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Disney CEO Iger during yesterday’s earnings call unveiled a new structure for the company: Disney Entertainment, ESPN and Parks, Experiences and Products. Chairman for ESPN and Sports Content Pitaro will continue overseeing the Worldwide Leader. Iger insists that breaking ESPN out on its own in the newly restructured company does not portend its eventual spinoff. “We did not do it for that purpose. Actually, ESPN is a differentiator for this company, it is the best sports brand in television. It’s one of the best sports brands in sports. It continues to create real value for us. It is going through some obviously challenging, challenging times because of what’s happened to linear programming. But the brand of ESPN is very healthy. And the programming of ESPN is very healthy. We just have to figure out how to monetize it.” While it doesn’t appear to be imminent, Iger acknowledges that shifting ESPN entirely to streaming is inevitable. “But I’m not going to give you any sense of when that could be. Because we have to do it obviously at a time that really makes sense for the bottom line and we’re just not there yet. And that’s not just about how many subscribers we could get. It’s also about what is the pricing power of ESPN, which obviously ties to the menu of sports that they’ve licensed.” (link, link)
Wake Forest AD Currie joins LEARFIELD University Partnership Group EVP Hamilton on From the Chair. The two talk about institutional alignment, donor impact, what Currie learned from stepping away, what to look for when hiring coaches and more. Currie describes Wake’s goal of providing the best fan experience in North Carolina as both an aspirational goal and a mentality. “We’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to say things like this: ‘Look, we don’t have 30K people at our football stadium. We don’t have 80K.’ The good news is you don’t have to wait in line for the bathroom with 80K people. We’ve got great seats, it’s intimate and fans are engaged.” When it comes to hiring coaches, Currie says that “one of the most overlooked elements of success, from my perspective, is intelligence. I think it’s gotten better and better because people have done a better job of grasping this.” Full interview. (link)
More on Georgia’s FY22 finances as USA Today’s Weiszer and Berkowitz report the Bulldogs spent $4.5M on FB recruiting during the fiscal year, far outpacing Texas A&M, which spent the second highest amount ($2.98M), followed by Tennessee ($2.92M), Texas ($2.44M) and Alabama ($2.32M). Michigan ($2.24) is the only other school to report having spent more than $1.85M. (link)
Nebraska AD Alberts has seen “very consistent progress” in this year’s MBB team, as Husker HC Hoiberg continues a “total philosophical reboot” of the program. Alberts adds: “I think our team has responded very well to Coach Hoiberg’s leadership and changes this year. Do I wish men’s basketball had made a similar change two years ago in philosophy? Sure. But the change in approach is a 180. … I was in the locker room after the win against Penn State, and it’s a really good locker room, there’s really good leadership, there’s good unity of purpose with coaches and players. So I like the trajectory that Fred’s on at the moment.” Regarding whether NU needs to add an Assoc. AD-level administrator dedicated to basketball, Alberts responds: “I don’t know that we’re going to add to the administrative bloat.” (link)
ESPN’s Rittenberg provides more details on Florida State FB HC Norvell’s new deal: “Base salary increases to $5.335M in 2023, then $7.335M in 2024 and up to $8.585M in 2029. Annual retention bonus of $250K. His buyout to leave FSU begins at $6M in 2023, drops to $4M in 2024.” (link)
Former Ohio State FB student-athletes Riep and McFarquhar testified in a sexual assault case against them that they were told by members of the OSU coaching staff to record or get evidence of consent from any sexual partner in order to protect themselves from accusations. Buckeyes Assoc. AD for FB Communications Emig declined to comment on the case but did send a statement regarding how the university discusses consent with students. “In general, when the Department of Athletics speaks with student-athletes about consent, we work closely with subject matter experts on campus and follow the university’s well-established Non-Discrimination, Harassment, and Sexual Misconduct Policy.” (link)
+ The Wisconsin-focused Varsity Collective purchased a 15-minute video billboard block in New York City’s Times Square to showcase the football team’s 13 transfers and six early enrollees, Front Office Sports’ Greenberg reports. Varsity Executive Chair Master explains the thinking behind the promotion: “A day that always kind of belongs to Alabama, Ohio State, and now Neon Deion [Sanders of Colorado], we kind of to some degree owned that day. It was meant to be a PR-driven day to plant the flag that the Badgers are a national program. We are a sleeping giant, and we’re here now.” Master also notes that Badgers HC Fickell “came in and had a very specific perspective on NIL and collectives. And the good news is it was very much aligned with our mission and our vision.” (link)
