SBJ/Feb. 7-13, 2011/Media

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  • NBC veterans move in at Comcast cable properties

    Comcast may be the one taking over NBC, but in the sports division of the newly forming company, it appears that NBC is king.

    Just days after Comcast’s acquisition of NBC became official, longtime NBC executive Dick Ebersol began reshaping Comcast’s cable sports properties, sweeping out many of Comcast’s programming and production executives and installing longtime NBC executives in their stead. Executives who have worked with Ebersol for decades at the broadcast network now will be charged with creating a cable sports power that will compete with ESPN, Fox and Turner for sports rights.

    Dick Ebersol (right) named Jon Miller (left) to oversee programming at Versus and NBC Sports.
    A strong management team at the cable sports networks is important to Ebersol, who has told SportsBusiness Journal that one of his priorities is to rebrand Comcast’s sports channels, including new names and new logos for Versus and Golf Channel. There’s no word on what those channels will be called, but the changes will not happen immediately and could possibly be pushed into next year.

    Later this month, NBC’s telecast of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship will carry an on-screen logo describing NBC’s golf coverage as “Golf Channel on NBC,” Ebersol said. Initially, the channels will not share on-air talent that much; eventually, they will. The executive who will play a big part in making that crossover happen is NBC’s longtime marketing chief John Miller, whom Ebersol last month installed to oversee marketing and promotions at the new group.

    Last week, Ebersol set his focus on programming and production. He installed NBC Sports veterans Jon Miller (no relation) and Sam Flood to oversee programming and production, respectively, across both Versus and NBC Sports. Both executives will report to Mark Lazarus, who is president of NBC Sports Cable Group and an executive with years of cable programming experience, stemming from his time running Turner Sports. Jon Litner will oversee both Versus and Comcast SportsNet as president of both groups.

    The moves end the 2 1/2-year reign of Jamie Davis as president of Versus. Davis, who joined the channel in September 2008 after a stint as ESPN Star Sports managing director, oversaw growth, including Versus posting a record $60 million in revenue last year. An official release said he will continue to work with Lazarus on strategy and planning for the NBC Sports Cable Group while he looks for other work.

    The moves also put an end to the Versus careers of two longtime channel executives. The network’s coordinating producer for NHL games, Mike Baker, and senior vice president/executive producer Leon Schweir were told that they will not be in those roles going forward. It is not known if they will assume other roles within Comcast. On the digital side, Neal Scarbrough, Versus vice president, digital media, also was told that he will not be returning with the network.

    Mike McCarley becomes president of Golf Channel.
    Ebersol installed one of his closest executives, Mike McCarley, as president of Golf Channel. McCarley, who has run communications and marketing for NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, is a member of Ebersol’s inner circle and has been with NBC since the late 1990s. In September, Page Thompson left Golf Channel, stepping down after a three-year run as president. Like Versus, Golf Channel posted record revenue in 2010 — $100 million, sources said — and that growth trend is expected to continue this year.

    In other moves, Ken Schanzer will continue as NBC Sports president. He will become the lead negotiator for all NBC Sports Group partnership agreements. Gary Zenkel will remain NBC Olympics president and executive vice president of strategic partnerships for NBC Sports.

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  • Rise and fall of LeBron's teams

    NBA teams' RSN ratings
    Top 5
    Team RSN Avg. rating
    San Antonio FS Southwest 10.01
    Utah FS Utah 6
    Miami Sun Sports 5.4
    L.A. Lakers FS West 4.9
    Boston CSN New England 4.81
    Bottom 5
    Washington CSN Mid-Atlantic 1.28
    Atlanta SportSouth 1.27
    Charlotte SportSouth 0.91
    L.A. Clippers Prime Ticket 0.82
    New Jersey YES 0.29

    Top 5
    Team RSN Change
    Miami Sun Sports 118%
    Minnesota FS North 86%
    L.A. Clippers Prime Ticket 75%
    Chicago CSN Chicago 60%
    San Antonio FS Southwest 57%
    Bottom 5
    Denver Altitude -19%
    Milwaukee FS Wisconsin -28%
    Detroit FS Detroit -32%
    Atlanta SportSouth -34%
    Cleveland FS Ohio -53%

    Top 6
    Team RSN Avg. no. of HHs
    L.A. Lakers FS West 278,000
    Chicago CSN Chicago 141,000
    Boston CSN New England 118,000
    New York MSG 115,000
    Miami Sun Sports 85,000
    San Antonio FS Southwest 85,000
    Bottom 6
    New Jersey YES 22,000
    Sacramento CSN California 22,000
    Oklahoma City FS Oklahoma 19,000
    Memphis SportSouth 17,000
    Milwaukee FS Wisconsin 16,000
    Charlotte SportSouth 11,000
    Note: Current-season data was not available for New Orleans and Toronto, and comparable 2009-10 information was not available for Sacramento. Compiled by John Ourand, David Broughton
    The Heat is a top-5 team in ratings, viewers.
    The specter of LeBron James is hanging over the NBA's local TV ratings for the first half of the season.

