Jul 1, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Today's "Why we love sports" story caused me to think deeply about the role that sports play in so many father-son/daughter relationships.

  • 🙏 Thank you all so much for sharing these. Sports matter. Your stories matter.
  • ✍️ To submit one: Reply directly to this email. Please keep your submission under 400 words and include photos, if possible. Can't wait to read!

Today's word count: 1,928 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🎥 Movies are out, sports are in

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

July is typically a quiet month for American sports. The kind of quiet that leads to routine double-plays making SportsCenter's "Top 10," and saw July get just 0.5% of votes in our pre-coronavirus "best sports month" poll (poor August got 0%).

  • For Hollywood, it's quite the opposite. Studies suggest we're more likely to go to movies when the weather is warm and kids are out of school, so July is one of the biggest box-office months and a prime blockbuster release window.

Enter the pandemic: Suddenly, July is the most important month of the year for American sports. The NWSL is already back, and six more leagues — including three of the big four — will soon be joining them.

  • July 8: MLS resumes (Disney World)
  • July 23/24: MLB starts (home ballparks)
  • July 24: WNBA starts (IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.)
  • July 25: PLL starts (Salt Lake City)
  • July 30: NBA resumes (Disney World)
  • July 30: NHL resumes (two host cities, TBD)

Meanwhile, Hollywood has delayed the releases of its summer blockbusters, most movie theaters are closed, and studios have largely halted production.

  • All hope of salvaging the summer season effectively ended this week when the releases of Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" and Disney's live-action reboot of "Mulan" were both delayed again, this time to mid-August.

The big picture: While Netflix and other streamers have rushed to fill the void, the broadcast TV industry has been anxiously awaiting the return of live sports, which should add some much-needed juice to their lineups.

  • For decades, broadcast networks have followed the same programming calendar. Pilots are ordered in January and filmed in March, ads are sold in May (called "upfronts") and it culminates in a fall programming lineup — just in time for car companies to promote their new fall lineups.
  • But this year, the pandemic has halted production and delayed the fall premiere season, making live sports one of the few things that networks can use to fill primetime broadcast schedules through the end of the year.

The bottom line: Don't be surprised when NBC, Fox and others become de facto sports networks this summer and fall. And don't be surprised when "Tenet" and "Mulan" get delayed again.

Go deeper:

2. 💵 The sports rights landscape
Data: Sports Business Journal; Table: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Speaking of live sports, here are the major U.S. sports media rights deals set to expire between 2021 and 2028.

  • The state of play: Given how important live sports are to the advertising industry and the linear TV model, leagues will likely continue commanding large sums for media rights during and after the pandemic.
  • Yes, but: The lasting damage to the global economy — from networks cutting costs, to leagues adjusting schedules — could soften the market after years of explosive growth.

Latest media headlines:

  • YouTubeTV and ESPN+ are both getting monthly price increases, with the former jumping from $49.99 to $64.99 (they cite "the rising cost of content") and the latter going from $4.99 to $5.99, making it the same price as Hulu.
  • Fox Sports is pivoting away from golf. The network was granted release from its 12-year, $1.2 billion deal with the USGA with more than seven years left. The rights will shift to NBC, which will produce the U.S. Open in September.
  • ESPN and CBS Sports won the rights to broadcast the first season of Athletes Unlimited, a network of professional women's sports leagues that will debut with softball in August. We interviewed co-founder Jon Patricof last month.
3. ⚡️ Catch up quick

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  • ⚾️ MiLB: The 2020 Minor League Baseball season has officially been canceled, and over half of MiLB teams will have to sell or go insolvent without government or other support, says president Pat O'Conner.
  • 🏀 NBA: The Hawks will turn State Farm Arena into a polling station for Georgia's primary runoff election (Aug. 11), as well as early voting for the general election (Sept. 3). The idea was hatched following the killing of George Floyd, when the focal point of protests in Atlanta was just outside the arena.
  • 🍻 Beer: Burlington, Vermont, is the best college town in America based on local craft beer options, according to The Athletic (subscription). Rounding out the top 10: Asheville, N.C.; San Diego; Madison, Wis.; Austin, Texas; Iowa City, Iowa.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Boulder, Colo.; Athens, Ga.; Missoula, Mont.
Houston's Shea Groom leaps into the arms of teammate Haley Hanson after scoring a goal. Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
  • ⚽️ NWSL: The Utah Royals scored twice in the final eight minutes to earn a 3-3 draw against the Houston Dash, while the Reign (Washington state) and Sky Blue (N.J.) finished tied 0-0. Today's slate: Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars (12:30pm ET); Washington Spirit vs. North Carolina Courage (10pm ET).
  • ⚾️ MLB: Barry Larkin and Mike Schmidt are among the former MVPs who want Kenesaw Mountain Landis' name removed from the trophy. MLB's first commissioner, Landis has long been accused of dragging his feet on eradicating baseball's color line (zero Black players in his 24 years).
  • 🏒 NHL: More than $300 million in signing bonuses will be paid to NHL players today, with two Maple Leafs — Auston Matthews ($15.2 million) and Mitch Marner ($14.3 million) — receiving the largest checks.
Auston Matthews (L) and Mitch Marner before a game in October 2019. Photo: Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images
4. ⚽️ Study finds racial bias in soccer broadcasts

