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NBA star Damian Lillard dishes on the Blazers and his new footwear insole company



Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers speaks to fans during fan appreciation night before the game against the Utah Jazz at Moda Center on April 10, 2022 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr | Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard said he wants to stay with the franchise that drafted him in 2012 and would use this offseason to get healthy and strengthen his game.

While he’s doing that, Lillard also plans to expand a new business venture.

Lillard discussed his desire to stay in Portland when he spoke to CNBC on Monday about Move, a footwear insoles performance brand he co-founded with his business partner, Nate Jones. Move launched in December. It lured more than $100,000 in sales the first month through direct-to-consumer, and it projects $1 million in sales for 2022.

Lillard said the consumer product is “tailored to sports and for athletes.” He added Move wants to help basketball players avoid foot injuries such as plantar fasciitis, which he experienced earlier in his NBA career.

“[Young athletes] need to wear this because the things that you’re doing as an athlete is harder on your body and your feet than my time as a kid,” said Lillard. “It’s harder on [younger players] than it was on me.”

Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green guards Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard in final seconds of Warriors’ 119-117 overtime win in NBA Western Conference Finals’ Game 4 at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on Monday, May 20, 2019.

Scott Strazzante | Getty Images

Hitting the ‘reset’ button 

Lillard, 31, hasn’t played since January, as he recovers from adnominal surgery and played a career-low 29 games this season due to the injury. Still, the Weber State product averaged 24 points and 7.3 assists this past season and was named one of the league’s greatest players in February to celebrate the NBA’s 75th anniversary.

But after uncertainty around his future with the team surfaced last summer, Lillard watched the Blazers go through a turbulent transition on and off the court in the 2021-22 NBA season. Still, he wants to stay.

“I have no plans of not being a Portland Trail Blazer,” said Lillard. “I want to be here, and I think they want me here.”

The Blazers fired former coach Terry Stotts last year. Team CEO Chris McGowan resigned last November, and a month later, the Blazers fired basketball executive Neil Olshey after allegations of workplace misconduct.

On the court, the Blazers made roster moves that included trading Blazers co-star C.J. McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans to free up salary cap space. Then, last month, the team shut down Lillard for the remainder of the season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13 – Lillard’s rookie year.

Asked to describe his 10th season in the NBA in one word, Lillard called it a “reset.”

“I feel born again – health-wise and mentally,” he said.

Lillard will make $42 million next season as part of a $176 million extension he signed in 2019, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks sports contracts. This summer, he’s also eligible to sign another extension for more than $100 million. That would push the average annual value, or AAV, of Lillard’s deal over $50 million per season.

Lillard warned of naysayers and media speculation surrounding his future.

“Everybody is like, ‘He’s going to do this. He’s going to do that,'” Lillard said. “But the game is so watered down, and the game is so fugazi (fake) that people literally won’t believe what you say even if you say it directly to them.”

Though Lillard wants to stay with the Blazers, asked if he would accept a trade, he responded: “If they came to me and they wanted to trade me – I’m not going to fight them on wanting to trade me. I don’t want to be anywhere I’m not wanted. But I don’t think that’s the case.”

Damian Lillard’s new investment in Move, a footwear insoles brand he co-founded.

Coutesy: Move

Moving into new business  

Off the court, Lillard makes roughly $15 million in endorsements, according to Forbes. Agreements include brand deals with Anheuser-Busch‘s Modelo brand, Disney-owned Hulu, and a reported $100 million contract with sneaker company Adidas.

On the investment front, Lillard is a co-owner of Players TV, a channel that launched on Samsung TV Plus in 2020. In addition, he owns Damian Lillard Toyota in Oregon and goes by Dame D.O.L.L.A. in his musical career.

Now, Lillard is focused on building Move. Lillard said Jones presented the idea to construct the insoles brand in 2019. “As soon as we talked about it, my mind went to my own foot injuries,” he added.

Lillard recalled his battles with plantar fasciitis earlier in his career. The injury causes inflammation of tissue near the heel of the foot and can be caused by improper insoles in sneakers. Lillard said athletes’ “lack of awareness and self-care” with their feet is a problem.

“It’s even worse now,” said Lillard, referencing younger athletes who tend to play all year to develop their skill set and gain exposure. “It’s more important for them to get ahead of the game on these types of things. So, I felt like it was a major marketing opportunity for it not just to be a part of a successful business plan but to be a part of major impact on a lot of these younger athletes’ health.”

Damian Lillard’s new investment in Move, a footwear insoles brand he co-founded.

Coutesy: Move

Jones, who works with Lillard as an agent and athlete marketer at Goodwin Sports Management, is a co-founder and co-Chief Executive at Move. Jones said the company works with Florida-based Footcare Express, a well-known podiatry clinic used by NBA teams to create custom insoles for players.

Move went to market last year with its Game Day and Game Day Pro insoles, and Jones added it’s a performance equipment company.

