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Welcome back to the Spotlight! In advance of the long weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Sports Business Journal and Leaders Group’s 4se (pronounced “force”) 2023 focusing on marketing, branding and leadership in the sports and entertainment industries.  There, I met handfuls of like-minded peers, while listening to panels of influential people sharing their experiences with the attendees, while highlighting the seemingly endless intersections between these industries.

Notably, conference attendees had the privilege of hearing athletes and entertainers such as 2 time Superbowl champion New York Giants players Eli Manning and Justin Tuck and rap icon Fat Joe talk candidly about how they have parlayed their professional careers into even loftier heights in the business world. Other highlights included an emphasis on the ascendancy of women’s sports, impressive rap skills from Rhymefest and Golden State Warriors’ Chief Legal Officer David Kelly (I graciously conceded he was the better rapping lawyer).

All in all, I came away from the event feeling inspired and dare I say cool? And that’s notwithstanding an embarrassing blunder by me! Let’s just say trying to shake hands while balancing a cup of rice and beans on a plate is more perilous than it sounds. Anyway, let’s kick things off…

    • Maryland-based Under Armour goes local for their NIL deal with University of Maryland basketball star, Diamond Miller. A Zales endorsement deal can’t be too far away. 
    • Bank of America is sued by would-be Washington Commanders suitor Brian Davis’ company, for allegedly flubbing a $7.1 billion offer. $500 billion in damages is being sought, which in Bank of America’s defense seems egregious in light of the fact that the case concerns the Washington Commanders. 
    • Shaquille O’Neal and David Beckham’s production companies are being housed under the newly formed Authentic Studios. Here’s hoping a “Kazaam” and “Bend it Like Beckham” crossover is in development. 

Welcome back to the Spotlight, where your readership is coveted as much as French basketball player Victor Wembanyama (bonus points to me for spelling it right the first time without Google) is by your favorite NBA team. More likely than not, Wemby will be landing in San Antonio where fellow countryman Tony Parker once parlez vous’ed all over the league. As the presumptive first pick in the NBA Draft, he has a sizable rookie contract and endless international marketing opportunities in front of him. That’s all before even touching the NBA hardwood. Of course, there’s always the ability as a later draft pick like Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant to achieve stardom and fortune through on-court performance. In the span of four seasons, he’s secured endorsement deals from Powerade and Nike. But while Morant’s on-court talent has never been in question, his off-court actions — appearing armed with a handgun on his social media accounts (already resulting in a 10 game suspension, with more likely on the way)—may make sponsors distance themselves. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! It’s a familiar cautionary tale, but in the public eye, athletes and entertainers alike should be mindful to be beyond reproach and keep themselves out of the controversy Spotlight.

    • Live professional pickleball matches will soon be available for streaming on Amazon Prime. So now the sport accessible to all ages will be available to the masses (as long as your parents can figure out how to use the remote control). 
    • Short form video social media company TikTok strikes deals with several digital music distributors to provide new monetization opportunities for their artists (and new choreography trends for Gen Z to make the older generations increasingly out of touch). 
    • The members of disco group The Village People sent a cease and desist letter to Donald Trump alleging that impersonating acts at his Mar-A-Lago Resort is an illegal misappropriation of their name, image and likeness. Trump would do well to look into alternative acts. 

Welcome back to the Spotlight! The buzz this week surrounds the strike announced by the Writers’ Guild of America after failing to obtain concessions from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.  Leave it to the WGA to script that the strike took place on May Day (International Workers’ Day).  As it is, countless television and film productions have been sidelined and rendered speechless. Lucky for you, dear reader, I carry no union cards, so the only “scab” currently in my world is on my son’s chin from a slip and fall.  For any television and film executives out there who are looking for help, consider this blog my portfolio. Feel free to contact me any time.  My conditions of employment? Good question! I have a bunch of requests – but I don’t feel like I have the leverage to ask for them on my own.  If only there were some type of organization of others like me that could negotiate on behalf of us all…oh well! Anyway, brief programming note (call it solidarity) but I will not be in my writers’ room next week. See you in two weeks (unless ChatGPT replaces me in meantime).

  1. Just days after pop singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran testified that he would stop making music if the jury handed down a verdict against him in the copyright infringement litigation by Marvin Gaye’s estate, Sheeran prevailed. Whether it was because the jury thought it was in bad taste when Gaye’s estate made a similar statement, or because there was no substantial similarity in the works is unknown. 

  2. Snoop Dogg joins businessman Neko Sparks’ bid for the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators. The move would mark the first majority black owned franchise for the NHL, potentially opening up the NHL to an untapped market. Snoop might also bring new meaning to the term, “high-sticking.”

