Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sports Good Guy wins Cool Fantasy $1M with Crazy US Open Finish

A Father’s Day summer evening turned into night and golf fans around the world surely shook their heads in disbelief when the 17th and 18th holes at Chambers Bay brought about the strangest of finishes to the 115th United States Open golf championship. The four-day tournament was near its conclusion and the prime time US television audience stayed glued to their High-Def TV sets which delivered the grimaces of PGA Tour pros Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson into the living rooms of many casual sports fans, some longing for a Game 7 of the completed NBA or NHL seasons but left with nothing else to watch but the major golf championship.
What those primetime Fox Sports viewers couldn’t see or feel as the sun set near the Puget Sound were the heart palpitations pulsing through Carl Bassewitz, a veteran sports industry good-guy who was playing Draft Kings PGA Millionaire-maker daily fantasy game for the very first time. Bassewitz, watching on his TV, a half continent away from the action, double and triple-checked the scores of his six player fantasy team that he selected. His lineup featured Spieth but not Johnson, and also included, Louis Oosthuizen (T-2), Kevin Kisner (T-12), Tony Finau and Patrick Reed (T-14) and Jason Dufner (T-18).
That “fantasy team” combination delivered Bassewitz to the dream world of all fantasy sports players, as he turned a single $20 entry fee into a cool $1 Million dollar prize. In doing so, Bassewitz outlasted 143,000 entrants who ponied-up the $20 fee with hopes of a $1 million when they chose their lineups for six golfers, staying under a $50,000 cap, as per usual in the Draft Kings golf game. One such player, the second place finisher who is only known as “Headchopper” who is known as a professional in the fantasy sports world, needed Johnson to finish ahead of Spieth. But Johnson’s improbable three-putt on the 72nd hole of the tournament gave the U.S. Open title and its $1.8 million first place purse to Spieth, while delivering a cool mil to Bassewitz and a not-so-paltry $877,144 runner-up prize to both Johnson and Oosthuizen.
When reality set in, Bassewitz realized he’d made more money than the U.S. Open runner-ups!
For the rest of this column, click HERE

Friday, June 19, 2015

When Will American Pharaoh Run?

The suspense is killing me. When will American Pharoah run? Just tell me, please, when and where will he run?

The horse racing world is abuzz this week as fan speculation on the whereabouts of Pharoah’s next race is being fueled by a considerable amount of old-fashioned lobbying. Since thoroughbred owner Ahmed Zayat’s initial statement two days after The Belmont Stakes, the odds-on favorite for the Triple Crown winner’s next race was The Haskell at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. However, a June 18th social media posting by Zayat turned the racing world upside down when the horse owner cryptically tweeted, “right know Saratoga is in the lead. Head of Haskell.” (sic).

That post might have the folks at TVG, known as America’s #1 online horse wagering and TV network, scrambling for a PR flack re-write as the broadcaster had previously issued a press release, complete with Betfair odds on Pharoah’s next run, which stated:

4-to-5 - August 2 - Haskell Invitational, Monmouth Park (NJ)
4-to-1 - August 1 - Jim Dandy Stakes, Saratoga (NY State)
4-to-1 - August 22 - TVG Pacific Classic, Del Mar (San Diego, California
7-to-1 - August 29 - Travers Stakes, Saratoga 
16-to-1 - September 26, Awesome Again Stakes, Santa Anita
20-to-1 - August 29 - Mystic Lake Derby, Canterbury Park (Minnesota)
20-to-1 - September 19 - Pennsylvania Derby, Parx (Bensalem, PA)
33-to-1 - September 26 - Jockey Club Gold Cup, Belmont (New York)
10-to-1 - “The Field” also known as Any Other Race

“American Pharoah won the nation’s heart when he crossed the finish line at the Belmont Stakes to end the 37-year wait for a Triple Crown champion,” said Kip Levin, CEO of TVG. “His time in the spotlight is hardly over, however, as he is expected to hit the track once again. The real question on everyone’s mind is, ‘Where will he race next?’”

As American Pharoah was shipped from Kentucky to California for a “promotion and appearance” at Santa Anita, the speculation swung mightily from Monmouth to Del Mar to Saratoga over a 24-hour span of time.

