85+ Sports Business Professionals Discuss Biggest Emerging Trends, Hot Topics For 2015

Forbes

What are the trends and hot-button topics to follow in the sports business industry in 2015? How will the different niches within sport — digital, technology, agency, traditional media, sponsorship, athletics and others — change heading into the new calendar year?

Those were the two questions I posed to a number of sports business professionals over the past few months. All were asked to give a handful of sentences with their thoughts on just one of the questions or both. Without their contributions, this piece is certainly not possible.

Regardless if you’re an undergraduate student, freshly-minted professional or a 20-year seasoned veteran, hopefully you’ll come away with a better knowledge base for the future about how you can best serve your clients, fans and business over the next 365 days.

Also, I recently chatted with Neil Horowitz, a social media/sports and digital marketing professional, on his regular podcast about this article and the trends to follow for 2015. Please give it a listen.

Ben Ackerman, President, Experience

“The business of sports will continue to focus on the importance of each individual fan and therefore, the need to offer a personalized fan experience for everyone in venue. We at Experience work constantly with our more than 200 partners to develop and deliver the most dynamic technology leveraging the unique assets of a team, venue and fan base to make each event a one-of-a-kind experience for all in attendance. Our goal for the next year and beyond is to not only give fans more ways to personalize their live event experience, but also provide them with significant flexibility for their event day investment. This means when life happens and things change, fans also need the freedom to alter their event plans accordingly. Fundamentally changing the way a fan experiences a live event is what we are doing and what Experience is all about.”

Val Ackerman, Commissioner, Big East Conference 

“Two forces now in play will have the most impact on college sports in 2015 and beyond and will be monitored by everyone in college sports in the coming year. The first is a new set of NCAA rules, expected to be initiated by the five biggest football conferences, which will have ramifications for the basic economic model of intercollegiate athletics and could affect the ability of smaller schools and conferences to maintain their current level of support to existing sports programs, particularly sports other than football and basketball. The second is the parade of litigations now or to be filed which challenge the traditional athletic scholarship model and seek a relationship between a student-athlete and his or her institution more akin to that of employer-employee. These actions involve complex legal issues that need to be resolved with the unique attributes and benefits of college sports in mind, and the outcomes, which have important Title IX implications as well, could upend college sports as we know them today.” 

Arnold Ambiel, Chief Operating Officer, One World Play Project

“The One World Play Project is a global business. In one morning, our focus will shift between countries and across continents. I listen closely using tools like Twitter to learn and understand the viewpoints of our partners,  team members and markets. I have heard that 12 of every 20 tweets are sports related. We collect impact stories, photos and video globally because they convey best what ‘play’ means to children, youth and communities across the world. Over the next 12 months, we’ll focus on young women and how the One World Futbol and the transformative power of play can bring them opportunities for social development to better their lives and the lives of generations of girls to come. Their stories are why I come to work every morning.”

Steve Astephen, Managing Director, Action Sports/Olympics Division, Wasserman Media Group

“We have to deliver more than reach through our athletes’ social media programs. In 2015, we will continue to find new ideas that drive deeper engagement, authenticity and influence for our partners.”

Nicole Auerbach, National College Basketball/Football Reporter, USA Today Sports

“I’m keeping an eye on the way teams/organizations cover themselves — for example, team site beat writers. In this current media climate, how news gets out and how it is framed is more important than ever. This also affects access and the kinds of stories traditional media outlets can do. Do fans care which outlets are reporting something? Do they care if a media organization has a financial relationship with a team or league it covers? How do writers who go from traditional media outlets to team sites adjust to having limitations placed on their reporting? (For example, maybe they can’t write about injuries, or off-field news, etc.) To me, this is a really interesting part of the sports media world, particularly as access gets more and more restricted, and it’s something that’s not going away.”

Christy Berkery, Social Media Manager, New England Patriots

“I think one of the more interesting things in sports digital/social to watch will be the evolution of the in-venue experience as teams and leagues strive to add real value for on-site fans. Specifically, I’m intrigued by the idea of wearable technology for players — be it as simple as GoPro style cameras or as complex as devices to capture and display player vitals. The in-stadium experience is an area of huge opportunity for sports teams and leagues, and it will be interesting to see how that develops.”

Jim Biegalski, Senior Vice President, Sports Sponsorship, The Marketing Arm

“In 2015, teams and properties will continue investing in the in-venue experience and over-the-top content delivery. And that makes sense because if fans aren’t in the venue consuming content, they’re consuming it somewhere else — at home, at work, on a plane, wherever. It’s a full-court press of technology integration and enhancement throughout sport. Augmented reality, location-based technology, the proliferation of video and statistical information and increased social exchange will define which teams are considered leaders in their respective space. In all aspects, it’s a race to the newest technologies and development of “smart venues” while building affinity with future generations of fans who don’t know life without an internet connection.”

Steve Brener, President, Brener Zwikel & Associates, Inc.

“The two areas that certainly will gain the most attention in the sports world in 2015 is the pending cable mergers (AT&T and DirecTV and Comcast and Time Warner) and legalized sports gambling and the fantasy sites.”

Amy Brooks, Executive Vice President, Team Marketing & Business Operations, NBA

“I’m closely following how innovations in the digital space can further impact the NBA game experience for our fans, both in the arena and globally. Specifically, how augmented and virtual reality, 3D projection and other interactive experiences, when combined with the sharing power of social media, will transform how fans engage with our teams and with our sponsors.”

Glenn Brown, Senior Director, Content Partnerships and Twitter Amplify

“Sports fans will come to expect real-time mobile highlights for every sports competition around the world. In 2014, with the launch of Twitter Amplify, this was an innovation. In 2015, it will become the norm. Already NBA and MLB tweet out every official replay review, and NFL, ESPN, MotoGP, among dozens of others.”

Morgan Campbell, Sports Business Reporter, The Toronto Star

“I’m keeping my eye on the ripple effects of the rising costs of fielding football teams from college down to Pop Warner. As we learn more about the long-term damage football players are exposed to, the cost of insuring the sport can only go up. And as the Power Five conferences exercise their newfound freedom to compensate players beyond the value of their scholarships, teams in smaller conferences can either overspend in an effort to keep up or they can follow UAB’s example and dump football. The interesting part to me isn’t whether the sport of football will disappear soon, because it won’t. But if it becomes prohibitively expensive, or parents choose not to enroll their kids, which other sports stand to benefit? UAB will add men’s track and cross-country to replace football, and I’m intrigued to see what happens elsewhere.”

