SBJ/June 3-9, 2013/Media

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  • FS1 Twitter feed to feature advertisers

    When Fox Sports launches FS1 in August, advertisers will have the opportunity to buy into the network’s Twitter feeds, thanks to a deal Fox Sports signed with the social media company at the end of March.

    Fox Sports has been testing the system for several months and expects to start ramping it up in full when FS1 launches on Aug. 17.

    Ford sponsored Champions League Twitter highlights as part of a test earlier this year.
    Fox Sports also plans to make a big advertising push with Twitter around its Super Bowl programming, though its executives would not offer specifics about how that push would look. Fox holds the rights to next year’s game, which will be played in New York/New Jersey.

    As part of the deal, Fox and Twitter will co-sell sponsored highlights, sponsored trends and promoted accounts, splitting revenue evenly. No money changed hands as part of the deal.

    The main part of the deal, at least early on, will include sponsored highlights that will be embedded in tweets from Fox Sports’ Twitter handles.

    Currently, Fox has the rights to embed video highlights in tweets from a handful of leagues and conferences, including the Pac-12, Big 12, Big East and UFC. It also plans to use sponsored highlight tweets alongside its soccer programming, including the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

    While Fox Sports has tested these tweets earlier this year — Ford sponsored Champions League Twitter highlights from Fox Soccer — the network has not signed any sponsors since cutting the Twitter deal in March.

    The deal is similar to the one that ESPN signed with Twitter last year, which led to embedded highlight tweets for World Cup and college football games, plus the X Games. These types of deals are part of an overall effort by media companies to make money off social media.

    “Advertisers are asking for social,” said Marla Newman, senior vice president of sales for Fox Sports Digital. “Everybody wants a piece of it. They want to be part of the conversation that we have with our fans.”

    Fox Sports’ social media strategy includes more than just sponsored highlights in tweets. It also looks to build sweepstakes and advertising programs around social media platforms. Newman specifically referenced a program it operated last NFL season with Samsung called “In the Booth with Mike Pereira.” The program featured Pereira answering tweets and overseeing a “You Make the Call” sweepstakes. Both Fox Sports and Samsung were happy enough with it that they plan to try something similar this season, Newman said.

    “We believe that it’s important for us to extend the relationship that our fans and our advertisers have with our brand and our talent on air and deepen that relationship,” Newman said. “Social is enabling that in real time.”

    While this deal is focused on Twitter, Newman said Fox Sports is exploring selling sponsorships across other social media sites. Its channels have accounts set up with Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, Newman said, and the network is looking for ways to best use those sites.

    “We believe that it’s important for us to extend the relationship that our fans and our advertisers have with our brand and on-air talent,” Newman said. “We’re constantly cognizant from a selling standpoint on how we keep it organic and bring that advertiser in, in the best way possible, so that they are enhancing the conversation.”

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  • NBC Sports Group and Fox Sports involved as MLB tries to work toward MASN solution

    Major League Baseball has had talks with NBC Sports Group and Fox Sports in recent weeks to try to craft a solution to its MASN dispute, according to several sources.

    MLB hired Steve Greenberg of Allen & Co. to try to broker such a deal, which could see NBC or Fox acquire all or part of the regional sports network that carries Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals games.

    Though talks with Fox and NBC have occurred in recent weeks, it’s hard to tell how receptive Orioles owner Peter Angelos is to cutting a deal. Angelos, who also owns the majority of MASN, has final say on a deal and so far has been unwilling to entertain offers. When contacted last week, the Orioles had no comment.

    MLB had reached out to both NBC and Fox several months ago about MASN, but those talks did not progress and talks were believed to be dead.

    MLB hired Steve Greenberg of Allen & Co. to try to broker a deal for MASN, which carries Washington Nationals games.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The dispute over how high the Nationals’ rights fees should be has been in front of MLB for more than a year. The Nationals believe they should be paid as much as $120 million a year given recent Fox Sports Net deals with the Rangers (20 years, $3 billion) and Padres (20 years, $1.2 billion).

    MASN has countered with a $35 million-a-year offer that represents a 20 percent jump from the Nationals’ current rights fee of $29 million. MASN’s contract contains a “parity clause” that requires the Orioles to receive exactly as much in rights fees as the Nationals.

    Neither MASN nor the Nationals have been willing to budge from their position, leaving MLB to try to figure out a solution. MLB hired noted dealmaker Greenberg late last year to see whether he could help work out an agreement.

    NBC Sports Group obviously is interested. It already operates a regional sports network in the area — Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic — that carries the NBA’s Wizards and NHL’s Capitals. On occasion, CSN splits its feed, offering one for Washington, D.C., and a separate one for Baltimore.

