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It’s August, and the NFL is Full of Happy Campers

The Sports Professor’s Weekly Sports and Entertainment Dollar
August 1, 2014
By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

It’s (un)officially football season: NFL training camps across the league are now open for business. Among the major issues clouding the otherwise sunny skies of the 2014-2015 season are ownership changes. In Denver, 30-year Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has announced he is stepping down to combat his worsening battle with Alzheimers; a succession plan has not yet been announced. And in Buffalo, the family of late owner Ralph Wilson has opened up the bidding process for the Bills. Among the team’s suitors are NHL Sabres owner Terry Pegula, developer Donald Trump, and a group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi.

Whoever prevails, the NFL is likely on the brink of its biggest team sale ever. Pegula’s opening bid reportedly is worth $1.3 billion, which would top the current record $1.1 billion Stephen Ross paid for the Miami Dolphins in 2009. Pegula is the frontrunner to buy the team from the Wilson estate, not only because he had by far the highest opening offer, but also because he wants to keep the team in Buffalo.
Also hovering overhead is yet another lawsuit filed by former NFL players, this time over painkillers and other drugs. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 500 former players in U.S. District Court in Northern California and amended two weeks later to add another 250 plaintiffs. Notables filing suit include Marcellus Wiley, Jim McMahon, and Richard Dent.

But as always, the NFL remains the golden child of pro sports networks, near impervious to ownership musical chairs or negative headlines. On a very positive note, as the league heads into its annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Canton, OH on Saturday and first preseason game to follow on Sunday, broadcast and licensing revenue for the 32 NFL teams reached $6 billion in 2014, the highest ever for the league, with each franchise taking home $187.7 million.

Each team will also see a 20% rise in national TV money this year, a hike that comes as a result of the new TV deals kicking in next month. According to the report, by 2016, each NFL team will bring in at least $181 million from national TV alone, and once its Sunday Ticket deal is wrapped up, that total could surpass $200 million.

NFL Media also announced plans to offer comprehensive coverage of all 32 training and all 65 preseason games including a record 14 live games on NFL Network. Preseason matchups will begin with the 49ers-Ravens on August 7. NFL Network’s preseason coverage is presented by sponsors including Heineken, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba.

If it’s NFL training camp time, it must be time for the annual preseason NFL Players Inc’s list of the league’s top selling jerseys. Browns quarterback, rookie Johnny Manziel, is #1 on the list – he’s had the league’s best selling jersey since April (and his jersey is the best seller of all NFL licensed products). He’s followed by Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Richard Sherman, and Peyton Manning in the Top 5. Rams DE Michael Sam also finished in the top 50, coming in at #41. The replica jerseys retail for $99.95.

The NFL summer preseason is also the perfect time to announce fun new NFL-themed promotions, and in Wisconsin and Maryland, the medium of choice is lottery tickets. Earlier this week, the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Lottery officials unveiled details of "three scratch-off games in which fans can win" 2015 Packers tickets in addition to cash prizes, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. A $5 Champions Club game can "pay up to $45,000 instantly, and people who buy $5 or more in tickets can enter a second-chance drawing that includes 95 pairs of regular season game tickets and one pair of club-level seats. (In a state where the waiting list for Packers season tickets numbers in the hundred thousands, the chance for tickets is worth more than cash to many residents.)

In Maryland, meanwhile, the Ravens and the Maryland Lottery for the sixth consecutive year are partnering on a team-themed ticket, which this year will be the $5 Ravens Cash Fantasy scratch-off game. The tickets will feature 160 top prizes of $5,000, as well as 28,000 more prizes ranging from $50-500, plus more than $250,000 in second-chance cash prizes, and will be sold at every Ravens home game and at more than 4,400 retail locations statewide, according to the Maryland Lottery commission.

Facilities upgrades also take center stage in the preseason. In Jacksonville, EverBank Field’s upgrades were unveiled last Saturday prior to a soccer friendly between DC United and EPL club Fulham FC. According to the Florida Times-Union, those in attendance gave Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan "a standing ovation as he took the podium to debut the video boards,” also an acknowledgement of Khan’s diehard commitment to the team and the city. And in Charlotte, 36,515 fans turned out to see major upgrades to a newly renovated Bank of America Stadium, including new video boards, ribbon boards, escalators, and an updated sound system.

The Oakland Raiders have so far rebuffed requests by Commissioner Goodell and others to share the sparkling new high-tech Levi’s Stadium with the cross-town 49ers, and they are again making headlines as owner Mark Davis met with San Antonio officials to discuss the possibility of relocating the team. Davis is upset with the Raiders’ stadium situation, and the team’s lease at Coliseum expires after the 2014 season.
One owner likely to reject that move is Jerry Jones, whose Dallas Cowboys have a strong following in the San Antonio area. Instead, Jones supports having an NFL-owned stadium in Los Angeles, and he believes the market could have a team within the next five years. Pro sports teams have long used San Antonio as leverage to get better stadium deals from their current cities. While the Raiders relocating to South Texas is unlikely, Southern California is a much more viable option. If the NFL is willing to fund a stadium, as Jones suggests, no team would be a better fit than the Raiders.

Jones’ firm stance on protecting his market may be partly fueled by the lower fan turnout at training camp. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Cowboys have drawn close to 6,500 fewer fans to training camp thus far than they did last year. Still, Jones, speaking for the league as a whole, noted, “This is one of the best times I know of in the NFL in terms of attendance for practicing."

Golden times, indeed.

Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.

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