IMG World Congress of Sports



NFL's Supovitz: Super Bowl featured 'incredible highs, lows'

Frank Supovitz, NFL senior vice president of events, said Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium was "an event of incredible highs and incredible lows," during an in-depth session Wednesday at the IMG World Congress of Sports discussing the logistics and technology for the event.

While Super Bowl XLV featured a highly competitive game and record TV ratings, the event was dogged by a glaring temporary seating mishap, surprisingly frigid weather, and extensive waits for fans and sponsors to get through security and into the building. "It wasn't the way we like to do things," said Supovitz of the heavy lines and seating woes.

Supovitz appeared on the panel with Todd Barnes, Populous event manager."That was a great disappointment to everybody," Supovitz said, adding that the logistical issues resulted from a difficult collision of a large footprint not only at the stadium itself but in the North Texas locale at large, plus ice storms and temperatures that for several days did not surpass 20 degrees.

Supovitz in his remarks responded to EA Sports President Peter Moore, who waited outside the stadium for several hours and wondered aloud in a separate panel Wednesday if his multimillion dollar licensing check for video game rights was big enough anymore. "His check is definitely big enough and good enough, and the money that everybody spent on a ticket was definitely good enough and big enough," Supovitz said.

Supovitz also discussed the annual halftime spectacle, which is a mad dash involving just nine minutes of stage set-up, 12 minutes of performance and eight minutes of breakdown. "It's an incredibly tense period, but only twice in the last six years have I had to stop the halftime clock by a few seconds," he said.




TV execs endorse idea of more content on more devices
By Tripp Mickle, Staff Writer

Time Warner Cable's move to stream TV channels to tablets inside subscribers' homes has met resistance from media companies like Viacom. But media executives from four major sports leagues threw their support behind the idea during the panel session, "Sports Media Co-existence: League-owned Nets and Traditional Nets."

Part of the reason leagues support the idea is because their network partners, like ESPN, see sports as impervious to risks associated with the idea of TV Everywhere. John skipper, ESPN executive vice president of content, said, "It is more important for sports than anywhere else because you want to watch it on the best available screen and you have to watch live and you might not be able to watch it on your 50-inch television screen in your living room, so we're advantaged in this." Skipper noted that 1 in 3 people
watched the World Cup last year on their phone or computer, and ESPN captured and sold that audience. "This is already here," he said.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver agreed, saying that while the NBA had passed along digital rights to Turner and ESPN, it favored Time Warner's move. Silver said that the league won't lose revenue as a result, because those streaming rights "get captured in the way [they] sell" the NBA, and ESPN and others pay for it.

Streaming more content benefits leagues in other ways, as well. NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp said it directs fans to their mobile phones and iPads, where they may consume other league content and that consumption can be monetized, as well.

MLB COO Tim Brosnan said one of the reason some programmers are resisting the Time Warner Cable plan is because they were surprised by it. "A little of the dispute with Time Warner is that they didn't tell anyone," he said. "They just kind of launched it, [and said] happy birthday." NHL COO John Collins said the onus for addressing those issues will be on leagues and media companies whose "rights deals have to somewhat catch up to the concept."

CALLING COMCAST: When an audience member asked if Comcast's new NBC Sports partnership could take ESPN "head on," most panelists hedged. Rolapp said, "I'm not sure you have to take ESPN head on. ...Will they be in the sports business and do they have potential to be in the sports business in a big way? Absolutely." Collins agreed, saying, "If that's their plan, they have the wherewithal to do it. [But] I don't think their business plan will be exactly what ESPN's is."

Silver got the biggest laugh from the audience when he questioned Brosnan's assertion that Comcast and NBC Sports would have a hard time taking on ESPN directly because of ESPN's size.

Brosnan: "I don't think anybody can take ESPN head on. They're too big."

Silver: "That's what they said about Microsoft."

Brosnan: "It would take massive and massive amounts of money and commitment."

Silver: "You're in danger of being in the next 10 year issue of SportsBusiness Journal when it happens."

Brosnan: "I'll be long gone. What I'm saying is head on conjures up images for me of diving into the pool head-first without checking if there's water in there or not. You've dealt with the folks involved. I've dealt with the folks involved. They're a lot more cautious than head on. ... I think they absolutely will be in the national cable sports network business with a network affiliate ... I want them to be in that business because it's more competition for us to offer our content to."

Skipper said he expects NBC Sports to be a competitor to ESPN, but that ESPN spends more time worrying about companies that might do something other than traditional TV broadcasting. Skipper: "We take nothing for granted. Our job is to be sure that whatever the next thing is, we're doing. … Our concern is about somebody doing something different."

GIMME MORE: Contrary to what media observers have warned, providing more content results in more consumption, not less. Skipper said: "We find the more people watch, the more they watch. We worried for a long time with our broadcast partner ABC about promoting games on ESPN at the same time. On Saturday night with college football, we have a game on ABC, a game on ESPN, a game on ESPN2 and a game on ESPNU, and the more we promote each of those broadcasts the more overall audience we have." Rolapp agreed, saying that the more content that the NFL provides on NFL.com, NFL Mobile and the Red Zone Channel, the more ratings rise. Rolapp: "Whatever we add, is consumption going up and is the economic pie growing? All those things we can check yes."




