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ESPN and the NFL agreed to terms on an eight-year extension to their media deal that is worth $1.9 billion a year and extends their relationship through the 2021 season. The deal gives ESPN many more highlight, digital and international rights than it has had previously. But despite paying more than any other NFL TV partner, ESPN still has no guarantee that it will get a playoff game. Staff writer John Ourand spoke separately with two of the new deal’s key architects, NFL Media’s chief operating officer, Brian Rolapp, and ESPN’s executive vice president of content, John Skipper.
■ What’s the coolest part of this deal for you?
Skipper: Because it’s new, I’m excited about all the new studio hours. We have 500 new hours of studio time. We’re going to do the “NFL 32” show every day. We’re going to try a format where we have a correspondent for each of the 32 teams and we’ll fly around and get news about the league. It gives a chance for Chris Mortensen and Suzy Kolber to get some more time. I’m excited to go to three hours on “Countdown.”
■ Why isn’t ESPN guaranteed a playoff game?
Skipper: We want to be in the postseason. We didn’t choose to have a big contretemps there. In fact, they accommodated us by saying they would create a path for at least a trial. However, they did say clearly that they want that path to be in their control. It’s their option.
■ What is that path?
Skipper: It’s quite simple. The NFL, should they choose beginning in 2014, will provide us with a playoff game.
Will the amount of highlight rights compete with NFL Network?
Rolapp: What ESPN does so well is promote our product and create product for our fans. It’s very easy to measure our business if it’s healthy. Is consumption going up? The answer this year is yes.
Skipper: The NFL understands that as a partner, one of the things ESPN brings to the table is that we make the NFL a 365-day-a-year sport. They do that, too, with their network. The specifics around highlight rights was done with Steve Bornstein, who runs NFL Network. I’m happy to say that he understands the value that we bring to the league. For all of these shows, we’re able to use the highlights we need. If we’re doing an NFL-branded show, it’s commentary and highlights. We have the right to do as much as we need.
HBO is committing an unprecedented amount of sister media assets from Time Warner to promote Saturday’s Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz welterweight title bout, allaying long-term objections from fight promoters.
For years, promoters have sought to have HBO, long the dominant pay-per-view entity in boxing, use Time Warner’s deep stable of TV networks, magazines and websites to tout big fights in the hopes of boosting PPV sales. The high-profile move earlier this year of Manny Pacquiao to rival Showtime, which heavily promoted his May 7 bout against Shane Mosley on sister network CBS, represented a call to arms for HBO.
“Everybody in this business is very competitive,” said Richard Schaefer, chief executive of Golden Boy Promotions, co-promoter of the Mayweather-Ortiz fight. “Once Showtime re-entered the pay-per-view game [with Pacquiao], it put everybody on their toes, and the competitive juices flowed.”
In addition to the fight, CNN will reair all four episodes of the HBO Sports “24/7” series chronicling the run-up to Mayweather-Ortiz. Oscar De La Hoya — former boxing great, Golden Boy president and Ortiz’s promoter — appeared with Ortiz on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.” Promotions for the fight have run frequently during TBS’s Sunday afternoon coverage of Major League Baseball and several other high-profile CNN shows such as “Anderson Cooper 360,” as well as on Time.com, SI.com, CNNMoney.com and Forbes.com. SI.com also has extensive editorial coverage of the fight, as well as online streams of “24/7.” And Mayweather will appear tonight on TBS’s “Conan.”
“This is something very good for the sport and developing the next generation of fans,” said Mark Taffet, senior vice president of HBO PPV. The Pacquiao move “clearly brought to the forefront the importance of expanding the base of the sport.”
HBO will also expand its overall coverage of the fight, running a one-hour “24/7 Overtime Live” segment from Las Vegas on Friday, previewing the event immediately after the finale of “24/7.” On Saturday, HBO will precede the fight itself with a six-hour block of boxing programming on HBO Zone with repeats of “24/7,” classic bouts and other material.
With Mayweather’s popularity and the increased Time Warner promotion, Golden Boy is gunning to break the sport’s PPV record, established with a 2007 Mayweather-De La Hoya fight that generated 2.4 million buys.
“My goal is to break the record,” Schaefer said. “All the stars are aligned here. All signs are pushing in one direction. It’s clearly the biggest fight of the year. We’re definitely going over 2 million, and from there, I’m after 2.5 million.”
Taffet was more cautious in his outlook.
“I’m not getting into the prediction game, but this is clearly what we define as a megafight, and there is incredible pent-up demand for Mayweather,” Taffet said.
Senior writer Bill King contributed to this report.
Mark Lazarus continues to build out his executive team at the NBC Sports Group, hiring former ESPN executive Rob Simmelkjaer as a senior vice president of NBC Sports Ventures and Earl Marshall as chief financial officer.
Simmelkjaer spent 10 years at ESPN, most recently as vice president of international development and corporate projects. At one point, he worked as the assistant to President George Bodenheimer. Since 2007, Simmelkjaer was ESPN’s main contact with the International Olympic Committee, having spent much of the past year putting together ESPN’s bid for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics.
Viewers may recognize Simmelkjaer, who had several on-air roles with ESPN. He was an anchor on ESPNews and handled play-by-play duties for some ESPN-produced lacrosse games.
As part of his NBC deal, Simmelkjaer will have an on-air assignment for the London Games next year.
One of Simmmelkjaer’s responsibilities at NBC will be to expand the international footprint of Golf Channel and other international properties.
He will also oversee NBC Sports Group’s minority ownership stake in Universal Sports and majority ownership of the Dew Tour, duties that had been overseen by Jon Miller when he ran the NBC Sports Ventures unit. Miller now is overseeing programming for both NBC Sports and Versus.
NBC Sports Ventures encompasses the Alliance of Action Sports (Alli), the American Century Golf Championship, the ADT Golf Skills Challenge, the Heads Up Poker Championship and the National Dog Show.
Marshall’s move was more expected. He had been the NBC Sports Cable Group’s chief financial officer since January, when Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal became official.
“His experience in both financial matters and rights acquisitions has been and will continue to be a benefit for our group,” Lazarus said in a prepared statement.
Previously, Marshall was senior vice president of finance, strategy and business development for Golf Channel. He also operated as its interim president.