Posts tagged with "ESPN"

ESPN: Aaron Judge cashes in with nine-year, $360M Yankees deal

December 8, 2022

Yankees fans are exultant: Aaron Judge has agreed to return to the New York baseball team on a nine-year, $360 million deal, sources confirmed to ESPN early Wednesday morning, December 8—giving the slugger nearly $150 million more than what the team had offered him last spring.

The slugger decided to remain with the Yankees after flirtations with the San Francisco Giants, the team located about 100 miles from where Judge grew up in California; and the San Diego Padres, who have made it clear they are open to making big moves this winter.

The looming specter of Judge leaving for San Francisco or San Diego gave him the last bit of leverage he needed to land the highest average annual salary ($40 million) for any player in history—surpassing Mike Trout‘s $36 million per year from the Los Angeles Angels. But Judge already had done the bulk of the work in improving his bargaining position with his incredible 2022 season.

The Yankees had pitched a seven-year, $213.5 million deal at the end of spring training, and when Judge rejected that offer without countering, General Manager Brian Cashman revealed the team’s offer in a news conference. Cashman’s rationale for that decision was that the offer would be reported anyway and wanted transparency.

Judge felt differently, telling TIME Magazine in an interview published on Tuesday, December 6, that he felt the Yankees’ disclosure of the offer was meant to turn the fans and media against him as he moved closer to free agency.

But Judge never expressed those feelings during the season. Rather, he focused on performance and the team. Following a slow start that generated some boos at Yankee Stadium, Judge exploded. After going more than 50 plate appearances before hitting his first home run of the season, Judge clubbed 12 homers in May and 11 in June—and then he got really hot. In the second half of the season, Judge hit .349 with a .502 on-base percentage and .785 slugging percentage.

As Judge continued to produce after the All-Star break, he all but single-handedly saved the Yankees from one of baseball’s greatest collapses. As the Yankees’ big lead in the American League East nearly evaporated, Judge propped up the offense with seemingly daily heroics. In one series against the Toronto Blue Jays, he scored every run.

Judge hit his 60th homer of the season on September 20, tying Babe Ruth’s 1927 mark; then matched Roger Maris’ AL record with his 61st on September 28 in Toronto. On October 4, Judge passed Maris with a first-inning homer off the Texas Rangers‘ Jesus Tinoco.

Last month, Judge was named AL MVP for a season in which he hit .311 with 133 runs and 131 RBIs.

The Yankees have a long history of holding the line in contract talks, even with their own superstars, from Babe Ruth to Joe DiMaggio to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter. But the pressure on owner Hal Steinbrenner to sign Judge was perhaps unlike anything he had faced before, because of Judge’s production and popularity among Yankees fans.

Steinbrenner spoke with Judge repeatedly after the Yankees were eliminated in the AL Championship Series by the Houston Astros and, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, made an offer of about $300 million over eight years early in the offseason.

The Yankees’ uncertainty about Judge’s intentions only grew. In past negotiations, including those in the spring, Judge’s side would respond with a simple “no” rather than providing a counteroffer. As Judge met with the Giants and Padres, the Yankees weren’t sure what he would do. Nervousness grew within the organization to the degree that the front office prepared possible Plan B’s, such as a pursuit of a shortstop, maybe Xander Bogaerts.

Judge flew to San Diego on Monday, according to Passan, to meet with the Padres, who had previously made a record-high but unsuccessful offer to Trea Turner.

Steinbrenner pushed his offer to $360 million—nearly 70% higher than what the Yankees offered just eight months ago, a reflection of Judge’s value to the franchise and to the spiking free agent market.

Moving forward, the Yankees might have hard choices shaped by the contractual obligations on their books. They already owe about $105 million annually to Judge, pitcher Gerrit Cole and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton; along with long-term deals for DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks. They need to identify a shortstop, another starting pitcher and bullpen help.

