It’s hard to believe we’re at the beginning of another year. Wow, what a ride! 2011 was quite a year in the world of sports and the sports business. Clearly, our industry impacts the health of our economy and the front pages of our society. The resolution of both the NFL and NBA labor contracts, new media deals including Comcast’s NBC take-over, collegiate scandals and triumph, the Dallas Mavericks delivering a championship to Mark Cuban, Fox Sports World Cup deal, U.S. Women’s Soccer, the death of Ted Fortsmann, NASCAR’s fantastic finish, Motown returns to sponsorship, IndyCar’s tragic gamble, the Packers, the Boston Bruins, Beckham’s MLS Cup, the list of global headlines goes on and on (all without much mention of Tiger or Brett Favre).
There’s no doubt that 2011 will be a tough act to follow, but as an advocate for the advancement of sports marketing, the opportunities for 2012 are substantial and, therefore, very promising for an industry that continues to outpace other markets. For those who have a vested interest in the sports industry, here are the top five stories to watch unfold in the New Year:
1. The Meteoric Rise of Social Media and Technology
As leagues, teams, players, media and brandscontinue to invest insports,you can bank on higher fan engagement via social and digital channels. From geo-location services to mobile applications, to expanding content platforms, to services that haven’t even been invented yet, I expect savvy corporations to embrace the digital wave and ride it to broader, continuous fan conversation delivering more impressive business results.
2. EURO 2012
Soccer is bigger than you think. Just a year ago, ESPN acquired U.S. broadcast rights to soccer's European Championship in 2012 and 2016, announcing that it will televise every game of both tournaments. ESPN reaped success televising EURO 2008 and still has U.S. English-language rights to its sixth consecutive World Cup in 2014, hosted by Brazil. But Fox and Telemundo surprised the industry in 2011 when FIFA awarded them the rights to the 2018 and 2022 events to the tune of about $1 billion. Don’t overlook this global phenomenon; soccer will continue to expand and rise in popularity in the U.S. as these mega media conglomerates compete to win the hearts of soccer fans.
3. London Olympics
All eyes will be on London next summer but, more importantly, NBC hopes all eyes will be on its network through 2020. The network bid $4.4 billion for the rights, and with high-profile athletes returning, e.g., Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and perhaps even Dana Torres, we’ll see if the high-stakes bid will pay off. With Versus becoming the NBC Sports Network, the competition for a 24-hour sports network is increasing and the Olympics is the tent pole for NBC. The sports fans’ appetite for more channels of content continues to grow unbounded.
4. The Danica Effect
The demise of NASCAR has been over hyped, and with Danica competing in 10 races next season, the signs are positive that the ratings in NASCAR will continue their upward trend through 2012 and into 2013, when she is expected to participate in a full-time Sprint Cup schedule. We’ll be watching, along with motorsports sponsors and media rights holders, when she makes her Sprint Cup debut at the Daytona 500 next month. In the back seat sits this little item called NASCAR’s TV rights. They are up for bid, as well, which will indicate the level of NASCAR’s popularity in the form of big and bigger dollars.
5. Mega College Sports
Collegiate sports marketing is a growth area because it is finally consolidating. Fragmentation of school and conference marketing rights has hindered the ability for big sponsorship deals to be realized. With “super-conference” alignment, the rise of conference networks, conference championships, and IMG’s hedge on acquiring most school rights, we’re seeing major sponsorships from UPS, MillerCoors and Hyundai. Putting an end to the scandals and cheating, along with The NCAA clearly defining its mission, are pivotal issues to regain its credibility and will impact college sports’ value to a vast fan base. Rest assured that 2012 will not be the year of a college football playoff. But, once the revenue share is figured out, along with the continued emergence of powerbrokers in the conference system, expect it to happen sometime before the end of this decade. Unfortunately, these and other ongoing issues for the NCAA may inhibit big deals from becoming a reality.
My list doesn’t even include the refreshing stability that will come from the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, where a majority of the sports industry stakes it claim. It goes without saying that this is a very good sign. The bottom line is that the sports business is as popular as ever and it will continue to produce opportunity in a variety of forms in 2012. But, there’s still much to do as our industry is cast into a larger audience. Sports is the original reality show. As we suit up for the New Year, let’s build on the dramatic changes from 2011, so that we can achieve more in 2012.