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Legal Betting, LeBron, Kaepernick And Tiger's Comeback: The Year In Sports Business

Legal Betting, LeBron, Kaepernick And Tiger's Comeback: The Year In Sports Business

It was a year of comebacks and new beginnings in the sports world.

Legal Sports Betting 

Led by New Jersey, the reversal of PAPSA in 2018 — the federal ban on sports betting — laid the groundwork for states to unveil legalized gambling, forever changing the landscape of sport in the country.

"Overall it's a good thing for the teams and leagues. There are a lot of sports media companies that provide data and analysis to consumers that will benefit and new networks [for bettors] will emerge," sports attorney Darren Heitner told Benzinga after the Supreme Court ruling.

"It will also draw more fans to the stadium. I think there is a real possibility to see betting at the actual game.”

The rise in interest in legal sports betting also prompted a move from longtime ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell to move to the Action Network, a newly launched sports betting media platform.

Vegas Turns Pro

Along with legal sports betting, 2018 saw the rise of professional sports in Las Vegas, with the Golden Knights making an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the team's first year. The Golden Knights' strong attendance and passionate fan base proved that Las Vegas is a viable sports town.

The Oakland Raiders are set to move to Sin City in 2020.

LeBron Goes West 

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest stories of the year was LeBron James' move to the Los Angeles Lakers. Following a Game One mishap from JR Smith, James' decision to leave Cleveland wasn’t too surprising — but it still took some getting used to seeing James in purple and gold.

James immediately made the Lakers a Championship contender, but "decision two" was clearly about more than basketball.

"Pairing LeBron with Magic Johnson [and] a guy like Lakers GM Rob Pelinka — that is a win. They will have his back in business decisions, cross promotion and marketing,” basketball writer Oliver Maroney told Benzinga over the summer.

Tiger's Return 

Tiger Woods' remarkable comeback prompted renewed interest in golf at a time when the sport was desperately missing its biggest icon. After nearly winning his 15th major at the PGA Championship, Woods closed out the season with a victory at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

The golfing legend later faced off with Phil Mickelson in The Match for $9 million, losing in a questionable ending. The primetime golf event proved to be a success despite experiencing streaming difficulties, with a two-year extension in the works that may could include a different format and additional players.

Prior to The Match, SDSU Sports Business Professor Jim Lackritz told Benzinga: "golf is sticking its toe in the water to see if something like this will fly and take advantage of Tiger's resurgence, because Tiger's popularity is 10 standard deviations higher than anyone else.”

The year also saw the announcement of GolfTV, a streaming golf service from DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS INC. (NASDAQ: DISCA), which signed a streaming content partnership deal with Woods.

The Year In Sportswear 

Nike Inc (NYSE: NKE) staged a strong comeback in 2018, as the company continues to fend off increasing competition from a surging Adidas AG (ADR) (OTC: ADDYY) in North America.

In a year dominated by the athleisure trend, the big three sportswear brands outperformed the market as a whole, with Under Armour Inc (NASDAQ: UAA) leading the way as the best-performing athletic apparel brand. 

Nike’s partnership with Colin Kaepernick was the dominant headline in sportswear in 2018. 

In the Q2 earnings report that included sales following the Kaepernick "Just Do It" campaign, Nike revenue grew 9 percent in North America. Nike was named "Marketer Of The Year" by Ad Age after the controversial ad created hundreds of millions of dollars in media value for the brand.

Consumers want brands to take a stand on social issues, and a small minority of them are opposed to Nike, NPD Group analyst Matt Powell told Benzinga.

“Millenials and Gen Z are aligned with Nike’s position here, so I think they understand who their customer is and are aligned with them. We know from surveys these generations are much more liberal, much more progressive in their thinking and much more diverse ethnically. It's logical that they are really aligning with that demographic."

With retro fashion dominating trends in 2018, the year saw many legacy endorsers signing lifetime deals with brands. FILA, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the retro trend resurgence, signed a lifetime contract with Grant Hill.

Adidas inked a lifetime contract with tennis legend Stan Smith, and Puma signed Walt Clyde Frazier to a lifetime deal as part of its comeback to basketball after a 20-year absence from the sport.

Related Links: 

The Year In Retail: Struggling Department Stores, A Smartwatch Success And Predictions

LeBron's Move To Los Angeles: What It Means For Nike, Adidas And Puma

Screenshot courtesy of Nike. 


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