January 7, 2022

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Front Office Sports


The NBA’s first All-Star fan voting returns are in and Stephen Curry (2,584,623) and Kevin Durant (2,360,435) are the two biggest vote-getters. LeBron James is third with 2,018,725 votes. The All-Star Game is Feb. 20 in Cleveland.

UCLA Athletics/Design: Alex Brooks

Since NCAA athletes got the rights to their names, images, and likenesses on July 1, there’s been a whirlwind of activity from athletes, brands, schools, donors and alumni. 

Six months in, the industry is still fresh — with several remaining uncertainties. But there’s one clear takeaway: Thousands of athletes are now at least a little bit richer. 

Football athletes dominated the NIL scene, making 47% of NIL earnings, according to Opendorse. The rest of the top five:

  • Women’s basketball – 27.3%
  • Men’s basketball – 15.6%
  • Women’s volleyball – 2.4%
  • Baseball – 1.1%

An athlete could make an average of $4,923 per agreement for a “multi-activity” endorsement, per Opendorse. Content creation could yield more than $3,000 per item, and an in-person appearance could pay out around $1,700 an hour.

Deals, Deals, Deals

There have been rumors that some athletes, like Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, have already made at least $1 million. While not all the deals’ financial terms have been disclosed, here are a few highlights: 

  • Gatorade signed with UConn phenom Paige Bueckers and Nike signed with UCLA soccer player Reilyn Turner.
  • Steph Curry inked a partnership with UConn freshman Azzi Fudd, and Tom Brady enlisted 10 athletes to promote his new apparel brand.
  • Team-wide deals became popular, though at least two are under investigation. Built Bar, for example, offered partnerships to the entire BYU football team and is paying walk-ons the cost of tuition.

In the next six months, it’s possible there may be more regulation introduced into the NIL industry — but clearly, the floodgates are open.

Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports/Design: Alex Brooks

Over the summer, China said it aims to grow its sports industry into a $773 billion business by 2025. 

But the lofty goal comes on the heels of a dismal announcement. Last week, the nation revealed that its sports business industry lost $33 billion in 2020. 

It recorded a total output of $431 billion in value — 7.2% less than its 2019 value of $464 billion.

  • The value of stadiums and other sports venues decreased by 20.2%.
  • The sports agency and design sector saw a 16.9% decrease.
  • A few sectors — like sports media and education — grew. 

The report attributed the drop to the ongoing global pandemic.

Upcoming Olympics

China has an opportunity to jumpstart its sports economy with the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, which kick off on Feb. 4. But there are wrinkles that could complicate how much cash the Games can infuse into China’s sports economy.

The surging Omicron variant has posed a significant challenge to the Winter Games, raising questions not only about whether travel and competition will be disrupted, but whether they will be held at all.

Diplomatic boycotts by the U.S, Canada, U.K., and Australia over China’s human rights violations have also cast an air of scandal over the Olympics.

DRL/Design: Alex Brooks

The Drone Racing League is set to launch a crypto-centric play-to-earn video game with Playground Labs, a New York-based blockchain, metaverse, and web3 game developer. 

The two companies will work together to build a virtual version of the DRL on Algorand, a cryptocurrency platform. In September, the DRL agreed to a five-year, $100 million deal with Algorand, adding to a growing list of crypto companies embracing esports. 

Development of the gaming title will be backed by Hivemind Capital Partners, a $1.5 billion crypto investment fund, which was launched in November by former Citi executive Matt Zhang. 

  • DRL, which features drone pilots racing through courses to compete for prize money, is valued at $200 million, according to Pitchbook. 
  • The league reaches roughly 75 million fans globally and continues to expand during its sixth season, which started on Sept. 29 and is scheduled to conclude on Feb. 20. 
  • It secured a partnership in October with Genius Sports to bring drone racing to licensed sportsbooks. 

Growing In Popularity

The global drone market is expected to reach $92 billion by 2030, an annual growth rate of 25%, according to ABI Research.

The New York-based tech intelligence firm projects that roughly $63 billion of that revenue will be earned commercially, excluding military, police, and public surveillance use.

Mojo Vision/Design: Alex Brooks

A startup is betting on a new frontier in fitness wearables: contact lenses.

AR-contact lens developer Mojo Vision raised $45 million in a Series B-1 round, the company announced this week. 

The round brought in the Amazon Alexa Fund, PTC, Edge Investments, and HiJoJo Partners, and existing investors including NEA, Liberty Global Ventures, Advantech Capital, Dolby Family Ventures, Motorola Solutions.

Mojo Vision also announced that Adidas would join a slate of new fitness partners helping to develop technology that mixes AR, wearables, and fitness tracking.

“The goal is for these collaborations to deliver athletes an entirely new form factor with performance data that is more accessible and useful in the moment,” said Steve Sinclair, head of product and marketing at Mojo Vision. 

  • The round brought Mojo Vision’s total funding to $205 million.
  • In July, Disney announced that Mojo Vision would be part of its accelerator program, which helps technology companies catalyze their growth. 

A Futuristic Vision

While Mojo Vision is focusing on athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and people with certain visual impairments, the company envisions use cases such as users entering VR by closing their eyes, doctors seeing patient info just by looking at them, and real-time foreign language translation.

Mojo Vision uses eye-tracking technology to allow the user to control its visual overlays.

  • Tokyo-based video game publisher Nexon paid $400 million for a 38% stake in AGBO, a film and television production company led by movie directors Joe and Anthony Russo.
  • Allen Media Group will launch Sports.TV, a free streaming service. The platform will aggregate a lineup of sports, news, movies, and entertainment networks, as well as local broadcast stations.
  • Meruelo Gaming has teamed up with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes to launch SaharaBets, a digital sports betting platform that will launch its online sportsbook on Jan. 12.
  • The Buccaneers released Antonio Brown on Thursday, ending a dramatic series of events on and off the field — and rendering his future even more uncertain. Subscribe to Sports Section for more on the wide receiver and his controversial split with the Bucs.

*All times are EST unless otherwise noted.

*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

Are you a fan of how NIL has impacted college sports?

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Wednesday’s Answer

40% of respondents would consider purchasing VR fitness or gaming products.

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