Feb 28, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

🎉 Happy Friday! Congratulations to our final two winners from this week's ticket giveaway, Dave Horan and David Anderson.

🚨 "Axios on HBO" returns with a bang: Roger Stone on his Christian salvation (clip); an in-depth interview with Weinstein prosecutor Cy Vance; and Kerry, Dukakis, others on Super Tuesday drama — Sunday 6pm ET/PT.

Today's word count: 1,476 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚽️ MLS embarks on 25th season

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As Major League Soccer begins its 25th season, the league is financially stable and surging in popularity, and its 26 teams have gorgeous facilities and rapidly increasing valuations.

  • It also continues to expand, with David Beckham's Inter Miami and Nashville SC set to debut this season as the 25th and 26th teams. Plans are in place to reach 30 franchises by 2022 — triple the number from 2004.
  • With soccer's status in America likely to receive a boost when the U.S. hosts the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada, the league's owners have grandiose visions for the future:
"We definitely have the demographics in our favor, both in terms of youth and diversity. So I think we'll pass baseball and hockey and be the No. 3 sport in the U.S. [in the next 10 years]."
Larry Berg, LAFC managing owner

The other side: For all of its growth, MLS still struggles to stay relevant in a crowded American sports landscape and has made virtually no meaningful inroads in big markets like New York and Dallas.

  • Put simply, MLS doesn't matter to enough general sports fans to break through the proverbial brick wall that separates the "big four" (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) from everyone else.
"Right now there's a feeling by too many that they're not part of the game in this country, and we have to work harder to change that."
Bob Bradley, LAFC manager

What to watch:

  • Expansion teams, stadium dreams: The long-term plan for Inter Miami is to recruit global superstars to play in a world-class stadium, but until that stadium opens in 2022, the team will make do in nearby Fort Lauderdale. ... As for Nashville SC, they'll use Nissan Stadium (home of the Titans) for a few years before moving into their own stadium downtown.
  • Young American talent: Thanks to the recent success of MLS' academy system, there are now well over 100 homegrown players in the league, and dozens more have been sold to European clubs. Here are some of the best young Americans.
  • Latino stars in, European stars out: Top players from Liga MX have begun flowing north in multimillion dollar transfers, and Mexican superstar Javier "Chicharito" Hernández moved from Sevilla (Spain) to the LA Galaxy. Sadly, Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimović and England's Wayne Rooney are both gone.
  • Henry in Montreal: Thierry Henry was once one of the best soccer players in the world and enjoyed a successful MLS stint with the New York Red Bulls last decade. Now, the French icon will attempt to succeed as head coach of the Montreal Impact.
  • Power rankings: The defending champion Seattle Sounders, LAFC, Atlanta United, Toronto FC and New York City FC are the five best teams on paper.

Go deeper:

2. ⛳️ The "Florida Swing" is upon us

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

This weekend's Honda Classic kicks off the PGA Tour's "Florida Swing," a run of four tournaments throughout the Sunshine State that take up most of March.

The lineup:

  • Honda Classic, started yesterday at PGA National (Palm Beach Gardens)
  • Arnold Palmer Invitational, March 5–8 at Bay Hill Club (Orlando)
  • Players Championship, March 12–15 at TPC-Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra Beach)
  • Valspar Championship, March 19–22 at Innisbrook Resort (Palm Harbor)

Why it matters: Two years ago, the PGA Championship switched from its traditional August time slot to mid-May, meaning all four majors now take place in a 15-week span between early April (The Masters) and July (The Open Championship).

  • As a result of this scheduling change, it's crucial that guys are playing their best golf when April rolls around, so this stretch run in Florida is where they can start to build that momentum and round into form.

Look: Honda Classic leaderboard

3. 🎓 NIL debate: States follow California's lead
Expand chart
Reproduced from Student Player; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

In late September, California passed a bill that allows college athletes in the state to receive compensation for their name, image and likeness (NIL) starting in 2023.

  • In the five months since then, lawmakers across the country have introduced similar bills.
  • While most agree that national standards would ultimately be preferable to state-by-state chaos, proponents of change have applauded states for pushing the issue and forcing the NCAA to the table to agree that change is needed.

Driving the news: The Florida bill is likely to pass both the state's House and Senate before the legislative session ends in mid-March and would go into effect either this July or July 2021, The Athletic reports (subscription).

  • If that happens, it would make Florida the first state where athletes can begin accepting endorsement money — well before Jan. 1, 2023, the effective date of California's original bill.
4. 📸 Yesterday in photos
Photo: Marco Luzzani/Inter via Getty Images

MILAN — Italian authorities have restricted public gatherings in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, so the Europa League match between Inter Milan and Ludogorets (Bulgaria) was played in an empty stadium.

Photo: Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

OTTAWA — Playing in his first home game since entering the NHL/NHLPA assistance program for alcohol addiction three months ago, Bobby Ryan scored an emotional hat trick to lead the Senators past the Canucks, 5-2.

