Saturday December 9, 2023

What’s Next? Sports Business Questions That Need Answers in 2023

  • The New Year opens with several major questions where sports and business collide.
  • Multiple teams could sell for global records, NBA’s media rights negotiations should kick into high gear, FIFA looks to increase the frequency of the World Cup.
Formula 1 car on streets of Las Vegas
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The New Year opens with several major questions where sports and business collide.

Multiple teams are up for sale, and could go for record prices. The NBA’s media rights negotiations should kick into high gear, but who will enter the fray and how many billions will it cost them? Could FIFA actually manage to increase the frequency of the World Cup?

Here’s what we’re keeping our eyes on as we kick off 2023. 

How Much Will NBA Media Rights Cost?

The NBA will seek $50 billion to $75 billion in its next media rights negotiation. Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav warned that TNT doesn’t have to have the NBA. That may open the door for Amazon Prime Video to bookend its NFL “Thursday Night Football” package with an NBA streaming deal.

– Michael McCarthy

Will Disney Spin Off ESPN?

The pay-TV model is crumbling, and Disney is coming off one of its worst financial years in recent memory. That’s fueling rumors the Mouse will spin off the Worldwide Leader in Sports next year. 

“We see it as a reasonably probable late-’23 event,” wrote Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall.

– Michael McCarthy

Will U.S. Fans Expand Their Horizons?

You know what to expect from the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, and Stanley Cup Finals. With soccer steadily on the rise in the States, the UEFA Champions League could hit different for a U.S. audience looking for another dose of drama after the World Cup — which FIFA has ambitions to host every three years.

Meanwhile, the tennis world will see if its viewership — for both Grand Slams and tour events — reaches new heights like Formula 1’s has: Netflix’s new “Break Point” documentary, produced by Box to Box of “Drive to Survive” fame, launches this month.

Speaking of which, F1’s arrival in Las Vegas next Thanksgiving could be the most lavish sports event ever. Drivers will cover about a mile of the Strip, and resorts are already scrambling to top each other in offering seven-figure event packages for the sport’s wealthiest fans.

– Owen Poindexter 

Will Tom Brady Ever Join Fox?

The GOAT has a 10-year, $375 million contract waiting for him to become Fox Sports’ No. 1 game analyst. But who knows with Tom Terrific? He un-retired after only 40 days. The 45-year-old quarterback is “open to all options” as a would-be free agent next season, according to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Could Brady reunite with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots?

– Michael McCarthy

Will LIV Golf Score a TV Deal?

The Saudi-backed golf league needs broad media exposure in the U.S. to challenge the entrenched PGA Tour. Despite Fox Sports firing LIV CEO Greg Norman as its lead golf analyst in 2016, signs point to a possible deal with the network.

LIV consultant David Hill revolutionized sports TV as head of Fox Sports. The network would like to make up for its bungling performance on U.S. Open golf coverage.

– Michael McCarthy

Will College Athletes Become NCAA Employees?

The professionalization of college sports will continue in 2023.

The biggest question: whether 2023 will finally be the year that certain college athletes are legally deemed employees

  • In January, the Third Circuit will hear oral arguments in the case Johnson v. NCAA over whether athletes should be considered employees under the Federal Labor Standards Act.
  • The NLRB will also prosecute a case against USC, the Pac-12, and the NCAA suggesting the three — as “joint employers” — misclassified their FBS football and basketball players as amateurs.

Meanwhile, the Pac-12 and NCAA are slated to earn even more money as they negotiate new media rights packages. ESPN has expressed interest in both, particularly given that it will soon lose rights to the Big Ten. The NCAA’s negotiations will be led by incoming president and current Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

Look for the Pac-12 and Big 12 to at least try to expand, too. Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark is interested in adding a West Coast school.

– Amanda Christovich

Who Will Buy the Commanders?  

Clarity on Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder’s plans to sell all or part of the franchise — and who the frontrunner is if Snyder sells — should occur a few weeks into 2023.

There is still no timetable on the open investigations into the team that includes the second outside NFL probe led by former SEC chief Mary Jo White. White has been going for about 11 months now.

“When she’s done, she’ll let us know,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on Dec. 14.

