SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Media

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  • Expanding ACC picks IMG to help secure new TV deals for football

    The Atlantic Coast Conference has tapped IMG to represent the conference in its pursuit of new television contracts for football.

    Its deals with ABC, ESPN and Jefferson-Pilot Sports run through the 2005 season but contain a clause that allows the contracts to be opened up if the ACC changes its roster of schools.

    IMG's Barry Frank said he will act as a consultant and adviser and be directly involved in the negotiations, which will probably commence in the next 30 days. The conference hopes to have new football deals in place by next season.

    By adding football powerhouses Virginia Tech and Miami next season, with Boston College also on the way once legal hurdles are cleared, the ACC may end up with the most lucrative television contracts of any college conference.

    It already took in $21.1 million from football and $28 million from basketball during the 2001-02 academic year, the most recent period for which financial data were available.

    At $49.1 million, the ACC's television revenue trailed only the Southeastern Conference (at $51 million) and the Big Ten (at $62.4 million). But unlike most other conferences, the value of its television deals was weighted toward basketball. If it ends up with a football deal that looks anything like the SEC's $40-plus million a year, then the ACC will vault to the No. 1 position in overall television revenue.

    ACC Commissioner John Swofford would not predict what increase the conference would get, but said he hopes the ACC ends up with deals similar to the traditional football powerhouses.

    "The quality of teams with the expanded conference gives us more to offer, particularly when coupled with the improvement that the current teams in the league have made," Swofford said.

    Frank, who also has been a consultant for the Big 12, said the ACC will open up both its national deals with ABC and ESPN, as well as the syndication deal with Jefferson-Pilot Sports.

    "When you change the structure of your organism, which they've done, then I think you have to explore all the possibilities," he said.

    About a half-dozen consultants were vying for the ACC as a client, including Neal Pilson, Mike Trager and The Bonham Group.

    FOX E-MAIL UPROAR: Fox Cable Networks got an interesting e-mail last Monday, one that contained the net bimonthly pay of every company employee. The data, sent anonymously, came from one pay period last February and included information for everyone from Fox Sports Chairman David Hill down to the lowest-paid employees. Anyone on the payroll of Fox Sports Net or its owned-and-operated networks had their net pay revealed for one pay period.

    Tony Vinciquerra, CEO and president of Fox Networks Group, immediately sent out a stern warning that any employee caught copying or forwarding the e-mail would be disciplined. Then information technology technicians moved to erase the e-mail from every employee's computer.

    USOC TAKES SHOW TO CABLE: The U.S. Olympic Committee has decided to take its Olympic reality show concept, "The Cut," to cable after being turned down by NBC. Also in development is another show aimed at cable under the working title "Behind the Medals," a show similar to VH1's "Behind the Music," that will tell the story of Olympic medalists and their ascent to glory.

    The USOC's Keith Allo, who heads the Olympic Entertainment project to develop shows that will bring more exposure to U.S. athletes, said several cable networks have expressed interest in "The Cut." The show will follow U.S. Olympic hopefuls through the qualifying process. The challenge, he said, is covering the production costs, which run toward the high end of the $200,000 to $400,000 an hour that prime-time cable shows generally cost.

    The format of the show has been tweaked a bit, with plans now to focus on one sport each episode instead of following a variety of athletes on a week-by-week basis. Allo said this will cut costs and also cater more to cable television viewing habits.

    Instead of receiving a straight licensing fee from a cable network, the USOC may have to underwrite some of the show's cost by directing sponsor advertising dollars to whatever cable network carries the show, Allo said. The USOC plans to produce the show in association with Phil Gurin Productions.

    The other show in development will most likely be produced by Hollywood production company 44 Blue. It will mostly use archival footage controlled by the USOC.

    YES, CABLEVISION IN ARBITRATION: The YES Network and Cablevision Systems Corp. officially entered binding arbitration last week, after an attempt at mediation went nowhere.

    The schedule called for each side to appoint a third-party individual to act as an arbitrator last Friday. Then, by Nov. 22, those two arbitrators will agree on a third person, and the three will form the team that eventually will decide the fate of YES and how it is distributed via Cablevision.

    Between Nov. 22 and Jan. 2, both sides will file exhibits to the arbitrators. Then a hearing will be scheduled on or before Feb. 10, and a settlement must be reached by March 31. The final decision will be retroactive to the previous season.

    YES was available a la carte on Cablevision last season. Cablevision is expected to argue that YES should remain an a la carte service, while YES will point to regional sports networks being on basic cable as the industry norm.

