Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up

Think about everybody you know: your friends, your family, your coworkers, and your peers. On average, one of every two men you know and one of every three women will be affected by cancer sometime in their life. What is even more shocking is the fact that more than 500,000 Americans will die of cancer this year. There are many organizations dedicated to fighting this terrible disease, but one still stands out in the world of sports.

Coach Jim Valvano founded the V Foundation for Cancer Research in 1993.

This week, ESPN is sponsoring its sixth annual Jimmy V Week for Cancer Research to benefit the V Foundation. Founded in 1993, the V Foundation was named in honor of its creator, former NC State men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano. In 1992, Jimmy V, as he was affectionately known, was diagnosed with bone cancer, which quickly spread to the rest of his body. During the 1993 ESPY Awards, Coach Valvano won the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award, and announced the formation of the V Foundation for Cancer Research in one of the most memorable speeches in sports history.

Coach Valvano encouraged people to support his cause for the benefit of future generations. “It may not save my life. It may save my children’s lives. It may save someone you love,” Valvano said. Coach Valvano passed away from the disease on April 28, 1993, less than two months after delivering his famous speech. Said ESPN analyst and close friend Dick Vitale, I was stunned watching him, with the crowd in the palm of his hand as he poured his heart out about battling cancer. There are memories galore.”

Now in its 20th year, the V Foundation continues to raise money to fight cancer. 100% of all donations to the V Foundation directly fund cancer research and related programs. The Foundation has also awarded more than 100 grants to research organizations in the United States. Since 1993, the V Foundation had raised more than $120 million to fight cancer.

ESPN, the founding sponsor of the V Foundation, is airing programs in support of Coach Valvano’s mission. The V Foundation is sponsoring both the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and the SEC-Big East Challenge, as well as Monday Night Football on December 3rd. Finally, ESPN and the V Foundation will present the Jimmy V’s Women’s and Men’s Basketball Classics next week, featuring Maryland and Connecticut on the women’s side on Monday. This year’s men’s double header on Tuesday night features Texas-Georgetown and NC State-Connecticut from Madison Square Garden.

The V Foundation is a fantastic organization that will not stop raising awareness and money for cancer research until a cure is found. Especially during the giving holiday season, consider a donation to the V Foundation. Cancer might be a tough disease to battle, but Coach Valvano game us some simple advice. “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

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With New TV Deals Across MLB, Braves Still Can’t Chop It

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Liberty Media, owner of the Atlanta Braves.

Last week, I took a look at how the Yankees’ YES Network will eventually earn them over a half-billion dollars in revenue, as well as the potential for new ownership. Controversial, but nonetheless a wise business decision if you’re a member of the Steinbrenner family. Recently, it was also announced that Fox Sports will be paying the Los Angeles Dodgers upwards of $6 billion to retain the broadcasting rights to Dodgers games for a proposed 25 years. While the Yankees will still look to get under the $189 million luxury tax, the Dodgers spending essentially becomes fruitless and unlimited.

However, with these new expanding television markets also comes the chance for a team to quickly fall in terms of revenue and marketing. Such is the case with the Atlanta Braves. While the Braves are seemingly always poised for a championship run, anchored by a stalwart, mostly-young rotation as well as a potential MVP candidate in outfielder Jason Heyward (when healthy), the “Bravos” have bedded themselves with the wrong television company–Liberty Media.

In 2007, the Atlanta Braves and owner Ted Turner allowed Liberty Media to purchase the Braves broadcasting rights from Turner Broadcasting. The deal was approved by Major League Baseball in May ’07 with 60 million shares of Time Warner also going to Liberty Media. Currently, Atlanta Braves baseball is broadcast via three networks: Fox Sports South, Peachtree TV, and Sports South. Set to expire in 2031, it is believed that Liberty Media–one of the few publicly traded companies to own a sports team–severely hampers the Braves baseball-making decisions in terms of payroll.

