1. Right now, the Golden State Warriors are the clearly the NBA’s top team. Dominating weaker teams and suffocating the NBA’s best with their swarming defense and charging offense, the Warriors broke the league’s regular-season win streak mark earlier this season. With Steph Curry on the court, Golden State has been nearly unstoppable, and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have proved to be perennial All-Stars as well. But what lies ahead remains uncertain. With Curry on the bench, the Warriors looked alarmingly off in their loss to the Dallas Mavericks on December 30th. The Dallas game showed just how critical Curry is to the team. Looking into the New Year, key questions include how long the Warriors can keep up their stellar play, whether they will break Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ single-season win record, and if LeBron James will motivate his Cavaliers to get revenge on the upstart California team.
2. While Daily Fantasy Sports stole many a headline last year for the exponential growth that seemingly came overnight, news surrounding DFS in 2016 will center on its legality. Leading industry operators DraftKings and FanDuel continue to fight to remain relevant and legal around the country. New York and Illinois Attorney Generals have made initial rulings on the legality of DFS games, and the outcome looks gloomy for companies operating in these states. The debate on whether these are games of luck or skill continues, but 2016 should bring a great deal of clarity to this issue. At stake are not only the multimillion dollars in entry fees the companies collect from participants, but the close to $300 million in TV advertising revenue alone the top two DFS companies spent on ads that cumulatively aired more than 78,000 times.
3. Outside of the Rio Olympics, the NFL’s pending move to Los Angeles will be the single biggest sports business story of 2016. The St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders are all in the mix to relocate to L.A., with potentially two teams eventually making the move. Proposed plans involve either the St. Louis Rams moving into Owner Stan Kroenke’s new stadium in Inglewood or the San Diego Chargers and/or Oakland Raiders moving into a new stadium in Carson, aided by Disney President Bob Iger. After an NFL Committee on L.A. Opportunities meeting in New York this week, NFL owners are expected to vote on the relocation at their mandatory January 12-13 meeting in Houston – but it is believed that no side has yet gathered the majority 24 votes needed. While it may take a significant time to fully resolve the issue, 2016 will be the year that an NFL team moves back to L.A.
4. With Under Armour completing an incredibly successful 2015 campaign, the company is now looking toward 2016 as another growth year. The Baltimore-based sportswear supplier recently surpassed adidas to become the second biggest in the U.S. market and is "on the verge of a possible sweep throughout every major sport" to endorse MVP Award winners, according to SI.com. In golf, UA athlete Jordan Spieth, repped by Lagardere Sports, was Player of the Year. In football, quarterbacks Cam Newton and Tom Brady, both Under Armour wearers, are frontrunners to win the NFL MVP award. And UA’s golden boy, Stephen Curry, is well on his way to being named NBA MVP for the second consecutive year. Opening flagship stores around the country was also a big move for UA in 2015; expect them to open more stores, sign more athletes, and expand the brand internationally as 2016 gets under way.
5. The MLB season may be months away, but excitement is already buzzing around Wrigleyville. The Curse of the Billy Goat, spanning 108 years so far, looks like it may be coming to an end this season. The Cubs came up short after a stellar 2015 campaign, but have the talent, payroll, and management to make a deeper push come spring. The Cubs became the first team to win three major awards since 2011: 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 being named NL Cy Young, and Joe Maddon was named NL Manager of the Year. Oddsmakers have the Cubs sitting at 7/2 odds of winning the National League Pennant and 6/1 odds of winning the 2016 World Series, according to vegasinsider.com
6. The NFL coaching carousel is about to spin mightily. The Philadelphia Eagles have already fired Head Coach Chip Kelly after only three seasons at the helm, and the franchise’s future is up in the air as the Eagles’ front office now needs a total makeover. Buffalo Bills Owner Terry Pegula issued a statement this past weekend that GM Doug Whaley and Head Coach Rex Ryan will remain in their respective roles, but their futures with the franchise past next season will weigh largely on next year’s outcome. And then there’s the New York Giants and Head Coach Tom Coughlin, who has won two Super Bowls in 12 seasons in NYC but is likely to have coached his last game for the Giants. While these are just a few headlining stories in football’s coaching whirl, “Black Monday” and the ensuing weeks will no doubt produce similar stories.
7. 2016 is once again Brazil’s year. The country, which played host to the FIFA World Cup in 2014, will host its second mega sports event in two years when the Summer Olympics commence in Rio de Janeiro. After Olympic preparations were cited as being the “worst ever” six months ago, drastic improvements have been made in Rio’s venues and accommodations, with all venues are now set to be finished by April. Serious concerns, however, still mark the health condition of the city’s waters and security plans in the wake of terrorist attacks on Paris last month. Brazilian officials, however, point to increased security provisions surrounding the World Cup, and Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi, in an Associated Press interview, agreed that Brazil’s World Cup experience was an advantage. Despite remaining questions surrounding security, health, and budget, the Games should go smoothly this summer.
8. As the countdown to UEFA’s Euro 2016 continues, France has flown largely under the radar, because the host country has run into few problems. So many FIFA events have come under scrutiny – World Cups in Brazil, Russia, and Qatar have had their problems and Sepp Blatter has not gone down quietly – that it has been a pleasant surprise to many in the international soccer community to see France prepare to host such a large scale event without any major issues. All 10 stadiums in the mix are on schedule, with no problematic infrastructure delays or logistical challenges. An expanded lineup of 24 of Europe’s top teams will be competing in 51 fixtures, and the total investment in stadiums for Euro 2016 stands at around €1.6 billion. The tournament has been hailed by UEFA as “the catalyst for a massive modernization program that will allow France to develop a new generation of sports facilities.”
9. College football fans don’t have to wait much longer for the College Football Playoff Championship Game. The Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers are set to face off on January 11 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. While every new year brings some of college football’s biggest games, this championship is poised to be one of the all-time greats. The Tigers are pitted against Heisman-winner Derrick Henry and his SEC champions. One-loss Alabama heads into the season finale as a 7-point favorite over their undefeated opponent. The game, however, has already been panned by some as a “glorified SEC title game.” While it is greatly anticipated, if lower CFP semi-final numbers are any indication, expect TV ratings next Monday to be much lower than last year’s inaugural CFP Championship event.
10. The English Premier League table is now set much differently than anyone could have predicted at the start of the season. Reigning champion Chelsea is a mere two spots away from relegation, currently sitting in 16th place, and upstart Leicester City behind new EPL record-holder Jamie Vardy is now right behind Arsenal atop the standings. Expending just $1 million on player salaries this past season, Leicester City spent a decent amount of time in the No. 1 spot during 2015. Now, soccer fans around the world are wondering how the final table will shake up. Significant what-if scenarios remain: can Vardy actually will Leicester City to the crown? Will Manchester United even qualify for the Champions League? And is it actually realistic to think that Chelsea could be relegated? 2016 will certainly be a drama-filled year in the Premiership, where so much has to pan out in such a short period of time.
11. Jordan Spieth summed up his historic year on the PGA Tour in perfect fashion when he tweeted out, “Would rather this year not end…” on New Year’s Eve. But 2016 looks just as promising for the 22-year-old phenom. This past year, Spieth won five PGA Tour titles, including two majors, contended for the Grand Slam, ascended to No. 1 in the world, raked in over $22 million in earnings, and won the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award. But this may only be the tip of the iceberg. Heading into the New Year, Spieth sits atop the World Golf Rankings – followed by Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, and Henrik Stenson – and looks to use his record-breaking season as the foundation for the rest of his career. While it will be tough to one-up his 2015 campaign, Spieth followed up his first New Year’s tweet in classic fashion when he said, “But bring on 2016 hope it’s great for all y’all!”
12. “Concussion,” featuring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, caused an outcry from NFL players and critics alike when it hit theatres on Christmas Day.Notable players who saw the film demanded consequences for the league’s top executives, condemning them for covering up such a serious problem. In an open letter to the NFL published by Sports Illustrated, Jets tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson wrote about feeling “betrayed” by Commissioner Roger Goodell for covering up and downscaling such a serious issue. Many retired and current players joined the outcry, demanding new rules and new precautions. While the NFL will likely be forced to respond to this movie in 2016 with their heightened protocols and actions, don’t expect sweeping policy changes until the league’s next CBA is negotiated five years from now.
13. As media rights deals continue to mushroom, new companies are being put in the mix to sign long-term contracts with top sports leagues around the world. Broadcast and cable companies such as NBC, ABC, and Turner are no longer NFL and NBA’s sole targets for media deals. Technology and digital media companies with deep roots in digital distribution have entered the conversation, as Globecast seeks even broader transmission and distribution deals around the world, and Google, YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, and Apple will all compete for the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” broadcast package. After an incredibly successful international live stream by Yahoo, the NFL may now follow up on this move to non-exclusively broadcast a game online. A deal was not struck in 2015 to do so, but 2016 looks like the year that it could finally happen. If the NFL signs such a deal, expect other leagues to follow a similar digital path.
14. The New Year is going to be full of e-sports experimentation for Turner Broadcasting and WME/IMG. The two teamed up in 2015 to form an e-sports league, convinced that this largely untapped market is ready for primetime TV. TBS is set to broadcast 20 live e-sports events over the course of 2016, a move Lenny Daniels, Turner Sports President, characterized as “a way to bring e-sports to light in the 90 million homes TBS is in.” Daniels also validated the e-sports endeavor as a serious approach to capturing a greater share of the sports marketplace. “There’s no doubt in our mind that this is a sport – these are athletes,” he said. “It’s competitive, and it requires endurance. What hasn’t happened is that [e-sports] hasn’t been exposed to a mainstream audience.”
15. America’s most popular motor sport will be back in grand fashion in 2016. While NASCAR’s 2016 schedule is stacked, starting with the debut of Daytona Rising next month, Bristol Motor Speedway is set to play host to something other than car racing this New Year. Bristol, which bills itself as “The Last Great Colosseum,” will also host the “Battle at Bristol,” a football game between Virginia Tech University and the University of Tennessee, on September 10. The event will be the first football game to be played at the speedway in 55 years. With a football configuration that will hold 150,000 fans, the “Battle at Bristol” is set to be the best-attended football game of all time, and will make for a truly remarkable spectacle. This is an event you will definitely want to mark on your calendar, regardless of your college football or NASCAR allegiance.