    Andy Bernstein can be reached at abernstein@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

    Print | Tags: ABC, Bonham Group Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp., Colleges, ESPN, Fox, IMG, Jefferson-Pilot Corp., NBC, Olympics, USOC, YankeeNets, YES Network
  • 2003 week-by-week NFL ratings

    CBS

    Fox

    ESPN and ABC/"Monday Night Football"

    Note: Ratings are through Oct. 27, 2003. The NFL kicked off its 2003-04 season on Thursday, Sept. 4, with a Monday Night Football-style production on ABC. The telecast generated a 12.9 rating and 22 share. These figures are not reflected in the tables above. Last year’s Thursday night (Sept. 5) opening game earned a 9.4 coverage area rating with a 15 share for ESPN’s 49ers-Giants matchup. ESPN did not broadcast a Sunday night game in Week 7, when the World Series was being played.

    Sources: Nielsen Media Research, SportsBusiness Journal research, The Sports Business Daily

    Print | Tags: ABC, CBS Broadcasting Inc., ESPN, Football, Fox, NFL, Nielsen Media Research
  • Backstage for NBC’s race against time

    The familiar black Chevrolet, embossed with the late Dale Earnhardt's signature and piloted by his former boss, Richard Childress, seems to be crawling around the racetrack at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

    It is 7:25 p.m., and the UAW-GM Quality 500 still isn't under way. Childress is driving the Earnhardt car in a prerace tribute, leading the warm-up laps in low gear.

    The need for speed among executives at broadcaster NBC Sports is revved a bit higher. The network has been assured that the race will go green by 7:20. And, really, what's five minutes when 140,000 fans in the grandstands are saluting their beloved, fallen champion yet again?

    Lights and cameras surround lead pit reporter Bill Weber as he starts the pre-race show.

    It's an eternity, that's what it is. This being Saturday night, there are fears that tonight's prime-time race might infringe on the late local news, thus infringing on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," which all week has touted host Justin Timberlake.

    Tommy Roy, the executive producer at NBC Sports, can't watch. Of course, he can't not watch, either.

    Roy is standing in a cramped trailer where tonight's race is being sorted and beamed nationwide.

    Mike Wells, the director, and Sam Flood, the producer, are among a half-dozen top crew members in the main trailer.

    Wells is already snapping his fingers and speaking to crew members through his headset. He barks out numbers like a waifish quarterback. At his command, the main television monitor — the one labeled "program," signifying what the viewers at home are seeing — switches angles and perspectives every few seconds.

    Banks of monitors show where all 59 of tonight's cameras are positioned and what perspective each offers at the moment.

    Roy sits down, just behind Flood. Then he's up again.

    Lead announcer Allen Bestwick studies his notes before the race.

    "We've got to get this going," Roy says, shaking his head in disgust. "They're killing us."

    The race finally roars to life. It's 7:28 p.m.

    Thus begins a race in pursuit of two things: A 500-mile champion, sure, but also a crisp race that will fit neatly into a time block that leads viewers smoothly into their local news and, finally, Justin Timberlake.

    Packing up and moving on

    Six days earlier, on an early October afternoon at Kansas Speedway, Flood, the producer, and Bill Weber, the lead pit reporter, hop in a car heading for the airport several minutes after Ryan Newman takes the checkered flag at the Banquet 400. The two men beat the postrace traffic and begin figuring out what the Charlotte production should emphasize.

    As Flood and Weber make their way through the Kansas airport, the rest of the on-air crew — play-by-play man Allen Bestwick, analysts Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach, and pit reporters Marty Snider, Dave Burns and Matt Yocum — is catching flights home that Sunday evening.

    Tim Dekime, NBC's production manager, remains at the speedway in Kansas. It takes five hours to tear down the various trackside sets, rewind miles of cables and refill seven 18-wheelers with all the gear required to put a NASCAR race on the air.

    Bestwick and Benny Parsons open the telecast.

    NBC and cable network TNT are equal partners during the second half of the NASCAR season, sharing the final 20 weeks of races. The networks paid a combined $1.2 billion for six years of NASCAR coverage, beginning with the 2001 season.

    The arrangement is convenient beyond finances, since the crew members and broadcasters work together no matter which network is airing a particular event.

    After Dekime makes sure the Kansas production center is packed away, he goes over the Charlotte race schedule with the 18-wheeler drivers. With a Saturday night race, as opposed to the typical Sunday afternoon schedule, the entire week will be compressed.

