Apr 10, 2020

Axios Sports

👋 Happy Friday! Dana White heard I called him a villain, so he canceled UFC 249 (just kidding, he did it because executives from Disney and ESPN, which holds the UFC broadcast rights, told him to "stand down").

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Today's word count: 1,612 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚽️ EPL players launch fund to help medical workers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Premier League players have launched an initiative called #PlayersTogether, which will funnel part of their salaries to the National Health Service to support the U.K.'s front-line workers during the COVID-19 crisis, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

  • Why it matters: This decision came at the conclusion of a protracted argument between players, clubs and even government officials over who should bear the brunt of lost revenue in the midst of the pandemic.

The state of play: Thanks to the singular role football plays in the U.K.'s national psyche, this debate took center stage for weeks. The core question: Should players take pay cuts to help their clubs stanch losses? Or should they continue to be paid in full, enabling them to donate those funds directly to those in need?

  • The league wanted to cut up to 25% of players' salaries, while deferring an additional 15% until the crisis abates.
  • The players wanted no cuts, just deferrals, arguing that reducing salaries now would mean less cash on hand to be donated, as well as a significant reduction in taxes paid, which would help workers who need it most.
  • Government officials like U.K. Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock wanted Premier League stars to "take a pay cut and play their part."
  • The normally adoring public wanted clubs and players alike to put aside their differences for the sake of front-line workers.

Between the lines: There's even one more affected party: the non-playing club staffers, whose involvement plays a key role.

  • Newcastle and Tottenham both decided to furlough most of their non-playing employees, putting the onus on the government to support them for the time being.
  • Compare that to what Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did, or how various other athletes and ownership groups paid employees out of pocket to allow government funds to go to those who truly need it.

The big picture: The EPL is one of the most profitable leagues in the world, making over $5 billion in annual revenue, but its players hardly make up the entire über-wealthy population of the nation. In fact, there were nearly 2.5 million millionaires in the U.K. in 2019, per Credit Suisse's World Wealth report.

  • As the public ire grew over how athletes would use their wealth to support those in need, it's worth thinking about why the countless other rich individuals were saved from that vitriol.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Felix Salmon, who writes our weekly finance newsletter, Axios Edge, and spent the first 25 years of his life living in England:

"The fact is, the NHS has an annual budget of $167 billion, so while the players' donation is inarguably commendable, it also has a whiff of being merely performative. A gesture that tells the public they care, and backs the clubs into an unenviable corner, where cutting salary suddenly means more than it did a couple weeks ago.
"But honestly, in a world where the best that most of us can do is stay at home and play video games, even something performative is, well, something."

The bottom line, from Kendall: When sports stop, what role do athletes play in our society? I think we're still figuring that out.

2. ⚾️ MLB teams are more valuable than ever
Reproduced from Forbes; Chart: Axios Visuals

MLB team valuations have risen yet again, capping a decade of growth during which the average team's value has increased four-fold, per Forbes.

  • Why it matters: With team profits also reaching record highs — an average of $50 million per team for a 25% increase YoY — the league is confident it will be able to weather whatever economic downturn a shortened season might cause.

By the numbers:

  • $5 billion: The Yankees remain the most valuable team in the league (second only to the Cowboys' $5.5 billion across all sports).
  • 9% growth: The Yankees, Nationals ... and Orioles (?!) led the pack, each posting a 9% increase in valuation YoY.
  • 5 teams saw their value remain unchanged compared to last year (Diamondbacks, Tigers, Indians, Athletics and Royals).
  • Just 2 teams saw their value decrease (Pirates by 1%, Marlins by 2%).

One mind-blowing stat: If you take away just one nugget from this piece, let it be this. In 2013, 11 of 30 MLB teams failed to turn a profit. This year, the Marlins were the lone team to stake that unfortunate claim (they lost $6 million).

The bottom line: Baseball, like all sports, is going to take a major hit during these unprecedented times. But thanks to a decade of growth, and three major, national media deals that will increase by up to 50% in 2022, it will be back in a big way — whenever that may be.

Bonus: 📈 Zoom out
Reproduced from Forbes; Chart: Axios Visuals

From 2010 to 2019, American sports franchises exploded in value, with the average NBA team growing 476%, the average MLB team growing 262%, the average NHL team growing 192% and the average NFL team growing 179%.

