SBD/Issue 49/Sports Industrialists

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  • Catching Up With NESN President Sean McGrail

    NESN President Sean McGrail
    SEAN McGRAIL has served as NESN President since May '00. During McGrail's tenure, NESN has grown into one of the most popular media services in New England, growing from a premium service with 400,000 subscribers to a standard service with over 4.2 million homes in the region, plus national distribution through DirecTV and Dish Network. During this week's SportsBusiness Daily and SportsBusiness Journal's FSA Sports Media & Technology Conference in N.Y., McGrail took time to speak with Assistant Managing Editor Austin Karp about the present and future state of NESN, cable sports nets as a whole and which of his alma maters he will be cheering for during the Beanpot.

    Favorite TV shows
    : “Outside the Games,” “Boston Legal,” “Family Guy”
    Favorite web sites: Yahoo Sports,,
    Cheering section in the Beanpot -- Northeastern Univ. or Boston Univ.: Gotta go with the Terriers (BU).
    Exec outside of sports you most admire: Jack Welch
    Besides NESN, most admired sports network: ESPN

    Q: You live in Hopkinton (MA), home to the start of the Boston Marathon. What's traffic like for the start of the race?

    McGrail: Fortunately I get to avoid that, as I'm always at the Red Sox morning game on Patriot Day.

    Q: In a perfect world, if you could have any part of the Red Sox digital rights, what would it be?

    McGrail: I think an online component is essential for any network. It’s my hope that with baseball rights that RSNs will be able to work with teams and the leagues to distribute online media, mobile media. RSNs are in a unique position to distribute that content. They already have relationships with all the core distributors, and are in the best position to monetize those rights without placing the entire system of sports rights fees in jeopardy. As content continues to be consumed in different ways, RSNs distributing that kind of product alleviate some of the concerns and alleviate some of the concerns on cannibalization.

    Q: Besides the Red Sox and Bruins, what programming does well in the ratings that would surprise people?

    McGrail: A couple of years ago, we started a new division called ONE (Original NESN Entertainment). Their job was to program for NESN's core audience, which, like Red Sox viewers, splits almost 50/50 male to female. What ONE has done is bring those viewers to other parts of the network. We just finished our second season of “Sox Appeal” which is our reality dating show that takes place at Fenway Park. We also will finish our second series in December of “NESN Comedy All-Stars,” which is a stand-up comedy series shot in Boston based around sports. We also had the “Boston-New York Poker Challenge,” and now we’re shooting a new hockey-based NHL show called “The Instigators” featuring Mike Milbury.

    Q: Do you think the Nielsen ratings system is fair?  Should out-of-home measurement be more of an important issue among sports networks?

    McGrail: Do I think it’s fair? Yes I think it’s fair. Statistically, I think it’s a reasonably accurate system. We’ve looked at this extensively, particularly with the advent of the personal people meter. I think people are always trying to improve on that product. ... I think it could add a lot more granularity to the data that is available. But, yes, the real problem is that because sports is a real communal activity, because sports is tribal, people tend to gather in restaurants and bars to watch, and that out-of-home viewing is not tracked accurately. I think sports in general is really missing out on that one.

    Q: What part of your daily routine would surprise people?

    McGrail: The time I spend outside the traditional TV business looking at how content is being consumed on non-traditional platforms like mobile devices. It’s imperative that NESN stays at the forefront of that.

    Q: Any plans to rebrand the NESN logo?

    McGrail: We’ve had some discussions on that. I won’t say never, but we have 20 years of brand identity with it, so for now, it’s going to stay.

    Q: How is the economy affecting NESN?

    McGrail: On the distribution side, cable and satellite are recession-resistant. We’re very fortunate there. I think people tend to view cable as a better value when they can spend more time at home and look for more less expensive activities. Cable can be of tremendous value to the consumer there. On advertising, 2008 was a difficult year, and I think 2009 is going to be a very difficult year. However, sports networks in general, and networks like NESN, will fare better than most. NESN is uniquely positioned in that we are relying a lot on pro sports, which is the last real avenue for appointment TV. It’s virtually DVR-proof, has really high viewer interest and has the highest viewer engagement of any product. So people are very enamored with our games and our content, and on top of that we can deliver to our advertisers things that traditional networks cannot. We can integrate people and weave them into our telecast so advertisers can take advantage of the brand identification of our core franchises -- the Red Sox and Bruins -- which is something unique compared to the traditional 30-second spot on entertainment programming.

    Q: What sports business story will you be following over the next year?

    McGrail: How in-market streaming develops with different leagues and franchises around the country. Obviously it’s very important to both sides of our business -- baseball and hockey -- and I think it’s an intrical part of our future.