    Compressed is a nice word for what amounts to a hell of a hurry. The seven 18-wheelers leave Kansas on Monday morning, about the same time Flood sits down in his New Jersey home to review the previous day's broadcast.

    Later Monday, Flood discusses potential plot elements for the Charlotte race with other television crew members by telephone. All the while, the NBC equipment caravan heads toward the Carolinas, arriving at Lowe's Motor Speedway outside Charlotte on Tuesday, at 3 p.m.

    The crew, which numbers 150 week to week, begins arriving later the same day. With the NBC team providing ancillary pole night coverage for cable network Speed Channel on Thursday night, less than two days remain to get everything set up, working and ready for national broadcasts.

    "We're ready," Dekime says.

    Night-time magic

    On Wednesday, Weber is still helping his wife with new furniture while settling into a new house in Tarpon Springs, Fla. The domestic duties have delayed his departure by a day, which is why he arrives at Tampa International Airport hours early for his Charlotte flight.

    Images from 59 cameras are sorted in the production truck.

    Weber is part of a teleconference, with NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer, Bestwick, Parsons, Flood and Dallenbach, to promote the network's NASCAR coverage.

    From Tampa, Weber leads the way, declaring that the UAW-GM Quality 500, running for the first time at night, is "a new NASCAR fall classic."

    Television sports critics pepper the NBC crew with questions, including many on the oft-stated desire of NBC and TNT to have more prime-time races in the fall, when NASCAR must contend with the NFL.

    Schanzer is at once enthusiastic and diplomatic. He acknowledges the difficulties of moving races to Saturday nights from Sunday afternoons: some speedways lack lighting, Busch Series races that precede top series Winston Cup must be reshuffled, and so on.

    "NASCAR is as exciting as any sport in America," he adds. "It's even more exciting at night. There is something about the impact of lights on these race cars that makes it all the more dramatic."

    There were five night races last year, and the number increased to seven this season. Another will be added in 2004, further proof that NASCAR and the networks see room for audience growth with a heavier night schedule.

    Schanzer, after not-so-subtly noting a 59 percent ratings gain since 2000 for NASCAR's top circuit, seizes the opportunity do a little posturing for the next round of television contract negotiations.

    "We're getting closer, but we're not there," he says, responding to a question on whether the NASCAR contract has turned a profit for NBC. "We've got a ways to go."

    Schanzer then says a profit won't happen during the current deal, which expires in 2006. And after that? "We love the product," he says. "We'd love to be in it."

    Translation: It will be tough to increase rights fees. We're not making money, but don't think we're not interested in staying on.

    Weathering delays

    On a rainy Friday morning, Yocum yuks it up with the nationally syndicated morning-radio program "John Boy & Billy" as part of a weekly feature. Weber, too, hits the airwaves, with radio chats on 15 stations.

    At 2 p.m., two dozen staffers, including the on-air broadcasters, gather in a trailer for Flood's production meeting.

    Dressed in a polo shirt, khakis, loafers and a Williams Hockey cap, Flood begins hitting on a familiar theme: Justin Timberlake and "Saturday Night Live." "We're trying to hit as close to 11 o'clock as we can because they're right behind us," he says.

    The Saturday competition with the baseball playoffs is mentioned again. Flood says such appointment television swells the entire audience, increasing every event's ratings. Should matters get out of hand in the baseball game, adds another staffer, we're only a button away.

    Weber turns serious at that, noting, "We're only a button away from losing them, too."

    The Friday night Busch race will be a TNT production, though some staffers are a bit dismayed because the telecast won't air until Saturday afternoon, the only tape-delayed broadcast of the season.

    But the weather causes a change in plans, as the race is called off and rescheduled for Saturday morning.

    Flood is both frustrated and happy. He doesn't relish the prospect of 800 miles of live television coverage in one day, but he's glad the rain has forced a live broadcast.

    Getting ready to roll

    Less than 12 hours after they returned to the hotel, the crew is back at the track. The weather remains more than a little iffy. By 11:20 a.m., though, the Little Trees 300, a Busch race of 200 laps, is under way.

    Perhaps the drivers have the tight television schedule in mind. The race zips by, and by 1:30, it's over.

    The crew now has time to kill.

    Inside the track, NASCAR and Lowe's Motor Speedway have brought in the rock group 3 Doors Down for a prerace concert. As NASCAR moves into the mainstream, it increasingly aligns the sport with rock acts at the expense of, say, country music's Brooks & Dunn. To get 3 Doors Down, NASCAR offered a prime-time appearance on NBC's broadcast.

