A possibly handy guide to the people, places and stories to be keeping tabs on across the business of sport over the next twelve months.
Expect more of them, particularly by Chinese firms. Dalian Wanda showed its hand in 2015 by acquiring Infront Sports and Media and the World Triathlon Corporation; it’s a safe bet that its portfolio will grow again before long, while the evidence of the past decade suggests there’ll be another billionaire or two unable to resist the allure of global sport.
Bloated football tournaments
Qualifying for Euro 2016 threw up a number of exciting storylines – former minnows qualifying, an established giant in Holland somehow failing to make it – but the jury is still out on whether the expansion of the European Championship finals from 16 to 24 teams will make for a better sporting spectacle. For those of a certain age, however, Euro 2016 is certain to evoke happy memories of France ’98 (perhaps the BBC and ITV will even resurrect their excellent theme tunes).
Like many sectors (I assume) the sports industry conference market is well and truly saturated. Before you know it your 2016 diary will be full of exhibitions, half-day seminars, full-day conferences, multi-day conferences, private dinners and workshops. Some will be good, some less so. And there’ll be much debate about whether any of them really were worth the entrance fee or the day out of the office. Anyway, see you at the next one.
Japan has the attention of everyone in the sports industry, not least because of the remarkable uptake of sponsorships for Tokyo 2020 during 2015. Dentsu, to nobody’s surprise, has been at the heart of that Olympic action. It’ll be worth watching to see if any other national Olympic committee follows the United States Olympic Committee’s lead in 2016 by partnering with a local agency in Japan to try and grab some of the apparently low-hanging fruit. Elsewhere, Dentsu also has quite the job on its hands in 2016 as the IAAF’s exclusive marketing partner.
Europe (Grand Prix of)
Azerbaijan joins the Formula One calendar in 2016, with a race on the streets of the capital Baku. In line with the country’s efforts to portray itself as European, the race will be, somewhat oddly, officially known as the Grand Prix of Europe. The race is unlikely to pass without the kind of scrutiny which overshadowed the build-up to the European Games last June, prompting more valid questions about where sport should be staged.
United World Wrestling and World Rugby have already ditched the acronyms, World Sailing (formerly ISAF) is in the process of doing so and the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) is unsurprisingly considering its options. My guess is they won’t be the last major sport federations to choose this as an opportune moment for a rebrand and a refreshed image.
Golf and rugby sevens
A big year for both sports as the former returns to the Olympics and the latter makes its Olympic debut. Both will get plenty of attention in Rio, but the full impact of their Olympic inclusion, in particular whether it has helped to open up new markets, won’t be felt for some time.
Haas F1 Team
Start-from-scratch Formula One teams don’t come along too often – the last time the sport had entirely new entrants was in 2010 and only one of the three new teams that year is still on the grid. Boosted by a close technical relationship with Ferrari and the signing of lead driver Romain Grosjean, the early prognosis for Haas F1 Team is healthy. Formula One certainly needs its new American team to stick around.
Uefa’s king of long-winded draw explanations might be running world football by February. Or one of the others might win. Either way, you’ll be hearing plenty about Fifa and its new president in 2016.
Jeongseon Alpine Centre
The Olympic movement’s eyes will naturally be trained on Rio in 2016, but there should at least be the odd glance at continuing preparations for the next winter Games, PyeongChang 2018 – commercially, at least, it has been a tardy start. February’s alpine skiing test events, including a men’s World Cup downhill, in Jeongseon will be a good barometer on progress and developing infrastructure.
The NBA has already begun bidding farewell to one of its true breakout global stars – one of the few players, for example, that the average UK sports fan would be able to name. With the LA Lakers highly unlikely to make the play-offs, Kobe Bryant’s final game is set to be at the Staples Center on 13th April against Utah Jazz.
Could 2016 be the year when the NFL finally puts a team (or teams) in Los Angeles? Nobody’s entirely sure, but with two stadium sites and three teams – the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers – in play, a definitive relocation decision has never seemed closer. And if and when an LA team happens, will London become the NFL’s next relocation focus?
MLB in London
Speculation persists that Major League Baseball will follow the lead of the NFL and NBA by experimenting with games in London – if it is to happen in the next couple of years, expect an announcement in 2016. The Olympic Stadium would appear an obvious choice to host, although there is no shortage of other stadium options in London – the NFL after all currently has deals in place with three venues in the city.