July 25 - 31, 2011 Vol. 14 — No. 14

Top Stories

  • Pastrana's daring leap between demos

    Early last week, Travis Pastrana popped into a Subway near his Maryland home for lunch.While waiting to order, he noticed a man nudge a boy wearing an oversized, flat-billed hat standing in line behind him.

    “Hey, man,” the 9-year-old boy said to Pastrana. “I watch ‘Nitro Circus’ and I can’t wait to see you start NASCAR.”

    Pastrana’s eyes widened. He’d never heard anyone mention ‘Nitro Circus,’ his daredevil reality show on MTV, and NASCAR in the same sentence.

    Waltrip’s company gave Pastrana equity in the Nationwide team and spent last year working on a business plan for his arrival in NASCAR.
    “The demographics couldn’t be more different, and that’s kind of neat,” Pastrana said, recalling the episode. “If either one transfers to the other, that could be a really good thing for both.”

    That’s what everyone across Michael Waltrip Racing, NASCAR and Wasserman Media Group, which represents Pastrana, hopes will happen when Pastrana brings his nice-guy image and thrill-seeking personality to the Nationwide Series this Saturday at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. It will be the first of seven races he plans to run in NASCAR this year.

    Other action sports athletes, such as Ricky Carmichael, and accomplished drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya have made similar jumps into NASCAR. But few could mean as much to the sport as Pastrana does today, with NASCAR desperate to grow its fan base and eager to appeal to youth.

    Pastrana, 26, connects with young people as well as any athlete in sports. He has 2.8 million fans on Facebook, 170,668 followers on Twitter and a show on MTV2. He’s so popular that a YouTube video he recently filmed with three scantily clad dancing grannies netted more than 250,000 views in its first week.

    It’s that type of appeal that inspired Michael Waltrip Racing to gamble and give the action sports star equity in its Nationwide Series team, which was renamed Pastrana Waltrip Racing last fall.

    “It’s not just a NASCAR initiative, or a Michael Waltrip Racing initiative,” said Waltrip general manager Ty Norris. “This is a youth initiative. The youth market is something so important to us going forward, and what we see in Travis is not only a guy with incredible passion and desire to be a champion … but one who also has a massive following.”

    Executives with Waltrip Racing and Wasserman spent the better part of the last year working on a business plan that would put Pastrana in position to bring that following to NASCAR. In the span of six months, they forged an unprecedented partnership, secured sponsorship support, haggled with NASCAR over issues including car numbers, and worked with the X Games staff to schedule freestyle motocross and rally car events around the Nationwide race so that Pastrana could do both.

    “The vision of where this Pastrana Waltrip team could go has been pursued with a lot of passion from a tremendous amount of people,” Norris said. “I’ve probably said Travis Pastrana’s name more than my wife and kids’ names combined in the last six months. It’s what I’ve been talking about because I know personally, and we know as a group, what Travis can mean to the sport. We hope that we can do it right. The sport needs it.”

    ‘Come drive our car’

    On New Year’s Eve in 2010, Blake Bechtel, the 28-year-old who co-owns the Michael Waltrip Racing Nationwide Series team with his father Gary Bechtel, climbed in a car with a then unknown stock-car driver named Trevor Bayne and headed to Long Beach, Calif., to see Travis Pastrana jump a rally car 200 feet onto a floating barge.

    Bechtel, who moved to California in his teens and became a fan of supercross, motocross and action sports, had always dreamed of bringing some of action sports’ cool factor to his NASCAR team.

    Pastrana's stat sheet

    17 X Games medals

    Four-time Rally America national champion

    Five-time U.S. amateur motocross champion

    171,000 Twitter followers

    2.8 million Facebook fans/likes

    Jan. 29, 2011 NASCAR debut

    July 30, 2011 NASCAR Nationwide debut
    During the after party celebrating Pastrana’s successful jump, Bechtel approached the X Games star and introduced him to Bayne.