    At 3:30 p.m., Flood and Wells want a sound check. With only a few thousand people at the speedway, 3 Doors Down appears on a makeshift stage, while Flood and Wells stand a few feet away determining the best camera angles for the performance, which will air just before the cars take the track.

    Next, the two men inspect pit road and survey the grandstands before returning to the production truck.

    A Featherlite trailer in the speedway infield serves as a fortress for Weber and the rest of the pit reporters.

    Weber writes out several introductory vignettes on note cards. Up a small set of stairs and around the corner from Weber, the rest of the pit crew — Yocum, Snider and Burns — sit in front of their laptops making final preparations.

    Bringing it home

    With prime-time coverage comes prime-time responsibility. This explains the arrival of Schanzer, a gruff presence flying in from New York. A couple of staffers joke about Schanzer flying commercial rather than on the corporate jet.

    Not surprisingly, these jokes disappear about the time Schanzer walks in. Schanzer keeps close tabs on the Red Sox-Yankees playoff game and mills around the television compound. Less than an hour before the broadcast, he spots Paul Brooks, NASCAR's top broadcasting executive.

    TV trailers form their encampment in a different town each week.

    "How are you, my friend?" Schanzer asks, shaking Brooks' hand and corralling him with a bear hug. Brooks and Schanzer are concerned that the baseball playoffs might chip away at the NASCAR telecast. Brooks remains steadfast: NBC, he says, has done a great job of promoting the broadcast all week, including mentions during its Thursday night "Must See TV" lineup.

    "You've done everything you can do," Brooks says.

    At 6 p.m., Weber leads a rehearsal of the "Discover Card Countdown To Green," the prerace show.

    By 6:59, the intensity level has peaked. Unlike the Busch race, this is prime-time, and it's on NBC. The jokes still fly, but the slightest glitch prompts much more creative language than during the earlier race.

    Thirty seconds before going on the air, Flood offers a final piece of advice: Kick ass."

    Weber begins with a "Saturday Night Live" riff. "Live from Charlotte," he tells the audience, "it's Saturday night!" On cue, 3 Doors Down appears, with camera shots of the band performing trackside interspersed with race footage.

    Within 10 minutes of air time, Weber has established the story lines and worked in 3 Doors Down, a military flyover, R&B artist Monica's rendering of the national anthem and a quick "Gentlemen, start your engines," from Carmen Electra.

    Then the blur of camera angles, audio cues and pit reports begins anew.

    Tony Stewart takes the checkered flag at 10:58 p.m.; Weber scores a quick interview with winning team owner Joe Gibbs seconds later. By 11:01 p.m. the broadcast is finished. Justin won't be delayed.

    The race generates a 4.5 rating, behind Fox and CBS for prime-time shows that evening and lower than the Sunday afternoon race a year earlier. But it's still judged to be a respectable number based on the heavy sports competition on Saturday.

    The racing crew rolls on. Even before Timberlake finishes "Saturday Night Live," the crew at Lowe's Motor Speedway is striking the set, preparing for a trip to Martinsville, Va., and another week of NASCAR coverage.

    Erik Spanberg writes for The Business Journal in Charlotte.

    Print | Tags: CBS Broadcasting Inc., Football, Fox, Motorsports, NASCAR, NBC, NFL, Speed Channel
  • CBS keeps Open, buys into new series

    CBS has signed a four-year, $120 million extension to televise the U.S. Open through 2008 and agreed to provide network airtime for the proposed U.S. Open Series, a collection of tennis tournaments preceding the Open each summer.

    The deal calls for CBS to pay a rights fee of $33.75 million for the 2004 U.S. Open, the final year of the old contract. The network will then pay $30 million a year for the next four years. Although the rights fees have been reduced from the final year of the old contract, the average annual payments are about the same, because the previous contract increased in value each year.

    The U.S. Open broadcast schedule will not change, with CBS doing a total of 48 hours of coverage, including the women's final in a Saturday night prime-time slot. But CBS will provide some additional advertising inventory to the U.S. Tennis Association, including promotional spots that will run as early as May instead of just in the tournament, as they had in the past. The network also will pass along some commercial units to the USTA for the tennis governing body to offer to potential sponsors in categories that are currently untapped.

    Neither CBS nor the USTA would comment on the rights fees, but both sides indicated they were happy with the new contract and that the negotiations were quick and smooth.

    "Our goal was to renew the rights to this great sporting event in a financially responsible way," said CBS Sports President Sean McManus. "We were able to do that."

