SBJ/July 29-August 4, 2013/Media

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  • Near 3-D replays for Dallas, NBC

    Israeli-based broadcast technology company Replay Technologies, which has provided advanced panoramic replays to New York Yankees telecasts on the YES Network this season, has struck a similar deal with the Dallas Cowboys and NBC.

    Replay Technologies’ freeD system will be seen at AT&T Stadium and on NBC game telecasts from the venue.
    Photo by: BUD FORCE
    A version of the company’s YES View freeD replay system will be installed around each red zone of newly renamed AT&T Stadium providing 360-degree, almost 3-D views of key moments. The full-motion panoramic replays will be shown on the Cowboys’ massive video boards.

    A companion deal has been struck with NBC to use the footage during the Sept. 8 “Sunday Night Football” broadcast when the Cowboys play host to the New York Giants, the network’s first Sunday night broadcast of the 2013 season. It will then be used again for NBC’s coverage of the Oct. 13 “SNF” Washington-Dallas game, and also Oct. 5, when Notre Dame and Arizona State play at the stadium.

    The agreement represents Replay Technologies’ first efforts in football after tests in baseball, golf and gymnastics.

    “This is a very exciting development for us, and what we believe is the beginning of a big expansion and series of new partnerships,” said Oren Yogev, Replay Technologies’ chief executive and co-founder.

    The company is also seeking to see footage used in telecasts of Cowboys home games on Fox and CBS, Yogev said, but no set deal yet exists with those networks.

    YES Net uses the system for Yankees games.
    Replay Technologies will use a far more extensive camera system than what is in place at Yankee Stadium. The company uses nine cameras stationed around the baseball stadium. But it will expand that setup to 24 cameras and deploy eight times as much computing power, because the amount of ground and players it must cover going from baseball to football has increased by a similar amount.

    The static cameras, using proprietary algorithms, will collectively create a blended replay image, similar to the principles of animation.

    Given replays in general are already more prevalent in football TV broadcasts than baseball, executives from all sides expect the freeD deployment in Dallas will be particularly effective.

    “Fans will think they’re playing a video game or watching a sci-fi movie, but they’ll actually be viewing real NFL football as never presented before,” said Fred Gaudelli, NBC Sports’ executive producer for “SNF.”

    Financial terms were not disclosed. Cowboys executives could not be reached for comment.

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  • NFL negotiating renewal with DirecTV

    The NFL has started renewal talks with satellite carrier DirecTV, sources said, the final major media deal the league has not redone in recent years but perhaps the most controversial and most complicated.

    DirecTV pays the NFL $1 billion annually for exclusive rights to out-of-market games through a deal that runs for two more seasons. But the value of the most recent contract has been chipped away at since it was signed in 2009, with the NFL Network schedule expanding from a late-season-only package of games to having Thursday night games throughout the season.

    NFL Network’s expanded schedule has chipped away at the value of DirecTV’s deal for out-of-market games.
    Photo by: HUNTLEY PATON
    That means out-of-market fans who traditionally have relied on DirecTV to see their teams’ games now have a better chance of seeing those clubs play than just with the satellite carrier. Add in RedZone, the NFL’s in-game highlights channel that has gained wide distribution on cable, and more options are open to fans seeking to see more than just the local team in their market.

    “The NFL developed RedZone to keep the cable systems at bay because they wanted access to the out-of-market package, but that helped mitigate the DirecTV deal,” said TV consultant Mike Trager.

    Cable operators have long clamored for access to out-of-market games, such as what they carry for the NBA (League Pass), MLB (Extra Innings) and NHL (Center Ice). The NFL always resisted that approach, but now talk within league circles is there could be some sort of hybrid model to replace the DirecTV exclusive arrangement for its Sunday Ticket package.

    “Hybrid; something for everyone,” is how one top business executive at a team described what he expected would happen. “Too many options right now, and exclusive could be hard and expensive.”

    DirecTV declined to comment. An NFL spokesman said the league is regularly in touch with its business partners.

    The talks with DirecTV, which began fairly recently, remain in the early stages, the sources said.

    In March, at an investor conference, DirecTV Chief Financial Officer Patrick Doyle appeared to send the first public negotiating volley, telling the audience the satellite carrier is averse to paying a significantly higher amount than the current deal and that it did not oppose a non-exclusive deal.

    The most recent media deals for the NFL have seen sharply higher rights fees. In late 2011, the NFL agreed to new deals with CBS, Fox and ESPN that upped rights fees across the board by around 60 percent. Those deals were done far in advance of the expiration of the old contracts, which extend through this season.

