On the occasion of our 20th anniversary of SportsBusiness Journal, it provides the opportunity to reflect on the early years when we came onto the scene. It was a time when the average ticket price to an MLB game was twenty bucks, and the cost of a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl broadcast was only $1.3 million. You could build a new stadium for a professional franchise for just a couple hundred million dollars back in 1998 and buy the team itself for only $150 million! The NFL was selling its broadcast rights for just over $2 billion per year at that point in time, which today seems dirt cheap, and the great technological development in sports at the time was the yellow first-down line on TV that Sportvision developed and ESPN introduced in September of that year.
The internet was just beginning to gain traction in sports 20 years ago. And when compared to the rapid pace of change with the use of technology in sports today, looking back at the early years in our development, it’s almost inconceivable to think that several years after our launch — on the occasion of our inaugural World Congress of Sports in 2002 — that we actually had a panel titled: “The Internet: Is there a Future? And What Role Will this New Media Play in Sports,” with a lineup of speakers including Bob Bowman, Michael Rubin, Michael Levy, Tom Spock, John Drury and Geoff Reiss.
As I think back about what the sports industry was like in the early days of SBJ, I realize that there will be thousands of students working toward degrees in sports management who will be reading this anniversary issue who weren’t even born at the time of our launch! In 1998 only a few dozen colleges and universities offered sports business degrees and only a handful were truly established. Today well over 500 colleges and universities offer every conceivable degree in sports business, undergraduate and graduate alike.
Relatively soon after our launch, we began to find our footing in our quest to become “the weekly voice of sports business.” We started a series of “firsts” early in our development which continued over the years, including inaugural events and programs including Forty Under 40, World Congress of Sports, Sports Business Awards, Champions in Sports Business, and Game Changers: Women in Sports Business. We introduced our Colleges & Universities program, and our By The Numbers publication, which evolved into our Resource Guide Live database service (not to mention the inaugural edition for each of our other eight conference events, all of which are strong and growing!). As tempting as it would be to go back in time and reflect on each of those inaugural events and new services in this publisher’s letter, I’ll resist that urge. I will note, however, that it IS extremely gratifying to have watched some of the young talent recognized in our early Forty Under 40 classes — Adam Silver, Mark Lazarus, Joe Leccese, Mark Steinberg, Brian France, George Pyne and many others — go on to become the industry leaders of today.
Over the years, I have continued to be amazed at what a resilient and vibrant industry sports truly is. The ever-growing size of the deals has been staggering to witness — from television rights and sponsorship fees, to franchise values and facilities, which now have become major urban development projects. And few would have predicted the role that technology has played in the process and the numerous revenue streams that tech developments have yielded. And as I look back, I can’t express how proud I feel of the role we’ve played along the way. There’s no question that our daily/weekly coverage has added transparency to the sports industry and that our work has served to make all of the players in our industry be more accountable.
I’ve been incredibly blessed over the years to have an amazing team without whose dedication, creativity and hard work none of what we’ve achieved would have been possible! So — to all of the 85 SBJ, SBD, Resource Guide Live and conference group staffers — congratulations to YOU for achieving this milestone, and THANK YOU for your devotion and all of your tireless efforts that have gotten us to where we are today. Of our current staff of 85, 14 people have been working with us since the very first year in 1998: Mary Baranowski, Misty Berry, Martin Bounds, Burt Cobe, Chris Hixenbaugh, Dan Kaplan, Bill King, John Lombardo, Abe Madkour, Bill Magrath, Liz Mullen, Ross Nethery, Tom Stinson and myself. A special congratulations to each of you for your steadfast loyalty over the past 20 years.
Lastly and most importantly, I’d like to thank ALL OF YOU, our readers, for your trust and ongoing support over the years. We are aware of the huge responsibility that we have in providing you breaking news and analysis — over 250 pages a week, including all of our SBJ/SBD coverage — and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. Also, a HUGE THANKS to our advertisers and sponsors of our conferences and events. Without your support, none of what we do would be possible. We could not be more grateful for your role in helping us accomplish so much.
In retrospect, it’s astounding how simple the world looked in 1998. There was no Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat. These platforms have a two-part effect on us. On one hand, they put our programming under a microscope every day. On the other hand, they provide opportunities for us to distribute our content in ways that nobody could have imagined in 1998. Only one national cable sports network existed in 1998. Now we have three other ones competing for the same programming that ESPN had a virtual lock on. That has caused rights fees to go up and the stakes to get much higher.
It’s so difficult to aggregate big audiences in today’s media world. Sports is the one guaranteed way on a regular basis to get a lot of people to tune in to watch. That allows us to sell a lot of commercial inventory and grow cable networks and their subscriber fees. As we all are fighting for the viewers and fighting for the attention of the consumer, there’s no better way to get that attention than through big-time sporting events. So much of our business now is based on getting retransmission fees from our distributors, and sports is one of the driving forces that gives us leverage to generate the kind of fees that we get from them carrying our product.
The future: In 2038, sports still will be the most valuable content in all of media. The question is, how will it be distributed. We all have learned that you have to allow the consumer to decide how he’s going to consume his product, whether it’s on traditional television, a tablet, a phone or a desktop. All of us in the sports business are going to have to figure out a way to give the consumer the flexibility he wants while still being able to monetize the rights fees that we pay. The big question is with the digital companies — Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon, etc. Will they be in the market for big-time live sporting events? They can probably generate the rights fees. The question is can they ever be able to generate the kind of exposure and broad-based appeal that national broadcasters and cable networks can supply to the rights holders. If you start to lessen that broad appeal and lessen that broad distribution, the value of sports, relatively quickly, can begin to be diminished. There will be broad distribution of sporting events. Even 20 years from now, there will still be a value in network television and the ability for every person in America to watch coverage of an individual sporting event.
— As told to John Ourand
Formerly with Fox Sports
The CIA of the sports industry, back in the old pre-SBJ days, was effectively one newspaper, and one man. The paper was USA Today, and the man was Rudy Martzke. Rudy wielded power that today is unimaginable. People couldn’t wait to get him on the phone with some juicy piece of gossip. Rudy’s columns were a must read by television executives, producers, directors, talent and the entire sports world.
I arrived in 1994 to start Fox Sports, having been transferred from starting Sky Sports in London. Largely through the efforts of Chase Carey, Fox was successful in a bid for the NFL’s TV rights. My job was to create an operational sports division in six short months, which happened, even though John Madden called us Fox Sport at the time because we only had one sport — football. Virtually every hiring and firing I was involved with ended up in Rudy’s column, along with several helpful tips from Dick Ebersol. It was like moving to a village, where the town gossip knew everyone and everything, and it was written through a particular lens.
The biggest driver of the sports business over the last 20 years is television — first broadcast network and then cable, specifically, the web of Fox Sports RSNs which crisscrossed the country, pouring vast sums of money into all forms of sports. Networks always have been the major driver of revenue for sports teams and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future — even with the tectonic shift in the media world which is underway. In order to stay viable, networks need sports more than ever because sports are the only guaranteed way to draw eyeballs. Advertisers are realizing that digital advertising is a chimera and that the only way to ensure their commercial is viewed by a sizable audience — and not relegated to a DVR — is to put it in sports.
The future: The next generation? Go back 20 years, and 2018 looks pretty much like 1998. But 2038 will be vastly different from 2018. Egaming will be the industry leader, and gamers will be accorded the status of storied athletes. Football (pro, college and high school) will have to deal with the concussion issue, otherwise it will be marginalized by a growing wave of opposition. All other sports will look at egaming with envy, and will look back at their glory days and weep and gnash their teeth that they didn’t make changes when they could to maintain the public’s interests. The world has more distractions now than at any time in mankind’s history, and the sports industry needs to pay attention to the societal changes which are occurring right now!
— As told to John Ourand
Back then, the big focus (in sports architecture) was more in the pro sports side and less on the collegiate side. At the time, we were busy, doing a lot of great and different work. … This is our 35th year, and when we started in 1983 it became clear that the right way to do it was to look at your own market, fans, customers and community, and develop your own authentic brand that would communicate your story, message, how you want fans treated and how you want to be perceived as a company and building.
The future: Twenty years from now, it’s going to be a much more flexible and personal experience, which means you’re not necessarily selling the seats anymore; you’re selling experiences. How that evolves is up to each person. Everybody’s talking about millennial changes, but I think it’s a much more predictable market now than it was five years ago. But the next generation coming up is probably the most unpredictable, so I think the data mining of how that generation spends their money, what they’re interested in, how they want to experience things, is going to change systemically these experiences both inside and outside the building. We’re going to have to find a way to float the experience inside and outside the building in a way we haven’t done before, because we want them to come. … I think they want to choose the kind of experience that, every day, it’s going to be different. So I think that flexibility of the experience is what’s going to drive it.
