April 25 - May 1, 2011 Vol. 14 — No. 2

Top Stories

  • NHL's long-term business plan pays off

    Comcast’s Brian Roberts was talking with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman nearly two weeks ago. The two high-ranking executives had known each other a long time. Bettman has been the NHL’s commissioner for 18 years, and Roberts’ Comcast has owned the league’s Flyers franchise for 15 years through Comcast-Spectacor.

    Though the two are friends, Bettman had a tough message to deliver: Days earlier, ESPN told the league that it would make an aggressive bid on the NHL’s media package. Bettman told Roberts that ESPN’s planned bid of $160 million to $170 million per year would test NBC’s and Versus’ right-to-match clause, which several media executives described as the tightest such clause they had ever seen. The clause gave NBC the right to match any deal the NHL signed with another network.

    But it would be hard for NBC to match ESPN’s planned offer. ESPN told the NHL that it would televise every Stanley Cup playoff game nationally. ESPN said that it would stream the games to authenticated broadband and mobile users. And ESPN guaranteed an international component as part of its planned offer. ESPN’s deal would include a regular-season Game of the Week, but it was not making the broadcast network ABC available. The details were new for Roberts, who did not want to lose the NHL. In early discussions with the league, the NBC Sports Group had resisted the idea of televising every Stanley Cup playoff game nationally. And Comcast could not match ESPN’s streaming plans or international offerings.

    It was clear to Roberts that ESPN’s plan was expansive enough that NBC would have trouble matching. He assured Bettman that his company would come up with a plan.

    Roberts left the NHL’s offices and huddled with his lieutenants. Days later, NBC’s Dick Ebersol approached the NHL with a new offer. NBC would pay the NHL $187 million per year over 10 years. It would telecast every Stanley Cup playoff game on NBC, Versus and at least one other national cable channel (executives would not identify which one). NBC and Versus would have 100 exclusive windows per season for regular-season games, nearly double the current 60. And NBC committed to broadcast a national game the Friday after Thanksgiving, a day traditionally reserved for college football.

    NBC had a deal. The NHL’s top brass, Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and Chief Operating Officer John Collins, never went back to ESPN.

    The deal is a financial windfall for the league, which is getting $77.5 million a year for its domestic rights. The league thinks telecasting each Stanley Cup playoff game nationally will create the same sort of excitement the NCAA garnered this year during the NCAA tournament.

    “This was something really, really important to the league,” Ebersol said. “There was a period where they were free to go out and show their wares and see how pretty the rest of the world felt they were. … Out of this came, I think from everybody who was seeking a deal with the NHL, they wanted an expanded, exclusive playoff relationship where all the games would be visible on the platforms of one company or another.”

    The NHL reaped this revenue increase without having to give up its international rights. The league has planned for some time to sell the international rights separately, but around the same time as its domestic rights. Now, with one deal done, most observers expect the international rights to bring in even more money.

    “The league can do an international TV and broadband deal without having to split revenue,” said John Shannon, the former NHL executive vice president. “That is huge for the league. I suspect they’ll sign something with ESPN International or Sky. I think the NHL could double their [European] revenue easily.”

    The NHL began setting the table for last week’s deal in the fall of 2006, when Bettman hired Collins as COO and charged him with growing the business. Collins launched several big events that became instantly popular, like the Winter Classic. Collins also oversaw significant growth in the media arena, particularly with NHL Network and NHL.com. In February, these changes helped the NHL sign its biggest ever sponsorship deal, with MillerCoors committing to $375 million over seven years to support the league in both the U.S. and Canada.

    “We accomplished just about everything we wanted to accomplish,” Collins said of the NBC deal. “We’ve gathered the necessary support from NBC Universal to continue the significant growth that we’ve been able to exhibit on our league platforms.”

    The interest in the NHL’s rights shows that the league’s growth plan has worked, a big difference from the last time the NHL negotiated a media deal in 2005, coming out of a lockout. “I remember at the time an ESPN executive being very dismissive of us,” said Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, referring to ESPN’s former programming head Mark Shapiro. “We were down as a league. And we were down as owners.”

    Leonsis said he was gratified by the level of media interest this time.

    Versus’ and NBC’s exclusive negotiating windows with the NHL ended in late January, allowing the league to gauge interest from other networks.

    At the time, the two sides were not particularly close. But NBC knew it wanted to keep the NHL, sources said, and believed its right-to-match clause gave it enough insurance to allow the league out of the exclusive window.

    Three suitors immediately emerged.

    Fox, which held the NHL’s rights from 1994 to 1999, discussed picking up a package for FX. Fox’s talks were never serious, and the broadcaster dropped out of the running quickly and never submitted a proposal.

    Turner was more intrigued. It wanted a package for its TruTV channel, and proposed an NBA-style deal where Turner would manage the league’s digital assets.

    The NHL was not interested initially. But after a tour of Turner’s Atlanta studios, they became more intrigued.

    Turner’s president of sales, distribution and sports, David Levy, wanted to do a deal. But, sources said, Levy was scared away by the sport’s low ratings. TruTV’s prime-time programming far out-rates the NHL. For 2011 to date, TruTV has averaged 1.1 million viewers in prime time. The NHL on Versus averaged 353,000 viewers in prime-time games this season.

    Once Turner realized how much ESPN and NBC were committing to pay the league, it pulled out and did not submit a formal proposal.

