10 TO WATCH WEEK OF 12/26/16


  1. Many maintain that sport and politics do not – or at least should not – mix, yet the result of the 2016 presidential election will surely have an impact on the future of American sport for many years to come. Before the vote, there were widespread concerns that a Donald Trump presidency could harm Los Angeles’ ongoing bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games and any potential push from the U.S. Soccer Federation to stage all or part of the 2026 FIFA World Cup – which some had suggested America might co-host with Mexico.  Other sports industry followers speculate that the prospect of uncertain trade relations with other countries could negatively affect major league growth aspirations abroad. Whether any of that is actually the case remains to be seen. On the plus side, Trump’s experience as a sports league, team, and facility owner could mean that he will forge policies beneficial to the sports industry both at home and abroad. The jury is still out on whether the LPGA and PGA Tour will embrace the Trump properties in years ahead.
  1. Live events take center stage, for social interaction and gifting in a “experience economy.” StubHub has just released its annual “Year in Live Events” report. Peyton’s last game. Kobe’s last game. The Cubs’ World Series win. Hamilton. Those are just a few of the major highlights from a year in live events. According to StubHub, the top 10 bestselling events of the year were all sporting events. Led by Super Bowl 50 in Silicon Valley, which outsold the previous Super Bowl by 7%, and the World Series, which was the highest-selling World Series ever on StubHub, other best-selling live events included Adele’s tour, which led all music acts with the No. 1 selling tour spot and the runaway Broadway hit, “Hamilton: An American Musical,” drove at least four times the sales of any other theater production in company history. Fans also flocked to see Peyton and Kobe’s final games, championship appearances for Cleveland in both basketball and baseball, UFC taking its first match to New York City and soccer’s globally popular Copa America Centenario. International NFL games and futbol (soccer) matches led as the top five international events with the highest sales from U.S. ticket buyers. This past year, the live events industry thrived, with a perfect storm of firsts, lasts, and multiple milestone events that were captured only as StubHub can, with a global marketplace that spans sports, music, and theater. It will be interesting to see how events in the new year stack up to an historic 2016.
  1. From an international sports perspective, Brexit was big news in 2016. With restrictions regarding player’s age and nationality, a shift in the European Union paradigm mixed all this up for EPL clubs. Moving forward, European soccer’s competitive balance should level out if Brexit-caused restrictions prove as tough as many expect. Maybe Britain’s exit means two steps back for UK football or one step forward for the global game such as that in the South America, for example. Maybe policy makers find a way to keep European football strong. Regardless, the issue continues to be something to watch…heads up rugby and cricket fans, too. Uncertainty rules the day, as the European economy evolves to adjust to the unpredicted result.  Look for sports to respond accordingly.
  1. This year the world lost golf’s patriarch, Arnold Palmer. His stellar playing career aside, Palmer’s biggest achievements stretched well beyond the game. Known today as the originator of sports marketing, Palmer was one of the first athletes to turn his name into a brand. Using his image and business acumen, Palmer’s empire was valued at approximately $700 million upon his death. Over the years, he was endorsed by dozens of companies, had his hand in founding IMG and the Golf Channel, even in commercializing his famous ice tea/lemonade blended drink – effectively founding sports marketing along the way. Through strategic messaging and brand management, Arnold Palmer became the prototype for all of today’s sports stars. “The King” as he was known, will be missed. Arnold Palmer was more than a golfer – he defined an evolving, broad sports business in a way no one else could.
  1. The Rams stole NFL headlines this season with their return move to Los Angeles.  Since then the balance of power has shifted among NFL owners and the Rams have cemented themselves as LA’s pride once again, despite poor performance throughout the season.  The Ram’s “honeymoon period” in the Coliseum and the construction of their new Inglewood stadium was one of the year’s most closely followed sports business sagas. Now the fun really begins: “franchise musical chairs” should be resolved in the next three months with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers and the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.  An early chapter in a very long book.
  1. 2016 inched a little bit closer to gender equality.  There is much more work to be done, but here are some highlights: we celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the WNBA; “leaning in” is at all-time high; we saw social movements like Girls For STEM, and a push for workplace equality.  The discerning issue of the wage gap was raised in the tennis community, and then pushed further when TEAM USA soccer spoke out.  Another positive development was the summer announcement of the Indy in Tech Championship coordinated, presented, and sponsored by Guggenheim Life. The LPGA event debuts next Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis, and provides unparalleled benefit for workforce training, robotics, STEM, and other positives. More to come on that story over time. Gender equity is far away, but there were many moments in 2016 where it was supported rather than tossed aside, and that’s a good thing.
  1. 2016 was a blockbuster year for mergers, resulting in over $1.8 trillion in deals made. Some mega-mergers with sports implications include Microsoft and LinkedIn, Verizon and Yahoo, AT&T and Time Warner and Charter.  The phenomenon was fueled by the year’s oddly low interest rates and other reasons making 2016 ripe with blue chip M&As.  When we drill down into the sports industry, examples include WME-IMG acquiring the UFC for $4 billion; the DraftKings and FanDuel merger; and Disney buying a $1 billion stake in MLBamtech. The sports and business worlds are clearly loved by vertically integrated, global, mega corporations that include media, management, events, and properties.  The stage is set for more power moves in 2017.
  1. Athletes at all levels turned to their sport as a vehicle of peaceful issue-raising. Colin Kaepernick kneeled in protest, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Kover, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony pushed for social unity amidst the Black Lives Matter movement, cleats were worn in support of the country by Odell Beckham, Jr. and others. Athletes drove discussion on social media, in our communities, and elsewhere – whether you agree or disagree with whatever cause, the influence of sport is ever present. Hopefully, all sports fans and non-sports fans alike recognize rights granted under the First Amendment, but also understand the responsibilities of role models as well.
  1. In a year in which we lost Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer, we also saw two “best evers” retire from their sport. 2016 was the year of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, and the sheriff, Peyton Manning, riding off into the proverbial sunset. For Kobe, the end came in typical Black Mamba fashion – not only did he receive a standing ovation in each city he played in during the season’s final stretch, but his last playing day, April 13th, was dubbed “Mamba Day” by Nike and backed by their full marketing support. Manning’s exit came after winning Super Bowl 50 following a fitting jersey-number matching “18” year career.  From a performance and sports marketing perspective, these two are some of the best to ever just do it.  The passing and retirement of mega superstars should give us cause to reflect on how important sports becomes to an entire society – especially in the social media age.
  1. Yes, there were socioeconomic concerns, the Zika epidemic, minor crimes, and PR issues like the Lochte scandal, but for the most part, Rio 2016 was a homerun.   The USA took home 121 medals, of which 46 were Gold. Michael Phelps took home five Gold medals during his last Olympics, fellow swimmer Katie Ledecky earned four Gold medals, and gymnast Simone Biles took home Gold. Team USA in the Paralympics took home 115 medals, 40 of which were Gold. How Brazil fulfills its post-Olympic promises defines the international side of the story – golf expansion, infrastructure development, home building, transportation improvements, and the like. Now, the world awaits the IOC’s big decision next September – will it be Paris, Budapest, or LA?