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SBD/November 10, 2011/Events and AttractionsPrint All
SBJ/SBD's 2011 Sports Media & Technology conference began its second day this morning with a panel discussion titled, "Sports Executives Speak Out: Examining the Current Media Landscape" featuring NHL COO John Collins, Fox Sports Senior VP/Programming & Research Michael Mulvihill, Sporting News President & Publisher Jeff Price, NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp and NASCAR Media Group VP/Broadcasting & Global Media Strategy Steve Herbst.
The panel discussed a wide range of topics across sports media, including a potential eight-game package going to market for the NFL, technology/social media in sports and a potential sports bubble. Rolapp, on how Verizon’s deal with the NFL was a game-changer for the industry: “The technology is changing the platforms in which this stuff is distributed and changing the way that fans consume content, both during a game and outside of a game window, which has made all of these rights deals different. ... The competition among media players ... is now heavier in the sports space. ... But just looking at technology like the iPad, which launched around 18-24 months ago. It is now over a $9B-a-year business, which is bigger than the NFL.” Mulvihill, on TV viewing: “Viewer consumption is more and more around live events. ... You’ve seen a shift, and now sports is seen not just as a way to support scripted entertainment ... but equally important to the network business. ... As DVR penetration grows, and people become more comfortable using it and live programming becomes more and more valuable, you’ll see the influence of sports within the TV business grow.” Price, on technology’s influence: “Three years ago, 90% of Sporting News’ revenue was print-oriented. ... Looking towards 2012, we will have flipped that to be 90% digital business. The opportunity that web and mobile and tablet represents is an entirely new place for a brand to evolve and have relevance with fans and consumers.” Rolapp: “Sports TV consumption is ripe for innovation. Whether that will come from Silicon Valley ... it’s possible. I’m sure the cable and satellite operators will have a say in that. ... A trend I’m watching is the next wave of interactive TVs, which will not come from your set-top box. It’ll come from a game console or from your tablet or from when Apple figures out how to put the iPad on a wall.” Collins: “When you look at the consumers who are really using connected devices, and then connecting them back through their televisions because they’re not happy with the traditional TV experience, it’s a big signal.”
MUST-SEE THURSDAY: Some panelists also discussed the possibility of a new eight-game Thursday night NFL TV package. Rolapp: “It seems like the press has already created and sold and distributed the package. We haven’t figured that out yet. There’s a lot of discussion on how we would do it, what it would look it, who the distribution partners would be. We’ve had some exploratory conversations about that, with both current partners and others. But we haven’t made any decisions. ... There are a lot things we need to commit to before we bring an eight-game package to the marketplace. ... Do we need to expand the season or not? By expanding the season, you create more quality games. When you have more quality games, you can populate more quality packages. ... The last thing we want to do is dilute the quality that we think we put out there, not just for a new package, but for existing packages.” Mulvihill: “If an additional eight-game Thursday night package ended up on a Fox-branded cable network, it would probably have no impact on our Sunday games. If it ended up somewhere else, it has a terrible impact on our Sunday games and we would need to be compensated. ... We would have tremendous interest in having conversations about adding an additional eight Thursday games for one of our cable platforms.”
Bill Simmons talked about his new site, Grantland.com, and also dished about the “30 for 30” series on ESPN, sports writing today and the NBA lockout during a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview at the 2011 Sports Media & Technology conference. On whether he considers Grantland, which launched in June, a success, Simmons said: “I couldn’t be happier. We probably launched three months before we should have. We didn’t have a full staff until the end of August [and] we had a lot of people working seven-day weeks. But I’m glad we did it that way because the NBA Finals were in motion. If we had launched in July or August it would have been bad. Bottom line is the second and third months of the site, we had two lockouts, baseball in midseason, which nobody really cares about, women’s World Cup, Wimbledon. ... It’s so much easier now with pro football and college football.” On how he would describe Grantland: “It’s been called a long form website, but it was never intended to be that way. It was always intended to be entertaining. We wanted to write big stuff, like the oral histories that we’ve done and the bigger features … but one of our signature columns so far, in terms of popularity, has been the ‘Reality TV Scorecard,’ which runs every Friday. I don’t agree that it’s a long form site. We’ve tried going the quality route vs. the quantity route. Blogs are putting up stuff constantly and immediacy was the most important thing you could have. My feeling is that there is a place for that, but there’s also a place for people who like to read, who like to read stuff that people put a lot of thought into and don’t want to feel overwhelmed.”
CONTENT WANTS TO BE FREE? On whether he would ever put Grantland behind a paywall: “I will never make anyone pay for anything on the Internet. This is something I believed in from the get-go. I’ve been in a situation where I didn’t have money, and with college kids and people in their 20s out there, it’s a lot to ask $29.99 or whatever. It’s lazy to say you can’t get this stuff paid for. ... [The site] made money this year. It’s going to make more next year.” On whether Grantland is a standalone business: “Hell, yeah. We went out ahead of time and we got sponsors to commit. We got Subway and Unilever and Lexus. ... We want to have relationships with sponsors where they’re integrated on the site and come up with ways to make them feel like they didn’t just cut us a check.” On the design of the site: “It wasn’t smart and we’re fixing that. We tried to do this classic design that wasn’t that hard to see everything. We found that people just gravitate towards the main [center] well. They don’t even look on the sides. We have to design that part to make everything jump out.”
