The coming year in sports will include mega global events, major facilities openings, and leaps forward in technology and innovation. Here are the top stories we’re keeping an eye on in 2019:
1. Esports have garnered sponsorships with major companies and continue their global growth. In a year capped by sponsorships between Nike and Jian, and “Uzi,” Zi-Hao, and Tyler “Ninja” Blevins’ unprecedented Fortnite success, esports are headed on a near vertical market trend. By year end, the industry will have grossed $900 million and by 2020 the industry’s revenue could reach $2.4 billion. According to CNBC, even Wall Street behemoth Goldman Sachs has taken note of the blossoming industry and has predicted that the audience for esports will reach 276 million people by 2022. To date, some of the biggest names investing in esports include Mark Cuban, Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez, Jerry Jones, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Jordan, Drake, Stephen Curry, and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Expect more companies to advertise with and sponsor esports teams and leagues while also preparing for more tightly contested battles for media rights to stream esports action.
2. With a signature 2018 win under his belt, Tiger Woods renews optimism that he can break Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 Major victories. Woods’ 2018 season-ending Tour Championship victory at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta was his first victory at a pro golf tournament in more than five years and his 80th career PGA win — two short of the career record held by Sam Snead. Vegas odds makers currently have Woods at 25-1 to beat Nicklaus’ record. More to the point, while Woods is passing on this week’s Tournament of Champions in Maui, PGA Tour execs from Torrey Pines in San Diego to Bethpage State Park in New York anticipate having to do what Valspar Championship tournament director Tracy West underwent last March. When West got word that Woods had committed to her tournament, according to Sports Illustrated she implemented the “Tiger Plan,” adding two parking lots, an extra admission gate, and bridges, doubled the press room, hired 20 more off duty cops and more marshalls…and ordered 100 extra port-a potties.
3. The Los Angeles Chargers and Rams will open a new stadium in L.A. According to ESPN, the Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park will open its doors to the Rams and Chargers for the 2020 season. The stadium and its surrounding areas’ costs are pushing close to $5 billion, all of which will be funded by Rams owner Stan Kroenke. The most recent updates show that the stadium is more than 50% complete and the facility is already slated to host the Super Bowl in 2022, the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2023, and the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2028 Olympics. The new stadium will seat 70,000 and is expandable to 100,000 while there will also be a 6,000-seat performing arts venue, 1.7 million square feet of retail and office space, 300 hotel rooms, 2,500 new residences, and 25 acres of public parks and open space. Bigger than football, the venue is helping to reestablish L.A. as a cultural landmark.
4. The NBA Golden State Warriors look forward to moving across the Bay to their new state of the art home. The Warriors, marking this season as the team’s last at Oracle Arena in Oakland, started construction on their new San Francisco Mission Bay site in January, 2017. The $1 billion self-financed Chase Center is scheduled to be completed in August, 2019, in time for the team’s 2019-2020 NBA season tipoff. The 18,000+ facility will also house office and lab space and a public park, and is NHL-ready should that league decide to add yet another team to its Western division.
5. After a change in North Carolina law, Charlotte gets the NBA All-Star Game. Last May, the NBA announced that Charlotte would host the 2019 All-Star Weekend after the league had taken the 2018 event away from the city because of North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill,” which required transgender individuals to use public restrooms that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates. The state repealed some portions of that law, and in April NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would once again consider letting Charlotte host its midseason exhibition. Outside of the big showcase in Charlotte, the NBA announced that the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings will play in two preseason games in Mumbai in October, marking the first games the NBA has played in India and the first games any North American sports league has held there.
6. Where will the Oakland Raiders play in 2019? In terms of the 2020 season, the Oakland Raiders are set to play in Las Vegas in a gorgeous $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium with natural grass and a see-through roof with a view of the Strip. However, their move to Vegas has been halted as the city of Oakland filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the team and the NFL that could skew the transition process between Oakland and Vegas. Reportedly, a part of the lawsuit could include the Raiders having to leave their team name, colors, and history in Oakland, like the Cleveland Browns did when they moved to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens. While it is far from certain if the Raiders will remain in Oakland during all of the legal troubles, there may be an opportunity to play in the nearby Levi’s Stadium, or even down in San Diego – that recently lost an NFL team – or potentially in Glendale, Arizona where the Cardinals currently play.
