December 8, 2023


Tonight in Unpacks: The Blue Jackets are already seeing business metrics increase with the signing of Johnny Gaudreau in free agency. SBJ’s Alex Silverman has details on the new knight of Columbus.

Other headlines:

  • How will soaring inflation impact sectors of the sports industry?
  • WWE has 10 sponsor activating at SummerSlam in Nashville
  • Massachusetts legislature on the clock with sports betting
  • UFC partners with Amazon Merch on Demand
  • VC strategy for leagues is about much more than immediate returns
  • Under Armour pays UCLA a $67.5 million settlement

Miss this morning’s Buzzcast? SBJ’s Abe Madkour looks at the NFL touting Back Together Saturday, the Pac-12’s George Kliavkoff presenting a path forward for Pac-12 and the Blue Jays rolling out massive Rogers Centre renovations.

The Blue Jackets stunned the hockey world earlier this month with their signing of this offseason’s most sought-after free agent, LW Johnny Gaudreau. The club’s acquisition of the former Flames star has resulted in upticks in several business metrics, reports SBJ’s Alex Silverman.

In the 24 hours following the Gaudreau signing on July 13, the club sold twice as many full season-ticket equivalents as it typically sells in a week during this time of year. In the two weeks since then, the club has sold at least a week’s worth of season tickets every day. The club is on sale to sell more new season tickets than during any offseason in the past 10 years.

Overall, the club is 500 season tickets ahead of where it was at this point last year and expects to get to well over 11,000 by puck drop of the 2022-23 season. That would return the club’s season-ticket base to pre-pandemic level. Capacity is 18,500 at Nationwide Arena for hockey.

Revenue generated from online merchandise sales since the signing has equaled 22% of what the team had earned over the past 12 months. In-store merch sales over the past two weeks are up 150% from a typical two-week period in July.

From July 13-27, the Blue Jackets ranked first in the NHL in total impressions (13.6 million) and engagements (884,000) across all social media platforms.

The club said to expect Gaudreau to be front and center in its marketing, advertising, promotional and content efforts in the lead-up to the 2022-23 season. His image will adorn the outside of Nationwide Arena and be seen on street signs. He’ll also be pictured as part of a team advertising campaign at John Glenn Columbus Int’l Airport.

The team recently released a behind-the-scenes video as part of its “Behind the Battle” series that documents the front-office discussions leading up to the Gaudreau signing and his arrival at the arena for his introductory press conference.

When managers at leading sports construction company Mortenson would discuss the cost of a stadium or arena with clients before COVID changed the world, they often allowed the teams and schools a couple of months to make decisions, confident that the price a sub-contractor quoted on steel, glass and other materials would be good for at least 60 days.

Now, with across-the-board inflation and supply-chain snafus driving up costs on both materials and labor, the contractor often requires answers on the spot.

“It hits the entire process,” said Dan Wacker, director of pre-construction in Mortenson’s sports and entertainment division, which counts Allegiant Stadium and Climate Pledge Arena among its recent projects. “It hits the first time you talk budget. It hits the first time you talk GMP (guaranteed maximum price). If you want this price, we have to lock in contracts with subs tomorrow. It has become a hurdle in the last year and probably will be for the next year.”

That same sort of inflation-inspired conversation is playing out in many corners of the sports business, from concessionaires considering how much of the increased cost of food they can pass along to consumers, to teams worrying about whether fans who have flocked back will pull back as they realize how much of their paycheck now goes toward essentials.

SBJ’s Bill King, Terry Lefton and Bret McCormick in next week’s magazine look into how soaring inflation is raising concerns across sports business. Check out an Early Access look here.

WWE’s 35th annual SummerSlam will take place Saturday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Many of the event’s 10 official sponsors are activating around the festivities. Here’s a quick look at a few of those efforts, per SBJ’s David Broughton:

  • A&E will host a free, public world premiere screening of the new “WWE Rivals: Lesnar vs. Angle” show at Wildhorse Saloon at noon Saturday
  • Amazon Studios and Xfinity will serve as presenting partners
  • C4 Energy: Meet and greet Friday night with WWE fighter Bianca Belair, followed by Liv Morgan on Saturday morning
  • Cricket Wireless: Fan zone outside of Nissan Stadium
  • Constellation Brands (Victoria Beer): Official beer (Rey Mysterio will wear a Victoria Beer-branded mask as part of ring gear)
  • DraftKings: Promoting SummerSlam free-to-play pool
  • Epic Games: Last night launched SummerSlam-themed in-game purchase opportunities simultaneously across Fortnite (John Cena cosmetics); Fall Guys (Asuka, The Undertaker and Xavier Woods gear bundles) and Rocket League (Cena- and Roman Reigns themed-vehicles and cosmetics)
  • Fiterman Sports Group: Official autograph partner is located inside the stadium’s team store
  • Peacock: Host of PPV in the U.S. Tomorrow afternoon will host a party, exclusive to Peacock Premium subscribers, at the WWE Fan Zone between the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge and Nissan Stadium’s south side entrance
  • Pure Life Water: Official water and presenting partner of WWE’s “Next In Line” tryouts, a three-day event at the Wildhorse Saloon, a 60,000-square-foot live music and event venue in downtown Nashville
  • 20th Century Fox: Promoting ‘Prey,’ which is scheduled to be released as a Hulu original film on Aug. 5.