YOU CAN’T FAKE IT: On his responsibilities with the site affecting his writing: “I’ve actually been writing a little more than I did during my last year-and-a-half at ESPN. Following sports has been the hardest. You have to follow things at a certain level and be sophisticated enough about everything that’s going on. You can’t fake it. I’ve been in situations with writers that I like where you could tell that they don’t care any more. You can tell they’re not following sports and you can tell that they’re writing about what they think they should be writing about. They don’t actually give a shit. I think when that day comes you should stop doing a sports column. I still care about sports. I still follow it.”
On the NBA labor situation:
Simmons: “You could see where this was going … I just don’t ever feel like there should be a labor stoppage when people are this close. I think the NHL situation was a lot different because they had a blue-collar sport which had white-collar ticket prices and salaries were out of control. They needed to change everything and they needed to cancel the season to get that done. That isn’t the case here. The [NBA] is doing well. ... For the owners it seems like business, and players it really seems like it’s personal. They don’t trust the owners. They don’t trust [Commissioner David] Stern. They don’t trust the info they’re getting. ... It’s become more than just a labor negotiation. ... And I don’t think anyone is going to care if the lockout gets settled. You’ve got the Penn State story, which is the biggest story of the past 10 years. You’ve got pro football and college. You have the holidays coming up. Nobody is going around thinking ‘I can’t believe the NBA’s not here.’ That’s not going to kick in until April. ... That’s when people normally get their basketball fix. ... If this would have happened with the NFL, people would have flipped out. In the NBA, there’s just not that passion.”
On his favorite ESPN “30 for 30” film:
Simmons: “I wouldn’t pick a favorite. There are probably five I like for different reasons that personify the series. One of them is ‘The Two Escobars’ which was really just creative and ambitious. The degree of difficulty on it was just incredible. ... Same thing for ‘June 17, 1994,’ which is an idea we all collectively came up with. ... The Marcus Dupree film. The Reggie Miller film. ... But we’re talking about doing another round of these because our 35th anniversary is in 2014. Maybe 35 for 35. But the easy part this time will be getting directors. Maybe the first time around, people didn’t totally trust ESPN.
On which project he liked that didn’t make “30 for 30”:
Simmons: “I always thought Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were a natural and it was on the initial list. Then we went to Strawberry and he said he needed $200,000 to be involved. ... The Dream Team was also one. ... That could be one of the great ones ever.”
On what he would change about sports media:
Simmons: “I think Twitter is going to be a real danger to sports writing eventually. It’s funny because Twitter has been great for me ... but I don’t see the value of tweeting 50 or 100 times per day.”
The 2011 Sports Media & Technology conference yesterday featured the panel, “Fantasy Sports: Growth Opportunities.” The participants were Stats LLC GM/Consumer Fantasy Games Greg Ambrosius, NBC Sports Digital VP & GM Rick Cordella, RotoWire co-Founder & President Peter Schoenke and NFL Senior VP/Media Strategy & Development Hans Schroeder.
The afternoon breakout session focused on the state of fantasy sports and where the industry can grow from here. Schoenke: “The NFL lockout over the last two years really loomed large over our industry in terms of stopping potential growth, both from getting venture funding for startups and expansion from the major media companies with new product lines. NFL makes up somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the business for fantasy.” Schroeder, on NFL.com becoming the fourth player in the commissioner league space: “Going back 10 years, we had a great partner in CBS Sportsline. But as they took NFL.com in-house and then took the club site business in-house, fantasy became such a key pillar. Forty-plus percent of our traffic and usage on a monthly basis. To own that relationship directly with the customer was really key to us.” Ambrosius: “I’ve been in this industry 22 years and I’ve never seen it change as much as it has over the last 22 months. The fantasy industry is as strong as it’s ever been and it continues to grow every year. We have more people playing and they’re playing more games. But the fantasy business space is shrinking. The big companies are taking over what the mom-and-pops created. The pay-to-play model is probably one of the black eyes of this space.” Cordella: “From a sports business standpoint, your best customers are the most engaged customers and those are fantasy players. If you can’t cater to them and have them as an anchor on your site or digital platform, you’re not winning the digital game.”
On fantasy sports magazines, Ambrosius: “The lockout killed the magazines. That entire magazine industry, which we had around 30 different titles at one time, was wiped out. We just don’t have companies advertising within the space.”
On the effect of the NBA lockout on the fantasy industry, Schoenke: “I think it’s actually going to turn out to be okay. If they start in January/February, people will be done with fantasy football, which really just takes over everyone’s attention. Between that and the start of baseball, they might give basketball a try.”
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