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Fox Sports is hosting a press conference in N.Y. today where the network is expected to unveil details about its planned all-sports cable channel, which it is calling Fox Sports 1. As has been rumored for the better part of a year, Fox will announce plans to rebrand its motorsports channel, Speed, into FS1 this August. At its event today, Fox is expected to unveil several shows for the channel, including one with Regis Philbin that has been described as the sports version of "The View." It also plans to unveil shows featuring Fox Sports talent, including Jay Glazer and Mike Pereira. The channel will feature live-game programming, which will come from rights deals Fox signed with MLB, NASCAR, college basketball and football, soccer and UFC. A source said Fox will not announce a deal with the group of seven Catholic schools that are breaking away from the former Big East conference due to some minor issues related to their separation from the football schools. Fox also plans to unveil its "double box" in-game advertising plan, which FS1 will use selectively (John Ourand, Staff Writer).
LONG-TERM INVESTMENT: DEADLINE.com’s David Lieberman reports News Corp. COO Chase Carey “assured investors" this morning that the introduction of FS1 is "a smart long term strategy, even though it will result in losses for the next few years.” The company is making "a ‘manageable investment’ while it tries to ‘ramp up the rate’ that cable and satellite companies pay for the existing service.” Carey said the new channel in the end could become “a multibillion dollar franchise.” He added it will be “a natural fit” since sports “has been a huge part of the growth of Fox for 15 years.” Carey: “It’s a place where we can bring expertise, synergies and for us is part of growing and adding a new dimension to our business.” He added the “key” to the effort is to “not try to beat ESPN.” Carey said that the strategy is “especially important for Fox Sports to create compelling shows around the games” (DEADLINE.com, 3/5).
GIANT SLAYER? In N.Y., Sandomir & Chozick write News Corp. Chair & CEO Rupert Murdoch’s effort is “a long shot to topple ESPN, or at least take a huge bite out of it.” Not only will Fox “face the dominance of ESPN, but NBC and CBS have their own sports channels, which are struggling for viewers and identities.” The four major pro sports leagues, Big Ten and Pac-12 have “created their own networks,” and the SEC is “planning one.” Still, News Corp. has a “companywide faith in sports as a DVR-proof way to attract viewers -- especially young men -- and a belief that their new sports channel will differentiate itself from the competition.” The channel’s success “might not have to come as a result of beating ESPN at its game.” RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank said that FS1 “would be a success ‘from Day 1’ and could, in future years, bid against ESPN for NBA rights and any cable package of NFL games that might come to market" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/5). USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand wrote the “big question” is “while there are plenty of niche sports channels, is it too late to take on ESPN when it comes to on-air sports buffets?” Fox has “created a formidable pantry it can tap for TV tonnage to support” FS1. Credit Suisse analyst Michael Senno estimates that FS1 “will try to get cable operators to pay monthly fees of $1.25 per subscriber -- a big jump" from the current estimate of 26 cents it charges for Speed. Hiestand noted that “wouldn’t be anywhere close to the revenue produced by programming on ESPN” (USA TODAY, 3/4). In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes unlike “any other piece of entertainment programming, sports delivers predictable audience levels and advertisers willing to spend.” Achieving success on the cable side “can bring a new guaranteed revenue stream.” For execs there is “no such thing as oversaturation or overexposure of sports” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/5).
WELCOME OPTION: BROADCASTING & CABLE’s Jon Lafayette writes the “proliferation of cable sports channels means additional games to sponsor and new shoulder programming -- highlights and studio shows -- that will help advertisers” to reach fans at lower cost. Media buyers said that ESPN “should not be too concerned, at least not yet.” Zenith National Video Managing Dir Neil Vendetti said, “The impact from a budget standpoint across the marketplace to ESPN is going to be minimal until these networks establish themselves and until ratings are relatively consistent. But five years down the road, maybe there are one or two legitimate competitors to ESPN. I just don’t think in the infancy stages these other networks are going to make that big of a dent.” SNL Kagan “sees success ahead” for FS1 “whether or not it takes a bite out of ESPN.” SNL Kagan analyst Derek Baine “forecasts that ad revenue will jump” from Speed’s $100M last year to $122M in ’13, then “skyrocket” to $244M in ’14 and $423M in ’15. With subscribers and license fees rising as well, Baine expects that FS1 will generate $431M "in cash flow" in '15, up from Speed’s $100M in '10 (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 3/4 issue).
