2011 Year in Review
A look back at some of the major deals and biggest stories of the past 12 months.
Save for the news that the much-hyped Team Leopard-Trek would be joining the ProTour cycling peloton for 2011, January came and went without too many groundbreaking announcements to speak of. February was a different story however, thanks in no small part to news coming out of Los Angeles. Farmers Insurance entered into a colossal 30-year, US$700 million naming rights deal with AEG for an unbuilt stadium in downtown LA; a significant step towards restoring football to one of America’s largest markets. Meanwhile not far away - next door in fact - the LA Lakers signed a wide-ranging regional broadcast deal with Time Warner Cable valued at some US$3 billion over 20 years, and across the Atlantic Ocean LA-based Wasserman Media Group expanded its European reach by acquiring Reel Enterprises, the little-publicised but highly influential rights management and advisory firm which, amongst others, acts for the Premier League in its billion-dollar domestic television rights deals.
In March, the NFL ground to a halt as its owners and players failed to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), casting doubt over the new season, while in April the MLB stepped in to oversee day-to-day operations of the LA Dodgers, the cash-strapped team at the centre of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt’s divorce row. Later in the month, the Australian Football League (AFL) signed three new broadcast agreements with Channel 7, Foxtel and Telstra, worth a combined total of some US$1.36 billion over five years, to break the billion-dollar barrier for the first time.
In May came the announcement that France’s Le Golf National course had been selected to host the 2018 Ryder Cup, while Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera announced itself as a serious player in French sports broadcasting by winning the international distribution rights for French league soccer over six seasons in a deal believed to be worth €192 million (US$276.6 million).
The following month saw True North Sports & Entertainment purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and relocate the NHL team to Winnipeg to become the Jets. Days later, US broadcaster NBC – minus long-time head of sports Dick Ebersol, who resigned in May – committed to paying a massive US$4.38 billion for the US rights to four Olympic Games between 2014 and 2020, blasting rival bids from Fox and ESPN out of the water. June's Fifa congress in Zurich, meanwhile, was overshadowed by a bribery scandal. The congregation left under-fire Fifa president Sepp Blatter, elected unopposed to a fourth four-year term following Bin Hamman’s dramatic downfall, with the unenviable task of restoring some public credibility to a beleaguered governing body.
As June turned to July, the NBA’s 30 owners, led by commissioner David Stern, followed their football counterparts in locking out their players for the fourth time in league history, citing a ‘broken system’ that produced collective losses of over US$1.5 billion over the six-year term of the previous CBA. The NFL, however, ended its 136-day stalemate when its owners and players’ union finally reached a new agreement. Elsewhere, Mohamed Bin Hammam was found guilty for distributing illegal payments of up to US$1 million to Caribbean Football Union (CFU) officials and banned from soccer for life; the LA Dodgers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; PyeongChang finally won an Olympics when the IOC awarded the South Korean city the right to host the 2018 Winter edition; and the final of the resoundingly successful Fifa Women’s World Cup in Germany became the most commented-on event in the history of social networking site Twitter, peaking at 7,196 tweets per second.
“It’s going to take the sport to the next level,” said UFC president Dana White in describing the UFC’s seven-year, US$700 million multimedia rights agreement with Fox in August. New ground was being broken elsewhere, too, as Premier League champions Manchester United signed a four-year training kit sponsorship deal with DHL, the first of its kind in English soccer. But while the new soccer season got underway without a hitch in England, the opening weekends of both La Liga and Serie A were postponed after strike action by players in Spain and Italy.
In September, Infront Sports & Media, one of the most respected companies in the sports industry, was bought out by private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital for around €550 million. As the Rugby World Cup got underway in New Zealand, London 2012 surpassed its US$1.1 billion sponsorship target after securing shopping centre developer Westfield as its 44th domestic sponsor.
The impact of October’s European Court of Justice ruling in favour of British pub landlady Karen Murphy remains to be seen. Citing EU competition laws, which she insisted did not entitle the Premier League to prevent customers from purchasing content produced in other EU markets, Murphy was successful in her appeal against a fine for screening live Premier League matches broadcast by Greek platform Nova. Meanwhile in Brazil, allegations of embezzlement cost sports minister Orlando Silva his job at the end of the month, not long after Rio 2016 marketing chief Maggie Sanchez and two other senior marketing executives were removed from their positions on the local organising committee due to a “dysfunctional relationship”, according to one insider.
Following a four-week trial in London in October, in November Pakistani cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir became the first athletes since 1964 to receive custodial sentences for cheating in a British court for their part in a conspiracy to deliver ‘no-balls’ to order during a Test match against England in August 2010. Over in America, after 149 days of increasingly bitter talks, the NBA's players and owners finally resolved their labour dispute, reaching a tentative deal for a 66-game season to begin on Christmas Day. In other news, the IAAF awarded London the 2017 Athletics World Championships and the 2018 Commonwealth Games went to Australia’s Gold Coast.
The final month of the year saw the signing of a string of major broadcast deals. On the 15th December, the NFL’s 32 team owners ratified three long-awaited television deals that will generate in excess of US$27 billion over the next nine years. CBS, Fox and NBC will remain the league's free-to-air broadcasters, each paying an average of US$1 billion a year from 2014 to the end of the 2022/23 season - agreements which dwarf those in any other sport and increase the NFL’s annual broadcast haul to US$5.9 billion. Meanwhile, ESPN signed a US$500 million agreement to broadcast a variety of NCAA college championships and Al Jazeera continued to assert itself in the French soccer market, buying the bulk of France’s Champions League rights for a reported €61 million a year over the next three seasons. With 2011 drawing to a close, Cricket Australia got in on the act too, completing a major Asian broadcast rights deal with ESPN Star Sports worth some US$212.44 million.