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ABC Sports and ESPN are preparing an $80 million bid for rights to the FIFA World Cup without incumbent U.S. rights holder Soccer United Marketing, a response to FIFA’s desire to work with a media company rather than go through a third-party broker.
SUM, an arm of Major League Soccer, had submitted a bid for English-language rights this summer, but FIFA reached out to U.S. television networks in recent weeks indicating that it planned to grant the rights to one of them directly.
That prompted ABC/ESPN to make its own offer. The company had licensed World Cup rights from SUM for 2002 through 2006 via a time buy.Objections were raised regarding how moving rights to NBC and Telemundo would affect the growth of pro soccer in the United States.
Representatives of ABC/ESPN and Fox were in Zurich, Switzerland, last week, making presentations to FIFA. Final bids with firm dollar amounts will be submitted Wednesday, said people involved in the talks.
This is a second round of bidding. NBC Universal submitted a bid during the summer, as did SUM and Spanish-language incumbent Univision, which paid $150 million for the World Cup rights for 2002-06.
In September, FIFA’s Marketing and Television Division recommended accepting the offer from NBC Universal, which sources said was worth more than $300 million for English- and Spanish-language rights.
It was expected to be voted on and approved at the FIFA Congress in Marrakesh, Morocco, on Sept. 11-12. But objections were raised regarding how moving rights to NBC and its Spanish-language subsidiary, Telemundo, would affect the growth of soccer, and particularly professional soccer, in the United States. MLS’s future television contracts had not yet been secured and awarding FIFA rights without any involvement by MLS could imperil the league’s future. MLS games have been shown on ABC and ESPN since the league’s inception in 1996, and some also appear on Fox Soccer Channel, through deals that expire at the end of next season.
FIFA then put the process on hold and later began soliciting bids from other U.S. media companies. Once it became clear that FIFA preferred to do a deal directly with a network, MLS and SUM began talking to ESPN and Fox about a separate arrangement that will include an MLS television deal as well as guarantees of cross-promotion through the World Cup telecasts.
Anschutz Entertainment Group President Tim Leiweke, whose company owns four MLS teams and has invested in the construction of multiple soccer stadiums, said he and MLS remain involved in the World Cup bidding process.
“I’ve been in meetings with [FIFA President] Sepp [Blatter] and Phillip Anschutz, and we continue to work with FIFA on the World Cup bid,” Leiweke said. “The World Cup deal is going to be with a network, probably not with SUM, but when it’s all said and done we’re very supportive of that.”
SUM was created in early 2002 when all the major U.S. television networks passed on bidding on FIFA World Cup rights and MLS’s investors were concerned that the World Cup, the ultimate showcase for their sport, would not receive adequate television exposure. They also wanted to promote the professional league and the sport in general as one seamless entity. So MLS’s investors agreed to fund a subsidiary that would pay a $40 million rights fee and handle all ad sales and production costs for FIFA events through 2006, including two men’s and one women’s World Cup. SUM then bought time for the telecasts on ABC and ESPN.
“We stepped in and did World Cup a favor last time,” Leiweke said. “We’re not going to have to do it this time.”
The fact that four media companies are now bidding on World Cup rights means at least part of MLS’s goals have been accomplished, but MLS wants to make sure that its league and the sport as a whole are marketed as one with the World Cup, something MLS Commissioner Don Garber said is essential for future growth.
“Our approach is to find a scenario to integrate all the properties and the entire sport of soccer,” Garber said. “Whether that had to come from a bid through Soccer United Marketing or a relationship we would have through a broadcaster … either approach is good for us.”
The growth of the Hispanic market along with acquisitions by major media companies have made FIFA a highly valued strategic property. NBC paid $2 billion in stock and assumed debt for Telemundo in 2002, and World Cup rights would bring credibility and guaranteed viewers to the Spanish network, which is outpaced in ratings by rival Univision by a 4-1 margin.
Fox will bid on English rights only, sources say, with a heavy focus on its newly rebranded Fox Soccer Channel. Games also would appear on the Fox Broadcast Network and other cable platforms, possibly with pay-per-view or subscription elements offered on cable and the Fox-owned DirecTV.
All of the bidders also have an eye on multimedia rights, including broadband and mobile, platforms that have sizable market value when looking at deals that stretch into the next decade.
