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  • Accrue invests in HipLogic, again in RayV

    Accrue Sports and Entertainment Ventures made two seven-figure investments recently as the venture capital and advisory firm forges its future without founding members Doug Perlman and Steve Solomon.

    Accrue participated in a $7 million Series B funding round for HipLogic Inc., a mobile development firm based in the Bay Area. The round of funding was led by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Bay Partners and included several prior company investors. Accrue participated at a seven-figure level.

    Accrue also made a seven-figure supplemental investment in RayV, the Los Angeles-based streaming media outfit that early last year represented Accrue’s first outlay after forming in 2008.

    Accrue was part of a $7M round of funding
    for HipLogic, a mobile development firm.

    Perlman and Solomon left Accrue last fall. Perlman formed advisory firm Sports Media Advisors, and Solomon serves as senior adviser in that venture. Still, Bryant McBride, Accrue’s chief executive and also a founding partner, said the firm’s venture capital activity is increasing as the economy continues its slow improvement.

    “We’re really excited about both opportunities,” McBride said. “These are companies that can really help sports entities reach fans in unique ways, and as the digital shift continues, we see both companies really innovating and having a lot of potential for growth.

    “And economically, I’ve seen multiple data points suggesting that things are improving. [Merger-and-acquisition] activity is spiking up, and we’re going to be out aggressively looking for more deals.”

    RayV now boasts several prominent online video contracts, including deals with the NBA, Tennis Channel, Fox Soccer Channel and DirecTV.

    HipLogic, meanwhile, has developed a mobile interface that creates an iPhone-like, customizable platform on a variety of wireless devices. The company last week released a free HipLogic Live product that includes content from CBS Sports, among others.

    “Sports programming is very important to what we’re building, and we see a huge opportunity in event-based sports programming for mobile,” said Mark Anderson, HipLogic chief executive and president. “We see Accrue as more than an investor, but also a strategic partner. Their contacts, particularly within the sports industry and on the East Coast, we believe are going to be very helpful.”

  • ATP decides to hold off on all-star event, plans 2011 launch

    The ATP World Tour will not stage an all-star festivity next month as it had previously announced, scuttling what would have been the first major public initiative of Executive Chairman Adam Helfant since he started the job 13 months ago.

    The ATP now hopes to launch the event in 2011.

    The sale of the tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., the BNP Paribas Open, which would have hosted the showcase, made planning the event a challenge. Oracle founder Larry Ellison in December purchased the tournament for more than $100 million.

    “It really was the pending sale of the tournament,” said Kate Gordon, an ATP spokeswoman.

    A source close to the ATP, however, said there were other factors. One was scheduling for the all-star competition. Because the women’s tournament starts earlier at Indian Wells than the men’s tournament, logistics were an issue. There was even some talk about having the all-star competition moved to London and The O2 dome, the source said.

    A format for the all-star event was never finalized, so what the festivity would look like is unclear. Helfant talked about mimicking what’s seen at all-star events for team competitions, but some skeptics say an individual sport like tennis is not conducive to that kind of format.

    “I don’t see what an all-star event is; I don’t see where it falls,” said sports event promoter John Korff, a former U.S. Tennis Association board member who also ran a well-regarded women’s tennis exhibition in New Jersey. “I guess I understand what they were trying to do because team sports have an all-star game. But golf doesn’t have an all-star game. Basically, [tennis’] all-star game is the season-ending championship.”

    Helfant has been a behind-the-scenes actor since taking his position in January last year. His press conference at the U.S. Open in September, when he unveiled the all-star concept, was his coming-out party with the press.

    Gordon said Helfant, a former Nike marketing executive, has spent his first year getting to know the issues in tennis, as well as the players and the tournaments. He also did not have a spokesperson until Gordon signed on last month. Most recently, Gordon was the United Kingdom head of sports and sponsorship for Edelman Public Relations.

  • Callaway swings big with Super Bowl pregame buy

    Callaway will serve as the presenting sponsor for a 30-minute segment of the Super Bowl XLIV pregame show on CBS, marking the first time a stand-alone golf equipment company has sponsored the highly rated telecast. The Carlsbad, Calif.-based company, which will also have 90 seconds worth of television spots that will air during pregame, is sponsoring the fifth of six 30-minute segments preceding the kickoff show.

    The sponsorship is meant to grab the attention of the mainstream sports fan, said a Callaway spokesman. That is a departure from the traditional advertising strategy of Callaway and other major golf equipment companies, which primarily stick to media buys and sponsorships of professional golf tournaments on CBS, NBC and Golf Channel. The pregame show in the 5 to 5:30 p.m. ET slot last year on NBC earned an 11.6 Nielsen rating, or about 21 million viewers over the course of the program. Network coverage of PGA Tour events on CBS and NBC averaged a 2.1 Nielsen rating in 2009.

    “We feel there is a great deal of pent-up desire among consumers who have been holding back on purchases over the last year,” said Tim Buckman, Callaway’s director of communications. “We look at this sponsorship as an effective way to introduce Callaway’s latest equipment to an enormous, mainstream audience.”

    Callaway will use the sponsorship to showcase its new Diablo Edge line of equipment, which hits retail Feb. 15. All five categories of the line, consisting of drivers, fairway woods, hybrids and two sets of irons, received gold medals from Golf Digest’s “Hot List,” which is considered the measuring stick for equipment analysis.

    The sponsorship includes a video clip introduction to the pregame show that intersperses golf- and football-themed highlights with Callaway branding. Longtime Callaway endorser Phil Mickelson will appear in a taped segment that will run during the show and at least one of the commercials. There is also expected to be Callaway golf bags and equipment and other branding displayed on the set, though final details were still being completed late last week.

    Callaway would not disclose its total spending on the sponsorship and new creative but said it represented an increase in annual television spending and would not result in decreased advertising spending in other areas. The ads that run in the telecast will also run on network and cable golf coverage throughout the year.

    OMD is Callaway’s media agency. The television spots were produced by San Francisco-based Eleven.

  • CBS-Turner bid possible for NCAA tourney

    CBS and Turner Sports are in discussions to create a joint bid for the NCAA tournament rights if the NCAA decides to opt out of its current CBS deal.

    The broadcaster and cable network could share rights to the tournament if the NCAA decides to expand the field to 96 teams. In that scenario, the channel broadcasting the Final Four would pay 60 percent of the annual rights fee and the other network would pay 40 percent. The broadcast partners would alternate coverage of the Final Four each year.

    Other networks, including ESPN and Fox, also are considering making bids for the tournament’s rights.

    The broadcasters are basing their bids on an expanded tournament field, according to a request for proposal issued by the NCAA to potential bidders late last year. A copy of the RFP was obtained by SportsBusiness Journal.

    The NCAA has its sights set on expanding from a 65-team tournament to either 68 or 96 teams if it opts out of the CBS contract, according to the 12-page RFP.