John Celenza, President, BioSteel Sports

“I am closely following the younger demographics and the beverage choices they are making. With so much talk out there regarding sugar-based sports drinks being bad for you, I want to see what the future’s primary purchasers are leaning towards. It’s slightly skewed because many of their parents determine the purchasing, but either way, it’s a telling sign on how the education of our industry is growing. If I could liken it to sports, I’d say in hockey, fighting has become almost obsolete at the younger levels, because of education and parenting. Will the same happen for the less healthy choices in our industry? We sure hope so.”

Stephanie Cheng, Vice President, Marketing Services, Premier Partnerships 

“We’re seeing an evolution in our space in terms of a professionalism being brought to this area of services. The sports industry is progressing in how it addresses naming rights and sponsorship sales. This extends from the execution of sponsorships across major platforms — all the way to the idea/solution generation phase during the sales process.”

Jason Coyle, President, 120 Sports

“We will be following a number of about-to-emerge trends closely, each with the potential to impact our business, and the industry in general, in a significant manner. Among many others, we’ll be excited to watch: 1) The roll-out of bundled, cable-like, over-the-top offerings — each with varying strategies to attack the category — from players such as Dish, Sony, and Verizon. 2) Hardware innovation, such as next-generation connected TVs, creating living room experiences enabling seamless (or even simultaneous) access to data and both “television” and “digital” video streams

3) The integration and monetization of professionally-produced video into major social media platforms.”

Pat Coyle, Vice President, Audience Platforms, InStadium

“There are three trends in particular that I’m tracking into 2015. First, the Sharing Economy: Consumers want access, not ownership. This paradigm shift will have an impact on sport franchises that want to sell season tickets. Enlightened teams will adopt a “sport as a service” business mindset. Rather than just selling tickets, they will sell experiences. Second, The Internet of Things: Ambient connectivity will continue to influence consumer expectations, putting pressure on teams to provide not just HD WiFi (which is table stakes), but new software-driven elements to the fan experience. Finally, Big Data. Fans are willing to exchange data for enhanced experiences. Successful teams will begin at last to create platforms for such value exchange to take place.”

Mark Cuban, Owner, Dallas Mavericks 

“Medical advancements, sensors and immersive video for analytics.”

Don Damore, Chief Operating Officer, General Sentiment

“As the sports industry becomes more creative in engaging with their fan base on their own turf — social media and the web — executives will need more substantial measures of success. New operating metrics that will be able to quantify the goodwill teams gain by successfully leveraging these platforms will be a necessity. We expect social analytics to become an integral part of an organization’s outreach as they try to get ahead of the constant feedback loop available to sports teams on the web. Metrics such as sentimentality, earned media exposure and top conversation driving topics will be key in the coming year to shaping overall marketing strategy, even beyond the social space.”

Hoby Darling, Chief Executive Officer, Skullcandy

“Retail: The use of the web for researching products and brands will definitely accelerate with an increased emphasis on digital reviews for purchase decisions. The consumer is truly just getting smarter and self-educating with all the available information out there. While sales online will continue to grow and digital research will spike, retailers who are creating great experiences around product and brands will continue to have success. For brands at retail, clearly demonstrating for the consumer a point of difference from the sea of sameness will become even more of a requirement for success as the marketplace continues to crowd.

“Audio and Tech: Tech that aligns with how people live their life will win, while tech that is just cool or for tech sake (just because it can be done) will falter. There has to be a human element more and more because the tech is getting smaller and simpler.”

Richard Deitsch, Sports Media Reporter, Sports Illustrated

“The biggest parlor game for sports media watchers in 2015 will be whether Bill Simmons decides to re-sign with ESPN. (His contract is up late in the year.) Does he opt to go the Glenn Beck route? Leave for a digital competitor? Or stay with his longtime employer despite the obvious tension? The only sure prediction is Simmons will garner a lot of attention as always.”

Bob Dorfman, Executive Creative Director, Baker Street Advertising

“With all the recent controversy surrounding many big name athletes, will more brands shy away from using jocks as the centerpieces of their campaigns? Will more sponsorships dollars go toward leagues, teams and venues instead of specific athletes? And which athletes will continue to cash in on Madison Avenue? Can LeBron bring a title to Cleveland and further build his marketability? Do any rising NFL stars have the charisma to sell like Peyton Manning? Can anyone replace Derek Jeter as the marketing face of baseball? Does Rory McIlroy have the game to dominate golf endorsers? And with the 2016 Rio Games getting closer, can Michael Phelps rise above his latest DUI and swim to marketing gold again?”

Joe Esposito, Chief Operating Officer, Fathead 

“An important trend we are watching in 2015 is large companies and organizations transforming work spaces to create a unique and innovative environment that expresses and amplifies a company’s culture. Leaders are beginning to understand the impact a strong visual and creative atmosphere has on motivation. A recent example of this trend is the revamp of the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. With the return of LeBron James ushering in a new era in Cleveland basketball, the Cavaliers organization wanted to reflect the electricity of the city by completely renovating the arena with custom graphics everywhere. There is an increasing importance in designing work spaces with a lot more passion, from offices to stadiums and arenas.”

Jeffrey Fallis, Vice President, Digital Media, Pointstreak Sports Technologies

“In 2015, mobile will be the rule, not the exception in sports. Mobile-first technology will be much more influential when it comes to the way fans consume and follow their teams. Sports is a people business, and the fan experience means everything. Fans want to be connected to sports teams and content anytime, anywhere. Mobile technologies are revolutionizing sports, but we have only scratched the surface of what fans will have access to in the coming years.”

Jason Fass, Chief Executive Officer, Zepp

“We’re seeing a massive wave of performance data being captured today which will only increase with devices like Apple Watch coming to market. But how will consumers use all of this data? I believe the next 18 months will be the most critical in the history of the sports technology space wherein the winning companies will be the ones who deliver rich experiences powered by data rather than simply throwing numbers on a customer’s screen.”

Morgan Flatley, Chief Marketing Officer, Gatorade 

“Personalization will continue to rule. Younger consumers are already accustomed to getting their entertainment when, where and in the format of their choice. In 2015, I see this extending into more customized versions of traditional products.”

