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Bud Selig and Hank Aaron talk about the state of the world today

Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is amazed at how politics has become so controversial this year.

"Yeah, I would say this year has been quite different," he said. "This year has been quite aberrational."

Selig said he's "spent a lot of time studying politics" and is now back to his true passion as a college history teacher.

"I can't think of a year quite like this, and I go back into the 1950s," he said.

The Sports Business Awards were held Wednesday night in New York City, featuring nearly 1,000 industry heavyweights in what has become one of the most exclusive gathering of sports industry professionals to honor many of its most influential people and companies. CNBC spoke with several of the big-name guests to get their thoughts on the state of the industry and where it's headed.

Selig was being honored with a lifetime achievement award.

Speaking of his own achievement in the sport, he went right to the bottom line.

"We have had labor peace and stunning growth in assets and revenue," Selig said. He said his sport "has been way ahead of the curve and will continue to be" when it comes to technology, and "we're going to grow internationally."

"We have adapted and adjusted as we have moved along," he added.

The same week that the Philadelphia 76ers announced it would become the first NBA team to feature sponsorships on jerseys as a new revenue stream, Selig said he hopes MLB doesn't follow suit.

"Our uniforms are really special. You have the Yankee uniform, which is a classic, the Cubs, the Dodgers," he said. "The uniforms really mean something. I said the world was changing, and who knows what may or may not happen. Quite frankly, I hope we don't go to advertising on the uniforms but time will tell."

Too many disruptions to keep straight

Hank Aaron and Bud Selig at The Sports Business Awards, May 18, 2016.
Source: Coyne
Hank Aaron and Bud Selig at The Sports Business Awards, May 18, 2016.

In a world that is constantly innovating with new technologies, media and social media platforms, many sports executives are finding it overwhelming.

"The top issue is staying out in front of all the change and disruption in their business," said Abraham Madkour, Sports Business Journal executive editor. "Teams are seeing real challenges ... so they are trying to adapt to those and to be progressive and think differently so they are not left behind."

With so many obstacles to success and so many disruptive technologies out there, Madkour said sports business executives can't even keep them straight.

"Things change so rapidly they are having a hard time figuring out what to focus on," he added.

Virtual Reality

One of those disruptions has been the growth of virtual reality.

Brad Allen, chairman of NextVR, described bringing the 3-D experience inside a headset. It's a dynamic combination of competing against watching on TV and against showing up in person to a live event.

"It gives you the courtside seat or sidelines at the NFL but it doesn't replace TV," Allen said.

He described the company operating at the Daytona 500: "That was really about feeling like you were there. It was the experience, not the race itself. We did it from the pit. You can't buy that ticket."

We haven't seen a tech bubble

The awards ceremony was a big enough deal that Rick Welts, president of the Golden State Warriors, was in attendance, along with team co-owner Joe Lacob as their Warriors played Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals. Lacob was named sports executive of the year.

Welts also described the rapid growth in wealth and power of his locality.

"We are living in a very unusual environment in the Bay Area. The entire Bay Area is on fire in a good way," he said. "It's the center of innovation. The economy is roaring, there is very little we have to complain about right now. We are in the process of building a $1.5 billion privately funded sports and entertainment complex in San Francisco, which will be the new home of the Warriors."

Despite all those positives, Welts said "we haven't seen the effects of a tech bubble."

It's a dying sport...

Hank Aaron had major concerns about his sport.

"You don't see a lot of African-Americans playing baseball today. From the commissioner's office to every MLB team in baseball should look at it," Aaron said. "It is an American sport. Now it's a dying sport as far as African-Americans. It has to be turned around — people have to be concerned. If it hadn't been for Jackie Robinson, yours truly would not be here today."

The car that doesn't make a sound

Joie Chitwood, COO for International Speedway Corp, has a lot of challenges facing his business.

ISC is the owner of Daytona International Speedway, among other famous American racetracks. News of the auto industry today is often about driverless cars, electric vehicles and ride-sharing programs. But Chitwood's main concern has to do with audiences.

"I worry about the car that doesn't make a sound," he said. "It's a very visceral sport, the roar of the engines, the horsepower, you worry about losing the sound of the car."

Chitwood concluded with the theme of the night: "But, the world changes, we have to continue to adapt."

Correction: This story was revised to correct the spelling of Madkour on second reference.