Jan 30, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

  • 🏈🏆 Coming tomorrow: Super Bowl LIV Mega Preview.

Today's word count: 1,382 words (5 minutes).

1 big thing: 💵 Sports betting 2020

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Barstool Sports used to be a media company. But on the heels of a $163 million investment from Penn National Gaming, it is now, in many respects, a sports betting company.

Why it matters: Barstool's evolution speaks to where the sports betting industry stands at the outset of 2020.

  • With legalization on the horizon in key states and mobile betting set to explode, sportsbook operators are in a race to acquire users and build the best digital storefront.
  • Meanwhile, publishers have begun incorporating sports betting into their coverage, hoping to cash in on exclusive partnerships (i.e. Bleacher Report and Caesar's Palace) and affiliate deals (i.e. sportsbooks offering commissions to publishers that drive users to place bets with them).

What to watch in 2020...

1. More media deals: Since the Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports betting 20 months ago, fantasy sports companies like DraftKings and FanDuel have benefitted from being top of mind among casual bettors, while most gambling operators have struggled with brand awareness.

  • Why Penn did this deal: Instead of having to organically acquire new users, Barstool's 66 million unique monthly users will be funneled directly to their retail sportsbooks and mobile app.
  • What to watch: We should expect to see more deals like this that pair sportsbooks with existing audiences. But not every outlet is flexible enough to take on sports betting, so it will be interesting to see who leans in and who bows out.

2. Continued legalization: By the end of 2020, more than half of U.S. states could realistically have legalized betting — a tipping point for an industry that is currently catering to a fragmented audience.

  • Watch the big states: "The prize is so large in states like California, New York and Florida that every relevant stakeholder is willing to do whatever it takes to guarantee a seat at the table. They're just not going to accept being shut out of those states in the same way they might accept being shut out of a smaller state," Chris Grove, a partner at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, tells Axios.

3. Startup explosion: Many of the startups that got off the ground last year are either entering major growth phases or on the verge of rolling out their MVPs (minimum viable products) in 2020.

  • Apps/Tools: The Action Network is the "Bloomberg for sports betting." A website called Abe wants to be the "Kayak for sports betting." In other words, we have officially entered the "[Existing app] for sports betting" phase.
  • Plumbing: "Sports betting is still not the most efficient machine from a backend perspective, so expect to see more and more talk about things like payments this year," said Grove.

4. Branded sportsbooks: As I mentioned earlier, the Barstool acquisition lets Penn funnel users directly into its retail sportsbooks and mobile app. But hang on — why not take it a step further and just rebrand to ... "Barstool Sportsbook?"

Checks Twitter...

Screenshot: @VivaLaStool (Twitter)

Go deeper:

2. ⚾️ Astros fan study: 1,143 trash can bangs found

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

To understand the scope of his favorite team's cheating scandal, angry Astros fan Tony Adams spent the last few weeks meticulously sorting through every home game with available video from the 2017 regular season.

By the numbers:

  • Games available: 58
  • Pitches watched: 8,274
  • Trash can bangs: 1,143 (13.8% of pitches)

Notes:

  • The Farquhar incident: Adams found that the frequency of bangs fell abruptly on Sep. 22, which was the day after the Astros nearly got caught in the act by White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar.
  • Varied player to player: For instance, bangs could be heard in 18.1% of the pitches that Carlos Beltrán faced during the 58 games covered in the study, while that number plummets to 2.8% for José Altuve.

Go deeper:

In other news ... the Astros have hired Dusty Baker, 70, as their new manager. Good luck, man.

3. 💔 Remembering Kobe

Photo: Apu Gomes/Getty Images

  • Vanessa Bryant: "There aren't enough words to describe our pain right now. ... I'm not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it's impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way."
  • Pablo Torre: "While Jordan will always have one more ring, Kobe will always have an 'ethos' — this obsessive, almost immigrant mentality of hard work at all costs. ... But we should think of Kobe Bryant as a human being, as hard as that is right now. To mention his flaws is not to dilute his myth ... it is merely to complicate it."

More:

4. 👟 Fashion cycle "moved away" from Under Armour
Expand chart
Data: Money.net; Chart: Axios Visuals

"Once heralded as the next Nike, Under Armour has faltered, hurt by slumping sales and unflattering revelations about its corporate culture," write NYT's Julie Creswell and Kevin Draper.