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

According to new research conducted by Danish sports data company RunRepeat and published by the Professional Footballers' Association, soccer commentary is full of racial bias.

By the numbers: Researchers sampled 80 games from the 2019-20 seasons of the English Premier League, French Ligue 1, Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga, analyzing over 2,000 statements made by commentators about 643 players.

  • Players with lighter skin were praised more frequently for their intelligence (62.6% of the positive comments were about players with lighter skin), work ethic (60.4%) and overall quality (62.8%).
  • Meanwhile, 63.3% of criticism about intelligence was aimed at players with darker skin, along with 67.6% of criticism about a player's quality.

Between the lines: According to the study, white players were more likely to be credited with admirable work ethic, while black players were often reduced to their physical abilities.

  • Black players were four times more likely than white players to be described in terms of their strength and seven times more likely to be praised for their speed, the study found.

What they're saying: "Commentators help shape the perception we hold of each player [and] it's important to consider how far-reaching those perceptions can be," PFA executive Jason Lee told NYT.

  • "If a player has aspirations of becoming a coach or manager, is an unfair advantage given to players that commentators regularly refer to as intelligent and industrious, when those views appear to be a result of racial bias?"

The last word:

"It's not that Black players can't be fast and powerful. It's that in soccer, too often, it is the only thing they can be."
— Zito Madu for SB Nation in 2018
5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 23)
Expand chart
Player data: Basketball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

We're ranking the all-time rosters for all 30 NBA teams. Note: Rosters and stats based only on time spent with this specific team. Thoughts? Email me at jeff@axios.com.

23. Dallas Mavericks

In 1998, Dallas drafted a lanky German kid named Dirk, and in 2000, tech billionaire Mark Cuban bought the team. A franchise mired in a 10-year playoff drought suddenly got the infusion of fresh blood and talent it needed, making the postseason in 12 straight years — and 15 of the next 16 — and winning its lone title over the infamous Heatles in 2011.

  • Year established: 1980
  • All-time record: 1,612-1,605 (.501)
  • NBA Championships: 1
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 2

Starters:

  • Jason Kidd*, G (10.5 pts, 5.5 reb, 8.4 ast, 16.2 PER/39.0 WS)
  • Rolando Blackman, G (19.2 pts, 3.6 reb, 3.2 ast, 17.2 PER/70.3 WS)
  • Mark Aguirre, F (24.6 pts, 5.7 reb, 3.8 ast, 20.8 PER/49.0 WS)
  • Dirk Nowitzki, F (20.7 pts, 7.5 reb, 2.4 ast, 22.4 PER/206.3 WS)
  • Sam Perkins, F (14.4 pts, 8.0 reb, 1.8 ast, 16.0 PER/41.8 WS)

Sixth man: Jason Terry, G (16.1 pts, 2.3 reb, 4.1 ast, 17.7 PER/60.5 WS)

Bench:

  • Michael Finley, G (19.8 pts, 5.2 reb, 3.8 ast, 17.7 PER/58.4 WS)
  • Steve Nash*, G (14.6 pts, 2.9 reb, 7.2 ast, 19.1 PER/42.7 WS)
  • Derek Harper, G (14.4 pts, 2.6 reb, 5.9 ast, 17.0 PER/65.8 WS)
  • Josh Howard, F (15.3 pts, 6.0 reb, 1.7 ast, 17.5 PER/37.4 WS)
  • Luka Dončić, G (24.4 pts, 8.5 reb, 7.1 ast, 23.1 PER/13.0 WS)
  • James Donaldson, C (8.8 pts, 9.5 reb, 1.3 blk, 13.2 PER/36.5 WS)

Notes:

  • Nowitzki played a record 21 seasons with the Mavs (no one has played more for a single team). He's also eighth in Win Shares (206.34), 11th in made threes (1,982), sixth in points (31,560) and fourth in games played (1,522).
  • Dončić may have limited experience, but his résumé is already undeniable. Just before the shutdown, he passed Kidd for most triple-doubles in franchise history — in one-fourth as many games.

