SBJ/April 30-May 6, 2012/Opinion

Echoes on college sports, MLB, future TV and ‘The Sit-Down’

One of the biggest issues in college sports is the role of the president within the university’s athletic enterprise. Plenty of athletic directors whom I respect have told me over the years they don’t have a problem with presidents who are deeply involved in their business. They just wish presidents wouldn’t dive in without an understanding of the issues, history or culture facing these departments, and then jump out. Too often, they make a mess of things. Some presidents are very clear that they want to, and will be, involved. One example is the University of Georgia’s Michael Adams, who has always been outspoken about the amount of time and energy a campus leader should devote to sports. Speaking recently in Atlanta at a Business of Sports Summit put on by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, an affiliated publication, Adams said, “Some college presidents bemoan the time they are spending on sports. To that, I say, ‘Why aren’t you doing something else? What did you think you were getting into?’” Adams also continued to beat the drum for a college football playoff, saying that not only will the SEC play a big role in the final decision, but also that “some in college sports have ignored the desires of the fans and the players for far too long.”

ALONG THE BASEBALL WATCHTOWER: MLB, NASCAR and the Bowl Championship Series are the biggest media packages that will hit the market in the next year, and expect NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus to be an active player for all of them. It’s no secret that NBC Sports covets live sports, especially for its NBC Sports Network cable channel. As negotiations get under way this year, don’t overlook Lazarus’ deep ties with baseball and NASCAR, in particular. During his time running Turner Sports, Lazarus brought NASCAR to the network. He also was at Turner when the network made the deal to carry the MLB playoffs in 2006. In a recent interview, Lazarus was asked about “growth sports,” and it struck me that he didn’t mention MMA, soccer or lacrosse, which always seem to be among the sports mentioned when that question is asked. Instead, he talked about MLB — the national pastime. He still sees major room for growth for MLB, and that fits in with NBC Sports’ local/national strategy. … The positive buzz on baseball was seconded during a conversation over a beer last week with an executive at a top sponsor of a major-market baseball team. This person has years of experience across multiple brands working with various properties, but he told me that even he was surprised how much his brand benefited from MLB as a marketing platform. Asked to elaborate, he rattled off the key points that he didn’t see in other properties he had dealt with: tonnage; plenty of touch points with various and segmented audiences that attend ballgames and are captive for hours; the consistent, long length of a season that allows for extended and deep programs; and the radio, TV and online inventory that allows for broad areas of activation, not just in paid media, but also in the PR value that a full season offers. He just kept coming back to the fact that 81 homes games, hitting close to 30,000 fans for each game in addition to viewers at home, offered his brand a powerful opportunity to conduct deep and broad programs.

OUTSIDE THE WALL: It’s been written and speculated that the next group of possible bidders for sports rights would be services like Apple, Netflix and YouTube, so I was interested to hear Hulu CEO Jason Kilar speak recently at the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York City. The former Disney and Amazon executive is an impressive speaker and clearly knows his business.

Kilar was frank in the company’s interest in acquiring and creating more content, and said it could spend more than $500 million on content acquisition. He also outlined six insightful points on the future of TV:

1) You will have a personalized consumer experience turning on any screen, similar to Pandora.

2) There will be comprehensive content where everything is going to be available. He specifically mentioned that every sports event in history will be accessible.

3) The TV experience will thrive with “life,” brimming with social interaction that will be part of the experience. There will be no such things as a quiet TV experience.

4) It will be “unusually convenient,” with a screen in your pocket on which you can watch anything at any time.

5) The formats will meet the content; all formats will be custom suited to your personal situation.

6) The experience will enable more relevant/higher-value advertising, with more personalized targeting resulting in a higher advertising recall rate.

He also said that from a rights perspective, the barriers to obtaining more sought-after content are getting knocked down. He believes the legal issues that at one time prevented the sharing or distribution of content are getting handled and the digitization of historical content is rapidly moving forward. In this case, he specifically mentioned the ability to access every sports event as a benefit.

NEW BLOOD: I love to read about people’s media diet of favorite features. A couple of mine include “Corner Office” in Sunday’s New York Times and “The Last Word” in Men’s Journal. “Corner Office” is filled with ideas and anecdotes; “The Last Word” offers real life lessons and hardened, frank advice. While not completely ripping off others, this week we introduce our new back-page feature around personalities and life lessons called “The Sit-Down.” Our first conversation is with Proskauer chairman Joe Leccese, one of the most connected executives in sports. Joe talked with us in between bits of panini sandwiches at lunch after the World Congress of Sports in California.

We will be talking to other top executives across sports business who will discuss their thoughts on leadership, management, business, current events, sports and lifestyle. We hope you enjoy it, and we welcome your questions and comments.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at
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