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The Longhorn Network is scheduled to launch Friday and the net "has cut several deals with small distributors" in Texas, while it is "counting on several more this week," according to John Ourand in this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. ESPN execs late last week "were in final negotiations with Verizon and Grande Communications," and sources "were confident that both [deals] were close at hand." Industry observers "expect a flurry of deals for Longhorn Network to be cut this week, in advance of its launch." But Ourand reports the "biggest distributors in Texas appear to be far from a deal, including the state's biggest cable operator, Time Warner Cable, the state's biggest satellite distributor, DirecTV, and the country's biggest cable operator, Comcast." Sources said that TWC "appears to be the closest of those three." The "holdup with Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable apparently deals with questions over what programming the channel can actually carry." Sources said that the three companies "will not agree to a deal with Longhorn Network until there's clarity on exactly what rights the network has." Ourand notes LHN is "seeking 40 cents a subscriber a month from distributors in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/22 issue).
WIDE RECEIVERS: In Ft. Worth, Art Garcia noted Univ. of Texas and ESPN officials "aren't worried about a distributor blackout." ESPN's promotions department "has a campaign titled 'Don't Make Bevo Angry,' urging Time Warner customers to ask for LHN," though Charter "hasn't made much progress in adding the burnt orange channel to its lineup." Charter Dir of Government Relations Kevin Allen said, "We've had discussions with ESPN to try to come up with a reasonable agreement to carry the Longhorn Network, and so far we haven't reached one. As of now, we don't have a timetable." Garcia noted adding another UT football game to the broadcast schedule "may alleviate some of the content concerns and make for a better sell to distributors." Sources said that if the season-opening Sept. 3 Rice-Texas football game "remained the only game for this season, some carriers might pass on LHN for an entire year if agreements weren't reached." Another point of negotiation between ESPN and potential distributors "is the service level at which LHN is carried." Industry officials indicated that ESPN "is pushing for LHN on basic service plans ... guaranteeing the highest level of penetration and subscriber fees." Charter has "about 150,000 subscribers through Texas," and if LHN is "carried on basic packages at a monthly rate of about 40 cents, that revenue dwarfs what would probably be available from subscribers willing to pay extra on a premium package." One industry exec said, "How much value would Longhorn Network subscribers get out of volleyball and track?" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 8/21).
REGIONAL SUCCESS: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir noted with "a few exceptions, regional sports networks are money-printing operations that heavily promote the teams they carry." Media consultant Chris Bevilacqua said, "What you're seeing, especially in professional sports, is the inherent value inside a team [is] its media rights. A prospective buyer looks at a team as if you're buying a regional sports network that happens to have a team." Research firm SNL Kagan reported that the "average regional sports network in 2010 had revenue of $137.8 million." The Yankees' YES Network topped the list at $435.2M, but Sandomir noted "the Big Ten's take was hardly chump change -- $227 million." Below is a list of the top 10 RSNs, ranked by '10 revenue (N.Y. TIMES, 8/20).TOP TEN RSNs (RANKED BY '10 REVENUE)
NETWORK PRIMARY TEAMS'10 REVENUE YES Network Yankees, Nets$435.2M FS Southwest MLB Rangers, Mavericks, Stars, Spurs, Thunder$276.4M MSG Knicks, Rangers$272.8M FS West Lakers, Angels, NHL Kings$250.7M SportsNet N.Y. Mets$227.7M Big Ten Network Big Ten conference$227.1M MSG Plus Islanders, Devils$219.1M Comcast SportsNet
Wizards, Capitals$212.1M Sun Sports Rays, Lightning, Magic, Heat$191.2M FS South Braves, Hawks, Thrashers*$190.6M
NOTES: Source for RSN revenue data is SNL Kagan. * = The Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg for '11-12 season.
