Apr 29, 2020

Axios Sports

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! We have an absolutely jam-packed edition today, complete with two scoops and an interview. See you at the bottom.

  • πŸ’¬ Today at 2pm ET, I'll be answering your questions via Twitter Video Q&A on how the coronavirus is impacting the sports industry. Tweet your questions using #AskAxios or #AskAxiosKendall and tune in to see my answers. (@thekendallbaker)

Today's word count: 2,036 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: πŸ’΅ PE firm formed to buy into sports teams

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

Private equity has long dabbled around the edges of professional sports, but now has its first firm dedicated to buying into teams, writes Axios' Dan Primack.

  • Driving the news: Arctos Sports Partners has been launched by David "Doc" O'Connor, former president of Madison Square Garden Co., and Ian Charles, a longtime private equity secondaries investor.
  • By the numbers: Axios has learned that Arctos is raising between $1 billion and $1.5 billion for its debut fund, with $500 million already committed from backers like the Petershill unit of Goldman Sachs.


  • The plan is to invest between $20 million and $300 million for passive, minority stakes in North American pro sports teams and select European soccer clubs.
  • Some of this could be via buying out minority owners, or by providing preferred equity or structured financing to control owners who are seeking some liquidity.
  • The firm quietly launched late last year, well ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, but may now benefit from price constriction and certain owners being in need of financial flexibility.

The state of play: MLB late last year changed its ownership rules to permit funds to be part of team ownership groups, leaving the NFL as America's only major sports league to still prohibit them.

  • Skyrocketing team valuations have made it increasingly difficult for part-owners to find buyers for their stakes. By permitting funds, leagues expand the potential buyer pool.

What to watch: Baseball is likely to be Arctos' top target, due to its glut of small limited partners, but also expect the fund to focus on NHL and MLS teams where its fund size could make a more significant impact.

2. πŸ€ The rise of the G League
Logos: SportsLogos.Net; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Daishen Nix, the 15th-ranked player in the 2020 class, has joined fellow five-stars Jalen Green (No. 3) and Isaiah Todd (No. 11) in opting to forego college in favor of the NBA G League's new professional pathway program, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

Why it matters: This signals the NBA's intention to more forcefully take the reins on developing its own future talent, while shining a spotlight on the rapidly maturing G League.

The backdrop: The G League began operating in 2001 as the eight-team National Basketball Development League and later became the D-League (Developmental). In 2017, Gatorade became the title sponsor (hence, G League) and the league has expanded to 28 teams.

  • NBA teams own 25 of those 28 teams outright, while the remaining three β€” Grand Rapids Drive (Pistons), Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Rockets) and Texas Legends (Mavericks) β€” are independently owned, though the NBA affiliate runs and finances the basketball operations.
  • A 29th team from Mexico City will join next season as an unaffiliated club. But there are no updates regarding the Trail Blazers and Nuggets β€” the lone G League holdouts among NBA teams β€” adding their own affiliates, the NBA tells Axios.

The state of play: The G League's professional pathway program that Green, Todd and Nix have entered is an evolution of last year's "select contract" experiment.

  • Select contracts, worth $125,000 plus incentives and benefits, were meant to entice elite prospects into choosing the G League over college or playing abroad, but they ultimately weren't valuable enough to gain any traction.
  • Now, the salary has increased to $500,000, and these three youngsters are the centerpiece of a new year-long developmental program designed specifically to help them assimilate to a professional lifestyle.

The big picture: The advent of this new program, combined with the expected reversal of the one-and-done rule prior to the 2022 NBA Draft, will fundamentally alter the basketball landscape going forward.

  • For the G League, it signals an ascension to being a true minor league. More talent means more eyeballs means more money, and even when the draft resumes accepting players straight out of high school, the next tier of prospects can take advantage of the pathway program in their stead.
  • For the NCAA, it means a dilution of one-and-done talent, which should spark an about-face regarding how it treats its "student-athletes." Losing the Zions of the world won't sink the NCAA, but their loss won't be negligible, either.

The bottom line: This is all about the NBA showing its might; believing it's the best developmental option for top prospects and putting its money where its mouth is.

3. ⚾ Scoop: Baseball's best case
Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Major League Baseball sees midsummer as the likely best case for opening the season, probably with no fans in the stands, sources tell Axios.

  • In the hope that a July 4 opener might be feasible, some executives are considering the tagline: "America's game is back on America's birthday."
  • One scenario calls for a few weeks of "spring training" in June, ahead of play beginning in July.
4. πŸ€ The "WNBA model"

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

As we discussed yesterday, the battle for the future of women's hockey is between one side (NWHL) that wants to stand on its own and another side (PWHPA) that wants to be affiliated with the NHL, similar to how the WNBA is affiliated with the NBA.

