SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: January 5, 2023

Episode Summary

Henry/Werner step up to the plate; the U invests big in athletics; Rubin gets out of NFT space and a legendary sports architect passes away

Episode Transcription

Nominations for the 2023 Sports Business Awards will close on Monday, January 23rd. That's just under two weeks, hard to believe. The Sports Business Awards are the biggest honor in our industry. Nominees will be announced on March 13th and the Awards Gala will be May 24th in New York City. Submit your nominations today at It's a big night, we'd love you to be a part of it. And this is your Morning Buzzcast for Thursday, January 5th. Good morning, I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast. Well, did Red Sox owner John Henry hear the boos, and could he feel the fans' unrest in Boston and throughout New England? It was well documented that John Henry, not used to hearing boos, was not a very popular figure at Monday's Winter Classic at Fenway Park. And now, two days later, he took a major step at repairing the relationship with the local fans.

As Red Sox fans get tired of the team trying to compete with a mid-tier payroll, and fans believe they're trying to be more like the Rays than like the Yankees, John Henry finally stepped up after losing both Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. The Red Sox reportedly agreed to terms with Rafael Devers on an 11-year, $331 million contract. That is the richest and the longest contract in team history. And it finally shows after a few years that the Red Sox are willing to dole out the type of contracts and dollars that the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Mets and others have done over the past few off seasons. There have been a lot of questions about how will Fenway Sports Group balance its continued growth. Look at, they bought the Penguins. They're in talks apparently for a potential NBA team in Vegas. They've been rumored to be interested in the Commanders.

So there's this growth of the organization with also turning around the fortunes of the organization it's best known for, the Red Sox. So the leadership of John Henry and Tom Warner and Sam Kennedy has never been more criticized nationally and in the Boston media. And meanwhile, let's say that General Manager Chaim Bloom wasn't winning many most popular awards in New England these days, but this Devers signing will certainly calm the waters for now, and I found it a very interesting, aggressive move from the Red Sox and John Henry. Let's move on. Still no word from the NFL as it contemplates this weekend's schedule. I found it telling that NFL VP Troy Vincent said in a call with the media on Wednesday that the league will really look to the Buffalo Bills organization and coach Sean McDermott about the pulse of the team and when it will be ready to play again.

The Bills host the Patriots on Sunday in a game with playoff implications, and Vincent implied that all options remain on the table about possibly playing that game. The Bills were scheduled to conduct team meetings and a walkthrough on Wednesday. McDermott and Bills players did not speak to reporters. The league has emphasized to teams all this week that it has mental health resources available to players, coaches and staffers. Meanwhile, the Patriots, like many other teams, also postponing media availabilities on Wednesday despite Coach Bill Belichick scheduled to talk with reporters. Meanwhile, the Monday Night Football telecast in which Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest was the most watched in ESPN's history, averaging nearly 24 million viewers between that 8:30 PM-10:10 PM.

That figure surpassed the previous record set in 2009 for a Packers-Vikings game. These numbers are preliminary, they could change, but during the first quarter, ESPN averaged 21 million viewers. The audience grew to nearly 24 million viewers between 9:00 and 10:00 when ESPN of course was showing news coverage of Hamlin's collapse. So some interesting numbers to sort through, but it clearly shows that once people found out about the news on Damar Hamlin, they tuned in to learn more. Let's move on to college sports. We continue to see the aggressive development of major football operation complexes on college campuses.

One of the nicest facilities I've ever seen on a campus is at Northwestern. It is just a mecca, all things for all athletes, it's unbelievable. Well, new University of Miami Athletic Director Dan Radakovich wants to bring some of the energy around facilities that he developed at Clemson with him to his new campus. And the U now plans to build a new football operations center that will be more than 200,000 square feet. I mean, these are state of the art complexes. They are massive recruiting tools for coaches and players. It really gives a program everything, and I mean everything they need in one building. There's dining options. There's, of course, health and wellness options. There's academic options. There's, of course, competition options. The project at the U, it'll be seven stories high. It will connect to the current indoor practice facility. Like I said, it has a first floor full dining center to serve all student athletes.

It has a rooftop terrace with views of the campus and the Miami skyline. It has a digital media lab and a multipurpose gymnasium. Now, the cost of the project was not disclosed, but the U is expected to embark on a fundraising campaign for the project expected to exceed a hundred million dollars. Again, these are just incredibly compelling facilities that make it much easier on the student athlete, and you'll see more and more universities invest in such projects. I remember being at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March of 2022, just last year, and hearing Michael Rubin and Gary Vaynerchuk both talk about and both predict rough days and consolidation ahead and a slowdown in the NFT marketplace.

And now Michael Rubin is really showing that more clearly. He is exiting the space through his company Fanatics. Fanatics is divesting its 60% stake in the NFT company Candy Digital. Fanatics previously held a majority share of Candy Digital. Candy Digital was a very high profile success for much of 2021 and 2022, but we know the NFT market has changed dramatically. And while it's unclear what Fanatics received for its sale of its stake, Michael Rubin cited several factors for exiting the business and wrote in a company email it was "rather straightforward and easy decision for us to make for several reasons," i.e. the marketplace wasn't there.

And when Michael Rubin makes a decision to get out of a space like he did with NFTs, it's obvious he doesn't believe in it as much anymore, he isn't as bullish in it, and he's getting out. So a very interesting note that Fanatics divesting its majority stake in Candy, Digital. We continue to look at more and more sports programming and content being produced, and don't overlook Barstool Sports. Barstool CEO Erika Nardini told CNN that Barstool Sports will make a big bet on more reality programming in the coming year, as the company plans to double its investment in reality programming, which will star and feature many of Barstool's most popular personalities. So over the last year or so, Barstool launched three reality shows that have performed very well, and Nardini said their feedback and research shows that fans of Barstool like the reality programming format.

So they will create more shows, more content in 2023. And Barstool is also working to offer more live sports to its audience. Remember, they did the broadcast around the Arizona Bowl this year, and they felt very good about their audience numbers. They're also looking to broadcast the annual hockey game between the New York Police Department and the New York Fire Department. That will mark the first time that game has ever been streamed online. So Barstool Sports, continuing to explore new formats, new programming and more live sports programming to draw audiences. And finally, a sad note, the sports architecture world lost a legend as Ron Labinski, who was really seen as the world's first sports venue architect, passed away on New Year's Day on Sunday at the age of 86. His sports career began in 1970 when he designed Arrowhead Stadium. And many of you may not believe this, but Arrowhead Stadium had tremendous influence on the sports industry and the future architectural design of sports venues.

So Ron Labinski co-founded HOK Sport, which is now Populous, and they of course are behind every major sports venue around the world. And it really remains the first architecture firm focused solely on sports venue design. Many consider Ron Labinski to be the most important individual ever involved in the design of the modern sports facility. We profiled Ron Labinski in 2010. He was part of our initial class of Champions of Sports Business. I was proud of that selection. It's a great story if you want to go back and learn more about Ron Labinski, who died Sunday at the age of 86. And so that is your morning Buzzcast for Thursday, January 5th. I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast. Continue to spread the word on the Buzzcast. Until I speak to you tomorrow, stay healthy, be good to each other, and I'll chat with you on Friday.