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Sports Business Update: January 13, 2014

by Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

Baseball Hall of Fame: Time for Change?
Several columnists are calling for reform to the Baseball Hall of Fame voting process, which has been labeled “flawed and archaic,” and fails to adequately account for alleged and known steroid users. Coming off a 2013 election that saw Greg Maddux not getting in unanimously, columnist Dan Lebatard giving his vote to Deadspin, and a ballot that limits voters to 10 selections, it’s clear that the process greatly needs change.

Frankly, what the Hall of Fame really needs is to give fans a voice in the selection process. Rather than let BBWAA writers stand divided over whether or not to admit steroid users, let fans decide if the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve to be enshrined in the Hall. At the end of the day, Cooperstown is a business that relies on fans wanting to visit and pay the $20 cost of admission. Not electing anyone last year in protest of the steroid era, the Hall saw a steep attendance drop. It’s only a matter of time until the Hall of Fame accepts its flaws and enacts change.

NFL: TV vs. Stadium
All of the NFL’s TV partners saw year-over-year gains in viewership this season. Fox and NFL Network posted record viewership numbers, while CBS had its second-best audience in the 26 years it’s broadcasted the AFC package. NBC lead all networks with an average 21.7 million viewers per telecast.

Meanwhile, three NFL teams had difficulty selling out tickets to their playoff Wild Card games. Though inclement weather was partially responsible for slow sales in Green Bay and Cincinnati, the fact that three games were on the verge of a TV blackout has to concern the NFL.

Herein lies the dilemma for the league. Whether it’s the weather or the at-home experience that’s driving fan viewing decisions, TV ratings are improving at the expense of ticket sales. That three teams needed local companies to buy out playoff tickets so the games would be shown on local TV is disappointing for the NFL, and is a sign that the league’s archaic blackout policy could be revisited.

2014 Humana Challenge
Golf legend Gary Player and Humana Inc. announced today the continuation of their three-year partnership as the Black Knight will once again co-host at this week’s Humana Challenge. Since the partnership’s inception last year, Player has served as a national spokesman for the health care company, promoting lifelong well-being and healthy living through proper diet and exercise. Player has also joined forces with Humana to help address the increasing challenges of childhood obesity.

Sponsored by Humana and the William J. Clinton Foundation, the Humana Challenge is an annual PGA TOUR event featuring 156 professionals. To date, the event has successfully raised more than $2.1 million for charity and was named “Sports Event of the Year” by The Sports Business Journal.

Player has been an advocate of healthy living through proper diet and exercise and has maintained an incredible level of fitness throughout his legendary golfing career. At the age of 78, Player is recognized as an ambassador to fitness and serves as a role model for many of today’s up-and-coming PGA TOUR stars. The 2014 Humana Challenge takes place fresh off a milestone year for Player, which included his 60th anniversary as a professional and the 30th anniversary of his philanthropic endeavor, The Player Foundation.

El Paso Merchandise Sales Booming
In less than three months, El Paso will realize its dream of having a Triple-A baseball team. However, maybe more impressive than the $525 million quality of life referendum that helped bring the Tuscon Padres to the city is the national and international attention the team has received. Since announcing a name change to the Chihuahuas, team-branded merchandise has been in big demand. The Chihuahua Team Shop has received orders from all 50 states, Canada, England, Germany, Japan, and Mexico, among several other countries. Additionally almost half of Internet sales are coming from outside of El Paso.

The Chihuahuas were the talk of the MLB Winter Meetings in Orlando last month, as people throughout baseball lauded the team’s branding strategy. They’re the prime example of how a new team in any sport, in any market should roll out a marketing campaign in advance of their inaugural season. With an eye towards Opening Day in April, it’s all good in El Paso.

Devils & 76ers Sign First Gambling Sponsorship
A major barrier in sports marketing has fallen, as the New Jersey Devils & Philadelphia 76ers became the first major U.S.-based professional sports teams to sign a sponsorship deal with an online gaming company. The multiyear deal with PartyPoker, a division of Gibraltar-based Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment, is worth at least $10 million, according to Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg. Though gambling sponsorships are becoming more prevalent – several teams have partnerships with casinos and state lottos – online gaming has been a category few leagues have wanted to touch. The NFL and MLS restrict such deal, whereas MLB will only consider them on a case-by-case basis.

So how did the Devils and 76ers end up being the first two teams? Not only are the NBA and NHL more lax when it comes to online gaming than their counterparts, but the two teams both have the same owner, Josh Harris. The teams say ads will be visible in both of their arenas – the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and the Prudential Center in Newark – immediately.

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