SBJ/February 13-19, 2017/Media

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  • Should this be a show? Athletes get their say on ACE Media panel

    Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce got his first taste of what reality television is really like even before the first episode of his dating show “Catching Kelce” premiered on E!.

    “They told me how I was going to be portrayed because they wanted to hit a specific audience,” Kelce said of the producers of the show that premiered in October.

    The show became a moderate success for Kelce, generally averaging between 250,000 and 300,000 viewers over its eight-episode run. But the producers’ comments left an impression on Kelce, especially since they mirrored similar ones athletes say they hear all the time.

    “I try to broaden the influence that I have,” Kelce said. “It’s more than doing something stupid or funny all the time.”

    The panel listened to pitches from three production companies during Super Bowl week.
    Photos by: ACE MEDIA


    Eddie George and Travis Kelce, who has already been the focus of a reality show
    “Catching Kelce” was developed through the NFLPA’s content arm, ACE Media, which launched in the fall of 2015. The group has produced shows ranging from “Trading Playlists” on Spotify to “Take It To The House” on Bleacher Report. Though it’s associated with the NFL, ACE Media has used athletes from the NBA, NHL and EPL.

    ACE Media invited three production companies to pitch shows to a panel of athletes during Super Bowl week in Houston. The consensus from the athletes was that they are much more interested in pursuing projects that will shed light on their off-field endeavors.

    “Players definitely don’t feel in control of their image or the brand they’re building,” said Scott Langerman, ACE Media’s CEO. “They feel like somebody else is defining them. This is an opportunity to shift that.”

    The pitch that drew the most interest from the panel was from Collab for a show called “In the Muck.” It focused on the intersection between NFL players and the military. The series would focus on players like New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, who is an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Keenan Reynolds, who played at the Naval Academy.

    Langerman said that the panelists, who included Kelce, the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Eric Winston and retired player Eddie George, focused on that pitch after the session, coming up with an idea to pair an injured and rehabbing NFL player with a wounded warrior.

    Langerman and several players will be in Los Angeles this week to meet with production companies and finalize some of the pitches they heard in Houston.

    The Pitchers

    Mandalay Sports Media: Jon Weinbach, executive vice president and executive producer
    INE Entertainment: Sam Johnson, director of development; Jeff Jenkins, executive producer
    Collab: Ryan Slattery, senior vice president of production and development; Charlie Faith, vice president of original content

    The Catchers

    Travis Kelce, Kansas Chiefs
    Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
    Eric Winston, Cincinnati Bengals / NFLPA president
    Eddie George, former player/actor/producer

    The Management

    Alyssa Milano, actress/producer/board member, ACE Media
    Scott Langerman, CEO, ACE Media
    Ahmad Nassar, president, NFL Players Inc.
    Just as interesting as the pitches that resonated with the players are the ones that didn’t. Mandalay Sports Media pitched a show concept called “Rate This,” which gave players a chance to prove that their video game ratings are wrong. None of the panelists liked it.

    “We don’t want to put these guys on a show just to put them on a show,” said actress Alyssa Milano, who is on ACE Media’s board, and participated on the panel.

    But Mandalay Sports Media had another pitch for a show called, “If I Wasn’t…” that the panel liked. The idea behind the show is to look into careers football players would have pursued if they weren’t in the NFL. For the panelists, this type of program showed a different side of their personality, which is why they liked it so much.

    Mandalay Sports Media projected that networks such as USA, Spike and Discovery would be interested in it, as would digital providers Hulu and Facebook.

    “One of the reasons why ‘If I Wasn’t…’ resonated is that it de-commoditizes the athlete,” said Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc.

    INE Entertainment drew interest from the panel with two suggested travel shows. One, called “In Your Grill,” would follow an athlete back to his alma mater to take in the local flavor. Another would follow players on road trips as they explore new cities.

    “I am looking for shows to find a way to show how athletes really live,” Bennett said. “We want to try to give back and be creative. That’s what the next generation of shows need to be.”

    Bennett’s comment is one that Langerman has heard a lot in the year-and-a-half that he has headed up ACE Media.

    “Out of 2,000 active NFL players, even the most die-hard fan probably knows a handful of them beyond their highlights and statistics,” Langerman said. “They feel that they really don’t have a forum or an opportunity to show that side.”

    Langerman said he was happy with how the pitch day progressed, but he said his group has not decided whether it will return next year.

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

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  • Overtime starts ‘pandemonium’ for ad spots

    As the first overtime in Super Bowl history approached, a Fox executive sent out a text message that simply said, “It is pandemonium.”

    Fox had sold out almost the entire overtime, saving two 30-second spots for advertisers that wanted to pay top dollar to get their message out and potentially start a bidding war. Fox did not guarantee positioning for the overtime spots that were sold, giving the network flexibility to put higher-paying advertisers in the overtime’s first position.

    That resulted in a series of frantic phone calls. Ad sales executive Mark Evans described the suite where the Fox sales team and clients watched the game as akin to the pit of the stock exchange. From the time that the Patriots started their fourth-quarter drive to tie the game, to the game-winning touchdown, Fox’s ad sales team — Executive Vice Presidents Bruce Lefkowitz and Neil Mulcahy along with Evans and account executive Oleg Kab — were constantly on their phones, screaming to be heard over the roar of the crowd.

    The Patriots won the OT coin flip and, shortly thereafter, the game.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Complicating matters was the fact that Fox could only use commercials that already had gone through its vetting process. Commercials that weren’t approved couldn’t make it to Fox’s air.