    “You need to come drive our car, man,” Bechtel told Pastrana.

    “Really?” Pastrana said. “That’d be great.”

    Pastrana had spent the previous three years pestering his agent, Steve Astephen, to find him a ride in NASCAR. Astephen thought it was a joke, but Pastrana was really interested, and Bechtel picked up on that. He left that night and called Waltrip Racing’s Norris to tell him about meeting Pastrana.

    “I had no idea what the structure would be, but we knew if there was any way we could get him in a race car, that would be the best decision we ever made,” Bechtel said.

    Bechtel stayed in touch with Pastrana’s representatives at Wasserman, and late that spring, he and Norris went to the agency’s Carlsbad, Calif., office to discuss Pastrana. The Wasserman team, led by Astephen and Pastrana’s business manager, Travis Clarke, said it was looking for investors for a Pastrana-owned supercross team. Norris had a different idea. What if, instead of a supercross team, Pastrana became an owner of a NASCAR Nationwide Series team?

    “We’ll put Travis’ name on it,” Norris said. “Travis has to stay Travis. He can do everything … he wants to do. Ultimately, if we do this right, we can build a race team that’s an umbrella for all the race things Travis does — rally, supercross, motocross.”

    The offer was better than Astephen and Clarke could have imagined.

    “When we met with other teams, they said, ‘Oh, yeah, Travis would be great for our team. We’ll pay him a bunch of money,’” Clarke said. “That’s not what we were looking for. Ty was selling us on what we were selling everyone else. It was a no-brainer.”

    The two sides cut a deal to create Pastrana Waltrip Racing. Gary Bechtel, who is the team’s primary investor, gave Pastrana a stake in the team. (Astephen wouldn’t discuss business terms, but said Pastrana did put in some equity.) The sales teams at Wasserman and Waltrip Racing then began to search for sponsorship.

    Astephen and Clarke wanted a lifestyle company that matched Pastrana’s personality. The duo reached out to companies already sponsoring Pastrana, as well as some that had sponsored him in the past. Damion Roberson, a team manager at Boost Mobile, liked the idea and began working with Wasserman on the framework of an agreement before Waltrip Racing had even announced its partnership with Pastrana.

    “We thought, regardless of his reception and traction with race fans, there were so many Pastrana fans squarely in the target for us,” said Tim Considine, director of sports marketing at Sprint, which owns Boost. “If he gained any traction in the sport and race fans got behind him, that would just be gravy.”

    New look for NASCAR

    On a fall day at around 6 a.m., as the deal was still being worked out, Pastrana and a handful of executives from Wasserman and Waltrip Racing met the NASCAR Media Group at Charlotte Motor Speedway to film a video announcing Pastrana’s move to NASCAR.

    The video began with a black screen that read, “Is NASCAR ready for Travis Pastrana?” Then Pastrana appeared inside a stock car banging on the roof saying, “Come on, man, I know how to turn left. Let me out.” His friend Hubert Rowland pulled a tarp off the car, unveiling a yellow Toyota with skid marks and don’t-turn-right decals. The 90-second video debuted online and netted more than 200,000 views. ESPN showed it in its entirety.

    Pastrana, shown driving in practice for a K&N Pro Series West race in February, will make his Nationwide Series debut this Saturday.
    In the weeks after the announcement, Norris met with Julie Sobieski, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, and Rich Feinberg, ESPN vice president of motorsports, in Las Vegas. They threw out the idea of Pastrana starting his season at the Nationwide Series race in Indianapolis, the same weekend as the X Games.

    Norris liked the idea and took it to Astephen, who worked with X Games staff to schedule the freestyle motocross best-trick competition on Thursday and the rally cross event on Sunday. The schedule meant Pastrana could commute between Los Angeles and Indianapolis to compete in X Games on Thursday, NASCAR on Saturday and X Games on Sunday. The trifecta of Pastrana on ESPN was exactly what Norris had envisioned.

