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Volume 21 No. 39
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Executives sound off on the new year in sports business

Readers shared the stories or trends in sports business they expect to emerge and the most intriguing personalities in 2018. Responses were edited for brevity and clarity. Buckle up, it could be a bumpy ride …

Jeremy M. Jacobs
Chairman, Delaware North;
Owner, Boston Bruins and Chairman, National Hockey League

> Stories/trends: Sports betting: Expansion of legal sports betting throughout the U.S. seems inevitable. As an NHL franchise owner and chairman of a 100-plus-year-old company that services the sports industry and has extensive gaming holdings, I recognize that every stakeholder must get informed. Remember that sports betting has a long and precarious history, dating back to noteworthy incidents in baseball. A repeat of historic scandals could put the great business of sports at risk. We have seen values of franchises go from hundreds of thousands to millions to billions, and as fast as the value of our franchises have gone up, vulnerabilities could lead them to quick decline. For these reasons, I believe it is important that the leagues run their own businesses. Managed properly, there are many potential benefits. Sports betting could serve as a new way to stimulate fans and open new waves of data collection and sponsorship opportunities.

> Personality most intriguing: The new owners in town: Leagues are welcoming a new kind of owner — highly accomplished businesspeople who do not have a background in sports. They bring tremendous enthusiasm and substantial financial commitments to our leagues, and we all benefit from the resulting diversity of ideas and approaches. The new owners are a sign that sports have increasing interconnectivity and appeal to other major industries, which ultimately indicates that business is good and evolving. However, sports fans are bonded to the long and rich histories of their favorite games, so we must continue to balance “new” with tradition.

“Sports betting could … open new waves of data collection and sponsorship opportunities.”
Jeremy M. Jacobs

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Danielle Maged
Executive Vice President, Global Solutions, Fox Networks Group
> Stories/trends: I’ll broaden the question to cover entertainment, of which sport is a key driver. I foresee a continued, more focused counterattack from traditional media companies against the disruptive platforms that have aggressively moved into the entertainment business. Key players — those with content and sports rights — need to think not one step ahead, but four steps ahead. I’m hoping we see more of a focus on the discovery aspect related to all these content programming choices. Fans and consumers are generally completely overwhelmed and can’t find what they want to watch. While we have seen a huge focus on providing content, there’s much to be done in developing the consumer relationship to engage and help people find what they actually want to see.

> Personality most intriguing: I’ll go wide on this response: I’m really intrigued and keeping an eye on how big brand marketers can define themselves and their efforts in such a competitive and evolving fight for meaningful attention. What innovation will come out and what risks will be taken. And how can they demonstrate how much growth their efforts are able to deliver for their corporations, not simply how cost-effectively they allocate and deploy budgets.

Eelco van der Noll
Head of Experiential Marketing, A-B InBev
> Stories/trends: The crossover from sports to other passion points or corporate social responsibility programs will accelerate in 2018. Great examples are the NBA and the World Surfing League. The NBA is increasingly becoming a lifestyle brand with its athletes often heavily involved in music and/or fashion, while the WSL is investing in healthier oceans and cleaner beaches. Even the pro teams making the move to esports falls in this category. This will provide a great opportunity for brands to develop a more all-around relationship with fans and consumers.

Also, with digital giants (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google, Tencent, etc.) further exploring the sports content space, another important story to watch is the ongoing fragmentation of media rights and content. And, with continued consumer adoption of streaming and digital-first content products, it will be exciting to see how the market responds to (live) sports on open social media platforms.

> Personality most intriguing: The most intriguing personality in sports in 2018 will be the new president of the U.S. Soccer Federation. The new president will face a great challenge to get the U.S. men’s national team back on track. In addition, it will be very interesting to see her/his role in the bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Jessica Gelman
CEO, Kraft Analytics Group;
Co-founder, MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

> Stories/trends: Redefinition of ticketing. 2017 saw the groundwork laid with open distribution by Ticketmaster, ongoing consolidation of the secondary market, and increasing expectations of the game-day attendee. As we increasingly know who is coming to games via mobile ticketing and in-stadium Wi-Fi, the season ticket will evolve too. 2018 will be the forerunner for what many have been predicting for several years. With ticketing evolving, the role and importance of data as an asset will continue to come to the forefront. What has been perceived as a competitive advantage for some time is becoming a business imperative.

