2015 Year in Review
Rick Horrow's "15 to Watch"
CSN Bay Area Sports Business Insider Rick Horrow takes you off the field with his 15 top Biz Ball trends for the whole year of 2015.
Arguably one of the biggest sports headlines in more than three decades involves true royalty: American Pharoah. The three-year-old thoroughbred took home the coveted Triple Crown this past year, becoming the first horse in 37 years to do so. After winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, Pharoah followed up his superb on-track performances with a Breeders’ Cup victory. The horse was then retired to a Kentucky stud farm by owner Ahmed Zayat. Pharoah’s nine wins in 11 races earned his team more than $8.6 million in prize money, but that’s horse apples compared to his earning potential in retirement. With a stud fee at around $200,000 per live foal, American Pharoah’s first year alone as a stallion could be worth as much as $40 million, according to sportspromedia.com. As only one of a dozen horses to ever win the Triple Crown, the Pharoah will be forever remembered as one of the greatest athletes in sporting history.
Bye bye BCS
The College Football Playoff debuted in 2015, with four teams earning the opportunity to fight it out bracket style to become the sport’s undisputed champion. In the inaugural season, Ohio State triumphed behind running back Ezekiel Elliott. In the CFP’s sophomore year, Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, and Oklahoma have the chance to take the title. And besides the improved format, thanks to the new playoff, bowl games paid more than half a billion dollars to conferences and schools, the largest payout ever and an increase of almost $200 million from the final season of the Bowl Championship Series. ESPN pays the CFP around $470 million annually for media rights to the three playoff games and four other bowls – this number dwarfs the only BCS deal, which was worth $180 million per year to the conferences. While Clemson ran the table this past season, come playoff time, expect the unpredictable.
Golf's young star
While Jordan Spieth may have come up short in votes to the Warriorss Steph Curry, many will still consider him their “2015 Male Athlete of the Year.” The former Longhorn burst onto the pro golf scene by winning two majors – The Masters and U.S. Open – and the FedExCup en route to a record $12 million in earnings from PGA Tour events alone. Spieth overcame the odds and critics pitted against him to piece together one of the greatest single seasons on the PGA Tour. The 22-year-old captured the hearts of millions with his epic long-distance putts and dramatic come-from-behind victories. Along with his on-course earnings, Spieth, aided by agent Jay Danzi at Lagardere Sports and Entertainment, extended his head-to-toe deal with Under Armour for 10 years. Spieth finishes 2015 ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking – ahead of Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, and Henrik Stenson, rounding out the top five.
Football goes global
The NFL saw healthy worldwide growth in 2015. Led by quarterback Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers have taken control of the 2015-2016 season, as well as Pro-Bowl rosters. Six Lagardere Sports clients also highlighted the 2016 first-ballot Pro Bowlers’ list: Justin Houston (Chiefs), Khalil Mack (Raiders), Patrick Peterson (Cardinals), Mike Pouncey (Dolphins), Marcel Reece (Raiders), and Kawann Short (Panthers). Internationally, the NFL took another step in establishing permanent roots in the United Kingdom. The league agreed as part of its International Series to play at least two games annually at historic Wembley Stadium. Wembley will now be joined by Twickenham Stadium, which will host at least three additional games over the next three years, and Tottenham Hotspur’s in-development new stadium, which will host as many as five regular season games over the next 10 years. The coda to the 2015 international series? The league’s first-ever exclusively online streaming of a game. Over 15 million fans logged onto Yahoo! to see the Jaguars beat the Bills.
Welcome to the Warriors world
Warriors Move NBA Needle Westward: Stephen Curry and the upstart Golden State Warriors were fun-loving, easy-going, extremely entertaining, and in the end, dominant in 2015. After winning an NBA-best 67 regular season games under coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors went on to top LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in the NBA Finals. The team picked up right where they left off at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season. Despite Kerr vacating the sidelines for back surgery, Curry and co-star Klay Thompson started off the new season with an NBA-record 24-game win streak. Warriors ticket prices soared on the secondary market as fans showed their willingness to pay nearly anything at home or on the road to get a first-hand look at the Golden team. CEO Joe Lacob and Co. look to continue this hot streak in 2016, when they look forward to shooting for the franchise’s second-ever NBA title.
