Sports Finance Report: Exclusive Interview with Virgin Sport CEO Mary Wittenberg; Lowest Rated MNF Opener Ever

Sergio Dipp response viral monday night football video


Editor’s Note: Welcome to a new daily column we’re running here at BroBible breaking down the day’s biggest stories in sports finance with commentary from the equities analyst and sports fanatic perspectives. It comes to us via our friends at JohnWallStreet, publisher of a free e-mail newsletter focused on sports related public equities. You can sign up here.


Ratings for this past Monday night’s Vikings/Saints and Broncos/Chargers Monday Night Football (DIS) games have been released and viewership numbers have slipped once again. The early Vikings/Saints game drew 11.4 million fans, down from 13 million last year and 13.6 million in ’15; while the late game between the Broncos and Chargers saw 9.9 million people tune in, making it the least watched MNF game since 2007. MNF capped a bad weekend for all the NFL broadcast networks (DIS, CBS, FOXA, CMCSA), as 6 of the 7 game windows saw multi-year ratings lows.

Howie Long-Short: ESPN, for the first time, introduced a Spanish simulcast of MNF. The cable network will continue to use the ESPN Deportes feed on ESPN2, for the next 8 MNF games. The move to ESPN2 will give the broadcast reach as the cable network is in 88 million homes, compared to just the 5.9 million Hispanic households with ESPN Deportes. While the Spanish audience isn’t going to make up for league’s overall viewership issues, the live broadcasts will do better than the poker reruns ESPN2 ran opposite MNF last season.

Fan Marino: ESPN Deportes reporter Sergio Dipp went viral for his report during ESPN’s English broadcast. Real tough spot being asked to do a live stand-up in a second language. At least the guy had a sense of humor about it.


Take Two Interactive (TTWO) has introduced Neighborhood, a new virtual game mode never seen in a sports video game, for NBA 2K18. Neighborhood enables game players to take command of their virtual character (MyPlayer) and bring it in to the “real world”, experiencing everything from haircuts to gym workouts. The Neighborhoods system will work seamlessly with MyCareer, MyPark, and Pro-Am modes; giving the game player the ability to improve their MyPlayer. NBA2K 18 is scheduled to be released on September 19th for Windows PC, Xbox 360, Xbox 1, PS3, PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

Howie Long-Short: TTWO increased earnings 36% for Q1 ’18, despite not releasing a single new game. Perhaps even more impressively, recurrent consumer spending was up 71% YOY. Recurrent Consumer spending, a term used to describe in-game sales made after the initial purchase, made up half the company’s digital net sales for the quarter.

Fan Marino: We now live in a world where people send their MyPlayer to the gym, but don’t workout themselves. What a time to be alive!


Garmin has introduced a new line of GPS enabled smartwatches designed to compete with Apple (AAPL), Samsung (KRX: 005930) and Fitbit (FIT). The line contains 3 watches; the Vivomove HR (fashion focused hybrid), Vivosport (fitness focused) and Vivoactive 3 (feature packed flagship). The Vivoactive 3 will include Garmin Pay; a contact-less payment system, powered by Fitpay, Inc. The watches, which are now available, range in price from $199-$329.99; significantly less expensive than their high-end Fenix-5 series ($600).

Howie Long-Short: Fitpay provides a technology platform that adds contactless payment capabilities to wearable and loT devices. The company is a subsidiary of NXT-ID Inc. (NXTD) which generated $14.3 million in revenue over the first 6 months of 2017, up from $81K over the same period the year prior. Most the revenue increase comes from another subsidiary, LogicMark, the biggest manufacturer of personal emergency response devices in the United States. NXTD acquired the company in 2016 for $20.9 million in cash and stocks with another $6.5 due should the company meet certain milestones over the next 18 months.

Fan Marino: Garmin is competing with Apple, Samsung and Fitbit in the smartwatch space, but has 2 distinct advantages. Their watches sync with iOS, Android and desktop software and they have batteries that can last for a week without recharging. Those aren’t features that I’m looking for, but it’s something to hang their hat on.


The Virgin brand is synonymous with access and opportunity (see Virgin Galactic). Virgin Sport, Richard Branson’s movement to connect people through sport and culture; has created a weekend long event, a Festival of Fitness. Scheduled to take place in San Francisco on October 14th and 15th, the event will have something for everyone; from running and fitness activities to music, art and local fare. JWS had the opportunity to speak with CEO/Chief Exercise Officer Mary Wittenberg about the event, its sponsors, wearables and workouts.