    A 68-team field would add three “play-in” games to the current 65-team format, and a 96-team field would expand the tournament’s inventory by 31 games.

    The NCAA also says it is looking for a 14-year term on its next media deal, with a “no-penalty, early termination right in favor of the NCAA,” according to the RFP.

    The NCAA is considering whether to opt out of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS after the Final Four in April. The deal has three years and $2.131 billion remaining.

    Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s senior vice president for basketball and business strategies, is leading the RFP process.

    “There continues to be dialogue with a number of entities that are interested in submitting a proposal,” he said, but no time frame has been established. Shaheen has said that the NCAA is doing due diligence to explore alternative tournament formats, but it is not leaning in any direction.

    However, industry sources indicated that the NCAA has until Aug. 31 to exercise its right, though it hopes to conclude the process much earlier.

    The NCAA could keep its current deal; make a new deal with its longtime broadcast partner, CBS; make a new deal with a new partner; or create a split rights agreement. In the split-rights deal, two broadcasters would submit a joint proposal to share the media rights.

    In the RFP, the NCAA outlines two 96-team split formats that have an over-the-air partner teaming with a cable partner.

    In one scenario in which the over-the-air partner has the Final Four, it would carry 41 games while the cable partner carries 54. When the cable partner has the Final Four, 57 games would appear on cable and 38 on over-the-air.

    In those split-rights scenarios, the two broadcast partners would alternate carriage of the Final Four. The broadcaster with the Final Four would pay 60 percent of the rights fee that year and the other broadcaster would pay 40 percent.

    Also included in the RFP are the rights to the NCAA’s other championships, including the women’s basketball tournament, the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and baseball; the corporate sponsorship program; and Internet and mobile rights.

    Turner’s interest in acquiring the tournament has not been disclosed before. TNT has carried NBA games since 1988 but has never carried college basketball games.

    “The NCAA tournament is a strong property that would fit our brands but, as with any sports rights, an acquisition must make economic sense for our company,” a Turner spokesman said.

  • D.C. United owner seeks investors

    D.C. United owner Will Chang has hired sports investment firm Inner Circle Sports and begun to search for local or strategic partners who would be interested in investing in the Major League Soccer club.

    The San Francisco-based owner of D.C. United assumed control of the team in May after buying out partner and real estate developer Victor MacFarlane. Chang said he has begun to search for investors not because he faces any financial challenges but because he believes the addition of new partners with ties to Washington, D.C., or strategic interests in the team can assist the franchise in its effort to build a new stadium and other initiatives.

    “I bought [my partner] out because I had a vision of what the ownership structure ought to look like,” Chang said. “I still believe in the franchise, and I’m now in the process of restructuring the ownership group to bring the franchise forward.”

    Will Chang hopes to structure an
    ownership group similar to the
    San Francisco Giants’.

    By adding new partners, Chang hopes to construct an ownership group similar to the one behind the San Francisco Giants, which he co-owns with 29 other partners. The Giants are owned primarily by individual investors with local ties, but there also are investors who live outside the Bay Area and companies like the local Fox affiliate, KTVU, and local sports radio station KNBR.

    Chang doesn’t have a timeline for when he would like to add new investors nor has he decided how many investors he wants to add. He said he hopes to keep the group relatively small and added that he plans to remain the club’s majority owner.

    “I’m under no pressure,” he said. “I’m going to wait and be patient and do a thorough search for strategic partners who can help with the success of the franchise.”

    Group ownership is not uncommon in MLS. The San Jose Earthquakes are owned by Lew Wolff and John Fisher; Real Salt Lake is owned by SCP Worldwide and Dell Loy Hansen; and Seattle Sounders FC is owned by Joe Roth, Adrian Hanauer, Drew Carey and Paul Allen.

    Chang, who played high school soccer, bought the team with MacFarlane from AEG for $33 million in 2007. MacFarlane planned to lead the franchise’s construction of a new stadium and mixed-use development at Poplar Point. However, negotiations broke down in 2008, and financial pressures during the recession led him to sell his share of the team.

    The franchise has been looking to develop a new stadium in other locations, from D.C. to Virginia to Maryland. By adding partners with local interests, Chang hopes that he can re-energize the stadium project.

    “If I said [finding partners] didn’t have anything to do with the stadium, I would be lying,” he said. “Victor had good relationships with many of the city leaders. I lost that and I think it’s important to have partners who can provide that.”

    But Chang said that’s not his only consideration. He also is looking to find additional partners who can help shoulder the costs of the club and inject additional capital into the team.

    “This league is going to be more and more competitive, and the ability for one to be able to write a check is going to be more and more important to building the brand and the franchise,” Chang said. “To have partners share in that responsibility is important.”

  • Energy firm buys naming rights to Philly MLS venue

    Energy company PPL Corp. is finalizing a 10-year, $20 million naming-rights deal with MLS expansion team Philadelphia Union, some five months before the first match at what will be PPL Park, a new $120 million soccer stadium just outside of Philadelphia in Chester, Pa.

    The deal, which is expected to be unveiled this week, is valued at $2 million annually, depending on the Union’s ability to fulfill key metrics. It comes on the heels of Sun Life’s recent naming-rights agreement with the Miami Dolphins and suggests a significant thaw in what was a frozen naming-rights business.

    Allentown-based PPL becomes the fifth energy company to sign a naming-rights agreement in the U.S. (see chart). With Pennsylvania deregulating the energy market earlier this year, PPL is hopeful the naming rights will raise brand awareness. “It offers increased brand recognition,” said Gene Alessandrini, PPL senior vice president of marketing. “The questions we asked internally were if this could improve sales and brand recognition. We saw a good return on investment.”

    One of the most intriguing aspects about this deal is that while it includes a lot of consumer marketing inventory, it is designed to reach business customers. So there are hospitality, events and experiences designed to reach business decision-makers. PPL also was intrigued that the stadium is part of a renewal project for the Chester waterfront.

    The Union’s $120M stadium being built in
    Chester, Pa., will be known as PPL Park.

    “They invest a lot of money into their local marketplaces,” said Nick Sakiewicz, CEO and operating partner of Keystone Sports & Entertainment, owner of the Philadelphia Union. “That’s really important when you’re trying to build a stadium and revitalize a waterfront.”

    Like many of the recent MLS expansion franchises, the Union is debuting with a strong showing. It already has close to 10,000 season tickets sold in what will be an 18,500-person venue.

    “From a sponsorship standpoint, this [energy deregulation] will introduce numerous potential new sponsors to sports,” said Larry Weil, whose Dallas-based Branded Energy consultancy specializes in energy marketing. “Dozens of retail electric providers may decide to enter the newly opened Philadelphia markets. [But] it is a fairly complicated landscape. Each state has its own version of deregulation.”

    PPL’s deal includes TV and radio advertising, signage positions around the venue and on top of the stadium marquee, along with an “iconic naming-rights placement” at the main gate. It also receives field-board signs, concourse signage and grassroots, community programs and sponsorship rights with the Delaware Youth Soccer and Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, which represent almost 200,000 registered youth players and their families in the region.

