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NBA and Sinclair confirm local streaming rights deal (SportsPro Insider) The National Basketball Association (NBA) and US media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group have confirmed the expanded renewal of their broadcast partnership.

The extended marketing and digital distribution rights agreement with Diamond Sports Group (DSG), Sinclair’s sports division, will see the company’s regional sports networks (RSNs) live stream games, as well as additional content, on a new streaming service to the local territories of 16 NBA teams.

Teams included in the agreement are the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, and San Antonio Spurs.

Premier League lands on Paramount+ in Mexico and Central America (SportsPro Insider) ViacomCBS-owned streaming service Paramount+ has secured a three-year deal for Premier League broadcast rights in Mexico and Central America from the start of the 2022/23 season.

The new broadcast partnership brings an end to the Premier League’s relationship with pay-TV provider Sky Mexico.

The ViacomCBS deal provides access to all 380 live matches on Paramount+ and the Pluto TV aggregated streaming platform.

The contract covers Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. It also includes Belize and the Dominican Republic but on a non-exclusive basis.

ViacomCBS has also secured a Premier League feed for its platforms featuring 24/7 coverage of the competition, as well as exclusive content taking an inside look at the club and players.

    FuboTV lands Premier League rights in Canada

ViacomCBS launched Paramount+ in the US in 2019 with several high-profile soccer rights acquisitions. Those deals included Concacaf international matches, Uefa Champions League, as well as the domestic top tiers from Italy, Argentina and Brazil. In Australia, Paramount+ launched with a major play for the domestic A-Leagues.

The Premier League rights deal marks an expansion of operations in Central America ahead of moving into a number of additional territories by 2023, including the UK, Ireland, Germany and Italy.

“We are very happy that ViacomCBS views the Premier League and our clubs as a vital part of their live sports offering,” said Paul Molnar, chief media officer at the Premier League.

“ViacomCBS platforms, including Paramount+ and Pluto TV, will be an outstanding home for the Premier League and we look forward to working together to showcase the league to new and existing fans throughout Central America and Mexico.”

Tennessee Titans unveil ‘US$600m’ stadium development plan (SportsPro Insider) The National Football League’s (NFL) Tennessee Titans have unveiled plans for a reported US$600 million renovation of Nissan Stadium, featuring a new entertainment district in the surrounding Nashville area.

The Titans have played at Nissan Stadium since 1999 after relocating from Houston to Nashville in 1997 and the team’s lease at the venue expires in 2028.

With plans to renovate the team’s home shelved during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Titans are now pushing forward with development plans.

According to The Tennessean, renovations to the stadium will progress over the next three seasons and could cost up to US$600 million.

The report says that Metro Sports Authority, the stadium’s state-owned landlord, could cover as much as US$300 million of the development costs, with the Titans and private investors to fund the remaining US$300 million.

Mayor of Nashville, John Cooper, told the local news outlet that the city is looking to build a stadium that “has no burden on the taxpayer.”

Speaking to the Tennessean, Titans president Burke Nihill added: “I think if either the city or the Titans were pushing for something more basic we would’ve been done with this a long time ago. But we’re pushing for something that’s exceptional.

“Our highest priority is to win the Super Bowl, but this is the top priority behind that.”

Novak Djokovic in final bid to save Australian Open chances after visa cancelled again (SportsPro Insider) Novak Djokovic has had his visa cancelled for a second time but the world number one men’s tennis player could still take part in the Australian Open.

The Serb had been waiting since a judge overturned the original decision on 10th January to find out whether Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke would use his powers to reimpose the penalty.

Just before 6pm local time on 14th January, Hawke released a statement saying he had made the judgement to send Djokovic home ‘on health and good order grounds’.

    Podcast | Novak Djokovic, Covid vaccines and the business of the Australian Open

But the legal process is far from at an end and both parties were back in front of judge Anthony Kelly, who made the original visa cancellation reversal, after Hawke’s executive decision.

Djokovic’s legal team confirmed they will seek the same outcome this time at a virtual hearing at the Federal Court of Australia on 16th January, the day before his first-round match against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic.

The world number one was allowed to stay at his rented accommodation in the immediate aftermath of the decision but will be detained again at 8am on 15th January prior to a meeting with immigration officials.

He will remain in detention while he meets with his legal team to prepare a case and then be held overnight, potentially back at the Park Hotel where he spent four nights last week.

Even if he wins, therefore, there must be major question marks over whether he will be in the right physical and mental state to compete at a Grand Slam regardless of his famous powers of resilience.

The current Australian government is firmly committed to protecting its borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hawke’s legal representative, meanwhile, said the minister would not seek to deport Djokovic until proceedings were at an end, raising the possibility he could yet be sent home mid-tournament.

In his statement, Hawke said: ‘Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.

‘This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10th January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds.

