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The Mariners yesterday announced that the club had “purchased a controlling stake in a new regional television sports network to be run with DirecTV that would carry their games through the 2030 season,” according to Baker & Jenks of the SEATTLE TIMES. In addition to Mariners games, the RSN -- which will “retain the ROOT Sports name -- will also carry college and professional sports programming.” Officials from DirecTV and the Mariners “would not rule out eventually partnering" with hedge fund manager Chris Hansen to carry NBA and NHL games on the RSN "should his group land such franchises.” The move “opens the door to a major revenue boost for the Mariners that should enable them to compete with financial behemoths in their own division.” Mariners Exec VP/Business Operations Bob Aylward “would not disclose how much the Mariners paid for their majority share in the new venture, other than to term it a ‘significant’ expenditure.” DirecTV Sports President Patrick Crumb said that viewers will “notice little change in the arrangement.” The Mariners began a “new 10-year deal" with DirecTV's Root Sports Northwest in '11. The team had the ability to "opt out of the deal after 2015, a likely move since the cost of rights fees soared after that prior agreement was negotiated.” With the “potential for the Mariners to seek much higher rights fees from a different TV network in two years, or to simply form their own regional sports network outright, it gave them the leverage needed to change the relationship with DirecTV and become the big boss in the arrangement.” Besides the "benefits of ownership" in which the Mariners “can control the direction of all content, they can also shield certain broadcast monies from Major League Baseball's revenue-sharing agreement that they could not before" (SEATTLE TIMES, 4/17).
OPENING DOORS: In Tacoma, Ryan Divish writes the revenue generated by the new deal “should allow the Mariners to increase player payroll significantly.” Every team in the AL West has “recently tapped into the lucrative television market.” Aylward said that for the Mariners to “remain competitive -- and become more competitive -- they needed to take this step.” He said, “What drove the timing is what’s going on in the marketplace.” Crumb said that the RSN “still plans to continue its programming" for the MLS Sounders and Timbers, Gonzaga basketball, West Coast Conference basketball and Big Sky Conference football (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 4/17).
NBC Sports yesterday announced that its TV and digital channels will present all 380 EPL matches for the '13-14 season, including pre- and postgame coverage, with all matches streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra. Coverage highlights will include "Championship Sunday" on May 11, 2014, with all 10 matches of the day available on a different NBCUniversal channel. The NBC broadcast network is scheduled to carry 20 games, with a regular slot at 12:30pm ET on Saturday. NBC Sports Network will carry two-hour Monday night and Tuesday night shows featuring condensed match telecasts. Arlo White will serve as lead play-by-play announcer, with former EPLers Lee Dixon and Graeme Le Saux as booth analysts (THE DAILY).
DEAL DETAILS: NBC said that games not aired on a designated NBCU channel "would be made available to distributors via Premier League Extra Time, a package of overflow TV channels available at no extra cost for customers” who receive NBCSN. The initial EPL schedule will include 154 games on NBCSN and 22 games on other NBCU channels. SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted there will be 184 games “airing on Premier League Extra Time and 76 Spanish-language broadcasts,” with 10 on Telemundo and 66 on Mun2. There are plans to “air more than 600 hours of original and weekly studio programming" on NBCSN. NBC said that it will “air 30 hours of original Premier League programming weekly.” White has spent the last two years “as the lead play-by-play voice for NBC's MLS coverage and will relocate back to the U.K. to call matches on site.” Dixon and Le Saux will “split time as White's game analysts.” Both also have “worked for BBC as color commentators.” Rebecca Lowe last month was “named the network's lead studio host.” Lowe will be “joined in the studio” by former Jamaica national team player Robbie Earle and former EPLer Robbie Mustoe, who will broadcast from NBC Sports new Int'l Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn. (SI.com, 4/16).
OLYMPIC TEMPLATE: In Philadelphia, Jonathan Tannenwald wrote in case the "scale of NBC's investment wasn't clear before now," its presentation yesterday "provided ample further evidence." The plan for airing EPL games "follows a model similar to the way NBC presented online coverage" of the '12 London Olympics. NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus said, "It's a groundbreaking deal for us. We were challenged and pushed by (the Premier League) to think differently, and to come to the table with our assets both from a television point of view and a digital point of view. I think our plans achieve that." NBC Sports Exec Producer Sam Flood "emphasized the importance of having announcing crews be in stadiums, instead of calling games off monitors." Flood: "We think it's very important to have authentic voices, and to call every match from the United Kingdom" (PHILLY.com, 4/16).
BOOTH SHUFFLE: PHILLY.com's Tannenwald reported White will “move away from calling” MLS for NBC. He “may call some MLS playoff games, and possibly U.S. national team games that air on NBC's family of networks.” Sources said that while nothing is official yet, the “leading candidate” to replace White is MLS Timbers and Fox Soccer play-by-play announcer John Strong. A deal is reportedly “in the final stages.” This is Strong’s eighth season calling Timbers games, and he “calls games" on Fox Soccer for UEFA Europa League and CONCACAF games. MLS Union and Fox Soccer broadcaster JP Dellacamera “may do some spot work for NBC on days when it broadcasts multiple games” (PHILLY.com, 4/16).
