Welcome to Sportico’s Transactions wire, a weekly rundown of personnel, partnerships and products across the sports business industry.
Flag Football Champion Signs With SMAC Entertainment
SMAC Entertainment has taken on Diana Flores, a flag football world champion and global ambassador. The talent management firm, content production company and business incubator co-founded by Constance Schwartz-Morini and Michael Strahan will handle all aspects of Flores’ off-field personal management including brand partnerships, production opportunities and tangential business ventures, while leaning into the growth of flag football. Flores is the quarterback of the Mexico Women’s National Flag Football team, which won the 2022 World Championship. SMAC’s clients include Erin Andrews, Nikki and Brie Bella, Deion Sanders and Michael Strahan.
NCAA Tabs SVP of External Affairs, VP of Communications
The NCAA has named Tim Buckley senior vice president of external affairs and Gina Lehe as vice president of communications. Buckley will oversee the NCAA’s government relations and communications efforts to strengthen relationships with key constituents at the state and federal levels. Buckley will also engage membership, media, policymakers, coalitions, and other stakeholders to advance the NCAA’s mission and goals. Lehe, who served as interim senior vice president since July 2022, will continue to oversee communications strategy for the national office. She will report to Buckley. Both start their positions on March 1.
Sportlight Hires Former Juventus Head of Commercial as CCO
Sportlight, an athlete tracking platform using LiDAR and AI, has hired former Juventus FC executive Ben Taverner as chief commercial officer. In his new role, Taverner will be in charge of developing Sportlight’s commercial strategies and lead business development efforts with leagues and teams across the globe. Over the span of his 25-year career, Taverner has led commercial growth initiatives for prominent sports entities, most notably serving as the head of commercial at Juventus for five seasons, including two Serie A titles. Taverner also has extensive agency experience, having held senior positions at IMG and Octagon, working on projects such as Wembley Stadium, UEFA Euro 2008 and the new Olympique Lyonnais and OL Nice stadiums in France.
MSG Brings on New SVP, Communications
Madison Square Garden Sports Corp. (NYSE: MSGS) announced that Jeremy Watkins has been named senior vice president, communications, effective March 6. Watkins will oversee public relations activities across the company’s portfolio of professional sports assets, highlighted by the New York Knicks and New York Rangers franchises. Other MSG Sports properties include two development league teams, the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL), and esports teams through Counter Logic Gaming, a North American esports organization, and Knicks Gaming, an NBA 2K League franchise. Watkins will lead public relations efforts for each franchise, including creating and executing communication strategies, while working directly with MSG Sports leadership to strengthen business priorities. In addition, he will be responsible for helping develop proactive media relations strategies, overseeing major announcements, providing counsel for team management, and other communications initiatives.
Sounders FC Hires Hugh Weber to Lead 6-Year Strategic Growth Plan
Majority owner of the Seattle Sounders FC, Adrian Hanauer, outlined an ambitious six-year growth strategy for the club, which includes team-associated investments beginning with the development of a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment site in Renton, Wash. This initiative encompasses Sounders FC’s and Seattle’s roles in the effort to host the FIFA World Cup 2026 in the Emerald City. To maximize the community, brand and global commercial opportunities, the club has appointed 25-year sports industry veteran and former NBA and NHL team president Hugh Weber. Weber is responsible for supporting and activating Hanauer’s strategic vision, as well as leading the club’s business operations, internal and global growth initiatives. Weber comes from Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, where he most recently served as president for the parent company of the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center, and other holdings including Premier League club Crystal Palace.
Pro Volleyball Federation Names League’s First Woman Owner
The Pro Volleyball Federation welcomes Colleen Durham Craig as the owner of the new franchise in Atlanta. Atlanta joins Omaha, Neb., and Grand Rapids, Mich., as the first group of 8-10 markets with franchises. Craig joins other business elites investing in Pro Volleyball Federation: the team in Grand Rapids is owned and operated by DP Fox Sports & Entertainment chairman Dan DeVos who, along with his family, also own the NBA’s Orlando Magic, the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins and is a limited partner of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs. The team in Omaha is owned by entertainer Jason Derulo and Nebraska businessman Danny White. Founding partners of the Pro Volleyball Federation include Trent Dilfer and Joe Burrow.
Chubb Extends PGA Tour Champions Sponsorship
As the PGA Tour Champions’ Chubb Classic tees off in Naples, Fla., the tournament and insurance company announced that they have extended their partnership through 2025. This year is the company’s 25th year as title sponsor, making it the longest-running continuous title sponsor on the PGA Tour Champions schedule. SERVPRO began as presenting sponsor in 2021. This year, the field will compete for a share of a $1.8 million purse–a $200,000 increase from 2022.
Toro Extends Commitment to First Tee
The Toro Company has extended its commitment to First Tee, a nonprofit that helps young people develop character and life skills through golf. Toro has supported the nonprofit youth development organization since 1998, and the extension provides grants and equipment donations to support chapter initiatives and diversity efforts across the First Tee network. Toro’s “Growing the Game Through Impact and Inclusion” grants have helped First Tee chapters around the country reduce barriers and expand access to their programs. In 2022, a dozen First Tee chapters benefited from those grants, while 20 chapters received Toro equipment donations valued at $1,000 each.
