SBJ Unpacks: MLB delivers best LDS viewership since 2017 – Sports Business Journal

Tonight in Unpacks: The Yankees’ playoff run helps drive viewership for MLB’s League Division Series to its highest mark in five years.

Other headlines:
In today’s Morning Buzzcast, Abe Madkour examines a spicy NFL owners October surprise, while the league eyes a bigger stake in Thanksgiving weekend. Also, changes at the Chicago Fire and the Premier League eyes U.S. exposure.
MLB drew its best average viewership for the League Divisional Series round (ALDS and NLDS) since 2017, reports SBJ’s Austin Karp.
The 16 games across Fox, FS1 and TBS averaged 3.4 million viewers, up around 20% from last year’s 2.8 million (17 games, but no Yankees) and the best since 2017, when 17 games averaged 3.6 million (including a Game 5 for both the Guardians-Yankees and CubsNationals series). This was the first year since 2011 that there were no LDS games on MLB Network; there had been two games per year on the league-owned network during the LDS round since 2012.
Tuesday afternoon’s Yankees-Guardians Game 5 on TBS averaged 4.9 million viewers (4pm ET start). The game had been slated for Monday, but was rained out. That figure is well below the lone Game 5 in the LDS round last year (DodgersGiants, which drew 6.5 million on a Thursday night on TBS). Game 5 for Yanks-Guardians is also below Game 1 from the series last Tuesday night, which drew 5.3 million viewers. However, Yanks-Guardians is up from Rays-Yanks ALDS Game 5 in 2020, which aired on a Friday night on TBS and drew just 3.7 million viewers amid a loaded fall sports slate due to the pandemic.
The USL awarded a new pro soccer franchise to a local investment group in Milwaukee, writes SBJ’s Alex Silverman. The club will compete in the USL Championship, the second tier of men’s soccer in the U.S. A source said the expansion fee for a USL Championship club is currently $20 million.
Led by local investor groups Kacmarcik Enterprises and Milwaukee Pro Soccer, the club will begin play in 2025 and serve as the primary tenant of an 8,000-seat stadium to be built in a new sports and entertainment district called Iron District MKE. Designed by architecture firm Kahler Slater, Iron District MKE will include a 3,500-seat indoor concert venue, 140-unit residential development, hotel, dining, nightlife and retail operations. The stadium also will host Marquette’s men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse teams.
Kacmarcik Enterprises Chair & CEO Jim Kacmarcik is a minority owner of the Bucks, and Kacmarcik Enterprises also owns a majority stake in Forward Madison FC, a nearby club in the third-division USL League One. USL’s expansion to Milwaukee is the latest step in its ambitious plan to operate pro soccer franchises in 70-80 markets by the 2026 FIFA World Cup. In addition to men’s USL teams, that includes women’s teams in the new Super League, which will launch in 2023.
Mixed-use development Iron District MKE will include a 3,500-seat indoor concert venue, 140-unit residential development, hotel, dining, nightlife and retail operations
SiriusXM is “increasing its investment in live sports rights in an effort to lure and retain more premium subscribers,” CEO Jennifer Witz told Axios. Sports listeners “have a lower churn rate than the average SiriusXM subscriber, and sports advertising now accounts for nearly a quarter of ad sales for SiriusXM,” executives noted.
“Trial subscribers that listen to sports channels convert to a paid tier at a higher rate than those who don’t listen to sports,” said Scott Greenstein, SiriusXM president and chief content officer.
Live sports rights have also helped the company bolster digital streaming subscriptions, which have become a larger priority. Over the past five years, the company has struck exclusive audio deals with the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB to “carry live feeds of their games via 24/7 league-branded channels.” SiriusXM also landed exclusive rights for 24/7 branded channels dedicated to the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac12.
The “vast majority (79%) of sports listeners on SiriusXM listen to games outside of the area in which they live, which executives believe is one of the biggest draws for subscribers.” Asked if SiriusXM would ever consider a standalone subscription just for sports listeners, Greenstein said the company has “considered it, but has ultimately decided that a unified subscription returns the best value.”
Virtual reality golf app Golf+ has raised a $6 million funding round that includes investments from Tom Brady, Stephen Curry, Mike Trout, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Ben Crenshaw, reports SportTechie’s Andrew Cohen.
The star-studded funding round was led by Breyer Capital’s Jim Breyer, a Celtics investor. Golf+ launched last November for $29 on Meta Quest and has since amassed 300,000 users who have played more than six million rounds of virtual golf this year and taken more than 500 million total shots. Both fictional and real-world replica golf courses are playable on Golf+, which reports an average user age of 34.
Golf+ says that 54% of its users report not having not played real-life golf or only playing a few times a year. The Austin-based startup is already “cash flow positive” and expects its new athlete investors to help further expand its audience that already spans users in 125 countries. Golf+ co-founder & CEO Ryan Engle said each athlete investor “attracts a very different audience.”
Click on the image to watch the official Golf+ trailer on YouTube
In this week’s Forum, SBJ’s Abe Madkour looks at a handful of stories he is keeping an eye on this fall. 
TOM DUNDON: One of the more intriguing and talked about owners in sports is the HurricanesTom Dundon, and it is his interest in pickleball that has people curious. Dundon is a huge fan of the sport, an avid player and is making financial bets on its growth. Meanwhile, his Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the NHL, and Dundon’s plans for a massive overhaul of the 23-year-old PNC Arena includes developing an entertainment district with a concert venue.
STRAINED RELATIONS: The tensions in NASCAR are real and they will continue throughout talks on a new media rights deal. NASCAR feels the pressure of landing a lucrative media deal, and teams and drivers want a bigger share of that revenue. Michael Jordan’s partner, Curtis Polk, from 23XI Racing, has been an aggressive voice in convincing teams they have been underappreciated. It’s a delicate time with talks on a heavily anticipated media deal and the renewal of the charter agreement.