But all that might feel a little easier now that they have retained their franchise anchor and clubhouse leader in Judge, who appears to be the heir apparent to Jeter as the team’s next captain.

MLB Network first reported that Judge would re-sign with the Yankees, while The Athletic first reported the terms of the agreement.

Research contact: @espn

‘Like 13-year-olds invented a sport’: Face-slapping league gets go-ahead in Vegas

October 25, 2022

Cue the Will Smith jokes: The much-maligned president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Dana White, has the green light for a new venture—the Power Slap League, reports The Guardian.

Though much remains uncertain about the new league, slap fighting is pretty much what it sounds like: two people face each other and take turns smacking one another on the side of the head with an open hand.

The Nevada state athletic commission voted last week in Las Vegas—a city known for carefully considered decisions—to oversee the slap-fighting league, supporting a controversial sport that already has seen one competitor die.

Videos this year from one competition, the Slap Fighting Championship held on May 21, show some fairly brutal hand-to-face contact while the recipient simply stands there and takes it. Some blows lead to knockouts. Seated on the sidelines, Arnold Schwarzenegger weighs in: “Thank God it wasn’t me that got slapped.”

Hunter Campbell, the UFC’s chief business officer, said his team had spent a year working with commission officials to develop rules for the league built on those of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). “It made all the sense in the world to go toward regulation before the sport’s commencing, for all the obvious reasons: No. 1, the health and safety of the competitors,” he told ESPN.

Safety rules will include requirements for protective gear, such as mouthguards and earplugs, and regulations on which parts of a face can be slapped. Campbell and officials also called for blood testing, brain scans. and on-site medical staff.

But even MMA enthusiasts appear to have serious reservations, The Guardian reports.

The primary concern: “​​It’s all offense and no defense,” writes Trent Reinsmith at the UFC news site Bloody Elbow. “It’s common to see competitors badly concussed or fall completely unconscious from the blows.” On his Substack The Fighting Life, the journalist Ben Fowlkes describes the sport as “what you’d get if you let 13-year-old boys invent a new sport”.

On Twitter, Luke Thomas, a combat sports analyst for CBS, wrote: “If boxing is to hit and not be hit, slap fighting is kinda the opposite where getting hit is specifically arranged and done without impediment. Nevada’s commission is pretty shameless.” USA Today’s Simon Samano posted: “It might as well be kicking each other in the nuts.”

Slap fighting has existed in various forms for years; it was mocked on Fox Sports as far back as the early 2000s. But it grew in popularity in the early days of the pandemic, with help from viral videos. Last year, a Polish competitor, Artur “Waluś” Walczak, was knocked out several times at an October event and died the following month in the hospital after being put in a medically induced coma, Reinsmith notes.

White, himself, has been the subject of numerous controversies. He has told fighters concerned with UFC pay to “shut up and fight” and backed the organization’s decision to feature the ex-NFL player Greg Hardy, who was convicted of domestic abuse, though the charges were expunged after an appeal. He is an ardent supporter of Donald Trump and spoke at the 2016 Republican national convention.

Campbell said the Power Slap League hopes to have a “major broadcast partner” by year’s end. It has not yet been decided when the slapping will begin.

Research contact: @guardian

NFL launches subscription streaming service

July 26, 2022

The National Football League debuted its new subscription streaming video service on Monday, July 25—NFL+, for $4.99 a month or $39.99 annually, reports Axios.

Why it matters: The service will help the NFL reach a wider audience of younger fans who don’t watch traditional TV.

Details: For the first time in the NFL’s history, the service will make all NFL games, including local matches, widely accessible on-the-go via streaming.

But there’s a catch: In an effort to respect its live television partnership rights, the live local and primetime regular and post-season games are only available on phone and tablet.

