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ESPN has picked one of its top affiliate executives to oversee its regional college networks.
Justin Connolly will oversee the Longhorn Network and the soon-to-be-announced SEC Network as the senior vice president of college networks. In the newly created position, Connolly will report to Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming, and will remain based in Bristol, Conn.
Justin Connolly’s duties will extend well beyond network distribution.
That almost certainly refers to the SEC’s planned channel, which still hasn’t been officially announced but is expected to launch in August 2014. It also could refer to an ACC channel, as the conference has hired Wasserman Media Group to look into the possibility of a network. But several sources say it’s unlikely ESPN will participate in such a channel.
Connolly’s distribution experience should help both the Longhorn Network, which has struggled to get distribution in Texas, and the SEC Network, which has no carriage yet.
But Connolly’s duties will expand well beyond distribution. He will oversee content acquisition and scheduling at the networks. Longhorn Network’s programming staff, including vice president of programming Dave Brown, will report to Connolly.
Connolly, who was a member of SportsBusiness Journal/Daily’s Forty Under 40 class of 2011, was a mainstay in ESPN’s affiliate department, which cut several long-term affiliate deals in the past year, including with Comcast, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and AT&T. He’s been at ESPN since 2003, starting in the affiliate group, and prior to that worked in Disney’s corporate finance department.
He’s a well-regarded executive who has earned a reputation as a hard worker, and one reason Connolly made the move, sources said, is to develop a new set of skills on the content side of the business after spending nearly a decade learning the affiliate side.
ESPN has not said how it plans to replace Connolly in the affiliate group.
The NBA hits its All-Star break this week with its viewership numbers down but its advertising revenue increasing, according to the league’s television partners.
Turner Sports executives last week said they have already posted more revenue this season from NBA ad sales than they have generated in any past full regular season. Among the reasons for the increase: Turner has increased its ad rates from last year by double-digit percentages as it works to sell more inventory packaged across its various NBA outlets — TNT, NBA TV and NBA Digital. In addition, virtually all of Turner’s sales are being booked on at least a quarterly basis instead of a more scattered approach in past seasons.
NBA ratings and viewership trends
TNT No. of
Avg. # of
2012-13 28 1.4 2.1 million 2011-12 15 1.9 2.9 million 2010-11 32 1.5 2.3 million • Down 26% in ratings, 29% in viewership versus same point last season.
• Down 7% and 11%, respectively, from same point in 2010-11.
NBA TV No. of
Avg. # of
2012-13 55 0.2 327,000 2011-12 38 0.3 379,000 2010-11 NA 0.1 235,000 NA: Not available
• Down 14% in viewership compared to same point last season.
• Up 41% in viewership from same point in 2010-11.
ESPN No. of
Avg. # of
2012-13 43 1.3 1.9 million 2011-12 16 1.4 2.1 million 2010-11 42 1.3 2.0 million • Down 7% in ratings, 12% in viewership compared to same point last season.
• Flat in ratings, down 8% in viewership from same point in 2010-11.
ABC No. of
Avg. # of
2012-13 4 4.2 7.3 million 2011-12 4 4.2 7.4 million 2010-11 4 4.4 8.1 million
• Flat in ratings, down 2% in viewership compared to same point last season.
• Down 8% in ratings and 11% in viewership from same point in 2010-11.
Note: Through Feb. 6. Numbers have been rounded.
Compiled by Austin Karp, SportsBusiness Daily
The NBA All-Star Game is Sunday night in Houston.
“In the past couple of years, sales were always last-minute. But this year, advertisers are locking their money down further in advance, so we are pacing ahead,” said Jon Diament, executive vice president of ad sales for Turner Sports. “We have the same inventory load, but folks are buying the whole season and the whole platform, so we have been able to increase rates based on demand.”
While All-Star Weekend officially ends with Sunday night’s game, Turner is hoping to carry its NBA audience to NBA TV next Monday night, when the network will air three one-hour shows with interviews with Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Charles Barkley. The shows are “One on One with Ahmad Rashad; Michael Jordan,” “Mr. Russell’s House,” with Grantland’s Bill Simmons interviewing Russell, and “Sir Charles at 50,” with Barkley discussing his playing career with TNT’s Ernie Johnson.
Other new programming on NBA TV comes this week, on Thursday, with “Slam Dunk Marathon” which shows every NBA slam-dunk contest since 1984.
For Turner, the ad sales strength comes despite NBA viewership on TNT through Feb. 6 being down compared to the same date in each of the past two seasons (see chart). Still, Turner is on pace to have its third most-viewed NBA season in the past decade.