‘In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic.’

The decision means Djokovic also faces a three-year ban from the country, which could mean he never plays at the Australian Open again, although that can be waived.

The situation has dominated global news since Djokovic was detained at Melbourne airport on 6th January after border officials concluded he did not have the right paperwork to enter the country.

Michael Andretti Heads Up SPAC To Raise $200 Million Through IPO; Focus Outside Of Racing (Forbes SportsMoney) Michael Andretti has built a racing empire. Now he looks to drop the hammer on Wall Street.

Michael, through the highly diversified Andretti Autosports, has leveraged his partnerships in Formula E and Extreme E, has set his eyes on acquisitions largely outside the racetrack focusing on a stable of companies that range from electrification of the auto space, autonomous technology, racing, luxury/performance products, auto aftermarket, auto service, and retail, or other disruptive technologies.

The special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) created for this purpose named Andretti Acquisition Corp..announced its initial public offering (IPO) on Thursday of 20,000,000 units at a price of $10.00 per unit setting a target of raising $200 million.

Michael, the son of the legendary racer Mario Andretti, is co-CEO along with long-time friend and business partner Bill Sandbrook who is the former CEO of U.S. Concrete. Others involved include McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown. 

The stock is now being traded under the ticker symbol “WNNR.U” on the New York Stock Exchange.

According to Matt Brown, the CFO of the new Andretti Acquisition Corp., the long-term vision, once the acquisition is completed, having a seat on the board would allow the company to assist in public company readiness and governance. Or, helping with sales and vendor agreements for partnerships through Andretti’s vast network of business connections built throughout nearly 20 years of racing.

“We own a business that’s not just racing,” Michael said to me as part of an interview with Sandbrook and Brown. “In looking at other SPACs, we felt we had a lot to bring to the table – not just our brand, but our contacts and the knowledge of the space given our eight years in Formula E and now Extreme E where we’ve built an incredible partnerships. We felt we had something different to offer than other SPACs.”

While the SPAC is not targeting racing, the Andretti name – one that is a household commodity – is a brand that the company feels it can utilize at a given time.

“Some companies might not benefit from it, while others in the automotive space may lend itself to the brand, so it will depend on the fit,” Michael said.

“This brand is a family brand,” Sandbrook said. “It’s three generations of the Andrettis. This isn’t a single person brand. It’s a 50 year family name that our studies show 75% of Americans know the name. With Michael and Mario both having raced in F1, Andretti is not just a U.S. brand, it is a world-wide brand. It’s a very unique attribute that we’re bringing to the table that we feel no one can match.”

In The Wake Of Omicron Surge, Serie A Set 5,000-Fan Limit In Stadiums. Was This The Right Choice? (Forbes SportsMoney) The Omicron variant has lately been surging across Italy, as the country registered peaks of 220,000 daily cases with as much as 16% of the total Covid-19 tests coming back positive.

Amid the rapid spread of Omicron, Serie A executives considered postponing the league but eventually opted to shrink attendance numbers in soccer stadiums.

Was it the right choice? What are the financial implications weighing on the league as Serie A clubs prepare to restrict turnout to a maximum of 5,000 fans?
Lowering Fan Attendance In Stadiums

Last week, Prime Minister Mario Draghi reached out to Gabriele Gravina, the president of Italy’s governing body of soccer FIGC. Draghi asked Gravina that Italian soccer take further precautionary steps in light of the high number of Covid-19 cases detected among the population. 

Postponing the league for two weeks was one of the possible scenarios, and one that would have given the country some time to weather the current peak of Omicron infections. The thickness of the teams’ schedule, however, simply made this option unfeasible, as there are plenty of domestic, European and international competitions to be played in the second half of the 2021/22 campaign.

To meet the government request, the 20 Serie A teams unanimously agreed to strengthen attendance restrictions in stadiums: The league games scheduled for Jan. 16 and Jan. 23 will host up to 5,000 people, with the visiting supporters’ section set to remain closed in an effort to discourage traveling from away fans.

NBA's Play-In Tournament Has Altered The Balance Of Buyers And Sellers (Forbes SportsMoney) The NBA trade deadline typically separates the haves from the have-nots. Teams in playoff or title contention tend to be buyers—they're willing to send out young prospects and/or draft picks for win-now players—while rebuilding teams are often willing to send out veterans for future-minded compensation.

However, the NBA's play-in tournament may alter the balance of trade deadline buyers and sellers, pushing more teams toward the former and fewer toward the latter. That creates an opportunity for the teams that do decide to cash in on some of their veterans.

Under the old playoff format, the eight teams with the best records in each conference would advance to the playoffs, while the seven teams with the worst records would be headed to the draft lottery. Now, the six teams with the best records are guaranteed a playoff spot, the five teams with the worst records head to the lottery, and the 7-10 seeds compete in a mini-tournament for the final two playoff spots.

