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Volume 24 No. 156

Events and Attractions

A trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past meant sacrificing updates from other games and instant replays, video elements that are commonplace inside most venues. But that is not the case with the new-look NCAA Tournament. This season’s tournament is taking a more fan-friendly approach to improve the experience for those in attendance with a full array of video, including updates, game highlights and perhaps most importantly for those there -- replays. Working with Van Wagner Big Screen Network, the NCAA is running more replays inside the game venue, and the organization has created March Madness Central, a hub for highlights and score updates from other tournament games. Those video updates are being presented under the “March Madness Central” banner on videoboards that are either permanent in the venue or have been added by Van Wagner BSN. The company also is constructing a 150,000-pound center-hung videoboard in the Georgia Dome for the Final Four, as well as LED scorers tables at arenas and stadiums that do not already have them. “This year, March Madness Central just adds another layer for the fans at the game,” said Van Wagner BSN CEO Paul Kalil. “It really ties together the tournament into one experience for the fans, no matter where they are. Fans don’t have to get scores off their phone or wait until they get home to see highlights.” In addition to the game updates, Van Wagner BSN is producing music videos for each team with integrated highlights, texting and polling questions, flashbacks, classic moments and features on prominent athletes.

CENTRALLY LOCATED: During the 30 minutes between games, producers in the venue can go to March Madness Central for updates, live game action at other venues, sponsor presentations or community announcements. It is going to be done without any announcers this year, but in the future March Madness Central could become a full-blown studio show. “We will provide all the content for video on the screens, for public address, all of the messaging,” Kalil said. Kalil added NCAA Exec VP/Championships & Alliances Mark Lewis and his team have “charged us with elevating the level of fan enhancements and engagements.” He said, “People pay good money to be at the venue and this represents an effort to enhance the value for that entertainment dollar.” The NCAA always has taken a conservative approach to using replays inside the venue because “there are some sensitivities to being there in front of the student-athletes and refs,” Kalil said. But Lewis, who joined the NCAA last April, has spearheaded an effort to make the tournament games more like the experience that fans have on campus, which includes more video. That also will give the NCAA more opportunities to integrate sponsors into the video presentation. Previously, only Powerade had any presence inside the venue, through its red and black courtside coolers.

CREATING THE FINAL FOUR VIDEO BOARD: Van Wagner BSN is central to the enhanced video presentation. It was last year that Van Wagner and Big Screen Networks, previously separate companies, combined forces in a joint venture that essentially made BSN the video and production arm of Van Wagner. BSN has had a relationship with the NCAA for eight years, Kalil said. At the Final Four, Van Wagner BSN will be constructing the eight-sided videoboard for the second time. It built a similar structure for the Final Four last year in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This will mark the first time the Georgia Dome has used a center-hung board. Each of the 10mm HD panels will measure 16-by-28 feet.

The U.S. Open's move yesterday to increase its payout to players and permanently establish a Sunday men's final followed a series of meetings between the USTA and “many of the top players, who for the past year have been pressuring the Grand Slam tournaments over prize money,” according to Lynn Zinser of the N.Y. TIMES. USTA Chair, CEO & President Dave Haggerty said that the allocation of the prize money had “not yet been determined,” but added that the players “had asked for, and were granted, input into that decision.” Haggerty said that the players were “concerned about the lower-ranked players, who can face a financial burden from the costs of a trip to New York and an extended stay in the city.” The increase in prize money “will become the biggest burden” for the USTA, which “vowed it would not increase ticket prices to pay for the boost.” Haggerty said that the tournament “would be looking for new sources of revenue.” The USTA’s revenue for ‘12 was $302M, with $223M “coming from the Open” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/21). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Tom Perrotta wrote the USTA “took the unprecedented step” of doubling last year’s prize increase by adding “an additional" $4.1M to the '13 pot. It also “agreed to increase total prize money by another 49% in the years to come, to $50 million by 2017 from $33.6 million this year.” The announcement about later tournaments “is new,” as the Open “usually increases prize money year to year.” USTA Exec Dir & COO Gordon Smith said, “It was important for us to get some long-term stability in this important area because we’ve got some big things to do.” Haggerty said that the agreement “allows the USTA to turn its attention to other major items on its agenda, such as renovating the National Tennis Center in Flushing.” The Open’s contracts with CBS and ESPN were “one lucrative asset not mentioned” yesterday. Even with the schedule changes for the tournament, it “could be in line for a significant bump in TV revenue” (, 3/20).

