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What a USL D1 league might look like

TL;DR: Man with too much time on his hands goes deep down the rabbit hole on a concept this sub already didn’t seem that enthusiastic about. If you really want to skip ahead, CTRL+F “verdict” and it’ll get you there.
Two days ago, u/MrPhillyj2wns made a post asking whether USL should launch a D1 league in order to compete in Concacaf. From the top voted replies, it appears this made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
But I’ve been at home for eight weeks and I am terribly, terribly bored.
So, I present to you this overview of what the USL pyramid might look like if Jake Edwards got a head of steam and attempted to establish a USSF-sanctioned first division. This is by no means an endorsement of such a proposal or even a suggestion that USL SHOULD do such a thing. It is merely an examination of whether they COULD.
Welcome to the Thunderdome USL Premiership
First, there are some base-level assumptions we must make in this exercise, because it makes me feel more scientific and not like a guy who wrote this on Sunday while watching the Belarusian Premier League (Go BATE Borisov!).
  1. All D1 teams must comply with known USSF requirements for D1 leagues (more on that later).
  2. MLS, not liking this move, will immediately remove all directly-owned affiliate clubs from the USL structure (this does not include hybrid ownerships, like San Antonio FC – NYCFC). This removes all MLS2 teams but will not affect Colorado Springs, Reno, RGVFC and San Antonio.
  3. The USL will attempt to maintain both the USL Championship and USL League One, with an eventual mind toward creating the pro/rel paradise that is promised in Relegations 3:16.
  4. All of my research regarding facility size and ownership net worth is correct – this is probably the biggest leap of faith we have to make, since googling “NAME net worth” and “CITY richest people” doesn’t seem guaranteed to return accurate results.
  5. The most a club can increase its available seating capacity to meet D1 requirements in a current stadium is no more than 1,500 seats (10% of the required 15,000). If they need to add more, they’ll need a new facility.
  6. Let’s pretend that people are VERY willing to sell. It’s commonly acknowledged that the USL is a more financially feasible route to owning a soccer club than in MLS (c.f. MLS-Charlotte’s reported $325 million expansion fee) and the USSF has some very strict requirements for D1 sanctioning. It becomes pretty apparent when googling a lot of team’s owners that this requirement isn’t met, so let’s assume everyone that can’t sells to people who meet the requirements.
(Known) USSF D1 league requirements:
- League must have 12 teams to apply and 14 teams by year three
- Majority owner must have a net worth of $40 million, and the ownership group must have a total net worth of $70 million. The value of an owned stadium is not considered when calculating this value.
- Must have teams located in the Eastern, Central and Pacific time zones
- 75% of league’s teams must be based in markets with at a metro population of at least 1 million people.
- All league stadiums must have a capacity of at least 15,000
The ideal club candidate for the USL Premiership will meet the population and capacity requirements in its current ground, which will have a grass playing surface. Of the USL Championship’s 27 independent/hybrid affiliate clubs, I did not find one club that meets all these criteria as they currently stand.
Regarding turf fields, the USSF does not have a formal policy regarding the ideal playing surface but it is generally acknowledged that grass is superior to turf. 6 of 26 MLS stadiums utilize turf, or roughly 23% of stadiums. We’ll hold a similar restriction for our top flight, so 2-3 of our top flight clubs can have turf fields. Seem fair?
Capacity is going to be the biggest issue, since the disparity between current requirements for the second-tier (5,000) and the first tier (15,000) is a pretty massive gap. Nice club you have there, triple your capacity and you’re onto something. As a result, I have taken the liberty of relocating certain (read: nearly all) clubs to new grounds, trying my utmost to keep those clubs in their current markets and –importantly--, ensure they play on grass surfaces.
So, let’s do a case-by-case evaluation and see if we can put together 12-14 teams that meet the potential requirements, because what else do you have to do?
For each club’s breakdown, anything that represents a chance from what is currently true will be underlined.
Candidate: Birmingham Legion FC
Location (Metro population): Birmingham, Ala. (1,151,801)
Time zone: Central
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Legion Field (FieldTurf, 71,594)
Potential owner: Stephens Family (reported net worth $4 billion)
Notes: Birmingham has a pretty strong candidacy. Having ditched the 5,000-seater BBVA Field for Legion Field, which sits 2.4 miles away, they’ve tapped into the city’s soccer history. Legion Field hosted portions of both the men’s and women’s tournaments at the 1996 Olympics, including a 3-1 U.S. loss to Argentina that saw 83,183 pack the house. The Harbert family seemed like strong ownership contenders, but since the death of matriarch Marguerite Harbert in 2015, it’s unclear where the wealth in the family is concentrated, so the Stephens seem like a better candidate. The only real knock that I can think of is that we really want to avoid having clubs play on turf, so I’d say they’re on the bubble of our platonic ideal USL Prem.
Candidate: Charleston Battery
Location (Metro population): Charleston, S.C. (713,000)
Time zone: Eastern
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Johnson Hagood Stadium (Grass, ~14,700)
Potential owner: Anita Zucker (reported net worth $3 billion)
Notes: Charleston’s candidacy isn’t looking great. Already disadvantaged due to its undersized metro population, a move across the Cooper River to Johnson Hagood Stadium is cutting it close in terms of capacity. The stadium, home to The Citadel’s football team, used to seat 21,000, before 9,300 seats on the eastern grandstand were torn down in 2017 to deal with lead paint that had been used in their construction. Renovation plans include adding 3,000 seats back in, which could hit 15,000 if they bumped it to 3,300, but throw in a required sale by HCFC, LLC (led by content-creation platform founder Rob Salvatore) to chemical magnate Anita Zucker, and you’ll see there’s a lot of ifs and ands in this proposal.
Candidate: Charlotte Independence
Location (Metro population): Charlotte, N.C. (2,569, 213)
Time zone: Eastern
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Jerry Richardson Stadium (Turf, 15,314)
Potential owner: James Goodnight (reported net worth $9.1 billion)
Notes: Charlotte ticks a lot of the boxes. A move from the Sportsplex at Matthews to UNC-Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson stadium meets capacity requirements, but puts them on to the dreaded turf. Regrettably, nearby American Legion Memorial Stadium only seats 10,500, despite a grass playing surface. With a sizeable metro population (sixth-largest in the USL Championship) and a possible owner in software billionaire James Goodnight, you’ve got some options here. The biggest problem likely lies in direct competition for market share against a much better-funded MLS Charlotte side due to join the league in 2021.
Candidate: Hartford Athletic
Location (Metro population): Hartford, Conn. (1,214,295)
Time zone: Eastern
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Pratt & Whitney Stadium (Grass, 38,066)
Potential owner: Ray Dalio (reported net worth $18.4 billion)
Notes: Okay, I cheated a bit here, having to relocate Hartford to Pratt & Whitney Stadium, which is technically in East Hartford, Conn. I don’t know enough about the area to know if there’s some kind of massive beef between the two cities, but the club has history there, having played seven games in 2019 while Dillon Stadium underwent renovations. If the group of local businessmen that currently own the club manage to attract Dalio to the table, we’re on to something.
Candidate: Indy Eleven
Location (Metro population): Indianapolis, Ind. (2,048,703)
Time zone: Eastern
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Lucas Oil Stadium (Turf, 62,421)
Potential owner: Jim Irsay (reported net worth of $3 billion)
Notes: Indy Eleven are a club that are SO CLOSE to being an ideal candidate – if it weren’t for Lucas Oil Stadium’s turf playing surface. Still, there’s a lot to like in this bid. I’m not going to lie, I have no idea what current owner and founder Ersal Ozdemir is worth, but it seems like there might be cause for concern. A sale to Irsay, who also owns the NFL Indianapolis (nee Baltimore) Colts, seems likely to keep the franchise there, rather than make a half-mile move to 14,230 capacity Victory Field where the AAA Indianapolis Indians play and expand from there.
Candidate: Louisville City FC
Location (Metro population): Louisville, Ky. (1,297,310)
Time zone: Eastern
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Lynn Family Stadium (Grass, 14,000, possibly expandable to 20,000)
Potential owner: Wayne Hughes (reported net worth $2.8 billion)
Notes: I’m stretching things a bit here. Lynn Family stadium is currently listed as having 11,700 capacity that’s expandable to 14,000, but they’ve said that the ground could hold as many as 20,000 with additional construction, which might be enough to grant them a temporary waiver from USSF. If the stadium is a no-go, then there’s always Cardinal Stadium, home to the University of Louisville’s football team, which seats 65,000 but is turf. Either way, it seems like a sale to someone like Public Storage founder Wayne Hughes will be necessary to ensure the club has enough capital.
Candidate: Memphis 901 FC
Location (Metro population): Memphis, Tenn. (1,348,260)
Time zone: Central
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Liberty Bowl Stadium (Turf, 58,325)
Potential owner: Fred Smith (reported net worth $3 billion)
Notes: Unfortunately for Memphis, AutoZone Park’s 10,000 seats won’t cut it at the D1 level. With its urban location, it would likely prove tough to renovate, as well. Liberty Bowl Stadium more than meets the need, but will involve the use of the dreaded turf. As far as an owner goes, FedEx founder Fred Smith seems like a good local option.
Candidate: Miami FC, “The”
Location (Metro population): Miami, Fla. (6,158,824)
Time zone: Eastern
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Riccardo Silva Stadium (FieldTurf, 20,000)
Potential owner: Riccardo Silva (reported net worth $1 billion)
Notes: Well, well, well, Silva might get his wish for top-flight soccer, after all. He’s got the money, he’s got the metro, and his ground has the capacity. There is the nagging issue of the turf, though. Hard Rock Stadium might present a solution, including a capacity of 64,767 and a grass playing surface. It is worth noting, however, that this is the first profile where I didn’t have to find a new potential owner for a club.
Candidate: North Carolina FC
Location (Metro population): Durham, N.C. (1,214,516 in The Triangle)
Time zone: Eastern
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Carter-Finley Stadium (Grass/Turf, 57,583)
Potential owner: Steve Malik (precise net worth unknown) / Dennis Gillings (reported net worth of $1.7 billion)
Notes: We have our first “relocation” in North Carolina FC, who were forced to trade Cary’s 10,000-seat WakeMed Soccer Park for Carter-Finley Stadium in Durham, home of the NC State Wolfpack and 57,583 of their closest friends. The move is a whopping 3.1 miles, thanks to the close-knit hub that exists between Cary, Durham and Raleigh. Carter-Finley might be my favorite of the stadium moves in this exercise. The field is grass, but the sidelines are artificial turf. Weird, right? Either way, it was good enough for Juventus to play a friendly against Chivas de Guadalajara there in 2011. Maybe the move would be pushed for by new owner and medical magnate Dennis Gillings, whose British roots might inspire him to get involved in the Beautiful Game. Straight up, though, I couldn’t find a net worth for current owner Steve Malik, though he did sell his company MedFusion for $91 million in 2010, then bought it back for an undisclosed amount and sold it again for $43 million last November. I don’t know if Malik has the juice to meet D1 requirements, but I suspect he’s close.
Candidate: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Location (Metro population): Pittsburgh, Penn. (2,362,453)
Time zone: Eastern
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Heinz Field (Grass, 64,450)
Potential owner: Henry Hillman (reported net worth $2.5 billion)
Notes: I don’t know a ton about the Riverhounds, but this move in particular feels like depriving a pretty blue-collar club from its roots. Highmark Stadium is a no-go from a seating perspective, but the Steelers’ home stadium at Heinz Field would more than meet the requirements and have a grass surface that was large enough to be sanctioned for a FIFA friendly between the U.S. WNT and Costa Rica in 2015. As for an owner, Tuffy Shallenberger (first ballot owner name HOF) doesn’t seem to fit the USSF bill, but legendary Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Hillman might. I’m sure you’re asking, why not the Rooney Family, if they’ll play at Heinz Field? I’ll tell you: I honestly can’t seem to pin down a value for the family. The Steelers are valued at a little over a billion and rumors persist that Dan Rooney is worth $500 million, but I’m not sure. I guess the Rooneys would work too, but it’s a definite departure from an owner in Shallenberger who was described by one journalist as a guy who “wears boots, jeans, a sweater and a trucker hat.”
Candidate: Saint Louis FC
Location (Metro population): St. Louis, Mo. (2,807,338)
Time zone: Central
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Busch Stadium (Grass, 45,494)
Potential owner: William DeWitt Jr. (reported net worth $4 billion)
Notes: Saint Louis has some weirdness in making the jump to D1. Current CEO Jim Kavanaugh is an owner of the MLS side that will begin play in 2022. The club’s current ground at West Community Stadium isn’t big enough, but perhaps a timely sale to Cardinals owner William DeWitt Jr. could see the club playing games at Busch Stadium, which has a well established history of hosting other sports like hockey, college football and soccer (most recently a U.S. WNT friendly against New Zealand in 2019). The competition with another MLS franchise wouldn’t be ideal, like Charlotte, but with a big enough population and cross marketing from the Cardinals, maybe there’s a winner here. Wacko idea: If Busch doesn’t pan out, send them to The Dome. Sure, it’s a 60k turf closed-in stadium, but we can go for that retro NASL feel and pay homage to our nation’s soccer history.
Candidate: Tampa Bay Rowdies
Location (Metro population): Tampa, Fla. (3,068,511)
Time zone: Eastern
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Raymond James Stadium (Grass, 65,518)
Potential owner: Edward DeBartolo Jr. (reported net worth $3 billion)
Notes: This one makes me sad. Despite having never been there, I see Al Lang Stadium as an iconic part of the Rowdies experience. Current owner Bill Edwards proposed an expansion to 18,000 seats in 2016, but the move seems to have stalled out. Frustrated with the city’s lack of action, Edwards sells to one-time San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who uses his old NFL connections to secure a cushy lease at the home of the Buccaneers in Ray Jay, the site of a 3-1 thrashing of Antigua and Barbuda during the United States’ 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign.
Breather. Hey, we finished the Eastern Conference teams. Why are you still reading this? Why am I still writing it? Time is a meaningless construct in 2020 my friends, we are adrift in the void, fueled only by brief flashes of what once was and what may yet still be.
Candidate: Austin Bold FC
Location (Metro population): Austin, Texas (2,168,316)
Time zone: Central
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Darrel K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium (FieldTurf, 95,594)
Potential owner: Michael Dell (reported net worth of $32.3 billion)
Notes: Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has some unexpected competition and it comes in the form of tech magnate Michael Dell. Dell, were he to buy the club, would be one of the richest owners on our list and could flash his cash in the new first division. Would he have enough to convince Darrel K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium (I’m not kidding, that’s its actual name) to go back to a grass surface, like it did from ’96-’08? That’s between Dell and nearly 100,000 UT football fans, but everything can be had for the right price.
Candidate: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Location (Metro population): Colorado Springs, Colo. (738,939)
Time zone: Mountain
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Falcon Stadium (FieldTurf, 46,692)
Potential owner: Charles Ergen (reported net worth $10.8 billion)
