Rick Horrow's 17 Unique Happenings in Sports in 2017: Top Storylines, Iconic Events, Interesting Brands, Hot Trends, and More
By: Tanner Simkins @TannerSimkins
L.A had a big year in 2017 - Olympics, Chargers, Rams, and more. Here we focus on LA 2028: Los Angeles was awarded the right to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in late July, bringing the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since 1996. This will now mark the third time that the City of Angels will host the Olympics, following its turns in 1932 and 1984. In an unprecedented move, Paris was simultaneously announced as the host in 2024 by the IOC. According to WDTN, Los Angeles' plan is to create a "New Games for a New Era" by utilizing the area's existing infrastructure to successfully orchestrate a low-risk, financially responsible, and sustainable Olympics. The first official bid was announced back on September 1, 2015. Upon being officially granted the right to host, United States Olympic Committee Chairman and U.S. IOC Member Larry Probst said, "Today is one of the most significant days in the history of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements – and it's one we've been waiting to celebrate for many years."
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria impacted communities across the country. According to Facebook, their digital community rallied to help those in need by raising more than $20 million in the biggest fundraising effort for a single crisis in 2017 on Facebook. J.J. Watt and others helped raise over $20 million for areas affected in Texas. Other notable and inspiring aid storylines were uniquely powered by sport, social influence, and tech.
From the tragic shooting to O.J. Simpson being released, Las Vegas had a year to remember in 2017. The Las Vegas Knights became the NHL's newest team this year, starting their inaugural campaign at the brand new T-Mobile Arena right off The Strip, and the NFL's Oakland Raiders announced their planned departure to Las Vegas. The Raiders are planning to leave the Bay Area in 2020 if everything goes according to plan following a 31-1 vote in favor from NFL team owners. The team is banking on a $750 million public contribution toward their new 65,000, $1.7 billion domed stadium. The public money is expected to come from an increase in hotel room tax in the surrounding metropolitan area. Meanwhile on the ice, the Golden Knights have had an incredible amount of success through their first stint of games, sitting tied for first place in the Western Conference after 33 games, including an impressive 14-2-1 record at home.
Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor dominated media headlines for months leading up to their August bout in Las Vegas. In the end, undefeated and undisputed boxing champion Mayweather came out on top in what was coined "The Money Fight." The switch from MMA to professional boxing was a risky one for McGregor, but appeared to pay off financially. According to the London Telegraph, Mayweather's guaranteed purse going into the fight was $100 million and McGregor's was $30 million. On top of that, Mayweather's projected earnings from pay-per-view is anywhere in the range of $150-200 million, bringing his total profit from the night's work up to $300 million. Some reports have the total take up to $400 million. The fight at T-Mobile Arena lasted a full nine 3-minute rounds plus 1:05 of the tenth round before the fight was called off. Mayweather finished his professional boxing career 50-0, and some sources project his career earnings to be as much as $1 billion in total.
Bitcoin was a money making machine in 2017. Bitcoin and any of the other 800+ cryptocurrencies are digital-based currency and are not controlled by a central authority such as a government or bank. Supporters praise its use in secure transactions over the internet via the blockchain, a technology that records cryptocurrency transactions chronologically in a public digital ledger. If you invested $75,000 in Bitcoin one year ago instead of buying a luxury vehicle for example, that same stake would be worth about $1 million today. Naturally, athletes with disposable income are fueling the craze even more and adding to the viral nature of the trend. Also interesting: sports organizations like the Sacramento Kings accept BitCoin as payment at their facility.
The latest youth craze in classrooms and on sporting grounds are fidget spinners. These are brightly colored, hand-held trinkets that spin, have buttons to push, or otherwise keep hands occupied. The aptly named fidget spinners are supposed to enhance concentration, reduce anxiety, and stimulate learning. The devices aimed to curb ADHD have gone viral on social media this past year for everyday non-therapeutic use and sports marketing staffs across the country have tapped into the trend. Here's one example: One manufacturer, SpinnersOnly, has licenses in the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA and at the peak of the craze had all their products on backorder.
The total solar eclipse featured the path of totality in North America, so naturally sports across the country were caught up in the excitement. During this celestial event, the longest period when the moon completely blocked the sun from any given location along the path was about two minutes and 40 seconds. The last time the contiguous U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979. The first point of contact was in Oregon and covered the center of the country until total eclipse ended near South Carolina. From there, the lunar shadow left the United States, but the process left us with many images and memories from sports. The NFL's Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, and others ended practice early and handed out glasses to watch. The MLS Whitecaps wore eclipse-themed jerseys at their game, and other similar natured storylines took place.
