The USMNT failing to qualify for the '18 FIFA World Cup is "likely to put a crimp in the ratings and revenue Fox will be able to generate in its first effort at broadcasting the tournament," according to Jon Lafayette of BROADCASTING & CABLE. Fox is reportedly paying between $450-500M for the next three World Cups, but without a home team to root for next summer, it will be "difficult for Fox to attract viewers who are not already fans of soccer to tune in." Fox is "planning to air 350 hours of World Cup programming during the month-long tournament," and the net has built at Moscow's Red Square a "two story broadcast complex with two sets, a main anchor desk and an interview room" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 10/10). BLOOMBERG NEWS' Eben Novy-Williams notes any "decrease in interest by American fans may have far-reaching effects" for Fox, which holds the domestic English-language rights. Fox said that its '18 World Cup coverage will be the "largest production in the network's 24-year history." The plan includes "more games on broadcast television than the last four World Cups combined" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 10/11). ESPN.com's Darren Rovell writes Fox "giving the advertisers the numbers they want might be difficult" without the U.S. playing (ESPNFC.com, 10/11). FORBES' Bobby McMahon writes the "biggest money loser will almost certainly" be Fox. Meanwhile, the U.S. Soccer Federation will "miss out on" the $12.5M paid by FIFA for "preparation and making it [to] the group stage." The USSF will "also miss out on gate revenue and TV rights fees from pre-World Cup friendly matches." There will also be "clauses in sponsorship and merchandise agreements that will not be triggered on account of this failure" (FORBES.com, 10/11).
KEEPING FANS' INTEREST: NEWSWEEK's Teddy Cutler writes there is "no doubt that the World Cup, the most prominent global sporting event, will still attract interest" in the U.S. even without the USMNT. The '14 Germany-Argentina final was the "third most-watched soccer game" in the U.S. of all time. Cutler: "How many of those, though, were left over or energized into watching by the USMNT's success may be a problem for Fox." One potential solution for the net is to "take advantage of the vast Mexican diaspora in the U.S. and focus its programming" on the Mexican team (NEWSWEEK.com, 10/11). BUSINESS INSIDER's Tyler Lauletta writes Fox will "have to dig a bit deeper to find compelling storylines for American fans to root for in the biggest tournament in the world" (BUSINESSINSIDER.com, 10/11). ESPN's Mike Greenberg said of U.S. soccer fans, "Maybe they will still watch the World Cup because they'll get to see Messi and Ronaldo and all of the guys playing over there. But by and large, so many people tune in because it is a major international spectacle and you put your patriotism cap on and root for Team USA. With Team USA not being there, this is a devastating blow to the growth of soccer" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 10/11).
Michael Smith will anchor ESPN's 6:00pm ET "SportsCenter" alone for the "remainder of Jemele Hill's suspension," according to Daniel Holloway of VARIETY. Smith will be joined for the next two weeks by "various guests in studio and via satellite providing reporting and analysis for various segments, but none will be serving in a co-anchor capacity." After Hill was suspended Monday, Smith "sat out that evening's telecast." A source characterized the decision as "mutually made by Smith and ESPN" (VARIETY.com, 10/10). In DC, Des Bieler wrote a "noticeably more somber Smith took to the airwaves" yesterday, "opening with these lines: 'Those who know, know. Those who don’t, it need not be explained. You’re here, I’m here. Let’s talk some sports.'" Whereas his years-long chemistry with Hill has "resulted in an edition of 'SportsCenter' that is normally chatty, upbeat and opinionated, Smith frequently introduced topics in a flat tone of voice and lacked his usual energy" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 10/10).
SIXTH SENSE? SI.com's Jimmy Traina predicted "SC6" will be "gone from ESPN before the end of the year." Traina: "Is there really anything for ESPN or Hill and Smith to gain by continuing on with the show?" It is clear Hill has "no interest in 'sticking to sports' and doesn't want to be muzzled when it comes to speaking out about what's going on in the country." ESPN "obviously doesn't want the repeated headache of having to deal with the fallout from Hill's political opinions." Every single word Hill "says or tweets will be dissected and twisted and magnified" (SI.com, 10/10). NEW YORK magazine's Eric Levitz wrote if ESPN were a "primarily journalistic enterprise" then it would have "taken Hill’s tweets in stride." But ESPN is a "primarily commercial enterprise." Its first priority is to "make money" and its responsibility to shareholders "overrides all obligations to the public." Hill’s suspension "points to a broader peril in the way we fund journalism" in the U.S., one that "can’t be eliminated by consumer activism." The conflict between journalists’ "civic responsibilities -- and for-profit company’s fiduciary ones -- is not peculiar to ESPN or sports networks." A democracy "cannot function without a well-funded, adversarial press." But market incentives "do not adequately reward news outlets for investing in high-impact investigative journalism, or for covering politics with an emphasis on policy instead of spectacle" (NYMAG.com, 10/10).