7. The debut of the Alliance of American Football League is right around the corner. After the NFL’s Super Bowl LIII wraps in Atlanta in February, the following week will showcase the first season of the Alliance of American Football League. The league was announced back in March, 2018, and currently has eight teams around the U.S. Select games will be broadcast by CBS Sports and the biggest break for the league was the lifting of federal sports gambling restrictions. According to USA Today, the league will offer a gambling product that allows customers to watch a game on an app while on the same screen allowing betting on anything including touchdowns, tackles, scores, and more. Although its high-tech gambling options and separate season from the NFL offer lots of market promise, the league will have direct competition with the renovated XFL if it survives into 2020.
8. Seattle’s NHL expansion team comes to fruition. After the NHL’s board of governors unanimously approved the franchise in Seattle, the team is expected to begin playing in the 2021-2022 season. According to The New York Times, the NHL will receive an expansion fee of $650 million, which will be split among every other team except for the recent expansion club Vegas Golden Knights. Seattle’s expansion team will add another city to the Western Conference, which will now balance the 16 clubs of the Eastern Conference. Good for Seattle is an instant rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, who play just across the northern border. The region is home to corporate giants like Amazon and Microsoft, and outside of the Canucks, the Pacific Northwest is a relatively untapped area for the NHL. With an NHL team coming, an NBA team may also land in the not-too-far future.
9. If recent history is an indicator, April’s NFL Draft in Nashville will further expand the league’s appointment viewing resume and dominance of a 12-month annual calendar. According to the economic impact report compiled by VisitDallas, the first NFL Draft hosted at an NFL stadium – running April 26-28, 2018 at AT&T Stadium – generated $125.2 million in economic impact for the Dallas region during the three-day event and $74 million in direct spending. This marks a new record for the NFL Draft’s economic impact and the first year that the NFL Draft generated more than $100 million in economic impact for its host region. The 2019 NFL Draft will take place April 25-27 in Nashville, and given that city’s music industry and creative ties, look for the economic impact to build along with the event’s entertainment value.
10. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar could be the first to have 48 countries competing to become world champions, with a decision likely to be made in 2019 on the size of the competition. FIFA President Gianni Infantino indicated that he hopes to expand the current 32-team format before the 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, noting that it is “possible” and “feasible” to do so. Qatar is currently in the process of building eight stadiums to host the World Cup in four years’ time, also needing to construct massive amounts of infrastructure to accommodate the teams and fans. If the World Cup field were expanded to 48 teams, it would significantly increase the already-controversial workload placed on a mostly-immigrant worker population.
11. This summer, the U.S. Women’s National Team will look to defend their title at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France. The event will be staged in nine host cities across the country before concluding at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon. The USWNT is set to face off against Sweden, Chile, and Thailand in Group F, coming into the tournament as the top-ranked team in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings at the end of 2018; Sweden, ranked No. 9, is the only other Group F member ranked in the top 20 worldwide. The 24-team tournament will kick off on June 7 at the Parc des Princes in Paris when host France takes on South Korea. The USWNT will open play versus Thailand in Reims before playing Chile in Paris and concluding group play against Sweden in Le Havre.
12. What will happen to the Fox RSNs? The biggest sports media story of 2018 may very well hold the same title in 2019, and that is the fate of Fox’s 22 RSNs after a sale to The Walt Disney Company. Disney picked up the RSNs as part of its $52 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox’ entertainment assets. But in June, the Department of Justice said Disney would have to part with its newly-acquired RSNs in order for the larger deal to get federal regulatory approval. As we head into 2019 and the closing of the Disney-Fox deal, the RSNs could fetch upward of $20 billion. The big question, however, is whether Disney will be able to find one buyer to take all 22 RSNs, or will have it have to sell them off to several bidders, including Sinclair?
13. 2018 saw the publication of influential sports books including Mark Leibovich’s Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times, and 2019 will likewise see groundbreaking sports books published. After years of hard work, our very own Sport Business Handbook: Lessons from 100+ Industry Insiders over 50 Years of the Sports Business will be published on February 26, with national commercial, academic, and consumer distribution. All told, the book comprises 108 of the most prominent figures in sport business history sharing their successes, failures, and experiences in shaping what is now a $1 trillion global industry. Highlighting contributor stories within the Sport Business Handbook will be a focal point, as will conducting a national multi-city Contributor Symposium Tour that will kick off on Thursday, February 28 in Boston with an event jointly hosted by the Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, on the eve of the MIT Sloane Sports Analytics Conference.