“Our collection of television assets — ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 — and multimedia platforms, reaching 120 million people each week, provide the best vehicles to feature live coverage of all 64 World Cup matches,” said ESPN senior director of programming and acquisitions Leah LaPlaca in an e-mail. “We have been saying for a long time that we want to continue our relationship with FIFA, which dates back to 1982 and nine World Cups.”
LaPlaca was joined by ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper in Zurich last week to make the presentation, marking one of Skipper’s first duties since being put in charge of ESPN’s programming earlier this month.
Turn on ABC this winter on Sunday afternoons and you’ll get a steady diet of the NBA.
That’s because the network’s 2005-06 coverage is its most ambitious yet under the current rights deal. The strategy also calls for full-season flexible scheduling, a first under the six-year television deal and a measure that both sides are banking on to drive ratings.Being able to show key matchups is
expected to boost ABC’s ratings.
The network also will integrate its Super Bowl coverage this season with the NBA. ABC is still finalizing plans, but will air its NBA coverage of the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks game at noon before the Super Bowl and will host its NBA pregame and halftime shows from Detroit, the site of Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5.
The NBA and ABC agreed this season to a Sunday afternoon network schedule of 20 “windows” and will have 24 games in those broadcast windows counting regional coverage. ABC aired 18 games last season and broadcast 15 games during the 2002-03 season, the first season of its six-year, $2.4 billion deal with the NBA. The games typically will air at 1 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.
ESPN will broadcast 64 games this season, the same as last year. ESPN2 will air six games compared with eight last season.
The addition of full-season flexible scheduling will allow ABC to feature the most compelling games throughout the season to help drive regular-season ratings and follows the NFL’s strategy of adopting flexible scheduling next season. Flexible scheduling is hardly a slam dunk, given the logistics of putting together the broadcasts, but ABC will work two weeks out to limit the complications.
Last season, the NBA on ABC generated a 2.4 rating for 18 games during the regular season, a 4.2 percent decline from the previous season. The NBA said that with its expanded schedule it has as many Sunday “windows” as it had under its prior contract with NBC. However, NBC’s strategy of airing double and tripleheaders on Sundays pushed the total number of games to 33 during the 2001-02 season, NBC’s last year of NBA coverage.
Regardless of the numbers, the NBA has been migrating from broadcast to cable in recent years, and this year’s league schedule is a move in the opposite direction.
“ABC would like our game as a promotional platform for themselves and ESPN,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “We want to re-establish a regular and continuous Sunday afternoon time. If you can get regular and continuous ratings of a certain guaranteed level, the rights fees negotiations in the other sports are demonstrating the value of sports.”
Stern also noted that the NBA’s sales pitch is one of gross rating points and the league’s ability to deliver a young male demographic, more so than a solitary ratings number. “Anybody who thinks that any network programing is going up hasn’t been living in our network environment,” Stern said.
ABC begins its NBA coverage on Christmas Day with a doubleheader broadcast of the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons, followed by Los Angeles and Miami. The league will again hold its Rivalry Week from Feb. 23 to March 1, highlighting the NBA’s long-standing rivalries, including the Boston Celtics against the Los Angeles Lakers on ESPN on Feb. 26.
“The strategy is to increase the exposure and establish a consistent schedule, and we are happy to introduce flexible programming,” said Kelly Laferriere, vice president of programming for ESPN, which oversees ABC Sports. “We are working with the league to adjust the matchups.”
ABC and NBA executives are counting on the prospect of flexible scheduling to drive advertising sales, which network officials termed “robust” leading up to the season, but refused to disclose.
“Buyers will be happier knowing they are not stuck with a schedule that was made months in advance,” said Mike Trager, a television industry consultant and former Clear Channel TV chairman, adding that the programing changes are a function of both the network and ABC getting more familiar with each other.
“[ABC and the NBA] are a good way through their contract now,” Trager said. “The breaking-in process is over and it’s time for them to expand.”
Agency: Blue Sky Agency
Tag lines: Welcome to Blueland, A City Will Become A Nation, and Are You True Blue?
Media: Television spots on Comcast, other male-targeted channels and programming; radio spots on WCNN 680 the Fan, 99X, Q-100, DAVE FM, Star 94 and other stations; print ads in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gwinnett Daily Post, Marietta Daily Journal, Creative Loafing and Score Atlanta; billboards; and a guerrilla campaign in which 250 Blueland flags were attached to telephone poles in metro Atlanta.
Time line: Began in September 2005 and will run through the season.
