Athletes for Sale 

June 20, 2023

By: Carlos Alvarez

Good Morning,

If you haven’t noticed, we’ve reached the dog days of summer sports with the July 4th holiday break approaching. The NBA Draft is just two days away, but we’re checking in with baseball\’s win streaks and rewinding the international soccer chatter that was lost in our NBA/NHL Finals coverage. In case you missed it, there’s a bold new world in the soccer market.

Letter Rip!


Athletes for Sale

Photo: Power Sport Images / Getty Images

How the World’s Most Popular Game Became a Transfer Market Auction War

The highest level of sports loses something. Not when you\’re young and playing with your teammates who double as your best friends. Not when you\’re throwing a football with your dad or golfing with your pals. Not when you\’re in the stands, face painted as your university\’s basketball game. Those moments are beautiful and life-giving. But at the highest level? It\’s business.

By now, you\’re aware of the legal sports chess match between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. Much of the American-focused sports media has featured the ongoing saga of the league alliance, merger, or whatever verbiage can define it. That situation comes with a lot of questions and even congressional inquiry, but golf is just one piece of the puzzle. The Saudia Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) has been a massive buyer in sports over the past few years, primarily in areas with international draws that go to the highest bidder — golf and soccer. No, your favorite football and basketball players won’t be spurning your team for a nine-figure offer in Saudi Arabia, but European soccer stars are on the move, and the business of sport is once again changing sport itself.

Gone are the days of player loyalty in the NBA and NFL as contracts surpass fathomability. Gone are the days of the NCAA we once knew in an ever-changing world of conference realignments and NIL disparity. And now, gone are the days of European soccer integrity and the Ronaldo-Messi era. The two greatest players of a generation are now on opposite sides of the globe. And it\’s just the beginning…

Editor’s Note: With many complicated issues surrounding the PIF’s financial backing, this article is focused on the sports side of recent events.

Soccer’s Newest Player

For decades, a handful of domestic leagues dominated the European futbol hierarchy. While international competition is its own story, the national sub-groups of the Premier League (England), Ligue 1 (France), La Liga (Spain) and Bundesliga (Germany) are the key players in Europe. Serie A (Italy), Eredeviste (Netherlands), and other countries boast successful leagues with high-level talent, too, but the Saudi Pro League hasn’t been one of them. Until now. In the past year, the Saudi Pro League (and PIF) have lured a handful of mega stars from the top leagues in Europe, most of them in the twilight years of their careers. And they\’re just getting warmed up.

Players Joining Saudi Pro League

Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) and Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) are two iconic stars who made the move to Saudi Pro League clubs in the last year, and both of them are receiving undisclosed contracts rumored to be well above $200 million. The Saudi League is also working to sign N’golo Kante (Chelsea) and Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) in the coming days. Those are just the star players. A number of young, talented Premier League players are already packing their bags. Then there’s Lionel Messi, who ultimately turned down close to $1 billion in favor of Inter Miami CF of the MLS. A win for MLS, but the PIF still gave Messi $25 million to promote Saudi Arabian tourism.

Saudi Pro League vs. MLS

Before we go too far down the rabbit hole, let’s compare the Saudi Arabia purchasing power of the world’s biggest game to what’s happening in the United States. The Saudi Pro League wasn’t a professional league until 2005. It had eight teams, and it now features 18 total. It’s growing, and fast. The acquisition of superstar talent and the assault on Europe’s transfer market has boosted international interest in the league. It’s a similar rise that the MLS has seen in the 21st century— a league that began in 1996 with 10 teams and has since grown to 29. The MLS brought in Europe’s aging stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gareth Bale, and David Beckham, and the same just occurred with Messi.

For Sale & Not For Sale: The \”Big 4,\” as they’re often referred to in the United States, are domestic safety nets in North American sports. The NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL are fueled by North American fan bases, but they have global status, and the best players in the world play here. But on the international stage? Sports like golf and soccer play by different rules. The PGA Tour (golf) and soccer\’s aforementioned European leagues had a monopoly on the top talent. Gone are those days.