    Last month, the NFL redid its Verizon deal for a 40 percent increase, with streaming of network games part of that package.

    One source said the NFL is already in its exclusive negotiating window with DirecTV and said that period will extend through the end of the year. Other sources could not confirm that, though clearly as reflected in the early renewals of the other media contracts, the NFL is not waiting long to redo significant business.

    Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this report.

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  • Experts: Market is ready for FS1

    The addition of another sports channel next month does not concern executives in the ad buying community, who say the demand for sports programming is so strong now that the market easily can handle multiple networks.

    Most of the media executives contacted for this story believe that when Fox Sports Media Group flips Speed into Fox Sports 1 on Aug. 17 it will immediately become the clear No. 2 to ESPN. They also believe that a secondary position can be profitable for Fox over the next several years.

    “ESPN is so ingrained. To be different will be difficult, but it will and can be a profitable business. The question is how you define success. Is a strong No. 2 a good business? It certainly can be,” said Chris Weil, CEO of Momentum Worldwide, which consults with heavy sports spenders like Coca-Cola, American Express, Kraft and Microsoft. “When you are as dominant a player as ESPN is, second place can be pretty profitable. If any company is as dominant in any sector as ESPN is in sports, being a strong No. 2 is a profitable place to be and not a bad business strategy.”

    Blaise D’Sylva, vice president of media, sports and entertainment marketing at Anheuser-Busch, agreed, saying he expects Fox’s offering to have a distinct style that will give marketers another sports TV choice.

    Execs see enough ad dollars in sports to support FS1, now rolling out promotional spots.
    “I don’t think Fox has any unreal expectations of beating ESPN,” D’Sylva said. “They are coming out of the blocks with good programming, and they should beat NBC Sports Network’s numbers.”

    Some media executives give FS1 at least a five-year time frame before starting to make a significant dent in the sports advertising market.

    “Fox isn’t counting on taking that much share from ESPN for at least the next five years,” said David Bank, managing director of equity research for RBC Capital Markets. “There’s enough ad money out there to support these two platforms without being massively disruptive.”

    The main reason media executives believe there are enough ad dollars in the sports TV market to support channels from ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and others is because sports advertising is as strong as it’s ever been, according to Brian Wieser, senior research analyst at the Pivotal Research Group.

    “Advertisers have a growing appetite for sports programming in their mix of media buys,” Wieser said. “You can accomplish your media goals in sports with fewer units and less duplication.”

    Bank agreed, saying that advertisers are enamored by the passionate and engaged fans who watch sports on TV. They also like the fact that sports are generally watched live, with little seen on a DVR when viewers can fast forward through commercial breaks.

     
    “We all know that people are desperate to advertise on premium sports,” Bank said.

    Ad buyers said Fox has been in the market with offers that bundle FS1 ad packages
     
    “Advertisers have a growing appetite for sports programming in their mix of media buys,” says one analyst, something FS1 can supply.
    with entertainment programming on its broadcast channel and other sports programming.

    Meanwhile, ESPN came out of the upfront selling season more aggressively than in years past, trying to get advertisers to commit more of their budgets to the Disney-owned suite of sports networks. “They are trying to stop the competition before it starts,” Bank said.

    But Bank said the launch of FS1 will have more of an effect on entertainment programming than other sports channels, such as ESPN and NBC Sports Network. “It’s more impactful for general market entertainment channels than existing sports channels,” he said.

    FS1 will enter the market with branded nights of specific programming that should be advertiser-friendly. Wednesday nights will feature UFC events, Thursday nights will be programmed with college sports and Friday nights will be devoted to NASCAR.

    “What we’re trying to do with prime time is really try to create some branded nights of programming where it’s easy for the viewer to remember what’s on that night,” Bill Wanger, Fox Sports Media Group’s executive vice president of programming and research, said earlier this month. “It will be marketed that way.”

    That kind of programming strategy is key to helping FS1 differentiate itself from ESPN. Momentum Worldwide’s Weil says that he is counting on FS1 to be as different from ESPN as Fox News is from CNN.

    “In news, Fox’s attitude is, ‘Here is what we are, like it or leave it,’” he said. “I think you’ll see them do the same thing in sports. Sports programming continues to be a safe place for advertisers, because you know that you’ll build a live audience.”

    Octagon President Jeff Shifrin preached patience, saying he expects it to take years for FS1’s programming to get a foothold.

    “Until Fox Sports 1 gets into chasing name talent or paying big rights for FS1, building your own sports properties for programming is one way to go,” Shifrin said. “But in my mind, that is the riskiest of all propositions. It took X Games around a decade to be a real success.”

