Getty Images December 2020 64% spend on them. And sleeping in my own bed and the worst-case scenario, because you can’t fully

The above results are from the having dinner with my family every night for the forecast something no one has experienced. Having
MarketCast Sports Poll taken in December.
first time in 20 years is pretty cool.” said that, it has also taught me that dealing with the
The poll includes more than 2,000
senior-level sports industry professionals worst-case scenario is easier than I imagined.
spanning pro and college sports, brands
and agencies. JAKE REYNOLDS, president, New Jersey Devils: “It Working from home for months, Zoom calls, COVID

has proven that no matter what the environment is, no tests and protocols, no fans, etc., were all

matter what the challenge that we’re facing, our core unimaginable, but we’re pulling it off.”

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 1 3


Social standing: U.S. athletes expand media reach

LEBRON JAMES ADDED more than 26 million new stars (19 out of 25). Cristiano than a million in 2020.
social media followers in 2020, according to data
from Hookit. Ronaldo’s 466.2 million com- Eight of the NFL’s top 10 ath-

James tops the list for most social media followers bined followers is tops, followed letes on social media added at
among athletes plying their trade on major team
sports in America with 146.2 million total, spread by Lionel Messi’s 268 million. least 300,000 new followers this
across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. His total is
more than double Stephen Curry, who is second Neymar (262.7 million), cricket past year, led by JuJu Smith-
with 62.6 million followers. The Golden State Warriors
sharpshooter added 6.6 million followers between star Virat Kohli (159.3 million) Schuster’s 2.3 million. But only
Dec. 1, 2019, and Nov. 30, 2020, the period of time
Hookit tracked. and esports’ PewDiePie (157.5 three of the NHL’s and MLB’s

James and Curry, plus esports personality Tyler million) round out the top five. combined top 20 players added
“Ninja” Blevins, are the only three Americans to
crack the global top 25, which is dominated by soccer James is sixth globally, but at least 300,000 new social

comfortably in front in the U.S., media followers during the

as is the NBA when comparing LeBron James is still No. 1. same period. Additionally, each

leagues. Each of the NBA’s top of the NBA’s and NFL’s top 10

10 in social following added at least 500,000 new fol- athletes for followers have an Instagram account,

lowers this year, with James, Curry, Russell West- but only 14 of the NHL’s and MLB’s combined 20

brook and Damian Lillard all bringing in more are on Instagram. — Bret McCormick


Rank Player (Most Recent Team) Total followers Rank Player (Most Recent Team) Total followers
Twitter Facebook Instagram (Change) Twitter Facebook Instagram (Change)
1 Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels)
2 Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies) 2.6M 598.4K 1.8M 5.0M (+300,000) 1 LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers) 48.4M 23.1M 74.7M 146.2M (+26.2M)
3 Justin Verlander (Houston Astros) 2 Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) 14.8M 8.4M 31.9M 62.6M (+6.6M)
4 Yu Darvish (Chicago Cubs) 1.0M 400.5K 1.7M 3.2M (-) 3 Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets) 11.7M 41.1M
5 Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs) 4 Russell Westbrook (Washington Wizards) 15.9M (+600,000)
6 Yasiel Puig (Cleveland Indians, in 2019) 1.9M 187.3K 801.0K 2.9M (-) 5 Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns) 18.6M 10.0M 10.0M 27.3M (+1.9M)
7 Masahiro Tanaka (New York Yankees) 22.8M
8 Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) 2.5M 199.8K — 2.7M (+300,000) 6 Carmelo Anthony (Portland Trail Blazers) 6.5M 4.9M 7.4M (+800,000)
9 David Price (Los Angeles Dodgers) 21.8M
10 Jose Altuve (Houston Astros) 511.4K 423.7K 1.4M 2.3M (+100,000) 7 James Harden (Houston Rockets) 11.1M (+500,000)
913.3K 519.4K 847.4K 2.3M (-) 8 Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers) 8.2M 4.6M 8.9M (+700,000)
1.6M 93.5K 429.6K 2.2M (+200,000) 9 Dwight Howard (Philadelphia 76ers) 9.2M 5.2M 3.0M (+600,000)
10 Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers) 8.5M 14.1M
725.4K 188.2K 1.0M 1.9M (-100,000) (+500,000)
13.6M (+2,3M)
1.8M 42.9K — 1.8M (-) 6.8M 1.4M

1.7M 236.6K — 1.5M (-100,000) 2.4M 3.3M

NFL 6.6M 4.5M
2.4M 2.8M

Rank Player (Most Recent Team) Total followers Alex Morgan
Twitter Facebook Instagram (Change) is tops
among soc-
1 Odell Beckham Jr. (Cleveland Browns) 4.1M 1.4M 14.3M 20.3M cer play-
2 Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) 1.4M 4.6M 7.9M (+700,000) ers in the
3 Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) 5.6M 2.2M 4.9M 14.4M (+2.1M) U.S., while
12.9M Stephen
4 J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) 5.6M 2.0M 4.0M (+900,000) Curry is the
11.6M second most-
5 Rob Gronkowski (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) 3.1M 1.6M 3.9M (+300,000) followed
6 Cam Newton (New England Patriots) 1.2M 9.3M (+600,000) overall.
7 JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh Steelers) 1.2M 1.9M 5.0M 8.5M (+1.0M)
8 Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers) 4.4M 8.3M (+2.3M)
9 Richard Sherman (San Francisco 49ers) 2.1M 183.3K 3.4M 7.1M (+300,000)
10 Antonio Brown (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) 1.6M 6.1M (-)
1.3M 1.5M 6.1M (-100,000)

1.8M 2.2M

636.3K 3.7M NHL

Rank Player (Most Recent Team) Total followers
1 Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) Twitter Facebook Instagram (Change)
2 P.K. Subban (New Jersey Devils)
SOCCER 3 Henrik Lundqvist (Washington Capitals) 2.6M — — 2.6M (-)
4 Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)
Rank Player (Most Recent Team) Total followers 5 Max Domi (Columbus Blue Jackets) 1.1M 187.8K 1.0M 2.4M (+100,000)
Twitter Facebook Instagram (Change) 6 Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)
7 Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers) 702.8K 305.6K 572.7K 1.6M (-)
8 T.J. Oshie (Washington Capitals)
1 Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride / Tottenham 4M 3.6M 9.3M 16.9M 363.5K 67.8K 887.9K 1.3M (+200,000)
Hotspur) (+100,000) 9 Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars)

