Sights from St. Louis; A big day for MLS and the Rays; NWSL awards women-led group in Boston and the end of "WInning Time."
Sights from St. Louis; A big day for MLB and the Rays; NWSL awards women-led group in Boston and the end of "WInning Time."
We are in St. Louis for AXS Drive, presented by SBJ. We had a great opening reception at Rooftop 360 on Monday night that overlook Bush Stadium. You can look right down at the Cardinals game on Monday evening. Meanwhile, we are getting a sense of what a great soccer community this is as a record setting crowd of more than 9,000 were at City Park on Sunday night. Why is that important? That is the largest crowd to attend an MLS Next Pro game. They watched St. Louis City 2 defeat LA Galaxy 2 on Sunday. Of course, MLS Next Pro, the developmental league of Major League Soccer, more than 9,000 fans going to City Park. That is a league record for that league. We will go to City Park on Wednesday night and there's a lot of excitement there.
And this is your Morning Buzzcast for Tuesday, September 9th. Good morning, I'm Abe Madkour, coming to you live from St. Louis. And let's start with a very big day for Major League Baseball, which could see one of its more challenged franchises gain real stability as the Rays are expected to announce a deal to build a new ballpark in St. Petersburg. Here's what you need to know. The ballpark would be built near the current Tropicana Field site and it would be open for the 2028 season at the earliest. It will have a domed roof. It will seat around 30,000 fans. And here's what you really need to know. It'll cost an estimated $1.2 billion with contributions from the team, the city, and the county. The team will pay for more than half of the ballpark and the Rays are talking to investors to contribute to the $600 million or more in exchange for equity in the team. So they're going to the investment community to try to raise money to help fund this ballpark project.
So a few things stand out to me. One, the size. 30,000 will be among the smallest, if not the smallest ballparks in Major League Baseball. But it's the site location that has a lot of people surprised. Building near the current Trop will surprise some people because so many have said that was the problem in the first place, the site location. But the team, the city, must feel they have the best site or the best venue because they've certainly exhausted so many options in this region. Local columnist, John Romano, who has seen every iteration of this team's pursuit for a new ballpark, wrote that officials were also a bit worried after seeing the A's pending relocation to Las Vegas. And he wrote, quote, the Trop site is not ideal. The cost is high and the roof will not be movable. But this risky stadium plan in this imperfect location with this incredulous price tag should ensure the team remains here for generations to come, end quote.
And that perhaps is what finally drove local, county, city, and team officials to try to get where they are today, which will be announcing a planned $1.2 billion ballpark in St. Pete for the raise. Let's move on. The NWSL keeps growing and it has awarded an expansion franchise to a Boston ownership group led by all women that is set to spend more than a hundred million dollars, really to make this team work in one of the best sports markets in America. Today on Tuesday, there will be an event at Boston City Hall featuring NWSL Commissioner, Jessica Berman, and the new owners that will formally unveil an unnamed team, which will begin play in 2026. Remember, Bay Area and the Utah Royals will begin play in the NWSL next year in '24. Boston and a 16th team starting two years later in '26. Jennifer Epstein will serve as the controlling partner of the Boston Unity Soccer Partners.
That's the group that has paid a $53 million expansion fee to the league, and they will invest around that same amount on refurbishing a local stadium. It's called White Stadium. They will also build a separate training facility and they will also fund operational cost for the franchise. Now, Jennifer Epstein is the founder of Juno Equity that is a seed round investor in women-led companies. She is also the daughter of Celtics co-owner, Robert Epstein. So she comes from a sports background. Again, Bay Area and the Utah Royals will begin play in the NWSL next year. So Boston and a 16th team will start in 2026, but the NWSL keeps growing its footprint. Shifting over to the NHL. It's hard not to be impressed by the turnaround at the Florida Panthers, who we know made it to the Stanley Cup finals last year, but they've made big improvements on the business side.
I'm a huge fan of team President Matt Caldwell, who has such a great backstory and has shown real leadership in Florida. The Panthers take another step forward today in announcing that its home arena in Sunrise, Florida will be known as Amerant Bank Arena for at least the next five years under a new naming rights deal. Now, sources said the club will receive a mid-seven figure fee per year. That's a good number for a building that has a number of different names on it and is one of the older venues in the league. Amerant is currently a team partner as it has branding on the Panther's home and away helmets. But just think about this arena. It's been known as Florida Live Arena since 2021. It was also the BB&T Center. At one time it was the National Car Rental Center.