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A historic baseball franchise, the Atlanta Braves could find themselves facing baseball obscurity sooner rather than later. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images North America)

While the Braves revenue increased in 2012, according to Liberty Media nonetheless, attendance is still mediocre at best for a winning team, and Atlanta is in the middle of the pack when it comes to spending. Featuring a 2012 payroll of $83,309,942 (ranking 16th out of 30 teams) and an attendance of 2,420,171 (ranking 21st of 30 teams), it’s easy to see why the Braves could struggle long-term when it comes to revenue. Whether it be the steamy summers, headache-provoking city traffic combined with spread-out fanbase, general fan apathy must also be addressed. While currently the favorites to sign free agent outfielder BJ Upton, the long-term revenue health of this team could slowly break apart. Currently, Forbes lists the Braves at a value of $508 million, but with the expansive and lucrative television deals we’ve seen in recent weeks like in New York and Los Angeles, not to mention expiring ones for the rival Philadelphia Phillies and the Seattle Mariners, you can’t help but wonder if the Braves are trapped, unable to chop their way out of their deal with Liberty Media.

YES Network Has A New Owner

ImageA staple in the New York media market, YES (Yankee Entertainment and Sports) Network now has a new owner: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.  News Corp will now own 49% of the network, now valued at roughly $3 billion.  Yankee Global Enterprises LLC (which is owned by the Steinbrenner family), as well as Goldman Sachs, will subsequently lighten their ownership grip, with the New York Yankees earning $500 million in the process and YES Network broadcasting Yankees games until 2042.

In three years, the value of the YES Network will exceed $3.8 billion (according to the Wall Street Journal) thanks to this agreement, and in turn, News Corp.–who also owns FOX–can own up to 80% of the network.  Steinbrenner’s Yankee Global Enterprises would still retain some control.

The $500 million payment to the Yankees comes from FOX, who retains the right to broadcast Yankees games, with $300 million of it coming by the time News Corp closes their deal with YES. The remaining $200 million will come in various forms in the next three years.  According to the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, the team’s stake in the network will decline from 34 percent to 25 percent over this time period.

The deal with News Corp. allows the network to avoid tax gain increases in the fiscal year of 2013,  and with this new partnership, YES’s stipends to the Yankees will compound at 7 percent, compared to the previous contract, which pegged the fees at a 4 percent compound rate.  Again, this deal in incredibly lucrative for the Yankees: by 2042, YES Network will be paying the team $300 million.

Founded in 2002, YES Network broadcasts New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets games during their respective seasons.  Also broadcasting Arsenal FC matches, the Football Association Challenge Cup, and UEFA Champions League on tape delay, the network’s sports grip for the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut market has grown exponentially.  With FOX in the picture, look for the Yankees brand to continue to grow in the national spotlight.  Make no mistake: despite the Steinbrenner’s desire to get under the $189 million soft budget imposed by Major League Baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it is clear they are not suffering financially at all.  If anything, perhaps this new deal could perhaps spark a change-of-mind.

With a mega-partner in News Corp, a precedent-setting owner in George Steinbrenner and a demanding fan-base, you would hope so.

Maryland, Rutgers to join Big Ten Conference

Two more Division I schools have joined the NCAA conference realignment hodgepodge. Today, the Board of Regents at the University of Maryland voted unanimously to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten Conference. The move comes after Maryland voted against raising the ACC’s exit fee to $50 million, a fee the university will likely have to pay to join the Big Ten.

Maryland and Rutgers are the latest universities to join the complicated game of NCAA Musical Chairs.

Rutgers University is also expected to join the Big Ten Conference this week. Its Board of Governors will discuss the issue at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday. Rutgers marks the fifth Big East school to announce its departure since 2011. West Virginia left for the Big 12 this summer, Pittsburgh and Syracuse will join the ACC in 2013, and Notre Dame will join the ACC as a non-football member in 2015.

The Big Ten is highly anticipating these moves, and is likely to use the addition of Maryland and Rutgers as a bargaining chip during television right negotiations. The Big Ten’s national and regional television rights expire in 2017, and the addition of two major-market universities should help the Big Ten secure a more lucrative contract extension.

Both Rutgers and Maryland are expected to remain in their current conferences until 2014. The University of Connecticut is rumored to replace Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but no official reports have confirmed not denied this matter. And for those who are keeping score at home:

The Big Ten Conference would have 12 teams in 2013 and 14 in 2014.

The Atlantic Coast Conference would have 14 teams in 2013, 13 in 2014, and 14* in 2015 (*Notre Dame will not compete in the ACC for football).

Now all we need is Hawaii to join the Big East, Florida to join the Pac-12, and Oregon to join the SEC, and we’ll have a real game of college musical chairs.

