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Today is the last day U.S. networks can submit bids to pick up rights to the EPL, according to several sources who say they do not know when the EPL will formally announce a winner. ESPN and Fox Soccer currently hold the U.S. TV rights, and sources said both networks have submitted bids. NBC Universal Sports also has submitted a bid for the rights. Sources say Al Jazeera-owned BeIN Sport, IMG and Discovery Networks were considering submitting bids, as well. The EPL last sold its rights three years ago to Fox Soccer. The channel, in turn, sublicensed about 80 games per season to ESPN. The two media companies have submitted a similar joint bid this week. The package is especially important to Fox Sports, which runs Fox Soccer. "English Premier League is truly one of the world’s elite organizations and the level of soccer is unparalleled,” said Fox Soccer Exec VP & GM David Nathanson. “Fox has increased the league’s U.S. exposure tremendously during this current three year cycle, and we hope to be able to continue to grow the league and sport in America going forward." Fox Soccer VP/National Ad Sales Mike Petruzzi, a former exec at SUM, said EPL broadcasts have been instrumental in selling sponsorships at the network. “It takes time,” said Petruzzi in an interview late this summer. “There were times when it wasn’t easy to get in the door. But when we meet with CMOs and heads of agencies, everyone’s a soccer fan. With the EPL now, there’s a great level of awareness.”
NBC BID NOT AS STRONG AS EXPECTED: While NBC Sports submitted a bid, sources said it was not as strong as some were expecting. NBC’s cable channel, NBC Sports Network, is in the market for more live sports. But NBC’s F1 deal, which was announced earlier this week, will fill some of the same windows NBC Sports would need for the EPL, sources said. BeIN Sport has been aggressive in picking up international soccer rights to top European leagues, as the net has deep pockets. But there is a question whether it would have enough weekend morning windows to accommodate EPL, given its existing deals with La Liga and Serie A. There is also a question of whether EPL would sell its rights to a channel that has little distribution and is relegated to sports tiers. Discovery for the past several years has made noise about trying to add sports to some of its channels like Velocity, a channel targeting the 25-54 demo. It is not clear how serious Discovery will be in trying to pick up EPL rights. IMG did not return a phone call by deadline, but its interest in EPL almost certainly would be to sublicense the games to interested networks.
Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said that he is “optimistic about hammering out an extension with ESPN on broadcasting rights,” according to Steven Marcus of NEWSDAY. ESPN's “exclusive negotiating window with the Big East ends Oct. 31.” But ESPN Senior VP/College Programming Burke Magnus said that the window “is just ‘a procedural thing.’” Aresco said, “Talks have been good and constructive. We're nearing the end of the negotiating period, but we're optimistic about getting something done. They value our product immensely, we value them. We're continuing to talk. We'll see." However, Aresco would “not rule out looking elsewhere.” Aresco: "If something else develops, we'll see. We have a lot of interest from other networks and you would expect that because our product is so good and so plentiful.” Aresco said of potentially forming a Big East network as an adjunct to a new rights deal, "We never rule out anything. Is that a possibility down the road? It is, but again we are talking to ESPN now." Magnus said that the “loss of Pitt and Syracuse did not devalue the Big East” (NEWSDAY, 10/18). Meanwhile, SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL’s Smith & Ourand report the Big East is “not expecting to cut a deal with ESPN during its exclusive negotiating period and will take its media rights to the open market after its window with ESPN closes.” But that “does not mean ESPN is out of the running.” One of the Big East’s “most valuable properties is its men’s basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden.” Sources said that the conference is “attempting to leverage that tournament as much as it can to drive up the value of the overall package.” But ESPN, because of its “desire to keep rights to a tournament that it has carried for more than three decades, is still expected to maintain a portion of the Big East package.” Fox, NBC Sports and CBS Sports are also “expected to talk to the conference when ESPN’s window closes.” Sources said that the conference is “almost certain to split its package among two or more networks.” The Big East also is “planning to reach out to nontraditional media companies such as Apple, Google and Netflix to gauge their interest in acquiring live sports rights” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/15 issue).
Fox earned a 3.1 overnight Nielsen rating for the portion of last night’s Giants-Cardinals NLCS Game 3 that was not affected by rain. The game began at 4:00pm ET, averaging a 2.9 rating until the rain delay began at 6:45pm. During the three-hour, 15-minute delay from 6:45-10:00pm, Fox averaged a 3.5 rating. The net during that time aired local programming until 8:00pm, then aired network programming. When play resumed, the net got a 3.8 rating from 10:00-10:45pm. The game peaked during the final 15 minutes with a 4.0 rating. In St. Louis, the telecast got a 31.1 rating, while the S.F.-Oakland-San Jose market earned a 10.3 rating. Last year’s comparable Rangers-Tigers ALCS Game 3 on Fox earned a 5.9 rating for a telecast that aired on a Tuesday night. The 3.1 overnight for Giants-Cardinals did beat TBS’ Cardinals-Brewers Game 3 last year, which drew a 3.0 overnight. Through six games across TBS and Fox to date, MLB LCS telecasts are averaging a 4.4 overnight, up from a 3.7 at the same point last postseason (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). Fox announced that last night’s edition of "The X Factor," which “only partially aired on the East Coast and not at all out West, will be aired in full next Tuesday, Oct. 23.” In California, Chuck Barney noted East Coast fans “only saw 40 minutes of the show (and only some of the finalists), while West Coast fans were subjected to a repeat” from the at-home portion of "The X Factor." Host Simon Cowell was “none too happy about the scheduling.” He tweeted, "It's what's known as a total f up" (CONTRA COSTA TIMES, 10/18).
