March 03, 2023

🎉 Happy Friday! Hope you've had a wonderful week.

🏒 Situational awareness: The NHL trade deadline is at 3pm ET today. Keep track of every trade here.

Today's word count: 1,951 words (7 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: 🍿 The NFL goes to Hollywood

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The NFL is a storytelling machine, and NFL Films has been turning those stories into art since 1964. Now, the league has tapped a Hollywood studio to beef up its content output — and expand beyond football.

Driving the news: The NFL recently partnered with "Top Gun: Maverick" studio Skydance Media on a joint venture, with the goal of creating the world's premier sports production house.

  • NFL Films is a powerful force that SI once called "the most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America." From slo-mo shots to cinematic montages, it is the gold standard of sports production.
  • Skydance Sports, the newly formed division that will be the vehicle for this co-venture, produced the upcoming Michael Jordan film "Air," starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who also directs.

What they're saying: "Our ultimate goal is for every athlete, actor, writer, director and brand that wants to tell a story about football — or about sports more broadly — to make us their first call," Blake Stuchin, the NFL's VP of digital media business development, tells Axios.

State of play: Sports documentaries are booming. In the last two months alone, "Drive to Survive" (F1), "Full Swing" (Golf), "Make or Break" (Surfing) and "Break Point" (Tennis) have been released. Box to Box Films produced all four series.

  • Now the NFL, which helped create this very genre when "Hard Knocks" debuted in 2001, wants in on the action.
  • Skydance and the NFL will also produce a variety of other content, from lifestyle shows and foreign-language programming (to help with the NFL's global push) to full-length motion pictures.
Ed Sabol
Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films. Photo: Courtesy of NFL Films

Picture this: A scripted comedy centered on a quirky NFL coach and his staff (think: the football version of "Ted Lasso").

  • If successful, that series could help the NFL broaden its reach and appeal to new demographics in ways that live games and docs can't.
  • "Shows like 'Ted Lasso' ... it doesn't have to be about the sport. But the sport can be woven into it," Ross Ketover, senior executive of NFL Films, tells Axios.

Between the lines: The primary goal of this partnership is to increase the amount of NFL content on streaming services. But the NFL wants to tell non-football stories, too.

  • "So many places say, 'Oh we'd love to make the 'Hard Knocks' of this or the 'Hard Knocks' of that,'" says Ketover. "Well, now we can do that for you."
  • NFL Films has gone beyond the gridiron before, with a 2017 doc about Lindsey Vonn and a 2008 doc about the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It also produces Peyton Manning's "Places" franchise, which has multiple sports.

The last word: "For 60 years, NFL Films has been telling the stories of our players, and hoping that makes fans want to see them play on Sunday," says Ketover.

  • That, in a nutshell, is why the NFL and Skydance are teaming up: to tell the kinds of stories that make people want to be sports fans.

The bottom line: On the surface, the NFL is a football league. At its core, it's a media company.

2. 🏀 Davis: Four shy of passing Pete

Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals
Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals

Antoine Davis scored 22 points on Thursday in Detroit Mercy's loss to Youngstown State in the Horizon League quarterfinals.

Why it matters: The fifth-year senior is four points shy of breaking Pete Maravich's NCAA scoring mark of 3,667 points — and he may be out of time.

What's next: Detroit Mercy is 14-19, so there are no guarantees that they'll be invited to a postseason tournament, where Davis could continue his pursuit of Pistol Pete's record.

  • The College Basketball Invitational, which selects from the pool of teams that don't make the NCAA Tournament or NIT, is their best bet. All CBI entrants must pay a $50,000 fee.
  • "The NCAA Tournament is the goal," said Davis, whose father, Mike, coaches the team. "I wouldn't have a problem with [the CBI]."

3. 🏈 NFL report cards: Players grade their teams

Data: NFLPA; Table: Alice Feng/Axios
Data: NFLPA; Table: Alice Feng/Axios

The NFLPA has released the results of its first "team report cards," ranking all 32 teams based on a workplace conditions survey it conducted with roughly 1,300 current players, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Details: The union asked players to answer 60 questions about their team to gauge performance in eight categories: treatment of families, food service/nutrition, travel, locker room, weight room, training room, training staff and strength coaches.

Results: The Vikings, who got at least an A-minus in every category, ranked No. 1 overall. The Commanders ranked last, earning just one grade above a C-plus and three F-minus grades for their training room, locker room and travel.

  • Six teams make their young players have roommates on the road: Bills, Colts, Chiefs, Bucs, Titans and Commanders.
  • Seven teams don't offer first-class seats to players: Bears, Cowboys, Colts, Eagles, Bucs, Titans and Commanders.

Between the lines: Some teams lagged behind the competition in glaring ways, according to their players.

  • The Jaguars (ranked 28th overall) dealt with a monthlong rat infestation in their locker room.
  • The Cardinals (31st) are the only team that charges players for dinner, and also the only one that charges for meals eaten at the facility in the offseason.

The big picture: The purpose of the survey — which the NFLPA says it will conduct annually going forward — was to raise standards across the league, while also providing free agents with information that might help them decide on a new team.

