Yahoo Sports AM: Business is booming for the NWSL

In today's edition: The NWSL season kicks off, what's next for Bronny James, the mysterious case of the bobblehead burglars, and more.

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🚨 Headlines

⛳️ 18 down, 54 to go: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Wyndham Clark (-7) are the co-leaders after the first round of the Players Championship. McIlroy tied a tournament record with 10 birdies.

🏈 Allen to Chicago: The Chargers' cap crunch has cost them Keenan Allen. They traded their star receiver to the Bears for a fourth-round pick.

🇯🇵 Japan's new power couple: Shohei Ohtani made international headlines when he announced earlier this month that he was married. We now know who his wife is: former Japanese basketball player Mamiko Tanaka.

🏈 Under investigation: The NFL is investigating whether the Eagles and Falcons committed tampering violations in their pursuits of Saquon Barkley and Kirk Cousins, respectively.

🏀 Stackhouse fired: Vanderbilt is moving on from coach Jerry Stackhouse, who went 9-23 this year and 70-92 in five seasons. The former NBA star will receive ~$15 million in buyout money.

⚽️ Business is booming for the NWSL

Kansas City fans will have a brand-new stadium to cheer in this year. (KC Current)
Kansas City fans will have a brand-new stadium to cheer in this year. (KC Current)

The NWSL's 12th season will be its biggest yet, powered by the addition of two expansion teams and a lucrative new media rights deal that's already transforming the economics of the league, Jeff and I write.

Record-breaking package: The NWSL signed four-year deals last fall with CBS, ESPN, Amazon and Scripps for a combined $240 million, the richest package ever for a North American women's sports league.

  • Those broadcast partners will air 118 games nationally, four times as many as last year under CBS' exclusive deal.

  • And at $60 million per season, the new package is worth 40 times more annually than the previous one ($1.5 million).

The start of a new era: The business model of pro sports is, at is core, rather simple: Bigger media deals means more revenue, which means bigger player salaries. For the NWSL, that cycle was just supercharged.

By the numbers: The salary cap skyrocketed 40% to $2.75 million, bringing the NWSL closer to parity with foreign leagues whose players have long avoided coming to the states due to a relative lack of compensation.

  • Two Zambian strikers fetched the largest ($860,000) and second-largest ($740,000) transfer fees in women's soccer history in the past month.

  • Houston's María Sánchez signed the richest contract in league history (four years, $1.5 million) one month before Chicago's Mallory Swanson topped it (four years, $2 million).

Business is booming: To fully grasp the NWSL's explosive growth, look no further than the San Diego Wave. Ron Burkle paid a $2 million expansion fee in 2022, which was in line with how teams were valued at the time. On Thursday, he sold the team for $113 million.

More to watch:

  • Expansion teams: Northern California's Bay FC and Salt Lake City's Utah Royals bring the league to 14 teams, up from nine just four years ago.

  • KC's new stadium: The KC Current begin their season tomorrow in a brand new $120-million stadium, the first ever purpose-built venue for a women's professional sports team.

  • Olympic break: The league will pause from July 15 to August 18 for the Paris Games, during which time all 14 teams will play a tournament with foreign clubs.

Coming up: The season begins tonight with the new-look Challenge Cup (8pm ET, Prime), pitting last year's champion (NJ/NY Gotham FC) against the team with the best regular-season record (San Diego Wave).

Further reading: Bay FC is breaking records (and molds) before it's even kicked a ball

🏀 What's next for Bronny James?

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Bronny James' freshman season came to an end on Thursday with USC's loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament.

What's next? James averaged just 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 19.6 minutes for the lowly Trojans (15-18), leading many to assume he'll stay in school. But with his dad making it known he wants to play with Bronny in the NBA, some believe he'll enter the draft.

"I think everyone is preparing for him to go in the draft, and I'm dead serious — I think a lot of teams will take the stance that they'll draft him if there's a 1% chance LeBron will join them. So, I'll be surprised if he doesn't enter."NBA executive, via ESPN

Of note: The Lakers have the 56th pick. Plenty of players with similar stat lines to Bronny have been selected in that range.

