As we approach the close of 2021, Insider Sport takes a look back at some of the more prominent sports business stories of the year.

In the first two months of the year, COVID-19 continued to dominate industry headlines as the different sectors continued to feel its impacts, but a number of brands were able to secure lucrative media rights deals whilst expansion plans were also outlined.

Despite the chaos and widespread trauma caused by the COVID-19 virus, sports fans were still eagerly anticipating the summer, not least due to the prospect of restrictions being lifted but also due to the onset of three major events – the rescheduled UEFA 2020 European Championship, Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the 2021 CONMEBOL Copa America.

However, preparations for these events continued to cause some issues, as many in Japan were concerned about the prospect of such a large group of international athletes and their supporters visiting the country at a time of high-risk. 

Calls for athletes to receive vaccinations were heard, but in the UK the British Olympic Association (BOA) remained steadfast in its opinion that competitors would not ‘jump the queue’ ahead of the wider general public.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the National Football League (NFL) continued to feel the squeeze due to a variety of factors, publishing its viewership figures which showed that the audience share for the tournament fell by 7% during 2020 when compared to 2019 statistics. 

This marked the first time that the league’s viewership had decreased after enjoying year-on-year growth since 2017, although this was a trend felt almost universally across the American sports space. 

Various US sports leagues felt the impact of the pandemic as well as the camera-stealing of the highly publicised 2019 Presidential election, but the NFL still remained one of the most watched tournaments despite the difficulties, with seven of its programmes making it into the top 10 most viewed.

In the soccer space, global streaming platform DAZN made a significant leap as Amazon was eliminated from the bidding contest for the domestic rights to Italy’s top-flight Serie A league, with only Sky Italia – the incumbent media rights holder – its main competitor. 

“We knew that Amazon had asked for a package on the model of the Premier League, which covers three days and that would upset our strategy,” Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo told the Italian press.

Boxing has always been one of DAZN’s biggest markets, but 2021 saw the firm look to consolidate its standing across the wider sporting sector. Back in combat sports, however, the Bellator MMA promotion organisation was able to secure a landmark agreement with the BBC. 

Speaking to Insider Sport, David Green, Head of Bellator Europe, described the partnership with the British public service broadcaster as ‘a massive indicator of where the sport is heading’.

He continued: “It’s huge. It’s a real statement of intent by the BBC. They don’t go into anything idly, they researched us and we’ve been talking for a very long time. They did a test in October when we held the first ever MMA show in France which was fun even though it only had 1,000 people.”

Lastly, a major development in sports data and technology saw Sportradar offer its newly launched Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS) free of charge to sports organisations.

Sportradar Integrity Services (SIS) has since partnered with a number of prominent leagues, teams and associations, leveraging UFDS to monitor betting patterns and detect instances of match-fixing.

“We believe that integrity is fundamental to public confidence in sport, and that wrongdoing at any tier of competition affects all levels of sports and its fans,” said Carsten Koerl, CEO of Sportradar Group.

“Today marks a very special day in the history of our company, as we announce the upcoming launch of our core bet monitoring system, at no financial charge to any sports federation or league that wants to use it.”

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