  • Yes, but: The "WNBA model" has evolved and is no longer what it used to be, so mentioning it as an example of the latter model's success is somewhat misleading.

By the numbers: In the midst of the best WNBA era to date, seven of the league's 12 teams are independently owned and have no NBA affiliation β€” proof that owners see value in the product on its own.

Between the lines: The NBA's "what's mine is yours" business approach was a boon in the WNBA's early days, but now that the league has the star-power and brand recognition to attract sponsors of its own, it can hurt business.

  • Prime example: On an episode of HBO's "The Shop," WNBA star Sue Bird gave the example of "Shoe Company A" signing a deal with the NBA that includes exclusive WNBA rights.
  • "Shoe Company A" is funding the WNBA but has no real incentive to market it, since their contract is with the NBA. "Shoe Company B" might show up with a full-blown WNBA marketing strategy, but the WNBA can't sign with them because "Shoe Company A" already owns exclusive rights.

In other words: "When the NBA leverages its relationships, it helps. When the NBA tosses the WNBA in as a sweetener for its own deals, it hurts," writes The IX's Erica Ayala.

The bottom line: The "independent" model vs. the "aligned with established men's league" model are often presented as the only two paths forward for women's sports. But it's a lot more complicated than that.

5. 😷 Coronavirus dashboard
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.
  • πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30am ET: 1,012,583 β€” Total deaths: 58,355 β€” Total recoveries β€” 115,936 β€” Total tested: 5,795,728 β€” Map.
  • 🌎 Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30am ET: 3,126,806 β€” Total deaths: 217,555 β€” Total recoveries β€” 935,308 β€” Map.

Sports headlines:

  • πŸ“ž White House call: Chief medical officers from major sports leagues participated in a call yesterday with White House coronavirus task force member Seema Verma to discuss sports' role in the reopening of America.
  • ⛳️ Recreation returns in Washington: Certain outdoor recreational activities will be allowed once again in Washington state starting on May 5. Residents may hunt and fish, and golf courses and state parks will reopen.
  • πŸ“Ί Joe Buck on no fans: "Doing a big NFL game, calling a big touchdown, and hearing no reaction from any crowd ... that is daunting," the broadcaster said on HBO's "Real Sports" last night. "So I think they're going to have to put in some sort of fake crowd noise ... just to give a little bit of support."
  • ⚽️ Soccer scrapped: France and Argentina have both called off their soccer seasons.
6. 🏁 Drone Racing League makes big hire
Courtesy: Drone Racing League

Rachel Jacobson, former NBA senior VP of global partnerships, has been named the Drone Racing League's new president β€” a statement hire for a league with visions of a more mainstream future.

  • How it works: DRL is like a video game brought to life. Pilots move quickly through elaborate courses inside stadiums or at outdoor locations, zooming through LED hoops and hurdles.
  • The backdrop: CEO and founder Nicholas Horbaczewski started DRL in 2015 after serving as the chief revenue officer at Tough Mudder.

πŸŽ™ I spoke with Rachel about her new role...

KB: With most sports shut down, DRL is moving ahead with plans for the 2020 season. Anything you can share on that front?

"The government has talked about one of the first things that will come back is playing in empty stadiums. We're already having discussions with arenas who are salivating over the opportunity to host a drone race β€” right now β€” even without fans."
Courtesy: Drone Racing League

KB: What's at the top of your to-do list right now?

"Sports and entertainment does such an amazing job of banding together for the greater good of society, so getting involved in philanthropic programs like the ALL IN Challenge is a priority for us. We're also supporting children at home with STEM programs."
Courtesy: Drone Racing League

KB: On a personal note, what has the experience been like coming onboard as DRL president amid a global pandemic?

"Now more than ever I'm leaning into getting to know our team personally, and focusing on the human side β€” health, wellbeing, family. That has made me feel connected to the team very quickly, as has the need to over-communicate and just the camaraderie of everyone wanting to help out."
7. April 29, 1986: 🏈 Bo spurns the Bucs
Photo: Jerry Lodriguss/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

34 years ago today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Bo Jackson with the first overall pick in the 1986 draft.

  • Why it matters: Bo, who went on to play eight MLB seasons and four in the NFL, never played a snap for the Bucs, citing his belief that they sabotaged his baseball career to ensure he'd play for them.

Setting the stage: Jackson was a stud on both the diamond and the gridiron at Auburn, but during his junior year, he realized baseball was his true passion and decided not to pursue the NFL.

