Nashville’s Mayor Has Altered the Deal

MLS is threatening to move out of Nashville before the city’s expansion soccer team plays its first game, because the new Mayor wants to bring back NASCAR.

News broke last night that stadium negotiations between MLS and the city of Nashville are at an impasse. Normally that is a sentence one reads before an expansion franchise is granted. This is happening two years after, and with Nashville S.C.’s first kick about a month away.

It is always a tricky task to glean details from angry press releases, but the dispute appears to be over usage of the Nashville Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds is a known area to seasoned pro wrestling fans as the original home of TNA (now Impact) wrestling. It is a large, publicly-owned plot of land located about ten minutes south of the heart of downtown Nashville. (Like many in Los Angeles, the Worldwide Reader measures distances by drive time.) On that land sits a few old buildings, an old racetrack, and a ton of open space for parking.

The original deal was that Nashville S.C.’s principal owner, John Ingram, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber A) saw Nashville as a hip, desirable city for putting down soccer roots, and B) saw the Fairgrounds as a place to use adjacent housing/retail/commercial development to justify the cost of a 27,000 seat soccer stadium.

Nashville’s Mayor at the time, Megan Barry, supported the deal. The city would do some demolition at the Fairgrounds (along with other infrastructure work), and give favorable tax status (aka “kickbacks”, as the haters like to call it) to developments at the Fairgrounds site. Ingram & his partners would pay for the stadium and goose the surrounding development.

There was one small, seemingly unrelated issue in all of this: Mayor Barry was essentially treating her security escort, Nashville PD Sergeant Robert Forrest Jr., as a male prostitute at the time by having carnal relations with him while he collected overtime pay. She resigned in disgrace, and both her & Forrest had to plead guilty to Felony Theft.

Barry’s Vice Mayor, David Briley, succeeded her, and he was sympathetic to Nashville S.C.’s Fairgrounds plan. Unfortunately for soccer folk, he turned out to be a political loser. In 2019, he became the first incumbent Nashville Mayor in over 50 years to lose an election.

The man who beat Briley for Nashville’s Mayorship is John Cooper. Cooper ran on being “less ideological”, and apparently part of that ideology retrench includes not favoring soccer over stock car racing.

The Nashville Fairgrounds has a short track oval. It has space to expand the racetrack’s seating capacity beyond the current 13,000, and for the types of ancillary events that accompany NASCAR races. Speedway execs may imagine a 50,000 capacity race day stadium surrounded by various pop-up attractions, exhibits and eateries, all located in the South’s coolest city.

The MLS plan for the Fairgrounds would kill all of that. The soccer team would build a soccer stadium and have rights on ten acres of adjacent land, making the aforementioned vision of a festival-like NASCAR weekend nigh impossible. Cooper’s current offer is to stick with the plan of providing infrastructure help for Nashville’s construction of a soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds, but only if Nashville S.C. abandons development rights for the adjacent ten acres.

If the Worldwide Reader is reading the tea leaves correctly, Mayor Cooper’s preference is for Nashville S.C. to make the Tennessee Titans’ 69,000-seat NFL stadium their permanent home. The current MLS and NFL seasons have minimal overlap, and Titans stadium already has the parking and access needed to host 20,000-plus soccer fans. The Fairgrounds stadium plan requires Ingram to pay $25 million upfront, plus at least $9 million/year in debt service on the cost of construction. Ingram would need to sell a whole lot of suites and club seats to make such an endeavor worthwhile, if Nashville S.C. builds a soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds without an adjacent development.

Unfortunately for Garber and Ingram, they appear to want Nashville more than the Mayor wants them. There are only so many cities as hip as Nashville. Expanding to Raleigh or San Antonio is like expanding to Cincinnati: nice for soccer fans in that city, but a drag on the league’s national profile.

Compounding MLS’s conundrum is the precedent this could set. The current deal Commissioner Garber offers cities is this: either build us a stadium, or give us sweetheart development rights around the stadium (preferably both). MLS thought they had the latter in Nashville. Now they have neither. If Nashville S.C. sucks it up and stays in the city anyway, then what’s Milwaukee (or San Diego, or Tampa, or Boise) to think?

Ultimately, the Reader expects Nashville’s status to allow Mayor Cooper to have his cake and eat it too. The MLS team will stay, and a NASCAR deal will be made at the Fairgrounds. Just don’t expect John Cooper to be on Don Garber’s Christmas card list any time soon.

Buku Barstool

Barstool Sports got funding at a $450 million valuation, and all I could think of was UFC.

To the Worldwide Reader, the story of Barstool Sports warms the heart. They started small. They read the market. They hustled. They created a product people love. They have been richly rewarded.