Notes: Welcome to Colorado Springs. We have hurdles. For the first time in 12 candidates, we’re back below the desired 1 million metro population mark. Colorado Springs actually plans to build a $35 million, 8,000 seat venue downtown that will be perfect for soccer, but in our timeline that’s 7,000 seats short. Enter Falcon Stadium, home of the Air Force Academy Falcons football team. Seems perfect except for the turf, right? Well, the tricky thing is that Falcon Stadium is technically on an active military base and is (I believe) government property. Challenges to getting in and out of the ground aside, the military tends to have a pretty grim view of government property being used by for-profit enterprises. Maybe Charles Ergen, founder and chairman of Dish Network, would be able to grease the right wheels, but you can go ahead and throw this into the “doubtful” category. It’s a shame, too. 6,035 feet of elevation is one hell of a home-field advantage.
Candidate: El Paso Locomotive FC
Location: El Paso, Texas
Time zone: Mountain
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Sun Bowl (FieldTurf, 51,500)
Potential owner: Paul Foster (reported net worth $1.7 billion)
Notes: God bless Texas. When compiling this list, I found so many of the theoretical stadium replacements were nearly serviceable by high school football fields. That’s insane, right? Anyway, Locomotive don’t have to settle for one of those, they’ve got the Sun Bowl, which had its capacity reduced in 2001 to a paltry 51,500 (from 52,000) specifically to accommodate soccer. Sure, it’s a turf surface, but what does new owner Paul Foster (who is only the 1,477th wealthiest man in the world, per Forbes) care, he’s got a team in a top league. Side note: Did you know that the Sun Bowl college football game is officially, through sponsorship, the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl? Why is it not the Frosted Flakes Sun Bowl? Why is the cereal mascot the promotional name of the football game? What are you doing, Kellogg’s?
Candidate: Las Vegas Lights FC
Location: Las Vegas, Nev. (2,227,053)
Time zone: Pacific
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Allegiant Stadium (Grass, 61,000)
Potential owner: Sheldon Adelson (reported net worth $37.7 billion)
Notes: Sin City. You had to know that the club that once signed Freddy Adu because “why not” was going to go all out in our flashy hypothetical proposal. Thanks to my narrative control of this whole thing, they have. Adelson is the second-richest owner in the league and has decided to do everything first class. That includes using the new Raiders stadium in nearby unincorporated Paradise, Nevada, and spending boatloads on high profile transfers. Zlatan is coming back to the U.S., confirmed.
Candidate: New Mexico United
Location: Albuquerque, N.M.
Time zone: Mountain
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Isotopes Park – officially Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park (Grass, 13,500 – 15,000 with expansion)
Potential owner: Maloof Family (reported net worth $1 billion)
Notes: New Mexico from its inception went deep on the community vibe, and I’ve tried to replicate that in this bid. The home field of Rio Grande Cr---I’m not typing out the whole thing—Isotopes Park falls just within the expansion rules we set to make it to 15,000 (weird, right?) and they’ve found a great local ownership group in the Lebanese-American Maloof (formerly Maalouf) family from Las Vegas. The only thing to worry about would be the metro population, but overall, this could be one of the gems of USL Prem.
Candidate: Oklahoma City Energy FC
Location: Oklahoma City, Okla. (1,396,445)
Time zone: Central
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark (Grass, 13,066)
Potential owner: Harold Hamm (reported net worth $14.2 billion)
Notes: There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow and it says it’s time to change stadiums and owners to make it to D1. A sale to oil magnate Harold Hamm would give the club the finances it needs, but Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark (home of the OKC Dodgers) actually falls outside of the boundary of what would meet capacity if 1,500 seats were added. Could the club pull off a move to Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma – home of the Oklahoma Sooners? Maybe, but at 20 miles, this would be a reach.
Candidate: Orange County SC
Location: Irvine, Calif. (3,176, 000 in Orange County)
Time zone: Pacific
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Angels Stadium of Anaheim (Grass, 43,250)
Potential owner: Arte Moreno (reported net worth $3.3 billion)
Notes: You’ll never convince me that Rangers didn’t choose to partner with Orange County based primarily on its name. Either way, a sale to MLB Angels owner Arte Moreno produces a fruitful partnership, with the owner choosing to play his newest club out of the existing Angels stadium in OC. Another baseball conversion, sure, but with a metro population of over 3 million and the closest thing this hypothetical league has to an LA market, who’s complaining?
Candidate: Phoenix Rising FC
Location: Phoenix, Ariz. (4,857,962)
Time zone: Arizona
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): State Farm Stadium (Grass, 63,400)
Potential owner: Ernest Garcia II (reported net worth $5.7 billion)
Notes: We’re keeping it local with new owner and used car guru Ernest Garcia II. His dad owned a liquor store and he dropped out of college, which is making me feel amazing about my life choices right now. Casino Arizona Field is great, but State Farm Stadium is a grass surface that hosted the 2019 Gold Cup semifinal, so it’s a clear winner. Throw in Phoenix’s massive metro population and this one looks like a lock.
Candidate: Reno 1868 FC
Location: Reno, Nev. (425,417)
Time zone: Pacific
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Mackay Stadium (FieldTurf, 30,000)
Potential owner: Nancy Walton Laurie (reported net worth $7.1 billion)
Notes: The Biggest Little City on Earth has some serious barriers to overcome, thanks to its low metro population. A sale to Walmart heiress Nancy Walton Laurie and 1.6 mile-move to Mackay Stadium to split space with the University of Nevada, Reno makes this bid competitive, but the turf surface is another knock against it.
Candidate: Rio Grande Valley FC
Location: Edinburg, Texas (900,304)
Time zone: Central
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): McAllen Memorial Stadium (FieldTurf, 13,500 – 15,000 with expansion)
Potential owner: Alice Louise Walton (reported net worth $45 billion)
Notes: Yes, I have a second straight Walmart heiress on the list. She was the first thing that popped up when I googled “McAllen Texas richest people.” The family rivalry has spurred Walton to buy a club as well, moving them 10 miles to McAllen Memorial Stadium which, as I alluded to earlier, is a straight up high school football stadium with a full color scoreboard. Toss in an additional 1,500 seats and you’ve met the minimum, despite the turf playing surface.
Candidate: San Antonio FC
Location: San Antonio, Texas (2,550,960)
Time zone: Central
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Alamodome (FieldTurf, 64,000)
Potential owner: Red McCombs (reported net worth $1.6 billion)
Notes: I wanted to keep SAFC in the Spurs family, since the franchise is valued at $1.8 billion. That said, I didn’t let the Rooneys own the Riverhounds based on the Steelers’ value and it felt wrong to change the rules, so bring on Clear Channel co-founder Red McCombs. Toyota Field isn’t viable in the first division, but for the Alamodome, which was built in 1993 in hopes of attracting an NFL franchise (and never did), San Antonio can finally claim having *a* national football league team in its town (contingent on your definition of football). Now if only we could do something about that turf…
Candidate: San Diego Loyal SC
Location: San Diego, Calif. (3,317,749)
Time zone: Pacific
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): SDCCU Stadium (formerly Qualcomm) (Grass, 70,561)
Potential owner: Phil Mickelson (reported net worth $91 million)
Notes: Yes, golf’s Phil Mickelson. The existing ownership group didn’t seem to have the wherewithal to meet requirements, and Phil seemed to slot right in. As an athlete himself, he might be interesting in the new challenges of a top flight soccer team. Toss in a move to the former home of the chargers and you might have a basis for tremendous community support.
Candidate: FC Tulsa
Location: Tulsa, Okla. (991,561)
Time zone: Central
Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium (FieldTurf, 30,000)
Potential owner: George Kaiser ($10 billion)
Notes: I’m a fan of FC Tulsa’s rebrand, but if they want to make the first division, more changes are necessary. A sale to Tulsa native and one of the 100 richest men in the world George Kaiser means that funding is guaranteed. A move to Chapman Stadium would provide the necessary seats, despite the turf field. While the undersize population might be an issue at first glance, it’s hard to imagine U.S. Soccer not granting a waiver over a less than a 10k miss from the mark.
And that’s it! You made it. Those are all of the independent/hybrid affiliates in the USL Championship, which means that it’s time for our…
VERDICT: As an expert who has studied this issue for almost an entire day now, I am prepared to pronounce which USL Championships could be most ‘ready” for a jump to the USL Prem. A reminder that of the 27 clubs surveyed, 0 of them met our ideal criteria (proper ownership $, metro population, 15,000+ stadium with grass field).
Two of them, however, met almost all of those criteria: Indy Eleven and Miami FC. Those two clubs may use up two of our three available turf fields right from the outset, but the other factors they hit (particularly Silva’s ownership of Miami) makes them difficult, if not impossible to ignore for the top flight.
But who fill in the rest of the slots? Meet the entire 14-team USL Premier League:
Hartford Athletic
Indy Eleven
Louisville City FC
Miami FC
North Carolina FC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Saint Louis FC
San Antonio FC
New Mexico United
Phoenix Rising FC
Las Vegas Lights FC
Orange County SC
San Diego Loyal SC
Now, I shall provide my expert rationale for each club’s inclusion/exclusion, which can be roughly broken down into four categories.
Firm “yes”
Hartford Athletic: It’s a good market size with a solid stadium. With a decent investor and good community support, you’ve got potential here.
Indy Eleven: The turf at Lucas Oil Stadium is no reason to turn down a 62,421 venue and a metro population of over 2 million.
Louisville City FC: Why doesn’t the 2017 & 2018 USL Cup champion deserve a crack at the top flight? They have the market size, and with a bit of expansion have the stadium at their own SSS. LCFC, you’re in.
Miami FC, “The”: Our other blue-chip recruit on the basis of ownership value, market size and stadium capacity. Yes, that field is turf, but how could you snub Silva’s chance to claim victory as the first division 1 club soccer team to play in Miami?
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC: Pittsburgh sacrificed a lot to be here (according to my arbitrary calculations). Their market size and the potential boon of soccer at Heinz Field is an important inclusion to the league.
Saint Louis FC: Willie hears your “Busch League” jokes, Willie don’t care. A huge market size, combined with the absence of an NFL franchise creates opportunity. Competition with the MLS side, sure, but St. Louis has serious soccer history and we’re willing to bet it can support two clubs.
Tampa Bay Rowdies: With a huge population and a massive stadium waiting nearby, Tampa Bay seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up for the USL Prem.
Las Vegas Lights FC: Ostentatious, massive and well-financed, Las Vegas Lights FC is everything that the USL Premier League would need to assert that it didn’t intend to play second fiddle to MLS. Players will need to be kept on a short leash, but this is a hard market to pass up on.
Phoenix Rising FC: Huge population, big grass field available nearby and a solid history of success in recent years. No brainer.
San Diego Loyal SC: New club? Yes, massive population in a market that recently lost an absolutely huge sports presence? Also yes. This could be the USL Prem’s Seattle.
Cautious “yes”
New Mexico United: You have to take a chance on New Mexico United. The club set the league on fire with its social media presence and its weight in the community when it entered the league last season. The market may be slightly under USSF’s desired 1 million, but fervent support (and the ability to continue to use Isotopes Park) shouldn’t be discounted.
North Carolina FC: Carter-Finley’s mixed grass/turf surface is a barrier, to be sure, but the 57,000+ seats it offers (and being enough to offset other fully-turf offerings) is enough to put it in the black.
Orange County SC: It’s a top-tier club playing in a MLB stadium. I know it seems unlikely that USSF would approve something like that, but believe me when I say “it could happen.” Orange County is a massive market and California likely needs two clubs in the top flight.
San Antonio FC: Our third and only voluntary inclusion to the turf fields in the first division, we’re counting on San Antonio’s size and massive potential stadium to see it through.
Cautious “no”
Birmingham Legion FC: The town has solid soccer history and a huge potential venue, but the turf playing surface puts it on the outside looking in.
Memphis 901 FC: Like Birmingham, not much to dislike here outside of the turf playing surface at the larger playing venue.
Austin Bold FC: See the other two above.
FC Tulsa: Everything’s just a little bit off with this one. Market’s slightly too small, stadium has turf. Just not enough to put it over the top.
Firm “no”
Charleston Battery: Small metro and a small potential new stadium? It’s tough to say yes to the risk.
Charlotte Independence: A small new stadium and the possibility of having to compete with an organization that just paid over $300 million to join MLS means it’s best for this club to remain in the USL Championship.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC: When a club’s best chance to meet a capacity requirement is to host games at a venue controlled by the military, that doesn’t speak well to a club’s chances.
El Paso Locomotive FC: An undersized market and a turf field that meets capacity requirements is the death knell for this one.
Oklahoma City Energy FC: Having to expand a baseball field to meet requirements is a bad start. Having to potentially play 20 miles away from your main market is even worse.
Reno 1868 FC: Population nearly a half-million short of the federation’s requirements AND a turf field at the hypothetical new stadium makes impossible to say yes to this bid.
Rio Grande Valley FC: All the seat expansions in the world can’t hide the fact that McAllen Memorial Stadium is a high school stadium through and through.
Here’s who’s left in the 11-team Championship:
Birmingham Legion FC
Charleston Battery
Charlotte Independence
Memphis 901 FC
Austin Bold FC
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
El Paso Locomotive FC
Oklahoma City Energy FC
Reno 1868 FC
Rio Grande Valley FC
FC Tulsa
With MLS folding the six affiliates it has in USL League One, the league is a little bit thin (especially considering USSF’s requirements for 8 teams for lower level leagues), but seems definitely able to expand up to the necessary numbers with Edwards’ allusions to five new additions this year:
Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
Forward Madison FC
Greenville Triumph SC
Union Omaha
Richmond Kickers
South Georgia Tormenta
FC Tucson
Format of Assorted Leagues – This (like everything in this post) is pure conjecture on my part, but here are my thoughts on how these leagues might function in a first year while waiting for additional expansion.
USL Premier – We’ll steal from the 12-team Scottish Premiership. Each club plays the other 11 clubs 3 times, with either one or two home matches against each side. When each club has played 33 matches, the top six and bottom six separate, with every club playing an additional five matches (against each other team in its group). The top club wins the league. The bottom club is automatically relegated. The second-bottom club will enter a two-legged playoff against someone (see below) from the championship playoffs.
USL Championship -- 11 clubs is a challenge to schedule for. How about every club plays everyone else three times (either one or two home matches against each side)? Top four clubs make the playoffs, which are decided by two-legged playoffs. The winner automatically goes up. I need feedback on the second part – is it better to have the runner-up from the playoffs face the second-bottom club from the Premiership, or should the winner of the third-place match-up get the chance to face them to keep drama going in both playoff series? As for relegation, we can clearly only send down the last place club while the third division is so small.
USL League One – While the league is so small, it doesn’t seem reasonable to have the clubs play as many matches as the higher divisions. Each club could play the other six clubs four times – twice at home and twice away – for a very equitable 24-match regular season, which would help restrict costs and still provide a chance to determine a clear winner. Whoever finishes top of the table goes up.
And there you have it, a hypothetical look at how the USL could build a D1 league right now. All it would take is a new stadium for almost the entire league and new owners for all but one of the 27 clubs, who wouldn’t feel that their property would be massively devalued if they got relegated.
Well that’s our show. I’m curious to see what you think of all of this, especially anything that you think I may have overlooked (I’m sure there’s plenty). Anyway, I hope you’re all staying safe and well.
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BAT – A Wonderful Company at A Wonderful Price (8x PE, 15% dividend yield, 100% ROE)

