SBD/Issue 235/Sports Media

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  • DirecTV Set To Drop Versus If No Deal Reached By Next Tuesday

    The deal for DirecTV to carry Comcast-owned Versus expires next Tuesday, and as "bad blood is brewing at the negotiating table," DirecTV is "prepared to drop-kick Versus to the curb if an 11th-hour deal can't be reached," according to Ray Buck of the FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM. DirecTV Dir of PR Robert Mercer in an e-mail said the company is "continuing to try and negotiate a fair deal," but it intends to "hold the line on our programming costs and protect our customers against unwarranted price increases that may result from Comcast’s demands that we believe are discriminatory and unrealistic given current market realities." Buck notes NHL and Mountain West Conference fans "have the most to lose if Versus and DirecTV decide to break up." The net begins its college football coverage on September 12 with "three nationally ranked teams playing on back-to-back Saturdays."  But Mercer said DirecTV customers "still have the ability to watch NHL, college football and other sports available on Versus on channels like Big Ten Network, The Mtn., ESPN, ESPNU, the regional sports networks, NHL Network and NHL Center Ice, for example." Buck writes that is "negotiation-table fodder that seems to put the heat on Versus, or does it?" A Versus source yesterday said the net views itself as a "growing network on fire." Versus: "We’re still talking and hoping we can reach an agreement." Versus is currently in 75 million HHs, up from 62 million in '06 (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 8/25).

    IMPACT ON SPORTS: In Milwaukee, Dave Kallmann wrote the dispute is not good for "fans of the IRL, NHL, college football and the Tour de France, among other sports." DirecTV not carrying Versus is the "last thing the IRL needs as it tries to build its fan base complete and high-quality broadcasts" (JSONLINE.com, 8/24). The INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL's Anthony Schoettle wrote while DirecTV "doesn't represent a huge viewing universe, the IRL can hardly afford to lose access to its more than 17 million North American subscribers" (IBJ.com, 8/24). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS' Maggie Hendricks reported World Extreme Cagefighting's (WEC) September 2 WEC 43 event in Youngstown, Ohio, has been postponed until October 10. But the "good side of this postponement is that it gives executives from Versus a chance to work out a deal with DirecTV" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/24).

    REALLY IN GOOD FAITH? The SPORTING BLOG's Dan Levy wrote both sides "claim to be working in good faith on a fair-market deal, but one has to wonder if DirecTV is turning the screws on Versus because the network is owned by Comcast." Levy: "Or conversely, is the network trying to overcharge DirecTV as part of some weird, face-spiting, counter-intuitive plan to have the network on fewer television services, thus giving Comcast (the cable carrier) more exclusivity with the NHL and other sports leagues that have coverage deals with Versus" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/24).

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  • Deal Reached For Dish Network To Offer RedZone Channel

     
    Dish Network has signed a deal with NFL Network to carry the NFL RedZone channel this season. The deal marks the second major distributor to carry the station; Comcast previously committed to the channel. NFL RedZone will be available in both HD and standard definition and will be part of Dish Network’s Multi-Sport Package, which is available to Dish customers at $5.99 per month (NFL/Dish Network). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Anthony Crupi notes at issue for other MSOs considering carrying the RedZone channel is the NFL's "carriage fee for the service," which sources said is $0.20-0.25 per subscriber per month (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 8/25).

    Bornstein Says NFL Network Is 
    In Discussions With Many Carriers
    IN TALKS WITH OTHER CARRIERS: NFL Network President & CEO Steve Bornstein said the net is in "discussions with many carriers about our various assets." Bornstein: "There are discussions with providers we already have affiliate agreements with for RedZone and with those that we are not affiliated with." MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds notes the availability of RedZone and the net's May deal with Comcast were "expected to serve as a fulcrum for NFL Network to reopen negotiations with a number of recalcitrant carriers that had kept the league's in-house channel on the sidelines over price and positioning issues." NFL Network also had hoped the Comcast deal "would serve as a template for other deals with distribution holdouts." However, outside the Dish deal, the NFL Network has "not yet scored any new deals, even though its affiliate team is going through two-a-days of sorts." Time Warner Cable and Suddenlink Communications confirmed that they are "in distribution discussions with NFL Network," but officials at the MSOs "would not characterize the status of the negotiations or offer a progress report," and Cablevision declined comment. Reynolds notes though talks have "stalled over the past few seasons, Bornstein, who notes that NFL Network has concluded hundreds of deals with distributors, is sanguine that more carriage paydirt lies ahead with those that have been on the sidelines" (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 8/24 issue).

