• Loading stock data...
Monday, February 26, 2024
Rates for the 2024 Best Venues Award increase this Sunday at 11:59 p.m. ET

The Year’s Biggest Headlines in the Business of Sports

  • 2023 saw the streaming invasion, the fall of crypto, and the phenomena created by Swift, Messi, and Coach Prime.
  • A media giant launched a betting app, a historic college conference collapsed, and much more.
FOS Illustration
Front Office Sports Today

The Shady Business of Fake Sports News

Social media impostors of sports reporters are a real challenge for the sports media ecosystem.
Listen Now
February 26, 2024 | Podcast

It was a transformational year. Deion Sanders turned Boulder into Hollywood. Las Vegas emerged as the next sports capital, and its newest attraction became its most fascinating landmark. Taylor Swift entered the NFL consciousness, and Lionel Messi made MLS matter.

Saudi Arabia splurged on sports, streaming giants invaded live games, and the Pac-12 blew up. Shohei Ohtani hit a $700 million homer, too, though he’ll only be paid $46 million per year (more on that later). Elsewhere, cryptocurrency took a nosedive, media rights got a facelift, and ESPN had its own plot twist. 

Here are the earth-moving moments that defined 2023:

The year the Prime Effect took over Boulder 

Every fan and media personality was talking about Colorado football from the moment Deion Sanders signed his nearly $30 million contract in December 2022. Coach Prime stirred controversy almost immediately when he told many of the players he inherited that they would be replaced by transfers. All was forgotten as Colorado athletics received record cash donations and saw their spring football game featured in a rare ESPN broadcast slot. A 3-0 start brought celebrities en masse to the new Hollywood of college football, while Fox’s and ESPN’s pregame shows battled for supremacy. Reality sunk in as Colorado struggled to a 4-8 finish, but star players Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter will return in 2024, along with what many believe will be a top transfer class.  —David Rumsey

The year the Pac-12 collapsed

Conference realignment reached a whole new level, effectively killing the Pac-12. The demise was a long time coming; for years, experts have talked about how increasingly lucrative media rights contracts motivated schools to try to join a select few of the richest conferences. That consolidation reached its peak this summer when all but two of the Pac-12’s members decided to flee for more profitable media deals. Washington State and Oregon State, the two leftovers, will try to chart a path forward that may or may not include a future with an entity called the Pac-12.  —Amanda Christovich

The year Messi arrived in Miami

After winning his first FIFA World Cup in late 2022, Lionel Messi was the center of the soccer universe for the bulk of 2023. Speculation mounted about the Argentinian legend’s future after a brief stint with Paris Saint-Germain; among his suitors: The Saudi Pro League attempted to lure him with a $1.6 billion offer. Ultimately, MLS—and the allure of playing in the U.S.—won out. Inter Miami, which owned the worst record when Messi joined over the summer, immediately received a boost in revenue. Despite missing the playoffs, Miami won its first-ever Leagues Cup title and was undoubtedly the most influential team of the year.  —DR

The year Taylor Swift mesmerized the NFL 

The NFL is on pace for its best television performance in eight seasons, with audiences growing 7% from 2022, to 17.5 million average viewers through Week 15. Did a pop star play a part in that? It’s hard to quantify how many Swifties embraced pro football due to the singer’s romance with Super Bowl champion Travis Kelce—and the chance to see her mingle with Donna Kelce from a luxury suite—but according to one national poll, 70% of respondents believe Swift has had a positive impact on the league.  —Michael McCarthy

The year we learned what RSNs and DSG are

The regional sports network model showed unprecedented strain in 2023, highlighted by Diamond Sports Group’s filing for bankruptcy in March. DSG, the parent of Bally Sports, reported nearly $8.7 billion in debt and has spent the past nine months steadily shedding programming assets, including cutting deals with the NBA and the NHL to return their rights after the 2023-24 season. As cord-cutting accelerates, the response to the local rights question has taken many forms, including the rise of several streaming platforms and an unlikely rebirth of local, over-the-air broadcasting, led by a rapid accumulation of team rights by Scripps Sports. But the 40-plus years of security that teams enjoyed from the cable bundle is giving way to a much more turbulent and uncertain future.  —Eric Fisher

The year streamers truly infiltrated live sports 

The long-expected invasion of live sports by giant streamers became a reality this year. Amazon Prime Video aired its second exclusive season of Thursday Night Football, Google’s YouTube TV took over NFL Sunday Ticket, and Apple began its 10-year, $2.5 billion MLS deal. (Netflix experimented with exhibitions like The Netflix Cup but remained focused on documentaries.) With Prime pulling near-broadcast-like audiences of 12.1 million viewers per game for TNF this season, the writing’s on the wall for legacy media companies.  —MM

The year Saudi money spread deeper into sports 

In 2023, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund showed no signs it would stop pumping money into athletics. The biggest splash: In June, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, along with LIV Golf—backed almost exclusively by the PIF—entered into a framework agreement with the PGA Tour to mend golf’s divide. That deal, if finalized, would mean up to $2 billion flooding into a united pro golf effort. In the Saudi Pro League, Cristiano Ronaldo inked a contract with Al Nassr that pays him roughly $200 million per season through 2025. Also: Next year, the country will host its first UFC event. —A.J. Perez 

The year we learned Shohei Ohtani’s market value 

We waited over a year, but the price was finally revealed for the most unique and (arguably) best asset in MLB history. In the end, the answer was as singular as the player: Shohei Ohtani, fresh off his second AL MVP, signed a 10-year, $700 million deal in December with the Los Angeles Dodgers. An even more unique wrinkle: Ohtani will defer $680 million, so the league counts his salary as roughly $46 million per year for competitive balance tax purposes. He’s also tied to the front office in an unprecedented way: He can opt out after any season in which president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman or controlling owner Mark Walter leaves the organization.  —Owen Poindexter

