SBJ/July 30-August 5, 2012/Media

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  • As Hill moves on, TV sports loses innovator

    For nearly two decades, David Hill was Fox Sports.

    The Australian TV executive with an outsized personality launched the division in 1993. From the beginning, Fox Sports reflected Hill: It was loud, brash and abhorred convention.

    Fox Sports has long reflected Hill’s personality.
    Photo by: NEWSCOM
    Sports industry executives believe that legacy — known internally as the “Fox Sports attitude” — will remain even if Hill doesn’t. Last week, news broke that Hill was leaving Fox Sports to take a broader international programming role at News Corp.

    Executives with Fox Sports’ main partners, the NFL, MLB and NASCAR, say they anticipate few changes in the way Fox does business.

    The reason: Co-presidents Randy Freer and Eric Shanks have been handling Fox Sports’ day-to-day operations for nearly two years.

    “David leaves Fox Sports in great hands,” said Howard Katz, senior vice president of NFL broadcasting and media operations. “Knowing David as I do, he wouldn’t be making this move and taking on these new challenges without being completely confident in the entire management team he’s built at Fox Sports.”

    EXECS PRAISE HILL

    "David leaves a real legacy of creativity and resourcefulness that carried Fox Sports a long way."
    BUD SELIG, MLB COMMISSIONER

    "He's a pioneer."
    BRIAN FRANCE, NASCAR CEO

    "Fox was a game-changer for network TV. David brought this really hard-charging attitude to network sports business."
    Kevin O'Malley, former executive at CBS and Turner

    When Hill promoted Freer and Shanks to be co-presidents in January 2011, he said they would manage Fox Sports’ business, with Freer becoming more involved in network decisions and Shanks becoming more involved in the regional sports network decisions.

    There have been clues in the last year that Hill was not long for Fox Sports. While he was part of Fox’s Olympic bid last summer, he did not travel to Zurich for the network’s World Cup bid later that year. And he has not played a big part in Fox’s MLB negotiations, sources said.

    Under Freer and Shanks, Fox has begun to focus more on its cable assets, and sources say Fox still is considering turning Speed into an all-sports channel. The two executives cut a deal with UFC and stocked Fuel TV with its content. And they decided to bring back sports to FX’s schedule.

    “David has been at the center of everything Fox Sports has accomplished over the last two decades,” Freer said. “David will always be the heart and soul of Fox Sports.”

    THROUGH THE YEARS AT
    FOX SPORTS WITH DAVID HILL

    While saying they didn’t expect changes, sports executives still lamented the loss of one of sports TV’s most colorful characters
    1999: Hill with (from left) Dick Ebersol, Brian France and Mark Lazarus, as Fox became a NASCAR television partner for the first time.
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    and praised his contributions to the business.

    “David is an extremely creative guy and is very resourceful,” said MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. “You stop and think about Fox Sports, which had no history, and he did a remarkable job not only relative to baseball. We spent a lot of time with him on the marketing of baseball. David leaves a real legacy of creativity and resourcefulness that carried Fox Sports a long way.”

    NASCAR CEO Brian France echoed those remarks.
    2002: Introducing Joe Buck as Fox’s lead play-by-play announcer for NFL football, taking over for Pat Summerall.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

    “He’s a pioneer,” France said. “He was the first one at News Corp. to really believe in NASCAR, that we could elevate the coverage in lots of clever ways. Knowing David, he’ll be back in sports at some point down the road. He’s left before with DirecTV. He’s been great for us.”

    Kevin O’Malley, a former executive at CBS and Turner, was the TV consultant who negotiated a four-year deal for the BCS with Fox for the years 2007-10. ESPN/ABC had held the BCS rights, but the incumbent decided to take a hard-line stance against increasing rights fees
    2004: Ten years after the beginning of Fox Sports, Hill had established it as an engine of innovation in sports TV.
    Photo by: RENE MACURA
    and wound up losing the BCS to Fox for four years.

    O’Malley said the negotiations with Fox were fast-paced and culminated in a deal after just three or four meetings. Hill was centrally involved from the beginning.

    “Fox was a game-changer for network TV,” O’Malley said. “David brought this really hard-charging attitude to network sports business. With all of their FSN regionals, Fox had a cable presence in college sports and big Fox gave them the network presence they needed. David amalgamated big Fox and the regionals into one big sports presence and it’s one of the reasons they’re such a force in the business today, that combination of network and cable exposure.”
    2006: Hill at the NFC championship game in Seattle with NFL EVP (and now commissioner) Roger Goodell (left) and Fox Sports’ Ed Goren.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

    Hill’s legacy mainly is on-screen, where he changed the way Americans view sports.