Teams at the top of the conference would be buyers either way, and teams with little to no shot of making the play-in tournament figure to be sellers. But the play-in tournament has significantly expanded the middle class in each conference, which could convince more teams that they have a chance to make the playoffs.

Heading into Friday, the Houston Rockets are the only team in the Western Conference more than two games outside of the final spot in the play-in tournament. The Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers are the only three teams in the Eastern Conference more than three games behind the No. 10-seeded Boston Celtics.

Now that the NBA appears to be through the worst of its omicron wave, teams are getting closer to full strength. Some of the bottom-feeders could get a new lease on life this season if they get hot between now and the trade deadline, causing them to pivot from potential sellers to buyers as well.

The sheer volume of players who wound up in health and safety protocols over the past month makes it difficult to get a read on most teams. The Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are obvious contenders, while the Rockets, Pistons and Magic are heading straight toward the lottery. 

Women’s ‘El Clásico’ At Camp Nou Poised To Set World Record Attendance (Forbes SportsMoney) Within two days of tickets going on release, European champions FC Barcelona Femení's Champions League quarter-final second leg tie on March 30 against Real Madrid at Camp Nou, the largest stadium in Europe, is close to being a 70,000 sell-out with the match seemingly set to be watched by a world record attendance for a women's club match.

As of yesterday, 50,000 tickets had been issued for the game. The majority of those were claimed - not bought - by FC Barcelona's members (socios). Each of the club's estimated 147,000 socios has been entitled to claim up to four free tickets each, only paying a small administration fee "to encourage the presence of the public and for members to be able to attend the match accompanied by family or friends". Yesterday morning, the club stated that 35,600 free tickets had been withdrawn by socios.

Three hours later, as the general sale of tickets commenced, that number had risen to 50,000. As of this morning, tickets were sold out in 35 out of 42 sections of the stadium, with seats only available in seven sections of the highest tiers. With two and a half months of sales until the actual game is played it seems inconceivable that the match will not sell-out and break the world record attendance of 60,739 for a women's club match set in March 2019 when FC Barcelona won 2-0 at Atlético de Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium. It also seems likely that the match will break the European club competition record for a women's match when 50,212 spectators saw Olympique Lyonnais defeat 1. FFC Frankfurt 2-0 at the Olympiastadion in Munich in May 2012.

It will not be the first time that FC Barcelona Femení has played at Camp Nou. On January 5 2021, the club made history by playing their first match as a professional side at the legendary 99,354-capacity stadium, a 4-0 win over city rivals RCD Espanyol in a Spanish league match. Unfortunately, as with all sporting events in the country at that time, the match was played behind closed doors without spectators.

Those restrictions have been lifted this season but capacity will still be limited to 70,000 for the game unless the current Covid-restrictions are relaxed by the local Catalan government before March. If that happens, and the entire seating capacity of the stadium is opened up for sale, the match could be watched by an outright world record for an official women's soccer match, overtaking the 90,185 who were at the Pasadena Rose Bowl to watch the United States USM -0.3% win the 1999 Women's World Cup final against China in a penalty shoot-out. An estimated 110,000 were reported to have witnessed the unofficial 1971 Women's World Cup Final between Mexico and Denmark at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

Nascar Partners With Qualtrics To Enhance Fan Council’s Feedback (Forbes SportsMoney) Through a new partnership with Qualtrics, Nascar is changing the way it analyzes data from its highly regarded Nascar Fan Council. 

Qualtrics, an experience management firm based in Seattle, will enable Nascar's top executives to evaluate fan experience data this year in a different way.

“The Fan Council has been a core resource for fan feedback,” Brooks Deaton, Nascar's managing director of research and insights, said. “The community has over 15,000 avid fans from across the country that we leverage for industry-wide initiatives.

“Migrating the community to Qualtrics now allows us to look at fan sentiment changes over time and integrate that data across other data streams throughout our business. This allows us to not only see how their attitudes are changing, but to communicate and engage with them in a more prescriptive and personalized way.”

Nascar plans to utilize the new partnership with Qualtrics immediately. The data from the Fan Council helps the sanctioning body determine what direction the sport should go in when evaluating several issues, including the type of racing, aerodynamic package and what tracks to race at.

Qualtrics’ goal is to help Nascar understand how and why fans think and feel the way they do about certain issues. With changing expectations as the Next Gen car is set to take its first official green flag at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 9 for the Busch Light Clash, the new data will let Nascar focus on creating first-class experiences for fans.

“Looking at it broadly, we know that Fan Council data is one important piece of the overall puzzle for Nascar,” Deaton said. “The relationship with Qualtrics is helping us integrate data in a more seamless way.