There were other names to this building, so getting a new name on this building for a secure five-year term is a big deal for the Panthers. The Panthers were consulted by WME Sports in finding a new naming rights partner. Yes, Amerant says it loves the branding, but it said what's key to their relationship with the Panthers as well as its sponsorship deal with the NBA's Miami Heat, is that these clubs use Amerant as their primary bank for business purposes. And that's the key with all these financial services relationships. They want you to do all of their banking with them. That's what makes this deal work for Amerant. But the Panthers signing a new long-term naming rights partner for their arena in Sunrise, Florida.
A few things to touch on first. This doesn't really bode well for any type of labor management relationship as the NFL on Monday filed a grievance against the NFLPA alleging that union leaders have advised running backs to consider exaggerating injuries to help increase their leverage in contract negotiations. Now, this grievance will be reviewed by an arbitrator. Now, this could be about the league trying to flex its muscle, but it's still not the best type of grievance you want in any relationship. It certainly will be a challenging first issue to contend with for new NFLPA executive director, Lloyd Howell, as such a grievance doesn't indicate that all is calm right now between the NFL and the PA at the start of this NFL season.
I was bummed that HBO canceled the series, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, after just two seasons. This was a surprise. I haven't finished season two, but I was enjoying season two. I know there were a ton of critics who lived during that era who hated this show, and those critics were definitely heard from and quite outspoken during season one. But this year seemed to have fewer critics of the show. There wasn't the outpouring of negativity around the portrayal of certain characters like Jerry West or others. But in addition to fewer critics, there were also much fewer viewers. As Deadline reported that season two of Winning Time was trending nearly 50% down in viewership compared to season one. Again, HBO pulling the plug on season two is a surprise because this show was supposed to be for many years and talked about the entire Laker dynasty. In fact, season two's going to end just during the mid-eighties during the Lakers, Celtics rivalry.
So again, a very sudden cancellation of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty on HBO. Let me know what you thought. Did you like the show? Did you watch it? And are you bummed it is being canceled by HBO? Let's end around some people in the news. I always try to look at who's sitting in the owner suites at NFL games because I think it's a good indicator of influence, importance, cultural relevance, and also some flat out maybe personal lobbying. Who knows? But Jerry Jones' suite is the place to be for the boldface names at AT&T Stadium. And here was one big boldface name. As FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, was at AT&T Stadium on Sunday to watch the Cowboys beat the Jets. He was a guest of Jerry Jones. Now remember, AT&T Stadium is under consideration as a host venue for the 2026 World Cup final. The Cowboys, they really want that game in Dallas, they want to host the final. And of course, hosting Infantino for a game certainly allows them to showcase that venue.
And on the executive transaction front, Arizona Coyote's Chief Business Officer, Nick Sakiewicz, has left the team and will return to his roots in soccer. He will become the new CEO of USL Championship Club, Hartford Athletic, while also focusing on the growth of Global Football Group. That's a consultancy he launched in 2015. The Coyotes plan on filling his role internally with existing staff. Nick Sakiewicz had a long career in soccer in MLS, then he went to the National Lacrosse League as commissioner for six years before joining the Coyotes. Also, Elevate is launching a search firm and a talent development vertical. This is smart. A lot of agencies do this and they are calling their group Elevate Talent and they have named Liz Moulten as Chief Talent and People Officer.
Moulten is well-known. She was a 2018 SBJ game changer. She'll report to CEO, Al Guido. She'll lead the formation of Elevate's new division and that will work externally with clients to fill roles. She'll also work internally. Elevate continues to grow. It has more than 200 employees. Liz Moulten joined Elevate from Activision Blizzard, but she's had stops at search firms like Spencer Stuart, Korn Ferry, and Russell Reynolds. Pretty well known in the business, Elevate, getting into the executive search and talent recruitment business. And finally, Russell Cleeve has been hired by the WTA as Chief Consumer and Digital Officer of WTA Ventures. That's the new commercial arm of the Women's Professional Tennis tour. Cleeve will start in November. He joins the WTA from Condé Nast, where he was most recently Vice President of Consumer Revenue in Europe. So a little different background for him coming into sports to the WTA. But that commercial venture, they have big hopes of really driving a lot of commercial revenue around women's tennis.
And I enjoyed two Monday night football games last night. I don't know how you felt. Look for more Monday night games on ABC this year as 10 games originally set to appear only on ESPN will be simulcast on ABC. The reason the additional games will be on over the air ABC is because of the Hollywood writer and talent strikes, which have delayed most of the fall season. So ABC will now fill open time with football. But please read last night's SBJ Media newsletter by John Ourand to understand why distributors are upset with the move by ABC. And so that is your Morning Buzzcast coming to you from St. Louis on Tuesday, September 19th. I'm Abe Madkour. Have a great day. Stay healthy, be good to each other. I'll speak to you tomorrow.