LeBron: A One-Man Economic Stimulus Plan

1. NBA Free Agency—Let the Midnight (Thursday) Madness Begin

We haven't forgotten about you, Brett Favre. You're out there plotting a July 1 announcement about your NFL future, aren't you? Because with the possible exceptions of a) an announcement that BP has finally plugged the hole in the Gulf, or b) via an instant replay decision, the U.S. being reinstated into the World Cup, that's the only possible news break that could take attention away from a certain NBA player whose initials are L.J. (Or is that L.B.J.?)

Nothing has lessened the suspense of the most highly anticipated free-agent period in sports history. With so many high-quality players on the free-agent market, NBA rosters could look quite different next season. The official free-agent period begins July 1, but the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, and other teams made preemptive moves last week. Each team all but gave away a veteran player and draft pick for the opportunity to clear cap space. Let the madness begin.

In New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the "C'mon LeBron" campaign to help lure LeBron James to the Big Apple, the Knicks over time have cleared $32 million of salary cap space, enough to lure James and one other big-name free agent, such as Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade. But not all three—it has been widely reported by and others this week that James, Bosh, and Wade met over the weekend to discuss their futures, presumably together. Knicks owner James Dolan, whose day job is being chief executive of Cablevision (CVC), is also reported to be joining the recruiting team traveling to Akron to meet with James so that Dolan can detail in person the estimated $775 million to $850 million he plans on spending to renovate Madison Square Garden. It is also reported that New Jersey Nets part-owner and James pal Jay-Z will travel to Akron to woo the Cavaliers star, joined by Nets coach Avery Johnson and new owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

Roads to Akron

Officials from the Cavs, Bulls, Clippers, and Heat are also set to meet with James during the first few days of free agency. All meetings will take place in Akron, as James' marketing chief, Maverick Carter, is adamant that any team desiring James should come to him and not the other way around.

An NBA team is virtually the only landscape in team sports where one player can make enough of a difference to propel a team into a playoff berth, not to mention single-handedly increase ticket sales. So a lot of effort goes into the recruiting of the NBA's best, including sending private jets so they can travel in style and comfort, star-studded wining and dining, and promises of access to the best homes, schools, and exclusive clubs in a community. This summer represents a once-in-a-generation harmonic convergence of talent on the free-agent market, and teams are positioning themselves to capitalize.

Television rights holders are paying close attention as well—should James & Co. land in Chicago, for example, WGN-TV, the regional home of the Bulls, will be able to increase dramatically the amount it charges advertisers in anticipation of sky-high TV ratings.

In the meantime, NBA Digital will be leading the way in tracking the NBA's free-agency season via a multiplatform content initiative. According to league releases, the coverage will kick off via a one-hour "Midnight Madness" special on NBA TV airing at 12:00 a.m. ET on Thursday and followed by three more specials over ensuing days under the "NBA Decision 2010" banner. NBA Digital is also planning "a series of breaking news alerts, free-agent trackers, and video segments on NBA.com and its mobile platforms."

2. Gulf Oil Spill Disrupts Summer Sport Fishing Events

You can add big-ticket professional sports to the growing list of victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In addition to hurting the commercial fishing business, the spill has all but decimated off-shore recreational fishing, including the cancellation or postponement of the Gulf's top fishing events, including the $1.5 million Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic out of Destin, Fla., the richest purse in the Gulf. Up to six more major fishing events in June and July have altered plans.

Recreational fishing is considered one of the key components of the Gulf Coast economy. According to an American Sportfishing Assn.-backed analysis, off-shore fishing contributes $1.9 billion a year to communities in the Gulf region; the estimated annual number of day trips on boats to fish is 23.5 million. As fewer people go out on trips, less money is spent on hotels, docking, and fishing gear. Tens of millions of dollars have been lost thus far from tournaments stretching from Venice, La., to Biloxi, Miss., and Pensacola, Fla.

Offshore anglers are some of the biggest spenders in nationwide fishing derbies. For the Blue Marlin Classic, for example, each team entering the event pays $5,000, and fees can eclipse $50,000, depending on all the different categories the team enters. Normally, about 70 teams enter the event.

Other fishing entities affected by the closure of much of the gulf to fishing, according to the New York Times, are the International Game Fishing Assn. and the World Billfish Series, the globe's two major offshore fishing series, which choose top competitors from qualifying tournaments around the world. Gulf fishing teams normally play a key role in the December Billfish Series championship, in Costa Rica this year, and the Game Fishing Assn.'s championship off the shores of Mexico.

BP (BP) has pledged $20 billion to people and businesses suffering financial harm from the ongoing oil spill and will likely eventually count the canceled fishing tournaments among its payees. In the meantime, the U.S. Olympic Committee is carefully monitoring that company's progress in dealing with the oil spill—in February, the USOC had announced a multimillion-dollar sponsorship agreement with BP. That deal is still intact … for now.

3. World Cup—Are We Hooked on Futbol?

It's too early to tell if America's advancing to the knockout round of the FIFA World Cup will cause a sustainable surge of interest in the sport in this country. Thanks to the involvement of the U.S. side and that of Mexico, the World Cup for two weeks captured the attention of American sports fans, who, aside from watching the World Cup final regardless of who's playing, will now return to baseball and Nascar and their own rounds of golf. But it's clear soccer has made substantial inroads, at least for now.

Even prior to South Africa, soccer was on the rise within Corporate America. A recent SportsBusiness Journal poll concluded that soccer is the sport with the biggest growth potential as a national property, a key reason several blue chip corporations have invested heavily in the World Cup.

According to ESPN, ABC earned an 8.2 Nielsen rating and 14.863 million viewers for Saturday's Ghana-U.S. match, marking the most-watched men's World Cup game ever. The telecast trails only the 1999 U.S.-China Women's World Cup Final on ABC, which drew 17.975 million viewers. ESPN also claims the U.S.-Algeria FIFA World Cup match was the most-viewed broadband event ever. ESPN3, the cable network's broadband platform, logged 1.1 million unique viewers—the only event to eclipse the 1 million barrier for unique viewers. All told, ESPN3 viewers have watched more than 10 million hours of soccer during this tournament so far. And last Friday, the percentage of traffic to FIFA.com from within the U.S. was 13.4 percent, top among all nations, according to data from online measurement firm Alexa. Germany ranked second at 8.6 percent.

Average attendance at the four U.S. matches at the FIFA World Cup, according to the SportsBusiness Daily, was 38,756. The American side's match against Slovenia on June 18 was the top draw, attracting 45,573 fans. Back home, sales of World Cup merchandise within the U.S. totaled $7 million during the week ended June 20 alone and totaled about $35 million for 2010 so far, according to SportsOneSource.

For the July 11 FIFA World Cup final, Cinedigm Digital Cinema (CIDM) has secured the rights to present the final in 3D in 15 U.S. theaters operated by Cinemark, Rave, and other chains. Two weeks later, on July 28, MLS will broadcast its All-Star Game on ESPN2, featuring such MLS/U.S. World Cup stars as Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, Jonathan Bornstein, Robbie Findley, Roger Espinoza, and Andrew Boyens going up against English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United. That ought to sustain viewers' interest in futbol.

Rick Horrow is a leading expert in the business of sports. As CEO of Horrow Sports Ventures, he has been the architect of 103 deals worth more than $13 billion in sports and other urban infrastructure projects. He is also the sports business analyst for CNN, Fox Sports, and the Fox Business Channel. Karla Swatek is vice-president of Horrow Sports Ventures and co-author of Beyond the Box Score: An Insider's Guide to the $750 Billion Business of Sports (February 2010).

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