Jun 29, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Monday! The defending champion Nationals will host the Yankees on Opening Day at Nationals Park, on either July 23 of July 24.

Today's word count: 2,113 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: 📉 The fall of Under Armour
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Data: Yahoo; Chart: Axios Visuals

Under Armour is seeking to terminate its record-breaking $280 million contract with UCLA just three years into their 15-year deal, an unprecedented move that speaks to the state of Bruins athletics — and says even more about the state of Under Armour.

Why it matters: Once heralded as the next Nike, Under Armour has seen its sales — and its stock price — plummet over the last four years, leading some to believe the company's best days are behind it. Terminating a historic deal only adds to the "struggling brand" narrative.

  • UCLA's athletic struggles aside, backing out of this agreement reeks of desperation, especially amid reports that Under Armour is asking its athlete endorsers to renegotiate contracts and postpone payments as a way to to cut costs.
  • This isn't the first time Under Armour has backed out of a major deal, either. In 2016, it signed on to become MLB's on-field jersey supplier by 2020. But when the deal fell apart in 2018 due to money concerns, Nike swooped in.

What they're saying: Under Armour says it's terminating the contract because it has not received certain marketing benefits from UCLA to which it is owed.

  • It's unclear what those benefits are, or if this is related to coronavirus (i.e. perhaps the agreement required a certain number of games to be played, and spring sports cancellations resulted in a breach of contract).
  • The UCLA athletic department, which was already facing a huge budget deficit before the pandemic arrived, says it will "explore all our options to resist Under Armour's actions."

The backdrop: Under Armour was founded in 1996 by Kevin Plank. By 2015, it had overtaken Adidas as the second-largest sports apparel company in the U.S, and by 2016, it was challenging Adidas and Nike's dominance in college athletics with the UCLA deal and others (Notre Dame, Auburn, Wisconsin, etc).

  • Four years later, the company's stock price has plunged from around $40 a share when the UCLA deal was announced to $8.26 a share, as it attempts to rebuild under Patrik Frisk, who replaced Plank as CEO in January.

The big picture: In interviews with NYT, current and former Under Armour employees painted a picture of a company that tried to do too much too fast.

  • In 2015, for example, it spent $700 million acquiring apps like MyFitnessPal, with visions of becoming a tech company. Visions that have yet to be realized.
  • But Under Armour's biggest misstep was almost certainly eschewing the athleisure trend, which helped Nike and Adidas widen their lead and saw new brands like Lululemon capture market share.
"Mid-2015 was the last time we saw any growth in performance shoes, and we've been in an athleisure trend ever since. Brands that remained focused on performance have struggled, and Under Armour is one of them."
— Matt Powell, analyst at NPD Group

The bottom line: When Under Armour backed out of the MLB deal in 2018, two years after signing, it was reportedly because they could no longer afford the costs. "They were a different company when they did the deal," one source said.

  • It appears history is now repeating itself. In 2016, Under Armour committed $280 million to UCLA in hopes of building a West Coast empire. Now, they'd like to pretend that never happened.
  • Why? Because they were a different company when they did the deal.

⚡️ Update: Looks like Under Armour could be trying to void its contract with Cal, too...

Screenshot: @dennisdoddcbs (Twitter)
2. ⚡️ Catch up quick
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  • 🏈 NFL: The league fined the Patriots $1.1 million, took away a third-round pick in 2021 and banned their TV crew from shooting games this season as punishment for illegally filming a 2019 Bengals-Browns game. ... Minutes before that became public, news broke that New England had signed Cam Newton to a one-year deal. Expert-level news dump. Very on brand.
  • 🇺🇸 State flags: Mississippi lawmakers voted Sunday to remove the Confederate battle emblem from its state flag, following widespread pressure that came largely from college athletes and the sports world.
  • 🥇 Olympics: U.S. athletes have called on the International Olympic Committee to abolish Rule 50, the provision that bars protest and other political statements at the Games.
3. ⚾️ MLB storylines: American League
Data: Baseball Reference; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

For a reminder of how the 2019 regular season went down in the American League, see above. For a refresher on the key storylines ahead of the shortened 2020 campaign, see below. Axios' Jeff Tracy writes...

AL East

Gerrit Cole in pinstripes: Baseball's most dominant pitcher (all due respect to the best pitcher, Jacob deGrom, and the most feared, Max Scherzer) signed with New York in December for nine years and $324 million. Along with a healthy core of mashers, he's primed to lead the Yankees back to the World Series after they failed to make an appearance for just the second decade ever (2010s and 1910s).

  • Life after Mookie: Replacing your best player is never easy, and the Red Sox will also be down their ace, Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery). The offense should hum, but the rotation is dangerously thin.
  • Baby Jays development: The young infield of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio are all future stars, but could they — along with free agent ace Hyun-Jin Ryu — also turn Toronto into a dark horse contender in a short season?
AL Central

The White Sox have arrived: The South Siders haven't made the playoffs since 2008, but the pieces are finally in place. Last year's breakout pitcher Lucas Giolito is joined by veteran free agents Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez; Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez and Tim Anderson form a powerful core; Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnación were key offseason pickups; and watch out for rookie CF Luis Robert, MLB's No. 3 prospect.

  • Bomba Squad, reinforced: The Twins had arguably the league's best offense last year and broke the single-season home run record. They lost no one, and gained elite 3B Josh Donaldson. Watch out.
  • No Kluber, no problem: The two-time Cy Young winner was shipped off to Texas, but the Indians are still in great shape thanks to the emergence of Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger as co-aces, along with the fearsome duo of Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez.
AL West

Mike Trout back to the playoffs? Baseball's best player has made the playoffs just once (swept by Royals in 2014 ALDS). Now he's joined by fellow superstar Anthony Rendon (seven years/$245 million), a back-from-Tommy-John Shohei Ohtani and a healthy Justin Upton. Add in the milestone-chasing Albert Pujols, whose aged body should benefit from the short season, and you've got a lethal core.

  • The Astros, obviously: How much will their sign-stealing scandal follow them into the 2020 season? Should be interesting to watch how they handle the pressure of having a bullseye planted so firmly on their backs.
  • Oakland back on top? The A's have earned three Wild Card berths since 2013, but haven't advanced any further. Coming off consecutive 97-win seasons(!), Oakland is in prime position to make a deep run.

Go deeper: MLB prospects to watch on each team's 60-man pool (ESPN)

4. 📸 Weekend in photos
Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

HERRIMAN, Utah — USWNT teammates Julie Ertz and Casey Short shared an emotional moment while kneeling with their teammates during the national anthem before a NWSL game.

  • Scoreboard: Rose Lavelle led the Washington Spirit over Ertz, Short and the Chicago Red Stars, 2-1. In the other game, the North Carolina Courage beat the Portland Thorns, 2-1. Here's the upcoming schedule.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

CROMWELL, Conn. — Dustin Johnson (-19) won the 2020 Travelers Championship, giving him 13 straight seasons with at least one victory (sixth-longest streak ever). Johnson now has 21 career PGA Tour wins, which is the second-most over the last 15 seasons. Tiger has ... 36. LOL.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/NHLI via Getty Images

SECAUCUS, N.J. — Chaos reigned at the NHL draft lottery, with the No. 1 pick still up for grabs and set to be awarded to one of the eight teams that lose in the qualifying round of the playoffs. In other words, we won't know until August where projected No. 1 pick Alexis Lafrenière is headed.

5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 25)
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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.

25. Indiana Pacers

Their lineup is indicative of their ABA dynasty, when they won three titles in four years. In the past 31 seasons, they've only failed to make the playoffs six times, but between LeBron's Heat, Billups' Pistons and Jordan's Bulls, they never quite made it to the promised land.

  • Year established: 1967 (ABA until 1976)
  • All-time record: 2,210-2,076 (.516)
  • NBA Championships: 3 (all in the ABA)
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 4

Starters:

  • Freddie Lewis, G (16.1 pts, 3.9 reb, 4.0 ast, 14.9 PER/43.2 WS)
  • Reggie Miller*, G (18.2 pts, 3.0 reb, 3.0 ast, 18.4 PER/174.4 WS)
  • Paul George, F (18.1 pts, 6.3 reb, 3.2 ast, 18.5 PER/44.5 WS)
  • George McGinnis*, F (19.6 pts, 10.7 reb, 3.3 ast, 19.9 PER/41.4 WS)
  • Mel Daniels*, C (19.4 pts, 16 reb, 1.9 ast, 20.1 PER/53.4 WS)

Sixth man: Detlef Schrempf, F (17.0 pts, 8.6 reb, 4.1 ast, 18.6 PER/40.0 WS)

Bench:

  • Roger Brown*, F (18.0 pts, 6.5 reb, 4.0 ast, 17.5 PER/63.5 WS)
  • Danny Granger, F (17.6 pts, 5.1 reb, 2.0 ast, 17.3 PER/47.6 WS)
  • Jermaine O'Neal, F/C (18.6 pts, 9.6 reb, 2.o ast, 19.5 PER/46.5 WS)
  • Billy Knight, F (18.4 pts, 5.9 reb, 2.4 ast, 19.2 PER/53.4 WS)
  • Vern Fleming, G (11.7 pts, 3.5 reb, 4.9 ast, 15.4 PER/50.4 WS)
  • Rik Smits, C (14.8 pts, 6.1 reb, 1.4 ast, 17.9 PER/56.6 WS)

Notes:

  • Miller's 2,560 made threes ranks second all-time (Ray Allen: 2,973), but he's just one Steph Curry hot streak away from falling to third (Curry: 2,495).
  • O'Neal (No. 17 pick in 1996) was the fourth high schooler ever drafted in the first round, following Darryl Dawkins (No. 5 pick in 1975), Kevin Garnett (No. 5 pick in 1995) and Kobe Bryant (No. 13 pick in 1996).