(To the haters it’s a different story, of course. To them Barstool cynically plays to the animal instincts of White Male Rage, and the Penn National funding is proof only of the fact that oppressors will always protect fellow oppressors, until the revolution happens.)

I have no insider knowledge of Barstool’s business. I saw the slide deck. It said revenue is booming. Sixty-six million uniques visit the site each month. They have a blog, an app, live & on-demand video, merch sales and podcasts.

Barstool has thirty-three podcasts, to be exact, and several of them do quite well. One of them does beyond well. It does Conor McGregor-compared-to-every-other-fighter well. It is ‘Pardon My Take’.

PMT, as it’s known to fans, is nothing short of a sports media phenomenon. Every week the list of most-downloaded sports podcasts comes out. Every week ESPN shows and Bill Simmons dot the top ten. Every week PMT, which didn’t even exist four years ago, tops them all.

Barstool projects $100 million in gross revenue this year. They are in a growth period, so profits are not of the utmost importance. They want more clicks, views and downloads.

Is it all worth a $450 million valuation? (That valuation is because Penn National, a casino owner, bought 36% of the company for $162 million.) Again, I don’t know the details of their business.

What I do know is that the deal reminds of Endeavor’s purchase of UFC, three and a half years ago. UFC was a solid, diversified company, but what made someone acquiesce to the Fertitta’s eye-popping $4 billion asking price was growth fueled by Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. Every astute observer knew that if either or both of those two left the company, business would decline. They were stars at a level far beyond anyone else on the UFC roster, just as Big Cat and PFT Commenter — hosts of PMT — are the 800 pound gorillas of Barstool.

Barstool founder Dave Portnoy made it a point to reassure everyone that “Dave and Eric” (given names of Big Cat and PFT Commenter, respectively) are going to be at Barstool for a long time. The media game is also much different than the fight game; we all know athletes’ careers are brief, while media careers often last decades.

Even with the magic of PMT and the potential of sportsbook partnerships, the Reader reads Penn National’s investment as a rash move. Surely they were fearful that the established sportsbooks and daily fantasy sites would siphon off the gaming dollars of young, fun-seeking men. Penn surely viewed Barstool as a portal into that world. Time will tell if Stoolies’ loyalty extends to point spreads and parlays.

Making McIntyre Special

The 2020 Royal Rumble was widely received as one of the best of the genre. It also signaled Drew McIntyre’s opportunity to become the next big WWE star.

Drew McIntyre won the 2020 Royal Rumble last night. In the Worldwide Reader’s eyes — and seemingly in the eyes of Wrestling Twitter — the match was one of the format’s best. The dominance of Brock Lesnar (and his eventual discarding), the return of Edge and, of course, McIntyre’s squeaky-clean elimination of Roman Reigns to win the match all multiplied to create an elevated product (in the math sense of the word). As it should be.

McIntyre’s win and presumed ascension is notable because of two WWE business factors (keeping with the mathematics motif): the company makes more money than ever, but its passionate fanbase appears to be eroding.

Witness television ratings. Smackdown tops most Friday nights in the important 18-49 age demographic (“demo”). Raw routinely lands at or near the top of Monday night cable demo ratings and viewership. Still, Raw’s viewership is on a decades-long decline, and Smackdown’s demo ratings have been below Fox’s pre-season projections.

Witness ticket numbers. The Rumble is WWE’s second-biggest show of the year, and resale prices were tepid at best. Pairs of seats in the first level of permanent risers, straight on the ring were available for under $100 per ticket, plus StubHub fees. Get-in prices were $40+. In a major league baseball stadium, those prices are akin to a high profile Sunday Night game televised by ESPN. Big event ticket prices for WWE have rivaled high leverage MLB Playoff game prices in the past.

Witness WWE Network. While the direct-to-consumer (DTC) service was ahead of its time and has been an unqualified success for the company overall, interest has faded. WWE’s most recent financial report showed flat Network subscriber numbers overall, and a steep year-over-year decline stateside, leaving US subs barely over one million.

As has been the case for some time, WWE’s excellence in strategy, marketing and public relations has been papering over weakness in the company’s core mission: to promote great wrestling. It’s great that fans face less derision from non-fans and the media. It’s great that advertisers are willing to group WWE in with Fox Sports’s other properties. It stinks that the company is less relevant than it once was.

On the flip side of the shoot-work line sits UFC, which has had no trouble finding stars. A seemingly endless string that started with Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell seems to perpetually renew itself. Conor McGregor is king, of course, but look at who sits adjacent to his throne: a Daegestani wrestler and a South Florida street tough with thirteen losses, among others. Take a step back and that last sentence sounds ridiculous. Yet, Khabib and Masvidal have become one-word, household names; the fighting equivalent of LeBron or Brady.