Target: Loyal fans and interested new fans in the 18-54 age demographic.
Sample ads: Groups of Thrashers players are making epic journeys through the Arctic to arrive at the arena a la “Lord of the Rings.”
Editor’s note: Ad Tracker is a feature of SportsBusiness Journal that shines the spotlight on teams’ local advertising creatives. To share the elements of your team’s campaign, please send information and video to Ryan Baucom at: email@example.com.
Clear Channel Entertainments motorsports division will announce today that its AMA Supercross Series has landed its largest network television package ever, with multirace coverage on CBS.
Terms of the deal were not released, but Ken Hudgens, vice president of motorsports for Clear Channel Entertainment, confirmed that the two-year deal was a time buy for Supercross. The six AMA Supercross/World Supercross GP series races are next-day-air and will be rebroadcast on Speed Channel at a later date.
In addition to six race broadcasts, a one-hour season preview will air at 5 p.m. Christmas Day, bringing the 2005-06 seasons total network TV coverage to seven hours.
News of the network television package comes less than three months after the series announced it was leaving ESPN, which it had been with since 1990, for Speed Channel. As part of that five-year deal, Hudgens said the series was given an opportunity to take some races to network television.
CBSs race coverage begins with the first race of the year Jan. 7 in Anaheim and ends April 29 in Seattle. Anaheims second January race and the events in San Francisco, San Diego and St. Louis also will appear on CBS.
Hudgens said the remaining 11 events will be seen on Speed.
The next move by the Fox Broadcasting Co. will probably determine the fate of the entire NASCAR television package, particularly whether ESPN2 gets all of the Busch Series races and whether TNT keeps six Nextel Cup races.
Fox has an exclusive negotiating window, and sources say NASCAR has told the other networks that it must have further discussions with Fox before making any final decisions.
ESPN bid $270 million on a 17-race, second-half NASCAR package just days after NBC and TNT waived their rights to an exclusive negotiating period, network sources said.Fox is expected to renew its first-half
package and get rights to the Daytona 500.
Its package would be slightly scaled back compared with the current one, in which NBC and TNT pay $200 million a year for a schedule that includes 19 Nextel Cup races a year, one all-star race each year and the Daytona 500 in alternating years.
Fox is likely to renew its first-half package and get rights to the Daytona 500 every year.
But NASCAR is trying to squeeze in a six-race package for TNT, taking three out of both Fox and ABC/ESPN’s schedule, sources said. It is unclear when those races would be.
The other unresolved piece is the Busch Series. ESPN would like to put every race from the Busch Series on ESPN2. Busch ranked as one of the top sports properties on cable television this year with a 1.8 average cable rating, up 29 percent, and held its own on broadcast TV, averaging a 2.5 household rating for eight races.
Currently, Fox has rights to 16 Busch races, most of which were shown on F/X, and NASCAR won’t give ESPN the Busch rights until giving Fox a chance to bid.
The “exclusive negotiating windows” are nebulous at best. NASCAR and ABC/ESPN officials were talking for months before NBC and TNT waived their exclusivity, sources said. The talks were described as both “informal” and “substantive” by people involved.
One network source said the exclusive windows relate only to the exact deal each network has. So while NASCAR can’t offer Fox’s package to anyone else, it can create an entirely new package with different parameters, including races shown by Fox under the current deal, and offer it to any competitor.
Still, NASCAR plans to have exhaustive talks with Fox before finalizing anything for Busch or with TNT.
NASCAR hopes to announce all the television deals at once.
The networks all declined to comment.
ESPNU will air the entire Nov. 5 Virginia Tech-Miami football game using the SkyCam for all live play shots.
A regular telecast of the ACC matchup will air simultaneously on ESPN, using the SkyCam sporadically and mostly for replays. But viewers watching on ESPNU will see all SkyCam, all the time, when the ball is in play.The overhead camera will show all live plays in ESPNU’s Virginia Tech-Miami coverage.
ESPNU general manager Burke Magnus compared it to when ESPNU did its own coverage of the NFL and NBA drafts while ESPN had primary coverage.
“It’s a different perspective on the same event,” Magnus said.
SkyCam has been around since the 1980s but has become more popular among broadcasters in recent years. The company that owns the device and related patents was sold to Tulsa, Okla.-based Winnercomm in July 2004. Winnercomm President Jim Wilburn said SkyCam use has more than doubled since then. It will be employed about 125 times this year.