    Fox Sports Net also is interested. In the past year, it bought all or part of the RSNs covering the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. Fox would not shy away from an RSN that covers a major media market like Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

    So far, talks have looked at the possibility of buying MASN2 from the Orioles and establishing a Washington-based channel with Nationals games. Talks also have looked at buying the whole RSN, which would include the Orioles.

    The Nationals hold a 13 percent equity stake in MASN, adding 1 percentage point annually until it peaks at 33 percent. Angelos owns the rest.

    Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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  • USA Today Sports Images aligns with MLS

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    USA Today Sports Images has become the official photo partner of Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing, the league’s commercial arm.

    Although photography work began at the start of the MLS season in March, the multiyear agreement between the parties was not finalized until last week.

    MLS is the fifth sports property with a USA Today deal.
    The agreement calls for USA Today Sports Images (a branch of the USA Today Sports Media Group) to be the preferred photo provider for all MLS clubs as well as the league’s sponsors and licensees. It will service all MLS editorial properties, including the league’s official website and Kick TV, MLS’s YouTube channel focused on international soccer coverage. Each of those outlets features still photos in addition to its video offerings.

    The USA Today group will have at least one photographer at every MLS match and an increased presence at prime league events, such as the All-Star Game and MLS Cup title match. The agreement also includes select events managed by SUM, such as matches played by the Mexican national team.

    “There is definitely an uptick in the amount of photographers we will have at our major events compared to our previous agreements,” said Maribeth Towers, senior vice president of consumer products for MLS and SUM.

    Getty Images was MLS’s photo provider for the last five years. MLS sent out a request for proposals for photography service after the league’s agreement with Getty expired after last season.

    “We chose USA Today for a number of reasons,” Towers said. “We were impressed by the level of excitement they brought to their proposal. Their customer service was at a high level. We liked their commitment to having a lot of photographers at our big events.”

    Under terms of the agreement, MLS will receive royalties from payments made to USA Today Sports Images by media outlets for desired MLS photos.

    Merrill Squires, the senior vice president of leagues and properties for the USA Today Sports Media Group, said the sports images group does not pay rights fees to leagues.

    A dedicated MLS portal has been created by USA Today Sports Images on its digital platform, which was overhauled earlier this year for improved functionality and content management capability.

    Although USA Today is the preferred photo provider of MLS under the terms of the new deal, the soccer league can still purchase photos from other sports photography providers, such as Getty and The Associated Press. The league’s deal also does not affect any agreements MLS clubs may have with team photographers in their markets.

    Gannett, USA Today’s parent company, purchased U.S. Presswire, a sports photo syndicate, in September 2011. The service was rebranded as USA Today Sports Images last December. In publicity materials, USA Today Sports Images says its work includes “covering 10,000 events each year with a network of more than 300 professional photographers.”

    The MLS agreement is USA Today Sports Images’ first with a sports property, but joins deals the group has with several top digital sports properties, including Yahoo, ESPN and CBS Sports.

    Although USA Today reports on all of the sports properties with which its sports images branch has partnerships, the company says there are no conflicts of interest.

    “It is definitely a church-and-state relationship,” Squires said.

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  • When sports TV columnists were common, he was the king

    John Ourand
    Every sports TV PR executive has a favorite Rudy story.

    Fox SportsLou D’Ermilio laughs as he remembers accusing Rudy Martzke, the longtime USA Today sports TV columnist, of taking “Dick-tation.” That was shorthand for saying that Rudy was in Dick Ebersol’s pocket, only publishing news that was favorable to Ebersol’s NBC Sports.

    A favorite story for ESPN’s Mike Soltys dealt with Rudy’s colorful language and regular weekend phone calls. Soltys also laughed when retelling stories of Rudy’s Sunday morning voicemails as he reported his Monday columns: “I know you’re at f---ing church, but call me when you get back.”

    Veteran sports PR executive Vince Wladika still cackles as he refers to Rudy’s “alligator arms,” which is Wladika’s way of saying that Rudy never picked up a check.

    Storied character: Rudy Martzke wrote the sports TV column at USA Today for 23 years.
    Always referred to by just his first name, Rudy retired from writing USA Today’s media column eight years ago. But he lives on in sports media today through these types of stories that hark back to the salad days of sports TV columns. When Rudy wrote his column in the 1980s and ’90s, most major newspapers had regular sports TV columnists. Today, precious few exist.

    But the Rudy stories exist because Rudy is a unique character who wrote one of the most important sports TV columns for 23 years. Given that his successor, Michael Hiestand, took a buyout from the paper last month and the future of the paper’s sports TV column is in doubt, I decided to catch up with Rudy and see what he was up to these days — and hear some of the Rudy stories from his perspective.