 
In 1987, Buffett famously stated, "I'll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It's addictive. And there's fantastic brand loyalty."
“The best business to own is one that over an extended period of time can employ large amounts of incremental capital at very high rates of return.” – Warren Buffett
“Invest at the point of maximum pessimism.” – John Templeton
 
Warren Buffett’s best winners have always been stocks which were bought during times of maximum pessimism. GEICO was bought on the brink of bankruptcy. AMEX was bought during the Salad Oil Scandal. Goldman Sachs was also bought with bankruptcy looming. Wells Fargo was a bank with a largely residential loan book bought during a housing crisis. Coca-Cola was bought at a time of massive overdiversification. And so on and so forth.
It’s not often that one has the opportunity to put into practice the all-encompassing philosophy of buy low, sell high. But even when that opportunity rears its ugly head, it’s the rare investor who has the aptitude and the stomach to back up the truck. Thankfully, these opportunities do exist, but it takes a keen eye to discern the difference between a falling knife and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
 
Overview
British American Tobacco (BAT) Malaysia is one such example. Currently trading at just 8x PE, sporting a 100% ROE, and giving a 15% dividend yield, it’s hard not to salivate a little at the financial statistics. But why is such a high ROI stock – a cigarette company no less – trading at such awfully low valuations?
First, some history. BAT Malaysia is the largest cigarette company in the country, with a roughly 50% legal market share and 12% total industry market share. If you’re observant, you’ll notice that Malaysia’s illegal cigarette market share takes up a whopping 65% share of the pie. This was largely due to the massive excise duty (i.e. sin tax) hike in 2015, which brought illegal market share from a reasonable 33% before the hike to 65% and rising today.
As a result, BAT Malaysia has suffered massive share price declines, with the share price falling by 85% in the past 5 years (from RM 60 in 2015) and 70% in the past 12 months alone (from RM 37 in early-2019). This was largely due to revenue declines of nearly 20% and earnings decline of 40% over the past 3 years, with a corresponding shortfall in dividends (the company has a 90% dividend policy). ROE has also fallen from approximately 200% to around 100% today.
Thus, it’s not surprising that the stock has taken such a beating. Indeed, over the past two weeks alone the stock price has fallen by about 30%. But is investing in it now simply trying to catch a falling knife?
 
Business Narrative
The source of the problem can largely be traced back to the sin tax hike in 2015, which brought illegal cigarette market share from 33% to 65% over the past 5 years. The Malaysian government has not been very accommodative to local industry players, rebuffing efforts to reduce the sin tax and dragging its feet when it comes to the enforcement of existing laws and the introduction of new ones. The local Customs department, working together with the police, has had some success in recent years tackling the illegal cigarette cartel – arresting the decline in legal market share from 20%-30% annually to just above 10% in the past year – but efforts are largely seen as too little, too late. On top of that, the illegal vaping scene has blossomed in Malaysia, with nicotine-related products claiming up to 10% of total industry market share.
This backdrop has inspired analysts to impose doomsday scenarios for the legal industry players (i.e. BAT, PMI & JTI), according present values to the companies which reflect a resumption of historical revenue and market share declines. Indeed, when parsing the financial statements of BAT, it’s not impossible to forecast revenues declining to a point where they fall below operating costs (i.e. EBITDA of zero), rendering the equity essentially worthless valuation-wise.
The main reason for the government’s lack of progress is bureaucracy. Different governmental ministries have drawn different interpretations of their legal jurisdiction regarding the matter, and thus shuffle the responsibility of arresting the illegal trade to their peers. For instance, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has stated that it has no authority to enforce legislation against illegal cigarettes, while the Customs department disagrees and says it is the MOH’s prerogative to clamp down on illegal cigarette packets which don’t portray mandatory and unsightly health warnings (illegal cigarette packets tend not to include them). As a result of the red tape, there has been little progress on the front lines, and legal industry players are lesser of for it.
BAT and JTI (the two largest cigarette players) have resorted to shutting down their manufacturing operations and implementing an importation business model, where legal cigarettes are imported from Indonesia into the country to be sold. BAT has also gone through one round of layoffs last year, with a second round expected in 2020.
 
Financials
As alluded to earlier, revenues have declined by 20% over the past 3 years while net profit has declined by 40%. This was surprisingly not due to a contraction of Gross Margin (which you’d expect as costs go up when switching from a manufacturing model to an importation model), but largely as a result of revenues falling while operating costs remain the same. This can be seen in the Operating Margin falling from a high of 24% in 17Q3 to 18% in 19Q3, and net margin contracting from 18% in 17Q3 to 13% in 19Q3.
On the balance sheet side, things look much rosier. Intangibles take up the lion’s share of assets (40%), while Inventories and Receivables have declined slightly in line with the fall in Revenue. Net cash is negative owing to a revolving credit facility which the company has drawn presumably for tax reasons. The debt is current in nature and can be paid back in full with 2 years of Free Cash Flow. The company doesn’t have much fixed assets remaining following the closure of its manufacturing plant, indicating that liquidation value (approximately zero) falls far short of market value. Current ratio is reasonable at 0.8x. Share capital has not changed for at least 3 years.
Receivable days and Inventory days have respectively increased by roughly 50% over the last 3 years – indicating a struggling business which is facing business challenges from its illegal brethren. Payable days have remained static over the same time period. As a result, Cash Conversion Cycle stands at 79 days, up by double from 33 days in 2018.
Cash flow is still stable, with cash receipts approximating revenues. Free Cash Flow is almost equal to Operating Cash Flow, exemplifying the asset-light nature of the current business. The company pays out the entirety of its FCF as dividends (and then some), leading to a dividend yield of 15% at the current share price and a 118% dividend payout ratio.
 
Risks
The risks are apparent. If the government doesn’t do something about the illegal trade and allows it to run rampant, it’s possible that illegal market share increases from here and revenues continue to decline. In the worst-case scenario, it’s not hard to envision revenues falling below operating costs and EBITDA reaching zero, implying the shares are worthless and that dividends will be cut or even stopped entirely.
The current share price of 8x PE (RM 10.00) reflects this doomsday view. The market is basically pricing in declining earnings growth into perpetuity and giving no stock to a potential turnaround. Government intervention to address the illegal trade is widely perceived as sorely lacking and possibly not existing, with analysts imputing revenue declines of up to 30% a year into their models. Share price targets range from RM 11 – RM 15, although the share price has fallen by some 20% since the last revision of analyst reports. All in all, it seems like bad news for BAT.
 
Opportunities
The opportunities for BAT, while less apparent, do exist. For one, the government could by some miracle successfully enforce existing laws and put the brakes on illegal trade – it has already slowed the latter’s advance by some 50% since the sin tax hike. Alternatively, the government could recognize the disadvantages of the narrowing tax base from legal cigarettes and decide to reverse or reduce the sin tax, leading to a reclaiming of legal market share by industry players to previous highs. By some back-of-the-envelope calculations, if legal market share rises to just half of their historical levels, BAT’s earnings and share price could double from here. PE ratios would also expand in such a scenario.
BAT’s parent company in London could also decide to acquire the Malaysian subsidiary given the depressed prices. A fair market price given the circumstances would be roughly 15x PE, which assuming earnings continue to decline by 30% from today, would put the acquisition price at around 120-130% from current share prices.
BAT has also been experimenting with nicotine-related products, such as the Heat-Not-Burn (HNB) device known as Glo (PMI has a branded competitor known as IQOS). Both have received glowing reviews from former cigarette users and is expected to help the companies transition into the post-smoking era (i.e. 20-30 years from now). So far, Glo has developed a 1% total industry market share in Malaysia despite only being launched 2 years ago, showcasing its popularity and potential success.
Finally, the government is preparing the release of new legislation regarding vaping, which is due to see light by mid-2020. While legalization is still not guaranteed, government officials have publicly admitted the difficulty of enforcing laws if a vaping ban were to be instituted. If vaping is legalized, the legal industry could see a 10% increase in market share overnight as they introduce their own products to supplement the demand for currently illegal products.
 
Risk : Reward
In my opinion, current share prices have priced in all the risks while discounting all the opportunities. Even assuming earnings decline at an average annual rate of 10% into perpetuity, it would take just ten years to reclaim your initial investment. This is assuming illegal market share continues its rise unabated and legal market share never sees the light of day again. Keep in mind that the company has a 90% dividend payout policy, and has kept this rate despite recent struggles in its business, so you’d get a return of capital regardless of the share price performance.
In this worst-case scenario, the parent company would either push for an acquisition or liquidate the Malaysian operations. An acquisition at fire-sale prices would probably yield at least 5x PE, while a liquidation would yield nothing given the current ratio of 0.8x. The latter is highly unlikely because it would mean that BAT ceases to have a presence in Malaysia completely, a growing South East Asian nation with GDP growth of 4-5% and potentially bright future. Hence, given the probabilities and an estimate of expected value, you’d already come out on top at the current PE of 8x.
What about the alternative? Before we get into the valuation from an opportunity set perspective, let us consider BAT’s business model. As Buffett says, this is a company with unit economics of a penny per cigarette, selling them at a dollar per cigarette, fantastic brand loyalty and a captive audience. Imagine if you could have owned Altria in the USA in the 1970’s. Today, you’d own Altria, Kraft Heinz, PMI and a smattering of profitable businesses around the world. While I don’t mean to draw a direct comparison between BAT Malaysia today and Altria USA of the 70’s, it’s not hard to imagine a similarly wonderful future for a company with such an attractive business model.
As far as economic moats are concerned, the cigarette business is probably one of the few businesses you can say will be around in another 20-30 years. Sure, they’re facing headwinds in the form of a burgeoning illegal cigarette trade today, but who says they will still be facing the same demons 10 years from now, or even 5 years? If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that the business environment is fluid – and chances are good that things won’t remain the same as today, whatever they may be.
 
A Reasonable Bull-Case Scenario Valuation
Let’s put the humdrums aside for a moment and imagine a brighter future for BAT. What would this future look like? For one, it’s possible that within the next 5 years the government realizes it can’t contain the illegal cigarette problem and decide to reduce the sin tax to previous levels. The wider tax base resulting from such a move would result in the same absolute amount in taxes even at lower tax rates – so there is no financial disincentive not to do so – while at the same time reducing the illegal market share. If legal market share even reclaims half of their former levels, the share price of BAT could double from today.
Furthermore, what’s stopping BAT from resuming earnings growth, assuming the business environment recovers? Even if earnings grow by just equal to GDP growth (i.e. 4-5% a year), it would justify a 15x PE at the minimum considering a long-time horizon of 20-30 years. Combine a doubling of earnings with a 15x PE, and you’re looking at a potential quadrupling (4x) of the current share price.
 
A Best-Case Scenario Valuation
If BAT reclaims its former glory and returns to its historical market capitalization of RM 18 billion, we’re talking about a 600% increase in share price.
That’s just for the next ten years. What about dividends beyond that? Let’s imagine the best possible scenario for BAT. Assume for awhile that you’re planning to hold BAT for the next 30 years. Assume also that in ten years’ time, BAT’s share price skyrockets to 600% of current levels, and then grows earnings by 4% a year into perpetuity and pays out 90% of earnings at dividends. Account for 3% inflation and zero percent cost of capital (i.e. growth funded from retained earnings). By the end of year 30, you’d end up with 27x your initial investment, or 2700% of your capital. That’s a 12% CAGR.
In other words, a $40,000 investment in BAT today could potentially yield a million dollars in 30 year’s time. And that’s with reasonable assumptions. Tweak the numbers further and you’ll could potentially reach Buffett-like returns.
 
Conclusion
To sum things up, it appears that current share prices already impute the worst-case scenario, while the best-case scenario is a 600% capital appreciation potential in ten years, or 2700% over 30 years. Giving a margin of safety, let’s dial the ten-year return of 600% down by 50% - we still get a 300% reward scenario. That’s a 12% CAGR over ten years. Not too shabby.
Assuming 50% downside from today’s prices, the upside-to-downside ratio at 300% upside would still be a healthy 1:6. Now that’s a margin of safety.
If you believe that BAT has no future in Malaysia and will ultimately be acquired or liquidated, expect share prices to fall by up to 50% from here. If you expect that the legal industry will recover to former highs and that BAT is well-positioned as the largest cigarette player in an ASEAN country with 4% GDP growth (alongside Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia), you can expect share prices to rise by at least 300% over the next 10 years.
More realistically, share prices will fluctuate by 20% from current levels both to the upside and downside over the next year or so. If you can stomach that kind of volatility, BAT makes for a wonderful risk-reward component of your hopefully diversified emerging market portfolio.
 
A Value Investor’s Perspective
As mentioned above, Warren Buffett has a history of buying companies for pennies on the dollar when the share price reflects maximum pessimism. This does not mean to dive blindly into freefalling stocks which you do not understand. It does mean that you should do your homework, and when you spot an attractive risk:reward ratio in stocks where others are running for the exits, you should be comfortable holding a large position.
Buying a leading cigarette company in its market while it’s beaten down represents one of the most potentially profitable investments imaginable. For reference, take a look at Altria. If you had bought $1,000 worth of shares in Altria in 1970, and reinvested all the dividends, you would be sitting on a fortune worth $5 million by today. That’s an astounding 18% CAGR over an extraordinarily long period of 50 years. Can BAT Malaysia repeat this tier of performance? Probably not, but you don’t need to in order to make a satisfying profit from it.
Buffett espouses thinking long-term when it comes to investing. Think about the long-term when it comes to BAT Malaysia. Is it likely that illegal cigarette’s share of the market will remain elevated at 65% or above for the next 20 years continually? If I was a betting man, I’d wager that it won’t. More likely than not, some kind of unforeseen development will unfold which will bring market share back into the folds of the legal industry – it could be vaping, HNB products, a newly yet unrevealed form of nicotine-device, or even an evolution in the way smokers think. What can be relied on however is that in 20 years smokers will still continue to view nicotine, and by extension smoking-related products, as a form of entertainment and relaxation.
Then there’s the dividends. The dividend yield on one share of Altria bought in the 1990’s held until today would exceed 30%. This is because the dividends have grown over the years in tandem with earnings growth. Extrapolate that to BAT Malaysia, which currently has a dividend yield of 15%. Assuming an average of 4% earnings growth going forward, that dividend yield would grow to just about 45% in 30 years. That’s the power of compounding.
Buffett also champions the idea of owning companies with fortress economic moats. Some of the companies which he owns have such moats, including Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, GEICO, American Express, etc. It’s hard to argue that BAT Malaysia doesn’t have such a moat. Even in such trying times where revenues have contracted by 20%, it still sports a high-flying ROE of 100%, and stable gross margins of 30%. I would go so far as to compare BAT Malaysia today to a Coca-Cola or American Express when Buffett bought them during times of pessimism.
Think about the future of BAT in 10 years, or 20 years’ time. It’s likely that it will have overcome the temporary hurdles which it faces today by then and resume earning high returns on significant capital invested over a long period of time. This is truly a compounding machine if there ever was one. Or as the title suggests, a wonderful company trading at a wonderful price.
Remember that Buffett’s best buys in the public markets have all been investments made during trying times, such as what BAT is facing today. AMEX could have gone bankrupt over the Salad Oil Scandal. GEICO was literally months away from being unable to service its insurance liabilities. Goldman Sachs was teetering on the brink of financial collapse under the heavy weight of subprime mortgage obligations. Coca-Cola was not the company it is today – it was an overburdened, overdiversified conglomerate with little growth outlook. Wells Fargo was staring at a huge, unserviceable loan book immediately following the Californian earthquakes given its significant residential exposure. It’s definitely nice to pay fair prices for wonderful companies, but it’s even better to be able to pay wonderful prices for wonderful companies.
 
