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SBJ Unpacks: Tour Championship audience up from 2021 – Sports Business Journal

Tonight in Unpacks: Rory McIlroy’s win — and a return to a pre-football spot on the calendar — helped the Tour Championship see a TV viewership increase. SBJ’s Austin Karp looks at the numbers for the Tour Championship on NBC.

Other headlines:
In today’s Morning Buzzcast, SBJ’s David Albright discusses Fanatics striking a deal with LA28, the MLBPA looking to unionize all minor leaguers and whether Sinclair’s RSNs are being prepared for a sale.
The return of the Tour Championship to a pre-Labor Day Weekend slot led to a 5% boost for the PGA Tour‘s event final round compared to 2021, when it aired on Labor Day Weekend, writes SBJ’s Austin Karp.
The final round on Sunday from Atlanta averaged 3.62 million viewers, as Rory McIlroy came from behind to win the season championship. That’s up from 3.4 million for Patrick Cantlay‘s win last year, but below the 4 million for Dustin Johnson‘s win in 2020. That event aired on a Monday in September due to the shifted schedule around COVID. In 2019, McIlroy’s win in late August averaged 3.7 million viewers. 
NBC and Golf Channel averaged 1.63 million viewers over the four days of the event from East Lake, up 7% from last year. However, that was down from 2 million viewers in 2020.
Fanatics signed a long-term merchandise licensing and retail agreement with LA28 and Team USA, reports SBJ’s Chris Smith. The retail giant acquired the rights to operate in-venue retail locations throughout and around the LA28 footprint, complementing its existing relationship running online retail platforms for the Olympics and Team USA.
Fanatics will sell LA28- and Team USA-licensed merchandise, including hard goods, apparel, memorabilia and collectibles, and the company will also outfit the L.A. Games’ volunteers.
The deal was brokered by U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Properties, and it builds on Fanatics’ relationship with Team USA, which stretches back to 2009. The partnership follows Fanatics’ October deal with the IOC, under which Fanatics launched the IOC’s first-ever global online shop and acquired the rights to manufacture and sell city-specific merchandise for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris (2024), Milano Cortina (2026) and L.A. (2028).
Despite a new line of vintage gear for the Colts launched earlier this month, Homefield Apparel CEO Connor Hitchcock says that for the immediate future, his Indianapolis-based company is sticking with its campus roots. “We’re college, first and foremost,” Hitchcock tells SBJ’s Hunter Cooke.
Homefield, launched four years ago, has taken advantage of a growing demand for retro gear. As an example, a Tulane shirt with the circa-1963 “angry wave” logo is one of the company’s best-selling pieces of apparel. Another example is a black Ohio State shirt with the classic Woody Hayes line, “Because I couldn’t go for three,” emblazoned around the block O. Yet another is its Florida State collection that highlights the “unconquered” Seminole tribe from which the school takes its mascot.
Homefield has leaned heavily on a Twitter-focused community marketing strategy. It also received positive momentum from “Big New Saturday,” a series of school additions that would come out on a week-by-week basis. However, that effort will be sunset after 54 rollouts. The company now aims to pivot to “refreshing” popular existing offerings. Hitchcock credited the success of the campaign to the company’s efforts to “embed” with online groups of diehard fans for a “celebration” of their school every week.
Hitchcock noted the Colts collaboration came together after “about a year” of talks with the hometown NFL club. While Homefield’s eyes remain focused on the collegiate apparel market, the company would evaluate future non-collegiate partnerships as they come. “There are still so many schools to go,” Hitchcock said. He mentioned mid-majors, D-II and D-III as sectors of the college space that Homefield could hit next. Hitchcock: “Our home is in college sports — and that’s where our focus is.”
A retro Tulane shirt is among Homefield's top college products, and it recently launched a Colts line
Since arriving in Japan for a 10-day trip, Ben Verlander’s “FlippinBats” podcast has moved to No. 1 in Apple’s sports category in the East Asian nation, reports SBJ’s Erik Bacharach. The Fox Sports daily podcast features a weekly segment dedicated to Shohei Ohtani, which has led to enormous popularity for the podcast among the Angels star’s Japanese fan base.
Verlander, a Fox MLB analyst and the brother of pitcher Justin Verlander, left for Japan on Aug. 18 and has made visits to Iwate, the childhood home of Ohtani, and the little league field where the reigning AL MVP got his start. Verlander also visited the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and Tokyo Dome, where he held a fan meetup that drew hundreds.

“Someone had told me, ‘Hey, you’re more famous than your brother in Japan,’ but I really had no idea what the response would be here,” Verlander told SBJ. “It’s been really special and emotional for me, and it’s because of how much I truly appreciate (Ohtani) and what he’s doing for the sport of baseball. I take almost sort of a sense of responsibility to make sure I’m talking about him the right way.”
SBJ’s Abe Madkour, Ben Fischer and Austin Karp on the latest episode of SBJ Spotlight dive into some of the biggest questions facing the NFL as the new season gets underway.
Topics include the potential for success — or failure — for Amazon’s “Thursday Night Football,” the future of NFL Media and Sunday Ticket, viewership expectations after last year’s 10% jump, and how owner behavior keeps providing unpleasant storylines around the league.
Minor leaguer baseball players have been returning union authorization cards in numbers since the MLBPA yesterday formally announced an effort to organize those players, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark tells SBJ’s Liz Mullen.
“There was an authorization card launch a little more than 24 hours ago,” Clark told SBJ in a telephone interview today. “There is no definitive date or timeline in regard to that process. To say we are more than encouraged by the return of cards in the last 24 hours would be an understatement.”
Clark would not provide numbers of union authorization cards returned, other than to say, “I will just suggest that there is volume.” The MLBPA has been working quietly with minor league players and groups advocating for them for many years. “It’s been a multiyear engagement that has picked up more formally over the last few years.”
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith lent his support this afternoon, tweeting, “Without minor league players, there is no future for the game of baseball. The @NFLPA and @AFLCIO Sports Council are proud to support this historic advancement in helping our fellow workers gain the wages and working conditions that they deserve.” The NHLPA tweeted: “In solidarity. #FairBall.” 
In this week’s issue of the SBJ Media newsletter, John Ourand examines:
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