+ The FLOCK, LLC has launched to support NIL opportunities for all Chattanooga student-athletes. The collective also announces it is a “Proud Partner of UTC Athletics” through a sponsorship agreement with LEARFIELD’s Mocs Sports Properties. Mocs AD Wharton: “The FLOCK will be instrumental in keeping UTC athletics competitive on the field and on the court by providing a way for fans, students, alumni, businesses and brands to get in on the game by making sure our student-athletes are excelling in this new NIL era.” (link)
Vanderbilt yesterday broke ground on the new basketball operations center, part of the $300M Vandy United campaign. The multi-story operations center will serve the MBB and WBB teams and feature two practice gyms spanning more than 90K square feet, student-athlete facilities and easy access to Memorial Gymnasium, as well as premium hospitality areas overlooking the football stadium. Concurrent north end zone construction will connect the stadium’s east and west concourses and include a new videoboard and premium seating experiences. Commodores AD Lee: “Today, by the very act of turning the earth, we turn a page in the Vandy United story. Today isn’t the final chapter. Not by a long shot. But it is a new chapter, as the first of Vandy United’s cornerstone projects moves from draft board to building site.” (link)
Illinois on Friday will re-dedicate the Ubben Basketball Complex to highlight the support of dozens of the program’s most influential donors. Illini AD Whitman: "The renovation and expansion of the Ubben Basketball Complex stands as one of the most notable accomplishments of our recently completed With Illinois campaign. When it was originally built, Ubben set the national standard for basketball facilities and helped drive a decade of unparalleled programmatic success. With this project, Ubben again becomes the preeminent practice facility in all of college basketball. We are already beginning to see its impact on the court, as evidenced by last year's Big Ten men's championship and our ability to recruit a coach like Shauna Green, who has led one of women's basketball's most impressive turnaround stories." (link)
Middle Tennessee has launched the Drive to ‘25 fundraising initiative through which it will seek to expand membership in the Blue Raider Athletic Association to 2,025 by December 31, 2025. Blue Raiders AD Massaro: “Increasing our BRAA membership is imperative to helping us stay competitive in today's world of college athletics. The more members that join, the more resources we can provide to help us recruit, retain, and accomplish the goals of our student-athletes and coaches to win championships for the Blue Raiders." (link)
+ South Dakota State adds Western Oregon (DII) to its 2023 home FB schedule. (link)
+ A bill introduced in West Virginia would give the lottery authority to ban individuals from betting if the “patron has harassed or shown a harmful pattern of conduct directed at a sports official, coach or any participants of a sporting event.” (link)
+ JP Morgan CEO Dimon pumps the brakes on declaring victory over inflation: “It’s perfectly reasonable for the Fed to go to 5% and wait a while but if inflation comes down to 3.5% or 4% and stays there. You may have to go higher than 5% and that could affect short rates, longer rates.” (link)
Yesterday's Evening Standard...
Hampton taps Yale Deputy AD Henderson to be its next AD, effective February 27. Henderson, who was a FB student-athlete for the Pirates: “To return as the leader of this department is surreal and an auspicious honor. I look forward to continuing the legacy of producing championships and creating transformational opportunities for our student-athletes, inside and outside of the classroom.” (link)
The Pac-12 may have to commit to expansion before it agrees to a media rights deal, a source tells CBS’ Dodd, who also reports, again, per sources, that “significantly more than half of each season's Pac-12 football games will be primarily available via streaming as part of the conference's next rights deal. … The move would likely upset Pac-12 coaches, athletic directors and administrators who rely on widespread visibility for their games via linear (cable) and network platforms for everything from athletic recruitment to university enrollment.” Dodd goes on to point out that “far more lucrative properties are coming available, including UFC, NASCAR, NBA and WWE,” further complicating the equation for the Pac-12. (link)
JohnCanzano.com reports it’s possible the Pac-12 expands beyond 12 members, “depending on how motivated the conference is to add extra inventory and TV homes. The problem becomes finding no-brainer candidates who fit the geography and the conference’s academic profile. I’m told, per a source, that one of the media-rights partners the Pac-12 is engaged with is looking for ‘some tonnage.’ The unnamed entity would like to beef up the inventory. This sounds a lot like Amazon, which needs content for the sports app it floated a while ago. ESPN and Amazon are the likely Pac-12 media-rights partners. Fox is out. I think that the ramp-up in expansion talk this week signals that the conference is wrapping up the media-rights negotiation. I expect the Pac-12 to have something to talk about before the conference basketball tournaments in Las Vegas next month.” (link)