In times like these, it pays to reflect on some words of wisdom for guidance:
Buy when there’s blood in the streets.
Be greedy when others are fearful.
In the short-term, the market is a voting machine; in the long-term, it is a weighing machine.
Price is what you pay, value is what you get.
It is far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price, than a fair company at a wonderful price.
Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.
 
May the investing odds be ever in your favor!
 
Stock code: 4162.KL Stock name: British American Tobacco (Malaysia) Berhad Financial information and financial reports: https://www.malaysiastock.biz/Corporate-Infomation.aspx?securityCode=4162
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BAT – A Wonderful Company at A Wonderful Price (8x PE, 15% dividend yield, 100% ROE)

 
In 1987, Buffett famously stated, "I'll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It's addictive. And there's fantastic brand loyalty."
“The best business to own is one that over an extended period of time can employ large amounts of incremental capital at very high rates of return.” – Warren Buffett
“Invest at the point of maximum pessimism.” – John Templeton
 
Warren Buffett’s best winners have always been stocks which were bought during times of maximum pessimism. GEICO was bought on the brink of bankruptcy. AMEX was bought during the Salad Oil Scandal. Goldman Sachs was also bought with bankruptcy looming. Wells Fargo was a bank with a largely residential loan book bought during a housing crisis. Coca-Cola was bought at a time of massive overdiversification. And so on and so forth.
It’s not often that one has the opportunity to put into practice the all-encompassing philosophy of buy low, sell high. But even when that opportunity rears its ugly head, it’s the rare investor who has the aptitude and the stomach to back up the truck. Thankfully, these opportunities do exist, but it takes a keen eye to discern the difference between a falling knife and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
 
Overview
British American Tobacco (BAT) Malaysia is one such example. Currently trading at just 8x PE, sporting a 100% ROE, and giving a 15% dividend yield, it’s hard not to salivate a little at the financial statistics. But why is such a high ROI stock – a cigarette company no less – trading at such awfully low valuations?
First, some history. BAT Malaysia is the largest cigarette company in the country, with a roughly 50% legal market share and 12% total industry market share. If you’re observant, you’ll notice that Malaysia’s illegal cigarette market share takes up a whopping 65% share of the pie. This was largely due to the massive excise duty (i.e. sin tax) hike in 2015, which brought illegal market share from a reasonable 33% before the hike to 65% and rising today.
As a result, BAT Malaysia has suffered massive share price declines, with the share price falling by 85% in the past 5 years (from RM 60 in 2015) and 70% in the past 12 months alone (from RM 37 in early-2019). This was largely due to revenue declines of nearly 20% and earnings decline of 40% over the past 3 years, with a corresponding shortfall in dividends (the company has a 90% dividend policy). ROE has also fallen from approximately 200% to around 100% today.
Thus, it’s not surprising that the stock has taken such a beating. Indeed, over the past two weeks alone the stock price has fallen by about 30%. But is investing in it now simply trying to catch a falling knife?
 
Business Narrative
The source of the problem can largely be traced back to the sin tax hike in 2015, which brought illegal cigarette market share from 33% to 65% over the past 5 years. The Malaysian government has not been very accommodative to local industry players, rebuffing efforts to reduce the sin tax and dragging its feet when it comes to the enforcement of existing laws and the introduction of new ones. The local Customs department, working together with the police, has had some success in recent years tackling the illegal cigarette cartel – arresting the decline in legal market share from 20%-30% annually to just above 10% in the past year – but efforts are largely seen as too little, too late. On top of that, the illegal vaping scene has blossomed in Malaysia, with nicotine-related products claiming up to 10% of total industry market share.
This backdrop has inspired analysts to impose doomsday scenarios for the legal industry players (i.e. BAT, PMI & JTI), according present values to the companies which reflect a resumption of historical revenue and market share declines. Indeed, when parsing the financial statements of BAT, it’s not impossible to forecast revenues declining to a point where they fall below operating costs (i.e. EBITDA of zero), rendering the equity essentially worthless valuation-wise.
The main reason for the government’s lack of progress is bureaucracy. Different governmental ministries have drawn different interpretations of their legal jurisdiction regarding the matter, and thus shuffle the responsibility of arresting the illegal trade to their peers. For instance, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has stated that it has no authority to enforce legislation against illegal cigarettes, while the Customs department disagrees and says it is the MOH’s prerogative to clamp down on illegal cigarette packets which don’t portray mandatory and unsightly health warnings (illegal cigarette packets tend not to include them). As a result of the red tape, there has been little progress on the front lines, and legal industry players are lesser of for it.
BAT and JTI (the two largest cigarette players) have resorted to shutting down their manufacturing operations and implementing an importation business model, where legal cigarettes are imported from Indonesia into the country to be sold. BAT has also gone through one round of layoffs last year, with a second round expected in 2020.
 
Financials
As alluded to earlier, revenues have declined by 20% over the past 3 years while net profit has declined by 40%. This was surprisingly not due to a contraction of Gross Margin (which you’d expect as costs go up when switching from a manufacturing model to an importation model), but largely as a result of revenues falling while operating costs remain the same. This can be seen in the Operating Margin falling from a high of 24% in 17Q3 to 18% in 19Q3, and net margin contracting from 18% in 17Q3 to 13% in 19Q3.
On the balance sheet side, things look much rosier. Intangibles take up the lion’s share of assets (40%), while Inventories and Receivables have declined slightly in line with the fall in Revenue. Net cash is negative owing to a revolving credit facility which the company has drawn presumably for tax reasons. The debt is current in nature and can be paid back in full with 2 years of Free Cash Flow. The company doesn’t have much fixed assets remaining following the closure of its manufacturing plant, indicating that liquidation value (approximately zero) falls far short of market value. Current ratio is reasonable at 0.8x. Share capital has not changed for at least 3 years.
Receivable days and Inventory days have respectively increased by roughly 50% over the last 3 years – indicating a struggling business which is facing business challenges from its illegal brethren. Payable days have remained static over the same time period. As a result, Cash Conversion Cycle stands at 79 days, up by double from 33 days in 2018.
Cash flow is still stable, with cash receipts approximating revenues. Free Cash Flow is almost equal to Operating Cash Flow, exemplifying the asset-light nature of the current business. The company pays out the entirety of its FCF as dividends (and then some), leading to a dividend yield of 15% at the current share price and a 118% dividend payout ratio.
 
Risks
The risks are apparent. If the government doesn’t do something about the illegal trade and allows it to run rampant, it’s possible that illegal market share increases from here and revenues continue to decline. In the worst-case scenario, it’s not hard to envision revenues falling below operating costs and EBITDA reaching zero, implying the shares are worthless and that dividends will be cut or even stopped entirely.
The current share price of 8x PE (RM 10.00) reflects this doomsday view. The market is basically pricing in declining earnings growth into perpetuity and giving no stock to a potential turnaround. Government intervention to address the illegal trade is widely perceived as sorely lacking and possibly not existing, with analysts imputing revenue declines of up to 30% a year into their models. Share price targets range from RM 11 – RM 15, although the share price has fallen by some 20% since the last revision of analyst reports. All in all, it seems like bad news for BAT.
 
Opportunities
The opportunities for BAT, while less apparent, do exist. For one, the government could by some miracle successfully enforce existing laws and put the brakes on illegal trade – it has already slowed the latter’s advance by some 50% since the sin tax hike. Alternatively, the government could recognize the disadvantages of the narrowing tax base from legal cigarettes and decide to reverse or reduce the sin tax, leading to a reclaiming of legal market share by industry players to previous highs. By some back-of-the-envelope calculations, if legal market share rises to just half of their historical levels, BAT’s earnings and share price could double from here. PE ratios would also expand in such a scenario.
BAT’s parent company in London could also decide to acquire the Malaysian subsidiary given the depressed prices. A fair market price given the circumstances would be roughly 15x PE, which assuming earnings continue to decline by 30% from today, would put the acquisition price at around 120-130% from current share prices.
BAT has also been experimenting with nicotine-related products, such as the Heat-Not-Burn (HNB) device known as Glo (PMI has a branded competitor known as IQOS). Both have received glowing reviews from former cigarette users and is expected to help the companies transition into the post-smoking era (i.e. 20-30 years from now). So far, Glo has developed a 1% total industry market share in Malaysia despite only being launched 2 years ago, showcasing its popularity and potential success.
Finally, the government is preparing the release of new legislation regarding vaping, which is due to see light by mid-2020. While legalization is still not guaranteed, government officials have publicly admitted the difficulty of enforcing laws if a vaping ban were to be instituted. If vaping is legalized, the legal industry could see a 10% increase in market share overnight as they introduce their own products to supplement the demand for currently illegal products.
 
Risk : Reward
In my opinion, current share prices have priced in all the risks while discounting all the opportunities. Even assuming earnings decline at an average annual rate of 10% into perpetuity, it would take just ten years to reclaim your initial investment. This is assuming illegal market share continues its rise unabated and legal market share never sees the light of day again. Keep in mind that the company has a 90% dividend payout policy, and has kept this rate despite recent struggles in its business, so you’d get a return of capital regardless of the share price performance.
In this worst-case scenario, the parent company would either push for an acquisition or liquidate the Malaysian operations. An acquisition at fire-sale prices would probably yield at least 5x PE, while a liquidation would yield nothing given the current ratio of 0.8x. The latter is highly unlikely because it would mean that BAT ceases to have a presence in Malaysia completely, a growing South East Asian nation with GDP growth of 4-5% and potentially bright future. Hence, given the probabilities and an estimate of expected value, you’d already come out on top at the current PE of 8x.
What about the alternative? Before we get into the valuation from an opportunity set perspective, let us consider BAT’s business model. As Buffett says, this is a company with unit economics of a penny per cigarette, selling them at a dollar per cigarette, fantastic brand loyalty and a captive audience. Imagine if you could have owned Altria in the USA in the 1970’s. Today, you’d own Altria, Kraft Heinz, PMI and a smattering of profitable businesses around the world. While I don’t mean to draw a direct comparison between BAT Malaysia today and Altria USA of the 70’s, it’s not hard to imagine a similarly wonderful future for a company with such an attractive business model.
As far as economic moats are concerned, the cigarette business is probably one of the few businesses you can say will be around in another 20-30 years. Sure, they’re facing headwinds in the form of a burgeoning illegal cigarette trade today, but who says they will still be facing the same demons 10 years from now, or even 5 years? If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that the business environment is fluid – and chances are good that things won’t remain the same as today, whatever they may be.
 
A Reasonable Bull-Case Scenario Valuation
Let’s put the humdrums aside for a moment and imagine a brighter future for BAT. What would this future look like? For one, it’s possible that within the next 5 years the government realizes it can’t contain the illegal cigarette problem and decide to reduce the sin tax to previous levels. The wider tax base resulting from such a move would result in the same absolute amount in taxes even at lower tax rates – so there is no financial disincentive not to do so – while at the same time reducing the illegal market share. If legal market share even reclaims half of their former levels, the share price of BAT could double from today.
Furthermore, what’s stopping BAT from resuming earnings growth, assuming the business environment recovers? Even if earnings grow by just equal to GDP growth (i.e. 4-5% a year), it would justify a 15x PE at the minimum considering a long-time horizon of 20-30 years. Combine a doubling of earnings with a 15x PE, and you’re looking at a potential quadrupling (4x) of the current share price.
 
A Best-Case Scenario Valuation
If BAT reclaims its former glory and returns to its historical market capitalization of RM 18 billion, we’re talking about a 600% increase in share price.
That’s just for the next ten years. What about dividends beyond that? Let’s imagine the best possible scenario for BAT. Assume for awhile that you’re planning to hold BAT for the next 30 years. Assume also that in ten years’ time, BAT’s share price skyrockets to 600% of current levels, and then grows earnings by 4% a year into perpetuity and pays out 90% of earnings at dividends. Account for 3% inflation and zero percent cost of capital (i.e. growth funded from retained earnings). By the end of year 30, you’d end up with 27x your initial investment, or 2700% of your capital. That’s a 12% CAGR.
In other words, a $40,000 investment in BAT today could potentially yield a million dollars in 30 year’s time. And that’s with reasonable assumptions. Tweak the numbers further and you’ll could potentially reach Buffett-like returns.
 
Conclusion
To sum things up, it appears that current share prices already impute the worst-case scenario, while the best-case scenario is a 600% capital appreciation potential in ten years, or 2700% over 30 years. Giving a margin of safety, let’s dial the ten-year return of 600% down by 50% - we still get a 300% reward scenario. That’s a 12% CAGR over ten years. Not too shabby.
Assuming 50% downside from today’s prices, the upside-to-downside ratio at 300% upside would still be a healthy 1:6. Now that’s a margin of safety.
If you believe that BAT has no future in Malaysia and will ultimately be acquired or liquidated, expect share prices to fall by up to 50% from here. If you expect that the legal industry will recover to former highs and that BAT is well-positioned as the largest cigarette player in an ASEAN country with 4% GDP growth (alongside Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia), you can expect share prices to rise by at least 300% over the next 10 years.
More realistically, share prices will fluctuate by 20% from current levels both to the upside and downside over the next year or so. If you can stomach that kind of volatility, BAT makes for a wonderful risk-reward component of your hopefully diversified emerging market portfolio.
 
