Jan 7, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! As 58.4% of you predicted, Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa declared for the 2020 NFL draft yesterday. And, as 100% of you probably heard, the Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy. Full analysis of that coming tomorrow.

👀 In today's edition: The business of sports stadiums; Men's and women's AP polls; NFL media rights; sign-stealing; ski jumping and much more. All in 1,644 words (~6 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏟 Stadiums are the new department stores

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Professional sports stadiums and arenas used to be built as standalone venues (think: in the middle of a parking lot). But in a push to expand beyond game day, teams are increasingly building them as anchors for larger real estate projects.

  • In other words, a sports stadium used to be the mall. Now a sports stadium is Nordstrom or Bloomingdale's — the department store that fills the mall with people and helps the other tenants thrive.

Why it matters: As the areas surrounding modern stadiums evolve from a handful of restaurants, bars and shops into entire "districts" with things like condos, hotels, offices, event spaces and fitness centers, sports teams have unlocked a new revenue stream: land.

  • Owners have essentially become landlords in new urban spaces, generating revenue through things like rent and retail sales, and watching their teams' valuations grow accordingly.


  • San Francisco: On the site of the $1.4 billion Chase Center, the Warriors are landlords to Uber, while renting out an additional 100,000 square feet consisting of 29 restaurants and retail spaces. And unlike the revenue generated inside the arena, those earnings don't have to be shared with players or other NBA franchises.
  • Dallas: Jerry Jones' real estate company is developing a 17-story apartment tower at The Star in Frisco, which is home to the Cowboys' team headquarters and practice facility.
  • Los Angeles: Hollywood Park is a $10 billion complex centered around the 70,000-seat Sofi Stadium that will house the Rams and Chargers. It also includes a 6,000-seat event center; 780,000 square feet of office space; 2,500 residences; 300 hotel rooms; and 890,000 square feet of retail space.
  • Green Bay: The Packers built everything from three-bedroom homes to high-tech laboratories as part of the team's "Titletown" district next to Lambeau Field.

The big picture: Real estate development can provide a hedge against future uncertainty in traditional revenue streams like ticket sales, media rights and sponsorships.

  • Building office space, for example, attracts more permanent jobs and creates 9-to-5 weekday activity that can support coffee shops and other businesses all year round, not just on game days.

The other side: Mixed-use projects promise to revitalize neighborhoods more than the standalone stadiums of the past, but there is little evidence to support that sports stadiums — of any kind — actually drive economic development.

What's next: Once in-stadium sportsbooks arrive (coming soon to D.C.'s Capital One Arena), teams will be further incentivized to develop the surrounding neighborhood as they cater to fans and bettors 365 days a year.

The bottom line: "What you're seeing is a more entrepreneurial use of ownership," said the late David Stern in 2018. "The franchise is a media company. It is a digital company. It holds a key to a demographic. And it's also an epicenter for real estate development."

2. 🏈 NFL rights up for grabs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The NFL averaged 16.5 million viewers per game during the regular season, up from 15.8 million last year — the league's second consecutive annual increase of 5%.

  • Why it matters: The rebound in viewership from the previous two years will give the NFL higher leverage when negotiating new distribution deals with media partners, writes Axios' Sara Fischer.
  • By the numbers: Currently, the NFL gets around $1 billion annually from each the three broadcast networks that air Sunday games (CBS, Fox and NBC), over $1 billion from ESPN to air Monday night games and around $1.5 billion from AT&T's DirecTV to distribute its Sunday Ticket package.

State of play: Most of the NFL's current media deals expire in 2022 or sooner, and experts predict that the deal prices will go up significantly in the next round of negotiations.


  • NFL Sunday Ticket: SBJ's John Ourand predicts that global streaming service DAZN, which is currently raising lots of money for rights acquisitions, will come close to picking up rights to NFL Sunday Ticket.
  • Sunday afternoons: Media analyst Rich Greenfield of Lightshed Partners predicts that CBS will lose Sunday afternoon NFL rights to either NBC or ABC, given price increases, and that Fox will retain its rights.
3. 🏀 Men's poll: Florida State up, Memphis down
Expand chart
Data: AP; Table: Axios Visuals

In the first AP poll of the decade, Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas remained on top for the second week in a row, while the rest of the top 25 swapped places like a game of musical chairs.


  • Back with a vengeance: After disappointing 2018-19 campaigns, mid-major powerhouses Butler and Wichita State have returned to form. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 6, their highest ranking ever, and the Shockers inched up to No. 23 ahead of a Thursday showdown with No. 21 Memphis.
  • Ninth time's the charm: Penn State's Pat Chambers is the only active power conference coach to have gone at least eight seasons at a school without a single trip to the NCAA tournament. Is this the year he finally goes dancing?
  • This week: No. 4 Baylor at No. 22 Texas Tech (tonight), No. 21 Memphis at No. 23 Wichita State (Thursday), No. 24 Arizona at No. 9 Oregon (Thursday), No. 4 Baylor at No. 3 Kansas (Saturday), No. 22 Texas Tech at No. 17 WVU (Saturday).

⏪ Rewind 10 years ... Here are the top 10 teams from the first poll of the 2010s (Jan. 4, 2010), which was the year Kyle Singler and Duke beat Gordon Hayward and Butler in the title game:

  1. Kansas
  2. Texas
  3. Kentucky
  4. Purdue
  5. Duke
  6. Villanova
  7. Syracuse
  8. West Virginia
  9. UNC
  10. Michigan State

Go deeper: Jay Bilas' college basketball rankings, version 2.0 (ESPN)

4. 🏀 Women's poll: UConn still No. 1, Princeton slides in
Expand chart
Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals

With three marquee matchups looming (Baylor, Tennessee, Oregon all this month), UConn cruised to two more conference wins to remain atop the women's AP poll to start off 2020.


