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The NFL is "negotiating with TV networks about a new early-season eight-game package that would start as soon as next season," according to sources cited by Ourand & Kaplan of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The sources said that the Thursday night package "could be worth as much as $700 million per year." That windfall "could help soften the blow to the players from the emerging labor deal in which they are likely to receive a smaller percentage of revenue than they previously have received." The new package "would not affect NFL Network’s schedule of live games, as the league has decided to keep its channel’s eight-game Thursday night slate in the second half of the season intact." Ourand & Kaplan report the NFL is "shopping the early-season package to interested networks," and Turner and Comcast "have emerged as the most serious bidders for such a package." Comcast "wants the package for Versus, while Turner, which carried a Sunday night NFL package on TNT from 1990-97, has privately craved returning NFL games to its schedule." Also, Fox is "expected to kick the tires on a package for its FX network," but sources said that cable operators "have surcharge protection against FX, which would make it difficult for FX to afford such a package" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/27 issue).
RUNNING UP THE SCORE: CABLEFAX DAILY notes Comcast, having just bid $4.38B for U.S. rights to the Olympics through '20, "isn't afraid to spend money on sports content; it just wants to turn a profit." Despite a "modest black eye due to its labor unrest, the NFL can still be easily monetized." In addition, a source said that ESPN "will take a 'close look' at the package." The network "could reap benefit from airing" two games per week, with the new package in addition to "MNF" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 6/27). In L.A., Joe Flint notes an "increase in the number of networks carrying games will probably lead the current rights holders to seek some sort of concession from the NFL when they negotiate their next contracts after the 2013 television season" (L.A. TIMES, 6/28).
Images and videos of NBA players "have to disappear off NBA-owned digital properties" if a new CBA is not reached before the current agreement expires at the end of the day Thursday, according to Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com. Depending on how you "interpret 'fair use,' the prohibition could include the mere mention of a player's name on an NBA-owned site." NBA website administrators and support staff over the past few weeks have "endured two-hour conference calls and countless planning sessions to figure out how to eliminate all these photos, highlights, articles and promotional features from the sites." The NBA "has built and furnished each team with a website 'wire frame' that will take the place of the existing, much more sophisticated site." The wire frame is a "rudimentary version of the site, without a lot of the snazzy technology we've grown accustomed to seeing." As a result, "each of the 30 team sites will look virtually identical." One team website administrator said, "We're going back to the stone ages of the Internet. It's all going to be very dumbed down." Staffers are "going through thousands upon thousands of subpages, looking for any representations or mentions of NBA players." Arnovitz wrote, "It's no secret that team websites are far more about promoting the team than they are about providing the fan with hard news about basketball. That presents a major complication for those in charge of marketing the teams. How much can Rockets.com write about Clutch the Bear before fans tune out and go elsewhere for their Rockets fix?" (ESPN.com, 6/27).
Industry analysts indicated that the Pac-12 is "mulling three models" for the conference's TV network, according to Jon Wilner of the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS. One model is to "flip a channel," a scenario in which the conference "would partner with an existing programmer and flip, or re-brand, an existing channel." The "beauty of this model is that it eliminates distribution risk." However, the conference would "almost certainly have to give up an equity stake in the Pac-12 Network." Alternatively, the Pac-12 could "start from scratch" by partnering with an existing cable or satellite operator to "develop a new channel, with distribution baked into the partnership." Sources said that the Pac-12 "has had discussions with Comcast," and Wilner wrote that partnership "would make sense on several levels." The third option is for the Pac-12 to try the "non-subscription approach." Under this model the conference "would bypass the traditional, sub-based model and align with one of the tech giants." Instead of "teaming up with Time Warner or Comcast, the league would partner with Google or Apple," and 'instead of turning on your TV to watch the Pac-12 Network, you'd turn on your computer." The "drawback to this approach is that in the short term, the conference would give up the revenue that comes from subscription fees -- it would rely on advertising alone for revenue." But the Pac-12 "has financial flexibility" due to the $250M per year deal with Fox and ESPN. Wilner added, "The Google/Apple TV model is clearly a play on the future" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 6/27). ESPN.com's Ted Miller wrote such a "bold move toward the future would be very Larry Scott-ish." Miller: "If you think how quickly the technology is moving forward, well, betting on a cutting-edge model seems like a high-reward gamble with limited short-term risk" (ESPN.com, 6/27). SportsBusiness Journal this week profiles Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott.
