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The Los Angeles Dodgers, one of sports’ marquee franchises, this season are posting their lowest RSN ratings ever, averaging a 0.74 local rating and 40,000 homes in the country’s second-biggest media market, according to viewership figures through the first week of July.
Despite on-field success, things are looking down for the Dodgers on TV.
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Not only are the team’s SportsNet LA regional ratings and viewership figures down 70 percent from last year’s Dodgers games, which were carried on the Fox Sports-owned Prime Ticket, but it’s the team’s poorest TV performance since at least the mid-1990s, when Prime Ticket started adding more Dodgers games to its schedule.
Perhaps even more concerning to the team: This season’s numbers fall well below those of the Dodgers’ cross-town rival, the Los Angeles Angels. Angels games on FS West have doubled the Dodgers’ viewership so far this season, averaging 80,000 homes. Viewership for the Dodgers, a team that has traditionally dominated sports fans’ discussions in Southern California and has been near first place for much of this season, compares more closely to franchises in Oakland and Denver than the franchises in New York.
The reason for the ratings drop-off comes down to one word: distribution. Since its launch earlier this spring, SportsNet LA has been hampered by distribution problems and is available to just 30 percent of the market. Time Warner Cable is the only distributor that has agreed to carry SportsNet LA.
Time Warner Cable has a business relationship with the channel, overseeing all sales and distribution.
Some of the area’s biggest distributors, including DirecTV and Dish Network, do not appear to be close to reaching an agreement to carry the channel, putting the team on the defensive all season.
A similar scenario is playing out in Houston, another market where a local team launched its own regional sports network. The Astros are averaging just 9,000 homes per game on CSN Houston, by far MLB’s smallest audience this season. Other than Comcast, which is a part-owner in the RSN, no major Houston-area distributor has agreed to carry CSN Houston.
Meanwhile, another team slowly is recovering from a distribution challenge. After a prolonged dispute, San Diego’s dominant cable system, Time Warner Cable, reached a deal to carry FS San Diego earlier this year. Viewership for Padres games remains among the league’s lowest, at an average of 32,000 homes per game, but it’s up 10 percent from last season.
SportsBusiness Journal reviewed data from all 29 U.S.-based MLB teams; ratings for the Toronto Blue Jays were not available. Overall, 11 of the clubs showed local ratings increases from midseason last year; 18 showed decreases, which is higher than normal.
Many factors go into a team’s TV ratings performance, from the quality of play and the quality of competition to the quality of start times. One potential factor this season could come from MLB’s new national TV deals with ESPN, Fox Sports and Turner Sports. Those deals allow the national broadcasters to carry more games “side-by-side” with the RSNs, which may account for some of the ratings decreases. Last Wednesday, for example, ESPN, Root Sports Pittsburgh and FS Midwest all carried a Pirates-Cardinals game. In previous years, ESPN would have had to black out that game in the Pittsburgh and St. Louis markets.
The four teams that ended 2013 with highest local TV ratings for last season — the Tigers, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds — are atop MLB’s local ratings chart at the midway point this season. The 2013 world champion Boston Red Sox had MLB’s fifth-best rating last season, but the team has played poorly this year, was in last place as of last week and has seen ratings drop 23 percent so far this season.
One of the best story lines to date features the NL Central, where four of the division’s teams (Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Brewers) rank among the league’s top five in local ratings. Detroit ranks first among all MLB clubs, averaging a 7.52 rating on FS Detroit.
Another good-news story is in Miami, where Marlins games on FS Florida have posted MLB’s biggest ratings increase (up 47 percent) even though the team’s win-loss record currently is hovering around .500.
The New York Yankees also are posting big TV numbers in Derek Jeter’s final season. The team’s 3.05 rating (228,000 homes) is up 22 percent from last year.
