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Volume 23 No. 13
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Forum: Reader opinions shape some surprising storylines

Our annual Reader Survey provides a small glimpse into how today’s sports leagues, their leaders and the overall business is perceived. Here is what stood out to me:


The positive storylines around the NBA are reflected by readers throughout the survey. The league was overwhelmingly chosen as the hottest sports property, but it received fewer votes than it did last year, and buying an NBA team was again chosen as being the wisest financial investment. It ranked outside the top 10 among the sports properties going in the wrong direction and it ranked very low on the likelihood of losing games to a labor dispute. Perhaps most appealing to NBA insiders, it again ranked No. 1 as the sports property with which brands would most want to align.


The NFL is having a nice season after a run of controversial issues and ratings woes. While respondents are still on the fence about the league, it did see some more positive results this year. It was ranked as the second-hottest sports property after the NBA, just as it was last year, but that was the best result for the league. On the flip side, 40 percent think the NFL is heading in the wrong direction — though that’s down significantly from last year’s 57 percent — and it was again named the league most likely to face a work stoppage. The game experience still needs attention as well, as the NFL ranked ninth with a paltry 1 percent when readers listed the most fan-friendly sport. Finally, a whopping 69 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t be comfortable with their child playing tackle football.  


The results on MLB were mixed, and it reflects the narrative around the game. It struck me how much MLB was on defense throughout its postseason. Despite some fantastic storylines and athletic talent, it felt like the league was always responding to negative media about the state of the game. In the survey, MLB was ranked a distant eighth among hottest sports properties, down from fifth last year; it was listed third among properties heading in the wrong direction; and 60 percent of readers feel its attendance in 2019 will see another decrease, after this year’s 4.1 percent drop.  It ranked second among the leagues most likely to lose games to a labor dispute, going from 11 percent last year to 23 percent this year. There was some good news: It was again second among properties with which a brand would most want to align, and it was voted the second-most family-friendly event after Minor League Baseball.


Readers remain fairly bullish on MLS. It was named the fourth-hottest property with a strong 25 percent, although that was down from last year’s 31 percent, and it was seen as the property most likely to sign with a tech company like Amazon in its next major rights agreement. MLS was listed as the second-most sound franchise investment over the next five years. Showing the competitive soccer landscape in this country, it also was interesting to see the United Soccer League sneak into the sixth spot in that category. 


In terms of effective executive leadership, it was Adam Silver in a landslide. It was not even close, as he received 63 percent of the vote, down slightly from last year’s 64 percent. The real battle was for second, with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (11 percent and up from No. 4 last year) barely outpacing MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (10 percent, down from No. 2).  On the labor front, National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts easily grabbed the top spot as the strongest union leader, nearly doubling the total of industry vet Don Fehr of the NHL Players’ Association.


Some other takeaways: There is the sense that sports can lead the way in driving conversations around social issues as 60 percent of readers feel sports should play a larger role in social causes. ... Sports betting was the landslide winner for biggest story of the year, and an overwhelming 78 percent of respondents believe legalized sports betting will have a positive impact on sports. … I was shocked that the Overwatch League was named the third-hottest property behind the NBA and the NFL. That’s an impressive show of strength for a first-year property. … NASCAR was listed atop properties heading in the wrong direction with nearly 49 percent of the vote, up from last year’s 46 percent. … And if you want to learn how to produce big events, look at the WWE, as it took the top spot among entities that are best at producing live-event spectacles.


Get all the results — including your choices for your ultimate sports bucket list event — starting here, and thank you to the readers who took the time to fill out our annual survey. We love getting your point of view.


Abraham Madkour can be reached at