  • Ivy League giants: No. 25 Princeton is the only Ivy League team ever to be ranked, reaching the women's top 25 in 2012, 2015 (30-0 regular season) and now once again in 2020. Bella Alarie is legit.
  • "The Big Three": Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu is the nation's best player and a lock to go No. 1 in the WNBA draft, and fellow senior Ruthy Hebard and junior Satou Sabally are also projected top-five picks.
  • This week: No. 6 Baylor at No. 1 UConn (Thursday), No. 21 Arkansas at No. 4 South Carolina (Thursday), No. 3 Oregon State at No. 18 Arizona (Friday), No. 17 Maryland at No. 24 Michigan (Sunday), No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 18 Arizona (Sunday).

⏪ Rewind 10 years ... Here are the top 10 teams from the first poll of the 2010s (Jan. 4, 2010), which was the year Maya Moore led UConn to its second straight undefeated season:

  1. UConn
  2. Stanford
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Tennessee
  5. Baylor
  6. Ohio State
  7. UNC
  8. Georgia
  9. Duke
  10. Texas A&M

Go deeper: The five best women's basketball players at every position (NCAA)

5. ⚾️ MLB vs. sign stealing

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Houston Astros allegedly used technology to steal signs, and now MLB wants to use technology to rid sign-stealing from the Earth.

Driving the news: The commissioner's office is currently developing multiple prototype devices to encode pitcher-catcher communication, including a wearable random-number generator and lights in the mound, per Yahoo Sports.

  • The wearable random-number generator "would preserve the existing dynamic of a catcher putting down a sign for interpretation by the pitcher, but overlay it with a level of secure encryption that would be virtually impossible to decode."
  • "Alternatively, the finger system could be replaced by in-ground lights on the mound. Sources with knowledge of the idea said catchers would have access to a control pad that corresponds to a lighting panel visible only to the pitcher. A certain button for a certain light sequence for a certain pitch."

Between the lines: The simplest solution would be earpieces that allow pitchers and catchers to communicate, but Yahoo notes that pitchers found them "distracting and uncomfortable" in initial minor-league testing last year.

6. 📊 By the numbers
The Spurs used a three-point barrage to rout the league-best Bucks last night. Photo: Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

🏀 23 years ago

The last season in which a Western Conference team reached the playoffs with a losing record was 1996-97, when three sub-.500 teams made the postseason (Timberwolves, Suns and Clippers). The 15-20 Spurs currently hold the eighth spot in the West.

🏈 More than 2 dozen

"The XFL's official rule book includes more than two dozen changes to the conventional approach of pro football, according to league officials who are rolling out the specifics this week." (ESPN)

⛳️ ~$4 billion

Topgolf International has selected banks for its expected IPO, which could value the company at ~$4 billion, per Bloomberg. Its IPO could come as soon as this year.

7. Jan. 7, 2008: 🏈 Two-loss LSU wins title
Photo: Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

12 years ago today, Les Miles, Matt Flynn and No. 2 LSU beat Jim Tressel, "Beanie" Wells and No. 1 Ohio State, 38-24, in the 2008 BCS title game, clinching the program's third national championship (1958, 2003, 2007).

  • Fun fact: The 2007-08 LSU Tigers — whose two losses both came in triple-OT — are the only two-loss national champion in college football's modern era and just the second all-time (Minnesota, 1960).
  • The backdrop: Missouri and West Virginia were on track to meet in the championship, but Missouri lost to Oklahoma and Pitt stunned West Virginia at home on the final weekend of the regular season.
  • The big picture: Since LSU last went out on top, Florida, Florida State, Auburn and Ohio State have each won titles, while Alabama has won five and Clemson has won two. Will 2020 be the year the Tigers return to glory?

🎥 Go deeper: Game highlights (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: 📸 Ski jumping, racing, bull riding
Photo: Franz Kirchmayr/SEPA.Media/Getty Images

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA — Sondre Ringen of Norway competes during the Four Hills Tournament, a ski jumping event that takes place on four different hills in Germany and Austria over the span of a week.

Photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA — The Dakar Rally, one of the world's most famous off-road endurance races, is underway in Saudi Arabia. Red Bull has daily highlights.

Photo: Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

NEW YORK — Daylon Swearingen lays on the ground as his bull jumps over him during the PBR Unleash the Beast competition at Madison Square Garden this past weekend.

9. 🏈 NFL draft trivia

Two SEC QBs are expected to be first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft (Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa).

  • Question: Who was the last SEC QB to be drafted in the first round?
  • Hint: 2014 draft.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🏀 Shaq & Kobe vs. LeBron & AD

On "The Tonight Show" last night, Shaquille O'Neal said "hell yes" he and Kobe Bryant (in their primes) would beat LeBron James and Anthony Davis in a game of 2-on-2. Do you agree?

"I like having these conversations because of course they can never be answered. But yes. The answer is yes. Hell yes. Hell yes. Of course. ... I mean, because there's only one contributing factor: Who's gonna guard me?"
— Shaq

Click to vote:

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "These photos are incredible" Baker

Trivia answer: Johnny Manziel