SBJ/Dec. 20-26, 2010/2010 Year in Review

Stories of the year


RICH ARDEN / ESPN
LeBron's
"Decision"

The free agency frenzy surrounding the courtship of LeBron James culminated in July with the NBA superstar's "The Decision" broadcast on ESPN. The hourlong, prime-time broadcast was heavily hyped, and criticized, as the network provided James a stage to announce his decision to dump the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. But the special also delivered a massive television audience and helped drive the NBA's offseason business to record levels.


SHANA WITTENWYLER
Turner and
CBS team up

Turner's David Levy likes to call the 14-year, $10.8 billion deal to secure the NCAA tournament's media rights the biggest media rights deal on record, but that's only part of the reason why the deal is so significant. For starters, it shows the changing sphere of influence between broadcast and cable. CBS executives admit they couldn't afford the deal on their own and needed Turner and its dual revenue stream to step in. The deal also shows the value of live sports will continue to grow, especially for crown jewel events.



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South Africa
toots its horn

At this summer's World Cup, South Africa buzzed for an entire month with the sound of plastic horns, known as vuvuzelas. Although the horns may have stopped buzzing, the country continues to vibrate. Many said South Africa wasn't ready for the world, but it proved them wrong. Stadiums were completed, crime was minimized and strikes were mere interruptions in a memorable event. As a result, spectators and visitors worldwide discovered the magic of the African continent.



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Focused on
the fan

Leagues and teams stepped up efforts to improve the game experience, realizing that the tough economy and HD viewing options at home have encouraged many fans to stay in their recliners. The NFL allowed teams to encourage crowd noise, venues took a tougher stance with problematic patrons, and teams rolled out improved options for ticket pricing and delivery. The message? You can no longer take fans for granted. Getting them to come back means providing a better experience and better value.



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Vancouver beats
the odds

The Vancouver Games oscillated wildly from lows to highs. The event navigated blemishes and tragedy ranging from warm weather to the death of a luger to deliver record red mitten sales and the triumphant victory of the Canadian hockey team. Ultimately, the city and event organizers persevered to deliver one of the most fun Winter Olympics in recent history. Revelers filled the streets throughout the 17 days, creating an energy-filled city that will be remembered for years by visitors from across Canada and around the world.



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New takes
on technology

Immersion was the name of the game in sports technology this year. From the celebrated arrival of Apple's iPad tablet and the mass availability of 3-D TVs, to the continued runaway growth of social media and expanse of in-stadium digital amenities, fans are now closer to the action than ever. In virtually every instance, sports has been a key driver of awareness and adoption of these new advances. But the technological explosion is also prompting some difficult questions in terms of rights, intellectual property and how fans will want to consume sports in the coming years.



Fisticuffs over
TV retransmission

The power of live sports was evident this fall when Fox went dark on Cablevision during a retransmission dispute. Cablevision subscribers missed World Series games and New York Giants games — a situation the cable operator hoped would cause the government to step in and put the channel back on. When it became apparent that the government wouldn't, Cablevision could not afford to go without live sports and struck a deal with Fox. But the disagreements over how much distributors should pay for retransmission consent continue to dominate the pay-TV industry.



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The NFL: A
ratings machine

One giant question hovering over the NFL season was whether the astounding TV ratings of the 2009 campaign — which culminated in this year's Super Bowl becoming the most-watched TV program ever — could be replicated? The answer is yes, with ratings continuing to show increases. More than ever, the NFL is must-see programming, consistently outdrawing virtually everything else on TV. Now the next question is would a work stoppage, if one occurs, send those ratings earthward when games resume?



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College's new-look
conferences

The very core of intercollegiate athletics shook as the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12 and Big East altered their look. Some added, some subtracted and others, like the WAC, clung to life, but the changes weren't as seismic as some anticipated when the Big Ten and the Pac-10 explored expansion to as many as 16 teams. Even though the larger conferences seem to have settled, no one's comfortable with saying that the realignment period is over.



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The Tiger
Chronicles

The return of Tiger Woods offered a case study in crisis and brand management. Woods officially lost corporate endorsements with Gatorade, AT&T and Accenture. His carefully constructed return to the game was closely analyzed, Nike used his travails to debut a stark and controversial spot and, by year's end, Tiger was positioned as a regular dude hitting Twitter. But all the off-course distractions took their toll and Woods' play suffered as expected. With TV ratings down, the PGA Tour needs a Tiger resurgence on the course to lift interest as it goes into negotiations for its next deal.

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