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Hypersonic Air Travel Could Alter Physical Landscape, Money Behind Pro Sports

Editor’s Note: Adam Grossman has the controls this morning. You will find his latest Revenue Above Replacement column below. Have a great day.

Hypersonic Air Travel Could Alter Physical Landscape, Money Behind Pro Sports

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated his desire to play more games overseas and refused to rule out awarding permanent NFL franchise(s) to cities outside of the United States in a press conference earlier this month.

Goodell’s global expansion aspirations have seemingly been fueled by the league’s ability to successfully sellout multiple games in the same European cities (London, Frankfurt), and to grow fan engagement metrics across several other international markets.

The desire to maintain competitive balance across the league has kept the NFL from permanently parking franchises abroad. The time required to travel between the U.S. to Europe has historically been among the toughest obstacles to overcome.

For context, nonstop flights from Chicago to London take upwards of eight hours.

But the emergence of hypersonic air travel has the potential to change that dynamic, and drastically alter the physical landscape of –and money behind– professional sports in the process.

Hermeus recently announced it is building a plane that will be able to travel at speeds of 3,850 miles per hour. A planes moving that fast could get from Chicago to London in 90 minutes.

Widespread adoption of hypersonic air travel would open doors to the big four leagues expanding their footprints overseas. In theory, cities across all of Western Europe could become expansion markets.

International sports properties would benefit too. European soccer leagues have large fan bases in Asia. Flights occurring at hypersonic speed would make it possible to include Asian teams in competitions.

It should be noted that not everyone views air travel as the primary impediment to global market expansion. Some believe it’s the lack of star power that exists within any individual sport or league.

“Condensing travel time would certainly be beneficial for the health and wellness of individual athletes, but it does not help the expansion narrative,” former NFL player Darius Walker (partner, Nolan Partners) said. These leagues need to “find and develop [more] top-tier talent.”

It’s a valid point, if unlikely to outweigh the prospect of large potential revenue increases that would come with international expansion.


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Hermeus’ emergence also has the potential to alter rights owner cap tables. Former XFL president and CEO, and recently named Professor of Practice at the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management, Jeffrey Pollack believes faster air travel has the potential to accelerate the growing trend of foreign investment from wealthy state-run entities in U.S. based sports properties (see: QIA and Monumental, PIF and PFL).

“Investment from sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East is fundamentally about the globalization of sports,” Pollack said. “Hosting more world-class sporting events, attracting the world’s best athletes, and building a strong regional sports economy is imperative [to their vision. Hypersonic] travel will only reduce logistical friction and accelerate a new reality.”

Reductions in flight times could subtly improve the on-field product of sports leagues too. The less time athletes spend in the air, the more time they’ll have on the ground getting acclimated to local conditions and time zone changes.

“We know travel fatigue is an important factor that can affect performance and injury risk,” Dr. James Robinson (sports medicine physician, Hospital for Special Surgery) said. “For our professional teams especially, this can compound over a season. Decreasing flight times can give athletes additional time to recovery and catch up on sleep possible decreasing the effects of jet lag.”

And it should aid the realigned power five conferences. One of the biggest concerns regarding realignment is the wear and tear the additional travel will have on the student athletes. Faster flights would directly help address this concern while providing more time for students to be on or near campus.

It is important to note Hermeus’ planes are not yet ready for commercial use. The company plans to begin fully testing its Quarterhorse this year and will embark on the process with its Darkhorse in ‘24. The plan is to build Halycon, a 20-person plane, on the lessons learned from Quarterhorse and Darkhouse; meaning it is not expected to come to market before 2025.

Hermeus’ progress to date, however, has put the company on Forbes’ list of companies expected to reach a $1 billion+ valuation in 202, and its most recent investment round was led by Sam Altman (founder, CEO OpenAI).

Hypersonic travel is coming. Sports organizations can start preparing for that reality.

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About The Author: Adam Grossman is the Vice President of Business Insights & Analytics at Excel Sports Management. He works with companies, sports properties, media rights holders, athletes, agencies, and events to determine the value of their most important assets. Grossman is also a professor at Northwestern University Master’s In Sports Administration program and the co-author of The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders for a High-Performance Industry. You can find him at [email protected].