As the play-by-play men like to say, there is still plenty of game left to be played in this white-knuckle year in sports.
But at this point in the calendar, as the drive toward the college and NFL football playoffs begins and basketball and hockey pick up speed, there is nevertheless a clear scorecard of achievement to review. And what does success in the sports executive suite look like? First, consider the marketplace. From a television perspective, 2016 has been the year live, linear tune-in faced its sternest test; yet despite some double-digit ratings slippage by leading draws including primetime NFL games and the Rio Olympics, the value of sports remains clear. NBCUniversal said the startling falloff in Olympics broadcast ratings (18% on average) was accompanied by a surge of digital viewing and, because of healthy ad rates, Rio proved the most profitable Olympics yet, according to the company.
Football is a more mixed picture. But at presstime, predictions that the passing of the tumultuous presidential election would boost ratings have been accurate. As the quality of matchups involving legacy teams (and front-running playoff contenders) like the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders keeps improving, a rebound of the NFL would appear inevitable. Those who have invested billions in that outcome are gradually starting to exhale.
And there is life beyond the gridiron, of course. The Chicago Cubs’ run to their first World Series title since 1908 sent ratings to their highest level since 1991. Basketball, both pro and college, is riding high. And nontraditional sports like mixed martial arts have captured the passion of millennial audiences to leave a multibillion-dollar mark on the landscape.
For their accomplishments in these and other arenas, B&C is pleased to recognize Eric Shanks, president of Fox Sports; Mark Shapiro and Ioris Francini, copresidents of WME/IMG; and Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, as our Sports Executives of the Year.
In the pages that follow, they share insights into the current moment in sports media. Given the explosion of networks, leagues, rights deals and demographic niches in recent years, their ability to see the whole field, anticipate where the ball is going to be and to thrive on pressure has been remarkable. Maybe the play-by-play guys are right to rely on such clichés, as long as they are true.