2 Nani (Orlando City SC) 3.9M 6.7M 2.2M 12.8M  (-) 10 Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks) 105.6K 15.1K — 1.2M (+498,800)

3 Chicharito Hernandez (LA Galaxy) 8.9M 8.5k — 8.9M (-100,000) 359.0K 511.3K 242.3K 1.1M (-)

4 Jonathan Dos Santos (LA Galaxy) 1.4M 723.7k 2.5M 4.6M (+300,000) 749.1K — 110.9K 860,000 (-6,000)

5 Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign) 915k 489k 2.2M 3.7M (+100,000) 402.4K 168.4K 241.0K 811,800

6 Sydney Leroux (Orlando Pride) 2.2M 184k 1.2M 3.6M (-) 167.7K 17.3K 612.6K 797,700
7 Edison Flores (D.C. United) 359.1k 1.1M 1.4M 2.9M (+900,000)

8 Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC) 908k 730k 1.2M 2.8M (-100,000) 770.9K 4.5K — 775,400

9 Marta Vieira da Silva (Orlando Pride) — 364k 2.4M 2.7M (-200,000)

10 Alan Pulido (Sporting Kansas City) 1M 679.4K 887.7K 2.6M (+200,000) Note: Change in total followers is November 30, 2020, compared to Dec. 1, 2019.
Source: Hookit




The sports business looks drastically different today than it did a year ago.
The pandemic forced organizations across the industry to improvise in their operations.
Adapting to conditions became second nature.

What does that mean for overcoming obstacles in 2021?

We identify the trends that will drive the sports industry and its recovery in the new year
and the trendsetters — executives, athletes and visionaries — who are finding new ways
to persevere and succeed.


22 23 24

The following are results from the MarketCast Sports Poll taken in December.
The poll includes more than 2,000 senior-level sports industry professionals spanning pro and college sports, brands and agencies.

How do you expect the following sports industry trends to evolve in 2021?  DECREASE  NO CHANGE  NOT SURE  EXPAND

Producing TV games remotely 10% 14% 5% 8% 71%
Cutbacks in Olympic sports in college athletics 10% 18% 7% 39%
The presence of esports competitions on live TV 12% 41% 74%
Partnerships between TV networks and betting companies 2% 4% 14% 8%
Sports broadcast integration of stats from athlete-worn tech devices 4%

“Jersey patch logo”-style sponsor placement on athlete uniforms 4%

Looking ahead to this time next year, which of the following things do you think will have happened? (Select all that apply) What is the best opportunity
for college athletics to grow
Growth of sports betting sponsorship category accelerates 86% revenue in 2021?
March Madness tournament is held in a “bubble” Sponsorship/multimedia rights
Proliferation of sponsorship activations moving to digital platforms 67% 42%
Venues require attendees to show proof 45%
of COVID vaccine inoculation to enter 17%
31% Esports
A new sponsorship category breaks out the way 29%
daily fantasy and sports betting did 29% 13%
22% New events
Venues perform rapid COVID-19 tests to all event attendees
2% 10%
Interest in the Tokyo Games in the U.S. surpasses 2% Ticket sales/hospitality
that for the Rio Games
Sports TV ratings recover to pre-pandemic levels Merchandising
None of these
Not sure / No response Not sure / No response


Source: MarketCast in conjunction with Sports Business Journal. MarketCast provides research and analytics to fuel fandom for brands and properties in sports media and entertainment.

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 1 5


TERRY How brands and properties manage the ‘phygital’ mix of activation in 2021 will be worth
LEFTON monitoring, as well as the wealth of opportunities now available on team uniforms.
ON . . .

MNTRKGAEI P RECISELY ASSESSING activation outside of venues is have to include more camera-visible
prospects for the sports already a legacy of the pandemic. assets, and you’ve already seen that
across leagues.”
sponsorship business in “There’s absolutely no reason
why we can’t be an everyday fan Additional virtual and physical
2021 would require exact knowledge destination,” said U.S. Soccer ad signage, introduced by every
Federation CCO David Wright. property during the pandemic, is
of when fans will return. Absent “Evolving from an event-based now followed by a glut of uniform
property to a 365-day fan ads. Consequently, during a buyer’s
that, marketers are looking to shift engagement platform is where market for sports marketing assets
every property is heading.” this year, there will be around 100
from a period where physical uniform “availabilities,” with each
Added Charles Greenstein, Bank team insisting that it’s selling a
activation of sponsorships largely of America’s senior vice president seven-figure asset. Watch the
of sponsorship marketing: “I wasn’t dynamics in that market, not to
vanished, to a staged return, completely sold on [digital/social] mention the question of how much
before, but I am now. It will be a any stick-and-ball property wants
supported by an amalgam of bigger part of our repertoire than to resemble NASCAR’s logo-
ever moving forward.” palooza.
experiential and digital support.
When fans do return, there are “It’s going to get a little bit
Momentum CEO Chris Weil marketing questions on both the messier,” Greenstein said. “The
business-to-consumer and business- question will be ‘how do you break
termed that mix “phygital” some 13 to-business sides. through?’”