UFC and WWE are very different things. Still, as WWE and Drew McIntyre consider next steps, they may be wise to take a page from UFC’s structure. Be it Conor, Khabib, Chuck or anyone else, the methods for ascension have been similar: face the toughest competition and win, be themselves on interviews and — here comes the tough part — keep public interactions special. Not necessarily rare; though rarity can help (witness the handling of Brock Lesnar), but special. That will be McIntyre’s task as WWE straps the proverbial rocket to his back: to make every move feel special.

Bye Bye, Billie

Downsized arenas run the risk of missing out on young popular touring acts, like Billie Eilish

From the freeway, the Tacoma Dome doesn’t look like much. Heading up the 5 from McChord Air Force Base towards Seattle a few years back, the Worldwide Reader couldn’t help but notice the difference between the former temporary home of the Sonics and modern arenas. Tacoma’s pride & joy is an actual dome — round and everything — with an American flag on top. No soaring glass atriums, no team signage, and no ancillary bars or restaurants taking advantage of the economic fallout from sports fans.

What the Tacoma Dome has that many NBA arenas don’t — aside from the aforementioned patriotic accoutrement — is hot, young touring acts. Billie Eilish graces the spartan mass of telescopic seating that is the T-Dome on April 10, 2020, and Harry Styles follows on August 18.

The touring habits of the young, rich & famous are notable because they belie much of what NBA teams have said about arenas. Fans want intimate settings, diverse seating options, high end local food & beverage, and curated luxury experiences, or so we’re told. The Tacoma dome is not intimate — it was designed to support soccer, along with typical arena sports like hoops and hockey — there are no luxury suites, clubs or even premium seats, and the concession offerings are basic. Yet, over 20,000 screaming teeny-boppers will have no problem tolerating the decidedly non-luxurious experience of the Dome to watch Billie or Harry.

One show at a basic barn like the Tacoma Dome may not mean much if it weren’t for the fact that the two hottest young acts on tour are skipping so many NBA arenas. Billie Eilish hits only thirteen of the twenty-nine hoop havens on her 2020 tour, while Harry Styles booked fifteen.

The rosy side of the otherwise shady business of government-subsidized arenas is supposed to be that the locals have a chance to witness popular musicians. The Bucks, Jazz, Grizzlies, Hornets and Pelicans all play in arenas that were partially or wholly built using government funds. None of their cities get Harry or Billie. Even bigger cities — Atlanta, Phoenix, Minneapolis — are only getting one of the two.

Contracts and arrangements for arena tours are complex, and there are surely a few factors that went into those musicians’ decisions to skip so many fancy NBA arenas in favor of places like the Tacoma Dome and The Forum (a no-frills arena near LA that snagged multiple dates with both Billie and Harry). The Reader suspects that the downsizing of NBA arenas is one of those factors, and that these situations will become more prevalent.

In the Reader’s home town of Milwaukee, for example, the Bucks controlled the design of their new arena. While the building has a purported basketball capacity of 17,500, the number of in-bowl seats (including luxury suites) is 16,000. (Modern NBA attendances include users, concession workers, etc.; essentially any warm body in or around the facility on game night.) Touring acts typically get no scratch from concessions or luxury suites & lofts. Basic seats are what matter, and the Bucks don’t have many of those any more.

The Hawks, Jazz, Warriors, Cavs, T-Wolves, Pistons, Kings, Pacers, Pelicans, Nets and Blazers — along with the Reader’s beloved Bucks — have all reduced seating capacity substantially in recent years, either by getting a new arena or with a substantial renovation, and the Suns, Clippers and Lakers are in line to follow. Their idea is to drive up ticket prices and avoid the optics of empty seats. Fair enough, but those cities may lose a few hot young concert acts as a consequence.

Regional Block

RSNs are under the gun, but it’s the NBA that has the most to lose.

One of the oddest #sportsbiz situations in recent memory was resolved last week, but its effects linger. Altitude Sports, a(n essentially) team-owned Nuggets/Avalanche regional sports network (RSN) out of Denver, struck a carriage deal with AT&T/DirecTV after being utterly and completely blacked out for two months.

When the Worldwide Reader says “blacked out”, it means blacked-the-F-out. Nobody in the Denver area could watch local Avs or Nuggs games. Nothing via cable, satellite, stream (legal stream, that is), or sports bar. Altitude Sports never had deals with streaming packages (Sling, Hulu, DirecTV Now, et al.). The only three traditional providers servicing Denver metro are Dish, DirecTV, and Comcast, while all had Altitude pulled after carriage contracts expired at the end of August.

