The 2016 #sportsbiz year – seeds of change?

2016 was another big year for the business of sport. It is set to be remembered as the year in which many seeds of change were sown. With the help of five top blog posts from the past 12 months, I pose five questions that I believe will not be far from our thoughts in 2017 and beyond.

Is the age of truly integrated brand partnerships dawning?

The Synergy blog is a must-follow for sports business professionals. This particular article, on the slickly orchestrated announcement of Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United (despite being published in City AM rather than on their blog), was spot on as always.

In the article, Synergy’s Chief Strategy Officer, Carsten Thode, observed that the level of coordination (amongst some unlikely collaborators) that went into the announcement was notable in its rarity and led to the generation of significant value for a range of stakeholders (including adidas, Chevrolet, Pogba and the club).

“But this kind of campaign clearly requires careful planning and advance co-ordination between the “sporting” and “marketing” operations of the club – which is rare in a world where they are often at odds with each other.”

Carsten rounded off his piece in hope rather than expectation…

“Let’s hope this establishes a new template with sponsors and rights holders working together more closely. It certainly creates more value for everyone involved.”

Will big data change the game?

In a fantastically rich and insightful post on the Ringer, Rany Jazayerli explained how Theo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations at the Chicago Cubs, led the Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years as a result of introducing an “objective, data-driven view”.

“While anti-analytics teams like the Twins and Phillies have to start over with young, analytics-minded GMs, the Cubs under Epstein built one of baseball’s best teams in a generation almost from scratch in five years.”

While this is more of a sporting- rather than a commercial-success, it demonstrates that these two often opposing sides have another common interest in the form of big data and analytics.

Will media scrutiny of major sports events become more proportionate?

In his post entitled “Recalibrating the apocalypse narrative”, Alan Abrahamson laid down, in captivating fashion, a rare challenge to the media whose pre-Rio 2016 doom-mongering proved to be very, very far off the mark.

“Your scare stories were absurd. Your level of expectation: ridiculous. Your predictions of far-reaching calamity: 100 percent wrong.”

Alan’s point was not to defend the IOC or the Olympic Movement, rather to call for a proportionate level of scrutiny by the media.

“Do the Olympics deserve scrutiny? For sure. And for emphasis: journalistic responsibility and holding accountable those in positions of authority is wholly appropriate. But — what’s also appropriate in the big picture is a more appropriate measure, please, of balance and perspective.”

Will we continue to be OTT for OTT?

Clay Travis’s piece in around ESPN’s subscriber losses included some fascinating insights and some dire predictions about the impending implosion of the market for premium sports media rights.

“It seems pretty clear that within five years ESPN will be bringing in less subscriber revenue than they’ve committed for sports rights.”

Clay goes on to frame the implications of this as much wider than simply disrupting the current business model of ESPN or other media companies.

“When the bubble officially pops – and it may well have already popped without most realizing it, check out the NFL ratings collapsing this fall – it’s going to change everything about sports – team revenue and player salaries will plummet and the way that average fans consume sports will change rapidly.”

Will we finally shift from sales- to marketing-led?

In his post “Putting the Marketing into Sports Marketing”, Ben Well’s lamented the short-term focus of sports organisations and how this is harming their ability to generate long-term customer value.

“The pressures of working match-to-match or event-to-event mean that there is very little time for most sports organisations to wean themselves off the sales treadmill, with the consequence that for many in our industry, most weeks are like groundhog day: under constant pressure to sell out whatever inventory is most pressing.”

Ben goes on to say that sports organisations can no longer treat marketing as a cost centre and must adapt to the changes in behaviours and attitudes that have fuelled the digital age.

“Sports Organisations can’t hope to become the new Google, Uber or Snapchat but there is much that we can learn from them. We just need to stop thinking like traditional sports organisations and more like 21st century marketing businesses.”

2017: under starters orders

As the clock ticks down on 2016, this short quote attributed to Jack Welch will hopefully provide you with some inspiration as you prepare for whatever the business of sport might throw at you in 2017.

“Change before you have to.”

-Jack Welch


About the author of this post:

David is a Chartered Marketer with more than 15 years’ experience in international sports marketing roles. You can follow David on twitter (@davidgfowler) or connect on LinkedIn (


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