years before the pandemic. After a “Given the erratic scheduling of With the pandemic canceling so
live events [in 2020] fan experience many games and telecasts,
year in which activation was forced has to be a top priority for leagues sponsorship make-goods will be
and teams,” said Professional plaguing both the buy and sell side
to squeeze within the boundaries of Fighters League CEO Peter Murray. of the industry interminably.
“Eventually, there’ll be this “Some teams will be feeling the
a Zoom call, marketers are more overwhelming demand for live effect for four or five years,’’ said
entertainment, which will Anheuser-Busch InBev sponsorship
readily accepting activation outside recalibrate things.” chief Nick Kelly, who will become
president of the new Charlotte FC
of venues and game telecasts and “I’m not sure if properties will MLS franchise next month.
have to cut ticket prices to get fans
searching for that redefined back, but they will have to show Sponsorship research agency IEG
better value,” said Marc Bluestein, estimates that $14 billion in U.S.
“phygital” mix. CEO of sponsorship agency sports and entertainment value has
Aquarius Sports & Entertainment. been or will need to be “made good”
“We certainly don’t see 100% “From a sponsorship standpoint, due to the pandemic. With travel
that increased value is going to and tourism brands representing
attendance returning soon,” said 20% of the top 100 sponsorship
spenders, their portion of the
Nic Sulsky, president of daily recovery will lag considerably.

fantasy site Monkey Knife Fight, The widespread nature of the
pandemic produced a surplus of
which zigged as the market zagged patience in a business where the
word “partnership” is thrown
last year, buying 10 top-tier team around like a T-shirt from last
year’s promotion. This year will not
sponsorships. Accordingly, “what see as much forgiveness, say many.
“It will be a year when goodwill
interests me most is the hybrid runs out for those who didn’t
handle it well in 2020,” said
opportunity,” Sulsky said. Elizabeth Lindsey, Wasserman
president of brands and properties.
“Athletes’ social and digital
Added Tigris Sponsorship &
audiences are too big to ignore. I Marketing President Matt Yonan:
“Sponsors are going to start saying,
don’t have to worry about venue ‘We won’t write that check.’ That
was an anomaly last year, but now, a
capacity or broadcast visibility lot of budgets have been cut.”

much if Rob Gronkowski is wearing

a Monkey Knife Fight T-shirt when

he’s posting on Instagram.”

That notion of increased

Getty Images



The sports media industry will be shaped largely by rights deals, remote production and RSN JOHN
reach — and the executives who are driving business in each of those areas. OURAND
ON . . .


/// ESPN
Even in an election
year, Zucker has Even before the pandemic,
ESPN was a leader in remote
remained active in the productions. Under Druley’s
sports business. In the
direction, ESPN spent the
fall, Zucker renewed past six years producing
Turner’s MLB deal
and engaged the NHL some smaller games
on its rights deal. through its control rooms
Rumors have been in Bristol. The pandemic
growing that Zucker, sped up this trend, as ESPN
and the other TV networks
whose contract
expires in 2021, is were forced to produce
getting ready to leave, even more of their
with The Wall Street
Journal describing productions remotely.
him as “frustrated” The question Druley
at the company. If and others face — how
Zucker stays, Turner, many of those pandemic-
which has long-term influenced changes will
deals with the NBA, become permanent, and
NCAA and MLB, is how significant will the
certain to remain resulting job cuts be?
a big player in the
sports business. MARIE DONOGHUE


Under Donoghue’s direction, Amazon has become more involved in sports rights negotiations. But when it comes to the
U.S. market, Amazon has yet to make a blockbuster deal. With the NFL negotiating its next deal, all eyes are on Donoghue
to see what Amazon will do. Amazon has tested NFL programming by simulcasting “Thursday Night Football,” and this

season it carried an exclusive late-season game. U.S. leagues and teams have salivated for years over the prospect of
having big tech get involved in their rights deals. Donoghue and Amazon look to be their best bet right now.


The NFL’s media rights negotiations are With its focus on Disney+ and ESPN+, When Hulu, YouTube TV and FuboTV
the ones making headlines, but other big Disney has made it clear how important dropped Sinclair’s regional sports networks
deals are in the offing that will determine streaming is to its overall business. Comcast last year — with Dish Network and SlingTV
increasingly is putting sports content on dropping them the year before — the popular
just how vibrant the market for sports its Peacock streaming service. It’s the same
rights will be coming out of the pandemic. story with Viacom and its streaming service, opinion was that Sinclair would work out
Paramount+. The questions for sports and distribution deals by the time the NBA and
The NHL is looking to more than double media executives: How much will the growing NHL seasons started. Well, the NBA season
the average annual value of its rights. MLB popularity of these streaming services speed has tipped off already, the NHL will start
up the cord-cutting trend for distributors? in about a week, and Sinclair has not been
expects to see a significant increase from
ESPN for its package, and the Premier able to work out a deal. Because of their
often rabid fan bases, local sports channels
League will start to negotiate its NBC deals.
have always been viewed by distributors
as impossible to drop. All eyes are on these
negotiations to see whether that leverage

has shifted back to the distributors.

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 1 7


MICHAEL How college sports looks at this time next year will owe much to the trends of legislation, legal
SMITH challenges and recovery of lost revenue. New faces at the ACC and Georgia will add to the intrigue.
ON . . .


The NCAA’s legislation on name,
image and likeness is expected
to be discussed and voted on
later this month, the Supreme
Court will hear appeals on a

potentially groundbreaking athlete
compensation case and the College
Athletes Bill of Rights is likely to

gain attention in Congress. Each
of these developments will make

headlines — and that’s just in
the first half of 2021. Any one of
those would dominate the news in
a normal year, but there will be
nothing normal about this year.


Many athletic departments at the It’s never quiet on the conference realignment front for long. Most of the noise in
highest level project financial recent weeks was coming out of Boise State, where the Broncos have been chatting
losses in the tens of millions up the American Athletic Conference for football membership. The American doesn’t
in their 2020-21 budgets. It’s want to stay at 11 football teams, but adding Boise State as a full member doesn’t make
sense geographically. As old media deals expire for the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 in the
devastating. Schools are exploring coming years, the possibility for changes in conference makeup will be teed up too.
several different ways to cope with

the losses. Some are taking out
loans from financial institutions
or from the school’s foundation,

cutting sports, trimming full-
time positions and adopting new
travel habits, while also trying to
maintain competitive success. How
those methods work will be one of

the major storylines this year.