The Altitude situation was resolved last week, and the resolution appeared to be political. A few days after Colorado’s AG announced that he was investigating AT&T/DirecTV and Comcast for fraudulently charging customers an un-reduced “RSN fee” while one of Denver’s two RSNs was blacked out (AT&T’s “Rocky Mountain” network is Denver’s Rockies-partnered RSN), a deal was announced between Altitude and AT&T/DirecTV. Far be it from the Reader to be cynical, but this looked for all the world like the Colorado AG was going to force AT&T to either drop its RSN fee altogether while the Rockies are in the offseason, or make a deal with Altitude.

Altitude Sports remains blocked from Dish and Comcast subscribers, and perhaps the Reader’s readers are wondering why, especially since Comcast continues to charge RSN fees. The Reader’s read on Comcast is twofold: AT&T/DirecTV’s capitulation likely satisfies Colorado’s AG because sports bars are a lot more likely to have DirecTV than Comcast, and Comcast had less to lose than AT&T, because Comcast does not have a Colorado RSN. As for Dish, they don’t charge an itemized RSN fee, so the Colorado AG would have had a tougher time leaning on them. (Dish, ever so crafty, avoids the political minefield of RSN fees by having two identical packages, America’s Top 120 and America’s Top 120+, where the only difference between two is that the “plus” package costs five bucks more per month, and includes local RSN[s].)

For those who track Dish, which happens to be the Reader’s cable/sat provider of choice, the fact that Altitude remains unavailable comes as no surprise. Dish has declared covert (when talking with customers) and open (when talking with investors) war on the “RSN model”.

The RSN model can be summarized thusly: they are local/regional sports television networks which have A) stripped their programming to the point that their only valued asset is live games from local pro sports teams, B) charge the highest per-subscriber carriage fees of any channel besides ESPN, and C) demand a 50+% minimum subscriber guarantee from any cable/sat company that offers them.

That model was great back in the days when 90% of America subscribed to cable & satellite television. RSNs could point out the fact that local pro sports games are typically the most-watched programs in a given area, thus justifying high fees and guaranteed subscribership. Today, with less than 70% of the country subscribing to multi-channel cable/sat/streaming, TV providers are wondering why they should pay huge fees w/ guaranteed sub minimums, when nobody watches the channels, except when a game is on.

Dish, ever the rascal of the television community, has decided to be the bulwark against the RSN model. Charlie Ergen, the company’s founder and chairman, has essentially given RSNs three choices: reduce your carriage fees, reduce your subscriber guarantees, or go a la carte.

Ah yes, “a la carte”. Such a popular term in the early days of cord-cutting, that has gone the way of the fidget spinner. Remember when very fine media members were prattling on about cable/sat companies’ intransigence in refusing to offer a la carte channel packages? Remember the calls for political intervention, to break up the big, bad monopoly that was protecting the “outdated” model of channel packages? Seems quaint today.

To RSNs, “a la carte” feels more like “de la muerte”. The forthcoming Cubs-owned Marquee RSN in Chicago could say, “You know what? Let’s make Cubs games available to EVERY Cubs fan. Let’s let all subscribers of Dish and Comcast — and even cord-cutters! — have a Netflix-esque relationship with the Cubbies, where they can pay a flat fee per month, and watch their heroes lose to the Brewers.” They won’t, because the vast majority of Chicagoans wouldn’t subscribe, and thus Marquee would have to charge $25/month (or more) to draw the same revenue that they hope to draw under guaranteed-subscriber-minimum contracts with cable/sat providers. But the Reader digresses…

If Ergen has bet right — and he is known as an avid, skilled poker player — then the future of RSNs includes either a dramatic reduction in carriage fees (think $2 to $3 per subscriber, rather than the current $4 to $7), or a similarly sized reduction in minimum subscriber guarantees (think 20% of customers, rather than the current 50+%).

Either way, that’s a heck of a haircut for RSNs. To use the Altitude example, there are about 1.6 million TV households in Denver. The number of cable/sat subscribers is probably a shade over a million, and probably around 800,000 had Altitude Sports on their channel guide before the recent blackout went down. At $4 per subscriber, per month, that’d be a touch under $40 million/year in carriage fees for Altitude. A reduction in carriage fees and/or the minimum sub guarantee would likely cause an eight figure annual haircut.

The survival instinct is downright cockroachian in the TV business, so the Reader doesn’t expect RSNs to back down immediately. Sports networks will hope that Dish’s subscriber numbers crater, as people wait longer and longer for their team’s local games to return. The Reader predicts, however, that eventually Dish will win. The reader senses that, although live sporting events routinely top the ShowBuzzDaily charts, most people who subscribe to cable/sat services aren’t compulsive about watching every game their local team plays.

Which brings the Reader to the juiciest point of this screed — only fourteen paragraphs in! — the threat to the NBA.

