Alongside all of these industry highlights, the sports media world continued to adapt, as digital evolves and new players like eSports emerge as perhaps the next major “league.”
Here are four areas I’m watching for this coming year:
The entertainment factor: What happens off the court will be more sought after and influential on social and digital media than the game itself. These days, off-court fashion, antics, and celebrations are simply bigger than the game. As athletes evolve into celebrities, their every move becomes gossip fodder, especially in the age of social media. Traditional sports publishers continue to move beyond presenting sports information, scores and stats to keep the attention of today’s fan. Every one of us views sports as a broader vehicle for entertainment. Athletes themselves are definitely thinking this way, with more and more of them becoming social influencers and using their influence to expand their brand and reach off the court.
Thursday night football goes exclusively digital. There have been rumors that Thursday Night Football could be cancelled due to low ratings, inherently attributed to the point of live football saturation in the market. This decision goes well beyond the wear and tear this demanding schedule inflicts on players and their bodies with a shorter week to recover from the previous game. I don't think the NFL will drop the game altogether, but the way it is delivered will see changes. I could see TNF moving from broadcast TV exclusively to digital with one major digital broadcaster owning the live viewing experience -- if not in 2017, then perhaps soon after.
eSports enters the Top 5. The eSports league(s) has more than arrived, moving out from the shadows and emerging as a huge contender in the sports world, in terms of audience, advertisers and even prominent athletes like Shaquille O’Neal getting involved. This could be the year we see eSports’ next TV contract with numbers as large as a major college sports conference. And deservingly so -- eSports attracted more live viewers than this year’s NBA Finals. In a world of escalating rights fees, this is not a property that will continue to be buy low, sell high for much longer.
Death of the social media manager. Sports and social media go hand and hand. In similar fashion to Time, Inc. doing away with the publisher role, publishers will remove this role from their newsrooms. Social is now at the core of every content creator’s job description. If employees cannot create, edit and distribute sports content that works through and on social, their role in this industry will become obsolete.