    “Right out of the box, it’s exposing the sport to new people,” Norris said.

    After the deal with Boost closed, Astephen and Norris began to talk about what Pastrana’s paint scheme would look like. Astephen wanted Pastrana to race in the No. 199 car. The number had been synonymous with Pastrana since his amateur motocross days, but NASCAR had never had a three-digit number before, and denied the request.

    Astephen looked for an alternative. Eventually, he and Norris came up with the idea of ghosting the number into the side of the car. The resulting paint scheme features the faint outline of a black 1 filled in with grey Boost logos alongside two orange 9s.

    The car made its debut in January in downtown Los Angeles. Afterward, Pastrana drove the car up Hollywood Boulevard and took it to Dodger Stadium, which was hosting a supercross race.

    “When I saw Travis walking around there, I kept looking over to everyone with me and saying, ‘We have Dale [Earnhardt] Jr.,’” Norris said. “We were in awe of him. It confirmed for us he had the star power and the charisma.”

    Learning curve

    Pastrana’s transition to NASCAR will be filled with adjustments for both sides. After his debut in a regional stock car series race at Irwindale Speedway, Pastrana went into the stands to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. A NASCAR public relations official rushed over to take him to the post-race press conference, but Pastrana’s team at Wasserman intervened and asked them to let the other drivers speak first.

    “This is what Travis does after a race,” Clarke said. “He goes and sees the fans. They weren’t used to that.”
    Pastrana is expected to push the envelope in other ways. A BASE jumping enthusiast, he’s asked about the possibility of parachuting into a speedway for his driver introduction. And there’s always the possibility of him doing a motocross demo before an event.

    Pastrana’s “Nitro Circus” finds a young audience on MTV2.
    There will be plenty of adjustments for Pastrana, as well. He knows he needs to learn to speak the language of NASCAR so he can explain to his team how to improve the car’s handling during a race. He also has to get more seat time in a stock car, and he plans to do that by cutting back on some of his other activities, such as driving monster trucks and working on freestyle motocross tricks.

    Pastrana doesn’t have high expectations for his performance this season, but he is committed to getting better. If he improves, then he will move from seven races in 2011 to 20-plus races in 2012, to full time in 2013. The ultimate goal is the Daytona 500 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2014.

    The teams at Wasserman and Waltrip will be watching his performance closely. Their deal with Boost was a one-year agreement, and they have to sell those 20-plus Nationwide races and rally cross inventory in 2012.

    Norris’ long-term vision is to turn Pastrana Waltrip Racing into a feeder system for young drivers and sponsors at Michael Waltrip Racing that allows both groups to benefit from Pastrana’s youth appeal and coolness factor. Astephen wants to turn the team into the umbrella motorsports program with supercross and motocross teams like Norris first pitched a year ago.

    But everyone knows those plans will have to wait until after this Thursday’s X Games. Pastrana is planning to try again to land a freestyle motocross trick called the Toilet Roll. He failed to land it at the Staples Center in 2009 and wound up hobbling out of the arena. He said he is landing it 80 percent of the time in practice, and that margin of error is still a big concern for everyone behind the Nationwide Series team.

    “His trick is not dialed for Thursday yet, and this whole f---ing thing could blow up in our face,” Astephen said.

    Speaking last week during a press conference at Michael Waltrip Racing’s shop in North Carolina, Pastrana said he wasn’t thinking about that. He was concentrating on tackling one event at a time.

    After he explained that to the press, he introduced himself to a 10-year-old named Jack Robinson, who was waiting for an autograph. Pastrana signed the boy’s Pastrana Waltrip hat and listened as his mom, Ann, explained that the crescent-shaped scar Jack’s cheek was from a dirt bike accident.

    “They have their own ‘Nitro Circus’ in the backyard,” Ann said.

    “Uh oh,” Pastrana said, grinning widely.

