Roundup: Esports effort shuffles Pacers exec ranks; Indy 500 trophy heads to Japan

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Coming out of Thanksgiving and heading toward the heart of the holiday season, The Score has plenty of interesting tidbits to unwrap, from the Borg-Warner Trophy's first trip overseas to management changes with the Indiana Pacers' esports team and Indiana Fever. Meanwhile, fast and furious shrimp eaters are descending on Indianapolis, and two more teams are departing the beleaguered North American Soccer League.

But remember, no shaking. You'll ruin the surprise. Instead, read on.

Borg-Warner Trophy headed to Japan

The iconic Borg-Warner Trophy (emblazoned with mini-sculptures of every Indy 500 winner) has left the United States for the first time in its 82-year-history and is traveling to Japan for a 15-day celebration of Takuma Sato’s victory in the 101st Indianapolis 500.

The Borg-Warner Trophy left its permanent home at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum on Nov. 28, flying from the U.S. to Tokyo for a variety of festivities to honor Sato as the first Japanese winner of the Indy 500. It also will be on hand as Honda celebrates its 12th Indianapolis 500 victory.

Stops on the Japanese tour include Tokyo, the Twin Ring Motegi race circuit and the cities of Nabari and Fukuroi.

Sato edged three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves by less than a quarter second to win this year's race on May 28.

“I think it is very special that the Borg-Warner Trophy is traveling to Japan,” Sato said in a statement. “The trophy represents winning the greatest race in the world, and I am very proud to have won the 2017 Indianapolis 500 and have my image on the trophy."

Fever boss dropping GM role to focus on Pacers’ esports team

Indiana Fever President Kelly Krauskopf was recently named senior vice president overseeing Pacers Sports & Entertainment’s not-yet-named esports team.

Because that job is taking up an increasing amount of her time, Krauskopf will turn over her general manager duties to Fever head coach Pokey Chatman. 

Krauskopf has been the architect and primary leader of PS&E’s WNBA franchise since its first season in 2000, and has served as GM since 2003 when free agency began in the league. She remains as Fever president.

The Pacers esports team will play in the NBA’s 17-team NBA2K League, which is set to tip off in May.

The team, Krauskopf said, is set to draft a roster of five video-game players in mid-March and convene its team for training in April.

“[Pacers President] Rick Fuson and [team owner] Herb Simon—who gave me this [esports] opportunity saw that my professional experience from building and leading a franchise on the WNBA side was an asset,” Krauskopf told IBJ of her new role.

“I have been researching and learning about the industry for the past year. Meeting with stakeholders, talking with teams that are already invested in esports gave me great insight into how to prepare setting up the business. I have a tremendous amount of energy around building a franchise—particularly one in a league that is led by the NBA," Krauskopf said.

Initially, the Pacers-backed esports team will only play the basketball video game in competition. The first year will consist of a 14-game schedule and possibly some in-season tournaments.

Krauskopf told IBJ that the Pacers’ esports franchise could expand into other esports games.

“With the rapid growth projections of the industry, we are also looking at [expansion] from a long-term perspective,” she said. 

Pacers bouncing from Orlando to Vegas summer league

The Indiana Pacers will be heading west next summer to tune up for the following NBA season.

The summer league competition that the Pacers have participated in is folding, according to officials for the Orlando Magic, which ran the league in its home city

That essentially leaves the Pacers with one option. The team will play in the Las Vegas summer league, according to league sources.

Last year, the Orlando league had eight teams, down from 10 in previous years. Six of the eight—Charlotte, Detroit, Indiana, New York, Oklahoma City and Orlando—only played in the Orlando Summer League, with the league's other 24 teams in Las Vegas. Four of the 24 also participate in a mini-summer league in Utah.

NBA teams use the summer league to get evaluate their newly-drafted rookies as well as provide some in-game practice for other young players, mostly second- and third-year guys.

Eating champ returning to Indy

World-champion professional eater Joey Chestnut on Dec. 2 will defend his four-year title at the fifth annual St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail Eating Championship in Indianapolis.

Last year, Chestnut consumed 15 pounds of St. Elmo shrimp cocktail in just eight minutes. And yes, the cocktail sauce is as hot as ever. Let the tears roll.

Second-place finisher Carmen Cincotti consumed 14.25 pounds.

The event will begin at 3 p.m. during the Meijer Tail Greater Party on Georgia Street as part of the 2017 Big Ten Football Championship Game weekend festivities.

Competitors will compete for a $3,000 prize purse.

Indy Eleven’s soccer league in trouble

The San Francisco Deltas and FC Edmonton on Friday left the North American Soccer League, according to multiple news reports.

The Deltas are folding two weeks after winning the 2017 NASL championship. The San Francisco-based team has been rumored to be in trouble for a couple of months. Despite having a strong team, the Delta’s only averaged 2,564 spectators per home game.

Edmonton’s announcement was more surprising.

FC Edmonton’s Tom Fath, who along with brother Dave owned the club, told the Canadian Press that the decision to shut down is the “direct result of lack of fans in the stands.” This year, FC Edmonton averaged 3,408 patrons per home game.

“We would need 8,000 or 9,000 people to be sustainable, and that’s not just bums in seats,” Tom Fath said. “It’s the eyeballs. If you've got people watching, that also captures corporate sponsorship. We've got some great corporate sponsors, but we never captured the heart of corporate Edmonton to the extent we needed to.”

FC Edmonton was one of the NASL’s founding members in 2009.

The departure of those two teams leaves the NASL with just five teams from the 2017 season. North Carolina FC announced earlier this month it is departing for the rival USL.

The NASL recently lost its Division II status, which means if it continues next year, it will likely be Division III, a lower tier than the Division II USL.

The NASL is set to add expansion franchises in San Diego and Fullerton, California, for the 2018 season. Interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal told the Florida Times-Union the league is in “active discussions” with potential ownership groups in San Francisco.

Indy Eleven President Jeff Belskus told IBJ this month that if the NASL has a 2018 season, the local team intends to play in it. However, the club ultimately wants to play in Major League Soccer and has petitioned for a spot in the top-tier league.

On Wednesday, MLS officials announced four finalists for two expansion franchises. The Indy Eleven was not among them. But the team is still in the running for two more expansion expected to be filled in the future.

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