    From a talent perspective, the emergence of FS1 has been a boon, increasing salaries and demand for on-air talent. IMG’s Sandy Montag, who has represented bold-faced names such as Bob Costas and John Madden, believes Fox will make a dent in the sports TV market.

    “It depends on how Fox defines success. They are not going to knock off ESPN, and I don’t think they expect to. ESPN is centered on a lot of the live sports programming they have. Fox, at least out of the gate, doesn’t,” he said. “My client, John Madden, was the first person hired by Fox Sports. They always had this attitude where they don’t care about convention. They aren’t afraid of trying anything new. Rupert Murdoch doesn’t care about losing a ton of money, as long as it’s an investment, the way NFL football was for them when they launched.”

    Would Madden consider coming out of retirement to work on Fox? “I saw John last week and he’s not coming out of retirement for them or anyone,” Montag said with a laugh.

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  • As FS1 talks go on, rebrand of Fuel to FS2 quietly readied

    Cable and satellite operators are preparing for Fox Sports to launch Fox Sports 2 next month even though the media company still has not announced anything official yet.

    Earlier this month, cable systems in the Northeast sent notifications to their subscribers announcing plans to flip Fuel into FS2 by Aug. 17, which is the date when Fox Sports 1 is scheduled to launch.

    Several distribution executives have said that Fox has told them to prepare for the change, which would be part of a soft transition around Aug. 17.

    This raises the possibility that some distributors may carry FS2 but not FS1 at the beginning. Fox has yet to sign affiliate deals for FS1 with several top distributors, including DirecTV, Dish Network and Time Warner Cable. FS2 is not running into the same distribution problems because Fox does not need to get new affiliate deals to rebrand Fuel because of economics. Fuel costs distributors about 15 cents per subscriber per month, according to data from SNL Kagan. That rate is not expected to change when the channel rebrands to FS2.

    Speed costs about 23 cents per subscriber per month. However, Fox is trying to increase that to about 80 cents for FS1’s launch.

    The distribution negotiations over FS1 could explain why there’s been so little fanfare over FS2. Fox executives want to lock down distribution for its main FS1 channel before setting its focus on FS2.

    FS2’s content will feature a lot of overflow content that doesn’t fit on FS1. The channel already featured a lot of UFC content under the Fuel brand.

    Fox views FS2 as a complement to FS1 in the same way that ESPN2 complements ESPN. The bigger events will be on FS1, rather than FS2.

    Much of the reason for that comes down to distribution. Currently, Speed is in 85.4 million homes, according to Nielsen’s July numbers. Fuel is in 36.8 million. Many of Fox’s rights deals, such as the one it signed with Major League Baseball, guarantee a certain level of distribution that would keep games off of FS2.

    Still, Fox executives believe they have enough programming to support both channels and its broadcast windows. Some rights, such as the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and 2022, will be spread across several Fox-owned channels, including FS2.

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  • NBC steps up, lands NASCAR

    During the week of July 7, NASCAR officials started to realize that the sport’s long-standing, multi-decade relationships with ESPN and Turner were coming to an end.

    Soon after the July 4 holiday, Turner’s David Levy called NASCAR’s Steve Herbst to say that Turner wasn’t going to make a formal bid for the NASCAR media rights that were available, sources said. The network had looked into expanding its six-race package for months, but it was in the middle of its lowest-rated season in 29 years of carrying the sport and ultimately decided that more NASCAR races weren’t worth the investment.


    The rejection narrowed NASCAR’s focus to ESPN, which, like Turner, still had an exclusive negotiating window until July 14. NASCAR was hoping ESPN would pay a significant increase, believed to be a minimum of 30 percent bump from the $270 million a year the network currently paid. But ESPN had soured on the sport because of declining TV ratings, an aging fan base and a tough ad sales market.

    Just like Turner earlier in the week, ESPN’s John Skipper called NASCAR executives and told them not to expect a bid.

    NBC’s Mark Lazarus brought a level of familiarity to NASCAR executives.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Executives in NASCAR’s Daytona Beach, Fla., headquarters who weren’t involved in talks sensed negotiations weren’t going well and became concerned. But Herbst, NASCAR Chairman Brian France and the sport’s main media adviser, Doug Perlman, weren’t dismayed at all.

    They knew they had an eager suitor waiting in NBC and its sports chairman, Mark Lazarus, who viewed NASCAR as an integral part to growing his division.

    NASCAR officials just needed to wait until ESPN and Turner’s exclusive negotiating window ended before starting formal talks with them.

    On July 15, as the window ended, NASCAR officials called Lazarus. They set up a meeting in New York the next day. By the end of the day, the two sides had reached a broad agreement on a deal.