"Next year, there can be no claim of ignorance, because we brought the problem up. It will be even more telling if these issues continue ... because then that is a clear choice."
— NFLPA president J.C. Tretter

4. ⚡️ Lightning round

There's reason to celebrate in Boston. Photo: China Wong/NHLI via Getty Images

🏒 100 points: The Bruins trounced the Sabres, 7-1, on Thursday to become the fastest team in NHL history to reach 100 points (61 games). Boston is 48-8-5 and has won nine more games than any other team.

🍿 Now playing: "Creed 3," the ninth installment in the "Rocky" film series, hits theaters today. It currently has an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

🏀 LeBron update: LeBron James suffered a tendon injury in his right foot last weekend and will be reevaluated in three weeks. Brutal news for the Lakers, who sit in 11th place in the West.

🇦🇷 Messi threatened: Gunmen who opened fire Thursday at a supermarket owned by Lionel Messi's in-laws left a threatening note for the Argentine soccer star, saying they were "waiting" for him.

⚽️ Bros buy stake: The Antetokounmpo brothers have purchased a minority stake in Nashville SC, becoming the latest NBA players to moonlight as MLS owners.

5. ⚾️ The "ghost fork" comes to MLB

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

Mets righty Kodai Senga will bring more than just a decade of success in Japan with him to Queens this season. He'll also bring his signature pitch: the "ghost fork," Jeff writes.

The backdrop: Senga, 30, honed his devastating pitch across 11 seasons in Japan's top league, where he compiled a 2.59 ERA before the Mets signed him to a five-year, $75 million deal this offseason.

Details: The grip is a cross between a forkball and a splitter, both of which see the pitcher wedge the ball between his index and middle fingers.

  • When thrown correctly, the delivery looks like a high-90s fastball until the bottom drops out and it reveals itself as a low-80s breaking ball.
  • At that point, all a hitter can do is flail at the pitch that suddenly turns invisible — hence its name.

The intrigue: Senga has struggled to throw his ghost fork consistently in spring training for one simple reason: He's still adjusting to MLB's baseball, which is slicker, larger and has bigger seams than its NPB counterpart.

  • He spent three weeks in January relearning his entire pitching arsenal at a high-tech facility in Seattle, and has continued that work in spring training.
  • "Kodai will have speed bumps," Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner told WSJ ($). "But he's got a high floor for success."

👻 Go deeper: With this Japanese ace, the ghost stories are true (NYT)

6. 🏒 Lawmakers vs. lobbyists

Photo: Courtesy of the Congressional Hockey Challenge

Most people know about the Congressional Baseball Game between Democrats and Republicans. Fewer know about the Congressional Hockey Challenge between lawmakers and lobbyists.

Driving the news: The Lawmakers routed the Lobbyists, 8-3, on Wednesday to secure their fifth straight victory in the annual charity game that began in 2009.

Three stars:

  • First star: Truman Reed (Lawmakers), a legislative assistant for Rep. Monica De La Cruz (R-Tex.)
  • Second star: Rob MacGregor (Lawmakers), a staff member on the Committee on Natural Resources
  • Third star: Nick Lewis (Lobbyists), a senior VP at UPS' legislative affairs office and co-founder of the event

7. 🌎 The world in photos

Irving and Doncic
Photo: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

DALLAS — Luka Dončić (42 points) and Kyrie Irving (40 points) dominated in the Mavericks' 133-126 win over the 76ers, marking the first time a pair of Mavs each scored 40 points in a game.

Jon Rahm
Photo: Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

ORLANDO — Jon Rahm closed eagle-birdie-birdie for a seven-under 65 and a two-shot lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The world No. 1 is red-hot, eyeing his fourth win in six starts.

Barcelona celebrating
Marcos Alonso celebrates the victory. Photo: Florencia Tan Jun/Getty Images

MADRID — Barcelona beat Real Madrid, 1-0, in the Copa del Rey semifinal first leg, snapping Madrid's 19-game home unbeaten streak and holding them without a shot on goal.

8. 📺 Watchlist: America's return to F1

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Formula 1 season kicks off Sunday in Bahrain (10am ET, ESPN), and for the first time in nearly a decade the grid will feature an American driver.

  • The driver: Logan Sargeant (Williams), one of three rookies this season, will be the first American in F1 since Alexander Rossi in 2015.
  • The backdrop: Sargeant picked a good time to debut, with the U.S. hosting three races this season in Austin, Miami and Las Vegas.

More to watch:

9. 🏈 NFL trivia

John Ross at the 2017 NFL Combine. Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Question: In 2017, John Ross ran the fastest 40-yard dash in NFL Combine history. What was his time?

  • 4.28 seconds
  • 4.17 seconds
  • 4.22 seconds
  • 4.13 seconds

Answer at the bottom.

10. ⚾️ 1 fast thing: 20-second strikeout

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Yankees reliever Wandy Peralta struck out a batter in 20 seconds on Thursday in what is surely the fastest strikeout in MLB history.

Wild stat: Peralta could have struck out five batters in the same amount of time that it once took former Dodgers reliever Pedro Báez to throw a single pitch.

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Long live the pitch clock" Baker

Trivia answer: 4.22 seconds

🙏 Thanks for reading! Follow us for more (@kendallbaker and @jeffreytracy). Friends can sign up here. Thanks to Matt Piper for copy edits.

Editor’s note: The first story in yesterday’s Sports has been corrected to state that Connor McDavid scored two goals on Wednesday (not Tuesday).