The Shape Of Sports Things (And Axl Rose) To Come In 2016

Man, 2015 was wild. But, I don’t have to tell you that – you were there! And 2016 is shaping up to be just as insane, in local and global sports and in the sports marketing industry. Here is a quick forecast of a few headlines that figure to impact our industry in 2016.

U.S. Will Play Host to Some Unusual Global Events

Though much of the global sporting focus this year will be centered on Rio, the U.S. will play host to sneaky-cool global events — America’s Cup and Copa America Centenario. The first is a prestigious match race circuit for sailing yachts, held in May in New York on the Hudson River, and in June for the first time in the competition’s 165-year history on freshwater just feet from spectators on Chicago’s Navy Pier. An international sports spectacle in the truest sense will be enjoyed by a global audience.

The second, Copa America Centenario, is the premier soccer tournament for men’s national football teams in South America. This year, the USMNT has been invited to participate — and to host. This summer, in 10 cities from coast to coast, the soccer world’s eyes will turn to America’s football stadiums as titans of the sport (Messi!) take the field. The Olympics happen every four years. This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff.

VR Will be Available, But it Might Not Be Cheap (Or Interesting)

With Monday’s announcement that Oculus Rift VR headset pre-orders will open on Jan. 6, the advent of advanced consumer virtual reality technology is finally here. But, it might arrive to a shrug. With a price tag well over a couple of hundred dollars, headsets require a significantly more expensive computer to work properly, and they’ll lack the rich catalog of viewing and playing options to keep consumers satisfied.

2016 will be a pivotal year for VR. Can game developers find a killer app? Can content creators bridge the gap from the early adopters to entice casual consumers? Is less space between our faces and our screens really what we need? Nearly every professional sporting property is going long on VR, but it’ll be up to Creative types and industry folk to step up – and consumers to embrace it. For now, it remains an amazing tool with untapped potential for experiential marketers.

The Scandals of 2016 Will (Mostly) Be Hard to Shake

The scandals in the sports world will stay with us in 2016, mostly because — apart from a few outliers — they were scandals long before 2015. Cheating, corruption, violent crime and concussions in football are just a few of the seedy topics that gripped headlines in sports in 2015. All of these figure to linger in 2016. 

The lone scandal tailor-made to our modern lives that also stands a chance of being resolved this year is the legality of daily fantasy sports. My colleague, John, wrote in October that the daily fantasy advertising onslaught was just getting started — and a few short months later, customers have had enough. DraftKings and FanDuel apparently shouted “look at me!” so many times, that the government finally did. It didn’t like what it saw. For the betting category to stay legal in any meaningful way in the U.S., it may take a miracle. Should it go under, the leagues and teams (i.e., all of them) that are tied to it will have a lot of explaining to do.

Social Media Will Play an Even Larger Part in Sports Celebrity Status

As sports fans, we love to believe sports are a meritocracy, and we tell ourselves that the best and most talented can lose if they get lazy. Sports reward production in one arena — the arena — and care little about who you are outside of it. 

While art, fashion, television, film, music, writing, political and business have all made space for personalities whose social media fame seems more important to their success than their proficiency — Donald Trump, Dan Bilzerian and a slew of Vine and YouTube stars — it’s yet to happen in sports. Sports personalities, for better or worse, deliver authenticity. They feel real, even when they’re larger than life, because most spurn handlers and PR guys. However, 2016 could be the year a bench player is thrust in the spotlight for their magnetic personality and little else and becomes our first bonafide social media All-Star.

Other Things to Watch in 2016

The leap year, Kevin Durant’s free agency, Guns N’ Roses reuniting at Coachella, the first Star Wars Anthology film releasing, a new Harry Potter, a Ghostbusters remake, the 50th Super Bowl, the 112th World Series, the 69th NBA Finals, a UEFA Euro Championship, Michael Phelps’ second retirement, Kobe Bryant’s first retirement … did I already say a new Harry Potter? And if that’s not enough, we’ll end the year with a new president-elect.

Whew. Buckle up.

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