Kobritz Column: Inside the stories that we'll be talking about in 2015
It's the time of year to trespass into the unknown and predict the biggest sports business stories to watch in 2015.
Last year I should have played the lottery, hitting on all six predictions: The continuing saga of concussions in football and all of sports; Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return to relevancy in NASCAR and what it meant to the sport; the O'Bannon Case; the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia; the continued expansion and cost of sports programming; and the growing backlog of worthy candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame and its impact on the Hall's business. There's no way I will be as prescient this year ... is there?
For the first time in more than 22 years Bud Selig won't be the commissioner of MLB. Rob Manfred, Bud's long time consigliere and hand-picked successor will become commissioner in late January. For the most part, we can expect Manfred to be Bud "light" although every commissioner puts their own imprimatur on the office. But no one - including the office holder - knows how they will respond to a crisis until one presents itself. If you don't believe that, ask NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who assumed his position a year ago, just months before the Donald Sterling scandal fell in his lap. Silver negotiated treacherous waters deftly and with aplomb. Can Manfred duplicate that performance should it become necessary? Here's predicting he can.
Both the in-venue sports experience and the way we consume sports outside the arena will continue to evolve in dramatic fashion. Technology is developing at warp speed and teams, venues and content distributors are tripping over themselves to take advantage of it. More and more of us are consuming our sports on mobile devices whether at home, work or play. Television won't be replaced anytime soon, but it will continue to be utilized in ways we didn't even dream about just a few years ago.
The continuing attempt by states, particularly New Jersey, to adopt sports gambling is guaranteed to be one of the biggest stories in 2015. Those efforts recently received a boost from Silver who publicly endorsed the concept. Coupled with the increased popularity of fantasy sports sites, the amount of potential gaming revenue has states and leagues salivating over the prospect that some combination of legislative and judicial approval is imminent. Legalized sports gambling is a reality in most of the world, with the U.S. being a major exception. The NCAA understandably remains adamantly opposed to sports gambling but it's inevitable for professional sports.
Social media has only begun to touch upon the opportunities for fans to engage with teams and sponsors. Both new and existing platforms will be utilized to enhance fan experiences, provide new revenue streams for players, teams and leagues and increase exposure - and sales - for sponsors.
The expanded use of statistics and analytics could revolutionize how we watch and analyze sports and athletic performance. After lagging behind their counterparts in MLB and the NBA, teams in the NHL went all-in on analytics this year, with some teams hiring an entire staff to crunch numbers. The use of analytics will soon be widespread at the collegiate level and will likely filter down to high school football and basketball in the near future. Content distributors - networks, cable and satellite companies - have also embraced analytics by providing viewers with information that was previously unavailable beyond team front offices and stat geeks.
Another issue to monitor in 2015 is the economic impact on intercollegiate athletics of the NCAA's recently approved rule changes. While most of the changes apply only to the big five conferences, they are bound to have a trickle-down effect on lower levels. Among the key changes, schools will now offer guaranteed four-year scholarships and fund the full cost of attendance. The new rules could affect the ability of smaller schools to support existing programs. Two recent announcements highlight the stark disparities: The University of Michigan will pay Jim Harbaugh more than $8 million per year to coach its football team while the University of Alabama-Birmingham cancelled its football program due to unsustainable costs.
Another published prediction I hit on last year: The Red Sox would not repeat as World Series champs. This year, they won't finish last in the AL East!
To one and all a healthy, happy and prosperous 2015.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.