CENTER OF ATTENTION: In N.Y., Carron Phillips wrote President Trump's tweet yesterday directed at Hill has ESPN "scared witless." Phillips: "I understand that corporate policies are set in place for a reason. I also understand that if Hill would have made her statements on her show, 'The Six,' this might not be an issue. But what I don’t understand is how a company of the magnitude of ESPN still doesn’t understand the importance of social media." More Phillips: "You can’t tell your employees to engage with viewers on Twitter, and then turn around and potentially suspend them when they have conversations about the one person who has single-handedly dominated the platform. ... But you can if they’re a black woman. ... I don’t think this would even be a 'thing' if Hill were a man" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 10/10). Also in N.Y., Kashana Cauley writes under the header, "ESPN Is Terrified Of Jemele Hill's Honesty On Racism." ESPN’s suspension of Hill "suggests that the network might be scared of boycotts and that the Cowboys’ sponsors, as well as the network’s own, are more important than supporting the idea that black people might be people." Even though 51% of Americans "believe the NFL protests are appropriate, we are apparently supposed to give the network a high-five for suspending an anchor who agrees with us because the network is awkwardly attempting to promote a form of so-called patriotism that would require many of us to decide that our own lives aren’t worth prizing" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/11).
Entercom Communications and CBS are "looking to unload a handful of big-name Boston radio stations as part of an ongoing merger," according to Danny McDonald of the BOSTON GLOBE. Entercom "refused to confirm what radio stations they would be divesting as part of the merger process." However, a source said that CBS Radio is looking to "divest radio news giant" WBZ-AM and sports station WBZ-FM. In February, the merger between Entercom and CBS Radio was announced and the merger was "expected to shake up the Boston radio market." Yesterday's news means that two rivals -- WEEI-FM and WBZ-FM -- may "not be headed for the same ownership after all" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/11). In Boston, Tom Shattuck writes WBZ-FM will be in "fine shape wherever they land," and they should actually be "thankful they're going elsewhere." Meanwhile, WEEI's Kirk Minihane and Gerry Callahan will "further thrive" (BOSTON HERALD, 10/11).
TBS did not "nix a request to move up the start time" of yesterday's scheduled late-afternoon Nationals-Cubs NLDS Game 4 to 1:00pm CT to "avoid approaching bad weather that ultimately led to its postponement despite reports to the contrary," according to sources cited by Phil Rosenthal of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Postseason scheduling is determined by MLB in consultation with its TV partners, so TBS could not have "unilaterally approved or vetoed a start time." Rosenthal notes considerations include "not only weather" but if there is "enough time to alert" ticket-holders and potential radio, TV and streaming audiences of change (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/11).
TIME KEEPS TICKING AWAY: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins writes MLB postseason games "run long." Game 4 of the Astros-Red Sox ALDS "checked in at 4:07." Jenkins: "But who’s complaining? That was taut, magnificent theater from start to finish." At its "most compelling, baseball has no use for a pitch clock -- and if it’s implemented next year, let it vanish in the postseason" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/11).
Time Inc. is "cutting back on the circulation and frequency of some of its biggest titles, part of a far-reaching cost-reduction and restructuring program meant to ensure the profitability of its core brands," according to Jeffrey Trachtenberg of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The publisher also is "reducing the print frequency of seven titles, including Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly and Fortune." The move is based, in part, on its research "showing that consumers have less time for leaning back with magazines." Sports Illustrated "will publish 27 issues" in '18, including the Swimsuit edition, "down from 38 this year." In a bid to make it a "premium property for readers and marketers, the magazine will publish more editorial pages in each issue and print on heavier paper stock." SI Group Senior VP & Editorial Dir Chris Stone said, "The average issue will have 23% more editorial pages, which means we can be more immersive in our storytelling and more ambitious with our photography" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/11).
FIRST TO GO: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Eric Fisher notes Golf magazine and its digital counterpart "now stand at the forefront of Time Inc.'s effort to sell several of its portfolio titles." That sales effort is "ongoing with the aid of investment bank Houlihan Lokey, which assisted with Topgolf's purchase last year of online game World Golf Tour." But it "also arrives as the magazine and Golf.com are qualitatively and quantitatively at a high point." Recent internal and comScore metrics had Golf.com at "more than 3.3 million monthly unique visitors," up by 76% year over year. Time Inc. is "now focusing primarily on developing its core assets such as People and Time magazine." Stone said, "(Golf) needs some better brand focus." Sources said that initial bids for Golf were "due at the end of last month, and the title is being marketed to potential buyers including traditional publishers, private equity firms and other endemic golf entities." A resolution "could arrive by late November" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/9 issue).
The Fox Sports University marketing initiative is 10 years old this week, and it now boasts a roster of 42 participating colleges from 11 conferences and a host of what its execs say are success stories. The program started at the Univ. of Florida, which designed an entire class around it, according to Lindsay Amstutz, who was recently named Senior VP & GM of FS West, FS San Diego and Prime Ticket. This semester, Fox Sports U launched projects in 16 schools, including Maryland, Xavier and Oregon. Projects focus on Fox Sports properties, including the '18 FIFA World Cup and the '18 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Fox Sports execs including President & COO Eric Shanks and Exec VPs Mike Mulvihill, Terri Hines and Craig Sloan have taken part in the initiatives. “These are academic exercises, but they are also real-life challenges,” Amstutz said. “It lets us connect with the next generation and tap into their creativity. It also teaches us about Snapchat and other social media platforms.” The initiative presents classes at the schools with a business-related issue, and students work on a plan to solve it. The NHL Kings used a marketing campaign developed by USC students for several years, Amstutz said. Earlier this year, for example, they had students from the Univ. of North Carolina come up with marketing plans around Fox Sports’ Procast app. Fox Sports used the winning campaign for some of its online marketing around the Super Bowl. “But sometimes the reality of the sports business gets in the way,” Amstutz said, referring to an SMU marketing campaign that was created for the Stars in '13, the season of the most recent NHL lockout. “That campaign didn’t go anywhere,” Amstutz said.