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Fox Sports has signed Ford, Academy Sports and Pizza Hut as charter sponsors for its “Fox College Saturday Tour” — a roadshow that will sit outside stadiums where Fox is broadcasting its national college football games this season. Fox will use the “tour” for live cut-ins during its pregame shows, allowing the network to interact with passionate fans who attend these games.
It debuts this weekend at the University of Southern California, which hosts Washington State that night. It travels to Cal the following week for its game against Ohio State. Its schedule later in the season still needs to be finalized.
“We’re at so many games, and we touch so many fans, we wanted to bring this into the broadcast,” said Robert Gottlieb, Fox Sports’ executive vice president of marketing. “From a marketing standpoint, we have the ability to bring our broadcast closer to the fans so they can touch it.”
The tour’s set will allow the talent to interact with fans.
Photo by:FOX SPORTS
“We consciously never set out to do our version of ‘GameDay,’” Gottlieb said. “We have no desk. We have no anchors. We want our talent on-site literally interacting with fans.”
Sideline reporter Kristina Pink will be on-site during the pregame show. On Fridays, Fox’s top college football broadcast booth, Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, will make appearances. Fox Sports 1 studio show “Fox Football Daily” and Fox Sports 1’s college pregame shows will use look-ins from the on-site set.
Fox would not comment on how much the tour will cost, but expenses are being shared across several groups, including production and marketing.
The “Fox College Saturday Tour” will include a presence for its three charter sponsors. The Ford Tailgate Zone will have cornhole boards, ladderball games and a place to watch the game. It also will have the Pizza Hut Ultimate Fan Lounge where fans can watch the game and the Academy Sports + Outdoors Skills Challenge that has a ropes course and blocking dummies.
Terms of these deals were not disclosed.
Gottlieb said there are no plans to add a title sponsor for the show, but they are looking for additional supporting sponsors. “We’re looking at adding some more sponsors,” Gottlieb said.
North Carolina-based JHE Production Group designed the tour.
NASCAR and ESPN this week will launch their first unified advertising campaign around the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Each company will use the tag line “12 Drivers. 1 Champion” in advertisements. The spots, which were developed independently, are similar in style and tone. They will run across ESPN and its family of networks during and outside of race broadcasts over the next three months. A joint social media campaign and local advertisements in race markets will complement the TV creative.
It’s the first time NASCAR and a broadcaster have worked together on a campaign and only the second time ESPN has collaborated with a property on a campaign. ESPN is doing it despite being in the second to last year of its NASCAR rights agreement. Executives at both NASCAR and ESPN hope that doing so will raise the profile of NASCAR’s postseason Chase and boost viewership for the final 10 races of the season.
“The focus is to try and create as much buzz and momentum as possible going into the Chase from a marketing perspective,” said Emeka Ofodile, ESPN vice president of marketing.
To pull off the joint effort, NASCAR and ESPN brought their respective — and competing — advertising agencies, Ogilvy and Wieden & Kennedy, together in New York for a brainstorming session. The companies agreed to use the “12 Drivers. 1 Champion” tag line developed by ESPN and Wieden and committed to sharing their work with each other to make sure it had a consistent look and tone. ESPN also agreed to run spots NASCAR developed outside of race broadcasts, marking the first time the broadcaster has made that possible for the sport.
In a spot titled “Generations,” Jimmie Johnson crosses paths with NASCAR legends.
Photo by:PHIL ELLSWORTH / ESPN IMAGES
ESPN will debut today during the 9 a.m. “SportsCenter” the first spot it developed for the campaign, titled “Generations.” The spot shows Jimmie Johnson at a racetrack walking down the starting grid toward his car. He passes Richard Petty leaning against his famous light-blue, No. 43 STP car, and Dale Earnhardt leaning against his black, No. 3 Goodwrench car. A voice-over says, “Winning a sixth championship might add to your legacy, but is it enough to make you a legend? Because there’s a big difference between being the best driver of your generation and being the best driver ever.”
NASCAR will debut the first of two spots it developed for the campaign this Saturday during the Richmond Sprint Cup race. The ad, titled “Perfect,” shows tight shots of cars circling the track, close-ups of drivers looking intense, a brawl on pit road and a series of collisions. The voice-over says, “To win the Chase, being perfect isn’t good enough. … It’s 10 grueling weeks on asphalt and concrete. It’s heartbreak and madness times a thousand. To win here, you need luck and chaos on your side because being perfect only gives you a chance.”
