Americas Bulletin: Bach meets Trump; Fox gets digital; MLS’s growing pains and more

SportsPro’s Americas Bulletin, dishing up a regular diet of news, views and insight from across the business of sport in the Western Hemisphere.

Americas Bulletin: Bach meets Trump; Fox gets digital; MLS’s growing pains and more

Last week's meeting between International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach (above) and President Trump revealed little that wasn’t already known. In the absence of any official statement, word from the White House was that the golf-loving commander-in-chief merely reiterated his support for Los Angeles’ bid to host an upcoming Olympic Games, and that the federal government will do everything required to facilitate the staging of an event on US soil, whether it comes in 2024 or, as seems more likely, four years later.

Thursday’s meeting took place a day after Bach formally announced a new global sponsorship deal with Intel Corporation in New York City, an agreement that will run until 2024 and is believed to be worth some US$400 million. Intel’s addition to the IOC’s global TOP programme follows the unexpected departure of McDonald’s - and you can hear more on what that all means in the latest SportsPro Podcast.

In the broadcasting world, ESPN is by no means the only major US network having to roll to the contours of an ever-more fragmented yet still ultra-competitive media landscape. This week, Fox Sports served its latest notice that it is nailing its flag firmly to the mast marked ‘digital video’, compelled by the conviction that opinion-driven moving images have long since supplanted the fact-based written word as sports fans’ chosen medium of consumption.

According to Bloomberg, the 21st Century Fox-owned broadcaster is laying off ‘about 20 writing and editing positions’ in its Los Angeles office and replacing them with ‘a similar number of jobs in video production, editing and promotion’. The move, which comes in a week when Fox announced a Uefa Champions League streaming deal with Facebook and also that it has signed up for Nielsen’s national out-of-home reporting service, is all part of a revamped video-centric digital strategy implemented by Fox partly in recognition of the continued dominance of ESPN and other outlets in the written sports news sector, but mainly to capture the growing number of advertising dollars and eyeballs that come with producing premium online video across all platforms.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Amazon, fresh off its US$13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, has slapped a price tag of up to US$2.8 million on its advertising packages for its streams of National Football League (NFL) games next season. The packages are said to include 30-second spots during the company’s ten live Thursday Night Football games, which it bought in April for US$50 million and will be made available to its Prime Video subscribers.

Word of Amazon’s intentions coincided with reports that the king of e-commerce is closing in a potentially game-changing deal with Nike. Reports say the sportswear giant will soon begin shifting its merchandise directly on Amazon’s platform rather than through third-party sellers, a move analysts say will reduce sales of counterfeit Nike products on Amazon and give Nike, which has set itself the ambitious goal of reaching US$50 billion in revenues by 2020 despite slowing growth in bricks-and-mortar retail, greater control over how its products are displayed and sold.

In baseball, the latest on the lengthy Miami Marlins sale saga is that Chicago-based businessman and TV personality Marcus Lemonis has joined the group of investors attempting to buy the ailing franchise. Lemonis, 43, the chief executive of Camping World and star of CNBC reality show The Profit, was reportedly recruited by former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has now teamed up with his one-time rivals Tagg Romney and Wayne Rothbaum in an effort to purchase the Major League Baseball (MLB) team as a single bidder.

The group, which is being led by lead investor Rothbaum, is believed to be vying against two rival suitors: one led by retired New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, who was in partnership with Bush before the pair split and is now said to be struggling to raise enough cash for the Marlins, and Miami-based billionaire Jorge Mas, who Fox Business reports ‘is planning to throw down between US$1 billion and US$1.1 billion’ to acquire the team in a deal that could be announced as early as this week.

Meanwhile questions have been raised over Major League Soccer’s (MLS) stated timeline for expansion to 28 teams, with the league having said in January that it hopes to announce its 25th and 26th franchises by the end of the year. In cities across the US, almost all of the 12 would-be ownership groups hoping to land a coveted slot in MLS have come up against a litany of issues, including political opposition, financial red tape, and continued public apathy towards the use of taxpayer money for stadium projects.

Of the 12 groups in the running, only Sacramento - whose United Soccer League (USL) outfit, Republic FC, are poised to begin construction work on a new stadium - has fulfilled all of the criteria for MLS expansion. Two of the other early favourites - in St Louis and San Diego - have run into public opposition, perhaps as a hangover of recent departures by NFL teams. No group has yet dropped out of the race, but as Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus noted on Friday, it could be that ‘what was once a sprint contested by 12 fit and fast runners has become a race of attrition that will be won by those left standing’.

Also this week: Under Armour co-founder Kevin Plank is stepping down as president of the Baltimore-based brand to be replaced by Patrik Frisk - Plank will, however, retain his role as chairman and chief executive of the company; MLB is headed to Puerto Rico, where the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins will play a two-game regular-season series next year; and the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF) has secured a 75 per cent uplift in its domestic TV rights income after penning a US$276 million deal with Gol TV.