    Living in Orlando and traveling regularly with his wife (affectionately called “The Mouse”), Rudy works as a consultant for some sports properties that he did not want to identify. But Rudy still keeps an eye on his old beat, as well. It was no surprise to see Rudy and “The Mouse” at a CBS Sports party in New Orleans the week before the Super Bowl. The network’s top sports PR executive, Jen Sabatelle, invited them.

    The first question I asked Rudy was about “Dick-tation.” He isn’t upset by that characterization because he said he covered Ebersol more than others during the 1990s. Rudy said his articles were a function of Ebersol’s place in the sports media business rather than a personal affinity for the executive.

    “Within a year of Ebersol coming into NBC, he was acquiring properties,” Rudy said. “So what was I writing about? Nothing but Dick Ebersol. He was an executive who was available when you called in. I would call, and he would call back in a few minutes.”

    Rudy remembered going on a press tour with NBC Sports in 1992, just before the Barcelona Olympics. It wasn’t until he got to the airport that he realized he was the only member of the press in attendance.

    “I said, ‘Dick, where’s the rest of the press? Are they in their room?’ He said, ‘No, they’re not. You’re the only one. I enjoy traveling with you, and through USA Today, I can reach the whole country anyway through whatever story you write.’”

    When they arrived in Barcelona, Ebersol invited Rudy to his suite. Rudy described it in his column the next day as a four-room suite that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea.

    “I woke up the next day and saw Ebersol,” Rudy said. “He had the column faxed to him. He said, ‘There’s an error in your column today. It’s a five-room suite, not four.’ He wanted the other network executives to know how high he was living.”

    If Rudy wrote his column today, he’s convinced that PR executives would accuse him of being in ESPN’s pocket because the media company has been so active acquiring rights.

    “I’d always be writing about ESPN,” he said. “ESPN has come on so strong. They have so many things going. Their tentacles are everywhere.”

    What about the other sports networks?

    “Fox has expanded itself. They do a lot of big events,” Rudy said. “CBS has the biggest golf schedule; they have the NCAAs. NBC is trying hard. They have the NFL and some golf events.”

    One aspect of writing a column that Rudy doesn’t miss is TV ratings. He learned early-on how important the networks viewed those ratings numbers. He almost immediately became aware how hard network PR hands would try to spin the numbers, as well.

    “They would always explain to me why their rating was good and the others were bad,” he said. “You had to read between the lines.”

    Rudy recalled battles with Wladika, in particular, when Wladika headed up Fox Sports’ PR department.

    “He’d sit there and argue the most minuscule thing,” Rudy said. “Vince used to argue every week, and Lou D’Ermilio would sit at his side and just kind of chuckle and laugh because Vince was making me run through hoops.”

    As for Wladika’s accusation that he had “alligator arms” …

    “Well, Vince had a bigger budget than me.”

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

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  • Surfing tour consolidates media rights, seeks broadcast partner

    The Association of Surfing Professionals is in discussions with a half-dozen international media outlets for rights to its programming and hopes to complete a broadcasting deal in the coming weeks.

    It’s the first time the ASP has sold its media rights in a single package. In years past, each individual surfing competition sold the media rights to its event. But the tour was bought last year by ZoSea Media, a group headed by surfing agent Terry Hardy and Paul Speaker, and they’ve consolidated the rights into a single package.

    The TV package includes men’s and women’s competitions and shoulder programming.
    Photo by: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP/ GETTY IMAGES
    In the U.S., ASP executives have pitched the package to Red Bull Media House, NBC’s Alli Sports division and ESPN. Those outlets declined to comment on the meetings.

    The package includes 27 hours of men’s competition, 15 hours of women’s competition and 10 to 20 hours of shoulder programming, which the ASP will produce to supplement the live programming.

    Sources familiar with the talks said ESPN has been the most aggressive in negotiations and offered the ASP a multimillion-dollar rights fee and a chance to retain some advertising inventory to sell to sponsors.

    ESPN declined to comment, and ASP leaders said it continues to speak with multiple broadcasters.

    “Since we’ve gone to market, we’ve seen tremendous response and interest from broadcast entities in their desire to showcase the sport of surfing,” said Michael Lynch, the ASP’s chief marketer, in an email. “We’ve been in fairly intense discussions with over half-a-dozen potential international partners and will likely have a decision made in the next few weeks.”

    The ASP has been building its own broadcast and production team to cover its events in 2014. Its goal is to produce its own events and digitize 30 years of content that will be accessible to its broadcast partners in the U.S. and other outlets worldwide.

    “Our approach to content in 2014 and beyond is to ensure that the audience, both current and future, is serviced to the highest levels in terms of quality, access and entertainment,” Lynch said.

