Laying out 10 predictions for the new year, including massive NBA media rights, MLB expansion, in-season tournaments, soccer, F1, and the Olympics.
As the holiday season leads to the calendar turning from 2023 to 2024, there are certain tentpole events in the sports business world that we’re already greatly anticipating.
The NBA is expected to sign a new media contract that would begin in 2025 and be worth vastly more than the $2.67 billion it makes on its current deal. After the Finals in June, local TV contracts for 15 NBA teams under Bally Sports will expire, ushering in a summer of media-free agency we haven’t seen in a long time. That same month, soccer’s highly anticipated European championships in Germany will be followed shortly thereafter in late July by the Summer Olympics in Paris, where the US men’s basketball team will look to avenge a fourth-place finish at this year’s World Cup.
A college football national champion will be crowned in January, the last title in the four-team College Football Playoff era before it expands to 12 in 2025. In February, the Super Bowl comes to Las Vegas for the first time. It could make the final year Vegas doesn’t have an MLB team, with the Oakland A’s set to move when their Oakland Coliseum lease expires next October. It’s an exciting time for a city that hosted its first-ever Formula 1 race in 2023 and houses the two-time WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces.
Enough talk, let’s look into the Boardroom crystal ball and make 10 sports business predictions for 2024!
Amazon, NBC, and Peacock will gain NBA media rights deals.
The NBA can’t afford to lose ESPN and Turner as television partners, and vice versa. While they’ll eventually come to an agreement to extend their respective rights deals, both deals will come with fewer games as the league’s price tag will be a limiting factor given the networks’ need to spend on other sports media rights.
A streaming partner will be a necessity for any league moving forward — Amazon will get games at least weekly in their newest breakthrough deal to complement the NFL in the US. There’s going to be a fierce battle for Thursday night, with TNT wanting to keep its traditional slot and Amazon wanting to make Thursdays its signature live sports night to go with football.
And finally, who doesn’t love the ’90s NBA on NBC nostalgia? NBC and Peacock will get a few games per month, primarily for streaming non-exclusive local games like the NHL with Hulu and MLB with ESPN+. Disney won’t be happy with ABC not being the only traditional broadcast network getting games, but times change, and having the NBA back on NBC 5-10 times a year will feel so right.
After the deal gets done, the league will get more serious about expanding from 30 to 32 teams. Las Vegas and Seattle are the overwhelming favorites to land the new franchises.
The 12-team CFP will lead to further conference realignment and turmoil.
Expanding the College Football Playoff from four to 12 teams will make things more fair and equitable, right?
Just take a look at the top 12 in this year’s final CFP rankings. As of next season, Florida State will have been the only team outside the SEC and Big Ten in the top dozen. While each major conference champion will get automatic spots, the SEC and Big Ten will inevitably gobble up all the at-large bids. That will only lead to more big-time schools like Florida State and Clemson pressing to leave to the behemoths.
The big question is whether the Big 12 and ACC will stay competitive enough in a 12-team playoff era to sustain itself. I’m betting it won’t, leading to the two major conference models we’re seemingly destined to enter, with NIL further separating the haves and the have-nots.
Baseball expansion talks will gain some serious steam.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred‘s said for years that when the A’s and Rays get their stadium situations sorted, the league will start thinking about expansion. Late this year, the A’s got league ownership approval to move the team to Las Vegas, and the Rays reached an agreement to build a new stadium in St. Pete that will lead to decades more of dismally embarrassing attendance.
Cities like Nashville, Charlotte, Portland, Montreal, and Salt Lake are ready to ratchet up expansion discussions with MLB. For the first time in decades, the league will finally be open and receptive to expand for the first time since 1998.
Jude Bellingham will be regarded as the world’s best soccer player.
Maybe it’s the surreal brace I witnessed in Barcelona at El Clásico in October. Perhaps it’s the 17 goals in 20 games across all competitions for a 20-year-old in his first season at Real Madrid. But I believe 2024 is the year attacking midfielder Jude Bellingham becomes known as the best soccer player on the planet.
That designation will be sealed in June and July when Bellingham leads Madrid to the Champions League title over Erling Haaland and Manchester City, and Jude paces England to the Euro 2024 title over Kylian Mbappé and France. Mbappé will then star for the French at the Paris Olympics and turn around and spurn Paris Saint-Germain to join Bellingham at Real Madrid. But a year from now, we’ll be looking at Bellingham as the world’s top player, opening up a slew of marketing and portfolio-building opportunities for the youngster.
MLB and NHL will seriously consider in-season tournaments of their own.