The seven-year deal putting live UFC cards on Fox "should determine whether MMA can make it on network television (and be considered a major sport) or if it will be relegated to pay-per-view or deep-numbered cabled stations," according to Tom Jones of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. Fox "appears committed to giving MMA an honest chance, and UFC is the biggest and best of the MMA associations." The net in the past "has shown innovation and commitment when carrying sports for the first time," but Jones noted the "question now is if mainstream sports fans are ready to accept MMA as they do, say, the NBA" (TAMPABAY.com, 8/19). In Orlando, Matt Erickson noted the "significance of the deal comes with putting UFC on network television for the first time." UFC President Dana White said, "We talked to every major broadcast network and media company out there. I always wanted to do a deal with Fox. ... We reviewed a lot of deals, and this one was the right one for the UFC." He added, "It's not just about the right deal. It's about having the right partner. Fox is the right partner." Erickson reported Fox "aired its first UFC promo during a break in its broadcast of [an] Eagles-Steelers exhibition game" Thursday night. CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell said that Fox "appears to be poised for an all-out promotional blitz touting its new partnership throughout the NFL season, during the World Series in October and during NASCAR events on both Fox and FX" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/21).
NICE DAY FOR A WHITE WEDDING: MMA WEEKLY's Ken Pishna noted White Friday used his Twitter account "to take a shot at ESPN for cancelling an upcoming promotional interview, he says, due to the Fox deal." White posted on Twitter: "ESPN has always hated us and now they hate us more now that we are on FOX. They canceled my (interview) next week for UFC Rio. (Expletive) ESPN." White added in his post host Jim Rome "is the only good thing about ESPN." Pishna noted MMA, and the UFC in particular, "has crept into ESPN's on-air programming over the past couple of years, after starting out as part of the sports media giant's online offerings." ESPN also has its own MMA magazine-style show in "MMA Live" (MMAWEEKLY.com, 8/20). ESPN VP/Communications Mike Soltys yesterday said the White interview "was a postponement," and the net "invited him to come in before a UFC event in September" (USA TODAY, 8/22).
FIGHT NIGHT: In Boston, Ron Borges noted UFC will be on Fox on Nov. 12, "going head-to-head with the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez" PPV broadcast, and boxing promoter Lou DiBella "conceded it was another blow to boxing." DiBella said, "It won't help. Pacquiao is still a huge star but will it have a (negative) impact on boxing? Of course it will. I don't think they're trying to hurt boxing but UFC has done a good job building up their sport." He added, "MMA appeals to a demographic that appeals to advertisers. I was saying this when I was still at HBO Sports (negotiating fight deals). I advocated for a new series that would look different and promote young prospects. We didn't do it. It was a mistake. We're not developing young fans" (BOSTON HERALD, 8/21). But in Ohio, Dann Stupp notes the UFC card on Fox will be "off air" prior to the start of Pacquiao-Marquez. While UFC "traditionally airs four- or five-fight events, Fox's November debut will feature just two bouts." Stupp: "It's a sort of preview of bigger shows to come" (DAYTON DAILY NEWS, 8/22).
NEW CONTENDERS? Spike TV is losing most of its UFC content as a result of the Fox deal, and SI.com's Ben Fowlkes wrote instead of "getting out of the MMA business altogether, it seems likely that the cable network aimed squarely at young men will simply replace the UFC with the upstart Bellator organization, hoping that Spike is enough of a destination for fights that its audience won't care about the brand name on the mats." A "hefty portion of the fan base still seems to think the sport itself is called UFC." Fowlkes: "How do you pull this switcheroo without losing your entire audience? That's the question Spike will be looking to answer if and when it scoops up Bellator, but it already has a few things working in its favor." It has "been tough for Bellator to gain too much traction" on MTV2, but moving to Spike, "which is betting that some viewers will still flip past it looking for fights even after the UFC is gone, could fix that problem." Now that Strikeforce appears to "have an expiration date stamped on its forehead, Bellator could become that viable second option." Fowlkes: "That is, if it can secure the right TV partner" (SI.com, 8/19). SHERDOG.com's Jack Encarnacao noted the presence of Spike execs at Saturday's Bellator Fighting Championships in Connecticut "stoked speculation that the tournament-based promotion could land on the MMA-friendly cable network after the UFC leaves." Spike TV Senior VP/Sports & Specials Brian Diamond "attended the Bellator event, and spent time in the production truck and at cageside." Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said of the Spike execs, "They've been at all of our shows. They're part of the MTV networks family" (SHERDOG.com, 8/21).
