SportBusiness International

Analysis and insight for the global sports business

Two decades in the business of sport

Two decades in the business of sport

By: SportBusiness International team

9 Aug 2016
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Germany had just won a major tournament, the Clintons resided in the White House and Fifa was coming in for criticism for the award of a Fifa World Cup.  Although the instinct is usually to reflect on how much the world has changed when a publication celebrates a major anniversary, you might say there was a remarkably familiar feel to the global picture when SportBusiness Group was incorporated and the first edition of SportBusiness International rolled off the presses in July 1996, writes Ben Cronin.

Yet if you were to move away from this highly selective snapshot, it would be impossible to dispute the fact that things were very different in the business of sport in 1996.  As the first publishing company devoted entirely to covering the sports industry in depth, SportBusiness Group has reported on and analysed most of the major stories that have been the catalyst for change during the last two decades. Over the years we have also created new products to respond to the need for greater amounts of data and deeper insight about the three pillars of the business of sport: sponsorship, media rights and event hosting.

If you had to distil the developments that have had the greatest impact on the industry during this time into an equally concise list, you might dwell on the arrival of mobile and internet technology, the growth of Asian and Middle Eastern sports markets and the recent sports governance crisis as the key disrupters. But, with the benefit of hindsight, other stories have also been hugely significant.

To celebrate our landmark, below is a timeline picking out some of the sector’s most seminal events from 1996 to 2016. Our 20th anniversary will also act as a catalyst for an evolution of the SportBusiness International brand. Look out for changes to the design of the magazine and our website, as the year progresses.



Nike signs £400m sponsorship deal with Brazil national soccer team and buys rights to organise five matches per year featuring the team.

IOC awards right to host the 2004 Olympic Games to Athens. The city won in a five-way fight with Rome, Cape Town, Stockholm and Buenos Aires.

Pete Rozelle, the man who created the Super Bowl, dies aged 70.




Members of the IOC accused of taking bribes in the Salt Lake City bidding scandal.

NBC forced out of bidding for NFL TV rights by $17.8bn deal signed by Fox, CBS, ABC and ESPN.

Canal Plus and IMG sign three-year deal to acquire and sell the international rights for the English Premier League. Sepp Blatter elected Fifa president.



US falls in love with soccer as it stages Fifa Women’s World Cup and makes $30m profit.

Sportsline USA, the publisher of CBS Sportsline, sets up short-lived Sportsline Europe as dotcom bubble inflates.

Major League Baseball at war over player salaries after 33-year-old pitcher Kevin Brown signs $105m seven-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.



Vince McMahon from World Wrestling Federation Entertainment (WWFE) launches a rival to the NFL, applying the glitz of wrestling to American football.The venture failed to grab the viewing public’s attention.

Sydney Olympics lauded as one of the best organised and most spectacular Games ever.

24-hour sports cable and satellite digital TV network Pan-American Sports Network launches and buys a variety of global sports rights. The channel later failed against competition from established trans-national TV brands.




Internet start-up Quokka Sports cuts 59 per cent of its staff as the dreams of the dotcom boom begin to succumb to the reality of generating revenue.

International Sport and Leisure (ISL), one of the most influential sports marketing agencies and the holder of some of the biggest and most important broadcasting rights to major sports events, collapses, leaving debts of $300m dollars.

Fifa assigns the football rights previously held by ISL to the Kirsch media group.



Serena Williams surpasses sister Venus on court by winning three of the four tennis Grand Slams, but Venus’ endorsements mean she tops the list of top-earning female athletes in world sport, earning $14m in the year. Serena would become the top-earning athlete in 2004.

Major League Soccer folds the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny as the sport fails to find fans and investors in Florida.




IMG founder Mark McCormack, one of the most influential figures in the sports industry, dies.

SportBusiness Group acquires 50-per-cent stake in TV Sports Markets.

Japanese giant Dentsu teams up with French communications company Publicis Groupe to form International Sports and Entertainment (iSe), a major new company in sports marketing.

The NFL Network, a 24/7 TV channel devoted entirely to American football, launches and is hailed as a great success.



Entire National Hockey League (NHL) season cancelled owing to pay dispute between the league and the NHL Players’ Association – the first time a major professional sports league in North America cancelled an entire season because of a labour dispute.

European restrictions on tobacco advertising force Formula One to seek new venues, from Istanbul to Shanghai, where China’s inaugural grand prix is estimated to have generated more income for domestic broadcasters than any event other than the Olympics.

Timo Lumme takes over from Michael Payne as IOC’s marketing director.




SportBusiness International marks its 100th issue in March 2005.

London awarded the right to host the 2012 Olympics, beating Paris, Moscow, New York and Madrid.

Contrary to the wishes of fans, US sports tycoon Malcolm Glazer buys Manchester United in heavily-leveraged £790m takeover and immediately delists the club.