Massachusetts is on the clock this weekend as legislators take one last crack at massaging competing sports betting bills passed in the Senate and House into one coherent framework before the session ends on Sunday. The governor has said he’ll sign just about anything they send him at this point, writes SBJ’s Bill King.

One wrinkle holding matters up is the unanimous resistance of colleges and universities in the state, who want not only their games, but all college games, kept off the board. Higher education holds a hallowed standing in Massachusetts, and the only program in the state that might move the needle on handle — Boston College — was associated with one of the higher profile betting scandals of the last 50 years. The Senate bill bans college wagering. The House’s does not.

Pulling BC, Harvard, UMass and their local brethren off the board in the state is a compromise the sportsbook lobby should jump at. It’s not like taking down the Nittany Lions in Pennsylvania or the Wolverines in Michigan. Casual betting in Massachusetts will be about the Patriots, Celtics and Red Sox.

The tougher negotiations may be over:

  • Tax rates (the House is at the more industry friendly 15%, while the Senate is at 30%).
  • Whether bettors will be able to fund accounts through their credit cards (The House says yes, the Senate no).
  • How many mobile skins will be allocated (the Senate limits it to nine; the House has no cap).
  • The Senate also wants ad limits, while the House does not.

Check out more on the gambling space in today’s issue of the SBJ Betting newsletter.

The UFC has teamed up with the Amazon Merch on Demand platform to put some new merchandise on offer, reports SBJ’s Adam Stern. The fighting property this week started making several items with new designs — like T-shirts, hoodies and cell phone cases — available through a catalogue that it launched with Amazon Merch On Demand.

That is Amazon’s product that allows content creators to upload their own designs and have them printed as merchandise whenever someone buys it. The new line will be on UFC’s brand page on Amazon. UFC SVP/Global Consumer Products Tracey Bleczinski helped set up the deal.

Meanwhile, UFC was the main event on SBJ’s “Strictly Business” Twitter Spaces discussion on Thursday. SBJ’s Stern was joined by UFC COO Lawrence Epstein and ESPN’s Marc Raimondi as they discussed the business of the MMA giant ahead of UFC 277 in Dallas.

Among the topics discussed:

  • UFC’s sellout streak
  • How does UFC choose a market?
  • UFC’s future post-pandemic
  • Product Innovation
  • Stand-out storylines on the card
  • Development of fighters as stars
  • Conor McGregor’s return

Check out the full conversation here.

When MLB took over L.A. for its recent All-Star festivities, its expansive activation footprint was suffused with youth-focused sports tech startups across the city.

Swing-tracking firm Diamond Kinetics outfitted batting cages with sensor-enabled bats, youth training company EL1 Sports offered instructional programming and league management platform LeagueApps provided back-end data services and operated a youth playing field.

All three of those companies have partnerships with MLB, which the league is leveraging to grow baseball’s youth participation. But those startups also count the league as an investor, a critical component of MLB’s long-term business strategy.

“When we find something we like, we want to make a statement by making a cash investment or taking equity in a business,” said Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer.

SBJ’s Chris Smith in next week’s SBJ goes deep on how leagues’ venture capital strategies are about much more than immediate returns. Get an Early Access look at the piece here.

In this week’s SBJ Esports newsletter, Kevin Hitt, Jason Wilson and Hunter Cooke dig into:

  • The N.Y. Subliners drawing a crowd to Brooklyn as hosts of the Call of Duty League Major
  • Execs from the Minnesota Røkkr seeing positives in the CDL season despite missing the playoffs
  • The takeaways from FaZe Clan‘s debut on the Nasdaq
  • Whether stakeholders in the Valorant community should be worried about the latest VCT Copenhagen streaming numbers
  • Riot Games President of Esports John Needham chatting about his outfit’s new Dublin broadcasting facility

  • ESPN averaged 2.21 million viewers for MetsYankees game on Wednesday night, one of around five exclusive midweek MLB games this season under a new media-rights deal. That figure — excluding opening night and tiebreaker games — marks the most-watched regular-season MLB weeknight broadcast on ESPN in 15 years, dating back to Yanks-Red Sox on Sept. 14, 2007 (a Friday night game).
  • Under Armour agreed to pay UCLA $67.5 million to “resolve the school’s lawsuit against the sports apparel giant,” notes the L.A. Times.
  • The Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart, Browns’ Myles Garrett and free agent cornerback Josh Norman are among the investors in a new $10.5 million Series A round for Players’ Lounge, which is a Brooklyn-based online social gaming platform, notes Fortune.
  • F1 and Liberty Media settled with a group that was trying to block the Vegas Grand Prix because it claimed it had a prior commitment from former CEO Bernie Ecclestone to be the promoter if the event ever happened, reports SBJ’s Adam Stern.
  • NFLPA General Counsel & Head of Medical Innovation Sean Sansiveri told SportTechie’s Tom Friend that last season, approximately 25 teams used various GPS devices during practice — either from Zebra, Catapult, STATSports or Kinexon. But by having all 32 teams gradually ramp up practice length during this year’s training camps, the data should be more definitive going forward.
  • Sports and social interaction platform Stadium Live announced a $10 million Series A round, with Dapper Labs, Kevin Durant (through Thirty Five Ventures) and former French national soccer team player Blaise Matuidi (through Origin Funds) among the investors, notes VentureBeat.
  • Esports/gaming agency Loaded has launched Open World, a full service consultancy and creative studio, reports SBJ’s Hunter Cooke. The independent talent agency’s studio focus includes developing brand campaigns and strategies as well as content aimed at young people.


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