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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday called the league's 10-year, $2B deal with NBC and Versus the "most significant" in league history, according to Ira Podell of the AP. Bettman said, "When we looked at the entire package and the relationship, it was clear we were going to stay with the incumbent. But it's nice to go out and find out you're pretty." He added, "I never had any regrets with the deal we had with NBC." Versus in the current contract "pays the NHL about $75 million per year but NBC doesn't pay at all because of a revenue-sharing agreement with the league." However, NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol said, "Our run of not paying anything for a number of years is over with this deal. We are paying a substantial part, not the majority." Ebersol added that Versus' name "will be changed within 90 days to better reflect its association with NBC" (AP, 4/19). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reports the "bulk" of the $2B "will be paid by Versus, which gets most of its revenue from subscriber fees." ESPN "offered about 15 to 20 percent less than NBC and Versus." ESPN Exec VP/Content John Skipper said, "They've done a lot of good and smart things, like the Winter Classic and their experimentation with the All-Star Game. We think the value has appreciated and the sport has done very well." Sandomir notes if NBC and Versus have "scheduling conflicts, some playoff games before the Stanley Cup finals could be seen on other networks within the NBC Sports Group." Ebersol "would not say which channels were being considered." He also did not comment "on the coming Olympic bid," but he said Comcast Chair & CEO Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal President & CEO Steve Burke "are looking to make sure that every aspect has been evaluated, that we're going to make money." Ebersol: "I don't ever believe that I'm going to be let out of the building unless we can show them we're going to make money" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/20). Ebersol added that Roberts and Burke are "completely accessible and willing to go after sports deals provided money can be made" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 4/20).
GROWTH SPURT: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Futterman & Schechner write the NHL renewal is "part of an aggressive push by NBCUniversal since it was taken over by Comcast earlier this year to secure top-tier sports rights and use them to feed both its broadcast and cable channels." Ebersol said the "most important" element of the NHL deal is the "exclusivity." NHL COO John Collins said that the league is "placing its faith in Mr. Ebersol's ability to use the power of NBC Sports, known for its coverage of the NFL, the Olympics and Notre Dame football, to build another top sports cable channel." Collins said, "We believe they're going to do things differently and make their coverage more consistent with the way NBC Sports operates" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/20). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin reported NBC and Comcast are "promising to make over hockey's image as its prime sports tenant on Versus (soon to be renamed NBC Sports Channel) and a significant force on the main network." Sources said that NBC and the league are "looking to create a 'March Madness' style promotion of the playoffs on both NBC and its [new] sports cable channel." They also will "extend the reach of the NHL's Winter Classic" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 4/19). Bloomberg TV's Michelle Steele said, "Advertisers and marketers have been wanting a stronger competitor to ESPN in Versus and some speculate that retaining the NHL's rights, rebranding Versus and spending this kind of money means that NBC Sports is going to give ESPN a serious challenge." But Ebersol said, "We're not going after ESPN. ESPN's a place where all the rest of us could only dream to be. Whatever deals we have we'll bring our own intensity and passion to, but the ability to operate over so many different areas and with their long headstart over anybody else, I'm certain that they'll be a gold standard for all of us to follow for years to come" ("Inside Track," Bloomberg TV, 4/20).
LOSS OF EXPOSURE? In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "There will be many, of course, who will wonder if a deal with powerful ESPN, even if it was for less money, would make more sense for the exposure-needy NHL" (TORONTO STAR, 4/20). A media agency exec "who handles business for a blue-chip NHL sponsor" expressed "disappointment that ESPN could not close the new deal, noting that the exposure afforded by ESPN's 100 million+ subscriber footprint would balance out the inevitable jump in unit pricing." The exec: "Not only would it get hockey back on 'SportsCenter,' but you know ESPN would go all out with their playoff coverage. When you think about all the shoulder programming and feature packages they would have put together ... it just feels like a lost opportunity" (ADWEEK.com, 4/19). In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon writes, "Like it or not, ESPN drives the sports conversation in this country. ... The NHL would have been a secondary property for ESPN. It would have been relegated to the kids table. But it would have been part of the family, which has value" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/20). In Toronto, Mike Zeisberger writes by "passing over ESPN in favour of the NBC Group, the league has made the decision not to go with the carrier that, let's face it, would have made it much easier and been more readily available for fans across America to watch hockey" (TORONTO SUN, 4/20). In Columbus, Bob Hunter wrote, "ESPN still seems like a better vehicle than NBC-Versus to take the NHL into the sports mainstream" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 4/20). The TORONTO SUN's Rob Longley: "The money and term the NHL gets from this deal ... will ease some concerns around the league and will make NHL commissioner Gary Bettman a popular guy with many of his owners. But for a league crying out for exposure, it still has work to do" (TORONTOSUN.com, 4/19).
