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Volume 24 No. 156


Two weeks after inking a $50M, multiyear TV-rights deal with Swedish company Modern Times Group to show its games live in Scandinavia, the NHL has finalized 10 smaller deals in Europe and Africa that allow distributors to show live games. The league finalized the deals with its European rights holders Medge Consulting and Advisers Media Int'l. The combined value of the deals was not available. “We’re not trying to be one size fits all for every country, but trying to focus very specifically on what will be interesting for each country,” said NHL Exec VP/Media Strategies & Distribution David Proper. The league has inked single-year deals with ESPN America (29 countries in Europe and Africa), Nova Sport (Czech Republic and Slovakia), and Premier Sports and Setanta Sports (U.K. and Ireland); three-year deals with Fox (Middle East including Turkey, Cyprus and Israel) and Sentanta and Zulu Sports (both Sub-Saharan Africa); and five-year deals with Sport TV (Portugal), Canal Plus Sports (France) and Canal Plus Sports (Monaco, Switzerland and other French-speaking territories). “The ability to get distribution into some of these markets is a reflection of the strength of the game and the aggressiveness the NHL has taken in promoting it outside of North America,” said former NHL Senior Exec VP/Club Business & Strategic Development Ed Horne. Proper said the league is currently working with each distributor to customize game packages based on national relevance. The new deals replace the old Pan-European TV agreement the league had with ESPN America from '05-11. That deal also included digital rights. While the league included digital rights with the MTG deal, it has withheld those rights in the 10 other deals. Proper said the league would continue to withhold digital rights in territories outside of the MTG deal to give fans access to more live programming. The NHL has yet to finalize a deal in Russia, which is one of the larger markets for the league. Proper declined to comment on that issue. Advisers Media Int'l Managing Dir Rob Pickles said via e-mail that the deal will be done shortly but declined to give any details or a time frame for the negotiations.

NFL Network Senior VP/Programming & Production Mark Quenzel said that there “are currently no plans to expand the eight-game schedule" for the net's live NFL game package, according to Jenny Vrentas of the Newark STAR-LEDGER. Quenzel noted that while he "would like more games, he also did not want to speak on if that would be in the NFL’s best interests." Quenzel: “I put my NFL Network hat on, yeah. I put on my NFL hat on, that says the goal is to distribute and grow the popularity -- as popular as it is now, you've always got to do better -- I couldn't speak if it's a better thing for NFL Network to have more games, or if it's better to have somebody else, another carrier, another distributor." Vrentas noted the Jets play the Broncos on Nov. 17, the second game of NFL Net's package, and the Jets currently are the team playing on "Thursday Night Football" that is "scheduled to play the prior Sunday night.” Flex scheduling begins in Week 10, “but the NFL announced Monday that the Jets-Pats game will stay in the Sunday night spot.” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said, “Every team in the league has concerns about what they perceive to be scheduling inequities. I think some of the Jets people feel like, 'Hey, why are we the only team that plays Thursday night with a preceding Sunday night game?’” (, 11/2). When asked about being the only team to play a Thursday night game following a Sunday night game -- instead of a Sunday day game -- Jets coach Rex Ryan said, “Never thought of it that way. If I said something then (the headline is), ‘Ryan blasts commissioner.’ I think I’ll avoid that one” (, 11/1).

Industry timing, "more than a track record of success, is what led to Viacom’s interest" in Bellator Fighting Championships, according to Dave Meltzer of YAHOO SPORTS. Spike TV President Kevin Kay said, "We’ve been negotiating probably the better part of a year. We saw our relationship with UFC coming to an end and we needed to think about something else. We wanted to stay in the space we helped build. Guys come here (to Spike TV) for MMA content. We're known for it." Meltzer notes if Bellator "gains traction with the audience and the brand takes off, the company won’t have to get into bidding wars to keep it and will have lifetime ownership of the company tape library." Kay said, "Every two or three years, we had to renegotiate (with UFC) and it was only going to get worse as their brand grew and their success grew. ... We helped them build their brand, but it was only going to get more expensive over time. We were renters. The opportunity with Bellator with buying is that you own it for a long period of time." Spike’s contract with UFC "provides for an added year, 2012, in which Spike retains rights to televise taped UFC programming and is not allowed to air any other MMA events." Because of that stipulation, Bellator, "which currently runs on Saturday nights on MTV2 and the HD network Epix, won’t debut on Spike until early 2013." For the weekly shows, Viacom is "looking to upgrade production, lighting, audio and graphics, and want shows held in first-class venues." It wants to become "more competitive in acquiring top talent." Bellator is "also looking at doing more storytelling on the background of fighters and have ideas for non-live television specials, like Spike has done with UFC with 'best-of' type specials" (, 11/3).

Producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo are "shooting for their production of Eric Simonson's basketball play, 'Magic/Bird,' to have a March 21, 2012, Broadway opening following a Feb. 27 first preview," according to Kenneth Jones of PLAYBILL. A theatre has "yet to be announced for the open-ended run of the six-actor, 95-minute play about the professional rivalry and friendship" between Basketball HOFers Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Ponturo said that casting "is ongoing for the title roles, and four other performers." Ponturo said that they "may not find men who are 6-foot-9-inches (as Bird and Johnson are, roughly), but the actors have to at least match each other in height." He added that the production "will be 'fast-paced, like basketball.'" Thomas Kail, director of "Lombardi," will direct the play. The play will be produced in association with the NBA, marking the league's "first relationship with Broadway." Johnson and Bird are both "involved in the creative process of this original play, which is not based on source material" (, 10/31).

In this week’s SportsBusiness Journal, a PR roundtable discusses some of the challenges facing the top communication execs in sports business, from media fragmentation to building relationships. The six participants were FSN VP/Communications Chris Bellitti, NASCAR Managing Dir of Integrated Marketing Communications David Higdon, NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy, DKC PR Managing Dir of Marketing & Government Affairs Scott Miranda, ESPN VP/Communications Mike Soltys and Catalyst PR Managing Partner Bret Werner. In these additional excerpts, the panelists chime in on new approaches to communications and the skill set they seek in any new hires. Answers were edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What are some communication examples that you've seen demonstrated, whether effectively or not, that you think may influence how you communicate in the future?

Soltys said the company is trying to find a
way to aggregate the "flood" of social media
Soltys: An indirect answer to that, the volume of information being put out on Twitter, aggregation and curation become that much more important because there's a flood and just a sliver of good stuff. So we're trying to find ways to aggregate the good stuff. We launched something on our corporate blog a couple weeks ago where on Monday morning we're putting out social media traffic of all the different things that went on since people left on Friday, with the hopes that on Monday morning it's like one-stop shopping, here's all your little tidbits that ESPN PR thinks you'll find interesting. So it's a tool to take the massive amount of information and a way to present it in an easier way. We're using Storify, which we saw other media outlets using successfully, so we just borrow from that. Always taking a look at any kind of PR issue before we launch the blog. Read a lot about corporations using good blogs: Starbucks, Marriott, Disney parks, so we went to their blogs. It had nothing to do with blogs, but saw what works and what doesn't work. Professionally, it's paramount to follow what everyone else is doing and doing the best things.

McCarthy: We have the ability to work with a lot of different groups if it's from the political world or even the entertainment world. I learn a lot by working with publicists, working with entertainment mainly around Super Bowl time. But then it comes back that it doesn't just have to be through technology. We looked at town halls, which we call fan forums. So we saw what Obama and McCain did in town halls in the run up to '08, so we've taken our commissioner on the road and done a number of fan forums. That's been an effective way to talk directly to fans, so we're continuing those, including conference calls with large groups of fans. It's the old-fashion way of physically talking to someone who is important.

Q: Are you using Klout and other indices to track the influence of people online? Are they important at all to you?

Werner: Absolutely. We've probably done a dozen Klout programs with marquee brands this year [Klout identifies and separates social media influencers among the public and markets to them specifically]. This represents a whole new group of influences, and it's consumers. If there's one group that's the most under-leveraged from a brand standpoint, it's the consumer. Why are we not talking to these consumers that have incredible influence? So I can identify women who love adventure sports or yoga and have this incredible influence and can shape conversation. I think Klout is the first of a few different services out there that offer some kind of metric to identify consumer influences. That's going to be a big thing in 2012, no doubt about it.

Higdon: We're definitely looking at a lot of options in that space. What we're trying to do is make sure we understand through research the conversation that's being had out there and don't just rely on our own PR gut. We're looking a little bit deeper to see what our fan base and partners are thinking before we go out there with our messaging, and that's a pretty significant shift. It's a major shift ultimately within our culture and what we're trying to create here over the next three to five years.