Fox Sports CEO Shanks tells the New York Post’s Marchand and SBJ’s Ourand that Fox is “definitely” interested in the College Football Playoff’s media rights and has made that known to the CFP. Asked by Ourand whether the cost would be an obstacle, Shanks remarks: “Everything is market-based and a moment in time. You’ve got to be pretty content with your strategy in the sense that it has to have real value to be additive to our portfolio… beyond ad sales if it’s strategic. I think at that point, you’ve got to figure out what is the market telling you it’s going to cost. These rights, they’re valued differently by different people for what they need at that moment in time.” Shanks stops short of offering a full-throated confirmation the network is interested in the Pac-12’s media rights, explaining that the network is “able to be opportunistic… but now that we have the Big Ten and the Big 12 done, I think we’re content with where we are, and if something came up, we’d definitely look at it.” (link); Also notable in the media space today, ESPN+ subscribers have increased from 21.3M in February 2022 to 24.9M in February 2023. More on Disney’s latest earnings tomorrow morning. (link)
Georgia brought in $203M in revenue during FY22 and finished the year with a “real surplus” of roughly $287K, according to The Athletic’s Emerson, who explains: “That’s much less than it appears on the financial report filed to the NCAA — which would be $34M — [and] athletic director Josh Brooks said that’s because the NCAA doesn’t count several key items, most notably $25.7M in capital project expenditures.” After what will likely be another successful year revenue-wise in FY23, Brooks sees the new revenue as an opportunity to be smart with the money. “I do feel like these next five years are going to give us an opportunity to catch up in some key areas. What we want to do with the tennis indoor (facility), the ongoing work with Sanford (Stadium), getting baseball and softball improvements. I’d like to get to a point where we’re not catching anymore, we’re moving ahead in facilities. Facilities are obviously always going to be important. You’ve always got a list of things you’d like to attack, it’s just a matter of prioritizing it. And you work that list.” (link)
Florida finished FY22 with a $5.7M budget deficit with revenue of $190.41M and expenses of $174.36M. The Orlando Sentinel’s Thompson notes that those figures do not “paint the full financial picture because the NCAA doesn’t take into account funding capital projects, operating funds and/or capital gifts.” Thompson also notes UF increased the FB support staff salary pool from $4M to $7.3M and paid more $17M million in severance pay, including $15.26M to former FB HC Mullen and his staff. Despite continued facilities upgrades, the Gators reduced their debt service nearly by $7M to $157.49M. Also from Thompson: donations increased more than $9M to $58.61M; ticket sales increased more than $3M to $34.78M; and royalties, licensing, ads and sponsorships increased nearly $1.5M to $9.52M. (link)
Auburn AD Cohen joins the Auburn Undercover podcast to discuss a number of topics, including the decision to hire FB HC Freeze. Regarding NIL: “I just feel like we’re not getting a clear and consistent message, and that’s all any of us ask. We just want guidelines. We want guardrails. … I really believe that [SEC Commissioner Sankey] knows what it’s supposed to look like. I just wish we could get everybody in alignment so that we can be very specific and intentional in what it’s going to look like.” Cohen also notes that, as it relates to baseball, the lack of a state-funded scholarship program for resident high school students to attend public universities “puts you in a really tough position,” particularly since the surrounding states of Florida, Georgia and Louisiana do have such programs. In light of those constraints, Cohen emphasizes the importance of the $30M in upgrades trustees recently approved for Plainsman Park. “If I had to rank where Plainsman Park is right now, even though I love it… it does need some help at this point. Currently, I wouldn’t say it’s in the top half of this league in terms of baseball facilities.” Full interview. (link)
+ Florida State FB HC Norvell inks a new deal through the 2029 season that will pay an average $8.05M per year, The Athletic’s Mandel reports. Norvell made $4.5M last season. (link)
+ Michigan State WBB HC Merchant will remain away from the team indefinitely as she recovers from a medical incident and car accident which occurred late last month. (link)
Connecticut WBB HC Auriemma remarked after the Huskies’ loss to South Carolina that student-athlete Lopez Senechal had bruises on her body: "It's just appalling what teams do to her now. It's not basketball anymore. I don't know what it is, but it's not basketball." Gamecocks HC Staley on her radio call-in show asserted that when her team has success, “we're called something other than players that are locked in. They play the right way and approach it the right way whether they win or lose. We don't denounce anybody's play. They are always uplifting the game of women's basketball, and when we were getting our heads beat in by UConn for all those years, I said nothing. … We've been called so many things and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of it because I coach some of the best human beings the game has ever had." (link)
