Michael Long | Outside forces will test sport’s structures once more
Much like in recent years, 2022 will be defined by the buying and selling of influence rather than straightforward commercial rights arbitrage.
Private equity will undoubtedly be a force once again, with the likes of CVC and Silver Lake stepping up their hunt for post-pandemic investment opportunities. Their continued advance will test governing bodies and sport’s existing power structures to the limit, raising the stakes and forcing leaders to reconcile the dual imperatives of capital and control. Properties in women’s sport in particular will find themselves courted by external investors eager to capitalise on clear growth potential and impressive all-round commercial momentum.
Meanwhile, having ruffled Premier League feathers by finally capturing Newcastle United, Saudi Arabia’s aspirations in sport will become clearer as its money is funnelled, by way of the Gulf state’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), into more corners of the industry. Notably, its investments in golf will have a seismic impact on the sport, prompting the status quo, not least the PGA Tour, to rethink their own business models. An epic power struggle looms, one that will see the first meaningful blows traded in 2022.
Elsewhere expect to see concerns continue to grow over the industry’s unfettered pursuit of growth. Almost certainly the rich will get richer, with wealth concentrating among an elite few properties in tier-one sports. Governments in many key markets will be under pressure to intervene if the financial imbalance tips too far as calls for fairer income redistribution and tighter, possibly independent regulation grow louder.
Besides all that, the issue of climate change will only take on greater focus and urgency, with sustainability becoming a strategic imperative for every rights holder. Lofty pledges will no longer be enough. Authorities and environmental groups will demand stricter standards, greater accountability and tangible action on reducing carbon emissions.
Sam Carp | Accountability will be the watchword for rights holders and sponsors
I find it difficult to think about the next 12 months without imagining digital recreations of sports executives rolling around in deep pools of cryptocurrency in the metaverse.
In all seriousness I do expect rights holders to continue their fledgling but potentially doomed love affair with cryptocurrency platforms, but that will start to present problems as fans become increasingly aware that what they’re being flogged comes with almighty financial risks. In other words, there is going to be scrutiny akin to what betting sponsorships have been subjected to in the last few years.
That, I suspect, will be in keeping with the ongoing rise in fan influence as supporters will increasingly start to hold their respective teams to account over who they partner with – see Bayern Munich’s recent AGM for an example.
But it won’t just be rights holders feeling the heat. Sponsors, who are always quick to align themselves with things such as sustainability and diversity and inclusion, will increasingly be challenged to put that into action by confronting partners who are staging events in places with poor human rights records. Put simply, brands can’t afford to be politically averse anymore, especially now that consumers expect them to be more socially responsible.
Other trends to keep an eye on include whether more women’s sports will go down the unbundling route given the success enjoyed in doing so by the likes of Uefa. Also, with new Covid variants forcing the return of restrictions, rights holders will continue to rely on digital alternatives to keep their sponsors happy. That probably would have happened anyway, and don’t be surprised to see some experiment with activations in the heady realm of the metaverse.
Ed Dixon | Athlete activism will define 2022’s major events
Next year will be bookended by the Winter Olympics and the Fifa World Cup – two of sport’s biggest, and arguably most controversial, events. The reasons for the discontent – namely, China and Qatar’s shocking human rights records – have been well documented. And while, predictably, both will go ahead with minimal fuss from key decision makers, athletes could well shape the narrative for how 2022’s events are remembered.
How that will manifest is not yet clear. Boycotts have been encouraged by some activists, though seem unlikely to materialise on any grand scale. However, we have been given an indication of what may be to come. In November, Denmark’s national team set the standard, announcing they would not participate in commercial activities laid on by Qatar 2022 organisers, instead choosing to highlight human rights issues in the Gulf state.
It remains to be seen if other national sports bodies will follow suit. Even so, recent years have proven athletes’ ability to take a stand and promote positive social impact, from teams taking the knee to Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford campaigning for free school meals.
Perhaps more than any other time, sport stars are looked at as role models by others trying to create change for the better. With the likes of the Uefa Women’s European Championship and the Commonwealth Games also headlining a packed calendar, the upcoming 12 months could be a platform for athletes not just to showcase their sporting prowess to the world, but also what they really believe in.
Georgina Yeomans | Motorsport’s accelerated green transition will bring added scrutiny
2022 is set to be a big year for the motorsport industry. Formula One is facing a significant regulation change, the World Rally Championship is making the switch to hybrid technology and Formula E is preparing for its next generation of vehicle.
