PLL ready to roll with new media deal, fresh markets


Tonight in Unpacks: The fourth season for the Premier Lacrosse League is highlighted by a new ESPN deal. SBJ’s Juwan Watson looks into what viewers can expect this weekend. 

  • The Warriors likely set an NBA revenue record this season
  • AmEx highlighting small business with U.S. Women’s Open activation
  • Zippin plans for over 100 more stores in sports venues in 2022
  • Oilers fans are flocking to the Ice District Plaza during the postseason

Miss this morning’s Buzzcast? SBJ’s Abe Madkour talks about potential blockbuster deal for the Trail Blazers blockbuster, takeaways from Adam Silver’s state-of-the-league, the Coyotes taking baby steps in Tempe and NASCAR getting a warm welcome in St. Louis.

The Premier Lacrosse League starts its fourth season this weekend, highlighted by a new media-rights partner in ESPN and visits to four new markets (Charlotte, Dallas, Seattle and Fairfield, Conn.) as part of the 12-city tour, writes SBJ’s Juwan Watson. The single-entity league opens its regular season at the Univ. of Albany, with a pair of games each on Saturday and Sunday.

ESPN has long been the home to NCAA lacrosse, and ESPN Coordinating Producer Ericka Galbraith noted the addition of the PLL will go a long way in helping grow the sport in the U.S. PLL promos ran heavily during NCAA telecasts this season, and during halftime of the MarylandCornell NCAA Men’s Championship on Monday, PLL co-founder Paul Rabil joined the ESPN set to talk about what the audience and fans will see this season.

“The commitment to lacrosse is evident by these new programming deals,” Galbraith said. “Our expansion of the NCAA women’s and men’s show the growth of lacrosse, the interest in it and the opportunity for us to continue to expand our audiences.”

ESPN will utilize much of the same talent from its NCAA coverage, with familiar names like Anish Shroff, Chris Cotter, Paul Carcaterra, Quint Kessenich and Ryan Boyle part of PLL action. “Having them come off an incredible championship weekend at the NCAA space — let’s ride the adrenaline into the PLL,” Galbraith said.

Rabil believes moving to ESPN after an initial run with NBC Sports will be a great way to grow the business and the sport of lacrosse. He called the breadth of platforms that ESPN offers “unmatched” by any other network, and important for exposure with league sponsors. “Having your partners there at the games and broadcasted is a celebration for us and them,” said Rabil. “The magnitude of attention and revenue to come from this is a positive for the league and the sport.”

Ross Productions with be assisting ESPN with producing the games. Expect ESPN to continue experimenting with use of live mics between players and coaches, as well as the use of new graphics and animation. Can viewers expect any alternate ESPN programming, vis-a-vis the popular ManningCast? “You just never know, but we want to walk before we run and get the broadcast up smoothly and expand from there,” said Galbraith.

Casey Stadium at the Univ. of Albany will play host to the opening weekend for the PLL

Finishing their third year in the sparkling Chase Center, the Warriors have now cemented themselves as a fast-growing, robust sports and entertainment company — one that sources say is projected to generate more than $800 million in total revenue, an NBA record, during the 2021-22 season, reports SBJ’s Eric Prisbell.

Sources say that marks a more than 50% increase since the 2018-19 season, the final for the team at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

Because the Warriors own and operate Chase Center, it enables them to control the fan experience through every touchpoint, including how best to deploy tech. The Warriors + Chase Center mobile app — designed by their tech innovation partner Accenture — is a particular point of pride. And the quest for perfection continues; it has already undergone 50 updates since its launch. In total, it has seen 2 million downloads, 120,000 monthly active users and, over the last year, a 64% increase in new users.

Last year, the Warriors became the first team in sports to execute an NFT drop with a collection that included various editions of the team’s NBA championship rings and commemorative ticket stubs. They hold the record for all-time highest sports NFT sale ($871,591.27), and sales from the first drop alone surpassed $2 million.

Check out more on how the team is pushing revenue higher with an ever-evolving business strategy as part of an Early Access look at next week’s magazine.

American Express says it is making its largest presence ever at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, which began yesterday in Southern Pines, N.C. AmEx VP/Global Experiential Marketing & Partnerships Shiz Suzuki told SBJ’s Eric Prisbell, “Our spend is respective to our level of presence.”

AmEx, a USGA sponsor since 2007, is doubling down on its support of the women’s game, which can be seen in activations on multiple fronts. It is working with six top golfers — Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Celine Boutier, Gaby Lopez, Stacy Lewis and Rose Zhang — to purchase sponsorship inventory to generate in-broadcast exposure for local small businesses.

The golfers are wearing the business’ logo on their equipment or apparel throughout the event. Here is the list of businesses they are promoting:

Lydia Ko High Octane (coffee) Side of hat
Celine Boutier C Cup Cupcakery Left sleeve
Gaby Lopez Twigg & Co. Right collar
Stacy Lewis Morgan Miller (women’s clothing) Right chest
Lexi Thompson Cooper & Bailey’s Driver cover
Rose Zhang Eloise Trading Co. (home décor) Bag

Autonomous store operator Zippin now has 25 locations inside sport venues, including Barclays Center, Empower Field at Mile High, Golden 1 Center and NRG Stadium. Sensors and AI cameras inside the stores enable guests to pick items off shelves and walk out without waiting in line for checkout or engaging with a cashier.

“Ultimately, these are designed to allow people to see more of the game and less of the back of the person in line,” says Gary Jacobus, Zippin’s senior VP/business development. “If you think about it, there’s very few places you go, where they say, ‘I know, you spent a lot of money to see something, now I’m going to ask you to turn your back on that to go eat and drink and miss a certain portion of what you went to see.’ It’s a weird thing.”

Jacobus gave SportTechie a tour of Zippin’s four stores at Barclays Center during a recent WNBA game. “We’re probably taking anywhere from a five to 10-minute average start to finish down to 30 to 45 seconds,” Jacobus says of the average traditional concession transaction time compared with Zippin’s stores. He added Zippin plans to open more than 100 stores in sports facilities by the end of this year, and that he‘s had talks to install the system at stadiums for English Premier League clubs.

Check out Andrew Cohen’s full story here.

Through Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference Final, the Oilers have hosted more than 30,000 fans in its Ice District Plaza outside Rogers Place during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, reports SBJ’s Alex Silverman.

While admission is free, the team is profiting by having four local food trucks on-site, serving alcohol at bars throughout the space and selling merchandise from a tent in the plaza. It has also created additional sponsorship inventory and digital screen advertising.

“Even with all the infrastructure that we have to put in, the bands that we’ve had to hire and all the things that we’re doing, it’s a profitable side of our business,” said Stuart Ballantyne, president and COO of the Ice District and Rogers Place.

Ice District Plaza first opened to fans as a pathway to the arena in 2019. Plans to use the area as a public event space, however, were put on hold for more than two years due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Last year, with fans finally allowed back inside Rogers Place for the start of the 2021-22 season, the Oilers moved forward with the installation of three digital media towers in the plaza, each of which carries two 12-by-20-foot LED screens, public address audio equipment, ambient and theatrical lightning, and broadcast camera platforms and connectivity. Those complement a massive LED board on the outside of the arena’s grand Ford Hall atrium.

Read more on how fans are flocking to the space in Edmonton as part of an Early Access look at next week’s magazine.

The Ice District Plaza first opened to fans as a pathway to the arena in 2019

Aubrey Levy confesses that, as a pro golf attendee, he rarely plans the expedition well enough to secure a space along the ropes on a prime hole — instead choosing to roam from the course, hoping to luck into an open spot at a memorable moment. So when Levy, senior VP for content and marketing at theScore Bet, was kicking around ideas to activate the sportsbook’s sponsorship of the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open next week outside Toronto, ways that fit the brand’s player-centric ethos — making life easier and better for bettors — percolated to the top.

TheScore Bet will use a crane and a well-secured platform to entertain small batches of guests in seats dangling 100 feet above the St. George’s Golf and Country Club clubhouse, where they’ll hang above the first and 18th holes for 30 minutes, with groups of 22 going up once per hour through the four-day event.

Guests will be strapped into “Skyline Seats” around a long rectangular table, where complimentary food and beverages will be served. With plans to go up hourly beginning at 9 a.m., the Skyline Seats could end up entertaining about 800 guests during the four-day tournament.

Operated by Events in the Sky with support from Toronto-based SDI Marketing, the experience will be available to those with active theScore Bet sportsbook accounts. Those account holders will be able to secure spots while visiting areas the sportsbook will sponsor during the event, including a premium members lounge along the 18th fairway and short-game contest stations around the course.

Check out more from Bill King in today’s SBJ Betting newsletter.

Skyline Seats could end up entertaining about 800 guests during the tournament

It was reported today that Will Wilson will leave his CEO role with U.S. Soccer on Oct. 31. A lot has happened under his watch with the governing body.

SBJ Publisher and Executive Editor Abe Madkour wrote about Wilson’s colleague, USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone, in this week’s SBJ Forum. 

“The degree of difficulty for a new leader in pulling off a fractious settlement with the U.S. women’s national soccer team, and then two collective-bargaining agreements securing long-term labor peace and pay equity, can’t be overstated and is one of the most impressive achievements in sports. … The deal is made more fascinating when you realize that there wasn’t the traditional leverage you see in most CBA talks. You weren’t going to see a lockout and you were unlikely to see players strike.”

Madkour notes Parlow Cone has “more big decisions” on the horizon, including:

  • Fully optimizing the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which has the potential to be a momentous event for the country.
  • Deciding whether a bid for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2027 or 2031 is a sound move.

With Wilson’s pending exit, it creates another high-level item for Parlow Cone’s to-do list. Read Madkour’s full column here.   

  • The Tempe City Council last night voted 5-2 to enter into negotiations with the Coyotes regarding the construction of a $1.95 billion entertainment district that would include a new 16,000-seat arena, reports SBJ’s Alex Silverman.
  • Esports marketing and production company Wisdom Gaming named former Vikings exec Steve LaCroix as president, reports SBJ’s Tobias Seck. The appointment is part of Wisdom expanding its partnership with LaCroix Sports & Entertainment that started last year. In his new position, LaCroix will report to Wisdom Gaming founder and CEO Mike Zweigbaum.
  • Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca was part of a recent $70 million Series C round for Indonesia-based social commerce platform Super, notes Fortune.
  • In the latest SBJ Spotlight video, Abe Madkour and Austin Karp chime in on how high the viewership numbers could be for the NBA and NHL finals, as well as winners and losers among the major events on Memorial Day Weekend.
  • Klutch Sports Group is going to the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, seeking to lift a restraining order preventing an exec it hired away from Excel Sports Management from working as its director of marketing, reports SBJ’s Liz Mullen.

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