— As told to Adam Stern
Formerly with Anheuser-Busch
I remember the late ’90s as a time when we were just getting over the disruption caused by cable TV and before the even bigger one still being caused by the internet.
Sports marketing and media came into its own in the ’80s and advertisers were just starting to use sports as a key marketing tool. In the ’90s, you had the expansion of leagues and teams fueled by cable TV money. We went from one televised game of the week to a time where the combination of satellites and cable made every game in every sport accessible somewhere. That’s a big change.
It was a time when activation came into its own — we weren’t just buying assets; the advertisers learned you had to bring it as close to the consumer as possible to connect. The assets got pricey. It went from $5 million a year to $15 million a year for a top NASCAR team. In the early ’90s a large league sponsorship would cost $2 million to $5 million. Closer to the end of the decade, that was going to cost you $10 million or more and today way beyond that.
You also saw an expansion in who the sponsors were. When I started, it was beer, cola, tires and autos. As sports attracted a more diverse audience of women and minorities, you saw more different kinds of advertisers and sponsors, including Procter & Gamble and Kraft. We went from shotgun to more targeted. As everyone started to worry about DVRs, sports’ value grew, since it was “appointment viewing.”
We were beginning to hear about the internet in 1998, but as it played out, it seemed at the beginning like no one knew how to use it. Then the next generation taught us the importance of it, just as the prior generation had done the same thing with cable channels. Social media exploded, smartphones came into play. Marketers looked at what they could get access to in the palm of their hands, and the industry saw they had to go where consumers were. Now, I teach students at NYU who tell me they get all of their sports from YouTube. The challenge now is allocating marketing dollars to follow those consumers.
The future: Looking to the future, the technology element of sports will continue to drive things. Esports and gaming shouldn’t be taken any more lightly than cable or the internet was over the last 40 years. All of us now have a sort of content attention deficit disorder, because it’s so easy to skip around from one medium to another. Teams and leagues better make sure their content is in tune with these viewers, those with infinite choices and short attention spans.
— As told to Terry Lefton
Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox
When you look back across the past 20 years, I think the biggest impact has come in the media and tech worlds. Sports continues to provide consistently great content; that certainly hasn’t changed. What has changed is the growth in media rights fees for leagues and teams over the past two decades, as well as the pretty dramatic changes that have occurred across the television market, the growth of cable television, the proliferation of networks and outlets, and the increases in right fees that came along with very competitive bidding for our product.
The growth in the role technology has played in all of our lives — not just sports — over the past two decades has been amazing. Perhaps at no time in our history has information and technology made a faster, more dramatic impact in our lives. MLB.com has changed how baseball fans receive scores and news, watch and follow their teams. The internet, websites, social media, etc., influence how we follow news, events, celebrities and connect with one another.
The future: Sports have always been about our fans, so I would suggest that any future developments need to be viewed by the prism of how they impact our fans, their attendance at events and their viewing experience, whether that is sitting at home or on the move with their mobile devices, live or on demand. Internet viewing will become far more important and should more than offset the loss of cord-cutters and never-weres.
— As told to John Lombardo
Delaware North, Boston Bruins
Sports in the 1990s were dominant in the public’s eye, and that is still true today. What is dramatically different is the pace at which sports are growing. There is heightened interest and absorption from the public like we’ve never seen.
Twenty years ago, the TD Garden was only a few years old and was one of the most state-of-the-art arenas in North America. Today, we are still cutting edge but only because we have spent the last 20 years continuously reinvesting in the venue. And now we’re building a new entertainment district next to the TD Garden because our fans want more and more out of their game-day experience.
Nothing has advanced the awareness of sports more than media. Sports pages are historically the most-read section of a newspaper, and that is probably still true. The difference is that today everyone has 24/7 access on multiple platforms. Just think about all the different ways that people can easily access information on their personal devices. Fan interest only stands to increase as technology advances and makes games even more accessible.
The future: I think that traditionally popular sports will continue to grow, and newer sports will come more into the mainstream. Right now, we consume sports at the arena and over media platforms. There is potential for future engagements, like sports betting, to add exposure to games. Growth in one league will not necessarily mean decline in another, because new forms of engagement will lift everyone.
I also think that, as the U.S. continues to grow in population and diversity, we’ll see sports as an increasingly important unifier and social outlet. While the costs to produce and consume sports will remain expensive, and probably get more expensive, I think the costs for individual fans will be progressively offset by ancillary sources.
— As told to Ian Thomas
I was sick [with leukemia] back then, so I was watching a lot more sports on TV than I was in person. I think about Michael [Jordan] and the Bulls. [Mark] McGwire and [Sammy] Sosa were going after the home run record. Tiger [Woods]. And we had this kid named Jeff Gordon. He was on the cover of Fortune and TV Guide. It wasn’t long after that that he hosted “Saturday Night Live.” He was everywhere you looked. Sports had so many big stars, and there was more mystique around them because we didn’t have social media and the 24/7 news cycle following their every move. The world was different.
The future: For me, the popularity of sports has always been about the same things. We love to watch athletes do the impossible. Big stars with unbelievable talent. Rivalries. Pulling for the underdog. The drama of winning and losing. That’s the draw of sports. People will consume it differently, but those things will never change. How do we capture viewership in an age when people are consuming in a variety of ways and on a variety of platforms? How do we reach our fans in the manner they want to be reached? Television ratings used to be the be-all end-all, but now it’s a slice of a much larger pie. And that will continue to change rapidly. Our business will get more and more complex, but it’s something to view as an opportunity. The people who embrace change will be successful.
— As told to Adam Stern
In 1998, I was in my first year as commissioner of the ACC. I had been the AD at North Carolina for 17 years and there just weren’t a lot of jobs out in front of me that I thought would be a good fit. I just felt like [ACC commissioner] was a natural progression. I didn’t have to leave the state, where I had lived most of my life, and I didn’t have to leave the conference, where I had spent my professional life.
We were nine schools, we were bringing in a little over $50 million to split among the nine schools, the average budget was about $25 million. Today, that average budget is between $80 million and $90 million, the conference is bringing in $400 million a year, and we have 15 schools. We also had 23 employees back then and 50 now.
That first year, we negotiated a new TV contract with ESPN through 2005, we had our agreement with Raycom, and we had some sub-agreements with Home Team Sports out of Baltimore for Olympic sports and women’s basketball. The importance of the deal was the same, but it was much simpler; there wasn’t a digital component. You didn’t have a lot of the technology we have today. We were on the verge of it. I’d like to say that I envisioned a 24/7 conference channel at the time, but I didn’t.
We were still at a time when our basketball television was making more money than football television. We were one of the few conferences in the country, maybe the only one, where that was the case. As a league, we knew we weren’t as strong as we needed to be in football and that very quickly became a priority.
My first hire was Bernadette McGlade as an associate commissioner for women’s basketball because the league didn’t have anybody who was living women’s basketball at the time. That was the biggest staffing need we had and we needed to make a statement about the importance of women’s basketball.
About 2000, we started to get more serious about expansion with our discussions internally. We knew we needed to grow to generate the television revenues that we needed to keep up and to maintain our membership. So, that’s what led us to talking about going from nine to 12. We really thought we’d be through by then at 12.
Looking ahead: Football is extremely important to the economics of college athletics. Football is a great game, it’s a very American game, and it’s going to need to change some to attract young kids to the game. So we really need to focus on the equipment, the safety, the way it’s taught, and I think we’re making progress, even though it’s not as fast as we’d like it. The most important piece of this is player safety, and if you love the game of football like I do, you can’t just stick your head in the sand and expect that the game will maintain its hold on the American public.
— As told to Michael Smith
It was an exciting year, no question about it. A lot of things were really changing for us back then, and we were starting to move down a number of really important paths. The nation was captivated by McGwire and Sosa. This was also the summer of Steve Wilstein and the AP story regarding McGwire. And that was the start for me of a long journey toward getting a drug-testing program and tightening it up.
It was a busy year on a lot of fronts. I had my Blue Ribbon committee and they were dealing with a lot of problems. And this was also a time where we were really looking to change baseball’s economic structure. It was the beginning of a lot of things we ended up doing and coming to fruition around our economics and revenue sharing. Rob [Manfred] was right in the middle of that for me, as was Frank Coonelly. It was a very eventful year.
