The new year just started and we’re already starting to see some major events shake up the sports world.
The Cleveland Browns rang in the new year by firing head coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer (and hired New York Mets' Paul DePodesta as the team's chief strategy officer - we'll see if his skills make the switch from baseball to football). Perhaps more surprising is that Chip Kelly lost his gig as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
These games find ways to keep us on our toes. But the sports industry we love is made up of more than just our favorite players and quick plays. Sports is a performance-driven business.
Though we don’t yet know how they’ll play out, here are the four “business-of-sports” trends to keep an eye on this upcoming year.
1. MLB Seeks Top Free Agents from Cuba
The gold rush for Cuban talent is already on, and it will only intensify in 2016.
In 2015, the US re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba. 2016 will start to reveal what that means for both countries – politically, of course, but also in regards to the pastime that the countries share: baseball.
This past December, eight major league players – four of them Cuban – visited Cuba on a goodwill tour, using baseball as a tool to bridge the gap between the two countries.
Baseball has been a safe way for Cuban players to get into the Major Leagues for years, but with a cost. Defection – deserting one’s own country for another one – has been the primary way for these Cubans to join MLB since 1959, when Fidel Castro assumed power.
The conversations between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Association means that perhaps things are starting to change. As for the Cuban players who want to join the Big Leagues, there’s hope that they’ll be able to play in the states without having to abandon their country entirely.
As for the MLB, bringing on these talented players comes down to a bidding war. And in a league where there is no salary cap or revenue sharing to the extent of the NFL and NBA, the rich will continue to get richer. Big-market teams will always win in an open-bidding war.
2. Fantasy Sports: To Gamble or Not to Gamble?
Except in Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana, it's currently illegal in the US to operate a betting scheme. How long this will last?
Hugely popular fantasy sports websites like FanDuel and DraftKings will remain in the legal crosshairs until they figure out a way to cut the NFL and MLB in for a piece of the action.
Even Dallas Mavericks owner and business mogul Mark Cuban thinks legalizing sports betting is "inevitable." It just makes watching games on TV more fun.
The leagues don’t love to acknowledge this, but a major driver of their sport’s popularity (read: multi-billion-dollar broadcasting rights, ticket sales, merchandise revenue and other profit centers) is gambling.
So they don’t really want to discourage fantasy sports...they just want it played on their terms.
3. Sports Content Delivered Directly From Players
Teams and players will continue to expand their ability to directly communicate with fans and corporate partners, further eroding the role of traditional media.
It’s become painfully obvious: fans (especially Millennials) don’t particularly care where they get their information from. They just want a steady stream on their smartphones giving them the latest news on their favorite sports, teams and players.
4. Efforts to Lessen the Prevalence of Concussions
Promising progress will be made in equipment technology to address the devastating sports concussions crisis.
Study after study has been made pointing to the harmful and damaging effects of the game.
Add in Will Smith's recent role in the movie Concussion and there's no denying that NFL concussions are hititng the mainstream conversation.
Simply put, there’s too much money at stake for the problem to continue without major strides to deal with it.
Two years ago, the NFL and GE — with contributions from Under Armour and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology — launched a $60 million Head Health Initiative. Expect something to emerge from that.
The games we love so much change every year. That's part of what keeps us coming back play after play, week after week. The trends we anticipate this year will make the games better for the players...and better for the fans.