NOT DRINKING THE HATERADE: SPORTS ON EARTH’s Will Leitch writes of Fox’ Joe Buck, “Everyone always expects me to hate Joe Buck. But I don’t. In fact, I think he does as well as anyone reasonably could with one of the most high-profile, visible jobs in sports. I like him. I’m pretty sure his broadcast of Game 6 of the World Series last year was a master class in live sports coverage.” Leitch surveyed a “bunch of Buck haters” to hear the “primary reasons, and to see whether or not I could refute them.” Buck has a “certain tone in his voice that I suspect he believes comes off as wry,” but to the “average viewer, it can seem arch and superior.” Buck is not “particularly more smug than every other person on television,” but if you “don’t like that sense of humor, maybe he’s not for you.” Another reason the “haters” gave is that Buck “doesn’t get excited enough.” But Leitch writes this is “a reason to like Buck, not to hate him.” Leitch: “I will take someone like Buck having a legitimate, honest, non-bloviating reaction to a sports moment than Gus Johnson bursting into flames because someone moves the chains on a second-and-1 plunge.” In addition, the “haters” found the main reason to dislike Buck is that he is on TV “all the time.” Buck has been the “soundtrack to an unusually high percentage of sports’ most memorable moments during a time when social media has exploded and fans have more of a voice to complain and vent than ever before.” Leitch: “I guarantee you that had Twitter and blogs existed when Vin Scully was doing national games, or Bob Costas and Tony Kubek did the Game of the Week, or Howard Cosell was doing ‘Monday Night Football,’ they would have thought everyone hated them, too” (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 10/18).
Cubs TV analyst Bob Brenly yesterday announced that he is leaving the Comcast SportsNet Chicago broadcast booth, and it is likely he "will move to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ booth" on FS Arizona, according to Bruce Miles of the Illinois DAILY HERALD. Brenly "has a home in the Phoenix area" and is "likely to replace" former MLBer Mark Grace, who was recently let go by the D'Backs. Brenly said, "I’m very grateful and happy for the eight years in Chicago. Working with [Cubs play-by-play announcer Len Kasper] was a pleasure every day. All good things must come to an end." Kasper said, "I’m crushed, but I’m happy for him." Miles writes Kasper and Brenly "developed a special chemistry over the years." Brenly "was not afraid to criticize the Cubs for poor or sloppy play" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 10/18). In Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer writes the Cubs are "losing a fan favorite who entertained with his easy style, often candid analysis and strong repertoire with eight-year partner Kasper." The two "often veered off on discussions about music, including their own occasional performances." An announcement on Brenly's next job "is expected in the next two weeks." White Sox color analyst Steve Stone "might be the front-runner to replace Brenly" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 10/18). The Chicago Tribune’s Bob Foltman says it is "going to be a tough replacement because Brenly is not only one of the better analysts in this town, but nationally." Foltman: "Those guys are hard to find” ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 10/17). Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney said the team would "miss his smart analysis, as well as his outgoing personality." In Chicago, Paul Sullivan writes Kenney "likely will have a dozen or so candidates from which to choose for Brenly's replacement in the booth, including Grace." Those include ESPN's Rick Sutcliffe, CSN Chicago's Todd Hollandsworth and former Cubs P Kerry Wood, "who has said he's not interested in broadcasting but probably could be persuaded to change his mind" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/18).
NBA Digital this season is debuting a new studio set for NBA TV and substantially redesigned versions of NBA.com both online and on mobile. The new 5,000-square-foot studio set features a half-court demonstration area, regulation basketball hoop and 13 monitors including a 65-inch touchscreen. NBA.com, meanwhile, has been reworked to feature a much more video-centric content presentation led by six video windows on the main home page without redirection to a second page, as well as a reworked overall navigation structure. The new mobile version of NBA.com features a similar video-first orientation and rebuilt team sites that mirror the league destination. "We think this structure sets us up for continued growth and ties all together much better," said NBA Digitl Senior VP & GM Christina Miller. "We're looking for a more seamless approach where all the platforms tie together in one unified, powerful brand, and these steps definitely further that." NBA.com page views last season were up 23% from the '10-11 season to 5.3 billion, unique visitors were up 21% to an average of 7.7 million per day, and video streams were up 71% to 2.4 billion.