Apr 9, 2020

Axios Sports

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,569 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: ğŸŽ“ Slack for sports raises $25 million

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Teamworks, an athlete engagement platform that grew up in the college sports space and has since expanded to the professional ranks, announced yesterday that it has raised $25 million in Series C funding led by Delta-v Capital.

  • The round also includes participation from new investors Afia Capital, a private investment platform backed by pro athletes, and Stadia Ventures, a global sports innovation hub.

How it works: There are so many moving parts within an elite sports organization: coaches, athletes, trainers, strength staff, nutritionists, marketers, sales teams, etc.

  • Teamworks' software connects those departments and allows them to communicate in one centralized location.
  • Think of it as Slack or G-Suite for sports organizations — a platform that can be customized through modules and plug-ins and allows them to fully digitize their operations.

The backdrop: Like the aforementioned Slack and G-Suite, plus other tools like Zoom, the COVID-19 pandemic has elevated Teamworks' core value proposition: how do sports organizations communicate when they're not in a building together?

  • "On one hand, we're definitely seeing a slow down in organizations wanting to sign on right now because so many are in a general spending freeze," CEO and founder Zach Maurides told me yesterday by phone.
  • "But given the current situation, we've gone from something that was maybe viewed as a competitive advantage to something that is now business critical," said Maurides, who came up with the idea for Teamworks in 2005, while playing football at Duke. "The organizations we serve have continued operating without skipping a beat."

What to watch: With the name, image and likeness (NIL) debate heating up, Teamworks is well-positioned to be the facilitator of deals between brands and college athletes once those are able to happen, all while allowing athletic departments to monitor activity and prove compliance.

  • More than 2,000 Division I teams use Teamworks, which means tens of thousands of student-athletes are already on the app. So it's not hard to imagine them toggling between talking to a coach and talking to a sponsor.
  • That would explain Teamworks' recent acquisition of athlete social media content delivery platform, INFLCR (similar to Opendorse), which was finalized with this latest round of funding.

Yes, but: As the NIL landscape takes shape, Teamworks will likely face stiff competition from competitors looking to help college athletes earn money, and leaning too heavily into that side of things could pull the company away from its core mission of helping organizations communicate.

2. 🇺🇸 U.S. Olympians brace for $200M cash crunch

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Tokyo Olympics postponement means nearly $200 million in media rights fees that the International Olympic Committee was set to distribute to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee likely won't arrive until next August, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

Why it matters: While this certainly puts a financial strain on the USOPC, it also illuminates the larger issue of how the committee distributes its funds, with athletes occupying the bottom of a trickle-down system that leaves many of them destitute even in the best of times.

What they're saying: In a 2018 segment of "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," snowboarder Jonathan Cheever, who competed in Pyeongchang, said that the little help he got from the USOPC — a $1,500 stipend, plus health insurance — only covered a fraction of his costs.

  • In fact, when he wasn't training, he had to work as a licensed plumber to help pay off the $70,000+ in debt he'd racked up on his credit card.
  • Meanwhile, 14 USOPC execs were paid $200,000+ that year, while another 115 staff members made six figures.

The big picture: The USOPC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, making it one of the few national Olympic committees that doesn't receive government funding. Hence why this $200 million cash crunch could hit American athletes particularly hard.

  • "Our nation stands apart from others because our Olympic and Paralympic teams are not just cheered by an enthusiastic national fan base, but also funded by one," the U.S. Olympic Foundation, a nonprofit that fundraises for the USOPC, proudly states on its website.
  • By comparison, the U.K. government pours ~$709 million into UK Sport, an agency that manages funding and partnerships for Olympic athletes; and in Canada, the government invests ~$153 million into the Olympics annually, per Mother Jones.

The bottom line: We love the Olympics because they give us all a chance to come together every 2–4 years and get the patriotic warm-and-fuzzies. But behind the scenes, the USOPC's financial distribution model causes undue strain on Olympic hopefuls — and those purse strings just got even tighter.

3. 📺 ESPN hit hardest by lack of live sports
Reproduced from Variety Intelligence Platform; Chart: Axios Visuals

878 nationally televised sporting events have been canceled or suspended due to COVID-19, according to data from Variety Intelligence Platform.

  • By the numbers: ESPN+ (160), ESPN (139), ESPN3 (22), ESPN2 (20) and ESPNU (4) have accounted for 39% of all dropped fixtures.
4. ğŸŽ¾ Wimbledon was prepared for a pandemic

Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images

Ever since the SARS outbreak in 2003, the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which hosts Wimbledon, has reportedly been paying $2 million annually for pandemic insurance (so $34 million over 17 years).

Why it matters: That insurance policy will pay out roughly $141 million following this year's cancellation, which is far less than what the tournament would have generated (~$300 million, per estimates), but should help the club weather any short-term financial difficulties.

The big picture: Some other events like the 2020 British Open also had pandemic insurance (hence why it was canceled in order to collect the premium), while other events did not (hence why they've been more inclined to postpone).