    For its part, ESPN did not submit a formal proposal, either. But its level of interest helped pushed the rights fee to an all-time high for the league.

    “When we looked at the entire package and the relationship to us, it was clear that we were going to be with the incumbent,” Bettman said. “It’s nice to feel pretty.”

    Staff writer Fred Dreier contributed to this report.


    Inside the regular-season numbers for the NHL

    Regular-season viewership on cable TV

    SEASON NETWORK NO. OF GAMES AVG. NO. OF VIEWERS
    2010-11 Versus 53 353,000
    2009-10 Versus 52 297,000
    2008-09 Versus 54 318,000
    2007-08 Versus 56 272,000
    2006-07 Versus 58 212,000
    2005-06 Versus 56 162,000
    2004-05 Season canceled due to lockout
    2003-04 ESPN2 50 282,000

    ESPN 20 531,000

    Regular-season viewership on broadcast TV

    SEASON NETWORK NO. OF GAMES AVG. RATING AVG. NO. OF VIEWERS
    2010-11 NBC 11 1.0 1,621,000
    2009-10 NBC 10 1.0 1,560,000
    2008-09 NBC 10 1.0 1,530,000
    2007-08 NBC 10 1.0 1,400,000
    2006-07 NBC 9 0.9 1,344,000
    2005-06 NBC 6 1.0 1,376,000
    2004-05 Season canceled due to lockout
    2003-04 ABC 5 1.1 1,547,000

    Note: Averages do not include Stanley Cup Final or playoffs.
    Source: Austin Karp, SportsBusiness Daily



  • Learfield looks at its growth options

    Learfield Sports, one of the first companies to mine the collegiate multimedia rights business and the last major competitor to IMG College, has hired several outside agencies to raise capital for new projects, among them a Big 12 channel.

    The aggressive push by Learfield to beef up its financial position reflects the company’s charge to grow into new revenue-generating areas and combat IMG College, which has built the largest multimedia rights company in the space through nearly $300 million worth of acquisitions since 2007.

    Learfield could take on equity investors in the company or, if the offer’s right, sell the company outright. While ownership insists that selling the company is not the first option, no scenarios have been taken off the table.

    “We’re looking at all of our strategic alternatives to expand the company,” said Greg Brown, Learfield’s president and CEO. Clyde Lear, 67, who founded the company in 1972, remains the majority owner, while Brown and three other executives also have a stake.

    To help Learfield explore the marketplace, it hired Lazard Middle Market, which specializes in working with mid-cap companies on mergers, acquisitions and restructuring, and KPMG, another advisory firm, to raise capital and determine the value of the company.

    The consultants are evaluating whether major media players — Comcast, Time Warner, Fox — or private-equity firms might be interested in investing.

    Learfield has several initiatives that need funding and are central to the growth of the company, including a Big 12 channel, expansion of Learfield’s national sales force, development of its digital team and new concession projects on some of the campuses where it has rights.

    In addition to Lazard and KPMG, Learfield has brought on media consultant Chris Bevilacqua and Evolution Media Capital, the firm formed by CAA to work with media companies on raising capital and restructuring. Bevilacqua and EMC are teaming with Learfield to create the plan for a Big 12 channel, which probably would involve eight of the 10 teams in the conference.

    Texas will launch its own network this fall with ESPN, while Oklahoma is working on its own channel as well.

    If Learfield Sports’ ownership changes, it would again shake up the college marketplace, which has undergone significant consolidation since IMG entered the space in 2007 and then acquired Collegiate Licensing Co., Host Communications and ISP Sports in separate deals to form IMG College.

    A private company with corporate offices in Plano, Texas, and Jefferson City, Mo., Learfield engaged in negotiations with ISP in 2009 about a merger, but those negotiations didn’t produce a deal and Learfield remains the main rival to IMG College in the multimedia rights business. Learfield, with a staff of nearly 200, maintains that its college business is profitable in an industry that demands heavy guarantees to its client schools and returns a low margin.

    If the company did decide to sell, industry insiders say it’s hard to know what the asking price would be, but IMG bought ISP for $100 million and Host Communications for $74.3 million, which provides something of a gauge for interested parties.

    Learfield has agreements with about 50 universities, most notably Alabama, Oklahoma, Penn State and North Carolina, as well as three conferences (Big Ten, Missouri Valley, WAC), Rupp Arena and the Louisville Arena Authority. It is especially strong in the Big Ten and the Big 12, where it owns the rights to the majority of those schools.

    IMG College owns the rights to more than 80 schools and has aggressively been building a national sales team to exploit those rights. Upon its acquisition of ISP last year, IMG College said it had the critical mass of schools to form a national sales team and sell across all of its collegiate properties.

    Whether IMG would want another 50 schools through the acquisition of Learfield is unclear and could depend on Learfield’s price, industry insiders say, but they all agree that IMG will talk to Learfield about an acquisition at some point, if it hasn’t already.

    Between Learfield and IMG, they have nearly all of the schools from the six power conferences.

    CBS Collegiate Sports Properties (LSU, Maryland, Virginia, Utah) and Nelligan Sports (Louisville, Marquette, Rutgers) are the other players in the multimedia rights space, and it’s uncertain if either would have an interest in Learfield.

