Dec 5, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Today's newsletter is one of my favorites ever. See you at the bottom.

Today's word count: 1,738 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚽️ The City Football Group empire
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Map: Aïda Amer/Axios

Private equity giant Silver Lake Partners has agreed to invest $500 million for a ~10% stake in City Football Group, owner of reigning English Premier League champs, Manchester City, and seven other soccer clubs around the world.

Details:

  • CFG is 77% owned by Abu Dhabi United Group, an investment vehicle owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates.
  • Silver Lake is a Silicon Valley-based technology investor with a clear appetite for sports, having also invested in the UFC and sports marketing giant IMG.

Why it matters: The deal makes CFG, now valued at $4.8 billion, the world's most valuable soccer group, as well as the second most valuable enterprise in all of sports, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys ($5 billion, per Forbes).

  • It also makes Manchester City, which is CFG's biggest asset by far, the single richest soccer club — leapfrogging Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The backdrop: After buying Manchester City in 2008 and quickly turning it into a juggernaut on and off the field through massive spending, CFG began purchasing teams in key global markets, hoping to replicate its success elsewhere.

Timeline:

How it works: Each club has one person in charge of the business (COO) and one person in charge of the soccer (director), both of whom report to CFG. In certain cases, women's teams have also been launched and brought into the fold.

  • Shared resources: Underpinning each individual club is a shared services group, which helps with things like scouting and analytics. Teams also benefit from sharing coaches, doctors and even press officers.
  • Shared learnings: Injury research can be shared across clubs to help improve recovery times. Customer data from Australia can be shared to help sell more tickets in Uruguay. If a coach sees something on film, he might send it to another coach to analyze. Overall, central planning ensures that the best ideas are disseminated throughout the group.
  • Giant farm system: If a Manchester City academy player has talent, but isn't quite ready for the Premier League, he can easily be sent to a satellite team in a less demanding league.
  • Coaching development: Patrick Vieira coached Manchester City's Elite Development Squad for three years before being promoted and put in charge of NYCFC. (He's now a favorite to become the next Arsenal manager.)

The bottom line: CFG is at the apex of what it means to be a 21st century sports business — a mixture of sports, content/media, technology and worldwide reach.

  • As the globalization of sports continues to gain steam, CFG has placed strategic outposts across five continents and amassed an army of 2,000 staff and 1,500 players who play a combined 2,500 games per season.
  • "It is on this basis that Silver Lake has invested in what was once a football club with historic roots in the working class communities of east Manchester, but is now a global entertainment business," writes Quartz's Simon Chadwick.

Go deeper: Inside the Manchester City Football Group (Book excerpt)

2. 🏈 The 2019 NFC East is historically bad
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Chart: Axios Visuals

Through 13 weeks, the NFC East is a dumpster fire. The Cowboys sit in first despite not having beaten a winning team, the Eagles are extremely "meh" and the Redskins and Giants are two of the league's worst teams.

Standings:

  1. Cowboys (6-6)
  2. Eagles (5-7)
  3. Redskins (3-9)
  4. Giants (2-10)

Why it matters: With six non-division games left, the NFC East is 10-26 against the rest of the NFL, good for an awful 0.277 winning percentage.

  • Since 1970, the worst such mark belongs to the 2014 NFC South (Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Bucs), which had a slightly more awful 0.274 winning percentage (11-30-1 record).
  • Even the 2010 NFC West, which made history by becoming the first division to send a team with a losing record to the playoffs (7-9 Seahawks), had a .333 winning percentage in non-division games (14-28).

Coming up:

  • Tonight: The Cowboys (-3) visit the Bears on "Thursday Night Football."
  • Sunday: The Redskins (+13) visit the Packers in search of their third straight win.
  • Monday: With Daniel Jones out (ankle), Eli Manning will likely start for the Giants (+9.5) against the Eagles — and perhaps for the rest of the year.

Go deeper: The NFL's worst divisions since realignment, ranked (The Ringer)

Bonus: 🏈 Week 14 NFL rankings
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Table: Axios Visuals

Note: Since we were off for two weeks, the arrows represent that team's movement since the last time I published one of these (Nov. 14).

Sunday's slate:

  • Ravens at Bills, 1pm ET: After playing just two teams with winning records over the first 12 games (lost to Patriots, beat Titans), Buffalo will play three in a row (Ravens, Steelers, Patriots). Huge stretch for them.
  • Chiefs at Patriots, 4:25pm ET: Rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game, which New England won 37-31 (OT) en route to Super Bowl LIII.
  • Seahawks at Rams, 8:20pm ET: Seattle won the first matchup, 30-29, after L.A. kicker Greg Zuerlein missed the potential game-winning field goal.
3. ⚾️ Mets on verge of sale to hedge fund billionaire

Left to right: Mets president Saul Katz, majority owner Fred Wilpon and COO Jeff Wilpon. Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Mets are in the process of being sold to hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen, who is currently a minority owner in the team.

  • Five-year plan: Current owner Fred Wilpon, 83, would continue to serve as chairman for five years and his son, Jeff, would remain chief operating officer for that same time.
  • The backdrop: Fred bought half the team in 1980, and the other half in 2002. Cohen bought a minority stake in 2012, as the Wilpons struggled to recover from losses suffered in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Why it matters: This would represent a massive change in the landscape of New York sports and a new chapter for the beloved, if troubled, Mets franchise.

