I would say that one distinct way in which the world of professional sports changed in the 1980s was with the emergence of the superstar athlete. The 1980s was the first time that the sports athlete was celebrity on such a massive scale. Increases in technology and communication such as with the proliferation of television and cable television moved the athlete into a new realm. The 1980s was the time period in which sports figures such as Brian Bosworth, Bo Jackson, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird dominated popular culture as well as the sports landscapes. The athlete as center point of the sport became a significant aspect of sports in the 1980s. Teams, themselves, were marketed by the athlete who enjoyed the limelight and sought to increase their "brand appeal" in commercials, endorsements, and a saturation of the market that transcended sports. Athletes like Jordan made "brand marketing" part of their repertoire. Not only could these athletes do great things on the field of play, but they were able to parlay this into another career. The athlete was seen pushing anything and everything from shoes to rental cars to fast food products.
This was a stark change because of its massive growth and proliferation. The convergence of money and sports became a reality in the 1980s. With the emergence of money and material wealth in so many parts of American society, it made sense that sports experienced the same transformation. Due to this, sports were not merely a side interest. It became a dominant force of making money. The athlete as possessing both commercial appeal as well as athletic prowess became part of the equation for sport success in the 1980s. Athletes were seen as needing to embody more than simply a trained professional in a particular domain. The "cross over" appeal of an athlete became a significant part of the changing sports and social culture of the time period. It is here in which the world of professional sports changed during the 1980s. It became more than simply "sports" of the time. It was a path towards financial security for many.