SBJ/September 5-11, 2011/Opinion

From NFL ratings to IMG College and other stories to watch

When will the NFL’s TV ratings peak? With year after year of viewership growth, is a dip coming?

It’s conceivable that ratings drop this season, but any dip will be small and says nothing about the league’s strength as a TV property. There is a healthy, pent-up amount of interest after the lockout, a renaissance of the “dream teams,” renewed appeal in markets like New York and Dallas, and strength in the traditional powerhouses of Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Despite suggestions that fantasy football could take a hit this year, we haven’t seen it in the numbers, and we know how that propels TV viewership across age groups and gender — and don’t underestimate the role women have in driving TV viewership. So I see a very strong year, viewership-wise.

But watch ticket sales closely. I count nearly half of the league’s teams having challenges at the gate, and when franchises like the Dolphins are facing blackouts, you realize the day-to-day grind teams are facing. Now that labor peace is guaranteed for the next decade, owners and league officials stress growing the game and increasing revenue. The main revenue stream remains tickets, so they must reinvest in a vibrant and safe live game experience, with sound ticketing tactics, strategies and sales.

PYNE SEES IDEA COME TO LIFE: Shortly after becoming IMG Sports & Entertainment president in 2006, George Pyne told me about his vision for expanding the company’s business through college sports. He firmly believed the space was an untapped and under-utilized sponsorship and media asset. Coming from an America East college, and one with no football, I was terribly naïve to the strength of college sports — especially college football — as a media and marketing platform. But being in Charlotte for the last 13 years, I’ve experienced the passion and mindshare these programs and conferences hold. They offer engaged students on campus and loyal and demographically desirable alumni. I understood where Pyne was going, and over the years, we’ve seen how he has methodically built that business: first by securing marketing and media rights to major programs, then through acquisitions of Collegiate Licensing Co. and ISP Sports, and the formation of IMG College.

I’ve heard many points of view on this strategy — trust me. Critics point out that Pyne built this through paying (many argue overpaying) for such assets. Skeptics note the major guarantees for which IMG College is on the hook and question the sustainability of that business. All are fair points. But Pyne sees value in developing a network of major college programs that sponsors can utilize regionally
or with national programs. His team was able to secure recent lucrative deals with MillerCoors and UPS, and outside of the NCAA’s Corporate Champion and Corporate Partner programs, these deals strike me as the largest national deals at the collegiate level, offering a strong mix of on- and off-campus and media assets.

“In the Studio” videos, featuring SBJ/SBD editors, reporters and visitors (including GMR’s Mike Boykin, bottom right), highlight the top news stories.
Pyne and company are going to need many more such deals to get a return on their initial investments, so the activation around these first few deals will be critical to the program’s success. Will brands be able to successfully deliver programs across such a wide swath of schools? That’s a key question, but with these first big deals in hand, Pyne’s vision has now become reality.

WHY NBA LOCKOUT HAS BEEN MET WITH A SHRUG: It’s easily lockout fatigue, but it’s also telling: the different level of press coverage of the NFL and NBA lockouts. Because the NFL’s labor issue came first, and because of football’s status in the U.S., the NFL easily had more intense and comprehensive coverage. There also were more angles to the coverage by the mainstream media. For many sports editors, it’s not just the popularity of NFL, but also a feeling of “Do our readers want more of this?” The other aspect is, there’s little news and few are talking. But time is ticking, and a look at the calendar shows little chance for an uninterrupted NBA season.

FROM THE SBD/SBJ FEEDS: Lisa Leslie’s investment in the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks was good news for the league. For the “W” to grow, it needs to continue to diversify its ownership group, and while it needs owners with deep pockets, it also needs leaders with a passion for basketball, preferably women’s basketball. Leslie has that and will continue to be an asset to the sport. … I love the move by Fox to show several EPL broadcasts on over-the-air TV in the U.S. this season, with one game live on Super Bowl Sunday. I’m on record now: It will generate very strong ratings on Super Sunday and will not be the last live EPL game to appear on broadcast TV. ESPN, in particular, has done a lot to market the EPL in the States. This kind of love from broadcast television suggests a regular broadcast package could be in the offing. … Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is a fun follow on Twitter, but besides this music lover, is there a leading NFL team executive active on Twitter? SBD is doing a study, so look for it this week. … Thanks for the feedback on our “SBJ/SBD In The Studio” video sessions that are on www.sportsbusinessdaily.com. If you haven’t seen them, check them out — or follow us on Twitter, where we’re posting them.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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