SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: January 19, 2023

Episode Summary

Big investment in youth baseball; Mariners make big hire with global sports roots; NBA takes equity stake in fan data platform StellarAlgo

Episode Transcription

Just a few days to submit your nomination for the 2023 Sports Business Awards. The deadline is this Monday, January 23rd. Submit your nomination at Also, SBJ is now on TikTok and coming to a "for you page" near you. Be sure to follow us at Sports Business Journal for all the latest news around the sports industry. And this is your morning Buzz Cast for Thursday, January 19th. Good morning, I'm Abe Madkour, hope you're doing well today. You mix the most popular team, perhaps in all of sports, with the greatest quarterback ever playing perhaps his final game. And what do you get?

If you are ESPN, you get viewership numbers that date back nearly 25 years. Yes, Cowboys, Bucs, on wild-card Monday finished with just over 31 million viewers across linear TV and streaming. And that marked the most watched NFL playoff game for ABC ESPN since Disney acquired the network before the 1996 season. That breakdown from SBJ's Austin Carp, only one non Super Bowl game in ABC history would have topped Cowboys, Bucs, and that would've been Joe Montana's final NFL game on New Year's Eve in 1994. So these are big historic numbers.

Cowboys, Bucs, is up 35% from Ram's Cardinals last year, which was the first Monday night wild-card game. So these are very good numbers for ESPN. They show strength for the NFL. Here was the breakdown in case you're interested. Almost 18 million viewers came from ABC. Almost 12 million viewers were on ESPN and almost 2 million viewers were on Manningcast on ESPN2. That was up 19% from last year's wild-card game. The peak audience was nearly 37 million viewers, which is just an unbelievable number for a wild-card game.

But even with those very strong numbers, NFL wild-card Weekend viewership overall was down 4% compared to last year, but up 19% compared to 2020, which was the first season of the expanded wild-card. But you see the strength of the Cowboys and Brady in the appeal to viewers. The bidding is early, but so far bids for the Washington Commanders reportedly have not hit the 7 billion figure that many speculated the team may receive. The Washington Post reported that several groups have submitted bids for the team to Bank of America, the bank handling the sale, but none reportedly reached the 7 billion mark that owner, Dan Snyder, reportedly is seeking for the team.

In addition, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is not in the mix yet for the commanders. There have been rumblings that Snyder would never sell to him because of his anger over the reporting of the Washington Post, which of course Bezos owns. And so we will see if Bezos eventually does make a bid, but we are seeing action speed up around upcoming team sales. But maybe for Dan Snyder, not at the figure he's expecting to see for his franchise. Let's move on.

We're seeing some interesting deals in growth areas of sports. One area that I hear a lot about and that people remain bullish on, is youth sports. It's still an area that's awaiting more organization and structure, but there are investments and two of the top investors in sports, with great track records, Josh Harris and David Blitzer, are putting more of their muscle behind Youth Baseball, becoming majority investors in the deal that will combine two of the leading youth baseball brands that combined last year to host more than 15,000 teams and 250,000 players. That combines the Ripken experience and the All-Star Village. So what is it?

The Ripkin experience, that's owned by Ripken Baseball. Operates leagues and teams in Maryland, South Carolina and Tennessee. The All-Star Village, which is near Cooperstown, hosts more than 10,000 players, ages 10 to 12 each summer in tournaments. So with this investment, Cal Ripken and Ripken experience and Ripkin Baseball and the All-Star Village hope to accelerate the growth of youth baseball tournaments and develop and build new facilities. So these are two organizations that compete in the same space, and now they're combined. The AP reported that Harris and Blitzer spent an unspecified sum out of the family office rather than out of Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, which of course owns the 76ers and the Devils. David Blitzer already is an investor in baseball. He's a minority owner with the Cleveland Guardians and does have a pathway, reportedly, to majority ownership in the future. So he's a fan of baseball.