CBS Sports Network will launch four new studio shows centered on college football this season. A formal announcement is due out today. Two of the planned shows, “SEC Today presented by Sonic” and “SEC Express,” will cover the SEC, which has a Game of the Week on CBS. “SEC Today” will be set up as a pregame show of sorts (it is scheduled for Saturdays at 2:00-3:00pm ET) and will be hosted by Brent Stover. “SEC Express” is scheduled for Sundays at 10:00-11:00am and will show highlights from the previous day’s CBS Game of the Week. “SEC Tonight presented by Geico” will return to its Saturday 7:00pm timeslot. The network’s two other new shows are “Tackling the Trends” and “The Tim Brando Show.” Sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson will host “Tackling the Trends” every Wednesday beginning Sept. 7 from 9:00-9:30pm. Brando’s show debuts this morning from 10:00am-1:00pm as a syndication of his national radio show. Returning shows include “The Tony Barnhart Show” on Wednesdays from 8:00-9:00pm; “Inside College Football” Tuesdays 8:00-10:00pm; and “College Football Confidential” Mondays 8:00-8:30pm. The network has signed Geico as presenting sponsor of “SEC Tonight;” Sonic as presenting sponsor of “SEC Today;” Buick as the presenting sponsor of “Inside College Football’s” Tuesday night show; and Discover Card as presenting sponsor of the net’s Saturday night games (John Ourand, THE DAILY).
OPENING UP THE PLAYBOOK: Versus VP/Communications Meier Raivich indicated that the net today will announce its Saturday college football show will be called "College Football Live" and will "expand to include pregame and postgame shows for all 28 games on Versus or NBC," including NBC's Notre Dame games. USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand reports Liam McHugh will be the "regular host" of the show, and he will be joined by analysts Roland Williams and Doug Flutie. The show will "relocate from Connecticut to the Manhattan, N.Y., studio that is used for NBC's Sunday night NFL show" (USA TODAY, 8/22).
Comcast on Friday "withdrew its lawsuit against DirecTV" over NFL Sunday Ticket ads after the satellite operator "made a 'small graphic enhancement' to one of the ads," according to Todd Spangler of MULTICHANNEL NEWS. Comcast had alleged that DirecTV "misleadingly called" its Sunday Ticket package "free." But Comcast Chief Blogger J.T. Ramsay in a statement on the company's website said, "DirecTV has discontinued or modified its false and misleading advertising to consumers regarding its NFL Sunday Ticket package as a result of our legal action. As such, we have elected to withdraw our complaint on this matter." Still, DirecTV said that Comcast's statement "misrepresented the facts in the case." The satellite operator noted that a federal judge last week "denied Comcast's request for a temporary restraining order seeking to block the ads." DirecTV contends that "no ads were pulled." Asked what was modified in the ads, a DirecTV spokesperson said that "only a 'small graphic enhancement' was made to one ad in the campaign a week ago." In the ad featuring an Eagles fan, DirecTV “added an on-screen label that said ‘10 Am Los Angeles,’ whereas in the original version there was nothing on the screen" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 8/20). Comcast claimed that the ads "neglected to mention that customers needed to sign a two-year contract in order to receive the package, and that the package automatically renewed, at full price, after the first year” (THEWRAP.com, 8/19).
Baseball HOFer and former ESPN "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcaster Joe Morgan has started a daily one-hour national radio program, "The Joe Morgan Show," on the Sports USA syndication network. Morgan's program will be heard initially in 22 markets, including WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and WQYK-AM in Tampa, as well as digitally through JoeMorganShow.com and podcasts on iTunes. Morgan will begin his radio stint this week with a so-called "Baseball Legends Week" featuring a different HOFer each day. Former teammate Johnny Bench will join Morgan today, followed by Tom Seaver tomorrow, Carlton Fisk on Wednesday, Sandy Koufax on Thursday and Willie Mays on Friday. The radio venture is Morgan's first broadcasting job following a 21-year run on ESPN that ended last fall when his contract was not renewed. Morgan will tape the show from a variety of locations, including his home. The show will not take live listener calls, and is not designed to be a hard news-driven interview program. "This goal is to be much more conversational," Morgan said. "I want to have real conversations with these athletes, not interviews that very often turn into an interrogation as people want to ask the hard question. This is exciting for me, as a fan, to have the opportunity to talk to these athletes and hear things I haven't heard before." While baseball will certainly be a focus of the "The Joe Morgan Show," he plans to delve into several other sports, including pro and college football and golf.