BIG FISH, SMALLER POND: The GLOBE & MAIL's Dowbiggin wrote while the deal "represents only an annual $6.6-million per team, finally getting paid for a network deal marks a major triumph" for Bettman, "who spurned ESPN after the 2004-'05 lockout and has stuck with NBC and Comcast despite criticism of the household reach of Versus" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 4/19). Bettman said, "Everybody has enormous respect for ESPN. Six years ago we decided to go in a different direction, for a variety of reasons, and it has worked well for us. This for us is a great place to be. Versus' coverage of our game has been extraordinary. Hockey fans have found it and have been telling us on a regular basis that the coverage is terrific, and I think it's going to get better" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/20). Ebersol addressed the "notion that every sport benefits from having ESPN as a major carrier," saying, "I think that sometimes you benefit by being the only child." Navigate Marketing President AJ Maestas "called the new contract 'excellent' for the NHL and echoed Ebersol -- that it's not always best to be a small fish in a big pond" (L.A. TIMES, 4/20). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes, "At least the NHL is the teacher's pet on Versus ... rather than to have to try to stand out among all the NBA, big-time college basketball and MLB games on ESPN" (USA TODAY, 4/20). In DC, Ryan Cooper wrote, "You can't tell me the NHL would have been better off taking less money to get two games a week on ESPN2. ... The NHL doesn't need ESPN any longer to be 'relevant'" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 4/19). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen: "ESPN, with many sports to juggle, truthfully wouldn't have given the NHL the level of attention that the league is now receiving on Versus" (USA TODAY, 4/20).
The NFL yesterday revealed its schedule for the '11 season, which will kick off Sept. 8 with a Thursday night game on NBC featuring Saints-Packers, the last two Super Bowl champions. Sixteen of NBC's 17 scheduled game broadcasts involve at least one playoff team from last season, and 11 of 17 include two playoff teams. The net will again use flexible scheduling for Weeks 11-17. ESPN will air 17 primetime games next season, beginning with a "MNF" doubleheader on Sept. 12 featuring Patriots-Dolphins and Raiders-Broncos. ESPN's "MNF" schedule will feature all 12 playoff teams from last season. NFL Network's eight-game "Thursday Night Football" slate, which consists of seven Thursday night games and one Saturday night telecast, will feature seven playoff teams from last season. NFL Network kicks off its coverage with Raiders-Chargers on Nov. 10 (THE DAILY). DAILY VARIETY's Rick Kissell notes the NFL "for a second straight season" has slotted a "SNF" game "opposite what will be Game 4 of the World Series on Fox." NBC is scheduled to air Colts-Saints on Oct. 23 (DAILY VARIETY, 4/20). The following is a list of the primetime games airing on NBC, ESPN and NFL Network (THE DAILY).WEEK
NBC ESPN NFL NETWORK1 Saints-Packers (Thursday) Patriots-Dolphins1 Cowboys-Jets Raiders-Broncos2 Eagles-Falcons Rams-Giants3 Steelers-Colts Redskins-Cowboys4 Jets-Ravens Colts-Buccaneers5 Packers-Falcons Bears-Lions6 Vikings-Bears Dolphins-Jets7 Colts-Saints Ravens-Jaguars8 Cowboys-Eagles Chargers-Chiefs9 Ravens-Steelers Bears-Eagles10 Patriots-Jets Vikings-Packers Raiders-Chargers11 Eagles-Giants Chiefs-Patriots Jets-Broncos12 Steelers-Chiefs Giants-Saints 49ers-Ravens13 Colts-Patriots Chargers-Jaguars Eagles-Seahawks14 Giants-Cowboys Rams-Seahawks Browns-Steelers15 Ravens-Chargers Steelers-49ers Jaguars-Falcons15 Cowboys-Buccaneers (Saturday)16 Bears-Packers Falcons Saints Texans-Colts17 TBA none none
LEFT OUT IN THE COLD: The Bills, Bengals, Cardinals, Panthers and Titans are the only teams not scheduled to play in a primetime game (THE DAILY). In Phoenix, Kent Somers notes the Cardinals' absence from primetime is "likely a result of last season's 5-11 record" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/20). In Charlotte, Joseph Person notes after the Panthers' 2-14 record last year, the team has 15 games scheduled for 1:00pm ET and one 4:15pm kickoff (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/20).
SEASON'S GREETINGS: In Green Bay, Kareem Copeland reports the Packers "will be the first team in league history to play on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day in the same season" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 4/20). In Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly noted the Dolphins will be "on the road for both Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 4/19).
PRIMETIME PLAYERS: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes some teams that "seem less-than-right" in primetime are "going to be in primetime anyway." But "not on NBC." NBC "pays $600 million annually for its Sunday night games compared to ESPN's $1.1 billion for its Monday night games," but the NFL "still gave NBC a highly promising lineup for TV's most-watched night." ESPN's lineup is "loaded with iffy teams" such as the Rams, Redskins, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Lions and 49ers. NFL Network's lineup includes teams such as the 49ers, Texans and Browns (USA TODAY, 4/20). In Detroit, Chris McCosky notes the Lions will host the Bears on Oct. 10, their first appearance on "MNF" since '01. Lions President Tom Lewand "made it clear ... that being awarded a 'MNF' game was about the team and not a reward for opening Ford Field, and filling it, for the Giants-Vikings game last season after heavy snows collapsed the Metrodome roof." Lewand: "To be selected not only to play but to host shows we are a team that people want to watch" (DETROIT NEWS, 4/20). Also in Detroit, Drew Sharp writes the "MNF" appearance is "validation that, although the Lions remain a long way from being a serious championship contender, the mere sight of them on national television shouldn't send the country running away from their high-definition big screen TVs in a screaming fit." Sharp: "It's as though the NFL officially welcomed the Lions back into the league" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/20).