MLB TEAMS’ MIDSEASON RSN RATINGS
TEAM RSN AVG. NO. OF HHS (CHANGE*) TOP 5 New York Yankees YES 228,000 (+43,000) Detroit Tigers FS Detroit 140,000 (-27,000) New York Mets SportsNet New York 138,000 (+3,000) Boston Red Sox NESN 128,000 (-35,000) San Francisco Giants CSN Bay Area 104,000 (-9,000) BOTTOM 5 Los Angeles Dodgers SportsNet LA 40,000 (-88,000) Oakland A's CSN California 33,000 (+4,000) San Diego Padres FS San Diego 32,000 (-3,000) Miami Marlins FS Florida 27,000 (+9,000) Houston Astros CSN Houston 9,000 (-1,000)
TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. NO OF HHS, 2014) TOP 5 New York Yankees YES +43,000 (228,000) Milwaukee Brewers FS Wisconsin +14,000 (54,000) Los Angeles Angels FS West +11,000 (80,000) Cleveland Indians SportsTime Ohio +9,000 (86,000) Miami Marlins FS Florida +9,000 (27,000) BOTTOM 5 Washington Nationals MASN/MASN2 -21,000 (46,000) Detroit Tigers FS Detroit -27,000 (140,000) Atlanta Braves SportSouth^ -28,000 (67,000) Boston Red Sox NESN -35,000 (128,000) Texas Rangers FS Southwest -52,000 (71,000)
TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. RATING CHANGE*) TOP 5 Detroit Tigers FS Detroit 7.52 (-17%) St. Louis Cardinals FS Midwest 7.45 (-8%) Pittsburgh Pirates Root Sports 6.37 (+2%) Cincinnati Reds FS Ohio 6.37 (-19%) Milwaukee Brewers FS Wisconsin 5.91 (+32%) BOTTOM 5 Los Angeles Angels FS West 1.42 (+15%) Chicago White Sox CSN Chicago 1.39 (+16%) Oakland A’s CSN California 1.31 (+14%) Los Angeles Dodgers SportsNet LA 0.70 (-70%) Houston Astros CSN Houston 0.39 (-9%)
TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. RATING, 2014) TOP 5 Miami Marlins FS Florida +47% (1.63) Milwaukee Brewers FS Wisconsin +32% (5.91) New York Yankees YES +22% (3.05) Chicago White Sox CSN Chicago +16% (1.39) Los Angeles Angels FS West +15% (1.42) BOTTOM 5 Minnesota Twins FS North -24% (3.72) Atlanta Braves SportSouth^ -32% (2.80) Washington Nationals MASN/MASN2 -34% (1.90) Texas Rangers FS Southwest -44% (2.66) Los Angeles Dodgers SportsNet LA -70% (0.70)
* Change compared with midseason 2013 data.
^ The Braves split their games between SportSouth and FS South. Games on FS South have averaged a 3.20 rating, down 27 percent compared with midseason last year, and have averaged 76,000 households, down 5,000 from last year.
Note: Similar data was unavailable for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Nielsen data
NBC Sports Ventures has added another business to its portfolio by signing a joint marketing and media rights agreement with obstacle-race organizer Spartan Race.
The deal gives NBC the exclusive broadcast, cable and digital rights to the Reebok Spartan Race series. It also becomes the exclusive sponsorship sales arm for Spartan Race’s 40-plus competitions, which attract more than 500,000 participants annually.
Six Spartan Race events will be shown on NBC networks annually.
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In exchange, Spartan Race will have six races broadcast annually and receive promotional spots on NBC’s national and regional sports networks. All of its races will be streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.
NBC and Spartan Race will share sponsorship revenue, though they did not reveal the split. NBC will receive a percentage of any increases in revenue Spartan Race receives from an uptick in participation.
Spartan Race’s sales team had sold all event sponsorships. NBC Sports Ventures will now manage national sales; Spartan Race will manage local and regional efforts.
The agreement adds another series to NBC Sports Ventures’ roster. The division handles sponsorship sales and broadcasts the Red Bull Signature Series and Lucas Oil Motocross Championships. It also manages and sells sponsorships around the NBC-owned Dew Tour. It now adds a series that features people scaling walls, slogging through mud and ducking under barbed wire in races that can last several hours.
“We first started looking broadly at this area of participatory and endurance sports a little over a year ago,” said Rob Simmelkjaer, NBC Sports Ventures senior vice president. “We were looking for areas where the level of engagement was a rung or two higher than our other sports media businesses. For the people engaged with [Spartan Race] today, it’s a lifestyle. We want to tap into that passion and engagement.”
Spartan Race CEO Joe De Sena said the deal will increase brand awareness for the company by exposing its competitions to more consumers and attracting more sponsors that also tout the events.
“This makes what’s still a fringe sport more mainstream,” De Sena said of the series he founded in 2010. “It legitimizes us.” NBC Sports Ventures plans to look for sponsors in the automotive, beverage, electronics and point-of-view camera categories. Spartan Race will have a say in what sponsors are signed.
Reebok was critical to getting the deal done. The title sponsor of Spartan Race increased its marketing spend for its sponsorship, and NBC will use that money to cover production costs for event broadcasts.
NBC broadcast last year’s Spartan Race World Championship on NBCSN in December and drew 120,000 viewers.
Simmelkjaer, who competed in a Spartan Race last year while NBC was exploring a deal, said that key to increasing that total will be the production quality of the broadcasts. NBC has hired Transition Productions for race coverage. They will produce five races for NBCSN and one for NBC.
“They get the ethos of this and understand the importance of storytelling of athletes beyond their performances,” Simmelkjaer said. “People are going to watch because they haven’t seen anything like it.”
