Welcome to Sportico’s Transactions wire, a weekly rundown of personnel, partnerships and products across the sports business industry.
Retired Hoopers Association Names Officers and Board Members
The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) has elected new board members, including Charles “Choo” Smith as chairman and Shawn Marion as vice chairman. Sam Perkins and Grant Hill return to the executive board as treasurer and secretary, respectively. The NBRPA also added directors Mike Bantom, CJ Kupec and Nancy Lieberman. NBRPA Directors are responsible for executing the NBRPA mission to serve former professional basketball players, supporting them in life after their playing days, and assisting them in leveraging their inspirational influence and to promote and teach basketball in their communities.
General Sports Worldwide Adds New VP
General Sports Worldwide has hired Ryan Picou as vice president, executive search and team consulting. In his role, Picou will be responsible for recruiting top front office executive talent, consulting with sports teams and leagues to improve their business operations and further expanding the firm’s rapidly growing leadership and sales training client base. Picou most recently worked as vice president, North American professional sports for Tappit. Prior to joining Tappit, Picou served in leadership capacities for the NBA League Office in team marketing and business operations, and AEG.
National Lacrosse League Appoints EVP of Commercial Operations
The National Lacrosse League has hired Kurt Hunzeker for the newly created position of executive vice president of commercial operations. Hunzeker joins the NLL after overseeing all business-driving and revenue-generating functions of MLB’s restructured player development system and its 120 MiLB teams since 2021. He also created the initial five-year business strategy and activation plan for MiLB’s new centralized business fully integrated within MLB, and generated the most commercial revenue in MiLB’s 122-year history in 2022.
TMRW Sports Makes Four Executive Hires
TMRW Sports—a sports, media and entertainment company founded by CEO Mike McCarley, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy—announced its next wave of executive hires. The group added Robin Eletto, chief people officer; Ross Berlin, senior vice president, player relations; Wendell Haskins, strategic advisor, social impact & community relations; and Ken Aagaard, vice president, broadcast technology. The company’s first project TGL, a tech-infused, primetime golf league, is launching in early 2024.
Fanatics Collectibles Taps Veteran Marketing Exec as CMO
Fanatics Collectibles, Fanatics’ trading cards and collectibles business, appointed Ken Turner as its first chief marketing officer. In this newly created role, Turner will further build out the marketing organization and oversee brand vision, strategy and marketing efforts across the entire portfolio of physical and digital collectibles, including the company’s sports trading card brand, Topps. Turner, who will report to Fanatics Collectibles CEO Mike Mahan, will help the company’s efforts to bring in more fans to the trading card hobby and collecting spaces. Before joining Fanatics Collectibles, Turner was the executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Red Bull North America, where he directed programming to create premium experiences for consumers, spectators and audiences.
NFL Legend Ray Lewis Joins World Jai-Alai League Board
NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis joins the board of directors of the World Jai-Alai League (WJAL). Lewis, considered one of the most dominant defensive players in NFL history, is lending his unique skill set to jai-alai, as the sport looks to break out in 2023. The WJAL, a five-team league, features the top players in the world, including several former University of Miami athletes. The WJAL streams all matches live on ESPN3 and is licensed for sports wagering in 12 states, Mexico and the Canadian province of Ontario.
MSG Brings on New SVP, Global Partnerships
Madison Square Garden Sports Corp. (NYSE: MSGS) announced that Chris Overholt has been named senior vice president, global partnerships, effective March 27. Overholt will oversee all global partnership sales efforts for MSG Sports and Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp., including large cross-venue and platform deals across both companies’ portfolios of assets. He will work with the executive management team to develop and lead a sales and service organization, maximizing revenue and partner quality for MSG Sports and MSG Entertainment’s partner base. Overholt will oversee a partnership strategy team responsible for providing service and relationship management to company partners, providing strategic thinking, integration of activation plans and execution. He will report to David Hopkinson, president and chief operating officer, MSG Sports.
MLB Recruits Three for New Local Media Department
MLB hired three new staff members to its new Local Media department led by media industry executive Billy Chambers, who started on Feb. 1. With decades of regional sports network experience, Doug Johnson, Greg Pennell and Kendall Burgess will join MLB in the coming weeks to further bolster MLB’s capabilities in local media production, operations and distribution. Johnson will join MLB as senior vice president and executive producer, local media, where he will be responsible for overseeing all games produced locally by MLB. Pennell will begin at MLB as senior vice president, local media, where he will be responsible for the production operations. Burgess will start at the league office as vice president of local media technical operations.