    The Union began its search for a naming-rights partner at the worst possible time — late 2008. Financial services, long a reliable source for deals, were immediately cut from consideration. “We’d call them and they would say, ‘Are you crazy?’” Sakiewicz said.

    MLS Naming-Rights Deals
    Facility MLS tenant(s) # of years Price
    Home Depot Center Los Angeles Galaxy & Chivas USA 10 $70 million
    Dick’s Sporting Goods Park Colorado Rapids 20 $30 million
    Pizza Hut Park FC Dallas 21 $30 million
    Red Bull Arena New York Red Bulls NA $30 million
    BMO Field Toronto FC 10 $23.7 million
    Rio Tinto Stadium Real Salt Lake 10-15 $15-$20 million
    Toyota Park Chicago Fire 10 $7.5 million
    Energy Company Naming-Rights Deals
    Facility Tenant(s) # of years Price
    Reliant Stadium Houston Texans 31 $310 million
    Consol Energy Center Pittsburgh Penguins 21 $84-$104 million
    Xcel Energy Center Minnesota Wild & Swarm 25 $75 million
    EnergySolutions Arena Utah Jazz 10 NA
    NA: Not available or not applicable
    Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

    Working with their Los Angeles-based sales agency Premier Partnerships, the sales team, led by Rob Parker, the Union’s vice president of corporate sales, identified several categories where companies might be open to a deal, regardless of the recession. One of the early pitches was to Coke, which turned down the naming rights but will soon be announced as the soft drink sponsor. Waste Management had some initial interest in touting the stadium as a model “green” facility. However, there was concern that if Waste Management took naming rights, fans would call the stadium “the dump.” Philadelphia-based Sunoco was interested enough that graphics were prepared depicting the facility as Sunoco Station. Under Armour also was curious, which would have led to an interesting conflict with Adidas, the league’s biggest sponsor. Other companies looking at the deal were Amway, which also has a jersey deal with the MLS San Jose Earthquakes, and Sony, which was pitched but talks ended after Panasonic signed a lower-level team sponsorship.

    The eventual sale began with a cold call. The Union’s offices are in a rehabbed power plant, which prompted officials to look into the energy category. The state was deregulating energy beginning in 2010, so branding would become important. Among the companies contacted were PECO, which was Philadelphia Electric when it generated power from the plant which now houses the team. Also contacted were Allegheny Energy, UGI Energy Services and Suez Energy.

    Allison Howard, Premier’s senior director of corporate partnerships, made a blind call to PPL on May 7. Terry Crupi, manager of natural gas marketing, and Annette Durnack, senior marketing manager, returned her call the next day. There was enough initial interest to prompt a 45-minute conversation.

    PPL followed up by visiting the Union offices for a preliminary meeting last spring. Even at those early stages, “The energy in those meetings was tangible,” Howard said.

    The Union initially wanted a 15-year deal, but PPL preferred a shorter, 10-year term. The two discussed PPL becoming a jersey partner, but the jersey had more national appeal and PPL is a regional company. Other than the usual back and forth over terms, Sakiewicz said one of the most detailed discussions was over category rights. At one point, the energy category was defined so broadly, it included gasoline. When finalized, the category was defined as energy provider, including electricity, natural gas and coal; energy provider and exploration; and energy-related products and services.

    The parties met at PPL’s offices in Allentown last November and shook hands on a deal in principle. In mid-December, Sakiewicz and Alessandrini closed the deal over chicken sandwiches in a cafe within the renovated power plant. The office joke at that point was whether Howard, eight-plus months pregnant, would deliver before the deal.

    For the record, Ronan James Howard was born Dec. 8. Sakiewicz was expecting to sign the final documents late last week.

    “They’ll be splattering their brand all across the marketplace with us, and we’re excited,” Sakiewicz said. “The fact that they have the same mind-set we do is important, because that doesn’t always happen.”

  • Fox: NASCAR ad sales gaining speed

    An improved television ad sales marketplace is breathing new life into Fox’s NASCAR sales this season, as the network has sold 80 percent of the inventory for the Daytona 500 and is expecting a full sellout before the race.

    Ad sales for the rest of the network’s 13-race schedule are pacing 8 to 10 percent ahead of last year’s levels.

    Fox’s NASCAR sales push is being helped by a more active marketplace, which is seeing advertising sales slowly rebound across virtually all sports. These early returns represent a big relief for the sport and the network considering that last year’s TV ratings were the lowest in a decade.

    “We’re definitely going to be in a much better situation than we were last year,” said Neil Mulcahy, Fox Sports’ executive vice president of advertising sales.

    Emblematic of the rebounding economy is the automotive category, which Fox said is tripling its revenue commitment from last year. Fox expects to double the amount of auto sponsors that buy into the regular season. Last year, just two autos — Toyota and Ford — bought regular-season schedules. Both are back this year, as is General Motors.

    Plus, Fox said GoDaddy, Nationwide and Cialis also have stepped up as new advertisers with significant buys. GoDaddy is in the first year of a primary sponsorship on Mark Martin’s No. 5 car, while also sponsoring Danica Patrick’s entry in the Nationwide Series. Nationwide, the title sponsor of NASCAR’s No. 2 series, has an extensive ad campaign under way with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister Kelley.

    Unlike other sports, NASCAR team sponsors are not required to purchase a network schedule.

    As part of its sales pitch, Fox is trying to persuade
    advertisers to commit to more on-screen sponsorships.

    News that Fox’s NASCAR season is doing well does not surprise Tom McGovern, managing director for Optimum Sports. McGovern, who places buys for NASCAR sponsors like McDonald’s, FedEx and the Amp Energy brand, said he mainly is attracted to NASCAR’s ratings, which consistently are among the highest-rated events in the first quarter of the year, even if the ratings have dropped recently. “Its ratings are down. But it’s reliable,” he said. “Sports ratings fluctuate from year to year.”

    Fox said advertisers also have been responding to on-track changes designed to make the racing more exciting this season (see related story).

    Fox is basing much of its sales pitch this year on convincing advertisers to commit to more on-screen enhancements beyond 30-second spots.

    In its sales presentations, Fox uses research from Image Impact, which provides audience measurement data that assigns a value to sponsor mentions on a specific broadcast.

    The data documents that brands that commit to more on-screen sponsorships — from in-car cameras to leaderboards — will have their brand highlighted more frequently during the race telecast and will derive more value from their buy.

    “Leveraging your investment on the car and on the track makes sense to bring on to the broadcast platform,” said Rick Kloiber, vice president of sales for Fox Sports. “People are going to choose not to do it. People are going to choose to do it. People that choose to do it, we like to make sure that they are rewarded handsomely for it.”

    Last season, brands like Bud, Aflac and Home Depot bought these sponsorships; and brands like M&M’s, DuPont and Target did not.