Photo: Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — D'Mitrik Trice scored 28 points and Wisconsin snapped No. 19 Michigan's five-game winning streak with an 81-74 victory. The Badgers have now won 19 of their last 25 games against the Wolverines.

5. 🥍 PLL, presented by Ticketmaster

Photo: M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Premier Lacrosse League has signed a title sponsorship deal with Ticketmaster, meaning the league will be known as the Premier Lacrosse League, powered by Ticketmaster as it embarks on its second season.

  • Similar deals: The NBA's development league changed from the D-League to the G League in 2017 after striking a deal with Gatorade, and from 2007 to 2016, England's Premier League was known as the Barclays Premier League.

Why it matters: While the PLL's inaugural campaign was a success by almost any metric, ticketing proved to be a challenge given the league's tour-based model, which saw all six teams (now seven) play in a different city each weekend.

"We used eight different ticketing providers in Year 1 because of the differentiation from venue to venue, so making it easier to access tickets will be beneficial. And since we're a true single-entity and do everything in-house (ticket sales, team merchandise, etc), Ticketmaster's full suite of services is going to help us understand our audience and acquire new fans."
— PLL co-founder Paul Rabil tells Axios

The big picture: Ticketmaster joins a growing list of sponsors (Adidas, Capital One, Gatorade) that have made significant investments in the PLL, which is hoping to make "pro lacrosse player" a more viable career path than it's ever been before.

  • Any investment in the PLL is an investment in lacrosse as a whole, and if the league succeeds in the long run, the trickle down effects will be felt at the college, high school and even youth levels.

Coming next week ... Checking in on the world of college lacrosse.

6. 📊 By the numbers: NFL combine

Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

  • 4.27 seconds: Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III ran the 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds yesterday, tied with Marquise Goodwin for the fourth-fastest since 2006 and just shy of John Ross' record of 4.22.
  • 238 pounds: Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool ran a 4.42 40 at 6-foot-4-inches and 238 pounds. Since 2006, the only other WR weighing 230+ pounds to run the 40 that fast was Calvin Johnson (4.35).
  • 25 reps: Arizona State punter Michael Turk (son of longtime NFL punter Matt Turk) did 25 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, which was better than all 33 WRs and all but one TE who took part in the drill yesterday.
7. Feb. 28, 2010: 🏒 Crosby's golden goal

Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

10 years ago today, 22-year-old Sidney Crosby scored an overtime goal to lift Canada over the U.S. 3-2 in the gold-medal game in Vancouver.

"In terms of goals that I've scored or moments that I've had, yeah, it was the biggest one. ... So many people have told me where they were when they were watching and when the goal went in. It was so cool at the moment it happened, to be a part of it, and to experience it. And I've heard all of these stories. I actually really like hearing them from people."
Crosby, per The Athletic

The backdrop: All of Canada was on the edge of their seats for the final event of the 2010 Games, and a loss would have spoiled two weeks' worth of memories. Not only had Vancouver hosted a successful Olympics, but Canadian athletes set a new world record with 14 gold medals.

8. The Ocho: 🏍 Superbike World Championship

Photo: Morgan Hancock/Getty Images

The 2020 Superbike World Championship season gets underway this weekend on Phillip Island, Australia.

How it works: The Superbike World Championship features modified versions of motorcycles available to the public, which differentiates it from MotoGP, which uses purpose-built machines.

  • In other words, Superbike racing is the motorcycle equivalent of stock car racing, while MotoGP is more like Formula One.
  • Race results are combined to determine two annual world championships, one for riders and one for manufacturers — a list that includes BMW, Yahama, Ducati, Honda and Kawasaki.

Looking ahead: The 2020 Superbike racing season runs through October and includes 13 tour stops, with riders competing in Spain (three times), Italy (twice), Qatar, Netherlands, England, Germany, France and Argentina.

🎥 Watch: Highlights from last year's opener (YouTube)

9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

New Balance and the NBA have signed a multi-year deal that will see the Boston-based brand become the league's eighth official shoe partner.

  • Question: Can you name the other seven?
  • Hint: Four are American, three are German.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🔗 Quick links
Courtesy: Netflix
  • 🎬 Stream: Season 2 of "Formula 1: Drive to Survive" comes out on Netflix today (trailer). Season 1 was incredible and literally turned me into a Formula 1 fan overnight, so I'm expecting big things.
  • 📚 Read: "It's a bad time to be a boxer in New York," writes NYT's Ali Watkins. "Old fight clubs have been replaced by boutique gyms, and all the money has gone to Las Vegas. Can a heavyweight make a living in this town?"
  • 🎥 Watch: Speedflying in New Zealand
Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Old Balance" Baker

Trivia answer: Adidas, Converse, Jordan, Nike, Puma, Reebok, Under Armour