Buck French, Chief Executive Officer/Co-Founder, Fantex

“With the continued rise of mobile connectivity and fantasy sports, we are witnessing a fundamental shift in what it means to be a fan. I see the role of the fan moving from passive cheerleader to engaged amplifier of their favorite teams and players. The average U.S. consumer now has 130 friends/followers on social media. We will continue to see individuals use their own initiative and audiences to take a pivotal role in shaping the macro brand perception of teams and players.”

Justin Garrity, President, TigerLogic

“Sports has always been forward thinking when it comes to fan recognition — it is part of the industry. What has changed recently with the addition of social, fans now have a way to connect to their teams and other fans. Instead of waiting for the video camera to find them in the stands with face-paint or a custom sign they made, fans can now upload photos, videos and thoughts to social, and sports teams can amplify these contributions on stadium screens or on their websites. This is very empowering and allows fans to demonstrate their passion for teams in new ways with these micro-formats. Since there is great value now in publishing photos and selfies through your own social accounts as a fan, staging areas for photography at the stadium or arena are very important.”

Laura Gentile, Founder/Vice President, espnW

“Women will be a stronger force in the industry with a greater voice and influence. We’ve seen women emerge in 2014 from Michele Roberts to Becky Hammon to Mo’Ne Davis. Their accomplishments and talents are changing minds and perceptions. You’ll now see even more talented women in senior executive roles, leading the conversation as journalists and influencing business decisions.”

Jeffrey Gerttula, Senior Vice President/General Manager, CBSSports.com

“Growth in mobile media consumption continues to change what we know about sports fans’ preferences for content and how they get it.  Fans expect to be directly connected to the sports, teams and athletes they follow, anytime and anywhere. Across digital platforms, we’re going to see social media, live and on-demand video, and fantasy games keep evolving to deliver access to more information but also more personalization and control.”

Marshall Glickman, Chief Executive Officer, G2 Strategic, LLC

“With Levi’s Stadium open, and new Bay Area arenas in Sacramento and San Francisco coming on-line, we will see incredible demonstrations of the next wave of smart venues. One example will be cashless commerce, which will ultimately lead to meaningful increases in customer spend at live sporting events. And I hope that drones can help sort out the hassle of the typical ingress/egress mess that most venues and their customers still have to deal with (which, in my view, is the single biggest hurdle to growing live gate attendance, when it is so much easier to stay home and watch on my ultra HD big screen).”

Tim Glomb, Vice President, Media and Entertainment, Wayin 

“Wayin is focusing on the convergence of real-time conversations into marketing campaigns around sporting events. That may include reactions and UGC content related to a key play, outcome or team and insert them into a brand’s linear TV commercial spots or online experience, all in real time. The goal is to allow brands to engage their customers in a better way and maximize their investment around sporting events.”

Jessica Golden, Sports Business/Field Producer, CNBC

“We constantly track team valuations, and it will be interesting to watch if they continue on the upward trend as we have seen in 2014. Given recent sky-high sale prices, the question is whether the most recent sales have been outliers or if this is the new normal as ownership groups continue to pay up to own what has turned into a commodity: sports teams. Additionally, I will be following how the NFL bounces back from a string of negative PR the league has most recently faced. There’s no doubt the NFL will survive the crisis but was it just a bump in the road for America’s most powerful sports league or will it have any kind of real impact going forward with viewers, sponsors and fans and the sports world in general.”

Rich Gotham, Team President, Boston Celtics

“The consumer trend I’ve been following with the most curiosity is that of the unbundling of products and services and the effect that may have on how sports programming and ticket offerings will be packaged, delivered and consumed in an increasingly mobile world. With season tickets and media rights as our primary sources of revenue, it’s important we can deliver a value proposition that not only works for our business, but more importantly, works for the consumer over the long term. At the Celtics, we’ve been focused on delivering a membership model and mobile experience for our season ticket holders which delivers value in the form of experiential benefits, beyond the face value of a ticket which has been commoditized on the secondary market. From a media standpoint, we’ve taken a “mobile first” approach to content creation to feed the never ending consumer appetite for mobile video content, while we keep our eyes on whether or not cord shaving or cord cutting is occurring at any kind of meaningful pace that could impact traditional viewership.”

David Grant, Principal, Team Epic 

“The brand value a sponsor receives from aligning with a property is inextricably linked to player conduct and as such, we are closely following how rightsholders are handling player conduct issues — on the field, off the field, through social media, etc. We are working closely with our clients, both proactively and reactively in this area. Likewise, labor relations/collective bargaining with respect to not just player conduct, but also player safety, fair play (e.g. flopping), PED’s, etc. is a constant area of interest for the same reason. We also suggest, as investment levels for sponsorship continue to escalate, new and innovative research and measurement tools will take the place of old-school metrics.”

Thad Ide, Senior Vice President of Research and Product Development, Riddell

“We’re noticing a growing acceptance of head impact monitoring and reporting systems in helmets over recent years. For example, Riddell’s latest technology – the InSite Impact Response System – had a strong 2014, its first full season in the marketplace. Usage spans hundreds of programs and thousands of athletes at all levels of play. We are confident this momentum will continue into 2015 and anticipate every players’ helmet will be equipped with impact sensors within the next five years. As the technology continues to improve, we expect impact monitoring systems’ use to go beyond helping medical staff identify instances of injury and allow coaches to use the information as a tool to teach better technique and practice methods.”

Tom Haidinger, President, Advantage International

“The ever increasing digitization of society is creating a tendency for sponsors to think first of DSM (digital, social, mobile) when developing sponsorship activation plans. And yes, while DSM and even mass media, such as TV, continue to be important channels for reaching targeted audiences on scale, depending on the category, they sometimes lack the ability for brands to truly engage consumers around their passions. Of course, on-site event marketing has the ability to create a direct link between a sponsor’s products/message and desired consumers and should always be considered. But we are seeing more clients looking for ways to create a direct and lasting experience between their brand/products and consumers where they play/enjoy their passions — in other words, at the grassroots. While there are many sports and entertainment pursuits in which the average consumer simply cannot participate (football, polo playing, rockstar), there are many opportunities to leverage sponsorship directly to those who love to actually participate – country clubs, tennis centers, soccer facilities, health clubs, even community theatre. Smaller scale, deeper experience and longer lasting connection. As media costs continue to rise, I believe we’ll see a continued return to leveraging sponsorship at the grassroots.”