    According to the Image Impact data, which was provided by Fox, a sample of nine NASCAR team sponsors that also bought on-screen enhancements (not including commercial spots) saw its branding value increase by 301 percent to a total of $17.4 million over Fox’s 13 races through on-screen exposure.

    The in-broadcast branding especially helped NAPA last season.

    The auto parts chain sponsored Michael Waltrip’s car, which had a poor season, finishing a distant 33rd in the point standings. But because of NAPA’s separate sponsorship deal with Fox, it still received significant air time, creating an overall value of $16 million for the sponsorship, according to the Image Impact data.

    If NAPA had not added to its car sponsorship with a media buy, its value last season would have been just $2.79 million and it would have received little air time since it was not near the lead.

    “We control ‘the more you give, the more you get’ theory,” said Steve McKiernan, senior vice president of sales for Fox Sports. “We control the amount of exposure they’re getting — whether it’s running orders or desk signage or promotional messaging.”

    The early ad sales bump is not limited to the television side. is seeing a 30 percent revenue jump over last year. Dove (Unilever) and Chevy have stepped up to sponsor the online photo gallery and the site’s GameCast-style application RaceTrax, respectively. Neither company advertised with the site last year. Sprint, the title sponsor of NASCAR’s top series, also has made a significant online buy.

    Staff writer Michael Smith contributed to this report.

  • Jets, Giants both want stadium’s first game

    Had the New York Jets made Sunday’s Super Bowl and won, one uncomfortable decision would have been settled for the NFL: whether it’s the Jets or Giants who open the teams’ new shared stadium in September.

    The Super Bowl winner, under league policy, opens at home the following season, so a Jets Super Bowl win would have made the league’s decision automatic. As it is, New York’s two teams will spend the coming months waiting, watching and perhaps posturing, all underscoring the growing rivalry between the establishment, long-on-top Giants and the suddenly appealing Jets.

    The league typically releases its schedule in April. New York’s teams are not slated to play each other during the 2010 season under the NFL’s system of annually rotating opponents by division.

    “Clubs may make requests,” an NFL spokesman said. “We do not discuss those requests.”

    The Jets have been quietly lobbying the league for months, sources said, to host the first game in the new $1.6 billion Meadowlands Stadium. Long second fiddle in the New York market — and even in their own home, playing at Giants Stadium since 1984 — the Jets are driving to be kings of New York. Getting the publicity, and bragging rights, that would come with the first game at the new venue would further that effort.

    The teams meet annually in the
    preseason, but each wants the
    home season opener.

    “We are the biggest show in town and that’s what it’s going to be,” boisterous Jets coach Rex Ryan told reporters last week. The team declined to comment on whether it had asked the league to be first up in the new stadium.

    As for the Giants, co-owner John Mara said, “It’s a league decision. I don’t want to get into that.”

    The Giants long have been more popular in the region, with one source close to the team saying their game telecasts routinely draw 100,000 more viewers locally than Jets broadcasts. This past season, according to Nielsen Co. figures, the Giants’ regular-season games averaged a 12.5 rating in the New York market compared with an 11.5 average for Jets games. The Giants also boast three Super Bowl wins, including most recently in the 2007 season, and four appearances in the title game.

    “Although bragging rights for New York’s most popular football team is not nearly as obvious as the Yankees being the king of baseball or the Knicks consistently outshining the Nets, I’d have to say the Giants have the edge,” said Ken Podziba, who recently left his post as New York City sports commissioner to run Bike New York. “Their much-longer history, greater on-field success and even the fact that the stadium for so many years was their home are all factors that contributed to the Giants’ popularity.”

    The Jets have just one Super Bowl win and appearance, in 1969. But with big spending from owner Woody Johnson, a matinee idol at quarterback in Mark Sanchez and a berth in this season’s AFC Championship Game, optimism is high.

    “I see the gap continuing to close,” Podziba said, “with a larger group of young fans being attracted to the Jets … and the Jets’ thrilling comeback this season.”

    The Giants, at the Jets’ request, sources said, did not take executive offices in the new stadium, but rather at their nearby practice facility, further underscoring the new stadium being neutral ground for the two sides. The Jets are headquartered in Florham, N.J.

    Both teams are selling PSLs for the new stadium. The Giants are thought to be close to selling out while the Jets still have seats to fill.

  • Michael Waltrip Racing taps Just Marketing for consulting work

    Michael Waltrip Racing enters the 2010 season with a growing sponsor base, a new driver and a sense of momentum enjoyed by few NASCAR teams, and now it can count Just Marketing International on its side as well.

    The three-year-old race team has a new consulting agreement with JMI that MWR hopes will broaden its sales and marketing reach.

    “We need more ammo than we have,” said Ty Norris, MWR’s vice president and general manager.

    Norris is part of a three-person business development team at MWR that grows to four when Waltrip joins the sales process. Waltrip is retreating into a part-time role as a driver, but the team picked up driver Martin Truex Jr. in the offseason to run the No. 56 NAPA car.

    JMI, a motorsports-specific agency based in Indianapolis with a client list that includes Subway, LG, UPS and Verizon, will be a non-exclusive consultant with the race team. JMI has hired Craig Amhaus from Dover Motorsports Inc. to be the agency’s day-to-day point person with MWR.

    Zak Brown, JMI’s chief executive, said the deal will permit the agency to continue to work with other teams, and MWR will remain open to deals that come from other agencies. The arrangement calls for MWR to pay the agency a retainer and a percentage from the deals that close, although financial specifics were not available.

    This is not the first time an agency and a team have joined forces. IMG and Joe Gibbs Racing struck a partnership last year that includes  sales and marketing, and a branding analysis of JGR’s drivers.

    Norris believes JMI will help the race team deepen its sponsor base, which could help MWR grow beyond its two-car operation.

    MWR’s primary sponsors include Aaron’s (with driver David Reutimann) and NAPA, which along with Toyota signed new long-term deals with the team. Best Western and Coca-Cola renewed, while the team added New Balance, Tums and Insurance Office of America.

    “The one thing you see happening a lot is that all the teams and agencies are bumping into each other within the U.S.,” Norris said. “We’d like to have the capability of looking internationally for more sponsorship opportunities, and that’s one area where JMI can certainly help.”

    JMI has offices in Germany and England, in addition to the U.S.

  • revives All-Star programming

    NBA Digital this week is reviving within its All-Star Scene area, an ambitious All-Star Game-themed digital programming effort that debuted a year ago.

    The prime addition to the All-Star Scene offering for this year’s event in Dallas will be 12 hours of live programming on Friday, Feb. 12, including an All-Star version of NBA Digital’s interactive talk show, “The Jump.” Like last year, the area also will include a variety of channels dedicated to player-developed content, user-generated material, and integration with real-time Facebook and Twitter feeds.

    That latter social-media element will particularly manifest itself during Commissioner David Stern’s Feb. 13 state of the league address, during which he will answer fan-submitted questions.