    It was the second time in the same week he’d had a conversation about “Nitro Circus” and NASCAR. Maybe the demographics aren’t that different after all.

  • Will we ever see the end of the line?

    You’ve been there. You sneak away from the game for a trip to the rest room only to see a line snaking out the door.

    It’s a situation as old as the sports facility itself. Yet as venues evolve and add amenities and all the latest technical bells and whistles, why is it that their rest room plans often still don’t flush?

    The latest call for action came at New Meadowlands Stadium, where men sitting in the cheap seats griped about the rest room wait. The stadium has answered by boosting rest room urinals upstairs by a whopping 46 percent, squeezing 67 more urinals into men’s rest rooms. That’s in addition to the 718 men’s rest room fixtures the stadium opened with in April 2010.

    Is this a problem that can be avoided by following formulas that call for X number of stalls for X number of fans? Or is this a mere fact of life that can’t be avoided? After all, everyone has been part of the halftime rest room stampede. Could there ever be enough stalls?

    For developers, designing the correct number of rest rooms and planning the proper layout of those facilities remain
    moving targets. Teams, architects, operators and consultants routinely design a total number far exceeding building code requirements.

    New Meadowlands Stadium is not the first sports venue to go through that experience and it won’t be the last. Soldier Field added men’s urinals in 2004 after Chicago Bears fans complained of long waits to use the bathroom after the reconstructed stadium opened in 2003. Busch Stadium in St. Louis and LP Field in Nashville also tweaked their rest room counts in recent years.

    One consultant’s rule of thumb is one urinal for every 80 male spectators, one water closet (toilet stall) for every 200

    Architects often rely on a series of ratios to determine how many urinals and stalls to offer.
    to 225 men, and one water closet for every 60 women, said Tim Romani, president and CEO of Icon Venue Group, an owner’s representative.

    “Let’s say for an arena, there are 7,000 people in the upper deck and 50 percent of those are men,” Romani said. “With 3,500 men in the upper deck and a 1-to-80 ratio for urinals, do the math and it comes out to 43.75. I usually tell people we need 50 urinals up there to be safe.”

    That’s before the building opens its doors and the quirks of human behavior take over. Identifying which rest rooms will get the most traffic is a guessing game. Miss the mark on rest rooms and the best laid plans can easily end up in the crapper.

    “It is not just the counts or the ratios, but the distribution and understanding who within the seating bowl is going to use which rest room, essentially,” Romani said. “It is not as simple as using a 1-to-whatever ratio; it is more, ‘where do you have them located?’”

    Checking the plumbing

    There are 27,897 upper deck seats at New Meadowlands Stadium, and for New York Giants games, at least, 19,528 of them are occupied by men, based on Big Blue’s estimate that 70 percent of its crowd is male.

    Last year, the first season in the $1.7 billion stadium, many of those men sitting upstairs felt they had to wait too long to use the rest rooms on Concourse Level 3. By comparison, women didn’t experience long lines, according to stadium developers.

    Yes, payback is tough, buddy. But as in any democracy, majority ruled. New Meadowlands Stadium Co., the joint venture that runs the stadium for the Giants and Jets, spent about $2 million this offseason for two major upgrades. One project included the 67 additional urinals on the upper concourse.

    New Meadowlands Stadium boosted the number of urinals serving fans in the upper deck.
    “It’s not like it was unbearable,” said Mark Lamping, the stadium company’s president and CEO. “We had the ability to modify a handful of rest rooms in a pretty easy way. No walls were knocked down. They were oversized to begin with for the number of fixtures in there.”

    New Meadowlands Stadium initially had 190 men’s fixtures in the upper deck — 147 urinals and 43 toilets. The retrofits will represent a 46 percent boost in men’s urinals upstairs, said Craig Schmitt, a principal with EwingCole, New Meadowlands’ architect of record.

    Forty-six percent is a big number, but male Jets and Giants fans who missed key moments of games last year while standing in line to use the toilet would give stadium developers a personal foul for that key piece of facility design.