    James' Miami Heat has posted the biggest local TV ratings increase of all NBA teams through January, more than doubling last year's mark: up 118 percent to an average rating of 5.40 on Sun Sports.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers, the team James left after last season, has seen the biggest decrease, with Cavs games on FS Ohio dropping 53 percent to an average rating of 4.07 through Jan. 31.

    But the news isn't all bad for the Cavs. The 4.07 average rating is seventh-best in the NBA, and Cleveland's average viewership of 62,000 households per game is good enough for eighth in the league, surprisingly impressive numbers for a team that has the NBA's worst record and had lost 22 straight games as of last week.

    Overall, local ratings for the NBA so far this season are strong: 16 teams were posting ratings increases through January, 11 teams had declines.

    In Miami, the Heat's 5.40 average rating on Sun Sports ranks No. 3 in the league; its average of 85,000 households per game is tied for fifth.

    "This team is fun to watch, and the ratings reflect that," said Steve Tello, senior vice president and general manager of Sun Sports. "Both new and existing advertisers have taken notice, and the games have enhanced the value for our affiliates. It's been a nice boost to our business."

    Another success story is in San Antonio, where the league-leading Spurs have averaged a 10.01 local rating. In Chicago, the Bulls' 4.02 average rating on CSN Chicago is up 60 percent from last year and is double the club's mark from halfway through the 2008-09 season.

    The New Jersey Nets are posting the lowest local ratings, with a 0.29 average on YES. The Los Angeles Clippers (0.82 on Prime Ticket) and Charlotte Bobcats (0.91 on SportSouth) are the two other clubs averaging less than a 1.0 locally.

    Los Angeles Lakers' games on FS West command the NBA's biggest local audiences, with an average of 278,000 homes tuning in for each game. The Lakers are followed by the Bulls, Boston and New York.

    The league's smallest local TV audiences have been in Charlotte, where Bobcats games have been viewed by an average of 11,000 homes. Milwaukee (16,000 on FS Wisconsin), Memphis (17,000 on SportSouth) and Oklahoma City (19,000 on FS Oklahoma) also have audiences below 20,000.

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  • NHL viewership trends tied to hockey tradition, Northern exposure

    NHL teams’ RSN ratings
    Top 5
    Team RSN Avg. rating
    Pittsburgh FSN Pittsburgh 9.05
    Buffalo MSG 6.51
    Detroit FS Detroit 4.03
    St. Louis FS Midwest 3.29
    Boston NESN 2.77

     Bottom 5
    Los Angeles FS West 0.44
    Anaheim Prime Ticket 0.38
    N.Y. Islanders MSG Plus 0.3
    Atlanta SportSouth/FS South 0.26
    Florida FS Florida 0.19

    Rating change from 2009-10
    Top 5
    Team RSN Change
    St. Louis FS Midwest 41%
    Boston NESN 36%
    Washington CSN Mid-Atlantic 29%
    Tampa Bay Sun Sports 27%
    Los Angeles FS West 26%

     Bottom 5
    N.Y. Islanders MSG Plus -23%
    Atlanta SportSouth* -24%
    San Jose CSN California -27%
    Florida FS Florida -27%
    Columbus FS Ohio -41%

    Top 5
    Team RSN Avg. no. of HHs
    Pittsburgh FSN Pittsburgh 105,000
    Chicago CSN Chicago 89,000
    Detroit FS Detroit 76,000
    Boston NESN 68,000
    Philadelphia CSN Philadelphia 63,000

     Bottom 5
    Tampa Bay Sun Sports 14,000
    Columbus FS Ohio 10,000
    Phoenix FS Arizona 9,000
    Atlanta SportSouth/FS South 6,000
    Florida FS Florida 3,000
    Note: Viewership data for Carolina, Nashville and the NHL's six Canadian teams was not available. * Information on Thrashers games on FS Atlanta for 2009-10 was not available. Compiled by John Ourand, David Broughton

    At the halfway point of its season, the NHL's local TV ratings in the United States are marked by the haves and the have-nots.

    The biggest traditional U.S. hockey markets have seen strong growth and big audiences, but the sport still seems to be struggling on TV in the Sun Belt.

    The Penguins sit comfortably atop the ratings.
    The Pittsburgh Penguins are drawing the biggest local TV audiences leaguewide, with an average of 105,000 homes watching the team's games on FSN Pittsburgh through the All-Star break. The rest of the league's leaders for ratings and viewership are mainly teams in cold-weather markets, including Boston, Chicago and Detroit.

    Conversely, teams in warm-weather markets dominate the bottom of the NHL's local TV chart. An average of 3,000 homes watch Panthers games on FS Florida, and an average of 6,000 homes watch Thrashers games on FS South and SportSouth.