3. ⚡️ Catch up quick
Screenshot: @BryantAthletics (Twitter)
  • 🐶 Mascot hangout: Bryant Tupper, the Bryant Athletics bulldog mascot, invited his canine friends to a video chat. Virtual happy hours are not limited to people.
  • 🎮 MLB The Show League: MLB is launching the first competitive "MLB The Show" league featuring players from all 30 teams competing in a 29-game virtual regular season, per ESPN.
  • 🎓 Coronavirus redshirts denied: Wisconsin has joined the Ivy League in not allowing senior spring sports athletes to return to school next year for their final year of eligibility. More schools will likely follow. Sad.
  • 🏀 HORSE: Yes, the rumors are true. The NBA will stream a HORSE tournament on ESPN with eight participants (all in separate locations, of course). The quarterfinals are on Sunday at 7pm ET. The matchups: Trae Young vs. Chauncey Billups, Tamika Catchings vs. Mike Conley Jr., Zach LaVine vs. Paul Pierce, Chris Paul vs. Allie Quigley.
  • ⚽️ Ronaldinho released: The former global Barcelona star is out on bail after spending the past month in a Paraguayan jail for trying to enter the country with a falsified passport. His fellow inmates were reportedly "in tears as they held a barbecue to say goodbye," and "he has promised to return to visit them before he heads back to Brazil."
  • ⚾️ Mark Reynolds retires: The slugger played for eight teams across a 13-year career, during which he was arguably the poster boy for the three true outcomes era. From 2007 to 2019, he mashed 298 HR (12th-most), drew 707 walks (22nd) and struck out an absolutely breathtaking 1,927 times (almost 100 more than second place Chris Davis).
4. ⛳️ Missing The Masters

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

📚 Read: Even in its absence, The Masters plays a powerful force in the lives of one golf-focused family, writes SI's Michael Rosenberg:

"Sport was not the language the Halls needed; sport was the language they loved. Their conversations were peppered with talk about South Carolina football, basketball and, especially, golf. Their story from last April is America's story today: a smoke cloud of death, so overwhelming that you feel like sports shouldn’t matter at all. And then you realize they do."

🎥 Watch: ESPN's Wright Thompson's video essay:

"The Masters, like a few other things is a way we mark the passage of time and celebrate being alive. ... Right now it is encouraging — maybe even essential — to believe that there will be a Masters come November and that we will not be scared to stand next to our human brothers and sisters."

Rewind: Tiger's win.

5. 😷 Coronavirus dashboard
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

For the past two days, the coronavirus has killed more than 2,000 people in the U.S. within 24 hour periods. But on Thursday, the single-day death toll did not exceed 2,000, per Johns Hopkins data.

Go deeper:

6. 👏 American skylines #LightItBlue

City skylines and sports stadiums across the country transformed into a beacon of blue last night as part of the global #LightItBlue campaign, a collective salute the millions of essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

One World Trade Center, seen from across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images

The Forum in Inglewood, California.

Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas skyline, featuring the Omni Hotel with "LIGHT IT BLUE" written across its facade.

Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the site of this year's canceled Final Four.

7. April 10, 1947: ⚾️ Jackie signs with Brooklyn
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

73 years ago today, Jackie Robinson signed his first major league contract — $5,000 for the season — with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

  • Why it matters: He was the first African American to sign an MLB contract, officially breaking the color barrier and ushering in a new era of baseball.

By the numbers: Because he didn't debut until he was 28, Jackie's career stats don't look like anything special.

  • Still, he packed more into his 10-year Hall of Fame career than most do in a lifetime, earning six All-Star nods and winning one batting title (1949), one World Series (1955), one Rookie of the Year (1947) and one MVP (1949).

The bottom line: Everyone knew he'd be great, but Dodgers president and GM Branch Rickey famously needed something more; "a player who ha[d] the guts not to fight back." Safe to say he found his man in Jackie Robinson, whose No. 42 is the only universally retired jersey number in baseball.

📖 Go deeper: Stay the heck inside and read this unmade Spike Lee 'Jackie Robinson' script (Slash Film)

8. The Ocho: 🌊 Wakeskating in the desert

Source: Red Bull (YouTube)

Source: Red Bull (YouTube)

🎥 Watch: Wakeskating in Brazil's desert lagoons (YouTube)

9. ⚾️ MLB trivia


  • Question: Which pitcher holds the record for most ERA titles in MLB history?
  • Hint: Four of the five times were with the same AL team.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ⭐️ Best thing I saw

This should be a weekly show.

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Today's soundtrack" Baker

Trivia answer: Pedro Martinez (1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003)

Editor's note: The top story has been updated to reflect that the U.K.'s National Health Service's annual budget is $167 billion (not million).