SBJ/December 19-25, 2011/Media

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  • Red Bull partners with Alli for series

    After more than a decade of producing remote, outrageous sporting events and distributing them virally, Red Bull plans to go mainstream.

    The energy drink company’s media arm, Red Bull Media House, cut a three- to five-year agreement with NBC’s Alliance of Action Sports, or Alli, to develop the Red Bull Signature Series. The series will see NBC and NBC Sports Network devote 35 hours of programming annually to longtime Red Bull events like X Fighters, a freestyle motocross tour, and Crashed Ice World Championships, a downhill skating competition.

    Under terms of the revenue-sharing agreement, Red Bull will continue to run and produce the events. NBC will broadcast them, with 20 hours on NBC and 15 hours on NBC Sports Network, which will be rebranded from Versus on Jan. 2. The parties will collaborate on sponsorship sales and share sponsorship revenue. Alli, which operates the Dew Tour and AMA Motocross Series, will develop a team of employees to support those sponsors.

    Red Bull has not historically sought partners for its events and was particularly averse to signing sponsors to support its Major League Soccer club in New York. Its soccer team developed a reputation for being highly selective about what brands it believed were acceptable to associate with its own brand. Very few were deemed worthy.

    But Werner Brell, North America’s Red Bull Media House managing director, said that won’t be an issue as the company identifies sponsors for the Red Bull Signature Series. He said the company brings on advertisers to support its media distribution in Europe and Asia and has had no issues there. He added that the company will look for brands that share Red Bull’s interest in supporting “progressive sports.”

    “Our goal is to establish the Red Bull Signature Series as a true series in the marketplace and to open the door to sponsors and advertisers to partner with us,” Brell said.

    Red Bull and Alli hope to sell five major sponsorships and are targeting categories such as consumer electronics, automotive, telecommunications, retail and endemic apparel companies. Sponsors will receive commercial spots, hospitality at events, on-site activation, and customized content in programming and across the series’ new website, redbullsignatureseries.com.

    “We think this has a bunch of potential,” Alli President Wade Martin said. “Red Bull is an unbelievable brand that a lot of brands want to align with, and the content from their events is amazing.”

    The deal is the latest in a series of moves Red Bull has made since establishing its North American media operation at the start of 2011. Red Bull Media House has launched a print magazine, developed and released a feature-length film on snowboarder Travis Rice and struck a deal with YouTube to program its own channel in 2012.

    The 20 hours of broadcast exposure Red Bull will get from NBC was critical to the deal, Brell said. “We want to bring all these sports to life to bridge the gap between the core audience and a wider mass audience,” he said.

    For NBC Sports Group, the deal offers more action sports programming for its network and cable channel. The company announced earlier this year it plans to move 11 hours of live motocross coverage to NBC Sports Network in 2012, and the Red Bull programming will give it an additional 15 hours.

    “This is a chance to supplement what we’re doing with the Dew Tour and create another tent pole for action sports,” said Rob Simmelkjaer, senior vice president of NBC Sports Ventures. “The more live sports we can get on our air to make us look and feel more like a destination for sports fans, especially the young sports fans that will follow the Red Bull Signature Series, the better for the overall NBC Sports Network.”

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  • Here’s a 2012 sports media year in review, 12 months early

    John Ourand
    The past year in sports media was dominated by industry-changing rights deals. That trend will continue next year, as the BCS, Big East, NFL, MLB and NASCAR look to cut deals. It’s not much of a prediction to say that most will see significant increase in the average annual payout — that surely will happen — but here’s how I see the year shaking out.

    NBC picks up new NFL package: The NFL will add up to four additional games to NFL Network starting next season, giving it a total of 12 games. The move will help the league finally close a carriage deal with Time Warner Cable. NFL Network’s added games will overlap with an eight-game Thursday-night package that will generate a lot of interest. My bet is that the new package winds up on NBC Sports Network, though Turner could snatch it.

    MLB leaves Fox: MLB will consolidate its rights with one media company rather than continue with its current structure across three networks: ESPN, Fox and TBS. NBC will make a big push to win the rights. But my guess is that the league opts for ESPN in a deal that will finally include the same TV Everywhere components that other leagues have rolled out. Keeping Turner involved in some form can’t be counted out; think of the NBA’s deal with ESPN and Turner. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some playoff games land on MLB Network, but look for most of the playoffs to be on ESPN (with, maybe, some on TBS) and the World Series to air on ABC.