The Dolphins named Pro Football HOFer and former ESPN broadcaster Bob Griese to their three-man radio team, taking the spot of longtime analyst Jim Mandich, "who died in April," according to Brad Biggane of the PALM BEACH POST. Griese will join fellow former Dolphins players Jimmy Cefalo and Joe Rose in the radio booth "when Miami opens the regular season at New England on Sept. 12." Griese will "remain on the TV broadcast crew for the remainder" of the preseason. Griese, a close friend of Mandich's, said, "I’m not going to try to replace him, and I’m not going to do the things that he did.” Biggane noted "two other former Dolphins also will join the radio broadcast." Kim Bokamper will “work the post-game locker room and, at road games, report from the sideline,” while Keith Sims “will be the sideline reporter at home” (PALM BEACH POST, 8/20). In Ft. Lauderdale, Mike Berardino wrote Griese "hasn’t always been at his sharpest on Dolphins preseason TV broadcasts over the years, but he sounds energized by the chance to be a regular part of the Dolphins’ regular season.” After 29 years calling college football for ESPN, Griese said, "I've always had to prepare for both teams. This is going to be a little bit easier and a little bit nicer. You can even cheer some. You can even say, ‘Attaboy.’” Meanwhile, Berardino reported Dick Stockton "will not reprise his role of radio play-by-play man on the Dolphins’ prime-time games this year.” After replacing Cefalo in the booth for several night games last year, Stockton “wasn’t comfortable with continuing in that role because he didn’t feel it was fair to Cefalo” (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 8/19).
Versus will roll out an NFL series this season -- a partnership between the NBC Sports Group and NFL Films -- that will help market "Sunday Night Football" on NBC. The series, "NFL Turning Point" debuts Sept. 15 and will occupy the 10:00pm ET timeslot on Thursday through the first half of the season. Starting Nov. 10, once NFL Network begins its Thursday night schedule, the series will move to midnight. It is the first NFL-related series to ever be on Versus' schedule. The series will take an in-depth look at two games from the previous week. Most of the time, the games will involve the upcoming Sunday night teams. The series will identify the turning point of the games and show how the teams practiced and planned for those plays (John Ourand, THE DAILY).
A TALE OF TWO CITIES: In DC, Jim Williams noted DC and Baltimore are “less than 40 miles apart,” but in the “eyes of the NFL, they are two different television markets.” This season there “could be as many as six conflicted Sundays when Redskins games won't be seen in the Baltimore market and Ravens games won't be seen in Washington.” Williams wrote the “ideal situation would be if the NFL would treat the Washington-Baltimore area as a shared market the same way that the Nationals and Orioles are treated" by MLB. If the area were “ruled a shared market, the NFL would adjust the Redskins and Ravens schedules so games are never on the same network on the same day” (WASHINGTON EXAMINER, 8/21).
CHANNEL SURFING: The GLOBE & MAIL’s Bruce Dowbiggin notes the NFL's decision to move kickoffs to from the 30 to the 35 yard line is “likely to send viewers away to other games or channels while advertisers peddle their wares.” Network ads are “the same on all NFL games so it will be the local commercials that are ignored by fans grazing the remote universe till action resumes.” Dowbiggin: “With the NFL already experiencing erosion to its RedZone Channel why give viewers another reason to stray from commercial buyers? Pro sports are the last vestige of real-time appointment viewing. This seems to fly in the face of that convention” (GLOBE & MAIL, 8/22).
CARRIAGE AGREEMENT: Mediacom Communications and NFL Network announced Friday that they have reached a new, long-term agreement for carriage of NFL Network. Mediacom, the eighth largest cable operator in the country, will also offer the NFL RedZone channel to its customers. NFL Network and NFL RedZone will be available through Mediacom in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and surrounding areas in time for the ‘11 NFL season (Mediacom).