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Volume 23 No. 24
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Readers offer trends to watch and most intriguing people in 2017

Readers shared with me the stories or trends in sports business they expect to emerge and the most intriguing personalities in 2017.  Responses were edited for brevity and clarity.  Here goes …

CHRIS WEIL
CEO, Momentum Worldwide
• Stories/trends …
Experience will continue to dominate, and technology will help us reshape and reinvent how the fan experiences sports, both in person and through media. Smart stadiums will enable and improve fans’ connections, and add features that enhance the viewing experience. Wearable technology will also impact fans’ ability to understand the game, as fans will have access and insights like never before into the dynamics and victories of sports. The challenge of this evolution will be figuring out how to harness all the information and make it consumer-friendly. We’ll also see increasingly more technology in consumer activations through the use of VR, and a shift toward active fan experiences with virtual and augmented realities.
New technologies only make a difference for the leagues and brands if their application is rooted in fan passions. The future must be fan-first.

We’ll see an escalation of the shift to nontraditional sports, particularly gaming and esports. As traditional sports ownership groups take a stake in the gaming industry, there will be a shake-out and redefinition of how esports are delivered and marketed. This is an exciting growth area, and one we must embrace — because new fans and fan behaviors are being developed here with rapidly growing scale.

With the NHL expanding into Las Vegas, it will be interesting to see how the Golden Knights are received and how the other leagues react.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
Donald Trump: Intrigue isn’t a judgment on policy, but rather a statement that he’s going to have some unprecedented impact. Will the trade policies he implements have an impact on the globalization of sports? As the major leagues look to expand internationally, and international sports extend into the United States, it will be intriguing to see if Trump’s foreign policies have any impact. Also, what effect, if any, he will have on L.A.’s Olympic bid. Will he help, or hurt?

Tiger Woods: Can he rally and compete with the best players in the world? It’s also interesting from a marketing standpoint, as brands are starting to climb back on board and roll the dice on his latest attempt.

JESSICA GELMAN
CEO, Kraft Analytics Group
• Stories/trends …
Targeted social media marketing. As Twitter strives to redefine itself, we will see Twitter continue to focus on open access while Facebook’s approach focuses on driving people to use its tools. Classic technology divide. It will be very interesting to watch where Snapchat evolves on this spectrum.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
Bob Bowman: By electing to stay with MLB after building/selling BAMTech, I wonder what else he has up his sleeve.

BILL CARTER
Co-founder, Fuse
• Stories/trends …
While in 2017, the shift may still be undetectable, it’s clear from our research that there is a shift in some aspects of youth culture toward more traditional values. By that, I mean a leaning by some teens and young adults to adopt values more closely connected to their parents and older generations and not necessarily those of millennials or even Gen X. I’m not talking about social issues, but rather beliefs like prioritizing family relationships, interest in making/saving money, and a belief that “achievement” is more important than “happiness.” I wonder if 2017 will be the year we begin to see some of this more traditional mindset begin to show itself in sports. For instance, could sports, like baseball, begin to see more traction with younger fans?

• Personality most intriguing …
I’m most intrigued by the next Steve Ballmer, Mark Cuban and even Dan Gilbert. The future of pro sports team ownership isn’t just to make billions in technology and then buy a team, but rather to operate the team businesses through that lens. Imagine if someone like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff were to buy a team. He would completely automate ticket sales and marketing, replacing marketing jobs with the most sophisticated inbound marketing systems the sports marketing world has ever seen. He’d likely manage an entire organization that way. (This is my not-so-silent plea for him to buy the Knicks, please.) The best minds in technology are not just the likely buyers of franchises for sale, but will likely be those who change how those teams operate … who might step from tech to sports in 2017.
 

Jerry Jones
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
CHRIS PLONSKY
Women’s athletic director, University of Texas

• Stories/trends …
The path for the future framework of intercollegiate athletics will begin to emerge in late 2017. Litigation settlements/decisions are likely. Potential results could be the addition of more advanced services (career prep, study abroad, etc.) commitments for all student athletes. High consideration could be given to providing a bounce-forward award for graduation/completion of athletics eligibility that could be financial
“With the Cowboys’ resurgence in the landscape of the NFL, how will their influence improve the overall profile of the league.”
— CHRIS PLONSKY
in nature. Another area is the unique funding models for financing construction/renovation of collegiate athletics facilities.

