Americas Bulletin: Tim Leiweke’s good week; Ironman goes Rock ’n Roll; CWHL heads to China 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: Tim Leiweke’s good week; Ironman goes Rock ’n Roll; CWHL heads to China and more

A difficult week in the global fight against climate change proved a decidedly better one for Tim Leiweke, the respected executive whose ongoing efforts to bring major league sports to Seattle and Miami received a double helping of good news.

In Seattle, Leiweke’s Oak View Group (OVG) is now a shoo-in to secure the contract to remodel KeyArena after Seattle Partners, a group consisting of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and Hudson Pacific Properties, withdrew its US$521 million rival offer on Sunday. Announcing its exit from the two horse race, the group claimed the city of Seattle is “driving toward an unrealistic financing structure” for the project, adding that it “failed to conduct a sufficiently thorough, objective and transparent process”.

Following Seattle Partners’ withdrawal, the city released previously redacted financial details of OVG’s US$564 million plan, which, it turns out, includes a US$196 million loan from Goldman Sachs, a guarantee from the Madison Square Garden Company, and additional tax credits. OVG, which is putting just over US$277 million of its own equity into the project, could also receive extra cash from Goldman Sachs should Leiweke succeed in his attempts to lure an NBA or NHL team to Seattle once the KeyArena renovation is complete.

In Florida, meanwhile, Miami Beckham United, the David Beckham-led group in which Leiweke is an investor, received a much-needed boost on Tuesday when city authorities finally approved a deal to sell three acres of land the group needs to build a 25,000-seat, privately funded stadium fit for Major League Soccer (MLS). Beckham’s group will pay just over US$9 million for the crucial piece of undeveloped real estate, having already paid US$19 million for another six acres at its proposed stadium site in Miami’s Overtown neighbourhood.

"Now is the time for MLS to move forward in helping us deliver the soccer club that Miami has been waiting for," Miami Beckham United, which still needs final approval to actually build its planned venue, said in a statement. "Miami is the eighth largest metro area in the US, the country's number one soccer market, and a critical gateway to Latin America and Europe. MLS will only reach its full potential once it fields a team here."

Elsewhere, the World Triathlon Corporation’s (WTC) Chinese-backed, Ironman-branded assault on the global mass participation business continued last week with its acquisition of Competitor Group Holdings Inc. (CGI), the San Diego-based company best known for organising the Rock ’n Roll Marathon Series. Though not entirely unexpected given Ironman’s aggressive growth and CGI’s financial troubles, the move is the latest sign that the WTC, which itself was bought for US$650 million by Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group in 2015, means business in the US as well as internationally. 

"This is an important step in the growth Ironman has seen over the last decade," said Andrew Messick, the organisation’s chief executive. "As a globally-recognised endurance brand, the acquisition of the world’s largest running platform puts us in an exciting position for the future growth of running worldwide.”

Elsewhere, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) announced on Monday that it is expanding into China next season, becoming one of the first North American sports leagues to have a team based in Asia. Beijing’s Kunlun Red Stars will become the league’s sixth team, joining five existing North American sides. To minimise travel costs, the Red Stars will play multiple games during trips to North America, while each of the North American teams will travel to Shenzen, where the Red Stars will play their home games, at least once for three-game series.

In soccer, American executive Tom Fox is returning home to become the new president of the San Jose Earthquakes. Fox, 53, joins the MLS side from English club Aston Villa, where he served as chief executive following a stint heading up the commercial department at Premier League giants Arsenal. Fox’s appointment means Earthquakes president Dave Kaval will step down to focus on his other role as president of the Oakland Athletics baseball team.

In not entirely unrelated news, former Derby County chief commercial officer Tim Hinchey’s successful reign as president of the Colorado Rapids will come to an end next month after he secured his “dream job” as president and chief executive of USA Swimming. Hinchey (right), a one-time varsity swimmer and the MLS executive of the year in 2016, will succeed Chuck Wielgus, who died in April at the age of 67. 

In other news, Hulu may be holding off from following Amazon on to the live sports rights bandwagon but that has not stopped the streaming service making its first foray into sports sponsorship. This week, the company announced it is backing Nascar driver Jeffrey Earnhardt at 19 Monster Energy Series races this year in a deal that can only be described as a good fit. Not only does Earnhardt sport the handle of one of stock-car racing’s most famous dynasties, he also claims to be a Hulu subscriber. 

Also this week: the ongoing three-match between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors is the most-watched NBA Finals since 1998 through two games, according to Nielsen; Intel has announced a three-year partnership with Major League Baseball (MLB), giving baseball fans an opportunity to experience games in virtual reality; and Captain Horace Burrell, the president of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and a long-serving member of Concacaf, passed away on Tuesday. He was 67.