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Volume 24 No. 158
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SMT Conference: Biggest Global Growth Markets, Sports Properties Examined

Growth markets, hot sports and the future of the NFL in London were some of the key issues discussed in a Global Sports Media panel during the ’12 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology conference. IMG Worldwide CEO Mike Dolan, Perform co-Founder & Joint CEO Oliver Slipper, Payne Sports Media Strategies CEO & Chair Michael Payne and Raine Group Founder & Partner Joe Ravitch looked at some of the latest trends in sports media rights globally. Slipper said, “We are seeing big growth in South America, especially Brazil. But it’s from a small base. Rights inflation is obviously driven by competition, and now there are four or five players out there buying content in that market.” Payne said that media rights from South America are increasing, but are still a small percentage of overall deals. Payne: “It’s only about 1% of the IOC’s total rights package, but it’s serious money. I think Brazil is probably reaching its full level. Of the BRIC markets, the one with the biggest growth potential is China, and that is dependent on the day we have competition. Right now, it’s controlled by the CCTV. But the moment the government opens the door, you will see big increases in China.” Dolan added, “Brazil is red hot. With the World Cup and the Olympics and the explosion of disposable income that is hitting the country and will hit it for the next ten years.”

REVENUE VS. DISTRIBUTION: The balancing of global properties going for revenue in new deals or distribution was also discussed, with Payne warning properties, “You are at your peril if you stretch your revenue an extra 10% and you compromise distribution. If you push your revenue and compromise your distribution, it will come back to hurt you.” Slipper said that most leagues will go for revenue over distribution. Slipper: “There aren’t many sports that take a socially responsible view when it comes to distribution over revenue.” But Payne countered, “It’s not socially responsible, it’s a matter of doing good business.”

SPORTS PROPERTIES: Payne said that F1’s recent deal with NBC was largely over marketing potential, and that F1 has been struggling with its presence in the U.S. Payne: “It really was a case of looking at your partners to who would commit the most marketing muscle on a five-year plan. The deal was driven by marketing and promotion.” On growth properties globally, Ravitch said, “We believe the UFC is the fastest growing global sport. It’s a very primal sport and it appeals to every country. It’s been a phenomenon in Brazil.” Payne agreed, but warned that some governments have pressured media companies about MMA programming. Payne: “You’re getting leaned on big-time by government not to touch it. ... Governments are sending strong signals what content they will accept or not.” UFC is probably the fastest growing sport, “but you have a lot of questions on it.” He added, “Rugby sevens is very much growing and it will really grow by being on the Olympic program.” Ravitch: “The NBA in China continues to go from strength to strength. You see this as you drive throughout the country. They are building more and more hoops all over the place. The NBA is firmly engrained in Chinese culture.”

AND THE NFL: Asked about the NFL’s prospects for growing overseas, Slipper said that he noticed traction gained by the league in London. Slipper: “You get the sense that the NFL is growing in London. ... I think the NFL could franchise in London and I think there is a growing demand for the NFL.” But Ravitch said, “The NFL has a separate challenge, as it’s not a sport that is played anywhere else. ... I tell everyone the NFL is the first, second and third most popular sport in the U.S. So why bother trying to build a sport where no one plays it? The biggest question is how come sports like the NHL and MLB haven’t been able to grow internationally like the NBA has. ... Those are sports that are played in those markets. ... That’s a decision these leagues and owners are going to have to make.” Ravitch added that it is all about a league’s business plan, saying, “The NBA made a conscious decision to invest internationally. It’s just a matter of someone choosing a direction and running after it.”

LOOKING AHEAD: One sport that we should all be watching over the next five years? Dolan: “It’s still soccer. Soccer is the international game, and so it becomes after that; then what else and where?” Ravitch: “Baseball has a golden opportunity that it hasn’t taken advantage of to go globally.” Payne: “There is nothing out there that is up and coming, from the mainstream, that is getting everyone’s attention. Beyond the traditional sports at the moment, there is nothing jumping out at you.” Slipper: “Cricket. It is a sport with great excitement and it’s going global. It is starting to get more distribution in Europe. There are cricket pitches built on the campuses of Microsoft, Oracle and other tech companies in Silicon Valley.”

See the conference's full agenda and read more in our dedicated SMT blog.