Chris Hannan, Executive Vice President of Communications and Integration, FOX Sports

“Looking ahead to next year, I think there are a few key trends to keep an eye on. Probably more than any other, I’m looking at traditional communication methods like press releases, and I see them evolving into more direct messages that are delivered via digital outlets to reach consumers. I would expect companies to lean less on press releases and more on digitally and socially-engaging content and communications to connect with their customers. LeBron James’ essay about his return to Cleveland and more recently, Tiger Woods’ first-person response in The Players Tribune to a Golf Digest story, show how some of the biggest athletes in the world want to deliver their message in their own words. Given the speed with which news travels through social media and the blogosphere, it has become so important to be first. Will this race to break news continue to take away from journalistic integrity, where being accurate used to be more important than being first?”

Jim Haworth, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Professional Bull Riders 

“One of the trends we’re facing is the need to provide our sponsors with even more detailed reports and examples of their ROI. While the PBR is still continuing to grow, as evidenced by our increased ratings, attendance numbers and social media engagement these last few years, the ROI reports and results are more important to our sponsors than the mere enjoyment of being associated with the leader in this industry. While optimistic about our sport, corporations are proceeding with caution as they view the future of the economy. They are renewing with us at a rate of 95 percent, but the long term agreements — five-plus years in length — have turned into to 2-3 year renewals. Information from Scarborough Sports Marketing, Repucom and Navigate Research help us to provide our partners with evidence of the value of their investment with the PBR.”

Amy Huchthausen, Commissioner, America East Conference 

“Implementation of the new Division I governance structure granting autonomy to the Power Five conferences – Will desired outcomes be achieved? How will this impact the current narrative surrounding the student-athlete experience? How will ongoing legal challenges impact implementation of the Power Five agenda? Also, the recent UAB decision to drop football – Will other institutions in the Group of 5 conferences or within FCS follow suit regarding football and/or other sports as institutions have more flexibility to spend their resources under the new governance structure?”

Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer, NHL

“At the macro level, we’re always keeping a close eye on media rights valuations and what I’d also add is franchise values because that’s usually a pretty good harbinger of the health of a brand. As a marketer, those are two good indicators. …Also, how we better serve our fans is always at the forefront from a marketing perspective — what’s the user experience when they get to one of our events, what’s the experience in the arena and what’s the experience on television.”

Jackson Jeyanayagam, Senior Vice President, Digital Strategy, Taylor 

“The definition of ‘influence’ and the way it is perceived is changing. Athletes will continue to be used in very different ways by brands and more and more avid team fans will become a key part of the marketing mix. The time when sports marketing equaled spending millions of dollars on an athlete for a handful of TV spots is over. We are beginning to see a more scalable model that integrates fan influencers and authentic athletes on social media to create content that is truly relevant to them as well as their sponsor brand. As a result, there will be a more dedicated focus on using social data and insights to determine which athletes/fan influencers are most appropriate for which brands/audiences based on their social presence and following. Of course, there will still be the $20 million dollar deal for the top tier athletes…but there will be more and more at-scale deals that solely rely on social media content and distribution from the athlete.”

Bob Johnson, Owner, Action Express Racing

“We continue to focus on the growing opportunities to generate revenue streams through social media and e-commerce as traditional sponsorship funding decreases in motorsport. Watching the change in audience demographics within sports car racing as millenials search for activity interests and ways to interface with the sport. In our area of the sport, there is an interesting growth in wealth of the fan base relative to other sports and the opportunities this wealthy base of attendees and fans offers teams.”

Jan Katzoff, Head of Global Sports/Entertainment Consulting, GMR Marketing

“At GMR, we can continue to see digital, social and mobile as the fastest growing part of our business. Every sponsor we represent continues to push us for more innovative ideation, content and authentic engagement. We see no signs of this trend slowing at all in 2015 and in fact, are under more pressure from clients to expand social engagement and digital amplification. Many of our technology clients such as Visa, SAP, NetApp, Comcast and others are on the leading edge of this around their sports sponsorship investments and activation. However, there is not a client we work with that does not have a huge commitment to growing and expanding their digital, social and mobile strategy.”

— Matthew Kingsley, President/Chief Executive Officer, 3 Kings Entertainment

“Change is constant and in order to be successful, you have to embrace change, especially within the technology age. You have to learn to go digital to survive today’s medium. In 2015, you will see more media outlets (in news, sports and entertainment) use the internet to create more advertising dollars. Broadcasters will need to apply a new strategy in how they grow the business of consumer demand in order to access more content in the digital space and on mobile devices.”

Matt Kramer, Vice President, Broadcasters/New Media Personalities, CSE

“1) On the digital side, will we continue to see a rise in ownership of specific-sport verticals by major media outlets in sports? ESPN.com launched a pop culture vertical “Grantland”, SI.com launched a NFL vertical “MMQB” and FoxSports.com launched a MLB vertical “JustABitOutside.com”…I think the question is who will be next and how will that ownership group define success for the site?

2) I think a younger demographic of Americans will continue to watch more international soccer leagues and competition (EPL, La Liga, Champions League, etc.), and by virtue of that, those property rights will become even more valuable to the networks and advertisers.

3) I’m continuing to keep an eye on the synergy that is starting to exist between some of those ‘national’ sports networks (FOX Sports 1, NBC Sports) and all of their ‘regional’ networks (FOX Sports regionals, Comcast SportsNet’s, etc.). From a talent perspective, there are some tremendous opportunities for the regional networks to be grooming the stars of the future for larger roles on their national networks, and I think we’re starting to see more and more communication and partnerships between national networks and regional networks when it comes to developing and then ultimately, sharing exceptional sports media talent.”

Sam Laird, Senior Sports Reporter, Mashable 

“Like so many, I’m curious what the next year holds for the NFL, America’s most popular sport. A year from now, have the controversies that roiled it this fall faded into the background, or are they still at the forefront? Has the league reformed in anyway? Is it still a target of outrage for many, or will we all be distracted again by the brilliance on the field?”