COMMISSIONER /// ACC The Bulldogs haven’t filled the position, PRESIDENT /// NCAA
which came open when Greg McGarity
The Northwestern athletic director decided to retire recently, but all eyes Most of his time these days seems occupied
formally starts his new gig in February and will be on the new leader who steps into with political issues that could change the
he’ll be following a heavyweight in retiring this role. The Georgia AD job comes with landscape in college athletics. With Congress
Commissioner John Swofford. There simply access to tremendous resources, but also considering a bill that threatens to blow up
tremendous pressure to succeed. While the collegiate model as we know it, and other
won’t be time for Phillips to ease into the transformative issues like NIL taking shape
chair, however. As one of the Power Five McGarity was a stabilizing force in through NCAA legislation and new state
conference chiefs, he’ll immediately become athletics for a decade at his alma mater, it laws, Emmert’s leadership will be on display
one of the most influential voices in the will be interesting to see if the school opts throughout 2021. How he responds will go a
country on issues such as social justice, the long way toward determining his legacy as
financial recovery from the pandemic and, for a similar hire or goes in a different
direction. the NCAA’s president.
of course, name, image and likeness.



Technology will be at the heart of keeping fans engaged in sports during an uncertain time and ERIC
giving them confidence to return to in-person events. PRISBELL

ON . . .


The most significant theme in sports technology will be the drive Look for leagues, teams and media companies to create
toward creating more personalized content and experiences ways for fans to consume content while engaging others in
for consumers. This is especially true as leagues, teams and digital groups. Miheer Walavalkar, CEO and co-founder of
media companies strive to attract the coveted Generation OTT sports tech company LiveLike, called the combination
Z demographic, which seeks experiences tailored to their of live-sports streaming and an immersive social experience

individual preferences. The theme is reflected in everything from a significant transformation over the last two years, a
social media platforms, which are creating a seemingly infinite movement only accelerated by the pandemic. As technology
number of filters, to MLB’s Film Room, which enables fans to
curate their own highlight reels. With greater personalization, advances, he said, “delivery mechanisms get better,
“we find more relevance in those content and experiences,” said video quality gets better, hardware gets better and watch
Meredith McPherron, the CEO and managing partner of Drive parties become more a habit than a fad. Those kinds of
by DraftKings, a multistage venture capital firm that invests functionalities are definitely here to stay.” As Chris Marinak,
in sports tech and entertainment. “And when we get to more MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, added: “When
relevance, we get people engaged and interacting in a more you provide fans an opportunity to connect and create a
significant way, which leads to retention and value creation.”
community, they’ll jump on those full speed ahead.”


The pandemic is accelerating the ways in which technology is
reimagining the in-venue experience. The priorities are twofold:
Creating a safe environment to minimize the risk of contagion;

and communicating how you’ll create that safe environment to
help make fans more comfortable returning to venues. Among the

myriad ways tech will play a role: Cashless experiences; alerts OL
for teams and fans to minimize ingress and egress bottlenecking

at gates; air filtration system enhancement and contactless
restroom experiences. From a fan standpoint, expect your phone

to become even more indispensable in venues, creating a more
seamless experience from the parking lot to the exit gate. “Your
phone is the only thing you touch 200 times a day and don’t let

anyone else touch,” said George Scott, chief strategy officer
for YinzCam, the mobile sports technology startup. “It’s a good

mechanism to drive a lot of this.” G



Lau’s duties have intensified amid the Since joining the company

pandemic as he looks to reimagine the NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION last April, Jacobson has

touch-free customer’s in-venue experience. Zuckert oversaw the virtual fan initiative accelerated DRL into the

He’s been identifying tech to create a safe for the 2020 NBA restart in Florida, which mainstream and guided the company

and comfortable environment as well as included video boards surrounding the to several milestones. She led DRL into

envisioning the guest experience three court filled with fans who appeared live uncharted territory through a year of first-

years down the road. He’s working on in the venue and on the telecast while time virtual and live drone racing series

crowd intelligence with Armored Things, digitally interacting with each other. Her on broadcast, including in the spring when

which will implement SaaS technology role is especially relevant and critical as other sports were paused. She spearheaded

capable of monitoring real-time crowd viewing habits change and expectations for the launch of DRL SIM, the most immersive

movement to enable ground staff to the viewing experience rise. She leads the drone racing video game, on Xbox One and

make data-driven decisions around gate initiative focused on the evolution of the facilitated DRL’s landmark partnership

crowding, event staffing, security and game telecast across all linear, social and with Genius Sports to set up the league

sanitation. Banc of California Stadium digital consumption channels. That includes for sports betting. She closed partnerships

Getty Images was also the first in the nation to install incorporating customizable experiences, with marquee brands across seven new

Axess Gates, using the company’s access alternative camera angles, companion categories, including T-Mobile to develop

control technology. content and interactive engagement. the first 5G-powered racing drone.

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 1 9


THE ESPORTS The new year will show the mainstream sports entertainment space that esports is a viable and
OBSERVER potentially profitable product during the toughest of times.
ON . . .

R Norris just completed his second season in
T Formula One, securing third place in the Sugita sowed the seeds
S constructor championship with McLaren Racing of positive change and
growth in 2020 inside
in a memorable season shaped by a global
pandemic. When the season kicked off the North American
with an esports simulated racing esports organization.
series featuring most drivers on the In her initiative-driven
Formula One grid, many followed philosophy that affected
Norris’ example. He has streamed
on Twitch for multiple years both the outreach
and engaged directly with fans and competitive side
through fun and entertaining of FlyQuest, Sugita
livestreams showing off his
personality. Continuing to led a charge into
spearhead athletes adding environmentalism
to their name, image, and with her “Go Green”
likeness on gaming and esports philosophy that saw
platforms, Norris created his FlyQuest raise money to
own gaming content creation plant trees while enacting
and esports organization, Team a mission to “Save the
Quadrant, going into 2021. Wild Turtles.” These types
— Tobias Seck of initiatives saw other
esports organizations
ROB JOHNSON follow her lead, as she
has much more planned
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER /// CSL ESPORTS heading into 2021. On the
competitive side, after
Collegiate esports was thrust into the spotlight in fall 2020 as universities began searching for ways to replace lost sports FlyQuest did not qualify
revenue. This new attention also has propelled a conversation about the need for academic esports programs to equip for the League of Legends
students to meet the growing need for entry-level employees in the industry. At the center of both these discussions are World Championship
in 2019, Sugita created
Johnson and CSL Esports. Johnson will be at the forefront of helping colleges grow the academic and athletic programs to and led the competitive
create promising career trajectories and new sustainable revenue for schools. — Trent Murray arm of the team’s LCS
division, which saw it
eventually qualify for the
World Championship.