Although the Reader loves the puck (third-row LA Kings season tickets are among the Reader’s most prized possessions), the teams making the big bucks from local sports broadcasts reside in MLB and the NBA. While a Dish victory — and, therefore, a broader tilt in favor of cable/sat providers in RSN distribution deals — would ding baseball teams, the hardwood would be hurt worse. The reason is a simple ratio: top NBA teams have a far lower percentage of their attractive games exclusively on RSNs, compared to top MLB teams.

Milwaukee is a prime example of the differences between MLB and the NBA, as it pertains to RSNs. The Bucks are enjoying their most successful stretch in decades. Fox Sports Wisconsin (FSW) saw last season’s Bucks games draw the network’s highest ratings since 2003. The problem is, a whopping 24 games have been gobbled up by national television, leaving only 58 regular season games exclusive to FSW. What’s more, ESPN, TNT and ABC are taking the lion’s share of the attractive games. Only one game vs. the Sixers (out of four) is exclusive to FSW… which isn’t so bad compared to FSW having exclusive rights to ZERO Bucks games against the Celtics, Lakers, Warriors, or Rockets. The Brewers, on the other hand, had 158 games on FSW last season, with the RSN missing out on no more than one game per opponent.

If the Reader were Fox Sports Wisconsin, the question becomes, “why are we paying the Bucks $27 million this season for leftovers?” Then, of course, the Reader would realize that FSW gets its carriage fees no matter how many Bucks games are gobbled up by Warner and the Mouse, and the Reader would mix a gin martini (double-splash of vermouth), light up a Camel Regular (unfiltered cigs are great in moderation folks, let me tell ya) and wonder why such a stupid question was asked.

If the Reader were Dish or Charter/Spectrum or AT&T/DirecTV, however, the same question hardly produces the same chilled response. The Bucks are attracting eyeballs to FSW for less than 10% of a fan’s TV-watching hours, even for the hardcore folks who watch every game. For casual fans, it’s more like 3%. And for this, cable/sat providers are supposed to pay more than twice what’s charged by actual popular channels like TNT and Bravo? Not for long.

Given the NBA’s recent softness in national TV ratings (a double-digit percentage decrease last season; on track for a repeat in 2019-20) and attendance (half the league averaged below the formerly automatic 18,000 fans per game last season, with one-third of the league at or below 90% capacity), the local TV rights situation may not have the attention of the Association’s financial folks. If the RSNs start losing the fight against Dish & company, that will surely change.

Brother, Can You Share a Hundred Million?

AEW Dynamite is TV gold, and Warner is reaping the rewards

In heady times, speculation is a siren’s call. “I’m not selling,” Tony Khan may contemplate, “but could I get a billion if I did?”

The Worldwide Reader is proud of its AEW prediction record. From the moment news of the trademarks leaked (and with an assist from a wrestling industry insider who fleshed out the details), the Reader has believed the following: Kenny Omega & the Young Bucks would sever ties with Ring of Honor & New Japan completely, Tony Khan would spend in the mid-ten figures (with a willingness to approach $100 million, if necessary), and Dynamite would end up in a prime time spot on a major Warner Media (then known as Turner Broadcasting) network. Many followers of the business scoffed at the Reader. Today, all three predictions feel as obvious as a western sunset.

There is one AEW prediction the Worldwide Reader missed. (And boyyyyyy, did it miss badly.) Back in late 2018, the reader expected 750,000 viewers for the AEW Dynamite premiere, with a settled weekly viewership number around 375,000. The Reader was wrong, happy to be wrong, and is completely done doubting the big business prospects of the “5-star match” style of professional wrestling.

After four weeks, AEW Dynamite appears to have settled into its TV niche. It draws about a million viewers each week, it pulls about a 0.45 rating in the 18-49 age demographic, and it skews young overall (meaning that its 18-34 rating is higher than its 25-54 or 50+ ratings).

The latter two TV ratings factoids are the keys, because they should not be possible. 0.45 demo ratings do not happen on cable television, aside from major sports (NFL, NBA, college football & basketball), successful reality TV shows, and heavily promoted original series. Skewing young also does not happen, except for late night comedy programming (meaning Adult Swim, not talk shows like Samantha Bee or The Daily Show, which draw mostly from the Lipitor demographic) and other low viewership fare. (The kids watch Netflix and YouTube nowadays, haven’t ya heard?)

What’s more, AEW Dynamite airs every week. The Real Housewives may beat Dynamite’s viewership and match its 18-49 demo rating, but they are a confection. They flutter in and out of the cable TV universe in ten episode dalliances. Bravo TV executives need to find something else to fill their airwaves forty weeks a year. Plus, AEW’s flagship is two hours. The Housewives’ partner in Bravo’s two-hour Tuesday primetime block drew a 0.09 demo rating this week.