Rather ambitiously, Formula One has scheduled a 23-race calendar, its biggest yet. A new race in Miami is set to feature, as well as the return to Singapore, Canada, Japan and Australia. However, based on the uncertainty of how the pandemic will continue to unfold, I think some races will be cancelled or rescheduled – namely those in Japan, Australia and Singapore, if I had to pick three, based on how their governments have responded so far. I think it is naïve to assume the 2022 calendar will unfold without any hiccups, and I think Formula One knows this too.
Sustainability and diversity are currently hot topics in the industry, and I think this will only continue to be the case. Pretty much every series, including Formula One, MotoGP, Nascar and Formula E, has made significant environmental commitments which will need to be met within the next eight years, and there is a lot of work ahead.
Looking to the future, motorsport will continue to grow rapidly among younger audiences and those who have not engaged with the sport beforehand. Formula One has surged in popularity since the release of Drive to Survive, and with other series such as MotoGP and Formula E following suit, the industry will continue to broaden its appeal among a much wider range of people.
Regardless, 2022 will be an exciting year for motorsport, and you’d be missing out to not at least keep an eye on it.
Tom Bassam | Major tenders for premium rights will shape the media conversation
After a bumper few months in the media rights space, 2022 might not quite match the major splash deals done by the National Football League (NFL) and the Premier League this year. Nevertheless, I expect to see a ramping up of conversations around the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as they look ahead to potentially decisive tenders.
After Beijing 2022 in February, Discovery will have just one more Games left on its pan-European contract and it will be interesting to see how the media giant positions itself for a renewal once its merger with WarnerMedia closes. Discovery could also end 2022 as owner of BT Sport; whether the US-based firm or DAZN wins that tussle, the UK market looks set for a major shakeup.
Like the IOC, the NBA is more likely to do a deal in 2023 but early reports suggest the league is looking for as much as US$8 billion a year from its new domestic rights package. Given its pull with younger fans, what the NBA does in the digital space with its next deal will be interesting. A number of players will be jostling to take the League Pass streaming product away from Turner and in light of the rich rewards the likes of WWE and the PGA Tour have seen from wholesale deals for their OTT offerings, will the NBA be tempted to cash in?
In US soccer, commissioner Don Garber has confirmed MLS will be finalising its domestic media arrangements in Q1 2022, with an appealing mix of local, national and digital rights on offer. Elsewhere the global Indian Premier League (IPL) rights battle is likely to be keenly contested. Disney-owned Star is the incumbent but Sony Pictures Network India’s impending merger with Zee Entertainment will create a rival with deep pockets. Zee has been vocal about plans to make a big push into the sports rights market and it does not come any bigger in the Indian Subcontinent than the IPL.
Steve McCaskill | The digitisation of sport will enter its next phase
Back in 2006, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) banned the use of mobile phones at The Open Championship because of concerns the sounds of ringtones and cameras were disturbing the players. The decision was reversed six years later and during this past summer’s event at Royal St Georges on the Kent coast, virtually everyone in sight was checking scores and course maps on their handset, most using free Wi-Fi provided by the organisers.
That specific journey serves to demonstrate the long-term digitisation of sport that has run parallel to the wider digitisation of society. Both have been accelerated by a pandemic which has meant much of our lives, whether it’s work, education, socialising or accessing public services, relies on technology. We now don’t just desire digital experiences, we expect them.
Few of us had heard of the metaverse at the start of 2021, but it has since become the industry buzzword du jour. The term doesn’t describe a single technology but rather a concept of a persistent, immersive, digital world that combines multiple innovations, including extended reality (XR). Advances in mobile and networking technology like 5G, coupled with efforts from leading players in the space like Meta (née Facebook) and Unity, will see sports organisations at least dabble with digital spaces as a route to fan engagement.
The metaverse will also provide a vehicle for the continued growth of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Deloitte predicts that by the end of 2022, up to five million sports fans will have acquired an NFT sports collectible, such as a trading card, fan token, or digital ‘moment’ such as NBA Top Shot. Expect to see more organisations and athletes get on the bandwagon in 2022, accompanied by a wider discussion on the ethics and economics.
The digitisation of the sporting experience will also transform the amateur athlete and exercise enthusiast. The connected fitness market boomed during lockdown and despite the easing of restrictions, more people than ever are using wearable devices, connected fitness equipment to record their activity.
Strava has recorded a 38 per cent increase in uploads alone over the past 12 months. It is likely this behaviour will become a long-term trend as the ecosystem of devices and apps for specific sports and pursuits diversifies and becomes more affordable, while application platforms for finding venues, opponents and teammates become more common.