Chris LaPlaca, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications, ESPN 

“The speed at which information travels these days, and the number of channels that exist will only increase….and so will its often negative impact on the context and accuracy of that information. Being nimble in managing your corporate brand in that environment will proportionally increase in importance. Being comfortable with evolving technologies and learning to communicate effectively through a variety of multimedia platforms will be critical to success.”

Sal LaRocca, President, Global Operations and Merchandising, NBA

“The fantasy business which continues to emerge and becomes more and more popular in the U.S. There is continued momentum for it being a global business, and we will obviously be watching the development of that. Certainly, on the heels of Commissioner Adam Silver authoring an op-ed piece in the N.Y. Times about sports betting in the U.S., that’s something we’ll be keeping our eye on as well. The whole idea behind legalized gambling and legalized sports betting in New Jersey has been in the news and with the ongoing issues regarding states trying to close budget gaps, that’s probably going to be more and more of a federal issue and not so much a state issue. The third thing is, as the consuming population around the world continues to move toward internet-based shopping, in the context of growing our global business, how we can continue to meet the needs and expectations of those consumers on a real-time basis. One of the things that has been changing in the consumer products part of our business is that consumers are demanding more things in real time when the pre-existing business model has been largely built on a model that relied on manufacturing products and shipping them to retailers when retailers wanted them, and then they would display product at the time it was most appropriate for them to display them. Now, consumers are demanding a much more focused effort from everyone and wanting to have those products in real time. As our business grows globally, it’s one of the things we’re focused on and how we can bring our products more directly to consumers on a much more expedited time frame.”

Geoff Lester, Head of Partnerships and Business Development, StubHub

“In 2015, we will play close attention to and a leadership role in the distribution of tickets. Fans don’t distinguish between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ anymore. They are passionate and savvy, and they want real value in their tickets; the location they want at the price they want to pay. What’s the best e-commerce experience, coupled with the best back-end solution, to connect fans looking for value to box offices and intermediaries looking to sell more tickets?”

AJ Maestas, Founder/President, Navigate Research

“The future of research is passive observation of real behavior (buying or otherwise), so we are closely watching the marketplace movement away from survey-based insights to the types of technology we have bet our future on. Our specific niche (in terms of sponsorship research and measurement) will be changing from primarily web-based survey services to more interactive, gamified and mobile solutions. As technology is shifting, our niche is forced to follow. No longer are the days of people using their desktop or laptops to participate in a quantitative survey; people are busy, on the go and have short attention spans. Sports fans are willing to participate in surveys/studies if you adapt to their lifestyle. Web-based surveys can be viewed by fans as dull, lengthy and annoying; when you add in a gaming element, or media capture (think picture/video upload), the survey becomes more fun and less burdensome. This platform shift allows for higher response rate, more rich data on the back end and a cutting-edge approach to a soon-to-be archaic type of research.”

Joey Maestas, Manager, Social Media Strategy, United States Olympic Committee

“We all know that mobile devices are used as “second screens” in home viewing of live televised sports, but what about the fans at the stadium? Over 70 percent of fans are bringing a mobile device to stadiums or arenas and expect to use it during a game (Source: Cisco Systems Sports & Entertainment Group). I look for current and new stadiums to make the necessary upgrades to keep up with the digital fan. This could mean more interactive fan apps that allow social check-in’s, push notifications with bathroom line updates, cashless concessions delivered right to your seat, interactive fan voting with social results beamed right to the jumbotron and exclusive fan giveaways on team mobile apps.”

Dan Mannix, Founder/Chief Executive Officer, LeadDog Marketing Group

“In a world that’s becoming increasingly digitized, with content consumed through multiple screens, brands and consumers are looking to connect through authentic experiences, with sports being at the top of the list. Engaging, authentic, multi-touchpoint experiences that create value for the “fan” are more important than ever, particularly given the rising costs of attending live sports events. The brands that can help create value and unique and memorable experiences will be the ones that are generating the most value from their customers if they can appropriately leverage the sports marketplace. Paramount to that is the creation and distribution of short-form content that drives the consumers active engagement and participation “and sharing” of this content. With so many things changing and evolving with marketing and the various technologies and distribution platforms, it is the CMOs and organizations that can evolve with this, while also having a back-to-basics approach to creating authentic experiences, that will be the LeadDogs in their respective industries.”

Dennis Mannion, President/Chief Executive Officer, Palace Sports & Entertainment 

“The great accelerator, technology, is driving fan access at an incalculable rate. Access drives relevance, relationships and revenue through discipleship. So, technology is helping us make content a stronger king and customization the new queen. Specifically, collaboration between athletes, owners and fans will multiply as never seen previously. The windfall will come in three dimensional properties comprised of media, memories and merchandising. Targets, content and distribution channels will be segmented in unprecedented ways.”

Shawn McBride, Executive Vice President, Sports, Ketchum Sports & Entertainment

“Content, Content, Content — content marketing is the new social media marketing. Brands, media rightsholders and sports properties alike are beginning to embrace this emerging channel to raise awareness, generate engagement and drive sales, by providing fans with a more compelling way to experience their fandom and express their passion. Gamification — sports properties and sponsors realize that engaged fans are more loyal fans, and rewarding them for their loyalty – for everything from clicking, watching or sharing – can result in the active, invested fans/consumers they desire. We see this strategy being much more prevalent in 2015.”

Michael McCarthy, Contributing Writer, Adweek/Sporting News/Sports Illustrated

“1) Will any of the NFL’s 31 corporate sponsors actually cancel their deals over scandals and concussions? Or will they just posture and hope it blows over? 2) Will MLB adopt any time limits in between pitchers and pitching changes to speed up games? 3) Will athletic sponsors continue to lose deals to actors and musicians who’ve suddenly decided they like the fast money from advertising.”

Nick Meacham, Managing Director, SportsPro Media

“The growth in organizations (clubs, leagues, rightsholders and sponsors, etc.) moving to create their own content has been rapid, allowing them to deliver the message they want conveyed, when and how they want it, to an audience they feel they can influence most effectively, using social media as the key/sole distribution channel. The challenge is with more and more organizations instilling this content production methodology, can the social media landscape get over saturated with sponsored content to the point where fans and users will react?”

David Meltzer, Chief Executive Officer, Sports 1 Marketing

“Our niche in 2015 will be aimed towards the morality in sports. We’ll focus on those players, teams, conferences and stories that are inspirational and aspirational. We’ll showcase the icons of morality even more than the icons of performance…where athletes understand and live up to the fact that they are role models.”