“I’m intimately involved with all the goings on,” said Dennis Drazin, advisor to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association to Stephen Edelson of the Asbury Park Press. “It’s a lot of money. But at the end of the day, what I would say is that (trainer Bob) Baffert is a top horseman, and regardless of the money, you have to do the right thing for the horse. And the right thing for the horse is to run at Monmouth Park against straight 3-year olds. You don’t want to attack older horses at this point.

“The ultimate goal is the Breeders’ Cup Classic and you have to plan for him getting to that race,” said Drazin to the APP. “The Haskell, although it’s not a walkover, it’s the right kind of race. It’s straight 3-year olds on a track he’ll love. Baffert’s been a winner seven times (at The Haskell)."

Immediately after the perfectly-timed Zayat social media post, the twitterverse went wild with further speculation and Drazin declined comment to his Asbury Park pundit.

American Pharoah is now looking at his non-racing public appearance at Santa Anita in California for the track’s Gold Cup day on June 27. Importantly, the colt’s breeding rights have already been secured by Ashford Stud in central Kentucky’s bluegrass country and his stud fees will range between $175,000 and $200,000, placing a conservative $17.5 million for annual fees, according to numerous published reports.

The question for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat will remain secret as they field requests from “all kinds of tracks,” according to Baffert. Last weekend, American Pharoah returned to Churchill Downs, site of the colt’s Kentucky Derby win, and was applauded by 30,000, just for a stroll in the park.

“We won’t know for a few weeks,” said Baffert to the Asbury Park Press. “We want to do what’s best for American Pharoah, not what is best for the racetracks.”

Certainly, what is best for all, including the Triple Crown winner, is to continue to fuel interest in the sport of kings while his keepers fuel speculation and keep the industry in the national news. But, as they decide what is best, the victims of that campaign might just be race track ticket buyers who scramble for admission and attempt to make their summer travel plans, whether it be to Monmouth, Saratoga or maybe, Del Mar,

Get your rider’s up!

(This column is among those which regularly appear in The Daily Payoff. Please visit HERE).

Friday, June 12, 2015

High Stakes Game in TV Ratings

(This column regularly appears at The Daily Payoff)

By TERRY LYONS, Contributing columnist at The Daily Payoff

In recent weeks, we’ve paid our fair share of attention to American Pharoah’s run to the Triple Crown of horseracing, watching intently as the once-in-a-generation thoroughbred racehorse won graded stakes at Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont Raceway. American Pharoah delivered on the track, but his Triple Crown win translated into only 18.6 million television viewers on NBC, down from the 20.6 million fans who tuned into California Chrome’s failed bid at The Belmont in 2014. When Pharoah had the Triple Crown on the line at The Belmont, you might’ve thought the stakes were as high as they’d get but, as spring turns to summer and stretch-run at Belmont is in the rear-view, there’s no higher stakes in professional sports than that of the TV ratings game.

Certainly the National Hockey League and NBC benefitted from a strong audience lead-in from The Belmont, as Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final calculated a tune-in of 6.6 million viewers for Game 2 of the series between the Tampa Bay Lightening and Chicago Blackhawks, the strongest non-clinching game TV audience since 1994. The data will improve as the Stanley Cup series, split 2-2 as of this writing, moves on to Tampa for a pivotal fifth game.

Meanwhile, after the longest break in NBA playoff history between the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are in the midst of a memorable NBA Finals series, with NBA MVP Steph Curry of the Warriors and the league’s best player, Lebron James of the Cavs doing battle on the court. However, the real numbers are being crunched, off the court, by the Disney Corporation, the caretakers of ABC Sports, cash cow cable entity ESPN and the NBA on ESPN property. As of this writing, the 2015 NBA Finals are the highest-rated ever on ABC with Game 4 delivering a 13.9 overnight rating to be joined with the league’s soaring numbers after the first three games of the Finals. Those ratings points translate to some 18.6 million viewers turning into the series, with the numbers — like the NHL’s — sure to go up as the league is guaranteed no fewer than six games to determine the champion.

Delving deeper into the NBA on ABC numbers, the Nielsen ratings in Game 4 were up 31 percent from the Miami vs. San Antonio numbers of a year ago with the ABC ratings averaging 13.1 (overnight), up some 26 percent over 2014. Of course, those are record-setting numbers for ABC Sports and do not factor against the record numbers the NBA did when NBC Sports carried the property and veteran broadcast chief Dick Ebersol put the pedal to the metal to promote Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to the tune of a Game 6 1998 NBA Finals record rating of 18.7 when no fewer than 30 million tuned into the NBA Finals from United States households, alone, nevermind the growing and strong international audience for basketball.

