SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: February 3, 2022

Episode Summary

A ground-breaking day for the WNBA; what's next for Turner Sports and Commanders met with a ....shrug.

Episode Transcription

Abe Madkour:
A story you'll hear about today. Yesterday in Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz got very angry during a Blackhawks town hall, fired back at a reporter who asked him what the Blackhawks were doing after the Kyle Beach situation and incident. Rocky Wirtz told a reporter they weren't going to talk about the incident, they weren't going to talk about 2010, and that what they were doing internally was none of the reporters' business. Rocky Wirtz predictably is getting roundly criticized in Chicago media today. It puts his leadership into question. He even interrupted his son, Danny Wirtz, who tried to answer the reporter's question. So today will not be a comfortable day in the Chicago Blackhawks front office, and this is a story you want to keep your eye on.

There are a lot of stories you want to watch today. And today is Thursday, February 3rd. This is your Morning Buzzcast, I'm Abe Madkour. I want to start with a historic day for women's sports and the WNBA. We have talked about this subject for years. Would the NBA ever spin off the WNBA and allow it to get outside investment to jumpstart growth? Well the WNBA will announce today it has raised 75 million in largest ever capital raise for a women's sports property. Now this features new investors and existing WNBA and NBA owners. It is a truly groundbreaking capital investment. It's intended to approve the league, all aspects of the league, from operations, to reach, to its marketing efforts. Investors will take an equity stake in the WNBA, but not in any individual teams. Investors include Nike, Laurene Powell Jobs, Condi Rice, NBA team owners like Micky Arison and his son, Nick Arison, Ted Leonsis, Herb Simon, also Dodgers chair, Mark Walter.

This is a list of investors. They are bold faced names in the sports business. There are a number of them. There are no further details on the specific stake new investors are acquiring in the WNBA. Allen & Company served as the WNBA's financial advisor. So what does this mean? This really allows the WNBA to move fast and deploy capital to fuel real growth around the WNBA. Look for a massive influx of new marketing efforts, because while the WNBA has had a lot of plans to jumpstart growth, they've never ever had the capital to do it. Well now they have the money. WNBA commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, who certainly led this effort, wouldn't rule out a second funding round in the future, but said the focus for now is making the most of the 75 million it just raised. Again, bottom line, a significant influx of capital for the WNBA and more momentum behind the growth of women's sports. That is good news for the sports business.

Let's move on. I first saw the news yesterday, when a colleague showed me his Twitter feed around 11:15 AM, showing that Jeff Zucker was stepping down as chair of Warner Media. But remember, Jeff Zucker also oversaw news and Turner Sports, and our John Ourand reported yesterday that Turner Sports staffers were shocked by Zucker's resignation. Of course, Zucker resigned because he said he failed to properly disclose a relationship with a fellow CNN Warner Media executive. Now, Jeff Zucker took over the reigns of Turner Sports nearly three years ago, after the exit of then Turner Sports president David Levy. So as head of sports, Jeff Zucker had relationships at the highest levels of sports, media and entertainment. Leaders throughout the sports business were prepared to have him be a key figure moving forward. I expected to see him at the upcoming NBA all-star game.

Zucker was involved in several high profile rights negotiations, including Turner Sports deals with MLB, the NHL, also around golf and the PGA Tour rights. So now Warner Media will have to replace Jeff Zucker at Turner Sports. But remember, Discovery is expected to take over Warner Media sometime in the spring. That will be led by David Zazlav, who is a big supporter of sports. So our John Ourand believes it's likely that the company will hold off before naming a sports replacement for Jeff Zucker. In the meantime, Turner Sports president, Lenny Daniels will continue to lead Turner Sports and Bleacher Report, but a big shakeup, a big change at Warner Media yesterday.

Now let's shift to the NFL. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said late last night, late Wednesday night, that the allegations made by Brian Flores were false, malicious and defamatory, and Ross promised to defend his personal integrity as well as that of the organization. Now, remember coach Brian Flores alleged that Stephen Ross offered him a hundred thousand dollars per loss during the 2019 season, really in an effort to tank the season and get a better draft pick. ESPN is reporting that the NFL will investigate allegations that Ross offered money to Flores to lose games. Meanwhile, this story has a long tail. Former Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson said team owner Jimmy Haslam tried to incentivize him and his coaches to lose during the first two years of Hue Jackson's leadership. That led to a one and 31 record during the 2016, 2017 seasons. Jackson said that bonus money was available if certain measurables were met such as having so many draft picks.

