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Looking into the crystal ball: Tiger is back

So what’s ahead for the year in sports business? Here are five predictions as we enter the last year of the decade. (Hint: Look for Tiger to roar back to the top of the golf rankings.)
Image: Tiger Woods
If Tiger Woods comes back and wins a major, there will be bedlam, and his $100 million worth of marketing deals will soar even higher.Chris O'meara / AP file

In 2008, the sports business industry was full of surprises.

National Football League owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement, meaning the 2010 season will be played without a salary cap and, even more unnerving, the 2011 season may end up being cancelled.

The Olympic Games, a yawner in the television ratings during Athens in 2004, was stunningly popular during its 17 days in Beijing.

And despite a sour economy, ESPN was willing to pay almost $500 million to land the rights to televise the five annual BCS Games starting in 2011.

So what’s ahead? Here are five predictions in the sports-business world as we enter the last year of the decade:

All will be good for Tiger Woods
For the first time in his pro golfing career, expectations will be low as he returns after knee surgery. If he comes back and wins a major, there will be bedlam, and his $100 million worth of marketing deals will soar even higher. His long-term pact with Buick was terminated in 2008, a year before it was set to expire, but he remains the most marketable athlete in sports. Companies will continue to throw dollars at him.

The 2016 Olympics will go to … Chicago
Yes, in Tokyo the venues will all be within a long walk of the Olympic Stadium. And Rio de Janeiro is a favored candidate, considering South America has never played host to the Games. The Barcelona Games were a success, and who says Madrid couldn’t pull off a similar feat?

But with the president-elect’s ties to the Windy City and the already-strong work of the Chicago contingent, look for the October vote to send the Summer Olympics back to the United States for the first time in 20 years.

Fans will smile at ticket prices
Though the $2,500 seats at new Yankee Stadium may leave some muttering, both season-ticket and single-game ticket prices should see little if any increase in 2009. According to SportsBusiness Journal, not only have the New Orleans Saints already frozen 2009 prices, “you can now buy season tickets on an installment plan, reminiscent of those from the Depression.”

And the incentives for fans to watch contests are increasing: The St. Louis Blues offer to pay off mortgages for lucky customers. Franchises may end up like carnival barkers trying to beg people to fill seats. Best deal going into ‘09? Two-dollar seats at Dallas Mavericks games.

Bud will scale back its sports budget
The poor economy will be cited as a culprit, but realistically, the InBev takeover is the main reason. Already, 26-year sports marketing guru Tony Ponturo has departed since the St. Louis brewery was sold in 2008.

It’s almost easier to list what U.S. sports and events Budweiser and Bud Light are not involved with (they sponsor 28 of 32 NFL teams and 26 of 30 MLB teams, to give a small example of their ubiquity) but InBev has given no indication it is interested in continuing to spend hundreds of millions annually on U.S. sports. Spending that is already locked in includes the Feb. 1 Super Bowl, where A-B will shell out more than $20 million in commercials as the exclusive alcoholic beverage sponsor of the telecast.

New stadiums will be hailed by all
Forget the bad economy for a moment, because nothing motivates fans and sponsors more than a jaw-dropping new monument to their favorite team. Expect the Big Apple’s Citi Field and the new Yankee Stadium to be frequently packed, despite through-the-roof ticket prices. In Dallas, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will persuade a big-name corporation how lucky they are to spend hundreds of millions to slap their name on the Cowboys $1 billion edifice until 2028 or so.

That's a quick look into the crystal ball. Whatever happens, like 2008, the only constant in the sports business will be surprise.