Ventura Bringing Toca Social Soccer Venues To Mexico
Toca Football, Inc. (TOCA), the technology-enabled soccer experience company, and Ventura Entertainment, will collaborate to bring Toca Social soccer entertainment and dining venues to Mexico. Toca Social offers guests an immersive venue to eat, drink and play interactive soccer-themed games powered by Toca’s technologies. Ventura plans to open a minimum of 20 Toca Social venues over the next 10 years with a total investment of more than $100 million. The partnership will mark the first franchising deal for Toca, which has already announced further expansion plans in the UK and U.S.
AT&T Named the Presenting Partner of NBA HBCU Classic
AT&T will be the presenting partner of the NBA HBCU Classic for the second year, and Google and Adidas will serve as associate partners of the game. Together the NBA and AT&T will donate $100,000 to Classic opponents Grambling State University and Southern University for a total of $200,000 to support academic resources, athletics and wellness services as part of their respective ongoing commitments to students, faculty and alumni of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Throughout NBA All-Star 2023, the NBA will continue its ongoing commitment to HBCUs with more than $1 million contributed to organizations that provide scholarships, economic empowerment and career development opportunities to HBCU students and institutions.
Olympus Partners With Clash Endurance to Host Events
The Olympus Sports Development Team finalized a strategic relationship making Clash Endurance—a Daytona Beach, Fla.-based sports-media and endurance event company—the exclusive endurance sports and triathlon event promoter and organizer at Olympus. Focusing on traditional endurance sports including triathlon, duathlon, cycling and running, Clash Endurance is also expanding into genres such as mountain biking, trail running and relays, holding successful events across five locations in 2023. Clash looks to double its more than 10,000 age group participants and professional athlete rosters that include World Champions, Olympians, and Short/Long Course Specialists.
Penn Entertainment Completes Acquisition of Barstool Sports
PENN Entertainment (Nasdaq: PENN) completed its previously announced acquisition of Barstool Sports. After purchasing a 36% stake of Barstool Sports in February 2020, PENN has acquired the remaining interest in for approximately $388 million. With over 200 million followers, Barstool creates and delivers sports content through its network of over 100 shows and 90+ personalities. Its content offerings span podcasts, video, social media, live events, pay-per-view and a growing commerce business. Since partnering with Barstool Sports in 2020, PENN has successfully developed an omnichannel strategy that leverages Barstool’s well-known brand and personalities. Barstool Sportsbook is currently live in 15 states, with PENN also having launched retail branded Barstool Sportsbooks at its properties across the country.
CGrowth Capital Acquires Savage Barbell Apparel
CGrowth Capital (CGRA) has acquired 100% of the California-based Savage Barbell Apparel Company. Savage Barbell is specifically focused on the niche market of functional fitness, which includes apparel for CrossFit. The company sells its products in more than 10 countries, but the majority of its sales are within the U.S. CGrowth has set a target for expansion to at least 20 countries in 2023. The company will further expand its range into sports that are followed by tens of millions of participants and several hundred million spectators. Alongside Savage Barbell’s expansion of its manufacturing and distribution capability, the company expects to increase its sales run rate from $5 million to $20 million by the end of 2024. The acquisition of Savage Barbell was paid for with a combination of restricted common shares and cash to the total of $700,000, and the current CEO will remain with the business for six months while the Savage Barbell team expands and recruits additional key personnel.
Vision Insights Launches Fan-Insights and Media-Analysis Platform
Vision Insights is bringing to market the first-ever fan-insights and broadcast-analysis tool built specifically for the sports industry. The new platform, Decoder, is a purpose-built SaaS that will provide sports teams, leagues, brands and agencies the ability to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of their sports investments all in one place The fan data and media exposure methodologies housed in Decoder are homegrown and offer insights into sports marketing and fan experience that have never been syndicated to date. The tool has been created with an emphasis on the complete fan journey, youth data (respondents are aged 13+), sponsorship performance, and industry-shaping topics paving the next frontiers across the sports landscape such as name, image and likeness, Web3, evolving gameday experiences, and more.
APEX Capital, KD’s 35V Invest in ScorePlay
Portuguese investment firm APEX Capital and Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s Thirty Five Ventures (35V), have announced their funding of ScorePlay, the Lisbon and New York-based tech company. Scoreplay’s AI platform centralizes content in a single media workspace, automating manual tasks like indexing and tagging. ScorePlay’s media engine then distributes relevant content to athletes, partners, broadcasters and leagues. By streamlining the sourcing, classification, distribution and consumption of content, ScorePlay unlocks new revenue opportunities for sports organizations at all levels. APEX and 35V, which are both athlete-driven funds, invested in ScorePlay at the end of 2022; ScorePlay has already raised funds with Mario Götze (FIFA World Cup winner) and Nicolas Julia (CEO of Sorare) over the past year.