Sussman Provides Insights on Trends at the Intersection of Professional Sports and the Media

Apr 23, 2021

Having spent more than 25 years in legal and leadership positions at some of the most prominent companies in the media industry, as well as served as general counsel and chief operating officer of the New York Yankees, David W. Sussman in uniquely qualified to assess media rights trends in the professional sports industry.

So recently, we sought out the Jenner & Bock partner, who is a member of the firm’s Content, Media & Entertainment Practice, to get his take in the NFL’s recently announced record-breaking deal with traditional and streaming media companies. His interview follows.

Question: What is you take on the NFL deal and its meaning?

Answer: For virtually all stakeholders involved in all sports, that should be a sign the sports is alive and well, COVID notwithstanding.

The dimensions of money involved is like a bellringer that there is still this pent-up demand for sports, even a craving for sports.

You could argue that the NFL is in its own category and that the revenues are always higher, which is all true. But the doubling down of the payments of the rights holders reflects a rising tide of the interest levels, both for fans and broadcasters.

The mix is also indicative of the breadth of the distribution interest. So, it’s a great sign for all sports generally. It’s a very positive statement.

Q: How much was sports betting a factor?

A: Sports betting is clearly a factor. The day the Murphy case was decided, I think it was Mark Cuban who said that sports owners just saw the value of your franchises double. The sentiment is correct. Opening the door to legalized sports betting was just another reason for fan engagement.

Sports betting had been going on before. But legalizing it only increased to proliferation of it. Marrying sports betting on a legal basis with large media companies is going to increase fan access to it and the enjoyment of it.

It will be interesting to see as the other major sports renew their deals if they follow the NFL, which I think will reinforce the notion that sports betting is the engine.

You can look at the bet that the broadcasters have made as significant, when you consider that only half the states have legalized sports betting. We are still waiting on New York, California and Texas. That could be something of a tipping point when they go. From the standpoint of the broadcasters, this will confirm their investment.

Q: Will this lead to more litigation?

A: This has been an ongoing question for the leagues. On one hand, the leagues want to grow revenues for team owners and grow access of to the game to fans.

But they have entrenched relationships with rights holders. That’s the dilemma. How do you to continue to provide great content to consumers, who now have access content across a myriad of platforms, a lot of which are directly to consumer? These are not the three or four cable companies or broadcasters we grew up with.

That complexity and disruption will lead to opportunities for some and litigation for others. While this is great for consumers, it will create business opportunities for lawyers. Disruption will lead to frustration. The rights are no longer linear. They’re interactive. They’re digital. And there will be new platforms. There will be more litigation.

Everyone will be trying to adapt to a new business model. It’s really hard to identify who the losers are because there are so many winners.

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