ICYMI ... 30. Grizzlies, 29. Timberwolves, 28. Hornets, 27. Raptors, 26. Pelicans

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 (six per season is elite).

6. June 29, 1958: ⚽️ Brazil's first WC victory

Pelé (front and center) and Brazil after winning the 1958 World Cup. Photo: Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

62 years ago today, Brazil won its first World Cup, beating host Sweden, 5-2, in the final.

Why it matters: Brazil has won a record five World Cups (Italy and Germany both have four), and the 1958 tournament introduced the world to its young star, a 17-year-old Pelé.

Path to victory: Pelé didn't debut until the last game of the group stage, a 2-0 victory over the Soviet Union, which gave them a group-leading five points.

  • Quarterfinals: Brazil narrowly defeated Wales, 1-0, thanks to Pelé's first career World Cup goal in the 66th minute.
  • Semifinals: Brazil clung to a 2-1 lead over France in the second half before Pelé took over, scoring a hat trick in less than 25 minutes to lead his team to a 5-2 victory.
  • Finals: Brazil cruised to another 5-2 victory, with Pelé and fellow striker, Vavá, each scoring two goals.
"When I saw Pelé play, it made me feel I should hang up my boots."
— Just Fontaine, French forward who scored 13 goals in 1958 (WC record)

🎥 Watch:

7. 📚 Good reads
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💨 Is this whistle the future of refereeing? (Chantel Jennings, NYT)

"Officiating with a deep breath and a burst of air no longer seems wise in the coronavirus era. Is a hand-held, electronic whistle the answer?"

⚾️ What randomness could a 60-game MLB season bring? (Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer)

"The shortened slate seems sure to allow a few unlikely teams to sneak into the playoffs, and we could see a few statistical anomalies. Will that make the 2020 campaign any less enjoyable than usual?"

🎬 How 'Days of Thunder' became NASCAR's most beloved (and hated) cult classic (Ryan McGee, ESPN)

"Depending on whom you ask in the NASCAR garage, 'Days of Thunder' either made stock car racing look forever cool or clumsily taught an entire generation little more than how to use Sweet'N Low packets to illustrate the aerodynamic draft."
8. The Ocho: ⚽️ Socially distanced soccer
Photo: Getty Images

The new normal ... "A group of men pose for a photo while playing an informal football match on a field in Pergamino, Argentina with lines marked to keep proper distance."

9. 🏈 NFL trivia
Screenshot: @espn (Twitter)

With Tom Brady and Cam Newton donning new uniforms, it marks the first time since 1993 that two former MVP QBs changed teams in the same offseason.

  • Question: Who were the two QBs in 1993?
  • Hint: One is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while the other is in the New York broadcast Hall of Fame.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Orioles pitching legend Jim Palmer with manager Earl Weaver circa 1985. Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Ben S. (NYC via Bawdimore) writes:

"Why do I love sports? Well, first of all, sports gave me my birthday.
"My parents met in Baltimore in the 1980s, in the heyday of the Earl Weaver era. Oriole Magic was alive and well, and they both became huge fans, despite being expats.
"To give you a sense of their level of fandom, my mom used to run a fantasy baseball league for a bunch of their friends, and she did it all ... manually. Like, calculating all the stats after each game by hand and tracking teams and players accordingly. They'd also frequently take in games at the old Memorial Stadium, which was within walking distance of their home.
"As baby Ben moved from a twinkle in my parents' eye to a proper baby bump, it became clear that I'd be a C-section baby. When I was old enough to understand, my mom initially told me that they chose Thursday, Oct. 4, 1990 because 'Wednesday's child was full of woe, and Thursday's child has far to go,' according to an old nursery rhyme.
"A few years later, they confessed the truth: the last game of the Orioles' season that year was on Wednesday, 10/3, and my mom wanted to go. So they decided to have me a day later, on 10/4.
"Though I wish this story ended with beautiful recapitulations of taking in O's championships with my parents later in life (yes, Nats fans, we get it), the last, well, 30-plus years of Orioles baseball has largely been a nightmare.
Cal Ripken Jr. waves to the crowd as he gets a standing ovation for playing his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking Lou Gehrig's record. Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images
"I did get to attend Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2131 Iron Man game as a birthday present from my parents, and have fortunately been given the Ravens as a consistent winning outlet for my dashed baseball fan dreams.
"Maybe in this 60-game season, the O's can pull off a crazy fluke. I'll take it at this point, because, y'know ... sports."

✍️ 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 "Cal Ripken forever" Baker

Trivia answer: Joe Montana (MVP in 1989 and 1990) and Boomer Esiason (MVP in 1988)