While we savor the waning days of 2015, it's not too early to look ahead to the most notable sports business stories to follow in 2016.
For the second year in a row I hit mostly winners last year, with one notable, embarrassing exception. The winners included high expectations for Rob Manfred in his role as the new baseball commissioner; the evolving ways we consume sports, in-venue and outside the facility; the expanding use of analytics which has revolutionized how we watch and analyze sports; the pursuit by states, notably New Jersey, to adopt sports gambling; how social media expands the opportunities for fans to engage with teams, players and sponsors; and the economic impact of NCAA rule changes on intercollegiate athletics.
I also predicted that the Red Sox wouldn't finish last in the American League East for the second year in a row. Talk about laying an egg! This year I'll leave the final baseball predictions to others. In no particular order, here are the biggest sports business stories I'll be watching during the next 12 months.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association is set to expire on Dec. 1. This used to be big news, back in the day when the expiration of the CBA was guaranteed to lead to a lockout or a strike. After suffering through eight work stoppages in 22 years, MLB is now the poster child for labor peace. There have been eight labor-induced interruptions in play, collectively, in the other three major league team sports since baseball's infamous strike of 1994-95. If you're counting, that makes 22 years of labor peace for MLB. Don't expect an interruption in the current cycle.
While this will be Manfred's first negotiation from the commissioner's seat, he was MLB's lead negotiator on the past three deals with the union. His counterpart, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark, is also new to his position. However, both sides are aware of the benefits to their constituents of a world without strikes and lockouts. While significant differences exist on a number of issues, including free agent compensation, the international draft, length of schedule, the economic divide between small-market and large-market owners, I anticipate the announcement of an agreement in advance of the December 1 deadline.
Another MLB story that combines politics, sports and business, is the attempt by MLB to reduce the cost of Cuban talent. While something along the lines of the Dominican Republic model is unrealistic, rapprochement with the Castro government will not only save teams money, but will eliminate the harrowing, life-endangering experiences Cuban players are subjected to in their efforts to flee the island.
If you think the concussion story has played itself out, think again. It's an issue that isn't going away, at least not anytime soon. The new movie "Concussion," starring Will Smith, is expected to be a box-office smash. It will also fuel the controversy surrounding America's favorite sport. Although the NFL isn't alone when the medical community raises the issue of concussions, the public's insatiable appetite with all things football shines a spotlight on the sport at all levels.
Sticking with the NFL, the boardroom machinations leading up to the decision granting a team - or teams - access to the Los Angeles market will be must viewing. With billions of dollars at stake, books will be written about the politics and intrigue behind the final vote. Will the winner be St. Louis, led by Stan Kroenke and his single-team stadium plan? Or will San Diego and Oakland, with their dual-stadium proposal, pack up the moving vans? Or perhaps some combination of the two competing plans?
Another story that bears watching this year is the continuing saga of daily fantasy games. The industry has fallen on hard times of late, at least in the legal arena. A number of states - most recently Massachusetts, New York and Illinois - have ruled that daily fantasy games constitute gambling. That conclusion is hardly surprising to objective observers. The activity was specifically exempted from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 precisely because without an exemption, daily fantasy games couldn't have gained traction.
There you have it, my predictions of the biggest sports business stories of 2016. Check back in 12 months to see how clairvoyant I am.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a professor and the chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland. Jordan maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.