Money talks, and it\’s getting loud in Saudi Arabian sports.

Read More

AP News: Saudi Arabian Soccer League Gets More State Funding Backed by Crown Prince

CBS Sports: Benzema & Ronaldo Are Just the Start of Saudi Pro League’s Ambitious Plans

The Athletic: PIF to Take Control of Saudi Arabia’s 4 Biggest Clubs in Pro League Shakeup



Power Rankings: Hot  & Cold

Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Joey Votto Hits HR in Season Debut for Red-Hot Cincinnati, Luis Arraez Makes History to Get Back Above .400 & More Hot Streaks in the Latest MLB Power Rankings

The 2023 MLB season has been full of twists and turns, and the whacky stats and win streaks didn’t stop on Monday. The Reds — riding an eight-game win streak — welcomed back their veteran star Joey Votto who went 2-for-3 with a home run and 3 RBIs in a 5-4 win over the Rockies. Make it nine straight for Cincinnati, and the Reds are now the NL Central leaders (wow). Elsewhere in the majors, Luis Arraez had his third five-hit game this month — that’s an MLB record — and he’s now back above .400 for the season in his chase for history. Oh, and the Marlins trounced the Blue Jays (11-0). Miami is soaring up the rankings. The Angels, Diamondbacks, and Red Sox are making moves, too. Let’s hit it with today’s latest review of the MLB Power Rankings: hot and cold edition (five of each).

MLB Power Rankings

1. Rays (51-24) | —

2. Braves (46-26) | ↑2 

3. Rangers (45-27) | ↓1

4. Orioles (44-27) | ↓1

5. Diamondbacks (44-29) | ↑3

6. Angels (41-33) | ↑5 

7. Marlins (42-31) | ↑3

8. Yankees (39-33) | ↓3 

9. Giants (40-32) | ↑5 

10. Dodgers (38-33) | ↓4 

Analysis (1-10): Braves, Halos & Giants Raging

The Rays retain the No. 1 spot despite a handful of losses in the last week. Atlanta (W6) and San Francisco (W8) took win streaks into Monday night as they surged up the top-10 while the Angels and Shohei Ohtani are beginning to find their stride. Meanwhile, the victims of their sweeps are trending in the other direction. The Rays lost five games in the last 10 days while the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers all got snagged with three or four-game skids in the last week.

Teams 11-20

11. Astros (39-34) | ↓4 

12. Blue Jays (39-35) | ↓3 

13. Reds (38-35) | ↑8 

14. Brewers (37-35) | ↓1

15. Red Sox (38-35) | ↑1

16. Phillies (38-34) | ↑2 

17. Twins (36-37) | ↓2

18. Padres (35-37) | ↓1

19. Pirates (34-37) | ↓7 

20. Mariners (35-35) | ↓1

Analysis (11-20): The Reds Are On Fire

Two teams from last week’s top-10 have fallen into the teens (Astros and Blue Jays), and two NL Central squads have flipped the middle of the board. The Reds’ nine-game win streak has Cincinnati up into the 13 slot while the Pirates have slide down seven spots.The Phillies and Red Sox have also had recent success as they fight to stay above .500.

Teams 21-30

21. Mets (34-38) | ↓1 

22. Guardians (33-38) | —

23. Cubs (34-38) | ↑3

24. White Sox (31-43) | ↓1

25. Tigers (31-40) | ↑3

26. Cardinals (30-43) | ↑1

27. Nationals (27-44) | ↓3

28. Rockies (29-46) | ↓3

29. Royals (19-53) | ↑1

30. Athletics (19-55) | ↓1

Analysis (21-30): Trade Deadline Sellers Territory

By now, we know which teams won’t be competitive come October. And those are the clubs on the potential trade deadline sellers list. One team in particular keeps sliding down the board with an ongoing skid — the Mets. New York has now dropped into the bottom third while much of the AL and NL Central are just treading water. The A’s flicker of success (five-game win streak) dwindled as soon as the team officially inked their Las Vegas plans.