    The media package is a central part of ZoSea’s vision for taking what has been a factionalized tour funded by endemic sponsors such as Quiksilver and Billabong and turning it into a nationally recognizable brand with a large fan base.

    The tour will hold 115 events in 15 countries next year, and it claims 78 million fans. The majority are based in Australia, Brazil, France, Portugal and the U.S.

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  • ESPN, NBC on the clock for golf rights

    The U.S. Golf Association started its exclusive negotiating window with incumbents ESPN and NBC Sports Group over the weekend, a year and a half before its current deal ends.

    NBC holds the broadcast rights to USGA’s biggest prize, the U.S. Open. NBC also televises the U.S. Women’s Open and the U.S. Senior Open. ESPN is the cable partner for the first two rounds of the men’s Open.

    NBC and Golf Channel also share the broadcast of the U.S. Amateur, while Golf Channel carries the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

    The New Jersey-based USGA packages its major golf tournaments in separate deals with NBC, ESPN and Golf Channel, all of which expire in 2014.

    The combined annual revenue from all three of these deals is $35 million to $38 million a year, according to industry insiders. When Golf Channel did its deal, it was not part of the NBC Sports Group, as it is now, so it’s likely the NBC and Golf Channel rights will be rolled into a single agreement, if they come to terms.

    It’s not certain when the exclusive window ends, but sources say they do not expect a deal to be signed within the exclusive window, which started June 1. NBC has broadcast the U.S. Open since 1995, meaning the 2014 broadcast will mark the 20th edition of the U.S. Open that the network has televised.

    NBC Sports Group operates Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network, and is looking to produce content for all the USGA golf events under the NBC umbrella.

    By the same token, ESPN has been interested in buying rights to championship sports. Last month, it picked up rights to the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, ending the U.S. Tennis Association’s longtime relationship with CBS. In the past few years, ESPN has cut deals to carry the entire British Open and Wimbledon.

    Fox Sports has expressed interest in the event, as well, sources said. Fox has not carried golf in the past, but the network is launching two all-sports channels this year, FS1 and FS2, and has been acquiring as much live sports programming as possible to fill their program schedules.

    The USGA has set a precedent in signing media rights deals early. In early 2005, it signed nine-year deals with ESPN and NBC a full two years before its media rights deal was due to expire.

    The USGA hired Wasserman Media Group last fall to be its consultant for broadcast and digital rights. Malcolm Turner, president of Wasserman Golf, and media consultant Dean Jordan and Katie Boes are working with the USGA. Sarah Hirshland, the USGA’s senior managing director of business affairs, is on point in these negotiations for golf’s governing body.

    Last year’s prime-time finish for the U.S. Open produced the most-watched weekend since Tiger Woods outlasted Rocco Mediate in 2008. The 2012 Open generated a 6.0 final-round rating and a 5.0 rating in the third round. The final-round rating marked a 33 percent jump from 2011, giving the USGA a wave of momentum heading into the next round of negotiations. The third-round rating was the highest since 2002.

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  • YES Network puts 3-D spin on important replays

    The YES Network has begun using YES View, an advanced panoramic replay device, for its broadcasts of New York Yankees home games.

    Developed by broadcast technology outfit Replay Technologies, YES View provides a 360-degree view of key game moments, such as close plays at the plate or home runs. The product bears some similarity to EyeVision, the 360-degree replay system prominently used by CBS in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001. But unlike that technology, YES View provides full-motion, high-definition panoramic replays; offers a deeper, almost 3-D-like viewing experience without the need for a special TV or glasses; and has much more flexibility in the angle and tilt of the camera rotation.

    “We’re taking a leap of faith on this, trying to find the right applications,” said Ed Delaney, YES senior vice president of broadcast operations and engineering. “But the early feedback has been great, and we think it is additive in our storytelling of the game.”

    YES View uses nine cameras positioned around Yankee Stadium. Using proprietary algorithms, the cameras collectively create a blended replay image, somewhat akin to principles of animation. The system was tested last year during the global feed of gymnastics competition for the London Olympics, but the YES alignment represents the first regular deployment of the technology.

    “This technology is sort of a marriage between computer graphics, visual effects and military tracking technology,” said Diego Prilusky, creative director for Replay Technologies, which features operations in Israel and California.

    Financial terms of the agreement between YES and Replay Technologies were not disclosed. Both sides termed the deal as mutually beneficial, one in which YES gained access to the technology at a discounted rate given the exposure it is providing to the firm. YES is now evaluating whether to seek out a sponsor to attach to the YES View replays.

    The implementation of YES View continues a practice by the YES Network of being among the earliest adopters of new technologies, such as high-definition, 3-D and in-market digital streaming, though some such pursuits have not turned out to be commercially viable.

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