— As told to Eric Fisher
By 1998, we had seen the impact of the first extraordinary wave of technological change. So much of sports had become dependent on broadcast television as the mass media for so many decades. Beginning in the late ’80s and then certainly by a decade later in the late ’90s, you had not just broadcast television, but you had subscriber-supported services of both satellite and cable. You had DirecTV become a partner of the NFL in the early ’90s. ESPN and TNT became partners of the NFL in a big way in the early ’90s. The internet was beginning to become a factor in people’s thinking, and the digital revolution was on the horizon.
Technology produced tremendous changes in terms of how sports entertainment was distributed. At one point, the networks were separate from the leagues. At some point, the leagues started to have their own networks. The college conferences started to have their own networks. It changed the way sports were distributed. As part of a second wave, you had the mobile device phenomenon and the ability to move away from the desktop screen to the screen in your pocket or the screen in your car.
In addition to distribution, the digital revolution represents a shift from top down to grassroots up in terms of the consumer having a much greater voice in how sports are covered, in terms of how media operates, and how management and owners have to be prepared to react and lead in a marketplace where there is new power at the consumer level and less power at the top going downward. It’s created both new distribution and a new redefined customer.
The future: The most important potential impact on distribution of live events is going to come from Amazon, Netflix and Apple, and organizations that have not been directly involved in the distribution of sports. When the companies engaged in distribution are not just engaged in the distribution of sports but engaged in the distribution of all kinds of other products from automobiles to food, and where the customer base is built on someone having an Amazon Prime position where you not only get discounted delivery services on your food, but you get discounted access to your sports media content, that is an integrated business model that hasn’t been proven yet. The potential for change driven by those kinds of models is quite striking.
The athletes are going to have more of a voice on public issues and part of the broader conversation. It has the potential to be both positive and negative. One of the questions is if your athletes become involved vocally on societal issues, does that become part of your brand? Does that make you the team owner, you the athlete, you the sport, you the league, does that make you a so-called cultural warrior on societal issues that have nothing to do directly with sports? Athletes are talking not just about job opportunities for minorities in coaching or in the front office in sports, they’re talking about much broader sets of issues in society. Does that transform how the athlete is perceived? Does that transform ultimately the brands that the various sports leagues and sports teams and their sponsors represent? I don’t know the answer to that question. I think it’s going to be something that’s worked out by smart people going forward.
— As told to Abraham Madkour
I was midway through my fourth year as commissioner heading into 1998, and golf was in an exciting position.
From a business perspective, 1998 was the first year of our new television agreements, marking a significant increase in purses for our members and overall charitable contributions; it was the first year prize money on the PGA Tour exceeded $100 million, and our charity dollars reached $40 million.
Additionally, we had just announced The First Tee in November 1997 and were preparing for the opening of World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., and the first induction at the new World Golf Hall of Fame in spring 1998.
Competitively, Tiger Woods was entering his second full season on tour and coming off a four-win season that included his historic 12-stroke victory at the Masters. While he was drawing so much national attention, it was his good friend, Mark O’Meara, who would have a career year in 1998, becoming the oldest player at age 41 to win two majors, the Masters and The Open Championship.
From a PGA Tour perspective, our growth internationally certainly has had a tremendous impact on our business. Not only has the makeup of our membership become more global, with more players representing more countries, but our broadcasts now reach more than 225 countries and territories with a reach of more than 1 billion households.
Enhancements in broadcasting and the emergence of digital and social media platforms have been key drivers, as well. It’s an ever-changing landscape in these areas and it’s extremely important to be innovative and creative to enhance the fan experience, both on site and away from the field of play.
The future: For our sport, we will continue to see the growth of golf internationally, particularly in Asia and South America, and see even more influx of bright young talent making an impact on the world stage. I foresee the professional game becoming more integrated as a global sport, much along the lines of soccer and, to some extent, tennis in the Olympics.
The First Tee will more than double in reach as it continues to have a positive impact on young people’s lives, while Topgolf will become a generator of strong interest in the game and influence more young people to take up the game.
From a fan perspective, new technologies will continue to emerge and evolve to change the way we watch and become immersed in an event. Everything will be about the fans getting closer to the passion and excitement of sports that they love.
— As told to John Lombardo
By 1998, focusing on just the NBA, we were going strong because the digital age was just coming into focus. The reality that cable would ultimately supplant the networks as the primary source of delivering sports was coming. Witness our move to ESPN from NBC and the move of “Monday Night Football” to ESPN, baseball to TBS, and the college bowl series to ESPN. It didn’t eliminate the networks but it was clear that cable was about to become a factor.
We had launched NBA.com in about 1995 and the internet was not a factor prior to that. We launched NBA TV in 1999. There was a digital focus, an international focus and we were doing a building boom that began with the Palace of Auburn Hills in about 1988 and then it was continuous. Ticket prices were going up, arenas were becoming entertainment centers, with restaurants, suites and the like, and it was really a golden era for the NBA and all the sports.
The biggest drivers for the sports business were the refashioning of the building infrastructure so that by the time Golden State opens the Chase Center, every NBA building will have either been built new or substantially remodeled in the last 20 years. In addition, we went from cable, to satellite, to digital cable and to social media and that has been an extraordinary driving force.
The future: We should be watching over-the-top. Now there are OTT services that focus on sports like Sling, FuboTV, DirecTV Now, Sony View, possibly Hulu, YouTube and the new ESPN service, so there seems to be a rush to get through the over-the-top door for sports. We are going to see a huge adoption of other viewing enhancements, whether it is Intel VR, Next VR, or LiveLike. There are going to be enhancements to allow fans either to see games with headsets or to see very large and beautiful 4K and 8K screens with statistics and social experiences on an ongoing basis, collective viewing through the use of avatars and the like. We are going to see an increase in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in getting fans whatever information they need.
Globalization is going to increase with the ease of delivering games digitally and the ability of delivering highlights to fans, which are done literally in real time. It is going to make it harder to retain the interest of fans in full games but any loss … is going to be offset by additional audiences staying longer by sports betting coming into focus.
— As told to John Lombardo
The sports industry was evolving, and it was collectively going through an era of more rigorous discipline in terms of how we did business. It was really the infancy of digital platforms and how you interacted with traditional media. [SBJ sister publication] The SportsBusiness Daily if I remember correctly was still being delivered by fax. Now, the accessibility of the fans to our games is unprecedented. The adage ‘you can get what you want when you want and how you want it’ has never been truer. We go back 20 years ago; Sports Phone was still around. There weren’t the websites we have now. None of the leagues had their own channels. So, our ability to provide more and more content — and the demand for more content beyond just the games themselves — has been driving all of us.
The future: We’ve got to focus on the opportunities and they come in three batches: the international opportunity that we all have; using and being ready to embrace evolving media platforms and the like; and how we all interact with millennials and gen-Zs as they mature.
The game must continue to be entertaining, exciting, skillful, fast and competitive. That’s something we do on a daily basis and will be the No. 1 imperative going forward because if the game doesn’t have those attributes, everything else that we do doesn’t matter.
— As told to Ian Thomas
It’s amazing to think about the fact that 20 years ago just about 40 percent of adults were spending time online — double the amount of users from two years earlier. No surprise, it was the year Google was founded. Compare that to the internet usage by almost 98 percent of young people in the U.S. today.
All of us in the industry were thinking about how the web was developing — how it would impact our lives; how would it affect the way we interact with fans; or even back then, how it would transform the way we manage our various commercial assets.
The future: I truly believe that technology will totally transform the industry in ways that today are almost unimaginable. The continued evolution of artificial intelligence and machine learning will dominate the way we produce our games, manage our facilities, engage with our fans and drive efficiency in business operations.
On the player side, I see major opportunities for technology to aid in scouting, evaluation, biometric evaluation to drive performance and particularly in ensuring the health and safety of our athletes.
The media landscape will continue to globalize and shrink, with [over-the-top] subscription services and global live streaming platforms like Twitch being active bidders for rights.
Our stadiums will be high-tech “studios” where fans will be “participants” in producing and sharing content. Ride sharing and driverless cars will allow for the transformation of parking lots to green space and entertainment zones. And someone will develop an artificial field surface that will be better than natural grass!
— As told to Ian Thomas
“For me it was hope over reason; I hoped it would last. I was rooting for you because you always could read others, such as Ad Age, Ad Week, Multichannel News, Amusement Business, Variety, Forbes, Fortune and Business Week. Here was the birth of the publication that would do it in more detail with regular assigned reporters who would know how to address new developments in context as opposed to the daily newspapers or sport magazines who dealt with current events without historical context. SBJ has brought the importance of sports into a central place for all the industry to gather around and made conferences a thing.”