    “Everything we did before [in Phoenix last year] is coming back with a vengeance, and then some,” said Bryan Perez, NBA Digital senior vice president and general manager. “It’s a lot more boots on the ground and many more tentacles out there into the various activities of the All-Star Weekend.

    “We’re absolutely all about recreating the feeling of being there and bringing fans to places they couldn’t go even if they were there. It’s not just about content, but fans becoming part of the content remotely.”

    Like last year, it’s expected that many of the interactive elements of All-Star Scene will make their way onto other parts of and NBA TV during and after All-Star Weekend. Sponsors for the All-Star Scene effort include State Farm.

  • NFLPA paid Upshaw’s estate $16M out of trust

    The NFL Players Association paid the estate of its late executive director, Gene Upshaw, $16 million that had accumulated in a trust set up for the long-running leader of the union, according to the group’s tax return filed last month.

    The return also shows that the NFLPA lost $13.5 million in the fiscal year ended Feb. 28, 2009, because of steep investment losses. That in part led to the first annual decline in assets for the union in at least six years, according to the group’s tax returns (see chart).

    The disclosures emerge as the NFLPA is locked in contentious collective-bargaining negotiations with the NFL. Players have openly talked about the owners locking them out after the 2010 season.


    “Whenever you are about to go into [a] labor battle, which seems to be what the parties are girding for, you want to have a war chest,” said Joshua Zuckerberg, an attorney with Pryor Cashman, where he has represented both management and labor. “To the extent that [the NFLPA has] lost a lot on the market and they had to pay out a significant amount to the Upshaw estate, it is not great for their battle strategy.”

    That said, Zuckerberg added, the $194 million in assets claimed as of Feb. 28, 2009, is still a lot of money, and presumably the investments did better in the past 10 months given the relatively healthier stock market.

    The NFLPA disclosed in court documents in 2008 that its designated strike funds had reached nearly $120 million.

    The NFLPA lost $22.6 million on its investments in the 12 months ended Feb. 28, 2009, according to the tax return. The group’s investments stood at nearly $147 million at the end of that period.

    The NFLPA’s revenue, which does not include revenue from its for-profit licensing unit, was $62.7 million, with expenses of $51.2 million, giving the group a pre-investment gain of $11.5 million. Another $2.4 million of losses were tied to accounting adjustments, according to the return, leading to the overall $13.5 million loss.

    NFLPA Assets
    Year* Amount
    2009 $194 million
    2008 $208 million
    2007 $179 million
    2006 $159 million
    2005 $137 million
    2004 $119 million
    * Fiscal years ended Feb. 28 or 29
    Source: NFLPA tax returns

    The return also discloses that the NFLPA has taken nearly total control of its licensing and merchandise arm, NFL Players, the group formerly known as Players Inc. The NFLPA owned 97.9 percent of that entity as of Feb. 28, 2009, whereas a year earlier it owned 79 percent. An NFLPA charity owns the remainder.

    That subject became a point of contention when a group of former players sued the NFLPA over the distribution of licensing income. The main issue was the split between active and retired players, but the group made a point of asking why 20 percent of the revenue went not to players but instead to a charity.

    The group won a district court jury trial in late 2008, and the NFLPA, which appealed the decision, settled the case for $26.25 million.

    An NFL Players spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

    NFL Players revenue at the end of the fiscal 2009 period reached $102 million, roughly the same as the year earlier, according to the union’s tax return. However, assets dropped from $115.5 million to $84.2 million, according to the returns.

    Upshaw’s compensation when he was alive was a lighting rod for many of the league’s retired players. The NFLPA paid the $16 million out of a trust it established for its leader during his tenure, with his pay from NFL Players going directly into that fund. He died on Aug. 20, 2008.

    Upshaw’s longtime critics took aim at the recent disclosure.

    “I find it very disturbing but I don’t find it surprising,” said Dave Pear, a former Oakland Raiders player whose battle with the NFL and NFLPA over the long-term health effects of his playing injuries he documents on his blog, “Quite frankly, I thought it would be more. Millions of dollars for him, and pennies and half-pennies for his football brothers.”

    But Cathy Griffin, a compensation consultant with a specialty in sports, said the Upshaw payout is where it should’ve been for someone who for 25 years led what is arguably the biggest provider of entertainment talent.

    “I don’t think it is inappropriate when it is [viewed] over time and he has a long legacy of contributions,” Griffin said.

  • PGA of America posts $7 million profit

    The PGA of America cleared more than $7 million from operations in its fiscal year ended June 30, 2009, the first operating profit it has posted since it last hosted a Ryder Cup.

    The organization, which sees income spikes every four years when it hosts a Ryder Cup on U.S. soil, put on the event at Valhalla Golf Club in fiscal 2009 and at Oakland Hills Country Club in fiscal 2005. The PGA of America posted an operating profit of $15 million in 2005.

    In the three-year stretch from 2006 to 2008, when it was without any U.S.-based Ryder Cups, the PGA of America lost an average of nearly $14 million annually on operations. The next Ryder Cup in the U.S. is scheduled for September 2012 at Medinah Country Club in Illinois.

    Income from spectator events
    Year Tournament revenue (000s) Tournament expenses (000s)
    2009 $149,926 $101,867
    2008 $76,945 $54,109
    2007 $85,891 $58,540
    2006 $70,902 $50,981
    2005 $157,244 $109,739
    Source: PGA of America

    The PGA of America is a not-for-profit organization that represents the 28,000 teaching professionals in the U.S. The group stages the PGA Championship, one of four majors in men’s golf, as well as the Senior PGA Championship, Grand Slam of Golf and the Ryder Cup.

    Revenue from spectator tournaments in fiscal 2009 was $150 million on expenses of $102 million, a $48 million profit that is roughly flat with the 2005 figures of $157 million in sales and $110 million in expenses.

    Sponsorship income — which included patron-level deals with American Express, Royal Bank of Scotland and Mercedes-Benz, as well as a group of smaller partners — was flat at just more than $7 million. Losses on golf course operations rose from $4.2 million to $5.6 million. The PGA of America cut general and administrative costs by nearly $2 million.

    None of the year-end figures include investment gains and losses, in order to give a clearer picture of operations. Annual fluctuations reported by the PGA of America represent the fair market value of its portfolio and not actual losses from the sale of stocks and bonds. Audited financial statements list losses of $32.6 million in 2009 and $10 million in 2008 on an undisclosed amount of total investments. The organization averaged $18 million in gains from investments over the previous four years.

  • PGA Tour lobbying efforts detailed

    The PGA Tour spent $420,000 to lobby Congress in 2009 to combat the backlash against sports-related spending by companies receiving federal bailouts, maintain nonprofit tax exemptions and increase government funding of its First Tee program.

    The recreational golf industry spent an additional $200,000 on issues related to golf course management.