“Their integrations within customer data platform systems and throughout the research industry are creating easier processes for us to sophisticate the data we collect and leverage. Additionally, the longitudinal insights around these avid fans represent a critical part of the decision-making process.”

Australia Cancels Novak Djokovic’s Visa Again (Forbes SportsMoney) Topline

Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa was canceled for a second time Friday by the country’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, a decision that comes days after a federal court overturned the Australian Border Force’s initial decision to cancel the unvaccinated tennis star’s visa.
Key Facts

Announcing the cancelation, Hawke said the decision was based on health and good order grounds and “in the public interest to do so.”

Hawke said he carefully considered information provided by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Djokovic, before making the decision.

Hawked added that the Morrison Government is “firmly committed” to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly during the pandemic.

While Djokovic will be able to challenge this decision in court, such a case would be more difficult to win as the powers held by the immigration minister regarding visa cancelations are very broad.

Under section 133C(3) of the country’s Migration Act, a minister may cancel an individual’s visa if the holder poses a risk to “the health, safety or good order” of Australians among other things.

2022 eNASCAR iRacing Series to Feature 19 Races (SportsTravel) The 13th season of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series will feature races on six new tracks, with drivers competing on virtual circuits that more closely mirror the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
This season will include a 19-race calendar, including a virtual race that mimics the course at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which opens the season with an exhibition race.

Timeline: The Djokovic saga (AXIOS Sports) The Australian Open begins Monday (Sunday in the U.S.), and No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic's status is still up in the air.
Where it stands: Djokovic faces deportation after his visa was revoked for a second time by the Australian government on Friday. A lawyer for Djokovic has asked a court for an injunction preventing his removal from Australia.
How we got here: The past 10 days should have been about the World No. 1's quest for a record-breaking 21st major victory. Instead, they've snowballed into one of the biggest off-court tennis sagas ever.
Jan. 4: Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, announces he's heading to Australia with a medical exemption. Days later, we learn he got the exemption because he tested positive for COVID in December.
Jan. 5: Upon his arrival in Melbourne, he's held in the airport — in a room guarded by police, according to his father — due to a mistake with his visa application.
Jan. 6: After eight hours of airport detention, Djokovic's visa is canceled and he's denied entry to the country for failing to meet the exemption requirements.
Jan. 9: While he is cooped up in an immigration detention hotel — and inadvertently drawing widespread attention to refugees — Djokovic's parents join a rally in Belgrade, Serbia, demanding his release.
Jan. 10: Djokovic's visa is reinstated on appeal after arguing that his positive test in December superseded the country's vaccination requirement. Hours later, he's out on the courts practicing.
Jan. 12: In a statement, Djokovic blames his agent for "tick[ing] the incorrect box" on his travel declaration, which falsely claimed he didn't visit any countries in the prior two weeks.
Jan. 12: In the same statement, he admits to having attended an in-person interview after his positive test in December. He calls the breach of protocols "an error of judgement," while the Serbian Prime Minister calls it "a clear violation."
Jan. 13: The tournament draw is revealed, and it features Djokovic as the No. 1 seed, even as immigration officials continue to investigate him.
The bottom line: 255 men and women are currently looking at the draw and preparing for the year's first major tournament, but the 256th is all anyone can seem to talk about.

Separatist rebels strike in Cameroon during African Cup of Nations (AXIOS Sports) Two deadly attacks this week in Anglophone regions of Cameroon underscore the security challenges the country faces as it hosts one of the world’s biggest soccer tournaments, the Africa Cup of Nations.

The big picture: What started in late 2016 as a protest movement led by teachers and lawyers in two English-speaking regions of western Cameroon has evolved into a civil war that has forced around 1 million people to flee their homes, left 700,000 children out of school, and carried on for five years with no sign of resolution.

Driving the news: Separatist rebels killed one soldier during an attack Wednesday in the city of Buea, where four national teams taking part in the tournament are staying.

    A rebel leader told Reuters the aim was to disrupt preparations for the games played on Wednesday in the nearby city of Limbe, which is slated to host five more games this month.
    In a separate incident on Tuesday, a prominent senator was shot dead in northwest Cameroon. No group claimed responsibility, but separatist militias have assassinated several politicians they deemed insufficiently supportive.

The history: The former German colony of Kamerun was divided into French and British protectorates after World War I, and reunified as independent Cameroon in 1961.

    Both French and English are official languages, but French is spoken by around 80% of the population.
    Lawyers and teachers launched peaceful protests in late 2016 against what they saw as the marginalization of the Anglophone culture, and more specifically against the appointments of French-speaking judges and teachers in the Anglophone regions, says Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Central Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch.
    The government responded with force. “They dispersed the protests, they shot at peaceful protesters, they arrested hundreds of them,” Allegrozzi says. “This led to frustration, to resentment, and also to the creation of armed groups.”