  3. Louisiana State University gymnast and NIL pioneer Olivia Dunne has parlayed her social media presence into the pages of the upcoming Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. The move is not only a lesson on the new self-branding opportunities available for college athletes, but is also likely to drive a photographer’s production assistant to research what to feed a pommel horse.

  4. Nike inks a lifetime deal with Phoenix Suns star Kevin Durant. A rare feat, but don’t get too excited – he will probably ask to be traded 2 years from now.     

Welcome back to the Spotlight! If there ever was a story that blends the magic and romanticism of Hollywood with the unbridled enthusiasm and competition of sports, it’s that of Welsh football club, Wrexham A.F.C. Acquired by actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney for the relatively low price of $2.5 million in 2021, the duo quickly won over Wrexham supporters (indeed it was a prerequisite to the bidding process) and an American audience that until recently thought “football in Wales” was something better dealt with by a marine biologist. That Reynolds and McElhenney have had success is an understatement. Using their celebrity profile, they launched the docuseries “Welcome to Wrexham,” which has been picked up for multiple seasons. Nothing short of marketing genius and we should expect no less than that from Reynolds, as pretty much everything he touches-from gin to mobile phone service—turns to gold (“Green Lantern” is the outlier). This is of course to say nothing of the fact that the club has backed up their newfound attention with victories on the pitch, ascending to League Two (one rung up from where the team had been when acquired in 2021, and three promotions removed from the English Premier League. Reaching those heights will be a daunting process, but, with the marketing opportunities the club could provide, by no means a white W(h)ale.

Without further ado, here’s what else is making waves:

    • The Ottawa Senators are on the market for a price tag that could reach an NHL record setting $1 billion, with bidders including a group backed by Ryan Reynolds. An overpayment if you ask me—there are plenty of Senators that have been bought for less. 

    • University of Texas’ five star recruit Quarterback Arch Manning has made it known (through his coach Steve Sarkisian) that he intends to keep his name, image and likeness (NIL) earnings at nil until he earns the starting Quarterback position, despite having one of the highest projected values for college athletes. Whether influenced by the fact he’s not hurting for money (you may have heard of his grandfather and uncles), being a good teammate or enjoying wordplay as much as I do, it’s a notable stance. 
    • Pop recording artist Ed Sheeran is in the midst of a trial facing allegations that his ballad “Thinking Out Loud” infringes the copyrights to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” Jurors’ deliberation room will undoubtedly be equipped with an assortment scented candles.

    • A week after Fake Drake and The Weeknd popped up on streaming services through the help of A.I., recording artist Grimes has voiced (at least I think it’s her voice) her intent to embrace the disruptive technology for her own songs.  On the one hand, this is shocking given the potential threat of A.I. to the music industry. On the other hand, it is not all that surprising for someone who named her and Elon Musk’s firstborn, “X Æ A-Xii.”

Welcome back to the Spotlight! With the Spring holidays in swing and many on Spring Break, I will be brief as I realize reading sports and entertainment business and legal stories may be the lEaster your worries. But I couldn’t Passover an opportunity to check-in. Yikes, those were pretty bad – even for my standards. In any event, I will be off on vacation next week, during which time I can perhaps come up with better material. But for now, your Easter egg/Afikomen prize is below: 

    • Angel Reese has been the topic of much discussion with regard to sportsmanship and implicit bias following her LSU Tigers’ Basketball National Championship victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. Over all the noise, she has become a household name and the “Bayou Barbie” has positioned herself to buy that dream home.
    • IT and Security Management firm Kaseya secures naming rights to the Miami Heat’s NBA Arena, becoming a successor to cryptocurrency exchange turned criminal enterprise FTX.  But the heat still remains on Miami shooting guard Jimmy Butler, who is facing legal action over his ties to crypto exchange Binance.

    • Artificial Intelligence may hold the power to keep celebrities entertaining long beyond their natural lives. In a related story, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2024 will be hosted by Dick Clark with musical performances by Elvis Presley and Ludwig von Beethoven. 

Welcome back to the Spotlight! How better to close out the madness wrought by March than with an ode to March Madness (and a special shout-out to my Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team on their 7th national championship)? If you correctly picked all of the final four teams (for either the men’s or women’s tournaments) then you’re probably a liar. Indeed, parity has been the name of the game for the NCAA’s cash cow sporting events. 