A Value Investor’s Perspective
As mentioned above, Warren Buffett has a history of buying companies for pennies on the dollar when the share price reflects maximum pessimism. This does not mean to dive blindly into freefalling stocks which you do not understand. It does mean that you should do your homework, and when you spot an attractive risk:reward ratio in stocks where others are running for the exits, you should be comfortable holding a large position.
Buying a leading cigarette company in its market while it’s beaten down represents one of the most potentially profitable investments imaginable. For reference, take a look at Altria. If you had bought $1,000 worth of shares in Altria in 1970, and reinvested all the dividends, you would be sitting on a fortune worth $5 million by today. That’s an astounding 18% CAGR over an extraordinarily long period of 50 years. Can BAT Malaysia repeat this tier of performance? Probably not, but you don’t need to in order to make a satisfying profit from it.
Buffett espouses thinking long-term when it comes to investing. Think about the long-term when it comes to BAT Malaysia. Is it likely that illegal cigarette’s share of the market will remain elevated at 65% or above for the next 20 years continually? If I was a betting man, I’d wager that it won’t. More likely than not, some kind of unforeseen development will unfold which will bring market share back into the folds of the legal industry – it could be vaping, HNB products, a newly yet unrevealed form of nicotine-device, or even an evolution in the way smokers think. What can be relied on however is that in 20 years smokers will still continue to view nicotine, and by extension smoking-related products, as a form of entertainment and relaxation.
Then there’s the dividends. The dividend yield on one share of Altria bought in the 1990’s held until today would exceed 30%. This is because the dividends have grown over the years in tandem with earnings growth. Extrapolate that to BAT Malaysia, which currently has a dividend yield of 15%. Assuming an average of 4% earnings growth going forward, that dividend yield would grow to just about 45% in 30 years. That’s the power of compounding.
Buffett also champions the idea of owning companies with fortress economic moats. Some of the companies which he owns have such moats, including Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, GEICO, American Express, etc. It’s hard to argue that BAT Malaysia doesn’t have such a moat. Even in such trying times where revenues have contracted by 20%, it still sports a high-flying ROE of 100%, and stable gross margins of 30%. I would go so far as to compare BAT Malaysia today to a Coca-Cola or American Express when Buffett bought them during times of pessimism.
Think about the future of BAT in 10 years, or 20 years’ time. It’s likely that it will have overcome the temporary hurdles which it faces today by then and resume earning high returns on significant capital invested over a long period of time. This is truly a compounding machine if there ever was one. Or as the title suggests, a wonderful company trading at a wonderful price.
Remember that Buffett’s best buys in the public markets have all been investments made during trying times, such as what BAT is facing today. AMEX could have gone bankrupt over the Salad Oil Scandal. GEICO was literally months away from being unable to service its insurance liabilities. Goldman Sachs was teetering on the brink of financial collapse under the heavy weight of subprime mortgage obligations. Coca-Cola was not the company it is today – it was an overburdened, overdiversified conglomerate with little growth outlook. Wells Fargo was staring at a huge, unserviceable loan book immediately following the Californian earthquakes given its significant residential exposure. It’s definitely nice to pay fair prices for wonderful companies, but it’s even better to be able to pay wonderful prices for wonderful companies.
 
In times like these, it pays to reflect on some words of wisdom for guidance:
Buy when there’s blood in the streets.
Be greedy when others are fearful.
In the short-term, the market is a voting machine; in the long-term, it is a weighing machine.
Price is what you pay, value is what you get.
It is far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price, than a fair company at a wonderful price.
Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.
 
May the investing odds be ever in your favor!
 
Stock code: 4162.KL Stock name: British American Tobacco (Malaysia) Berhad Financial information and financial reports: https://www.malaysiastock.biz/Corporate-Infomation.aspx?securityCode=4162
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"How Bad Could It Be?" - A Great Big Long Look at Team Canada 2018

If you're a Team Canada fan, I'm sure you had the same reaction I did when the NHL stonewalled the idea of top-tier pro players in the next Olympics - a feeling of dread, some minor chest pains, and a couple of stray tears.
After hearing the news, I had one big question – how bad could it be? Would Canada get crushed? Would every team be affected equally by the NHL block? Will I wind up drinking myself to death next February?
I did some research and made my conclusion – it's not going to be as bad as you may think.
To back that up, I made a detailed list of players who may possibly don the maple leaf at next year's Olympics.
It isn't easy to make a new national team from scratch. You can't just take a roster from the Spengler or Deutschland Cup tournaments and call it a day. Those rosters are usually just picking players from one or two European leagues at a time – they aren't the best we can do.
I'll admit, the talent pool for Canada is pretty shallow once you get out of the NHL. Most of Canada's elite players are under contract with NHL teams, leaving them ineligible to play (there's no word yet if players on NHL contracts playing with farm teams or in junior can play, but that would create one hell of a mess. We're going to assume here that any player with an active NHL contract, whether it's entry-level, two-way or whatever, will be ineligible.)
So let's make a trip to the Island of Misfit Toys, and see what Canada has to work with.
Before we go over the possible choices, here's some extra context for the Not-Quite-Ready-For-Prime-Time Skaters.
The last time Canada was unable to bring NHLers to an Olympics was the 1994 games, held in Lillehammer, Norway. Canada boasted players such as Paul Kariya, who was still a freshman with the Univ. of Maine, and Petr Nedved, who was out of the bigs in the midst of a contract dispute.
The bulk of the roster was made of AHL/NHL tweeners and junior players who hadn't yet made their mark on the hockey world. Players like Todd Hlushko and Chris Kontos played big minutes, and Corey Hirsch played every minute of the tourney in net.
Nonetheless, Canada made it to the gold medal game, losing to Sweden in the shootout when the world met a kid named Peter Forsberg. There's a precedent for a cobbled-together team of scraps winning a medal.
Here's some quick info on the likely makeup of the 2018 team.
Let's start with the forwards.

FORWARDS

Brandon Kozun
Will be 27
5'8, 172
Los Angeles, CA (moved to Calgary as a kid)
Lokomotiv (KHL)
Barring any changes, Kozun will be a crucial part of the Canadian team. He never got his due in the NHL, getting four points in 20 games in bottom-six minutes with a bad Leafs team. His small stature was always going to hold him back in the show. Since leaving to the KHL's larger ice surfaces, he's taken off. 49 points in 58 games last season, 56 in 59 this year, with point-per-game playoff performances. The kid's got game, and a guaranteed KHL contract next season, getting rid of any potential NHL complications. To make things sweeter, Kozun's been money every time he's ever worn a Team Canada sweater, getting 7 points in 6 World Junior games and adding two assists at this year's Deutschland Cup.
Jason Akeson
Will be 27
5'10, 185
Orleans, ON
Binghamton (AHL)
Akeson is fast as hell. He's got terrific playmaking skills, and his defensive coverage is okay. The main reason he's never been able to stick in the NHL is simple: he's 5'10, 185, and not strong on the puck. Three big concerns, though: he's never been able to produce in the NHL, scoring only one goal in 15 games; he's never played for Canada before; and he faired poorly in his lone big-size outing, getting only 5 points in 17 games in a KHL stint. He's coming off a barnburner of a year with the Binghamton Sens on an AHL deal, where he's nearly hit a point-per-game. While his performance has been great, he's vulnerable for what I'm going to call a “deal and steal” - he may be offered an NHL deal and accept, therefore making him ineligible for the Games.
Mason Raymond
Will be 32
6'1, 179
Cochrane, AB
Unsigned
Hockey fans always knew he had speed to burn. Had offensive upside, too, with two NHL seasons of 40+ points. Not the toughest or strongest player, but given open space, he could be important. Has Spengler Cup and Word Championship experience. Raymond will be a wildcard – he hasn't played professional hockey this season, choosing instead to take care of his wife, who's been suffering from Lyme disease. Personal matters aside, he is clear to play, contract-wise and his skill set could benefit the team if he isn't rusty.
Dan Paille
Will be 33
6'0, 196
Welland, ON
Brynas (SHL)
Paille is long past his best-before date, granted. But the former World Junior Captain and Spengler Cup champ can still pull his weight in a bottom-six role. Paille took his game to Sweden this year, where he helped push a stalling Brynas squad into the playoffs. Paille's calling card is his work ethic and energy level, and he still has decent speed. He will fill a leadership role with the team, if selected, possibly serving either as captain or an assistant. To make things slightly better, he plays his best hockey under pressure, winning a Stanley Cup, an OHL title and two World Junior medals to go with the Spengler Cup title.
Jordan Szwarz
Will be 26
5'11, 201
Burlington, ON
Providence (AHL)
Szwarz has no Team Canada experience on any level and has never played for a full season on big ice. He has won no major awards and hasn't impressed on an NHL level – 4 goals and no assists in 35 games. So, why is he on the list? Simple – he's scored the most points of any Canadian on an AHL contract this season under age 30, getting 52 points in 60 games. His contract is up this summer, however, and his high level of play could mean a deal and steal.
Gilbert Brule
Will be 31
5'11, 187
Nizhnekamsk (KHL)
It's probably been a looooong time since you've read that name. Yes, I assure you I'm serious. First of all, Gilbert Brule is alive. Secondly, he's actually been pretty good in Russia. He finished this season with 32 points in 37 games with Nizhnekamsk, after getting 10 points in 16 games with Zagreb. Most importantly, he's already got a contract for next year with the team, keeping him eligible. He's still got some energy, speed and offensive touch – whether he can stay healthy, though, is the biggest question.
Max Talbot
Will turn 34 during Games
5'11, 181
Lemoyne, QC
Lokomotiv (KHL)
Talbot was the captain of this year's Canadian team at the Deutschland Cup, which is not nothing. Since he left the NHL last year, Talbot has found a home along Brandon Kozun with Loko, with 36 points this year. Talbot has taken on more of a leadership role with Loko and the Deutschland Cup team, and if he's picked, he'll likely do the same in Korea. Talbot has experience with big ice, having played in Finland during the last lockout and playing this season in Russia. He's also played for Canada before, both at the U17s and World Juniors. Oh, and he's got a Cup-winning goal.
Justin Azevedo
Will be 29
5'7, 174
West Lorne, ON
Kazan (KHL)
Azevedo is living proof that good things can come in small packages. The former CHL player of the year has been in Europe for five years now, spending most of that time with Ak Bars Kazan in the KHL. While his offensive output decreased this year, his compete level hasn't. He can thread the needle with a good pass and possesses an incredible set of hands. He's used to the big ice and played U17 and U18 hockey for Team Canada. He's as close to a lock for this team as we can get.
Francis Pare
Will be 30
5'10, 190
Lemoyne, QC
Geneve-Servette (NLA)
Pare won't be in danger of a deal-and-steal; he's already signed Russia for next year. The former KHL All-Star, Gagarin Cup champion, QMJHL MVP and Calder Cup winner grew up in the same town as Max Talbot, and now has a chance to play with him again. Pare was on this year's winning Canadian team at the Spengler Cup. Pare can play all three forward positions, and can protect the puck quite well, despite his size.
Curtis Valk
Will turn 25 during Games
5'9, 170
Medicine Hat, AB
Utica (AHL)
Valk is another small dynamo. He's had a good year with Utica, going 69-16-28-44 this year on an AHL contract. Potential deal-and-steal aside, he's a dark horse pick for two reasons – he's never played for Canada and ever set foot on European ice. That being said, he's versatile, able to fit anywhere on the top four lines and can find the net.
Wojtek Wolski
Will turn 32 during Games
6'3, 220
Zabrze, POL (grew up in Toronto)
Magnitogorsk (KHL)
Wolski is a rare quantity – a big forward who's proven to be useful on big ice. He's spent four years in Siberia, literally, putting up better point totals each year until this season. Then, things changed. Wolski broke his neck in an ugly head-first collision with the boards early in the year, wiping him out for the season. He hasn't played since. If he's healthy, his knowledge of big ice play and his incredible individual skill will be useful, as well as his size and surprising toughness. If he can't suit up, Canada will need to hunt hard for a similar player.
Luke Adam
Will be 27
6'2, 207
St. John's, NL
Mannheim (DEL)
A poor man's Wojtek Wolski, Adam is adapting well to the European game. He spent his first year on big ice with the German league's Adler Mannheim, where he put up good offensive numbers. Adam was dominant at the World Juniors for Canada seven years ago, with 8 points in 6 games, but never got it going long-term in the NHL. He's under contract for another two seasons.
Andrew Ebbett
Will be 35
5'9, 176
Vernon, BC
Bern (NLA)
This is a bit of a reach, but hey – this whole team is a bit of a reach. Ebbett is doing fine in Switzerland with a good team but is getting up there in age. He's a jack of all trades, but master of none. His main attraction is how he played at this year's Spengler Cup. Wearing the maple leaf for the first time, Ebbett tore ass in Davos, scoring 8 points in 5 games. Don't count him out – pencil him in for a depth spot.
Matt Ellison
Will be 34
5'11, 231
Duncan, BC
Minsk (KHL)
Two-way player with tonnes of European and big ice experience. He's been in Europe since 2008, playing in the KHL and NLA. Ellison is a Swiss Army Knife on skates, playing all three forward spots and shifting his game to what is required. He's even got some offensive upside, flirting with point-per-game numbers for the past three years in the K.
Bud Holloway
Will be 29
6'0, 214
Wapella, SK
Skelleftea (SHL)
I want to see him make it, just so Canada can be represented by someone named Bud. Bud signed a deal with Montreal in 2015, hoping for an NHL shot after tearing apart Europe for four years. He didn't stick, but led his AHL team with 61 points, then left for the K before going back to Sweden. Holloway has played 16 games for Canada and has won two Swedish titles. He's got some size, strength, and can lead a team into battle if needed. He could be a great tool for Team Canada.
Derek Roy
Will be 34
5'9, 187
Ottawa, ON
Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Two seasons removed from being an NHL 30-point scorer and a decade from his point-per-game peak, Roy will not be – or at least, should not be – relied on as an offensive threat. His main purpose would be as an experienced leader. Roy played at the World Juniors, World Championship, Spengler and Deutschland Cup, and has done well in each. His current play isn't encouraging. He's coming off a KHL season where he scored only 22 points in 65 games. Even by our new, much lower standards, that still sucks.
Rob Klinkhammer
Will be 31
6'3, 214
Lethbridge, AB
Minsk (KHL)
Klinkhammer has made a good niche for himself in the K as a power forward, finishing with 38 points and 65 penalty minutes. Nobody's ever going to mistake Klink for a top-flight sniper, but he will certainly be useful in a bottom six role. He's deceptively fast for his size, possesses good hockey IQ and can use his size to win crucial corner battles. His biggest hurdle: he's never played a second for Team Canada at any level. For a player with his skill set, that's not surprising, but it might be enough to keep him off the ice in PyeongChang.
Nick Petersen
Will be 28
6'3, 196
Wakefield, QC
Berlin (DEL)
Five years in Germany have treated Petersen pretty well. A larger player, he can play a strong puck-possession game and his skating isn't bad. He's strong in front of the net. All these things could help him make the final squad – especially since there don't seem to be a lot of players Petersen's size in contention.
Kevin Clark
will be 30
5'9, 172
Winnipeg, MB
Brynas (SHL)
He's scrappy, and fast as hell and can find the net quick. The biggest knock on Clark is his size. Even on this team, which will likely be shorter than average, Clark is basically fun-sized. His Spengler and Deutschland Cup experience and four full seasons abroad will be important for his bid for ice-time.
That's 19 players. I don't know who will be named, but given the state of affairs, I'd expect most of them to be on Team Canada in PyeongChang.
There are some other options at forward, including CHL stars who haven't signed contracts with the teams that drafted them. WHL scoring whiz Adam Brooks hasn't signed with the Leafs yet, and Erie Otter set-up man extraordinaire Taylor Raddysh hasn't yet hooked up with Tampa. Despite being picked last summer by Florida and Buffalo, Adam Mascherin and Cliff Pu also haven't signed. If none of the four signs a deal before next February, they're all good to go.
Draft-eligible players like Nolan Patrick, Gabe Vilardi, Owen Tippett, Nick Suzuki and Mike Rasmussen could also join in. However, I wouldn't bet on most of them hitting the ice in Korea – no team will wait until late February to sign a lottery pick, after all.
I've got my eye on two NCAA players, too. Union Dutchman Spencer Foo will be heading into his senior year, while Dylan Sikura will do the same with Northeastern. Foo led all Canadian college players with 62 points in 38 games (yes, you read that right) while Sikura ended with 57 points in 38 games. Foo is undrafted - the Hawks snagged Sikura with a late pick in 2014. Since both are active college players, neither has an NHL contract.
So that's the forward corps. Let's move back, shall we?