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  • This Week's Newsmakers: ESPN's BCS Rights A Boost For The Net

    THE DAILY each Friday offers our take on the performances over the past week of people and entities in sports business. Here are this week’s newsmakers:

    BCS Deal Boosts ESPN's Already Thorough
    College Football Coverage, May Set New Trend
    WIN: COLLEGE FOOTBALL ON ESPN -- The Worldwide Leader's already comprehensive college football coverage is set to get a big boost as the net lures the BCS away from Fox. The move makes sense for both sides, as the vast array of college football content already on ESPN offers endless cross-promotion opportunities. Moving forward, the deal seems likely to have implications beyond just ESPN, as observers speculate other properties could follow suit in moving to cable, despite the slight drop in viewership. In the end, ESPN's deep pockets and the promise of a dual revenue stream are too impressive to ignore, and JOHN SWOFFORD admits ESPN's bid represents a "substantive difference" over the current contract.

    LOSE: MARK CUBAN -- Only a short time ago, the boisterous Mavericks owner reportedly possessed the highest outstanding offer for the Cubs and undoubtedly had emerged as the fan favorite among North Siders to seize control of the club from SAM ZELL. But shocking insider-trading charges levied by the SEC leave Cuban and his Windy City dreams in a state of tremendous doubt. While many see the accusations as the final straw for MLB owners trying to keep Cuban out of baseball, reports circulate that the validity in Cuban’s bid had come and gone long before Monday’s news. Also, the loquacious owner may have to answer to DAVID STERN, and it’s fair to say the two do not always see eye to eye.

    DRAW: JIMMIE JOHNSON -- The driver of Hendrick Motorsports' No. 48 Chevy is in the midst of one of the greatest championship runs in NASCAR history, and Sports Illustrated on this week’s cover proclaims Johnson is “Tom Brady In A Firesuit.” Yet despite winning his third consecutive Sprint Cup championship last Sunday, many say Johnson's marketability is unlikely to suprass that of some of his more outspoken peers, as the driver has been called "vanilla," "robotic" and even the “Roger Federer of NASCAR.” But while his Q score may not stack up with other elite athletes, few can match his “cool” factor behind the wheel. And that's something many on NASCAR's senior circuit would gladly trade their endorsements for.

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  • Executive Transactions

    ISC promoted Managing Dir of Business Development TRACIE WINTERS to VP/Business Development (ISC)….Fox Sports Wisconsin named JOSEPH MAAR Coordinating Producer. Maar has been the Coordinating Producer at Fox Sports North for a over a year (Fox Sports)….JUSTIN LENHART was named Dir of the Oklahoma Sports HOF and Jim Thorpe Museum. The museum is scheduled to open in March ’09 (DAILY OKLAHOMAN, 11/20).

    Do you have an executive announcement? If so, please send to

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  • Names In The News

    Madame Tussauds Unveils Wax Likeness Of 
    Wizards G Gilbert Arenas
    Madame Tussauds wax museum in DC Thursday unveiled a "life-size wax likeness" of Wizards G GILBERT ARENAS, and the image will be presented during Friday night's Rockets-Wizards game at Verizon Center. Arenas becomes only the third NBA player to be featured at a Madame Tussauds museum, as MICHAEL JORDAN's likeness is at the Chicago location and Suns C SHAQUILLE O'NEAL's likeness is housed in an L.A. branch. Madame Tussauds is planning to unveil soon a wax sculpture of Rockets C YAO MING at its China museum (WASHINGTON TIMES, 11/21).

    GATOR AID: Univ. of Florida (UF) QB TIM TEBOW has been chosen as this year's recipient of The Disney Spirit Award, given annually to college football's "most inspirational figure." Tebow will accept the award December 11 during the ESPNU College Football Awards at the Atlantic Dance Hall at Walt Disney World (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 11/21)....UF football fan GEORGE "MR. TWO-BITS" EDMONDSON following Saturday's game against The Citadel is "retiring after 60 years of leading cheers" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 11/21).

    NAMES: F1 Management Chair BERNIE ECCLESTONE and his wife of 24 years, SLAVICA, are getting a divorce. Legal experts said that Ecclestone could face an "unprecedented battle over the rights to his vast fortune owing to the fact that the bulk of it is held in an offshore family trust" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 11/21)....USA Weekend magazine, which recently featured golfer ANNIKA SORENSTAM as the cover subject of its annual "Most Caring Athletes" project, also presented Sorenstam with a $5,000 donation to her foundation. Giants QB ELI MANNING also was named one of the "Most Caring Athletes" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/21)....The Steelers prior to last night's home game against the Bengals honored defensive coordinator DICK LEBEAU "for his 50 years of service in the NFL as a player and coach." Steelers Chair DAN ROONEY, President ART ROONEY II and NFL Dir of Football Operations & Special Projects MIKE KENSIL made the presentation to LeBeau on the field before kickoff (, 11/20)....Flyers Chair ED SNIDER has "saved" three Philadelphia-area hockey rinks slated for closure under Philadelphia Mayor MICHAEL NUTTER's budget cuts. An announcement of the partnership is expected soon (, 11/19)....The NBA this weekend will host Bollywood stars LARA DUTTA and DINO MOREA in L.A. The two stars will visit a Lakers practice, meet Lakers G KOBE BRYANT, work out with the Clippers Dance Team and sit courtside at Sunday's Kings-Lakers game (NBA).

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