Sportico Transactions: Moves and Mergers Roundup for February 24
Welcome to Sportico’s Transactions wire, a weekly rundown of personnel, partnerships and products across the sports business industry.
Diamond Sports Group Makes Executive Moves
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Diamond Sports Group announced that David DeVoe Jr. has come onboard as chief operating officer and chief financial officer, and Eric Ratchman has been appointed to the newly created role of president of distribution and business development, effective immediately. Both will report directly to DSG CEO, David Preschlack. DeVoe, who has been advising DSG since September 2022, was chief financial officer for several companies including Fox Entertainment Group, News America Marketing and TV Guide. Ratchman previously worked at Amazon as the global head of business at IMDb TV and as director of prime video direct. Prior to that, he worked at Univision Communications, Inc., The Walt Disney Company and ESPN. As previously announced, DSG has exercised a grace period on a $140 million interest payment toward its outstanding debt. The company expects that its business will continue as usual, and it will keep broadcasting live sports productions while it addresses its balance sheet.
DAZN Names Eleven Group’s Marc Watson As Commercial Chief Following Acquisition
DAZN has named Eleven Group co-founder Marc Watson as its chief commercial officer following the takeover of its rival sports streamer this month. At DAZN, Watson will lead rights and content acquisition strategy and drive other commercial initiatives across the London-based group. Watson will replace Jacopo Tonoli, who has been CCO since the launch of DAZN in 2016. Tonoli, who has been with DAZN’s predecessor companies, will remain as a special advisor to the company. Watson co-founded Eleven with Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani in 2015 and was CEO until the company was sold to DAZN earlier this month in a multi-million dollar deal. Prior to Eleven, Watson was the chief executive for BT’s television business.
Major League Rugby Commissioner Steps Down
Major League Rugby Commissioner George Killebrew is stepping down after serving in the role since 2019. Under Killebrew’s leadership, MLR has grown, recently adding Chicago for the 2023 season and announcing the arrival of the Miami Sharks in 2024. Under his leadership, MLR entered into a national television contract with Fox Sports, launched the first-ever collegiate rugby draft and developed its first live-streaming platform, The Rugby Network (TRN). In recent years, in-stadium attendance has doubled, with 75,000 new fans attending events in 2022. TRN’s viewership has grown 144% year over year, league-wide sponsorships have increased by seven figures and Fox viewership spiked 62% in 2022. Nic Benson, former deputy commissioner, has stepped in as league CEO and will assume the responsibilities previously held by Killebrew. Benson was a key member of the team that developed and launched MLR. Since the summer he has been in a board advisory role, working with Killebrew and the league office to lead strategic initiatives.
Professional Fighters League Appoints New Chief Commercial Officer
The Professional Fighters League (PFL) has hired Bryan Calka as chief commercial officer. In this role, he will spearhead the growth of PFL’s global sponsorship portfolio, media sales and licensing business. Calka brings more than 20 years of experience in the sports industry, most recently serving as SVP of global partnerships for the New York Islanders as the NHL club moved into UBS Arena at Belmont Park. He’s also held executive leadership positions with BSE Global, where he oversaw the strategy development and execution of sponsorship marketing for the Brooklyn Nets, as well as the New York Yankees, where he managed the partnership sales and activation teams.
Ally, Disney Announce Multi-million Dollar Investment in Women’s Sports Coverage
Ally and The Walt Disney Company announced a multi-year, multimillion dollar investment designed to advance equality in women’s sports coverage. Traditional sports media buying is heavily weighted in men’s sports with women’s sports thrown in as an add-on. To increase representation and drive greater coverage of women’s sports, the collaboration features a media investment of more than 90% in women’s sports, focused on expanding game highlights, branded content and features across the ESPN networks, including regular SportsCenter segments that highlight top women’s sports accomplishments. As part of the agreement, Ally Bank becomes the Official Retail Bank of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), holding media branding and activation rights across all ACC Championships, with first-ever title sponsorships of the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament and Women’s Soccer Championship, as well as the exclusive presenting sponsorship of the 2023 ACC Women’s Lacrosse Championship.
Oak View Group partners with Shaquille O’Neal, Trisha Yearwood, Giada De Laurentiis
Global sports and entertainment company Oak View Group (OVG) has tapped NBA Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal; Grammy and Emmy award-winning performer and best-selling cookbook author Trisha Yearwood; and The New York Times best-selling author and successful restaurateur Giada De Laurentiis to bring their culinary styles to venues around the world and up the game on how guests experience food at sports and live events. The trio will lead OVG’s new hospitality advisory council, and work with OVG to help infuse new thinking, new ambition and new social consciousness into a concessions industry that rarely meets the spectacle or passion of the shows the industry supports. They will be tasked with creative thinking around menu design and expansion, the elevation of premium fare, local food sourcing, and opportunities for community impact via MBE/WBE programs, sustainability, and animal welfare.
Wilson to Sponsor Sprawling Racquet Sports Campus
Swing Racquet + Paddle (Swing) has landed Wilson Sporting Goods Co. (Wilson) as a leading sponsor of its first flagship location, a 45-acre campus in Raleigh, N.C. that will serve up tennis, pickleball, padel, table tennis, and beach tennis courts adjacent to retail and food services, which will break ground in 2023 and open to the public in late 2024. Swing’s Raleigh campus will include a Wilson Stringing Bar for tennis racquets and act as a testing ground for Wilson’s new consumer experiences, driven by technology including AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality), and gamification The space will offer a brick-and-mortar Wilson branded multi-racquet sport retail experience, showcasing the latest innovations in Wilson equipment and sportswear; act as a destination for national and international tournaments and events; and continue efforts to grow the player base in the U.S. and beyond. The multipurpose venue will also be home to a satellite hub of Wilson Labs, the brand’s R&D arm responsible for industry-leading Racquet Sports innovation. Additionally, Swing and Wilson will align on community programming in and around Raleigh, offering steady tennis, padel and pickleball programming. Wilson will also sponsor scholarships for youth development and other charitable initiatives that align with their objective of increasing access to and growing participation in racquet sports.
Major League Rugby Names Official Wellness Partner
Major League Rugby (MLR) has signed a three-year partnership with Thorne HealthTech, Inc. (NASDAQ: THRN), as the official wellness partner of the league. Thorne will work directly with league stakeholders to enhance MLR’s sport science and wellness practices, including the development of a Wellness Taskforce. Additionally, Thorne will provide their full suite of health supplements to the league and its players. In addition, Thorne will offer its products and solutions to all interested MLR rugby teams and offer fans of the league an exclusive discount via a dedicated MLR storefront. Playfly Premier Partnerships brokered the deal between the parties.
Ripken Baseball to Debut All-Ripken Games in 2023
Ripken Baseball will host the inaugural All-Ripken Games, a platform that will attract the top youth players from across the country to compete at The Ripken Experience facilities. Players must be nominated by their peers and coaches for the opportunity to train and compete against other elite young athletes. Ripken Baseball is partnering with YTH Sports, a youth sports organization known for its Soccer Youth brand and All-American Series, to launch the inaugural All-Ripken Games. To be eligible, players must be in high school graduation classes between the Class of 2026 and the Class of 2033 and exhibit an elevated level of baseball knowledge, dedication, sportsmanship, and skill.