In addition to the television spots, ESPN will have digital ads on NASCAR.com and NASCAR will have digital ads on ESPN.com. There also will be radio advertising across ESPN Radio Networks, Sirius and the Motor Racing Network, which is owned by International Speedway Corp.
NASCAR developed a marketing toolkit with the “12 Drivers. 1 Champion” tag line for the 10 tracks hosting Chase races. The marketing materials, which tracks can use if they choose, include posters, bus wraps and local TV spots that the tracks can customize by adding in specific information about their race. All 10 tracks have committed to use some of the materials in their local market.
ESPN and NASCAR also collaborated on a social media campaign called #Fandorsements. The campaign encourages fans to Instagram or tweet a photo of their driver’s number. ESPN and NASCAR’s social media teams will pick the best photo submitted for each of the 12 drivers in the Chase weekly, and the people who submitted those photos will have a decal of their Twitter or Instagram handle pasted above the passenger side window of that driver’s car for the next race.
ESPN developed the campaign and began promoting it in August. NASCAR.com is hosting it.
“We wanted to get fans engaged in social media during this part of the season,” Ofodile said. “Fans always support their driver. Now they have a chance to have the driver say, ‘I’m driving for you.’”
NFL Network is revamping its prime-time schedule, pushing its signature “Total Access” show back one hour into the 8 p.m. ET time slot and switching its focus to offer more analysis and debate.
It plans to lead into “Total Access” with two hours of live studio programming. The move from 7 p.m. ET to the later hour starts this week.
NFL Network is shifting "Total Access" to one hour later and switching focus to more analysis and debate
Photo by:ALIX DRAWEC / NFL
“Total Access” will go live on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Semiao said it will not run at the same time NFL games are being played — Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays.
The move by NFL Network comes as ESPN launches more NFL studio programming, Fox Sports 1 produces “Fox Football Daily” in the afternoon and NBC Sports Network builds a programming strategy around “Pro Football Talk.”
But these rival networks do not feature studio programming around the NFL during this 8 p.m. time slot, which Semiao believes will give NFL Network a competitive advantage.
“They go heavy on the NFL earlier in fringe time,” Semiao said. “Nobody else is doing it when we are. We think we can provide something there.”
NFL Network brass decided several months ago to freshen up “Total Access,” which executives refer to as the network’s flagship show. In July, it hired veteran anchor Dan Hellie from Washington, D.C.’s NBC affiliate to host the show, which was the NFL Network’s first program when the channel launched in November 2003.
In its 10-year run, “Total Access” had been in the 7 p.m. time slot and was devoted to rapidly paced news programming. (At network launch, the show was at 8 p.m. It was moved to 7 p.m. in April 2004). Now, the show will feature NFL Network analysts and guests offering opinions and debating issues. Network executives promise a “higher energy level” around the show, with high-profile analysts like Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin.
“We recognize that as networks evolve, we have to keep our shows current and sharp,” said Ronit Larone, NFL Network’s senior coordinating producer. “Our ultimate goal with ‘Total Access’ is to be lively and spirited. We’re not trying to debate every segment of the show.”
The show’s former host, Rich Eisen, is focusing on other high-profile gigs, including pregame, postgame and halftime shows around “Thursday Night Football” and the channel’s Sunday studio shows.
NFL Network will use two shows to lead into “Total Access” — “Around the League Live” hosted by Andrew Siciliano and “Around the League Primetime” hosted by Lindsay Rhodes. These shows will provide straight news and stories.
Siciliano will host his show in the 6-7 p.m. time slot from NFL RedZone’s studio. It’s being positioned as a fast-paced news show. Rhodes’ show will take a more in-depth look at some of the stories.
“These two hours will set the table for 8 p.m. and our new ‘Total Access,’” Larone said.
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The NFL’s two Sunday afternoon broadcasters, CBS and Fox, are planning to blow out their Sunday morning NFL coverage for the first time on their respective cable channels.
CBS Sports Network is rolling out “That Other Pregame Show” on Sunday mornings, which CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus says will not be nearly as structured as “The NFL Today.”
“It will be more freewheeling,” he said. “We will touch on new topics, including college football.”
Because the show is so new, McManus said to expect the show to evolve as the season progresses.
“It won’t be tied to the standard format that most NFL pregame shows look like,” McManus said. “If it does that well, it will be able to find its own audience.”
Adam Schein will host, and Brandon Tierney, Bart Scott and Amy Trask will be analysts.