    Schmitt, however, defends the design. The stadium opened with 718 total fixtures in men’s rest rooms overall — 524 urinals and 194 toilet stalls. Those surpassed, by a large margin, the 269 total fixtures required for men under the National Standard Building Code, the prevailing plumbing code in New Jersey for sports venues, he said.

    There are no clear answers to why that wasn’t enough. Obviously, at key points during an NFL game, such as the 12-minute halftime break, rest rooms get overwhelmed regardless of the number of fixtures and location. It is the nature of the game compared with baseball, a leisurely sport where people tend to use the rest rooms all game long, Schmitt said.

    Schmitt theorizes that inside the new stadium, fans were still getting used to where things were located. On Concourse Level 3, the rest rooms next to the concession stands along the sidelines were jammed compared with the men’s facilities in the end zones that were not as full.

    “If you head to the concourse to go to the rest room and get food, you make a mental note of where those destinations are,” he said. “In the end zones, there are very few concession stands, so you may not have a reason to go down there.”

    ‘Caveman’ mentality

    Architects studying the issue of “potty parity” can tell you everything you need to know about the differences in behavior patterns for how men and women line up and use the rest room. In some respects, it’s almost too much information.

    “It’s funny because the conversation of rest rooms and potty parity occupies a lot of time for sports architects,” said Tom Proebstle, a principal with Generator Studio designing a $40 million renovation at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.

    Proebstle keeps a chart tracking every major league arena and stadium, and the number of seats and rest rooms serving each of those facilities. Architects have a much greater understanding for how rest rooms work after the first wave of new sports buildings came in the 1990s. Still, “lines do happen,” Proebstle said.

    Men are basically “cavemen” when they are in a hurry to use the rest room at a sports facility, said James Poulson, Aecom’s design director for Barclays Center, the Nets’ arena under construction in Brooklyn. Women, conversely, wash their hands after they’re finished.

    “Men have no idea how women use a rest room, while women can only guess but really have no idea,” Poulson said. “I have witnessed couples who have been together for years look at each other in surprise. I guess it is something that doesn’t come up in their conversations.”

    It could be that waiting in line could just be a fact of life for male pro football fans in New York. Historically, a much
    larger percentage of men attend NFL games than women. The 70 percent male figure for Giants games is 10 percent greater than the typical 60-40 split of men over women at NFL games overall, said Proebstle, who in the past worked on stadium upgrades for the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

    “My guess would be Indianapolis, Phoenix and Seattle would have more females going to NFL games than Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and New York, those cities where people have had season tickets for 30 years and it’s more of a guy thing,” said Mike Fox, director of Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts.

    Looking back in New Jersey, the old Giants Stadium had more rest room facilities for men than women, yet “there was always a line, the same with women,” said Erik Stover, outgoing managing director of Red Bull Arena and Giants Stadium’s former assistant vice president of operations. “You have to know your crowd.”

    At New Meadowlands, stadium officials noticed long lines for the men’s room almost immediately, Schmitt said. They positioned guest services staff by the congested rest rooms to direct men and women to where they could find less crowded rest rooms. It helped relieve pressure, but there were still complaints, which led to a EwingCole study to find a solution to the problem.

    For sports facilities in general, potty parity — the number of rest rooms for men compared to women — has mostly revolved around a lack of enough toilets for women. In the last 20 years, individual states have passed laws requiring public assembly facilities to have an equal number of rest room fixtures for women at a minimum, and in some cases, a 2-to-1 or even 3-to-1 ratio in favor of women over men.

    “A building that is perfectly well designed with an equal number of facilities for men and women is great, but it will take women longer to use the rest room, and once you get into that fact, women need more fixtures,” said Bob Brubaker, program manager for the American Restroom Association, an advocacy group. Brubaker, who prefers to use the term “gender parity” to describe the issue, said most modern codes automatically require more fixtures for women.