Harris and Blitzer already were investors in Cooperstown's All-Star Village. They made an investment last year, so now they wanted to invest more and try to scale this enterprise and provide more opportunities for youth baseball. But this is a good shot in the arm for the development in youth sports. We've got some news on the NBA, so let's get right into it. First, the San Antonio Spurs are quietly embarking on one of the most ambitious real estate development projects in sports. And yesterday, it announced that Victory Capital Holdings will have naming rights for the team's new 500 million Northwest side campus in San Antonio.

So Victory Capital will have the naming rights for the new Performance center, while also being named the official investment partner of the Spurs. So the Victory Capital Performance Center will be the home of the future Spurs basketball operations. But overall, we are talking about a 45 acre campus that will include the Spurs facility, a research center, a public park, office, hospitality and medical space. The Plaza and the Spurs Building are expected to be finished this summer. Other venues will be open in future dates. They believe an estimated 1700 employees will work on this site when it's completed. Spurs Sports and Entertainment is contributing at least a hundred million dollars to this project. If you're not familiar, check it out. It is quite bold, quite ambitious, and quietly, like I said, one of the more interesting real estate development projects in sports.

NBA item number two. Last year I asked StellarAlgo CEO, Vince Arcadia, to be a judge for the Sports Business Awards, as I was impressed with him and what he was building. He's building a consumer data firm and cloud platform for the sports and entertainment industry and had a number of clients largely in the NBA world. Well, his hard work has paid off as the NBA is taking an equity stake in his Calgary based company as part of a multi-year partnership. All 30 NBA teams will now have access to this platform. It focuses on fan engagement. It will combine fan data from league and team sources, that's venue source, e-commerce, social media, and put it into one single view of the customer.

This is the latest deal announced by the NBA's investment arm, NBA equity. So one year after its formal launch, NBA equity has some 20 companies in its portfolio. So a very interesting diverse group of companies that NBA Equity is investing in. And now you can add StellarAlgo to that mix. And the NBA does tip off in Paris today as the Chicago Bulls play the Detroit Pistons. It's the Leagues second regular season game in Paris. There are a few reasons the NBA is bullish on France. Did you know there are more French players in the NBA than from any other nation outside of North America? I frankly did not.

Also, France is first among all European countries in merchandise sales, third in social media followers, and fourth in NBA League pass subscriptions, and that's up nearly 50% from last year. So you see why the NBA is bullish on its growth prospects in France, also leading up to the '24 summer games in Paris. And finally we'll end the Buzz Cast around people. Continue to keep your eye on the Seattle Mariners, a lot of interesting things happening with that franchise. And of course, the team will host baseball's All-Star game this summer. The Mariners made a very noteworthy hire yesterday in Christian Voigt is their new senior Vice President of Corporate Partnerships. Now Voigt will report to Mariner's President of Business Operations, Katie Griggs. She was a 40 under 40 honoree. She of course, has made a number of business moves at the club.

So why is the hire interesting? Well, Christian Voigt comes from WHOOP, where he was head of Strategic Partnerships. And before joining WHOOP in Boston, he spent several years at the International Olympic Committee's Television and Marketing Services division, working in Switzerland as its Vice President of Marketing Development. He worked on global deals with the IOCs Timo Lumme. I first knew him when he was at Puma. Puma's North American division where he handled sports marketing and sports licensing.

So Christian Voigt has a very diverse global background. He's worked with performance and fashion brands at Puma. He's worked for a global sports organization like the IOC, and then a pretty dynamic tech company like WHOOP. So this will mark his first time working for a traditional sports team. So it clearly shows the Mariners and Katie Griggs are looking for someone, or were looking for someone different. And so we'll see what type of new approach Christian Voigt will bring to the Mariners business, but certainly a hire worth keeping your eye on. And that is your morning Buzz Cast for Thursday, January 19th. I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening. Remember, get into your Sports Business Awards nomination. Remember, we're on TikTok and remember, be good to each other. Stay healthy. I'll speak to you tomorrow.