BOON FOR CHARLOTTE? In Charlotte, Mark Washburn wrote it is “not clear what the impact will be on Speed’s modern production hub” in the city, but it “will probably grow.” A “broader variety of programming should result in more production from the center.” Speed is renovating its largest Charlotte studio and has “75,000 square feet of space,” a third of which “has not yet been built out.” Washburn: “Whatever happens, Fox can be expected to continue using Charlotte as its major NASCAR hub, with motorsports contracts running years into the future” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/2).
The Blackhawks enter tonight’s game against the Wild with a record 22-game point streak to begin the season, and one of the main beneficiaries of the team’s white-hot start has been local TV partner Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The net this year has registered 17 of its 18 highest-rated Blackhawks regular-season game telecasts. Last Thursday’s Blackhawks-Blues game sits as the net’s highest-rated game with a 7.54 local rating in Chicago. But that mark may not last long, as CSN Chicago already has broken the previous high mark for a game 15 times this season. CSN Chicago President Jim Corno said, “You’d have to go back years and years and years to when the Blackhawks were in the Stanley Cup Final -- I believe in the early ‘90s -- to where you’d see anything close. We did big numbers back then, but nothing like this, nothing during the regular season where it’s just continued to build.” He added, “It really is a phenomenal thing to experience, when you see these kinds of ratings night after night. … We’re not seeing numbers like this for any other teams during the regular season right now.” To that point, the Bulls were averaging a 3.3 local rating heading into the NBA All-Star break. The Blackhawks’ on-ice success is even beginning to cross into the national sports debate. ESPN in recent days has asked several of its analysts what the best team is right now in pro sports -- the Blackhawks or the Heat, which have a 15-game win streak themselves. Meanwhile, NBC’s coverage Sunday of Blackhawks-Red Wings, which saw the Hawks tie it late in regulation to preserve the point streak, drew a 1.6 overnight rating, the net’s best mark for a non-regionalized, non-Winter Classic regular-season game.
ALL-TIME HIGHEST-RATED BLACKHAWKS
GAMES ON CSN CHICAGORANKDATE
MATCHUPLOCAL RATING12/28/13 Blackhawks-Blues7.5422/19/13 Canucks-Blackhawks7.4132/25/13 Oilers-Blackhawks6.6042/22/13 Sharks-Blackhawks6.5953/1/13 Blue Jackets-Blackhawks6.38
RISING TIDE: CSN Chicago is seeing the Blackhawks’ ratings spike rub off on other programming across the net. Since the NHL season began in January, the net has doubled the ratings for “Sports Talk Live,” which runs at 5:30pm CT. Corno said, “Even when we don’t have Hawks games, we’re seeing increases in ratings because people are tuning to the channel more. It’s been a very good thing for the network.”
SUPPLY & DEMAND: The net does most of its ad sales before the NHL season begins, and Corno said sponsors who bought spots during Blackhawks games last winter “were very smart because we were not projecting these kinds of ratings.” Corno: “People who are coming in now and getting on the bandwagon are paying more of an appropriate fee based on what the ratings are, whereas the people who bought early -- to be quite honest with you -- they got a deal.” Based on the regular-season ratings this year, there likely will be increases in ad prices next year. Corno said, “What the pricing will be will really depend on a lot of factors that won’t be determined until the offseason.”