DREAM JOB: White said of his new role, "It's just an extraordinary opportunity. Life has just taken a different course again. I just got my family over last summer, after the Olympic Games, and then in October, the deal was done." He said of building a soccer culture at NBC, "If a person who works in the organization wasn't a soccer fan before, you bet your bottom dollar that they are watching every game now. They are surfing the Internet, they are immersing themselves in it, because they want to do the best possible job. From that perspective, I've got no doubt that come August 17, everyone is going to be on their game and knowledgable about the product." He added of the importance of his experience broadcasting in the U.S., "I am used to talking to an American soccer audience, and I think that experience is going to help me convey the Premier League to the audience over here. And make no mistake about it, it's going to be a different audience from the one that I've been talking to for three years, including the time in Seattle. There are elements of the Premier League audience here -- which is large -- that don't watch Major League Soccer. There might be a schism between the two fan bases" (PHILLY.com, 4/16).
MASSIVE EFFORT: YAHOO SPORTS' Brooks Peck wrote NBC paid $250M to acquire EPL rights and is "going all out to ensure they get their money's worth." The programming schedule "dwarfs the efforts of previous rights holders Fox and ESPN" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/16). The GUARDIAN's Graham Parker wrote for all the "increased accessibility of the 'basic package' profile of the league, the key to the package is the positioning of the NBCSN channel as the 'host' of the coverage." The scale of the undertaking "means there may be some teething problems." These problems "may be cultural as much as technological," something EPL CEO Richard Scudamore "acknowledged at the event in a passing tongue-in-cheek reference to 'the Queen's English.'" Scudamore "deflected the issue of certain US televisual conventions meeting UK sporting ones." Where locker room access is "built into the codes and conventions of many US sports, Scudamore spoke of the 'mystery of the dressing room' as part of the essence of the game." However, Lazarus and NBC Sports Group President of Programming Jon Miller "suggested that they may try to 'respectfully' push for more access." Lazarus added that could happen "once we've proved ourselves as partners" (GUARDIAN, 4/17). Lowe noted in England people can watch “maybe maximum about five [matches] per weekend and basically if you live in America, you get a better deal to watch Premiere League football than if you live in England” (“The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 4/16).
IMPACT ON MLS: PHILLY.com's Tannenwald wrote, "Everybody knows at this point that the big money that MLS needs to become one of the world's top leagues is not going to come from the pockets of the league's owners. It's going to come from a television broadcaster." NBC has "brought a lot to MLS, and MLS was a significant player in helping get the then-nascent NBC Sports Network off the ground." But until all the deals are "official, there's no certainty that NBC will continue its relationship with MLS." Nor is it "certain that ESPN and Univision will continue with MLS." If NBC "stays, it would make sense for Telemundo -- which is also owned by Comcast -- to try to get a Spanish-language package." And it would "make a lot of sense for MLS and NBC to re-up." Miller said of that possibility, "We're very happy with our relationship (and) we hope to continue it. We think that the Premier League relationship will help with our MLS viewers and ratings, and give us another promotional opportunity." During the last TV rights negotiations in '11, MLS "turned down a more lucrative deal" from Fox Soccer to get NBC's "wider exposure." When Fox Sports 1 "launches later this year, it will have the exposure." If Fox "comes back with more money again this time, will MLS take it?" The "fear of the big money that the EPL is generating in the United States is legitimate" (PHILLY.com, 4/16).
TalkSport has “struck a deal to air” EPL matches in China in what is “thought to be the first time officially sanctioned coverage has been made available on radio in the world's most populous nation,” according to Mark Sweney of the GUARDIAN. TalkSport parent company UTV Media “struck a deal last April” for EPL radio rights outside of Europe through ‘16. TalkSport has now “reached a deal with Adrep China Advertising Services to develop” its EPL offering in China. The “long-term collaboration agreement has been reached in time for TalkSport to launch a live Mandarin radio service covering the most popular” EPL matches from the start of the ’13-14 season in August. The deal also will “extend to FA Cup coverage and Capital One Cup football.” An EPL spokesperson said that he “believed it was the first time that its official rights have been exploited on radio in China” (GUARDIAN, 4/17).
NBC's Alli Sports, which runs the Dew Tour, will begin representing the World of Adventure Sports in sales and distribution. GoPro has signed a multiyear agreement to be the presenting sponsor of the adventure sports series. The company's camera footage will be integrated into four original hours of programming on NBC. The addition of the World of Adventure Sports brings the total number of Alli Sports properties to five. The NBC Sports division owns and manages the Dew Tour and has a marketing and media partnership with the Red Bull Signature Series, the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series and the Ford Octane Academy. Alli execs began working on the deal with the World of Adventure Sports series last year. The series, which is managed and produced by Aura360 and 360 Productions, tells the stories of climbers, skiers, BMX riders, off-road racers and other risk takers pushing the boundaries of their sports. It had a time buy on NBC in '12. Alli Sports Senior Dir of Media & Digital Christi Bassos will work with 360 Ventures on the World of Adventure Sports.