“The demand for NBA programming is there,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research for Horizon Media, which buys media for such clients as Geico and Capital One. “[The ad sales increase] is a little surprising, but throw in the factor that all of the league’s major markets have competitive teams, and the increased demand brings the higher rates.”
ESPN executives said their regular-season sales for the NBA are strong, as well.
“There is a lot of good carryover from past seasons,” said Doug White, senior director of programming and acquisitions for ESPN, “and it never hurts to have the New York Knicks as one of the top teams.”
Digitally, NBA.com is on a record pace for the season, with 3.7 billion page views and 2.2 billion video streams through the end of the January. This month, NBA Digital is releasing its first event-specific mobile application, NBA All-Star 2013, a free app offering All-Star content on the Apple iOS and Google Android platforms.
“This is the first time we’ve gone deep with an event-specific app like this,” said Christina Miller, general manager of NBA Digital and senior vice president of strategy, marketing and programming for Turner Sports. “The idea is give that real feel of what’s going on in Houston, whether you’re there or not.”
Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.
NBC Sports and Yahoo Sports are discussing whether to extend their digital partnership to the Olympics and begin working together for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The pair struck a broad digital alliance two months ago, combining sports content and fantasy assets. But the deal notably did not include anything relative to the Olympics. The two entities during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, and 2012 Summer Games in London conducted high-profile online traffic battles pitting Yahoo’s extensive scale against NBC’s exclusive content rights.
Yahoo’s Rivals.com last week supplied NBC with material from college football’s national signing day.
“We’re talking to them,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics. “There’s nothing in place at present. We’re working closely together with them every day on a variety of initiatives in sports. But we’ll have to see where this goes.”
Zenkel said a decision on whether Yahoo will be formally involved in NBC’s digital coverage at Sochi would need to be made by summertime.
Yahoo executives did not provide any detail on a potential Olympics collaboration. “We are always exploring ways to deliver the best Olympics experience for our users,” spokeswoman Nicol Addison said.
The NBC-Yahoo partnership is expected to create by far the most widely trafficked online sports destination in the country when combined reporting for third-party metrics outfits such as comScore begins in the next few months. Content integration between the two has already been extensive, most recently with Yahoo’s Rivals.com last week supplying material from college football’s national signing day to NBCSports.com.
NBC Sports last week said it will stream every event from Sochi live to digital platforms, a repeat of its plan from the London Games but still a first for the Winter Olympics.
Shaw Communications, one of the major distributors of television in Canada, has broadened its broadcast deal with the PGA Tour to include the 2015 and 2017 Presidents Cup, as well as coverage of the new PGA Tour Canada.
Shaw is a distributor similar to a Time Warner Cable or Comcast in the U.S. It also owns Global TV, one of the three major over-the-air networks in Canada. Through its deal with the PGA Tour, Shaw-owned Global will carry 26 tour events, including the FedEx Cup playoffs and two of the World Golf Championship events. The agreement, which runs through 2018, is an extension of an existing deal, but the Presidents Cup represents new programming for Global.
“Canada is a robust market and that’s a very important presence for the tour,” said Tim Leisure, the tour’s senior vice president, international television.
The weekend PGA Tour broadcasts by tour partners NBC or CBS are simulcast on Global TV throughout Canada and its nearly 12 million households. Global sells its own advertising for the simulcast, but the tournaments’ title sponsors retain their on-air presence on the leaderboard and other graphics. Global also uses the NBC or CBS analysts.
The new deal also gives Shaw presenting sponsorship of the RBC Canadian Open. Shaw is in the process of deciding which of its business units it will use on the presenting sponsorship.
“This really solidifies our presence as the broadcast leader of golf in Canada,” said Barbara Williams, Shaw Communications’ senior vice president of content.
The agreement also will benefit the tour’s newest property, PGA Tour Canada, a feeder tour that will qualify players for the developmental Web.com Tour. In this deal, Global TV has agreed to run a weekly 30-minute show featuring highlights from PGA Tour Canada events and features on its players.
The highlights will be gathered by local Global TV affiliates and produced by PGA Tour Entertainment to air on Sundays leading into Global’s final-round broadcasts of PGA Tour events.
Content from the new tour also will be used on a variety of digital outlets, including PGATour.com and a new website that Shaw is developing to promote PGA Tour Canada.
The new tour begins its 2013 season in June and seven tournaments have been scheduled so far. More events could be added. The top five players on the Canadian tour’s order of merit will earn playing status for the 2014 Web.com Tour.
Resurgent print media sales are fueling growth of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit franchise, which company executives are projecting at 6 percent to 8 percent this year.
