SBD/16/Sports Media

LIBERTY SPORTS TAKES ANOTHER NATIONAL NETWORK STEP

     Liberty Sports, the sports programming arm of TCI's Liberty
Media, is changing the names of its owned and operated regional
sports network to Prime Sports.  The name change is part of
Liberty Sports' bid to unify its regional networks.  Liberty owns
and operates nine regionals:  Home Sports Entertainment (TX), KBL
(Pittsburgh), Prime Sports Network-Intermountain West, Prime
Sports Network-Midwest, Prime Sports Network-Rocky Mountain,
Prime Sports Network-Upper Midwest, Prime Sports Northwest, Prime
Ticket and Sunshine Network (FL).  Liberty also owns interest in
other regional sports networks:  Home Team Sports (Mid-Atlantic),
SportsChannel Pacific, SportsChannel Philadelphia, SportsChannel
Chicago and SportSouth.  Liberty Sports President Ed Frazier:
"We feel a move toward more consistent programming throughout the
regions will provide today's mobile society the ability to find
their favorite show at the same time every day, no matter the
time zone" (Liberty Sports).
     WHAT IT MEANS:  In an interview yesterday with THE SPORTS
BUSINESS DAILY, Home Sports Entertainment GM John Heitke talked
about the changes:  "We're trying to become more viewer friendly,
and one of steps in doing that is to develop some continuity
across the nation with a common branding identity and I think
Prime Sports allows us to take a real good first step in that
direction."  Asked if the change is a sign that Liberty Sports
wants to compete with ESPN on a national level:  "I don't think
it's a direct competition to what ESPN does.  They are a national
network and do the things that they do very well.  We have built
our strengths over the years on being able to bring in the
regional and home town team audiences.  What this signifies is
the first step in trying to create a more simplistic approach to
our networks, not only to our viewers across the country but to
advertisers as well" (THE DAILY).
     NATIONAL AD SALES:  Liberty also has decided to create its
own national sales service in-house, replacing Group W Sports
Marketing which had previously sold the national spot time for
the regional networks.  National ad sales offices will be located
in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Los
Angeles and San Francisco (Liberty).  Heitke explained the
benefits of this change: "If I'm a media buyer in New York City,
... and I'm buying baseball, I'm getting the Marlins in Florida,
the Rangers in Texas, the Angels in California, the Pirates in
Pittsburgh."  Previously, a media buyer would have to deal with
each regional network separately (THE DAILY).
     PROGRAMMING:  Programming will be restructured to create
uniformity throughout the regionals, while maintaining their
regional identities.  Prime Sports programs will be aired so as
to be seen during the same time slots across the four continental
U.S. time zones.  Liberty plans more emphasis on women's and
children's sports programming.  Another significant change will
be the national roll-out of a sports news show, "Press Box."  The
show will include national sports news, with a portion of each
telecast dedicated to highlighting regional sports and teams.
Production of "Press Box" will occur eight times a day, so that
the show will be seen live at 6:30pm and 10:30pm in each time
zone (Liberty).
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