2019 – a year in sport business

Four Inside Track contributors from around the world reflect on what they saw as the key industry developments of 2019.

Ivan Codina, managing director SEA, LaLiga

Women’s football and eSports took centre stage this year; both deservedly strengthened their positions in mainstream and popular culture.

Female players gained global recognition and brands took an unconventional but much welcomed approach to partnership to maintain the same vigour and support after the Women’s World Cup.

More sports organisations began initiatives in eSports, enabling themselves to reach out to a new bracket of potential partners on top of existing sponsors looking for a seamless extension.

And Amazon Prime’s differentiated streaming of the English Premier League was a landmark moment as it demonstrated all the key learnings of their two-year journey with NFL, thrilling consumers with interactivity.

Lee Choong Khay, head of sport, Astro

Astro went on the offensive against piracy in Malaysia, alongside regulators and league owners. As 2020 is a big sports year with the Euros and the Olympics, we spent a lot of resources and time to lay the groundwork against piracy as it continues to be a major threat to not only us but also the entire business of sports rights, which will eventually affect sports fans if no action is taken.

We were pleased when the Premier League was successful in its anti-piracy efforts in Singapore and Thailand, including claiming compensations for copyright infringement and seeing guilty parties being handed jail time. Going into 2020, we will continue to take on piracy alongside regulators, and hope they keep up in their efforts and speed to block illegal websites and apps.

Prof. Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise, University of Salford

For me, what has seemed most important in sport this year is encapsulated by Silver Lake taking a stake in the City Football Group. This marks yet another step in the maturing relationship between sport, entertainment and digital.

It brings the western model of sport face-to-face with the emerging eastern model. It challenges established notions of what it means to be a football club (indeed, any sports club). It endorses the franchising model that CFG has developed. It strengthens sport’s position as a generator of high-quality digital content. And it reveals something about value creation and supply chain management through sport.

A 10-per-cent Silver Lake stake might seem very little in financial terms. Symbolically, however, it was a profound deal that will challenge what many of us think about sport.

Dr. Lingling Liu, managing director, JTA China

This year saw China resetting its plan for the nation to be a leading sporting power in 2050, restructuring the Chinese Football Association and the Chinese Super League, and launching the collective Team China marketing brand.

All measures serve the three priority tasks for Chinese sport administrators in 2020 and a few years to come. The first priority is to perform well, and hopefully better than the host nation, at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Team China will have to fight an uphill battle against Japanese athletes in table tennis, badminton, and gymnastics, which China used to dominate. The second is to stage a good-looking Beijing Winter Games, whose PR effects would rival those of Beijing 2008. Thirdly is the intended but unspoken goal of bidding for and winning hosting rights to the Fifa World Cup, likely in 2030 or 2034. Improving the hapless football played by Chinese teams in 2020 will put China in a better bidding position.

Anything else is secondary to these three priorities. Sponsorship money will fall in places as these three tasks are delivered. The tendency is for Chinese businesses to snatch increasingly eye-catching deals with events, teams, and athletes in China, until the uncertain economic outlook chills them down, which is one factor to look out for in 2020.

Regarding the mass sports market, whether the build-up to Beijing 2022 will excite 300 million people to ski and skate remains to be seen. But China’s real challenge is to implement inspiring sports curriculum in its rigid, demanding, and lethargic schools. Chinese kids are not given time for real sports. Without changing this, and with the birth rate starting to drop sharply in 2019, the vision of becoming the world’s leading sports power by 2050 will be an unfulfilled Chinese Dream.

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