ASKING FOR A PRETTY PENNY: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Ourand & Smith report the Univ. of Texas' Longhorn Network is “seeking its first distribution partner,” and sources said that ESPN “wants 40 cents per subscriber per month for placement on expanded basic cable tiers in Texas and various markets in three adjoining states: Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.” With a $0.40 rate, Longhorn Network “instantly would become one of the 30 or 40 highest priced cable channels.” ESPN is “far along in negotiations with several distributors, including two of the region’s biggest operators: Time Warner Cable and Verizon.” Sources expect ESPN “to be negotiating carriage deals with operators in Texas right up to the school’s” season-opener against Rice Univ. on Sept. 3rd. The net is scheduled to launch Aug. 26 (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/27 issue).
FREE TO AIR: BYU this year is going independent in football and joining the West Coast Conference for other sports, and in Utah, Jeff Call noted "approximately 140" BYU events and games will be broadcast by ESPN or BYUtv this year. BYU AD Tom Holmoe: "All of our home football and basketball games will be on TV, and we have the opportunity to do road games with BYUtv. We have an agreement with the West Coast Conference that we can do games on the road." BYUtv is "available in about 60 million homes around the nation." But Call noted a "big issue is how the school can monetize BYUtv, which is limited in the way it can produce revenue through advertising." Holmoe: "That's what we're doing right now. It's a modification. There are rules and regulations with what you can do with the contracts and agreements they have with the (cable and satellite) carriers" (DESERET NEWS, 6/27).
PRIME PLACEMENT: In Oklahoma City, Berry Tramel noted the "eventual plan is for FX to stage a weekly nationally-televised" Big 12 football game at 8:00pm ET on Saturdays. Three FX games "have been slotted for television so far," and all three involve the Univ. of Oklahoma. The FX package is "part of the commitment by Fox Sports Net," whose deal with the Big 12 earlier this year "gives the conference confidence about its future." OU AD Joe Castiglione said of FX, "That's one of their (Fox's) strong cable networks. They have almost 100 million subscribers. That's a strong presence" (NEWSOK.com, 6/24).
Univision averaged a 3.1 rating and 7.981 million viewers for Mexico's 4-2 defeat of the U.S. in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final on Saturday night from 8:54-11:04pm ET, marking the net's best primetime audience ever. The telecast topped the Mexico-Honduras semifinal, which had set the record last Wednesday night with a 2.9 rating and 7.115 million viewers. Mexico-U.S. also marks Univision's third most-viewed sporting event in the net’s history behind the '10 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match between Mexico and Argentina (8.7 million viewers) and the '10 World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands (8.3 million viewers). For the week ending June 26, Mexico-U.S. was also the ninth most-viewed primetime program on all of TV, as well as the most-viewed sports telecast of the week (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). In Denver, Dusty Saunders wrote under the header, "Soccer On TV Seizes Golden Opportunity." Citing increased ratings for this year's Gold Cup, Saunders wrote, "When mainstream broadcasting in the U.S. realizes soccer is a sport worth covering, soccer's fan base should continue to grow." Meanwhile, when Mexico F Giovani Dos Santos scored with less than 15 minutes remaining to give Mexico a two-goal lead, Fox's "instant-replay cameras focused" on his footwork. The replay "also provided an agonizing view of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard peering through the net after Dos Santos scored" (DENVER POST, 6/27).
MAKING THE PITCH: ESPN earned a 0.7 overnight rating for Sunday's Germany-Canada FIFA Women's World Cup game, the network's first telecast of the tournament, "more than twice the rating" of the MLS Fire-Red Bulls game that followed it (USA TODAY, 6/28). Germany-Canada averaged 14.1 million viewers in the host country, a record for a women's soccer game in Germany. The previous best was 11.4 million viewers for the '03 World Cup Final. In Canada, the game averaged 684,000 viewers, the highest Women's World Cup audience ever in the country (FIFA).