> Personality most intriguing: President Obama. Having witnessed scandals at the collegiate, professional and Olympic levels, the time might be right for a new kind of leadership in one of the most public and high-profile industries outside of politics.

Kathy Carter. Would love to see Kathy driving significant change and impact for the U.S. Soccer Federation. She has a passion for the sport, is well-respected and has a marketing/business creation mindset that will help grow U.S. Soccer locally and globally.

Brian Cooper
President and CEO, MKTG Canada
> Stories/trends: The Olympics and the host city problem will be spotlighted in 2018. Olympic venues that are underused after the Games have long been a problem. Expect this to remain top of mind; IOC officials have already been vocal critics of the potential for white elephant venues in Pyeongchang. The IOC should consolidate the amount of countries able to host the Olympics, creating a rotation of around eight to 10 cities. It would reduce the economic impact on new hosts, capitalize on efficiencies of reusing venues, be utilized as regional training centers, reduce security cost and give more certainty to broadcast partners.

Calgary is considering a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang will be the latest case study and discussion around legacy usage of Olympic venues and the economic impact on host cities will impact the politics and popularity of an Olympic bid in Canada.

> Personality most intriguing: Vladimir Putin. Russian athletes will compete under a neutral flag in Pyeongchang after Russia was banned from competition, and Russia will also host the World Cup. All of this will happen in an election year for Putin. Putin has historically leveraged Russia’s success in sport to project strength and normalize their global standing despite a failing economy and human rights abuses. However, in 2018, the country’s sport involvement may actually amplify controversy.

“Pyeongchang will be the latest case study and discussion.”
Brian Cooper

Molly Solomon
Executive Vice President, Content, Golf Channel
> Stories/trends: I’m curious to see if sports will be a healer and unifier after so much divisiveness during the 2017 NFL season. Typically, the Olympics and the World Cup bring the world together in peace and unite us to cheer for our country’s athletes and inspiring international performances. Will we continue to choke up when they sing the national anthem? I hope so.

The #metoo movement will continue to steamroll across U.S. businesses, including sports. May this groundswell help create more diversity in sports business.

> Personality most intriguing: Tiger Woods. Can he go up against one of the Great Young Ones and win a PGA Tour event? Tiger coming all the way back would be a compelling showdown that would link generations and bring back mainstream sports fans to watch golf in greater numbers, as they did when Tiger was in his prime. To sprinkle more fairy dust, I’d also love to see Phil Mickelson win at 48 and do it at the U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam.

Ron Shapiro
Chairman, Shapiro Advisors
> Stories/trends: Las Vegas and sports. The surge of teams to Sin City bears the question of how the new teams will affect the community, the leagues, and, eventually, the issue of gambling and professional sports.

Esports. They will mushroom with expansion in collegiate ranks, through existing major leagues (e.g., NBA2K), and the rapid growth of the newly formed Overwatch League, sure to be the major league of esports.

Politics on the international stage. In 2018, the focus will move from domestic U.S. politics (Trump and the protest movement) to international relations, which will come into play with the Winter Olympics in South Korea — neighboring a nuclear threat — and athletes punitively banned from competition under the Russian flag for past use of banned substances.

> Personality most intriguing: Dr. Allen Sills. As chief medical officer of the NFL, he is hoping to change business as usual in the battle against CTE and other serious injuries. 2018 will be a crucial time for Sills and the league to make tangible, public improvements and restore diminished popularity of the NFL.

Women. The #metoo campaign has shown that women have found their voice and become a powerful force. The potential impact goes far beyond the resignation of men throughout the sports, political, and entertainment worlds. It spells a bright future and safer workplace for female journalists, athletes, and advocates.