  • The intersection of law and sports

    In his first day as an associate in the corporate group at Covington & Burling, Bruce Wilson was dispatched to accompany an antitrust lawyer from the firm to a meeting, where he was to “sit there and be quiet.” The antitrust lawyer, Paul Tagliabue, took a shine to Wilson and eventually invited him to do some of the finance work the firm did for one of its more visible clients, the NFL.

    COVINGTON & BURLING
    Bruce Wilson didn't go looking for a sports specialty, but he made the most of an early opportunity.
    The recently elected chairman of law firm Proskauer, Joe Leccese, started building his career in the sports practice following a random conversation with a partner in a hallway during his first month at work. A few weeks later, he found himself in the office of NBA Commissioner David Stern, discussing the machinations of an impending expansion. “Well,” Leccese thought, “this is pretty good.”

    The lawyer who advised the NFL Players Association to decertify 20 years ago, and then went down that same path again last month, ended up in sports in response to an undeniable call … of nature. “I was standing at a urinal one day and a partner asked me to work on a case involving the NBA,” said Jim Quinn, co-chair of the litigation practice at Weil Gotshal & Manges.

    Quinn was an associate at the firm in 1970 when it took on its first sports case, representing NBA players in what would become a landmark case against the league. “Securities litigation — yadda, yadda yadda — or the NBA?” Quinn thought to himself. “I’ll work on the NBA case.”

    Quinn, Leccese and Wilson hold three of the more prominent places in what now is commonly known as sports law. None planned to get there, or even considered it as a place on the career map. As classmates at the University of Virginia, neither Leccese nor Wilson took a class in sports law, or even remember one being offered. After 40 years representing large player unions, often in watershed cases, Quinn still does not think of himself as a sports lawyer.

    “I view myself as a trial lawyer,” said Quinn, who has spent most of his career arguing cases on behalf of the likes of Disney, Exxon Mobil, CBS and Procter & Gamble.

    “The term sports law, it’s mostly nonsense. … People like to market it. I think some firms use it to attract young talent because they’re interested in sports. It looks good in the window.”

    It is only in the last handful of years that firms began identifying sports as an industry sector. Even at Proskauer and Covington, it was not pegged as a group until the last decade, though several attorneys at each firm worked almost exclusively with sports clients as far back as 25 years ago. Today, you will find “sports” — or at least “sports, entertainment and media” — as an area of expertise on the websites of many large U.S. firms.

    Consider the range of matters that a firm might handle when dealing with a sports client. Labor. Antitrust. Mergers and acquisitions. Intellectual property. Finance. Those are substantively different legal specialties.

    Firms typically top their sports practice with an attorney or two who has worked around the industry enough to gain a deep understanding of matters such as league and team structures, antitrust implications and various rights assignments. Those attorneys act as the primary contact to sports clients, but bring in specialists for deeper expertise when they need it.

    SHANA WITTENWYLER
    Said Joe Leccese: "If I hadn't been walking down the hall at that moment, I probably would have had a different career."
    While it is known best for its work in entertainment, O’Melveny & Myers has done extensive work in sports stemming from its increasingly active representation of the International Olympic Committee, which began about 20 years ago with the firm’s work on a relatively simple set of U.S. television rights. That evolved into broader Olympic representation and more sports clients relying on the firm for a wider array of services, particularly as media rights became more valuable and complex. About five years ago, the firm added the word “sports” to its entertainment and media practice.

    “We looked at it one day and said, ‘My God, we don’t really do enough [to market a sports expertise],’” said Joe Calabrese, who chairs the firm’s entertainment, sports and media practice from its Los Angeles office. “If somebody searched our website, they had to find us in the entertainment group. Other firms had done better at distinguishing the sports practices they had. When we lined up all the deals we had done and all the things we were in the middle of, we didn’t feel shy at all about having a legitimate claim of a sports practice. So we decided to put it into our name.”

    It is interesting to consider the happenstance behind so many prosperous careers tending to clients in sports.

    The Proskauer partner who invited Leccese into his first sports matter, Harvey Benjamin, soon departed the firm for a job at the NBA, leaving Leccese as the ranking transactional lawyer on the league’s matters, even though he had not yet made partner.

    Leccese represented the league on its next round of expansion into Toronto and Vancouver, and the NHL’s expansion in the late ’90s. He worked on the formation of NBA China, the WNBA and NBA Development League. He led Woody Johnson’s purchase of the New York Jets and Ted Lerner’s acquisition of the Washington Nationals. He headed negotiations on several large stadium and arena deals.

    “If I hadn’t been walking down the hall at that moment, I probably would have had a different career,” Leccese said. “Harvey probably would have walked into somebody else’s office.

    “Many of the strongest relationships you have in life are a result of that sort of serendipity. That was mine.”

    Labor movement

    As young associates at Weil and at Proskauer, Quinn and Jeffrey Mishkin drew a similar assignment on what would be the first significant sports case at their respective firms, deposing potential witnesses on Robertson v. NBA.

    The NBA players association, led by union President Oscar Robertson, had filed the lawsuit to block a merger between the NBA and ABA. Competition for talent was driving up salaries in both leagues, and the NBA players wanted to keep it that way. Alleging antitrust violations, the players contested the merger but also sought free agency and challenged the draft.