Suspended from four cables, the SkyCam hovers over the field and can literally follow the action. The effect can be dizzying, and therefore it generally is used for replays.
For the Nov. 5 game, ESPNU will pick up the regular ESPN feed between plays. It will cut back to SkyCam each time the ball is snapped. If the telecast is well received, Magnus said, ESPN will likely try something similar with college basketball, perhaps an entire game shown from the cameras suspended above each rim.
ESPNU will still send its own production truck and team of technicians to the Virginia Tech-Miami game, spending about as much on this telecast as it would for any original production, Magnus said. The most basic college football production costs at least $30,000 a game.
Below are network television’s highest- and lowest-rated final rounds of the 37 PGA tournaments that have aired this year. Tiger Woods was the winner or runner-up in seven of the 10 top-rated events. Woods won a playoff in the Masters. He did not play in the AT&T Pebble Beach event.Top-rated final rounds
Rank (2004 rank) EventWoods’ finish 2005/2004Network2005 rating 1 (1) The Masters Tournament1/T22CBS9.8 2 (2) U.S. Open2/T17NBC5.6 3 (4) PGA Championship*T4/T24CBS5.6 4 (19) Ford Championship at Doral1/DNPNBC5.5 5 (17) WGC-NEC Invitational1/T2CBS5.0 6 (6) British Open1/T9ABC4.6 7 (15) AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-AmDNP/DNPCBS4.0 8 (21) Cialis Western Open2/T7ABC3.9 9 (12) Wachovia ChampionshipT11/T3CBS3.7 10 (7) Buick OpenT2/T3CBS3.6
On the other hand, Woods skipped eight of the 10 least-watched network broadcasts. Ratings plunged in the two tournaments he did play in, as he finished 17th in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and 40th in the Deutsche Bank Championship.Lowest-rated final rounds
Rank (2004 rank) EventWoods’ finish 2005/2004Network2005 rating 28 (3) WGC-Accenture Match Play ChampionshipT17/1ABC2.0 29 (33) Booz Allen ClassicDNP/DNPABC2.0 30 (31) The InternationalDNP/DNPCBS1.9 31 (29) U.S. Bank ChampionshipDNP/DNPCBS1.8 32 (11) Deutsche Bank ChampionshipT40/T2ABC1.7 33 (32) FedEx St. Jude ClassicDNP/DNPCBS1.6 34 (30) John Deere ClassicDNP/DNPABC1.5 35 (20) Barclays ClassicDNP/DNPABC1.3 36 (36) Michelin Championship at Las VegasDNP/DNPNBC1.3 37 (37) Chrysler Classic of GreensboroDNP/DNPABC1.0
Ratings increased for 10 of the 12 events in which Woods had a better finish this year than in 2004. Woods won a playoff in the WGC-American Express Championship, and ratings more than doubled from last year.
Rank EventWoods’ finish 2005/2004Network2005
1 WGC-American Express Championship1/9ABC2.8115.4% 2 WGC-NEC Invitational1/T2CBS5.072.4% 3 Mercedes ChampionshipsT3/T4ESPN2.269.2% 4 Cialis Western Open2/T7ABC3.950.0% 5 The Masters Tournament1/T22CBS9.834.2% 6 PGA Championship*T4/T24CBS5.627.3% 7 Bay Hill InvitationalT23/T46NBC2.812.0% 8 Buick ChampionshipT2/DNPCBS2.210.0% 9 British Open1/T9ABC4.67.0% 10 U.S. Open2/T17NBC5.61.8% 11 Buick OpenT2/T3CBS3.6-7.7% 12 Buick Invitational1/T10ABC2.3-47.7%
The ratings dropped in all but one of the seven tournaments where Woods’ final position had dropped from his 2004 finish. Ratings for the EDS Byron Nelson Championship plunged more than a third after Woods missed a PGA cut for the first time in an unprecedented seven years. Only the second-year Wachovia Championship saw a ratings increase, earning a 3.7 on CBS, up from a 3.6 last year.
Rank EventWoods’ finish
13 Wachovia ChampionshipT11/T3CBS3.72.8% 14 The Memorial TournamentT3/3CBS3.3-8.3% 15 The Players Championship**T53/T16NBC2.2-22.2% 16 Nissan Open***T13/T7ABC2.9-25.6% 17 EDS Byron Nelson ChampionshipCUT/T4CBS2.5-34.2% 18 Deutsche Bank ChampionshipT40/T2ABC1.7-54.1% 19 WGC-Accenture Match Play ChampionshipT17/1ABC2-58.3%
DNP: Did not play
* Final-round play ended early due to weather and concluded the following Monday from 10-11:15 on CBS, earning a 3.3/12 final Nielsen rating.
