Struggling economy a key player in 2009
Making predictions about the effect of the economic downturn -- or recession or new-millennium depression -- is a dicey deal. After all, some folks in high finance, on Wall Street and elsewhere, got us into this mess because their own predictions went, well, let's just say "wide right."
Some developments will be pretty subtle. You might watch the Masters on the tube next spring and think: It was Cadillac that used to sponsor this, right? If you look hard enough at box scores from spring training baseball games, you'll see that numbers are down at ballparks and presume that few baseball snowbirds will be making trips south. If you're at a game -- it almost doesn't matter which pro sports league -- you might notice that a few luxury suites look like empty oversized closets. If you have been a season-ticket holder, you'll likely get a lot of love in the form of solicitations and freebies from the marketing department. Yes, loyal fan, good news no increase in ticket prices.
Some developments will be felt only by those within the industry. We're already seeing some softness in network advertising sales for the Super Bowl, so it would seem a safe bet that March Madness will face similar issues. This trend will probably continue throughout all the events in the sports calendar.
In Olympic sports, it's likely that the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games will be nothing like this past year's Summer Games in Beijing. The corporate partners for the Vancouver Olympics are already committed -- though they might wish they had a do-over on that one -- and they certainly will be more cautious moving forward with negotiations for the 2012 Summer Games in London. And the organizers in London are already adjusting: Plans for construction of one new facility have been scrapped, and costs will be cut at every corner.
There will be some stuff that plays out in headlines -- apocalypse scenarios. In the NHL, the guaranteed plunge in the salary cap will give general managers headaches, and players will see paychecks shrink -- but that might be the least of the league's problems. It seems possible, if not likely, that the Phoenix Coyotes could hit rock bottom or even be shuttered -- already the franchise is counting on league bailouts for operating costs. Hockey hasn't sold in the desert. Who would have guessed?
Those who are reluctant owners of sports franchises will realize that the window for franchise sales has closed. The Rooneys will still own the Steelers. Ralph Wilson might still own the Bills when Willard Scott gives him a Smuckers shout-out on the "Today" show when Wilson begins his second century.
Gare Joyce is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.
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ESPN.COM'S LOOK AT THE YEAR AHEAD
What to expect across the sports spectrum in 2009? ESPN.com offers things you might see coming, some you won't and some that will just flat-out surprise. Predictions to consider: