In 2019, the sports business will be worth $73.5 billion according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, while sports-media rights will hit $20 billion. Variety’s Sports and Entertainment Breakfast, which takes place July 11 at the Beverly Wilshire, examines the lucrative intersection of the two worlds. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, whose high-tech cred is enhanced by his Tally app (he is also principal in Limitless Minds) keynotes the event. Also onstage will be Olympic gold and silver medalist Laurie Hernandez; Mike Marshall, president, advertising and client partnerships, NBCUniversal; Olympic gold medalist and NBC Sports figure skating analyst Tara Lipinski; and Lon Rosen, chief marketing officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will discuss the business of Major League Baseball with event partner Todd Burach, VP and senior relationship manager, entertainment, City National Bank.
In a fractured media world in which audiences access content on myriad platforms, live sports events still draw eyeballs and money across all demographics. Fan engagement is paramount to the L.A. Dodgers, notes Rosen. Forbes estimates the Dodgers, one of the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball, is worth $2 billion. The team also regularly tops the charts for attendance, annually outpacing powerhouse franchises such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
“All our fans are important to us,” says Rosen, noting that the organization also has a huge international following. “Baseball has great traditions that we always want to respect. But the fans in 2019 watch baseball differently than fans 20, 30 years ago. You see fans on their phones and tablets in the stands. We want to make sure fans are entertained.”
To that end, the Dodgers have apps and use social media. “Social media is a really important aspect of what we do, and we spend a lot of time perfecting it.”
Fan engagement is also top of mind at NBCUniversal in its run-up to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
For NBCUniversal, the answer is to super-size the Olympics coverage to reach more viewers across all content platforms. In 2016, the Peacock presented 6,755 hours of coverage, and there will be over 7,000 in 2020. “We’re super-serving the fans,” says Marshall. NBCU readily takes advantage of its many cable channels plus its own Olympics cabler. That primes the audiences 24/7, 365 days a year.
NBCU’s producers and on-air talent believe athlete stories are key to fans, whether they are hard-core sports nuts or are just tuning in during Olympics years. “The storylines are what makes the Olympics, and Olympics on NBC is something the fans look forward to,” he says. Marshall also notes that Tokyo will be a “new games” because of the inclusion of highly tele-visual sports such as surfing, skateboarding and speed-rock climbing, and that opens up new faces for viewers to embrace.
Hernandez knows all about translating her athletic achievements into a high-profile entertainment career. The star gymnast won the 23rd season of “Dancing With the Stars” with partner Val Chmerkovskiy, wrote a best-seller and is host of “American Ninja Warriors Junior.”
“Dancing tells a story and you transform into a character,” she says of her time on the ABC show. “I am a really big fan of ‘American Ninja Warrior’ and when that opportunity came up, I took it.”
While she is training in order to make the 2020 Games, she is also looking to the future.
She’s always had a passion for acting and performing, and will start ramping up that aspect of her career after the Games.
Relationships with audiences are key, whether it’s an Olympic hero hosting a show, or a speed-rock climber wowing on a course, the people bringing sports and entertainment together are on a dizzying journey to deliver compelling stories.