SBJ/September 17-23, 2012/Franchises

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  • Leonsis bringing production work in-house

    Ted Leonsis always has been a “content guy.” Now, the owner of the Washington Wizards and Capitals is creating an in-house production company to develop and control the content coming from his sports and entertainment assets.

    Leonsis’ company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which also owns the Washington Mystics and the Verizon Center, already has hired production staff for the new entity, called Monumental Productions. It expects to be fully staffed with about 20 employees later this year.

    “Monumental Productions is a new arm of Monumental Sports & Entertainment and it will greatly expand our existing video production capabilities as well as the breadth and depth of content being presented to our consumers,” said Leonsis, founder, chairman, majority owner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. “We will be able to dramatically increase our in-house capabilities to produce creative video content that will be consumed by our fans and customers across many platforms: in-arena, online and on TV.”

    Leonsis has long talked about getting further into what he calls the “network-content-delivery business.” This move to bring production in-house gives the Leonsis-owned company more control over video content derived from each of its three sports properties and the arena.

    The Wizards and Capitals’ live game rights are tied up with Comcast SportsNet for several more years, so the new group will not be involved in streaming those games. Monumental will use its new production unit to create shoulder programming around the teams and the arena that will be available via digital and mobile platforms. Monumental also will use the production unit to improve its in-game video presentation at Verizon Center for all three of the teams.

    One of Monumental’s immediate goals is to reduce the costs that come from hiring outside production companies used to create video and other content over its three franchises, costing the company around $1 million annually. For example, the company has used Base Productions to produce video for the Verizon Center as well as Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic shows such as “Caps Red Line.” Base also previously produced “Wizards Magazine” for CSN Mid-Atlantic, but the NBA team took those rights in-house. Monumental likely will produce those shows for broadband and mobile, sources said, making segments or clips available to the RSN.

    “By having an expanded in-house production group, we will be able to enhance the in-game experience through additional video assets while adding more unique areas of content to our digital platforms,” said Greg Bibb, executive vice president of business operations for the Wizards.

    Monumental officials did not disclose startup costs of the new venture, which will be run out of the Verizon Center and overseen by Bibb and by Capitals Chief Marketing Officer Joe Dupriest.

    Other teams, including the Chicago Bulls and the Madison Square Garden Sports-owned New York Knicks, have their own in-house production units, and Leonsis has made no secret of his desire to have more control over the content that comes from his teams, including the live game rights. Sources said it’s not likely that this new production unit will morph into a full-blown cable channel when the Wizards and Capitals rights deals expire toward the end of the decade.

    The content from this new group will reside on the teams’ websites and Monumental’s existing corporate site. Eventually, that programming could move to a new site, but those plans are not yet firm.

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  • Pastrana-Waltrip team is shuttered

    Pastrana-Waltrip Racing is done.

    The Nationwide team created last year to bring action sports star Travis Pastrana to NASCAR has dissolved. Pastrana remains committed to NASCAR and is searching for a new team for which to drive full time next year in the Nationwide Series.

    The dissolution can be traced to Pastrana’s freestyle motocross crash at the X Games last summer. Pastrana broke his leg and couldn’t fulfill his commitment to drive seven Nationwide Series races in 2011. Pastrana-Waltrip Racing’s sponsor, Boost Mobile, wanted to pick up those seven races this year.

    The injury put financial pressure on the Pastrana-Waltrip Racing team. Many of the 20 people working for the team were let go, and the team’s primary underwriter, Gary Bechtel, decided to discontinue his financial support.

    While Pastrana was rehabbing from his injury, Michael Waltrip Racing, which started the Pastrana-Waltrip Racing program, decided to expand its Sprint Cup program by signing Clint Bowyer and adding 5-Hour Energy as a sponsor. The addition of 5-Hour Energy created a sponsor conflict with Pastrana, a Red Bull athlete.

    That initial conflict was compounded several months later when Pastrana signed a deal to drive a Dodge Dart in the Global Rally Cross series. Michael Waltrip Racing is a Toyota team.

    To avoid the conflicts, MWR worked with RAB Racing to field a Boost Mobile-sponsored Nationwide Series car that Pastrana primarily drove this year. MWR also fielded a car in the developmental NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, with Pastrana running seven races so far this season and scheduled to compete in three more.

    Pastrana made his Nationwide Series debut in April and ran eight more races with a top finish of 13th.

    Steve Astephen, Pastrana’s agent and Wasserman Media Group president of action sports and Olympics, said Pastrana plans to race in the Nationwide Series full time in 2013. Astephen is in talks with teams interested in signing Pastrana. He declined to say with whom he has met. “We’re looking for a great car,” Astephen said. “We know now it takes a great car.”

    Ty Norris, Michael Waltrip Racing executive vice president, said, “Our decision for 2012 was that we had so much going on with new teams, new drivers, new competition directors, new chassis for every car we built, we decided we couldn’t support a part-time Nationwide team.”

    Norris still believes that Pastrana will succeed in NASCAR. “He’s a really special person,” Norris said. “Personality, history, demographics aside, it will take money and sponsorship.”

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