— David Stern, former NBA commissioner
“I had my doubts that there was enough of a need for SBJ and whether financially it was viable because of the relatively small amount of people in the industry who would be following it through SportsBusiness Journal. In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer because the sports world and the sports business world has become such an enormous industry to the tune of billions of dollars. At the time, I thought that it was going to have a tough go to achieve the kind of distribution and the kind of readership that was necessary to support it. I give the founders and the current team a lot of credit for really covering our industry in a first-class way — breaking stories, covering stories and really giving excellent content and perspective to the industry that we’re all involved in.”
— Sean McManus, CBS Sports chairman
“At first, everyone wondered what SBJ was going to be. It did serve this purpose nothing else did of recapping everything across an industry that was a bit disjointed. It brought everything together and created a voice, which ultimately made the industry smarter by sharing best practices. Soon, you had really prominent people battling for their spot in the top 50 sports executives. I can remember some irascible people saying, ‘Why does SBJ have this strong a voice?’ But ultimately, it has been real journalism, so people had to respect it. You only last that long as a publication if you are trustworthy, and credible. SBJ has been, so it deserves a pat on the back.”
— Tony Ponturo, executive VP of strategy, Turnkey Sports; former Anheuser-Busch InBev vice president of global media and sports marketing
“I loved the idea as soon as I heard it as it was going to save me many hours reading a multitude of publications. SBJ has become a must-read within the sports industry, and the influence SBJ wields within the industry certainly is a tribute to everyone involved over the past two decades. During a time when the print media market has been turned on its head in a great many ways, SBJ has flourished because of what it provides to the always-expanding niche market of sports.”
— Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox
“The impact of SportsBusiness Journal has been amazing in creating transparency in terms of what sports business is and information about how the sports business operates. What are the skill sets? What are the opportunities for talent and for organizations? It opened up the playing field, the marketplace, in a sense for easier entry by startup organizations and easier entry for talented people. Twenty years ago, people would ask me, ‘How do I even understand what sports business is and how do I prepare for a career in sports business?’ SportsBusiness Journal … has lowered the barriers of entry. It has increased the transparency and openness, allowing far greater ease of entry by new organizations and by talented individuals. People say to me, ‘I’d love to have a career in sports business. What should I do? Where should I start?’ The first thing you should do is get a subscription to the SportsBusiness Journal and learn what the sports industry is. Understand it’s not just about teams and athletes. It’s about facilities. It’s about distribution. It’s global.”
— Paul Tagliabue, former NFL commissioner
“My mentor — the late Pete Rozelle — used to tell me that any news story that included a dollar sign about the NFL or its teams was a negative story for the league. Pete believed that stories about NFL money — whether player contracts, franchise valuations, TV contracts, etc. — only turned off our fans. The earlier generation of NFL owners, who in many cases were not as visible to our fans as today’s more publicized owners, agreed with Pete on that point.
“With that as background, when SBJ was started with an emphasis on the business of sports, the financial business of sports, I as SVP of NFL communications was not SBJ’s most avid reader nor enthusiastic supporter in those early days. However, as the years went by, I listened to sports business friends of mine who swore by the info in SBJ. I usually only swore at the publication. Those business friends were part of a new wave of sports marketing and advertising execs and not as intimately involved in the day-to-day activities of the major leagues as I was. They found the SBJ stories fascinating and informative … and still do.
“As the publication has matured, it focuses in my opinion less on dollar signs and more on the scores of individuals and organizations that are part of the sports and entertainment community. I think that’s a good thing. The SBJ awards show in New York each spring is a fitting tribute to those business men and women who help drive professional and amateur sports.”
— Joe Browne, former executive VP of communications and public affairs, NFL
“I hoped SBJ would be successful because its news is important to me and informative for my company and team. It’s one of the few publications that writes specifically for the industry.”
— Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of Delaware North, owner of the Boston Bruins
“For me, it was interesting because it was kind of like the sports industry was happening but not really communicated about or a topic of conversation other than when a team wanted a new building or to renovate. So what SBJ did was put it as a fresh topic and one of the first things in people’s minds in terms of, ‘What are people doing with their venues?’ (SBJ) kind of facilitated this overall development through the Daily and Journal; you enabled a lot of what happened by reporting on the stories, reporting on what happened, identifying who did it and then every client chose their own path. I think we still would have done all the projects we did, but probably not in the time period we did, because you gave a voice to this market.”
— Earl Santee, founder and senior principal, Populous
“It was genius, really, considering the popularity and the business of sports. Between our own business areas and the number of sponsors we maintain between our tournaments and marketing partners, we saw a real opportunity to tell our business story and the value we provide.”
— Tim Finchem, former PGA Tour commissioner
“I’m interested in people. At the end of the day, we’re all in the people business. Over the years, SBJ has done a tremendous job shining a light on the ‘who’ of our industry. It’s something we never had before.”
— Rick Hendrick, owner, Hendrick Motorsports
“I loved SportsBusiness Daily and had been reading it since it debuted in 1994. I remember meeting with [Publisher] Richard [Weiss] as he was making the rounds to the various leagues to discuss a new weekly magazine that would provide an in-depth look at our business. The sports industry is relatively insular and I believed then as I do now that sharing news and information and connecting those that have committed their lives to the business was important. And while daily news was and is important, the in-depth approach of the Journal provides the insights and deeper dive into events and stories that are equally valuable.
“I know I speak for many leaders in our industry when I say that the Daily and the Journal is a must-read for anyone in the business … from someone entering the industry, to those that have witnessed the evolution and growth of the business for the last two decades.”
— Don Garber, MLS commissioner
“From the start I thought SBJ was a stunning concept. All publishers had been focused on the fans, and, yes Virginia, fans can be fickle. By focusing on the business of the business, SBJ ensured their audience was loyal, growing and affluent — not a bad customer base. What SBJ has done, though, in its ever-growing program of conferences has become an integral part of not only the U.S.’s sports business, but the world’s sports business.”
— David Hill, former Fox Sports chairman
“I moved to Portland in ‘96 and sometime in ‘97 I saw a sample of SBJ on the street and grabbed a complimentary copy. In it was a full page ad with JP Morgan and a picture of Brian McCough, a consultant for pro sports franchises. I contacted him and he came to Portland and we met with the mayor to discuss how to land a MLB franchise. That was the beginning of our 20 years MLBtoPDX.com campaign. In short, as I finish my 46 year as a college professor, I consider the SBJ the sports bible for all sports management students.”
— Lynn Lashbrook, president/founder, Sports Management Worldwide
“I loved sports and I loved business — so the notion of sports business and entertainment was motivating for me. I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, this industry exists?’ I loved it.”
— Todd Kline, senior VP and COO, Miami Dolphins, telling the Carey Business School at John Hopkins how his early encounters with SBJ helped motivate him to pursue a career in the sports industry
— Compiled by SportsBusiness Journal staff
Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field) opens with a swimming pool beyond the outfield wall, the first major sports facility to incorporate the element.
The USL Charleston (S.C.) Battery debuts the team’s new, privately funded, $5.7 million Blackbaud Stadium (now MUSC Health Stadium), the country’s first professional soccer-only stadium.
The Women’s United Soccer Association, the first professional women’s soccer league, announces plans to launch in the U.S.
Brett Favre becomes the first $100 million player in the NFL after agreeing to a 10-year deal with the Green Bay Packers.
Wang Zhizhi becomes the first China-born player to play in the NBA, scoring six points for the Dallas Mavericks.
ESPN2 airs a high school basketball game with future No. 1 draft pick LeBron James of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, the first regular-season prep game the network has shown since 1989.
Annika Sorenstam accepts an invitation to play in the Bank of America Colonial, becoming the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to play a PGA Tour event.
Raley Field, home to the Class AAA Sacramento (Calif.) River Cats, becomes the first ballpark with Wi-Fi. The following season, SBC Park (now AT&T Park) becomes the first big league venue in the world to offer Wi-Fi access throughout the entire site.
NASCAR this season implements a new “Chase” format to determine the champion for its premier series. That same season, Nextel takes over as series title sponsor, resulting in the first change in the series since Winston began its decades-long title sponsorship in 1971.
U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps wins his sixth gold medal to go along with his two bronze medals, becoming the first Olympian since 1980 to win eight medals in a single Olympics.
MLS and the MLS Players Union reach a deal on the first collective-bargaining agreement in league history.
MLB returns to Washington, D.C., and RFK Stadium with the Nationals’ sold-out home opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks, marking the first time since the 1971 season that baseball is played in the nation’s capital.
The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers play at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, the NFL’s first regular-season game outside the U.S.
Google makes its first entry into sports through a video download deal with the NBA.
For the first time, an American rights holder (NBC) streams live action from the Olympics — the men’s gold medal hockey game in Turin.
University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt signs a six-year contract that makes her the first women’s basketball coach to reach the $1 million mark.
University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., opens as the first venue in North America to have a retractable field and retractable roof.