** Inclement weather pushed the final round to Monday. NBC earned a 2.8 rating.
*** Sunday’s coverage included third and final rounds due to inclement weather earlier in the tournament.
Sources: Nielsen Media Research; David Broughton, SportsBusiness Journal; Katherine Johnson-Reid, Sports Business Daily
Publishing and advertising sources said the project has been put on hold indefinitely by publisher Time4Media, the division of Time Inc. behind major enthusiast titles such as Popular Science and Field & Stream.
Time4Media spokeswoman Samara Mormar said, “No final determination has been made. … We’re continuing to evaluate it.”
The hallmark of Racing Fan was colorful photos splashed across full pages — the last issue’s cover was a graphic depiction of a crash. The magazine published two issues, in March and May, with a print run of 250,000 for each. Time4Media would not say how many were sold.
Andrew Grossman is a writer in New York.
Turner Broadcasting has built a new multimedia studio set called “TNT Arena,” made to look like a mini-basketball arena on top of a 60-story building. An arched roof over the anchor desk creates the arena feel, with a miniature 3-D skyline lurking in the background dubbed “NBC City.”
Production Design Group, out of New York, beat out several other design firms by presenting the arena concept.
“They had the best complete idea for a set,” said Lenny Daniels, senior vice president, coordinating director at TNT. “It wasn’t just pretty set pieces or a good-looking background, it was an idea.”
The set functions as a full 360-degree theater in the round, with a rotating desk completely surrounded by a backdrop. That will allow TNT’s anchors to be more physically active on camera and enable various looks and camera positions.
A demonstration area, made to look like an outside balcony, directly overlooks the miniature city. LCD screens pop up from the city like billboards and will be used to promote upcoming segments and possibly sponsors.
The new set is the centerpiece of a complete graphic overhaul for TNT’s NBA telecasts, which kick off Nov. 1.
Daniels said all “NBA on TNT” graphics will have a new and cohesive look this year that runs through every segment of the telecast. “Anything we have that touches the NBA will really have a consistent feel, and that’s really the first time we’ve been able to do that,” he said.
For about 20 games, TNT also will suspend a CableCam from the center scoreboard, used mostly during free throws or when players are coming on and off the court for time-outs. The camera, dubbed “TNT CourtView,” will be in a fixed position in terms of where it hangs over the court, but it can be raised or lowered throughout the game. Daniels said the network is negotiating with the NBA about how low it can go, but he said 15 feet is probably the lower limit.
BOBCATS ON LIMITED TV LOCALLY: The Charlotte Bobcats are locked into a multiyear agreement that won’t allow their games to be shown in the Charlotte area via direct broadcast satellite. That’s because the original deal that put the team-owned C-SET network on Time Warner Cable’s digital basic platform included a cable exclusivity clause. When C-SET was shuttered to get broader distribution for the Bobcats, putting games on Time Warner’s local news channel, the cable exclusivity carried over. Therefore DirecTV and Dish Network, which serve more than a quarter of the pay television subscribers in the U.S., are shut out.
All but a handful of major league teams have their games on satellite, the exception being the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia pro teams on Comcast SportsNet (whose parent company owns both the major cable systems in the area and the 76ers and Flyers).
For the second-year Bobcats, who open a new arena this season, not having satellite means it will be that much harder to build a fan base. But the Bobcats’ chief marketing officer, Chris Weiller, says the team’s local exposure will be “increased exponentially” over last season when the club was only on digital cable, and the Bobcats also can seek deals with other cable operators in the Carolinas.
HBO DARES TO MARKET: Every year HBO Sports picks one documentary to throw sizable marketing support behind. This year, it’s going beyond even that for “Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team.”
The network is making a grassroots push, staging screenings on college campuses and working with various nonprofit organizations to get a nationwide buzz going before the 118-minute documentary debuts Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. ET. This will be in addition to billboards in New York and Los Angeles, a print buy, radio spots in 11 major markets and promotion on HBO.
“It’s getting more marketing support than any documentary we’ve ever done,” said HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg.
