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Volume 21 No. 14
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Sports Business predictions: 2038

“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