SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: April 15, 2022

Episode Summary

Baseball's big day; what will success look like for USFL; and a hat tip to outgoing Cavs CEO Len Komoroski.

Episode Transcription

Hope everyone has a peaceful Easter weekend and Passover with friends and family. We have Morning Buzzcast for Friday. Good Friday, April 15th. I'm Abe Madkour. First, a special shout-out to Dick Vitale, who announced he is cancer-free after his sixth chemotherapy treatment. That's news that we all love to hear. A big day today for baseball, as it celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, 75 years after Robinson became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A lot of ceremonies today. In New York City, part of 42nd Street will be renamed Jackie Robinson Way, and all players and coaches will of course wear the number 42 sleeve logo. But for the first time, all teams will have it in Dodger blue. The 42 logo on the sleeves will be in Dodger blue, regardless of a team's color, so look for that today on Friday.

Also, a few notable home openers on Friday. In New York, you have the Mets opening at Citi Field, where they will be unveiling the statue to Tom Seaver outside of Citi Field. You have the Cleveland Guardians opening today at home, the first regular season home game with their new name. Opening day at Fenway Park today will see fans experiencing a new edition in the right field. Above the right field bleachers is a new concourse and event space, and a new home of NESN's on-site studio. It's called the Truly Terrace. Like I said, it's behind the right field bleachers.

There's also a new event space in right field called 521 Overlook, which is a nod of course to Ted Williams' career home run total, where roughly 600 fans can mingle and overlook Fenway Park and the baseball field in that right field area. With these changes, Fenway's seating capacity does not change. There's also a new expanded video board above the right field bleachers that is double the width of the previous video board in that space. So it's an amazing continuation of how Fenway Park just gets better and better over the years. If you haven't been, you've got to see what they've done to Fenway Park. A lot of home openers in baseball today.

Let's look toward the weekend. The USFL is back. Yes, and the USFL kicks off Saturday night in Birmingham, Alabama. The New Jersey Generals face the Birmingham Stallions. Remember, this USFL uses the team names and logos of the first iteration of the USFL all those years ago. There are eight teams that will play a 10 game schedule before the playoffs. Fox Sports owns the USFL, and is making a $150 million investment over three years in the league. Fox Sports will cover most of the games, but they'll also share some games with NBC Sports. Saturday night's opener, for example, will be on both Fox and NBC.

From the people I have spoken with, this is a totally made-for-TV sports league. Fox Sports President, Eric Shanks, has been a driver of this initiative from the start. Here's some of the things you can expect to see. Fox and NBC will use drones in their game coverage for the first time. Two players on each team will have cameras on their helmets. We've already noted that a chip in the football will be able to denote if a team made a first down, so you will not see the traditional chain markers on the sidelines marking the first down, but more advanced uses of technology.

SBJ's Ben Fischer noted it in our SBJ Football Newsletter last night that a couple of things are pretty interesting. If you're looking for a big USFL staff, you won't find it. USFL headcount is very low for a league. In early February, it had fewer than 20 employees in football operations, and not many employees on the business side either. So really, run out of the Fox Sports operations for now it seems in terms of resources. The league will be playing all their games in Birmingham. They are not paying any type of fee to play at Protective Stadium, which is in Birmingham. They'll play there for three years.

The City of Birmingham is expecting a return in hotel and restaurant business from the players and coaches on-site, and Fox seemingly has a different definition for success here, do not anticipate a lot of promotion, or they aren't expecting also a need of a big return financially. Fox Sports sees the USFL as content that they can program in the spring. So if these games consistently draw around two million viewers, Fox would be happy with that. And so maybe that's what we're looking at in terms of a benchmark of success. Now, some of you may recall a lawsuit filed by the old USFL investors about trademark infringement. Well, a federal judge on Thursday refused to block this Fox Sports owned USFL from launching on Saturday. So he said that they could start their league, but he did say that the owners of some of the original USFL teams were likely to prevail on their trademark infringement claim, so look for this case to continue, but the bottom line is the USFL is launching again Saturday. Let's see how the public embraces it.

Also this weekend, NASCAR is doing something it hasn't done in a while, race on Easter Sunday. We've talked about NASCAR doing all it can to change its schedule, to mix things up, and so they will return to race Sunday night, Easter Sunday. It has not raced on Easter Sunday since 1989. Yes, that was five years even before this sports business publication was even launched, 1989, but Fox Sports is hoping to make Easter Sunday kind of appointment viewing. They're racing on the dirt track at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like we know, that it's not unique for a sports league to try to plant a flag on a holiday, and that's what NASCAR is doing for Easter. They believe they can no longer be absent from this weekend, and of course, this will be a heavy sports weekend. NASCAR will go up against playoff games in the NBA and a full slate of MLB and NHL game action, but NASCAR returning to race on Easter Sunday for the first time since 1989.

Interesting news out of the UK, as architectural design firm Populous and sports company Legends have won the assignment to renovate Manchester United's Old Trafford. Now, that will see a significant overhaul. Details of the overhaul, the cost of the overhaul and the renovation, aren't clear, but Populous and Legends worked on Tottenham's heavily hyped new facility, and now they will work together on renovating Old Trafford. This will be a project to watch, because it's such a historic facility, but significant details, the cost and the timelines of any renovations, have not been determined.

Charlotte and Orlando have emerged as front runners for the ACC Conference's new headquarters. Now, that is if they decide to relocate from Greensboro. That's according to the Raleigh News & Observer. A vote on any relocation is expected no later than the end of this month by the ACC. Remember, the ACC has been in Greensboro for nearly 70 years, and Greensboro still remains under consideration as a location, but new ACC Commissioner, Jim Phillips, has looked to bring the conference to a larger, maybe more diverse market. It should also be noted that both Orlando and Charlotte have strong ties to Disney and ESPN, unofficial ACC partner, and both of those cities, Orlando and Charlotte have hosted Bowl games for the ACC. So, a decision soon about the ACC's headquarters.

And I do want to end around people, and a shout-out to someone I was able to spend a few minutes with this week in New York City, at our State of the Industry event. So a special nod and hat tip to longtime sports executive Len Komoroski. He is stepping down from his role as CEO of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, and Rock Entertainment after this season. Many of you know Len Komoroski. He has been with that organization since 2003. He's had a great run as a successful brand builder of nearly two decades in Cleveland. His leadership in the massive renovation of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has made that arena one of the best in the NBA. The Cavaliers have been up for Sports Team of the Year at the Sports Business Awards three times since 2009. He's been a leader locally in Cleveland. He's been a leader nationally on the national sports business scene.

He also leaves the Cleveland Cavaliers in very good shape. They're a playoff team with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. They have a 37-year-old new CEO in Nic Barlage, who has looked at Len Komoroski as a mentor for years. The team also has a 39-year-old successful GM in Koby Altman. So, Len Komoroski leaving this organization in good shape. In addition, the executive tree, for those who have worked for Len Komoroski over his nearly 40 years in the business, is one of the strongest in sports. Every time I was with Len, he spoke passionately about the ability of sports executives and sports organizations to inspire communities and bring people together to make a difference. Len Komoroski certainly personified that passion with his actions. Like I said, moving on from the Cleveland Cavaliers at the end of this season.

So that is your Morning Buzzcast for Friday, April 15th. I'm Abe Madkour. Have a peaceful Passover and Easter. Stay healthy, be good to each other. I'll speak to you on Monday.