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Tom Mayenknecht: Bulls and Bears of the sports market

Opinion: Everyone’s mad over Caitlin Clark of the Hawkeyes

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Bulls of the Week

Two words: Caitlin Clark.

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In leading her Iowa Hawkeyes to a March Madness win this week over West Virginia, she drove an average American TV audience of 4.9 million on ESPN, the biggest-ever outside of an NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Ice Cube invited her to play 10 games of Big 3 three-on-three basketball for a cool US$5 million and U.S.A. Basketball invited her to its Paris 2024 training camp.

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And all of this before she gets drafted into the WNBA this summer.

Bears of the Week

Major League Baseball staged 13 home-openers Thursday and attendance everywhere except Oakland was strong.

The Athletics are, of course, in somewhat of a Twilight Zone, looking for a stadium deal in Las Vegas to realize the board of governors-approved relocation to Nevada.

Owner John Fisher’s legacy won’t be a popular one in Oakland, with the team seeing its opening day attendance shrink from 44,815 in 2005 — the year he took over operations of the A’s franchise — to 13,522 on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Carlyle Group billionaire David Rubenstein’s purchase of the Baltimore Orioles for a valuation of US$1.725 billion was officially approved this week, making it only the fifth MLB franchise sale in 12 years. That compares with 12 franchise sales since 2013 in each of the NBA and NHL, and 16 in MLS.

Yet the elephant in the room remains the investigation into the Shohei Ohtani-Ippei Mizuhara betting scandal, one that has overshadowed everything else in the baseball world since the bizarre revelations were made at the Seoul Series’ games on April 20-21 at Gocheok Sky Dome.

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Even after Ohtani read a short statement in Japanese in a tightly controlled “media conference” on Monday, there remain many more questions than answers on that front, including why no charges have been laid against Mizuhara if he did indeed pilfer US$4.5 million from Ohtani’s bank account.

And, average is the best way to describe MLB going into the regular season. According to Sportico, the average MLB franchise is valued at US$2.64 billion, virtually at the midpoint among the major men’s pro sports leagues in North America, where it ranks third of the big five.

The NFL is the enterprise value juggernaut at a franchise average of US$5.4 billion, with the NBA next in line at US$4 billion. The NHL remains fourth at US$1.31 billion, while MLS checks in at US$678 million.

It’s important to note that the NFL (which posted a 24 per cent spike in valuation year-over-year) and the NBA (33 per cent) have widened the gap at the top of the charts. MLB grew by 12 per cent, a good standalone number but last relative to the big leagues operating in the U.S. and Canada. The NHL grew year-over-year at 29 per cent and MLS raised its average value by 16 per cent.

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If Ohtani is cleared of any wrongdoing, the MLB will likely continue to grow at a reasonable rate or more in the years to come. If there’s a worst-case scenario, however, that trajectory of positive growth could be seriously impacted.

Yet as the disconcerting situation surrounding Toronto Raptor Jontay Porter demonstrates, no league and no sport is immune to the potential for misconduct connected to sport betting. That’s why nothing less than clear player education, meticulous oversight and decisive enforcement of league rules is required in this era of legalized, single-event wagering.

Tom Mayenknecht is the host of The Sport Market on Sportsnet 650 on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Vancouver-based sport business commentator and principal in Emblematica Brand Builders provides a behind-the-scenes look at the sport business stories that matter most to fans. Follow Mayenknecht at: twitter.com/TheSportMarket.

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