March is a particularly busy month for American sport. Not only are the basketball and ice hockey seasons nearing playoff time, but the leading tennis tours have arrived on US soil, baseball’s elite are back in Spring Training, the PGA Tour is in full swing, the Indycar season is up and running, and Nascar and its drivers are trading early blows - quite literally, in this year’s case. For a large portion of American sports fans, though, March means one thing: college basketball.
Even if spoilsport President Trump has refused to continue Barack Obama’s tradition of filling out a bracket live on primetime TV, the annual spectacle that is March Madness never fails to dominate the national sporting spotlight. But it is not just the mainstream media, amateur ‘bracketologists’ and the owners of student bars who get excited about the tournament. Commercially speaking, the NCAA division one basketball showpiece remains ‘the second-largest generator of national TV ad dollars among all US sports' post-seasons', according to Reuters’ Tim Baysinger. March Madness trails only the National Football League (NFL) in that regard, with advertisers forking out an average of around US$1.4 million for a 30-second commercial during the national championship game.
Another event vying for attention this month is the World Baseball Classic, which has so far garnered something slightly hotter than a lukewarm reception for its early round matches. Japan’s 11-inning victory over the Netherlands at the Tokyo Dome on Sunday was one of the country’s most-watched programmes of the day, according to Japanese media reports, while the Dominican Republic’s 7-5 comeback win over the USA drew 37,446 fans to Miami’s Marlins Park on Saturday, a record attendance for a baseball game at the venue.
On Monday, however, a convoluted runs-per-inning rule caused considerable confusion and controversy in Group D, not least for Team Mexico, who thought they had done enough to secure a spot in the crucial tiebreaker game on home turf. In the end, a decision by the tournament organisers to eliminate Mexico left Venezuela and Italy to contest the game in front of a largely empty stadium in Jalisco, prompting criticism from players and commentators who questioned organiser priorities for a tournament that has yet to truly gain traction, particularly in the US.
Nevertheless, Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred has denied reports that 2017 would be the last edition of the Classic, which is now in its fourth instalment. "The WBC will be broadcast in 182 countries," Manfred said during a pre-tournament media event in Tokyo. "This will be a US$100 million event over this brief less than two-week period. From day one, while it was a profitable event from the beginning, it has really grown in terms of its revenue significance and its popularity around the world.”
Meanwhile, could the US-led fight to bring to justice corrupt senior soccer officials across the Americas take a back seat under the Trump administration? Inside World Football’s Andrew Warshaw raises the possibility that the ongoing US Justice Department investigation could become less of a priority following last week’s resignation of 46 US state attorneys, including Robert L Capers of the Eastern District of New York, on the orders of new US attorney general Jeff Sessions (below).
Sessions’ predecessor Loretta Lynch was widely credited as the driving force behind the investigation that saw several senior soccer administrators and marketing executives indicted on various counts of corruption in 2015, while Capers was also the chief law enforcement officer in five New York counties, including Brooklyn, where many of those indicted have faced trail ahead of sentencing this coming June.
In broadcasting news, the Latin American divisions of Fox Sports and Turner Broadcasting have teamed up to acquire the domestic TV rights to Argentina’s top soccer league, the Primera División. Reuters reports that, as part of the deal, the two companies have agreed to take on a legal challenge brought by Argentine media company Grupo Clarin SA, which is unhappy that the Argentine Football Association (AFA) and the country’s government have agreed to end their policy of ensuring Primera División matches are shown for free.
Elsewhere, tennis great and gender equality campaigner Billie Jean King (left) has sold her majority stake in World Team Tennis (WTT), the city-based team competition she co-founded 42 years ago. King, 73, is selling her share in the property to Mark Ein and Fred Luddy, the respective owners of the Washington Kastles and San Diego Aviators WTT franchises. She will, however, retain control of the Philadelphia Freedoms, as well as keeping a minority role in WTT, which is hoping to grow from six to ten teams in 2018.
Also this week: Larry Scott will stay on at the Pac-12 Conference until at least 2022 after extending his presidency for another term; Relevent Sports, organiser of the International Champions Cup summer soccer tournament, has announced that Spanish giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona will face off at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium in July; and Under Armour has appointed its first chief innovation officer, with Clay Dean joining the company from General Motors.