    He energized the way sports was presented on TV, from the advent of the Fox Box — the permanent on-screen graphic detailing the score and time remaining, which was soon copied by competitors — to the First & Ten line, to the controversial FoxTrax glowing puck and the first in-track camera positions during NASCAR races.

    Katz, a longtime friend of Hill’s, credited Hill with “raising the bar throughout the industry.”
    2012: Back at the NFC championship game in San Francisco, which turned out to be his last at Fox Sports.
    Photo by: WILLIAM HAUSER / FOX SPORTS

    “David Hill is one of the most unique characters ever to grace the stage of sports broadcasting,” Katz said. “His creativity, leadership and vision, combined with his wit and charm and his irreverent and larger-than-life persona, has changed the landscape of sports television. He pushed the envelope from the first day he set foot at Fox and has led the way with respect to innovation, both in technology and overall game presentation.”

    Staff writers John Lombardo, Tripp Mickle and Michael Smith contributed to this report.

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  • Thinning the story file before getting on the plane for London

    John Ourand
    I’m about to head over to London to cover the Olympics for the next week, so I thought I’d take a moment to empty my notebook and write about a couple of stories that aren’t going to hold until I get back.

    CBS Sports Network is close to a deal that would help it gain 1 million more subscribers on Time Warner Cable systems in California and Hawaii, sources say. Time Warner Cable gets access to some Mountain West Conference football games for its new regional sports networks that are launching in Southern California and Hawaii this fall (San Diego State and Hawaii are Mountain West schools). The deal looks to be a smart one for both sides. Time Warner Cable needs live sports content for its channels, which are launching with rights to the NBA Lakers and MLS Galaxy. This is a relatively easy way for CBS Sports Network to continue to drive its distribution. The network has room to grow: It’s in 47 million homes now.

    NBC and Charter averted an Olympic-size crisis recently, sources say, when the two sides reached an extension on their carriage deal. That means that Charter’s 4.3 million subscribers will be able to watch all of NBC’s channels, including NBC Sports Network, through the Olympics without interruption. Don’t expect a formal announcement on this deal. It was an extension; not a new deal. And much to my chagrin, both sides stayed quiet and kept their negotiations out of the press. (My sources aren’t even sure of the deal terms yet, just that a deal was completed.)
     
    But this is a story I write every four years: A cable or satellite operator faces the prospect of having NBC’s channels go dark during the Olympics because of a carriage dispute. Four years ago, it was Time Warner Cable that worked out a last-minute carriage deal just before the Beijing Games. This year, it’s Charter. In 2016, it will be someone else.

    Speaking of the Olympics, this will be the first year that all of the Comcast-owned networks will be part of NBC family during the Games. We know what that means for NBC Sports Network, which will become a de facto Olympics channel. But Comcast’s RSNs also are catching Olympic fever. Its Comcast SportsNets started running Olympic promos in June and Olympic athlete promos in July. During the Olympics, three faces from the RSNs (Philadelphia’s Marshall Harris, New England’s Carolyn Manno and Bay Area’s Jim Kozimor) will be in London to cover the Games. So, too, will Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman, who will be an MSNBC host.

    The “NFL AM” crew gets to work today, but don’t expect four hours of debate.
    Photo by: JOHNNY VY / NFL
    Jon Litner
    , NBC Sports Group president, said that this kind of “flood-the-zone” coverage is what viewers should expect when NBC holds the rights to a big event, like the Stanley Cup playoffs or U.S. Open golf tournament. “When there’s a big event where we can really line up all these resources on the content side, those are events that we can make even bigger and really serve our viewers across all these platforms,” he said.

    While in London, I’m going to miss today’s debut of NFL Network’s live four-hour morning news show, “NFL AM.” The executive overseeing the show, NFL Network’s senior vice president of programming and production, Mark Quenzel, was at ESPN when the morning “SportsCenter” went live. Surprisingly, in the months after ESPN made the switch, the show’s ratings were not any bigger than the looped “SportsCenter” reruns that the network had been running.
    “When we were deciding whether to do this show, I told [NFL Network President and CEO] Steve Bornstein that if he was looking for a ratings increase in the first six to 12 months, we shouldn’t do it,” Quenzel said. “Obviously, ratings are important. We need to let fans find us.” The show plans to cover fantasy heavily, and its hosts will debate a lot of topics, but Quenzel bristled when it was suggested that “NFL AM” would follow ESPN’s “First Take” format. “It is very, very difficult to try and do debate all the time and have it be true and legitimate,” he said. “If there’s something to debate, we’ll debate it.”

    With that, it’s all-Olympics, all-the-time for me over the next week.

    Cheers, mate.

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

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