It has only been four weeks. The pattern is so strong, though. Debuting at a 0.68 demo rating, then falling significantly next week (to a 0.46, to be exact) was rather expected. Continuing declines, especially with the baseball playoffs getting hot and the NBA season starting up, were expected, at least by the Reader. Dynamite did not decline; posting 0.44 in week three, prior to the aforementioned 0.45 this week. There appears to be no reason — aside from an unforseen nosedive in the quality of the show — that AEW Dynamite would tail off, as so many hot starting TV properties do.

Tony, Cody and the Bucks have created a winner. Dynamite is a $100 million per year TV property. Two million bucks per week for two full hours of young-skewing, 0.45 demo ratings? Any major cable network — and perhaps one or two broadcast networks — would sign up for that. Networks can sell advertisements on it independently, they can package bulk ad buys with other sports properties, and they can use it to help retain and increase subscriber fees from cable and satellite companies. A hundred mil may even be underselling Dynamite’s TV worth.

The only mitigating issue — from AEW’s perspective, at least — is that Warner Media will reap most of the benefits. Reports have AEW tied to TNT on a five year contract where Warner essentially covers production costs, which amount to about $300 thousand per episode. Plus, Warner’s Bleacher Report is AEW’s exclusive pay-per-view streaming provider (and Warner likely gets a cut of AEW’s linear PPV business as well).

Too much success is a good problem to have, and TV business folks tend to find ways to reward the producers of valuable properties. Setting aside a few Saturday nights for Clash of the Champions style specials at a higher rate is the type of thing Warner could do to keep Tony & company feeling good about the deal.

These are heady times for AEW. Two years ago they were a just a thought, one year ago they were little more than a plan. Today, they might be worth ten figures on the open market. It’s a long slog, but they are off to an unbelievable start.

Chargers PSL Math Doesn’t Make Sense

Expect a price drop for Chargers PSLs at SoFi Stadium

The Los Angeles Chargers have been in the #sportsbiz news recently, mostly for the wrong reasons. Prime among those seasons is weak PSL sales for SoFi Stadium, opening next football season.

PSL revenue targets were reportedly lowered from $400 million to $150 million. Ouch.

What’s interesting to the Worldwide Reader is that Club seat PSL prices haven’t changed. Club PSLs were priced between $75,000 and $10,000 before projections were lowered. If the Reader’s readers were to call the Chargers’ sales line right this very moment, those same prices would be quoted.

The Reader did some good old-fashioned calculations, and the 13,000 Chargers Club PSLs — as currently offered — add up to about $320 million. Odd that a stadium with 62,000 PSLs to sell would have a $150 million overall sales projection, while just 13,000 of those seats would bring in double that number, if sold.

What this tells the reader is the Chargers have another shoe to drop. Club PSLs prices will get lowered at some point, in order to bring overall PSL revenue in line with the $150 million projection.

The Reader’s guess? If the Bolts turn things around and appear capable of making a deep playoff run, the team will drop the news of reduced Club PSL prices sometime in January. If the season continues on its oh-so-Chargerey path of bad luck, then the drop will come around Draft time, in the early Spring.

Why haven’t the Spanii dropped Club PSL prices already? Only they know.

The benefits of such a move would be the potential to move a few extra seats while people are into football season.

On the other hand, the drawbacks of announcing a Club PSL price drop are substantial. One is media ridicule, though the Reader supposes they should be used to that by now. Another is the refunding of some portion of already collected PSL revenue.

Of course, anything is possible in the sports business game. The Chargers could turn around their season, thaw the remaining icy ex-Chargers fans, and grab hold of a hunk of the L.A. football market. Perhaps they could sell enough of those pricey 13,000 to look respectable, thereby blowing past the reported $150 million overall PSL projection (which, by the way, the team itself has never confirmed).

More likely, Club PSL sales will continue to be tepid, and the team will make an adjustment shortly before 2020 season ticket and PSL payments are due on March 1, 2020. Once the Chargers sales team gets a chance to push Club PSLs at reduced prices, then folks will have a better idea whether the Chargers’ ticket sales struggles are as significant as they’ve been made out to be.

City of Angelic Soccer Ratings

MLS (that’s soccer, for the pro-American Americans out there) hit the TV ratings jackpot this weekend, when the league’s most decorated team, LA Galaxy, secured a place in the quarterfinals against the phenomenon known as LAFC. (Full disclosure: the Reader holds front row season tickets to the LA newbies.)

The Gals and the Laffs (the Reader’s affection for haterism runs deep, even when clever nicknames are used against its favorite teams) have already been a national success for MLS, giving American soccer’s favorite cartel the derby (pronounced “darby”, you Yankee louts) it always wanted.