  • Live local and national audio of every game, however, is available on the app, as well as live video coverage of all out-of-market pre-season games.
  • In addition to live games, the regular tier of the app includes NFL Network shows on demand, NFL Films archives and other content.
  • Users can also buy a premium package for $9.99 a month or $79.99 annually, which includes game replays and other features, such as access to the All-22 Coaches Film, which essentially provides video for those looking to study game plays.

Be smart: The premium version of NFL+ essentially replaces a product called NFL Game Pass in the United States. It’s meant to cater to the more intense NFL fan and will include full-game replays across all devices, including streaming television.

What they’re saying: “Today marks an important day in the history of the National Football League with the launch of NFL+,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

The big picture: The NFL has been aggressive in its efforts to bring more of its games to streaming without cannibalizing its lucrative live TV contracts with various TV networks.  It has already brokered a deal to make Amazon the exclusive broadcaster of its Thursday night games, and it has awarded ESPN+, ESPN’s streaming service, an exclusive game to stream.

The league is expected to soon announce the winner for its last remaining multi-season rights package for Sunday Ticket. That package is widely speculated to go to a streaming service like Apple or Amazon.

Research contact: @axios

The Athletic halts merger talks with Axios, eyes New York Times

May 12, 2021

Sports-media outlet The Athletic is no longer in merger talks with news publisher Axios, people familiar with the situation said, but the company is continuing to pursue a deal that could expand its subscription-oriented business, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Athletic views The New York Times as a leading contender for a merger tie-up, the sources said. Such a deal would bring the Athletic’s more than one million paying subscribers to the Times, which has seen digital-news subscriptions slow since former President Donald Trump left office.

The Athletic charges $7.99 a month for sports content, including coverage of teams in all the major sports. The outlet has recruited beat reporters and columnists in local market—often by offering big pay increases to attract them from traditional news organizations.

The company competes against a host of sites that mostly offer free sports content, including The Ringer, Bleacher Report, Yahoo Sports, and ESPN.com. The Athletic was valued at $475 million in its last funding round, announced in January 2020, according to PitchBook.

The Athletic doesn’t disclose detailed financial results, including whether it is profitable. The company generated about $80 million in revenue in 2020, according to a person familiar with the matter, the Journal reports. It raised $55 million in January 2020 and has significant expenses, according to people familiar with the matter, including more than 600 employees—many of them top-tier reporters recruited from other news organizations.

Research contact: @WSJ

Trading-card craze inspires new reality TV show from maker of ‘Pawn Stars’

May 10, 2021

The market for trading cards and other sports memorabilia, which boomed during the pandemic, is now getting the reality TV treatment, Bloomberg reports.

Brent Montgomery, the producer behind “Pawn Stars,” and Connor Schell, formerly of ESPN, are teaming up to make a show about trading-card impresario Ken Goldin and his company, Goldin Auctions. They’ve met with several streaming services and TV networks about the project, according to people familiar with the situation.

Interest in trading cards has skyrocketed over the past couple of years, fueled by younger people with spare cash treating cards like stocks or bonds, Bloomberg says. They buy cards of younger players they like, in the hopes that the value will increase as that athlete excels.

Goldin’s company has emerged as the leading auction house in the industry. It has already sold more than $150 million worth of merchandise this year, and is in the early stages of a new auction that Goldin believes will generate an additional $50 million or more.

What’s more, Montgomery and Schell believe, Goldin is the kind of outsized personality designed for reality TV. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of sports and memorabilia, and already goes live on Instagram several days a week to open new packs of cards. The proposed reality-TV show has become the subject of a bidding war, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the

Montgomery made a fortune with “Pawn Stars,” which chronicled a quirky family operated pawn shop a couple of miles off the Las Vegas Strip. The success of that show enabled him to sell a majority stake in his company, Leftfield Pictures, to British broadcaster ITV for $360 million.

Now, Bloomberg reports, Montgomery runs a company called Wheelhouse, which produces shows, and invests in media and commerce companies. For help with trading cards, he turned to Schell, who worked on the “30 for 30” documentary series at Walt Disneys ESPN. Schell left ESPN last year to start his own production company with financing from The Chernin Group (TCG).