PLAYERS TAKE UPPER HAND: In Miami, Sandra Harwitt writes the move “can be attributed to a united front by players.” ATPer Novak Djokovic said, “It’s a good response, and it’s a reaction from U.S. Open toward the players’ demands and desires” (MIAMI HERALD, 3/21).’s Jon Wertheim wrote the prize-money increase “indirectly” is a “result of the lack of U.S. players.” Top players for decades “accepted being paid less than the market rate, especially at their home Slam.” Now when there are “so few top U.S. players, the boycott threats carry more heat.” But the problem “becomes this: How does the USTA cover this new outlay?” (, 3/20). In London, Neil Harman writes the USTA has “couched” the move “as a triumph, whereas it was a face-saving exercise of the least edifying kind.” The USTA’s “enforced retreat will take some swallowing and the position” of Smith will “come in for rigorous scrutiny.” The situation had “got to the stage where the logistics were being put into place for an ATP event to be staged in New Jersey -- just across the state line from Flushing Meadows -- in direct conflict with the Open.” That event would have offered “huge prize money and ranking points as a slap in the face to the USTA.” It was “not until American officials dug deep to find the extra cash that the prospect of player reprisals was extinguished” (LONDON TIMES, 3/21).

: In London, Simon Briggs writes the move is a “big shift, and a win for player power.” Now is a “good time to be a tennis player -- as long as you are ranked high enough to play the biggest tournaments.” ATP player council member Eric Butorac said, “The $50 million figure is a big deal for us, because it shows this isn’t just a one-off pay rise to keep us quiet. It also puts pressure on the other grand slams to respond, particularly Wimbledon” (London TELEGRAPH, 3/21). Also in London, Mike Dickson reports Wimbledon and the French Open “will come under new pressure to make stiff increases in prize money.” While the threat of a boycott was “never likely to materialize, the players have been unusually united” and “succeeded in persuading” the USTA to give the players a larger percentage of U.S. Open revenue (London DAILY MAIL, 3/21).

The WBC would "matter more" to American fans if Team USA "fully invested in the effort to win, in a way that more completely realized the potential" of int'l baseball, according to Jon Paul Morosi of That means "greater representation among star players on Team USA." National soccer teams play “friendlies” against one another "in between the major tournaments, a concept baseball should mimic." Anyone who "attended or watched the U.S.-Dominican Republic game ... knows the potential of a best-vs.-best matchup." After such a "riveting event ... it would be a shame" if MLB and MLBA "let the fervor lay dormant for another four years." Baseball "doesn’t need a major international tournament every year." But "why not hold a single-game rematch at midseason?" Baseball could "promote the game as an international showcase and hold it the night after the All-Star Game." The logistics would be "simplified by holding the game in the same ballpark as the All-Star Game -- with many of the same players." Sponsorships and TV rights could in time "turn the showdown into a moneymaker for owners and players." If the concept is "successful, the games could occur on a semi-regular basis with the U.S. playing different international opponents." This year's WBC revealed "how intense baseball’s global competitiveness has become." For U.S. players and fans to "acknowledge that would represent a significant and needed attitude adjustment, similar to the transformation USA Basketball underwent following its Olympic disappointment in 2004" (, 3/21).

