SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: July 26, 2023

Episode Summary

The tenure of the late Rocky Wirtz with the Blackhawks; The Women's World Cup breaks ticket sales' record, Fanatics announces a new app and Jimmy Haslam affirms Browns' commitment to Cleveland's lakefront.

Episode Transcription

Today on SBJ Live, we'll be looking at five years post-PASPA, the state of US sports betting. We'll have SBJ's Bill King leading a session with the PGA TOURS, Scott Warfield, VIG SPORTS CEO, Eric Foote, and sports betting analyst, Chris Grove. That's today, Wednesday, July 26 at 12:30 Eastern time. Go to to learn more and sign up.

And this is your Morning Buzzcast for Wednesday, July 26th. Good morning, I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzz Cast. Well, the city of Chicago is mourning the sudden passing of Rocky Wirtz who oversaw the massive revival of the Chicago Blackhawks from a laughing stock into one of the top clubs in all of sports. Rocky Wirtz died Tuesday at the age of 70. He was such an amazing turnaround owner and it should never be overlooked. What he did in that original six market, he took over the team after his father, Bill Wirtz died in September of 2007.

Many thought that his brother Peter would run the team, but Peter stepped down, Rocky took over a team that really was a mess. It was losing a tremendous amount of money. It was poorly run bad on the ice, not even on local TV, not even on local radio. But Rocky Wirtz quickly moved and changed things. He hired John McDonough away from the Chicago Cubs to become president. Rocky Wirtz also decided to immediately get Hawks' games on local television and radio. They started marketing in the local community. They brought back many of the former famous players and they started to turn things around. They drafted well, they got a number of young players. They started winning.

It was really amazing to watch. And soon the Blackhawks were playing two constant sellouts and became one of the most talked about stories in sports, and they won three Stanley Cups. And just think of this, all of that happened since 2007. It's really amazing. Rocky Wirtz was incredibly well-liked. He was easy to be around, and many believe, I believe he clearly saved this franchise. And while the status of the future ownership of the franchise isn't crystal clear at this time, I'm sure the team remain in the family. It has been run day to day by Rocky's son, Danny Wirtz, and I'm sure we will have more on the Blackhawks in the days and weeks ahead.

But don't forget for one minute the impact that Rocky Wirtz had on the NHL, on the Chicago Blackhawks, and on the city of Chicago. Let's move on a lot of soccer today. In his second game, Lionel Messi scored two goals and also had an assist in a 4-0 win over Atlanta United as he was in Inter Miami, starting lineup Tuesday night in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a pretty impressive start since he joined MLS. But the athletic did report that a kickoff of Tuesday night's game empty seats were visible at the stadium. And the match reportedly had tickets available right up until game time. So we'll continue to watch the Messi Effect on attendance. But so far, certainly on the pitch, he is delivering. The US Women's National Team plays the Netherlands tonight, Wednesday night in primetime 9:00 PM on Fox, and look for the US women's team to have some strong American support.

The Wall Street Journal noted that the number of Americans attending the Women's World Cup dwarfs the number from any other visiting nation by about 10 to one. The Wall Street Journal also added that only one country at this tournament "has a significant fan base traveling with it, the US." There were reportedly a hundred thousand tickets sold to US based fans, and the total tickets sold to any other individual country was barely over 10,000. So you see the overwhelming US support on the ground in Australia and New Zealand for the US Women's National team.

Overall, ticket sales to the Women's World Cup have set a new record. They've surpassed the 1.5 million target that was set four years ago in France. So this will become the most attended Women's World Cup in history. So far, FIFA has to be pleased with the numbers. More tickets have been sold in Australia than New Zealand. Yes, there are more teams. The event expanded from 24 to 32 teams, but regardless of the number of teams and games, the average crowd is more than 30,000 fans per game. That's through 12 games. That number is up 72% from the average of just over 21,000 fans four years ago. So right now, the average attendance through the first 12 games of the Women's World Cup up a very healthy 72% from the previous Women's World Cup in France.