JWS: The company’s stated mission is to “move the world through sport”. How does Virgin Sport define success?

Mary: In the short term, we’ll be looking at the net promoter score; do the participants want to come back. We’ll be looking at sponsorship growth from the first year to the second, participation growth and the strength of the relationships we are able to develop with local, grass roots fitness groups, within the communities. Longer term we’ll be focused on traction gained in adding cities (currently focused on SF & London). 1 million participants in 10 years would certainly be considered a success.

JWS: When selecting sponsors for the event, were you looking for companies aligned with the mission or the most lucrative financial agreements?

Mary: Virgin Group incubates companies and then brings strategic partners in along the way. Who you partner with early on says a lot about your brand. Richard fully funded the company, so we can partner with companies that share our vision (Motiv, Clif, Nuun, Headspace, Flywheel Sports, Classpass). Richard has also always been very supportive of entrepreneurs.    

JWS: ASICS (TYO: 7936) is the founding partner sponsor of the event. Besides the fact that they manufacture shoes and apparel needed for a weekend of sports activities, what makes them a strong partner? 

Mary: ASICS is interested in culture. They wanted to be a co-creator. They are at our side and have a real voice. When you can create with a partner, they are going to be that much more engaged.

JWS: Do you have a favorite in the fitness wearables market?

Mary: I’ve tried a bunch, Apple (AAPL), Fitbit (FIT); I like the watch. I’m excited about the ring that Motiv is working on. I like functional accessories.

Howie Long-Short: For those wondering, a net promoter score is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others. The customer is asked just one simple question, “How likely are you to recommend the company/product/brand to a friend or colleague?” They are asked to rate on an 11-point scale (0-10).

Fan Marino: Mary qualified for the 1988 Olympic marathon trials, so she knows a bit about training. I asked for some ways to keep exercising from getting stale. Mary suggested joining November Projects (now in 41 cities) and trying FlyBarre (particularly guys who think ballet when they hear barre).


The NFL has partnered with Bruin Sports Capital and WPP (WPPGY) to introduce Game Pass, a subscription based on-demand streaming service for NFL fans in 61 European markets. The league will charge fans $183/year for 300 live games, access to NFL network, NFL Redzone and shows like “Hard Knocks”. Early results have been promising for Game Pass, as the service was able to convert free trials into paid subscriptions during the preseason.

Howie Long-Short: WPP is the world’s largest advertising and PR firm; and is publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol WPPGY. The company recently released its Q2 ‘17 earnings report and shareholders did not receive the news they were hoping for. CEO Martin Sorrell cut full year growth targets to between 0-1% (down from 2%), announced net sales were down .5% YOY for the 1st half of ’17 and said we could expect much of the same in 2018. Here’s to hoping the NFL sees the astronomical growth in Europe that it saw here in the 90s and 00s. I just don’t see that happening.

Fan Marino: The NFL plays their primetime games at 8:30p. While the time difference isn’t as drastic as it is for Chinese fans; European fans aren’t staying up until 4:30a (kickoff would be 1:30a in London) on Sunday, Monday or Thursday nights to watch Carolina play Kansas City. Can you fall in love with a sport when you never see the biggest games on the schedule?

What is JohnWallStreet?

JohnWallStreet is not a person or location, but a destination for the educated sports fan.

While we won’t be publishing “hot takes” on LeBron’s relative greatness to Jordan, we will be offering up the most relevant sports related finance news, in easily digestible bites, with commentary from both the equities analyst and sports fanatic perspectives.

We’ll cover publicly traded professional teams & stadiums, television networks, apparel & footwear companies, equipment companies, ticketing companies, content and facilities providers. If it trades on Wall Street, and has a sports angle, it’s in our wheel house.

Howie Long-Short and Fan Marino will be providing their expert opinions on each story. They have slightly different areas of expertise. Fan Marino is a firm believer that the SEC is the premier football conference. Howie Long-Short knows it as the Security & Exchange Commission. Fan Marino lives and dies with the college selection of 5 star, blue chip recruits. Howie Long-Short spends his days analyzing blue chip stocks. Howie Long-Short knows that Black Monday occurred on October 19th, 1987. Fan Marino swears it happens every January after Week 17. You get the point.

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