• Personality most intriguing …
Jerry Jones: With the Cowboys’ resurgence in the landscape of the NFL, how will their influence improve the overall profile of the league.
Dan Gavitt: NCAA staff restructure provides him oversight of basketball: NCAA revenues are dependent upon the health of men’s college basketball and its championship. Women’s college basketball must continue to improve its appeal.

LISA MURRAY
Global CMO, Octagon

• Stories/trends …
Millennials — and Gen Z behind them — have redefined how we consume sports. Fans crave the ability to consume, curate and create at the same time. In 2017, we’ll see fans reward the properties, platforms and brands who embrace this consumption shift and work together to create new experiences.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
It’s intriguing to see the continued progress of women leaders within the sports industry. Today, there are female CMOs at NASCAR, the NBA, NFL and NHL — something we have never seen before.

Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
BRIAN COOPER
President and CEO, S&E Sponsorship Group
• Stories/trends …

The rise and fall of the NFL. The NFL has significant issues that it must address to stop the trending a downward slide. While it is still the king of American sports, there seems to be a collective attitude that it has lost some of its swagger in the sporting landscape. It is time to do more than update the opening kickoff and Super Bowl halftime acts. Some smart brand strategy and architecture is needed in the immediate future to polish up a tarnished game.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
President Obama: The perfect intellect, demeanor and experience to play a significant role in the global sports business. As a commissioner, IOC head, NCAA independent counsel, adviser to the board of directors of any league, his passion for sports and ethical DNA makes him a person beyond reproach. A globally
“[Obama is] a globally respected statesman who could only create value for any sports brand.”
— BRIAN COOPER
respected statesman who could only create value for any sports brand.
 
DAN GRIFFIS
President, Narrative Partners
• Stories/trends …

The NFL having three potential team moves in three years. Understanding how an easily fickle L.A. market will support two teams and more importantly two teams that are currently not winning, and will NFL owners agree that Vegas is the absolute best long-term strategy for the NFL no matter the timing of their move versus the Rams and Chargers moves. Four words: Super Bowls in Vegas. *Drop Mic.*
Potential implications of NASCAR’s new title sponsor Monster Energy and the trickle-down effect on their current media partners.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
I am admittedly biased given our working relationship but I am going to say Tim Leiweke. There are few visionaries and people in this business who dream as big as Tim and have his track record of actually accomplishing the task. There is a quote out there that summarizes Tim very well: “Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” I firmly believe that by the end of 2017, people will look back on what he accomplished and say “how was that even possible?”

JON PODANY
CMO, LPGA
• Stories/trends …

While 2016 was an Olympic year, 2017 will be even more important to the future Olympic movement for the United States and for golf. If Los Angeles isn’t awarded the 2024 Olympics, it will be more than 30 years since the U.S. hosted a Summer Games, nearly an entire generation. Also, the vote to determine whether golf stays in the Olympics after 2020 will have a major impact on the rate at which golf grows into new global markets.

Casey Wasserman
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Chinese investors continue to emerge as a major global player in sports. It will be interesting to follow the geographic concentration of their next moves, the significance of their investments, and which sports they continue to target.

• Personality most intriguing …
Jay Monahan will bring his own style to the role of commissioner of the PGA Tour. I look forward to seeing how he puts his stamp on an organization that has been run very well by Tim Finchem for the last 22 years.

“Casey has already accomplished so much and it will be fun to see if he can bring this one home.”
— JON PODANY
Casey Wasserman has the opportunity to bring the Summer Olympics back to Los Angeles with an economic plan that returns sanity to the finances of hosting an Olympics. Casey has already accomplished so much and it will be fun to see if he can bring this one home.

Roger Goodell is dealing with perceived over-saturation of the NFL TV product, concussion issues, player discipline and player dissension. Is all of this a blip on the radar or the start of a long-term trend?

MOLLY MAZZOLINI
Partner and director of brand integration, Infinite Scale
• Stories/trends …

I am eagerly anticipating the IOC announcement of the 2024 Games host city in September. The United States last hosted the Games in 2002 and the Olympic movement brings so many people together and inspires pride for the host city and country. We could all certainly use stories featuring the warmth, ethos and sportsmanship the Olympics and the many test events leading up to the possible 2024 Games would bring to our country and the world.