Separatist rebels declared the English-speaking regions an independent state called Ambazonia in 2017 and set out to make it impossible for the central government to control.

    One particularly controversial tactic is a forced school boycott that has seen scores of pupils threatened, attacked or kidnapped for attending school. Many who still go to school attend secretly, making sure not to wear their uniforms in public. The UN says 2 in 3 schools in northwest and southwest Cameroon remain closed.
    The army, meanwhile, has allegedly burned villages and conducted arbitrary arrests during its counterinsurgency campaign, and it's “preparing for a long war,” according to an International Crisis Group report.
    "With neither side clearly ascendant and both reluctant to engage in talks, the conflict has reached a stalemate amid a lack of international attention," the report notes. Both sides have been accused of abuses against civilians. 

With Africa's most-watched sporting event coming to Cameroon this month, the government has attempted to show that it has control over the entire country, including by picking Limbe as one of the six primary venues.

    The separatists, meanwhile, want to undermine the government and draw international attention to their cause.
    When organizers planned for the tournament's mascot to visit the large Anglophone city of Bamenda last month, it required not only a lion costume but a bulletproof vest and military escort.

NIL Just Went the High School Football Route, and the First—Jaden Rashada—May End Up Being the Best (SportTechie) The first high school football player to ever secure an NIL is from a place called Pittsburg, minus the ‘h,’ and walks around…minus pretentiousness.

Jaden Rashada, the No. 1 rated dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2023, has an accurate arm, swift feet, long legs, high IQ and a heart two sizes too generous. The football recruiting app named AIR (Athletes in Recruitment) that signed him to a four-figure endorsement deal last month could not have picked a more grounded high school junior—unless you don’t like an 18-year-old who spends his Christmas feeding the homeless.

“Honestly, my goal is to be somebody who’s remembered forever,’’ says Rashada. “I want to change people’s lives.’’

The era of the Name, Image and Likeness is upon us, and for those who thought it would corrupt both college and high school athletes, the early returns are: not so fast.

AIR’s founder and CEO, the Australian-born former SMU punter James Sackville, says he dove headfirst into the prep ranks “because, I think, everyone else was a little afraid, to be honest with you, and I think we just don’t care. We’re like, ‘Hey, we’re going to be first movers in everything that we do.’ And it was legal. It wasn’t a matter of legality.’’

To be exact, the only states currently allowing all of their high school athletes to be compensated for NIL are New York, New Jersey, Alaska, Nebraska and Rashada’s home state of California. Knowing practically nothing about Pittsburg—a quaint, blue-collar town 40 miles east of San Francisco—Sackville at least had the wherewithal to scroll down a list of top-rated California quarterbacks, a guaranteed hotbed. In milliseconds, he grew enthralled by Rashada’s video, stats, curls and Twitter feed.

NFL Awards AI for Head Impact Detection, New Innovation IDs Injury 83 Times Faster Than a Human Can (SportTechie) The NFL and Amazon Web Services awarded $100,000 to data scientists who took part in the computer vision competition to develop algorithms for automatic identification of players involved in on-field helmet impacts. 

  Previously, the NFL undertook a manual process of reviewing postgame video frame-by-frame to record 150 different variables for all major injuries. The league uses that data to inform rule changes, spur innovation in protective equipment and influence coaching and training strategies. This was the second phase of the competition, building on a previous contest to crowdsource methods of detecting helmet impacts. 

  The winning entry completed the task 83 times faster than a human. NFL SVP of health innovation Jennifer Langton previously summarized the results, suggesting a consolidation of required time from three or four days down to two hours. All of this data helps fuel the Digital Athlete that AWS is building in collaboration with the NFL and its injury surveillance data to simulate varying game and play conditions and how that affects injury rates. 

  First prize and $50,000 went to Kippei Matsuda from Osaka, Japan, while second place and $25,000 was given to Takuya Ito from Tokyo. The third, fourth and fifth finishers received a total of $25,000, distributed on a graduated scale. 

Atlantic League Returns to Human Home Plate Umpires, Moves Mound Back Up for 2022 (SportTechie) The Atlantic League will return to having human home plate umpires and move its mound back to the conventional 60-feet, six-inches for its 2022 season. The league has deployed an Automated Ball-Strike (ABS) system since 2019, while last season’s second half was played with a 61-foot, six-inch pitching distance to home plate through trials conducted with MLB.

 The Atlantic League called its experimental ABS deployment “successful” in a press release on Thursday, noting MLB will continue testing its automated umpiring system in an affiliated minor league next season. In 2021, MLB trialed ABS in a Low-A league using Hawk-Eye’s computer vision cameras, while the Atlantic League’s ABS system over the past three seasons utilized TrackMan radars.