MLB\’s Top Active Win Streaks

Reds (Won 9)

Giants (Won 8)

Phillies (Won 6)

Braves (Won 6)

Red Sox (Won 5)

Read More

ESPN: Every Current MLB Playoff Contender’s Biggest Strength

ABC News: Votto Homers, Has 3 RBIs in Reds\’ 9th Straight Win

CBS Sports: Pirates Call Up Catcher Henry Davis, No. 1 Pick From 2021

MLB: Back to .400, Luis Arraez is Hitting His Stride Once Again



Going for Green

Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Warriors’ Draymond Green Declines $27.5 Million Player Option to Become Unrestricted Free Agent

The next big NBA offseason domino fell when Warriors forward Draymond Green opted out of his $27.5 million option on Monday. Green has signed multiple extensions with Golden State since the Warriors drafted him in 2012. He’s never tested free agency, and this could be his last chance at a bite of the apple at 33 years old. So what does this mean for the Warriors? And where could he land?

Dub Dynasty’s 1st Casualty

The Warriors won four championships and reached six NBA Finals in an eight-year window from 2015-2022. They’ve been the NBA’s most relevant “dynasty” over the last decade with the same core of three Hall of Famers — Green (33), Klay Thompson (33), and of course, Stephen Curry (35). All three are aging fast, and Warriors GM Bob Myers stepped down in preparation for the potential decline. Mike Dunleavy Jr. was announced as the new GM on Monday, and it’ll be his job to salvage the dynasty.

Potential Landing Spots

Green is one of the few NBA players with a value that’s difficult to project through statistics. His career averages are 8.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.6 assists, but he’s the hustle, defense, and glue guy. It’s hard to see the perfect fit for Green outside of San Francisco, and he could stay in the Bay, but he’s always been a big fan of LeBron James (Lakers). His play style and age make him a likely fit for contenders who value defense. Teams like the Heat and Mavericks make sense. There are also rumors of the Pistons being interested in the Saginaw native who played for Michigan State.

Read More

ESPN: New Warriors GM Mike Dunleavy Jr. Says Team ‘Really Wants’ Draymond Green Back

USA Today: What’s Next for Draymond Green as Warriors’ Fiery Star Enters Free Agency?



 NBA Draft Big Board

The long-awaited, highly anticipated 2023 NBA Draft is almost here. Victor Wembanyama’s name will be called by the Spurs with the No. 1 pick on Thursday, but the rest of the draft is filled with uncertainty behind the generational prospect. (Sporting News)

 Women’s World Cup 101

Pull out your lucky jersey and start setting your alarms now. The World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is now only a month away. The U.S. women are seeking a record third consecutive title, and fifth overall, when the tournament begins July 20. (USA Today)

 Biggest Questions After the U.S. Open

As with any captivating Hollywood production, the 123rd U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club had no shortage of drama. From Wyndham Clark’s first major to Rickie Fowler’s resurgence, here’s what we learned from the U.S. Open. (ESPN)





Today\’s Must-Watch List

Braves at Phillies (6:40 pm ET)

Orioles at Rays (6:40 pm ET)

Mets at Astros (8:10 pm ET)

Padres at Giants (9:45 pm ET)
Dodgers at Angels (10:05 pm ET)


Dream at Wings (8:00 pm ET)

Sun at Storm (10:00 pm ET)

College World Series

TCU vs. Oral Roberts (2:00 pm ET)

#5 LSU vs. Tennessee (7:00 pm ET)

Download The Sportsletter\’s Must-Watch Calendar



Question of the Day

Do you think the Saudi Pro League\’s pursuit of soccer stars will be boom or bust? (click to vote)

Boom (Succeed/Grow)

Bust (Fail/Fizzle)