Apr 1, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,977 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🎟 Why StubHub halted refunds

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With sports on pause and large gatherings banned across the globe, the live events industry has effectively ground to a halt.

  • In the U.S. alone, more than 23,000 events have been canceled, postponed or rescheduled in the past three weeks.

Driving the news: Online ticket exchange StubHub, which facilitates the constant selling and re-selling of tickets, recently changed its refund policy for canceled events.

  • Old policy: StubHub has historically refunded buyers for canceled events before collecting money from sellers, while also paying sellers for ticket sales before events actually happen.
  • New buyer policy: Two weeks ago, buyers were being offered (1) a refund or (2) a coupon valued at 120% of their order once an event was officially canceled. But as of last week, refunds are no longer being offered unless the buyer's billing address or the event is in a state or international jurisdiction with consumer laws around refunds.
  • New seller policy: If sellers were paid for tickets to canceled events, StubHub will charge their credit card to reverse the transaction and direct sellers to contact the original ticket company for a refund.

The response: With an estimated $1 billion tied up in tickets at a time when Americans are filing for unemployment at record rates, StubHub's decision to stop issuing refunds was met with plenty of criticism.

  • Yes, but: Most complaints failed to consider the "seller" side of StubHub's business, which appears to be what forced the company's hand — and could force the hand of other two-sided ticket marketplaces, too.

🎙️ Interview: I spoke with StubHub president Sukhinder Singh Cassidy.

KB: A week ago, you were offering refunds for canceled events. Now you're not. What changed?

"We have a situation right now where we had over 20,000 events canceled, basically at the same time. In addition to our buyers, we also have a million sellers on our platform, all of whom are trying to figure out how they're going to get recouped from the original seller — the venue, the team, the artist — and the timing delays are going to be significant."
"In normal times, we would take the risk of giving refunds to buyers before recouping the same refund from the seller. At regular volume, we can afford to take that risk. But these are unprecedented times."
"I understand that by going first, our policy change may have come as a surprise to people. But remember, we're not the original sellers of the tickets or the holders of the inventory. So there's just no way for us to take that timing risk on behalf of sellers, at scale, all at the same time."
— Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, StubHub president

KB: Last week, you began furloughing employees. What went into that decision?

"We took the furlough option because we wanted the optionality to understand how this industry will recover. We felt like the only way to give us flexibility was to take those actions early."
"I'm not proud of having to do it, but in order for us to be there for our customers post-recovery, we have to make these tough decisions now."

P.S. ... Something else to watch as MLB start dates get thrown around and football season approaches: Postponed games vs. canceled games.

  • For postponed games, buyers can't even get a coupon from most ticketing companies, leaving them with two choices until the game is officially canceled: try to re-sell the ticket or plan to attend on the rescheduled date.
2. 🏈 No football would break college sports
Data: Public records request; Chart: Axios Visuals

What was once unthinkable, even as recently as two weeks ago, is now being discussed openly throughout college sports: COVID-19 could force the cancellation of the 2020 college football season.

  • Why it matters: 80% of FBS athletic budgets are made up of football revenue. So if the season was canceled — or even shortened — the economic fallout would be exponentially worse than what we saw with March Madness.
  • By the numbers: Take LSU, for example. During the 2016-17 cycle, football generated $56 million in profit for the school, while all other sports accounted for $23 million in losses, according to a public records request filed by SI's Ross Dellenger during his time as a beat writer.

What they're saying:

  • ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit: "I'll be shocked if we have NFL football this fall, if we have college football. I'll be so surprised if that happens."
  • Texas coach Tom Herman: "I couldn't [imagine a fall without football] two weeks ago. I can now."
  • Athletic directors: Nearly one-fifth of FBS ADs "believe there is at least a 50% chance" of a shortened season, according to a survey conducted by Stadium.
3. 🗓 Goodbye March 2020, we won't miss you

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Remember when Spike Lee and the Knicks were feuding over his use of the employee entrance? That was in March, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

Flashback: We've all seen the countless memes about the unending misery formerly known as March 2020. Here's a snapshot of how the sports world made it through the longest month ever.

  • March 2: The aforementioned "Spike Lee Incident."
  • March 6–8: The Lakers secure the top spot in the West following statement wins over the Bucks and Clippers and two dominant performances by LeBron James.
  • March 9: Jazz center Rudy Gobert gets handsy with some microphones.
  • March 10: The Ivy League announces it will cancel its postseason men's and women's basketball tournaments.
  • March 11: The Jazz vs. Thunder game is postponed, followed shortly by the announcement that Gobert has tested positive for COVID-19. Later that night, the NBA suspends the season indefinitely.
  • March 12: A day that will live in infamy. The NHL and MLS follow the NBA's lead and suspend their seasons, MLB cancels the remainder of spring training and postpones Opening Day, and the NCAA calls off March Madness.
  • March 13: Augusta National announces that the Masters will be postponed, while the Premier League and Champions League suspend play indefinitely.
  • March 24: Under pressure from numerous countries, the IOC finally announces that the Tokyo Olympics will be postponed.
  • March 30: The IOC announces a new Olympics start date — July 23, 2021.

The bottom line: We're all in this together. And while there's no way to know just how long this will last, we can promise you that rain or shine, sports or not, we'll be here in your inbox every morning, ready to tackle what's next.