Sports Illustrated’s Forde acknowledges that while it’s easy to double-take upon hearing that freshly minted North Carolina Field Hockey HC Matson is just 22, spending time with her allays any doubts. Tar Heels AD Cunningham obviously agrees: “I didn’t ever think I’d hire a 22-year-old. But I also didn’t think I’d hire a 67-year-old football coach, either. We talk about fit all the time. You may go into a process with a preconceived notion and come out with something else. I think about hiring a sitting head coach; that’s where I start [with every search], but the feedback from everyone on Erin was ‘absolute superstar.’” As for coaching a group of players who were her teammates just a few months ago, Matson says: “It’s my responsibility and my job to set those boundaries. … They know me; they know how I roll. My expectations and standards are the same as they have been for five years. I’m not sitting in here saying, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ I know probably too much about them.” (link)
Feast your eye-tongues on the bleacher pops of Boone Pickens Stadium, where Oklahoma State is making progress on a $55M upgrade to the seating on the north side. Improvements include four more inches of legroom in the 200 level, the replacement of old benches with new concave benches and permanent chairbacks in some places. Fans interested in seeing their season ticket seats installed or a crane fit through a tunnel can watch via the live Stadium Construction Camera on the OSU website. (link)
Columbia will host the 2024 Ivy League MBB and WBB tournaments in the newly renovated Levien Gymnasium. Ivy League Executive Director Harris: “Coupled with the energy of March Madness and the enthusiasm that this event has built over just a short period of time, the league could not be more excited to host Ivy Madness in the Big Apple.” (link)
After reporting earlier this week on the MBB programs who have spent the most on buy games they ultimately lost, On3’s Wittry does the same for the WBB side. TCU leads all programs, paying $30K to schools that eventually beat them, followed by Oklahoma State ($27K), Kentucky and Texas A&M ($25K) and DePaul and Cincinnati ($20K). On the flipside, schools who received the most for buy games they ultimately won include Kent State ($27K), Murray State and Rice ($25K) and Cleveland, UIC and Sam Houston State ($20K). (link)
College hoops stats guru/KenPom creator Pomeroy observes that anti-flopping rules seem to be working, citing a 10% decrease in the number of offensive fouls called this season compared to the 2019-22 seasons. This decrease correlates with an increase in the number of technicals called for flopping to start the year (0.4 per game), and despite that number decreasing to below 0.1, Pomeroy’s data shows the number of offensive fouls has not subsequently increased. Pomeroy: “Flopping is a basketball institution which will never completely disappear. But there certainly has been progress, here, and it’s stunning to think that NCAA rule-makers are on the verge of claiming a rare W. The ultimate test, of course, is whether this holds up into March.” (link)
Nike is suing StockX, alleging the company has chosen to compete in the NFT market "by blatantly freeriding, almost exclusively, on the back of Nike’s famous trademarks and associated goodwill." With that context in mind, Heitner Legal’s namesake notes that “Hermes won its trademark infringement lawsuit vs. creator of the MetaBirkins NFT project. The jury awarded Hermes $133K in damages and found that the NFTs aren't protected under the 1st Amendment. I figured this was in the bag for Hermes. … The intellectual property lawsuits surrounding NFT sales are just getting started. … Brands will become more proactive in going after this type of infringement.” (link)
+ ESPN over the weekend recorded its second-most viewed MBB regular season Saturday since 2018-19 led by the Duke-North Carolina matchup, which garnered 2.9M viewers. Purdue-Indiana (2M) was next, followed by Florida-Kentucky (1.7M) and Auburn-Tennessee (1.1M). (link)
+ This weekend’s South Carolina-Connecticut WBB matchup drew 1.087M viewers, making it the “most-watched WBB game ever on Fox Sports and the most-watched regular season game on any network since 2017,” per SBJ. (link)
+ Florida’s SB20, which would eliminate NIL regulations for student-athletes, including a provision that requires deals to be “commensurate with the market,” has cleared the Senate’s Postsecondary Education Committee. The House Education and Employment Committee is scheduled to consider the Special Session Bill (HB 7B) during a committee meeting this afternoon. (link)
+ Arizona has opened a new lactation room inside the McKale Center. (link)
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