ESPN has pulled out of negotiations for the Belmont Stakes, meaning that NBC almost certainly will pick up its TV rights and all three Triple Crown races will be reunited on the same network for the first time since '05. In a statement released to THE DAILY, ESPN said, "Our contract was up and we elected not to renew. It did not make good business sense to renew so we have moved on and will focus our horse racing coverage on the Breeders' Cup." NBC holds the Kentucky Derby rights through '15; Preakness rights are still in flux, but NBC is likely to get those as well, sources said. ESPN has carried the Belmont on ABC since '06 after signing a five-year, $20M deal for the race. To cut that deal, the Belmont broke up the Triple Crown broadcasts, as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes both stayed with NBC. NYRA, which runs the three largest horse-racing tracks in New York, recently has spoken of the desire to get all Triple Crown races on the same TV network. Interestingly, NYRA hired former ESPN exec Len DeLuca to help sell its television and media rights to the Belmont Stakes. A former Senior VP/Programming & Acquisitions, DeLuca left ESPN in September.
In striking a 20-year agreement with Time Warner Cable that begins in '12, the Lakers are "removing themselves from free TV for all but the occasional national network telecasts, a stunning move by a team whose popularity was built by the sort of grass-roots fans on whom they are pulling the plug," according to Bill Plashcke of the L.A. TIMES. Beginning with the '12-13 NBA season, "only those rare Lakers games found on ABC will be free, as most of the schedule will be accessible only through a pay-TV service -- cable or satellite providers such as Time Warner, DirecTV, Charter and Cox." Approximately 620,000 homes in the L.A. area "do not have a pay-TV service." But Lakers VP/PR John Black said, "We fully expect Time Warner to come up with a distribution plan to make our games available to the largest number of people." He added, "As technology changes the world, the number of people who only have over-the-air television is getting smaller and smaller. We have to look at the big picture, and how that one disadvantage is being outweighed by other advantages." But SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, "It's a bad move if the Lakers don't put at least some of their games on free TV. Basketball games on free TV can be looked at as a free three-hour commercial. To ignore that opportunity is to make a big mistake" (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).
CHANGING THE GAME: In L.A., Pugmire & Flint note the fallout from the Lakers-TWC deal to "create two regional sports networks -- one in English and one in Spanish -- will not only dramatically restrict the team from free over-the-air television but place them on satellite, cable and telephone carriers, asking fans to pay more to watch the NBA's most successful franchise." The new partnership "not only gives Time Warner Cable a grip on the most popular franchise in the region, but new clout to try to either lure subscribers away from competitors ... or get those competitors to pay big bucks to carry the still unnamed channels." The 20-year deal takes Lakers games off FS West, but Fox Sports VP/PR Chris Bellitti in an e-mail said, "The impact of the Lakers' departure is overstated. Fox Sports West is a strong business today and will continue to be a strong business without the Lakers." Pugmire & Flint note for Fox Sports, the "challenge will be maintaining its subscriber fees despite losing the Lakers, and ensuring there is no exodus." The Dodgers' contract with Fox expires in '13, and team Owner Frank McCourt yesterday said that he "did not believe the Lakers' network would preclude him from starting his own." Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott called the Lakers deal "an encouraging sign." The conference's deals with ESPN and Fox end after next season, and Scott said, "We need competition." The Angels-FS West agreement runs through the '15 MLB season. (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).
AHEAD ON A FASTBREAK: In L.A., Kevin Baxter notes the Lakers "scored a slam dunk in the Latino market" with the TWC partnership, which calls for the creation of the "nation's first Spanish-language regional sports network." The deal is "just the latest in a series of efforts by the Lakers and the NBA as they reach out to the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population." The league said that "about one out of six NBA fans is Latino and this season the NBA's Latino TV audience has grown nearly 20%, drawing more than 9.7 million unique viewers on the six national networks that carry NBA games." Viewership is "particularly strong when the Lakers play, a fact that was instrumental in bringing the Time Warner deal together." An ESPN survey in '09 found the Lakers to be the "most popular sports team among U.S. Latinos." Even before this deal, they were "one of 12 NBA teams whose games were heard on Spanish-language radio" (L.A. TIMES, 2/16).
