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By the time Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott and a dozen guests sat down for a celebratory dinner Aug. 15, the conference’s seven networks had been up and running for only a couple of hours.
Around the table at a restaurant in San Francisco’s St. Regis hotel were some of the executives who helped Scott shape the idea for the first conference-owned and operated networks: media executives Chris Bevilacqua, David Rone and Jay Adya; search firm experts Jed Hughes and Bill Simon; Pac-12 senior leaders like Deputy Commissioner Kevin Weiberg; and Rick Neuheisel, the fired UCLA coach who was one of Scott’s first calls to recruit on-air talent.
The dinner was a way for Scott to commemorate the launch of Pac-12 Networks — a national feed and six regional feeds — and thank the group for their contributions. It also gave Scott a chance to reflect on the past year.
Commissioner Larry Scott has been cautious not to make revenue projections because the model is a new one.
Photo by:AP IMAGES
“I remember waking up and thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, how the heck do we do this? We’re not a media company,’” Scott said.
It is now.
A little more than a year after announcing its plans, the Pac-12 Networks launched last week with distribution on 25 cable systems up and down the West Coast and the promise that every conference football game will be available live on TV, mobile, tablet or Web.
The crisscross of seven different feeds makes for a confusing programming blueprint, one that some cable systems had trouble describing in the days before the launch.
“It’s a new animal,” Bevilacqua said. “Who’s ever done one network and six regionals, and one digital network all at once? It’s a little bit confusing. But a lot of it will clear up once you actually see it on the air.”
Essentially, the national channel will carry 350 live events over the academic year. The regional feeds will carry all of those 350 events, plus as many as 100 more events (up to 50 each from the two schools that make up the regional feed in that geographic area).
For example, Pac-12 Los Angeles will carry the 350 core events that are available on the national channel. Plus, it will carry up to 50 Southern California events and up to 50 more UCLA events.
In all, across seven networks, roughly 850 events will be broadcast and another 1,400 events, mostly Olympic sports, will be streamed on the relaunched Pac-12.com.
“When you look at the infrastructure here, all of this has been done from zero,” said Gary Stevenson, who was hired 10 months ago to be president of Pac-12 Enterprises, which encompasses the TV networks, digital and Pac-12 Properties. “We went from zero to 130 staffers, we built a building, we hired talent for 850 live events. Then you put on top of it that we are at launch going to be ready to do TV Everywhere for 850 events? That hasn’t been done before.”
Pac-12 Networks executives seemed most energized by their TV Everywhere strategy, which allows authenticated cable subscribers to watch all of the networks’ feeds on any device.
At last week’s launch, TV Everywhere was available via broadband. After a week, it was expected to be available to tablets. And after three months, it likely will be available to smartphones, Stevenson said.
“What we’ve heard from a lot of our fans, particularly students, is that while they enjoy traditional television, that’s not the only way they experience media,” Stevenson said. “At launch, consumers will be able to authenticate through their cable provider and Pac-12.com.”
It’s that TV Everywhere component, though, that has caused some grumbles among cable operators.
Some operators complained privately that the Pac-12’s TV Everywhere plan, which gives online access to all streams, takes away any incentive for in-market subscribers to buy sports tiers. If digital basic subscribers have access to their main feed on TV and all the other feeds online, they aren’t likely to buy the sports tiers that have the other feeds.
The channels also had a rocky distribution start. An initial deal with Time Warner Cable, Cox, Bright House and Comcast gave the networks a distribution boost, and another deal with cable co-op NCTC added another 20 systems.
Network officials could not give an actual distribution number at launch, but sources say it was at around 10 million homes.
Notably, the channel did not launch with the big satellite distributors, DirecTV and Dish Network. The dispute boils down to price. Sources say the Pac-12 is charging 80 cents per subscriber per month for the channel, a number that Stevenson would not confirm.
Pac-12 executives expect to have more leverage once live games start, particularly this year when they will have one of the top two football picks in seven of the 13 weeks. In basketball, the Pac-12 Networks will have one of the top two picks in 13 of the 20 weeks.
“It’s nothing we didn’t expect,” said Stevenson, who was COO at Golf Channel when it launched in 1995. “It’s normal when you’re launching a television network for a lot of the distribution conversations to come down to the last minute. Nothing about that surprises us.”
At launch, the networks had 40 advertisers. Major brands such as Dr Pepper, Sony, Cisco, UPS and MillerCoors were among the biggest spenders to jump on board.
Bill Cella, chief revenue officer for Pac-12 Enterprises, pointed to Dr Pepper as an example of how the conference can offer integrated packages. Dr Pepper will be a corporate sponsor of the conference, a heavy advertiser and sponsor of the halftime show during football broadcasts. The soft drink also will have rights to the Pac-12 shield and some digital inventory as well.
“If this part of the world is important to their commerce, we can give clients many different ways to engage with the conference and our fans,” Cella said. “So far, we’ve been happy that we’ve attracted some blue-chip brands.”
The long-term outlook for the channels is that they’ll be profit machines that return significant revenue back to the conference’s institutions. Some projections have suggested that each school will see $6 million to $10 million in new revenue in the coming years, as distribution and advertising grow.
Stevenson wouldn’t address such claims, saying, “We have a budget that’s been approved by the commissioner and the university presidents. It’s a reasonable business model.”
Scott said he has purposely avoided any revenue projections. In fact, he was invited to meet with the chancellor’s cabinet at the University of California a few weeks ago and was asked that precise question by the school’s vice chancellor of finance.
“It’s probably frustrating to the schools, but I’ve been very, very cautious not to make any financial projections,” Scott said. “The reason is that this is just different than anything a conference has attempted before. Sure, we’ve got scenarios, but we’ve got to have a clearer picture on distribution and advertising.”
One reason there’s so much optimism surrounding the Pac-12 Networks, despite the distribution battles, is that they’ve got a model that’s unique to college sports. It’s as close to a professional league as there is in the college ranks, with TV, digital and sponsorship, all under one banner.
The only other conference that’s even close is the ACC, which sold syndicated TV, sponsorship and digital rights to longtime partner Raycom Sports. Rights are fragmented among multiple rights holders in other conferences.
“We’ve got one-stop shopping, something you don’t find very often in college sports,” Cella said.
The Pac-12 also differentiates itself because all 12 schools have turned over their TV and digital rights to the league. The official athletic websites for Colorado, Stanford and Washington will be managed by Pac-12 Digital this year and the rest will come under the Pac-12’s management as their deals expire with online managers like CBSSports.com College Network and NeuLion.
The English Premier League is returning to Fox.
Delayed-match broadcasts will serve as lead-ins for NFL games on Fox at least three times in the coming months, marking the second consecutive year the EPL will receive visibility on the over-the-air network.
While Fox Soccer, which carries a full slate of EPL games, is available in 41 million homes, the Fox network is received in more than 114 million homes.
Fox’s schedule calls for same-day broadcasts of matches on Sept. 23, Oct. 7 and Nov. 4. Fox would not disclose participants, but Sept. 23 is expected to be the anticipated match between Manchester United and Liverpool.
More broadcasts will be added later in the EPL season, according to the network, with some of those matches live. Details on which matches are added, and when they would air, would follow from Fox Soccer’s schedule, which has not yet been finalized for the full EPL season. High-profile, late-season matchups are expected to be in play, though.
“We’re very bullish on the Premier League,” said Fox Soccer general manager David Nathanson.
Fox experimented last season by broadcasting five EPL matches on its flagship network — two live and three delayed. The results were strong enough to persuade executives to do it again this season. A tape-delayed match between Chelsea and Liverpool on Nov. 20 drew 1.7 million total viewers to become the most watched EPL match in U.S. television history. A telecast of Chelsea vs. Manchester United that began at 10:30 a.m. ET on Super Bowl Sunday generated 1.4 million viewers, making it the most watched live EPL match ever in the U.S. The five matches averaged 1.5 million viewers.
“It’s no longer a gamble,” Nathanson said. “The experiment last season proved that a lot of people in the U.S. are watching soccer, especially the kind played at the highest levels.”
EA Sports will expand its launch marketing for the coming “Madden NFL 13” video game by bringing five pro football hall of famers to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., for a full week of high-profile promotion.
The video game publisher on Aug. 27 will have legendary quarterback Joe Montana visit ESPN and appear on several platforms and programs, including “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” “SportsCenter” and “First Take.” Barry Sanders, Warren Moon, Lawrence Taylor and Curtis Martin will follow, each making the rounds on a different day that week.
Former NFLer Cris Carter hauls in a pass during the pro-am flag football game set to air two days before the “Madden NFL 13” release.
Photo by:DAVID BANKS / GETTY IMAGES FOR EA SPORTS
“Madden NFL 13” is set for retail release Aug. 28, and the ESPN content is a key fixture in a media-heavy marketing program that also includes next Sunday's airing on NBC of the fourth annual “Madden NFL Pigskin Pro-Am.” The event, taped in June in Chicago, features NFL legends and stars playing flag football and discussing the video game.