    Following the crowd

    Architects say it took time for building codes to catch up with their designs for arenas and stadiums, and that their standards for planning rest rooms remain at a higher level than most state and federal requirements. Moreover, facility operators say those codes are often meaningless considering the multitude of events they book in the course of the year.

    On any given night, operators must contend with a sharp change in demographics for the sports, concerts and other special events taking place in their buildings.

    Case in point, this summer’s Katy Perry and Taylor Swift concert tours. Both events attract an overwhelming number of female patrons. On her own, Swift’s crowds have skewed as high as 90 percent female, prompting arena managers to convert men’s rest rooms to women’s facilities where possible. Amway Center, the Magic’s new arena in Orlando, switched two men’s rooms on both concourses as well as some family rest rooms when Swift performed there, said Allen Johnson, the facility’s executive director. Wachovia Center did the same thing when Perry performed in Philadelphia, said Mike Ahearn, vice president of operations at Global Spectrum, the arena’s management firm.

    In sports, Lucas Oil Stadium switched about a half-dozen women’s rest rooms to men’s facilities for the 2010 NCAA Men’s Final Four, an event where crowds are historically 65 percent men, Fox said. With 1,400 bathroom fixtures, 715 on the women’s side, stadium designers placed high priority on planning an extra-large number of amenities such as bathrooms to accommodate high-profile events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl, said Bryan Trubey, a principal with HKS Sports and Entertainment, the facility’s architect.

    Advance planning aside, Lucas Oil Stadium officials plan to speak with the NFL about turning over more women’s rest rooms to men’s facilities for the 2012 Super Bowl, Fox said.

    “The challenge is there are actually very few stalls in the men’s washroom,” said Bob Hunter, executive vice president of venues and entertainment at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Swift and Perry both performed there earlier this month and the arena did not flip men’s rest rooms for women.

    “Even if you do those conversions, you have [dozens of urinals] and two stalls. Those are very young audiences so they are not heavy alcohol consumers,” Hunter said. “There is no less traffic in the rest rooms, but it’s not like a ton of people at a Motley Crue concert.”

  • NFL ad sales at record levels despite standoff

    Despite a labor situation that cramped league business for four months, television ad sales around this fall’s NFL games have skyrocketed to record levels. TV network executives say they have sold between 80 percent and 90 percent of their regular-season ad schedules, with spots getting price increases in the low double digits over last year.

    “For the most part, we approached it as business as usual,” said one of the sector’s biggest ad buyers, Tom McGovern, managing director of Optimum Sports. “The worst case was that the league would lose a couple of games in early September. We all hoped that cooler heads would prevail.”

    For the latest on the NFL’s labor agreement,
    visit www.sportsbusinessdaily.com

    In fact, the only effect the labor situation had on the NFL’s TV market is with preseason games, where there is still a lot of availability across all of the networks. But advertisers bought air time in the regular season with the confidence — or the hope — that meaningful games would be played this fall.

    At deadline, it appeared that labor peace was close at hand, showing that the advertisers’ bets on fall football paid off.

    The fact that advertisers were willing to commit millions of ad dollars on a season that was in peril illustrates the NFL’s dominance as a TV property. In most cases, advertisers were protected: They would get their money back for games that weren’t played. But they still took a risk by committing such a significant part of their budgets to games that could have been canceled.

    There’s a reason for taking that risk. NFL games make up the highest-rated programming on television and are attracting the interest of advertisers across the board. Traditional sports advertisers have bought time, of course, but so too have general market advertisers looking to reach the NFL’s massive and young audience, McGovern said. One television executive pointed to increased activity among movie studios in the coming regular season as evidence of that trend.

    “The NFL is incredibly hot right now,” McGovern said. “It’s the new prime time.”