The year of the Sin City sports migration

Las Vegas, home to Super Bowl LVIII in February, took center stage in 2023, hosting its first Formula 1 race in four decades, plus the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament semifinals and championship. Also: MLB owners approved the Oakland A’s heavily-criticized move to the desert, and speculation grew that an NBA team could be next. To cap it off, Vegas celebrated two championships: the Aces’ second consecutive WNBA title and the Golden Knights’ first Stanley Cup. And in case you missed it (which would be nearly impossible), MSG Entertainment’s Sphere opened, immediately becoming the most eye-catching venue in a city of spectacles.  —EF

The year that crypto crashed and burned

We kicked off the year with FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried and others at the failed crypto giant facing federal fraud charges. In November, SBF was found guilty. Current and former athletes such as Stephen Curry, Tom Brady, and Shaquille O’Neal—along with the Golden State Warriors—remain defendants in a civil case. In February, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge granted the Miami Heat and Miami-Dade County a request to ditch their $135 million arena deal with FTX ahead of a new 17-year pact with Kaseya. While Bitcoin and Ethereum saw major spikes in 2023, NFTs haven’t rebounded, and Dapper Labs (which produces NBA Top Shot and NFL All Day) underwent a series of layoffs.  —AP

The year of uncertainty for ESPN

During the first half of 2023, the looming threat of layoffs cast a pall over Bristol, culminating with the June 30 departures of well-known talents such as Jeff Van Gundy, Suzy Kolber, and Max Kellerman. When Disney chairman Bob Iger said in August that he was seeking minority investors for ESPN, the company looked vulnerable. But ESPN battled back in the second half. The network’s Monday Night Football audience grew 23% to 16 million average viewers through Week 15. ESPN pivoted to a few big personalities, like Stephen A. Smith, Pat McAfee, and Scott Van Pelt. And it grew into the most-followed brand on TikTok, with 44 million, while separately launching ESPN Bet. In October, Disney released data showing that ESPN generated more profits ($2.9 billion) than the Mouse House’s entire entertainment business in fiscal 2022. Bottom Line: However bad the year may have looked, it’s too early to underestimate the most powerful four letters in sports media.  —MM

Linkedin
Whatsapp
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Enough for Both? White Sox, Bears Ramp Up Push for Stadium Funds

MLB club begins to escalate its ask for taxpayer dollars.

Sham Gods: The Rapidly Growing World of Sports Impersonators on X

Fake Schefters and Wojs, fabricated trade demands, and borrowed profile pictures.
Sep 24, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; A general view of the Oakland Athletics dugout after the game against the Detroit Tigers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Murky Future: Everything You Need to Know About the A’s Move to Las Vegas

Breaking down one of the most drawn-out, multifaceted sagas in sports.
Superdome Super Bowl

Superdome Renovations to Finish in Time for Super Bowl LIX

Renovations will total $500 million and have been ongoing for years.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

The Shady Business of Fake Sports News

0:00
0:00

Featured Today

Sabrina-Steph Wasn’t the ‘Battle of the Sexes’—But It Was Part of the Bigger War

The competition could play a factor in increasing the WNBA’s media value.
NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace (23), in a Star Wars rebel alliance X-wing fighter pilot-inspired race suit, motions to the crowd to get louder during the driver introductions for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale on Nov. 5, 2023.
February 17, 2024

Celebrity Owners, International Ambitions, and $7B Media Deals: Welcome to the New NASCAR

NASCAR boldly keeps pace with the increasingly competitive sports and entertainment world.
February 16, 2024

Wilson Introduced an Airless Basketball for $2,500. We Had Questions

The black, 3D-printed ball appeared in last year’s Slam Dunk Contest.
Emily Henegar, a baker and content creator, made a batch of NFL-inspired cookies featuring Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce.
February 11, 2024

The ‘Life-Changing’ Economy of Taylor Swift’s NFL Outfits

Appearing in Swift’s game-day wardrobe has been “life-changing” for small businesses.

Careers

Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Finance Manager
FanDuel
New York, NY
Senior Technical Artist - Sports Technology
EA Sports
Orlando, FL
Assistant Manager, Affiliate Operations
Adidas
Portland, OR
Lionel Messi

Copa América Tickets Climb in Latest Lionel Messi Effect

Tickets for Argentina’s game in Miami are pushing five figures.
Manchester United
February 15, 2024

Manchester United Created Europe’s Most Expensive Team Ever

The team cost a record $1.531 billion in transfer fees.
German protests
February 21, 2024

German Football League Abandons Outside Investment After Protests

Bundesliga rethinks $1 billion media rights plan.
Sponsored

Live Sports Are Now High-Tech Experiences

Oracle is leading the technology revolution happening in stadiums across the world.
Zambia forward Racheal Kundananji
February 14, 2024

NWSL’s Bay FC Breaks Women’s Soccer Transfer World Record: $787,600

The league’s record-breaking new media rights deal is trickling down to players.
Messi
February 9, 2024

Lionel Messi’s Week From Hell

The Argentine soccer star’s Sunday DNP became the biggest absence of his career.
NYC Mayor Erica Adams wants the 2026 World Cup Final at MetLife Stadium
February 4, 2024

MetLife Stadium to Host 2026 Men’s World Cup Final, Beating Dallas and L.A.

It’s the second time the World Cup comes to the region.
Peter Thiel
February 2, 2024

An Olympics With Doping? Big Money Is Backing a Controversial Sports Start-Up

Billionaire Peter Thiel backs new competition openly encouraging PED use.