SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: November 16, 2023

Episode Summary

MLB Owners to vote on the future of the Oakland A's today; NWSL expansion teams Bay FC & Utah Royals add first players to roster; Boston's plans for their expansion teams in the NWSL and the PLL.

Episode Transcription

Good morning on this Thursday, November 16th. I'm SBJ senior writer Joe Lemire, filling in for a Madkour. We start the news day in Sin City, which is rapidly becoming one of North America's most important sports towns. Las Vegas will soon host a long-awaited sports franchise. Oh, sure. The much-ballyhooed Formula 1 race is this weekend. But I'm referring to Major League Baseball's Athletics, who currently have an Oakland address but previously resided in Philadelphia and Kansas City and soon will need to leave a forwarding address.

What has been discussed for a while may finally come to a close today. On the agenda at the owners' meeting in Arlington, Texas, this week is the formal vote of relocation. The A's need 75%, 23 of 30 possible votes for approval, a move that is widely expected to pass. The Athletics are set to play 2024 in Oakland, which is the final year of its current lease at the Coliseum. But the proposed new ballpark in Las Vegas isn't projected to open until at least 2027 and probably not until 2028. It'll have a retractable roof. It'd be situated near the Raiders' Allegiant Stadium. The state legislature has already approved some public funding.

A's team President, Dave Kaval, has previously said that the three most likely options for the intervening years are to extend the lease in Oakland, negotiate an arrangement of the San Francisco Giants to play at Oracle Park, or head to Nevada early to play at Las Vegas Ballpark home to their AAA affiliate. It's also possible for choice D, which is none of the above, or choice E, some combination of the above.

A San Francisco Chronicle story this week indicated that it's unlikely that the Giants would acquiesce to a full 81-game home schedule for the A's at their park, but perhaps a split slate could work. Such a timeshare is not unprecedented, of course. The Expos previously held a timeshare between Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico, before their full move to Washington DC to become the Nationals in 2005. That was the last MLB franchise to relocate.

The race flirted with a similar split home idea spanning St. Petersburg, Florida, and Montreal, in Quebec, Canada, a few years back, but that did not come to fruition. A major consideration for the A's is that the Regional Sports Network contract in the Bay Area pays them almost 60 million annually. That's significant for any club, but doubly so for the A's, whose attendance has been woefully hovering around 10,000 tickets sold per game, way below league average.

One club that won't be moving anytime soon, the Milwaukee Brewers, who received a pledge of about $350 million in state funding following a vote in the Wisconsin legislature this week. The city and county of Milwaukee will spend 135 million, and the Brewers will spend $110 million, all of which will go toward renovations at American Family Field to keep the club in town until at least 2050.

Sticking with baseball for a moment, the pitch clock could receive an off-season tweak. The time limit with runners on base was 20 seconds this past season, but seems likely to get trimmed down to 18. The 15-second clock for throwing a pitch with bases empty will remain the same. News of this proposal was first reported by ESN and was confirmed by a source to me. This idea was shared with MLB's competition committee and also includes a reduction of mound visits from five per game to four.

I've shared the data on this podcast before, but the pitch clock was an overwhelming success for MLB this past season, with time-of-game shaved by an average of 24 minutes. Overall, game time went down to two hours and 40 minutes. Game times did creep up a bit as the season went on. The impact of these suggested changes may be minimal. Only 14% of pitch clock violations occurred with runners on base. With runners on, pitchers initiated their deliveries with an average of 7.3 seconds left on the clock, meaning that two-second trimming probably won't amount to much.

Big league teams use that fifth mound visit only 2% of the time. In other words, one in 50 games. One other quick note while we're talking pitching, the Baseball Writers' Association of America named the AL and NL Cy Young Award winners last night. Padres starter Blake Snell won in the National League to become only the seventh pitcher to win the award in both leagues, joining an illustrious list including Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Max Scherzer, Gaylord Perry, and Roy Halladay.

