SBJ/June 17-23, 2013/Media

Monumental’s Dupriest shares take on media landscape

John Ourand
Monumental Sports & Entertainment has been one of the country’s most innovative sports media companies this year. In January, it launched a broadband site around the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics that has the potential to eventually become a full-fledged regional sports network.

At last week’s Cable Show in Washington, D.C., I hosted a panel session with Joe Dupriest, who is the company’s senior vice president and CMO. I was particularly interested in his unique perspective, overseeing marketing efforts for three professional sports teams in three leagues. The differences between the leagues aren’t as big as you might imagine, as they each are dealing with similar issues.

> Differences between ESPN and NBC

ESPN has a rights deal with the NBA; NBC has a rights deal with the NHL. Dupriest clearly feels the NBA gets much more exposure through its deal. “The NBA has an ESPN deal, so they’re going to talk up the NBA all the time,” he said. “On the Wizards side, it’s great to have that, but on the Capitals side, you don’t.”

MonumentalNetwork.com features programming around the Capitals, Wizards, Mystics and Verizon Center.
Photo by: NICK GRINER
Dupriest made sure to compliment the NHL’s NBC deal, pointing to the “Game of the Week” and Winter Classic as events that have helped the league. “But it’s not the same as it is with the NBA having the ABC and the ESPN deal that you can really piggyback off of,” he said. “ESPN is a natural part of people flipping around on their dial. You always go to ESPN. NBC Sports [Network] has done a nice job with their channel, but ever since they’ve been rebranded off of Versus, it’s still more of a destination programming.”

> Live in-market streaming

Over the past several years, some of the most frustrating negotiations between RSNs and the leagues revolved around streaming local games to local audiences. For years, teams and their RSNs have wanted to let in-market fans stream live games to computers, tablets and mobile phones. To date, they have not been able to agree on how to do it. Dupriest predicted that such an agreement was still several years away.

“People want to watch on an iPad,” he said, “but the leagues are still maintaining those rights, so it’s still a little bit gray on whether you can do separate deals for TV and mobile.”

This season, Monumental dipped its toe into the local streaming waters by streaming all of the Mystics’ games online. The games can be seen only by people within the D.C. market, and users do not have to be authenticated as cable subscribers — something RSNs would never allow with NBA or NHL games.

While Dupriest did not reveal specific usage numbers around the Mystics games, he said Monumental has been happy with the early results. “It’s driving a lot of traffic into our network, and it’s setting ourselves up as a legitimate sports network even though we’re not on cable,” he said. “It’s not an earth-shattering deal that’s going to generate millions of dollars for us, but it’s setting us up for future success and proving the ability and the model.”

> Team-owned RSNs

Monumental launched MonumentalNetwork.com in January with a lot of shoulder programming around the Wizards, Capitals and Verizon Center. Dupriest was noncommittal about whether the online video service eventually would morph into a full-fledged RSN, but he said it provides an option for when the Wizards’ and Capitals’ rights deals with Comcast SportsNet end.

“We started changing our model and started looking at our teams not just as teams on the court, but our teams are content,” he said. “Why are we letting everybody else make money off of our content? Why do we need somebody else to distribute our content? Why don’t we just distribute our own content?”

Dupriest said he was conscious of RSNs’ role in rising programming costs.

“When your bill goes from $50 10 years ago to $150 — and at some point it’s going to cross $200 or $250 — people are going to wake up and ask why they are paying for that,” he said. “It’s a big concern.”

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

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