 MLB extended its partnership in 2020 with the Atlantic League to continue using the league to test rule changes through 2023. The Atlantic League will retain other MLB test rules such as 17-inch bases, extra inning tiebreaker and anti-shift rules. More collaborations with MLB will be announced this spring.

 “The test rules and equipment are transitional by definition: Some elements remain, others are tweaked, and still others are abandoned,” Atlantic League president Rick White said in a statement. “We’re proud that many tests today will find their way to the big leagues in the future. We will continue to closely corroborate on tests with MLB.”

FuboTV Buys Exclusive English Premier League Rights in Canada (SportTechie) Sports and TV streaming service FuboTV has bought exclusive rights to the English Premier League in Canada. The deal will start next season and run through the 2024-25 season. All 380 EPL matches per season will stream on the service.

 FuboTV will effectively take the place of DAZN, another streaming service that held Premier League rights in Canada after it signed a three-year deal in 2019 to replace Sportsnet and TSN as Canada’s home of EPL matches. FuboTV’s Canadian service acquired rights in August to stream Italy’s Serie A and Coppa Italia competitions.

 More than 100 channels from partnered networks across sports, news and entertainment are available on FuboTV, which also operates in the U.S., France and Spain. The company is building up its own live sports coverage—which also includes exclusive U.S. streaming rights to CONMEBOL’s Qatar World Cup qualifying matches—while also integrating its on-screen programming with its Fubo Sportsbook and FanView prediction gaming contests. 

After Scramble to Replace NHL Players, USA Hockey Reveals Men’s Olympic Team (Wall Street Journal) Team USA will look a little different than planned at the Beijing Olympics.

After weeks of scrambling sparked by the NHL’s decision to hold its players out of the Olympic tournament, USA Hockey unveiled the men’s hockey team roster for the 2022 Beijing Games. The 25-man squad is heavy on youth, with just one returning Olympian and 15 college players in the mix, including Minnesota State’s Nathan Smith, who is currently the leading point scorer in the NCAA.

“We’ve got a great blend of youth and experience,” said U.S. men’s Olympic coach David Quinn. “The challenge is you’re throwing 25 players together in a short period of time and trying to become a cohesive unit in a short, small window.”

Thursday’s announcement comes about three weeks after the NHL reversed its plans to allow players to represent their countries at the Olympics amid a wave of Covid-19 outbreaks on 19 of its 32 franchises that postponed more than 50 games in December and forced the league to shut down for several days. The NHL had built a three-week hiatus into the schedule in February to accommodate China-bound skaters and will likely use that period to reschedule disrupted games.

Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after Australian government revokes his visa a second time (USA TODAY) MELBOURNE, Australia — Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for a second time.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Friday he used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds three days before the Australian Open is to begin. 

Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the cancelation in the Federal Circuit and Family Court as they successfully did after the first cancellation.

Hawke said he canceled the visa on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”

“The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hawke said in a statement, referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

It is the second time Djokovic’s visa has been canceled since he arrived in Melbourne last week to defend his Australian Open title.

Atlantic League ends trials with 61-foot mounds, robo-umps for balls and strikes (USA TODAY) NEW YORK -- The Atlantic League is restoring its pitching mound to 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate and returning strike zone judgment to umpires after experimenting with moving the rubber back a foot and using an automatic ball-strike system.

The independent league announced the changes Thursday as part of its partnership with Major League Baseball. The sides have been paired since 2019, with the Atlantic League agreeing to test rules and equipment that might one day reach the majors.

The automated ball-strike system debuted in the Atlantic League for the second half of the 2019 season and has since been tested and tweaked in the affiliated low-Class A Southeast League. The so-called robo-umps might still one day make it to the majors, although a move to ABS there doesn't seem imminent.
The independent league announced the changes Thursday as part of its partnership with Major League Baseball.

Alexa Bliss (And Lilly) Sells More Merchandise Than Any Active WWE Star Per Report (Forbes SportsMoney) Alexa Bliss’ (kayfabe) descent into madness has translated to strong merchandise sales, polarizing as it may be.

In a recent report from US Bookies, Bliss’ Lilly Doll was listed behind only Stone Cold Steve Austin as WWE’s highest-selling merchandise. Austin’s Legacy Championship Collector’s title topped the list with estimated earnings of $1,359,984. Bliss’ Lilly Doll came in second, with $863,712. In fact, total sales for Bliss’ merchandise came in at over $1.6 million, trailing only Austin ($3.7 million) and John Cena ($2.6 million).

Yesterday, Bliss cryptically tweeted a GIF of her and the polarizing plush doll, possibly in reaction to the story.

Bliss has portrayed a darker, infantilized version of herself since aligning with Bray Wyatt in 2020. Shortly thereafter, the character came under fire from fans and critics during a bizarre storyline alongside Wyatt and Randy Orton.