“ESPN is the loudest bullhorn out there, and
ESPN and EA Sports have held a formal partnership since 2005. For the last three years, the pair has collaborated on a successful fan vote to select the game’s cover. The most recent fan vote, held this past spring, yielded Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson as the winner and drew 19.6 million votes, 54 percent more than last year.
“What we’re doing is really sort of a no-brainer,” said Raphael Poplock, ESPN vice president of games and revenue strategy development. “This partnership generates great content across all our platforms, and ‘Madden’ hits a real sweet spot among our audience. The trick is to keep innovating and pushing, which we think we’ve done here.”
EA Sports this year is also using social media to market “Madden,” again letting users vote through Facebook on individual player ratings in the game as well as creating a #Madden13Demo hashtag campaign on Twitter to promote last week’s online release of a demo version of “Madden.” The effort includes daily giveaways of a full version of the game and other prizes, such as high-end headphones.
The social media activity complements more traditional promotions planned by retail partners such as GameStop, Wal-Mart and Best Buy.
“Our fans want to be marketed with, not marketed to,” Stevenson said. “It’s all about engagement now, not impressions, and that dictates a very different way about how you interact with your audience. But our base of hard-core gamers is really one of our biggest assets and one of our biggest marketing vehicles.”
The marketing budget for the “Madden” campaign runs in the low eight figures, a spending level that has held steady in recent years. EA handles the campaign itself.
“Madden NFL 12” sold more than 5 million copies, again ranking as the top-selling sports video game in the U.S. Preorders for the new version are up 25 percent, the company said in a recent earnings release.
Fox Sports Net is close to a multiyear media deal with the Big West Conference, and while it’s certainly not the biggest college deal around, there are ancillary benefits for the media company that extend beyond conference programming.
For Fox Sports, the deal is as much about trying to gain distribution for its newest regional sports network, Fox Sports San Diego, as anything else.
Enter the Big West Conference, which will feature 14 San Diego State sports — minus football — starting in 2013. The school has said that it will join the Big West in 14 sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, starting with the 2013-14 season. Those games will be featured on FS San Diego, and the network hopes the games will be a draw for local viewers.
The Big West currently is made up of Cal Poly, UC Davis, Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii, Long Beach State and Pacific. Those games will be featured on FSN’s California-based RSNs, including FS West and Prime Ticket.
The Aztecs’ football team will not be part of the Big West, opting to compete in the Big East. Those football rights are not part of this deal and must be negotiated separately.
Southern California has become the country’s most hotly contested market for sports media rights.
Time Warner Cable picked up rights to the Lakers early last year. Fox Sports previously had those rights. This fall, Time Warner Cable plans to launch two regional sports channels around the Lakers — one in English and one in Spanish.
Meanwhile, Fox picked up the rights to the Padres in San Diego earlier this year. Cox previously held those rights.
This past spring, Fox launched a new regional sports network in San Diego around the Padres. It has not been able to convince Time Warner Cable to pick up the channel.
News of the University of Oklahoma’s planned sports channel first broke in the summer of 2010. Details surrounding the channel — which actually is more of an OU-branded programming block on Fox’s regional sports networks — were solidified in January.
But after two years of negotiating and planning, the channel’s official announcement is expected to come as early as this week, sources said.
Carrying the working title of Sooner Sports, the channel will exist as a programming block on Fox Sports Oklahoma and Fox Sports Southwest, giving it immediate distribution to 8.6 million homes.
Fox Sports will manage the areas of Oklahoma’s website, SoonerSports.com, that live stream some sports and archive others. The Sooners’ website previously sold an all-access programming pass for $9.95 a month. It’s not clear how that programming will be offered in the new deal. CBSSports.com manages the rest of the site.
Fox expects its Sooner Sports-branded programming to be available via TV Everywhere eventually.
FSN is devoting 1,000 hours a year of TV time to all University of Oklahoma sports except, notably, live football. As it has in past years, Oklahoma will make its institutional football game — or the game that the Big 12 permits each school to broadcast itself — available to consumers on pay-per-view. Last year, the Sooners’ PPV football game against Ball State was available for $39.95.
FSN is not planning to reopen its cable and satellite carriage deals. So it’s likely to use the PPV revenue from OU’s football game to help monetize the new Sooner Sports programming block.
By comparison, the University of Texas’ Longhorn Network collects its revenue from license fees paid by cable and satellite operators. It still has not cut deals with the biggest distributors in Texas, including Time Warner Cable, Comcast and DirecTV.
In addition to live sports, the branded block of programming will include everything from coaches’ shows, game previews, replays and highlights shows.