    Fourth-quarter lobbying reports are still being filed by sports properties, but the PGA Tour’s spending through the first three quarters of 2009 was eclipsed only by MLB’s office of the commissioner ($370,000) and the NFL ($990,000).

    In the five-year stretch from 2004 to 2008, MLB’s $5.2 million in spending leads all major sports properties, followed by the NFL ($3.6 million), the PGA Tour ($2 million), International Speedway Corp. ($1.5 million) and the NBA ($1.4 million).

    PGA Tour lobbying expenses
    2009 $420,000
    2008 $450,000
    2007 $420,000
    2006 $380,000
    2005 $420,000
    2004 $440,000
    2003 $320,000
    2002 $180,000
    2001 $180,000
    2000 $140,000
    Source: Lobbying Disclosure Act

    The PGA Tour has reported at least $400,000 in lobbying expenses every year but one since 2004, primarily on taxation issues affecting exempt organizations.

    The tour spent $220,000 with its lead lobbyist, DLA Piper, to lobby members of Congress on tax legislation and provisions in the federal stimulus package regarding how companies receiving federal bailout money could spend the funds. There were fears that, in TARP contracts, the government would place spending limits on marketing budgets.

    DLA Piper, which has worked for the tour since 2002, also tried to influence the extension of part of a now-expired tax code that exempted the PGA Tour and other nonprofits from paying income tax on business activity related to their exempt purpose or on income from dividends, interest, rent and royalties.

    The PGA Tour’s other lobbying dollars were spent on issues it addresses annually on Capitol Hill. Holland & Knight and Dan Tate were paid about $80,000 and $120,000, respectively, to lobby for appropriations and grants for First Tee and other taxation issues affecting exempt organizations.

    Congressional lobbying has traditionally been led at the tour by co-COO Charlie Zink and CFO Ron Price, with assistance from executive vice president Ty Votaw. Commissioner Tim Finchem, a former White House adviser, is involved on key issues.

    The recreational golf industry — led by the PGA of America and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America — focused most of its lobbying dollars on issues affecting golf course ownership, such as health care, tax legislation, environmental issues and temporary worker laws. The two organizations are part of a new collective lobbying effort launched last week called We Are Golf.

    Among the golf equipment manufacturers, Acushnet and Nike lobbied for legislation to reduce import tariffs on their products.

  • Players step up as part of NFL union’s overall strategy

    The NFL Players Association isn’t saying what’s going to happen or who’ll be talking at its annual Super Bowl news conference this week.

    “All I will say is bring your popcorn,” said George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs.

    Still, it’s a relevant question. The NFLPA’s previous executive director, Gene Upshaw, did essentially all the talking for the union, but the union’s media strategy has shifted with the election of DeMaurice Smith to the position. Players have been speaking out in greater numbers as the NFLPA negotiates with the league in advance of a March 2011 collective-bargaining agreement expiration.

    When Smith ran for the position after Upshaw died in August 2008, he did so in part on a platform that players themselves take ownership in their union. “The media strategy is players first and that is not something we came up with,” Atallah said. “That is something that the players have communicated to us that they want to participate in. So we simply act as facilitators for that.”

    Smith, in a brief interview last week, would not comment on media strategy, except to echo the sentiment, “Our strategy is players first.”

    Players speaking out include official
    Kevin Mawae as well as lower-
    ranking members.

    Although leagues have hired high-level communications strategists, the NFLPA has not hired an outside media consultant. “We have to try to be lean,” Atallah said.

    Players speaking out include those beyond top-level union representatives such as player President Kevin Mawae of the Tennessee Titans. Others voicing their opinions on labor-related issues in recent months include player representatives Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Robbie Gould of the Chicago Bears and executive committee member Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, who drew criticism for writing an op-ed piece in The Washington Post on the potential labor implications of the American Needle v. NFL case that went before the Supreme Court last month.

     “I think we do have a great story to tell,” Mawae said. “I think our players are speaking it. If a guy is a $100 million quarterback or a $300,000-a-year second-year guy, no one wants to give 20 percent of his salary back,” referring to the league’s economic proposal that would reduce the revenue going into the calculation of the salary cap by more than 18 percent.

    Atallah, who worked at Qorvis, a Washington, D.C.-based firm specializing in corporate communications, is another new voice for the union in traditional media and on Twitter, where he has had spirited exchanges with NFL PR executives Joe Browne and Greg Aiello (see sidebar).

    The league declined a request to discuss its media strategy and would not say whether it had hired an outside communications consultant.

    There are good things and bad things about having active players, who, by the very nature of their jobs are in their 20s or early 30s, put out the union’s message, labor and media experts say.

    NBA and MLB player agent Arn Tellem, a strong sports union activist, said that players speaking out could help the union’s position, as long as the union is educating them and preparing them. “But the risk there is as more players speak out it opens the door for players who may not be as familiar with the issues to speak out. There is a risk of the message being diluted or players will get off message or say conflicting things that could hurt the message.”

    Mawae said that NFL players are more interested in workplace issues than ever before because they know the potential of a lockout is real, and that they have been seeking answers from the union. “I think our players are telling it [the union’s position], and when you listen to them they are on the same page and they are speaking the same language, [although] they might not say it the same way.”

    Although NFL players are young, they are college-educated and have been given data and information to back up what they are saying, Mawae said.

    National Basketball Players Association spokesman Dan Wasserman said, “It’s crucial to have players involved in the union’s PR strategy. First, it insulates the union from the management claim that the union agenda is lawyer- and/or agent-driven. Second, it creates a dilemma from a league standpoint because there has to be sensitivity towards bashing the product and the athletes are the sports industry’s ultimate asset.”

    Sports unions trying to win the PR war must overcome an inherent disadvantage, say labor-side experts. Tellem said the leagues are in a much better position to shape the media message than the players are.

    “The media is more dependent on the teams and leagues for stories and they require the good will of teams and leagues to do their jobs,” he said.

    NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter told SportsBusiness Journal last summer that he felt the media sided with the league during the 1998-99 NBA lockout. League officials “were always getting their spin out,” Hunter said. “The league is the one with the relationship with the media, not the union. When the league signs a national TV deal, who do they sign with? They don’t sign with the union.”

    The NFLPA’s Atallah agrees that the NFL has an inherent advantage in media relations. Not only does the NFL have “an incredible brand,” Atallah said, but the league has “an incredible army of people they employ” to get its message across, including communications staff at the 32 NFL clubs. “I think we know what we’re up against,” he said.

    Whether more NFL players speak out, as the labor negotiations intensify is yet to be determined, Atallah said. “It’s up to them. And it’s up to us, as a union, to determine what is the best way of competing with the league’s machine.”

  • Revival of Olympic ambush marketing shows power of Games

    Alleged ambush marketing campaigns by Subway and Verizon Wireless drew a strong rebuke last week from the U.S. and International Olympic committees, but they also delivered both organizations a strange sense of relief and validation.