Delise S. O’Meally
Executive Director, Institute for Sport and Social Justice
> Stories/trends: 2018 may be the year that women emerge from the shadows in sports business and media. With an avalanche of voices, the Silence Breakers of 2017 signaled in no uncertain terms that women are willing to take a public stand, and call out harassment, indecency and the many daily injustices that have effectively stunted professional growth. Women continue to be discounted on the playing fields, marginalized in the boardrooms, and sexualized in the media. 2018 may be the year that gender-shaming language, so-called “locker room talk,” and other demoralizing and denigrating practices will be forced to an end, and the sports world will benefit from the contributions of so many more talented women.

> Personality most intriguing: Next Generation Female Athlete: Despite unequal media coverage, the next generation of female athletes is leading the way on social issues. Through the power of social media, voices like Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Brittney Griner, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Megan Rapinoe, Mo’ne Davis, and Breanna Stewart will grow stronger in 2018.

Steven G. Horowitz
Partner, Inner Circle Sports
> Stories/trends: The eventual legalization of sports betting will make an impact on the leagues and fans in the United States. It is unlikely that gambling on sports will be in full force in 2018, but the increased interest in the games and monster revenues will have the U.S. catching up to what the rest of the world legally participates in on a daily basis. The Supreme Court ruling may just speed up everyone’s timeline, but there will still be significant regulatory challenges ahead. … U.S. Soccer’s presidential elections in February. Continued growth of revenue will look easy compared to figuring out the magic formula for the development of the USMNT. Soccer-loving fans in America won’t be satisfied if the U.S. can’t compete at the highest level around the world.

> Personality most intriguing: Dan Reed, Facebook/Jim DeLorenzo, Amazon. While playing things close to the vest the past 18 months, it’s hard to imagine Dan and Jim’s continued foray into media rights conversations won’t have a large impact on team values and player salaries around the globe. With Facebook and Amazon’s market caps in excess of a trillion dollars, it is hard to imagine there is a deal in the market they can’t do (if they are interested).

Dave Portnoy and Erika Nardini, Barstool Sports. This duo is reshaping the way a younger generation is consuming sports and content around sports. It is unlikely that they will be the highest bidder in any negotiation for the traditional bat-and-ball leagues, but I expect them to continue to make their mark in other ways this coming year.

Don Yee
Managing Principal, Yee & Dubin Sports, LLC
> Stories/trends: The relationship between the NFL and NFLPA is at a tipping point. The parties have to decide if they want to proactively improve the relationship or continue to let it stagnate and deteriorate. Many significant issues have caused the quality of the sport to decrease. Who, if anyone, will actually be a strong steward of the game as opposed to simply driving revenues 24/7? We simply don’t have that person or persons in America’s No. 1 sport, which is fairly appalling in an age of innovation. The other trend I’m following is how FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) chooses to influence the four major sports. There are big sports fans in those organizations, and they’re in a position to upend a lot of conventions.

> Personality most intriguing: Angels player Shohei Ohtani, world No. 1 women’s golfer Shanshan Feng and Korean pop group BTS. Ohtani is giving all baseball fans an experiment that will be fun to watch, and he’s in a position to influence young players worldwide as to what is possible by trying to become a two-way player. Feng’s success is important to the entire golf industry — she single-handedly could get the Chinese government to invest in the game. And BTS is one of the music industry’s rising international power talents. Perhaps the NFL would finally consider international acts for the Super Bowl halftime. It’d be a great way to engage young audiences who increasingly recognize overseas talent. It’s inspiring to see so much talent coming from the Asian community.

“[Feng] single-handedly could get the Chinese government to invest in the game.”
Don Yee on Chinese golfer Shanshan Feng


Andrea Kremer
Chief Correspondent, NFL Network;
Correspondent, HBO’s Real Sports;
Co-host, CBSSN’s We Need to Talk

> Stories/trends: The Supreme Court’s decision in the case involving Gov. Chris Christie and the state of New Jersey that could legalize sports betting in America is expected in the spring or summer. If they rule in favor of Christie and New Jersey, virtually overnight there will be a sea change in this country involving sports gambling. Whether through the SCOTUS ruling or through federal regulation, the future of legalized sports betting throughout the country looks to be an issue that bears watching in 2018.

