Americas Bulletin: Cosmos crisis averted; CES tidbits; the USTA’s tennis ‘nirvana’ 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: Cosmos crisis averted; CES tidbits; the USTA’s tennis ‘nirvana’ and more

After weeks of uncertainty and crisis talks, concerns for the immediate future of North American soccer finally looked to have been soothed. On Friday, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) granted provisional second-division sanctioning to both the North American Soccer League (NASL) and United Soccer League (USL), which previously held division three status, for the 2017 season. While neither entity actually meets all the required division two standards, the USSF has said it will work with both leagues to define ‘a pathway to full compliance’ in the coming weeks.

Following the USSF’s decision, the New York Cosmos confirmed their full participation in this year’s NASL, while the league has since announced that it will downsize from 12 to eight teams for the new season and that its commissioner, Bill Peterson, has stepped down by mutual consent. On Tuesday, the Cosmos then revealed that Rocco Commisso, the founder, chairman and chief executive of Mediacom Communications Corporation, had purchased a majority ownership stake in the club, sparing the NASL from the potential embarrassment of losing their reigning champions.

The takeover by Commisso, a Columbia University graduate and prominent benefactor of soccer in the Big Apple, shores up the financial future of the Cosmos, but the club must still find a new home and rebuild its playing roster after laying off much of its staff towards the end of last year. “With my deep roots in the New York City area as a former player, youth coach, and proud supporter of the Columbia University soccer programme, I look forward to building on the rich history of America’s most iconic soccer club,” the Italian, 67, said in a statement.

As ever, there was no shortage of sports-related tidbits and product launches to come out of CES, the world’s largest tech trade show whose 2017 edition took place in Las Vegas last week. Among those to provide a newsworthy sound bite during the event was National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver (left), who reiterated his belief that, in the not-too-distant future, his league’s content will be more socially integrated, more mobile-friendly, and more creatively priced so as to allow fans able to purchase access to, say, the final minutes of a tight game.

“Maybe someone wants to watch the last five minutes and we can set a price for that, as opposed to what they would pay for two hours,” said Silver, whose comments, perhaps not coincidentally, came in a week that saw the NBA live stream a game on Facebook for the first time. On Sunday, the league provided coverage of the Sacramento Kings versus Golden State Warriors to viewers in India using Mobile View, its new product for NBA League Pass subscribers that offers a more zoomed-in perspective of the game optimised for smaller screens. 

In other news to emerge during CES, media conglomerate Turner announced the launch of Turner Ignite Sports, an in-house sports marketing agency that ‘will change the paradigm for sports and lifestyle marketers’, according to Will Funk, Turner Sports’ executive vice president of sales and property sponsorships. The new agency, created a year after Turner launched Turner Ignite, its data solutions and insights group, will focus on four areas of expertise - intellectual property; live events and experiential marketing; creative services; and data solutions - with the aim of helping its corporate clients bypass the ‘labyrinth’ of agencies and consultants clogging the traditional marketing and advertising ecosystem. ‘These services will be blended with our owned and operated media scale to provide a better more streamlined way for advertisers to connect with consumers,’ wrote Funk.

Speaking of Turner, the company has also formed a new streaming partnership with NBC Sports Group in a bid to challenge BAMTech, the market-leading live streaming specialist spun off from Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM). The two companies will pool the resources of NBC's Playmaker Media and Turner's iStreamPlanet, creating a new offering that will help league and network clients build out their over-the-top and video-on-demand services. According to SportsBusiness Journal reporter John Ourand, the partnership will target up to 50 brands before making an international push.

Elsewhere, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) officially opened its new National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida last week. Dubbed the new home of American tennis, it is hoped the 64-acre, US$63 million campus, which boasts 100 courts of varying surfaces, a strength and conditioning centre, and the PlaySight coaching system for real-time performance analysis, will help create a new generation of Grand Slam champions whilst developing the sport in the US at every level. “This is tennis heaven,” said USTA president Katrina Adams (above), speaking at Thursday’s inauguration. “This is nirvana, with nets.”

Meanwhile the Miami Heat have become the latest NBA franchise to invest in eSports, acquiring a stake in the Misfits organisation that owns teams in several leagues; a 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Los Angeles could increase economic output by as much as US$18.3 billion across the US, according to a questionable economic impact study that has been conducted by Beacon Economics LLC and the University of California, and circulated with relish by the city’s bid team; and Hulu, the Netflix-rivalling subscription video company jointly owned by The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, Comcast and Time Warner, has struck a deal with CBS Corporation that will see it carry the broadcaster’s sports programming on its new live-streaming service, which is expected to launch later this year.