CBS Sports yesterday announced that CBS College Sports Network will be rebranded as CBS Sports Network, effective April 4. The rebranding was done to "better capitalize on the CBS Sports brand overall," said CBS Sports Exec VP and network President David Berson. "It's about taking advantage of the great brand that we have in CBS Sports and aligning the properties more closely than we have in the past." There will be no immediate changes to the network's programming as a result of the name change, nor are there any current plans for additional CBS Sports properties to be shifted to the net. "The content at this point is not changing," Berson said. "We're still dedicated to college sports, and no one has plans of decreasing our college sports coverage." However, he did acknowledge that the name change allows for a potential expansion of the network's content in the future. Berson also noted the rebranding would not impact any rights deals CBS College Sports has with conferences, including the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA (William Cooper, THE DAILY). MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds wrote the name change will "more closely align" CBS Sports' properties, "including CBS Sports, Showtime Sports, CBSSports.com and MaxPreps.com." The name change is the "second in three years" for the net, which "counts some 40 million subscribers." CBS acquired CSTV in January '06 "before integrating it into CBS Sports early in 2008 and then rebranding it CBS College Sports Network that February" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 2/15).
EYE ON A RIVAL: DAILY VARIETY's Jon Weisman wrote while "making no claim to challenge ESPN at this point, CBS is undoubtedly keen on building the relationship between its flagship network sports properties -- which include the NFL, the PGA Tour and NCAA football and basketball -- and those of its sports cable outlet, similar to the synergy shared by ABC and ESPN." Berson said directly competing with ESPN is a "pretty tall order." Berson: "I wouldn't say that right now, but I do think there's tons of sport content out there (and) tons of ideas to generate more sports content. It's a first step in a pretty aggressive push forward to be more relevant in the sports media world" (VARIETY.com, 2/15).
Showtime has "jumped into the ring" of sports broadcasting with new original programming projects involving the NFL, MLB, NASCAR and MMA, "as well as distribution of its first pay-per-view boxing events since 2005," according to R. Thomas Umstead of MULTICHANNEL NEWS. Showtime will "take a behind-the-scenes look" at the MLB Giants as part of a new reality series. In addition, the pay TV service acquired the rights to "Inside the NFL" in '09 and introduced a similar weekly program, "Inside NASCAR" last year. Showtime Sports Exec VP & GM Ken Hershman said, "Sports continue to be a driver of so much television programming. And we want to make sure that as part of the value proposition of Showtime that there is a healthy compliment of interesting sports programming that you can't get anywhere else." Umstead notes Showtime this year will distribute two boxing fights: Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga on March 12 and Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley on May 7. While the network historically "has been a major player in the boxing business," Hershman indicated that its "expansion into other facets of the sports world is an attempt to broaden the network's appeal to viewers beyond its original series." But Showtime "won't step on the bidding field for expensive major pro sports packages when they become available in the near future." Hershman: "I wish we could, but I don't see that, given the economics of those packages and our business model" (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 2/14 issue). ONE GIANT LEAP: In N.Y., Bob Raissman noted Showtime's proposed TV series surrounding the Giants "appears to be on thin ice." It seems as if the players, "many of whom were not informed about the show before Showtime and MLB Productions went public with their plan, don't want any part of cameras following them around for an entire season." That "doesn't mean the reality show won't get off the ground," but "judging by the initial reaction of some Giants players, it won't have the total access quality of other reality projects," like HBO's "Hard Knocks" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/13).