  • But the Bucs still hoped to sway him, so they sent a private jet to bring him to Tampa for a visit a month before the draft, claiming they'd cleared such a visit with the SEC. Unfortunately, the SEC saw things differently and ruled Bo ineligible for the remainder of his senior baseball season.
  • Jackson: "I think it was all a plot now, just to get me ineligible from baseball because they saw the season I was having and they thought they were going to lose me to baseball."
  • It's still unclear whether Tampa lied or there was simply a misunderstanding (one exec even claimed Bo requested the jet himself). Either way, Jackson's promise that the Bucs would be "wasting their pick" on him rang true, as he turned down their contract offer and chose baseball.

The big picture: Ultimately, everything worked out for Bo (that is, until it didn't).

  • Five weeks later, the Royals drafted him in the fourth round, and he averaged 27 HR per year across his four full seasons in Kansas City, including one All-Star selection and a top-10 MVP finish in 1989.
  • In the NFL, the Raiders took a chance on him in the seventh round of the 1987 draft. Owner Al Davis supported Jackson's decision to play both sports, and Bo played four seasons in L.A., scoring 18 TD in just 38 career games.
  • The injury: In his first NFL playoff game, Bo suffered a devastating hip injury, ending his football career on the spot and affecting his health enough that his baseball career was never quite the same and ended four years later.

🎬 Watch: "30 for 30: You Don't Know Bo" (ESPN)

8. πŸ“Ί The Ocho ... on ESPN
Screenshot: @thorbjornsson (Instagram)

"The Ocho," spawned from the 2004 movie "Dodgeball" and made even more famous by extremely good looking and talented sportswriter Kendall Baker, will air on ESPN this Saturday, with 11 hours of programming scheduled.

  • What to watch: 6-foot-9-inch Icelandic strongman Thor Bjornsson, who played "The Mountain" on HBO's "Game of Thrones," will kick things off at noon ET by attempting a world record deadlift (1,104 pounds).

Full slate (all times pm ET):

  • 12:00: World Record Deadlift Attempt (Live)
  • 1:00: Professional Arm Wrestling
  • 1:30:: 2006 Krystal World Hamburger Eating Competition
  • 2:30: E:60 β€” Cheese Rolling, Frog Jumping, and Japanese Monster Wrestling
  • 3:30: 2018 Classic Tetris World Championship
  • 4:00: 2019 Golden Tee World Championship
  • 4:30: 51stΒ Annual Stone Skipping Competition
  • 5:30: 46thΒ Annual Cherry Pit Spitting Championship
  • 6:00: Dodge Juggle
  • 7:00: Putt Putt Championships
  • 7:30: 2019 Stupid Robot Fighting League
  • 8:00: 2019 World Sign Spinning Championship
  • 8:30: 2019 Jelle's Marble Runs
  • 9:00: Lawn Mower Racing
  • 9:30: Slippery Stairs
  • 10:00: Death Diving
9. πŸ€ NBA trivia


Scottie Pippen and Tim Duncan are two of the five players in NBA history who have made the All-Defensive Team at least 10 times.

  • Questions: Can you name the other three players?
  • Hint: All of their names start with the same letter.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❀️ Why we love sports
I'm in the middle, my dad is on the right (to my left) and Mr. Fournier on the left. Courtesy: Gary K.

Gary K. (Washington, D.C.) writes:

"Like most kids growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I played Little League Baseball. But the sport I associate with my youth is hockey β€” mostly because my Southern-born father caught the bug in the mid-1960s, right before the Kings were part of the NHL's first expansion beyond the Original Six.
"Dad took me to Kings games starting when I was about six. We had a subscription to The Hockey News, and I learned the names of players and read the box scores in the L.A. Times every morning at the breakfast table.
"Then, when I was nine, my Dad signed me up for a youth hockey league in Van Nuys. Even though the rink was always teeth-chatteringly cold, I think my Dad enjoyed being there β€” even at 5am β€” as much as I enjoyed playing.
"After I had played for a year or two, my Dad decided he needed to learn how to skate. Keep in mind, he grew up in rural Georgia and was about 40 at the time. I can remember him saying to me as he grabbed onto the boards to get around the ice, 'How do you propel yourself on these things?'
"Eventually, he learned well enough to justify getting his own set of skates, and somehow he cobbled together enough equipment to act as an assistant coach during practice.
"The team's coach was a French Canadian named Guy Fournier, and it's amusing to think about these two fathers with dramatically different accents somehow working together to help kids play a game they loved.
"Dad died at the age of 57, but through the memories of those cold Saturday mornings at Iceland Skating Center in Van Nuys, every time I've watched a hockey game I think of him."

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or an example of sports having a positive impact on your life? If you'd like to share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories until they run out.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Dads are the best" Baker

Trivia answer: Kobe Bryant ❀️, Kevin Garnett, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar