SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: September 1, 2023

Episode Summary

Crowds swell at U.S. Open; IOC set to name new sports; and ownership intrigue in the nation's capital

Episode Transcription

Abe Madkour:

This is a special Labor Day Weekend Buzzcast on Friday, September 1st. Good morning. I'm Abe Madkour. If you are going out to the US Open this weekend, the weather looks great and the early forecast has some big attendance numbers on the horizon. This week, the grounds were packed each and every day, and the Open continues to break single session and daily attendance records. On Wednesday, the tournament had more than 73,000 in a single day attendance for the first time in event history. And there was a record gate Monday, the opening day of the event, of nearly 73,000. Now that's day session and night combined. The first three days of the open produced the two highest attended days in the event's history. And I was out there on Thursday and they were speculating they may have hit another record on that day as well. So the appeal of the event just continues to grow and grow and you just wonder how many more people they can get on the grounds at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, but an incredibly impressive start to this year's US Open.

Last night, going back to my hotel room after dinner I was looking forward to watching some more tennis and noticed that ESPN was out of service and saw the onscreen notice that ESPN is among a number of Disney channels that have gone dark on Charter Spectrum Cable Systems, which is the main provider here in New York City. The channels went off the air Thursday night because of a carriage dispute. Charter Spectrum is the nation's second-largest cable TV provider, so this is a big deal. The channels went dark while ESPN was carrying the college football game between Florida and Utah. ESPN2 was showing the US Open tennis tournament and it was featuring top ranked Carlos Alcaraz. Now this will get resolved and hopefully quickly, but it's a pretty wide blackout as Charter Spectrum has nearly 15 million subscribers. It's the major carrier in New York and LA, as well as Dallas, Orlando, Tampa, my home city of Charlotte, Cleveland and Milwaukee and Las Vegas among others. So some major markets fans at ESPN will certainly let Charter Spectrum know their displeasure if they can't get their sports over this weekend, and especially going into the NFL season. So watch that dispute pretty carefully.

One conversation at the US Open yesterday I had revolved around new Olympic sports and how that can be a huge driver for appeal and popularity. And the IOC is scheduled to reveal which new sports will be added to the '28 LA Games next week. The nine sports seeking inclusion are, flag football, karate, kickboxing, baseball/softball, lacrosse, break dancing, squash, motor sport, and cricket. Any sport that gets the okay will only be approved for one addition of the games, but of course, they hope to stay long-term in the game cycle. Of course, everybody's watching flag football, the NFL is pushing hard for flag football. The NFL firmly believes any inclusion in the Olympics will jumpstart participation in that sport.

We talk about the Washington Commanders quite a bit on the Buzzcast. Yesterday they announced a $40 million investment in FedEx Field. That facility opened in 1997. I think many would agree improvements are certainly needed. The renovations will impact stadium infrastructure. They'll renovate suites and they will update all the brand imagery around the facility. Of course, this is one of the first major developments under new owner Josh Harris, who of course pledged to improve the fan experience after buying the team for a record $6 billion. So Josh Harris and the Commanders announcing a $40 million investment in FedEx Field.

Meanwhile, Commanders President Jason Wright, he said on a local radio show, the team will not be switching its name back to the Redskins. He said that is not being considered at all. But he wouldn't speculate if the Commanders will keep their current name or if they'll switch to something different under Josh Harris's new ownership. I will say we are witnessing an intriguing new landscape around sports team ownership in the Washington DC market as Harris's arrival will reinvigorate the Commanders and football in the region while causing others in the market to step up their game, no doubt. When I lived in Washington DC in the early '90s, it was so eyeopening to see how a football team could dominate the conversation and attention of the marketplace. It was all football and all about Jack Kent Cooke's football team.

Now, the sports power pendulums shifted when fans and partners fled Dan Snyder and Ted Leonsis and his Monumental Sports and Entertainment, clearly benefited from representing the opposite of such dysfunction of the Snyder ownership era. Now, Ted Leonsis and his organization were obviously and always seen as friends of the Washington DC market. They were seen as civic leaders bringing new approaches to team ownership. Now, the Lerner family entered with the Nationals in 2006 in Washington, and while they captured a strong share of the market, they won a World Series, the interest in the franchise, the Nationals, has slipped a little bit. But Josh Harris coming into this market totally changes the dynamic. He's a local product who bought his childhood team and brought sizzle to his ownership group with Magic Johnson. Now, corporate brands, partners and fans who refuse to do business with Dan Snyder will now have a more compelling option with Josh Harris leading the Commanders.

And Monumental Sports and the Nationals, now their pitch book to potential partners now changes. They used to love to showcase their values and their offerings compared to their football neighbor under Dan Snyder's ownership, but that certainly has now changed because brands and fans love the NFL and the NFL, I believe, will do all it can to make the Commanders under Josh Harris an unqualified success. So basically, things have changed quickly in the nation's Capitol, and we haven't even mentioned team performance. Somehow if the Commanders turn it around on the field, that will push the Wizards and the Capitals, two teams that failed to make the playoffs, to move very aggressively to maintain their ticket and corporate base. So there's power, there's influence, and there's personalities at play here all in a city, Washington DC, that feasts off these elements.

Josh Harris will have a long honeymoon with the Commanders. Ted Leonsis has been one of the most captivating owners of the last 25 years. He has built an impressive, innovative operation that has significant influence in the region, but he and his leadership team at Monumental Sports would admit the market has shifted, the competition is now tougher and they will have to work like never before.

And finally, a shout-out to a legend Gil Brandt. Don't underestimate the influence that Dallas Cowboys' original director of scouting had on the game of football and on the NFL and on sports. He helped create America's team. He helped make the Cowboys one of the biggest brands in global sports. He revolutionized scouting, and many of his techniques are still used today. He was always so gracious and kind upon every meeting. He had great, great respect across the NFL. The NFL and sports will tip a hat to Gil Brandt, who has passed away at the age of 91.

And that is your morning Buzzcast a special morning Buzzcast on Friday, September 1st. Have a great Labor Day weekend. We will come back at you on Tuesday. Until I speak to you again, stay healthy, be good to each other. Have a great Labor Day weekend.