American Soccer Growing Through MLS

Take a guess at the third most-attended sport in the United States (behind the NFL and MLB, of course). I bet you might guess the NBA or even the NHL. But both of those guesses are wrong; in fact, Major League Soccer recently passed the NBA as the third most-attended sport in America. And even though the United States isn’t considered a “soccer-crazy country”, American soccer fans have the MLS to thank for putting soccer back in the spotlight.

Founded in 1993, Major League Soccer was a key part of an American campaign to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. The league started playing in 1996, with ten original teams. However, between its founding and the 2004 season, Major League Soccer lost nearly $350 million. However, the league continued to expand, growing from ten to fourteen teams in 2004. Today, the league has 19 clubs in the United States and Canada, many in small markets with little to no professional sports presence, such as Portland, Oregon and Columbus, Ohio.

The Seattle Sounders lead MLS with an average home attendance of 43,143 fans per match. Photo Credit: Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times

Another major reason for Major League Soccer’s growth is contract sponsorship. Many major corporations are sponsoring team’s jerseys, which make MLS clubs millions of dollars per year. Among these companies include Microsoft’s Xbox (Seattle Sounders, $4 million) and Volkswagen (DC United, $3.1 million). And MLS is diving into the TV market as well. After a 2006 contract with ESPN recently ended, MLS recently signed a three-year contract with NBC Sports to broadcast more than 40 regular season matches nationwide. It’s not as popular as Monday Night Football, but the coverage is nonetheless impressive.

But perhaps the most influential aspect of Major League Soccer’s rise to prominence is its international influence. MLS created a rule known as the Designated Player Rule to allow clubs to buy foreign players despite relatively small salary caps in the United States. This move has allowed superstars like David Beckham of England and Thierry Henry of France to join the best players in the United States. The MLS All-Star Game also features the league’s elite competing against the best clubs in the world, including Manchester United and Chelsea.

The MLS is growing. In 2012, the league drew more than 6 million fans, an average of 18,807 per match. With international exposure, prime television coverage, and franchise expansion, the league is set to boom in popularity. With more than 15 million children playing organized soccer in the United States, Major League Soccer provides a beacon of hope and motivation for the future generations of Americans. Ain’t that a kick in the head?

Marlins-Blue Jays Blockbuster Proves Disastrous for Miami

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Marlins Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton expresses his anger via Twitter.

In a deal that clearly favors Toronto in the future, the Miami Marlins continued dismantling their 2011 free agent spending spree, trading Jose Reyes, pitchers Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle as well as catcher John Buck and center fielder Emilio Bonifacio.  In exchange, the Marlins will be receiving shortstops Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria,  Toronto’s no.5 prospect LHP Justin Nicolino, center fielder Jacob Marisnick, RHP Anthony DeSclafani, RHP Henderson Alvarez, and catcher Jeff Mathis.

With a lineup featuring a 1-4 order of shortstop Jose Reyes, third baseman Brett Lawrie, outfielder Jose Bautista and designated-hitter Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto figures to factor greatly in the American League East next year, with the aforementioned four all being under contract until 2016.  A rotation featuring a healthy Mark Buerhle, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow and resurgent Ricky Romero with J.A. Happ and the promising Kyle Drabek recovering from Tommy John surgery also figures to give the rest of the American League fits. Featuring a payroll of $75 million in 2012, that number is projected to exceed $11o million 2013 and beyond.

On the Miami side, it is apparent the Marlins are back to their salary-dumping ways; Josh Johnson is owed $13.75 million in 2013, Jose Reyes is owed $96 million through 2017, Emilio Bonifacio is arbitration eligible.  With a 2012 Opening Day payroll of roughly $100 million, the Marlins payroll now stands at $16 million, pre-arbitration.  Back in July, the Marlins also traded away $37 million with Hanley Ramirez going to the Dodgers and pitcher Anibal Sanchez and middle infielder Omar Infante going to the Tigers.  Former Miami closer Heath Bell was also traded to Arizona, as well as the remaining 3 years and $27 million on his contract.  Recently hired Marlins manager Mike Redmond features to have a familiarity with the players Miami received, as Redmond managed in Toronto’s minor league system.  What began last year as a new era in Marlins history is now no more.