    GETTY IMAGES
    Jeffrey Kessler's introduction to sports came through the aftermath of a lawsuit the NBA players association filed against the league.
    The judge in the case had permitted class discovery, allowing league lawyers to depose about 140 players. Mishkin, who had worked on his first NBA matter a year earlier at the invitation of another Proskauer associate, David Stern, was sent to take many of the depositions. Quinn was dispatched to defend them.

    “Jim Quinn and I were kids together on that case,” said Mishkin, who remembers a young Stern approaching him to ask, ‘How’d you like to work on a basketball case?’

    “We traveled the country together. I would try to have those depositions as far away as possible, because I learned that Jim hated to fly. So I thought I’d have an advantage if I could get him on a plane for a long period of time. Jim and I became so familiar with each other’s positions that if somebody had snapped their fingers and suddenly Jim Quinn was taking the deposition and I was defending the deposition, we wouldn’t have missed a beat.”

    Filed in 1970, the Robertson litigation dragged on for six years. It also served as a launch site for many of the sports industry’s better known lawyers and leaders.

    Stern was an associate at Proskauer, doing NBA work under the wing of partner George Gallantz, who brought the league to the firm as its first sports client in 1963. So was Howard Ganz, a labor lawyer who now co-chairs the sports practice at Proskauer with Leccese. Ganz remembers being sent to depose the commissioner of the ABA, basketball icon George Mikan, who stood him up.

    The Robertson case also offered the first crack at sports for Jeffrey Kessler, who joined Weil as an associate shortly after the case was settled and worked providing antitrust advice for the union as it applied the terms. Now at Dewey & LeBoeuf, where he chairs the litigation department and co-chairs the sports litigation practice group, Kessler has served as outside counsel to all four major players associations.

    “Everything that I’ve done in the sports area came out of my focus on antitrust law, starting with that [Robertson case],” said Kessler, who along with representing the NBA players also built sports experience on antitrust cases involving the NASL and USFL. “So many people came out of that era of cases. David Stern. Paul Tagliabue. It was the time when the sports business started to become a big business. It was the cusp of change in the industry.

    “There was a tremendous amount of litigation. And the people who got involved in that then got involved in a lot of other issues surrounding professional sports. That was where it all started.”

    Those who worked at the intersection of antitrust laws and labor, such as Quinn, Kessler, Ganz and Mishkin, would cross swords for decades, with Quinn and Kessler representing the unions and Ganz and Mishkin representing the leagues.

    “The cast of characters has not changed greatly,” Mishkin said.


    GORT PRODUCTIONS
    Howard Ganz has faced familiar foes for decades while handling labor cases.
    After antitrust hearings involving the NFL and decertified players union in Minneapolis earlier this month, Quinn, Kessler and Ganz found themselves on the same flight back to New York. Quinn joked with Ganz that if the plane went down, there’d be no one left to argue the points that they’ve jousted over for decades.

    Kessler recently told Ganz that one day, when they were no longer courtroom adversaries, they should sit down and swap stories.

    “That’s probably true,” Ganz chuckled. “I’ll let him go first, though.”

    Building case files

    Just as antitrust work for the NBA players led to similar assignments with the NASL and USFL and other players unions for Kessler, many of the leading attorneys doing sports work at firms say their tenure in the industry stemmed from a few key exposures early on.

    Consider the career of Peter White, head of the burgeoning sports practice at DLA Piper, the firm he joined last year. White worked on his first sports deal shortly after he made partner at his previous firm, Nixon Peabody, working with Erie County, N.Y., on the development and financing of a new arena for the Buffalo Sabres in the early ’90s. That led to representation of Nassau County in its efforts to fund and develop a new arena for the New York Islanders. When the Islanders announced they were leaving, White brought in a litigation partner to sue them and make them stay.

    “That was the first time I met [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman, actually, in a courtroom in Nassau County,” White said. “We were successful in stopping them from vacating the arena.”

    From there, White shifted to the other side of the table, representing Salomon Smith Barney as underwriters of the bonds that financed a stadium for the New England Patriots, the first NFL team to use the public debt markets to build a new home. Within a month of that deal closing, New York City hired him to work with bankers on a debt structure that could finance new ballparks for the Yankees and Mets. He then worked with the same structure on the financing of an arena in Brooklyn for the Nets, followed by New Meadowlands Stadium, the first stadium to be financed as a joint venture between two teams.

    “The New York facilities have one thing in common, and I’m happy to say that’s us,” White said. “It’s quite amazing when I drive over to the New Meadowlands, which we do with fair regularity, on the way out I pass Nassau Coliseum, which I spent six years of my life working on. I pass Citi Field. I pass Yankee Stadium. It’s quite amazing that you had a hand in that.

    “There is no doubt that work creates work. So the deals — and the litigation — feed off of each other. When you’re playing in traffic you tend to get re-engaged.”

    BUSINESS JOURNAL OF MILWAUKEE /
    SCOTT PAULUS

    Mary K. Braza has made the transition from litigator to business adviser, using her skills in part to help Major League Baseball avoid legal challenges.
    The chair of Foley & Lardner’s sports industry team, Mary K. Braza, began working on matters for Major League Baseball because the league was a client of her mentor, Bob DuPuy, who landed the work after playing tennis for years with eventual MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

    Like DuPuy, Braza was a litigator. When DuPuy left to join MLB as its executive vice president of administration, and eventually its president and COO, his move brought the opportunity for Braza to work more closely with the league. It wouldn’t be on litigation, though. Instead, DuPuy asked his former firm to help MLB explore what would happen if it took new media rights back from its teams and consolidated them. Braza spent 18 months on the project.