QUICK FIXES:'s Jim Caple wrote at its "best, and with enough years, the World Baseball Classic could grow into what the World Cup is for soccer." At its "worst, the WBC still is an enjoyable diversion from the long, tedious weeks of a far too lengthy spring training." But it "can be better." Caple offered ways to improve the event, and wrote it is "hard to generate interest in a tournament when many fans don't have access to the network that is broadcasting the games." The MLB Network does a "great job, but restricting English-language broadcasts to that channel drastically reduced potential fans here." Caple: "Avoid scheduling the rounds so that a team has to fly across the country the night before an elimination game against a team that has had almost a week off." Additionally, "pump and publicize the brackets." Nothing "boosts fan interest more than the ability to devote work hours to filling out office pools." Also, until countries "such as Italy or Spain develop fully competitive teams, there is logic to allowing players with ancestors from those countries to compete." But there "must be limits." Caple: "Tighten the requirements so that you must at least be third generation, preferably second." Pitch limits and "early March games mean WBC players aren't at their best." So just "play the first rounds in the spring, then play the championship round in July during the All-Star break when they are in top form." Caple: "Better yet, play the WBC final instead of the All-Star Game." And "imagine how much more exciting the Home Run Derby would be if it pitted the U.S. against Cuba" (, 3/20).

EXPORTING THE GAME: L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said with the Dominican Republic winning the WBC, the “world should remember it as once again furthering the notion that baseball is not the U.S.’s game anymore." Baseball "belongs" to the Dominican Republic and to Japan “where they had record TV numbers.” Plaschke: “Everyone else loves it except in the U.S. where we just don’t take this sort of thing seriously.” ESPN’s Pablo Torre said “they should have done a split-screen” of the people celebrating the WBC title in the Dominican Republic and a “street somewhere in America to an empty television set playing static” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 3/20). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said TV ratings "weren’t big in the U.S. and reports had championship game tickets being donated or sold for as little as five bucks a pop.” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, “For me personally, I didn’t care about it. I didn’t really understand why it’s being played. But if I’m Major League Baseball, I’m trying to grow the game all around the world and you tell that attendance in countries other than the United States is up and television ratings in countries other than the United States is up and more countries are playing and doing better, then I understand when Major League Baseball’s eyes look at this and they say it’s an ‘unqualified success.’” In the U.S. the television ratings “were way down” and so the “impact isn’t here.” Kornheiser: “The way we look at it is myopic compared to the way Major League Baseball looks at it.” Wilbon said the WBC “was designed to increase global baseball so yes, it would be a success” (“PTI,” ESPN, 3/20).

SHORT ON TIME:'s Jayson Stark noted Team USA SS Jimmy Rollins "concluded that players would be more likely to buy in -- and take part -- if this were an every-other-year event." Rollins said, "Maybe there'd be slightly more anticipation because it's still relatively fresh." He added, "Four years, especially in this sport, where you play every day, is a long time. So you've got guys who are 28 (and didn't play). But now they'd know they'd get another shot when they're 30, instead of when they're 32. Big difference." Rollins "knows there are players around him who will never buy in to the WBC." But all he can "tell them is: They don't know what they're missing." Rollins: "When you see it, when you feel the environment, man, it's something else. Every game is an elimination game. There are no series. It's like Jimmy V said in that (30 for 30 film): It's survive and advance." Rollins said that Team USA players "didn't understand why their first-round game was against Mexico, which had already played a game against Italy, instead of Canada, which hadn't played yet, so all teams in the first round were on equal footing" (, 3/20). MLB Network’s Bill Ripken said the WBC is designed to “create this worldwide growth of baseball.” Ripken said, “We as members of the United States, we look at this and say, ‘Boy, we’ve got to have our club in there, we’ve got to have our club in there.’ I don’t think that it’s necessarily designed to do that.” MLB Network’s Brian Kenny said, “I like that evolved outlook and I think most of the country feels that way. We’re not looking at it as, ‘Whoa, these foreigners playing our game.’ Why look at it that way?” The net’s Eric Byrnes said the U.S. team will have better results “as soon as the players care” (“MLB Tonight,” MLB Network, 3/20).