    THAT'S THE TICKET: Colts QB Peyton Manning made the media rounds yesterday to advertise DirecTV's new service that provides Sunday Ticket subscribers with access to games on laptops and mobile devices. Manning said, "It shows the commitment that DirecTV has to taking care of the fans." He added he would use the new features "on my cell phone a lot" to watch Giants games, or to "watch some other teams in our division play" ("Power Lunch," CNBC, 8/24). He added fans this season can watch all games on Sunday Ticket "in high-definition, which is new" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Net, 8/24). 

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  • Mayweather-Marquez Fight To Air Live In Over 170 Movie Theaters

    Mayweather (l), Marquez Fight Will Be Shown
    In HD In At Least 170 Theaters Across Country
    The September 19 Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Juan Manuel Marquez fight will be "shown live on movie theater screens" across the country, as "at least 170 theaters in 78 major markets will be showing the fight" for a suggested admission price of $15, according to Michael Rosenthal of RINGTV.com. The fight will be shown in HD, which is "apparently a first for boxing." Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer: "I really think the younger audience, the fans that go to a theater on Saturday night, they don't want to stay at home. I think this is going to open up the sport of boxing to a new and younger audience." Golden Boy is partnering for the effort with NCM Fathom, which "brings a variety of unusual events to movie screens." Thirty-second previews of the fight "will be shown before the start of movies at 1,500 screens as part of a comprehensive marketing plan." The fight also will be available on HBO PPV (RINGTV.com, 8/24). NCM Fathom VP Dan Diamond said that if the event "is a success, there could be additional megafights shown in theaters." HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg "believes that the promotion ... will outweigh any potential loss in pay-per-view sales" (AP, 8/24). Meanwhile, FIRST CUTS' Dave Larzelere noted ticket sales for the fight "have been sluggish and the matchup has yet to generate much of a crossover buzz in the media," so it is "hard to say how this push onto the big screen will help the situation" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/24).

    HEAD-TO-HEAD BATTLE: In Philadelphia, Bernard Fernandez writes the "ante has been upped in the high-stakes game of poker that pits the boxing match against UFC 103, whose main event is Vitor Belfort against Rich Franklin, which will be televised via pay-per-view that night from Dallas." But UFC President Dana White "has denounced Mayweather-Marquez as a fight that 'nobody wants to see' and as a reason why 'boxing keeps hurting itself'" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 8/25). UFC is airing a live commercial-free show on Spike leading into the start of the PPV that will feature several undercard bouts (THE DAILY).

     
    ALL OUT EFFORT: In this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, John Ourand reports HBO Sports is "planning its biggest marketing effort ever for its two-year-old '24/7' franchise," which on August 29 will launch a four-episode series around Mayweather-Marquez. HBO Senior VP/Sports Operations & PPV Mark Taffet "thinks HBO can expand the series' audience by appealing to the 18-to-34-year-old demographic through aggressive online advertising buys and content-sharing deals with sports Web sites." Ourand notes the "key element will be the most extensive digital strategy ever undertaken by HBO Sports," as in addition to digital media buys, HBO will "market the series by giving short-form video content, such as show clips and previous Mayweather or Marquez bouts, to other Web sites." HBO also will make the first episode of "24/7" available free to "several online and TV outlets, including ESPN.com, Yahoo.com, iTunes and cable operator on-demand services." The network also will do "traditional TV, print, radio and outdoor ad buys" in support of the series (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/24 issue).

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  • King Of The Ring: McMahon Looking To Launch WWE Cable Network

    McMahon Wants To Launch
    Channel In Next Two Years
    WWE Chair Vince McMahon indicated that the organization "wants to start its own cable network," according to Joe Flint of the L.A. TIMES. McMahon said that he "wants to launch the channel within the next two years and that he will pitch it as a network for a basic tier." Though this "may not seem like the most ideal time to try to get a network off the ground," WWE has a "pretty strong track record that cable and satellite operators will find hard to ignore." WWE does manage to "attract a big audience," as "Monday Night Raw" on USA Network averages 5.5 million viewers each week and "all of the WWE's shows on broadcast and cable combined average 16 million viewers per week." McMahon noted that he has "no plans to take 'Raw' off USA or move any of his other properties." McMahon: "It's good for "Raw' to be on USA." But he added, "Having your own network allows you a lot of leverage" (LATIMES.com, 8/24). In N.Y., Peter Lauria notes WWE's "programming strategy is expected to hew closely to that of other single sport-specific channels like the NFL Network, Golf Channel or Tennis Channel, in which the main events from those sports are typically licensed to other networks" (N.Y. POST, 8/25).

