SBJ/April 16-22, 2012/Media

The readers dissent – and these readers make good points

John Ourand
Constructive reader feedback is like oxygen to columnists, especially when it comes from people who thoughtfully disagree with your viewpoint. Here are some comments on recent stories that I found interesting.

A trusted source called after reading the column, “Experts expect to see tech giants at sports rights table soon,” in the April 2-8 issue. He said the premise of the column — that Internet giants like Google or Apple could be making a play for sports content sooner than people think — was just plain wrong.

First, he pointed to TV networks that are doing TV deals these days only if Internet rights are included. That leaves high-priced packages available to these digital upstarts. Even with deep pockets, a company like Google is not likely to invest in major U.S. rights, he said, because it doesn’t have a logical way to make that money back.

“They are promising a broadcast model,” my source said. “The problem with that is that when it comes to sports, broadcasters aren’t using the broadcast model anymore. Broadcasters are trying to develop two revenue streams.”

My column quoted several executives saying that Google and Apple could be real players in the sports world, but this person said he didn’t expect anything to happen in the next five or 10 years, at the earliest. It would take a real leap of faith for a major league or conference to subordinate its brand to an upstart when the money is there for broad distribution on broadcast and cable, plus Internet and wireless on an authenticated basis.

It’s an interesting topic to debate. Of course, when asked if he wanted to be quoted for this column, he declined. It turns out that his company does business with Google and Apple.

Lou Borrelli, a well-respected veteran of the cable industry, emailed after reading last week’s story on local TV ratings for NHL teams. Pittsburgh and Buffalo, by far, posted the highest local TV ratings among U.S.-based NHL teams. Penguins games on Root Sports drew a 7.89 rating; Sabres games on MSG were at 6.55. Next on the list was Boston, where Bruins games got a 4.72 on NESN, well below Pittsburgh and Buffalo.

Borrelli suggested that the lack of NBA teams in Pittsburgh and Buffalo is a main reason why their hockey ratings are so big. It sounds obvious, but when I wrote the story, I didn’t consider that factor. Nobody I talked to suggested it was a factor. In hindsight, it likely plays a huge part.

Pittsburgh and Buffalo are good sports towns. They are both strong hockey towns, and I suspect their NHL ratings would remain big even with NBA competition. But would they remain so much bigger than everyone else? Probably not. When the Penguins and Sabres play, there’s no local NBA equivalent in the market to compete for those sports viewers.

When CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports decided to close their jointly owned Mountain West Conference channel, the Mtn., a story in SportsBusiness Daily said the move made sense for the networks and the conference’s schools. Josh Pacheco of KHLO-AM in Hawaii questioned whether the move, which affects 44 employees, actually was good news for the conference’s schools. After all, they are trading one hard-to-get channel in the Mtn. for another hard-to-get channel in CBS Sports Network. In the process, they are losing a lot of control over the content, and some Olympic sports rights will revert back to the schools.

I see the move as a good one for the conference. CBS Sports Network more than triples the Mtn.’s current distribution (45 million homes versus around 13 million homes). More importantly, CBS has a management team in place led by former ESPN executive David Berson that has a plan to grow the channel. The Mtn. wasn’t going to grow significantly. The Mountain West Conference would be wise to grow alongside CBS Sports Network.

The glut of national sports networks, like CBS Sports Network, was a recent topic on Eli Gold and Stan White’s show on 97.3 The Zone in Birmingham, Ala. With all of ESPN’s channels, NBC Sports Network, CBS Sports Network, all of the league and conference-owned channels, Tennis Channel, Golf Channel, Speed, and Fox Soccer, Gold and White asked whether consumers really needed another national channel from Fox.

For Fox, it’s less about what consumers actually want and more about how to stay involved in the sports business. Fox has heard from rights holders that they need a well-distributed national cable network if they want to compete with CBS, ESPN and NBC for rights. All three of those groups have national multisport cable channels. So far, Fox has been a big player on the national and regional sports scenes. If it wants to keep that seat at the table for national rights, it will have to set up a channel beyond its broadcast windows for rights.

Fox still hasn’t said whether it will launch such a channel — but I bet they do.

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

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