Melbourne wins first ever Ultimate Sports City Award.

SportBusiness Group acquired by specialist information publishing group Electric Word plc.

Fifa World Cup in Germany becomes the first sports event to be fully available in highdefinition television (HDTV).

Lagardère’s acquisition of Sportfive marks the birth of Lagardère Sports, the group’s dedicated sports division.




In an exclusive interview with SportBusiness International, then- IAAF president Lamine Diack describes drugs cheat Marion Jones as “one of the biggest frauds in history.” Much later, Diack was accused by Wada of sanctioning an illegitimate governance structure that covered up doping infringements in return for cash.

Euro Hockey League launched by European Hockey Federation, national hockey associations and Dutch sports marketing and media agency Pro Sport. The league has centralised marketing and TV rights programme.

First signs of the global credit crunch in August as European Central Bank pumps €95bn into banking market to improve liquidity. US Federal Reserve also begins to intervene.




Beijing Olympics watched by estimated worldwide TV audience of 4.7 billion – one fifth larger than the 3.9 billion who watched the Athens Games.

Credit crunch begins to impact on sports industry as slowing economy halts the development of a ‘ballpark district’ around new Washington Nationals baseball stadium. Liverpool’s American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, postpone building £300m Stanley Park stadium owing to adverse credit conditions. The club eventually elected to stay put and expand its existing Anfield home.

In an exclusive interview with SportBusiness International, Sepp Blatter talks about his desire to ‘form a social development angle’ for football.




Uefa changes Champions League format to improve TV rights offering. Final to be played on a Saturday rather than Wednesday and timetable restructured to 33 match nights compared to previous total of 25.

Credit Suisse warns of threat to established broadcasters as Perform and rights-holding agency Kentaro show online only coverage of England v Ukraine World Cup qualifier.

ATP Masters Series replaced with new ATP World Tour 1,000 tennis series.




Qatar announced as host of the 2022 Fifa World Cup.

IAAF launches new 12-meet Diamond League series to replace the Golden League.  The competition was designed to enhance the global profile of athletics by hosting events in China, Qatar and Morocco.

Forbes estimates Tiger Woods is the world’s most valuable athlete, in spite of an ongoing sex scandal and a hiatus from the sport.  Woods’ brand value of $82m is more than the combined value of the next three athletes.




New Zealand hosts and wins Rugby World Cup, but seven matches due to be played in earthquake hit Christchurch moved to other venues in New Zealand.

Perform acquires, one of the most popular football websites in the world, and confirms plans to float on the London Stock Exchange.

IOC president Jacques Rogge calls for legislation to allow sport to receive a portion of betting revenues across all European countries after France implements similar law.




Digital coverage of London 2012 Olympics, including internet, mobile and other platforms, exceeds television coverage for the first time in the history of the event.

Ohio University becomes first winner of SportBusiness International’s Postgraduate Sports Course Rankings in May 2012.

IMG launches Sport 24, first ever 24-hour sports channel for airline passengers, with the support of electronics manufacturer Panasonic.




Oscar Pistorius, the most marketable Paralympic athlete in the world, shoots girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a bathroom door.

Jacques Rogge speaks exclusively to SportBusiness International as he steps down as IOC president.

SportBusiness Group websites and magazines undergo redesign.

Launch of Sports Sponsorship Insider.




Launch of TV Sports Markets’ Rights Tracker media rights database.

NFL commissioner comes in for criticism after suspending Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice for just two games for domestic violence.

SportBusiness International marks its 200th issue in May 2014.




SportAccord president Marius Vizer launches scathing attack on the IOC at SportAccord Convention in Sochi, Russia.  Vizer later resigns as a group of federations sign a letter contesting his comments and others withdraw or suspend their SportAccord membership.

Fifa engulfed by claims of widespread corruption as US Department of Justice launches raid on a luxury hotel in Zurich and indicts numerous current and former Fifa officials.

IOC sells all multi-platform broadcast rights in Europe for the four Olympic Games in the 2018 to 2024 period to Discovery Communications, the parent company of Eurosport German broadcaster ARD alleges senior officials at the IAAF took bribes to cover up doping by Russian athletes.




New York City and Melbourne the big winners in the 10th anniversary edition of the Ultimate Sports City Awards.   New York named Ultimate Sports City 2016 and Melbourne wins the Ultimate Sports City at 10 anniversary award.

IAAF ethics commission bans Papa Massata Diack, Valentin Balaknichev and Alexei Melnikov for life following an investigation into a doping scandal cover-up.

IAAF upholds ban on Russian athletes competing at the Rio 2016 summer Olympics, saying that the country had not made sufficient progress on reforming its doping controls. The IOC supports the IAAF’s stance.

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