Concerns about the demise of college athletics due to allowing athletes to make endorsement dollars have apparently been overblown. This year has yielded some of the most shocking upsets in recent memory, as schools that were supposed to have been knocked out of contention by those with better marketing opportunities that could attract top talent. NIL has also certainly had its own benefits—it cannot be an accident that women’s basketball has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the point that its viewership of tournament games on ESPN have topped that of the most watched NBA games on ESPN. 

But don’t tell that to members of Congress, who were warned of “NIL Chaos” just yesterday in a congressional hearing entitled “Taking the Buzzer Beater to the Bank: Protecting College Athletes’ NIL Dealmaking Rights” focusing on the need for federal legislation to address such questions as to whether to classify college athletes as employees and whether uniformity is needed in the marketplace to afford greater protections to athletes. Unfortunately, it did not appear as if we are any closer to the answers. Still in the early days of NIL, much is left to be worked out, but there are definitely plenty of reasons to be pleased with where we are, much to the dismay of college sports doomsday-ers. With that upbeat note, let’s dive into what else is in the Spotlight this week.

TikTok Football PlayerWelcome back to the Spotlight – to you and me alike. With my being AWOL for the past two weeks, I would like to say that I was doing research to perfect my brackets or chasing leprechauns. But, since I do not have a pot of gold from either pursuit, I guess we can chalk up my absence to some behind-the-scenes retooling for the third year (wow!) of this blog/newsletter/digest.

Yes, as we celebrate our third anniversary (leather is the traditional gift, by the way) we show no signs of slowing down. The Spotlight also has the added benefit of not being a national security threat.

The same cannot be said for TikTok, whose name echoes the countdown to its possible shutdown. Understandably, voices throughout the sports and entertainment industry are concerned that cutting the American people off from TikTok’s short form video platform may not only hurt collegiate athletes whose NIL marketing value is highly correlated to their social media following, but also artists and musicians whose music can be taken to new heights through viral dance accompaniments (and other things I am getting too old to understand). But, to them I say: “not to worry.” On the whole, the risk of being spied on by a foreign adversary seems to carry a little more weight. And in any event, once upon a time, there was another short form video platform called “Vine” that was abruptly discontinued and replaced with a short form video platform called…TikTok. So maybe the answer lies in a Vine reboot – after all, nowadays sequels and reboots dominate the entertainment spotlight.

    • Tiger Woods’ TMRW Sports nets a trio of past and present NBA superstars on its cap table as Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant invest in the tech-forward sports venture.

    • Comedian Kevin Hart signs a multi-year extension with SiriusXM for the development of podcasts and radio shows on its satellite platform. No small feat from a man that has two of them.

    • In an apparent victory for common sense, the prospective FIFA Women’s World Cup Sponsorship by Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority has been called off. Turns out that using women’s sports as a vehicle to encourage travel to a nation with an inferior record for women’s rights is not a good look. Go figure.

    • Lindsay Lohan is among a list of eight celebrities accused by the Securities Exchange Commission of promoting cryptocurrencies without adequately disclosing she was being compensated to do so. She can add that to her rap sheet that includes allegedly pushing Regina George in front of a bus.

Welcome back to the Spotlight, and with it (in like a lion…) the college basketball-dominated month of March.  And wow, in case it was not on your radar, madam, allow me to fulfill my civic duty to level with you and refer you to the fact that today’s date (3/2/23) is a palindrome—a mirror-image sequence that reads the same backwards and forwards. Bonus points if you caught all of them in that sentence. With that backdrop, as good a place as any at which to start is with two young women of college basketball who are mirror images of one another: The Cavinder Twins. Haley and Hanna (almost a palindrome) Cavinder are two of the most recognized names in the NIL era, leveraging their star power and social media following to command multiple six figure endorsement deals at Fresno State University and more recently at the University of Miami. So, that is perhaps why late last week the NCAA made its very first NIL era enforcement action with regard to conduct surrounding the Cavinders and the apparent inducements given to them to become Miami Hurricanes.  In doing so, the NCAA appears to this writer and to many other observers to be taking a shot across the bow to universities and their boosters (i.e., affiliated alumni who support the school’s athletic programs) alike, notwithstanding the relatively light penalties (a three game suspension for the Cavinders’ coach, a fine and a limited restriction on recruitment activities), but it stopped short of dissociating the billionaire booster from the University. However, as much as the move seemed calculated to send a message to take another look in the mirror before acting, it also seemed to signal self-restraint out of fear of being embroiled in a politically and financially costly antitrust litigation. Speaking of politics, the NCAA’s best chance of again wielding decisive enforcement power lies with comprehensive federal legislation from the house of mirrors that is the US Congress. So the question remains: unless/until that happens, is the NCAA’s use of the Cavinders’ recruitment a high profile bluff or a prelude to its dropping the hammer on the next booster looking to lure an athlete with a spotlight?