    The new agreement gives the USTA the option of ending the deal after the 2006 tournament, something it will likely do should the sports rights fee market rebound between now and then.

    The television market for tennis has been particularly challenged in the last two years, with the French Open and Wimbledon renewing deals for essentially flat rights fees for broadcast television, and taking decreases on the cable side. But the U.S. Open actually stands to see its television revenue increase by about 12 percent over the next five years, compared to the previous five-year period, largely due to the strength of its six-year cable pact with USA Network, which was signed last year at a 30 percent rate hike.

    Next year the U.S. Open domestic television revenue will be close to $55 million, making it the richest annual sporting event in North America not tied to a sports league.

    Wanting to emulate the league model, however, the USTA is creating the U.S. Open Series to build anticipation for the Open itself. The series will include existing ATP Tour and WTA tournaments that will now be under the U.S. Open brand.

    Neither CBS nor USA is paying a rights fee specifically for the Open Series, but both have agreed to cover matches. CBS committed to 12 hours of airtime and USA 24.

    The USTA hopes to kick off that series as soon as next summer, using CBS' commitment to help coax existing tournaments to become part of the series.

    "We are building the U.S. Open Series brick by brick, and television is really the foundation," said Arlen Kantarian, USTA chief executive of pro tennis and champion of the Open Series. "This is providing existing tournaments who now buy television time — I don't think any non-Grand Slam event has ever gotten on television without a time buy — with a consistent, cohesive television package, so this is really a breakthrough."

    CBS, the USTA and the events themselves will jointly sell advertising for the Open Series, with mechanisms in place to ensure that CBS does not lose money by covering them.

    "If they weren't going to be profitable, we wouldn't be doing them," McManus said.

    Donald Dell, tournament chairman and founder of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, an ATP event in Washington, D.C., and senior vice president of sports television and sports marketing for Clear Channel Entertainment, said getting CBS to agree to be part of the Open Series is a big step forward.

    "I think that could become the biggest thing for tennis in the last 50 years," Dell said. "If you could build a real concise, clear-cut lead-in to the Open and broadcast it on network, I think that's a historic step forward."

    The Legg Mason, owned by Clear Channel, is one of the tournaments that would potentially become part of the Open Series.

    Staff writer Langdon Brockinton contributed to this report.

    Print | Tags: ATP, CBS Broadcasting Inc., Tennis, USA Network, USTA, WTA
  • ESPN 'NFL Primetime' ratings trends

    For a listing of ESPN 'NFL' Primetime ratings trends, click here.

    Source: Nielsen Media Research. Ratings are through Oct. 26, 2003

    Print | Tags: ESPN, Football, NFL
  • Nielsen Weekly Sports Ranking

    RIVALRY PULLS IN VIEWERS: West Virginia and Virginia Tech both made their second appearance on an ESPN weeknight telecast and pulled the net’s ratings up 46 percent from the previous week’s N.C. State-Clemson matchup. West Virginia’s near-upset of the University of Miami earlier in the month is the highest-rated weeknight college game this year, a 3.3 coverage-area rating. The 2.7 coverage-area rating Virginia Tech earned when it beat Texas A&M on Sept. 18 ranks second.

    For a listing of the Nielsen Weekly Sports Ranking for the week of 10/20/03-10/26/03, click here.

    Print | Tags: ABC, Baseball, Basketball, Buffalo Bills, Colleges, ESPN, Miami Marlins, Football, Fox, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Lakers, MLB, NBA, New York Yankees, NFL, Nielsen Media Research, Oakland Raiders, Sacramento Kings
  • Rangers games hit airwaves — in Russian

    The New York Rangers are the first NHL team to have a Russian-language radio outlet, signing a one-year deal with New York station WKDM.

    WKDM, which is owned by the American Russian-language newspaper Novoye Russkoye Slovo, will do a live play-by-play of every Rangers home game, starting with today's match against the Edmonton Oilers.

    The New York area has about 800,000 Russian-speaking residents, according to WKDM.

    The deal came about after New York Liberty general manager Carol Blazejowski and MSG President/sports team operations Steve Mills reached out to the station because star Russian player Elena Baranova is on the Liberty.

    "That didn't result in them carrying the Liberty, but from there it seemed only natural to start talking about hockey," said Mike McCarthy, president of MSG Networks.

    The Rangers have three Russian players on their roster: Alexei Kovalev, Vladimir Malakhov and Boris Mironov.

    McCarthy would not comment on the financial terms of the deal but said MSG was taking "no risk."

    Print | Tags: Edmonton Oilers, Hockey, New York Rangers
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