    It took eight more days to finalize that deal. But that New York meeting marked the point when NASCAR realized it would see a healthy increase in its media rights fees, even if NBC executives remained somewhat wary.

    “I am never confident until the deal actually gets done,” Lazarus said. “I certainly felt more confident that we were on a path to strike a deal.”

    Ultimately, NBC Sports Group agreed to pay $4.4 billion over 10 years for rights to the second half of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. NBC also picked up rights to NASCAR practice and qualifying sessions, the K&N Series, Whelen Modified Tour, Toyota (Mexico) Series, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and season-ending banquets. As part of the deal, NBC also picked up Spanish-language, video-on-demand and TV Everywhere rights. Many of the properties, such as the K&N Series and Whelen Modified Tour, had been televised by Speed.

    For Lazarus, the deal was a no-brainer. He already had convinced his boss, NBC’s Steve Burke, that the move made sense, even amid the declining ratings and tough ad market that ESPN and Turner faced.

    “We think this is a major feather in our cap for our total business,” he said. “The importance to distributors and affiliates is a very strong business factor for us. … NASCAR is a major passion point for fans, and we’re there to serve all markets. I had to sell the value of NASCAR to my bosses. The NASCAR footprint made the sale easy. NASCAR’s audience is truly all over the country.”

    Lazarus believes that kind of fan passion will help NBC Sports Network grow its affiliate fee from 33 cents per subscriber per month, according to SNL Kagan, and its distribution, which stands at 77.8 million homes, according to Nielsen’s most recent numbers.

    But it’s not just about distribution for NBC Sports Network. The deal also gives the cable channel a ton of new programming — more than 90 hours of live races per year and requisite shoulder programming. And it gives NBC’s broadcast network a Sunday programming schedule that’s particularly strong, with Sprint Cup races leading into “Sunday Night Football” for up to seven weeks.

    “NASCAR is one element of a sports strategy that we have developed and executed,” Lazarus said. “We have a five-year plan. We’re only 1 1/2 years in.”

    As much as price, it was Lazarus’ commitment and confidence that won over NASCAR officials. Lazarus has been a big NASCAR supporter since the early 1990s, when he started working at Turner. In 1998, Lazarus was head of Turner Sports and cut the deal to share a national TV package with NBC.

    Not only did NASCAR executives trust Lazarus. They also were enamored with producer Sam Flood, who produced the races under the TNT/NBC partnership.

    “That comfort zone meant that we didn’t have to do a sales pitch of who we are,” Lazarus said.

    NASCAR’s highest ratings ever were when Fox and NBC shared its rights.
    Photo by: FOX SPORTS
    But NBC still made its pitch. It promised NASCAR more promotion, more storytelling, more broadcast TV and, perhaps most importantly, a return to the Fox-NBC days when the sport posted its highest ratings in history.

    Those promises resonated with France and senior NASCAR officials.

    In the weeks before talks with NBC, some NASCAR staff had expressed reservations about leaving ESPN. They feared that viewership would fall when NASCAR races moved from the 98 million homes that ESPN provides.
     
    More than that, they worried it would mean the end of appearances by NASCAR drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski on ESPN programs like “PTI” and “Mike & Mike in the Morning.”

    NASCAR TV rights

    Contract period Rights holder Total value Avg. annual value
    2015-2024 NBC $4.4 billion $440 million
    2015-2022 Fox $2.4 billion $300 million
    2007-2014 ABC/ESPN $2.16 billion $270 million
    2007-2014 Fox $1.76 billion $205 million
    2007-2014 TNT $640-$680 million $80-$85 million
    2001-2006 Fox/NBC, Turner $2.4 billion $400 million

    Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

    But where others saw danger, France saw opportunity. He trusted Lazarus and believed the upside in promotion and broadcast exposure for NASCAR outweighed the downside of leaving ESPN.

    “The integration of the assets that they are marshalling together, because this is such an important franchise for them, made it so compelling that it was just the right choice,” France said.

    More importantly than promotion, the deal gives NASCAR long-term rights stability and silenced skeptics in the industry that questioned whether NASCAR could secure an increase in TV rights after several years of declining ratings.

    The annual value of the NBC deal, $440 million, represents a 54 percent increase over the $285 million ESPN and Turner currently pay for the same races. NASCAR still has 14 Nationwide Series and three Sprint Cup races to sell, and that, combined with the $300 million that Fox agreed to pay annually, will push its annual TV rights revenue above $740 million beginning in 2015. It’s a sum that will benefit everyone from teams to tracks to drivers.