    • Music copyrights still appear to be an attractive investment for private equity markets, as Lyric Capital closes a fund with $800 million in commitments. Meaning, it’s still not too late for me to begin writing music. On the other hand, singing is out of the question. 
    • Undoubtedly fueled by the success of the Netflix docuseries, Formula 1, Formula One racing enjoyed record fan attendance last year. Fan engagement that brings people from their living room to the stands seems to be a formula won. 
    • Adidas renewed its partnership with Major League Soccer to outfit its players for the 2023 Season, narrowly averting the prospect of barefooted, shirts and skins soccer matches. 

Welcome back to the Spotlight! Having just celebrated Presidents’ Day here in the U.S., where better to begin than an ode to our various Commanders-in-Chief. Fittingly, 2-time Super Bowl-winning Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy just moved to the Commanders from the Chiefs (though the fact that he himself is still not a commander in chief—a head coach—remains a head-scratching and potentially ugly truth in the NFL). Now with that news of his heading to Washington, I wonder how this former student of UW-Madison might Ford a transition to Lincoln to the rest of the sports and entertainment headlines.  Well, I will try not to beat around the Bush, I’m just Biden my time. A few more lines? I Grant you that I could Fillmore, that’s probably Truman. But I should get on with it so my editors do not put the Nixon this piece. If this Arthur’s presidential wordplay has left you in a Hayes, here is the spotlight to help you Pierce through to find your way.

    • Netflix and NFL Films join forces for a docu-series entitled “Quarterback,” following two-time Super Bowl champion, Patrick Mahomes, as well as Kirk Cousins and Marcus Mariota – yet it still does not feel right to lump those three into the same sentence. 
    • Smash hit song “Flowers” performed by Miley Cyrus and co-written by Michael Pollack, find itself atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts (not to mention charts across the globe). With that buzz, I would take myself dancing, too.
    • New week, same surge in popularity and investments, as Kevin Durant’s 35 Ventures provides financial backing to a venture pickleball technology company and New York City unveils its first permanent, dedicated pickleball club.
    • No luck of the Irish for this former Boston Celtic as former NBA Star Paul Pierce (no relation to Franklin Pierce) agreed to pay a $1.4 million penalty to the Securities Exchange Commission arising out of his failure to disclose that he was a paid endorser of a particular cryptocurrency, adding insult to injury on the money he presumably already lost on cryptocurrency.

Welcome back to the Spotlight! First, a hearty congratulations to the world champion Kansas City Chiefs (an empty gesture if there ever was one—as I am fairly confident none of the Chiefs read this, but if not, hit me up!). As in years past, the Super Bowl prove itself to be a pop culture spectacle par excellence (I don’t know what that means, but it sure sounds fancy), with commercials of varying levels of poignancy, absurdity and cleverness, rife with athletes and entertainers and homages. Among the stand-outs, was the solo(-ish) halftime performance by Rihanna.   

Indeed, nestled cozily inside what was a rather entertaining game, Rihanna, who’s so famous that she’s known only by one name, revealed that she had a baby nestled cozily inside what was a rather entertaining Rihanna. Tough act to follow for future baby announcements but perhaps Rihanna will opt for a more low-key setting for the eventual gender reveal, like the Olympic torch lighting ceremony. 

Say what you will, but Rihanna made the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show--for which she was not even directly compensated. Since Sunday’s performance (the second most watched Super Bowl halftime show), Rihanna’s seeing an over 640% increase in streaming and a 390% increase in record sales. Neither this fact nor the towering heights the artist reached during her performance were likely on the artist’s mind when she recorded the Oscar-nominated song “Lift Me Up,” but it makes for an easy dad joke. Although Rihanna (herself worth upwards of $1.4 billion when factoring in her music career and various business ventures) did not need the resulting windfall, with another mouth to feed, she embraced the extra spotlight.  

    • Celebrity chef (and fabled enunciator of the word, “spaghetti”) Giada De Laurentiis inks a first look television development deal with Amazon Studios. No squid were harmed in the process.
    • The valuation of connected fitness company Tonal appears to have taken a big hit since the pandemic-related boom. Paired with the news above, it sounds like couch sales may go through the roof.
    • Sixteen-year-old, top-ranked pickleball champion Anna Leigh Waters signs an endorsement deal with a wealth management company, as she is poised to receive wealth to be managed.    

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