For Fox Sports 1, executives chose Joel Klatt to host the Sunday morning show, which will feature former players Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss and Ronde Barber.
During its show, Fox plans to take advantage of the game crews that it has at several sites each Sunday.
“They have stories to tell and pick up nuggets of information,” said John Entz, Fox Sports executive vice president of production and executive producer. “This is the most new NFL coverage we’ve had in many years. We will go to those remote sites early and often. You will feel like you’re there. That’s the goal.”
■ ■ ■
When ESPN kicks off “Monday Night Football’s” 44th season from FedEx Field next week, it will be operating out of four new production trucks that network executives say make up a groundbreaking facility.
“We wanted to build the largest, most technically complex mobile production unit in the world,” said Chris Calcinari, ESPN and ABC Sports’ vice president of remote operations. “I think we’ve done that.”
ESPN added some tech horsepower with four new production trucks it will use for “Monday Night Football.”
Photo by:JOE FARAONI / ESPN
Viewers will not notice much of a difference. Calcinari said the picture quality should improve and the number of replays will increase.
But he said the trucks will help ESPN producers be more efficient during games, as all four units will operate as one truck. It has 3,392 square feet of workspace and 86 workstations.
“It’s bigger than most of our homes,” Calcinari said.
Outside of the NFL season, ESPN is expected to break up the trucks to produce smaller events. Two of the trucks — the A and B units — can handle game production on their own.
ESPN first started developing plans for these trucks two years ago. Typically, leases for the production trucks run alongside rights cycles, and the network started making a wish list for new at-game production trucks that it would use during its new NFL rights deal.
ESPN would not comment on the price of these trucks.
■ ■ ■
Nobody knows how former NFL player Ray Lewis will fare as an on-air analyst for ESPN’s NFL programming. After all, ESPN has not had any rehearsals with Lewis because it believes talent on this show works better spontaneously, rather than planned out.
But senior coordinating producer Seth Markman believes Lewis will be effective based, in part, on chemistry he’s already seen with Lewis and his studio partners.
In July, Lewis was in Los Angeles to shoot a commercial with other ESPN talent, including Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Cris Carter, Mike Ditka and Keyshawn Johnson. Markman said the group immediately started talking football in an entertaining way.
“It’s like the guys have been together for 10 years,” Markman said. “There’s never a sure thing in the business. But with Ray, the tools are all there. The only thing Ray has to realize is that this is a job and you still have to work.”
Lewis will not appear in studio. Rather, ESPN will use Lewis at on-field sets at the “MNF” game sites to take advantage of his energy and passion. Markman believes that his role as a mentor to younger players will create some good TV moments.
“Ray’s not going to be a professional broadcaster,” Markman said. “He’s going to be Ray.”
Twitter has taken its most significant step into the sports world by hiring Geoff Reiss to build out the company’s sports business, according to several sources.
Twitter hired the former Professional Bowlers Association CEO to a new position as head of sports partnerships where he will report to Chloe Sladden, Twitter’s vice president of media. A former ESPN executive who was named to SportsBusiness Journal’s inaugural Forty Under 40 list in 1999, Reiss will start with the social media company later this month. The PBA is based in Seattle, and Twitter’s headquarters are in San Francisco. It’s unclear whether Reiss will be based in San Francisco or New York, where many sports leagues and media companies are based.
Twitter would not comment for this story.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
According to the job description that was circulated this spring, Twitter sought an executive with 15 to 20 years experience who would “manage all sports partnerships, talent relationships and content” for the social media company. That included “devising and executing the strategies that will make Twitter valuable to the talent as well as to the operations and strategy of sports television, digital media and events,” the job description said.
Twitter has cut relatively small deals with a handful of media companies such as ESPN and Fox Sports, as well as properties like the NBA and NASCAR. Reiss will look to build on those as he will hire a team of executives to build out the social media company’s sports business.
Sources said the company was looking for a well-known executive who would bring a big Rolodex to help develop Twitter’s presence in the industry. The company currently has Omid Ashtari as head of sports and entertainment and Ben Grossman, who is head of global operations for Twitter Media.
Reiss has a long history in the sports and media businesses. He joined Starwave Corp. in 1993 and oversaw the creation of ESPN SportsZone, which became ESPN.com. He eventually moved to ESPN’s programming department and oversaw ESPN Original Entertainment.