In the American League, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole won his first Cy Young, which he did unanimously. My interview with him last summer ranks as one of the most interesting sports science conversations I've had in recent memory. Cole is a cerebral thinker who has tracked his biometrics with a wearable, analyzed his biomechanics, tested his blood for food sensitivity, and studied his pitch tracking data. He hasn't left any stone unturned. That was part of SBJ Tech's Weekly Athletes Voice Series. If I may indulge in a quick plug, Monday's edition will be a Q&A with Michael Johnson, who won a dozen gold medals in the Olympics and World Championships and is the only man to win the 200 and 400 meters in the same Olympiad, which he did at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The two NWSL expansion teams starting play next year, Bay Area FC and the Utah Royals, no longer have empty rosters, as each added the first players to their teams. Both of those players have local ties. Bay FC traded for defensive midfielder Alex Loera, who was captain of the Santa Clara NCAA National Championship side in 2020. The Royals, meanwhile, traded for midfielder Mikayla Cluff, a former BYU star now returning to Utah. Boston will join the NWSL in 2026 alongside an as-yet undetermined 16th Club. Inner Circle Sports is leading that process.

Speaking of Boston, I had the pleasure of hosting a panel last week there on behalf of our sister publication, Boston Business Journal, with proceeds benefiting the charitable foundation to be named later. Jennifer Epstein, the lead owner of the NWSL expansion group, Boston Unity Soccer Partners, was on the deus and shared plans for renovations of White Stadium in Boston's Franklin Park. It seems like a great project they're building there.

Boston will receive a new franchise in a different sport even sooner. This week, the Premier Lacrosse League named the eight home markets for its clubs as it shifts into a franchise model. The Boston Cannons will be revived and will be joined by the California Redwoods, Carolina Chaos, Denver Outlaws, Maryland Whipsnakes, New York Atlas, Philadelphia Waterdogs, and Utah Archers.

The Boston Globe reported that Gillette Stadium, the home of the NFL's Patriots, has not been ruled out as a possible venue for PLL games. The Kraft family, which, of course, owns the Pats and the stadium, are investors in the PLL. As a personal benchmark, this shows the vast growth of the sport and the league.

I attended a home game back in 2005 of an earlier incarnation of the Boston Cannons in a previous Lacrosse League. At the time, they played an average-quality high school football stadium in my hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, which is about 45 minutes from Boston and nowhere near Gillette Stadium.

Personal sentiment aside, the Philadelphia Inquirer had a nice rundown of the criteria for the home markets, which included "viewership data, venue fit, youth college interest in lacrosse, fan input online, other pro teams in that market, and pro lacrosse performance in other leagues in that area."

Yesterday evening's SBJ Tech newsletter had a nice roundup of insights from those recently named power players in the field of fan experience technology. Our own Ethan Joyce polled the honorees on a few questions. One theme that stood out, no surprise, was artificial intelligence. Jeff Geels, the NBA senior vice president and head of direct-to-consumer, said, "With some of the developments I've seen in generative AI, it's possible to imagine a totally unique game commentary created for every viewer based on their preferences. It's fascinating to imagine what the consumption experience will look like as we move towards scalable bespoke content for every fan."

Then, Infinite Athlete CEO Charlie Ebersol added a shift in how AI is being perceived, noting, "For the past year, the vast majority of the population's interaction with AI has been as a fascination. But slowly, we are seeing clients and partners looking to AI as a tool." Lots of interesting thoughts in the newsletter, and I encourage you all to check out the rest.

Warriors forward Draymond Green was reprimanded with a five-game suspension for escalating an encore altercation recently by grabbing Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert around the neck. Gobert, Klay Thompson, and Jaden McDaniels were all ejected and will pay fines for their roles. But for Green, this is his fifth career suspension, including a playoff game last season after he stomped on the chest of King center Domantas Sabonis and in 2016, when he was banned for NBA finals Game 5.

Lastly, today, Brian Cashman is out on the street. Of course, he's still very much employed as Yankees GM. But he will be participating in the Covenant House Sleep Out, in which participants sleep outside for a night to generate support for Covenant House and its mission to aid young people facing homelessness. This is the 13th straight year Cashman has joined the Sleep Out. This year, it'll be in Times Square for the first time.

As Abe always says, let's be good to each other. I'll be back in your stereos and earbuds with the news again tomorrow. Have a great day.