    “We wouldn’t have made the change if it weren’t a favorable arrangement for the industry financially,” France said. “And it is, and everybody will benefit from that, as every league does.”

    It will be another year and a half before the NASCAR industry sees the benefits of that new TV money. Until then, teams, tracks and sport officials will continue to work with Turner and ESPN. They will watch Fox Sports 1 launch and track NBC Sports Network’s effort to increase distribution.

    And they will hope that NBC will be able to fulfill its promise that a return to the broadcast pairing of Fox and NBC will bring a return of the ratings growth the sport last saw a decade ago.

    NASCAR viewership
    Average number of viewers for Sprint Cup telecasts

    Note: Final average ratings this year for ESPN and ABC are not available. From 2010 to 2013, ABC only televised three races a year. Source: The networks

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  • Gammons plans website launch this week

    Veteran baseball scribe Peter Gammons has partnered with Boston-based TruMedia Networks Inc. to create a new website based around his work, GammonsDaily.com.

    The online destination will feature baseball news, analysis and interviews from Gammons, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame writers wing. The site will also include extensive statistics and data from TruMedia Networks, which supplies media outlets and professional teams with advanced player analytics.

    Video will be part of the site, though the mix has yet to be determined.

    Gammons is looking to bring in additional writers for the Boston-based site and have it be an outlet for younger talent. He said talks are continuing with several potential contributors.

    The creation of GammonsDaily.com extends a recent trend of sports websites based and branded around popular writers such as Grantland.com and ESPN’s Bill Simmons, and the new TheMMQB.com and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. Gammons-Daily.com is slated to debut Wednesday.

    GammonsDaily.com will provide a home for Peter Gammons’ written material and more.
    Gammons will maintain his other roles with NESN and the MLB Network, but GammonsDaily.com will now be the primary home for his written output and those networks won’t be involved with the site. Gammons is no longer with MLB.com, where he served as a columnist for roughly three years.

    “I’m really looking forward to seeing how this evolves. It definitely gives me a lot of freedom in terms of doing what I want to write about,” Gammons said. “I’m hoping it will be a lot of fun. Sometimes we lose sight of the joy that’s involved with covering this game, and I’m hoping we tap into that in terms of what we do on the site.”

    Online ticket liquidator ScoreBig.com has signed on as the presenting sponsor of GammonsDaily.com. But Gammons and TruMedia Networks are conducting an online crowdfunding campaign, using the Indiegogo platform, to help support the initiative. Donors to GammonsDaily.com through Indiegogo will have access to a daily ebook, Google Hangouts, personal thank-you tweets, ScoreBig.com gift cards and other prizes.

    Such crowdfunding efforts have recently been popular within independent cinema but are more of a new concept within digital sports media. The site will not be solely dependent on those funds, however.

    “We see this as a way to give some special perks to Peter’s biggest fans while also helping support the launch of the site and kick-start its development,” said Rafe Anderson, TruMedia Networks president and chief executive.

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  • Whistle gains lacrosse partner with MLL deal

    Startup youth sports programmer The Whistle has extended its run of league partnerships with a new deal with Major League Lacrosse.

    Youth sports programmer The Whistle was eager to add lacrosse.
    In a deal similar to those The Whistle signed with the PGA Tour and the NFL, the Boston-based MLL will take a minority equity position in the company and participate in a comprehensive content and distribution agreement. MLL will provide The Whistle access to game highlights, behind-the-scenes footage and legacy content, and participate in the development of new programming such as instructional lacrosse segments.

    The Whistle is also aligned on a non-equity basis with the U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. Soccer, IndyCar Entertainment and the Harlem Globetrotters, among others. But the MLL partnership hits The Whistle in a particularly sweet spot as lacrosse for years has been among the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. among youth athletes.

    “More and more, leagues are seeing us as a place they want to be and place their content,” said Jeff Urban, The Whistle co-founder and chief marketing officer. “This deal is one we’ve been working on for a long time and wanted for some time given the influx of interest in lacrosse. And it’s something we think can help bring forward the personalities of the players in Major League Lacrosse a bit more.”

    Financial terms were not disclosed. But the deal is centered in large part on MLL gaining equity in the company in exchange for allowing access to its video content and assets.

    Other investors in The Whistle include former MLB President Bob DuPuy, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and Clear Channel Communications Chief Executive Bob Pittman, among others.

    “We’re very eager to go after new ways to reach fans, and this is definitely one of them,” said David Gross, commissioner of MLL, founded 15 years ago in part by celebrity trainer and television personality Jake Steinfeld. “And any time you can position yourself along with other established brands, it certainly raises your visibility.”

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