The Year of the Game Changer

The Year of the Game Changer

Why Sports Will Thrive (Not Just Survive) in 2017
The Year of the Game Changer
Miami Marlins President David Samson after being voted off of Survivor: Cagayan in 2014

I’m a Survivor maniac. I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a super fan, but there are few seasons of the reality competition that I haven’t watched since its dawn in 2000.

When I mention my fandom to others, the response that typically follows is, “You still watch that show after 32 seasons? Isn’t it played out by now?”

For me, it will never be played out because what I love most about the game is the strategy, and that’s constantly evolving as the best and brightest players alter it each year with revolutionary ideas and actions. It’s evolving so much so that the next season, called Survivor: Game Changers, is based entirely on this premise as they bring back players whose single moves and decisions forever altered the strategic trajectory of the show, completely changing how production had to go about planning each season.

Much like Mark Burnett’s masterpiece, the strategies used to outwit, outplay, and outlast the competition in the sports business world must constantly evolve to ensure fans keep coming back for more. With attention spans and eyeballs fragmented, it is never more crucial than now for innovators to go full steam ahead and change the game for us all.

Survivor just named its All-Star cast for its Game Changers season. The cast of game changers set to shake up sports biz in 2017 remains to be seen; however, some players, both big and small, made their game changing moves in 2016 to set themselves and others up for strategic shake-ups in 2017:

1. Houston Rockets: Turns out the team’s front office may be equally as groundbreaking as their bearded superstar is on the court. Houston made history as the first franchise to hire an esports executive for a front office role. Following in the footsteps of European soccer clubs who have begun aligning with gamers and hot on the heels of the Philadelphia 76ers’ purchase of Dignitas and Apex, it’s likely that multiple teams will begin to follow suit this year. In terms of first-mover advantages, the Rockets may be the next Oakland A’s and Sebastian Park might just be their Billy Beane.

2. Amazon: Mickey Mouse should be shaking in his boots at the thought of Amazon becoming a sports streaming behemoth. Reports suggest that the company is ultra-aggressively pursuing rights from holders both large and small. With Amazon’s access to all types of consumer data and information from other aspects of its business, the commerce giant is sure to have irreplicable advantages over ESPN and others in a potentially crowded future market. Twitter’s fumble with Thursday Night Football streaming could provide the perfect chance for Amazon to snatch up some of the high-profile rights it has been seeking.

3. Steve Ballmer: The Los Angeles Clippers quirky owner and former Microsoft CEO hasn’t been shy about his plans to shake up sports viewing (which he believes is on the cusp of a seismic shift). The first step in his masterplan? Successfully brokering a deal for the team to keep its own digital rights out of a new TV deal. The Clippers are preparing to launch OTT game broadcasts for fans this season and have plans for other unique viewing experiences. Will we see a Chris Paul court vision cam in 2017? While many may share his desires, Ballmer possesses the energy and unlimited funds that others lack to make even his wildest dreams a reality for his $2 billion team.

4. DGital Media: The podcast creator and distributor owned the narrative surrounding sports podcasts in 2016 thanks to the announcement of partnerships with everyone from Fox Sports and The Vertical to IMG, UFC, and Sports Illustrated. Despite video’s attractiveness, audio continues to boom. With all of the above investing in podcasts, expect that other players were listening intently and will join the fray in the coming year. Plenty of room remains for innovation in sports audio. Will a sports-centric storytelling production emerge (perhaps Serial-esque)? Hint: ESPN’s 30 for 30 series seems primed as the perfect platform.

5. PepsiCo: It’s a new generation for Pepsi. The brand spent 2016 bench-pressing the latest muscle in its content arm: Creator’s League. Much like the road less traveled that Red Bull took years ago, Pepsi is primed to revolutionize the production process for brands by creating a means of bypassing agencies and taking its creative ideas direct to development. The longtime Super Bowl sponsor put its new Manhattan content studio to good use over the past six months, producing short-form videos with a wide range of stars. In addition to media endeavors, PepsiCo is also innovating on the tech side of the equation. Mountain Dew is now dabbling in wearable tech in a bid to prove brands’ abilities to innovate on a level equivalent to Silicon Valley. Based on their 2016 footprint, it seems likely that Pepsi has many more ideas already in the can for 2017.

ESPN’s massive subscriber losses seem proof enough that the sports media bubble was preparing to burst in 2016. The jury is still out on this year, but the tribe has spoken. No matter what happens, sports will thrive (not just survive) in 2017 thanks to game changers.

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Emily Black is a member of the marketing team at Hashtag Sports. Connect with her here and here or reach out to to learn more about opportunities to collaborate.

To explore more trends and topics fueling innovation across sports media, sponsorship & tech, join us in Times Square at Hashtag Sports 2018.

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