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Big Lead Sports has signed a multiyear partnership with SiriusXM Radio to develop nightly fantasy sports-related programming.
The pact, roughly six months in development, will begin with three nights a week of co-branded fantasy programming, generally running from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET, and featuring editors and analysts from key Big Lead Sports sites such as KFFL.com, HoopsHype.com and BaseballHQ.com. The effort will focus on fantasy football and basketball to start. It will expand to baseball next spring with a move to content on all five weeknights.
The shows will debut Aug. 2 on SiriusXM’s Fantasy Sports Radio, its channel dedicated to fantasy sports that launched in July 2010.
“This gives us another key outlet to take our experts, give them a platform, and expose them to additional audiences,” said Chris Russo, Big Lead Sports chief executive. “This also builds out an important multiplatform component to our ad sales between online and radio.”
Financial terms were not disclosed, but both Big Lead Sports and SiriusXM will sell advertising around the content and participate in a revenue-sharing plan. SiriusXM has previously aligned with other fantasy outlets such as Rotowire.com and FantasyGuru.com to help program the channel.
SiriusXM executives said Fantasy Sports Radio, and the addition of the Big Lead Sports analysts, will be buttressed by a fantasy football season made much more unsettled and wide open as a result of the NFL lockout of the past four months.
“We have become a much more important product as a result of the lockout,” said Steve Cohen, SiriusXM senior vice president of sports programming. “We’re in uncharted territory, and having this talent to help our audience work through all of that will be tremendously beneficial.”
Conference USA, which earlier this year sold its TV rights to Fox, has struck a multiyear deal to turn over its sales and marketing rights to the network as well.
Home Team Sports, a division of Fox Sports, will manage Conference USA’s corporate sponsorship program and will be able to sell into the TV broadcasts on Fox and the league website, ConferenceUSA.com. Fox takes over the property from CBS, which had the rights for six years and also had the conference’s TV rights.
Conference USA’s inventory includes sponsorships around its football championship game, basketball tournament and other championship events.
Fox will start with a blank slate in Conference USA’s corporate partner program. The league’s deals with partners GMC, Geico and others expired at the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year last month. Those agreements were purposely scheduled to come to a close with the end of CBS’s deal with the conference.
“We were looking for a partner that had the media piece and the sponsorship piece because it just makes it easier for the partner to have access to both,” said Kelly Carney, the conference’s associate commissioner for marketing.
The Dallas-based conference also had discussions with Learfield Sports and IMG College before deciding to go with Fox. The agreement is a revenue share between the network and the conference.
The Conference USA property will be managed out of Fox’s Los Angeles office by Jack Trompeter, director of sponsorship sales for Fox Sports Enterprises and a lead sales executive on Fox’s Pac-12 Properties.
There also will be a heavy sales effort out of Fox’s regional network, FSN Southwest, which serves half of the markets in the 12-school conference.
The deal with Conference USA keeps Fox in the conference business. It has long had a relationship with the Pac-12, but that deal expires after the 2011-12 season. The Pac-12 has said that it will take those sales and marketing rights in-house.
“We’re goimg to be able to offer advertisers a complete package of opportunities to reach passionate and engaged fans. It’s a great way to deliver value while also addressing the needs of the conference and corporate sponsors.” said Kyle Sherman, executive vice president of sales for Fox’s Home Team Sports.
GameSlam, a sports-themed social gaming startup, is readying a marked expansion around pro and college football this fall after an initial baseball-focused launch this past spring.
GameSlam is expanding beyond live games.
After amassing roughly 60,000 users this spring and summer, GameSlam is developing a new product, “GameSlam 365,” in which users can predict outcomes of simulated games involving classic teams from the past. Mobile versions of the live and simulation games for the Apple iOS and Android platforms are also nearing completion.
The simulation game engine was developed internally by GameSlam. Stats LLC has been providing the company with live game data.
“There’s a lot of growth around the live game product happening and will continue to happen. But as we get to the fall and football season, the question is how do we extend our windows to the other days of the week,” said Kenny Mazursky, GameSlam co-founder and chief marketing officer. “The simulated games will be an important complement as we make a big push around football.”
GameSlam earlier this year aligned with Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to be its “Slambassador” and perform some viral marketing on behalf of the company. A search continues for a figure to fill a similar role for football.
More broadly, the Chicago-based company is seeking to capitalize on the industry frenzy around social and casual gaming, one exemplified again earlier this month by Electronic Arts’ purchase of PopCap Games for at least $750 million.
“There’s just a ton of energy around the space,” Mazursky said. “The biggest particular area of growth we’ve seen is probably our head-to-head challenges.”
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.”
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.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.
“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.”
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.
CBSSports.com is expanding Rapid-Reports, the real-time, Twitter-like reporting structure it introduced two years ago, to college football with the addition of 40 correspondents to cover key major conference programs.
The CBSSports.com feature hits readers with a Twitter-like stream of field reports.
The short-form reporting format for the site’s NFL coverage generated more than 55,000 individual filings in 2009, and 82,000 last year.
The plan, the first expansion of RapidReports beyond NFL coverage, is part of an overall increase by CBS Sports in editorial resources devoted to college sports.
The site earlier this year hired noted college basketball reporter Jeff Goodman from FoxSports.com and leading college football writer Tony Barnhart from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others.
“We’re going hard after the college fan, and this is an editorial concept we think will lend really well to what we’re doing,” said Jeff Gerttula, CBSSports.com vice president of programming.
The RapidReports content in particular is being targeted for CBSSports.com’s mobile extensions, and it will be integrated through the CBSSports.com home page and team and college football main pages.
Like the NFL RapidReports correspondents, the college writers will be contract employees working for CBSSports.com for the duration of the coming football season.
Key schools from the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and independent Notre Dame will be in the initial coverage plan, though that is subject to change.