SBD/November 15, 2013/Events and AttractionsPrint All
Circuit of the Americas President Jason Dial said after a very successful inaugural year, the racetrack is “going to avoid the sophomore slump.” The Austin circuit, which will host the U.S. F1 Grand Prix on Sunday, has been taking proactive measures to achieve this goal -- from offering raceday tickets aimed at locals to convincing hotels to keep their prices in check. He said, “What it comes down to is making sure that all those who thought about coming last year, but didn’t, come this year.” Dial, when asked about ticket sales for this year’s F1 event said, “We are very excited what this weekend is going to hold. We are going to be up 30 percent on our general admission. We are up very strong in our high-end hospitality. We are really seeing a great pull there as well.” The growth in general admission seems to be partly due to the circuit’s decision to offer raceday tickets for Sunday’s grand prix -- an option that did not exist last year. Meanwhile, when COTA welcomed the F1 circuit last year, it made sure that the Univ. of Texas football team did not have a home game on the same weekend. Not this year. UT will host Oklahoma State at 3:30pm ET Saturday afternoon. While the two parties tried to coordinate and avoid a scheduling conflict, it simply did not work out this year. Dial: “The reality is, I’m not sure if it really hurts us or not. We are trying to have a price point that allows people to try us, to try and get to know F1" (HJ Mai, SBD Global).
REPEAT PERFORMANCE? USA TODAY's Rick Jervis notes F1 organizers and sponsors are "eagerly waiting to see if the only U.S. track on the Formula One circuit could replicate the crowds that came out for its inaugural race last year, when 265,000 people attended throughout the weekend, including 117,000 for the Sunday race." COTA ambassador and former driver Mario Andretti said, "The stability Austin will provide in this venue to increase its popularity in the United States and around the world is immense" (USA TODAY, 11/15). In Austin, Dave Doolittle notes, "At last year’s inaugural grand prix in Austin, large decorative stars that had been painted on the track edges before the race suddenly disappeared in the days leading up to it," but they will "return this year, at turns 18 and 19, near the end of the 3.4-mile circuit." COTA Chair Bobby Epstein said that F1 management "had the stars painted over because of 'creative differences.'" He added that F1 management also "interfered with advertising logos that were superimposed near the circuit during television broadcasts ... adding that there will be no stars at Turn 4 for that reason" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 11/15).
HITTING THE TRACK: NBC is broadcasting the race from Austin on Sunday afternoon, and the net's "Today" on Friday featured a behind-the-scenes report from COTA. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez reported live from the track, saying when Americans "think about racing, most people talk about NASCAR," but F1 organizers are "trying to build on that one lap at a time." F1 driver Lewis Hamilton said the technology that is involved in F1 is "far beyond a lot of the different sports that are around." Gutierrez said, "Hamilton may not be a household name in the (U.S.), but in Europe he's racing royalty." Hamilton and Gutierrez then rode together in a street car on the track, with Gutierrez telling Hamilton, "You, my friend, have the best job in the world" ("Today," NBC, 11/15).
Saturday night's UFC 167 PPV in Las Vegas headlined by Georges St-Pierre-Johny Hendricks is being billed as the promotion's 20th anniversary show, and ticket search engine SeatGeek has determined this to be the "most in-demand UFC event since at least 2009," according to Elias Cepeda of YAHOO SPORTS. The event has the site's "highest average ticket price they've ever recorded," while this week there has been a "significant increase in the lowest prices available." The average ticket price for UFC 167 is $850, and prices "on the secondary market are almost double what they were for UFC 166 in Houston last month" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/14).
THE LONG & WINDING ROAD: BROADCASTING & CABLE's Stuart Miller noted although UFC is celebrating its 20th year of producing fights, it "didn't begin MMA's transformation into the burgeoning sport -- and the dynamic business -- it is today" until January '01. That is when brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta bought UFC and along with Dana White "formed Zuffa LLC to oversee the business." MMA was "once considered a fringe sport," but is now "tentpole programming on Fox and an anchor for Fox Sports 1, as well as a driver of viewers to TV networks everywhere from China to Brazil." Fox Sports Media Group President Eric Shanks said, "The UFC has spent a lot of time carrying the water for our new network. They are the reason people tune in. There’s nobody we’d rather be in business with." Both White and Lorenzo Fertitta said that small, regional MMA organizations "remain an important stepping stone for fighters -- the minor leagues in essence." But Fertitta said that he "expects UFC to be the sole national player from here on out" (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 11/11 issue). ESPN.com's Josh Gross wrote, "If anything is improbable about the fact that UFC matured to the point that it airs live cage fights on national television and served as a lynchpin for the launch of a major cable sports network, it's that all the maneuvering, assuaging, adapting and evolving actually paid off" (ESPN.com, 11/11).