Outdoor Channel Holdings yesterday said that it has “received an unsolicited" $227M takeover bid from Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, according to Andy Vuong of the DENVER POST. Outdoor in November “agreed to merge with InterMedia Outdoors Holdings in a deal that valued Outdoor stock at $8 a share.” However, Outdoor's BOD has "authorized discussions" with KSE, which “offered to acquire Outdoor's roughly 25.9 million outstanding shares for $8.75 per share in cash.” KSE President & CEO Jim Martin said that KSE Owner Stan Kroenke “personally owns 1.25 million shares of Outdoor, representing a nearly 5 percent stake.” KSE through its Altitude Sports & Entertainment RSN also “owns 50 percent of the World Fishing Network.” The Outdoor Channel “reaches 36 million U.S. households.” Outdoor shares “surged nearly 15 percent” yesterday “to close at $8.65 a share” (DENVER POST, 3/5). Meanwhile, in N.Y., Andrew Ross Sorkin noted InterMedia's prospective deal for the channel has "inspired a debate" about whether InterMedia Managing Dir Leo Hindery's "backing of Democrats who support stricter gun-control laws would alter programming and scare away advertisers" (NYTIMES.com, 3/4).
Broadcaster Keith Olbermann reportedly is interested in returning to ESPN and CNN.com’s Howard Kurtz writes it would be “great fun to see him holding forth again on sporting matters.” Kurtz wonders, “Is the guy supposed to stay sidelined for the rest of his life, just because he's got a bit of a temper?” The thing about “ubertalented people is that they're often difficult to manage.” Olbermann is a “great broadcaster, but sometimes he lets his anger get the best of him.” He makes life “very difficult for his bosses,” thus the question, as “always, is whether he's worth it.” But after a year of “unemployment and tweeting mainly about sports, perhaps Olbermann has mellowed.” ESPN has “certainly tolerated its share of loudmouths, from the analyst who was let go for calling Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III a ‘cornball brother’ to the commentator who uttered the n-word on the air.” Olbermann's problems “tend to unfold off the field, not in front of the camera, though he's occasionally apologized for going too far.” Kurtz: “It couldn't hurt for ESPN to jazz things up” (CNN.com, 3/5).
NOT SO FAST: SPORTS ON EARTH’s Will Leitch wrote Olbermann back at ESPN is “a historically awful idea, and I'm pretty sure ESPN agrees with me.” But it is “worth unpacking anyway, to try to understand what Olbermann might possibly be thinking.” Leitch: “I understand why Olbermann would consider a return to ESPN. Like many people, particularly those around my age group, I consider Olbermann on ESPN iconic.” Olbermann, along “with (to a lesser extent, Dan Patrick), changed sports, and sports coverage, and ESPN does him a disservice if it fails to remember that.” Patrick and Olbermann as “SportsCenter” co-hosts “made that show must-watch, even if you weren't a sports fan.” Still, a personality as big as Olbermann had become “could never thrive at ESPN anymore.” It is “impossible to imagine him throwing it to Stephen A. Smith and Eric Mangini for the Coors Light Cold Hard Facts without wanting to kill himself.” Leitch wondered what else Olbermann could do as it is “tough to see him having some sort of ‘Countdown’-esque show.” Leitch concluded: “I'm a big fan of the guy. He's one of the reasons I ended up working in sports. But if he really thinks this ESPN thing could possibly work, he's a lunatic. The ESPN you once knew is gone, Keith. It's been gone for a long, long time” (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 3/4).
App makers are “coping with the shifting landscape by being more selective about what they build and how they promote their apps,” according to Lessin & Ante of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. ESPN Mobile Senior VP & GM Michael Bayle said that the company “recently decommissioned 23 of its 30 Apple apps it had been maintaining, and kept alive its most popular ones.” ESPN “dropped an app” for L.A.-based sports, “but kept its popular ScoreCenter app.” Bayle said, "It's easy to make an app but the real expense is in maintaining it” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/4).
FANNECT CORE: In K.C., Blair Kerkhoff noted Fannect is a smartphone app “with the objective of measuring the knowledge, passion and dedication of fans.” Fannect “made its first inroads” at the Univ. of Kansas, “setting up an information table and handing out business cards.” KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self is “expected to spread Fannect’s brand from his Twitter account.” The company also “plans marketing forays into other colleges” and the Chiefs, Royals and MLS Sporting KC. These costs will “come out of the $500,000 Fannect has raised through investors.” Fannect to generate income features “unobtrusive brand logos on its screenshots and is in discussions” with IMG College and Learfield Sports (K.C. STAR, 3/3).