NBA Launchpad Selects Development Partners
The National Basketball Association (NBA) has selected seven companies for the second installment of NBA Launchpad, the league’s initiative to source, evaluate and pilot emerging technologies that advance the NBA’s priorities on and off the court. The 2023 NBA Launchpad has expanded to identify emerging fan experiences at home and in NBA arenas. The 2023 cohort of the NBA Launchpad program includes SkillCorner (Paris, France); Springbok Analytics (Charlottesville, Va.); Supersapiens (Atlanta, Ga.); Action Audio (Victoria, Australia; EDGE Sound Research (Riverside, Calif.); nVenue (Houston, Texas); Tagboard (Redmond, Wash.). NBA Launchpad companies will participate in a six-month R&D project, and receive access to NBA resources, hands-on support and other incentives to develop technologies, and then present to executives, strategic partners and investors during a demo day at NBA 2K24 Summer League in Las Vegas.
Under Armour Becomes a Founding Corporate Partner of the XFL
The XFL has signed a multiyear partnership with Under Armour, making the apparel and equipment company a founding corporate partner of the league. Under Armour will provide resources, services and support for XFL businesses and initiatives, and become the official uniform partner, sideline apparel partner, performance apparel partner, youth football partner and preferred footwear partner. Under Armour will participate in the league’s hospitality offerings to bring fans closer to the action and enhance the gameday experience. Under Armour will also support the league’s digital media services and has been granted rights to XFL league and team logos and wordmarks, as well as player partnership rights and XFL venue access for content development.
Powerade Tabs Ja Morant for Brand’s Largest-Ever Marketing Campaign
Powerade has signed Ja Morant as the brand’s newest athlete partner, the first athlete partnership for Powerade in more than five years. The campaign, “What 50% More Means,” is the largest marketing campaign and media spend in Powerade history, with activations across national television, digital creative, out-of-home, radio, and social media extensions. The launch of this campaign comes on the heels of the brand announcing a new formula and new-look packaging earlier this year.
Major League Rugby Signs Partnership With OVAL3
By acquiring the exclusive NFT and fantasy licenses of Major League Rugby (MLR), OVAL3 becomes the league’s exclusive NFT fantasy game and plans to provide immersive experiences and Web 3.0 engagement to rugby’s North American fanbase. OVAL3 will take key learnings from its experience in fantasy rugby globally, most notably with the French Rugby National League (LNR), to create MLR’s first ever official fantasy game. This will provide fans and gamers an experience that will link rugby to NFTs and address the codes of today’s gaming on a “Play & Own” model. The official MLR Fantasy NFT game is expected to launch at the midway point of the 2023 MLR Season.
Athletes Partners With 11 Elite Athletes to Launch The Power of She Collective
Athleta announced the launch of The Power of She Collective, brand partners who are both accomplished athletes at different stages of their careers and champions of women’s and girls’ empowerment. Joining Allyson Felix and Simone Biles, members will influence the development of Athleta’s performance product, receive access to personal and professional mentorship opportunities and participate in Power of She impact programs. Athleta’s newest partners include Mariah Bell (figure skating), Monique Billings (basketball), Natalie Coughlin (swimming), Brenna Huckaby (paralympic snowboarding), Jesse “Flex” Labreck (American Ninja Warrior), Jessica Mendoza (softball), Heather O’Reilly (soccer), Monica Puig (tennis), Albane Valenzuela (golf), Winter Vinecki (freestyle aerial skiing) and Katie Zaferes (triathlon).
DIRECTV PARTNERS WITH USA BASEBALL FOR 2023 WBC
DirecTV is sponsoring the U.S. Baseball Team in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. As such all USA Baseball jerseys for the event will have a DirecTV patch on the left sleeve and the company’s name will appear on in-stadium signage. This is the first time DirecTV has sponsored a team in the WBC. The U.S. opens play on March 11 against Great Britain at Chase Field in Phoenix.
OGIO Cuts a Rugby Deal
The San Diego Legion has signed an exclusive partnership with OGIO Inc. as the team’s Official Travel Gear Partner. OGIO will work closely with the Legion’s athletes, coaches and equipment managers to provide the team with travel and equipment bags. OGIO will outfit Legion athletes with Team Pro Pack 20 backpacks, Layover carry-on luggage and Rig 9800 wheeled gear bags.
