SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/Media

Big changes for TV presentation of Sports Illustrated's top award

The Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award show will move to Fox under a new format in December, ending with a live announcement of this year's honoree.

Guinness and Chevy Trucks have signed on as primary sponsors.

The show, produced in conjunction with TWI, the television arm of IMG, will air after NFL games from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 8 in most markets. In past years, on CBS in 2000 and NBC a year ago, the program aired in prime time and was sort of a sports and entertainment variety show, with musical performances and appearances by actors from the respective networks' hit shows.

This year, the gala affair approach has been scrapped. Instead it will begin with what SI called a "fast-paced, stylish look at the year in sports ... a defining of sport in 2002 from the magazine's authoritative perspective." Then the Sportsman of the Year will be unveiled, with a live appearance by that athlete.

"We thought, quite frankly, going away from the staged live event to a more exciting editorial package would be right for the sports fan," said Fabio Freyre, publisher of Sports Illustrated.

Robert Horowitz, senior vice president at IMG, said that by using the NFL as a lead-in, the show would "basically be able to get the same rating you can garner in prime time." He predicted it would register a rating between 2.5 and 3.5, comparable to previous years.

TWI senior producer Steve Mayer, who produced the last two Sportsman of the Year shows as well as the Sportsman of the Century event from Madison Square Garden on CBS in 1999, will head production. He has a budget of $800,000, Horowitz said.

SI's sales force is still shopping category-exclusive sponsor packages at $1.3 million to $1.5 million.

They include four 30-second spots and two billboards during the broadcast, a two-page spread in the Sportsman of the Year issue (dated Dec. 16), ad space on cnnsi.com, logo inclusion in a $2 million tune-in campaign across many AOL Time Warner properties, and tickets to the private Sportsman of the Year party in New York on Dec. 10. That party will feature appearances by a handful of athletes represented by IMG.

Horowitz said both CBS and Fox were interested in carrying the show, but Fox was chosen because CBS had an NFL doubleheader on Dec. 8 and Fox had a single game, allowing use of the 4:30 p.m. time slot. In a handful of markets where a 4 p.m. NFL game is airing, the show will air as a lead-in to the game, but the Sportsman of the Year will not make a live appearance.

Fox has agreed to promote the show during its NFL broadcasts that week and the week before.

TWI and SI buy the network time to air the show.

PREMIERE TO SELL "THUNDERBOX": Premiere Sports & Entertainment has been retained to sell sponsorships and advertising for "Thunderbox," a syndicated show developed by boxing promoter Cedric Kuschner. The show mixes scripted narrative with sanctioned boxing competition, a cross between pro wrestling and "Friday Night Fights."

"Thunderbox" will make a promotional tour to 15 to 30 colleges next year and will end the season with a pay-per-view special.

The show's distribution slipped to about 55 million television homes last year, from 85 million during its first year on the air, but advertisers are being told that it will be back up to 70 million by the end of the fourth quarter.

Ad packages are sold against a forecasted average coverage area rating of 1.1. Sponsors are offered the chance to have their products integrated into the story lines of their shows.

The format of "Thunderbox" includes several fights and scripted segments featuring the fighters themselves as well as actors playing managers and ring card girls. The boxing matches are legitimate bouts but use a scoring system in which points are earned for punches thrown and for knockdowns. The winner of each bout gets the points accumulated by both fighters. Those points go toward "Thunderbox" internal rankings and standings.

Premiere Sports & Entertainment handles ad sales for several sports television properties, including U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association time buys and Sportvision.

Contact Andy Bernstein at abernstein@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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