— Kevin Hitt

There is no game with more potential for Over the last 18 months, several
growth in the esports space in 2021 than 2021 will not be kind to Chinese companies companies within the esports industry
Valorant. While its viewership and player in the esports industry trying to conduct went public, including pure-play esports
numbers were strong in 2020, as an esport business in the U.S., as the powerful organizations Astralis and Guild Esports.
it is still missing a critical component — interagency Committee on Foreign
international rivalry. North America vs. Investments in the U.S. will have even In an economically challenging year,
Europe, China vs. Korea, U.S. vs. Japan — few esports companies profited from the
these are the storylines that drive esports, more teeth to force Chinese companies that boost in esports viewership and gaming
and with vaccines on the horizon, a world are deemed a threat to national security to engagement caused by COVID-19 policies.
championship for Valorant in 2021 certainly sell their holdings or stop doing business Many companies in the industry had to
looks possible. The moment live events are here. TikTok and WeChat were the tip of implement cost-cutting measures and dig
possible, Valorant is likely to join the highest the iceberg in 2020, and reports that CFIUS into cash positions to get through the year.
tier of esports both in terms of popularity Presumably, many of those companies will
and partnership potential. — Trent Murray sent letters to Tencent-owned company have to justify their initial valuation in
Riot Games and others should put the 2021 and switch their focus on short-term
fear of the old gods into anyone who financial goals to satisfy shareholders’
pays attention to League of Legends or
expectations. — Tobias Seck
Valorant. — James Fudge



Entertainment content creation has never been more popular, whether it’s from athletes or CHRIS SMITH
brands. And with streaming video more accessible, expect that trend to grow. ON . . .

Paul is drawing up the blueprint for athletes hoping to step Rapkin’s focus on impact-driven projects is raising awareness R
behind the camera. He has already executive produced several and, critically, funding for important causes. Most recently, T
“Weight of Gold” debuted on HBO in July and has since A
documentaries through his Ohh Dip!!! Productions. Now, received widespread attention, amassing over 1.5 billion I
Paul is producing and will feature in HBO’s “The Day Sports impressions. Narrator Michael Phelps and an array of N
Stood Still,” an Antoine Fuqua-directed film about the March M
Olympic standouts — including Lolo Jones, Apolo Ohno, Katie E
2020 sports shutdown, and a new docuseries with Roadside Uhlaender and Shaun White — openly discussed the pressures N
Entertainment will explore basketball programs at historically of the Games and the subsequent mental health issues many T
Black colleges and universities. Paul will make his debut as a
feature film producer with “American Sole,” a comedy about the Olympians face as a result. The film is arguably the most
high-profile effort yet toward eroding the stigma around
secondary sneaker market being co-produced by Kevin Hart.
And Disney announced an upcoming Paul biopic last month. mental health in sports.



Few athletes have established a bigger foothold in the entertainment
world than LeBron James, and his childhood friend Carter has been his

right-hand man from the start. He and James co-founded production
house SpringHill Entertainment in 2008, leading to projects with

CNBC, Disney, Facebook, Showtime and Starz. More recently, Carter
joined James in front of the camera for “The Shop,” the star-studded

HBO series produced in collaboration with Uninterrupted, James
and Carter’s digital platform for athletes to tell their own stories.
The duo also landed an interview with former President Barack
Obama (right). Carter is producing the “Space Jam” sequel as well

as “Hustle,” an upcoming Netflix movie starring Adam Sandler.


It’s never been easier for athletes The war of the streaming platforms Corporate sponsors have long looked
to build their brands off the field. has created massive demand for for opportunities to attach themselves
Video game streaming has been
original content, and viewers have to popular sports content, from
popular for years, with NBA proved they’ll binge watch for hours pre-roll ads to product placement.
stars like Gordon Hayward of the at a time. The result is a new wave of
Charlotte Hornets and Ben Simmons lengthy, multipart docuseries. ESPN But old strategies are growing
of the Philadelphia 76ers amassing helped drive the trend in sports with stale in an increasingly crowded
marketplace, and COVID has only
tens of thousands of Twitch 2016’s eight-part, Oscar-winning further fueled the hunt for new ways
followers. COVID lockdowns have “O.J.: Made in America,” and last to cut through the noise without
only accelerated that trend. Golden appearing inauthentic. New creative
year took it a step further with activations include companion
State Warriors guard Stephen the 10-part, Emmy-winning “The content, associated humanitarian
Curry and Pittsburgh Steelers wide Last Dance.” Even more routine efforts and even the financing of
receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster have subjects are getting longer runtimes: original content production. Content
built huge followings on YouTube, ESPN’s recent “30 for 30” on Lance ownership and production is a
where they offer exclusive, behind- Armstrong got two episodes, as strategy that’s long served Red Bull
will HBO’s upcoming Tiger Woods well, and now studios — with upstart
the-scenes footage to millions of documentary. And later this year, game1 leading the way — are hoping
viewers. And lesser-known athletes Tom Brady will get the docuseries to capitalize on a broader appetite by
treatment with the nine-part “Man offering brands the opportunity to
like National League Cy Young seamlessly integrate with and invest
Award winner Trevor Bauer and in the Arena” airing on ESPN.
New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. in upcoming projects.
Subban are carving out market

share on the platform.

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 2 1


BILL KING Legalized sports betting across the U.S. will grow in 2021 and so will the deals and partnerships
ON . . . across the sector. Keep an eye on the three M’s — map, media companies and market share.