The Chernin Group has its own connection to Goldin. It agreed to acquire a controlling stake in the auction house earlier this year.

Research contact: @Bloomberg

‘There’s never been a time like this’: Wall Street is piling into trading cards as prices soar

Febraury 15, 2021

Ken Goldin has sold sports trading cards for four decades. However, what happened earlier this month still shocked him, CNN Business reports.

In early February, a Michael Jordan rookie basketball card in pristine condition sold for a record $738,000 at an auction run by Goldin Auctions of Runnemede, New Jersey. The kicker? The exact sameitem went for nearly $215,000 just weeks before.

There’s never been a time like this in the history of the business,” Goldin told CNN Business. “I would bet that for every person who wanted a Michael Jordan rookie card in 2019, there’s 100 [now].”

The shock sale is part of a much bigger trend in sports collectibles that’s grabbed the attention of sophisticated investors as well as small traders—transforming card collecting from a fusty hobby into a major investment market.

But the timing and scale of the price surge also have sparked worries that it may be fueled by the same speculative forces that recently sent bitcoin and meme stocks like GameStop through the roof, CNN notes.

Industry insiders acknowledge that their business may be benefiting from broader market euphoria. But they push back on the idea that the boom in demand is generating a price bubble.

“This is now part of our culture,” Goldin said. “I wouldn’t go anywhere near the word bubble.”

Looking at the bigger picture, the trading card renaissance seems to have taken root during the pandemic. Stuck at home without live sports games, people began raiding their attics and basements and digging up old cards. They also sat down to watch “The Last Dance,” the documentary series about Jordan, the legendary former NBA star, which aired on ESPN.

Suddenly, trading cards were everywhere, boosted by celebrity endorsers ranging from actor Mark Wahlberg, whose kids launched a collecting business, to DJ Steve Aoki and Resy Network co-founder Gary Vaynerchuk. Videos of fans opening packs of cards on YouTube and TikTok started racking up tens of thousands of views.

“This is a market that’s growing in demand, but doesn’t have more supply,” Vaynerchuk, a longtime advocate of card investing, wrote on his website last March. “That’s a recipe for opportunity.”

Prices for top-quality cards featuring all-time greats jumped dramatically. Those featuring newer talent rose, too, as enthusiasts tried to scout the next big stars.

“Instead of betting on a game, people look at this, and they can bet on a career,” Goldin said.

The spike in prices has caught the attention of a wider class of investment professionals, flush with cash following unprecedented stimulus measures from governments and central banks. Rock-bottom interest rates also have made it harder to find lucrative investments, bolstering interest in creative alternatives.

“Funds are being created. They’re getting investors involved and pooling five, 10, 15 million dollars,” said Jesse Craig, director of business development at PWCC Marketplace, a top seller of premium cards.

Josh Luber, the co-founder of sneaker resale startup StockX, left the company last year to form Six Forks Kids Club, an alternative asset management company focused on cards. The moment, he said, was simply too big to pass up.

“It’s hard to find someone [in] my generation whose first business wasn’t buying baseball cards when they were 10,” Luber, who is 42, told CNN Business. “We’re all of the age where we have a little bit more money, but we’re also in positions of decision-making for investment funds.”

The arrival of institutional money has quickly transformed the market. Goldin said for the first time in his career, he’s fielding calls from hedge funds interested in gaining exposure.

Takeover interest also has emerged, given the limited number of prominent companies in the sector. Last month, angel investor Nat Turner and Steve Cohen, the billionaire hedge fund titan and owner of the New York Mets, announced they were buying authentication service Collectors Universe in a $853 million deal, after sweetening a bid first made in November.

“I think trading cards are one of the most undervalued asset classes out there,” Luber told CNN Business. He added that while the 1986 Jordan card appreciated faster than he might have expected, he doesn’t think the value is out of line with where demand is headed.