For the first time in the team’s 40-year history, the New Orleans Saints sell out every season ticket.
The Chicago Cubs sign a three-year sponsorship with Under Armour to place two signs on the Wrigley Field outfield doors, the first corporate advertising to be placed among the famed brick-and-ivy outfield wall in the ballpark’s 93-year history.
Toronto FC begins the season as MLS’s first Canadian franchise.
The Miami Dolphins and New York Giants play in London, marking the NFL’s first regular-season game held overseas.
The IndyCar Series season debuts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, marking the first event following the unification of the IRL and Champ Car World Series.
The NFL and NBC announce that during the upcoming season, the network’s 17 regular-season games will be streamed live on NFL.com and NBCSports.com, the first time regular-season action will be broadly streamed in real time in the U.S.
The Chicago Blackhawks announce they will locally broadcast all 82 regular-season games in the upcoming season for the first time in franchise history.
AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami and Philips Arena in Atlanta become the first venues in the NBA and NHL to earn the LEED certification for their sustainability efforts.
Mikhail Prokhorov acquires the New Jersey Nets in a $200 million deal, becoming the first foreign owner in the NBA and the first in major U.S. stick-and-ball sports since the chairman of Nintendo bought the Seattle Mariners in 1992.
Staples extends its naming-rights agreement for the AEG-owned Staples Center in perpetuity, marking the first lifetime naming-rights extension for a major-market arena.
The NBA signs a three-year sponsorship with Bacardi, making it the first of the big four professional stick-and-ball sports to sign a spirits marketer as a corporate patron.
MLB.com generates 51 percent of its total traffic from mobile devices, the first time the site and perhaps any other major online sports destination has gained more than half of its overall traffic from mobile.
North Carolina and Michigan State play in the Quicken Loans Carrier Classic in San Diego, the first college basketball game held on a Navy aircraft carrier.
Augusta National Golf Club invites former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina-based financier Darla Moore to become the club’s first female members.
The University of Texas athletic department reports $103.8 million in football income for its 2011-12 fiscal year, the first time a college has reported $100 million in revenue from one sport.
The NBPA makes history by electing Michele Roberts the first female executive director of a sports union in North America.
The NFL draft is held in Chicago, the first time it has been held outside New York in 50 years.
American Pharoah becomes the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed did so in 1978.
The U.S. Open uses its new, $150 million retractable roof atop Arthur Ashe Stadium during a match for the first time.
The Philadelphia 76ers and venture firm NextEquity buy a majority stake in esports franchises Team Dignitas and Team Apex, making the Sixers the first U.S. sports organization to control a professional gaming outfit.
UFC stages a bout at Madison Square Garden, its first fight card in New York since the sport was legalized in the state.
Carla Williams is named athletic director at the University of Virginia, becoming the first African-American woman to hold such a position among the 64 schools that make up the power five conferences.
MLS expansion club LAFC signs a partnership with YouTube TV that makes the team the first among major U.S. pro franchises to air all of its locally televised matches on a live TV streaming provider.
The Hits …
The Players’ Tribune
Derek Jeter’s venture debuted in 2014 promising unprecedented athlete insight by having players use the platform to speak directly to fans. It delivered, and both athletes and readers quickly warmed to the site. From essays to breaking news, athletes have used TPT to highlight their personalities and provide unique views into their lives beyond the field of play. Next up? The Players’ Tribune now is expanding the platform internationally.
At first, environmental efforts championed by the sports industry often came across as “greenwash,” little more than PR moves. But leagues, teams and venues soon realized sustainability efforts could provide significant cost savings and generate revenue. LED lighting, locally sourced food, recycling, water conservation, solar — it’s all found a place in sports. And for some of the newest sports facilities, LEED certification has become as important as sightlines.
Baseball historically has been the most tradition-bound of the major sports, and former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig famously was not a user of email. But from those unlikely beginnings emerged the MLB Advanced Media digital colossus that has been a first mover on many now-vital technologies, notably large-scale digital video delivery. MLBAM in turn lifted MLB franchise values and spawned the multibillion-dollar BAMTech spinoff now controlled by Disney.
Rise of the culinary experience
The sports industry has made itself fit for foodies, bringing in celebrity chefs and providing other food-centric attractions at major events to tempt the taste buds of guests and provide the ultimate garnishment to their experience. Whether it’s the culinary stalwart Taste of the NFL during Super Bowl week, or newer attractions like Taste of the Tournament during the NCAA Final Four, the trend has sparked a series of ventures ready to cook up the next great concept.
Who knew a driving range could be so cool? Topgolf reinvented the experience by adding a nightclub vibe that attracts a younger crowd eager to mix chip shots with, well, tequila shots. Topgolf has 38 locations in the U.S. and three more overseas, and with each new edition gives the golf industry hope for getting more people to play the game.
A new model for concessions
Steep concessions prices are a frequent gripe of sports fans. There’s got to be a better way, right? The Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta FC last year said “yes,” debuting a revolutionary approach to food and beverage pricing in the first year of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With hot dogs costing $2, hamburgers $5 and Coca-Colas $2 (with free refills), fans gave the thumbs-up and actually increased their spending at the concession stand by 16 percent overall. Now the question is whether other venues will adopt a similar model.
March Madness Live
The live streaming platform for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was a success from its opening tip in 2003, demonstrating the power of live streaming and giving fans a way to stay connected to the games wherever they were, even at work. Who hasn’t used “the boss button” at some point?
The NHL went outside in 2008 and in doing so developed an instant hit. The Winter Classic features an outdoor game on New Year’s Day in a stadium or ballpark setting. The 2014 edition, held at Michigan Stadium, attracted more than 105,000 fans. The games have been so popular that the NHL has expanded the concept to hold multiple outdoor events each season. Fans gladly deal with the cold to be part of something big.
Battle at Bristol
Even P.T. Barnum would have been impressed when Bristol Motor Speedway played host to the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol in 2016. The track built a football stadium in the middle of the infield, hoisted an overhead scoreboard, and signed Tennessee and Virginia Tech to play. Sure, the views weren’t spectacular and the game — a 45-24 Volunteers win — wasn’t much better, but a record crowd of 156,000 fans couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to see college football played on the grandest of stages.
From 1998 until 2009, the sports documentary business was dominated by Ross Greenburg and HBO Sports. HBO expanded to reality television in 2001 with “Hard Knocks,” an annual series on NFL training camps it continues to produce, along with “24/7.” But in October 2009, ESPN launched its first “30 for 30,” which chronicled the Wayne Gretzky trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles. The series has since become something of a cultural touchpoint and demonstrated the endless appetite for ambitious and captivating sports storytelling.
… and Misses
Experimenting with on-air talent
“Monday Night Football” drew plenty of scrutiny in 2000 when it added comedian Dennis Miller to the booth in an effort to boost ratings. While Miller provided a few gems along the way, the booth never found the right chemistry, so the experiment ended after two seasons. In 2003, ESPN tried out conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh during “Sunday NFL Countdown,” but he was forced to resign after controversial comments about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. The final non-traditional pick came in 2006, when Tony Kornheiser joined the “MNF” booth. He lasted three seasons before exiting, citing his fear of flying.
U.S. men’s soccer flames out
The U.S. men’s soccer team suffered perhaps the biggest setback in its history by failing to qualify for this year’s World Cup. The collapse led to the resignation of coach Bruce Arena and led Sunil Gulati to decide against running for re-election as president of U.S. Soccer. It also left soccer supporters and media partners wondering how many casual fans will tune in to the World Cup knowing the U.S. isn’t taking part for the first time since 1986.
Spalding tried to roll out a synthetic basketball for the 2006-07 NBA season, but players were having none of it, saying they didn’t like the feel and performance of the new balls. Only two months into the season, the league shelved the ball and returned to the old leather version.
Off track in Staten Island
In 2004, International Speedway Corp. bought land on Staten Island with eyes on developing a race track that would give NASCAR a presence in the New York market. But two years later, faced with challenging approval requirements and an inability to secure local political support, ISC abandoned the effort.
2004 USA men’s basketball team
The highly-touted U.S. men’s basketball team fell flat at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The not-so Dream Team settled for the bronze medal after compiling a 5-3 record. The American team had claimed gold in 12 of the 14 previous Olympic basketball competitions it had competed in. That disappointment led to an overhaul of USA Basketball from management to player selection that has resulted in the Americans going 24-0 in the Olympics since 2004, winning gold at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Games.
Malice at the Palace
The Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons were in the last minute of their game on Nov. 19, 2004, when an ugly melee erupted that saw players take to the stands and fight fans. The incident left the NBA with a huge image problem and the league responded with some of the harshest penalties in sports, suspending nine players, including Pacers forward Ron Artest, who was banned for the rest of the season.
