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When NESN was founded in 1984, it was the smallest network in New England, yet it found a niche as a successful premium channel with year-round Red Sox and Bruins programming. “At the start, we almost were pay-per-view, powering up for the game, then shutting down when it ended,” said Sean McGrail, the network’s president.
Privately owned by the Red Sox and Bruins, NESN rarely cites specific ratings numbers and never talks of its profitability, but McGrail says, “Our goal is to replicate a national network programming model on a regional scale.” McGrail, 46, spoke recently with SportsBusiness Journal correspondent Bill Griffith.
You’re well-known in the industry but keep a low profile with NESN’s viewers. Why?
McGrail: We’re very team-oriented. We stress the success and profile of the organization over the individual. I tend to be more of a collaborative leader, not a self-promoter.
What was the biggest risk in growing NESN?
NESN’s innovations go beyond HD: It wired
Fenway Park’s Green Monster for sound.
Does sports drive HD distribution?
McGrail: Absolutely. The Boston market has higher than average HD penetration at approximately 20 percent.
How is the new facility? You started working on the transfer last August and moved in on Feb. 27, the target date.
McGrail: Frankly, I’m ecstatic. No visitor to this facility can appreciate it if they never were in the old place, where people had to squeeze by each other in passageways or back up to let someone else get by. The tough part is that we’re working with an all new HD infrastructure. It’s a huge operational challenge for our staff.
How has the new Red Sox ownership affected NESN’s activities?
McGrail: They’re an aggressive and entrepreneurial ownership group, especially [chairman] Tom Werner, who has an extensive TV background and understands both our needs and potential. The Bruins also have been supportive and bought into what we all thought that NESN could become.
What are some of the challenges facing RSNs?
McGrail: The competition for rights fees, the emergence of new media delivery systems, industry consolidation and consumer sensitivity to rate increases. There’s more competition for rights across the board. … Contrary to a lot of people’s perception, if we don’t produce, the Red Sox or Bruins could take their rights elsewhere.
FOR THE WEEK OF 5/22/06 - 5/28/06
NASCAR TOPS INDY: Fox’s coverage of NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 during Memorial Day weekend averaged 5.61 million households, 15.8 percent fewer than last year’s record-setting audience but still tops for the week among network sports programs. That includes surpassing the 5.54 million households that tuned in earlier that Sunday for ABC’s Indianapolis 500 coverage. The audience for the IRL race was down 21.9 percent from last year.
Top 10 Network Sports Telecasts Rank Net. Program Date Rating ShareHouseholds Watching
1 FOX NASCAR: NEXTEL CUP SERIES COCA-COLA 600 5/285.1115,605 2 ABC IRL: INDIANAPOLIS 500 5/285.0145,538 3 FOX NASCAR: COCA-COLA 600 PRERACE 5/283.293,524 4 ABC IRL: INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRERACE 5/282.792,995 5 FOX MLB: SATURDAY BASEBALL: REGIONAL COVERAGE 5/272.272,392 6 CBS GOLF: PGA TOUR FEDEX ST. JUDE CLASSIC (THIRD ROUND) 5/271.541,605 7 CBS GOLF: PGA TOUR FEDEX ST. JUDE CLASSIC (FINAL ROUND) 5/281.441,517 8 NBC GOLF: SENIOR PGA CHAMPIONSHIP (THIRD ROUND) 5/270.93985 9 NBC GOLF: SENIOR PGA CHAMPIONSHIP (FINAL ROUND) 5/280.93962 10 CBS FORMULA 1: MONACO GRAND PRIX 5/280.82863
PLAYOFFS PULL IN CABLE CROWD: NBA playoff coverage scored nine of the 10 highest-rated cable sports programs for the May 22-28 week and the eight largest audiences for the week on cable overall. It wasn’t, however, the start of the conference finals that topped the week’s ranking. Scoring ahead of TNT’s Phoenix-Dallas Western Conference Finals coverage and ESPN’s Miami-Detroit Eastern Conference Finals coverage was TNT’s doubleheader of Game 7s for two Western semis: Dallas-San Antonio and the L.A. Clippers-Phoenix.
Top 10 Cable Sports Telecasts(RATING) RankNet Program Date National Cov. Area ShareHouseholds Watching
1 TNT NBA PLAYOFFS: DALLAS-SAN ANTONIO, GAME 7 5/224.75.795,169 2 TNT NBA PLAYOFFS: L.A. CLIPPERS-PHOENIX, GAME 7 5/224.04.9114,404 3 ESPN NBA PLAYOFFS: MIAMI-DETROIT, GAME 2 5/253.84.784,236 4 ESPN NBA PLAYOFFS: MIAMI-DETROIT, GAME 1 5/233.74.574,056 5 TNT NBA PLAYOFFS: PHOENIX-DALLAS, GAME 2 5/263.64.484,010 6 TNT NBA PLAYOFFS: PHOENIX-DALLAS, GAME 1 5/243.54.273,804 7 ESPN NBA PLAYOFFS: DETROIT-MIAMI, GAME 3 5/273.44.183,701 8 TNT NBA PLAYOFFS: DALLAS-PHOENIX, GAME 3 5/283.34.073,642 9 TNT INSIDE THE NBA PLAYOFFS 5/261.92.352,075 10 ESPN SPORTSCENTER LATE (11 P.M. ET) 5/231.82.241,978
Rating — Estimated percent of all TV households of persons tuned to a specific program source. One ratings point equals 1,096,000 homes.