Q&A with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig

After giving a one-on-one interview to help kick off today's event, the commissioner stopped by to talk about the big attendance jump that he expects this year, plus MLB's labor and debt situations.





Q&A with Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson

Paulson talks about media rights, the challenges facing MLS, and the growth prospects for his expansion team.





Q&A with Reebok's Tom Shine

Tom Shine talks about how the industry is bouncing back from recession, and why he's more pessimistic about the NBA's labor situation than the NFL's.





Selig hopeful for labor deal, says MLB attendance could jump 5 to 8 percent
By John Ourand and Eric Fisher, staff writers

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig credited a 15-year run of labor peace for the record revenue and attendance the league has recorded in recent years.

Speaking after his keynote address at the World Congress of Sports, Selig said that he's hopeful of avoiding a work stoppage in the current round of bargaining, which began with two formal negotiating sessions earlier this month.

"Deals have to be equitable," Selig said. "We're not in the stage of the negotiations where I can tell you specifics. Hopefully, we can duplicate what we did in 2006: Thoughtfully, carefully and quietly."

Selig also addressed the financial problems of the Mets and Dodgers, saying they were not at all indicative of the league as a whole. "We have less debt today than we had a year ago," he said. "[The Mets and Dodgers] have nothing to do with the overall debt structure."

The commissioner said league executives met recently with commercial bankers with regard to the sport's economics. "It was like a love-in," he said.

Selig also reiterated that he plans to give up his commissioner duties in December 2012 when his current contract ends. But he was less absolute in his remarks on this subject than he has been in the past. He acknowledged that he has not begun to formally consider successor candidates. "That is my goal," Selig said of retiring next year. "Those are my thoughts today."

The commissioner also snapped back at San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, who criticized the lengthy search process for a new Oakland A's stadium by saying, "A snail could have made it from Oakland to San Jose in two years."

Retorted Selig, "Good for the San Jose mayor. I hope he's addressing the city's problems more accurately than he did that." As to the search itself, there is nothing fundamentally new, though Selig said a decision could arrive "soon."

Selig last week declined to specify a potential increase in 2011 attendance for the league, though he was targeting a strong bump after three straight annual declines. But today, the commissioner said the lift could be 5 to 8 percent.





Team owners talk about challenges, opportunities

Keeping Miami Dolphins fans engaged during the lockout is difficult, especially because fans side with the players, said the team's owner, Steve Ross, during a panel discussion at SBJ/SBD's IMG World Congress of Sports titled, "The New Face of Team Ownership."

"Letting the fans know we are still in business, there will be a season," Ross said, is an urgent objective of the off-season for the club as it looks to sell season tickets. "It is much more challenging selling season tickets" right now, he added.

But the league will not back down from its efforts to devise a new economic model, he continued. "There probably won't be football until it does work," he warned. The other two owners on the panel, Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Merritt Paulson of MLS' Portland Timbers, certainly had less nationally significant hurdles than the future of the NFL, but face pressing concerns nonetheless.

The Timbers are in the midst of their inaugural season, and had only days in April between the opening of their new park and the start of the season. That kept Paulson up at night, he said.

Paulson would like to see referee changes in MLS to encourage more scoring, as well as a greater national TV presence for the sport.

In Chicago, Wirtz, coming off a Stanley Cup and plaudits for turning around the team's fortunes both on and off the ice, said that maintaining a high-quality fan experience continues to be a challenge.

"You are not going to win every game, but the fan experience you can control," he said. "You can't be afraid to talk to your customers."

Ross is also at the forefront of trying to improve the fan experience with his FanVision interactive handheld device, which 12 NFL teams use and, he said, he is pushing other sports to use, as well. He admitted that sometimes he has become the center of unwanted attention in the media, but he contended the focus should be on the team, not him.

Referring to his ill-fated and high-profile coaching search earlier this year, he said, "I felt like I was Santa Claus being tracked all around the country." He offered a contract to Jim Harbaugh while still having a head coach, Tony Sparano, on staff. Harbaugh said no and Ross signed Sparano to an extension.





Q&A with USOC CEO Scott Blackmun

We cornered the USOC's Scott Blackmun to talk about new sponsorships, the Olympic broadcast package and the organization's social media plans for athletes during the London Games.






Q&A with IMG's David Abrutyn

IMG's David Abrutyn paused between sessions to talk with us about the state of the industry, why the NBA's labor situation may be worse than the NFL's, and whether any other sports could take advantage of an NFL work stoppage.





Q&A with the WTA's Stacey Allaster

The WTA CEO talked with us about Serena Williams' health and importance to the game, plus the popularity of the sport in the U.S. and whether the WTA and ATP will ever merge.





Q&A with EA Sports president Peter Moore

The head of the video-game company talks about the state of the industry, how labor issues might affect video-game sales and why EA's guidance to Wall Street was based on no games being played in the NFL.