– A.J. Perez

Will the Biggest Legal Dramas Get Resolved?

While LIV Golf’s antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour won’t go to trial until 2024, LIV Golf’s players will be allowed to compete at The Masters in April.

There are no trial dates set for the lawsuits filed against the NFL by former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden or former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. Decisions on the NFL’s attempts to shift those cases into arbitration are expected in the first half of the year.

Brett Favre enters 2023 as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS). Sources told FOS that the Hall of Fame quarterback remains on the radar of federal prosecutors, although no criminal charges have been filed. Favre has denied any wrongdoing.

– A.J. Perez

Will Shohei Secure the $500M Bag?

All eyes will be on Shohei Ohtani in 2023.

After another spectacular season that saw him finish runner-up to Aaron Judge for AL MVP, Ohtani signed a one-year, $30 million contract — the largest salary ever for an arbitration-eligible player.

That sets him up to either sign an extension with the Los Angeles Angels — with whom he has played his entire MLB career — or hit unrestricted free agency next offseason.

  • Either way, the two-way phenom is in line to likely receive the largest contract not only in Major League history — but possibly in the entire history of North American sports.
  • Ohtani’s Angels teammate Mike Trout holds the former record at $426.5 million, while the NFL’s Patrick Mahomes holds the latter at $450 million.

Given that Ohtani is both an elite hitter and pitcher, the value of signing him to a long-term deal cannot be overestimated — so he could receive the first-ever $500 million contract.

– Doug Greenberg

Who Will Host NFL RedZone?

As a result of Google/YouTube TV’s $14 billion, 7-year deal for “Sunday Ticket,” DirecTV’s long-running NFL RedZone channel will go away after 18 years, leaving NFL Network’s RedZone as the sole whip-around show on football Sundays.

Since Scott Hanson has hosted the league’s RedZone for 13 years, he’s the favorite to keep the job. But both Hanson and DirecTV’s Andrew Siciliano work for NFL Network. The league-owned channel would be smart to utilize Siciliano’s skill set.

– Michael McCarthy

Who Will Legalize Sports Betting Next?

After California forcefully struck down legal sports betting legislation in 2022, it seems unlikely the United States’ largest economy will legalize the practice until at least 2024. Two other large economies — Florida and Texas — don’t seem likely for legalization in 2023 either.

However, that doesn’t mean the industry can’t expand on its successful 2022. 

Legal sports betting — both online and in-person — goes live in Ohio today (Jan. 1). Massachusetts, which legalized in August, is projected to go live in March.

Per Action Network, three of the most likely — and largest — states to push for legalization in 2023 are Georgia, North Carolina, and Minnesota.

With the two new states in the fold, new ones on the way, and the increasing prominence of the industry in general, the American sports betting industry seems poised to break another yearly revenue record in 2023.

– Doug Greenberg

Will Microsoft Officially Acquire Activision Blizzard?

It’ll be an uphill battle for Microsoft to finalize its $68.7 million deal to acquire Activision. For one, the Federal Trade Commission has sued to block it. But not all hope is lost. 

To counter talk of a monopoly, Microsoft struck a 10-year deal with Nintendo to bring the popular shooter franchise “Call of Duty” to Nintendo gaming platforms.

The latest installment in the franchise — “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II” — passed $1 billion in sales in just 10 days after its release on Oct. 28.

The Nintendo partnership is dependent on Microsoft closing its Activision purchase, but overall, gamers can expect to see more companies come together in this manner to broaden their reach.

– Justin Byers

Will We See the Most Expensive Team Sale Ever?

2023 is set to be the year of team sales sparked by scandals. 

In November, Snyder hired Bank of America to explore “potential transactions.”

The team has reportedly received offers “well north” of $7 billion, which would be a record for a sports team.

The NWSL’s Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars are for sale after an NWSL investigation linked Thorns’ owner Merritt Paulson and Red Stars’ owner Arnim Whisler to misconduct.

Manchester United’s owners, the Glazer family, are exploring a sale after repeated demands from fans protesting their handling of the team. The Glazers are reportedly looking for a price above $7.2 billion.

– Abigail Gentrup

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