“If you’ve enjoyed this ridiculous storyline more than I have, then you probably enjoyed this a lot more than I did,” said Jason Powell of following a supernatural match between Orton and Bliss.

Last year, WWE rolled out Lilly dolls as merchandise during SummerSlam week. WWE officials reportedly kept a close eye on sales of Lilly dolls during SummerSlam week to determine if the character would be sustainable in the future. This was clearly the case as not only does the character persist to this day, but the plush dolls reportedly sold out.

“Lilly is available on @WWEShop !! Well… when she’s back in stock. Keeps selling out… darn [winking emoji],” said Bliss in a tweet responding to criticism of her booking.
WWE’s Highest Selling Superstars
  1.     Stone Cold Steve Austin | $3,657,224
  2.     John Cena | $2,649,836
  3.     Alexa Bliss | $1,645,945
  4.     nWo | $1,292,561
  5.     Roman Reigns | $1,164,253
  6.     The Rock | $992,114
  7.     Jimmy Uso | $885,930
  8.     Jey Uso | $862,130
  9.     Ultimate Warrior | $825,841
  10.     Eddie Guerrero | $704,436

NFL Playoffs Generate No Financial Windfall for Individual Teams (Sportico) Stadiums will be packed, and the TV audiences will be massive as the NFL playoffs kick off this weekend, but for the teams in the Super Bowl hunt, the playoffs offer little financial upside this season.

The NFL’s economic model spreads the wealth. Its massive media contracts, along with a large chunk of gate receipts, are divided equally among the 32 teams. The playoffs are no different. The league collects almost all ticket revenue from playoff games and simply provides a stipend for home and away teams that cover costs for travel and stadium operations. Home teams keep their share of concession and parking revenue, which typically ranges from $1 million to $2 million combined, per game, but it is a rounding error for teams who can expect a check next season from the NFL for shared revenue of roughly $400 million. A Super Bowl run boosts merchandise sales for teams, but much of that revenue is shared equally, as well.

Meanwhile, playoff expenses can add up. Qualifying for the Super Bowl is rare for most teams, with New England the obvious outlier, so ownership often blows past its allotted travel stipend to bring employees to the Big Game. When you also factor in coach and player playoff incentives—the Bucs owed Tom Brady $2.25 million for his Super Bowl win last year—teams can end up with a financial loss during the playoffs.

“The centralized revenue sharing gives NFL teams less control over playoff dollars than their counterparts in other leagues,” said Sean Clemens, director of sports investment banking at Park Lane. “But it’s the same system and revenue base that see them ending with the highest profit margins in sports, so you don’t see owners complaining.”

The NFL playoff revenue allocation runs in sharp contrast to the NBA and NHL. The NBA started keeping only 25% of playoff ticket revenue in 2016, down from 45% previously. NHL teams kick back 35% of gate receipts for each home playoff game and keep the rest, although the provision was waived for the COVID-19-impacted 2020-21 season.

Playoff ticket demand is often sky high, and NBA and NHL teams take advantage with price increases that can lead to finals tickets priced 200% above their regular season cost. During their five straight trips to the NBA Finals starting in 2015, the Warriors regularly netted more than $50 million from the playoffs, after the NBA took its cut.

Baseball teams are only able to cash in during the postseason through a long playoff series, ideally in the final two rounds when prices are their highest. Teams must contribute 60% of ticket revenue from the first three games of the division series and first four games of the championship series and World Series. This funds the postseason player pool that hit $90 million during 2021, with each share for the Braves worth $397,391 after their World Series title.

Like their employers, NFL players are often competing for a fraction of their weekly pay during the playoffs. Players are paid their base salary on a weekly basis during the 18 weeks of the NFL season. That means $1.5 million a week for Aaron Rodgers, who heads to the playoffs quarterbacking the NFC’s top-seeded Packers. Players will earn $37,500-$42,500 a week during the first two weeks of the playoffs, per the collective bargaining agreement. It is a tick above the weekly pay of the NFL’s minimum salary of $660,000. It moves up to $65,000 for the conference championship games, while the Super Bowl is worth $150,000 for each player on the winning team and $75,000 for those who came up short. The player bonus pool is funded by playoff gate receipts.

The NFL playoffs are not particularly lucrative for participating teams or players, but every NFL team and player ultimately benefits from the playoffs, as their blockbuster TV ratings are part of the equation that last year enticed media companies to commit $113 billion to broadcast games over the next 11 years—half of which funnels to the players under the CBA. Eleven NFL playoff games ranked among the 20 most watched U.S. TV broadcasts in 2021, while the other two postseason contests ranked in the 30s. The Super Bowl led the way with 91.6 million viewers, followed by the championship games in the NFC (44.8 million) and AFC (42.3 million).

