By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
December 30, 2011
As the calendar turns to 2012, we finally can close the book on a historic sports year.
If the 2011 sports calendar is remembered for anything, it’ll be as the year of the lockout. For the first time ever, three collective bargaining agreements expired in the same year. Though MLB reached an extension with ease, the NBA and NFL both had prolonged lockouts before agreeing to deals.
2011 also saw record TV deals. NBC bid $4.4 billion for Olympic TV rights through 2020 and Fox committed $500 million to World Cups in 2018 and 2022. The biggest deal of all belongs to the NFL, which extended TV rights agreements with CBS, Fox and NBC for a total of $27 billion over the next nine years. The league also extended ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” contract for $15 billion over eight years.
Some of our predictions one year ago for 2011 rang true – the NFL lockout lasted about as long as we thought it would, and both Tiger Woods and LeBron James signed significant marketing deals despite not winning a Major or the NBA Championship, respectively. But we flunked out on our prediction that the federal perjury trials of MLB sluggers Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would put a black cloud over baseball for much of the year – that job fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the franchise’s bankruptcy, and owner Frank McCourt.
Looking ahead to 2012, will the world actually end on December 21 as the Mayans predict? And if so, will it disrupt whatever low-level bowl game is scheduled for that day? Will the Occupy forces invade Indianapolis and Occupy Super Bowl XLVI? Will former NFL quarterback and broadcast commentator Craig James win a Senate seat from Texas?
Our short form answers: a) We’ll be too busy running for the Himalayas to worry about a bowl game b) Occupying Indianapolis would only serve to confuse liberal Colts owner Jim Irsay and c) Not if Mike Leach has anything to say about it.
Regardless of the fate of the world on December 21, the sports industry still has 356 days in 2012 to manage until then. Here are five predictions on what will happen in sports during that span.
Tellem like it Is
Mark Cuban will once again fail in his quest to purchase a Major League Baseball franchise. Instead, the Los Angeles Dodgers will be purchased by a consortium packed with baseball insiders, with the groups led by, first, veteran sports executive Stan Kasten, Guggenheim Capital CEO Mark Walter, and L.A. icon Magic Johnson and second, the team of billionaire investment banker Steven Cohen and influential sports agent Arn Tellem (under the advisement of former deputy MLB commissioner Steve Greenberg) having the inside track.
Cohen and his team are among the first bidders submitted to MLB for vetting, according to baseball insiders. Initial bids for the Dodgers are due January 13; under the bankruptcy sales process, the league can approve up to 10 bidders, with McCourt granted the right to conduct an auction and select the winner.
In Los Angeles, the Dodgers are now under even more public pressure to return the franchise to glory after the signing of Albert Pujols by the L.A. Angels of Anaheim down South. This will be MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s final time to preside over the sale of one of baseball’s marquee teams before he retires – he won’t screw it up. The sale will exceed $1.1 billion, a record in American pro sports.
Contrary to his current insistence, Frank McCourt will return to Boston after he realizes he’ll never be able to get a dinner reservation, an executive producer credit, or even a date with a B list reality TV personality in L.A. Jamie McCourt will start dating a motion picture mogul and turn her attention to being the face of a studio rather than a baseball team.
Olympic Game On
The London Olympic Games will top a record-breaking 5.5 billion viewers worldwide after NBC and other global TV networks enable viewers to watch every sport in real time on their HDTV big screens, desktops, tablets, handhelds, Mac Book Airs, and Big Macs. (Final numbers indicate the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games captured 4.7 billion viewers in total.)
Michael Phelps’ rival swimmer Ryan Lochte (current deals include Speedo, Gatorade, and Mutual of Omaha) and women’s soccer standout Alex Morgan (WPS champion New York Flash, post World Cup deal with Bank of America) will emerge as America’s new endorsement darlings, from Wheaties box covers to multi-million dollar deals with Unilever’s Dove brand and obligatory stops on the late night TV talk show circuit.
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt will remain one of the international faces of the summer Olympic Games, but will not be able to beat his world record sprint of 9.58 established in 2009. (Regardless, he’ll still be able to beat all of his competitors.)
After dealing effectively and peacefully with violence-inducing traffic jams in London, Olympics chairman Sebastian Coe will instantly become a national hero and on the short list to replace the newly-reelected London mayor, Donald Trump-haired Boris Johnson, when his latest term expires in May 2016.
Nike is also poised to strike it rich in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. One of the world’s largest NikeTowns is strategically located next to the Olympic village, and an estimated 70% of ticket holders will pass through the store before entering the Olympic grounds.
Does Danica Patrick need NASCAR more than NASCAR needs Danica Patrick?
As she announced on August 25, Patrick, perhaps best known to non race fans as the racy face of GoDaddy.com, is moving full time from Indy Car racing to NASCAR’s Nationwide Series in 2012. Patrick won one Indy Car race in her career on the international circuit, and nearly became the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500 last Memorial Day weekend. She showed NASCAR potential in her limited racing there in 2011, achieving three Top 10 finishes and one Top Five finish in a dozen Nationwide Series races.
Patrick’s Indy Car career brought her millions of dollars in endorsements, but the siren song of NASCAR’s bigger spotlight proved too tempting for the driver, who turns 30 in March. "I think obviously she’s got talent; she’s been successful in every form of racing she’s been in so far and I don’t see why she wouldn’t be successful here,” says current NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.
But after Stewart’s dramatic victory at Homestead last month and a slow, economy-driven resurgence in TV ratings and track attendance for NASCAR, the circuit seems to be doing fine without the Danica distraction. Patrick is not likely to win in 2012, but NASCAR is certainly poised to do so.
The NFL’s TV Station
In the wake of its landmark TV rights deals with CBS, Fox, NBC, and ESPN, the NFL will finally close a carriage deal for its NFL Network with Time Warner Cable. The NFL has already committed to adding four additional regular season games to its NFL Network next season, giving it a total of 12 games. The added content will help the league finally reach a deal with TWC.
In New York, TWC has also been fighting a regional battle with the MSG sports network over rising content rates – TWC CEO Glenn Britt recently went on record saying that he thinks all sports channels should be sold in a separate tier from a main cable TV package of channels. Look for the rising cost of sports programming in general to be a major industry issue in 2012.
The other big NFL issue to watch in 2012: will Farmers Field in L.A. finally get a team?
Hockey Takes its Fighting from the Boards to the Boardroom
In the end, the NBA didn’t challenge the National Hockey League’s dubious status of being the only major pro sports league to lose an entire season to a labor stoppage. But the NHL’s current CBA is set to expire on September 15, 2012, before the season starts, and many hockey experts agree that the league’s next labor deal could be almost as contentious as the one that canceled the 2004-2005 season.
Among the many issues that will be on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s table come fall are buyouts of guaranteed contracts, player fines for fighting and other forms of misconduct (currently capped at $2,500, pocket change for pro athletes), players’ ability to play in the 2014 winter Olympic Games in Sochi, and the one that’s been grabbing the most headlines lately, the NHL’s concussion policy, helped to the forefront by similar concussion study and player safety initiatives in the NFL.
Our take: Two canceled seasons in one sport is two too many. Bettman and Donald Fehr, head of the NHL Players Association and a seasoned negotiation veteran from his MLBPA days, will come to an agreement that may cost the league its preseason international series, but no more lost time on the ice.
Happy New Year.