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Volume 24 No. 160


NBC and Versus have signed a 10-year, $2B deal to renew the NHL's TV rights. Fox took a preliminary look at the package but never made a bid, and Turner pulled out of the bidding last week, saying it could not find a business model to support the money NBC and Versus are paying the NHL. ESPN said it had "constructive conversations" with the NHL, "offering them the opportunity for unprecedented distribution of every game of the Stanley Cup playoffs on ESPN platforms, including authentication to broadband and mobile devices." ESPN had committed to carry one regular-season game per week. But sources said the NHL never came back to ESPN with a final bid. ESPN remained involved in the bidding process until the end. But sources said it was too difficult for the NHL and ESPN to work around NBC and Versus' matching rights. The deal will see NBC and Versus carry all Stanley Cup playoff games nationally, with the conference semis appearing exclusively on the two nets. It also will see NBC and Versus televise 100 regular-season games, including a new Thanksgiving Friday telecast on NBC. The agreement includes all digital rights for the games NBC and Versus televise. NBC has committed to a national "Game of the Week" and Winter Classic, and Versus will televise a national "Game of the Week," plus the All-Star Game, NHL Premiere Games, NHL Faceoff and any future NHL Heritage Classic games in Canada. NBC and Versus will continue to share the rights to the Stanley Cup Final. As part of the deal, NBC Sports Group agreed to build a new studio for NHL Network in Stamford, Conn. The deal also includes targeted promotions across the Comcast/NBCUniversal TV and digital assets. The NHL's rights fee will exceed -- by far -- the $120M per year average that ESPN paid from '99-'04, which is the league's largest contract to date. The NHL's current deal with Versus is for $77.5M per year, while NBC has a revenue-sharing deal that does not involve a rights fee. Many execs inside the NHL favored ESPN, believing a deal with the network would guarantee more coverage on popular shows like "SportsCenter." But NBC and Versus determined that the package was too important for Versus to lose. This marks the first big media rights negotiation since Comcast acquired NBC (John Ourand, THE DAILY).

NOT THE RIGHT FIT FOR TURNER: After pulling out of the bidding, Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy said, "We are disciplined in our approach to negotiating sports rights and are committed to providing quality programming that matters to our audience, advertisers and distribution partners. We think the NHL is an attractive property, but we could not come up with a business model that served our interests" (Ourand). DAILY VARIETY's Tom Lowry wrote Turner's decision "raises questions" as to whether it will "do the same in another hotly contested rights bidding war, the one for the 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games." Turner dropping out of that bidding "would leave incumbent NBCUniversal to go up against an ABC-ESPN combo, which is believed to be preparing an aggressive bid" (, 4/18). YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote it was "hard to believe that Turner would hang in the bidding with NBCUniversal and ESPN because (a) its priorities are in scripted shows and in trying to land some NFL rights in 2013 and (b) the notion that the NHL would end up calling truTV home wasn't likely." truTV "conjured up memories of the NHL's time with OLN/Versus as a startup" (, 4/18).

TWITTER REAX: Soon after news of the NHL's renewal with Versus and NBC, sports execs and journalists weighed in on the deal. Turnkey Intelligence VP & Group Dir Steve Seiferheld: “No surprise to me at all, Versus can't be a sports network without at least one mainstream sport.” IMG Consulting Senior VP Tim McGhee: “NBC/Versus has a big beast to feed for their sports offering. NHLwill help satisfy that need. Olympics next?” College Hockey Inc. Dir of Communications Nate Ewell: “NBC announcement should help the players' hopes of playing in Sochi 2014.” CAP Sports Group Owner Curt Pires: “No surprise by the NBC Sports - NHL deal. Its an exciting time for sports rights. You have to keep what you own before you add anything new.” Broadcasting & Cable’s Ben Grossman: “Zero surprise; ESPN originally just asked about one game per week, didn't want whole pkg.” National Post’s Bruce Arthur: “Thank goodness the NHL's going back to NBC. ESPN doesn't even have a horse race they could cut away from overtime playoff hockey for.” Newsday’s Neil Best: “I like NHL staying on NBC/Versus. Lots of true puckheads in that company.” Calgary Sun’s Eric Francis: “ESPN shut out, which is too bad.” Now that the NHL rights have been determined, a few writers weighed in on what's ahead. Globe & Mail’s Bruce Dowbiggin: “W/ NBC/ Comcast done, real fun starts with Canadian NHL TV rights. W/O a miracle, CBC can kiss Hockey Night In Canada goodbye as we know it.” CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd: “Next up at the rights fees banquet after the NHL gets done -- Pac-12, Olympics and Big East.” San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilner: “NHL/Versus deal not bad news for Pac-12 but not great. W/out NHL rights, Comcast may have been desperate to land Pac.

ESPN "will remove poker advertising and programming after the U.S. indicted gambling websites that sponsor televised tournaments and froze their bank accounts," according to Andy Fixmer of BLOOMBERG NEWS. The network said in a statement, "For the immediate future, we are making efforts to remove related advertising and programming pending further review." ESPN Senior VP/Corporate Communications Chris LaPlaca said that the network "declined to elaborate beyond its statement." The U.S. government Friday "froze bank accounts in 14 countries and seized websites, sidelining online poker sites such as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker -- major sponsors of televised tournaments." ESPN's poker content includes the World Series of Poker and the North American Poker Tour (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 4/19). ESPN Poker's Andrew Feldman "clarified that the upcoming World Series of Poker will still air on ESPN." The contract between ESPN and PokerStars is "said to be worth" $22M (, 4/18). BLUFF magazine's Lance Bradley reported ESPN has "removed the PokerStars sponsored Inside Deal from the website," and the ESPN Poker Club, which was powered by PokerStars, is "no longer available for download" (, 4/16). MEDIABISTRO's Cam Martin notes ESPN "has been a chief facilitator of the sport's spike in popularity over the last decade" (, 4/19). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Ben Koo writes, "I'd imagine you'll see Fox, CBS, and NBC/Comcast all follow suit in the coming days" (, 4/19).