ON-CAMPUS DEVELOPMENTS: Two college facility projects being planned should significantly affect two Big Ten programs, which are counting on the increased financial distributions from the conference. First, there is movement on a much-needed new facility at Northwestern to replace the dated Ryan Field. Also, Nebraska AD Trev Alberts looks to return that school’s football program to its glory days, and he’s commissioning a survey to study what will come next for Memorial Stadium.
In recent years, institutional multiteam ownership has been among the industry’s most closely watched trends, and the clear market leader to date is Arctos Sports Partners, writes SBJ’s Chris Smith.
One of Arctos’ bigger shareholders is CAZ Investments, the Houston-based firm that, until recently, had not been a player in sports. CAZ founder, chair and chief investment officer Christopher Zook declined to go into detail about how much CAZ has invested with Arctos, but he acknowledged his firm has taken a significant position: “We are truly a strategic partner of theirs, a multifund co-investor and one of their larger sources of capital.” 
Zook launched CAZ in 2001, initially with the backing of several families in Texas and eventually with the support of a global network of co-investors. The firm has around $4 billion in assets under management. And yet CAZ didn’t touch sports until just a few years ago with a first foray into esports, and earlier this year it finally took the dive on pro sports team ownership with the Arctos investment following 18 months of due diligence. 
Looking ahead, Zook sees far more sports investment opportunities for CAZ both within and outside of Arctos. CAZ already has a multibillion-dollar position with Dyal Capital, and Zook says he has a close eye on HomeCourt Partners, though the firm has yet to invest. He points to the minor leagues and to major league team deals that are too small for Arctos to pursue.
Today’s op-ed comes from Matt Hochberg, founder of Hochberg Sports Marketing, which focuses on niche and women’s sports:
“In a world that has been dominated by men for as long as history has been recorded, there is a massive change brewing in the global sport industry: The rise of women’s sports and female athletes. … The Women’s UEFA Tournament reached record attendance and viewership. In the U.S., the WNBA’s All-Star viewership is consistently increasing while All-Star weekend viewership among the country’s Big Four sports continues to decline. And across the U.S., there is a dramatic and clear uptick in women’s soccer, which is scoring high-profile investors, inking blue-chip sponsorships, and seeing record attendance.
So, what does this all mean for you, the brand? Maybe your marketing team already tried out sports marketing and did not see the results anticipated. Or maybe you personally believe in the power of sports partnerships but are priced out, given the high asking prices to sponsor major men’s leagues and their athletes. Well, I am here to tell you that there is an avenue — not only reasonable from a price point perspective, but also as an opportunity — to invest in professional sports that has a higher likelihood of providing increased ROI than what ‘traditional’ sports marketing has to offer, all the while doing good in society and uplifting women.”
Read the full submission here.

In the most recent edition of SBJ College, Michael Smith looks at:
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