BECOMING PART OF THE MAINSTREAM: White believes that UFC "is beginning to receive the recognition of a major sport, but still doesn't consider it mainstream." He said, "We’re starting to get there now. I don’t think we’re mainstream yet. I really don’t. I know people disagree with me when I say that. But I think we’re starting to be looked at as one of the major sports now" (MMAWEEKLY.com, 11/11). But UFC HOFer Royce Gracie, who took part in UFC 1, said of the promotion, "It became mainstream. I know because little kids now, when I travel -- I’m on the road about eight months of the year -- and when little kids come up to you, you’re talking about 8, 10 year olds, saying, ‘I want to be in the UFC. Can you hook me up?’ You know the UFC made it" (MMAJUNKIE.com, 11/13). Fighter Chael Sonnen said, "There's a legitimate argument which sport is the biggest sport. I'm a fighter and I don't want to bring down other sports, but here is the reality: If you take the two best soccer teams in the world and you stuck them in a venue in my hometown (West Linn, Ore.), nobody's coming. Nobody is going to buy a ticket. But if we take the biggest UFC fight there was ... we could stick that in any venue in the world on any continent in the world and it would sell out" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/11).
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE: White talked about the future of the promotion going into its next 20 years and said, "The UFC will just be as big and as normal and ingrained in society as any sport. We haven't even scratched the surface. When you sit down and you try and wrap your brain around how big the potential for this thing is, it's insane" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 11/14). USA TODAY's John Morgan notes White and UFC have "accomplished more than most thought possible." However, White indicated that it is "just the beginning and he doesn't intend to walk away anytime soon" (USA TODAY, 11/15).
Focusing on the synergy between sports and emerging entertainment technology, the ’13 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology conference brought together execs from the property, technology and legal fields for a panel entitled, “Disruptive Technologies: How Connected Platform Devices Are Changing The Fan Experience.”
WE WANT MORE: A major focus of the panel was the new deal between Microsoft and the NFL around the company’s Xbox One launch. NFL VP/Emerging Products & Technology Noah Fischbach said that having league apps on Xbox One at the outset is “additive” for the league. Fischbach: “The fantasy experience is a great example. You’ll now be able to watch your Sunday afternoon game on CBS or Fox and have your fantasy experience right there. … You won’t need to go get a second device." He added, “For us, we think it’s going to be really interesting to see how much more people consume our content. … The Xbox One was built for this next generation and you can really do multiple things at once.”
READY FOR LAUNCH: Xbox Entertainment Studios VP & Exec Producer David Jurenka, on which live sports will be on Xbox One at its launch: “We’ll have the NFL and ESPN at the launch. … But we’ve also had UFC pay-per-view events over the last few years, as well as partnerships with the leagues -- NBA, MLB and NHL with their out-of-market packages."
LOOKING FOR MORE SPORTS GROWTH: Roku VP/Business Development, Content & Services Scott Rosenberg, on having most of the major pro leagues on the platform, “It’s a nice growing vertical for us. We’ve got great relationships with the leagues. Sports is a complex business, but it’s one that we continue to lean into more and more as we add league or sports news apps to the experience and bring networks on.”
TECH ISSUES REMAIN: Rosenberg, on the need to improve network architecture, “We’ve broken service providers around live events because they didn’t anticipate demand. But that is mostly a failure to plan.” Jurenka: “That certainly happened to us during the first year of showing ‘Sunday Night Football.’”
During a unique panel at the '13 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology conference, a small group of media execs were joined by a group of sports fans for a focus-group setting during which the fans outlined how they consume sports content. The fans described their experiences and shared opinions on a variety of content, including ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” and FS1’s “Fox Sports Live” show. The four fans, between the ages of 21-37, provided insights on content, viewing options, and which devices they use.
ART WORK: ESPN Senior VP & Exec Producer Jed Drake responded to questions about how analysts are chosen and evaluated, saying, “There is no real science to this. It’s more art. The one thing with analysts is that they come from a world where performance is defined absolutely and positively by statistics and they go into a profession where there are no real statistics. … There is a fair bit of research and focus group work, but in the end, you have to go with your gut. What I generally tend to think is that the people entrusted with these decisions have made more right decisions than wrong ones over a period of time. That’s how we ended up with (“MNF” analyst) Jon Gruden. … And when you have the sort of natural magnetism that he has, I think that draws people in.”
MAKING THE RIGHT HIRE: Fox Sports Senior VP/Programming & Research Mike Mulvihill, discussing the new talent hires for FS1 and FS2, said, “I think every property is different. You’re looking for something different in college basketball versus UFC versus baseball versus a studio show. The studio shows we have are pretty varied, and a person that makes sense for ‘Fox Football Daily’ might not make sense for ‘Crowd Goes Wild.’ In all cases, we’re looking for people who are dynamic, who are storytellers and can be informative and concise. They’ve got to be people that you want to hang out with. I think we can lose sight of the fact that people are inviting us into their homes. We’ve got to make sure we’re putting people into their living rooms that they would want to have in their own house.”
WHAT STATS? The fans also gave their opinions on the proliferation of advanced stats being used in sports broadcasts, to which WWE Exec VP/Global Digital Media Perkins Miller jokingly said of the company’s “Monday Night Raw” program, “I can promise you a stat-free zone on Monday nights.”