Go deeper: Pandemic insurance? The Open and Wimbledon have it, but most sports businesses don't (Action Network)

5. ⚡️ Catch up quick

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

  • 🏈 Brady interview: Tom Brady joined Howard Stern for a lengthy conversation, in which he revealed many things. Some highlights: He believed he was leaving the Patriots before last season began, he holds no resentment toward Bill Belichick, he doesn't care about legacy, and Derek Jeter is his landlord.
  • 🏟 55 years ago today: A sold-out crowd of 47,879 filed into the Astrodome in Houston to watch the first-ever indoor baseball game.
  • 🏀 Early college hoops top 10: 1. Gonzaga, 2. Baylor, 3. Villanova, 4. Wisconsin, 5. Creighton, 6. Duke, 7. Kentucky, 8. Iowa, 9. Virginia, 10. San Diego State, per The Athletic's Seth Davis (subscription).
  • ⚾️ $1 million: That's how much someone paid for a bat used by Yankees legend Lou Gehrig.
6. 📚 Good reads
Photo: Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images

⚽️ Germany prepares for soccer's return (Tariq Panja, NYT)

"While other European soccer leagues are engulfed in uncertainty and damaging pay disputes between clubs and player unions, in Germany there is order and a cleareyed strategy to restart its league ... with plans for spectator-free games starting in early May."

⚾️ One man, one million baseball cards (Kevin Kaduk, Midway Minute)

"The official meter on OneMillionCubs.com currently reads 427,285. Which means that Beau Thompson is 572,715 pieces of cardboard away ... from his goal of collecting one million Cubs baseball cards."

🥊 The unfortunate truth about young fighter contracts (The Athletic)

"Why am I writing this? I believe there are certain areas of boxing that need to be given oxygen. Because boxing isn't like football, where most stuff is out in the open. Where you can find 100 football lawyers, agents and communications people who will tell you how football works."
7. April 9, 1981: ⚾️ "Fernandomania" begins
Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

39 years ago today, Dodgers rookie Fernando Valenzuela made his first Major League start — an Opening Day, shutout victory over the Astros.

Why it matters: His performance that day kicked off one of the most impressive starts to a career in MLB history, and as one of the few Mexican big leaguers at the time — in Los Angeles, no less — he sparked a fervor in the community and nation still known lovingly as "Fernandomania."

"I think Fernando created more new baseball fans than any other player in baseball history. People from Mexico, from other Latin American countries like Ecuador, where I'm from, we didn't have many baseball idols. And here comes this 19-year-old kid, a little bit chubby, long hair, Indian features, couldn't speak a word of English. And it was like … wow."
— Jaime Jarrín, Spanish language voice of the Dodgers, per The Athletic

By the numbers:

  • 8 complete games: He opened his rookie season with eight straight complete games, going 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA. He'd go on to pitch three more complete games that year (all shutouts), for an NL-best 11 total.
  • 96 complete games, 27 shutouts: From 1981 to 87, Valenzuela's 96 complete games were second only to Detroit's Jack Morris (102), while his 27 shutouts blew away second-place (18 by his teammate, Bob Welch).
  • 1 Cy Young, 1 ROY: He is still the only pitcher in MLB history to win the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in the same season (1981).

ğŸŽ¬ Watch ... 30 for 30: Fernando Nation (ESPN+)

8. The Ocho: ğŸŽ¾ Platform tennis
Courtesy: Harry Cicma Productions

Jeff writes: ESPN3 recently aired the 2020 Platform Tennis World Championships live from a backyard in Wilton, Connecticut.

  • Platform tennis is essentially a combination of tennis and racquetball and has only 100,000 to 150,000 players worldwide.
  • Social distancing rules: They played singles rather than the more customary doubles, players wore gloves on their non-paddle hands and, of course, no spectators were allowed.

Star-studded finals: Given the hastily thrown together nature of this tournament, it wasn't truly a "World Championship."

  • Still, the finals pitted the world No. 1 (Johan du Randt, who drove down from Boston) against No. 3 (Mark Parsons, du Randt's former doubles partner).
  • Parsons won, and when they met at the net for the customary post-match handshake, they quickly bumped paddles before retreating to the more appropriate six-foot-plus buffer.

📽 Watch: Get a quick tutorial in platform tennis (YouTube)

9. 🏀 NBA trivia
Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Eight of the top 50 players on the all-time NBA scoring list are active, led of course by LeBron James (third; 34,087).

  • Question: Who are the other seven?
  • Hint: Two play in the East, four play in the West, and one is team-less and contemplating retirement.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why sports matter

Me after reading some of your stories last night. Source: Giphy

What's your fondest sports memory? Maybe it's a moment you shared with a friend or relative. Maybe you witnessed history. Maybe you finally saw your team win the big game. Could be anything!

  • ✍️ Submit your story: Reply to this email letting me know and I'll start sharing your stories. If we can't have sports, we can at least try to conjure up the wonderful emotions that they give us.

Thanks for all the submissions so far! We'll start sharing your stories on Monday.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Miss u LeBron" Baker

Trivia answer: Carmelo Anthony, Vince Carter, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge