Editor’s Note: Welcome to a daily column breaking down the day’s biggest stories in sports finance. It comes to us via our friends at JohnWallStreet, publisher of a free e-mail newsletter (you can sign up here). It’s sports business with a financial spin. Howie Long-Short and Fan Marino will be providing their expert opinions on each story. They have slightly different areas of expertise. Fan Marino is a firm believer that the SEC is the premier football conference. Howie Long-Short knows it as the Securities & Exchange Commission. Fan Marino lives and dies with the college selection of 5 star , blue chip recruits. Howie Long-Short spends his days analyzing blue chip stocks. Howie Long-Short knows that Black Monday occurred on October 19th, 1987. Fan Marino swears it happens every January after Week 17. You get the point.
President Eric Winston Discusses OneTeam Collective, NFLPA’s Athlete Driven Accelerator
The NFLPA, via OneTeam Collective (its athlete driven accelerator), recently acquired a minority stake in SportsCastr Powered by FanChain; a live-streaming platform that gives anyone the opportunity to become a color commentator. The collaboration enables active and former NFL players to provide fans with unfiltered commentary on a wide range of sports. JohnWallStreet had a chance to sit down with NFLPA President Eric Winston (in his 3rd term) to find out who’s vetting the ideas on behalf of OneTeam Collective, to ask if the NFLPA plans to profit off legalized sports betting and to find out how the players can work towards a CBA that includes fully guaranteed contracts.
JWS: Who is vetting the ideas on behalf of One Team Collective?
Eric: We have a board of guys. Obviously, Ahmad Nassir, the President of Players Inc. is involved. Modrona Venture Group and Intel sit on some of the investment committees that evaluate these deals. We also have an athlete advisory board that contributes, Kelvin Beachum, Dhani Jones, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Russell Okung; these guys are big into tech and are closely following what is occurring in the wearable-tech world. Ahmad and De(Maurice Smith) ultimately make the final decisions.
JWS: Does the NFLPA intend to profit from legalized sports betting?
Eric: We’ll see, our priority is to protect the players. I’m worried about the guy who misses a FG at the end of the game coming under investigation, or the player who drops a pass in the end zone, or falls down; the things that happen in every ballgame, now have everyone under a cloud of suspicion. That’s not a world any player should have to live in. I do think there will be some commercialization opportunities down the road (re: sports betting), but who knows what that landscape is going to look like.
JWS: Teaching “financial literacy” has been among your priorities as NFLPA President. What is the difference between your program and the financial training NFL players had been receiving?
Eric: I noticed coming up that topics being talked about were way too advanced or they weren’t applicable, talking about yield rates when we should be talking about burn rate. We should be talking about what taxes are, what a deductible is. I call them the start-up costs of life.
JWS: There’s been a lot of talk about a potential lockout following the 2020 season. Are guaranteed contracts the single biggest issue from the players’ side?
Eric: There’s nothing in the CBA right now that prevents a fully guaranteed contract, look at Kirk Cousins’ contract. Now, from an NFLPA/CBA standpoint we need to continue to break down the barriers to get guys to free agency, to give them maximum leverage to demand more player friendly terms.
Similarly, there’s nothing in the CBA language that says MLB and NBA players must have guaranteed contracts; a bunch of players just decided they’re not playing unless they get it and now that they’ve gotten it, it’s become the norm. I think that’s the approach we’re going to need to take. At the end of the day, guys like Kirk are going to have to demand guaranteed contracts or somewhat guaranteed (60%, 70%, 80%) and I think that’s how you keep inching towards it.
JWS: Chris Paul and LeBron James are the President and Vice President of the NBPA. If Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers were at the forefront of the NFLPA’s push for guaranteed deals, do you think the issue would garner more serious consideration from owners?
Eric: Are you trying to say that I wasn’t a very good player? (laughing) I don’t know, Thomas Davis just came off our executive committee and he’s been an all-pro. Kevin Mawae is probably going to be a Hall of Famer and he was the President at one point. Drew Brees has been an Executive Committee member, so we’ve had big names. I don’t necessarily think you have to be a star player to galvanize the players and to move the needle. Our guys know who the guys in the locker room are that care and they want those guys to lead. In ’11 you saw Peyton Manning and Tom Brady put their names on that lawsuit, they’ll be there; just because they’re not a rep doesn’t mean they’re not supportive or that they’re not willing to go to war with the rest of us.
Howie Long-Short: OneTeam Collective can offer start-ups a lot of things (access to the NFLPA’s brightest stars via licensing, marketing and content rights, research and development and mentorship for product development and marketing support), but capital is not one of them; the accelerator does not make cash investments on behalf of the players as a group.
SportsCastr Powered by FanChain is a privately held company. I’m not aware of any ways to play the start-up.
Fan Marino: Wondering what FanChain is? If SportsCastr is successful, it’ll become the cryptocurrency of choice in the global sports market; they’re currently working with various teams/leagues/media publishers to add FanChain support. In the meantime, SportsCastr users can earn tokens for participating on the platform; tokens redeemable for premium NFL player content (think: back-stage access), to purchase sports tickets or merchandise, or to send virtual gifts to NFL players.
X Games Experiences Massive Growth Across All Channels
X Games Minneapolis 2018 experienced double-digit growth on linear television and triple-digit growth across digital/streaming services and social networks. Long considered to have a niche audience, television viewership for the 4-day action sports competition rose +38% YoY across ESPN, ESPN & ABC; it was the 2nd straight X Games (X Games Aspen 2018) to experience double-digit growth. On digital/social, X Games’ YouTube Channel subscribers streamed over 26 million minutes of extreme sports competition (+646% YoY), Facebook fans tallied 4 million video views (+210% YoY) and the number of Instagram videos watched rose +225% YoY; authentic “behind the scenes” access (i.e. not staged) and instant highlights of tricks, made usage of the app a must for second screen viewers.
Howie Long-Short: The 38% YoY increase in television viewership comes with a caveat. The 2017 Summer X Games were the lowest rated Summer X Games in history; a -35% decline from 2016. With that said, the double-digit increase is noteworthy because pay television trends are going in the wrong direction. Demo reported that Q1 ’18 viewership declined -56% within the 12-17 age demo, -48% in the 18-24 demo viewership and 34% between 25-34 year olds. When you consider those figures, you must applaud ESPN for growing X Games viewership with fans in both the 18-34 (+34%) and 12-34 (+21%) demographics.
Fan Marino: Rising attendance (+8% to 119,000) can be attributed to X Games placing a greater focus on the “X Games Experience” (i.e. giving fans entertainment options beyond just the competition). What was once solely an action sports showcase has morphed into an experience that blends action sports with art, food and music; Ice Cube, Kaskade and Zedd headlined at this summer’s Games.
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