I Though all sports networks will dedicate increased NATIONAL FOOTBALL
N Penn National Gaming’s promotional assets and programming to sports betting in
G $163 million purchase of 2021, Sinclair’s audacious play at the end of 2020 may be LEAGUE
a 36% stake in Barstool the most intriguing of them. Named to his newly created
Sports bought the casino role in August after nine years with the company, Shapiro The most bet-on
struck a deal that will rebrand the former Fox RSNs to American sports league
and racetrack chain a Bally’s Sports, a newly created sportsbook chain that will has been the slowest to
brand that resonates begin entering states later this year. With options on up to
with the young male 30% of Bally’s stock, Sinclair is in far deeper than the other develop and execute a
audience most likely to media companies that have taken small sportsbook stakes sports betting strategy,
bet on sports, a strategy as part of their deals. The deal will allow Bally’s to play but that began to change
that has paid off in big in sports while focusing its marketing budget in states last year as Halpin led
Pennsylvania, where in which people can actually bet on its site, a much-envied the league’s decisions
it has grown market
share to 13% in only benefit of tying to the RSNs. to sign an exclusive
two months. Snowden data distribution deal
has said he plans to
introduce the Barstool and lift restrictions
Sportsbook app in 11 that kept teams from
more states this year, an signing sportsbooks as
aggressive pace even for sponsors. A national
an experienced gaming sponsorship deal and
operator. He also faces the long-awaited reveal
the unenviable task of of the model through
dealing with Barstool’s which sportsbooks can
penchant for offensive work with the NFL are
content, which he thus on the docket for 2021.
far has brushed off as
admittedly edgy, but

harmless, humor.


With Michigan recently opened, mobile There’s been a steady stream of tie- Thus far, the state-by-state rollout largely
sports betting now is available in five of ups between sportsbooks and media has been dominated by legacy DFS brands
the nation’s 16 largest DMAs — Chicago, properties, including Fox (FoxBet), ESPN
Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and (William Hill, Caesars and DraftKings), FanDuel and DraftKings, which hold
Denver — and nine of the top 30 markets. NBC (PointsBet), CBS (William Hill), combined market shares of 62% in Illinois,
About 80 million U.S. residents — or 25% Turner (FanDuel and DraftKings), Yahoo 64% in Pennsylvania, 80% in Indiana, 97%
of the country — had access to mobile Sports (BetMGM) and Barstool Sports in West Virginia and more than 65% in New
sportsbooks in 2020. How high will that (Penn National) and, most recently,
Sinclair (Bally’s). While the last two Jersey, the states that reveal individual
number climb in 2021? Virginia and years have been about striking deals sportsbook handle and/or revenue monthly.
Maryland both legalized last year and in the space, the next one will be about
should open this year. Analysts project activating them. What began largely as The combination of an existing customer
that more than 20 states will consider a digital play increasingly showed up base and awareness among sports fans
legislation that includes mobile betting on the airwaves as sports returned from has proved to be sizable. But are they
this year, hastened by the pace of 2020 and the pandemic, a trend that will only insurmountable over the long haul?
budget shortfalls in 2021. Among them: accelerate in the coming years now that
Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, everyone has a dance partner and reach Caesars’ recent purchase of William Hill,
Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Georgia has surpassed 25% of the population. combined with promotion across ESPN,
and Arizona. If all those passed, 45% of the makes it a likely mover in 2021. BetMGM
U.S. population would be able to bet on a and PointsBet bear watching, especially
mobile device. New York also is in play, but in Colorado and Michigan, the latest big
that’s been the case since PASPA fell in 2018. markets to roll out. Penn National Gaming
plans for its Barstool-branded app that has
rapidly made up ground in Pennsylvania to
be live in a dozen states by the end of 2021.



Labor relations will play a big role in how leagues deal with revenue lost to the shutdown of 2020, LIZ MULLEN
while agents will find themselves navigating changes to NCAA rules on name, image and likeness. ON . . .

Barnett and global
football’s other super The MLBPA has long
been considered the
agents are likely to strongest union in
be in a legal battle
with FIFA if soccer’s North American
governing body tries sports for the unity of
to institute rules
and regulations on its members and its
agents, including ability to fight off a
cutting their fees. salary cap. The MLB
Barnett recently collective-bargaining
told Sports Business agreement is set to
expire in December
Journal that
“hundreds” of 2021, and Clark
agents worldwide are will be leading the
ready to sue FIFA in players through a
multiple countries negotiation for a new
if FIFA enacts the deal after owners and
regulations. ICM players both suffered
Stellar Sports is financial losses in the
looking to grow by pandemic-shortened
hiring or acquiring
the business of U.S. season.
NFL and NBA agents.


The union announced last year that it was searching for a successor to Roberts, who wants to retire.
That search was suspended due to the pandemic and modifications needed to cope with it. Roberts, the first woman to lead a
men’s sports union, will continue in her role during the shortened 2020-21 season and keep a close watch on the health and

safety protocols that come with playing in home markets amid a surge in the coronavirus.


The impact of COVID-19 on sports league It will be interesting to see if the pandemic It is expected that student athletes will be
salary caps, as well as overall labor relations has any impact on the drafts of the major able to hire agents and negotiate name,
sports leagues, especially the NFL. Early
between the unions and the leagues, may on in the 2020 college football season, NFL image and likeness deals in 2021, which has
come into focus in 2021. Players unions the potential to change the sports agency
and leagues were forced to work together team executives said they would not be landscape. If athletes are able to negotiate
to agree on health and safety protocols to interested in drafting players who opted marketing deals, it will be marketing
play amid the worst public health crisis out of playing. Will that still be the case? agents — not playing contract agents —
in modern sports. But there is no doubt Also, agents wonder what kind of screening who may take the lead in recruiting them.
that revenue, which dictates the salary teams will have to detect any potential long- Additionally, unscrupulous agents who
caps in sports, was down all over. Whether term effects of COVID-19 on players who recruited players by paying them while
unions and leagues will be able to work out they were still in college could find that
solutions, with or without rancor that could had and recovered from the virus. their leverage no longer gives them an
lead to work stoppages, remains to be seen. advantage.

