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The Top Ten Sports Business Stories of 2012


By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

December 21, 2012

1) The NHL began its third lockout under Commissioner Gary Bettman’s 20-year tenure and its second work stoppage in the last eight years. Unless a resolution is reached between the league and its players by mid-January, according to those in the know, the entire 2012-2013 season is in jeopardy, as is the health of a $3.3 billion business and the NHL’s reputation with sponsors and fans.

2) Lance Armstrong ended his fight against drug charges brought by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which issued a lifetime ban against the cyclist that stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles, emptied his endorsement portfolio of such blue chip backers as Nike, Anheuser-Busch, and Radio Shack, and severed all ties to his LIVEStrong foundation. Globally, pro cycling may never recover from its elite athlete doping stigma.

3) The London Olympic Games become the most-watched U.S. TV event in history, and set milestones for online viewership as well. The London Games saw Michael Phelps retire and Andy Murray triumph, and made sweethearts of Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglas. The NBC family of channels took in an estimated $1 billion from such advertisers as Proctor & Gamble and General Motors, which allowed NBCUniversal to break even. The IOC now turns its attention to replacing outgoing chairman Jacques Rogge and to the upcoming Games in Socci and Rio de Janeiro.

4) Guggenheim Baseball Management buys the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion. The storied franchise cements its new position as the Yankees of the West after completing hot stove deals with free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke and Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. The agreements send the Dodgers’ 2013 payroll north of $230 million, a MLB record. Next up might be the acquisition of AEG, which could give Guggenheim a veritable monopoly on all SoCal sports and concerts.

5) Two seasons after the Saints won the first Super Bowl in the franchise’s 43-year history, the “Bountygate” pay-for-injury scandal rocked the team and its town. While appointed arbitrator/former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue recently dismissed the players’ suspensions and fines (but not the year-long banishment of head coach Sean Payton), the issue is not resolved and in February, will make for chilly relations at Super Bowl XLVII…in New Orleans.

6) Television rights fees escalate dramatically for live sporting events. From ESPN’s $500 million payment for the upcoming BCS playoff to NBC agreeing to pay $85 million annually for rights to the English Premier League to Time Warner Cable reaching a carriage deal with NFL Network and 10 regional sports channels launching, including the Pac-12 Network, the total for national media rights deals signed in 2012 topped $25.9 billion.

7) The NFL season started in a labor impasse with replacement referees, but after a badly blown call during the Week 3 Packers-Seahawks “Monday Night Football” game the league had finally heard and seen enough. A deal was soon struck, but the blown call may still impact the playoffs.

8) The Brooklyn Nets begin play in Barclay’s Center. The franchise’s move and rebranding have revitalized the surrounding Prospect Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, produced a legitimate rivalry with the Knicks, and brought celebrity fans courtside. And for the first time in many seasons, the team is in contention.

9) Even though it scuttled the ING New York Marathon and postponed the first cross town rivalry game between the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, like Katrina before it, Hurricane Sandy brought out the best in the sports industry. The NFL, NFLPA, NBA, and MLB all donated more than a million, while dozens of athletes organized charity events and donated significant funds of their own. Athletes also manned the phone lines during the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief in Madison Square Garden.

10) Over the last year, 50 schools within the 11-conference structure of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) have changed conferences or announced their intention to do so. Amidst this musical chair maelstrom, however, the sitting commissioners and the NCAA finally green-lighted a four-team football playoff starting in 2014. We have no idea where the teams will come from, but from the madness—just maybe—will emerge a legitimate national football champion.

Happy Holidays!




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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
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Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
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