After seeing the NBA’s In-Season Tournament spice up its early season and increase national and local TV ratings by 26 and 20%, respectively, baseball and hockey will get on the cup bandwagon for 2025.
For MLB, this is a no-brainer. Have one Tuesday or Thursday game per week for a month in April and May count as Selig Cup matches, with the top eight heading to a single-elimination tournament at a warm neutral site over Memorial Day weekend. The NHL can do something similar, with the semifinals and finals replacing or adding to the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.
It’s time we gave those sports some more early regular-season juice and conversational journey. All they need to do is simply follow the NBA’s lead. The NFL season is too short for a tournament, but we’ll soon see every team playing one neutral site, international game within the next 3-5 years.
The 2024 US men’s Olympic basketball team will rival the Redeem Team and the Dream Team as the best Team USA squads ever.
The last time a senior US men’s basketball team had a showing as poor as its fourth-place finish at the 202 World Cup, we got the legendary LeBron, Kobe, D-Wade, and Melo-led Redeem Team for the 2008 Olympics. I predict the projected roster for the 2024 team in Paris will end up being better than 2008, challenging the 1992 Dream Team for the best USA Basketball team ever.
LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Davis, and Damian Lillard? Plus, other All-Stars waiting in the wings, such as potentially Kawhi Leonard, Jaylen Brown, Paul George, Bam Adebayo, Draymond Green, and many others? The 2024 US team will be out for revenge in Paris and could emerge as the best basketball team ever assembled.
Bonus Olympics predictions: Look for the US women’s soccer team to avenge its poor World Cup showing, with Sophia Smith emerging as a household name. Another name to watch out for? Give me Sha’Carri Richardson dominating on the track.
The biggest women’s NCAA tournament ever will lead to the best WNBA rookie class ever.
With record crowds and television ratings, women’s college basketball has never been more popular. The game’s biggest stars like Caitlin Clark, Cameron Brink, Paige Bueckers, and Angel Reese will not only lead women’s March Madness to outshine the men once again but will also bring with it the best WNBA draft class ever.
Clark teaming with Aaliyah Boston with the Indiana Fever? Brink or Bueckers bringing the LA Sparks back to greatness or leading the Phoenix Mercury or Seattle Storm into their next eras? Sign me up!
On that note, the WNBA Draft needs more shine. Let’s put it at an arena where fans can bring the live energy. Even better? Hold it the night of or the night after the Final Four in the host city — ratings and buzz bonanza.
Look out for a company like Amazon or Netflix to try to get into the RSN game.
With Sinclair’s Diamond Sports in bankruptcy proceedings, more and more teams will follow the lead of the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, and others to put their games on free TV with an added direct-to-consumer subscription product. But the opportunity is wide open for a streamer like Amazon or Netflix to gobble up Diamond deals across the NBA, NHL, and MLB.
Amazon is reportedly already in talks with Diamond for an investment to do just that with a multi-year Prime Video streaming partnership. But if that fails, streamers should try to pick teams up a-la-carte to bring more premium sports content to their subscribers. The RSN model is clearly dead, and 2024 will be when seismic change occurs in how local fans watch their sports.
As F1 interest levels off stateside, the league will try to pursue a fourth US race … in NYC.
While Formula 1 remains incredibly popular in the US, its average television viewership of 1.11 million per race is down from 1.21 million in 2022. It’s the first major sign of F1 popularity peaking in the US despite three American races on the schedule in Miami, Austin, and Las Vegas.
As 2024 progresses, noise will grow louder about moving the Austin race to New York City in the future, whether at Central Park, the Brooklyn waterfront, or a more remote location like Randall’s Island.
“Racing in New York, in Manhattan, if that were ever to be possible, that would be great without discounting all the other venues,” Mercedes principal and part owner Toto Wolff told me earlier this year. “We’ll find a way around that’s spectacular. I don’t know where it would be, but racing on Fifth Avenue? It would be amazing.”
New York City would continue the sport’s momentum that may have finally leveled off in 2023.
Volleyball will separate itself as the next big women’s sport.
Women’s sports has never had more momentum. The WNBA is expanding and growing. The NWSL signed a record-breaking media deal, cementing its well-earned ascent. And after seeing the success of college volleyball, capped by Texas upsetting Nebraska in the national championship game, it’s clear to see that volleyball will emerge as the next big women’s sport.
Pro women’s volleyball leagues like League One Volleyball (LOVB) and Athletes Unlimited will take advantage of that in ways softball couldn’t, promoting the top college stars, combining them with the top global pros, and gaining more visibility. It’s a long, drawn-out process to gain relevance and popularity — look at pro women’s basketball and soccer— but volleyball is next.
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