Specific financial figures were not disclosed, but the overall revenue growth rate mirrors last year and extends a period of expansion for what remains one of the most successful franchises in U.S. sports media. SI sold 102 ad pages for the 2013 Swimsuit edition, up 20 from last year and its largest total since 2008. Within this year’s Swimsuit print ad sales is also a franchise-first mini-zine, a 12-page style guide insert from Target that will be 6 by 8 inches and aid in positioning the issue more toward women.
“We’re definitely seeing a real lift in print,” said Time Inc.
SI will feature a widescreen gallery of models online and a 12-page mini-zine style insert sponsored by Target.
The 2013 Swimsuit edition overall will contain 224 pages, up 13 from a year ago.
The Swimsuit edition cover was to be revealed Monday night, as has become a custom, on CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman.” Models will be present and do not know the publication’s cover choice.
Amid growth in the print Swimsuit business, SI continues to aggressively push the franchise into new areas. The publication recently struck a deal with The Travel Channel for a one-hour making-of special Sunday that will highlight the magazine’s push to shoot on all seven continents for the 2013 edition.
The Swimsuit mobile applications will feature a return of the popular 360-degree view feature in which scrolling over the photos will create the appearance of spinning around. The feature has been given greater depth and expanded to additional models. Also new to the app is a gamification feature in which users are quizzed on their knowledge of the swimsuit models. And rather than build an entirely new Swimsuit app, SI this week will release an extensive update that features both the 2013 and 2012 content. Such a move will allow SI to build from last year’s installed base of users rather than start from zero.
SI.com, meanwhile, will feature swimsuit models in a new widescreen gallery that automatically cycles through the models. Also new is a Swim Daily Blog that will further SI’s push to turn Swimsuit into a year-round endeavor.
Instead, many of the sports media executives in New Orleans seemed more focused on Los Angeles, where Time Warner Cable just agreed to pay $8 billion over 25 years for the rights to handle ad sales and affiliate sales for the Dodgers’ new cable channel.
These executives want to know what the Dodgers deal, if MLB approves it, will mean for other markets. In short, they all agreed, it means a lot more money. Networks will have to pay higher rights fees for local team rights; distributors will have to pay bigger license fees to carry regional sports networks; and consumers will be socked with larger cable bills to access their team’s games.
That scenario has been the cable industry’s business model for decades. But many sports executives believe the size and scope of the deal with the Dodgers puts a value on local sports rights that will accelerate these increases.
In New Orleans, the distribution executives I interviewed were furious that a fellow cable operator would make a deal that escalates the cost of sports rights so quickly.
Dodgers owner Mark Walter has been a key figure in the team’s aggresive media strategy.
League executives were obviously thrilled, as they believe Time Warner Cable’s deal shows that there’s still a ton of money left for sports rights.
Here are three areas where I will be focusing my attention over the next year.
■ Expect teams to look into restructuring their deals.
Time Warner Cable is paying the Dodgers an average of $320 million per year. In the first year of the deal, Time Warner Cable’s payment would be $137 million, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank. But because of a legal agreement set forth by MLB and the team’s former owners, only $84 million of that will be eligible to be part of baseball’s revenue-sharing system. The rest is held under a fully owned subsidiary called American Media Productions, and goes straight to the Dodgers.
That’s the key point. While this deal likely will face litigation, I believe it will be approved. If it’s approved, I expect most big-market teams to pressure their local rights holders to reopen their deals immediately to set up a system similar to the Dodgers, essentially locking up a significant amount of rights fees that will not be eligible to be shared with their baseball colleagues. Using this system, clubs could save money even if RSNs end up paying a lower license fee, which would have to be the enticement to get them to open up their deals.
This is where it gets uncertain. MLB will fight this type of setup, and small-market clubs are sure to revolt. But if the Dodgers set a precedent and their deal is approved, what would stop big-market clubs from doing the same thing?
■ Get ready for a battle in New York.
YES Network’s deal with Time Warner Cable is up prior to the 2014 season, sources said. If the Dodgers try to command $5 per subscriber per month for its channel, which many believe will be the number, what do you think the Yankees could get in New York? According to SNL Kagan, YES Network gets about $3.20 per subscriber per month from distributors this year.
■ DirecTV’s RSN surcharge will become an industry standard.
DirecTV started charging consumers an extra $3 per month in markets that have more than one RSN. Verizon rolled out a similar strategy. As the cost of RSNs continue to rise, I expect more distributors to follow suit, using these fees as a way to try and contain costs.
John Ourand can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.