However, the rapid deconstruction was there from the start.  The colorful and controversial new Marlins Park was brought to the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission, due to Miami Marlins’ President Dave Samson and Jeffrey Loria essentially crying poor and funding their stadium on $500 million sold on public bonds.  The city of Miami was fiscally responsible for 80% of the $634 million stadium, according to this piece by the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204826704577077230342369436.html?KEYWORDS=deadspin).

Promising Marlins fans a new era of baseball with their free agent spending spree of 2011 wasn’t enough, however.  On Opening Day, Jeffrey Loria felt it necessary to trot out Miami legend Muhammad Ali, who, at 70 years old, has been physically ravaged by Parkinson’s, and was awkwardly brought out to the Miami crowd, who didn’t know whether to cheer or not.

Muhammad Ali, left, age 70, with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, right. Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images North America

Perhaps playing–really, paying–their ways into Showtime’s demands, it was announced The Franchise would be shadowing the Marlins around for 2012, like they did with the San Francisco Giants in 2011.  The Franchise is essentially Showtime’s answer to HBO’s 24/7 series, offering a look into a team that otherwise isn’t seen to the public eye whether it be inside the locker room, at a player’s or coach’s residence, etc.  The Marlins were so bad that Showtime and The Franchise actually cancelled their look into the Marlins after a meager seven episodes.

Last, there’s the attendance issue. In a ballpark that was funded mostly by the public, you’d think they’d care and find ways to the stadium they helped construct.  Featuring a capacity of 37,442,  Marlins Ballpark averaged 10,000 less per game, at 27,400; 200,000 less than any other ballpark in its first season.

The Marlins only managed to win 69 games, which was last in the National League East, despite the added talent.  Now, the question becomes, how many games are they expected to win next year?   Maybe 65? The Marlins 2013 Opening Day starter? Probably Jacob Turner, 22, still unproven and owner of a 4.42 ERA.

“Watching Giancarlo Stanton in BP , I HAVE to buy season tickets to a stadium I funded!”– said no one ever.

24 Hours of College Basketball Challenge

Set your alarms to midnight tonight, folks. That’s when one of the greatest and most bizarre sporting events begins: the 24 Hours of College Basketball marathon on ESPN. Started in 2008, this concept allows college basketball fans to watch not just a normal two-hour game, but an entire day’s worth of hoops. If you truly want a test of your abilities as a sports fan, now is the time for you to see if you have what it takes.

Start off at midnight tonight on ESPN with West Virginia and Gonzaga in a 2012 NCAA Tournament rematch. West Virginia is loaded with talented transfers, but Gonzaga possesses a tricky home-court advantage and the momentum in the series coming off the March Madness win.

Then grab a late-night snack and get ready for mid-major powers Davidson and New Mexico at 2:00, followed by Houston Baptist and Hawaii at 4:00 after a brief ten minute power nap.

Turn on the coffee pot just in time to catch the tipoff of the 6:00 Stony Brook-Rider matchup that features some of the most dedicated student fans in the early hours of the morning. Follow that coffee with another ten minute nap and a breakfast sandwich during the Northern Illinois-Valparaiso contest at 8:00.

Drive to work during halftime and bring your headphones so you can listen to UMass-Harvard at 10:00 online. If your boss asks, just tell him you are listening to a Harvard University lecture (it sounds really smart). Listen to the first half of Temple-Kent State at noon, then grab a twenty-minute lunch break at halftime.

After lunch and the second half, take the afternoon off due to “food poisoning” and go home to watch Detroit-St. John’s at 2:00, and Butler’s Atlantic 10 debut against Xavier at 4:00. After that game ends, grab an hour nap and prepare a nice microwave dinner for yourself.

The Champions Classic is your reward for a long day of basketball, featuring national powers Michigan St. and Kansas at 7:00, followed by the marquee matchup of the day: #9 Duke and #3 (and defending national champion) Kentucky at 9:00. Following that exciting game, reward yourself with a nice jelly donut, a hot shower, and a date with your pillow.

ESPN decided to reward college basketball fans with their own holiday of sorts. And it’s not a bad draw for TV audiences: college basketball over infomercials for various miracle products that sell for $19.99. The “Super-Fan” gauntlet has been issued. If you can pull this off, then you are indeed the best college basketball fan in the world. Good Luck!