    “Not a litigator’s project at all,” Braza said. “And very strategic. We would sit down and brainstorm directions to go on these things. What should the rules be? How do you take advantage of this? How do you give freedom to the clubs even though they’ve returned these rights? We really helped craft a whole new business.”

    Braza’s next baseball project was more litigation oriented, working on MLB’s attempt to contract two teams. It exposed her to the relationship between the league and its clubs in ways she had not seen before. She advised MLB on how it might shut down a team, how a failing team should be valued, and how its existing deals, such as broadcast and sponsorship agreements, might be unraveled.

    Working as an adviser, Braza used her legal skills to identify issues that had not been tackled, or even deeply contemplated before. She predicted where legal challenges might come and how they could be avoided.

    While she didn’t realize it at the time, Braza was turning a page on her career. What once occupied 30 percent of her time had blown past 70 percent. By 2004, sports would take all of her time. Braza also made the transition from litigator — as she had always thought of herself — to business adviser.

    “My office at Foley is still in with the litigators, but they kind of look at me sideways,” Braza said. “They say, ‘OK, Mary Kay, you can still come to our meetings. But we haven’t seen you in court for a while.’”

    When Braza made a rare courtroom appearance during the Texas Rangers bankruptcy dispute, she had difficulty keeping her seat.

    “It was tough for me to not be up there arguing, because that had been my role,” she said. “I was the spokesperson in court for years and years and years. And all of a sudden I was the business lawyer who had negotiated the deal and I couldn’t get up and make arguments to the judge. That was a realization for me that, all right, I guess I’m not doing this as much as I used to.”

    That transition from litigator to business adviser was a struggle for Mishkin when he left Proskauer in 1993 to join Stern at the NBA as chief legal officer. He spent seven years there before returning to private practice as a partner at Skadden Arps. Mishkin was fortunate — at least from the perspective of the comfortable adherence to habit — that the NBA spent much of his tenure there in court, affording him the opportunity to argue several closely watched cases, including the league’s bout with the Chicago Bulls over broadcast rights and its case against Motorola regarding transmission of real-time data.

    Still, toward the end of his tenure, he began to see that the courtroom eventually would have to give way to the boardroom.

    “You’re in a corporate environment where you have to worry about budgets and planning and HR issues and all the functions of a major business organization,” Mishkin said. “That was not my strong point. I had been a practicing lawyer and thought of myself first, last and always as a practicing lawyer. During the period I was there, there was an awful lot of opportunity to be a practicing lawyer. But that’s not always the case when you’re inside. I was beginning to spend more and more of my time on the business side.”

    Looking back

    If only for the purpose of illustration, Wilson likes to draw the parallel between his rise in the sports business and Tagliabue’s. Wilson got to do his first NFL work because the firm needed a warm body to accompany Tagliabue to a meeting. As the NFL became more involved with securing credit for teams, Tagliabue had more work to hand off to the corporate department. He gave it to Wilson. Four years later, Tagliabue was elected NFL commissioner. Gregg Levy ascended to replace Tagliabue on NFL litigation at the firm, leaving Wilson to handle the league’s corporate work.

    “I was never the kid who could remember batting averages or goal stats, that wasn’t me,” Wilson said. “But I got to be pretty good at understanding what motivates a league as a collective in dealing with its owners and the bankers to its owners and the rules around the financing of its teams. And then we got into the media stuff. After that first five or six years, it begins to build on itself.”

    Wilson pointed out an interesting coincidence. He and Leccese were classmates in law school at the University of Virginia. Not only did neither chart a course in sports law, they never considered it as an area in which an attorney might specialize, a fact they joke about together today.

    “You’re doing deals for years but you don’t consider yourself a sports lawyer,” Wilson said. “And then, one day, you look over your shoulder at what you’ve done and you realize, I’ve been involved in 37 team transactions. Maybe that’s kind of a specialty. It’s funny. I didn’t choose it.

    “I think it chose me.”

  • European teams lead social media boom

    'Like'
    leaders
    Top teams worldwide for social media
    (combined Twitter and Facebook totals)
    RANK TEAM TOTAL
    1 FC Barcelona 13,540,055
    2 Real Madrid 13,255,196
    3 Manchester United 12,157,901
    4 Los Angeles Lakers 9,577,996
    5 Arsenal 5,903,251


    Despite the continuing meteoric growth of sports on social media outlets, particularly Facebook and Twitter, most North American sports properties remain well behind top European and Asian soccer clubs in terms of global followers.

    Of the 20 individual sports teams in terms of largest combined Facebook and Twitter audiences, nine of them, including the top three and seven of the top eight, are soccer teams from England, Spain or Turkey.

    “If there’s anything to be learned from what’s happening abroad, it’s that these [soccer] teams are global brands,” said Bryan Perez, NBA Digital senior vice president and general manager. NBA Digital, a partnership between the league and Turner Sports, collaborates with NBA executives, notably marketing vice president Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, on the property’s social media efforts.

    “They have truly vibrant global followings, exactly the kind of thing we’re trying to build here, and social media, of course, is going to be a key tool in that,” Perez said.