Not so Master-ful performance
Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams got a bum rap when music star Master P’s agency, No Limit Sports, negotiated the rookie running back’s contract with the New Orleans Saints in 1999. Williams got a seven-year deal that initially paid him the league minimum of $175,000 a year and had an $8.8 million signing bonus. There were also a series of incentives for increasingly unlikely benchmarks — like rushing for 1,600 yards as a rookie or winning Super Bowl MVP — that totaled almost $68 million. The ink had hardly dried before Williams and Master P had parted ways.
Hanging up on ESPN
ESPN developed its own mobile phone in 2006 and backed the venture with a $150 million investment by the company. But the media giant quickly learned that the hardware business was challenging at best and was forced to shut down the effort after less than a year.
Spider-Man gets squashed
In 2004, MLB announced plans to promote the “Spider-Man 2” movie by putting a small logo for the film on bases during three days of games. Baseball fans love their tradition, and instantly rebelled, forcing the league to quickly alter the promotion and keep the bases clean. Your friendly, neighborhood web-slinger would have to stay off the field.
The fall of MVP.com
Despite financial backing from the powerhouse team of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and John Elway, MVP.com never found its footing in the e-commerce world. The online sporting goods site launched in 2000, but shut down only a year later. Like many dot.com ventures at the time, MVP.com underestimated the challenge in gaining adequate traffic and saw its cash run out.
SBJ’s beginnings as something you could flip through date to December 1997, when a handful of people pieced together a prototype to introduce the concept to the sports industry. Current staffers Misty Berry, Tom Stinson and John Lombardo even played a role in putting together the 16-page precursor. Four months later, in mid-April of 1998, SBJ’s still-developing staff did a trial run to make sure we had the process down before flipping the switch on the real deal. Good thing, too. We missed a prominent typo in one of the front-page stories. Finally, on April 27, 1998, we went live with our premier issue, a 60-page book that included a 20-page special report titled “Stadiums: Today’s Bargaining Chips.” My, how things haven’t changed.
1998 Trial Issue
1998 First Issue
“In 2038, despite sports continuing to power the media ecosystem, media skeptics will still be predicting the burst of the rights fee bubble. Sports has long been the top growth driver for entertainment platforms, dating back to radio and the early days of television to the rise of cable, satellite and now OTT. And 20 years from now, I am confident that sports media will remain the top of the pyramid value chain, drawing the largest and most passionate audiences around the globe.”
— Alan Gold, partner, Evolution Media
“While entertainment will be personalized, premium and fragmented, sports content will be divided in two categories. Big events: will be global, consumed live, enhanced by technology like VR, delivered by broadcast or broadband by the properties with the closest relationship to the target audience. Personal events: sports relevant to small audiences, like a grandkids’ school tournament, will be more accessible thanks to the ever-dropping production costs and availability of direct-to-consumer platforms. Sponsors will be integrated in both the creation process and the final experience.”
— Juan Carlos Rodriguez, president, Univision Deportes
“The artificial packaging of sports and entertainment content will end, and all content will be available direct to consumer at increments of the consumer’s choosing. Video aggregators as we know them (e.g., cable and broadcast networks, and even Netflix, etc.) will be replaced by more advanced curation and discovery tools in the vein Google has replaced destination URLs as a content gateway. Additionally, the distinction between spectator sports and event experience participation will continue to erode. We see this with blended models such as Topgolf and Bowlmor that allow participants to create their own ‘content’ for other participants to watch. And as leaders such as these two properties continue to refine the experience, and consumers continue the trend of being more engaged, the distinction will disappear.”
— Marc Jenkins, CEO, Patron Technology
“Imagine a highly-personalized in-stadium/arena customer experience. As a season-ticket holder, no ticket will be required. Thanks to biometrics, game entry occurs via the scan of your eye. All food and beverage requests are received virtually and delivered right to your seat at your requested time: No concession stands, no lines, no waiting.”
— Scott Becher, vice president, head of partnership, Carnival Cruise Lines
“Artificial Intelligence will surely impact the world of sports, from how our athletes train and care for themselves to how we engage our fans in our product. Using AI, we will more accurately predict fans’ desires and needs as well as allow sports organizations to further immerse those fans in our games, content and product more than ever.”
— Alex Martins, CEO, Orlando Magic
“The convergence of Artificial Intelligence and implants in sports fans’ bodies have begun. Chips are implanted, which give fans instantaneous ability to see any game broadcast, highlight, or stat. A fan sitting at home can dial up the virtual reality experience of running back a kick for a TD or hitting a home run. Stadia complexes are sports towns — sports Disneylands — open 24/7 where fans can experience VR rides. On game days, in-stadium or at-home fans will sit in front of a computer screen that will allow them to vote on a play call or referee overturn, follow their wagers or fantasy picks, follow any sports broadcast from anywhere and purchase memorabilia, as well as compete in games and win prizes. … Controversial robot leagues compete against humans. The robots don’t get nervous in big games and don’t complain about not starting.”
— Leigh Steinberg, CEO and founder of Steinberg Sports & Entertainment
“In 20 years, sports — and racing in particular — will evolve into a 360-degree sensory experience allowing fans to engage deeper and more personally with their favorite athletes. Through VR, fantasy play and social media, fans will be able to remotely watch from inside the event — and in our case — in the race car itself, as drivers battle side-by-side at over 200 mph.”
— Brent Dewar, NASCAR president
“Virtual reality will change the landscape of how players train, coaches coach and fans experience the arena inside and out. Fans begin to integrate these streams into seamless, coherent and personalized viewing experiences. Watch a game through a virtual reality headset from the perspective of your favorite quarterback. ... The total elimination of paper tickets, converting to mobile ticketing to allow for real-time purchases and upgrades, as well as cleaner user data collection.”
— Peter Feigin, president, Milwaukee Bucks
“I think there will be a convergence of technologies with virtual reality, mobile and direct marketing creating a new type of fan experience. I envision fans buying virtual tickets or passes to games to view in real time. They could select their own view, quarterback cam, coaches’ cam or fan cam and literally be right in the middle of the action.”
— Kim Damron, president and CEO, Paciolan
“Smaller stadiums which allow for the optimization of luxury (cushy chairs that swivel) and technology (attached tablets from which one can call up replays and statistics, order food and merchandise) and which address the reality that many fans are opting for the ease (no traffic, no lines) and comfort (no weather issues) and cost efficiency (no parking fee, less expensive snacks) of home and which make sense for economic (third deck is very expensive to construct and very hard to monetize) and environmental (smaller footprint, less obtrusive) reasons.”
— Amy Trask, CEO, BIG3
“With the advancement of technology and legalization of gambling, will anyone go to an event again? The answer is a resounding yes, with arenas and stadiums serving not only as anchor tenants, but as sources for diverse programs beyond the Big 5. (Yes, Big 5. Soccer must be included.) Moreover, esports will no longer be novel, but a significant part of the ecosystem. Virtual reality, esports and gambling will lead to new building designs, priorities and unique fan experiences to drive fans to venues, while the opportunity to monetize fans not in the arena will increase and push media (including digital) revenue even higher. Though stadiums and arenas will continue to serve as anchor tenants for ancillary development, the stadiums and arenas themselves are integrated further and support additional functions such as gaming.”
— Irwin Raij, partner and sports industry group co-chair, O’Melveny
“Media and brand reach for sports marketers exponentially increased by simulcasted holographic delivery into arenas, public spaces and stadiums; traditional passions for teams are replaced by individual performances due to an increasing appetite for exotic gambling outcomes and participation through interconnected networks and fantasy sports platforms. Sports marketers must adjust brand standards accordingly.”
— Mike Reisman, president, MKTG Sport & Entertainment
“Sports has always enjoyed legendary coaches like Wooden, Bryant and Lombardi, continuing today with brands like Popovich, Saban and Krzyzewski. That era is ending! Why? Championship coaches will soon realize going the distance for ‘legendary’ status is neither sustainable nor worth the personal/professional costs. Instead, coaches will appreciate their healthy salaries can create flexibility and sabbaticals rather than compounding pressure and expectations. By 2038, top coaches will work fewer years, at more places, with more time off in between. This benefits coaches’ health and balance, players’ development and care, and ownership/institutions won’t be tied to one coach and unsustainable contracts.”
— Bob Beaudine, president and CEO, Eastman & Beaudine
“The way in which alumni, fans and the public consume live sporting events will continue to evolve in unison with the evolution of technology. An immersive, digital experience will be the norm and interactive, real-time fan engagement will be commonplace. In the intercollegiate space, digital learning and long-distance campus learning will push the educational model into a global classroom. Financial bandwidth, not educational opportunities, will ultimately be the separator for the alignment of intercollegiate athletics, and the ability to compete on a national platform.”