    No NASCAR deal gets signed: NASCAR ratings will continue to see an uptick, especially with Danica Patrick appearing in more races, but networks will hold off on renewing their rights deals until 2013. Network executives aren’t going to be looking at the overall viewership. Rather, the networks want to see if NASCAR is able to win back the young-male demographic. If those numbers stay low, the sanctioning body will not see an increase in its next television deal.

    NBC picks up Big East rights: At an industry conference earlier this month, NBC Sports Group’s Jon Litner announced to a crowd of college officials: “We are open for business.” NBC’s first chance to prove that will be with the Big East Conference, which spurned a proposed ESPN extension earlier this year. ESPN will submit a bid, and Fox will kick the tires — but my bet is that NBC lands the Big East rights.

    ESPN retains the BCS: ESPN’s four-year, $495 million deal for the BCS, signed in 2008, changed the industry. That was the moment when rights holders and networks realized that cable channels’ dual revenue streams of advertising and affiliate fees are needed to afford these kinds of rights fees. Those rights will be negotiated again in 2012, and I expect Fox to make a strong bid to win them back. The BCS has been a huge success for ESPN, though, and I expect Bristol to break the bank to keep the games. Look for the BCS to agree to a plus-one game during these negotiations, too.

    Fox keeps the Dodgers’ rights: The Los Angeles Dodgers will take their rights to the open market. Time Warner Cable will make a strong bid. It’s a long shot, but DirecTV could swoop in and make a bid, too. Still, I see Fox doing whatever it takes to keep the Dodgers’ rights. Why Fox? Earlier this month, former Fox Cable President Bob Thompson told a bankruptcy hearing that Prime Ticket’s existence would be threatened if it lost the Dodgers. That’s a good incentive for Fox to keep the rights.

    TWC Sports will struggle for distribution: Time Warner Cable’s planned RSNs in Los Angeles will launch on TWC and DirecTV this fall, but the channels will have a hard time finding other distributors unless the channels get the Dodgers (and I don’t think they will).

    Quick hits: Despite the lockout, the NBA will see its viewership rise through the playoffs. … Golf ratings on CBS, NBC and Golf Channel will be up 20 percent in 2012. Thanks, Tiger. … Fox’s UFC deal will be a success, bringing a huge number of young viewers to the network, which will average around 7 million viewers for its four fights. … Neither DirecTV nor Dish Network will carry the Pac-12’s planned channels.

    Those are my predictions for 2012. I expect you to hold me to them.

    John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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  • Fox Sports finishes deal to acquire USC multimedia rights

    After nearly a year of wrangling, the University of Southern California has completed a deal to outsource its multimedia rights to Fox Sports, industry sources said.

    The Trojans were one of the few remaining major colleges that had not outsourced a bundled marketing and media rights package, instead choosing to handle sales with its own staff. That approach changed when Pat Haden came on board as athletic director last year. Haden replaced Mike Garrett, who preferred the in-house approach.

    Thinking on multimedia rights changed at USC when Pat Haden became AD.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The 10-year deal with Fox is thought to guarantee USC more than $7 million a year on average, about $1 million more than the Trojans were doing annually on their own.

    The move into college multimedia rights, while not unprecedented for Fox, is certainly rare. The only other arrangement similar to the USC deal is one that Fox-owned Sun Sports signed with Florida. That is valued at close to $10 million a year in a 10-year package. Once Sun Sports won the Gators’ rights, the regional network hired IMG College to manage the property.

    Industry sources say this is not the start of a trend for Fox to get deeper into multimedia rights, but the USC property presented a unique opportunity because the Los Angeles school is based near Fox’s headquarters and the Trojans represent a premier college brand.

    Home Team Sports, a division of Fox Sports, will oversee the property.

    HTS is in the process of hiring a general manager who will be embedded in the Trojans’ athletic department. USC’s general manager will report to Kyle Sherman, executive vice president for HTS and chief of ad sales for Fox Sports Net. Sources said HTS and FSN will benefit from offering packages that could include sponsorship at USC and media from Fox’s RSNs.

    Through the deal, HTS will have the rights to USC’s football and basketball radio network, official sponsorships, venue signs, and other promotional marketing and hospitality.

    For the first year, Fox will handle rights to USC basketball on FS West. Afterward, those local TV rights go back to the conference for the planned Pac-12 channels.

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