As this year’s Sun Valley attendees grapple with strikes, advertising declines and regulatory static, one industry is seen as a potential savior: sports. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have been in high demand as media companies look to sports deals as a possible solution for declining ratings.

“Sports commissioners have moved to the head of the table — they’re at every meeting and included in every conversation this year,” one Sun Valley attendee told On The Money.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula are also in attendance this year.

Sports streaming subscription packages are expected to yield media companies $22.6 billion by 2027 — a 73% increase from the $13.1 billion they generated in 2022.

Traditional media companies are hoping to get a piece of the pie.

Rob Manfred (left), Adam Silver (middle) and Roger Goodell have been in high demand at Sun Valley.
Paola Morrongiello

In an interview with CNBC Thursday, Disney CEO Bob Iger emphasized how important the sports business is — and added Disney is “bullish” on sports generally and particularly as a media property.

“Sports stands tall in a sea of tremendous choice and is in many respects an advertiser’s dream and a consumer’s dream,” Iger said. 

Disney’s ownership of ESPN has been under scrutiny — with activist investors like Dan Loeb urging the company to spin it off.

While the multibillion-dollar sports industry is a profit center for now, not every media analyst is optimistic that it can last, particularly as tech companies grab a piece.

“Monetization engine of sports is imploding,” LightShed Partners analyst Rich Greenfield said. “It’s on a path to extinction.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said the tech giant’s deal with Major League Soccer is “one of the key things we are doing this year and for the next 10 years.”

The NFL struck a deal with Prime Video to carry its Thursday Night Football games, Major League Baseball is streaming games on Apple TV and Peacock.

Last year YouTube agreed to pay nearly $2 billion to carry the NFL’s “Sunday Ticket” subscription package — DirecTV had previously paid the NFL roughly $1.5 billion annually for the rights.

Even Roku is trying to get a piece of the pie — both Roku and CBS Sports have struck a partnership with Formula E, a new sport featuring races between electric cars.

More broadly, however, the dealmaking climate still feels relatively chilly at Sun Valley this year.

That’s despite Lina Khan getting smacked down by a federal judge this week and facing a Thursday grilling on Capitol Hill over her management of the agency.

“Even if Shari raised her hand and said I want to sell, she couldn’t do it,” one attendee said – referencing Chair of ViacomCBS Shari Redstone. “Even small deals can’t get done.”