14. The NFL has long been at the forefront of sports analytics and esports trends. For 2019, the league has unwrapped its NFL Big Data Bowl. This inaugural football analytics competition gives college students and professionals the opportunity to utilize historical data sets of the same player tracking data used by teams and suggest innovations about how football is played and coached. Finalists will have the opportunity to present to league and club personnel at the 2019 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, accessing NFL player tracking data used by teams to analyze league trends and develop on-field strategies. Submissions using NFL-provided data fall under three themes: “Understanding On-Field Speed,” “Proposing a Rule Change” and “Identifying the Best Receiver-Route Combinations.” Eight finalists will earn an all-expenses paid trip to Indy to showcase their work on Wednesday, February 27.
15. NASCAR continues to shift gears. Turnover at NASCAR during 2018 will be felt both in the boardroom and on the track in 2019 and beyond. Jim France replaced his nephew, Brian France, as NASCAR Chair and CEO in August after Brian was arrested for DUI. Jim and niece Lesa France Kennedy, head of racetrack division ISC, are now quietly restructuring the sport, with a stunning $1.9 billion bid by NASCAR to acquire ISC in November. Meanwhile, after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship last year, the closing of Furniture Row Racing midway through 2018 shocked many in motor sports and has given added urgency to NASCAR’s efforts to help teams overhaul faulty financial models. The sanctioning body is also exploring a multi-tiered sponsorship system, getting away from a single sponsor like Monster Energy that still has one year remaining on its title sponsor contract, estimated at $20 million annually.
16. This past year was a landmark one for MLS and Liga MX, as the two dominant North American soccer leagues announced a long-term partnership. The New Year will be the first full calendar year in which the partnership will be flushed out, including the second Campeones Cup, a matchup between the champions of each league. The partnership is expected to grow annually in the buildup to the 2026 World Cup, hosted across Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Speculation remains that the potential legacy of the United Bid could be the unification of MLS and Liga MX. “We have been discussing with Liga MX additional ways we can collaborate on and off the field, and we are excited about the future opportunities that exist between our two leagues,” said Liga MX President Enrique Bonilla.
17. UEFA and FIFA introduced the Nations League in 2018 and another major continental or intercontinental tournament is expected to be revealed in 2019. FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s $25 billion plan would totally revamp the global soccer landscape; the Club World Cup would be expanded to 24 teams and a new national-team competition, similar to the Nations League with promotion and relegation but played across multiple continents, would highlight the changes. The proposal was met with a great deal of pushback upon introduction in 2018 — this coming year will be a landmark one if Infantino gets his way. FIFA member nations are preparing to discuss the potential tournaments in the spring when they gather in Kigali, Rwanda, for the FIFA Council meeting.
18. David Beckham finally unveiled his MLS team toward the end of 2018, with the club now set to come to life in the New Year. Club International de Fútbol Miami, to be known as Inter Miami, has much to do before it begins play in 2020. In a letter penned to its supporters upon the official unveiling of the team’s name, the club wrote: “Above all, it marks another step we have taken on the journey to realizing this dream, together. A journey on which we’ve come a long way. A journey which has only just begun.” In 2019, Beckham and his ownership group will have to finalize a stadium site and construction plans — the biggest obstacle that remains in the way.
19. Affecting sports movies like 2018’s “Creed II” and “Uncle Drew,” global subscription OTT revenues, at $46 billion in 2018, will overtake box office revenues in 2019, which will come in at just under $40 billion. According to Ampere Analysis, the primary driver of the trend is theatrical slowdown in North America and Western Europe, while SVoD continues to grow in all regions. In the U.S., subscription OTT revenues surpassed theatrical revenues in 2017. The U.K. expected to follow suit by the end of 2018, and China in 2019. Also in OTT production: LeBron James’ and actor Octavia Spencer’s limited series about hair care entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker, “America’s first Black self-made female millionaire,” reportedly due out in 2019.