    Fenway Sports Group, owner of Liverpool FC, which sports a Facebook following of more than 5.2 million, said marketing and commercial elements are not necessarily as overt on social media with many European soccer clubs.

    “A lot of what’s happening there is content-based, a lot of unique content, and the players are really involved,” said Billy Hogan, managing director for FSG’s Fenway Sports Management and a key liaison to Liverpool FC and the club’s head of technology, Andrew Robinson.

    “They’ve taken extra pains to make sure the social media is primarily about engaging fans, as opposed to it being more marketing related. In fact, they don’t market as much as they maybe could. But they’ve really grasped that it’s one thing … to have someone sign up and follow, but yet another to keep them engaged.”

    Back in the U.S., another set of emerging dynamics is at play. The NBA, as it has for some time, holds the largest following of the major leagues with more than 37.8 million total fans and followers when combining the Twitter and Facebook audiences for the central league feed and those of the 30 individual teams.

    But numbers and rankings are changing almost by the day. Major League Baseball’s total Facebook and Twitter audience of more than 20.6 million has more than doubled in size just since the end of the 2010 World Series, and projects to be north of 30 million by this fall. The more even balance among team-level followings in MLB and the NFL show a more localized social media fan development strategy than the more league-centric strategies shown by the NBA and others.

    “We have an overarching strategy that we want Facebook users to become baseball fans, and not necessarily the other way around,” said Bob Bowman, MLB Advanced Media president and chief executive. “And beyond sheer numbers, we want to grow our [social media] users in two dimensions, both qualitatively and quantitatively, and be truly engaged.”

    Clubs’ social media followings are getting large enough that they are dictating long-term, high-level strategic thought on the same level given to traditional broadband and TV programming efforts.

    “You’re going to see every league realize that … these are sort of parallel cable networks,” said Michael Lazerow, chief executive of Buddy Media, which has counseled many teams and leagues and built tools for their social media endeavors. “That means you have to program against them with content in a concerted, dedicated way. We definitely continue to move into uncharted waters here.”

    Still, debate within the industry percolates as to what social media audience sizes really mean beyond bragging rights.

    “Whatever you do in social media ideally has to be tied to some kind of measurable business objective,” said Pat Coyle, president of Coyle Media, which also counsels sports properties and has created SportsFanGraph.com, a real-time ranking of social media followers for teams and leagues. “Whether it’s selling tickets, building an audience for sponsorship or whatever, there needs to be a stronger, direct link.”

    MLB  
    RANK LEAGUE/TEAM TWITTER FACEBOOK TOTAL
    MLB 1,186,103 321,018 1,507,121
    1 N.Y. Yankees 352,191 3,548,692 3,900,883
    2 Boston 64,582 2,292,832 2,357,414
    3 Philadelphia 618,503 834,722 1,453,225
    4 Chicago Cubs 37,049 1,143,409 1,180,458
    5 San Francisco 115,534 908,811 1,024,345
    6 Atlanta 60,090 662,383 722,473
    7 St. Louis 20,957 688,506 709,463
    8 L.A. Dodgers 49,085 593,053 642,138
    9 Detroit 8,935 595,491 604,426
    10 Chicago White Sox 18,409 583,393 601,802
    11 Texas 34,982 565,964 600,946
    12 Minnesota 9,162 564,309 573,471
    13 N.Y.Mets 25,017 375,760 400,777
    14 Milwaukee 15,807 357,980 373,787
    15 Cincinnati 8,156 340,265 348,421
    16 Cleveland 9,560 332,108 341,668
    17 Seattle 19,287 301,619 320,906
    18 Colorado 10,757 283,627 294,384
    19 Tampa Bay 19,480 270,082 289,562
    20 Toronto 32,286 249,529 281,815
    21 Houston 8,406 271,852 280,258
    22 L.A. Angels 16,319 249,052 265,371
    23 Oakland 4,894 254,156 259,050
    24 Baltimore 16,091 234,827 250,918
    25 San Diego 5,968 239,469 245,437
    26 Kansas City 18,661 197,670 216,331
    27 Pittsburgh 7,647 171,741 179,388
    28 Florida 5,350 150,390 155,740
    29 Arizona 10,277 126,288 136,565
    30 Washington 11,610 84,422 96,032
      TOTALS 2,821,155 17,793,420 20,614,575

     

    NBA  
    RANK LEAGUE/TEAM TWITTER FACEBOOK TOTAL
    NBA 2,464,557 8,234,810 10,699,367
    1 L.A. Lakers 1,944,384 7,633,612 9,577,996
    2 Boston 163,676 3,949,904 4,113,580
    3 Miami 140,828 2,099,736 2,240,564
    4 Chicago 112,249 1,949,103 2,061,352
    5 Orlando 1,061,001 771,877 1,832,878
    6 N.Y. Knicks 93,409 806,243 899,652
    7 Cleveland 65,208 669,770 734,978
    8 San Antonio 56,743 612,260 669,003
    9 Denver 41,123 530,254 571,377
    10 Dallas 48,921 439,799 488,720
    11 Phoenix 61,031 425,986 487,017
    12 Oklahoma City 38,075 371,321 409,396
    13 Houston 42,415 306,261 348,676
    14 Portland 32,600 252,356 284,956
    15 Detroit 26,226 251,026 277,252
    16 Utah 36,090 229,750 265,840
    17 Toronto 30,693 204,690 235,383
    18 GoldenState 25,700 203,337 229,037
    19 Philadelphia 31,229 154,015 185,244
    20 Milwaukee 22,524 137,442 159,966
    21 New Jersey 38,782 103,223 142,005
    22 Atlanta 21,968 119,081 141,049
    23 Sacramento 23,295 116,935 140,230
    24 L.A. Clippers 34,475 77,865 112,340
    25 Indiana 22,787 84,273 107,060
    26 Washington 25,563 77,556 103,119
    27 Minnesota 18,524 79,813 98,337
    28 Charlotte 20,524 60,939 81,463
    29 Memphis 23,882 55,419 79,301
    30 New Orleans 26,140 33,912 60,052