ICYMI ... 30. Grizzlies, 29. Timberwolves, 28. Hornets, 27. Raptors, 26. Pelicans, 25. Pacers, 24. Clippers

Stats, explained: Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a measure of a player's per-minute productivity (20+ is elite); Win Shares (WS) attempts to divvy up individual credit for team success (6 per season is elite).

6. July 1, 1998 & 2011: 🏀 NBA lockouts
NBA commissioner David Stern (R) and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter after announcing an agreement to end the 1999 lockout. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

22 years ago today, the third NBA lockout in as many years began. It lasted 204 days (longest NBA lockout ever) and ultimately cut the season down to 50 games.

  • The backdrop: In 1995, a six-year CBA was signed with the option to reopen negotiations after three years if players were earning more than 51.8% of basketball-related income (BRI). By 1998, that number was 57%, and owners said, "Time out."
  • The outcome: Players' salaries were capped based on tenure, the luxury tax was instituted and the league minimum was increased.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant during a charity game in Oklahoma City during the 2011 lockout. Photo: Brett Deering/Getty Images

Nine years ago today, the NBA again locked out its players after failing to agree on a new CBA. This one lasted 161 days, with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and others playing pickup games in gyms across the country to stay in shape.

  • The outcome: The union agreed to a deal in December that promised players a near even split in BRI, while also introducing the Amnesty Clause and the Derrick Rose Rule. A 66-game season ensued, and concluded with James' Heat beating Durant's Thunder, 4-1, in the 2012 NBA Finals.

Looking ahead: The current CBA has a mutual opt-out in 2023, which is likely to be enacted given the current upheaval in both the league and the world.

Go deeper:

7. 📚 New book: "A Most Beautiful Thing"

"A Most Beautiful Thing" is the inspiring true story of the first all-Black high school rowing team in the U.S.

  • Author Arshay Cooper shares how he, and others from rival gang neighborhoods on Chicago's West Side, found their way to crew — and each other.
  • The sport of rowing forever changed the lives of this unlikely band of brothers, taking them from the streets of Chicago to the hallowed halls of Ivy League boathouses.

What they're saying: Cooper, in an interview with SI:

"It was those long, long van rides to different cities that helped us break the ice and learn more about each other and know that we are all the same. ... We [started] noticing those who were hanging out in the gangs started showing up at practice every day ... And that's just the beauty of being able to compete, to travel, to see a different world."

Coming up: A feature-length documentary with the same title — executive produced by Grant Hill, Dwyane Wade and others — will be released on July 31.

8. The Ocho: 🧗‍♂️ Inverted wall climbing
Source: Chris Wheelwright (YouTube)

Psicobloc is a category of climbing in which athletes attempt to scale an inverted wall over a deep body of water. It's also referred to as Deep Water Soloing.

  • The biggest organized competition is the Psicobloc Masters Series, held each year at Utah's Olympic Park (video above).
  • But the sport originated on the cliffs of Mallorca in Spain, where it's still practiced to this day.
9. ⚽️ Soccer trivia

Messi celebrates his goal with teammates. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Lionel Messi scored the 700th goal of his career on Tuesday, joining Cristiano Ronaldo (728) as the only active players to score 700+ goals for club and country.

  • Question: Who is the third-highest active goal scorer behind Ronaldo and Messi?
  • Hint: European.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1951. Photo: NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Thomas M. (Staten Island via Brooklyn) writes:

"On a Saturday in 1960, when I was seven years old, my father and I went shopping. What happened on that car trip has stayed with me for over six decades.
"On the way home after we'd rapidly completed our errands (Dad not being one for staying in shops too long), he suddenly stopped the car and asked me to follow him over to a large lot.
"As we approached the site, I saw what looked to be a temporary construction wall. Dad's pace quickened, and being much larger than me, he widened the distance between us and reached the wall first.
"In a few moments, I came up beside him and saw my father's head slowly going back and forth in what appeared to be a sign of regret, or just plain sadness, as he peered over the wall.
"I strained to look through one of the holes in the wood, and after a short time, Dad asked me what I thought of the place. 'A lot of dirt and rocks,' I said, and demanded to know why we'd stopped.
"My father very emotionally answered that this was a place where miracles had happened, and that he just wanted to show it to me and share a moment together.
"That was the closest I ever got to Ebbets Field.
Ebbets Field after being demolished in 1960. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images
"Why do I love sports? This may have been the only time in my life that I experienced the depth of my father's true feelings. He expressed them so rarely that I never really knew him and struggled to ascertain his spirit and his drive.
"Dad never unmasked his true self to me, his only son and child. When he passed away in 1990, I was able to call on that one moment, at the site of a magical ballpark, when he shed his veneer and became my friend."

✍️ 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.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Happy Bobby Bonilla Day" Baker

Trivia answer: Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimović (540 goals)