Ticketmaster is partnering with L.A.-based analytics outfit MarketShare to develop a new set of dynamic ticket pricing tools for its clients. The two companies will collaborate on a suite of demand forecasting tools to allow for teams, leagues and venues to set and adjust prices for live events. The dynamic pricing component will be folded into LiveAnalytics, a new research venture recently created by Ticketmaster. "Efficient pricing is one of the most important and untapped opportunities to unlock value for fans, clients, artists, and teams," said Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard in a statement. "Our partnership with MarketShare adds to our unparalleled combination of data and analytical resources that inform our clients on the true value of their tickets, while giving them the flexibility to rapidly respond as that value fluctuates." Products coming out of the partnership will be introduced to select teams, leagues and venues, including Live Nation theaters, later this year (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). Hubbard said that it is “too soon to say when the company would roll out the new offering,” but he added that sports teams are “likely to adopt the new system before concert promoters or Broadway producers” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/19). In N.Y., Ben Sisario notes the new partnership with MarketShare will allow Ticketmaster to “compete more effectively against scalpers like” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/19). Also in N.Y., Claire Atkinson notes Ticketmaster is “eager to avoid a repeat of last summer, when many artists and managers priced their tickets too high in a weak economy.” Tickets sales for the “top 100 acts fell from 40.5 million to 35.7 million, the lowest number since 2005.” Ticketmaster owner Live Nation “ended the year with a net loss” of $228M (N.Y. POST, 4/19).

AN EMERGING TREND: In L.A., Alex Pham notes Ticketmaster is “not the first company to explore dynamic ticket pricing.” ScoreBig, a “Hollywood startup founded by former sports and concert industry veterans, has been testing a proprietary ticketing system that automatically adjusts prices according to how fast they’re selling or how well similar shows have fared, among a host of factors.” The service, which “has been available to a small, invite-only audience, is set to launch to the general public later this year” (, 4/18).

NBA Digital and social gaming outfit Playdom have struck a partnership to create "NBA Dynasty," a new general manager-styled game on Facebook in which users will build teams using both current and former players dating to 1946. "NBA Dynasty" will also include more than 1,200 video clips from the '10-11 NBA season. It is the league's second Facebook game following the February launch of "NBA Legend" with Lionside Inc. The latest deal is the Disney-owned Playdom's first with a sports league, though it aligned with sister company ESPN last year to build "ESPNU College Town," the media giant's FarmVille-like, sports-themed Facebook game. Like many Facebook games, "NBA Dynasty" will be supported by a mix of virtual goods sales and advertising revenue. "We're going to continue to be very aggressive and look to be first movers and innovate in these emerging platforms," said NBA Digital Senior VP & GM Bryan Perez. "We've been working on this one for awhile, and are excited to get it to market. This one is more of a team-building game, whereas 'Legend' is more player-focused. But even though they're separate, independent games, they stand together really well, and do a lot to expand our audience." "NBA Legend" surpassed 1 million users in less than 40 days of operation.

On Long Island, Neil Best wrote the Knicks' "first postseason game in seven years was a hit with New York area-viewers," as TNT, MSG and MSG Plus averaged an 8.9 local rating in N.Y. for Sunday's Knicks-Celtics Eastern Conference First Round Game One. TNT averaged a 5.4 local rating, MSG averaged a 3.3 and MSG Plus, "which simulcast the MSG coverage," averaged a 0.2 (, 4/18). In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes Rangers fans "got shafted" in regard to postgame coverage of Sunday's Capitals-Rangers Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game Three. MSG after the game "presented an abbreviated postgame on MSG and MSG+" before the show was "hustled off both channels to accommodate the Knicks' pregame." Viewers "were told to tune in 'after' the Knicks' postgame show for the extended Rangers' postgame show" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/19).

FIGHTING WORDS: CABLEFAX DAILY reported a "redacted version" of Comcast's testimony in Tennis Channel's FCC carriage complaint case against the MSO indicates that Comcast's argument is that it "would be 'economic folly' to carry the net more broadly." The case "will be heard before an FCC administrative law judge" on April 26, and Comcast said if the judge rules in favor of increased distribution for Tennis Channel, then the net "should not be entitled to receive hundreds of millions in additional fees." Comcast added that NHL Network "has 'far more valuable programming' than Tennis," and that "any fees that Tennis is permitted to charge for increased distribution should be lower than NHL Net's fee." Tennis Channel claims that Comcast "favors its own nets." Comcast "has a minority stake in NHL Net" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 4/18).

In Toronto, Raju Mudhar profiled new CBC Exec Dir of Sports Properties Jeffrey Orridge, who is "charged with charting the national broadcaster's sports future at a time when most assume CBC Sports is on a diminishing path, dwarfed by the deep pockets of its competitors." But Mudhar wrote, "For those looking for good signs for the CBC, he looks like the best one. He's enthusiastic and comes with an expansive and interesting sports media resume that hopefully makes him uniquely prepared for this job" (TORONTO STAR, 4/18).