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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Athletes Unlimited, a network of women's sports leagues that uses fantasy-style scoring, successfully completed its first season of softball last month.

Why it matters: While most leagues scrambled to create one-off bubble tournaments, Athletes Unlimited didn't have to change too much about its model, which was already designed for short, single-site seasons.

  • "Our vision was always to host each season in a single market and build storytelling and other elements around that," co-founder and CEO Jon Patricof tells me.
  • "Not having in-person fans certainly changed things, but ticketing revenue was never a huge part of the equation for us anyway."
  • "If you put medical/testing aside, the pandemic changed call it 10% of our model; whereas for most other leagues it changed 90% of their model."

What's next: Athletes Unlimited will take what it did with softball this summer and try to apply that model to two other sports next year — possibly with fans in the stands this time.

  • Volleyball: February 2021 (Nashville)
  • Lacrosse: July 2021 (TBD)

The big picture: There are clear avenues for growth in women's sports, and the pandemic has helped revealed them.

  • WNBA ratings are up.
  • NWSL ratings are way up.
  • The NWHL is maturing in promising ways.
  • And now, softball, volleyball and lacrosse have a new professional home.

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Nov 18, 2020 - Sports

The Tokyo Olympics look set to go ahead with fans

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

IOC president Thomas Bach arrived in Tokyo this week as a cheerleader for next year's Olympics, saying he's "very confident" the Games will open with fans on July 23, 2021.

What he's saying: Bach issued a gentle plea to all competitors to get vaccinated if and when a vaccine is available, and added that a "reasonable number" of fans should be able to attend with or without a vaccine.

8 mins ago - Health

U.S. exceeds 100,000 COVID-related hospitalizations for the first time

People wait outside the Emergency room of the Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park, California on Dec 1. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

More than 100,200 Americans were hospitalized as of Wednesday due to the coronavirus for the first time since the outbreak began in early 2020, per the COVID Tracking Project.

The big picture: The milestone comes as health officials anticipated cases to surge due to holiday travel and gatherings. The impact of the holiday remains notable, as many states across the country are only reporting partial data.

4 hours ago - Science

The "war on nature"

A resident stands on his roof as the Blue Ridge Fire burned back in October in Chino Hills, Calif. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

Apocalyptic weather is the new normal because humans are "waging war on nature," the UN declared on Wednesday.

What they're saying: "The state of the planet is broken," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, reports AP. “This is suicidal.”