Ups and downs of soccer
FIFA Ends Year in Turmoil with Major Change on the Way: Soccer had an eventful year, to say the least. On the positive side, the U.S. women took home Women’s World Cup gold in Canada with a resounding 5-2 victory over reigning champion Japan. This edition of the Cup marked a massive rise in the sport’s popularity, as more than 1.3 million fans attended matches; more than 25.4 million American fans watched the final on FOX and another 1.3 million on Telemundo, while 11.6 million watched on Japan’s Fuji TV. But bribery and scandal nearly brought soccer’s international governing body crumbling to the ground. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has been with FIFA in various roles since 1975, was suspended by the FIFA ethics committee and is facing a possible life ban from the global soccer organization. For most of 2015, Blatter was under Swiss investigation on suspicion of “criminal mismanagement and misappropriation” relating to a 2011 payment to UEFA President Michel Platini – an accomplice in this cycle of drama.
Curse ending in 2016?
Are the Cubbies back? While the Chicago mainstay still did not win the World Series, 2015 finally gave the Cubs faithful something to look forward to. As part of the first team to win three major awards since 2011, Cubs breakout sensation Kris Bryant was named NL Rookie of the Year. Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta capped off a historic second-half to his season en route to winning the NL Cy Young award, and manager Joe Maddon was named NL Manager of the Year. The Cubs consistently packed newly-renovated Wrigley Field, drawing fans who thought they would never see the lovable losers win again in their lifetimes. After signing Jason Heyward away from division rival St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs head into 2016 as MLB’s favored pick to win the World Series and finally break the Billy Goat Curse.
Nike's NBA takeover
Nike dominated the domestic basketball marketplace like never before in 2015. The goliath sportswear company signed a billion-dollar deal to replace Adidas as the NBA’s exclusive uniform provider. While Adidas was not expected to renew its NBA contract, the Nike move effectively removed Adidas from gaining a stronger foothold in the American basketball market. But Nike’s deal with the NBA may not have been their biggest move this past year. In early December, Nike signed LeBron James to a lifetime endorsement deal – the first of its kind. James has already made hundreds of millions of dollars from his Nike signature shoe line, but this revolutionary lifetime deal will give him, and Nike, unparalleled marketing and branding power going forward.
New big fish
From an acquisition perspective, China’s Dalian Wanda Group may have made the biggest splash this calendar year. Wanda Group, already a major player in China’s commercial property, luxury hotels, culture and tourism, and department store markets, proclaimed itself “the newest big fish in the global sports industry pond,” according to SportsBusiness Daily. In January, Dalian Wanda purchased a 20 percent stake in La Liga’s Atletico Madrid for over $40 million. In February, it bought Infront Sports & Media from Bridgepoint Capital for $1.2 billion. A mere six months later, Dalian Wanda acquired the World Triathlon Corporation, organizers of the popular Ironman competitions, for $650 million. The group, headed by billionaire Wang Jainlin, claimed that with the acquisitions it will “become the largest sports operating company in the world.” With that, expect even more growth in 2016 – a scary sign for its competitors.
Show me the money
Broadcasting rights exploded in 2015, with each deal seemingly better than the next. The English Premier League’s domestic TV deals with Sky Sports and BT were signed for an astounding £5.136 billion over four years, an increase of 70 percent from its current deal. The league’s expanding global appeal was later confirmed when it signed deals with NBC in the U.S. and ESPN in Brazil. Later in the year, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed a local TV deal with Fox Sports Arizona that is worth over $1 billion. The St. Louis Cardinals signed a similar deal in structure and size with Fox Sports Midwest – marking MLB’s rise in regional sports network appeal. And in one of the most innovative media deals signed this year, the NHL forged a wide-reaching six-year, $600 million digital partnership with MLB Advanced Media. Terrestrial or digital, the appetite for broadcast sport is seemingly insatiable.
Homecoming in LA?
America’s second biggest market has tried to win back an NFL team for two decades, but developments throughout 2015 finally made it clear that one – potentially two – teams may ultimately relocate to Los Angeles. After a year of drama, the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders have established themselves are the only possible options to relocate. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has made it clear he will spare no expense to move out of St. Louis’ Edwards Jones Dome. The Chargers are desperate to leave San Diego, while the Raiders want to return to their lucrative former L.A. turf. NFL officials and team owners have met dozens of times to work out logistics, stadium plans have been drawn up in Carson and Inglewood, and funding options have been discussed. While 2015 did not deliver L.A.’s football-hungry a team, a decision seems imminent.
New stadiums, deep pockets
New stadium funding was eased by mega naming rights deals signed all around the country. Stan Kroenke and the Rams managed to negotiate a $158 million deal with National Car Rental, contingent on a new riverfront stadium being built in St. Louis. The Vikings finalized a 20-year, $220 million deal with U.S. Bank for the right to put their name atop the Wilf’s new Minneapolis facility. But the biggest naming rights winner is in Atlanta. The Falcons are in the midst of building their new stadium – set to open in 2017. Aside from the millions the team has already secured from PSLs, Mercedes-Benz agreed to pay an astounding $1.4 billion to be the stadium’s title sponsor. Featuring a “flower-like” retractable roof, the stadium is being built next to the Falcons’ current home, the Georgia Dome. As the cost of stadia continues to rise, so does the naming rights price tag.
Concerns, additions to Olympics
Olympic preparations continued in Rio and Tokyo, the cities slated to host the upcoming Summer Games in 2016 and 2020, respectively. In Rio, after preparations were cited as being the “worst ever” a year out, drastic improvements were made in the Brazilian city’s venues and accommodations. All venues are now set to be finished by April, but serious health concerns still mark the condition of the city’s waters, after several athletes fell ill after competing in test events in the Olympic lake and off-coast sailing and open-water swimming arenas. Rio’s near $12 billion Olympic budget is being widely criticized in a country that is stricken with major economic and social instability. On the other side of the world in Tokyo, 2015 was a year in which new sports were pitched to the IOC in hopes of seeing them in the 2020 Games. Baseball and softball, skateboarding, sport climbing, and karate were all put on the organizers’ recommended shortlist before a 2016 vote.
Money CAN buy Happiness: The “Money Team” came out on top once again in 2015, as Floyd Mayweather’s career ended just like it started: with a win. The undefeated champ squared off against Manny Pacquiao in what was hyped as the “Fight of the Century.” The build up to the fight alone went many rounds: Las Vegas’ MGM Grand was set to play host, over 4.4 million people ordered the Pay-Per-View package, with hundreds of millions in gross Pay-Per-View revenue predicted to be split between rivals HBO and Showtime. But the actual fight was largely a heavyweight meltdown, with Mayweather taking minimal risks but walking away with a win. While their takes were vastly different, both Mayweather and Pacquiao walked away from the fight with pockets deeper than ever. While it may not have lived up to its “Fight of the Century” label, the bout consumed the world, converting non-boxing fans for at least a few hours on an early May evening.
Baku 2015, the inaugural European Games last summer, was largely seen as a fiasco, with attendant media criticism. While the European Olympic Committee hoped this would be a historic moment, controversy tainted these games from their inception, as the Azerbaijani capital of Baku attracted eight votes against its hosting and Guardian journalist Nick Cohen dismissed the Games as a money-spinning exercise for the EOC, claiming that Azerbaijan had been chosen because its ruling family “will spend whatever it takes to win international prestige.” Guardian journalists were then banned from covering the games, which received further criticism for not including many top-class athletics and swimming events. The Netherlands is set to host the 2019 European Games, and hopefully improve on them.