Everyone in the industry thinks it’s “a $1 million card,” Luber said. “But we all thought it was a year away instead of a month away.”

Goldin acknowledges that prices will inevitably fluctuate. But he believes supply will remain in check, particularly on the upper end of the market. “The difference between cards and stock [is] nobody loves a stock,” he said. “Some people who buy these cards, to get them to sell it is like getting them to take off an arm.”

Research contact: @CNNBusiness

Colin Kaepernick joins Medium as board member, and contributor on civil rights and race issues

June 19, 2020

Former NFL player-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick will join the board of the blogging platform Medium, CEO Ev Williams announced on Thursday, June 18.

“In addition to the board seat, Medium will partner with Colin and Kaepernick Publishing to create and feature stories focused on race and civil rights in America, and to elevate emerging voices from communities of color,” Williams said.

Specifically, the former San Francisco 49ers QB will write stories based on interviews with high profile leaders, activists, and athletes. He also will write and work with the editorial leadership of Level, Medium’s publication for black and brown men; and of and Momentum, a new blog on Medium about fighting anti-black racism.

Indeed, Williams said, he has known Kaepernick for some time and has envisioned a successful partnership. The Medium CEO said, “I met Colin a couple years ago and have been wanting to work with him ever since. When he launched Kaepernick Publishing in February, we started a conversation and quickly realized how closely our ideals and sensibilities align. I know he will bring valuable insights and leadership to Medium, especially in this moment when the world is finally catching up to his vision on racial justice.”

According to a report by Axios, Kaepernick sparked years of controversy when he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism and oppression in 2016. NFL Commissioner Roger Gooddell recently told ESPN  that the league should have better listened to players who protested.

“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Gooddell said. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter.”

Now, Williams says, “Kaepernick Publishing’s mission is to uplift and elevate voices for Black and Brown communities, something that has been desperately needed in the publishing space. Through this partnership, Colin will be publishing across Medium’s platform …. He will be sharing his thoughts on anti-Black racism in our society, and Medium; and Kaepernick Publishing will co-publish thought-provoking feature stories from diverse writers of color.”

He summed it up by describing Kaepernick as “an incisive, independent thinker, whose integrity has inspired so many,” and noting that, “The world needs more of that.”

Research contact: @Medium

Getting into DAZN: Former ESPN boss builds new global sports network

November 19, 2018

John Skipper, who resigned as head of the ESPN sports network late last year, is back—and is looking to build a new global media giant covering professional fighting and team athletics, Axios reported on November 16.

His new company, DAZN (pronounced “Da-Zone”) which charges $9.99 a month for membership now, already has contracts for “over 100 fight nights a year, plus exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage.” The events will include boxing and mixed martial arts.

Globally, the company already has made inroads in some major markets, including Japan, Italy, and Germany. The company won’t say how many subscribers it has overall, but it has more than 1 million in Japan, thanks in large part to a deal with a telecom firm there.

What’s more, Axios reports, Skipper just announced a deal with Major League Baseball, Axios reports, that will allow the network “to show live look-ins throughout its prime-time programming” within the United States.

But it won’t be easy for DAZN to make its mark in an already-saturated U.S. market. “We understand we are coming in as the upstart into a very crowded, very good market,” Skipper told Axios. “We think we will actually punch above our weight.”

Indeed, Axios noted, Skipper not only will need to excel against ESPN’s many cable channels—but also its ESPN+ over-the-top service as well as the many other over-the-top services, including those run by each of the big league sports.

Skipper, who left ESPN under duress, following an extortion attempt related to his cocaine use, told Axios that he is now in a better place, both personally and professionally.

“Change can be a good thing, however inelegantly it may occur,” he said. “I happen to be very happy where I am working. I am very happy with my personal life.”

Research contact: ina@axios.com