In terms of trends, the exploration and popularization of more lifestyle-oriented venue usage outside of the main tenant events. Large-scaled facilities are inviting their communities to hang out and interact when they are in non-event mode; it’s a year-round place that doesn’t require a ticket to experience it. And it provides an opportunity for small businesses like restaurants, coffee shops and food trucks to layer in local flavors. Developing new ways of using what these spaces can be is now part of the initial design process and strategic thinking that goes into creating the many layers of how fans interact with sports venues.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
The spotlight has been on millennials and the younger generations, but to me, the most intriguing people in 2017 and beyond are the wise veterans with sage sports experience. I hope that these gems of the industry pass on their experiences and stories down like family members. Their personal innovations and once-in-a-lifetime experience have built an incredible foundation for those who have the passion and want to make a difference in the sports world to expand upon. We can all benefit from the knowledge and stories they have to share with and to learn from.

MICHAEL LYNCH
Global head of brand and sponsorship consulting, Nielsen Sports
• Stories/trends …

Digital/social sports media rights fees: Although live marquee sports properties may not be readily available, the digital/social rights fee media age is here. The Twitter-NFL experiment certainly paved the way. Now, the likes of Amazon, Facebook/Instagram, Google/YouTube, Snapchat, Netflix, Hulu, EverSport, Olympic Channel and many others will be competing for coveted live sports video content. Over-the-top and direct-to-consumer platforms will proliferate, especially behind-the-scenes sports video content. A digital/social first strategy will be much more commonplace, not only on the media rights side of the house, but also by brands looking to promote their products and services.

• Personality most intriguing …
Gianni Infantino: Is change for global football for real? President Infantino will have to prove that the changes made by FIFA will be impactful and forever improve the landscape of global football.

Dan Reed: Facebook’s head of sports partnerships manages the relationship with over 650 million sports fans, the largest sports fan affinity group in the world. One could argue that Dan Reed has quietly become the most powerful person in sports.

LISA BAIRD
CMO, USOC
• Stories/trends …

Platform shifting acquisitions and divestitures in the sports media landscape and their resulting impact on media rights, sports properties and, ultimately, fan viewership. AT&T acquiring DirecTV and, if approved, Time Warner, could profoundly change how sports are consumed on mobile devices. Comcast’s venture into wireless services; Amazon’s multiplatform strategy with Prime at the center with commerce; original production; and b2b Web services businesses could impact sports as well. Wanda is also very interesting to watch as they position themselves to compete in sports media and properties.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
Michael Rubin’s vision for Fanatics is disrupting the traditional sports merchandise licensing and commerce model.

Roger Goodell
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
FRANK VUONO
Co-partner, 16W Marketing
• Stories/trends …

The merger of rapidly advancing technology and the human anatomy advances to the point where “The Bionic/$6 Million Man/Woman” of the 1970s becomes closer to reality. With GPS, heart monitoring, super blood and bodily fluid testing, and virtual reality devices, athletes, the sports they play, and all of the companies involved in some way, shape or form in athletic competition will be in a race to keep up and/or find the “next big thing” in athletic performance.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
Roger Goodell. It’s very interesting and challenging times for America’s favorite sport. How Roger finds more billion-dollar pots while leading the NFL through the
“How Roger finds more billion-dollar pots … will be very intriguing.”
— FRANK VUONO
challenges of ratings issues, CTE/concussion concerns, player protests and a millennial audience that may be more interested in esports than live/reality sports, will be very intriguing.

AHRON COHEN
General counsel, Arizona Coyotes
• Stories/trends …

The emphasis on new sports venue projects creating a catalytic effect on adjacent mixed-use development and serving as an economic generator for the revitalization of urban communities (e.g., Detroit, Sacramento, Atlanta). Along these lines, in the face of evolving popular sentiment toward public financing of sports venues, a greater emphasis will be placed on creative solutions that form a true public-private partnership, whereby the sports team creates a community asset for year-round activation in and around the venue, such as youth sports tournaments, esports, music festivals, etc. Another key issue will be the continued emergence of a “Moneyball” analytics approach to all facets of sports business beyond the GM’s chair.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
Bill Foley. I’m excited to see what he will do in kicking off the first major professional sports team in Las Vegas and expanding the NHL’s reach in nontraditional hockey markets.