BACK ON THE BIG STAGE: In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote the Jaguars may play in a "small market," but they "received some royal treatment with the Tuesday night release of the 2011 schedule that includes two Monday night prime-time home games" against the Ravens and Chargers. The Jaguars' schedule also includes an "ideal bye at midseason before a critical road matchup" with the Colts. Frenette: "What more could the Jaguars possibly ask for in terms of favoritism? ... Owner Wayne Weaver has to be doing cartwheels over getting two home games on Monday Night Football, especially against opponents ... that normally wouldn't be a huge attraction" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 4/19). Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Bryan Burwell notes the Rams will play on "MNF" for the first time since '06, "not once but twice." This is "one of the surest signs that the Rams have arrived at that wonderfully fascinating athletic purgatory, suspended somewhere between football heaven and hell" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/20).
In yet another sign of the Comcast-NBC integration, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area will produce live daily sports news segments for the over-the-air NBC affiliate in the Bay Area starting in June. The segments will hit during the 6:00pm PT and 11:00pm newscasts. Bay Area marks the first Comcast RSN that will produce news for the NBC owned and operated affiliate in the area and could provide a model in other markets where Comcast owns an RSN and NBC owns a local broadcast affiliate. In the Bay Area, the NBC affiliate has been using CSN's production of Giants games since '08. The deal also will see the broadcast channel pick up CSN-produced documentaries and magazine shows that will air monthly on weekend evenings. NBC and CSN are building a new set at CSN's studios to produce the sports newscasts. The company says the merge will not lead to job reductions; rather, they expect it to create new positions.
The "World Series of Poker" on ESPN and "World Poker Tour" on FSN "will air as scheduled following the indictments of gambling websites that spent almost $27 million on TV ads last year," according to Andy Fixmer of BLOOMBERG NEWS. ESPN Senior VP/Corporate Communications Chris LaPlaca yesterday in an e-mail confirmed that ESPN "will carry the 'World Series of Poker' in July." However, the network "won't air the 10 hours" of new episodes of the "North American Poker Tour Presented by PokerStars.net," which had been scheduled to air Monday night but was "pre-empted." While FSN will continue to air "World Poker Tour" coverage, Fox Sports Senior VP/Media Relations Lou D'Ermilio said that the net "has pulled PokerStars.net ads" from broadcasts. D'Ermilio: "There is no direct sponsorship connection between the indicted websites and 'World Poker Tour.' But PokerStars had purchased advertising time, which has been pulled as a result of the indictments. At present we have no plans to change policy as it relates to promotional clothing players choose to wear." Kantar Media noted that FullTiltPoker.net and PokerStars.net, "two sites charged with fraud and money-laundering by the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, spent $26.8 million in 2010 on TV advertising." PokerStars "spent another $8.3 million on Web and magazine ads" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 4/19). USA TODAY's Gary Mihoces notes Full Tilt Poker "has been a major sponsor in mixed martial arts." The company was "about to return" to the UFC, but Zuffa LLC spokesperson Caren Bell in an e-mail confirmed that the deal "has been shelved" (USA TODAY, 4/20).
Fox Sports produced six promos for its MLB coverage -- a funny take on baseball’s traditions. The campaign breaks this week across all News Corp. entertainment, news and sports networks. The spots were produced in-house by the Fox Sports Marketing Group, led by CMO Eric Markgraf and Senior VP & Creative Dir Robert Gottlieb. In the first spot, “Pantless Saturdays,” Fox announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver try to start a new tradition in the broadcast booth. In the second one, Buck and McCarver try to appeal to a younger demographic (John Ourand, THE DAILY).
OFFICIAL TICKET PROVIDER: Fox Sports Interactive Media has struck a deal with Ticketmaster-owned TicketsNow in which the reseller will be designated as the official ticket provider of FoxSports.com. TicketsNow will have links to its site integrated into several areas of FoxSports.com, including team, schedule and standings pages, as well as a ticket widget installed on the home page (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
END OF THE STREAM: BUSINESS INSIDER's Russell Scibetti reported MLB has decided to end its "free livestreams" of games on Facebook. MLBAM President & CEO Bob Bowman said that the service was "successful in generating interest in baseball, but it was not a great conversion tool for generating MLB.tv subscribers." Bowman noted that "most people ended up clicking over to the MLB website to watch the games, rather than use the embedded player on Facebook, and this contributed to the decision to remove the live stream" (BUSINESSINSIDER.com, 4/19).