SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: October 27, 2023

Episode Summary

MLB's World Series challenge; How Brian Roberts is betting on sports to make streaming investment pay off and conversations coast-to-coast on women's hoops

Episode Transcription

Friday is the last day to nominate your company for SBJ's Best Places to Work in Sports. We have had a great industry response, so be sure to nominate your organization, your company, to be part of this inaugural year.

Good morning. This is your Morning Buzzcast for Friday, October 27th. I'm Abe Madkour. The World Series starts tonight. Game 1, Diamondbacks at Rangers, like I said, Friday, 8:00 on Fox. Game 2 on Saturday, again, 8:00 on Fox. They are certainly new teams to the World Series. The franchises have combined for just three World Series appearances across 86 seasons of play before this year. The Rangers are seen as the favorites to win. They are the oldest MLB team to have never won a World Series. They were founded in 1961, and they own the second-longest title drought behind the Cleveland Guardians.

Meanwhile, on the other side, the Diamondbacks nearly missed the postseason. They entered as the final Wild Card team. Overall, the Rangers, D-backs combined for a 537 winning percentage during the regular season. That is an all-time low for teams meeting in the World Series. Frankly, I thought the Rangers would never make it after their free fall in August, but it should be noted, both the D-backs and the Rangers led their divisions as late as July. If you get a chance, read the Wall Street Journal's take about the lack of known stars in this World Series, but they did note that because the Rangers and Diamondbacks don't feature players seen as the top stars of the game, baseball can hope this World Series helps create new high-profile stars.

The journal also noted how this season and this World Series is a good example of the challenge it is for Major League Baseball to market and promote its best talent to a mainstream audience. As among the players with the top 10 selling jerseys this season, five of them didn't even play in the playoffs. We're talking about Ohtani, Trout, Judge, Tatis, Rodriguez, three other players, Betts, Acuña, and Matt Olson. They, yes, played in the playoffs, but they didn't even make it out of the divisional series. There was only one player in this World Series who ranked in the top 20 of jersey sales, and that's the Rangers' Corey Seager, who came in at number 14. So again, the main players, the main stars in baseball, not making it really to the postseason's grandest stage, and that certainly hinders baseball's ability to promote its best players, its best talent to a wide audience. But I thought that was a good read worth your time in today's Wall Street Journal.

One other nugget for game one on Friday night, former president George W. Bush, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Friday. Finally, do I think you're going to hear more and more people call for a change to baseball's postseason format and schedule during the offseason and before a new collective bargaining agreement based on this year's results? Yes, that would not surprise me one bit. I can see a lot of people saying baseball should expand playoffs, get more teams in, and maybe prevent some of the best teams from exiting so soon like they did this year. But bottom line, the two best teams, or at least the two hottest teams in the World Series, is starting tonight.

Let's move on. Here's more news about the focus on streaming networks. NBCUniversal's Peacock now has 28 million subscribers after adding 4 million during the last quarter. Now they've added 4 million. This comes as the company also said it narrowed its loss on its streaming operations to just over $560 million. Yes, I said that right. It narrowed its loss to $560 million. There are such still tremendous losses around streaming, and everybody wonders or asks me why, and I say the same answer, because these are long-term bets by these media companies.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said so much during an earnings call, and he said that live sports on Peacock, including its upcoming coverage of the Paris Olympics, was a key to the company's growing investment and focus on streaming. He said sports is the way NBCUniversal plans on engaging and retaining viewers. He admitted, a big part of their commitment and belief in streaming is that the company sees all sports shifting from linear to being more and more streamed in the future, and that's going to require bandwidth, new technology, infrastructure, and that's what NBCUniversal is investing in. That's why they're losing so much money. But he said, by making this financial commitment, it will allow Peacock to be a very sure-handed, strong product in the marketplace. So that is their strategy, and sports is the foundation of that long-term strategy. So I thought Brian Roberts encapsulated it quite well about why they are investing so many resources and so much money into Peacock.

Speaking of losses, let's shift to Manchester United. The organization reported a Premier League record of earning more than $780 million in revenue for the last financial year. Now that is up 11% compared to the previous year. Like I said, a record for top-line revenue $783 million. Yet the club still reported a loss of $50 million. So many people asked me yesterday, "How can an organization that brings in that much money lose that much money?" It speaks to the issues facing Manu.

While, yes, they sell tons of tickets, they sell tons of merchandise, and sponsorship, they didn't play in Champions League, so that meant lower broadcasting revenue, and they attributed the loss to a rising cost from inflation but also their investment in players on the pitch. But it also speaks to what many believe is a very inefficient and not an optimally run organization, and these latest financial figures from Manu come as British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is reportedly ready to buy a 25% stake of the club from the Glacier family, and there are many who believe that Radcliffe will make this organization eventually far more efficient, far more financially sound than the Glazers.

Now, it should be noted that the Glazers have had some financial success. In the previous financial results, Manchester United paid about a $40 million dividend, mostly to the Glazer family. This time, there was no dividend taken. But again, overall, Manu, incredibly successful. It varies year to year, quarter to quarter, but the bottom line is, many people believe this organization will be more efficiently run under new ownership.

I want to end with this. During a recent conversation in Las Vegas, I asked a young man who's incredibly well-versed in sports and the sports business what he was paying attention to. I thought he'd be talking about the F1 race in Vegas, his hometown, the A's potential relocation, or the Raiders or the Golden Knights. But all he wanted to talk about was women's basketball in particular, Caitlin Clark, and Angel Reese. He loves both players. I was intrigued and surprised by his focus on these two players, and as my friend, he pushed me. He believes that I'm underestimating the impact specifically Angel Reese is having on pop culture, from being referenced on Saturday Night Live to being part of SI Swimsuit Issue to being interviewed on some of the biggest cultural shows on radio and other areas of pop culture that she's really standing out in.

Finally, he said if any athlete could ever revive the Reebok brand, it would be Angel Reese, and of course, she has a new endorsement deal. His point was that I may be missing the fact that a young, diverse audience is strongly identifying with both Caitlyn Clark and Angel Reese. That view stuck with me, and that message continued at Game Changers. On the opening panel at Game Changers, CSM Sports and Entertainment Darius Naficy talked about the biggest story in sports business that's attracted his attention, and yes, it was the cultural relevance of both Angel Reese and Caitlyn Clark. Learfield president of sports Kim Damron said Caitlyn Clark and Angel Reese are driving business on college campuses, saying that single tickets are up 30% this year for women's basketball, and she attributed that largely to the popularity of both of these players.

So these points over a week-long trip across the country were affirmation to me of the impact these young women, Caitlyn Clark and Angel Reese, are having across sports, society, and pop culture. Their stories and actions are resonating clearly with younger, diverse audiences and shouldn't and can't be overlooked. So bottom line, I'm closely watching how their influence grows this season and beyond, and I would suggest you do as well.

That is your Morning Buzzcast for Friday, October 27th. I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast. Stay healthy, be good to each other. I'll speak to you on Monday.