For context, a late July LA-LA clash garnered a sweet 0.16 in the cash-money demographic of 18-49 year-olds, despite airing on a Friday night at 10:30 pm in the east. The other coast’s wannabe rivalry, NYCFC vs. the Red Bull New York Red Bulls of New York, snatched a paltry 0.04 in its prime, 7 pm Eastern Saturday slot a month later.

Of course the sports media media (that is to say, bloggers, local news columnists and TV take artists) will say it’s a shame that the league’s two biggest teams share a conference (and a city, for that matter). Hogwash.

A little known fact about sports television viewership is that intra-division rivalries are the rising tide that lifts championship ratings boats.

For example, the most-watched AFC Championship game remains the 2011 matchup between the Jets and the Steelers. Sure, the game had a New York team, but so did the previous year’s. Sure, the Steelers have a national audience, but they appeared in a half dozen other AFC title tilts during the Big Ben era. What triggered audience overload was the Jets’ scintillating rivalry with the Patriots, which climaxed in the divisional round the week before.

Same principle applies elsewhere: epic Auburn/Alabama games leading to big SEC Championship game ratings, the Caps/Pens rivalry triggering high Finals ratings for Vegas/Washington, and more.

MLS won the added good fortune of having their biggest Playoff game fall on an off night for the World Series, and having a low-wattage Vikings/Redskins matchup in the Thursday competition window. Add it all up, and the Laffs/Gals clash should stir a demo rating above 0.20; perhaps even reaching 0.25. Considering last year’s LAFC demo rating of 0.08 for its playoff loss to Real Salt Lake, a quarter of one percent would be a big win for everyone involved.

***

The Worldwide Reader likes to keep it bold, knowing full well that boldness is sometimes served with a slice of humble pie.

Last week the Reader ranted and raved about Fox Sports’s hot streak (Big Noon college football, increasing NFL ratings, Yankees’ postseason run) coming to an end. It took all of three days for yours truly to eat some crow.

Fox’s first Sunday of a four-week run of Cowboys-less NFL games posted a smashing viewership number of 23 million. What’s more, an astounding 41% of all adult (18-49 year-old) males who were watching TV between 1:25 and 4:30 pm PDT had their televisions tuned to either Bears/Saints or Seahawks/Ravens.

Here’s the topper: Fox’s late afternoon NFL window beat NBC’s Cowboys game! (In viewership, at least. In the 18-49 demo, NBC squeaked out a 6.6 to 6.4 win. [Really puts those MLS numbers in perspective, no?])

Sure sure, Fox’s late Sunday NFL had a few things going for it. The Bears are red-hot (interest-wise, not quality-wise) in Chicago, which is a huge market. Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit and San Francisco all had early games, thus freeing up those fans to watch Fox’s doubleheader game. The head-to-head competition on CBS was light (Tennessee against the Reader’s frustrating Chargers), and only one local market — Nashville — had the game blacked out. (The NFL allows home teams to black out games that oppose the home team’s game in a local market, and the aforementioned Titans were the only such game.) Lastly — and conveniently dovetailing with the crux of the Reader’s above essay on rivalry game fallout — Fox was surely the beneficiary of football fans catching an earlier game in anticipation of the big Cowboys/Eagles matchup on Sunday night (which was over halfway through the 3rd quarter, thus deflating its own ratings).

So, congrats Fox Sports! Your good luck (and skill) extended longer than the Reader thought. Better hope for a tight World Series tonight to keep it rolling.

How to Generate Publicity for Your Netflix Movie Without Trying

Martin Scorsese is back, both on screen and in the press.

By “on screen”, the Worldwide Reader of course means the LCD variety. Marty’s latest Oscar-bait, THE IRISHMAN, has four weekends at indie theaters before it retires to its eternal streaming place, Netflix.

As for “in the press”, the esteemed-by-cinema-profs director’s comments about the vapidity of comic book films seem to have a never-ending life, surely to the delight of Netflix PR folk. The Irishman was an expensive shoot with a likely promise of an expensive (for Netflix) ad spend. Who knows if the $100 million-plus rumors are true; either way execs at the big red N badly need to avoid a repeat of ROMA, and heavy media attention is one way to do it.

“Oh that’s right, Roma,” the Reader’s readers might say, “that was last year’s big Oscar bust.”

Indeed it was. After shelling out a reported $15 million to make the film (nobody who knows anything believes it was less than $20M) and spending eight figures to try to get people (apparently including Oscar voters) to watch it, the movie was awarda non grata at the Dolby Theatre, winning only Best Personality (aka Best Foreign Language) and a couple of statues from Cuarón’s buddies to Cuarón.

Awards are nice and all, but Roma’s real failure was in failing to stem subscriber losses. Netflix planned to use Roma’s supposed must-see status (along with a few other film and TV releases) to make an April price increase palatable. It didn’t work. Netflix lost 130,000 domestic subscribers between April and June 2019, during a quarter when they expected modest gains.