Share — Estimated percent of all households using television at that time which are tuned to a specific program source.
Source: Nielsen Media Research
Following are the top-selling events in the secondary ticket market this year via the StubHub marketplace, through June 3. Events are ranked by total revenue from tickets sold, which accounts for number of tickets sold, but only the average ticket price paid was available for publication.
Top 10 sports events
Rank Event DateAvg. ticket price paid 1 Super Bowl XL: Pittsburgh-Seattle Feb. 5$2,975.05 2 Rose Bowl: Texas-USC Jan. 4$1,111.88 3 AFC Championship: Pittsburgh-Denver Jan. 22$521.84 4 NFC Divisional Playoff: Carolina-Chicago Jan. 15$323.03 5 Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame-Ohio State Jan. 2$407.84 6 NFC Championship: Carolina-Seattle Jan. 22$324.65 7 Orange Bowl: Florida State-Penn State Jan. 3$240.10 8 Daytona 500 Feb. 19$231.70 9 K.C. Royals at N.Y. Yankees (home opener) April 11$113.51 10 NFC Divisional Playoff: Washington-Seattle Jan. 14$242.38
Top 10 non-sports events
Rank Event (location) DateAvg. ticket price paid 1 Rolling Stones (Madison Square Garden) Jan. 20$357.53 2 Rolling Stones (Madison Square Garden) Jan. 18$308.40 3 Billy Joel (Madison Square Garden) Feb. 11$207.12 4 Rolling Stones (1st Mariner Arena, Baltimore) Feb. 1$361.13 5 Billy Joel (Madison Square Garden) April 24$200.20 6 Coldplay (Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.) March 25$140.22 7 Billy Joel (Madison Square Garden) Feb. 25$191.11 8 Pearl Jam (Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.) June 3$112.72 9 Rolling Stones (United Center, Chicago) Jan. 23$240.93 10 Bon Jovi (Atlantic City (N.J.) Boardwalk Hall) Feb. 4$169.59
Dayton, Ohio, and Knoxville, Tenn., were the only two U.S. markets to post a local rating for both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 that ranked them in the nation’s top 10 for each race. In addition, none of the nation’s 10 largest media markets scored in either top 10, and only New York posted a higher rating for either race over last year, with its mark for the Coca-Cola 600 increasing 18.2 percent.
The IRL race aired on ABC on Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, with the NASCAR race following on Fox later that night. National ratings for the races appear in the chart below.
TOP LOCAL-MARKET RATINGS
Indianapolis 500 Coca-Cola 600 RankMarket (size*)Avg. rating/share ChangeRankMarket (size*)Avg. rating/share Change 1 Indianapolis (25)14.7/24+0.7%1 Greensboro, N.C. (47)17.2/29+2.4% 2 Dayton, Ohio (59)12.5/28-14.4%2 Charlotte (27)15.4/26-8.9% 3 Cincinnati (34)9.2/23+10.8%3 Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C./Asheville N.C. (35)12.5/21-13.2% 4t Columbus (32)8.9/22-11.9%4 Knoxville, Tenn. (58)12.4/21+19.2% 4t Louisville, Ky. (50)8.9/21-2.2%5 Dayton, Ohio (59)11.5/21+12.7% 6 Milwaukee (33)8.6/23+11.7%6 Birmingham, Ala. (40)11.2/20-12.5% 7t Knoxville, Tenn. (58)8.1/16-3.6%7t Jacksonville (52)9.6/16+10.3% 7t Orlando (20)8.1/18-16.5%7t Nashville (30)9.6/17+26.3% 9 Las Vegas (48)7.9/16-9.2%9 Raleigh-Durham (29)9.3/16-5.1% 10 San Diego (26)7.8/21+8.3%10 Richmond, Va. (60)9.2/17-7.1%
RATINGS IN TOP 10 U.S. MARKETS
Indianapolis 500 Coca-Cola 600 Size* MarketAvg. rating/
Change Size* MarketAvg. rating/share Change 1 New York2.1/6 -25.00%1 New York1.3/3 18.20% 2 Los Angeles5.2/15 -16.10%2 Los Angeles2.2/6 0.00% 3 Chicago5.5/15 -39.60%3 Chicago2.2/5 -43.60% 4 Philadelphia4.4/12 -38.90%4 Philadelphia2.9/6 -38.30% 5 Boston3.0/11 -23.10%5 Boston3.2/7 -11.10% 6 San Francisco- Oakland-San Jose4.1/14 -39.70%6 San Francisco- Oakland-San Jose1.9/6 -20.80% 7 Dallas-Fort Worth5.1/13 -22.70%7 Dallas-Fort Worth3.9/8 -44.30% 8 Washington, D.C.2.4/7 -29.40%8 Washington, D.C.4.4/10 -10.20% 9 Atlanta4.2/10 -58.80%9 Atlanta7.8/14 -30.40% 10 Houston5.4/11 -18.20%10 Houston2.2/4 -8.30%
* Market size ranking among all U.S. markets by number of TV households.
Source: Nielsen Media Research, SportsBusiness Daily archives
Research by Katherine Johnson-Reid, SportsBusiness Daily