So overall this is a very terrible story for the NFL. It speaks to the integrity of the game. It will dominate conversation around the league at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. And I certainly believe Stephen Ross' ownership, leadership of the Miami Dolphins is in question about this issue. Now, I haven't heard any comment yet from the NFL Players Association. I would expect we would, because I would expect they would be very, very concerned about these allegations of possible tanking. But this story will be in the news for some time. And it's very, very important story facing Roger Goodell and fellow owners of the NFL.

The Winter Olympics start in just a few hours, and the International Olympic Committee met last night in Beijing, where IOC president Thomas Bach said that hosting the 2022 winter games in China will transform the entire global winter sports industry. Thomas Bach also stressed the unifying nature of the Olympic and the Paralympic Games, and he said they must exist outside of geopolitical issues saying the Olympic games must be politically neutral and not a tool to achieve political goals. I expect this issue and this narrative to be consistent over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee revealed that 150,000 thousand local spectators will be allowed inside that closed loop system. So it won't be all empty. They will fill about half of the available seating in the venues with the remainder being used by those already inside the Olympic bubble. That's athletes, that's select media, that's national organizing committee members.

So the bottom line here is the venues won't be entirely empty. There will be some fans, some spectators in the venues in Beijing, which is a good thing. Meanwhile, many US Olympic supporters and sponsors are not in Beijing, but the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and some of its sponsors will be gathering in Park City, Utah, which will be really as a hub or a headquarters for stakeholder activations during the winter games.

Now the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee is really taking over Park City. They're doing a number of watch parties. They're doing a number of speaker engagement, athlete appearances. So a lot of hospitality will be done in Park City, Utah. Our Chris Smith is on the ground and will be reporting from Park City over the next few days. And finally, we'll end around a story we talked about yesterday, the Commanders. And we know that sports fans are tough to please, but here's a major headline in today's Washington Post. Quote, "The Commanders name lands with a thud for some Washington fans." The lead of the story says that after 18 months and more than 40,000 submissions, Washington fans finally had a chance to sound off on the team's new name, the Commanders. And many fans quote, "Gave it a lukewarm welcome with a fair amount disliking the name for its militaristic sound and lack of creativity." End quote.

Abe Madkour:
The Washington Post also did a deep dive on how the team chose the name, like I said, reducing that initial list of 40,000 submissions down to 1200 submissions. And then down to three final submissions, each of which was put through an extensive vetting process before the final decision was made on Commanders. Now, Commanders were the top selling team overall across Fanatics yesterday. That's not really a prize, but the top four selling items, the top four selling products on Fanatics and NFL shop yesterday were all Commanders items. Number five, yes, a Tom Brady Jersey. Fans in 31 different countries bought Commanders products so far after the name was announced. Overall, I'm fine with it. It feels a little bit USFL, XFL-ish to me, but I'm good with the color schemes. I'm cool with the uniforms. The Commanders name will grow on me. What are your thoughts? Let me know about what you think of the Washington Commanders name.

And finally Axios reports today that a third party audit of the franchise of the Washington franchise states that the team has resolved many of its toxic workplace problems. A house oversight committee today will hold a fact finding hearing on the sexual harassment, intimidation, and other misconduct charges that came to light last year. But Axios is reporting that this third party audit tells a strong story or a very positive story about the changes that happened after team owner Dan Snyder stepped back from control of the team. Now this will really raise the question, will the league let Dan Snyder resume control of the team or will they keep the current structure where his wife Tanya Snyder has taken the lead? So a lot of news around the NFL franchise in Washington now named the Commanders.

And again, if you're going to be in Los Angeles for Super Bowl next week, let me know. I'll be there from Tuesday on. Love to see you and say hi. And that is your Morning Buzzcast for Thursday, February 3rd. I'm Abe Madkour. A lot of news this week in the sports business. Stay healthy. Be good to each other. I'll speak to you tomorrow.