To be clear, the television ratings game of the winter-spring sports, such as horse racing, ice hockey and basketball cannot and will not compete with the television audience for the NFL’s biggest game - The Super Bowl. Last February, the New England Patriots exciting victory over the Seattle Seahawks saw a Nielsen rating blockbuster of 47.5 that translated to a US audience of 114.4 million viewers for the NFL and TV’s biggest audience of the year. Quite simply, there will never be a sporting audience viewing a game on TV that is larger than the NFL’s Super Bowl audience.

The other interesting point of comparison in the high stakes ratings game for televised sports properties in Major League Baseball which saw an 8.2 ratings average and 13.8 million viewers tune into the 2014 series, according to Sports Media Watch. Between Jordan’s last game in 1998 and 2008, the World Series consistently out-rated the NBA Finals. But, over the past five years (2010-2014), the NBA Finals has out-rated Major League Baseball’s World Series and the trend is surely going to continue in 2015, unless October brings about a miracle story (Insert Chicago Cubs joke here!)

One other interesting factor in televised sports ratings is to look at the numbers from the competing local markets. In Cleveland, Game 4 of the NBA Finals generated a 45.7 rating for the 20+ point Golden State blowout of the Cavs. In the Bay Area (SF market), the broadcast delivered a solid 30.5 rating. Pretty amazing audience numbers for the NBA which was largely criticized, especially by NASCAR and Fox Sports tv executives, when the 2003 NBA Finals drew all-time ratings lows of 6.5 for the New Jersey Nets vs. San Antonio Spurs series.

That … was a long time ago.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Daily Payoff: Mondogoal Takes a Gamble on FIFA World Cup

(This column appears regularly at The Daily Payoff)

By TERRY LYONS, Contributing Columnist for The Daily Payoff

The United States of America’s Justice Department’s beat-down on the upper echelon executives of FIFA brought a bit more than a small share of criticism and focus upon the governing body for world futbol. It brought an all-out public relations disaster as the lead story on every network newscast in the world, and even worse, FIFA’s downfall became the punch line for comedic genius such as “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” or “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

The early morning arrests of several FIFA executives by Swiss authorities at the posh Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich fast-became the b-roll for a generation of FIFA’s critics. As the raid was barely underway, with charges under the USA’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), detailed accusations and background were printed in the morning editions of The New York Times which brought a level of seriousness that organized futbol has never seen, but its fans had long expected. The accusations were wide-ranging and were enough to eventually cause the resignation of longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter. The fall-out will continue for the rest of the year as the US Justice Department’s Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, builds the case.

The focus of the alleged corruption and bribery charge was centered on FIFA’s designation of Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) as World Cup event sites but caught in the crosshairs of the scandal is the fact the 2015 Women’s World Cup is being staged in Canada from June 6 to July 5, right on the front doorstep of the FIFA scandal. One might think the highly visible RICO charges for such a highly visible world event might be cause for the sponsors and affiliates of the Women’s World Cup to run for the Hudson Bay, but that has not been the case as the women kick-off in Canada. Event sponsors, already neck-deep in their investment, have turned a blind eye to the off-the-pitch misconduct and are focusing on the athletes and competition itself.

One such affiliate is Mondogoal, a relatively new player in the daily fantasy sports world, which is staging a daily fantasy game for the Women’s World Cup. While not an “official” sponsor of FIFA, Mondogoal operates globally and focuses its efforts in the United States, Britain, Canada, Ireland and Brazil - all hotbeds of international futbol. The company is incorporated out of the Isle of Man and has business operations in the USA. Mondogoal’s Women’s World Cup offering will be the first fantasy game ever staged for women’s sport.

“The Women’s World Cup is a phenomenal platform for the game, and will draw not just passionate soccer fans but a casual audience interested in women’s sports and a global event,” said Shergul Arshad, CEO of Mondogoal. “By creating this game for a global audience we will provide a new engagement platform, which we believe, will raise the visibility and interest not just for soccer but for women’s sports as well.