    One head-scratcher is in Tampa, where the Lightning on the ice went into the All-Star break as the second-place team in the Eastern Conference. On Sun Sports, the team has registered a 27 percent increase to a 0.79 rating, the league's fourth-highest jump, but the Lightning's average of 14,000 homes per game is the league's fifth lowest.

    St. Louis games on FS Midwest are up a league-leading 41 percent to an average rating of 3.29. The biggest drop-off has come in Columbus, where Blue Jackets games on FS Ohio have dropped 41 percent.

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  • Virtual ads gain traction in NHL

    Virtual sign technology is still relatively new in the NHL, but teams have seen demand for its unique ad placement as more potential sponsors see it on television.

    The Flyers are introducing PSAs into the virtual advertising on their broadcasts.
    The “green screen” technology, where NHL teams can sell virtual ads for home games that aren’t televised nationally, is in its second year. The New York Rangers first tested it in 2008-09 through the MSG Network, said Art Ventura, the network’s senior vice president of media sales.

    The Flyers, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Capitals and Rangers are using the technology now, selling space on the glass behind the two goals and, in New York, an additional spot between the team benches at Madison Square Garden.

    The Blackhawks, in their second season using the technology, have virtual sign deals with Chevrolet, Harris Bank, MB Financial Bank, the Illinois Lottery, Robert Morris College and Toyota. Those deals are valued in the mid-six figures, and each sponsor owns one goal per period, said Dave Knickerbocker, the team’s senior executive director of marketing and business development. The brands take turns sharing exposure for overtime games.

    “We sold out of our dasherboards for the second year in a row and there was demand for TV-visible signage,” Knickerbocker said. “The response has been strong [from advertisers] for the amount of time it’s on television. There is a lot of action behind the goals. We are sold out for virtual ads too and are compiling a list of people who have expressed interest.”

    The Flyers are in their first year of using virtual ads and expect to generate “a little north of a half-million” in revenue by season’s end, said Joe Croce, senior vice president of sales for Comcast SportsNet. The team charges $3,500 a game in deals with Comcast Business Class digital communications, Geico, Immaculata University, McDonald’s, Powerball, Toyota, Verizon, Virtua Health System, Wawa convenience stores, Wells Fargo and Xfinity.

    The Flyers pay $2,700 a game in production costs to Sportvision, the tech firm that the NHL uses to operate the virtual sign system. Philly carves its inventory into shorter increments of time where each brand gets a few minutes of exposure during each period. Some deals are tied to 10-game packages; others, such as McDonald’s and Toyota, run the entire season.

    Comparing revenue vs. expenses, signing a virtual sign deal with just one company “puts you in the green a little,” Croce said. “For the playoffs, we can increase our rates because the TV ratings quadruple.”

    For the second half of the NHL season, the Flyers are putting game statistics and public service announcements on the same glass spaces behind the nets where ads are placed, Croce said. Now that fans watching the games on television are accustomed to seeing the virtual ads, the noncommercial messages should catch their eye, he said.

    The Blue Jackets, in their first season using virtual ads, picked up two new sponsors, Chrysler Jeep Dodge and Safelight Auto Glass, as a result of the technology, said Cameron Scholvin, the team’s senior vice president of corporate development.

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  • Silver Chalice forms digital advertising network

    Silver Chalice New Media has created a new digital advertising network called Season, marking a major expansion for the Chicago White Sox-owned business unit beyond its original focus in digital content and technology development and advisory work.

    An acronym for Sports Entertainment Advertising, Sponsorship and Operations Network, Season aggregates digital content from destinations encompassing more than a dozen major sports, providing a consolidated option for brand marketers and agencies.

    Within Season are Pro Football Weekly, with which Silver Chalice aligned last fall to create a series of digital properties including a real-time football news network; U.K.-based digital outfit the Perform Group, which syndicates online video highlight rights from sports properties around the world; and digital inventory from more than 20 NBA teams, among other entities. Silver Chalice is also seeking to create additional digital properties of its own that would be sold through Season.

    The creation of a sales component to Silver Chalice was part of the company’s original plan. But upon forming in 2009, the company then did not have enough assets to make it work, and the advertising market at that point was mired in a deep, recession-fueled slump.

    “We always knew we were going to need a strong sales team, a strong sales component to Silver Chalice,” said Brooks Boyer, Silver Chalice chief executive and White Sox vice president and chief marketing officer. “This is really the next big step in the development of the operation. We see a big need, and a big opportunity, putting digital assets and buyers together.”

    Silver Chalice has hired six executives to lead sales for Season. Rich Routman, formerly of XOS Digital, Collegiate Images and the NFL, will serve as executive vice president and general manager. Joining him will be Greg Abraham, formerly of NBC Universal Sports; Marc Mallett, formerly with Vevo, a digital music joint venture involving Sony and Universal Music; Dan Scalia, also formerly with XOS Digital; Reva Friedel, formerly with adventure travel hub iExplore; and Stephen Clifford, formerly with

    Ad applications within Season will include video pre-rolls, traditional display placements and other rich media executions.

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