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 2 3


KARN Safety is at the top of the agenda for sports facilities as owners and operators prepare to welcome
DHINGRA fans back to venues. Enhancing the experience will be the key to keep them coming back.
ON . . .

Cifarelli’s leadership
at the digital signage Van Stone was instrumental in
and design company Monumental’s decision to bring
a William Hill sportsbook into
has resulted in
deals with 15 NBA Capital One Arena, home
teams this offseason. of  the Washington Wizards and
Those deals allow Capitals. The sportsbook opened in
for repositioning a temporary space in October while
or adding digital the arena underwent renovations

signage and to the former Greene Turtle
courtside LED Sports Bar & Grille to prepare for
screens that run the its permanent home, expected to
entire length of the open in the summer. The move — a
court and feature first for a U.S. sports venue — is
a live look-in from
fans. Add in bench expected to bring more visitors
screens and mobile to the arena and has other teams
LED units — some trying to follow Monumental’s lead.
in places where fans
wouldn’t normally JEFF IANELLO
have access, such
is leading efforts SEATGEEK
to enhance the fan
Ianello helped to add the Cleveland
experience. Cavaliers, one of a handful of
NBA teams that will host fans
this season, to SeatGeek’s roster.
Expect arenas and stadiums to deploy more The push to make transactions cashless, SeatGeek also won ticketing deals
sophisticated methods of ensuring their contactless, mobile, and frictionless at with MLS’s Houston Dynamo and
arenas and stadiums was well underway the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. The
grounds are as free of COVID-19 as possible. before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the
Honeywell Building Technologies will disease accelerated that trend and it will company also brought on MLS’s
continue into 2021. Levy Restaurants Austin FC and its first NCAA
provide the Carolina Panthers a customized unveiled a cashier-less Amazon Go store at client in the Arizona Bowl.
real-time “Healthy Buildings” dashboard for Chicago’s United Center this past March.
The company plans to make 65% of the TICKETING
Bank of America Stadium. With a typical venues it manages completely cashless or
installation cost of $100,000, the system contactless by end of 2021. At least 50% of Ticketing companies are exploring the
Levy-operated venues will be equipped with feasibility of testing fans for COVID
monitors carbon dioxide levels, temperature mobile ordering (QR code, in-seat, hawking on-site and before games, along with
and humidity. Closed spaces — concessions, or express pick-up) in concessions by the
end of 2021, said Tom Funk, Levy executive verifying fans’ vaccination status. In 2020,
player areas, restrooms and offices — are vice president and chief operating officer. the Golden State Warriors outlined a $30
vulnerable locations for the spread of disease, million plan to open San Francisco’s Chase
not just COVID, said company President and Center to 9,000 fans, or 50% capacity, by
administering daily PCR (polymerase chain
CEO Vimal Kapur. reaction) tests to every fan, team employee
and player during the 2020-21 NBA season.
And Live Nation, the parent company of
Ticketmaster, floated a proposal to use a
third-party verification system to confirm
if fans attending events ticketed by the

company have been vaccinated.




How do we sustain the Successful DEI work requires a combination of
momentum of diversity, focused efforts, effective messaging, awareness of
equity and inclusion? legal requirements, but also the willingness to be
thoughtful and creative within those legal confines.
T HE NFL APPROVED a resolution to incentivize resources they need to do their best work, to thrive
the development of minority coaches or and to advance in these organizations). Every organization is different. Some are starting
senior personnel by rewarding teams with from the beginning, providing implicit bias train-
But that is changing. ing for the first time or creating the necessary
policies and procedures. Others are advancing ef-
draft picks. NBA players heightened the league’s What feels different this time is that the discus- forts already put in place by looking at every hiring,
promotion, and performance management practice
long history of fighting for social justice, using sion has become more personal. Leaders are being through a DEI lens, seeking to see if there are any
impediments to the retention and promotion of
their platform to champion the Black Lives Matter forced to lean in and address these issues head-on diverse individuals.

movement. The Miami Marlins hired the first woman as individuals, rather than solely relying on the Some employers are assessing their current de-
mographic makeup and creating aspirational goals
to run a major league team’s baseball tireless efforts of human resources and communicating these goals with transparency.
This has historically been a tricky area as inter-
operations. BY GRACE E. SPEIGHTS organizations and DEI leaders. Em- national laws are varied on what employers are
These very public developments AND KERRY D. CHANDLER ployees are being more outspoken and allowed to request and collect. And in the U.S., em-
calling out both leaders and colleagues ployers must be careful not to establish quotas. But
highlight the discussions and proactive companies are encouraging voluntary self-identi-
fication so companies can establish a global baseline
efforts regarding diversity, equity, and on the more subtle forms of micro- and are creating goals that they can aspire to when
it comes to hiring, retention and promotion.
inclusion (DEI) that are happening aggressions or implicit biases. It can
Other companies are providing open forums
throughout the national leagues, the sports indus- be uncomfortable, but it is causing necessary con- for global conversations that didn’t used to take
place at work. Along with leadership account-
try more generally, and all of corporate America. versations to take place and holding a mirror up ability, this safe space to share experiences is
giving all people an understanding that they are
As two Black women in leadership positions in to those who lead to confront their own areas of part of something bigger, part of the creation of
an inclusive culture.
our respective organizations, these discussions are bias and their own areas for growth.
Now the challenge for all of us — in the sports
not new to us. One of us has worked in the sports While these are important first steps, changing industry and beyond — is what happens next. How
do we keep up the momentum? How do we turn
industry for years; the other advises leading sports the deep-rooted, day-to-day operations of the sports these conversations into action? What are we doing
as individual leaders to make a difference? The
retailers and broadcasters, as well as many Fortune industry — and corporate America more gener- past few months have shown the power of indi-
vidual and concerted action. Each person has a
500 companies. For decades, many companies have ally — cannot be accomplished through just discus- responsibility to help create a safe, respectful, di-
verse and inclusive workplace. And each company
been talking about DEI. They have developed com- sions. There has to be action and accountability. has the responsibility to do all it can to ensure this
not just a fleeting moment, but the beginning of
prehensive strategies, invested time and resources, We are at a point where people are expecting de- lasting, sustainable change. As sports players and
leaders have long been icons to be emulated, we
conducted training, developed policies and proce- finitive changes. hope their example sets the stage for long-lasting
change for other industries around the world.
dures, and hired DEI officers. An entire cottage Policies, procedures and programs are never suf-
Grace E. Speights is a partner at Morgan, Lewis &
industry has developed to support these efforts. ficient on their own to establish a diverse and in-
Bockius, and Kerry D. Chandler is chief human
Yet when we speak with Black employees, they often clusive workplace free of bias, discrimination and
resources officer at Endeavor.
tell us these DEI initiatives have failed them. What harassment. But they are important building blocks