OneTwoSee, a Philadelphia-based startup provider of second-screen experiences for sports, has launched with TV manufacturer LG Electronics and Bloomberg Sports a connected TV experience that blends live video with stats, scores, analytics and other data.
In the initiative, first mentioned earlier this year at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a traditional second-screen companion experience is blended with TV without any overlays or other opaque elements blocking the picture.
How viewers watch a game on the Bloomberg Sports app
OneTwoSee developed the connected TV application, while Bloomberg Sports will provide the data and analytics. The app will carry the Bloomberg Sports brand name.
The free app was slated to be available late last week through LG’s SmartWorld app store. It will be supported by sales of advertising units that will run within the app.
Many sports properties have been interested for several years in developing connected TV experiences, but the concept to date has been hampered by factors including poor marketing, confusing user interfaces and a general clunkiness to some offerings. OneTwoSee executives, however, see the new effort with LG and Bloomberg as an improvement, and the product will be promoted in part through other Bloomberg Sports ventures.
“This is sort of like watching sports as if it were being shown on CNBC,” said Chris Reynolds, OneTwoSee chief executive. “Instead of constantly looking down to a tablet or phone, we think there’s a lot of value to having all that relevant data and content there on one primary screen.”
Bloomberg Sports President Bill Squadron agreed, saying this effort represents one of the first fully fledged manifestations of a smart TV experience.
“We think this takes companion content to the next level,” Squadron said. “After all the hype around smart TV and connected TV, we think this is really a convergence of all the pieces. And now the foundation is there for all sorts of interactivity.”
The app is starting with Major League Baseball games, but plans are developing to expand the offering this fall to cover other sports, including football. The app is presented without any formal relationships to pro or collegiate leagues and, instead, is essentially a third-party data service operating in concert with live games.
“This is a bit of a departure for us, combining TV with a data-driven experience like this,” said Matt Durgin, LG Electronics director of North American smart TV content partnerships. “It’s definitely a new way of doing things, but we felt this was too big of an opportunity to pass up.”
The Bloomberg Sports app is also part of a broader strategy by LG to offer an environment more like that for mobile apps on its smart TVs, in part through the webOS platform it bought from Hewlett-Packard Co.
Market research firm Strategy Analytics said 76 million smart TVs with this kind of functionality were shipped globally last year, up 55 percent from 2012 and one-third of all flat-panel television sales. That percentage is projected to grow to 73 percent of all flat-panel sales by 2017.
Three-year-old OneTwoSee is projecting to be at 20 full-time employees by year’s end, more than triple the six employees in place a year ago, and profitability is projected for late this year.
The company continues to work with several television outlets, including Fox Sports, NBC and Canada’s TSN, on various interactive experiences, including more traditional statistics and score-tracker products for online and mobile platforms.
Volar Video, the Kentucky-based company that runs youth sports destination iHigh.com, has partnered with Sporting News Media to create Team 1 Sports, a new online portal for all forms of amateur sports.
The new digital network, at Team1Sports.com, builds upon the existing streaming infrastructure, audience and content of iHigh.com to allow various amateur sports organizations to stream their events.
Sporting News Media will run advertising sales for the venture, and with Volar Video has created a revenue-sharing structure for participating groups.
The portal will be free to both participating sports organizations and viewers of the network. The website is set to debut this week.
“Basically, anybody who wants to stream their content can now stream their content,” said David Bertram, Volar Video chief executive. “What we’re looking at is sort of the long tail of the industry and there all sorts of sports out there, preps, lower collegiate levels, summer leagues, and so forth, that can now get their games out there.”
Leagues and teams currently on iHigh.com will be folded into this new Team 1 Sports Network.
Sporting News Media will actively promote the venture through its
various properties, including sportingnews.com, and visitors to Team1Sports.com will have access to the Sporting News ePlayer that includes syndicated video from numerous professional and collegiate properties.
Traffic around the new Team 1 Sports Network will be folded into the existing Sporting News Media/Perform Sports listing for monthly comScore rankings. As a result, what is already a top-10 mainstay in those rankings should see an incremental lift. IHigh.com has averaged around 1.1 million unique users per month. The site’s traffic previously rolled up to Sports Illustrated’s monthly reports in comScore, but that arrangement ended last year.
“This is really much bigger than a comScore traffic assignment deal, though. We’ve constructed a much deeper, integrated partnership,” said Rich Routman, Sporting News Media chief revenue officer. “High school has been a place where we’ve always wanted to grow. And rather than just doing something ourselves, putting some type of tab on our [online] navigation bar, we’ve partnered somebody with an existing brand and an existing audience, and we’re both betting on this to grow significantly.”
American City Business Journals, parent company of SportsBusiness Journal/Daily, is a minority partner in Sporting News Media.