    After all, it has been a long time since either organization needed to rebuke an ambush campaign in the U.S. There were no significant ambush marketing campaigns prior to the Beijing Games, making it more than four years since the USOC last reprimanded a non-Olympic sponsor for infringing on Olympic rights.

    “Does it validate the fact that the Olympics are still a powerful marketing tool? You could say that,” said Gary Pluchino, IMG senior vice president. “It certainly shows there is corporate interest out there and people want to associate their products as near as possible to the Vancouver Games.”

    Prior to the 2008 Beijing Games, Olympic sponsors and non-Olympic sponsors alike were reluctant to associate with the Games because of criticism by human rights groups like Dream for Darfur and protests during the Olympic torch relay. But ahead of the Vancouver Games, there have already been two cases of alleged ambush marketing by Subway and Verizon Wireless, and Under Armour has tried to link itself to the event by using imagery of Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn.

    The uptick in ambush marketing reflects not only the Olympics’ ability to move past the controversy that preceded the Beijing Games but also the success of those Olympics, which averaged a 16.9 rating and 27.7 million viewers over 17 prime-time telecasts on NBC. It also reflects the heightened interest anticipated for a North American Games with a friendlier time zone.

    “You have to take it as a backhanded compliment,” said Timo Lumme, the IOC’s managing director of television and marketing services. “The Olympic telecast and the Olympic Games is an important event that attracts a lot of attention.”

    Subway and Verizon’s campaigns are just the latest in a long line of efforts by companies hoping to benefit from the Olympic marks without paying to officially associate with the Games. Instead, each paid to associate with Olympic stakeholders who allowed them to affiliate with the Games.

    USOC chief marketer Lisa Baird said the organization has contacted Subway and Verizon Wireless, but she declined to say whether or not those companies would change their ads in any way. The USOC has not contacted Under Armour.

    Ads by Subway (top, with Michael Phelps) and
    Verizon have drawn the ire of the IOC and
    USOC and their sponsors.

    “There’s clearly a right way to use [Olympic athletes] and a way that associates with the Olympics that is not OK,” Baird said. “We’re watching it very vigilantly.”

    Currently, Subway is running a commercial that features swimmer Michael Phelps swimming his way across land toward Vancouver “where the action is this winter.” Though the idea of a swimmer churning through streets toward the Pacific Northwest might strike some as absurd, it struck worldwide Olympic sponsor McDonald’s as an inappropriate infringement on the company’s association with the Vancouver Games.

    “It’s parasitic marketing because what Subway’s doing is creating the impression that somehow they’re affiliated with the Olympics and Olympic hopefuls,” said Rob Prazmark, a longtime Olympic marketer and founder of 21 Marketing. “If successful, they damage the very vehicle that generates real revenue for the training of Olympic athletes.”

    A McDonald’s spokesman said the company backed the IOC’s effort to “defend against ambush marketing tactics, which only hurt the Olympic Movement and athletes.”

    In a statement, Subway said: “Subway disagrees with the USOC’s perspective and the conclusions being drawn from it. We are well within our rights of utilizing our marketing assets, which include Michael Phelps who has been a fan of Subway for many years. Since late 2008, Phelps has been part of several Subway marketing campaigns and we are looking forward to continuing to work with him throughout 2010 and beyond.”

    Peter Carlisle, Phelps’ agent with Octagon, said: “Subway’s been a great supporter of Michael and we abide by the rules. We try to make the most we can within the space left for athletes. Through deals we generate in that space, these athletes get the funding necessary to compete.”

    In the case of Verizon Wireless, the company is airing a commercial that shows a U.S. speedskater being pulled to victory by the power of Verizon’s red, 3G network. That commercial has upset the USOC’s official telecommunications partner, AT&T, which is depicted in the commercial as the network slowing down the competing speedskater.

    Verizon cut a four-month sponsorship agreement with U.S. Speedskating in order to develop the ad. Company spokeswoman Brenda Raney said Verizon believes the commercial merely exercises its right to acknowledge its U.S. Speedskating sponsorship. She added, “We are an ethical company and we take great pride in conducting our business ethically.”

    Verizon’s deal with U.S. Speedskating is a challenge for the USOC. The organization annually contributes money to each national governing body, but it doesn’t fully fund NGBs or buy out NGB marketing rights. Because those NGBs are autonomous, they can look to non-Olympic sponsors to help fund their operations.

    “If [Verizon] wants to sponsor speed-skating, they should support speedskating year-round and not just for four months,” Prazmark said. “But until the United States Olympic Committee figures out a way to subsidize NGBs’ lost revenue, they will be allowed to contract competing brands, and parasitic marketers will be able to market around the Olympic Games.”

    Staff writer Terry Lefton contributed to this story.

  • The NFL rocks on

    In an unprompted bit of machismo last week, John Bogusz declared that more people will watch Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast than ever before.

    “Our game is going to do a record number,” he said.

    Well, who can blame him? 

    The CBS Sports ad sales chief had seen the staggering viewership numbers from the NFL’s conference championship games just days earlier, which reached levels not seen in nearly three decades.

    The NFC Championship (57.9 million viewers) and AFC Championship (46.9 million viewers) games averaged 52.9 million viewers, the league’s most since 1982. 

    Yes, that’s 1982, when only three broadcast networks ruled the television landscape and ESPN was not even three years old.

    The numbers are remarkable in that they stand in stark contrast to the decades-old digital media trend where more television and broadband video choices cause more fragmented audiences and lower viewer numbers.

    The Saints-Vikings NFC Championship Game drew
    a staggering 57.9 million viewers.

    The ratings also reinforce the NFL’s reputation as the country’s strongest sports entity and television property.

    By far.

    “It’s the best thing on TV,” said Tom McGovern, managing director of Optimum Sports. “The NFL obviously has been successful in reaching a broader audience.”

    League ratings and viewership grew for all five of its network partners during the regular season and have grown even further in the playoffs.

    The numbers are the talk of the industry, representing a trend that has defied conventional wisdom and bucked all traditional thought.

    Networks have long believed that good ratings are dependent on close games. But three of the four wild card games were decided by more than 10 points and three of the four divisional playoff games were decided by more than 17 points. Those eight games averaged 31.4 million viewers, the highest level since the mid-1990s, when the Internet was in its infancy.

    TV executives also follow the credo that big markets drive big ratings. But three of the four championship teams came from markets that were nowhere near the top 10 in the country, and ratings reached levels not seen since Joe Montana was a young quarterback for the 49ers.

    So why are these playoff ratings up so much this year?

    The Three Most-Viewed Super Bowls In History
    2009 XLIII NBC 42.0 98,732 Steelers-Cardinals
    2008 XLII Fox 43.1 97,448 Giants-Patriots
    1996 XXX NBC 46.0 94,080 Cowboys-Steelers

    Nobody seems to be able to pinpoint an exact reason.

    Fox Sports Chairman David Hill said the NFL’s viewership numbers this year are a result of years of rules tinkering by the league to make its game more appealing.