     TOTALS   6,794,622   31,042,568   37,837,190 

     

    NHL  
    RANK LEAGUE/TEAM TWITTER FACEBOOK TOTAL
    NHL 570,605 1,491,130 2,061,735
    1 Montreal 124,808 641,313 766,121
    2 Chicago 65,830 698,308 764,138
    3 Boston 39,875 577,970 617,845
    4 Pittsburgh 80,386 522,482 602,868
    5 Philadelphia 43,925 518,549 562,474
    6 Detroit 54,049 502,026 556,075
    7 Vancouver 86,485 364,941 451,426
    8 Toronto 48,679 378,764 427,443
    9 Washington 39,247 305,748 344,995
    10 N.Y. Rangers 34,212 242,980 277,192
    11 Colorado 18,900 228,201 247,101
    12 SanJose 29,197 206,652 235,849
    13 Buffalo 24,663 195,921 220,584
    14 New Jersey 22,684 165,880 188,564
    15 Edmonton 41,818 127,345 169,163
    16 Minnesota 19,149 126,285 145,434
    17 Los Angeles 27,535 110,674 138,209
    18 St. Louis 22,479 115,501 137,980
    19 Anaheim 19,727 118,138 137,865
    20 Carolina 14,908 115,837 130,745
    21 Tampa Bay 18,949 109,923 128,872
    22 Dallas 20,546 100,457 121,003
    23 Ottawa 17,579 89,879 107,458
    24 Calgary 37,492 61,943 99,435
    25 Nashville 14,014 59,650 73,664
    26 Phoenix 10,962 46,073 57,035
    27 Columbus 14,055 42,859 56,914
    28 N.Y. Islanders 10,629 32,969 43,598
    29 Florida 11,332 32,074 43,406
    30 Atlanta 11,895 30,574 42,469

     TOTALS   1,596,614   8,361,046   9,957,660 

     

    NFL  
    RANK LEAGUE/TEAM TWITTER FACEBOOK TOTAL
    NFL 2,033,992 3,002,111 5,036,103
    1 Dallas 72,466 2,573,707 2,646,173
    2 Pittsburgh 83,925 2,209,866 2,293,791
    3 New England 87,209 1,935,500 2,022,709
    4 GreenBay 71,436 1,500,069 1,571,505
    5 Chicago 45,988 1,498,398 1,544,386
    6 New Orleans 49,175 1,292,911 1,342,086
    7 Indianapolis 8,831 1,066,858 1,075,689
    8 Minnesota 47,351 918,788 966,139
    9 Philadelphia 33,945 904,106 938,051
    10 N.Y. Jets 134,346 747,875 882,221
    11 Oakland 53,981 784,584 838,565
    12 N.Y. Giants 10,668 789,205 799,873
    13 San Diego 58,340 720,539 778,879
    14 Miami 47,843 643,620 691,463
    15 San Francisco 49,903 597,615 647,518
    16 Denver 44,505 595,507 640,012
    17 Washington 19,130 555,803 574,933
    18 Baltimore 32,901 501,231 534,132
    19 Seattle 34,587 460,163 494,750
    20 Kansas City 30,109 408,098 438,207
    21 Cincinnati 38,190 386,092 424,282
    22 Detroit 21,443 316,817 338,260
    23 Cleveland 32,650 265,944 298,594
    24 Houston 22,966 259,056 282,022
    25 Tampa Bay 18,287 246,987 265,274
    26 Arizona 5,614 245,479 251,093
    27 Buffalo 24,635 221,201 245,836
    28 Tennessee 30,663 204,755 235,418
    29 Carolina 15,956 205,144 221,100
    30 Atlanta 43,495 160,486 203,981
    31 Jacksonville 13,692 160,422 174,114
    32 St. Louis 15,241 90,754 105,995
      TOTALS  3,333,463  26,469,691  29,803,154 

     

    Worldwide
    teams
     
    RANK TEAM TWITTER FACEBOOK TOTAL
    1 FC Barcelona 660,378 12,879,677 13,540,055
    2 Real Madrid 1,441,758 11,813,438 13,255,196
    3 Manchester United 0 12,157,901 12,157,901
    4 Los Angeles Lakers 1,944,384 7,633,612 9,577,996
    5 Arsenal 567,179 5,336,072 5,903,251
    6 Galatasaray 101,801 5,203,835 5,305,636
    7 Liverpool 4,109 5,260,015 5,264,124
    8 Chelsea 170,095 4,898,204 5,068,299
    9 Boston Celtics 163,676 3,949,904 4,113,580
    10 New York Yankees 352,191 3,548,692 3,900,883
    11 Fenerbahçe 0 3,790,151 3,790,151
    12 AC Milan 60,604 3,417,345 3,477,949
    13 Dallas Cowboys 72,466 2,573,707 2,646,173
    14 Boston Red Sox 64,582 2,292,832 2,357,414
    15 Pittsburgh Steelers 83,925 2,209,866 2,293,791
    16 Miami Heat 140,828 2,099,736 2,240,564
    17 Chicago Bulls 112,249 1,949,103 2,061,352
    18 New England Patriots 87,209 1,935,500 2,022,709
    19 Orlando Magic 1,061,001 771,877 1,832,878
    20 Green Bay Packers 71,436 1,500,069 1,571,505