    The scalding hot marketplace is especially good news for NBC, which is carrying the Super Bowl this season. NBC executives would not comment on Super Bowl sales, but several sources said spots are moving quickly. In some cases, advertisers have committed to more than $3.2 million for a 30-second spot during the game, sources said. Last year, Fox sold 30-second Super Bowl spots for about $3 million.

    The Super Bowl moved earlier than ever last year, when Fox went into the regular season with only a handful of spots remaining. The network sold out the game in October. NBC’s pace is trending along those levels, sources said.

    NBC confirmed that its regular-season “Sunday Night Football” schedule is about 85 percent sold. “Our sales have never been healthier,” said Seth Winter, NBC’s senior vice president for sports and Olympic sales and marketing. “We’re pacing significantly ahead of our prior year. By the time we finish, we will have exceeded it.”

    Winter credited the NFL for keeping the ad market active through the lockout. “There was a confidence in the ad community to invest,” he said. “The deeds, actions and words from [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell, in particular, showed a resolve and a commitment to figuring these things out.”

    Neil Mulcahy, Fox Sports executive vice president of advertising sales, said Fox was about 85 percent sold and was selling spots as though there was no labor unrest.

    “We wrote more than we did last year,” he said. “People were ready, willing and able to do business.”

    The NFL market, once again, is being paced by the auto category, according to every network executive interviewed for this story.

    “Autos is the category that has really kept this market as healthy as it is,” said John Bogusz, executive vice president of sales and marketing for CBS Sports. CBS is about 80 percent sold, slightly less than the other broadcasters, but it generally sells more in the scatter market than other networks each year. For CBS, the scatter market generally starts in mid to late August.

    The insurance and beer categories also have made healthy buys.

    It’s not just the NFL games that are hot. ESPN says advertiser interest in the overall football market is helping its NFL shoulder programming and its college football schedule.

    “We sold as though the season would happen,” said Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of customer marketing and sales. “We have had strong interest from advertisers not only in our ‘Monday Night Football’ and NFL studio inventory, but also our extensive college football inventory.”

    For ad buyers, signs last week that a resolution was near served to bring a sense of relief. With its mass audience and young male demographics, ad buyers say their clients covet NFL games — which is why so many of them bought schedules during the work stoppage.

    “You’ll hear a collective exhale because the approach has been business as usual, and now everyone can proceed with plans as planned,” said Sam Sussman, senior vice president for program planning and strategy at Starcom Worldwide.

    Staff writer Tripp Mickle contributed to this report.

  • NASCAR ad sales up for ESPN

    The ratings rebound NASCAR is experiencing so far this season also has benefited ESPN’s ad sales, which are trending better than in recent years.

    ESPN says ad sales around its coverage of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, which starts this Sunday in Indianapolis, are pacing ahead of last year as a result of spending across the telecommunications, autos, insurance and medicinal categories. The company saw increased interest from advertisers for its “NASCAR Nonstop” offering, which allows a company to present a split-screen commercial break during the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    Observers anticipated that the NFL lockout would force advertisers to buy other sports programming to protect themselves in case football games were canceled, and that NASCAR would benefit from that. But ad buyers said the NFL lockout has had little to do with ESPN’s sales success in NASCAR.

    “The bump in NASCAR is more of an effect of a very well-sold market than people moving their NFL dollars around,” said Tom McGovern, managing director of Optimum Sports.

    Sam Sussman, senior vice president of program planning and strategy at Starcom Worldwide, added, “ESPN had a couple of things going for them. The threat of no NFL at the time of the upfront was a benefit, and the overall strength of the upfront helped buoy them after the declines of the past years.”

    Buyers said ESPN also has been helped by an increase in ratings for NASCAR programming over the first half of the season. For the first time in three seasons, Fox’s NASCAR ratings saw an increase, averaging 8.6 million viewers for its 13 races, a 9.7 percent increase from 2010. TNT also saw its first increase in three years for its six-race schedule, averaging 5.125 million viewers for its six races this season, a 2.5 percent increase from 2010.

