Labor negotiations, scheduling, media top the agenda for leagues
One of the biggest storylines in 2019 is whether the NBA can continue its upward trajectory that has brought an unprecedented level of viewership, attendance and overall fan interest in the league under the leadership of Commissioner Adam Silver.
The league’s major narratives are on the West Coast as LeBron James looks to restore luster to the Los Angeles Lakers, while in the Bay Area, the Golden State Warriors are seeking their fourth championship in the past five seasons.
Gambling remains a major story for the league that has been out front of the issue. How will the NBA evolve to take advantage of the rise in sports betting and what new business opportunities will arise as more states legalize sports wagering? — John Lombardo
Commissioner Gary Bettman likes to say that the league has never been stronger. It will look to continue that in 2019, from the launch of player and puck tracking, the development of the New York Islanders’ new Belmont Park arena, hopes for new arena progress in Arizona, Calgary and Ottawa, and further efforts to diversify its fan base and executive ranks.
But 2019 across the NHL will be about one story — the next CBA. The current agreement runs into 2022, but both sides hold an opt-out that they can exercise in September, which would end the deal ahead of the 2020-21 season. A commitment to the Olympics and a more focused long-term international calendar are important issues, but the debate will likely center on escrow, as players will look to benefit more from the league’s growth and Bettman tries to avoid a fourth lockout under his watch. — Ian Thomas
The NFL in 2019 will be facing two remaining seasons on its decade-long collective-bargaining agreement and a big decision on whether to keep Sunday Ticket with DirecTV. The league has an option to exit the long-standing DirecTV deal in March, which would leave one season on the satellite deal.
The NFL also will focus on sports betting and seeking federal oversight of the regulatory framework, said Marc Ganis, president of consultancy Sportscorp. A leaguewide gambling sponsorship is likely coming in 2019 as well.
The NFL will also be speaking with all the major digital players about how streaming fits into the league’s future. The broadcast deals run past the expiration of the CBA, so no major streaming deal is likely to be signed this season. Ganis, though, described 2019 as a key negotiating year for digital in which the league gets a good sense of which direction it will head once it has labor peace and can focus on extending the media rights. — Daniel Kaplan
Dramatic schedule changes will be a major storyline for both the PGA of America and PGA Tour in 2019. The PGA of America is moving the PGA Championship to May from August, while the tour shifts The Players Championship from May to March. Also, changes to the FedEx Cup Playoffs will reduce the number of events from four to three, allowing the playoffs to end prior to the start of the NFL season.
The LPGA will also see some major changes as it boosts the purse for its CME Group Tour Championship to a record $5 million. The tour will feature 33 official events this year, one more than 2018, and total prize money will grow to a tour record $70.55 million. — John Lombardo
The next 12 months might feel like déjà vu for MLS — a new team will launch, a new stadium will open, cities will chase expansion spots, and the league’s business lines will expect growth. In 2019, FC Cincinnati, Minnesota United’s Allianz Field, and Phoenix and St. Louis will fill those seemingly annual respective roles. However, some questions remain for MLS:
How will it approach sports betting as the only major pro league besides the NFL to not sign a leaguewide deal in 2018?
What can it do to boost tepid television ratings as its critical next deal in 2022 draws closer?
Can Atlanta United keep lightning in a bottle, and can struggling original markets like Chicago and New England harness it?
How will Columbus move forward after a tumultuous 2018?
Can Miami avoid any snags, and can Nashville be the next Atlanta as both cities prepare for a 2020 launch? — Ian Thomas
The U.S. Olympic Committee will face intense pressure in 2019 to deliver on its promise of reform after the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal. Meanwhile, courts and Congress will have their own ideas about what should happen to the USOC. In Washington, talk of opening the Amateur Sports Act is reaching a fever pitch. While the odds are against a comprehensive rewrite of the Olympics’ governing law, the unpredictable deliberations will put the USOC on the defensive. Meanwhile, a bankruptcy court in Indiana will decide whether the USOC’s push to decertify USA Gymnastics can proceed with the governing body in Chapter 11. Another major question to watch: Does the USOC consider settling with victims, or will it continue to fight the lawsuits? Don’t forget: By New Year’s Eve of 2019, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be fewer than seven months away. — Ben Fischer
The WNBA will have a new president in 2019, a key hire for the league as it looks to drive fan interest. Whoever replaces former President Lisa Borders will need to build a new executive team eager to tackle the challenge to increase the league’s attendance and bottom line. Labor also will be a major storyline. Players have opted out of the current collective-bargaining agreement, which expires at the end of the 2019 season. WNBA players are pushing for higher salaries and better travel conditions. — John Lombardo