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Volume 24 No. 178

Media

ESPN is close to securing media rights for the entire college football playoff system, with industry sources pegging the new 12-year BCS package at $500M a year. That means ESPN would own college football's postseason for a total of $7.3B over 12 years, beginning with the '14 season. That figure, which averages to around $608M per year, takes into account the $215M annual payout ESPN has committed to the "contract" bowls -- the Rose presented by Vizio, Champions and Discover Orange -- in addition to the playoff package. Sources say the TV committee, made up of five commissioners, must ultimately approve the deal before it becomes official. A final version of the contract has not yet gone before the TV committee. However, sources say ESPN and the BCS commissioners have reached a broad agreement that will keep the games on ESPN, which still has two seasons left on its current deal. "We are in the midst of conversations with BCS representatives to continue our relationship," said ESPN VP/Communications Mike Soltys. The BCS' rights fee will approach the money the NCAA makes for March Madness. The NCAA's package with CBS and Turner pays an average of $771M annually over 14 years. In total, the BCS package includes 12 national championship games and 24 semifinal games within the new college football four-team playoff that begins with the '14 season, as well as the rights to three "access" bowls that will be in the BCS mix: likely the Tostitos Fiesta, Chick-fil-A and AT&T Cotton (Ourand & Smith, SportsBusiness Journal). CBSSPORTS.com's Dennis Dodd wrote conference commissioners "went into their annual BCS meeting in April thinking the valuation was at $350 million per year." After listening to consultants, the value "had shot through the roof." This is the "tangible proof of the windfall awaiting college football." However, the price point is "less of an issue at this point than the structure" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/8).

Time Warner Cable SportsNet and the Pac-12 Network are still mired in carriage disputes with DirecTV and Dish, but the time "has come to find some common ground," according to Michael Lev of the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. The Lakers are in the "midst of a stretch of 12 consecutive games available only on TWC SportsNet," and the Pac-12 Net is "about to broadcast their third USC football game this season, against Arizona State on Saturday." The net already has "done four UCLA games." Representatives of DirecTV, TWC and the Pac-12, "did not express optimism that any agreements are imminent." DirecTV's stance is that it is "protecting its customers by resisting additional costs." Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures co-Founder & CEO Chris Bevilacqua said, "If DirecTV is going to maintain the essence of their brand as the leader in sports, they're going to have to sit down and figure it out" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 11/9). However, in L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes DirecTV "appears to be digging in with a stance that it refuses to be bullied" into putting TWC SportsNet "on a basic-tier level with a hefty price tag just because everyone has it." DirecTV Chair, President & CEO Mike White told shareholders during a Q3 earnings call, "We hope to have a deal on that content. But all of these new channels that everybody here wants, and they want to stick it into the bundle, is not right. ... I think the regional sports network structure in the industry is broken." Hoffarth writes, "We're at one of those interesting tipping points, where everyone else in the media world is monitoring to see which way this topples" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 11/9).

WITMER RESPONDS: Time Warner Cable Exec VP and Chief Video & Content Officer Melinda Witmer Thursday at the '12 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology Conference responded to White's comments that the RSN structure was broken. She said, “I think that some of the math that Mike’s quoting, I’m not quite understanding. But I think most importantly, I’d remind Mike that he owns regional sports networks. And I’ll tell you Time Warner Cable pays a lot more for the Root Sports networks than we’re asking DirecTV to pay for the Lakers. The system is broken and a mess when it’s not their product. We feel comfortable that we’re offering good value for fans.” Witmer also commented on being on the other side of the RSN equation as an owner now. She said, “It has been an illuminating experience in a lot of ways. Not the least of which has been coming to understand better the challenges that other distributors have. We understand cable really well. We understand the way we package really well. But it has given us an opportunity to understand better how others are addressing and serving their consumers. More than anything, we said we know the value assessments we make and we have to deliver value that Time Warner Cable would justify on the other side or we’ll end up being the only ones distributing the product" (THE DAILY).