they tell us resonates with us, as we, too, have seen in creating and enabling such a workplace, which

the failures. then supports the recruitment, retention, develop-

They tell us these efforts have failed because they ment and advancement of Black employees, other

have not held people accountable as individuals. people of color, women, and other under-represent-

They have failed because they tried to address all ed groups.

aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion gener- Companies and organizations stand at different

ally, without focusing on the experiences of Black points today in how wide ranging their DEI efforts

employees or other under-represented groups spe- are and how embedded those efforts are in their

cifically. They failed because they focused on equal- structures and strategic plans. Regardless of where

ity (treating all employees the same) rather than a company or organization stands, however, there

equity (providing specific employees the specific is usually more that can be done.

Rafer Johnson was an exemplary human, athlete and role model

Editor’s note: This letter is in response to the and Dave Johnson, as well as with the eight other One of Rafer’s most valuable lessons to the
death of American decathlete and actor Rafer younger athletes referenced the attitude needed
Johnson on Dec. 2, 2020. star decathletes who comprised the USA/Visa to succeed in the grueling 10-event sport. His
advice was to “stay in the here and now” and
ONE OF THE ATTRIBUTES that wasn’t well-known Decathlon Team and the Visa Gold “focus on what you can control,” rather than dwell-
during Rafer Johnson’s brilliant career was his ing on the event that just occurred or looking too
consistent willingness to give back to his sport How you Medal Athlete Program. far ahead to events later in the schedule. His
and help up-and-coming decathletes any way he see it In almost unheard of fashion, strategy was to laser in on the immediately
could. I had the pleasure of working with Rafer for upcoming discipline.
six years spanning the Barcelona and Atlanta and in concert with fellow U.S.
Summer Olympics and witnessed firsthand his His contributions to his sport far exceeded his
proactive support and positive engagement with decathlete gold medalists Bob own competitive success.
the top U.S. decathletes of the day, Dan O’Brien
Mathias, Milt Campbell, Bill Jim Millman

Toomey and Bruce Jenner, Rafer worked without New York, N.Y.

endorsement fees to participate in clinics, deliver

motivational speeches, and help publicize the

efforts of the decathletes, a particularly under-the-

radar athletic group.

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 JANUARY 4-10, 2021 | 2 5


ESPN has been work-
ing with the schools
of the four Heisman
finalists to set up
remote feeds that
will capture the emo-
tions of the award
presentation on
Tuesday night.

A Virtual Trophy Moment

The Heisman ceremony is the latest sports event to change its approach because of the pandemic,
but with the help of virtual technology the winner’s celebration could still bring the house down.


THIS WEEK’S HEISMAN TROPHY ceremony could pro- all three schools, and each location will have at man Trophy ceremony, which will see host Chris ESPN Images
vide a unique and raucous moment when the na- least two cameras in play to capture the scene. Fowler and reporter Maria Taylor working from
tion’s top player in college football is announced. Bristol, Conn., and analysts Desmond Howard and
“For the first time they have the chance to cele- Tim Tebow working remotely from their homes.
That’s because instead of the regular in-person, brate with their team,” Jackson said. “There are
buttoned-down format, the pandemic forced ESPN opportunities with this — not just challenges.” While Howard and Tebow are both former Heis-
to shift to a virtual presentation for the first time. man winners, ESPN is taking steps to make sure
The end result may look more like virtual draft “For the first time they have the many other former recipients can still take part in
nights did in 2020, with the Heisman honoree being chance to celebrate with their this year’s ceremony. ESPN will use portals from
able to do what the draft picks did and celebrate team. There are opportunities Ross Production Services that former honorees can
loudly with teammates, coaches and family at their with this — not just challenges.” use to log in wherever they are and be available for
schools. interviews during the production.
Jackson has navigated virtual setups before, in-
By the time of Tuesday’s 7 p.m. ET ceremony, cluding the 2020 ESPY Awards last summer. She The end result should make for compelling tele-
three of the finalists — Alabama quarterback Mac said ESPN’s coverage of the NFL draft in April vision, bolstered further by the fact that there’s no
Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith, as well as provided the groundwork for the techniques and clear leader in this year’s Heisman race. From there,
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence — could be technology used at the ESPYs and other events, Jackson will be on to her next virtual event, the
surrounded by players and coaches while in the and now with the Heisman Trophy ceremony. National College Football Awards two days later.
midst of preparing for the Jan. 11 national cham- She said each new production brings more under-
pionship game, while the fourth, Florida quarter- “2020 as a whole has been about a time of discovery,” standing on how to best adjust to a virtual world
back Kyle Trask, will still be on campus in she said. “It’s been a lot about what kind of tech is until live in-person events can return.
Gainesville. out there, whether it’s established or fairly new, and
how can we use it to make the best content we can.” “Every time you’re forced to do something dif-
The potential scene was not lost on Kate Jackson, ferently, you inevitably discover something you
ESPN’s coordinating producer for special events. Nissan returns as presenting sponsor of the Heis- would not have discovered if you didn’t have to do
She has spent the final days leading up to the cer- it differently,” Jackson said. “You just have to be
emony mapping out remote coverage plans with nimble and flexible and ready to adjust.”


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