It's the end of the year, and although I'm still trying to recover from the pain of last night's Valero Alamo Bowl loss to Missouri (why oh why did you ever punt to Maclin at the end of the first half????), I thought it would an interesting exercise and somewhat obligatory blog post, to come up with a list of the top ten sports business stories of 2008. Of course, this list is totally arbitrary, so feel free to add your own in the comments. Without further adieu, on to the top stories:
10. ESPN Buys the World. This is really part of an ongoing trend, as were several of the top stories, which in this case, saw ESPN gain rights to properties it had been dreaming of for years, including the British Open and, together with its corporate sibling, ABC, all of the BCS bowls.
9. Flight of the Sonics to Oklahoma City. After 40 years in Seattle, the Sonics left for greener pastures in the midlands of OKC. Let's see how well the small market experiment works in five to ten years.
8. Merger of Champ Car and IRL. After 13 years of disastrous competition that nearly destroyed open wheeled racing in this country, and with it the Indy 500, Champ Car and IRL finally merged. Let's hope it's not too late, especially given the perilous state of the auto industry.
7. Horse Racings Season of Tragedy and Questions. With the breakdown of Eight Belles in the Derby and the question of performance enhancing drugs dogging Derby winner Big Brown, horse racing found itself in the public's eye for all the wrong reasons.
6. Tiger Wins Open then Disappears. Tiger Woods demonstrates once again that he is in a class all his own both on the course and as a draw, first for gutting out an amazing US Open win and then leaving the Tour for the rest of the year to recuperate from injury. The Tour survived his absence but it was clearly felt.
5. Increasing Globalization of Professional Sports. From Americans purchasing English Premier League Clubs, to the NFL playing regular season games in London and Toronto, 2008 saw professional sports become more and more a global enterprise, a trend which promises to accelerate rapidly in 2009 and beyond.
4. Anheuser-Busch Is Sold. Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewing company in America and, by far, the largest sports advertiser in the US and perhaps the world, to the tune of some $500 million, is sold to InBev, a Belgian/Brazilian beer conglomerate. InBev has a very different marketing philosophy and it remains to be seen how A-B's relationship to the sports world will evolve.
3. Michael Phelps Wins Eight Gold Medals. Michael Phelps wins eight gold medals, live in most of the US and in truly dramatic television enthralling most of the country. Phelps returns from Beijing a hero and probably swimming's first $100 million man.
2. The Beijing Olympics. The Games prove to be an artistic, sports and business success as first swimming, then beach volleyball and gymnastics produce huge audiences for NBC. In addition, NBC's strategy of pushing out coverage of the Games through its website also proves highly successful and likely sets the pattern for future coverage, most certainly for Vancouver 2010.
1. Impact of the Global Recession. Sports is far from immune to the effects of the global recession/depression that we are now experiencing, as everything from naming rights and sponsorships to ticket prices, concessions and attendance is adversely affected, in some cases (Arena Football League) threatening the very viability of the sport. The impact on sports is heightened this time due to the concentration of financial firms in sports sponsorship and the steady disappearance or severe contraction of those firms in this recession/depression. This trend will definitely continue through much of 2009 as the recession/depression is likely to continue through at least the third quarter of 2009.