SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: December 2, 2022

Episode Summary

Takeaways from Media Innovators; timeline for EPL deals and the NWSL will get a sense of market interest with two teams for sale

Episode Transcription

My colleague Michael Smith and I will be at the ACC Football Championship game Saturday night in Charlotte, North Carolina. It'll be Clemson-North Carolina at Bank of America Stadium. If you're going to the game, let me know, I'd love to say hello.

And this is your Morning Buzzcast for Friday, December 2nd. Good morning, I'm Abe Madkour. Thank you for listening to the Buzzcast. Great to be with you at the end of the week. If you want to hear about some of the most dynamic and challenging issues in the sports business, you should have been at our Media Innovators Conference this week in New York, and you can read the transcripts and watch the videos on our site. But I can't think of a better timed event as we spend two days talking about the unsettled media marketplace. It is fascinating the approaches by the media companies and it has everybody watching. We see major media companies betting on both traditional linear television as well as the opportunities around streaming. We have concerns on distribution. We have concerns on future rights fees for sports teams. It is a very challenging marketplace.

As NBC's Mark Lazarus pointed out, there are major disruptions causing traditional media companies to change how they approach the business. And he said it doesn't appear that it's going to stop anytime soon. He says, "We just have to get used to being unsettled and move with the audiences." And I felt that point was very interesting. And that means getting used to smaller audiences for programming on linear television and streaming, primarily due to the amount of video competition in the marketplace. There are so many options and it's bifurcating audiences. In addition, Lazarus and others pointed out that the [inaudible 00:02:04] days of teams getting big rights fees for their local rights are soon to ebb because the move of viewers from linear television to streaming services means less revenue for the networks and lower rights fees for teams.

Mark Lazarus said team should prepare to see a reduction in rights fees and he echoed what NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that teams should brace for some pain coming up in their local rights fee revenue. And we all know for sports teams, media revenue is either the number one or number two source of revenue coming in. So all in all, a fascinating two days. The biggest story in sports business that teams and leagues and sports media companies are following is this unsettled sports media marketplace. So some good stuff coming from media innovators in New York.

Let's move on to college sports. It's truly a new era for college football, and I'm excited. The CFP will expand to 12 teams in 2024 so we'll have one more year of... Well, two more years really, of the Final Four CFP, and then we will expand. I'd love to see a 12 team playoff this year because there are so many teams playing so well right now. At the end of the year, it would be a wild tournament.

And as we talked with ESPN's Jimmy Pitaro at Media Innovators, he said that ESPN will still have the first choice on what it will take as a package for all the games coming up. If they want to show all the extra playoff games, then they would put a proposal in. They have the right first refusal basically. But the CFP and its leaders do plan to go back to the open marketplace for the next contract. And so then you can see the CFP with more teams on multiple networks, not just ESPN. But a very, very interesting time for college football, and I'm sure that's going to dominate our conference conversation next week in Las Vegas.

Let's move on to some team news because two National Woman Soccer League teams are up for sale, and it will be a very good indication of the interest in the marketplace around the league. First, Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson intends to sell the team while retaining ownership of the MLS Timbers. Now this move comes after a number of sexual abuse allegations against the Thorns' former coach Paul Riley and Paulson later supporting Riley's efforts to remain employed in the league after leaving the Thorns. BDT Capital is handling the sale process of the Thorns following the Sally Yates Report that looked into the sexual abuse allegations. Supporters of the Timbers and Thorns publicly called on Merritt Paulson to sell both teams. He'll keep the Timbers, he'll sell the Thorns. The Thorns have been one of the most successful NWSL teams both on and off the pitch since the league debuted in 2013. They won their league Best Third title this season. They've consistently led the league in attendance. I believe they were surpassed this year by Angel City FC. But the Thorns really, from sources that we know, have been profitable since at least 2015.

A source told our Alex Silverman that Merritt Paulson hopes the Thorns receive about $60 million. That would be a record price for a controlling interest in an NWSL Club. So that would set a new bar for the league, and that would be a very healthy price for Merritt Paulson if he gets that for the Portland Thorns. Meanwhile, it was also reported that the Chicago Red Stars have enlisted an investment bank to facilitate the sale of majority ownership of that franchise. So two NWSL teams in two good markets, Portland and Chicago, for sale, and that'll be a good indicator of what the marketplace is like for the NWSL.

Meanwhile, Manchester United could have new owners by the end of the season, which would of course be this spring. The Glacier family purchased Manchester United for about $970 million in 2005. They are looking for more than $7 billion in this sale right now. Meanwhile, Fenway Sports Group continues to have talks about selling all or part of Liverpool, but the scenario of a new investor, or investors, joining Fenway Sports Group to inject more capital for player acquisition and capital improvements is currently the more likely outcome according to The Boston Globe. So this would mean a minority stake sold in the club, and one of the potential partners is from North America according to the Globe. Fenway Sports Group President Mike Gordon is overseeing the sale talks of Liverpool. As he begins to kind of wind down his oversight of the club, he will turn leadership over to Billy Hogan in the near future.

Now, could the Saudi Public Investment Fund buy into an NBA team? We know it launched LIV Golf. We know it has aspirations for a larger sports portfolio. Well, the NBA has now allowed sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and university endowments to buy shares into NBA teams. This is a big move. Now, the NBA does retain the ability to deny any interested investor. Of course, they will scrutinize any of these possible investors before a deal gets done. But this does mark another major move opening up the pool of potential investors in NBA clubs. So the NBA again loosening its rules of who can invest or buy one of their teams.

And let's end the Buzzcast around a little bit more of college sports. Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said that the conference's media rights negotiations will not be completed before the end of this year and he indicated there is no rush for any resolution on a new media deal. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 will keep its football championship game in Las Vegas for 2023 after the conference extended its contract at Allegiant Stadium for the third straight year. They work off one year deals there. The Pac-12 likes having the game in Vegas. The game will be tonight, Friday night, Utah-USC. And this continues the momentum around Las Vegas as a host of major sports events.

Meanwhile, SBJ will be in Las Vegas all next week for our Intercollegiate Athletics Forum at the Bellagio. More than 500 leaders in college sports are expected to attend. I hope to see you there. If you'll be on the ground in Vegas, shoot me a note as I'd love to see you.

So that is your Morning Buzzcast for Friday, December 2nd. I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast. Stay healthy. Be good to each other. I'll speak to you on Monday.