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Volume 24 No. 156
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IMG World Congress Of Sports: Panel Talks The Future Of Sports Business

The future of sports business was the focus of the opening panel on day two of the '14 IMG World Congress of Sports on Thursday, with topics that included attracting millennials, improving the at-venue experience, evolving technology and foreign ownership. Panelists included Yahoo VP/Sports & Games Ken Fuchs, Twitter Head of Sports Partnerships Geoff Reiss, IMG College President Ben Sutton, WMG Chair & CEO Casey Wasserman and 76ers, Devils and Prudential Center CEO Scott O’Neil. The following are some highlights from the session

* O’Neil said of millennials: “I love this group. I love working with them. I love them as players. They do have a distrust and a distaste for institutions and authority. And I have some of that myself. But they’re driven. They’re entitled. They think they should be the CEO on their second day. Or as a player, the coach or the GM. But despite thinking there is an entitled path, they have a tremendous work ethic. They’re very smart and very connected.”

* Sutton, on ways to make a better fan experience: “In the college space, we start with a competitive advantage. There is a predisposition for a college student and alumni to carry that sense of community with them in all that they do the rest of their lives. That loyalty exists. People spend more time immersed in media today than they do sleeping. And something like three hours of that time for the average American is around sports. We need to do a better job bringing that experience to college stadiums and arenas. We just haven’t adjusted quickly enough to the world as it is.”

* O’Neil, on technologies that have been tried and failed: “I love 3D sports. Hockey, basketball. It’s just spectacular. You can actually feel the speed and power. The camera angles are lower. You have a much better look at the puck. The basketball experience is as if you’re sitting in the front row, which is the best seat in sports. I’m disappointed that companies cannot figure out a way to get around the glasses. I know something will come back, whether it’s a 4D or 5D, that has a great immersive experience. I’m really disappointed that it didn’t catch on because it could transform the sports experience.”

* Wasserman, on resistance to change: “It’s like with the NFL extra point. People are upset about possibly getting rid of a play that has no value? The NBA talks about changing how the draft works and it’s like Armageddon. Really stable revenue streams over a long period of time, combined with a product that fundamentally never changes, creates an industry that is not used to having to change to sustain itself. Whereas if Twitter doesn’t evolve, it won’t exist in five years. As crazy as that may sound. In a tech-based world, you have to change or you die. That’s not the case with sports. It’s an industry that has lived on in much the same form it has for 100 years.”

* Reiss said of the length of games, “Look at baseball. It took 30 years for the conversation on replay on the field. If that took 30 years, how long is the conversation going to be on getting games done in under four hours? Another 30 years? I think this ties into the question of how you maintain relevance. The reality is, and baseball is the perfect sport to pick on, people don’t have four hours to watch 162 games. And one of two things has to change. We know it isn’t going to be the 162 games because of the economic models. So being able to push that game into a more consumable form becomes essential.”

* O’Neil, on making changes to improve game experiences: “Length of games is not as much an issue locally as it is nationally. Nationally, to clear the TV windows, it’s more important. But all politics are local. Different teams have different agendas. But looking at leagues, I think the NHL used the lockout as a way to move the game forward. They really made some dramatic changes. The NBA also has moved the game from a hand checking, physical league that you saw in the ‘90s to one where it is a lot more fluid and lets the guys be athletic.”

* Fuchs, on younger fans adopting soccer: “We look at soccer and it’s the second biggest fan sport, not participatory, among 12-24 year-olds. It’s just behind the NFL and ahead of NBA and MLB. Here is a game that is about as simplistic as you can get. I have an 8-year-old son and I sit there having to explain all the rules of baseball and technical rules of football. Soccer is so simple. You can play it on EA FIFA. You can access the best players in the world through Yahoo games or watching the World Cup or EPL. The simplicity of that is a draw.”

* Wasserman, on foreign ownership in the future: “At these levels of prices, there are only so many people who can buy. Groups of people in a community coming together to buy a team continues to be important. But even MLS teams are selling at over $100 million. These are big assets that require a lot of attention, a lot of focus. Foreign investors see franchises as valuable assets and opportunities for diversification, both geographically and financially. These assets have shown an ability to sustain themselves through all sorts of economic environments over a long period of time.”