ESPN Communications Manager Michael Humes yesterday admitted that "using an isolated camera extensively" on Univ. of Connecticut women's basketball F Maya Moore "as part of a split-screen broadcast of ESPN2's Oklahoma-UConn telecast Monday night had shortcomings," according to Mel Bracht of the DAILY OKLAHOMAN. The isocam "was used only briefly" on Baylor C Brittney Griner during Monday's Texas A&M-Baylor telecast. Humes said, "Following some internal reviews and viewer feedback, we made a decision to limit the amount of split-screen coverage during the Baylor telecast." Bracht notes the isocams are "part of ESPN's initiative this week to provide unique angles to its college basketball telecasts." Among the multiple concepts being utilized this week, analysts Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery were placed "in separate ends of the court" for the net's telecast of Monday night's West Virginia-Syracuse game, and a "special robotic sky camera in the midcourt sound system" served as the "main coverage camera" for last night's Mississippi State-Kentucky game (DAILY OKLAHOMAN, 2/16). In Hartford, Jeff Otterbein notes the isocam "didn't go over all that well" with viewers of the Oklahoma-UConn game, as 462 of the 619 people who responded to an informal poll on the Hartford Courant's website indicated that they "did not like the technique" (HARTFORD COURANT, 2/16). In Oklahoma City, Berry Tramel wrote ESPN "made a mockery" of the Oklahoma-UConn game. The net "has done a nice job promoting women's basketball," but this "was an awful idea." Tramel: "Someone with influence needed to step up and stop it" (NEWSOK.com, 2/15).
A NEW VERSION OF SKY WALKER: YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Eisenberg wrote the overhead camera used during Mississippi State-Kentucky last night was "irritating" and "disorienting." The "only good thing about the overhead camera angle was that it immediately became quality comedy fodder" on Twitter. Eisenberg noted perhaps ESPN "read some of the instant feedback because it seemed as though the network went to the overhead angle less and less as the game went on" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/15). J.D. Rutledge, who worked the game for ESPN, said, "We were trying to show offensive and defensive sets from above." However, the move "was not received well" based on some online reactions (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 2/16). An ESPN spokesperson said, “Last night’s use of varying camera angles was part of a larger weeklong initiative to give fans different perspectives of coverage via new and innovative production techniques and enhancements. We consistently strive to balance our use of these elements with fan feedback” (THE DAILY).
Last night's edition of HBO's "Real Sports" profiled Deadspin.com, which has "made a reputation for itself by publishing anything and everything," according to HBO's Andrea Kremer. Deadspin Editor A.J. Daulerio said the popular website's ethics policy is "elastic" and added, "When it's for the good of the story, I'll definitely cross those lines." Daulerio: "I can see why people would be critical of the site, why people would be upset at me at some of the stuff we publish. I'm not going to try to put a halo around some of the things we do." Kremer noted the site has paid for three stories so far, including the photos and voicemails Brett Favre allegedly sent to Jenn Sterger that have attracted more than 5 million page views for Deadspin. The site also published foot fetish videos thought to be made by Jets coach Rex Ryan and his wife. But Deadspin "isn't only about penis pictures and foot fetishes," as the site has "broken stories with some actual news value as well." In the last five years, Gawker Media Owner Nick Denton has "built a mini-empire of websites," including Deadspin. Gawker Media Owner Nick Denton, whose company includes Deadspin, said, "Deadspin publishes the stories that you can't read anywhere else." Deadspin writer Barry Petchesky: "Find me a newspaper that didn't cover Rex Ryan's foot fetish videos. Find me a paper that wouldn't have killed to have gotten that story first. ... It's the stuff they wish they could touch but have to wait for us to do it and then when we put it out there, they're the ones who are going to ask in a press conference and make it a national story." Kremer after the taped report aired said Daulerio "will define his ethics policy as how strongly he wants to get a story, and he says he can be ruthlessly tenacious if he really wants it." Kremer: "They'll do things that mainstream journalists won't" ("Real Sports," HBO, 2/15). THE MAN BEHIND IT ALL: In Philadelphia, John Gonzalez wrote Daulerio's approach, which "sometimes involves paying for seedy information and trampling on other long-established journalism tenets, has yielded big stories and bigger controversies." Daulerio said, "I'm easy to loathe. A lot of what we do and what we've become notorious for are stories that break the conventional rules of journalism. ... Most times, we're trying to tell the truth and not sugarcoat it. Sometimes, that's really unpleasant and unsavory." Philadelphia Daily News Editor Larry Platt, Daulerio's boss during a previous stint at Philadelphia Magazine, said, "What used to be a shout is now a whisper. A.J. is proving that to have an impact, you have to (have) a full-throated scream. ... I can't stress enough how proud I am of him. He has (guts). Too many journalists are afraid" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/14).