⚾️ Is spring training too long?

A general view during a spring training exhibition between the Angels and Dodgers at the Peoria Sports Complex in Tempe, Arizona. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
A general view during a spring training exhibition between the Angels and Dodgers at the Peoria Sports Complex in Tempe, Arizona. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

In the first full-length spring training since 2019, some are wondering whether all that time in Florida and Arizona is necessary or even a good idea.

From Yahoo Sports' Jake Mintz:

Right now, all across sun-kissed diamonds in Florida and Arizona are very rich and talented men who wish they were somewhere else. ... "I wish," Red Sox manager Alex Cora jokingly responded when asked if he thinks camp should be shorter.

Once upon a time, spring training was a more significant, more indispensable enterprise. Many ballplayers of yesteryear would show up out of shape, out of baseball rhythm, and use the low-pressure environment to wind themselves back into form. But the game has changed.

"The years of coming here to get ready? That's in the past," Cora said.

These days, the overwhelming majority of big leaguers, motivated by the continued increase in salaries, arrive in prime physical condition. Very few touch down in Arizona or Florida feeling rusty, let alone with beer bellies. Most healthy hurlers have faced hitters before pitchers and catchers report. Most hitters have been seeing live pitching for months. By the middle of March, everyone is antsy and desperately trying to avoid injury.

"Game speed is different, but we don't need three lives [live pitching sessions] before games," a veteran starter told Yahoo Sports. "It's too long by about 10 days on the front end."

The other side: Others enjoy the consistency and comfort of the full-length experience, and some players even arrive at team complexes weeks ahead of their report dates.

"I love spring training. I think it's fun," one veteran AL pitcher told Yahoo Sports. "It's great for team-building and is the perfect amount of time for a starter to ramp up. The only thing I would change is to put it on a night schedule like the regular season."

Read the full story.

🇺🇸 Photos across America

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Indian Wells, California — A bee invasion caused a lengthy delay during Thursday's Carlos Alcaraz-Alexander Zverev match at Indian Wells. Alcaraz emerged victories to advance to the semifinals.

(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)
(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

New York — Big East mascots visited the Empire State Building while in town for the men's conference tournament. Today's semifinals: No. 2 UConn vs. St. John's (5:30pm ET, Fox) and No. 10 Marquette vs. Providence (8pm, FS1).

(David Cannon/Getty Images)
(David Cannon/Getty Images)

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. — Ryan Fox became the 14th player to ace the iconic 17th hole at the Players Championship, and the first to record back-to-back eagles on 16 and 17.

(Texas A&M-CC Athletics)
(Texas A&M-CC Athletics)

Lake Charles, Louisiana — Texas A&M-Corpus Christi beat Lamar, 68-61, on Thursday to win the Southland Conference title and earn their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament.

⚾️ Mar. 15, 1869: The first pro baseball team

The 1869 Red Stockings pose for a photo. (Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
The 1869 Red Stockings pose for a photo. (Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

155 years ago today, the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the National Association of Base Ball Players became the first professional baseball team, Jeff writes.

What a season: The Red Stockings went 64-0 (!!!) in their first NABBP season, including 29-0 against other pro teams. Shortstop George Wright was their highest-paid player, earning $1,400 (about $32,000 today).

More on this day:

  • ⚾️ 1912: Cy Young retired after 22 seasons, setting a standard for pitching statistics that will absolutely, unequivocally never be matched*.

  • ⚾️ 2008: Georgia Southern blasted an NCAA-record 14 home runs in their 26-8 win over Columbia.

*The complete game king: Young's records like most wins (511) and batters faced (29,565) will certainly never be touched, but the most mind-blowing stat is this: He threw 749 complete games. The active leader is Justin Verlander… with 26. There were 34 complete games in 2023; Young had 34 or more by himself in 13 different seasons.

📺 Watchlist: Selection Sunday

(Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/TNS)
(Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/TNS)

32 more automatic NCAA tournament tickets will be punched this weekend ahead of Selection Sunday, when the men's and women's brackets will be revealed, Jeff writes.