> Personality most intriguing: I’ll choose two who are at opposite ends of the NFL’s “season of discontent.”

Colin Kaepernick. It’s doubtful that the former 49er quarterback ever plays a down again in the NFL but it bears watching the next steps of the man who ignited the firestorm of social activism across the spectrum of sports.

Mary Ann Turcke, president, digital media and NFL Network. The veteran media executive is one of the highest-ranking women in sports media and must navigate through the morass of sexual harassment issues that have recently plagued NFL Network. If ever there was the necessity to change a culture and clean house this is the time and I believe she is the person to do it.

Andy Lansing
President and CEO
Levy Restaurants

> Stories/trends: The strategic implementation and interplay of both artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligence augmentation (IA). We are seeing the impact of robotics and the efficiencies we are gaining through the automation of tasks, from ticket scanning to the back of house preparation of food. The balance will be to utilize AI where the task can be better achieved through automation, allowing people to focus on what connects us as humans. IA will allow us to make better use of the deluge of data we are generating to better understand the challenges we are facing and learn in the moment. Also, with the retail and broader hospitality industries, I am energized by the number of collaborations that are happening between designers, developers, and problem-solvers. The traditional walls are coming down in a big way.

> Personality most intriguing: I am most intrigued by the fan who isn’t coming. We need to be obsessed with learning about these fans and specifically what are the real reasons they’ve chosen to spend time and dollars elsewhere. Also, the micro-influencer. We have seen the rise of the paid influencer as a content catalyst. But the right strategy to select and build relationships with micro-influencers can make a difference in our business. Finally, athlete as owner: The explosion of retired athletes as owners — Jordan, Magic and Jeter — is fundamentally changing the way organizations are run.

Kevin Warren
Chief Operating Officer, Minnesota Vikings
> Stories/trends: A few interesting platforms exist as we enter 2018. First, women who play an increasingly prominent leadership role throughout the sports and entertainment industries. Who those individuals are, and what their unique impact is, will help us pave new pathways for others to follow, but also bring unique vantage points and background to positively impact various teams, initiatives, and leagues. Second, the impact of the Gen Z fan base and the unforeseen and unique ways in which new technology and entertainment is being developed to directly engage a new segment of fans who consume sports in ways we are continuing to glean more information from on a daily basis. Third, the necessity of building and empowering a diverse work environment that truly understands that diversity in color, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and thought is powerful and should be viewed as positive and not a punitive requirement.

> Personality most intriguing: Samantha Rapoport, the NFL’s director of football development, is leading a revolutionary movement to ensure that all females are afforded the chance to pursue their passions and their skills in the NFL and find a variety of opportunities that were once “traditionally” considered only for males, whether in football operations, scouting or coaching. Samantha’s vision and resiliency will have repercussions for generations of aspiring female sports executives and coaches.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Human Rights Salute at the Mexico City Olympics.

Kenneth L. Shropshire
Chief Executive Officer, Global Sport Institute
Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport, Arizona State University

> Stories/trends: Two stories that I’ll be focused on are the continued redefining of college sport and the search for how to positively reshape youth sport. What I hope to see is a continuing move away from discussions about pay to play to a focus on avenues for meaningful degree completion for those 98 percent of student athletes that don’t go on to the Olympics or play professionally. I’ll also be watching the refocusing of youth sport. The two stories are deeply connected. The younger we are able to instill the proper perspective of sport versus life, the easier recalibrating the importance of college sport will become. Should we become successful, we will begin to focus more and more on the value of participation in sport, for reasons other than professionalism, and understand that the current American model, as amazing as it is, is broken.

> Personality most intriguing: This year is the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic protests and all associated events of 1968. As sport intersecting with athlete rights hits new levels, the these two moments should make for the unpredictable year. What will athletes do? What will management do in preparation/response? Watch emerging athlete activists and celebrations engaging those leaders of the past led by John Carlos and Tommie Smith. A new generation will have a full understanding of those two men and the Olympic Project for Human Rights. We will have our fill of documentaries and historic footage.

What stories and people are you watching? Let me know.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at