Let's move on to some non-soccer news: Fanatics Betting & Gaming. Yes, we've talked a lot about them on the Buzzcast really over the years. But now you see this company starting to take more and more steps into the sports betting space. They will now open a retail sports book with the Columbus Blue Jackets close to or adjacent to Nationwide Arena. It will open at the end of August, and this new retail sports betting establishment will be the second in the Columbus area. Now, Fanatics Betting & Gaming is licensed to operate in Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Tennessee. So we're starting to see this round out a little bit more.

Fanatics previously opened a retail location at FedEx Field in Landover, and Fanatics also has the right to open another location at Progressive Field in Cleveland. So you see them starting to put their flag down in certain markets. And I also found this interesting as Fanatics has launched a livestream commerce business called Fanatics Live this week. It's an app available on Apple devices in North America, and it's designed to increase sales by allowing people to buy, to shop, to trade, and they interact with content that is exclusive to the app.

So at launch, the app will focus on trading cards. There'll be merchandise, there'll be collectibles. And this all starts to align with Michael Rubin's vision of a dedicated Fanatics app where fans can interact with all the various businesses of Fanatics. Could be shopping, could be collectibles, could be betting, could be trading cards. I mean, there's a long way to go, but you see this starting to take shape.

Got some NFL News, of course, as training camps start. If you work for an NFL team, don't expect to get any equity in the franchise anytime soon. SBJ's Ben Fischer reported that NFL owners voted to prohibit non-family employees from taking equity in teams. They cited six potential problems with those arrangements that they don't want to encounter. So with such high valuations of NFL teams, there has been some discussion whether key employees, it could be a head coach, could be a team president, could be a quarterback, should be able to participate in equity in the franchise's valuation growth.

But that is not going to happen. Most of the reasons cited by the League for the ban focused on what might go wrong with equity shares if an employee leaves. So what happens if that head coach leaves? What happens if that team president leaves? The NFL noted that nearly two thirds of the NFL has seen senior-level turnover in the last three years. So with such turnover, they are very reluctant and now will ban or prevent any team employee, non-family member from taking any or getting any equity stake in a franchise.

I found it interesting that in a press conference on Tuesday, Browns owner, Jimmy Haslam, was steadfast in committing to keeping the Browns in northeast Ohio. He said forcefully that he and his wife Dee, are not leaving Northeastern Ohio. Now if this strong statement comes as a surprise to you, remember it's with the backdrop of the team looking for a renovated or new stadium. And obviously, that's the context here. Jimmy Haslam said the team would prefer to remain on Cleveland's Lakefront, but he acknowledged that they have to see how talks with the city go and how things play out. Now, I don't think there's a chance the Browns leave, but Haslam clearly believes that the Lakefront is the best spot for a new or renovated facility and wants a stadium to be part of any future development plans on that Lakefront area. So no red flags here, but certainly a developing story on the future of the Cleveland Browns that is worth keeping our eye on.

And yes, I'm following all of the NFL teams, unveiling their throwback uniforms, their alternative uniforms, their different helmets. I want to know what's been your favorite. I will say at SBJ, yesterday, the Broncos new alternate all-white helmet got a lot of notice, got some love, got some detractors. It's the first time that this white helmet has been used in team history. It brings back the old school Denver D logo, which I remember so well growing up, that first appeared in the 1960s. The team ended that logo in 1996. So check out that new Broncos white helmet, which the team will wear for two games this upcoming season.

And finally, one of the sharpest minds in ticketing is leaving as Buccaneers's Chief Ticketing Officer Ben Milsom is leaving the team after 14 years. He'll leave the team officially on August 18th. He says he's decided to pursue new opportunities. He'll have plenty as he has more than 20 years experience in team ticket sales. Milsom did not identify his next step, but he said he's decided to pursue new opportunities, and he will certainly get them. He's worked for the Kings at the MBA. He's worked for the Indiana Pacers. He's worked for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He started with the Buccaneers as director of sales in 2009. He was named SBJ's 40 Under 40 list in 2018. And again, one of the most respected and best minds in sports ticket sales, Ben Milsom leaving the Buccaneers after 14 years.

And that is your morning Buzz cast for Wednesday, July 26. I made Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast. Stay healthy, be good to each other. I'll speak to you tomorrow.