    Within 10 minutes, Fox had scheduled eight advertisers. Only four were needed, as the Patriots ended the game with the only possession in overtime. Hulu, Sprint, Proactiv and SoFi had ads in that one break, each paying slightly less than the $5 million price tag for a 30-second spot.

    Before the game, Evans described interest in buying overtime spots as “lukewarm” because the Super Bowl had never seen an overtime in its 50-year history.

    “Now that this has happened, it will be much easier for NBC to sell it next year and CBS the year after,” he said. “I did not watch one play of the overtime.”

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  • Network execs lobby for marquee NFL games

    TV network executives from CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC beat a path to Houston’s Marriott Marquis during Super Bowl week to lobby the NFL’s senior vice president of broadcasting and media operations, Howard Katz, for the best schedule next season. The running joke during the week was that each network requested 16 Cowboys games, with the Packers filling in during the Cowboys’ bye week.

    While nothing is set in stone, a few of the league’s marquee dates are starting to take shape.

    It seems clear that the league will schedule a Falcons-Patriots Super Bowl rematch for its opening night game, following the thrilling overtime finish this month.

    On Thanksgiving, Fox looks likely to get a Packers-Lions game, and odds are that CBS will wind up with a Chargers-Cowboys game. The only other AFC team the Cowboys play in Dallas is Kansas City, and that game likely will be slotted for a late afternoon national window on CBS. It’s possible that the NFL could cross-flex an NFC team to play the Cowboys, as it did two years ago with the Panthers. But the money here is on a Chargers-Cowboys Thanksgiving game.

    The schedule is not nearly completed and many of these games could shift, but other possibilities that have been discussed are:

    Just like last season, it seems likely that the Cowboys will play two consecutive Thursday night games — on Thanksgiving and the following Thursday.

    ESPN carried last season’s Mexico City game between the Raiders and Texans. Expect this year’s Mexico City game between the Raiders and Patriots to go to CBS.

    Don’t expect the NFL to move its Sunday night division playoff to prime time, as it did with this year’s Steelers-Chiefs game because of the weather. Instead, look for it to adopt the championship game schedule, where the first game kicks off at 3 p.m. and the second game kicks off at 6:30 p.m.

    It’s clear that the NFL will not take games out of its Thursday package. But it could move more of those “Thursday Night Football” games to Saturday once the college football season ends. That would mean that some teams may not have a short-week Thursday game all season.

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  • Minor league owners from Omaha, Richmond ballclubs combine to purchase Baseball America magazine

    A group of Minor League Baseball team owners has purchased Baseball America, with plans to reshape and expand the veteran industry publication, including staging events.

    Alliance Baseball LLC, involving investors in the Class AAA Omaha (Neb.) Storm Chasers and Class AA Richmond (Va.) Flying Squirrels, has acquired the Durham, N.C.-based title from The Enthusiast Network, which had owned Baseball America since 2011 and was formerly known as Source Interlink Media.

    The new group will keep Baseball America’s headquarters and staff, led by editor-in-chief John Manuel, intact. But the new ownership intends to expand the magazine’s coverage of high school and college baseball and of the annual MLB draft, as well as create and stage their own events such as preseason college baseball tournaments. Other planned changes include the introduction of color to inside pages in the 37-year-old publication, and a redesign of baseballamerica.com.

    “We like to think of ourselves as custodians of the game, and bringing Baseball America into the fold deepens our positions as custodians of the game,” said Gary Green, chief executive of Alliance Baseball and a general partner of the Flying Squirrels. “There’s a tremendous presence and equity in the Baseball America name, but there are some things we can do to build this up and reach a younger audience.”

    Beyond the flagship biweekly magazine, Baseball America produces baseball almanacs, directories and handbooks.

    Financial terms were not disclosed, though The Enthusiast Network has had Baseball America up for sale for much of the past year. Green and Alliance Baseball partner and president Larry Botel are joined in the venture by David Geaslen, founder and chief executive of Massachusetts-based media and event company 3Step Sports. The group was aided by sports attorney Matthew Pace, who joined New York-based law firm Rimon last summer from Arent Fox.

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  • NBC to hit market with two giants

    NBC Sports Group is about to go to the ad sales market with a package that includes the two biggest sports events on the 2018 calendar: Super Bowl LII and the Pyeongchang Olympics.

    The Winter Olympics start Feb. 8, just four days after the Super Bowl. “That combination to us seems pretty epic,” said Dan Lovinger, executive vice president of advertising sales for NBC Sports Group.

    The result is that NBC will package the two big events together for advertisers that want to be in both.

    “The storyline for us is going to be the unbelievable reach opportunity,” Lovinger said. “We feel that we have an unprecedented opportunity to drive a message home. … Both of these properties on their own are tremendously effective. When you combine the two” they are even stronger.

    This marks the first time Lovinger has sold either the Super Bowl or Olympics. He took over the ad sales job from Seth Winter last year.

    Lovinger said NBC has not yet settled on a price for advertisers that want to get into next year’s Super Bowl. CBS pushed the cost of a 30-second spot to $5 million for Super Bowl 50. Earlier this month, Fox kept that $5 million rate.

    “It’s way too early to see where that ends up,” Lovinger said. “We believe that game is singularly the most powerful property for an advertiser out there. We’re optimistic that the marketplace is going to step up and invest in the game at a very high level.”

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