Jason McIntyre, Founder, The Big Lead 

“Twitter has helped sports journalism in many ways, but at the same time, there have been two enormous drawbacks: Groupthink when it comes to opinions on issues, and lack of creativity when it comes to blog posts. You started to see it in 2014 — something would hit Twitter, and 25 websites (including the mainstream media) would rush to get it up because ‘it was on Twitter’ and everyone wanted to get it on Facebook as fast as possible in hopes of ‘getting it trending’ and maximizing traffic. As a result, I think you started to see less and less originality and creativity and reporting. The argument could be made that a similar situation took place in the early 2000s in the sports sections of newspapers. You know what happened next: sports blogs arrived. What’s going to steal the discussion from Twitter in 2015?”

Dave Mingey, President/Founder Partner, Glideslope

“1) Wearable tech — Led by initiatives such as the NFL’s Head Health Challenge, created in partnerships with GE and Under Armour to track dangerous collisions, 2015 will see significant developments in wearable tech as we all look to increase safety in real time.

When considering the performance and consumer fitness space as well, wearable tech is expected to grow to $19 billion by 2018 (Jupiter Research). This includes a wide range of devices – from those aimed at improving your golf or baseball swing, to those analyzing your fitness workouts, to some that track every step that a player makes during an NBA or NFL game.

2) Fan engagement with sport — The lines between traditional television and digital interaction of sports content will continue to blur in 2015. According to Yahoo!’s Flurry Analytics division, sports fans’ usage of apps to follow sport has risen 210 percent from 2013. While television is still providing record-breaking revenue for sports leagues, and sport is a stronghold for cable networks, internet-led platforms like Netflix believe that apps are replacing traditional television and so it will be interesting to see how this trend evolves in 2015.”

Shervin Mirhashemi, President/Chief Operating Officer, Legends

“The consolidation of sports agencies. Very interested to see how that landscape evolves following the WME purchase of IMG and TPG’s investment in CAA. Will each become watershed moments and lead to others, similar to how the college conference landscape has changed recently? Also, the battle between the at-home experience vs. the in-venue experience. How will teams/athletic departments evolve that fan experience through new features in their building — such as technology upgrades, food and beverage, seating amenities and partnership activation.”

Priya Narasimhan, Founder/Chief Executive Officer, YinzCam

“Technology is impacting the three inter-twined pillars of the mobile fan-experience: content, convenience and customization. From the content perspective, technology is enabling fans to retrieve different unique types of content, targeted at the pre-game, in-game and post-game parts of the fan journey and to enable fans to be immersed in audio, video, social content, gaming and more. From the convenience perspective, micro-location technologies, such as beacons, are enabling fine-grained utilities, such as in-venue line-busting, in-venue congestion-avoidance, in-venue turn-by-turn directions, parking reminders and more. From the customization perspective, technology is enabling us to use powerful data-mining algorithms to enable a fan to enjoy a unique experience different from other fans by using a fan’s data and player/team/matchup/venue preferences to tailor the experience to that specific fan and to tailor the experience between season-ticket holders vs. the casual game attendee, the die-hard fan vs. the new fan, and more. The just-in-time 365 x 24 x 7 customized delivery of content and convenience, inside and outside the venue — all driven by rich sources of data — is our vision of the future of the fan experience and what we at YinzCam are striving for every day.”

Shaun Neff, Founder, Neff

“At Neff, after signing several athletes over the years, we have decided less is more. We are going to sign athletes that have legitimate fans that have influence to the consumer at the retail level. Then, we tell compelling stories and marketing around those athletes with great product. The start of this for us is the new business we have started with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. He is the ideal athlete that fits this model, and we will be going after an untapped market, in our opinion: branded youth culture underwear. Look for this to make a huge splash mid next year at retail.”

Kyle Nelson, Co-Founder/Chief Marketing Officer, MVPIndex

“For social media to be effective it must be authentic. Having a brand ambassador who is passionate about their brand sponsor is critical.  For authentic messaging to carry and resonate with the audience, the fans of the brand ambassador must be aligned with both the brand and its ambassador. One of the best examples of this relationship is Rickie Fowler and Red Bull. Rickie lives the Red Bull experience across his social media platforms, and his fans love this about him. This is why he is so successful on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. In 2015, as the migration of spend from traditional to digital continues to grow, the authentic “live-the-brand” messaging will win for brands.”

Adam Newsam, Vice President, Sports and Tournaments, Ticketmaster International

“One of the big changes that we are noticing is the desire to reward fans who contribute to their sport week in, week out. This can be done as part of the ticketing strategy, as we did with the Rugby Community Sale for the 2015 England Rugby World Cup. Those already involved in rugby were given the opportunity to purchase tickets ahead of other fans – rewarding them for their dedication to the sport. We see this as something that can be applied to all major sports events or, indeed, sports ticketing in general.”

John Ourand, Media Reporter, SportsBusiness Journal

“I’m watching the shift of sports viewers from TV to online and mobile streaming services, given the NBA’s launch of local streaming and the launch of several sports services via over-the-top.”

Doug Perlman, Founder/Chief Executive Officer, Sports Media Advisors

“In 2015, I’ll be closely watching the evolving role direct-to-consumer over-the-top platforms play in the delivery of sports content, particularly in regards to live content. In the past 12 months, we’ve seen content owners launch pure play over-the-top services: NFL Now, WWE Network, UFC Fight Pass and 120 Sports. We’ve seen ESPN announce significant direct-to-consumer streaming components as part of new rights deals with the NBA and MLS. It’s still to be determined exactly how these new platforms will fit into and impact the existing media ecosystem, and I’ll be watching closely how it all unfolds.”

Craig Pintens, Associate Athletic Director, Public Relations/Marketing, University of Oregon

“The biggest growth in college athletics in 2015 will continue to be in customer relationship management (CRM). Not just in software, but in hiring the right people to interpret the great data that CRM is capable of producing.”