FORWARD THINKING: In Orlando, Josh Robbins reported Hornets F Ryan Anderson “helped fund an app available on the Apple and Android platforms called ‘Hide It! Head to Head Hidden Object Game.’” The app was “created and developed by Straton Wilhelm, one of Anderson’s best friends.” The game “launched in mid-December.” Three other people “have invested in the project so far,” including Ryan DeVos, grandson of Magic Owner Rich DeVos (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 3/3).
Blogger Ed Sherman cited sources as saying that ESPN wants to give "The Herd" radio host Colin Cowherd "more visibility on its locally-owned stations." Chicago "could be the next major market" to get the show, which airs from 10:00am-1:00pm ET. It is "expected" that ESPN Radio 1000 Chicago will "shift the Tom Waddle-Marc Silverman duo" from 9:00am-1:00pm CT to the afternoon drive. That would "leave an opening to slide in Cowherd’s national show in the morning slot." ESPN Radio 103.3 Dallas "recently did a similar move, going with Cowherd’s show live instead of tape delay" (SHERMANREPORT.com, 3/4).
MIAMI VICE: In Ft. Lauderdale, Dieter Kurtenbach reports WQAM-AM has "fired show host Dan Sileo after 11 controversial months." Sileo yesterday wrote on his Twitter feed, "Want to thank the Folks at WQAM for having me...We differ on content...WISH them WELL and GOOD LUCK..I WILL NEVER CHANGE!!!!" He followed that tweet with "others calling the station 'soft' and that 'WQAM isn't for me' because it feared him." Kurtenbach notes Sileo was "suspended by WQAM in January after sending sexist tweets" to Fox Sports' Erin Andrews. WQAM Program Dir Jorge Sedano said that the station will "take its time in finding a full-time replacement for Sileo." Sedano added that "both in-house and outside candidates will be considered" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 3/5). Sileo tweeted, "FIRED FOR SPEAKING MY MIND BABY!!!! Love it!!" Sedano said that Kevin Rogers and Brando Guzio will "temporarily fill" Sileo's former 10:00am-1:00pm time slot (MIAMI HERALD, 3/5).
GOODBYE, MR. AUTOMATIC: CBS Sports Radio's Jim Rome yesterday announced Jason Stewart, who has worked on Rome's show for nearly 14 years, is leaving the program Friday. Rome said Stewart has been a “critical part of this show, he’s been a critical part of this brand.” Stewart said, “I’d love to make this an incredibly fun week, kind of a goodbye week, a send-off week.” Stewart said being at the show for 14 years “is an eternity in any industry” and the decision to leave “was something I thought about long and hard.” Stewart: “I just kind of came to this point where I turned 40 in the fall and I’ve been doing this so long it was just time to move on.” Rome said it has “been an amazing run (and) you don’t see that in this industry very much.” Rome said there was no “drama” involved in Stewart’s decision to leave and “this is going to end very, very well." Rome: “A lot of you have grown up with the show, so you know Stew. So I wanted to make sure we had an entire week to talk about this and share this” (“The Jim Rome Show,” 3/4).
WHO SAYS YOU CAN'T COME HOME: In Birmingham, Bob Carlton reported former WJOX-FM Program Dir Ryan Haney, who left the station six weeks ago to join ESPN Radio 97.3 Birmingham, "returned to WJOX" yesterday following a "breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by Citadel Broadcasting." Haney had been with WJOX since '98 and worked as PD since '04. He left the station on Jan. 21 and started at ESPN Radio "a week later." The two sides "appear to have reached a settlement" (AL.com, 3/4).
CALIFORNIA DREAMIN': In Atlanta, Rodney Ho reported WZGC-FM morning host C.J. Simpson is "leaving Atlanta to go west" to work with the WNBA Sparks. Simpson will work as "in-game host" for the Sparks' radio broadcasts in L.A., and as host on Time Warner Cable SportsNet L.A. Tomorrow will be her final day with WZGC. Simpson is the "first departure on the main lineup" for the station since it switched to a sportstalk format "just over four months ago" (ACCESSATLANTA.com, 3/4).