4. 🏈 Canceled pro days hurt fringe NFL hopefuls

Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Jeff writes: ESPN's Todd McShay released his updated mock draft yesterday, which got me thinking: how will the cancellation of pro days due to COVID-19 affect draft boards and the hundreds of fringe NFL hopefuls?

The state of play: Top prospects, like all the guys on McShay's newest rankings, will be mostly fine. But for players who either weren't invited to last month's combine or performed poorly while there, pro days offer one last chance to prove themselves.

  • Presumptive No. 1 pick Joe Burrow understands its significance so well that he pushed for a pro day even amid the pandemic just to help improve his LSU teammates' draft stock.

By the numbers: There are thousands of draft-eligible players each year, but only a few hundred receive combine invites (337 in 2019) and even fewer actually get drafted (254 in 2019).

What they're saying: Lower-tier NFL draft hopefuls such as Ron'Dell Carter, a defensive end from FCS powerhouse James Madison, discussed his current predicament with WashPost's Kent Babb:

"We're stuck. All we can do now is work out, work out, work out — until we get a call ... It's just one of these things where no one knows what's going on. Like, no one knows. Nobody has been in this position before. The NFL probably doesn't even know what to do right now."

Pro day success stories:

  • Phillip Lindsay (RB, Broncos): The 2018 Colorado standout wowed scouts at his pro day, signed with Denver as an UDFA and has already made one Pro Bowl and rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.
  • Austin Ekeler (RB, Chargers): The D-II star out of Western Colorado didn't earn an invite to the 2017 combine, but his pro day 40-yard-dash and vertical would have placed him fourth and first among RB, respectively. He's since scored 22 TD in three seasons for the Chargers and just inked a four-year, $24.5 million deal.

The bottom line: Though it's not the end of the road for players like JMU's Carter, that road has gotten bumpy in a hurry, and it will be up to them to hustle and get creative to prove they belong.

5. 😷 Coronavirus dashboard: Tale of two Americas
Data: Axios/Ipsos survey. Margin of error ±2.8 points for full sample. Margin for subgroups ranges from ±5 to ±9 points. Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The coronavirus is spreading a dangerous strain of inequality, writes Axios' Margaret Talev.

  • What's happening: Better-off Americans are still getting paid and free to work from home, while those with lower incomes are far more likely to either have to keep showing up to work — putting themselves at greater daily risk of infection — or more likely to have seen their work dry up.
  • Go deeper: Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, Week 3

The latest:

6. 📊 By the numbers
Screenshot: @boardroom (Twitter)
  • 🏀 16-player tournament: The NBA 2K20 Player Tournament will air on ESPN starting Friday. Kevin Durant and Trae Young lead a field of 16 players who have been seeded based on their player rating in the game.
  • 📺 ~$70 million: The NFL playoffs will expand from 12 to 14 teams this season, and NBC and CBS have picked up the two new wild-card games for ~$70 million a pop, per SBJ. NBC's game will also stream on the soon-to-launch Peacock, while CBS will simulcast a broadcast for kids on Nickelodeon.
  • ⚾️ $400 per week: MLB said Tuesday that it will extend the $400-per-week stipends and medical benefits to minor league players through May 31 or until the start of the new season, whichever comes first.
7. April 1, 1972/1992: ⚾️🏒 Strike day
Marvin Miller, executive director of the MLBPA, announces that the players will go on strike. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

48 years ago today, MLB players — led by MLBPA executive director and recent Hall of Fame inductee Marvin Miller — staged the first strike in league history, which lasted 13 days.

  • The result: Owners and players agreed on a $500,000 increase in pension fund payments, and salary arbitration was added to the CBA.
Bill Wirtz, Blackhawks owner and chairman of the NHL board of governors, speaks with reporters. Photo: Mike Slaughter/Toronto Star via Getty Images

20 years later to the day, NHL players staged the first strike in league history, which lasted 10 days.

  • The result: Players earned much larger playoff bonuses, as well as increased control over the licensing of their image and likeness (most notably in regards to trading card revenue).

The big picture: Both strikes were indicative of things to come. As the NHL saw three lockouts over the next two decades, while MLB suffered through three strikes and a lockout.

  • What's next: MLB's CBA expires in late 2021, and the NHL's expires just six months later, so there's always a chance we could see history repeat itself.

🔙 From the vault:

8. The Ocho: 🇮🇪 Making a hurling stick

A hurling stick or "hurley" is a wooden stick with a flattened, curved end used to hit the sliotar (leather ball) in the Irish sport of hurling, which is bloody awesome.

How it gets made: You take a slab of wood and start shaping it with a bandsaw, as depicted below by an employee at The Star Hurley in Kilkenny, Ireland...

Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Once the hurley starts to take shape, begin shaving it down...

Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Sand off the rough edges...

Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Voilà, you've got yourself a hurley. Here's a view of the different stages...

Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

🎥 Watch: The magic of hurling (YouTube)

9. 🏈 NFL trivia

Question: Name the only player in history with:

  • National championship
  • Heisman Trophy
  • Super Bowl
  • Super Bowl MVP

Hint: Retired in 1997.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 📸 The view from quarantine

Homework assignment: Send me the view from your window.

  • How to send: Reply to this newsletter, email kendall@axios.com or message me on Twitter.
  • What to send: Your photo, your name and your location (i.e. Baltimore, Maryland).

I'll share submissions tomorrow — and probably for the next few days at the very least — so we can all do some traveling while we're cooped up inside.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "This newsletter is now a woodworking course" Baker

Trivia answer: Marcus Allen