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Dodgers' Freddie Freeman parts ways with Excel Sports Management....Senate committee sets sights on MLB's antitrust exemption....PGA Tour, DP World Tour upgrade alliance

Freddie Freeman parts ways with Excel agency

Dodgers 1B Freddie Freeman has "fired the agency which represented him in his offseason negotiations," Excel Sports Management, according to sources. Freeman's offseason move from the World Series champion Braves to the Dodgers caused "shock within the industry," and Excel's Casey Close was the "lead agent in Freeman's talks" with both teams. The MLBPA yesterday "sent an email to agents on Freeman's behalf," ordering them to not contact him, a "common practice when players do not want to be besieged by agents." Freeman is currently listed as "self-represented." Last weekend, he returned to Atlanta for the first time since signing with the Dodgers and was "outwardly emotional" (ESPN.com, 6/28).

Senate committee targets MLB antitrust exemption

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today "signaled its intentions to revisit MLB’s long-standing antitrust exemption with a letter of inquiry to Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a nonprofit group focused on raising awareness about salary and working condition concerns." The letter -- signed by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) -- seeks information about “how baseball’s antitrust exemption is impacting competition in the labor market for minor league ballplayers.” This marks the "latest and most significant signal" that MLB’s antitrust exemption is facing "unprecedented scrutiny." An MLB official declined to comment on the letter (WASHINGTON POST, 6/28).

PGA Tour, DP World Tour upgrade alliance

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour have "upgraded their previous 'strategic alliance' to an 'operational joint venture partnership' as part of a 13-year deal" that will see PGA Tour increase its "investment in the circuit." That will include "prize fund levels," which are "set to grow annually for the next five years." The PGA Tour also will "increase its existing stake in the European Tour Productions" from 15% to 40%, and "use the circuit’s existing global footprint to coordinate a worldwide schedule." The joint venture will provide a "formal pathway from the DP World Tour to the PGA Tour for the first time." Beginning in '23, the leading 10 players on the end of season DP World Tour Rankings "will earn PGA Tour cards" (GOLFWEEK.com, 6/28).

NFL names Highhill to lead betting strategy

By Bill King

The NFL will entrust the execution of its sports betting strategy to an in-house candidate who has been with the league for a decade, naming VP/Strategy & Analytics David Highhill to the newly created position of VP & GM of Sports Betting. Highhill held the analytics role within the league’s corporate strategy group for 3 1/2 years, working on fan segmentation, lifetime value models and, most recently, on analysis related to the league’s sports betting initiatives. Prior to that, he was Dir of Consumer Products Strategy and Dir of Corporate Development. He joined the league in 2012 from research firm Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.

Highhill will report to Exec VP & Chief Revenue Officer Renie Anderson. He will be joined in the league’s newly formed legal sports betting unit by Jarrad Lavoie, who was previously was Senior Dir of Corporate Strategy. NFL staff was informed of the hire via internal memo this afternoon.

Scotiabank pauses sponsorship of Hockey Canada

Scotiabank is "pausing its Hockey Canada sponsorship" in the wake of the "fallout from a sexual assault lawsuit settled" by the NGB last month. Scotiabank President & CEO Brian Porter in an open letter said that the pause will remain "until we are confident the right steps are being taken to improve the culture of the sport." Porter wrote Scotiabank is "expecting Hockey Canada to fully cooperate with the Federal Government’s audit" of the organization. Scotiabank will cancel its planned "marketing and events" at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton this August and redirect sponsorship investments to "other programs," including the Hockey Canada Assist Fund, Women’s World Championship and Canadian Women’s Foundation (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/28).

Bud Light, Coors Light activate around Avs' title

Bud Light has partnered with Avalanche D Erik Johnson, naming the team captain and recent Stanley Cup champion an "Honorary Brewmaster." The A-B InBev brand said that Johnson "will assist in brewing a batch of Bud Light that will be available inside limited-edition bottles donning his signature" during the the 2022-23 NHL season. Bud Light also "will bring back its customized championship pack honoring the Avalanche." The Stanley Cup bottles "will be available during the team’s parade" on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Coors Light will make a "beer with shavings of the championship ice." The "Champions Ice" brew will be available beginning Thursday in select Denver locations (9NEWS.com, 6/28). 

