Here’s a question for you. What three upcoming events are likely to have the most profound influence on the business of sport over the next decade or so?
This is not a question about who may or may not become the next manager of Real Madrid but about the fundamentals of the way in which sport is run, organised and monetised around the world.
It is, in effect, a question about the next three major game changers for the sports sector.
As with any question of this kind, there are no right or wrong answers which is what makes the process of speculation and informed guesswork so entertaining. And the fact is that more or less everybody will have a slightly different take depending upon which part of the business their main interests lie in.
But, for what it’s worth, here are some suggestions:
THE FLOTATION OF F1: Formula 1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone may not be out of the mire of the German courts but there is a will to get an F1 IPO over the line as soon as possible. It nearly happened a year or so ago but market conditions were considered less than ideal in the wake of the far from stellar Facebook issue and the plan was shelved … until now.
An F1 flotation would almost certainly be the biggest in the history of the sports sector, dwarfing the various football club IPOs which were fashionable more than a decade ago or more recently in the case of Manchester United.
A flotation would tell us something about the market’s appetite for sport but because F1 is a unique property in so many ways it would be unwise to suggest that a successful IPO would automatically open the door to a host of others from the sector.
What will be really interesting is the way that a post IPO F1 develops and what if any role the 82 year old Ecclestone would retain. He invented F1 and shaped it at every stage of its development. From time to time he has sailed close to the wind in terms of relationships with leading teams but he has driven the sport forward, expanded its geographic reach to ensure that its schedule reflected the world’s changing economic geography and ensured that F1’s lustre grew year on year. The next chapter in the history of the sport will be critical as it will inevitably determine not only the continuing structure of the sport but the nature of its brand and its relationships with broadcasters and commercial partners. It also opens up the bigger question, who could possibly replace Bernie?
THE SALE OF IMG: It would be stupid to underestimate the influence of IMG – the company set up by Mark McCormack more than half a century ago – on the global business of sport. It’s media division is the world’s biggest independent producer of sports content on the planet, it manages some of the leading talent across tennis, golf and in other sports, it has key relationships with sports bodies and events and strategic partnerships in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.
But the entirely expected confirmation that the business was to be sold throws up a number of issues including not only its future ownership but the way that it will be packaged for sale or, perhaps, broken up for subsequent re-sale.
IMG is a fascinating business which has built a culture in which senior staff have been encouraged to emulate McCormack’s entrepreneurial ambitions.
A bid of around $2 billion from Qatari sources has already been rejected because its investor owners believe that they can ultimately more than double that. The question is how that can best be achieved and whether there is more value in a united IMG than in the separate sale of its various divisions. Insiders say that if it isn’t broke there’s no need to fix it but potential purchasers may take a different view and look to cherry pick the media and US collage sports businesses.
THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE (IOC):
Jacques Rogge, the Belgian Olympic sailor has steered a steady course during his time at the helm of the International Olympic Committee. He introduced the Youth Olympic Games, oversaw growth in revenues and presided over the hugely successful London Games. He is viewed as a safe pair of hands which has done a good if unspectacular job. Others will argue that you don’t have to be spectacular for the sake of it and that Rogge was the right man for his time and responded positively to every challenge.
But who comes next. Next week the world’s leading sports governing bodies meet in St Petersburg and the issue of succession will be very much on the conversational agenda even if it does not feature on the formal one.
The next President faces challenges on a number of fronts but none of them is more pressing than the need to make Olympic sport and the Olympic Movement more relevant to young people. That’s not something which will be achieved by gimmicks and one off programmes but through a root and branch review of current practice in countries around the world and the subsequent development and implementation of best practice policies which actually work. Engaging with kids through social media is fine but won’t help if they already think that they are engaged in sport by playing FIFA on their X Box.
The next IOC President doesn’t simply have an opportunity to be a game changer … he or she has a duty to be so.