Q&A with Greg Via of Gillette/P&G

Greg Via talks about Gillette's expectations for baseball, what makes an athlete attractive to the company (besides a willingness to shave), and how NFL uncertainty affects sponsors.





World Congress of Sports opens with Rapid-Fire Roundtable

SBJ/SBD's IMG World Congress of Sports kicked off this morning in Miami with a roundtable discussion about the top issues facing the sports industry in the next 12 months. The panel featured WTA Chair & CEO Stacey Allaster; USOC Exec Dir Scott Blackmun; NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr; Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy; EA Sports President Peter Moore; Gatorade North America President and PepsiCo Global CMO of Sports Nutrition Sarah Robb O'Hagan; and ESPN announcer Mike Tirico. Right away, the discussion focused on the hottest topic in sports: the NFL lockout. A poll of attendees revealed that 47% believe there will be a full 16 game season in '11, certainly good news to the panelists with NFL ties. O'Hagan noted Gatorade's partnership with the NFL and said, "We are betting on that season happening." Moore joked, "We finished developing Madden, therefore there must be a season." He added, "If there's no platform to market our product, it's an issue for us." Asked about what other property might be able to capitalize on an NFL lockout, the panelists dismissed the idea. "From an outside perspective, it's a denial of a service customers are interested in," said Fehr, adding that football fans aren't necessarily going to turn to other sports if Sundays are empty. Blackmun added, "We're very hopeful there is no work stoppage. It's good for sport."

A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME: Conversation quickly turned to, and remained focused on, social media and its role in the sports industry. All seven panelists acknowledged both the importance and the danger of Twitter, especially for athletes who now have an immediate platform to share what is on their mind. "You have to give up control, and you have to get super comfortable with it," O'Hagan said. "For all of us who work with athletes on a daily basis, it's a daily learning process on getting them to understand that everything they say or Tweet is on the record." For the most part, however, the prospect of how social media can drive interest in a sport or property excites the panelists. "I love social media," Allaster said, "and for a traditional and global sport that's not always on broadcast, it gives us the opportunity to reach a new fan base, a younger fan base." Moore mentioned EA Sports' new partnership with ESPN, allowing fans to vote for the cover athlete of "Madden NFL 12," as a way his company has capitalized on the evolving media landscape. Whereas two years ago, Moore and a team of execs decided which NFL star would grace the "Madden" cover, the decision now is in the hands of fans. "The best example for us is that we've actually given up control of who the cover athletes are. It's up the players to lobby their fans," Moore said. He added that EA will accept as the cover athlete whoever fans vote for, including Eagles QB Michael Vick. Moore: "It's not different than when Tiger Woods went through whatever Tiger went through." Levy suggested social media is a key reason for record TV ratings in sports as of late, saying, "I think one reason we're seeing an uplift in sports ratings is because of what's happening with social media. ... We have to touch all these different consumer points."

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY: Tirico cited NFL players using social media to criticize Bears QB Jay Cutler for leaving the NFL Championship game with a knee injury. "That to me is the home run example that you can't ignore this anymore," he said. "A year ago, you got these guys on the phone and they (would not say anything). ... The next day, players back-peddled. Why? Team PR officials got to them." O'Hagan disagreed a bit. "That adds to the engagement," she said. "You have to accept that's the way the world's gone." O'Hagan added that Gatorade uses social media to constantly monitor what and how much is being said about the brand. Levy: "It's authentic. ... The athletes are talking directly to their fans." Fehr mentioned how new Twitter is to everyone, and how therefore there is an inherent risk with how it is used. "We haven't worked out what the zone of privacy is in this new world," he said. Blackmun added, "This isn't just about public figures; it's about life in general." Fehr noted how public conversation is shaping how NHL players feel about issues surrounding head injuries in the sport. "Athletes are used to playing in a certain way. They become very conservative when it is suggested they have to change," Fehr said. "What's going on now, I think the public conversation is becoming so omnipresent that for the first time, it's driving internal conversation."

SOME GOOD FORTUNE: Moore provided a lighter moment in the opening panel, recounting when he received a letter from a fan who, after playing EA Sports' "Madden NFL" game in '09 or '10, alerted the company that a player could receive a concussion in the game and return the next quarter. Moore acknowledged EA was at fault and moved to fix the error immediately. Moore then sent the fan, who he identified as Josh Baer, a copy of a future "Madden" edition and continued conversation. Soon thereafter, Moore ran into the MLB Giants' Larry Baer, who told him, "Thanks for engaging Josh." Moore laughed and said, "Good thing I did! I got two World Series tickets out of it." To close the discussion, panelists were asked what the sports industry need to do a better job of."

Allaster: "Taking care of our fans

Blackmun: "Connecting with our fans."

Fehr: "I would say the same thing"

Levy: "I'm gonna go with fans. (laughter)."

Moore: "I think I'm still standing outside (Cowboys) Stadium, waiting to get in."

Robb: "Continuing to increase participation in sport."

Tirico: "We need to get the young generation in the stadium to experience the sports the way we did."

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