SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: December 12, 2023

Episode Summary

Thunder arena goes to voters; VA makes aggressive move to land Monumental Sports; Leadership changes at WTA and big names behind the PGA Tour

Episode Transcription

We have talked a lot about the NBA's In-Season tournament, and SBJ's Tom Friend reports that the league is in advanced talks with a prominent brand that will be presenting sponsor of the event. So more changes, more enhancements coming to the NBA's In-Season tournament. And this is your Morning Buzzcast for Tuesday, December 12th. Good morning. I'm Abe Madkour. Hope everybody is doing well.

A big day in Oklahoma City as voters will go to the polls today, Tuesday, and decide whether or not to approve a sales tax to fund a new $900 million arena for the Thunder. The team's ownership said it will contribute 50 million toward the project. And if the vote passes, the Thunder will commit to play in the arena for 25 years. That would keep Oklahoma City having an NBA team beyond 2050. Many of the city leaders see this vote as critical to the future of the team staying in the market. And there is fear that if the measure is defeated, the team could look to relocate.

Now there's been no indication of the sentiment or local polling here. I believe this measure will pass and pass pretty significantly, but you never know when a measure like this goes in front of voters. More on this vote in the days ahead.

Speaking of arenas, could the Wizards and Capitals relocate from downtown DC to Virginia? Well, the team's options are certainly becoming more varied as a panel of Virginia lawmakers on Monday approved a potential deal to build a new arena at an area called Potomac Yard in Alexandria that is just south of Reagan National Airport, very close to the district city in relative terms. The teams of course are owned by Ted Leonsis. They played a Capital One Arena since 1997. Now, not much is known about this measure. It was approved in a closed meeting and legislative leaders are deferring to Governor Glenn Youngkin who is said to be very supportive of this effort. Details are scarce, but it would include a new 20,000 seat arena, separate venue for concerts and conventions. And the mixed use development would include the offices for Monumental Sports & Entertainment.

Now, Monumental has not ever said it would move the teams to Virginia, but it is known that Monumental has asked the district for $600 million in public funds for a major renovation of Capital One Arena, but it's not certain that the district can support such financing. So a lot at play here. That DC market, incredibly intriguing right now. Well, one you're definitely going to want to keep your eye on.

Let's shift to tennis. Big changes at the WTA tour and probably not entirely surprising as Steve Simon will no longer have the CEO duties, but will stay on as executive chairman as part of a major reorganization at the women's tour. So the changes in leadership will include hiring a new CEO who will report to Steve Simon. And it also means we will see the departure of President Mickey Lawler, who has been in her role since 2014. Her position, the president position, will not be replaced. So Steve Simon has led the WTA since succeeding Stacey Allaster in 2015. The search for a new chief executive is being handled by Korn Ferry. Simon said they would like to find a female executive to fill that role. Now, he also said that changes in the organizational structure have been in the works for months. And he disputed reports it is connected to WTA tour player complaints that emerged during the season ending championship last month in Mexico, which we talked about here at the Buzzcast. But the bottom line is, pretty significant changes in the leadership at the WTA tour.

It seems every day on the Buzzcast we talk about the PGA Tour. Today will be no different because the PGA Tour's policy board plans to partner with a group of investors called Strategic Sports Group. And most speculation is that this deal with Strategic Sports Group will expedite the tour's agreement to receive billions of dollars in funding from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund. So Strategic Sports Group has shown an interest in working with the Public Investment Fund and other Middle East investors in the past. SI's Michael Rosenberg reported there is interest from all parties to get a deal done with the Public Investment Fund, and that would certainly change the pro sports landscape and put into question the future of the live tour as the PGA Tour could really incorporate parts of the live tour in future years.

Now, Strategic Sports Group will invest an undisclosed amount of capital into the PGA Tour, and this is a strong group. Look at some of the boldfaced names that are part of Strategic Sports Group. It's John Henry, it's Fenway Sports Group. It's Steve Cohen, it's Arthur Blank, it's Mark Anastasio, it's Jerry Cardinal, it's Wyc Grousbeck, it's Tom Ricketts, Marc Lasry, Tom Werner. So some very big names, heavy hitters who will be part of this group that will invest in the PGA Tour. And now they hope that they'll be able to complete this deal with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund by the end of this year. So major changes coming to the PGA Tour.

We touched on this on Monday, but more details about Shohei Ohtani's monster deal with the Dodgers. Pretty interesting. We touched on it, but it was revealed that $680 million of the $700 million contract with the Dodgers will be deferred until after the deal ends. That means Ohtani will be paid $2 million a year for the next 10 seasons, then he'll get $68 million a year from 2034 to 2043. Of course, this is intended to free up cash for the Dodgers to keep spending on other players.

I was at a dinner last night in Charlotte with sports business leaders. A lot of talk about the growth and interest in women's sports and more signs of the growing interest in women's soccer came over the weekend as Arsenal set a new Women's Soccer League attendance record as nearly 60,000 fans attended the Arsenal Chelsea Match at Emirate Stadium on Sunday. Big big numbers. Attendance in the Women's Soccer League has grown by 200% since England's women's team won the Euro 2022 championship. So in that time, in just a year, attendance for the Women's Soccer League has risen by 200%. You see more and more interest around women's sports.

Speaking of interest, everybody is interested to see when Netflix will be a major player in, I would say, traditional sports rights, because right now Netflix continues to dabble around the edges with exhibition events or one-off events. The latest kind of one-off event for Netflix will be an exhibition match between Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, and this will mark Netflix's second in-house live sporting event. Remember, they did that Netflix Cup, which was a golf event held with PGA Tour players and F1 drivers. This will be called the Netflix Slam. It'll be March 3rd in Las Vegas. A company called Full Day Productions will produce the Netflix Slam. Range Sports help broker the deal between Netflix and MGM Resorts. It will be played at the Michelob ULTRA Arena. That's at Mandalay Bay. So again, Netflix dabbling in live sports events, but this only an exhibition tennis match coming after the Netflix Golf Cup last month.

And let's end with this, longtime ESPN executive Russell Wolff has joined Sixth Street Partners, which is an investment company that manages north of 75 billion in assets. Russell Wolff will start in January. He'll be a senior member of the Sports Media and Entertainment Group. He will help Sixth Street really look at sports media and digital viewing, digital content. He'll look for investment opportunities. Now, Sixth Street, under Alan Waxman, has become a major player in sports. Waxman was part of SBJ's most influential executives in sports in this week's issue. Sixth Street is the majority investor in Legends. It has a stake in the Spurs. It has a partnership with Real Madrid. And of course it's a co-founder of the NWSL expansion franchise, Bay FC, which begins play next year.

Now, Russell Wolff, well-known to people in the sports business circles, he left ESPN in July after a 26-year career. He oversaw ESPN plus. He oversaw ESPN's international business. So again, Russell Wolff now joining Sixth Street Partners.

And that is your Morning Buzzcast for Tuesday, December 12th. I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast. Stay healthy. Be good to each other. I'll speak to you tomorrow.