Topps found a way to again reinvent the card business as its ToppsNOW brand sold over one million cards, giving fans access to the best moments in baseball, the UFC, and MLS the day after those moments happened. How impactful is ToppsNOW? The day after Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels, the company sold 17,000 cards of his press conference alone.
The Drone Racing League took another step toward mainstream sports business conversations in 2017, adding big time investors, expanding their relationship with ESPN, and creating new streams of revenue like licensing. They will continue to evolve with new tech, fan engagement, global venues, and partners in 2018, which will keep them on the "must watch" list for the future.
Ever-growing popularity with the sport, a new commissioner, owners with deep pockets and a digital first mentality has put the National Lacrosse League, aka box lacrosse, into the growth column at the end of 2017 and into 2018. Expansion in key markets like New York, Dallas, and San Francisco, an intriguing take with Native American athletes (they have more than any other sport in the U.S.), and the explosion of indoor play on the college and high school levels across the country makes NLL a candidate for comeback league of the year for 2017-18.
Despite the departure of Keith Dawkins to FIRST TEE, Nickelodeon's Nick Sports had a breakout year, from bigger relationships with all the major sports to special events around Super Bowl, The NHL Winter Classic, and the ever-growing Kids Choice Sports Awards. As the channel looks to engage with a new audience, sports will be as key going forward as it was in 2017.
Run by two former Nebraska football players, the Opendorse platform takes several thousand elite athletes, tracks all their social relevance, and pairs them with brands. An infusion of investment money and growing partnerships with the leagues and teams have made them a "must look" for companies that want to marry social, athletes, and activations together for big ROI.
Growth company XTech has revolutionized, mostly by word of mouth, the next area of focus in protective padding: shoulders and legs. They custom design lightweight, shock resistant, waterproof, malleable pads that are now the rage in the NFL, elite colleges, and high schools. Who requests them? Odell Beckham and Von Miller, among many. Who doesn't? Aaron Rodgers and Jameis Winston, both who suffered serious shoulder issues wearing the old fashioned, and unregulated, bulky plastic pads.
Online education leader EVERFI focuses on teaching, assessing, and certifying students in the critical skills that real life demands. Their digital course offerings address the issues that put pressure on students and their families and traditionally have not been taught with common standards or quality. They made sports headlines in 2017 by partnering with with major sports leagues, teams, foundations, athletes, and entertainers. EVERFI enhances communities and education programs, like STEM for example, at no cost to schools by partnering with organizations big and small.
Lavar Ball and the Ball family seemed to always be in the media in 2017. Whether it was oldest son Lonzo Ball being a top pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA draft, youngest son Melo Ball routinely dropping close to 100 points in his high school games, the founding and growth of Big Baller Brand, Lavar's headline-grabbing antics, the family's reality show, middle son and UCLA forward LiAngelo being arrested for stealing while in China, then news of Melo and Gelo going pro in Lithuania, and now talks of Lavar founding a junior pro league for top high school prospects as an alternative to college, 2017 seemed to be the year of the Ball family.
Social protests in sports, the Kaepernick effect, and kneeling continued in 2017. Early in the NFL season, President Trump said NFL owners needed to fire the "sons of bitches" who "disrespected the flag." After that, the loudest response came from a long list of current and former NFL players who took to social media to criticize the president for his comments. RISE, founded by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, is an organization doing what it can to ease tensions. RISE is dedicated to harness the unifying power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress led by an unprecedented alliance of professional sports leagues, organizations, athletes, educators, and sports professionals that uses sports to promote understanding, respect, and equality. Also of note: a new FOX Sports television show, "The Power Sports" presented by Group One Thousand One, delves into conversations with industry thought leaders to understand how different sports and business organizations are creating grassroots opportunities to engage youth and help drive positive social change.
2017 was a major step forward for women's rights. International Women's Day was the No. 1 most talked about moment in 2017, doubling from last year, with people around the world talking, sharing, and posting in celebration of women and related issues. The Women's March in D.C. and satellite marches across the country, "leaning in," fight for equal pay, and the "Me Too" movement also moved the needle. Many sports organizations got in on the action; the LPGA's Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim Life is a strong example, bringing attention and investment capital to the goal of increasing the participation of women in the STEM and tech workforce.