CAA closes ICM acquisition, alters agency landscape

CAA has closed its acquisition of fellow talent agency ICM Partners in a deal valued at $750M, "resulting in a pro-forma enterprise valuation" of $5B for the enlarged agency. This comes "nearly a year since the deal was announced" in September '21. The transaction was "delayed due to increased scrutiny from the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission." In the Hollywood agency landscape, the deal "reduces the Big Four agencies to the Big Three, with WME and UTA as CAA’s largest competitors." It is also "likely to result in reductions in staff at CAA and ICM Partners." CAA plans to move its L.A. HQ to a "larger location in Century City as it prepared to absorb hundreds of new employees." Allen & Co. served as financial advisor for CAA; Lazard as financial advisor for ICM (VARIETY.com, 6/28).

Speed Reads....

Andrew Whitworth and Aqib Talib will be joining Amazon's "Thursday Night Football" broadcast this fall. Both former All-Pros at their respective positions, Whitworth and Talib are set to have various roles in the pregame, halftime and postgame shows (TWITTER.com, 6/28).

Signing Day Sports is expanding into soccer, with a roster of ambassadors including USWNT and NWSL OL Reign D Sofia Huerta, Portland Thorns F Janine Beckie and former MLS player Brad Evans. Signing Day's digital platform helps athletes get noticed by college recruiters (Signing Day Sports).

The ACC unveiled a new football scheduling model that will go into effect beginning with the 2023 season. The new model is based on a 3-5-5 structure: Each team will play three primary opponents annually and face the other 10 conference teams twice during the four-year cycle. More details here (ACC).

Quick Hits....

“It’s a double-edged sword. A lot of privileges come with the attention she’s getting, but a lot of pressure. I saw the collection of endorsements that she has put together in the last year. Good grief: Nike, Tiffany, Dior, Avion, British Airways, Vodafone, Porsche, etc.” -- Tennis Channel’s Brett Haber, on English tennis star Emma Raducanu’s immense popularity and the pressure that brings playing at Wimbledon (“Wimbledon,” Tennis Channel, 5/27).

“This is a show trial. This isn’t real … (and) she is now being held as a political prisoner” -- ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams, on Mercury C Brittney Griner’s drug case going to trial in Russia (“GMA,” ABC, 6/28).

“It’s one thing to not go to the All-Star Game and participate. It’s important for the fans to see them. The Home Run Derby is a nice spectacle, it’s not the most important part of – I don’t think – the All-Star extravaganza” -- MLB Network’s Ruben Amaro Jr., on Blue Jays 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. declining to participate in the Home Run Derby (“MLB Now,” MLB Network, 6/28).

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Daily Download....

Chipotle has partnered with USWNT MF Rose Lavelle and F Sophia Smith to launch their go-to orders as official menu items on the Chipotle app and Chipotle.com for a limited time beginning July 1. Chipotle, an official sponsor of U.S. Soccer, also worked with Lavelle and Smith to create videos looking at challenges they've overcome.

Check out Sports Business Journal's weekly issue

Don't miss this week's issue of SBJ. We take a look at the quirky Savannah Bananas and how they're turning the baseball world upside down with their antics. Also, we unveil our 23rd annual class of Forty Under 40 honorees; LIV Golf reaches U.S. shores; and NASCAR sees gains in first-half ratings and attendance.

If you’d like to receive the print issue at your home office, update your delivery address at any time within your account settings here. If you have questions about how and where to receive your print copy, email help@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

Daily Digit....

350 -- Number of Clippers Community Courts, a batch of public basketball courts renovated throughout L.A.’s City Parks system, thanks to a major gift from the Clippers and team owner Steve Ballmer in 2018. Ballmer, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. City Councilman Herb Wesson today celebrated the last of the renovations in a ceremony at the Michelle & Barack Obama Sports Center (Clippers).

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