Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

April 27, 2021

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,528 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏒 The NHL's new broadcast era

Illustration of two hockey pucks with the ESPN and NBC logos on them, sliding across the ice

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

NBC Sports, which has been the NHL's sole national rights holder for the entirety of the Ovechkin/Crosby Era (2004–present), is getting out of the hockey business.

Driving the news: Starting next season, all national NHL games will be broadcast by ESPN and Turner Sports.

  • ESPN will pay $2.8 billion over seven years for the league's "A" package, which includes four Stanley Cup Finals. And yes, the theme song is coming back.
  • Turner will pay $1.57 billion over seven years for the "B" package. Games will be televised on TNT and TBS, and HBO Max will reportedly be included in some capacity.

By the numbers: ESPN and Turner will pay a combined annual average of $625 million, which is more than double the $300 million that NBC and Disney Streaming Services pay under the current deal.

Notes:

  • ESPN plans: ESPN executives tell me they've already committed to a weekly, in-season studio show (think: "NFL Live" but for the NHL). Linda Cohn's daily ESPN+ show, 'In The Crease,' will also continue.
  • Peacock thoughts: At launch, it seemed like live sports were poised to be a big part of Peacock's strategy. A year later, not so much. NHL games won't be on the service, and there's no guarantee the Premier League deal gets renewed after next season.
  • Of note: When Turner broadcasts the Stanley Cup Final on TNT, it will mark the first major North American sports league championship to be televised exclusively on cable.

What they're saying: I spoke with Burke Magnus, ESPN's executive vice president of programming and scheduling, about what this new era means for hockey coverage on ESPN.

"The hard part about covering a league when you don't have live rights is that you're basically just pulling highlights. You don't have people on the ground, and you're generally dealing with an incumbent rights holder who may or may not want you to be there."
"All of that falls away now, being the NHL's primary partner. And so I'm certain it's going to rise the tide for hockey coverage across our platforms, whether that's SportsCenter, the app, social media, etc. Just because it'll be that much easier to execute."

2. 🏈 Where top NFL draftees come from

Data: SportSource Analytics; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios
Data: SportSource Analytics; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

First- and second-round NFL draft picks over the last decade have overwhelmingly been from Florida, Texas and California, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

By the numbers: Of the 615 FBS players taken in the first two rounds of the past 10 drafts, 204 (33%) attended high school in either Florida (72), Texas (68) or California (64), per SportsSource Analytics.

  • Five other states had at least 20 draft picks: Georgia (40), Alabama (33), Ohio (29), Louisiana (26) and Mississippi (20).
  • 15 states had between 10 and 20: Mississippi (20), North Carolina (19), Pennsylvania (18), South Carolina (17), Virginia (17), New Jersey (16), Maryland (14), Washington (14), Michigan (13), Missouri (13), Arizona (12), Illinois (11), Indiana (11), Wisconsin (11), Tennessee (10).

Conference call: In terms of college representation, 27.5% of the picks went to an SEC school, followed by the Big Ten (16%), ACC (15%), Pac-12 (14.2%) and Big 12 (9.4%).

3. 🏀 NBA snapshot: 24 teams still alive

NBA standings
Courtesy: NBA

24 of the NBA's 30 teams are still competing for something with about a dozen games left on the schedule.

Why it matters: "24 is the highest we've ever had, in the history of the league, with a month left," NBA vice president Evan Wasch told SI (subscription).

The state of play: This is a result of two new changes: a play-in tournament, which adds incentive for middling teams to keep competing, and flattened draft lottery odds, which reduces the incentive to tank.

  • Multiple teams are battling for a top-four seed (home-court advantage), some are vying for the top six (avoid the play-in), and others are striving for the top 10 (make the play-in).
  • Only two teams have been officially eliminated from playoff contention (Houston and Minnesota), and four more are almost certainly out (Cleveland, Detroit, Orlando and Oklahoma City).

The last word:

"The Tanking Era as we knew it is over."
— Howard Beck, SI

Go deeper: NBA power rankings (The Ringer)

4. 🇨🇳 Anta rebuffs concerns over Xinjiang cotton

Illustration of a thread coming off a uniform made out of barbed wire

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chinese sports retailer Anta — the IOC's official uniform supplier— will continue using cotton from Xinjiang despite international scrutiny regarding forced labor and human rights violations in the region, Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Jeff write.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party has created an unprecedented challenge to global human rights norms by rewarding companies that support the party line — and punishing those that voice support for basic human rights.

The state of play: The Chinese government's campaign of human rights abuses against more than one million Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang has put China's cotton industry — centered in Xinjiang — under intense scrutiny.

  • Since Chinese factories are deeply integrated with global supply chains, companies around the world have been called on to ensure they're not buying Xinjiang cotton picked through forced labor.
  • Anta responded in 2019 by joining the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), an international cotton watchdog, but after BCI recently left Xinjiang due to the region's "untenable operating environment," Anta withdrew from BCI, choosing instead to side with the Chinese government.