“In North America, daily fantasy sports has taken off, and interest in soccer is at an all-time high. We are making sure the North American soccer fan not only can play fantasy contests involving the popular European leagues, but also from the best soccer, locally,” he said.

To that end, Mondogoal is offering fantasy players a way to blend both the Women’s World Cup players with those of men’s competitions being staged at the same time, notably in North America’s Major League Soccer (MLS), Europe’s Champions League final and the Copa America. The new blend will be the first time fantasy sports is offered on a “co-ed” basis.

Digging into the particulars, daily fantasy players can pick a team of 11 female players from the four Women’s World Cup matches on event days, using Mondogoal’s salary cap style of play to build a fantasy team. If the fantasy player doesn’t like the full offering from the women’s matches, they can mix and match with the men’s contests taking place the same day. As with all fantasy products, points are accrued for positive “on-the-pitch” statistics, such as goals, and assists. The fantasy winner is the person who picks the perfect fantasy team of players who compile the most positive statistics for the entire day.

Mondogoal has a deal with Perform’s Opta Sports to compile all the various stats - in real time - and tracks the nuances of the obvious stats, but also tackles won-lost, shots on goal, passes completed, or stats for goaltenders, like saves and shut-outs.

The take-away from Mondogoal’s foray into women’s sports, via the Women’s World Cup, is the fact the daily fantasy sports world is moving full speed ahead and flourishing. While some may think daily fantasy is a little too close to actually gambling on the outcome of a game, the fact of the matter is that daily fantasy might just have more credibility than the FIFA executives carted off in the dawn air in Zurich.

Check out the rest of my contributions and a ton of interesting content by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Belmont ...

(This full post can be found at The Daily Payoff where I do a weekly column)

By TERRY LYONS, The Daily Payoff Contributing Columnist

NEW YORK – In this instant gratification and “everything is the best” sports world we currently live in, courtesy of the never-ending, 24/7 cable news and sports-talk radio, how often can we truly say we have a chance to see a true champion accomplish one of the greatest feats in sports?

Homage to Big Red at Belmont Paddock (Photo/T Peter Lyons)
That chance will come on Saturday, June 6, when the gates open at beautiful Belmont Park and, on an spring evening in New York, trainer Bob Baffert saddles up thoroughbred great American Pharoah for the 147th running of The Belmont Stakes. It will mark the 34th time a racehorse is shipped to the famed track, located halfway between LaGaurdia and JFK Airports, with a chance to win the most coveted title in the sport of kings, that being “The Triple Crown,” or victories in the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and The Belmont Stakes.

As most sports fans and all horse racing aficionados know, the Belmont is the toughest horse race of them all. While the Derby (1 mile and a quarter) and Preakness (1 mile and three-sixteenths) each measure slightly more than a country mile, the track at the Belmont is mapped at a grueling mile and a half, a distance which tests the stamina and heart of a horse, the way The Iditarod tests the endurance and will of a sled dog and his musher.

History tells us, the last Triple Crown winner was the great Affirmed, in 1978 – a horse pushed by his chief rival, Alydar, in the same manner in which Magic pushed Bird or Frazier pushed Ali. Between the time when Affirmed took The Belmont and today, there have been 23 champion thoroughbreds who came to this city of dreams with victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, winning in Kentucky and Maryland, only to have their legacies dashed with losses at The Belmont. The list is lofty, and includes:

  • Most recently, in 2014, California Chrome who finished fourth in The Belmont.
  • Ten years before that, in 2004, the popular Smarty Jones, finished second.
  • An interesting string of close calls from 1997-99 when Silver Charm (2nd), Real Quiet (2nd) and Charistmatic (3rd) all fell short at The Belmont.

Before Affirmed in 1978, there was, arguably, the greatest stretch-run, the greatest ass-kicking, the greatest victory margin in a clutch situation in sports history – the 1973 Belmont Stakes victory for the best and most powerful horse I’ve ever set eyes on – Secretariat.

Secretariat’s win in the final leg of the Triple Crown was perfect, just perfect. How often can you say an athletic feat in the most important of sports events was perfect?

The only other performance that can be compared to Secretariat’s great run is New York Yankees legend Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. While there have been other great performances in all major sports, there are no other rightful comparisons to Secretariat’s run.

Can American Pharoah become a Triple Crown champion?

See the answer at The Daily Payoff ...