DEFENSEMEN

Marc-Andre Gragnani
Will be 30
6'3, 205
L'Ile-Bizard, QC
Minsk (KHL)
Gragnani will likely be the defensive anchor for this team. He's played at the U18 level and at the World Championships for Team Canada and has three seasons of big-ice play under his belt. Excellent on the powerplay when given space, which he will have in abundance. Has decent speed, terrific passing skills, and isn't afraid to use his size when needed.
Chris Lee
Will be 37
5'11, 185
MacTier, ON
Magnitogorsk (KHL)
On the surface, Lee is everything you're always taught to avoid in a defenseman. He's small, not very physical, and can sometimes make mistakes in his own end. He's poised to be one of the team's oldest players, too. So what's the biggest thing about Lee? Offense. He's 100% pure, unbridled power-play energy, and has two Gagarin Cups to show for it. Lee's been a hockey journeyman since his college days, but scored more than a point-per-game as a defenseman on a KHL club that could challenge a few NHL sides. He's played in two Deutschland Cups, giving him a small, but not ignorable, amount of experience.
Ryan O'Connor
Will be 26
5'11, 192
Hamilton, ON
HIFK (FIN)
Another smaller defender, O'Connor has four years of European play under his belt and is a key figure on one of Finland's top teams. He has a solid two-way game and some U18 Team Canada experience. Unlike Lee, O'Connor is a good hitter and can defend himself against bigger players if needed. One wildcard issue comes up in his past, however – O'Connor was once suspended in junior for a doping offence. While that was long ago and he's long since paid his debt, it may be a red flag to those picking the team, especially under strict IOC doping standards.
Colby Robak
Will be 27
6'3, 194
Gilbert Plains, MB
Utica (AHL)
Robak is currently on an AHL deal with the Canucks' farm team in Utica. While he hasn't impressed in limited NHL time, the defensive-minded Robak has had a good year with Utica, with 25 points in 58 games at the time I wrote this. The deal-and-steal issue is up in the air. He played for Canada's U18 team but has little experience with big ice and his footspeed might be a problem.
Jonathon Sigalet
Will be 32
6'1, 203
Vancouver, BC
Frolunda (SHL)
Great skater with good size, a good physical player, and decent at both power plays and penalty killing. Sigalet spent this year with Frolunda in Sweden, where he's still in the thick of a playoff hunt. He played with the U18 Canada program in 2004 but only made his second appearance this season at the Deutschland Cup. Sigalet did okay, finishing with two points in three games, but his defensive play caught the eye of national team Svengali and former Olympic coach Dave King. King knows talent when he sees it – expect this guy to be in the mix.
Geoff Kinrade
Will be 32
6'0, 185
Nelson, BC
Nizhnekamsk (KHL)
Seven-year European veteran Kinrade knows how to play big-ice defence. It's as simple as that. Another of King's favourite sons, Kinrade managed to help out some pretty bad teams in Zagreb before getting his due with better KHL squads. Kinrade has Spengler and Deutschland Cup experience, which will prove valuable. Kinrade's skating, passing, two-way game and physical play will be his biggest calling cards.
Mark Katic
Will be 28
5'10, 181
Timmins, ON
Skelleftea (SHL)
Katic will be one of the top skaters on a team full of good skaters. That will be his way in, along with being able to play well both on the power-play and penalty kill. Katic is one of those mythical talents who just never got the call – after an incredible offensive season in the AHL as a 22-year-old, Katic missed most of the next year hurt before bolting for Europe. A former Canada U17 and U18 player, Katic also has Spengler and Deutschland experience, as well as five good years in Europe.
Andre Benoit
Will be 34
5'11, 192
St. Albert, ON
Malmo (SHL)
Benoit is another small, smooth-skating offensive defender. What sets him apart from the others is that he's been able to produce in the NHL. Benoit pumped in 28 points in bottom-four minutes on a below-average Avs team three years ago, but a bad run in Buffalo and getting stuck in St. Louis sent him back to Europe.
Chay Genoway
Will be 31
5'9, 176
Morden, MB
Jokerit (KHL)
I know, another small defenseman on the wrong side of 30 – stop me if you've heard this before. Genoway will be stuck in the pack, much like Benoit and the others, with his spot depending on his own performance in the run-up to the event. Genoway's earned rave reviews from Dave King, however, which could be big for him making the final team.
Mat Robinson
Will be 31
5'9, 185
Calgary, AB
Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
Last little guy, I swear. Robinson will be one of the best options out of the Lollipop Guild logjam that's forming on the Team Canada defence. Robinson is a two-time KHL All-Star who runs one of the league's top power-play units. He doesn't make many mistakes defensively. He'll be an interesting figure to watch.
Stefan Elliott
Will be 27
6'1, 190
Vancouver, BC
Kazan (KHL)
Holy crap, a defenseman who's taller than six feet? AND he doesn't completely stink? Well, don't ask too much. He's an okay two-way option, but hasn't played well for Canada in the past and hasn't adapted well to the big ice. If he makes the team, expect him to be on the bottom pair.
Dante Fabbro
Will be 19
6'1, 192
New Westminster, BC
Boston U (NCAA)
Here's a wildcard who could legitimately earn a spot. Fabbro tore up the college ranks and had a strong World Junior performance this year. He's still eligible for this year's World Juniors but may find himself on the biggest stage. He's got few weak points in his game, including his skating, shot, and in-zone defence. The deal-and-steal problem exists, though. If he signs with Nashville this summer, he's out, and Canada will have to look elsewhere for a young D talent.
Shawn Lalonde
Will be 27
6'1, 205
Orleans, ON
Koln (DEL)
One key thing held Lalonde back from the NHL – he was a Blackhawks defensive prospect at a time where making Chicago's roster was tougher than walking across the Atlantic. Five years later, Lalonde has become one of Europe's top defenders. He's topped 30 points in every season he's played in Germany, and usually tops 100 penalty minutes. Lalonde has played four games in his career for Team Canada, each as a teenager at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. He can fit anywhere in the defensive scheme for the team, which will be very, very valuable.
Cam Barker
Will be 31
6'3, 218
Winnipeg, MB
Astana (KHL)
Just hear me out, okay? Barker's experience with Team Canada is more extensive than most people on this list, having played 18 games for the team at various levels. He's done rather well since leaving for the KHL. He can play physically and can play solid offence. Two problems will follow him, though – his less-than-stellar speed and his occasionally sloppy defensive play.
Top prospects Callan Foote, Nic Hague, and Junior A prodigy Cale Makar could all stand a legitimate chance of making the final squad, especially the first two, who can adapt to shutdown roles. Makar, another undersized offensive defenseman, stands less of a chance than the others, but shouldn't be ruled out.

GOALIES

Ben Scrivens
Will be 31
6'2, 181
Spruce Grove, AB
Minsk (KHL)
Not the best goalie in the world, but on this limited list, he's a damn fine option. Scrivens fared well as a Team Canada netminder at the 2014 Worlds and is coming off a strong season in the crease for KHL side Dinamo Minsk. The main issue with Scrivens, obviously, is consistency. On any given night, one of two Scrivens' can show up: either the one who can steal you a game and make 50+ saves, or the one who lets in goals from the red line. He's a high-risk, high-reward proposition.
Danny Taylor
Will be 31
6'0, 198
Plymouth, GBR (grew up in Ontario)
Novosibirsk (KHL)
Taylor, much like several of the other players on this list, has put up good numbers everywhere he's played – OHL, ECHL, AHL, DEL, SHL, and now the KHL – but never broke through. He played his first Team Canada hockey at this year's Deutschland Cup. He's also coming off an incredible season in the KHL, where he finished with a .936 SV% over the full season. He's got a terrific butterfly and glove and moves quickly around the crease.
Barry Brust
Will be 34
6'2, 227
Swan River, MB
Slovan (KHL)
There really isn't a goalie around quite like Batshit Barry. He's an old-school guy who plays on reflex, great puck-handling and high-risk moves, and isn't afraid of some fisticuffs. Think a poor man's Hasek with Ron Hextall's mean streak. He'd be very fun to watch, but could easily become a liability for the team. He's only played for Canada once, at this year's Deutschland Cup, where he didn't do well.
Tanner Jaillet
Will be 24
5'11, 174
Red Deer, AB
Univ. of Denver (NCAA)
This one's off the board, but an interesting choice. He's young, he's small, but he gets results. The former Fort McMurray Oil Baron goalie is finishing up his junior year with the Denver Pioneers, where he stoned the whole country cold, giving up less than two goals per game and winning the NCHC goalie of the year award. He's also been a key part of getting his team to the Frozen Four,
Kevin Poulin
Will be 27
6'2, 205
Montreal, QC
Astana (KHL)
Poulin started the year playing semi-pro in Quebec but spent the rest of the season with the KHL's lone Kazakh team. Poulin is one of the youngest legitimate options on the table, but he's never played for Canada and had a fairly lousy season. His experience with big ice is negligible, and his NHL experience hasn't been great.
Chet Pickard
Will be 28
6'2, 216
Winnipeg, MB
Iserlohn (DEL)
A former World Junior and first-round flameout, Pickard has found order in the German League. Pickard first headed to Europe after a disastrous season in the ECHL five years ago and has settled in well. He's a big goalie who uses his frame well. He's not that fast, but his agility problems are offset by terrific position. He may have an outside shot at the gig, depending on his performance next season.
Leland Irving
Will be 29
6'0, 176
Barrhead, AB
KooKoo (FIN)
Irving suited up this season for a team with one of the best names in hockey. Irving was briefly the 'next great hope' for Canadian goaltending, backstopping Team Canada both at the World Juniors and the Canada-Russia Super Series (not so super if you're Russian, as it turned out). Irving never stuck in the NHL, but he may be able to use his solid positional game to earn a spot on the squad – if he can focus and give up fewer timely goals.
Now, I can understand if you read all that and thought, “Dear God... this is awful.” First off, it actually isn't as bad as you think. Secondly, if NHL help is needed, there have been some players who have intimated that they'd be willing to go.

REBELS

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Mark Scheifele, Kris Letang and Carey Price have all come out in support of playing in PyeongChang and future Olympics. None have explicitly said they would break league rules to play – they'd be foolish to do that – but if there's a possible way to smuggle them out, Hockey Canada will find it.
In addition to these four possible insurgents, there are multiple players whose contracts run out this year who may be willing to make a move.

POTENTIAL FA's

Joe Thornton and Chris Kunitz both have Olympic golds from Sochi, and each is getting up there in age. Despite a great year, Kris Versteeg isn't guaranteed an NHL contract next year. Daniel Winnik and Mike Ribeiro are both serviceable vets who will look for work, while Curtis McElhinney could become a candidate in the crease.
In addition to those guys, Jonathon Drouin, Scott Laughton and Gabriel Bourque all have expiring deals, and while they'll likely be re-signed or joining an NHL team, you never know.

IN CONCLUSION

I don't pretend to know who Hockey Canada is looking at for the next Olympic team. All I know is that these are likely the best guys to fill that void, in absences of NHL players. I don't think it'll be the end of the world - in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Canada got onto the podium with a roster like this.
Keep in mind, the NHL block will hurt countries like the US, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Germany just as much as Canada. Besides, the thought of seeing players who would not be able to play for their countries under normal circumstances could make for very entertaining play.
So, to answer the question I asked myself waaaaay up there at the top - you know, "how bad could it be?"
The short answer is it'll be alright. You just read the long answer.
submitted by SenorPantsbulge to hockey [link] [comments]

Firestorm Ep.2 Book a 2019 King of the Ring (general series)

Ok, so this tournament is going to be a huge 64 man tournament. Asuka, Lesnar, Ronda, and Bryan are out because they are champions. There will be 2 separate tournaments one for the women and one for the men. Tournament matches take place on RAW, SD Live, NXT and 205 Live. This tournament lasts for over 3 months with the semi-finals and the finals taking place at the KOTR PPV and the title Match taking place at Summerslam. Once a person is eliminated from the tournament they are free to challenge for the world titles at another date if they earn it. The official blocks for the tournament will not be announced and the matches for the next round will be revealed at the end of the round. This should hopefully build more anticipation towards the draw.
Men's 1st round

Seth Rollins def. Kassius Ohno. Fun match involving a SHIELD member facing a man who was supposed to be in the SHIELD. Rollins is hyped up as one of the favourites to win the tournament
AJ Styles def. Elias. AJ is also another favourite and he wins with the calf crusher
Finn Balor def. Rusev. Commentary doubt Balor's ability to win the tournament. Bu he survives the much bigger Rusev
Braun Strowman def. Killian Dayne. Dayne gets in a good showing and pushes Braun but he is eventually put down.
Drew McIntyre def. Jeff Hardy. Jeff Hardy is gone in the 1st round. Commentary play up that McIntyre may play spoiler to the more popular superstars
Samoa Joe def. Kurt Angle. Angles run of bad luck continues as he falls to Joe. Joe looks like a monster
Kofi Kingston def. Big E. Highly emotional match, Kofi riding a wave of momentum following the elimination chamber. He beats E but Big E looks hurt after the match. Did he go to far in his quest for gold. Woods and E walk away without Kofi
Andrade def. Mark Andrews. Quick but fast match. Both men seem evenly matched but Zelina Vega proves to be the difference maker
Rey Mysterio def. Cesaro. Rey has to use his speed to avoid he much stronger Cesaro and is eventually able to get him in a roll up.
Randy Orton def. Sin Cara. RKO out of nowhere. Orton moves on
Bobby Lashley def. Lio Rush. Lio pays for costing Lashley the IC title as Bobby hits not 1 not 2 but 3 spears in a row to win the match.
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Noam Dar. Shinsuke gets a bit of momentum beating the up and coming Dar
The Miz def. Goldust. Miz gets a pretty straight forwards win over the bizarre one. Miz cuts a promo hyping Shane's match
Mustafa Ali def. Dean Ambrose. Poor Dean Ambrose. His run of bad luck continues but this is a huge win for Mustafa Ali who looks to go far n the tournament
Dolph Ziggler def. Erick Young. A rare appearance by a wild Eric Young. Ziggler overcomes SAnity and picks up the win
Kevin Owens def. Bobby Roode. Kevin Owens makes his surprise return defeating Bobby Roode. Owens is full despicable heel and powerbombs Roode on the apron post match
Bray Wyatt def. R Truth. Bray Wyatt also makes his return but he looks different. He beats Truth but walsk away with a sad look on his face
Lars Sullivan def. Brian Kendrick. Lars finally stops lurking to make his debt. Kendrick hypes this up as his last time to become great. He gets flattened
Aleister Black def. Baron Corbin. Showcase match for Black who gets a quick win with the Black Mass
Velveteen Dream def. John Cena. Massive upset. The big match that both men wanted is won by the Velveteen Dream. Cena is now free to go after Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 35
Jonny Gargano def. Shelton Benjamin. Jonny does work this match as a heel as does Benjamin. He catches Benjamin in a mid air superkick to get the win
Tommaso Ciampa def. TJP. Ciampa again dominates and picks up a easy win
Ricochet def. Keith Lee. This is a match that has happened a lot over the independent scene and these two have amazing chemistry with each other. Ricoceht here is able to overcome the odds and defeat Lee. Commentary bring up the fact that Ricochet is impressive but they don't think he has it to win against tougher competition.
Adam Cole def. Xavier Woods. Still shaken by what happened earlier neither Kofi or Big E are at ringside and so Woods falls pray to the numbers advantage. What would have happened if the new day was their.
Matt Riddle def. Jinder Mahal. Mahal tries to calm down the Bro. Doesn't work as Riddle knock out Mahal in seconds
Buddy Murphy def. No Way Jose. Pretty simple match where Murphy represents the cruiser weight division in a dominate way
Cedric Alexander def. Sheamus. Big upset win. Alexander picks up the much larger superstar and hits the lumbar check
Akira Tosawa def. Drew Gulak. Akira proving that he is one of the top forces in the cruiser weight division.
Kalisto def. Lince Dorado. Big flippy match here with Kalisto wining due to the experience advantage
Pete Dunn def. Tyler Breeze. UK represents with a big win.
Tyler Bate def. Trent Seven. The two friends clash in a super hard hitting match up. Bate eventually topples Seven with a tiger drive. The two hug after the match
WALTER def. Shane McMahon. The best in the world gets destroyed in 5 minutes. No offence for Shane WALTER dominates

Women's 1st round

Becky Lynch def. Tamina. Everyone's favourite comes out to start the match. She takes care of Tamina pretty easily but at some point in the match she tweaks her Knee. She gets over this quickly and taps Tamina out. But it is unclear how this will effect the rest of her tournament
Charlotte def. Billie Kay. Easy win for the queen Charlotte looks dominate and taps out Kay
Sasha Banks def. Dakota Kai. Good showing for Kai she has a lot of potential. Sasha also has to fight through injury but gets the job done
Bayley def. Deonna Purrazzo. Purrazzo surprises Bayley early. Bayley comes back and wins with the Bayley to Belly. She goes for a hug after the match but Purrazzo says no. This tournament means that much
Nia Jax def. Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn makes her return and for a moment she out powers Nia. But Jax gets some serious heel heat and beats the returning superstar
Ember Moon def. Alica Fox. Alica attempts her comedy stick and Ember makes her pay in just a few minutes. Again this tournament is serious
Alexa Bliss def. Aliyah. This is the match that formally establishes that Alexa Bliss is a baby face. I know she is better as a heel but she has been doing the same thing for so long and fans are behind her it might be tie just for a year or so to change things up with Bliss who wins with the twisted bliss which she uses a lot more now that she is a face
Natalya def. Dana Brooke. The incredible two week story line comes to a head between these two superstars. Natalya overcomes the odds in a gripping contest to get the big win. \******1/4*
Carmella def. Chelsea Green. Chelsea Green is awesome but she probably won't stay so its best to keep the momentum with Carmella. Lets not have Corey on commentary for this one.
Naomi def. Tarnara Conti. Naomi again is another one under heat which is why she could do with a bit of momentum. Conti has a good showing but can't get the win
Mandy Rose def. Sonya Deville. The two partners square off. Sonya is not willing to hurt her friend but Mandy docent wait. She is in it for the glory. Sonya quickly over powers her proving to be the dominate member of the group but Mandy cheats to win. Sonya looks upset but Mandy trys her best to make good and all seems fine
Peyton Royce def. Ashley Rayne. The better of the two Iconics gets a big win beating one of TNA's best
Ruby Riot def. Racheal Evers. Ruby Riot deserves the world and she deserves a lot more than what she has been getting. She starts off her tournament with a big win
Mickie James def. Nina Samuels. Mickie James hypes up that this might be her last big opportunity to reach the title. She starts off by using her experience to get the win
Shayna Baszler def. Xia Brookside. Shayna is a best and dominates Brookside for a quick win
Kairi Sane def. Michelle McCool. Michelle wrestles as a heel but Kairi overcomes
Io Shairi def. Liv Morgan. Io does just as well with a big spotlight victory over Liv Morgan. Kairi does help her get the advantage over the Riot Squad
Bianca Belair def. Vanessa Borne. Bianca proves that she isn't overrated. (Ok now I'm gonna die). She gets a easy win over Borne. She is a heel by the way. That she
Candice LeRae def. Mercedes Martinez. Again not to much to this one. Just another showcase match for Candice establishing who she is
Toni Storm def. Sarah Logan. Battle of the headbutts. Storm wins obviously because she is the UK Champ and is set up as a threat to win it all.
Rhea Ripley def. Kelly Kelly. The living embodiment of the WWE Diva gets destroyed by Rhea who is presented as a dominating monster
Marina Shafir def. Molly Holly. Holly comes back but is no match for one of Ronda Rouseys buddy's. Ronda is at ringside watching this
Jessamyn Duke def. Eva Marie. Eva Marie is back and this totally is not because I found it hard to find 64 Women's wrestlers who could legitimately be in this.
Nikki Bella def. Isla Dawn. Here come the Bella's. Yay right. Nikki picks up the win. Who is going to stop the longest raining divas champion
Brie Bella def. Maryse. Follow on from the Bryan vs Miz feud from the summer. Brie finally gets redemption over Maryse.
Kay Lee Ray def. Jinny. 2 of UKs best go at it with Kay Lee Ray getting the win
Viper def. Beth Pheonix. Big power match here. Beth Phoenix comes out as a surprise appearance. However she does the honours for Viper who gets big heel heat.
Nikki Cross def. Killer Kelly. 2 crazy's go at it. Nikki Cross gets the big win as she is probably the most well known one of the 2. But they continue brawling after the match and head to the back
Lacy Evans def. Maria Kennelis. 2 classy lady's going at it. But Lacy has more to prove and is therefore willing to do more to win
Kacy Catanzaro def. Eve. Again another case of the returning superstar losing but they have to because we can't keep relying on the past. Ricochet's flippy girlfriend wins
Lana def. Zelina Vega. This will probably be the worst match on the 1st round which is why it only gets 2 minutes. Lana wins because she is more popular
Xia Li def. Little Miss Roxy. The chinsese superstar gets the big win to end the 1st round

Men's 2nd round
AJ Styles def. Tyler Bate. Bate is clearly overwhelmed by the situation. AJ dominates the opening of the match. Bate finally gets vicious and intense and has a bit comeback. But the Styles clash eventually wins it in a hard fought match. AJ raises Bates hand post match
Seth Rollins def. Tomasso Champia. A longer match. Tomasso shocks Rollins by how dominate he is. But Rollins eventually pulls through and wins it
Finn Balor def. Bray Wyatt. The match starts but Wyatt has a scared look on his face. He leaves the ring and loses by count out. Balor looks confused and Wyatt looks sad
Buddy Murphy def. Dolph Ziggler. Big win for Buddy representing the cruiser weights. Ziggler puts him over and Murphy is starting to make believers
Kevin Owens def. Akira Tosawa. Owens attacks Tosawa before the start of the match and powerbombs him on the apron. Despite the refs advice Tosawa tells the ref to start the match and then is immediately nailed with a powerbomb and loses
Aelister Black def. Andrade. Similar to the match they had on SD Live. Andrade takes Black to his limit but again Black has his number and nails a mid air black mass for the win.
Velveteen Dream def. The Miz. Big clash of styles Dream beats Miz with the purple rainmaker. No shenanigans in this match but Dream beats another former world champion
Kofi Kingston def. Randy Orton. Kofi Kingston faces the man who derailed his 2009 push. Kofi kicks out of a RKO and eventually nails the trouble in paradise for the win. His intensity is getting him through everything but at what cost
Jonny Gargano def. Kalisto. Again Gargano works heel. He grounds Kalisto preventing him from flying and eventually taps him out
Samoa Joe def. Lars Sullivan. Clash of the Titans here. Joe puts Sullivan through the announcers table. Joe makes the count back but Lars doesn't
Pete Dunn def. Shinsuke Nakamura. Fun strong style match between the stiffest wrestlers in the UK and Japan respectively. Arm Bars a trades as are forearms. Bitter end counters the Kinsasha for the win
Mustafa Ali def. Rey Mysterio. Take to the skys. Mustafa and Rey go head to head in a lightning fast match. 045 for the win and a so of respect post match
WALTER def. Braun Strowman. Oh my lord what a match. Braun finally meets his match. Someone who can beat him in size but can outmatch him in athleticism and technical work. WALTER gets a huge win and is now the odds on favourite to win.
Ricochet def. Cedric Alexander. Again another flippy match. Alexander reminds us just how good he really is and takes Ricochet to the limit but the king of flight wins it in 20.
Drew McIntyre def. Matt Riddle. Two very similar styles clash in a extremely hard hitting match. Clay more wins it but both men need help leaving the ring
Adam Cole def. Bobby Lashley. No Lio Rush due to how badly Lashley beat him up so yet again Undisputed Era help Cole win it with the shining wizard.

Women's 2nd round

Becky Lynch def. Natalya. Becky is the obvious favourite however being stuck in the sharpshooter is not good for Becky's legs. She powers through this match but will she be okay
Charlotte def. Kacy Caranzaro. Kacy puts in another good performance. Charlotte doesn't take her seriously but soon regrets that. She eventually taps her out but it was a close one
Sasha Banks def. Jessamyn Duke. 2 rival horsewomen face off against each other. Sasha gets the win but it attack by Shafir post match but Bayley makes the save setting up the next match
Bayley def. Marina Shafir. After the match goes longer Shafir and Duke leave.
Alexa Bliss def. Xia Li. Li dominates Alexa who has to work from behind to win with the twisted bliss.
Toni Storm def. Rhea Ripley. The two UK rivals face off against each other. Again Rhea dominates the early part of the match but Storm fights back. She wins with the tiger bomb but Rhea attacks her post match to get her heat back.
Shayna Baszler def. Kay Lee Ray. Kay Lee Ray is good but at this point only the bet are making it through and Shayna is becoming one of the favourites to make it near the end.
Nia Jax def. Lana. Oh Dear
Ember Moon def. Brie Bella. Nice win for ember moon beating one of the Bellas. Commentary are hyping her as one of the dark horse picks to win it.
Kairi Sane def. Io Shairi. I would expect this to be the best match of the round. These two have great chemistry and they should have a nice long 18 minute showcase which Sane wins.
Bianca Belair def. Peyton Royce. Peyton's run comes to a end. Bianca is simply to gifted to lose to her
Nikki Bella def. Mickie James. Mickie's fairy tale ending comes to a early stop. This should hopefully get some heat on Nikki. Also no Alexa or Alica at ringside which is something commentary should put over.
Ruby Riot def. Carmella. The slightly awkward Carmella run comes to a end as Ruby wins decisively.
Lacy Evans def. Nikki Cross. The classicist superstar vs the "nastiest" superstar. The two recent NXT call ups face off but again its Lacy's superior intellect that beats Nikki's brawn.
Candice LeRae def. Viper. Candice is proving to be one of the bigger underdog stroylines as David slays Goliath.
Mandy Rose def. Naomi. The feud of the centenary takes another stop at the KOTR tournament. Mandy Rose has somehow made it to round 3 and she is proving to be one of the most hated people in this tournament

Men's 3rd round

Finn Balor def. Velveteen Dream. This should be a really fun 1st round match. Dream is about to beat another former world champion when Bray Wyatt comes out and hands Finn the victory. Balor looks shocked but takes it.
Seth Rollins def. Samoa Joe. Another impressive performance by Rollins as he counters the clutch into a roll up. Rollins moves forwards as one of the likely winners.
Aleister Black def. WALTER. The monsters are being slayed all across the tournament. Aleister Black gets a huge win landing the knockout blow on Walter who leaves furious post match.
Ricochet def. Drew McIntyre. Again these two have amazing chemistry together. The match stays as a game of cat and mouse for a while but eventually Ricochet shows off his underrated strength to get the win with a brain buster
Buddy Murphy def. Mustafa Ali. One of my favourite Cruiser weight feuds continues as these two clash again but Mustafa Ali doesn't have a answer for Buddy Murphy. Ali thinks that he has all of Buddy's moves scouted but he wasn't ready for a top rope Murphy's law which is what wins it.
AJ Styles def. Adam Cole. Tow former Bullet Club members go at it. However this time Gallows and Anderson come down to help AJ. Undisputed Era no longer have the numbers advantage and so Cole's run comes to end a courtesy of a phenomenal forearm
Pete Dunn def. Jonny Gargano. Dunn tortures Gargano but being a sneaky heel Jonny is able to get the upper hand. But Dunn counters a slingshot spear into a forearm and follows with the bitter end for the win
Kofi Kingston def. Kevin Owens. Owens try's attacking Kofi before the bell but Kofi has it scouted and dodges the attacks. After a long fought match Kofi yet again wins it and Owens is sent home

Women's 3rd round

Becky Lynch def. Bianca Belair. Bianca shows off her viscous side attack Lynch's leg. But she is no match for the man who wins it. Bianca is proven to be overrated (sigh)
Charlotte def. Nikki Bella. Probably two of the biggest heels in the tournament outside of Mandy and Jax. Charlotte and Nikki have very good chemistry from their matches in 2015. Charlotte wins with the natural selection putting that move over
Bayley def. Sasha Banks. The two best friends clash. Bayley is all hugs and Sasha is all fists. She tries cheating on several occasions and Corey Graves nearly loses his mind. Bayley starts getting into it. In the end however Bayley simply has Sasha's number and wins with a top rope Bayley to Belly. After the match Bayley goes for a hug. Sasha thinks about it when Duke and Shafir attack. Becky and Charlotte run out to make the save. Sasha hugs Bayley but then Charlotte attacks Lynch's leg leaving her hurt.
Shayna Baszler def. Candice LeRae. Shayna Baszler crushes another dream as Candice has to exit the tournament. Commentary says that Becky and Charlotte may be worried about the wrong horsewoman.
Alexa Bliss def. Lacy Evans. These two play off the segment that they shared on RAW. Lacy is a patronising heel throughout the match but her antiques costs her. So far the goddess has flown under the radar but now may be her time to shine
Toni Storm def. Kairi Sane. The two winners of the may young classic fight against each other. Toni time prevails but it should be a great match. Toni Storm may have had the hardest route the the quarter finals but she has made it
Nia Jax def. Ember Moon. The evil Nia Jax beats another fan favourite in Ember Moon. She may be the most likely to win
Mandy Rose def. Ruby Riot. Mandy Rose has made it to the quarter finals. Hopefully she is getting pure heel heat which is so hard to find these days.

Men's 4th round

Kofi Kingston def. Buddy Murphy. Kofi Kingston beats the Juggernaut in a highly competitive match with multiple false finishes. Kofi is really getting desperate to win it this time and gets really physical to do it. He looks like a man possessed
AJ Styles def. Finn Balor. Dream match round two goes similarly to the first match. Both men order the Club to stay in the back no matter what. Wyatt comes down to ringside to try and get involved but Balor beats him up not wanting Wyatt's help this distraction allows AJ to pick up the win. Wyatt looks distraught post match and is crying heavily. He attacks AJ injuring is ribs. He is yelling that he is sorry to Balor. The Club run out but Bray disappears in a cloud of smoke. Balor doesn't know what to do
Seth Rollins def. Pete Dunn. Rollins injures a beating but unlike Gargano he faces it like a man and overcomes the pain to land a stomp for the win
Ricochet def. Aleister Black. NXT's last two representatives clash in a typical NXT style of match which Ricochet wins with the 630

Women's 4th round

Becky Lynch def. Shayna Baszler. Ok this match should go long. Like 25 minutes long and 15 of those minutes should be Baszler having Lynch in some kind of Leg hold. Similar to how Suzuki ripped Tanahashi's leg apart for half a hour at new beginning last year. It should be getting uncomfortable by the end. Becky should be in a world of pain as her leg has been worked over for 15 minutes. But she wills herself on and refuses to tap out ever again. She counters a arm bar into a roll up for the win. Baszler continues working the leg post match before the whole locker room have to pull her off of Becky
Charlotte def. Mandy Rose. Yeah so while Becky had to work through agony for 25 minutes Charlotte beats the easiest competitor in the last 8 in about 5 minutes. Now that's a slap in the face
Toni Storm def. Alexa Bliss. 2 girls who have flown under the radar to this point. Storm gets a huge victory as she makes it to the final 4 of the tournament and is looking like a star in the process.
Nia Jax def. Bayley. Another Nia Jax match and another fan favourite superstar bowing out of the tournament. This is becoming a familiar sight.

King of the Ring 2019

Kofi Kingston def. AJ Styles. Rematch from Smackdown a few weeks ago. AJ's ribs are still hurt from Bray Wyatt's attack but Kofi doesn't show AJ the same amount of mercy that AJ showed him. AJ obviously makes his way back into it. Kofi starts making some heels moves. But he pauses and stops. He goes back to fight fairly but is almost caught in a roll up. Kofi wins the match fare and square countering a phenomenal forearm into a trouble in parricide in mid air. Kofi helps AJ out of the ring and the New Day come out to help him. The band is back together
Ricochet def. Seth Rollins. This should be awesome with Ricochet getting a huge upset win over Seth. Neither men wrestle to intensely but it picks up a bit towards the end. Rollins goes for the phoenix splash but crashes and burns which is what costs him as he falls victim to the 630. We are set to get a flippy finale for sure.
Becky Lynch def. Nia Jax. Leading up to this match Becky's health should be called into question and it should be a running story line on RAW and SD with her trying to get cleared. Obviously Nia shows no mercy and goes right after Becky's leg. For some reason Becky is obsessed with trying to slam Nia. Becky does get back into the match and drops Nia. But Nia punches her in the face. But this only fires up Lnych more. Another punch to the face but Becky gets right in Nia's face. Another punch Becky starts walking into them. She finally lays off a punch off her own which flaws Nia Jax. She locks in the dis arm her which wins it in shocking fashion for Becky.
Charlotte def. Toni Storm. While not as hard as Nia Toni Storm provides a big hurdle for Charlotte to face. Charlotte surprisingly dominates the early parts of the match. But Toni gets a huge comeback for about 5 minutes where she takes the queen to her absolute limit and she hits the tiger driver but CHARLOTTE KICKS OUT. However, Toni tweaks her knee shades of what has been happening with Becky. Charlotte attacks the leg horribly and Toni is in a lot of pain. Despite her best efforts Toni taps out. Commentary say that this may be a preview for what Charlotte does to Becky but can she even physically tap out.
Charlotte def. Becky Lynch. Ok here is the big match CHARLOTTE VS BECKY. Becky tries to get the win early and both of them go back and forth trying to lock in their various submissions. Becky actually takes over control during the opening 5 or so minutes. I think at this point people might be getting sick of the constant Becky sells the leg and comes back get up. For most of the match Charlotte tries to go after the leg but Becky has it scouted. But eventually Charlotte gets her opportunity and goes t work and tortures Becky Lynch. But she will not tap out. Becky hits a becksploder of the top rope but cant get into the cover!. Becky tries to lock in the disarm-er but can't get it locked in. She tries a 2nd time and finally gets it in but right before CHARLOTTE TAPS Becky's leg gives out. Natural selection. 12..3. The life is sucked out of the arena and then the boo's come in. Charlotte goes to Smack down to win the title from Asuka. Becky now has to work back to try and get a match with Ronda Rousey
Kofi Kingston def. Ricochet. Ok I know Charlotte vs Becky is the biggest match but I want to send the crowd home on a high note. Kofi comes out to his SOS theme song with all of the New Day members behind him. Ricochet comes out dressed as a angle or something. They start of fast. However after Ricochet lands on his feet a few to many times. Ricochet lands in a superman pose but Kofi intercepts him and goes to work. But he regains himself. They go for 25 minutes. Kofi kicks out of the 630 first person ever to kick out of that move. Trouble in Paradise wins it. Kofi has done it he has climbed up the mountain. 11 long years baby. He nows goes onto Summerslam to face Daniel Bryan

Good luck to my other opponents. Hope you like this all feedback is good feedback


submitted by GeneralSeries to FantasyBookingElite [link] [comments]

/r/horseracing Cheltenham Festival guide and discussion 2015

As of writing this there is less than two weeks until the greatest horseracing festival on Earth. With 4 days and 35 races of the highest quality, the sub would be inundated unless we keep things central so use this thread for absolutely anything Cheltenham - news, previews, tips and, most importantly, debate!
For those who are unfamiliar, The Cheltenham Festival in held every March at Cheltenham Racecourse in Gloucestershire. The National Hunt season is mostly run with it in mind, as top trainers all desire even a single win at the jewel in the crown of jumps racing. The various graded races throughout the year are usually used as pointers towards graded races at the festival, for example a winner of the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January will probably be high up in the market for the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Festival. It consists of 4 days - Champion Day (Tue), Ladies Day (Wed), St Patricks Thursday and Gold Cup Day (Fri) and this year is held between the 10th and 14th of March
The Races
Each of the four days is centred around a Championship race:
The Champion Hurdle, The Queen Mother Champion Chase, The World Hurdle and The Cheltenham Gold Cup
The Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase are 2m races - the shortest distances in NH racing and are held on the Cheltenham Old Course as are all races on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The World Hurdle and Gold Cup are held over stayers distances of 3 miles and 3 miles 2 and a half furlongs respectively. They are raced on the New Course on Thursday and Friday.
Other races include Grade 1 novice chases and hurdles, big prize pot handicaps as well as handicaps for amateur riders, conditional jockeys and hunter chasers as well as a mares hurdle race and two races for juvenile hurdlers (4 year old horses).
The Stars
Perhaps one of the greatest appeals of National Hunt racing is the opportunity for horses to become household names due to the lengths of their careers. Unlike on the flat where stallions are carted off to stud after 2 or 3 years, most NH horses are geldings and usually aren't begun to be raced until they develop into their strongest frames between 5 and 8.
Festival heroes include Istabraq who is a three time winner of the Champion Hurdle. More recently, Hurricane Fly who is trained by Irish top trainer Willie Mullins won the 2011 and 2013 renewals of the race.
Just as we were blessed to watch the mighty Frankel in our lifetimes, there will surely be or have been very few who are better chasers than Sprinter Sacre at the height of his career. The Nicky Henderson Horse was undefeated over fences before having to pull up due to a heart condition last Christmas. He was defeated upon reappearance in the Clarence House Chase, though arguably was not hard pushed. Whether that is a good or bad sign will become clear as the festival unfolds. American followers of NH racing were cheering home Flagship Uberalles during his racing career, and with silks like those they must have been ecstatic when he made up for his loss when favourite in the 2000 QMCC by winning the 2002 renewal.
No horse have ever been bred to win a World Hurdle is a saying in the NH world. Most horses that win were bred with the Gold Cup in mind but didn't take to chasing for whatever reason. Though a winner of the 2m4f novices chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2008, Big Buck's was reverted to hurdles after unseating his rider in the Hennessey Gold Cup in the next season. This was rather fortuitous as it turned out as staying hurdlers go, he was an absolute machine. Until an injury setback in 2013, he was undefeated in 18 runs, including 4 World Hurdles, 4 Liverpool Hurdles, 4 Long Distance Hurdles and 3 Long Walk Hurdles - all of which are Grade 1s. After missing most of the 2013 season due to injury, the 11 year old returned after a 400+ day absence for the 2014 Cleeve Hurdle during Festival Trials day where he lost his unbeaten record. There was no fairytale finish when competing in the 2014 World Hurdle, though he was retired a legend of the staying hurdle sphere to rapturous applause from the crowd.
The Gold Cup has been won by many beloved horses over the years - Arkle, Desert Orchid, Dawn Run. More recently Best Mate entered the hearts when winning his third successive Gold Cup. The image of his trainer Henrietta Knight embracing husband and former champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe at the post lives long in the memory - especially given the passing of Mr Biddlecombe last year.
Kauto Star is also a mutiple Gold Cup winner who retired in 2012. He had a famous rivalry with stablemate Denman who won the 2008 Gold Cup and whose career was blighted by a heart issue.
Another festival legend is Quevega who is on a massive unbeaten run herself. She won the Mares Hurdle at the festival an impressive 5 times in a row as well as the World Series Hurdle at Punchestown in the same years. Last year she picked up her sixth win in the Mares Hurdle but could not retain her World Series Hurdle crown and was retired to stud.
Ones to Watch
Even at the grand old age of 11, Hurricane Fly is having another crack at the Champion Hurdle in order to emulate Istabraq in winning it three times. This years competition will be one of the more competitive affairs. Favourites in the betting include new kid on the block Faugheen who as a novice won races from 2 miles to 3 over al sorts of ground. his versatility makes him the most exciting hurdling prospect in training although questions are in place over the quality of his victories this campaign. The New One returns flying the flag for Britain having arguably been unlucky in running last year. There is no doubt over his quality and he has a devestating turn of foot. Last year's winner Jezki returns having been beaten convincingly by Hurricane Fly three times this season. There can be no doubt he'll be primed for this race though some spectators question his record with Tony McCoy on board. This race is certain to be a fantastic showcase of hurdling and with any luck will be a fantastic spectacle.
With Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy returning from injury with question marks the Champion Chase appears to be a 4 horse race. The grade 1 preps for this race - the Tingle Creek and the Clarence House Chases have been won in most impressive fashion by speedy chaser Dodging Bullets.. Of the Irish horses, Willie Mullins trains Supreme Novices 2013 winner Champagne Fever who was narrowly edged out by Western Warhorse in last year's Arkle (2m novice grade 1 chase). An outside chance after victory in The Game Spirit chase is Mr Mole whom has been subject to an outstanding training performance by Paul Nicholls to get him to grade race standard. In the World Hurdle, a very open and unfortunately underwhelming contest looks to be on offer. With Big Bucks retired, More of That edged out Annie Power in a thriller finish last year. More Of That could be out injured and Annie Power may take the penalty kick of the Mares Hurdle. In the same colours as Big Bucks representing the Stewart Family, Saphir De Rheu is favourite after reverting from chasing to staying hurdling and winning the Cleeve hurdle (deja vu?!). The ever popular Zarkandar is also trained by Nicholls and was edged out by Reve de Sivola in the Long Walk hurdle before Christmas. Champion Hurdler (2012) Rock On Ruby will be trying his hand at 3 miles having shown potential to stay the trip when winning the Relkeel Hurdle - the same race More Of That landed before going on to victory here last year.

Finally, the Gold Cup looks to be King George VI Chase 2013 and 14 winner Silviniaco Conti's to lose. His opposition will come from last year's 20/1 winner Lord Windermere, Hennessey Gold Cup winner Many Clouds and Lexus Chase winner Road To Riches. Carlingford Lough landed the Irish Hennessey the day after AP McCoy announced his retirement, and what better send off for the soon to be 20 times champion jockey than to land the most prestigious prize in National Hunt racing.

TL;DR Have fun over those 4 days. Best of luck with your bets.
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Queally Group Punchestown Champion Hurdle 2015-Faugheen Jezki - Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle (G1) 2015 Champion Hurdle Preview - Cheltenham 2015 Nichols Canyon - Morgiana Hurdle (Grade 1) - 2015 Nichols Canyon - Ryanair Hurdle (Grade 1) - 2015

2015 Champion Hurdle Result. Willie Mullins dominated the Champion Hurdle as the Irish handler trained the first three home in the opening day showpiece at the Cheltenham Festival, and it was the heavily-backed Faugheen that saw off his stablemates to win the prize and land the Grade 1 event for favourite backers.. Sent off a red-hot 4/5 favourite, Faugheen was sent to the front from the off £40 Bet £10 get £30 in free bets + 10 casino bonus. Minimum deposit of £10 using deposit code 30F - A qualifying bet is a ‘real money’ stake of at least £10 placed on any sports market - Minimum odds of 1/2 (1.5) - Free bets credited upon qualifying bet settlement and expire after 7 days - Free bet stakes not included in returns - Casino Bonus must be claimed within 7 days • To Established in 1950, the Irish Champion Hurdle has long been considered the Irish equivalent of Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle. It’s one of the elite National Hunt races that features at Leopardstown and headlines the opening day of their Dublin Racing Festival. The runners, tips and betting odds for the Champion Hurdle which is the feature race on day 1 of The Cheltenham Festival. This website uses cookies Cookies help us and our partners provide statistics. By browsing this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our Champion Hurdle - 10th March, 2015. Faugheen stormed to the head of the 2015 Champion Hurdle betting following a facile success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, but the unbeaten Willie Mullins-trained superstar is sure to have his toughest test to date in what is shaping up into a sensational renewal of the Cheltenham Festival showpiece on March 10.

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Queally Group Punchestown Champion Hurdle 2015-Faugheen

Exclusive preview and tips of the 2015 Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival brought to you by the team at Star Sports. ... Star Sports will be betting on course for each day of the jumps ... Nichols Canyon ended Faugheen's unbeaten run in the Morgiana Hurdle as he fended off the late charge from his stablemate. ... Get all the latest betting news, ... 2015 Champion Hurdle - Faugheen ... Get all the latest betting news, ... Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy ... Hurricane Fly BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle (G1) 2015 - Duration: 4:27. Martin Kelly and Mick Fitzgerald discuss the Champion Hurdle. For many this will be the race of the festival. ... Get all the latest betting news, ... Sportingbet Cheltenham Countdown 2015: Video ... Preview of the Champion Hurdle Cheltenham 2015 where the Willie Mullins-trained Faugheen is the strong betting favourite. http://www.freebets.org.uk/william-hill/