SBD/Issue 87/Sports Media

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  • Ebersol's Admission Of Vancouver Losses Could Hurt His Legacy

    Ebersol's Tenure At NBC Has Largely Been
    Defined By The Network's Olympics Coverage
    NBC Sports & Olympics Chair Dick Ebersol's announcement last week that the network "expects to lose money on the upcoming" Vancouver Olympics was a "costly -- and likely galling -- admission of failure by Ebersol, whose tenure at NBC has been defined by Olympics coverage," according to Jon Weinbach of FANHOUSE.com. Ebersol over the last decade "has trumpeted the appeal and profitability of the Olympics and criticized other networks for what he saw as irresponsible spending on sports-league TV contracts." Many "broadcasting veterans -- both inside and outside 30 Rockefeller Center -- believe Ebersol's statement about potential red ink on Vancouver was a calculated ploy to manage the [IOC's] expectations for the next set of TV deals." Sources said that NBC Universal President & CEO Jeff Zucker recently told several senior execs that he expects the '14 Sochi Games "to be a 'disaster'" financially. But Weinbach wondered if the Vancouver Games "won't be worth the price, then what, exactly, is Ebersol's plan for NBC Sports?" His contract "expires after the 2012 London Olympics," and "going forward, it's not clear that Ebersol's new bosses at Comcast ... will be as eager to indulge his zeal for the Olympics." While Ebersol "has enjoyed a storied career at NBC, his track record over the last decade has been decidedly rockier," as he "has failed miserably on the Internet, as NBC Sports' online efforts have never gained much of a foothold" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/18).

    PAYMENT PLAN: AD AGE's Jeremy Mullman writes there is "broad agreement that NBC overpaid" for the Vancouver Games, and that the "astronomic rise of rights fees for the games -- which rose 50% over the previous cycle -- is at an end." Ponturo Management Group CEO Tony Ponturo: "I think this is a franchise where rights fees have outpaced the sponsorship demand. The next several years, there will be extreme accountability for marketing dollars and their ROI. ... This should have some impact as a correction on rights fees that got out of whack, just like housing and other over-appreciated items." Some observers saw Ebersol's comments about losing money on Vancouver "as a negotiating ploy," but the IOC "has responded to that by indicating it may delay bidding on future games." Mullman writes, "Given the myriad signs that point to lackluster financial and ratings performances in Vancouver, it might be wise to wait until the 2012 London games to renew interest" (AD AGE, 1/18 issue).

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  • McGwire Roundtable: PR Experts Analyze Admission Strategy

    MLB Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire's admission to using steroids during his playing career generated some heated debate, as critics weighed in on everything from the impact on McGwire's Hall of Fame candidacy to the public relations strategy behind his admission. Staff writer Erik Swanson recently asked a panel of experts to analyze various aspects of the admission strategy, from breaking the news with an exclusive AP story, to granting Bob Costas and MLB Network the first on-camera interview. Panelists included SCP Worldwide Senior VP/Communications Eric Gelfand, communications consultant Vince Wladika, MGP & Associates President Mike Paul, sports and entertainment marketing and communications consultant Joe Favorito, Ketchum Sports & Entertainment Managing Director Ann Wool, 776 Original Marketing Managing Partner Darryl Seibel and Edelman GM of Sports & Sponsorship Mary Scott. See tomorrow's issue of THE DAILY for part two.

    Paul Believes PR Approach
    Will Create More Interest
    Q: Did you like the strategy of breaking with the AP? What are the positives and negatives to that? What other outlets would you consider? What are the benefits and drawbacks to potentially breaking with ESPN?

    Gelfand: Given the magnitude of the McGwire story, it certainly made sense to go to the AP first. They do have a reach that is far and wide. I could have seen a scenario, however, where his first print interview went to the local paper (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). ... Most likely, the story would have received the same coverage regardless and you would have taken care of the local media outlet. There is an argument to make that ESPN is the source for sports news -- especially breaking news -- and that it is the platform to use because of its reach. Regardless, though, they are going to inundate their airwaves (and Web site) with wall-to-wall coverage of the story. So, does it really matter?