     

    Leagues and Properties  
    LEAGUE/PROPERTY TWITTER FACEBOOK TOTAL
    NBA 2,464,557 8,234,810 10,699,367
    WWE 311,614 5,122,833 5,434,447
    UFC 239,423 5,157,739 5,397,162
    NFL 2,033,992 3,002,111 5,036,103
    IOC 53,796 2,120,292 2,174,088
    NHL 570,605 1,491,130 2,061,735
    NASCAR 116,039 1,421,220 1,537,259
    MLB 1,186,103 321,018 1,507,121
    WTA 17,482 752,335 769,817
    ATP World Tour 62,859 383,151 446,010
    USOC/Team USA 13,004 325,247 338,251
    PGA Tour 73,339 261,710 335,049
    NHRA 10,532 217,313 227,845
    MLS 20,877 171,408 192,285
    Formula One 88,406 41,481 129,887
    Indy Racing League 19,966 37,874 57,840


    About the research
    The charts presented here show the number of Twitter “followers” and Facebook “likes” for team and league sites as of April 19. The teams are ranked by their combined number of fans across the two sites.

    The sites tracked were those sites identified as “official sites” by the leagues and teams. Many teams do have multiple sites — official and unofficial — used to reach fans, including sites created by front-office personnel.

    Player sites also provide points of access, but for this listing, only “official sites” were monitored.

    Numbers listed reflect what was reported on each individual site. For the league/property and worldwide teams charts, teams were identified for listing by the rankings available from SportsFanGraph.com, and the individual sites’ updated numbers were then taken directly from the listed sites.

  • Vick’s rehabilitation as endorser accelerates

    The NFL draft is usually a time when the endorsement potential of the latest crop of league rookies is assessed, but the marketing rehabilitation of 30-year-old quarterback Michael Vick will grab headlines this week with the likelihood of two new deals being showcased.

    GETTY IMAGES
    Michael Vick will be the subject of a documentary and is a finalist for the cover of "Madden NFL 12."
    Vick has agreed to do a documentary film chronicling his life with Bombo Sports & Entertainment, which has exclusive video rights for both the NBA and Manchester United. Bombo CEO Bob Potter said the plan is for a 70- to 90-minute documentary with a theatrical release in Philadelphia and other NFL cities to coincide with the start of the NFL season, and a possible TV airing on ESPN or another sports-focused TV outlet.

    “I am a dog owner, so this won’t be a sugar-coating, but it should be a good film about an athlete who is fantastically talented and really polarizing at the same time,” Potter said.

    An agreement with the NFL needs to be reached if the league’s intellectual property and footage are to be used. Potter said he has spoken with the league several times. He added that sponsorship opportunities for the yet-to-be-named film are now being sold.

    A writer or director of the docu-film has not been named.

    Meanwhile, if Vick wins an online fan vote concluding this week, he will be announced as the cover athlete of EA’s “Madden NFL 12” game. He is up against Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis, a relative unknown, as both advanced to the finals of a 32-player competition staged over the past month, and both will appear at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., for the Wednesday announcement of the winner on “SportsNation,” EA Sports’ partner in the voting process.

    More than 12 million fan votes have been cast to date.

    “The idea is to have that sort of ‘American Idol’ moment where the winner is announced on ‘SportsNation’ with the two of them standing there,” said Rob Semsey, EA Sports spokesman.

    EA will then stage the cover shoot of the winning choice, and that will be followed by a whirlwind schedule Thursday in New York.

    Vick is competing against the Browns' Peyton Hillis in the fan vote for the "Madden NFL 12" cover.
    Vick was featured on “Madden NFL 04” while a member of the Atlanta Falcons, so other than making him the first athlete with two appearances on what is often the country’s top-selling video game, a Madden cover would provide a “Good Housekeeping” seal for marketers still reticent to link their brands to a convicted felon, albeit one with consistent national TV exposure.

    “A Madden cover would get Vick back into the aisles at places like Wal-Mart or Toys ‘R’ Us, where he was but hasn’t been able to get back into,” said Mark Zablow, senior director of marketing at Platinum Rye Entertainment, which matches athletes and brands for clients, including Procter & Gamble. “Then a big [consumer packaged goods] company doesn’t have to be the first brand to break the ice for Vick with a major retailer. And EA always put a lot of marketing muscle behind Madden, so it would really continue Vick’s rehab.”

    Chicago-based attorney Andrew Stroth represents Vick for marketing deals. “Michael is committed to rebuilding his brand on and off the field,” Stroth said. “The support he’s received for the EA-Madden 2012 campaign is a testament to his appeal in the marketplace.”

    Vick served 21 months in federal prison on felony charges related to his involvement in dog fighting. He returned to the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 and won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award after last season.

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