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Rick Horrow

Rick is the CEO of Horrow Sports Ventures and the Sports Business Analyst for CNN, FOX Sports, and FOX Business Channel. He also is the author of two books: When the Game Is on the Line and Beyond the Box Score.

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1. World Cup decision Thursday; who wins?

For international futbol fanatics, Thursday is Decision Day as FIFA announces the countries chosen to hold the World Cup in 2018 and 2022.

World Cup babes

WORLD CUP BABES

No wonder they call it the beautiful game. Just check out the babes at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

In Zurich, its supposed neutral home, FIFA’s executive committee will name the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, ending a 21-month process. Second only to the Olympic Games, the World Cup bidding process involves heads of state, star athletes, border-to-border community involvement and the commitment of billions of dollars by blue-chip companies in every bidding nation.

FIFA has long been dogged by allegations of corruption in its World Cup bidding process, including recent accusations of vote-selling by FIFA executive committee members from Africa, South America and Brazil, among other addresses. The Wall Street Journal noted earlier this week that because the award is a "political process by secret ballot, pretty much anything goes when it comes to allegations of skullduggery or conspiracy." As last-minute deals are being struck in Zurich, TV rights fees escalate and lobbying efforts include, as by Qatar, tens of thousands of dollars being spent on print and television advertising campaigns in soccer-mad nations, no one truly knows what decision will be handed down on Thursday.

In the U.S., where Major League Soccer continues to grow and Americans showed a marked rise in their enthusiasm for international competition in June, as the 2010 World Cup played out in South Africa, it’s widely assumed that soccer will grow exponentially the next time the country hosts FIFA’s biggest event. As former President Bill Clinton wrote in this week’s Sports Illustrated, “Our bid will mobilize American citizens and citizens around the globe to do more to address the economic, social and environmental challenges facing our world in the 21st century. ... If the United States is selected to host the FIFA World Cup, we will be extremely privileged — and ready — to honor the sport of soccer and all that it represents for the fan, for the game and for the world.”

The U.S. bid for 2022 (isolated after FIFA all but said that America’s chances for the 2018 contest were nil) projects a total economic impact of $5 billion, including 5 million individual tickets sold and sweetened TV rights fees. But, as U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati stated in a SportsBusiness Journal interview, “How can a U.S.-hosted World Cup make a difference for FIFA, its member associations and people from around the world, well beyond those numbers?

Even actor Morgan Freeman is among the delegation trying to land the World Cup for the U.S. Among other last-minute transactions, MLS donated $2 million to the USA Bid Committee in the final stages of America’s bidding for the 2022 event. One company along for the drive is Hyundai-Kia, which agreed to extend their top-tier sponsorship of FIFA through 2022, even though the company’s existing sponsorship deal doesn’t expire until 2014. The new agreement, estimated at $35 million annually, has Hyundai sponsoring all FIFA competitions up to and including the 2022 FIFA World Cup. (Et tu, South Korea?)

2. Football’s conference championship weekend

As we close in on the last week of college football and the final BCS standings of the regular season, conference championship games for the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Southeastern Conference and others take place this weekend at stadiums across the country. While the Pac-10 doesn’t use a title game to determine its champion, No. 1 Oregon’s game has extra significance. The Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State is the seventh-oldest college football rivalry game in the United States. The winner receives the renowned Platypus Trophy.

Outside of this duck-billed honor, there’s lots of money at stake for the conferences that have added a title game. The SEC championship, the most lucrative of all NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, brought in about $14.5 million in revenue last season and averaged 75,000 fans. Pitting 12-0 Auburn and its controversial quarterback Cam Newton, gunning for a national championship, against seasoned head coach Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks, this year’s SEC championship game is sure to haul in hefty ratings for CBS and sponsors.

Saturday night’s Big 12 championship matchup between Oklahoma and Nebraska carried several intriguing story lines. Even though it is held in cavernous Cowboys Stadium, both schools have already sold out of their ticket allotments, revealing the high level of anticipation for the final in-conference game that will take place between these longtime rivals before Nebraska leaves for the Big Ten next season. The conference finale also pits two prominent coaches, Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) and Bo Pelini (Nebraska), whose intertwined football bloodlines go back to a shared childhood in Youngstown, Ohio.

And then there’s the NCAA’s high-flying runaway, Texas Christian University. Third in BCS standings, TCU just announced that it is leaving the Mountain West Conference to join the Big East in all sports beginning with the 2012-2013 academic year. TCU will officially become the 17th member of a conference whose winner automatically qualifies for a BCS berth. While players, coaches and fans will have to travel a "fur piece" for road games, the easier path to a title, broader national exposure and bigger piece of a shared TV revenue pie was too enticing to pass up.

Regardless of who wins or loses the conference championships, and ascends to the 10 BCS bowl game spots available, expect widespread carping and swearing and dissent. The platypus, after all, is venomous.

3. LeBron returns to Cleveland

A month into the NBA season, ratings on Sun Sports, the Miami Heat’s regional sports network, are up 96 percent from the same point last year. While Sun Sports has extended Heat pregame and postgame shows to take advantage of the team’s newfound popularity, one place that won’t be aglow with welcome for the Heat is Cleveland on Thursday. Despite Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s promise of a family-friendly environment for LeBron James’ return, Quicken Loans Arena undoubtedly will be hostile.

Heat or 3peat

East vs. West

The Lakers may be eliminated, but the Heat are still shooting for the NBA Finals. Visit Heat or 3peat Central

The Cavs, the league and local law enforcement agencies will be ready — even if it means literally taking the T-shirts off the backs of fans sporting offensive gear. Team officials will be stationed at arena entrances and in the stands to ensure disrespectful apparel is removed; fans will be given “a Cavaliers-branded T-shirt to wear instead.” And to ensure James’ and his teammates’ safety, dozens of additional Cleveland police officers will be on hand, both in uniform and undercover, and all beverages will be served in cups, not tossable bottles.

On StubHub, lower-level seats for this early season game start at $205 each. Cavaliers senior vice president of communications Tad Carper told ESPN that "number of media requests the club has received ... equals that of an Eastern Conference finals game.” TNT’s “Overtime” studio crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson is setting up shop in “the Q,” and the cable network is expecting monster ratings for the man who is now akin to Frankenstein in Cleveland. It’s looking like Halloween all over again.

4. A week after his infamous anniversary, Tiger tees it up in California

After a two-year absence from playing in his own year-end tournament — because of injury in 2008 and scandal in 2009 — world No. 2 Tiger Woods is once again atop the field of the 12th Chevron World Challenge, which begins its competitive rounds Thursday at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Woods’ prestigious $5 million event features only 18 players, including 2010 major winners Graeme McDowell (U.S. Open) and Martin Kaymer (PGA Championship), three other past major winners, and 13 Ryder Cup participants. Co-sponsored by the PGA Tour, the Tiger Woods Foundation and other educational foundations, the Chevron World Challenge has raised about $20 million to benefit education-focused nonprofits with operations in California. The tournament also pays its champion a nice $1.2 million holiday bonus.

The Thanksgiving weekend anniversary of the car crash that eventually revealed Woods’ serial infidelities and sex addiction and led to divorce from major sponsors and wife Elin turned out not to be the negative media deluge pundits were anticipating. Instead, Woods and his handlers are clearly using the marker as an opportunity to present the “new Woods” and to turn the page on a winless year. Last week, Woods turned to Twitter to reach out to his fans, and was rewarded by a quarter million followers signing up in a matter of days. This week, Woods is using the Chevron World Challenge event, televised by the Golf Channel and NBC, as an opportunity to get his foundation back in the spotlight. And hopefully, his golf game and all that surrounds it.

Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello on Monday hinted that while EA is planning to introduce the 2012 edition of its Tiger Woods video game next year, Woods “needs to end his losing streak” in order for that relationship to continue. In Dubai, Woods’ $1.1 billion golf course project, launched in 2008, has become a six-hole “dust bowl” according to the Guardian, brought on by the collapse of the local economy and Woods’ attention being diverted elsewhere.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, however, continues to express strong support for Woods, confirming that he asked the golfer to play more events at the beginning of 2011 to keep fans and sponsors alike happy. Sony, for example, would likely be delighted if Woods would participate in its January PGA Tour Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii, especially after it just announced a three-year sponsorship extension. Likewise Cadillac would welcome Woods’ entry into its just-announced WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, Fla., in March. From where we sit, it looks like Tiger’s golf game needs the extra events as much as organizers and sponsors need him to participate.

5. Sports video games

If you're looking to buy all 364 total items mentioned in “The 12 Days of Christmas.” it will reportedly cost you $96,824 this year. And if you exhausted all of your Black Friday and Cyber Monday energy and still haven’t come up with the perfect gift for the sports fanatic on your holiday shopping list, consider this old standby: sports-themed video games.

Jump for Joy

Maxim celebrates the NFL with photos of cheerleaders on trampolines.

The NPD Group's October sales breakdown for the North American gaming industry found four sports titles on the month’s top 10 best-selling list. 2K Sports’ NBA 2K11, the acclaimed game featuring former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, took the top spot with more than one million cumulative sales. The game was followed by two EA Sports titles, FIFA Soccer 11 came in at No. 8 and Madden 11 finished at No. 9. The 10th best-seller was WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011.

Video game sales for the month totaled $1.03 billion in October.

For those retro gamers, EA Sports just released a modern version of the classic NBA Jam. The company brought in NBA Jam’s original creator to serve as a consultant on the project and had the game’s original announcer re-record all the lines from previous editions. NBA Jam retails for $50, whereas most other Xbox titles sell for $60.

Karla Swatek contributed to this report.

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