The Reader’s staff conspiracy theorist (aka yours truly) wonders if Netflix flack isn’t behind this whole Scorsese hubbub. Film media folks love their clicks and all, but normally enraging the Marvel-verse is a big no-no. Their fans — not altogether different to the Star Wars loons who savaged Rian Johnson’s Jedi vision — seem like the type who’d be willing to boycott a website or two for slandering their beloved superheroes. They are also ravenous consumers; the threat of fanboys canceling Netflix is close to nil.

Whether Netflix has intentionally flamed the old school/new school flames or not, the result appears to look good for them. More pub for Marty and, more importantly, more doubts that Marvel is cool, thus dulling the competitive threat posed by Disney+.

The Lucky Fox Enters a Rough Patch

Fox Sports has lived a charmed life so far this fall; that’s about to change.

“You make your own luck,” so the expression goes. Or maybe you don’t. Whatever one’s opinion of the role of fate in one’s place in the world, the fortunes of Fox Sports have gone up as the autumn leaves have fallen.

The formerly fourth network has seen its NFL television ratings have returned to pre-Kaepernick levels (sorry Colin, if you were as good at your job as Daryl Morey is at his, the fact that you’re box office poison would’ve kept you out of the unemployment line), thanks to a bountiful slate of late afternoon Cowboys games and some compelling Thursday night matchups.

The Yankees are on a Playoff run, and Fox just so happens to hold AL Playoff rights this season.

On the college gridiron Fox may still be lacking the sport’s greatest asset, which goes by the initials S-E-C, but Rupert Murdoch’s sports folks are making lemons out of lemonade. Their bet on morning football (in the populated half of the country that is not in the Eastern time zone, at least) via the “Big Noon” gimmick has paid off beautifully thus far. Texas/Oklahoma posted stellar numbers last Saturday. The 9 am Pacific slot looks poised to hit a new high with the Wisconsin/Ohio State should-be-eliminator-if-they-didn’t-have-that-darned-Playoff in eight days.

Big Noon has been the rare #sportsbiz gimmick to reach the Worldwide Reader’s highest threshold of success: causing me to change my mind. When Pac 12 Commissioner/The Reader’s archenemy Larry Scott floated the idea of adding 9 am games to the Pac’s schedule, yours truly was appalled. “Who wants to tailgate at 6 am? “, I asked. “Everybody who’s cool,” should have been the correct answer, though it took a few weeks of Fox’s stellar ratings for the Reader to realize it.

Like so many instances of celestial beauty, Fox’s successful sports autumn may be fleeting. Shed a tear for the crafty Aussie billionaire who duped Iger’s Mouse into buying his declining assets…

It was in fact something from the skies that signaled the start of the crafty Fox’s rough patch: rain. Specifically, rain in New York city on Wednesday, October 16. The postponement of the Yankees/Astros ALCS game four really mucked up the works for Fox Sports. 1) Halted the momentum from a scintillating first three games, 2) Pushed game five to Friday night, where TV viewers tend to be older and thinner in number, 3)Bumped Ohio State vs. Northwestern — with its interesting upset potential, given the aforementioned OSU/UW headliner next week — to the scantly viewed Big Ten Network, and 4) Created stiff competition for Fox broadcast’s 51-week primetime crown jewel, WWE Smackdown. What a bummer: less hype for next week’s Big Noon, weaker audience for what could be Fox’s last Yankees telecast of 2019, and a strong likelihood that Smackdown’s demo rating — already hanging at a perilous 1.0 last week — could go fractional in week three.

The rain isn’t the only pain for Fox’s near future. The Thursday night NFL slate gets a tad ugly until Thanksgiving: Skins/Vikes, Niners/Cards (couple more dubs for Cliff & Kyler would do wonders for that one), the Reader’s Chargers vs. the Raiders, and Baker Mayfield’s First Read against Mason Rudolph’s Steelers. Compounding the pain is the fact that Fox owns only two Sunday afternoon NFL windows (when ratings are highest) from now ’til then: this weekend’s Bridgewater/Trubisky battle, and a suddenly middling Rams/Steelers matchup on November 10. (Look for Panthers/Packers or Lions/Bears to be flipped to that 11/10 afternoon slot, thus dulling some of Fox’s pain.)

Now add in the fact that the Yankees look poised to deflate, be it tonight or this weekend.

That leaves Fox Sports’ next month with a teetering Smackdown, a series of middling Big Noon matchups (aside from Badgers/Buckeyes), a World Series showdown between cities who would rather be watching football, and a Cowboy-less NFL lineup.

Maybe it’s better to be lucky than good.