Disgruntled Pac-12 fans are being "left waiting until a week or two before the game to find out when kickoff will come, a wait necessitated by the Pac-12's contract with its TV networks," according to Bob Condotta of the SEATTLE TIMES. The networks "want the flexibility to get the best games in spots they think will be the most watched." The Univ. of Washington football team has played night games "more often than not." Of UW's six home games, four have started at 6:00pm PT or later, including this Saturday's 7:30pm game against Utah, which "wasn't announced until Sunday." By contrast, UW played "just two night games" in '11. UW season-ticket holder Stephen Nute said, "It just feels like we are being held captive to the whims of the network and it's all about the network and TV revenues." UW officials have "heard similar complaints and say they sympathize." But school officials said that they "hope fans understand the benefits from the increasing number of flexible start times and more night games." The benefits are "coming, in part, from the Pac-12's new TV contract, a 12-year deal that went into effect this year." With an estimated $3B distributed evenly to schools over the life of the deal, added benefits "include a significant increase in revenue ... plus added exposure." UW AD Scott Woodward said of the night games, "Our preference is not to play that many" (SEATTLE TIMES, 11/9).

MONEY TALKS: In Seattle, Steve Kelley writes of the late announcement for UW's game time, "I waited nervously last Sunday, waiting to discover the kickoff time for Saturday's football game." This is "college athletics' new world order." Every conference is "chasing the television money," and "every conference is willing to trade tradition for gold." Delayed announcements mean that football fans "can't make plans for the upcoming weekend until six days before kickoff." Kelly: "It isn't fair, but that's the way it is and the way it's going to remain" (SEATTLE TIMES, 11/9). In Phoenix, Paola Boivin writes, "I like the direction of the Pac-12 Conference. ... I don't, however, like finding out the start time of a game just six days before kickoff." Boivin: "Not surprisingly, it's a television thing." Under the terms of the Pac-12's TV contract, ESPN and Fox are "allowed a select number of times during the season to exercise a six-day selection option." Boivin: "We're all smart enough to know television makes the sports world go 'round these days. We'll stay up late and wake up early if that means watching a college football game that interests us. But don't you have to draw the line somewhere?" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 11/9).

Yahoo Sports in October returned to the top of the comScore reach rankings of U.S. sports sites after losing the No.1 overall spot in September for just the second time in four years. Yahoo led the list with 45.5 million unique visitors, followed closely by ESPN with 44.4 million uniques. The rest of the October list rankings essentially held steady from September as many sports sites see some of their largest traffic of the year, fueled in part by interest in football, postseason baseball and the beginning of the NBA season. ESPN easily led all sites in the category in engagement metrics with an average of 87.8 minutes per visitor during the month, and 3.9 billion minutes of consumption overall. The latter figure is the fifth best ever for ESPN.

RANK
SITE
UNIQUE VISITORS
(000)
1)
Yahoo Sports*
45,526
2)
ESPN
44,443
3)
FoxSports.com on MSN
37,030
4)
NFL Internet Group
24,686
5)
USA Today Sports Media Group**
23,186
6)
CBS Sports
21,206
7)
Turner Sports Digital***
20,258
8)
MLB
14,489
9)
NBC Sports^
11,815
10)
Sports Illustrated sites
10,703
11)
SB Nation
9,422
12)
Sporting News on AOL
8,982
13)
Active.com sites
6,193
14)
Big Lead Sports by FSV
5,101
15)
JumpTV/NeuLion
4,657

NOTES: All numbers do not include wireless traffic. * = Includes Rivals.com and ThePostGame.com. **= Sites include 81 local Gannett newspaper sites, 23 Gannett-owned broadcast TV station sites, USA Today High School Sports and BNQT Media Group. *** = Sites include Bleacher Report, NBA.com, PGATour.com, PGA.com, NCAA.com, and WNBA.com. ^ = Includes NHL.com.

ESPN saw its most-viewed NBA season-opening doubleheader last Friday, which featured Heat-Knicks and Clippers-Lakers. The doubleheader averaged 2.9 million viewers, up 5% from opening day last year, which aired on Christmas Day (2.6 million viewers). The figure is also up 65% from the opener in '10-11, which aired on a Wednesday (ESPN).

