SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: January 4, 2024

Episode Summary

NWSL valuations keep going up; TKO Group unveils combined commercial offering; A-B shifts its focus to sports

Episode Transcription

Well, thank you to all who sent in your personal goals for 2024, a few consistent themes, good health, happiness, sleep, and giving back. Love to hear more from you. Let me know what you're doing in '24. This is your morning Buzzcast for Thursday, January 4th. I'm Abe Madkour, thanks for listening to the Buzzcast. Another record deal for an NWSL franchise, as Portland Thorns owner, Merritt Paulson has sold the team to the Bhathal family for a league record price of sixty-three million dollars, sixty-three million dollars for the NWSL Portland Thorns. Now, the Bhathal family's other sports holdings include a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings. Lisa Bhathal Merage will become the club's primary governor. Her brother, Alex Bhathal, will serve as the alternate governor. The Thorns will continue to play home games at Providence Park through 2035 under a new lease agreement as part of the sale. The family has also committed to building a new training facility for the Thorns.

Now, the sale includes a one-year agreement that will see the Timbers, the MLS team continue to support the Thorns business operations while they transition into a standalone club. Remember, Merritt Paulson owned both the Thorns and the Timbers. He is selling the Thorns. This is a strong club with a great following. The Thorns have been the NWSL's most successful franchise since the league started in 2013. They've won three titles and they're consistently among the top attendance draws in the league. But the sixty-three million dollars sale price for the Thorns, to me, a stunner almost 20% higher than the fifty-three million dollars expansion fees paid by the owners of the incoming franchises in San Francisco and Boston. It's also nearly 80% higher than the previous record sale price for an existing franchise. When we talked about it on the Buzzcast, Laura Ricketts paid up to thirty-five million dollars for the Chicago Red Stars.

What does this all mean? Well, it means the NWSL has great interest and the league is in the process of identifying new expansion markets, and the valuations continue to grow quite significantly and quickly. It shows that there is a market of interested buyers in this league. Let's move on. SBJ's Terry Lefton with a very interesting story that the merger of the UFC and WWE under Endeavor's ownership is now complete commercially, which means there'll be a unified TKO group in the market with a combined sales offering that will include both WWE and UFC assets. That's a new commercial proposition. Remember, Endeavor acquired the UFC in 2016. They acquired the WWE last April. They combined the two properties under TKO Group. Now, former UFC sponsorship head Grant Norris-Jones has been named to lead this group. He will be executive vice president, head of global partnerships for this new combined sales unit.

They'll have around 75 employees, including they'll look to make more than a dozen new hires. If you're out there looking and you have sales chops, check that opportunity out. The group will have headquarters in Las Vegas where the UFC is headquartered, and in Stanford, Connecticut, where of course, the WWE is headquartered. But here's what's interesting, look for this combined offering of UFC and WWE to compete commercially for sponsorships against the largest sports properties. We're talking NFL, FIFA, IOC, NBA, because they'll be in the market. They'll tout their global reach, they will tout their calendar, they will tout their specific demos, namely that young male demographic that is always hard to reach, so let's watch what brands will sign on for these combined assets because the WWE and the UFC are of course different in their presentation. One's scripted one's unscripted, but they will tout reach and demographics to corporate brands around the world, and we'll have to see how commercially successful they are.

I have found it interesting to watch how Anheuser-Busch continues to refocus its strategy around sports after a 2023, where, let's face it, the brand faced a lot of controversy over marketing and saw declining sales, most notably a Bud Light, but a lot of other Anheuser-Busch brands. We saw one of the most recent big deals was Anheuser-Busch doing a massive deal with the UFC, making the brand one of its biggest partners of the Mixed Martial Arts series. Well, now, Anheuser-Busch is doing another significant deal with another property of Endeavor's. Yes, Anheuser-Busch's Michelob Ultra will become one of the biggest partners for the PBR as Michelob Ultra has a deal that will span across all the various PBR tours and series. SBJ's David Broughton noted that the PBR did not even have a beer sponsor last season, so this is a new deal.

Anheuser-Busch was a longtime partner of the PBR from 1993 to 2002. Now, it's back. It seems that with this deal and the UFC deal, Anheuser-Busch is really trying to reach that certain loyal drinker of Budweiser and Budweiser products that may have been in jeopardy during last year's controversy. Anheuser-Busch and the PBR will celebrate the deal Friday morning as they open the New York Stock Exchange. Remember, the PBR is at Madison Square Garden, their 17th visit for a three-day event this weekend in New York City, and that's why they're touting this big new deal with Anheuser-Busch.

Back in the office yesterday, talking with colleagues who were all predicting a lot of big things from the University of Washington on Monday night. That surprised me, because I almost wonder if it's Michigan's year, but let's just say there was a lot of enthusiasm from Husky Nation as the University of Washington quickly sold out its allotment of 20,000 tickets for the CFP national title game Monday night in Houston. Yes, while a number of people have subtly asked me for tickets, I have told them the market is tight and the prices are high, and that's reflective. We were seeing prices as high as $900 just to get in for Monday night's game in the upper levels. We'll continue to watch how the market responds before Monday's game.

Finally, a shout out to my friend Brian Gaynor, who many of you know in sports business. I first met Brian when he was at GMR, where he spent eight years before another eight years with Dan Migala and team at Forefront. Remember, Forefront was acquired by Legends about a year ago. Now, Brian Gaynor is putting out his own shingle as Gaynor Sports based in Jacksonville. His consultancy will specialize in revenue strategy for properties around ticketing, sponsorship, and international growth. So good luck to my friend Brian Gaynor as he launches Gaynor Sports. That is your Morning Buzzcast for Thursday, January 4th. I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast. Stay healthy, be good to each other. I'll speak to you tomorrow.