Reiss became vice chairman of the PBA in March 2011. Six months later, he was named CEO of the league. While at the PBA, Reiss oversaw the PBA League, which featured celebrity owners such as Billie Jean King and Terrell Owens. That move helped convince ESPN to renew its media rights deal just over a month ago. Reiss worked on the agreement, which extends ESPN’s deal with the league another five years and increases the number of hours it devotes to the PBA to 36 per year from 25.
Reiss’ hiring likely will be announced formally within the next two weeks. The move comes after Twitter hired former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard to be its new head of commerce.
■ Will Google buy NFL Sunday Ticket?
No. At least not yet. By all accounts, DirecTV remains the heavy favorite to retain the package, and sources are now saying they would be shocked if the satellite operator loses it.
An Aug. 20 report in All Things Digital detailed a meeting between Google CEO Larry Page and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Sunday Ticket was one of the topics brought up at the meeting, but it wasn’t the reason they met and wasn’t a big part of the conversation.
Sources say that both sides left the meeting believing that a Sunday Ticket deal is not likely to happen during this go-round. Instead, we’re more likely to see an NFL channel with game highlights on YouTube before any kind of Sunday Ticket deal materializes.
I’ve long thought that the NFL would look to sell its out-of-market package to an alternate provider. The NFL wants to keep limiting the distribution for its Sunday Ticket product, which would make Google or Apple or Microsoft a perfect place for it. In fact, when Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch asked for a bold sports media prediction back in early July, I wrote, “The NFL will sell its out-of-market Sunday Ticket rights to a nontraditional media outlet like Microsoft for Xbox.”
If anything, these talks show that some sort of rights deal will happen eventually, but probably not until 2022, the next time the NFL negotiates its media deals.
But I’ve become convinced that DirecTV and the NFL will get a deal done at some point during the season. DirecTV wants to keep it, especially since cable operators carry other leagues’ out-of-market packages. Sunday Ticket is a service that sets DirecTV apart. DirecTV’s deal for Sunday Ticket ends after the 2014 season.
Longtime NFL executive Steve Bornstein is leaving in the spring and this is the last big media deal he has left to complete. I expect that he’ll tie this up before leaving the league.
■ What’s the takeaway from Fox Sports 1’s launch?
Live sports matter.
Regis Philbin and the Canadian duo Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole get most of the buzz. But it’s live events — UFC, NASCAR truck races and NASCAR Nationwide qualifying — that have brought in the most viewers to Fox Sports 1 so far.
Live sports like UFC can help pave the way for studio shows at Fox Sports 1.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
On its launch night, Fox Sports 1 brought in its biggest audience to date with an impressive UFC card that averaged 1.8 million viewers. With that lead-in, it’s no surprise that “Fox Sports Live” scored its biggest audience to date, with 476,000 viewers. That UFC audience posted better numbers in all of the young, male demographic categories than the four big broadcast networks did for the same time period. That’s a great lead-in for day one.
On Aug. 23, Philbin’s show “Crowd Goes Wild” pulled in its biggest audience with 179,000 viewers. No surprise that its lead-in — NASCAR Nationwide qualifying — was a live event that was the network’s third-most-viewed show of the week, with 375,000 viewers.
After only one week, it’s way too early to give any kind of report card on the channel’s shows or talent. I expect the studio shows will look radically different three months from now than they do today.
People aren’t going to change their viewing habits overnight. Fox has done a good job setting up destinations for viewers that stick around before or after live events. As Fox rolls out college football and basketball and MLB games, I expect these shows to grow.
■ What to make of upcoming carriage negotiations?
This looks likely to be a tough autumn for several sports channels.
Don’t expect DirecTV to sign a deal with Pac-12 Network this season. DirecTV deals for Comcast Houston and Comcast Portland appear even further away.
Longhorn Network is a question mark. It’s not close to deals with Texas’ biggest cable operators, including Time Warner Cable. But it will be interesting to see if it is part of ESPN’s expected deal with Dish Network. ESPN and Dish are in renewal talks, and all sides describe the talks as amicable.
The battle with TWC has left CBS dark in New York and L.A. for about four weeks.
My answer is always the same when I’m asked whether CBS or Time Warner Cable is winning the PR war — it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s clear that distributors are feeling more emboldened. Customers are less likely to dump their provider because of these types of fights, thanks largely to discounted video-phone-Internet packages that are bundled into one bill.
Consumers have to be jaded by these negotiations by now. They have become so commonplace over the past decade that consumers are more willing to wait it out with the knowledge that a deal will be cut eventually.
“The dirty secret of the business is that people don’t switch [distributors],” said one source who has been involved in several of these fights.
John Ourand can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.