The owners of TSN and Rogers Sportsnet are “flexing their muscles and demanding more pay for their play” regarding subscription rates, according to Susan Krashinsky of the GLOBE & MAIL. New TSN Owner BCE Inc. is “negotiating new deals with cable and satellite carriers that include higher monthly fees for subscribers.” The company is “taking advantage of the new freedom given by the federal broadcast regulator to negotiate subscriber fees,” and Rogers Communications “could do the same.” Though the "freedom comes into effect this September," negotiations are "starting already, and they will be a test of how that power is used and the importance of sports programming to TV distributors." TSN is the "most profitable specialty network in Canada, a title it reclaimed in 2010 after a dip in profits in 2009," and Rogers Sportsnet "was second." But the channels "stand to become even more profitable if they can follow the path of ESPN, the No. 1 sports network in the U.S., and ratchet up monthly subscriber fees substantially." Bell Media President Kevin Crull last week predicted that the fees TSN pays to broadcast sports events "could double every four to five years." Krashinsky writes the "dominance of the two biggest Canadian sports networks took a prominent place last week" at the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission's hearing on "'vertical integration' -- the trend toward cable and satellite companies owning the television channels they distribute." Non-integrated competitors such as Cogeco Cable are "complaining that the integrated firms have every reason to abuse their market power." BCE "has not threatened to pull any channels from Cogeco's service yet," but Cogeco "remains concerned that integrated competitors such as BCE have an incentive to hike prices" (GLOBE & MAIL, 6/28).
In Montreal, Pat Hickey reports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire, who has worked for TSN in Canada, has "decided to concentrate on his duties" in the U.S. McGuire: "I'll be doing two games a week for Versus or NBC, and spend one night in the Versus studio." NBC and McGuire "have been working on a deal for several months, and the final negotiations were delayed by the sudden departure" of former NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol. McGuire said that he will "continue to appear on TSN's network of radio stations across Canada." Hickey notes there also have been "suggestions McGuire may be involved in some special projects for TSN, such as contributing to its draft coverage" (Montreal GAZETTE, 6/28).
NO TRUTH IN ADVERTISING: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wonders what Fox execs were "thinking Saturday as they hyped this Saturday's Yankees-Mets telecast." A graphic promoting the game "had a big Derek Jeter head with the number 3,000," in reference to his pursuit of 3,000 career hits. But there is "one problem: Jeter ain't likely to be playing in the game" due to a calf strain. Fox announcer Kenny Albert noted that Jeter's "return to the lineup was uncertain." But Raissman writes Fox still "should not have used Jeter in the promo" unless they knew he would play (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/28).
TAYLOR MADE FOR TV: In Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly wrote free agent DE Jason Taylor was "articulate, opinionated, and easy on the eyes" yesterday during a guest appearance on ESPN's "NFL Live." Taylor "went into this lockout-stretched offseason unsure if he'd play another season, or enter the broadcasting, and possibly the acting world." Kelly: "I suspect there's better odds Taylor works for ESPN, or another television network in 2011 than for the Miami Dolphins" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 6/27).
PEOPLE & PERSONALITIES: Former Nationals and Cubs manager Jim Riggleman "will be part of the pregame and postgame programs" on Comcast SportsNet Chicago this weekend for its coverage of the White Sox-Cubs series (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 6/28)....ESPN2's upcoming series "Numbers Never Lie" will be hosted by former Fox sideline reporter Charissa Thompson and feature "daily appearances from a former player and an expert." The half-hour show will air on weekdays at 3:30pm ET (SPORTSBYBROOKS.com, 6/27)....Univ. of North Carolina radio host and analyst Jones Angell "will assume the play-by-play duties for UNC's football and men's basketball radio broadcasts beginning this fall." Angell succeeds Woody Durham, "who retired in April after 40 years as the voice of the Tar Heels" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 6/28).