Forum: As fall approaches, end-of-summer storylines

Here’s what got my attention in the waning days of summer:

The upheaval around college sports has dominated our coverage. The last few months have had a profound and unfortunate impact on the relationships at the highest level of college sports. So many conversations I’ve had with college leaders are laced with bitterness, disappointment and at times anger. The wounds may heal, but don’t overlook this factor as college sports navigates through one of the most unsettling times in its history. … I don’t envy the members of the NCAA Constitution Committee charged with providing a plan to restructure college sports and its governance model. One commissioner, for example, is looking for guidance from the NCAA. “What’s the vision for the endgame here? We’re seeking that clarity,” the SEC’s Greg Sankey told SBJ. “Taking an NCAA constitution and saying it’s going to change, that’s a pretty blunt statement. We need some clarity at the national level about real expectations.” Collegiate leaders hope the national dialogue results in more decision-making ability on campus and a less bureaucratic structure. … New Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff has been a quick study and said all the right things in his first two months. Everyone I’ve spoken with is impressed with his command of the issues and public messaging. It’s a long road, but we know how important first impressions are.

Michelob Ultra’s public commitment of $100 million over the next five years to amplify women’s sports is a long overdue and commendable action plan by a corporate brand. How long have we all wondered, “When will corporate America step up to support women’s sports?” Well, here’s one, so let’s celebrate it. Michelob Ultra is popular among female beer drinkers, so there is a strategic fit for the brand to promote more female athletes in advertising and spend more around women’s sports. It’s a great press release; now let’s keep an eye on the efforts and see if others follow.

There was no way the NHL would just carbon copy the NBA’s jersey patch program, and its plan has some interesting wrinkles to it. The NHL patch, at 3 by 3.5 inches, is bigger than the NBA’s 2.5-square-inch patch, and that’s not by accident. “You’d almost be amazed at how often decision-makers from the brand side are almost pulling up visuals during the [NBA sales] pitch of patches and saying, ‘Well, can I really see it?’” said Navigate President Jeff Nelson. “That’s something NBA teams have had to really overcome. So that, from the get-go, should help the NHL.” The other differentiator is the ability to sell home and away sweaters, which offers a unique sales proposition for clubs — more local and regional brands could opt for the more costly home sweater, while a more national brand may want exposure in more markets. “The jersey travels,” Nelson said. “To be on the sweater in all of the away markets while still getting home viewership, but also at a lower price point, there’s a lot of appeal there.” Excel’s Jason Miller predicted interest from crypto and sports betting brands, which can only be on home sweaters where betting is legal in that state. “My gut tells me that the average for this asset will be in the $3 [million]-$4 million range [across the league],” Miller said on “SBJ Spotlight.”

I took away a lot from Nike CEO John Donahoe’s recent “My Monday Morning” interview in the Wall Street Journal. He’s kept a low profile because of COVID since he joined Nike in January 2020, and that’s what makes this interview required reading for anyone in the business and in business with Nike. He comes across as one of the most cerebral CEOs in recalling a 10-day, silent Buddhist retreat where he trained his brain: “Your brain becomes more negative over time because negative experiences stick in our brains. So you can counteract that by being more conscious of things you’re appreciative of, of the good things in your life. And so I just think, What am I grateful for in the broad sense of my life? What am I grateful for in the previous day? What am I looking forward to that I’m going to enjoy in the coming day? It’s a good exercise. … The importance of what you might call a workout of the mind.” 

HBO’s “Hard Knocks” didn’t excite many this summer, but I could watch any such show that features Jerry Jones. “Hard Knocks” isn’t as intriguing because, to this eye, teams aren’t allowing as much access to player personnel decisions. The insider footage of front office meetings and discussion of players and strategy has been dramatically reduced. But Jones and his family stole every scene, from him asking about the availability of the injured Dak Prescott while dabbing his egg sandwich with salt to telling the sponsor of his high school football classic, Whataburger, just how frequently he eats there and how he likes his burger, to his coda in the final episode on winning. Pure showmanship.

Abraham Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

SBJ I Factor: Miheer Walavalkar

Today’s episode features Miheer Walavalkar, co-founder and CEO of LiveLike, talking with SBJ’s Abe Madkour about growing up in India, his non-traditional path into the sports industry, building a company based on the communal sports experience, and his friendship with legendary NBA Commissioner David Stern. Walavalkar was a member of SBJ’s Forty Under 40 class of 2018.

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: November 16, 2021

Meet the Mets new GM, Endeavor beat the Street in Q3 and Guaranteed Rate expands its sports sponsorship portfolio.

SBJ Spotlight: November 10, 2021

This episode looks at the hottest news in the industry, including how sports deal are helping crypto enter the mainstream; the NFL’s social push and the buy-in from players; why so many networks are bidding for next Premier League rights deal; and Angel City FC’s hot start on the business front.

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