WALK THE DINOSAUR: The Raptors season-opener Oct. 31 against the Pacers on TSN drew an estimated 346,000 viewers, which marks the team's second-highest opening night broadcast audience in franchise history. It also marks TSN's largest NBA broadcast audience since April 11, 2010 (MLSE). Meanwhile, the same game on FS Indiana generated a 3.3 rating in central Indiana, "making it the highest rated Pacers opener since 2007" (IBJ.com, 11/8).

ROCKET MAN: In Houston, David Barron wrote while Rockets fans "clamor for increased carriage of Comcast SportsNet Houston," the Wednesday night Nuggets-Rockets game drew 0.66 local rating in Houston. Games last season averaged a 1.5 local rating on FS Houston. Comcast is "seeking a reported $3.40 per subscriber per month for CSN Houston" (CHRON.com, 11/8).

The charts below list final Nielsen ratings from recent sports telecasts.Figures for select programs on Fox were unavailable at presstime.

TELECAST
DATE
NET
TIME (ET)
RAT.
VIEWERS (000)
"NFL on CBS": Steelers-Giants (96%)
11/4
CBS
4:15-7:30pm
14.7
n/a
"Sunday Night Football":
Cowboys-Falcons
11/4
NBC
8:31-11:28pm
13.2
21,758
"NFL on CBS": (regional)
11/4
CBS
1:00-4:15pm
9.3
n/a
NCAA Football: Alabama-LSU
11/3
CBS
8:00-11:55pm
6.8
11,349
"Football Night in America"
11/4
NBC
7:30-8:15pm
6.1
9,864
NCAA Football: Pitt-Notre Dame
11/3
NBC
3:30-8:00pm
3.8
6,030
NCAA Football: Oregon-USC
11/3
Fox
7:02-11:47pm
2.8
4,505
NCAA Football: (regional)
11/3
ABC
3:32-7:20pm
2.7
n/a
"The NFL Today"
11/4
CBS
12:00-1:00pm
2.5
n/a
Breeders' Cup Classic
11/3
NBC
8:00-9:00pm
2.0
3,056
NCAA Football: (regional)
11/3
ABC
12:01-3:32pm
1.9
n/a
NCAA Football:
Oklahoma State-Kansas State
11/3
ABC
8:07-11:42pm
1.9
2,873
NCAA Football: Ole Miss-Georgia
11/3
CBS
3:30-7:00pm
1.9
n/a
Liga MX: Club America-Pachuca
11/3
Univ.
6:30-9:00pm
0.6
1,066
"College Football Today"
11/3
CBS
3:00-3:30pm
0.5
n/a
"Sports Illustrated"
11/3
NBC
2:30-3:30pm
0.4
n/a
World of Adventure Sports (taped)
11/4
NBC
2:30-3:30pm
0.3
n/a
MLS Conference Semis:
Sporting KC-Dynamo
11/4
NBC
3:30-6:00pm
0.3
n/a
 

NOTE: All figures exclude the N.Y. and Philadelphia markets due to the effects from Hurricane Sandy.

TELECAST
DATE
NET
TIME (ET)
RAT.
VIEWERS (000)
"Monday Night Football":
49ers-Cardinals
10/29
ESPN
8:30-11:33pm
6.8
10,721
NBA: Celtics-Heat
10/30
TNT
8:04-10:48pm
3.4
5,371
"Thursday Night Football":
Chiefs-Chargers
11/1
NFLN
8:31-11:23pm
3.0
4,795
NBA: Mavericks-Lakers
10/30
TNT
10:48pm-1:25am
2.9
4,298
NASCAR Sprint Cup: Texas
11/4
ESPN
3:00-7:10pm
2.5
3,943
NBA: Clippers-Lakers
11/2
ESPN
10:37pm-1:20am
2.1
3,062
"Thursday Night Pre-Kick"
11/1
NFLN
8:00-8:31pm
1.8
2,819
NBA: Heat-Knicks
11/2
ESPN
8:00-10:37pm
1.8
2,783
NCAA Football: Missouri-Florida
11/3
ESPN2
12:00-3:23pm
1.5
2,268
NCAA Football: Illinois-Ohio State
11/3
ESPN
3:30-6:55pm
1.3
2,164