Q: What type of talents are you looking for in your new hires?

Higdon: Collaborative, proactive, creative, personable. We really have made this major cultural shift from a reactive organization to one that's much more creative. People who have digital and social skills, people who have a Hispanic background, people who have youth experience -- all the things that match up with our industry-action plan, that's what we're doing. The overall philosophy is let's surround ourselves with people that make us smarter and better.

Werner: At Catalyst it's digital, and when I say digital I don't mean necessarily mean social. Catalyst will have an expertise in sports entertainment, but will absolutely have a backbone on technology. I think it's important for communication people to understand how everything works and what's evolving beyond social.

Miranda says media specialists are gone and
he now looks for multifacted candidates
Miranda: To an extent they have to be news junkies. We're looking for people that are definitely into news and people that are broad-based. Probably 10 years ago I'd be looking for people that are specifically interested in sports and in that specific industry, almost a specialist, but today's specialists are pretty much gone, you really have to be multifaceted in terms of your expertise. And that's what we look for. People that love news, people that understand it and how the process works, and have diverse backgrounds.

Soltys: We have consistently looked for proactivity as a leading quality, but two recent hires I think illustrate the direction things are going. David Scott was coach Calipari's digital guru, and we hired him, and we had success doing that. Then, Sheldon Spencer was an editor on the NFL side and we hired him to oversee the corporate blog because we needed a writer-editor. And neither of those two positions would have been something we were looking for as recently as a couple years ago. And both of them have brought a tremendous amount of value to our department.

Bellitti: At the end of the day PR people, we're communicators. You have to have the ability to effectively communicate your message, and in some ways the skill set is not that much different from salesmen. Salesmen are selling a product, selling a brand; we're selling our message to the outlets. You have to be convincing, be personable, be strategic, and I think that's very important.

Q: There's a lot of unemployed journalists out there. Would you rather hire an experienced newspaper guy with 20 years of experience, or some young person coming out of an agency?

Bellitti: It depends on the job and what's being called for. Once again being personable is very, very important and able to communicate and sell your message. Whatever it takes to that is very important.

Werner: I think story telling is becoming more prominent, so it comes to are you a good storyteller?

For the full roundtable discussion, see this week’s SportsBusiness Journal.

SB Nation has hired baseball writer Amy K. Nelson, where she will write and contribute significantly to the blog network's forthcoming video channel on YouTube. Nelson, who has been at ESPN for seven years, will not be limited to baseball in her new role. "We view her as a tremendous storyteller who is going to contribute across the board for us," said Jim Bankoff, Chair & CEO of Vox Media Inc., parent of SB Nation. "Not only is she great at all these audience-facing platforms, she's going to help us think about things, our overall coverage and what we're delivering to our audience." SB Nation earlier this year signed fellow baseball writer Rob Neyer (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).

WORTH THE INVESTMENT: Comcast Chair & CEO Brian Roberts yesterday said that Telemundo's "recent acquisition of U.S. Spanish-language rights to future soccer World Cups is expected to be a profitable investment for the company." Roberts said, "We will cover and cross-promote games and events across our various channels on broadcast and cable, as well as online, wireless and on-demand. This investment should be profitable for Telemundo, a real game changer for that business and an opportunity for our company." The deal is "said to be worth more than $60 million." Analysts have "said it will be difficult for Telemundo to make a profit on it, saying it will help get attention for other programming and boost advertising rates" (, 11/2).

CHAMPIONSHIP REPLAY: In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley noted a "four-disc DVD set of the Packers' championship run in the playoffs last season, 'NFL Green Bay Packers: Road to XLV,' is scheduled to be available in stores on Nov. 29 with the suggested retail price of $39.93." Vivendi Entertainment, the NFL and NFL Films have "produced and are distributing the DVD set." Each disc "is a game telecast of the four teams the Packers beat in the playoffs: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago and Pittsburgh" (, 11/2).

'ROUND THE CLOCK COVERAGE: Connecticut Public TV's "newest venture" is CPTV Sports, a "statewide, 24/7 channel that has the intention to cover high school, college and additional sporting events throughout the state." According to CPTV, the net is "scheduled to launch this month on Comcast and Cox cable systems." It will "broadcast events and games from more than 40 schools and organizers." The channel "plans to expand to additional cable and over-the-air carriage in early 2012" (HARTFORD COURANT, 11/3).