— Bernadette McGlade, commissioner, Atlantic 10 Conference
“At 33, LeBron James Jr. will just be entering his prime. Lionel Messi’s son Thiago, 25, will be preparing to lead Argentina into World Cup battle. And 20-year-old Alexis Olympia Ohanian will be well on her way to eclipsing her mother Serena’s tennis grand slam records. All three — like virtually every other athlete, team, conference and league — will offer fans exclusive access via their own self-branded digital networks.”
— Rob King, senior VP, original content, newsgathering and digital media, ESPN
“In 20 years, we will see the advent of the futuristic athlete. The science and technology of emerging fields like biomechanical analysis (understanding human motion) and mental conditioning are becoming more accessible and user-friendly than ever. Two decades from now, coaches and athletes are going to be able to track development in real time, down to the subcellular level. This will lead to concepts like injury prediction becoming a reality and extending athletes’ careers long beyond what we see today.”
— Ed Horne, executive VP, Endeavor Marketing
“When SBJ was launched in 1998, some current PGA Tour players were at the peak of their careers. As I look into the crystal ball toward 2038, I see today’s roster of dynamic young players still making waves. 2038 is a Ryder Cup year and Justin Thomas will captain the American team; Jon Rahm will lead the Europeans — maybe one of them will be a playing captain. And the honorary starters at the Masters will be Phil Mickelson (age 67) and Tiger Woods (age 62).”
— Molly Solomon, executive VP of content, executive producer, Golf Channel
“Facial recognition game tickets; AI general managers; drone cams; NBA overtakes NFL as the No. 1 U.S. sports league; esports in the Olympic Games by 2028; USA Men’s World Cup victory; paid NCAA athletes; playoff format disruption in the ‘Big Five’; a female commissioner of a male sports league; a true multisport superstar; fan voting/interactivity impacting sporting event outcomes; an ex-athlete as president; online platforms replace networks as primary rights holders; and, finally, aeronautics/astrophysics advances produce suborbital flight technology enabling New York to Beijing in 60 minutes — creating an opportunity for the first truly global sports leagues to emerge in soccer, basketball and hockey (to be fair — this is also probably a three-decade proposition).”
— Adam Lippard, head of sponsorship consulting, GMR Marketing
“Twenty years from now we will see a revolutionary change in how fans engage, both in the stadium experience and from their homes and everything in between. Fans will access content from a variety of sources simultaneously to enhance their sports experience and will redefine their relationships with teams and individual athletes. Plus, more women in ownership, management, on the field and among the fans. Lastly, data analytics will change athlete safety, training, recruiting and healing. Sports science will evolve dramatically in the coming decades. And esports? Who knows where that will go!”
— Susanne Lyons, acting CEO, USOC
“Sport’s impact on society is timeless: bringing communities together to celebrate achievement; health benefits; and its fundamental values. It has connected fans with athletes to inspire the world since the ancient Games and will do so beyond 2038. Only we’ll travel to the match using the jetpacks I was promised as a kid.”
— Timo Lumme, managing director, television and marketing services, IOC
“Over the next 20 years, Las Vegas will become the world’s first global sports city. It will be the epicenter of esports, sports medicine, technology and education, as well as the home of the world’s largest sports brands. The U.S. Olympic Committee will relocate to Las Vegas from Colorado Springs; English Premier League teams will play regular matches at Las Vegas Stadium; esports events will regularly sell out the 65,000-seat Las Vegas Stadium; Las Vegas will become the home for world-class orthopedic sports medicine; the Las Vegas Raiders will become the most valuable NFL franchise with a global fan base.”
— Lawrence Epstein, chief operating officer, UFC
“U.S.-based team sports become less parochial and more international; much like their leagues, individual teams maintain front offices around the globe in cities as close as Mexico and as far as China, India and Africa. Player brands become fully functioning media entities. More and bigger enterprises own and manage multiple sports franchises across multiple countries, building new venues, maximizing real estate potential, and adding growth, private equity investments and other properties to the growth companies.”
— Scott O’Neil, CEO, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment
“Sports leagues and teams will have to work harder and consistently spend more on marketing to reach broad audiences across demos ... they will still be great businesses, but margins will be lower. A major new revenue stream for leagues and teams will be AR/VR experiences, which consumers will either subscribe to in their homes or experience in theatre-like facilities. Sports video will be increasingly ‘Twitch-ified’: user-controlled interfaces with multiple interactive forms of content, consumed in parallel.”
— Chris Halpin, NFL chief strategy officer
“By 2038, access to sports around the world has become universal, one of the few opportunities not predetermined by your zip code or socio-economic standing at birth. Combined with mesmerizing enhancements in long distance travel and technology, the sports world and its competitions are operating on a truly global basis. U.S.-led teams are competing at the highest levels of global football competition, comprised of players from around the world as full-fledged members of formerly U.S.-only leagues. All of this has created the opportunity for the sports world to fulfill its place in breaking down barriers and enhancing the experiences of audiences around the world.”
— Casey Wasserman, CEO and chairman, Wasserman
“MLS will be regarded at the same level as the top European leagues, all of the current major U.S. leagues will have franchises outside of North America, and the industry will have forgotten that it at one point doubted that esports would last.”
— Michael Melnitzky, vice president, Allen & Co.
“Extensive safety rules regarding tackling and blocking, as well as revolutionary technologies in helmet design have curbed concerns about the dangers of playing in the NFL, and the addition of gambling, fantasy and local pride keep the NFL at the top of the mountain. The NBA is the number one commercial league in the world — topping the English Premier League — and features at least 10 major superstars from mainland China. Internal NBA divisions exist on every continent and there is a true NBA World Championship every two years. Baseball moves to five-inning games, becoming the last league to institute time constraint initiatives after the NFL, NBA and NHL shortened their games five to 10 years prior. Asian players have supplanted Hispanic players as the largest segment of professionals and the MLB conducts multiple leagues throughout the world, culminating in a true World Series. MLS has surpassed the NHL and MLB in popularity but the best players in the world still play overseas. ... College football and basketball have turned into the NFL and NBA Lite, respectively, as the number of schools competing in the top division drops to 64.”
— Mike Boykin, CEO, Bespoke Sports & Entertainment
“In 2038 MLS will be 32 teams in North America and will have had a club win two FIFA Club World Cups, pushing MLS to globalize with the other major soccer leagues. Esports will have four or more ‘major leagues’ and will have pushed all North American leagues to have integrated competitions with those leagues, maybe not playing their actual sports in those leagues. Growth in esports will have allowed broadcasting to completely transform to an interactive holographic experience for replays inside the stadium or wherever you may be. Teams will be accepting two or more forms of ticket payments in cryptocurrencies.”
— Kelly Cheeseman, COO, AEG Sports
“AI, AR, VR and some acronyms not yet invented will continue to transform the delivery of the fan experience, how stadia operate and how fans connect with content. But the essence of sports — moment-making live drama — plays an even larger role in the social fabric and community building. And the beer will still be cold.”
— Mike Golub, president of business, Portland Timbers
“Esports will be just as popular as today’s traditional sports and all pro sports leagues will have fully embraced the esports model — the disparity between the two will barely exist. And where will we consume this content? On TV? Online? On our mobile device? My guess is on some yet-to-be-introduced platform that will take the media world by storm and once again change the landscape dramatically.”
— Princell Hair, senior VP, GM, NBC Sports Boston
“As we see the rapid evolution of eGaming, we may well see other ‘sports’ emerge. ‘Iron Chef’ brought us the ‘sportification’ of an atypical athletic competition — highly skilled food preparation, but with ‘sports like coverage’ — with commentators, close- ups of technique and energetic coverage — champions and challengers. Who knows what new ‘sports’ will emerge in the next 20 years? AR and VR will open the door to new types of competition and participation we have not yet imagined. The ‘sports’ business will be bigger, broader and more successful than today.”
— Melinda Witmer, founder, Look Left Media
“I think the best part about esports right now is that in 20 years, we’ll have an entire generation of fans who have grown up watching esports competitions who will be able to share their love and passion with their kids. Esports will be so commonplace by then that taking the family to see your hometown Overwatch League team play will feel the same as going to a baseball or basketball game today.”
— Nate Nanzer, commissioner, Overwatch League
“Linear television will no longer be a primary means of sport consumption, yet live sports will still dominate consumer demand. New technologies will provide increased bandwidth allowing for more events to be transmitted and volleyball ... will be very prominently distributed. Professional volleyball in the United States will be a reality and be in the top seven followed leagues.”