The footwear insoles market is dominated by the Merck-owned Dr. Scholl’s brand and is projected to reach $4.5 billion by 2027, according to global market research company Fortune Business Insights. But Jones said name-brand insoles companies fail to target younger athletes regarding foot care. He called it a white space that could benefit Move’s growth.

Jones said Move secured $120,000 in sales in December. Its website converts 5% of traffic into customers, and Move uses social media to build awareness and hasn’t spent funds on consumers acquisition costs with marketing or significant promotion.

“And the response we’ve gotten so far lets us know we’re making traction,” Jones said. “Introducing Dame to the current market, the potential market, and how we’re going about it in a different way – and telling a story to parents and kids about why pro athletes swear by [specialized insoles] – Dame was onboard.”

After targeting younger basketball players, Move wants to shift volleyball athletes.

“A lot of startups in the sports space, they end up failing because they try to be too many things to too many people out of the gate,” Jones said. “We’re focused on basketball, and then organically, we’ll start branching out to other sports. And there’s a lot of overlap between basketball and volleyball.”

Other investors include Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul, former NBA guard Jamal Crawford and prominent sports agent Aaron Goodwin. Terms of their investments were not disclosed. Jones added Move wants to raise an additional $2 million this year as the company looks to expand.

“The stage of my career that I’m in, it’s more about impact than me seeking an opportunity for myself,” said Lillard of his involvement with Move. “I want to have my business cap on – but a lot of my [business] is about impact. I know from my experience that something like this is going to have a major impact and be able to help a lot of athletes.”

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Disney is raising prices, but this time, don’t blame inflation



Another major American company is raising prices again, but this time, don’t blame inflation.

Disney is increasing the price on its streaming products and signaled that a price hike could be in the works at its theme parks as well. On Wednesday, the company said the price of Disney+ without ads is jumping $3 per month to $10.99 starting Dec. 8. Hulu with ads will increase by $1 per month to $7.99, and Hulu without ads will jump $2 per month to $14.99.

Then on Thursday, Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek indicated to CNBC’s Julia Boorstin that a price increase will likely happen at theme parks as long as people keep coming in droves.

“We read demand. We have no plans right now in terms of what we’re going to do, but we operate with a surgical knife here,” Chapek said. “It’s all up to the consumer. If consumer demand keeps up, we’ll act accordingly. If we see a softening, which we don’t think we’re going to see, then we can act accordingly as well.”

Instead of blaming the rising cost of materials, labor and gas, Disney is rationalizing the increases based on the consistency of the popularity of its products. Disney said Wednesday that Disney+ added 15 million new subscribers last quarter, blowing out expectations. It also said it expects further growth for core Disney+ (excluding India’s Disney+ Hotstar) next quarter beyond the 6 million it added in its fiscal third quarter.

Raising prices on the back of strong demand isn’t new for Disney. The price of theme park tickets has climbed for decades. During its most recent quarter, the company posted a 70% revenue increase in its parks, experiences and products division, rising to close to $7.4 billion. Per capita spending at domestic parks rose 10% and is up more than 40% compared with fiscal 2019.

Handout | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Disney strategically caps attendance at its parks, an effort that was borne out of the attempts to avoid crowding during the Covid pandemic. The move is a way to improve the customer experience. Additionally, the company has added Genie+ and Lightning Lane products, which curate guest experience and allow parkgoers to bypass lines for major attractions.

Beyond the parks, Disney annually asks cable TV providers to pay aggressive price hikes for ESPN because it knows there’s strong demand for its stable of live sports rights.

Disney+ first launched in November 2019 at $6.99 per month. About three years later, the price of the ad-free product will have risen 57%. The service now has more than 152 million customers.

Chapek has experienced his share of bumps in the road since taking over for Bob Iger as Disney CEO. But one thing hasn’t changed: consumers still seem to enjoy what Disney has to offer.

Correction: During its most recent quarter, the company posted a 70% revenue increase in its parks, experiences and products division, rising to close to $7.4 billion. An earlier version misstated the percentage and mischaracterized the dollar figure.

WATCH: CNBC’s full interview with Disney CEO Bob Chapek

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Disney streaming subscriber growth blows past estimates, as company beats on top and bottom line



A performer dressed as Mickey Mouse entertains guests during the reopening of the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, U.S., on Friday, April 30, 2021.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

If Disney+’s subscriber growth is any indication, the rumors that the global streaming market is nearing saturation have been proven untrue.

On Wednesday, the Walt Disney Company reported that total Disney+ subscriptions rose to 152.1 million during the fiscal third quarter, higher than the 147 million analysts had forecast, according to StreetAccount.

At the end of the fiscal third quarter, Hulu had 46.2 million subscribers and ESPN+ had 22.8 million. Combined, Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+ have over 221 million streaming subscribers. Netflix, long the leader in the streaming space, had 220 million subscribers, according to the most recent tally.

Disney shares rose more than 6% after the closing bell.