Between the lines: Anta has not said if it uses Xinjiang cotton in its Olympic uniforms, and the company's products have not been directly tied to forced labor.

  • Due to the opacity of supply chains in China and the secrecy surrounding forced labor factories, it's very difficult to determine which products are tainted.
  • But if they are, it further signals China's leaders intend to host the 2022 Olympics on their own terms.

The backdrop: Anta, founded in 1991, has become one of China's top sports retailers through a series of shrewd moves, including signing NBA stars like Klay Thompson and Gordon Hayward, and acquiring foreign brands to expand its global footprint.

  • Since last month, Anta's stock has risen 21% as Chinese consumers angrily flee brands like Nike and Adidas over their refusal to use Xinjiang's cotton.
  • Anta has used nationalism as a marketing strategy for years now, so doubling down on the cotton controversy by pulling out of the BCI was par for the course as they continue trying to eat into competitors' market share.

5. ⚾️ "Sho Time" in Texas

Shohei Ohtani

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Shohei Ohtani started on the mound Monday while leading MLB in home runs (7), the first player to do that since Babe Ruth in 1921.

  • Pitching: Ohtani (1-0, 3.29 ERA) got the win, allowing three hits and four earned runs while striking out nine in five innings pitched.
  • Batting: He went 2-for-3, scoring three runs and driving in two more in the Angels' 9-4 victory over the Rangers.

What they're saying: "If you weren't entertained by watching him tonight, you can't be entertained by watching the game of baseball," said Angels manager Joe Maddon.

MLB stat leaders:

  • Batting: BA: Mike Trout, LAA (.426) ... HR: Rhys Hoskins, PHI (8) ... RBI: J.D. Martinez, BOS; Nate Lowe, TEX (21) ... Hits: Cedric Mullins, BAL (31) ... SB: Whit Merrifield, KC; Ramón Laureano, OAK (8).
  • Pitching: Wins: Jack Flaherty, STL; Steven Matz, TOR (4) ... ERA: Jacob deGrom, NYM (0.31) ... Saves: Mark Melancon, SD (8) ... Strikeouts: Shane Bieber, CLE (57) ... Quality starts: Bieber (5).

6. 🇺🇸 Photos across America

Baseball fans
Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — Incredible photo.

Texas spring game
Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images

AUSTIN — Saturday's wave of spring football action featured teams from all five power conferences. Here are all the major takeaways.

Arm wrestling
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

DEER PARK, N.Y. — Members during a training session for the Long Island-based Urban Arm Wrestling League.

  • Fun fact: The league's founder fell in love with arm wrestling after seeing the 1987 movie "Over the Top," starring Sylvester Stallone.

7. 🌍 Photos 'round the world

England celebrating
Photo: Alex Davidson/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

LONDON — England secured a third straight Women's Six Nations title (rugby) after holding off France in the championship game.

Gymnastics
Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

BASEL, Switzerland — Italy's Salvatore Maresca competing on rings during the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

Cycling race
Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

LIEGE, Belgium — Slovenian phenom Tadej Pogačar won the 117th Liège–Bastogne–Liège, the oldest of the five European "Monuments" (famous one-day cycling races).

8. 📆 April 27, 1908: London Olympics begin

Women archers
The women's archery event. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

113 years ago today, the 1908 Olympics opened in London, which had replaced Rome as host following the 1906 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

  • Participants: More nations (22) and athletes (2,008) participated in these Olympics than any of the previous iterations.
  • Length: These were the longest Games ever, lasting 187 days to allow for figure skating events in October (reminder: the first Winter Olympics wouldn't come until 1924).
  • Medal count: Great Britain won by far the most medals (146), followed by the U.S. (47), Sweden (25), France (19), and Germany (13).
Marathon
The start of the marathon at Windsor Castle. Photo: Henry Guttmann Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fun fact: The marathon's now-official distance — 26 miles, 385 yards — was born out of a pair of royal wishes at the 1908 Olympics.

  • The starting line was moved so that the Princess of Wales and her children could see from the Royal Nursery.
  • The finish line was moved to ensure that runners would finish in front of the King's royal box at White City Stadium.
John Taylor
John Taylor training at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a student. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Forgotten legend: American John Taylor was a member of the winning medley relay team, making him the first Black American to win an Olympic gold medal.

  • After returning home to Philadelphia, Taylor developed typhoid fever and died — just four months after winning gold. He was 26.

The last word ... Taylor's life motto:

"I dare greatly, and I shall live as no ordinary man bound by a game of chance."

9. ⚾️ MLB trivia

Royals celebrating

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Royals are off to an impressive 14-7 start. The last time they started 14-7, they won the World Series.

  • Question: Who'd they beat in that World Series?
  • Hint: 2015.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🎵 Send us songs

Moving The Simpsons GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Giphy

In honor of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and three former Arsenal players preparing a bid to buy the club, I figured we'd make a playlist.

Send us songs: Share your current favorite song here. Jeff and I will pick our 20 favorites and include a playlist in tomorrow's newsletter.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "I'm all ears" Baker

Trivia answer: Mets