Dan Reed, Head of Global Sports Partnerships, Facebook

“We like to refer to Facebook as the world’s largest stadium, because about half of the 1.35 billion people who use our product declare themselves sports fans. So, we think we have a reasonably good pulse on what’s coming in sports in 2015; here are three areas we’re focused on:

1) We expect more and more athletes to own their authentic message and brand with fans via platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Athletes and their representatives are paying close attention to success stories like Tom Brady, who broke out on Facebook this fall and is transforming his brand and relationship with fans; or Damian Lillard, whose outsized presence on both Facebook and Instagram factored into his record adidas shoe deal.

2) Personalized, auto-play video delivered via Facebook’s News Feed will change the way many fans find and consume sports content. Just six months after we launched our video product we achieved over one billion video views/day in 2014. Sports video is a big reason for this growth, and we are placing a big emphasis on this in 2015.

3) Leagues, teams, agencies, brands and sports media will better understand and capitalize on the fact that Facebook represents the single largest collection of sports fans on the planet. We’re ramping up our efforts to work collaboratively with sports content publishers to help them more deeply engage with this massive global fan base, and ultimately, help these fans find the right content, at the right time, to discuss with one another and improve their overall Facebook and Instagram experience.”

Marc Reeves, International Commercial Director, NFL

“Greater integration from large-scale distribution/publishing platforms into sports. I believe groups like Vice Sports, TMZ, etc. as well as Facebook (via its recent Sportstream and Occulus acquisitions) and Google/YouTube will continue to carve their way into the sports industry. Also, wearable technologies transforming and enhancing the fan experience, as well as sports performance analytics segment for both professional and amateur athletes. We’re still in the very early stages of this revolution, and this will transform the consumer experience.”

Mike Repole, Co-Founder/Chairman, BODYARMOR sports drink 

“Over the past few years, athletes looking to perform at their best have demanded better products — they are demanding better training facilities, better equipment, better nutrition and better hydration options. The days where athletes are forced to settle for products just because they are university endorsed or league mandated will soon be in the past. In fact, we are seeing high school, college and professional athletes everywhere choosing premium hydration options over drinking what’s provided to them for free – and we are watching this trend closely in 2015.”

Darren Rovell, Sports Business Reporter/Correspondent, ESPN/ABC News

“College sports will continue to be the most dynamic area of change in sports business, and it all won’t be positive!”

John Rowady, President/Founder, rEvolution

“More than a decade ago, after 9/11, we saw brands really start to shift to a reliable digital marketing option. Budgets earmarked for traditional media and marketing campaigns, especially in the areas of event marketing and hospitality, moved to emerging digital and social media platforms. In 2015, I think we’ll see a natural correction to where digital is not the sole driver of a campaign with an uptick in brands blending experiential marketing with a focus on digital and social media for amplification and content marketing (note the Foo Fighters release of Sonic Highways). Nothing beats the engagement of one-on-one experiences with brands, particularly in sports marketing — sponsorship and media platforms (like the College Football Playoff) drive grassroots marketing campaigns, to corporate hospitality or even stand-alone branded events.

Brands CMOs now seek out true integration in their marketing campaigns because they know they can – it’s no longer just a strategy, it’s executable. Integration was a revolutionary marketing model in the early 2000’s and it has taken until today for integrated marketing to be a “must have” format to properly spend your marketing and media dollars. You’re seeing the best brands already move in this direction, and it’s paying off from a mass engagement standpoint. We see the sports landscape get more cluttered and more expensive to enter every year with sponsors, advertising, etc., so it takes an integrated effort to break through. A great brand/sponsor example is Chipotle and its MLS partnership. This went from a standard league sponsorship to developing a first-of-its-kind ‘Chipotle Homegrown Game’ during MLS All-Star Week. Expect to see brands investing smarter and becoming more integrated with their campaigns and sports sponsorships.”

David Schwab, Senior Vice President/Managing Director, Octagon First Cal

“Broader approach — Digital properties and personalities will be a growing focal point for marketers next year.  Social media stars were major players in both mainstream media (Bethany Mota on Dancing with the Stars; Miranda Sings on The Tonight Show) and big-brand advertising (YouTuber Michelle Phan for Diet Dr. Pepper; Vine star Brodie Smith for HP) in 2014. Marketers have seen fans’ overwhelmingly positive responses to these new media darlings, so digital content and influencers are sure to play a large role as brands prepare their strategies for 2015. As these properties have fiercely dedicated fan bases, advertisers should remember that digital talent place significant importance on creative input and are keen that brand partnerships be organic to their personality and audience.

Talent-specific approach — Now more than ever, digital content partnerships are playing larger roles in brands’ marketing strategies. As the landscape continues to grow, the variety of talent and emerging platforms (Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) give marketers a plethora of options for hitting target niches that traditional methods aren’t always able to hit. Brands can look to YouTube personalities like trick shot group Dude Perfect and or gamer Markiplier to attract Millennial male audiences, while home and packaged goods brands may take interest in family-friendly properties such as ShayTards and The Holderness Family. Meanwhile, talent such as Brittani Louise Taylor (DIY/comedy), Bethany Mota (beauty/style) and Rosanna Pansino (gaming/baking) are options for targeting female audiences. Beyond YouTube, Vine stars such as Cameron Dallas, Jerome Jarre and Logan Paul give brands access to both male and female Millennials while Snapchat has made personalities like Shaun McBride and Chris Carmichael popular among pre-teens.”

Mary Scott, President, Sports and Experiential Marketing, United Entertainment Group 

“The media landscape is rapidly evolving to meet the ever-growing demands of the next-generation sports fans who expect their content to be highly relevant, up to the minute and digitally driven. In order to stay current and break through, leagues, teams, companies and brands must adapt how they tell their story to match the environments in which their consumers consume media. In turn, our communications initiatives are highly dependent on our ability to help our partners create compelling content across all channels that drives consumers to engage and interact. Communications must operate with the rigor and analytics of marketing, while marketing must operate with the storytelling mindset and marketplace reality of communications. We believe Communications should and will have a more robust role in the overall marketing mix in 2015, given the discipline builds and nurtures relationships and ongoing engagement with a brand’s key stakeholders.”

Erik Searles, Vice President of Retail, Oakley

“Two trends that Oakley finds interesting in retail right now are 1) product customization and 2) enhanced services to elevate the customer experience. Consumers want products that express their individuality and are tailored to their needs. They also expect an engaging and seamless brand experience across all sales channels (mobile, web, in-store). They anticipate something “extra” that will surprise them and validate their choice to engage with the brand. For example, Oakley’s custom eyewear is a key product category for the business and offers a personalized experience for consumers to build their eyewear to fit their style and performance needs in Oakley Stores and on Oakley.com.”