The financial upside from a Super Bowl title in the current season is limited, but the future benefits can be significant by raising demand and pricing power on tickets, suites and sponsorships. “We’ve used such numbers as 50% going forward,” said Stephen Jones, Dallas Cowboys COO, at Sportico’s NFL Valuations event in September, with the caveat he’d prefer the team’s first Super Bowl in 26 years over more income. “I think it has such an effect when you win a championship. We saw it when we first bought the team, how people get even more excited. They pull dalltheir Cowboys jerseys out of their drawers; they were closet Cowboys fans because we weren’t winning, and then you win and here they come.

Boehly, Kang Standoff Over D.C. Team Sale Heads to League Office (Sportico) The sale of the NWSL’s Washington Spirit took another abrupt turn this week, lengthening a saga that began with a league-altering abuse scandal before turning to ownership infighting and behind-the-scenes maneuvers.

Despite the turmoil, the NWSL champions are likely to sell at a valuation greater than any other club in the league to date. Far less certain is who’ll be left standing when the ownership transfer is complete.

For a while it appeared to be a group led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly. Last month the league announced the group was in exclusive negotiations to buy the team, at a price Sportico reported to be a league-record $25 million. Boehly is a billionaire, an established investor across a number of sports teams and companies, and has shown a willingness to put his money behind women’s sports through a minority stake in the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. But moves made by Spirit co-owner Y. Michele Kang, whose $35 million offer is 33% bigger than the Boehly group’s, have complicated the process and put the team’s fate largely in the league’s hands.

Representatives for the team, league and Kang declined to comment. Neither Spirit controlling owner Steve Baldwin nor Boehly responded to messages seeking comment.

The sale process began in October of last year, in the midst of a league-wide abuse scandal that implicated Washington head coach Richie Burke, whose eventual firing was accompanied by accusations that Baldwin created a toxic culture. At the time, the NWSL communicated to all three Spirit owners—Baldwin, Kang and Bill Lynch—that the league’s preference was that they all sell, according to multiple people familiar with the communications. On Oct. 14, Baldwin emailed club investors to say that he would start looking for a buyer.

While Baldwin and the league had hopes of wrapping up a sale by year end, a finish line no longer seems as close as it did even a few days ago, when Boehly’s group was ready to close the deal, according to people familiar with the discussions, who were granted anonymity as sale talks are still private.

In the background was another attempt to buy the team. Kang, who became the league’s first female co-owner in late 2020, began lobbying to take over almost immediately after Baldwin announced his intent to sell and quickly amassed a vocal group of advocates—Spirit players. In an open letter published on social media, an unspecified group of players urged Baldwin to sell to Kang, founder and CEO of healthcare tech firm Cognosante.

“The person we trust is Michele,” the players’ letter said. “She continuously puts players’ needs and interests first. She listens. She believes that this can be a profitable business and you have always said you intended to hand the team over to female ownership. That moment is now.”

Despite the player sentiment, Baldwin made clear he had no intention of selling to Kang, who made an initial $21 million bid.

Boehly’s solo interest in the club first surfaced in October, but the reports were met with pushback about the lack of a female owner. In response, US Squash board member Jennifer Mackesy and a handful of others joined in a Boehly-led group bid, which tapped Mackesy, a former retail executive and William & Mary college soccer player, as the franchise’s would-be representative at league meetings.

Andretti SPAC Raises $200 Million at IPO, Rules Out Sports Team Buy (Sportico) A special purpose acquisition company started by Michael Andretti closed on a $200 million initial public offering last evening and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange today.

The blank-check, Andretti Acquisition Corp., seeks opportunities that can benefit from the iconic racing family’s brand, both inside and outside of the worldwide motor sports platform, according to its prospectus. Michael is co-CEO of the venture with former U.S. Concrete CEO Bill Sandbrook. McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown and Mario Andretti are among the other executives participating in the venture.

“There’s an engine under our hood, and that’s the difference, I think, between us and some others,” Michael Andretti said on a video call, referring to the quality of the SPAC’s executive team.

Sinclair’s NBA Rights Deal May Forestall $600 Million Loan Call (Sportico) A month after locking in streaming rights for NHL games, Sinclair has closed a similar deal with the NBA that will further bolster its nascent direct-to-consumer service, while also securing $600 million in debt financing.

As part of a renewal of its distribution deal with the NBA, Sinclair subsidiary Diamond Sports Group has nailed down the rights to stream live games to subscribers in 16 home markets. The deal further ratifies Sinclair president and CEO Chris Ripley’s recent assertion that the company will have sufficient content deals in hand ahead of the spring rollout of the new DTC platform.

Among the 16 franchises included in the agreement are the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns. The defending champion Bucks in 2020-21 put up the NBA’s sixth-highest local-market deliveries, notching a 2.7 rating on Bally Sports Wisconsin.

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