    ESPN will look to extend that ratings momentum over the back half of the season and reverse the major ratings declines it saw in 2010. The media company moved eight races from ABC to ESPN, and viewership nosedived. The network drew 4.9 million viewers, a 14 percent decrease from 2009.

    With the NFL season now expected to start on time, ESPN will have to improve those ratings while facing strong competition from football. Network executives hope to benefit from NASCAR’s decision to adjust race start times during the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Races were moved from 1 p.m., which put them head-to-head with NFL games, to 2 p.m., which means races will likely end at the same time that the NFL moves from its 1 p.m. games on Sunday to its 4 p.m. games.

    Ad buyers have confidence that ESPN will see improved NASCAR ratings. But they also cautioned that the sport has room to grow.

    “The sport itself is still seeing a lot more churn than the folks at NASCAR would like to see from a sponsorship perspective,” Sussman said. “National media still gives people a way to connect with NASCAR fans. Ratings have stabilized.”

  • Bettman's compensation reaches $7.5M

    NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s total compensation increased 4 percent during the 2009-10 season, pushing his salary plus benefits to $7.5 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, according to the league’s most recent tax filing.

    For 2009-10, Bettman’s base salary was $5,787,524, other compensation $826,369, deferred compensation $877,597, and benefits $25,988.

    Commissioner Gary Bettman was atop the list of 10 executives whose pay was listed on the league’s tax filing.
    The NHL declined to comment on Bettman’s pay increase and the tax filing, which does not include the revenue or expenses of NHL Enterprises or the NHL Network, which are not tax exempt.

    The increase represents three years of pay raises for Bettman, whose salary is still a fraction of the salaries of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig ($18.35 million) and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ($10.9 million). NBA Commissioner David Stern’s salary is not reported publicly because the NBA does not claim tax-exempt status; it is believed to be more than $10 million.

    Bettman’s salary has doubled since the 2004-05 lockout, when he was paid $3.7 million. Since the lockout, total revenue generated by the NHL, NHL Enterprises and member clubs has risen from $2.1 billion to $2.9 billion.

    The filing reported compensation for 10 of the league’s top executives. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly saw his total pay rise 7.4 percent to just more than $2 million; Colin Campbell, senior vice president and director of hockey operations, earned $1.5 million; Craig Harnett, chief financial officer, earned $1.1 million; officiating manager Donald Koharski was paid $1.1 million. Ed Horne, former executive vice president of club services, was paid $811,573. John Collins, the NHL’s chief operating officer, saw his pay increase 35.5 percent to $1.2 million.

    The filing did not include salaries for Stephen Walkom, former director of officiating, and Michael Murphy, senior vice president of hockey operations, whose salaries were listed on the 2008-09 filing.

    The executive pay raise was part of a 10 percent increase in expenses for the league, which listed $83.3 million in expenses for 2009-10. Employee salaries rose 19.6 percent to $24.4 million, and team-related costs rose 16 percent to $4.5 million. Travel ($7.3 million) and officiating costs ($5.2 million) remained static.

    The league’s legal costs continued to rise. In 2008-09, legal fees rose 48.6 percent to $3.94 million as the league concluded a lawsuit with Madison Square Garden over the New York Rangers’ digital rights and began bankruptcy hearings for the Phoenix Coyotes. In the 2009-10 filing, the league reported legal expenses of $2.31 million, which represents a 41 percent drop from 2008-09. However, in supplemental forms the league lists $11.01 million in legal services paid to law firms Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom ($9.0 million); Proskauer Rose LLP ($1.6 million); and Covington and Burling ($746,095). The NHL did not list expenses for independent contractors in supplemental forms for its 2008-09 filing.

    Skadden represented the NHL when it acquired the Coyotes in November of 2009.

    During the 2009-10 fiscal year the league collected $83.3 million in total revenue, an increase of 9.7 percent. The league grew revenue from licensing by 33 percent to $6.6 million.

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