    Wladika: While I don’t agree with the overall strategy from the start, once McGwire and his PR handlers decided to go down the route they chose, I have no problem breaking with AP. It gets it out to every member newspaper and also gets it out to all relevant Web sites/blogs, etc. (It is interesting to remember that it was an AP reporter who "broke" the andro story that started all this in the first place.)

    Paul: Not really a strategy. More of a tactic in Ari Fleischer's one-day-and-done strategy for his client, Mark McGwire. That being said, AP is not a bad choice to break a story because of its global impact in seconds. I don't think a one-day-and-done strategy EVER works. Not in politics and especially not in sports and entertainment. If McGwire were my client, I would have had the exact opposite strategy. It would have been the whole truth or nothing and the goal is to be so comfortable talking about the issues that he is willing to talk about them with anyone the rest of his life. ... Ironically, Ari's strategy will add more interest in McGwire's story this spring versus reducing it.

    Favorito: It all comes down to a few factors. How and who is your client comfortable with and who can help you reach the largest audience that you want to reach with your message. This is not a specific market story; it is an international story, so for this, AP makes sense. ... It was a very good way to manage the news cycle and get the main message -- about the use of steroids -- out very clearly. There are many outlets that I'm sure they considered, and again, it comes back to whom you are most comfortable with and whom your client feels most comfortable with. There is no playbook to go to for who you choose every time.

    Wool: With so many different opinions, entities and factors involved, using a news engine with no affiliation to the league eliminates any speculation of a partnership with a broadcast partner, which also acts as a news source.

    Seibel: I’m a big believer in the power, reach and influence of wire services, particularly as the media industry continues to contract, so yes -- I thought it was a solid strategy. With news such as this, there are two significant advantages in breaking the story with a well-respected wire service such as AP ... 1) By speaking on a "first exclusive" basis with a reporter (or with a small group of reporters) from a single news organization, the likelihood of your message being heard, and ultimately reflected in the reporting, is much greater. The reporter understands you are providing she/he with unprecedented access -- and what you should expect in return is balance, fairness and an opportunity to have your message heard. 2) Given the reach and influence of a major wire service, a balanced first story will often set the tempo and tone for subsequent stories by other news organizations.

    Seibel Feels Exclusivity Is Very
    Important In Today's Media
    Q: In today's media, does it matter whom you talk to first, second or third?

    Seibel: It matters more today than ever. For me, the most important criteria is knowledge. I want to work with a journalist who is knowledgeable and has some perspective on the subject at hand. 

    Scott: Media watch other media and social spaces for news, and then the news spreads in seconds. The reason to focus on whom the few outlets you speak with and in what order comes down to trust in reporter/outlet; credibility of outlet; and reach.

    Paul: It matters but it must be customized to each particular client. For example, it is wise to use a global or at least national media outlet first and it should include all of your client's key audiences or stakeholders.

    Favorito: It depends on the story and its impact. Who you talk to first among the major competing media definitely matters for breaking news. That is why many organizations and personalities do feel better with not using exclusives; it causes way too many problems sometimes.

    Wool: This depends on the story and who is telling it. When exclusives are promised on such sensitive topics, sometimes a conflict of interest may arise. By using the AP as their first step, they left the door open to do individual interviews as the story progresses down the line, which it will.

    Wladika: In today’s Internet-based world, it really doesn’t matter what outlet you speak with first -- it’s more of a matter of relationships and what reporters/writers you think will give you the "fairest shake" for what you are trying to accomplish. There are no "deadlines" in today’s world like there used to be prior to the Internet.

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  • People & Personalities: Roenick Eyed As NHL's Answer To Barkley

    Writer Feels Roenick Could Help Energize
    Sport Of Hockey From Broadcast Booth
    ESPNCHICAGO.com's Jesse Rogers wrote former NHLer Jeremy Roenick, who appeared as a studio analyst during NBC's broadcast of Blackhawks-Red Wings Sunday, "should become the Charles Barkley of hockey." Rogers: "Why not take that outspoken charm he had for 20 years on the ice and use it to energize the sport from the broadcast booth?" Roenick said, "I'm all for it. That's the direction I want to take things. NBC is giving me some opportunities and we will see what happens. Next up is the Olympics." Rogers wrote if things "go well during the Olympics, look for more of Roenick." But the NHL "needs to go one step further and embrace this idea," and Versus and NBC "need to pay Roenick what he wants and tell him to let fly" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 1/18).