Some of the grassroots activity includes an agreement with Sports Illustrated On Campus to stage screenings on 15 college campuses, mostly major state schools with strong women’s soccer programs. Six additional screenings will be held in soccer hotbed cities around the country, plus a gala premier in New York on Nov. 29. Women’s team members will appear at the screenings and participate in many of the activities.
Andy Bernstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOT READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?: Ratings for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” continue to fall compared to previous years — 11.4 million households watched the Oct. 3 Packers- Panthers matchup, a drop of 7.3 percent. In the same week last year, MNF ranked No. 8 among all prime-time programs. This year, MNF had fallen to No. 11.Top 10 Network Sports Telecasts
Rank net programdateratingsharewatching households (000s) 1 FOX NFL: REGIONAL COVERAGE (LATE GAMES)10/910.82111931 2 ABC NFL: MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL (GREEN BAY-CAR.)10/310.31711399 3 FOX NFL: POSTGAME10/99.31610244 4 CBS NFL: REGIONAL COVERAGE (EARLY GAMES)10/98.3199141 5 FOX MLB: DIV. SERIES (L.A. ANGELS-YANKEES)10/98.1138911 6 ABC NFL: MONDAY NIGHT PREGAME10/37.9128750 7 FOX NFL: POSTGAME (THE OT)10/97.1127808 8 FOX NFL: REGIONAL COVERAGE (EARLY GAMES)10/96.8157473 9 FOX MLB: DIV. SERIES (ANGELS-YANKEES)10/46.0106654 10 ABC NFL: MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL POSTGAME10/35.6146202
ESPN SEES BEST WEEK EVER: Ten of cable’s 14 most-watched shows were on ESPN, for an average of 4.58 million viewers per show, a network record. A total of 4.44 million households watched the Ohio State-Penn State game on ESPN, making it the net’s second-most-viewed, regular-season college football game ever.Top 10 Cable Sports Telecastsratingwatching
Rank net programdatenationalcov. areasharehouseholds (000s) 1 ESPN NFL: SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL (CINN.-JACK.)10/95.56.7106024 2 ESPN MLB: DIV. SERIES (ANGELS-YANKEES)10/74.96.0105419 3 ESPN MLB: DIV. SERIES (RED SOX-WHITE SOX)10/54.45.494886 4 ESPN COLLEGE FOOTBALL (OHIO STATE-PENN STATE)10/84.04.994435 5 ESPN MLB: DIV. SERIES (YANKEES-ANGELS)10/53.84.794207 6 ESPN MLB: POSTGAME10/53.84.674138 7 ESPN NFL: PRIME TIME10/93.44.173731 8 ESPN2 MLB: DIV. SERIES (WHITE SOX-RED SOX)10/73.34.193633 9 ESPN MLB: DIV. SERIES (BRAVES-ASTROS)10/93.23.983529 10 ESPN SPORTSCENTER (EARLY)10/93.03.663266
Rating — Estimated percent of all TV households of persons tuned to a specifi c program source. One ratings point equals 1,102,000 homes.
Share — Estimated percent of all households using television at that time which are tuned to a specifi c program source.
Source: Nielsen Media Research
At Bristol University, they’re hitting the books — or at least selling them.
“Now I Can Die in Peace,” an anthology of Boston Red Sox-obsessed columns by ESPN.com’s “The Sports Guy,” Bill Simmons, was No. 17 on the hard-cover, nonfiction best-seller list last week.
With 500,000 unique visitors reading Simmons’ columns every month online, ESPN barely had to spend a dime to market the book. Simmons attracted huge crowds for signings around the country, even in enemy territory such as New York.
Most of the authors of ESPN books already have some tie to ESPN and then do a run of publicity through interviews on ESPN Radio, chats on ESPN.com and various on-air mentions on the television networks. When analyst Lee Corso needs an obscure stat on the set of ESPN’s “College Football GameDay” show, he can be seen thumbing through the “ESPN College Football Encyclopedia.”
The other ESPN titles released this fall are “The Best Hand I Ever Played,” in which top poker players discuss strategy with online ESPN Poker Club columnist Steve Rosenbloom, and “Rules of the Red Rubber Ball,” a self-help booklet in which athletic trainer-turned-motivational speaker Kevin Carroll uses sports to offer life lessons.
ESPN has published books since 1997, but this year it nearly doubled the number of releases as the book division “became a more formal part of the company,” said Gary Hoenig, who serves as executive editor of ESPN Books and editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine.