Edited by Tanner Simkins
In the latest edition of Rick Horrow's Sports Business Podcast, Rick sits down with Tina Davis, Managing Director and Head of Global Sponsorships, Citi. As a special edition episode, Rick also shares the top sports philanthropy issues for the year ahead and what to watch for in 2020.
LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE
Tokyo 2020 brings six new sports to the Olympics. According to C|Net, the first of the six sports to debut is karate, which fittingly makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo, joining judo, taekwondo, and wrestling. Karate consists of two disciplines for both men and women: kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). Skateboarding and surfing will also be joining the Olympic fray, with park and street skateboarding and shortboard surfing. The other three new sports include sport climbing, which will consist of three disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering; and lead climbing; and baseball and softball make a return to the Olympics after having not been played during the last two summer Games. All of these sports will get a global popularity boost thanks to the influence and amazement of the Olympics.
Group1001 brings another women’s leadership and STEM-centric event to the LPGA Tour. Three weeks from now, the LPGA and Group1001 will kick off a new official LPGA Tour event in Boca Raton, Florida. The inaugural Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio will be held January 20-26 at Boca Rio Golf Club and feature a 108-player field competing for a $2 million purse. As a key part of tournament week, the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio will host the Women’s Leadership Summit presented by Versant Health with top female leaders from a variety of industries, creating a space to empower women, develop and strengthen skills, build networks, and inspire change. The summit will feature a panel headlined by female business leaders, a fireside chat with an LPGA Tour professional, as well as inspirational stories and presentations from pioneering women. The Boca Raton event is a bookend of sorts to the Group1001-sponsored Indy Women in Tech LPGA tournament held in Indianapolis late summer, which also features multiple educational and networking events for women looking to reengage or advance careers in STEM and business/leadership fields.
Name, Image, and Likeness will dominate collegiate sports conversations in 2020. No matter which Tigers win the CFP National Championship on January 13, regardless of whether a blue-chip team or an underdog ignites the Final Four, primary conversations around NCAA events will center on looming Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) legislation in California and 21 other states. The NCAA is under the gun to come up with a policy that’s acceptable to athletes and its member institutions alike before California’s Fair Pay to Play bill takes effect in 2023. On the issue of when an NCAA NIL policy will go into effect, NCAA President Emmert has said that 2021 is the goal, but could be impacted by what happens at the state level, emphasizing that we can’t have a model where multiple states have different rules. Congress and state legislators are now firmly vested in the process as well, looking to preserve the rights of student-athletes as well as the Title IX structure and other anti-discrimination measures. Look for Emmert to produce a draft national NIL solution by year-end – one that will be intensely debated and breathlessly revised in 2021.
The 2022 Qatar World Cup is forging ahead in the desert, with major milestones within the country and decisions outside of it to come in 2020. According to ESPN, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is less than three years away and the tiny Gulf state has now staged its first-ever major football tournament, having hosted the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup earlier in December, won by Liverpool. There will be an eight stadium rotation within the 2022 World Cup footprint, and Qatar is debuting a new metro system that will link the majority of the eight stadiums along a 46-mile path. Although the country looks to build its hotel industry to host a substantial number of World Cup fans, the number of rooms available at the current count will fall well short of the likely 3 million incoming fans. And in 2020, qualifying countries that abhor Qatar’s poor human rights record will have hard philosophical choices to make about sending a national team. Another obstacle to overcome will be the country’s anti-liquor laws, which will push drinking into mainly hotel bars. The country, however, is likely to relax its tough alcohol rules to make the soccer masses happy and the World Cup a financial success.
Legal U.S. sports gambling and media platforms continue to grow. According to Digiday, sports media will rush to embrace gambling in 2020 in order to boost ad revenues, following the path of ESPN’s popular “Daily Wager” show that launched in 2019. Currently, sports betting is legal in just 11 states, but seven more states are preparing to take the sports betting plunge in the near future. Research published recently by the consultancy Gambling Compliance projects that 40 U.S. states will have legalized sports betting by 2024. That rush of legalization, encompassing an estimated $150 billion industry, is expected to attract the attention of almost every kind of mainstream sports publisher. Over the past year, both Vox Media (with DraftKings) and Bleacher Report (with Caesars Palace) signed long-term deals to create wide varieties of content designed to build interest in sports betting. The potential for multiple income streams from sports betting – via related ads and the bets themselves – will be a cash cow for sports media companies.
Baseball’s new marijuana policy will spark change in NBA and NFL rules. Earlier this month, Major League Baseball and its players’ association announced that the league would drop punishments for positive tests of “substances of abuse” such as marijuana and cocaine, treating those violations the same as alcohol-related situations, with players facing voluntary treatment rather than suspensions and fines. The change in MLB policy could be a short term trigger for similar changes within the NBA and NFL. According to a study done by ESPN last spring, 82% of teams over the four major pro North American sports leagues play in states or provinces where recreational and/or medical marijuana use is legal. The NFL and NBA put players who test positive in a substance abuse program before fines and suspensions for subsequent positives. The NHL, the pathfinder in this area, recommends treatment for “abnormally high levels” of THC but does not punish players. The NHL and MLB are now treating their athletes more like ordinary people. This will likely give the NFL and NBA precedent to change their respective recreational drug policies.
Bolstered by support from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the fate of 42 Minor League Baseball franchises will become a solid rallying point during the 2020 U.S. presidential elections. The current dispute between MLB and MiLB became public in October, when Baseball America reported that MLB had offered a plan to eliminate as many as 42 minor-league teams after the 2020 season, when the Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and MiLB expires. In November, the New York Times released a list of the 42 teams that would be cut. “Suddenly,” Sporting News noted, “we knew what towns could potentially lose teams, which communities — some significant to the sport’s history — could be without baseball. That made it much more real.” Politicians coast to coast have rightfully joined the effort to save grassroots pro baseball at its best. Democratic presidential candidate Sanders has been the loudest voice. He’s met with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, and in mid-December, Sanders also met with people representing minor league baseball in Burlington, Iowa. Not coincidentally, that’s one of the towns on the elimination list. Expect other presidential would-be hopefuls to join the charge to save the MiLB teams as well.
Zion Williamson will finally play in 2020 and he will have a big impact on the NBA market. According to Forbes, season-ticket sales calls for the New Orleans Pelicans reached historic levels after the team won the NBA lottery with Williamson. But a couple of lawsuits are going to delay many off-court endorsement options. Currently, most of the money being made from Zion’s likeness is unlicensed merchandise. All of the different styles of street market shirts, posters, and even rosary candles are not Zion blessed products. Williamson is so good that he’s even reviving the basketball card industry single-handedly and is sure to raise ticket prices when he’s on the road just due to his presence. Williamson will eventually get a huge shoe deal, and will net a huge raise once he hits the NBA open market as a free agent, perhaps becoming even more marketable than LeBron James within the next two years. If LeBron is the NBA’s current most marketable basketball player, Zion is the future.