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Volume 24 No. 178
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SMT Conference: Thursday's Opening Panel Addresses The State Of Sports Media

From evolving sports rights to consumption patterns to the at-home versus in-venue experience, the opening panel of the second day of the ’12 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology conference tackled a long list of issues facing the industry.

Brosnan discusses league's agenda for negotiating
affiliate agreements for MLB Network

AMERICA'S PASTIME: MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan, whose league just wrapped up national TV rights deals with ESPN, Fox and TBS, talked about the league’s agenda. Brosnan said, “MLB Network is 4 years old now, and our affiliate agreements are for five years. We’ve been working on and are now getting to the point where we’re going to make commitments on how you approach the affiliate marketplace. It’s going to be an interesting process. We expect to do well in that marketplace. What we promised the affiliates when we launched MLB Network, we have over-delivered and then some. So we’re going to get into the question about what sort of compensation ought to be paid for the network. ... I think that you’re going to see us do some things that allow us to have the leverage that we need in the marketplace to get the carriage we think we deserve at the prices we think are fair to us and fair to consumers.” Asked for examples of leverage, Brosnan said, “When you go back and study the original carriage we got for the network, what was a real piece of leverage was the Extra Innings package. Six hundred thousand subscribers helped us drive 50 million subs. If you look at how that out-of-market business has evolved, it’s really a marketplace for both broadcast and online. It’s robust in both places. ... I think you’ll perhaps see a combining of those packages and using that as a lever to help drive distribution for the network.”

ON LOCK-DOWN: NHL COO John Collins was asked early in the panel about the effects of the NHL lockout, and jokingly said, “I was watching the clock and seeing if I’d get out of here without a question.” Collins: “We’re clearly at an important moment right now. We’ve already cancelled games for October and November and last week cancelled the Winter Classic, which is just another regular-season game, but symbolic for us. We’ve got three days, including today, of extended negotiations, so we’re very hopeful.” He also discussed how NHL Network and were covering the lockout: “We were watching all the other networks to see how they handled the lockouts on their networks. (NFL Network) looked at it like it was really an external news organization and really went out of their way to not only give the league perspective, but also the players, which I thought was great. The NBA went a different direction based on certain restrictions their bargaining agreement may have. For us, we haven’t really covered the lockout on our platforms from a news standpoint. We haven’t used it as a bully pulpit to get the league’s message out there. We’ve sort of been very quiet throughout this negotiation and I think we’ll remain that way.”

KICKING IT: Fox Sports co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks, on losing the U.S. EPL TV rights to NBC Sports Network, said, “That was a huge bummer for us. With Fox/News Corp. being the biggest distributor of soccer rights in the world, it was huge for us. We fought hard to try and keep it. We’re still big believers in soccer. We own rights to the World Cup after 2014, still have the (UEFA) Champions League, still have the FA Cup, still have Copa America. So it’s still a big part of our portfolio and we’re as committed to it as ever.”

Rolapp feels NFL Network's 13-game package of
Thursday games helped in talks with TWC

A DONE DEAL: NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp said of finally wrapping up a distribution deal for NFL Network with Time Warner Cable, “(Time Warner Cable Exec VP and Chief Video & Content Officer) Melinda Witmer and I kid about it now, but it was our summer ritual where we would lose three weeks of our lives trying to come to an agreement. And it never came together for a lot of reasons. But I think this year was different, when we went to 13 live games on NFL Network, which really is as close to a full-season package as you can get. But it’s not the total number of games that matters, it’s that the package is spread out over the whole season. When we had an eight-game package that was spread out over around six weeks, if you were a cable operator, and you could just batten down the hatches and get through those six weeks, and tell your subscribers it’ll be okay, then maybe they thought they’ll be okay. That’s harder to do over the course of a whole season. What also helped were key renewals we had with Dish and AT&T, as well as the new deal with Cablevision. Time Warner was the last holdout. But to their credit, they saw the value. They knew for their business it was time.”

VALUE OF ENTERTAINMENT: Brosnan said of the high costs of sports rights, “This weekend I’ll go out to the movies, and if I take my three kids, maybe we’ll get out of there for around $100. That’s on a Saturday night for around three hours. And everyone complains about the cable bill, and we apologize for it. But I think that we should stop apologizing for it. ... Last Saturday, I finally got power back and was able to sit on my couch and watch three hours of college football on various networks, flipping back and forth. Unbelievably good entertainment and it kept me on the couch. And that was one day out of 30 that I pay a bill for.”