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Forum: New investments boost PBR and women’s hockey

One of my favorite stories recently has been the Professional Bull Riders unveiling its PBR Team Series and establishing a franchise-based approach to its business. There’s a lot I liked about it. First, look at the quality of ownership the Endeavor-owned PBR recruited and convinced to pay a $3 million franchise fee — Silver Lake’s Egon Durban, Richard Childress, entertainment executive and Steelers limited partner Thomas Tull and Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, whose Missouri Thunder will be directed by general manager Randy Bernard, former PBR CEO who serves as Garth Brooks’ manager.

These are successful and savvy business leaders who understand the Western lifestyle. And this is a lifestyle play, identifying with middle America with franchises in Missouri, Tennessee and Oklahoma, as well as North Carolina and Arizona. It’s a smart move by Endeavor and PBR CEO Sean Gleason to develop this brand extension for their loyal fan base. Early word is that there was so much incoming interest after the initial announcement that Endeavor and the PBR feared their franchise fee was too low. This is a long-term value play, so expect the PBR to ramp up sponsorship and additional ticket sales to drive franchise values and equity around the enterprise. When looking at the quality of the early investors, it’s easy to see these franchises trading at far higher multiples in the future. 

We keep looking for leaders to step up and support women’s sports and, thankfully, we’ve seen more and more do that in the past year. Add the board of governors of the six-team Premier Hockey Federation to that list, as it made a $25 million investment to grow the women’s league with the largest one-time investment in women’s professional hockey. This is significant — with the funds used for expansion, to increase player salaries, provide health benefits, improve facilities and fund operations. One of the key executives behind the move is Massachusetts-based investor John Boynton, who has quietly become a powerful voice in growing the league. His wife, Johanna Boynton, played hockey at Harvard, and they are passionate about the sport and are owners of two of the league’s teams — the Boston Pride and Toronto Six.

This is real funding, not potential or projected investment based on growth. The board of governors will use this to secure its foundation and then grow its footprint with two new franchises, while attracting top players who have other options, namely the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Higher salaries and health benefits will surely make the PHF more attractive, as will such a visible commitment from ownership. Investors I speak with are bullish on women’s sports, but they need to see solid leadership, collaborative and well-resourced partners and a viable business model to support. Sources said the league is close to announcing its two expansion markets, and the financial infusion sends a strong signal of commitment to its new media partner, ESPN+. Growing a league is never easy, and women’s hockey likely needs more focused involvement from the NHL to flourish in the future. But John Boynton and the board of governors have given women’s professional hockey much-needed capital and a road map for the future.

Voting rights will continue to intersect with sports. You saw it this month when Nick Saban, Oliver Luck, Paul Tagliabue, Jerry West and others wrote to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin on the topic. Athletes and owners are engaged on this issue; remember the role athletes played in getting out the vote efforts, and owners in opening up venues and arenas during the election of 2020. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told me in October that sports organizations will remain involved on voting rights. “I definitely think [they] will because it’s something that our key employees, our players and our owners care a lot about,” he said. What he stressed though is any advocacy must be nonpartisan. Any efforts mired in partisanship will be drowned out and doomed to be a lightning rod in today’s polarizing environment.

And a final note … While the public memorial is scheduled for Feb. 15, John Madden’s private funeral was held Jan. 18 in Oakland for 200 invitation-only guests. Matt Millen, who played linebacker for the Oakland Raiders for nine years, was one of three eulogists along with Madden’s two sons. Sources said Millen’s remarks were tender, emotional and often very humorous. Millen had a deep connection with Madden. When Millen was drafted by the Raiders in 1980, he flew out to Oakland to meet with Madden and Al Davis. Millen often noted how Madden was a great mentor to him over the years and a father figure after Millen’s father died.

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

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SBJ Spotlight: TikTok’s threat to traditional sports media

While tech companies are consumed with finding ways to compete with TikTok, almost no one in conventional media “spends any time talking about it,” said Recode senior correspondent Peter Kafka in an Spotlight interview with SBJ’s John Ourand. “To me, that’s just an obvious disconnect.” Kafka authored a recent column headlined, “It’s TikTok’s world. Can TV live in it?” He said the main response to TikTok’s growth from traditional media execs has been to “punt and hope it’s someone else’s problem a quarter from now or two years from now.” But Kafka said that ignores the trend of conventional broadcast audiences growing older while a billion younger consumers spend most of their media time watching short video after short video. “If you’re in the business of getting anyone under the age of 30 to look at what you’re putting on a screen, you have to think about the fact that you’re probably asking them to put down TikTok and watch your thing instead,” said Kafka. “That’s a very difficult ask. … [TikTok] is insanely addictive.”

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