NFLPA Expands Partnership With Entain Foundation U.S., EPIC Risk Management
EPIC Risk Management, Entain Foundation U.S. and the NFLPA’s Professional Athletes Foundation have renewed their partnership to provide gambling harm prevention awareness and education, sports integrity programs and advisory services to NFLPA members. EPIC, in collaboration with Entain Foundation U.S., has provided virtual educational programs for NFLPA members since July 2020. With this new partnership, the gambling harm prevention consultancy will provide workshops, seminars, events and customized projects to help NFLPA members and their support networks.
eLaLiga U.S. Challenge Adds Panini America as Presenting Partner
The third edition of the eLaLiga U.S. Challenge will be presented by Panini America, a subsidiary of the Panini Group. LaLiga North America, a joint venture between LaLiga and Relevent Sports, is committed to eSports as a tool for audience growth in the U.S. In its third year, the eLaLiga U.S. Challenge presented by Panini America, brings together the collectibles brand and its different products, including trading cards, NFT blockchain and merchandising, and allows Panini America to enter into competitive gaming through eLaLiga. In addition, LaLiga and Panini America are providing a format that offers benefits for amateur gamers.
Altius Sports and Women Leaders in College Sports Extend and Elevate Partnership
Altius Sports Partners (ASP) and Women Leaders in College Sports have extended their partnership to support the advancement of women in leadership positions within college sports. The partnership will focus on identifying and developing talent for ASP’s on-campus Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) General Manager (GM) program. The collaboration between ASP, an advisor to collegiate athletics programs, and Women Leaders, a leadership organization dedicated to advancing women working in college sports, will be aimed at creating pathways for women to leadership roles. The Career Connect platform offered by Women Leaders will be used to assist ASP in recruiting candidates for new positions, including on-campus NIL GM roles. The ASP GM program was launched in July 2022 and has already been adopted by eight Power Five schools.
Venus Williams Joins Topspin Consumer Partners as Operating Partner
Topspin Consumer Partners, a private equity firm focused on the consumer sector, announced that Venus Williams, tennis champion and entrepreneur, will be its newest operating partner. Williams will work closely with Topspin and its portfolio companies to broaden marketing strategies, gain brand exposure and identify innovative ways of enhancing value, as well as help source new investment opportunities. As the founder of several consumer brands, Williams will leverage her collective experiences to enhance Topspin’s investment portfolio and pipeline. Businesses that Williams has founded include Happy Viking, a plant-based superfood nutrition company; lifestyle and activewear brand EleVen; and interior design firm V Starr. Additionally, she serves as chief brand officer to Asutra, a health, wellness and beauty brand.
Athletes Unlimited Expands Partnership With Nike
Nike has supported Athletes Unlimited since its inception in 2020. Now, it will provide uniforms and footwear for all Athletes Unlimited sports (softball, lacrosse, volleyball and basketball) in addition to other support for the organization, including involvement in grassroots and community events, working together to shape the future of sport. Season Two of Athletes Unlimited Basketball continues through March 25, with select games available on CBS Sports Network, WNBA League Pass, the Women’s Sports Network and Bally Sports regional sports networks.
Wolverhampton Wanderers to Compete in $1M Winner-Take-All U.S. Soccer Tournament
The Soccer Tournament, the $1 million, winner-take-all, 7v7 world championship, announced the entrance of English Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers FC in the 32-team field. Wolves will compete at WakeMed Stadium in Cary, N.C., from June 1-4. With their entry, Wolverhampton becomes both the first English professional team and English Premier League team to compete in TST’s inaugural field. Wolves joins Welsh club Wrexham AFC, owned by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney; former U.S. Men’s National Team star Clint Dempsey’s Team Dempsey; British football and esports club Hashtag United; Liga MX side Club Necaxa; and US Women, a group of former U.S. Women’s National Team players organized by Heather O’Reilly, among others.
Former MLBer Launches Women’s Professional Fastpitch Franchise in Austin
MLB Hall of Fame candidate Brandon Phillips and entrepreneur Jade Cargill announce the formation of the Texas Smoke, the fourth franchise in Women’s Professional Fastpitch. Austin-based agency The Community Factory has been brought on as creators of a tailored monetization strategy for each player. The Community Factory will also oversee the team’s brand partnerships. Phillips hired Tori Tyson, the head coach at Howard University, as Smoke head coach. Veteran sports agent and marketing executive Eric Mays will serve as the general manager, and professional baseball outfielder Courtney Hawkins will be the assistant general manager alongside fastpitch legend Sarah Pauly.