— Jamie Davis, CEO, USA Volleyball
“I bet on the legalization of sports gambling in 2038. It along with the increased reliance on technology and data will significantly transform the way we watch and interact with sports.”
— Michele Roberts, executive director, NBPA
“Over the next 20 years, the sports audience will continue to fragment outside of the tent pole events — Super Bowl, College Football Playoff, March Madness, World Series, World Cup, etc. — and niche platforms will over-serve those loyal/rapid fan bases on demand. Also, the intersection of tech and wellness will become the focal point for all teams, leagues and athletes including: advancements in technology, strength conditioning, and nutrition/wellness will yield super athletes; advancements in health care will be able to replace organs and heal injuries much more quickly; pads, helmets and protection equipment will go through major advancements where injuries are less likely (excluding when a super athlete takes on a non-super athlete); traditional stick and ball sports will evolve due to health/wellness concerns; and the emergence of new sports, especially with the impact of immersive media, will play a meaningful role in the sports landscape.”
— Lawton Logan, principal, The Whitener Company
“The complete convergence/immersion of technology, athletes and sports properties to minimize barriers between fans/spectators/viewers and players/talent. Virtual reality, in-game data, tracking technology, social media, and low-tech miking of players (think Mookie Betts’ ‘I’m ain’t getting this one boys’) will more effectively personalize, humanize and connect the experience to assure sports remains the best reality programming.”
— Chuck Greenberg, owner, Frisco RoughRiders, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, State College Spikes
“In 2038 I will be watching from Straight Wharf on Nantucket on my ‘Overtime Sports XX’ app where I will be able to see my nephews’ personal achievements instantly on the court — and maybe in court — alongside my menu of highlights and live action from pro and college. Dan Porter’s Overtime model will be the ultimate direct-to-consumer play — he will have made the deals with the rightsholders so it’s one stop for me for sports. No reason for any other sports relationship — except the NFL of course — which will retain Red Zone exclusively on demand on all platforms. Amazon-owned CBSN will be my similar news source. And the Rose Bowl will be on Jan. 1 at 2 p.m. in Pasadena. Some things never change.”
— Len DeLuca, media consultant
“In 2038, sports will play an increasingly significant role as a cultural and geographical bridge in our diverse and connected world. Consumer viewing habits will have shifted — shorter, snackable and personal. And technology advancements will have delivered on their expectations. Fans will have unprecedented control and access — virtually exploring iconic venues and witnessing big moments from any angle — while connecting socially in exciting new ways.”
— James Carwana, vice president and general manager, Intel Sports
“We WILL finally pass the long-projected tipping point in popularity of soccer with U.S. youth, translating into rapid advancement in the U.S training academy structure and professional leagues, as well as growth in U.S. players in top leagues abroad, which ultimately culminates in a first-ever U.S. Men’s National team victory in the 2038 World Cup.”
— Doug Mack, CEO, Fanatics
“We have been thoroughly impressed by the fan engagement and overall excitement surrounding our initial steps into the esports space. I don’t see competitive gaming as a threat to the traditional sports landscape, but as a real complement that allows our businesses to forge new relationships with fans that are global, young and digitally connected. I expect the dynamic growth to continue over the coming decades, and for more owners of NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and MLS teams to broaden their portfolios with esports assets. Prediction: In the year 2038, an esports competition will be the most-watched live sporting event.”
— Dave Scott, chairman and CEO, Comcast Spectacor; governor of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and OWL’s Philadelphia Fusion
“More and more, play-by-play announcers will stay at home; calling games from nearby studios rather than traveling to the venue. ... Through enhanced technology, the virtual experience will develop sufficiently to satisfy announcers’ needs. To increase premium seating, the NBA and NHL have already moved a number of television positions to the boondocks. Most radio crews are there already. NHL and NBA radio audiences are alarmingly tiny as it is and advertiser interest in the medium is fading. Cutting expenses might save radio broadcasts from extinction. Almost all sports, from mainstream to remote, the degree of interest in the event notwithstanding, will be video streamed online.”
— David Halberstam, publisher, Sports Announcers Report Card
American City Business Journals
SportsBusiness Journal began as an idea casually presented over a bottle of wine on a family vacation as Whitney Shaw pitched the concept to his father, Ray, the former owner and chairman of American City Business Journals. Whitney Shaw spoke about the opportunity he and his late father saw in the marketplace and why they thought SBJ could succeed where others failed.
On seeing an opening in the marketplace for SportsBusiness Journal:
“I’d like to say that we knew we were going to be successful, but I don’t think we knew what was going to happen. You could see the success for years that Ad Age, Adweek and all of the trade publications were having. There wasn’t anything for sports business other than Sports Business Daily. The Daily preceded the Journal by four years. Twenty years ago, sports business was really a different thing.”
“There were two things within our company that made us think that there was an opportunity. One, at the time, we had probably 25 business journals. We have 40 today. But of those 25, I think virtually every one had somebody on their staff who was covering the business of sports because for us, it was a local story. We had a footprint that stretched from Boston to San Francisco, Miami to Seattle, of people who were already covering the business of sports. We also owned NASCAR Scene, which was the weekly newspaper for fans of NASCAR, but also people within the sport. If you were in the garage area at a track, you could hear and see the interest that team owners were having on the business side of sports.”
“I was in Duck, N.C., with my family on vacation. My dad and I ended up like we usually did sitting on the deck of the beach house in the late afternoon or early evening, and I said to him, ‘We really should start a business journal for sports. We got guys in the field who already work for us who are covering it. We can add a few more and we could really turn this into something.’ We talked about it a little bit. I specifically remember my dad saying, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow and if it still seems like a good idea, we’ll do it.’ The next day we got up, I don’t even think we made it through breakfast before we had decided to do it.”
On how quickly SportsBusiness Journal started following that conversation:
“One of the things my dad always said was one of the great things about running ACBJ was that he could make a decision to do something while he was shaving in the morning, and have the wheels turning by that afternoon. The time it took from saying, ‘Let’s do this,’ to actually rolling it out was a matter of months.”
On whether previous publications folding scared him off from doing SportsBusiness Journal:
“We were alert to it, but I don’t know that it really scared us, per se. We thought that what was going to be different for us was that we had a good bit of the infrastructure in place. We were really comfortable being a weekly. Some of the early discussions were if we should print on newsprint or use magazine type paper. The thought if we were going to charge a premium price, it needed to be more glossy. I remember the discussions about what we should charge for a subscription. At the same time we were getting ready to launch SBJ, we were selling the company to the Newhouse family. I remember S.I. Newhouse saying, ‘I think there will be an appetite for sports business news among both people who work in sports, but also passionate fans. You need to keep the price low.’ Our argument was that we need to keep the price high, so the audience is primarily those who work in sports because it would make it easier to sell advertising if we had a pure audience. It took us two or three years, maybe even a little bit longer, training the leagues and teams and sponsors about advertising to their customers because they never had a place to advertise. I think we underestimated the education process and also the length of time that it would take.”
On being patient:
“Whenever you start something, you end up spending multiples of what you thought you were going to spend and it takes longer. We believed in the idea. We had good, hard-working folks who were leading the charge. When it’s taking a while to get something to turn the corner, I think you’re willing to keep investing if you believe in the people who are doing it. I do remember some really tough conversations about how we had to get it going, but I don’t know that there was a do-or-die date. In some respects, the industry, if you will, had to catch up a little bit. The dollars just became bigger in the business and more and more teams, leagues and agencies realized that they had to spend on marketing.”
On what someone who is starting a new business needs to succeed:
“Passion. We were really passionate about the SportsBusiness Journal. There were a lot of off-hour conversations about how to make it successful. The other part, frankly, is whenever you start a business, you have to accept the fact that you may fail. I’m going to give it my all and if I fail, I’m going to learn something from it. You can’t be obsessed with, ‘Oh my God, this thing can fail.’ It’s important that you go into it from the standpoint that I’m going to do everything I can to make this work. If it doesn’t make it, hopefully I’m not broke, hopefully I can find a job, and I will have learned.”
On where he and his dad thought SportsBusiness Journal would be in 20 years:
“We would always measure it as, ‘Is it a good product?’ Is it a product that is serving the industry? Is it respected? I don’t know that we ever said, ‘Gosh, I hope it’s a $20 million-a-year property that makes $5 million a year.’ I don’t know that we ever looked at it like that. I think it was much more can we become a must-read for people in the business. Without overstating it, I think it has certainly taken a place as a very respected part of the sports business world.”
In this week’s First Look podcast, SBJ’s Bill King, Tom Stinson and Daniel Kaplan discuss this week’s special edition, a look back at our first 20 years.