  • "It would also be the biggest step in the re-emergence of Mr. Cohen. ... [He] was a major figure in New York society and the art world when his fund became embroiled in a series of insider trading investigations that began after 2009," per NYT.
  • "He was never charged with wrongdoing, but his firm ultimately paid nearly $2 billion in fines and he agreed not to manage outside money for two years."
4. 📸 Big Ten pummels ACC
Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Roy Williams was not happy about suffering the most lopsided home loss of his Tar Heel career, as No. 7 UNC fell to No. 6 Ohio State, 74-49. After only trailing 29-27 at halftime!

  • Fun fact: Ohio State is the fourth team in AP poll history to beat two top-10 teams by 25+ points (also demolished then-No. 10 Villanova). Each of the previous three teams to do that won the national title (2016 Villanova, 2001 Duke, 1968 UCLA).
Photo: Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — In his first-ever start, Sasha Stefanovic scored a career-high 20 points and unranked Purdue shut down No. 2 Virginia, 69-40.

Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Jalen Smith (15 points, 16 rebounds, 5 blocks) and No. 3 Maryland cruised past Notre Dame, 72-51.

5. 🏈 XFL jerseys, helmets (and balls) revealed
Screenshot: @xfl2020 (Twitter)

The XFL revealed the uniforms and helmet designs for all eight teams on Tuesday night.

  • The teams (L to R above): Los Angeles Wildcats, Tampa Bay Vipers, Seattle Dragons, DC Defenders, New York Guardians, St. Louis BattleHawks, Houston Roughnecks, Dallas Renegades.
  • Looking ahead: The season begins Feb. 8, with each team slated to play five home games and five away games until April 12, followed by a round of playoff games April 18–19 and a title game on April 26.

P.S. ... XFL balls are also color coordinated. During games, the team on offense will use a custom ball featuring their color scheme. Sounds like the newly-designed ball could lead to better performance, too...

"The ball has different pebbling (the little bumps spread over a football) in tiny, interconnected X shapes instead of the traditional grains, which arguably makes for better gripping. [It] also has a different internal system that helps evenly balance weight so the ball does not flutter as much."
— Daniel Kaplan, The Athletic (subscription)
6. 📊 By the numbers
Screenshot: @Super70sSports (Twitter)
⚾️ $2.1 million

In 1986, Mike Schmidt won the NL MVP award. In 1987, the Phillies paid him $2.1 million — the third highest salary in the league behind only Boston's Jim Rice ($2.4 million) and Baltimore's Eddie Murray ($2.5 million).

📲 70% of sales

Online retailer Fanatics had its best start to the holiday shopping season ever, the company confirmed to Axios. And get this: 70% of all sales this past weekend came via mobile.

  • Top sellers: Tom Brady jersey, Lamar Jackson jersey, Yankees pajamas, Nationals World Series T-shirt, LeBron James "City Edition" jersey.
🏈 $40 million

It had been expected that 61-year-old NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who makes as much as $40 million annually, would retire in the next few years. But now, some think he might stick around.

7. Dec. 5, 1992: 🏈 The first SEC Championship Game

Photo: Collegiate Images via Getty Images

27 years ago today, Alabama beat Florida, 28-21, in college football's first conference championship game.

Why it mattered: All 10 FBS conferences now play a championship game, and the landscape of college football has shifted several times over the last two decades as leagues tried to hit the magic number of 12 to allow them to hold one.

Go deeper: ESPN documentary "The Play That Changed College Football" explores how different things might be if Florida had won, thereby preventing Alabama from playing Miami for the national title and potentially killing the conference championship experiment in its tracks.

8. The Ocho: 🌊 Two surfers, one roster spot

John John Florence (left) and Kelly Slater. Photo: Kelly Cestari/World Surf League via Getty Images

Growing up on Hawaii's North Shore, John John Florence's favorite pro surfer was Kelly Slater. Then Slater moved in next door and became a mentor, friend and ultimately rival, as Florence became a star in his own right.

The intrigue: As surfing prepares for its Olympics debut in Tokyo, Florence and Slater are vying for Team USA's final spot and it will be decided this month at the Billabong Pipe Masters on waves that break just feet from their houses. Sometimes life can be poetic.

What they're saying (per NYT):

  • 27-year-old Florence: "Kelly won his first world title the year I was born. ... That's crazy to think about. ... He's kind of like an uncle, almost."
  • 47-year-old Slater: "[2020] would be my 40th year since I surfed my first contest, when I was 8 years old. To potentially surf at the Olympics ... would be a nice sort of bookend for me."

🎬 Worth a watch: Florence's surf film, "View From a Blue Moon" is awesome. Also, HBO's 24/7 documentary series is following Slater as he prepares for the Pipe Masters. Here's the trailer.

9. 🏀 NBA trivia
  • Question: Three active players rank in the top 20 on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Can you name them?
  • Hint: One plays in the East, two play in the West.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 📚 Best thing I read

Do it.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Team Slater" Baker

Trivia answer: LeBron James (4th), Carmelo Anthony (18th), Vince Carter (20th)