Adir Shiffman, Chairman, Catapult Sports

“The entire intelligent wearables field is evolving at a dramatic pace, with the greatest shift being from sports analytics to sports science — which relates to the debate at the professional-league level moving from a media focus, where it’s been stuck, to a health and safety focus. This is being driven by the fact that Players Associations have realized that if they’re going to wear something, they want some benefit beyond revenue. The teams, too, are beginning to demand that the loop is closed, so they can match the data they gather in practice with what happens in games. This will also redefine ‘fan engagement’ as reducing games lost to injury is the best way to ensure the stars of the sport are performing as often and safely as possible.”

Bryan Srabian, Director, Digital Strategy, San Francisco Giants

“The trend in social media in 2014 was visual, and I think we have just scratched the surface. Plan to see more in the way of visual content (branded Vine videos, GIFs, Infographics). The term SOCIAL media will slowly fade to DIGITAL media as brands become more focused on content and less on communicating with their customers.”

Nick Stamm, Director, Marketing and Communications, STATS

“At STATS, we’re closely watching the new and different ways media properties implement sponsors and advertisers into their live game and second-screen productions. On the flipside, more and more brands are directly becoming sports experience providers themselves. It’s a fascinating evolution, and STATS has the ability to serve both directions.”

— Scott Stricklin, Athletic Director, Mississippi State University

“The NCAA Convention in January, the first where the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC will be able to vote on autonomy issues, is expected to allow schools to provide scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance for the first time. It will be fascinating to see how athletic departments fund these added costs while at the same time making sure they have the biggest impact on the student-athlete experience.”

Peter Stringer, Senior Director, Digital Media, Boston Celtics 

“In 2015, video content will be the best path to digital and social media monetization for sports teams. We’ve recently started embedding our video content directly into Facebook, and we’ve seen our reach rate and video viewership increase dramatically with that strategic shift. Then again, with one touch of a button, Facebook could change their algorithm, and we’re back to square one.”

Paul Swangard, Managing Director, University of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center

“I’m watching with interest the changes coming to the Olympic Movement in 2015. Among the highlights of (President of the IOC) Thomas Bach’s “Olympic 2020” reforms passed in December, the IOC is set to launch an over-the-top digital TV channel and will work with future host and bid cities to rethink the costs and ways to stage the Games. With the USOC now firmly “in” for a 2024 Summer Games bid (with a candidate city selected early in 2015), Olympic Sports in the U.S. could have a decade long runway of opportunity to grow and prosper.”

Ryan Totka, President/Celebrity Booking Agent, Athlete Promotions

“The thing I’ll be watching the most are athletes who create their own brands like we do with Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. With the power of the web, they have the ability to create a whole new revenue stream. It’s cool to see the athletes that understand the internet, interacting with their fans, running contests and properly using social media to portray a positive image. With bad tweets and athlete privacy becoming a bigger concern, I think there should be proper training for these guys, because they are only one tweet (or text message) away from losing millions of dollars.”

Ken Ungar, President, U/S Sports Advisors 

“Digital media continues to substantially influence all of sports communications, including athlete branding and event marketing. In 2015, we’ll be watching the growing convergence of digital media with these and other sports communications channels (i.e., television, radio, traditional media, etc.).”

Lia Vakoutis, Senior Digital Marketing Manager, adidas America

“Just as TV viewership became massively fragmented with the rise of independent networks and time-shifted viewing, expect a similar impact on social networks. With over 400 social platforms worldwide and more launching every year, consumer attention span will continue to shrink, and consumers will continue using only the platforms that bring value to their lives. As social environments become overloaded with content, adidas will continue to focus on creating quality stories that are backed by strategic media plans and distribution partners.”

Chris Wagner, Executive Vice President, NeuLion 

“Over-the-top delivery of live and on-demand video to consumers will continue to pick up pace as leaders like HBO, CBS and the Big Ten Network pave the way for others to follow with high breed business models that support their ‘TV Everywhere’ affiliate models but also, open the door for new opportunities for media companies to go direct to the consumers as Netflix has done. Also, mobile and tablet viewing by consumers will replace PCs or laptops as the preferred video viewing device. This past year, the World Cup results from Univision for their Spanish audience saw 87 percent of their traffic coming from smartphones for the 25 days of live games, pretty incredible.”

Allan Walsh, NHLPA Certified Contract Advisor, Octagon 

“The trend I’m most following into 2015 is the rise of analytics and advanced statistics as it applies to hockey. While puck possession stats like Corsi and Fenwick have become almost mainstream over the last year, there are a number of new advanced statistical concepts on the way. As the NHL

opens up to multi-camera computer chip based technology, the data collected from this could revolutionize the way we look at the game.”

Michele Willoughby, Executive Vice President, e-Commerce & Supply Chain, DICK’S Sporting Goods

“DICK’S Sporting Goods is empowering its shoppers by taking a customer-centric approach to offer more convenience while creating seamless experiences across channels. We recently launched an update to our mobile app, which features access to a customer’s Scorecard and local store ads and offers. We’ve also made it easier for customers to get the products they want and how they want by offering Buy Online, Pick-Up In Store services and arming our associates with mobile devices that allow them to place online orders for customers from anywhere in the store. Plus, our Ship from Store service provides consumers access to any inventory in our supply chain.”

Eric Winter, Head of Rivals.com 

“In 2015, we’ll be keeping a very close eye on all things data and analytics for high school football and basketball. Specifically at Rivals.com, we’re very interested in seeing how wearable technologies continue to advance and what kinds of information and insights they can provide not only to players and coaches but also fans that are thirsty for information. This type of premium content is exactly what we love to provide our subscriber base, day in and day out.”

Lyle Yorks, Global Managing Director/FIFA Certified Agent, James Grant Sports

“I think obviously outside of the day-to-day items you handle for your clients, a big topic going into 2015 in soccer involves the CBA negotiations between the players union and Major League Soccer. Also, free agency and the potential restructuring of the salary cap are on our plate as well. Globally, there are several marquee tournaments this coming year, both on the youth and senior levels. These international events are a perfect platform where athletes can showcase their talent, which could then lead to bigger opportunities.”

 

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