    “I don’t know of any sport in the world that spends so much time examining all options to make its game better,” Hill said. “The NFL is unbelievably adept at adding things to make the game better and eradicating things that fans don’t enjoy so much.”

    When pressed on why the numbers are so much higher this postseason, Hill said it essentially comes down to story lines. The league has been filled with them this year, from quarterback Brett Favre playing in Minnesota to the hurricane-ravaged New Orleans market finding on-field success.

    “I don’t think there’s any hidden psychological or socioeconomic reason for the increase,” Hill said.

    CBS’s Bogusz also suggested that the postseason story lines are keeping viewers tuned in. “I think that it’s attracted people,” he said.

    Stephen Master, vice president at Nielsen Sports, said the playoff ratings mark a continuation of a seasonlong trend of higher ratings. “There’s such a high level of engagement invested in the season already,” said Master, who sold sponsorships at the NFL until early last year.

    Nielsen has not been able to provide conclusive evidence that the poor economy is keeping people at home, driving up ratings. “In good times and bad, people are still tuning in,” Master said.

    Nor could the company find conclusive evidence that the popularity of HDTV sets is contributing to the big numbers.

    But longtime sports media consultant Neal Pilson pointed to the economy and technology as a reason for the increase. “NFL numbers are up all season due in part to the recession and people staying home to watch sports on their new HD sets,” he said. But he felt the ratings are “no surprise” given the strong regular-season ratings. 

    “Great story lines into the playoffs with [Peyton] Manning, Favre, New Orleans and the Jets,” he said.  “I expect a good Super Bowl rating as well if the game is close — perhaps a 43.5.”

    A rating north of a 43 would top the stellar ratings for the last two Super Bowls, which also set viewership records.

    The consensus view is that the NFL is a TV ratings juggernaut and nobody would be surprised if viewership numbers continue to be broken.

    “The NFL continues to defy predictability as far as what a lock it has on American culture,” said David Baxter, president of Adidas’ sports licensed division.

  • Versus plans news and entertainment show in 6 ET slot

    Versus will launch a daily news and entertainment show in the second quarter that company executives call a cross between a morning news show and a late-night talk show.

    The hourlong show will occupy the 6-7 p.m. ET time slot Monday through Friday, which now consists of programming ranging from original series to sports events. Versus has not settled on a name or hosts for the show, which will be shot in New York.

    “The same way a good morning show gets you ready for the day, we want this show to get viewers ready for the sporting night ahead,” said Versus President Jamie Davis.

    When Davis started at Versus in September 2008, he made the development of original programming one of his priorities, though he said he had no desire to launch a daily news show that would compete with ESPN’s popular “SportsCenter.”

    The planned show will feature guests, call-in segments and digital applications, like online chats.

    Davis has overseen the highest-rated year in the network’s history. Versus set network highs in prime time and total day, logging a total of more than 113 million total-day viewers in 2009, an increase over 2008 of more than 16 million viewers. That audience growth gave Versus executives confidence that a base exists to support a daily show.

    Davis also has been encouraged by the success of original shows like “Sports Soup” and “Sports Jobs.”
    “Fanarchy” completed its original run in August and is on the shelf. Davis credits those types of shows for helping Versus develop the type of personality to launch a daily show.

    “What’s our personality? Well, we’re a little bit edgy and a little bit different than what you’d expect,” Davis said.

  • Voices from both sides take labor issues to Twitter

    Rhetoric leading up to the expiration of a collective-bargaining agreement is normal, but this edition of the NFL-NFLPA public relations battle is already shaping up to be different from anything sports has seen before. There is noticeably more public posturing coming from both sides and some of the volume is coming from voices that haven’t been as audible before. 

    In addition, Twitter has provided a powerful new venue for the sabre-rattling. George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director (@GAtallah), has exchanged Twitter barbs more than once with longtime NFL PR executive Joe Browne (@NFLonTheHill), as well as with Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president of communications (@gregaiello), who appears to be taking a substantial role in the NFL’s labor PR efforts.

    Topics being Tweeted have not solely focused on the economics discussed at the bargaining table. Other issues that have emerged include whether retired players are being pitted against active players and whether NFLPA executive committee member Drew Brees should have penned an op-ed piece for The Washington Post on the potential labor impact of the American Needle v. the NFL case before the Supreme Court.

    Aiello has been actively re-tweeting — from New York Giants co-owner John Mara’s comments that he is “frustrated” by the lack of progress in labor talks to a comment by a retired players group urging the union to get more money to former players now.

    Reconstruction shows the Browne-Atallah
    Twitter exchange after Brees’ op-ed.

    But some of the most direct barbs toward the NFLPA have come from longtime NFL public affairs chief Browne, who has, among other things, questioned why the NFLPA members have spent so much time on Capitol Hill and why union lawyers would allow Brees to open himself up to potential criticism before the playoffs.

    In early January, Browne posted three tweets about it, including one that said, “Error-prone and misinformed piece with Drew’s by-line should not taint great season he had on field. Wish him only the best next Sat.”

    The NFLPA responded, with Atallah posting a tweet that said, in part, “stay classy Joe Browne.”

    Asked about it last week, Atallah still questions the NFL’s motive.

    “Any time a league official tries to question a player’s integrity, it comes as a shock, because a player like Drew Brees is precisely the type of person and player the league uses to generate revenue,” Atallah said.

    Players also noticed Browne’s take on Brees’ op-ed, as well as some of negative comments from media outlets, including a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that sarcastically described him as “renowned antitrust expert Drew Brees.” Aiello applauded that piece, tweeting, “Finally some common sense applied 2 American Needle hysteria by WSJ.”

    NFLPA President Kevin Mawae told SportsBusiness Journal last week: “When Drew spoke out on behalf of 1,900 players like he was elected to do, I think he was doing the right thing, and for any part of the media to come down on him because he is taking a stand, I think is ignorant, and I think is wrong.”

    Browne insists he wasn’t questioning Brees integrity, saying only, in an e-mail, “I used exactly 420 characters in three tweets to say Drew is good guy, wish him luck against the Cards and question why the union lawyers would distract him by injecting him into a Supreme Court case regarding intellectual property a week before the then-biggest game of his career. I heard from several players and retired players who agreed with me. The union lawyers obviously don’t.”

    Browne has also posted at least one Tweet about the amount of time players have spent lobbying members of Congress on Capitol Hill, writing on July 15, 2009, “Hill staffers puzzled why NFLPA leaders R back today to complain to Members re NFL’s antitrust exemption.”

    Mawae said he is aware of Browne’s comments. “His comment was we need to spend more time negotiating and less time on the Capitol Hill,” Mawae said. “And last time I was in there negotiating, Joe Browne wasn’t.”

    No one would speculate as to whether the free-wheeling use of Twitter will continue to be an open forum for the labor talks, but any interested labor observer might want to start following some of these people now, a year and a half before the first regular-season game could be lost to a potential labor stoppage.

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