The streaming space has been in a state of upheaval in recent weeks, as Netflix disclosed another drop in subscribers and Warner Bros. Discovery announced a shift in content strategy. While Netflix expects subscriber growth to rebound, uncertainty has left analysts and investors wondering what the future holds for the wider industry.

Also Wednesday, the company unveiled a new pricing structure that incorporates an advertising-supported Disney+ as part of an effort to make its streaming business profitable.

During the fiscal third quarter Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ combined to lose $1.1 billion, reflecting the higher cost of content on the services. Disney’s average revenue per user for Disney+ also decreased by 5% in the quarter in the U.S. and Canada due to more customers taking cheaper multiproduct offerings.

Starting Dec. 8 in the U.S., Disney+ with commercials will be $7.99 per month — currently the price of Disney+ without ads. The price of ad-free Disney+ will rise 38% to $10.99 — a $3 per month increase.

In addition, Disney lowered its 2024 forecast for Disney+ to 215 million to 245 million subscribers, down 15 million on both the low end and high end of the company’s previous guidance.

Disney had previously set its Disney+ guidance in December 2020 at 230 million to 260 million by the end of fiscal 2024. The company reaffirmed its expectation that Disney+ will become profitable by the end of its fiscal 2024 year.

Overall, Disney posted better-than-expected earnings on both the top and bottom line, bolstered by increased spending at its domestic theme parks.

Here are the results:

  • Earnings per share: $1.09 per share vs. 96 cents expected, according to a Refinitiv survey of analysts
  • Revenue: $21.5 billions vs. $20.96 billion expected, according to Refinitiv
  • Disney+ total subscriptions: 152.1 million vs 147.76 million expected, according to StreetAccount

Big quarter for parks

Disney’s parks, experiences and products division saw revenue increase 72% to $7.4 billion during the quarter, up from $4.3 billion during the same period last year. The company said it saw increases in attendance, occupied room nights and cruise ship sailings.

It also touted that its new Genie+ and Lightning Lane products helped boost average per capita ticket revenue during the quarter. These new digital features were introduced to curate guest experience and allow parkgoers to bypass lines for major attractions.

The company said it has been able to bring back in-park experiences such as character meet-and-greets, theatrical performances and nighttime events at Disneyland, which has allowed it to increase capacity at its parks, CEO Bob Chapek said during the company’s earnings call Wednesday. Disney has placed caps on attendance since it reopened after the initial round of pandemic closures in early 2020 and instituted a new online reservation system to control crowds.

“As it relates to demand, we have not yet seen demand abate at all and we still have many days when people cannot get reservations,” Christine McCarthy, Disney’s chief financial officer, said during the company’s earnings call. “So, we’re still seeing demand in excess of the reservations that we are making available for our guests.”

Per capita spending at domestic parks increased 10% during the most recent quarter, compared to the same quarter last year and is more than 40% higher than fiscal 2019, the company said. Occupancy at domestic hotels in the third quarter was 90%.

Chapek pointed to EPCOT’s new Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, the launch of the Disney Wish and the opening of Avenges Campus in Paris Disneyland as enhanced offerings for guests that have driven traffic and revenue to this division.

McCarthy noted that international visitors to domestic parks have continued to be slow to return. Traditionally, those parkgoers account for around 17% to 20% of total guests.

“We expect international visitation when its fully back to actually be additive to margins, because those guests tend to stay longer at the parks and they spend more money when they’re there, as well,” she said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. Comcast owns a stake in Hulu.

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Serena Williams announces her retirement from tennis



Tennis legend Serena Williams announced her retirement in a Vogue article published Tuesday.

“I have never liked the word ‘retirement,'” Williams wrote. “Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is ‘evolution.’ I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”

Williams, who turns 41 next month, has 73 career singles titles, 23 career doubles titles and over $94 million in career winnings.

Williams is widely hailed as one of the greatest athletes of all time. In her Vogue piece, she noted that some of her detractors point out that she hasn’t won the most Grand Slam titles in women’s tennis history, however. 

“There are people who say I’m not the GOAT because I didn’t pass Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam titles, which she achieved before the ‘open era’ that began in 1968,” Williams wrote. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record.”

She said she will retire after the U.S. Open, which will run from late August into September. A victory there would tie her with Court’s Grand Slam record.

“I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try,” Williams wrote about the tournament, which is played in Queens.

She has counted sponsorships from companies including Nike, Audemars Piguet, Away, Beats, Bumble, Gatorade, Gucci, Lincoln, Michelob, Nintendo, Wilson Sporting Goods, and Procter and Gamble.

“I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” Williams wrote. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”

Williams focused on her family in the announcement, writing that her nearly five-year-old daughter wants to be an older sister. Williams is married to Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian.

“I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks,” Williams wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday.

Professionally, she looks to expand Serena Ventures, a small investment firm of six people that was one of the first investors in MasterClass. Her firm raised $111 million in outside financing this year.

Williams wrote that only 2% of venture capital goes to women and that “in order for us to change that, more people who look like me need to be in that position, giving money back to themselves.”

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