    BETTER WITH AGE? The L.A. TIMES' Flint reported McMahon now is "hawking a kinder, gentler, wrestling show." Gone is "much of the sexual innuendo, over-the-top trash talk, blood-spattering bouts and scantily clad female wrestlers that fueled the WWE's 'Attitude Era' of 10 years ago when the company was locked in a death match" with Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling, which McMahon eventually acquired. While the new direction has "generated a certain measure of controversy," the strategy has "proven effective." After toning down the content, McMahon "went to his network partners and asked them to reconsider the ratings assigned to the show." As a result, the "milder programming, which now usually garners a TV-PG rating from WWE's TV partners, has cleared the way for more blue-chip advertisers to come aboard, including Pepsico, AT&T and Procter & Gamble" (L.A. TIMES, 8/24).

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  • Quick Hit Inc. Signs Former NFL Coaches To Appear In Videogame

    Quick Hit Inc., a Massachusetts-based start-up developer of an online football videogame set to launch this fall, has signed former NFL coaches Brian Billick, Jimmy Johnson and Dan Reeves, as well as the estate of Tom Landry, to use their likenesses in “Quick Hit Football.” The quartet of coaches joins Bill Cowher, already in place as the primary in-game voice for “Quick Hit Football” and consultant to the company. For each coach, their historical coaching tendencies and preferences will be used to build artificial intelligence profiles that can be played against in the game. “This obviously gives additional name recognition from some of the brightest minds and most accomplished leaders in football,” said Quick Hit CEO Jeff Anderson. “But this also helps buttress out the single-player mode of the game, where in addition to challenging friends and other people playing the game, you can take on the computer via a profile we’re building out for each one of them.” The teams led by each coach in the game will carry regional place names similar to where they coached in the NFL. But “Quick Hit Football” does not have any NFL team names or logos, as that intellectual property resides with EA Sports through their exclusive deal with the league and NFLPA.

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  • Media Notes

    USTA Will Stream More Than 150 Matches
    From U.S. Open For Free At USOpen.org
    The USTA will stream more than 150 matches from the U.S. Open for free on "U.S. Open Live" at USOpen.org (USTA). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Daniel Kaplan reports the streaming will be sponsored by new tournament sponsors Westin Hotels & Resorts and Stonyfield Yogurt, as well as "long-running backer of the tournament" IBM (SBJ, 8/24 issue). Stonyfield's deal is "by far the largest sports sponsorship the ... organic yogurt company has ever undertaken." The company's Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt brand will be highlighted (SBJ, 8/24 issue). 

    OPEN FOR BUSINESS: SI.com's Jon Wertheim wrote ESPN "has done right by tennis recently," and he is "eager to see how the network discharges its duties in its first year covering the U.S. Open." The network's talent is "generally quite good." Host Chris Fowler "is a plus," and analysts Brad Gilbert and Darren Cahill "ought to have their own reality show." But Wertheim has "one quibble: Can we stop this practice of zooming in on the poor line judges after their call was proved incorrect by replay?" (SI.com, 8/24).

    GOOD FIT: On Long Island, Neil Best writes it is "nearly as difficult to judge announcers during preseason as it is players," but early signs are that ESPN "MNF" analyst Jon Gruden "will fit right in." The net is "pleased" with Gruden, but it "knows there is a good chance he soon will leave." Best: "If Gruden lasts even two seasons before getting back into coaching, it will be a minor upset" (NEWSDAY, 8/25).

    LEAVE THE KIDS OUT OF IT: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones wrote of ESPN's coverage of the Little League World Series, "No one can convince me that putting 12-year-old kids on television in pressure-packed games is a good idea. ... What's even more disgusting is listening to the announcers talk about how pure this all is, how this is what sports is all about, kids playing the game for the joy of it. If it is pure and how the game is meant to be, it wouldn't involve television cameras and postgame interviews" (TAMPABAY.com, 8/23).

    NEW FRONTIER: THE WRAP's Dylan Stableford reported The Huffington Post will launch a sports section in October, following new sections for books and technology that debut next month. The Huffington Post co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington: "We always knew that with our core values of news and opinion and community, we wanted to cover more than just politics. We needed to speak to more than that, to move like an Internet newspaper" (THEWRAP.com, 8/24).

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