"The fashion cycle moved away from them. They stayed true to their muse, performance footwear and apparel. But that's just not where the business is. Right now, it's all about fashion and athleisure."
— Matt Powell, analyst at NPD Group

Timeline:

  • 1996: Kevin Plank founds Under Armour.
  • 2003: "We must protect this house!" advertising campaign goes live, elevating the brand to new heights.
  • 2015: Overtakes Adidas as the second-largest sports apparel company in the U.S. by sales; 26 consecutive quarters of 20%+ year-over-year revenue growth; buys MyFitnessPal for $475 million.
  • 2019: Plank steps down as CEO (October)
  • Today: Stock price is currently $21 a share, down from a high of $51 in 2015; revenue has stalled, increasing less than 1% in the first nine months of 2019.

Go deeper: How Under Armour lost its edge

5. 🎾 Australian Open: Djokovic, Kenin advance
Photo: Greg Wood/AFP via Getty Images

Men: Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in straight sets 7-6, 6-4, 6-3 to book his eighth trip to the Australian Open final. He'll play the winner of Thiem-Zverev (3:30am ET).

Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Women: So long in the shadows of other Americans, 21-year-old Sofia Kenin ousted No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty 7-6 (6), 7-5 to advance to her first Grand Slam final. She'll play unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza, who knocked out No. 4 seed Simona Halep.

6. Poll results: ⚾️ Should the NL add a DH?
Giphy
  • 53.9% said no
  • 46.1% said yes

My take: On one hand, watching pitchers swing through fastballs isn't exactly my idea of a good time (pitchers hit .131 last year). On the other hand, double switches add a much-needed element of managerial strategy to baseball. Tough call, but I'd vote "no."

P.S. ... Here's an idea from a reader that's kind of fun:

"Both leagues have a DH as long as the starting pitcher is in the game. As soon as the starter is out, the DH is out and the pitcher takes that spot in the batting order. This would give the advantage of having a DH early in the game but retain the strategy that comes with replacing pitchers and double switches late in the game. And it rewards starting pitchers who go deep."
7. Jan. 30, 1948: 🇨🇭 The first Olympics post-WWII

72 years ago today, the 1948 Winter Olympics — the first Olympics to be celebrated after World War II — kicked off in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

  • The backdrop: It had been 12 years since the last Winter Games, and the exclusion of Japan and Germany created an intensely political atmosphere.
  • Medal count: Norway (four golds), Sweden (four golds) and Switzerland (three golds) all won 10 medals, while the U.S. (three golds) won nine.
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Barbara Ann Scott (above) became the first and only Canadian woman to win gold in figure skating. On the men's side, 18-year-old American Dick Button completed the North American sweep.

Allsport/Hulton Archive via Getty Images

The U.S. sent two hockey teams to compete in St. Moritz due to issues around amateurism, and it nearly caused the cancellation of the entire tournament.

  • 📷 Pictured above: One of the teams following a last-minute workout at Madison Square Garden before sailing to Europe.
Photo: Mark Kauffman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Bobsled drama: "A controversy erupted when it was alleged that the sleds of the U.S. team had been sabotaged. After news broke ... a truck driver stepped forward and admitted to having accidentally backed into the shed housing the bobsleds." (Wikipedia)

8. The Ocho: 🛹 Japanese skateboarding culture
Giphy

NYT reporter John Branch pulls back the curtain on Japan's skateboarding culture, which is about to have its moment at the Tokyo Olympics...

"Skateboarding's history and culture in Japan is an echo of the United States — imported a generation ago, through rebellious teens skating in the dim corners of polite Japanese society.
"One big difference from America? Skateboarding, with all its noise and commotion, has never been welcomed on the streets and sidewalks of Japan.
"But that has not hindered its growth. Skateparks are popping up everywhere, skateboarding's countercultural vibe has hit the mainstream, and Japan is expected to dominate its competitors when skateboarding makes its Olympic debut at this year's Summer Games."

Keep reading.

9. 🎾 Tennis trivia

Sofia Kenin (21 years, 79 days old) is the youngest Australian Open women's finalist since 2008, when two 20-year-olds squared off in the finals.

  • Question: Who was that year's champion?
  • Hint: She has won five Grand Slams in her career.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🏈 Vote: 49ers of Chiefs?

Photo: Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Click to vote: Who will you be rooting for on Sunday?

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme" Baker

Trivia answer: Maria Sharapova