    UNFAIR CRITICISM? The GLOBE & MAIL's Matthew Sekeres reported CBC "HNIC" host Ron MacLean was "criticized" by Canucks coach Alain Vigneault after Saturday's Penguins-Canucks game, which was broadcast by the CBC. Vigneault was "objecting to a pre-game segment" with MacLean and NHL Dir of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell, during which MacLean, "seated beside Campbell, went through a detailed video analysis of a Dec. 8 cross-check" by Predators C Jerred Smithson on Canucks LW Alex Burrows. MacLean claimed that Burrows had an "embellished reaction" to the hit. Vigneault said of Burrows, "I'm happy he didn't see the Ron MacLean bashing prior to the game. I didn't think that was very fair" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/18). The GLOBE & MAIL's Gary Mason writes MacLean's "10-minute evisceration" of Burrows marks "perhaps the low point of Mr. MacLean's career." The analysis was "one of the most brutal, sustained bits of character assassination ever witnessed on the show" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/19).

    PERSONALITIES: NHL Panthers radio announcer Randy Moller "will miss the Panthers' upcoming two-game trip to the New York area as he rests up after having a health scare" following Saturday's Lightning-Panthers game. Hockey HOF broadcaster Jiggs McDonald is "filling in for Moller -- who is expected to return to the booth" for Maple Leafs-Panthers on Saturday (MIAMI HERALD, 1/19)....ESPN/ABC's Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear will "return to the television booth this year to host ABC's five Izod IndyCar Series races." Former IRL driver Eddie Cheever will also serve as an analyst during the Indianapolis 500. The pit reporters for ABC's coverage will be Jerry Punch, Vince Welch, Jamie Little and Rick DeBruhl (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 1/16).

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  • Media Notes

    Microsoft In Talks For ESPN To Provide
    Live Streams Of Sporting Events To Xbox
    In N.Y., Brian Stelter cites sources as saying that Microsoft has held "in-depth discussions with the Walt Disney Company about a programming deal with ESPN" that would make content available via the Xbox. For a "per-subscriber fee, ESPN could provide live streams of sporting events, similar to the ones available through ESPN 360." The sources added that Microsoft "could also create some interactive games in association with ESPN," though a deal "has not yet been struck" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/19). PAID CONTENT's Joseph Tartakoff wrote an ESPN deal "would once again put Microsoft ahead" of Sony and Nintendo, "especially among male-dominated gamers, many of whom also are among ESPN's core demographic" (PAIDCONTENT.org, 1/18).

    NEXT GENERATION: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jonathan Clegg reported a "new wave of sophisticated online-scouting systems have revolutionized the way" European soccer clubs "track potential superstars." U.K.-based scouting consultancy Scout7 and Germany-based media solutions provider Xeatre.tv collaborated last year to launch the Scout7Xeatre.tv system, which "provides clubs with a world-wide feed of player information and video footage" for an annual subscription of about US$82,000. The database "covers more than 110,000 players from more than 160 leagues and 127 international squads, with 30 correspondents around the world constantly updating the system." Scout7 Managing Dir Lee Jamison "expects half of the top-flight clubs in England to be signed up ... within six months" (WSJ.com, 1/18).

    GETTING IN THE GAME: MARKETING magazine's Andrew McCormick reports Google is "poised to become a powerhouse in live sports broadcasting after securing the rights to stream cricket's most lucrative annual tournament to a global audience online." Google's YouTube "will show 60 matches from the Indian Premier League, which starts in March." YouTube "wants to sign a global sponsor and multiple local backers as part of its strategy to make money from the coverage" (MARKETINGMAGAZINE.co.uk, 1/19).

    DISAPPEARING ACT: In Orlando, Brian Schmitz reported Magic coach Stan Van Gundy last summer was "asked to appear in an ESPN commercial with his younger brother," ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy. Stan "at first agreed to participate if it could be shot in Orlando, given the Magic's long postseason run," but he "then backed out of the commercial after learning it was to be shot" in L.A. (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 1/17).

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