GREG BUSCH
President, Bespoke Sports & Entertainment
• Stories/trends …

Las Vegas as a major professional sports town. With the NHL Golden Knights expansion team coming online and the potential of finalizing the relocation of the NFL Raiders to Vegas push the nation’s 40th-largest market into the major leagues. It will be interesting to see how the fan base and corporate sponsor community support this move and how other professional leagues evaluate the market moving forward.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
John Malone/Chase Carey of Liberty Media. They made a huge investment in F1, so it will be very interesting to see how they transform the F1 racing and weekend fan experience and how they expand the product to the largely untapped U.S. market.

HANNAH STORM
ESPN
• Stories/trends …

With the continuing emergence of technology and social media, many viewers are turning to their phones and computers in addition to their televisions. So how do we differentiate the content that originates on television and offer our fans something they can’t get elsewhere or haven’t already seen? One of the things we’ve done at ESPN is take a long-standing TV brand like “SportsCenter,” individualize the shows and content offered, and make all of it available on a multitude of platforms. For example, on “Face to Face with Hannah Storm,” we do long-form interviews that are original to the show. We can use those in a variety of ways, including as content for big events, such as the Rio Olympics, which we can then cover in a substantive way, even if we are not a rights holder.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
The fans. From those who watch sports on TV and root for the team in the city where they grew up, to those who follow sports for their fantasy teams, cheering for individual players and consuming stats on their phones.

As today’s fans dictate what they want to see and how they want to consume their sports, it is intriguing to explore what subtleties exist among fans and the best way to appeal to them. How do we keep fans emotionally invested? How do we take advantage of the fact that live sporting events offer real drama in real time, unlike most other content? How do we find new ways for fans to make their voices heard? These questions comprise a challenge that all media platforms will continue to tackle in the coming year.
 
ANDY LANSING
CEO, Levy Restaurants
• Stories/trends …

Startup/incubator effect: Teams, venues and partner groups have been engaging in, or acquiring, startups to accelerate and have a direct connection to the necessary mash-up of sports and technology. The story will be around how the products and services of these startups begin to influence the business from the major league level down to the recreational community sports.

Fan-generated content becomes king: Fans are closest to the action and are the primary source for the most authentic and reliable content. Technology and team-driven promotions will put the fan at the core of generating the most interesting content from events by using the fan to capture the content. Sponsorship opportunities will expand as a result and the fans will deepen their ownership — just think of fans taking photos and videos and overlaying sponsored content like a team jersey, hat and other merchandise.

Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Beyond the walls: All venues continue to focus on ways to deepen fan engagement through 365-day activation to drive new sources of revenue and further fulfill sponsorships. Venues are adopting a campuswide approach to building fan and team amenities. They are also designing for ultimate flexibility. Consider the construction of adjacent training facilities, conference centers, outdoor plazas, festival environments, platforms for pop-up food, beverage and entertainment experiences, from museums to music programming. The story will be around
“There is a coming together of four generations of fans who are all making decisions.”
— ANDY LANSING
the programming and concepting of this new real estate to suit how fans — old and new — want to engage, as well as how they can be optimized and activated with partners to become on-brand experiences that complement what happens within the venues.

• Personality most intriguing …
The Fan: There is a coming together of four generations of fans who are all making decisions (boomers, Gen X, millennials and founders). The intrigue is continuing to create great experiences for each of them without creating the same experiences.

BERNIE MULLIN
Founder and chairman, The Aspire Group
• Stories/trends …

Sophisticated fan data insight systems: With continually declining attendance, I believe the key to rebuilding crowds, particularly millennial attendees, is increasingly sophisticated data insight systems which capture real-time action and purchase intent (data in motion) of fans and prospects. This data becomes rocket fuel for highly intelligent electronic, digital and social marketing strategies built on these insights. The system captures every online action of the fan or prospect that can then be used in real time to identify the best one-on-one marketing action — a customized and personalized ticket or hospitality offer specifically targeted to the already-captured express needs and interests — communicated via their optimal platform thereby ensuring maximum sales responsiveness.
 
• Personality most intriguing …
His Holiness Pope Francis — Perhaps the global figure most likely to have a positive influence on the sports world in 2017. Given His Holiness’ continued emphasis on Sport Is Good (the physical, mental and spiritual benefits) and Sport Can Do Good (inclusion/involvement and inspiration), I will be watching the depth of his continued support and, hence, our progress on implementing the Sport at the Service of Humanity and Humanity Sporting Club initiatives.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.