  • Men (6pm ET, CBS): Host Adam Zucker will be joined by analysts Clark Kellogg, Jay Wright and Seth Davis, who'll anchor coverage that includes an interview with selection committee chair Charles McClelland.

  • Women (8pm, ESPN): Host Elle Duncan will be joined by analysts Rebecca Lobo, Carolyn Peck, Andraya Carter and Chiney Ogwumike, alongside ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme.

More to watch:

  • ⛳️ PGA: Players Championship (Fri-Sun, Golf/NBC/ESPN+)

  • 🎾 Tennis: Indian Wells (Fri-Sun, Tennis) … Women's semifinals* today, men's semifinals tomorrow; both finals on Sunday.

  • 🏀 NBA: Warriors at Lakers (Sat. 8:30pm, ABC); Suns at Bucks (Sun. 1pm, ABC); Nuggets at Mavericks (Sun. 3:30pm, ABC); Nets at Spurs (Sun. 7pm, NBA)

  • 🏒 NHL: Rangers at Penguins (Sat. 3pm, ABC); Islanders at Rangers (Sun. 1pm, TNT/Max); Devils at Golden Knights (Sun. 3:30pm, TNT/Max)

  • ⚽️ NWSL: Gotham FC vs. San Diego Wave (Fri. 8pm, Prime); Six games (Sat-Sun, ABC/ESPN+/ION/NWSL+)

  • ⚽️ FA Cup quarterfinals: Wolves vs. Coventry (Sat. 8:15am, ESPN+); Man City vs. Newcastle (Sat. 1:30pm, ESPN+); Chelsea vs. Leicester City (Sun. 8:45am, ESPN+); Man United vs. Liverpool (Sun. 11:30am, ESPN+)

  • ⚽️ MLS: 14 games (Sat-Sun, Apple TV+) … Every game is free this weekend.

  • ⚾️ Spring Breakout: 14 games (Fri-Sun, MLB) … Minor league prospects face off in a series of exhibitions during spring training.

  • 🏁 NASCAR: Bristol Motor Speedway (Sun. 3:30pm, Fox)

  • 🏉 Six Nations: Italy vs. Wales (Sat. 10:15am, Peacock); Scotland vs. Ireland (Sat. 12:45pm, Peacock); England vs. France (Sat. 4pm, Peacock) … Final matchday.

  • 🏒 PWHL: New York at Minnesota (Sat. 3:30pm, YouTube); Ottawa at Boston (Sat. 6pm, YouTube); Toronto at Montreal (Sun. 12:30pm, YouTube)

  • 🏀 Overtime Elite Finals: RWE (up 2-1) vs. City Reapers (Fri. 7pm, YouTube) … Best-of-five series; Game 5 is on Sunday (1pm, YouTube) if necessary.

*Indian Wells semifinals: No. 1 Iga Świątek vs. No. 31 Marta Kostyuk (Fri. 7pm), No. 3 Coco Gauff vs. No. 9 Maria Sakkari (Fri. 9pm), No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz vs. No. 3 Jannik Sinner (Sat. TBD), No. 4 Daniil Medvedev vs. No. 17 Tommy Paul (Sat. TBD).

🏟️ College football trivia

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Northwestern is in the process of demolishing Ryan Field, one of the oldest college football stadiums in America, to make way for a new stadium expected to open in 2026.

  • Question: What's the oldest college football stadium in America?

  • Hint: An NFL team once played there.

Answer at the bottom.

🏒 The mysterious case of the bobblehead burglars

Jágr salutes fans after Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals. (B Bennett/Getty Images)
Jágr salutes fans after Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals. (B Bennett/Getty Images)

Anybody need 18,000 bobbleheads? I know a guy.

The heist of the century: The Penguins had to postpone Jaromír Jágr Bobblehead Night on Thursday after the shipment carrying the bobbleheads was stolen en route to Pittsburgh.

Here's my question: Did someone deliberately plan to steal 18,000 Jaromír Jágr bobbleheads? Or did someone simply take the opportunity to steal a cargo shipment, only to realize they now have 18,000 Jaromír Jágr bobbleheads? Both are equally as funny.

Trivia answer: Franklin Field (University of Pennsylvania), built in 1895. Home of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1958-70.

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