CNBC's sports vertical on July 9, 2024. CNBC’s sports vertical on July 9, 2024. (

For much of journalism’s history, there have been comments about the sports section being “the toy box” and pushback against that from those who work on that side.

That debate is never going to be fully settled. Whether sports stories are significant, in general, depends on the reader and what they’re interested in. The same can be said for stories in any category, from arts and entertainment to business news to local, national, and world news.

However, it is clear that in this particular era of TV, sports rights are highly significant to giant media conglomerates’ bottom lines. And there are several factors for that. Those include live sports, which are rare and still produce giant live audiences for broadcast networks, sports, which are crucial to maintaining (as much as possible) cable networks’ household numbers and per-subscriber fees amidst increased cord-cutting, and sports’ value in drawing subscribers to new or existing streaming services.

So, sports is a key part of the puzzle for traditional media companies with a high sports focus and newer tech companies diving into sports. That means many of those interested in those companies from a business perspective or a perspective of their entertainment offerings have reason to pay attention to what they’re doing in sports.

And that’s leading to a lot of increases in sports business/sports media coverage, with one of the latest being CNBC launching a “CNBC Sport” vertical last week, hiring Michael Ozanian from Forbes for that, and adding sport-focused responsibilities for existing CNBC staffers. Here’s more on that from Newscast Studio:

“The spotlight on sports has never been brighter with more money at play than ever before,” said K.C. Sullivan, CNBC president, in a statement. “CNBC Sport will offer the highly engaged sports business audience and those looking to invest in this rapidly growing sector, a trusted destination where they will get analysis, updates and insider insights to help them get in on the action.”

Michael Ozanian, best known for his unique rankings of the most valuable sports leagues and teams, has been hired as CNBC senior sports reporter, where he will create a new valuation program that dynamically provides audiences with an understanding of how the money is moving across franchises and leagues.

In addition to showcasing his data-driven rankings, Ozanian will provide breaking news, insights, and analysis of the inner workings of the business across all CNBC platforms. He will follow the money reporting updates when sports franchises change hands, enlist new sponsors and when leagues strike media deals, among other topics.

“Mike’s work has been the gold standard for years,” said Sullivan. “Now as sports franchises have grown to attract new kinds of owners and partners, his unique coverage of the industry will give our audience the same kind of insights and reporting CNBC has brought to stocks, bonds and other financial markets for more than three decades.”

That piece notes that other efforts there include long-time CNBC media reporter Alex Sherman focusing on the intersection of sports and media, Contessa Brewer continuing her coverage of sports betting, Scott Wapner delivering interviews with commissioners and team owners, and Jessica Golden serving as senior sports business producer. And while that’s the team fully assigned to this vertical, they’ll also draw on other CNBC journalists for particular contributions, including Dominic Chu on golf, Sara Eisen on Formula 1, Brian Sullivan on motorsports, and Lillian Rizzo on media rights.

As Sara Fischer noted in her Axios coverage, this is CNBC’s “first announcement related to a broader plan to shift its editorial and business focus to cross-platform verticals led by subject-matter experts,” with more vertical announcements expected to follow. And it makes sense for them to do this with sports, where they already have some presence (both from current reporting from the likes of Sherman, Wapner, Brewer, Golden, and more, and from the “Game Plan” conference they’re holding in conjunction with Boardroom this fall).

And yes, CNBC has done some sports business stuff for a while. Some of that includes what they did with Darren Rovell when he worked there from 2006-12, but there have been lots since then, including key reports from Sherman and Wapner on many big sports business stories. However, there is an increased focus on sports business with this vertical, and it will see CNBC dedicate more resources to it. And that’s a change; sports hasn’t always been a priority at CNBC.

And the timing here is perfect for this launch. CNBC’s parent company Comcast (through NBCUniversal) has Olympics rights in the U.S., and the cable channel will be a significant part of that Paris Olympics coverage this summer. They’ll have live coverage of boxing, cycling, rugby, skateboarding, and more, including the first gold medal event of these games, the shooting mixed team air rifle final at 5 a.m. ET. on July 27. Prominent CNBC figures, including Andrew Ross Sorkin and Carl Quintanilla, will host live from Paris this summer.

So, it’s a good time for CNBC to launch its own sports brand.

But the larger picture here is that CNBC is only one of the many companies going into sports business and sports media coverage in a significant way. 2021-founded digital news site Puck has always had some coverage of sports business and media moves, including from founding figures Matthew Belloni and Dylan Byers. Still, they’ve really amped that up this year after hiring John Ourand from Sports Business Journal. And The New York Times‘ The Athletic boosted their own coverage of the business side in a big way by nabbing Ourand’s former podcast partner Andrew Marchand from The New York Post.

Beyond that, Hollywood-focused publications like VarietyThe Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, and more, and tech-focused publications like Wired, Recode (now just part of Vox), TechCrunch, and more have always had some coverage of sports business moves that relate to the overall corporate picture of the companies they cover. But with sports becoming a bigger and bigger part of the overall picture for those companies (especially around some moves this year, such as Warner Bros. Discovery’s potential loss of NBA rights and Paramount Global’s pending acquisition by Skydance Entertainment), these publications whose focus is typically elsewhere are dialing up their sports business coverage more. And that, and this new move by CNBC, speaks to how much of a role the sports business plays in the overall media world.

[Newscast Studio, Axios; image from the sports vertical on]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.