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MX News Update 2024

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TKO Group building market momentum

Tonight in Unpacks: Easing investor concerns by settling an antitrust lawsuit and making key deals, TKO Group stock is up over 22% this year, reports SBJ’s Adam Stern.

Also tonight:

  • Rory McIlroy not returning to PGA Tour Policy Board
  • Disney’s upfront to showcase sports, ESPN brand
  • Motorsports properties envision the competitive future of electric and hybrid vehicles
  • Op-ed: Fans are here for the NCAA’s dramatic changes

Listen to SBJ’s most popular podcast, Morning Buzzcast, where SBJ’s Austin Karp delivers a “save the date” notice for the NFL schedule release then delves into charter flights for the WNBA, F1’s Miami Grand Prix setting US viewership records and more.

TKO Group beat expectations in the first quarter of 2024, fueled by a new relationship with Netflix and easing investor concern over the future of Vince McMahon and UFC’s antitrust lawsuit, reports SBJ’s Adam Stern.

The umbrella company of UFC and WWE earned $629 million in revenue in the first quarter, beating Wall Street estimates of $609 million, according to Zacks Equity Research. The company suffered a net loss of $249.5 million in the quarter, as well as decreases in cash flow and free cash flow. But that was largely due to taking a $335 million charge related to settling the UFC fighter antitrust lawsuit, which the street viewed as a favorable outcome for UFC due to concerns that a trial could have brought an even more unfavorable outcome to the company. TKO’s stock is up more than 22% this year heading into the close of business today, closing at $98.27 with no movement in after-hours trading as of this report.

UFC held one fewer PPV event compared to the same quarter last year but still delivered higher revenue with a 2% or $6.3 million increase, largely fueled by more sponsorship revenue and a better mix of event-related revenue. That includes the start of UFC’s new official beer deal with Anheuser-Busch, and the combined UFC/WWE sales team continues to carve out inventory to bring in new partners. TKO Group believes that there are still several categories left to sell for UFC, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company is also looking forward to the return of UFC superstar Conor McGregor after nearly three years out from injury should also

WWE revenue increased 6% in the quarter, and its new deal with Netflix has helped TKO’s stock stage a comeback after it had dropped double digits from its IPO price last year. WWE is also announcing today that NBCUniversal’s USA Network will continue to air “Raw” in the fourth quarter of this year in a deal worth $25 million to TKO, before Netflix takes over next year.

Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday that he would not come back to the PGA Tour Policy Board, as other player directors were “uncomfortable” with his return, reports SBJ’s Josh Carpenter.

Last month, the Guardian reported that Webb Simpson was looking to step down from his spot and had sought out McIlroy to return for the remainder of his term, which runs through next year. But today, ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, McIlroy indicated other board members were not keen on him coming back. Simpson later confirmed he would be staying in his position on the board through the end of next year.

In other golf news, Carpenter reports that USGA CEO Mike Whan isn’t too worried the downward trend in TV numbers, adding that last year’s US Open drew a four-year high in viewership with more than 6.2 million viewers for the final round. “I’m sorry but that’s as good as it gets in terms of generating numbers,” Whan said.

Carpenter also writes that longtime baseball executive Theo Epstein will play a “critical role” in how the PGA Tour goes about charting a path forward (even if he doesn’t have a formal role with the tour). As a partner in Fenway Sports Group, the tour has access to Epstein through FSG’s involvement with the Strategic Sports Group.

This week’s Sports Media Podcast has a distinct basketball flavor, as the Big Get is Cindy Brunson of NBC and the Phoenix Mercury. She talks about the incoming WNBA rookie class with SBJ’s Austin Karp (including a dark horse rookie of the year candidate). They also delve into the rising tide of women’s basketball and the mindset of Brittney Griner, whose released a book this week recounting her imprisonment in Russia last year.

The show kicks off with SBJ’s Ted Keith running down this week’s “Who’s Up/Who’s Down.” Karp also picks the brain of basketball writer Tom Friend on what’s going on with the NBA’s media rights. The show wraps up with media writer Mollie Cahillane talking about the upfronts — and the larger role Amazon and Netlfix are playing.


Click the above image for the full podcast

Disney’s star-studded upfront presentation returns next Tuesday from the North Javits Center in NY, and sports and ESPN promise to play a major role, reports SBJ’s Mollie Cahillane.

Ahead of the upfront, ad sales chief Rita Ferro told SBJ that the company’s presentation is set to showcase opportunities for brands across linear, streaming, digital and more, with a heavy emphasis on sports and the ESPN brand. This includes women’s sports, the NCAA, NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL and far more, and Ferro said the company is committed to multiyear deals for the sports side of Disney’s business. Also: ESPN Flagship, the company’s upcoming direct-to-consumer property, arrives next year, and is expected to play a large role in the upfront.

Motorsports such as NASCAR, IndyCar and F1 are trying to keep up with shifting demand for electric and hybrid vehicles as they envision how the technologies could work their way into race cars and in turn provide the research and marketing opportunities carmakers covet.

The trick in moving forward lockstep with the auto industry, however, is balancing change while still delivering the competition — and sounds — that racing fans want, even as the growth of EVs have slowed as hybrid car sales have spiked.

In this week’s magazine, SBJ’s Adam Stern reports on how motorsports circuits are approaching hybrid and other newer car technologies — and how prospective car companies have told leagues like NASCAR they will join only if they can offer a compelling narrative for consumers with hybrid cars or sustainable fuels.

The hope for a Group of Five football playoff of some kind feels like a pie in the sky amid the other chaos within college athletics. In so many words, there’s no real incentive for the G5 (Mountain West, American, MAC, Sun Belt and C-USA) to further divide itself from the Power Four and, really, the SEC and Big Ten — even if the recent TV deal basically spelled that out.

“There’s a couple of reasons why there has not been a positive reaction among the G5 conferences, and one of them is they all believe that there already is a playoff and it’s the CFP,” an industry source told SBJ’s Ben Portnoy.

This week’s SBJ College newsletter has Portnoy and Bret McCormick also covering:

  • Catching up with new James Madison AD Matt Roan
  • Elevate to support ticketing-based revenue opportunities at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium

Tonight’s op-ed is from Harris Poll CEO Will Johnson on how Americans are in favor of the many changes to college sports that are benefitting players.

“Not only do three-quarters of Americans broadly support college players being able to make a buck off of their NIL, but four-in-five NCAA fans said the same. Pluralities of Americans said that changes such as NIL money and liberalized transfer procedures had no effect on their views of the NCAA, its schools, its athletes or how much they enjoy college sports.”

Read the full submission for more.

  • Another 11 markets will carry Indiana Fever games over-the-air from WTHR, Tegna’s NBC Affiliate in Indianapolis. This extends the reach of Fever games to a potential 4.6 million homes.
  • Fanatics Collectibles will have exclusive rights to produce Premier League trading cards and stickers beginning in June 2025 under a new multiyear deal with England’s top-flight soccer league, notes SBJ’s Alex Silverman.
  • Sports streaming service FloSports agreed to a multiyear renewal of its partnership with the ECHL, the minor hockey league that sits below the AHL in the North American professional system, reports Silveman.
  • Hexis, an AI-powered personalized sports nutrition app, raised a $2 million preseed funding round co-led by athlete-driven venture firm Apex Capital and by Rasmus Ankersen’s Sport Republic (an investment group with controlling interests of soccer clubs in England, France and Turkey), writes SBJ’s Joe Lemire.