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Volume 24 No. 112

Media

With the USMNT failing to qualify for the '18 FIFA World Cup, Fox could "spend even more marketing dollars and heft" on the Mexican national team, "given the potential audience," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Fox owns the English-language rights to the Mexican national team in the U.S., and at the World Cup launch party last month, Fox Sports President & COO Eric Shanks said that the net "would market the Mexican national team" as their "second team during the tournament." Shanks: "We are embracing El Tri and we have since the Confederations Cup. We have the Gold Cup every two years." But Deitsch noted the USMNT's elimination still is a "disaster for Fox Sports," and the "dollars lost will be huge." The group stage has 48 of the tournament’s 64 matches -- which is a "ton of advertising inventory." But "nothing will change" with the production of the tournament. The marketing will also "likely shift to a much heavier push earlier on international stars" such as Argentina F Lionel Messi, Brazil F Neymar and Portugal F Cristiano Ronaldo. Shanks: "This country has evolved from a soccer fandom where they are super interested in Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo. If you were a soccer fan in the world, this would be the place for you to live. You get more world class soccer here. This is a soccer country." But Deitsch wrote "not all is lost." Soccer is "far more popular" in the U.S. in '17 than in the past, and the numbers for the next year's final will "still be robust." But the "pain felt early is going to be severe" (SI.com, 10/11).

GUT PUNCH: AD AGE's Anthony Crupi wrote there is "no way to overstate just how crushing a blow this development is for Fox." With the tournament being held "halfway around the world in Russia, Fox was already at bit of a disadvantage." But the loss of the U.S. is "almost certain to eliminate the casual fans that help pump up the ratings." If there is a "silver lining to be found in any of this, it's that Fox probably wasn't going to have a shot at cashing in on a lengthy U.S. run" anyway because it is "nearly impossible to imagine that the same U.S. team that fumbled so badly throughout the qualifiers was going to advance past the group stage." Should Messi or Ronaldo "make it through to the final ... Fox should at least come away with a strong TV turnout" (ADAGE.com, 10/11).

FALLING SHORT: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Flint, Vranica & O'Reilly cite sources as saying that without the U.S., Fox will "likely be dealing with lower viewership, which means a tougher time selling advertising and potential shortfalls on the ratings guarantees for ad packages that have already been sold." Significant revenue "may be at stake." According to ad-tracker Kantar Media, ESPN brought in $529M in advertising revenue for the '14 World Cup, and "top advertisers spent more" than $30M each on U.S. ads for the event. If Fox "doesn’t deliver the audiences guaranteed in ad packages that have already been sold, the company may be forced to give marketers" make-goods. Many advertisers' overall interest in the World Cup will "likely remain strong since it offers an unmatched opportunity for brands to get their messages out around the world" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/12). In N.Y., Kevin Draper notes Fox Exec VP/Ad Sales Bruce Lefkowitz last month said that about 75% of the "'marquee' sponsorship deals for the World Cup had been sold" -- suggesting Fox could be "somewhat insulated from the impact" of the U.S. missing out. But without the U.S., Fox "may not be able to meet its ratings guarantees it gave advertisers." Efforts to "use the World Cup telecasts to promote other Fox programming will also be diminished." Budweiser and Verizon said that their strategy "had not changed." Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald’s "emphasized the global nature of the World Cup as the reason they became FIFA partners" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/12).

ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady in his latest filing addressed the net's attempts to navigate "political, social and controversial waters" in the wake of comments made by Jemele Hill on Twitter. It is "clear" Hill's tweets "about an advertiser boycott were the trigger" for her two-week suspension. Hill’s mentioning of an advertiser boycott and criticism of NFL owners "reflected negatively on ESPN, hence the suspension." But when it comes to this latest action by ESPN, Brady is "a bit perplexed." Brady: "I understand exactly what it is that upset ESPN about Hill’s actions." But it is "not the job of Hill ... to concern herself with the network’s business relationships." In fact, the "separation of 'church and state' is a longstanding core concept in any news organization worth its salt." So it "shouldn’t matter whether Hill’s comments put ESPN in a bad position with the NFL, any more than with the network’s excellent reporting on concussions that has done the same." ESPN has "dozens of journalists who spend much of their time chasing stories that don’t reflect well on the network’s business partners," and the net has "done a good job defending its journalists in those cases." That is why the company’s reaction to Hill’s tweets "should be worrisome to other journalists at the company." Brady: "I’m also not sure what part of ESPN’s social media policy Hill violated." Her Trump tweets "clearly violated ESPN’s political and election guidelines." Brady: "There’s nothing I can find that suggests Hill’s NFL tweets were in violation of any specific guideline." Hill’s suspension "seems to suggest that journalists should consider ESPN’s business relationships before speaking out, and that, in turn, does undermine the independence of journalists" (ESPN.com, 10/11).

ROCK & A HARD PLACE: In Miami, Barry Jackson writes ESPN apparently has "succeeded in angering everyone: the president, right-wingers who are outraged that Hill wasn’t disciplined for her 'white supremacist' tweet and now liberals who believe she is being silenced unfairly." What is "difficult to reconcile" about ESPN’s social media policy is that it would be "acceptable for Hill to suggest boycotting Cowboys sponsors on the air but not on Twitter." The message from ESPN’s statement, which "stretches credulity, is that Hill’s indiscretion was not her call for a boycott but the medium she used to advocate it." Players’ boycotting of the anthem -- and Trump’s criticism of the NFL -- has "made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for ESPN voices to address these issues without saying something that will be perceived as political and invariably anger at least a portion of its audience." ESPN needs to "recognize that reality and at least rethink whether it should allow those commentators to express those views on social media" (MIAMI HERALD, 10/12). In S.F., Spencer Whitney writes ESPN has been "fighting a losing battle in an effort to keep both sides of the NFL protests happy and instead, with Trump’s help, has succeeded only in further alienating viewers" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/12).

READING BETWEEN THE LINES? Al Sharpton in a special to USA TODAY writes while employers "may have the right to dictate how their employees behave in the workplace and on social media, it is clear that ESPN caved in to pressure -- pressure that came from the top." ESPN suspending Hill for "even discussing the issue takes things to another dangerous level." Sharpton: "What specific, established social media policy did Hill violate? Or is ESPN just making things up as it goes along and doing President Trump's bidding?" (USA TODAY, 10/12). In Toronto, Vicky Mochama writes the "preposterousness of Hill's suspension exposes the hypocrisy of organizations like ESPN and the dangers of being an outspoken Black person in media" (TORONTO STAR, 10/12).

The NBA and virtual reality outfit NextVR, as part of their multiyear deal, have set a 27-game schedule to produce live games in the enhanced format during the ’17-18 season. The first such game will be Mavericks-Rockets on Oct. 21 and continue on an irregular schedule averaging about one game per week. The effort extends last year’s move to have regular games in VR, complete with announcers and pre- and post-game analysis. This year’s games will add several new production enhancements including stats, live infographics, volumetric telestration, and user-chosen viewing angles. NextVR CEO David Cole described the graphics as “floating like holograms within the field of play.” “We are continuing to advance the realism and fidelity of our NBA broadcasts and these new features will deliver the most immersive live basketball experience to date,” Cole said. In addition to those fully produced VR games, NextVR will also add a lighter VR effort called the NextVR Screening Room in which any NBA League Pass game can be seen on a virtual theatre-sized screen. The games will again be part of the NBA League Pass package, which costs $199.99 for the full-season package and is managed by the NBA Digital partnership between the league and Turner Sports. Seven of the 27 dates for full VR productions will be during NBA League Pass free preview windows.

Sportradar has acquired Silicon Valley startup MOCAP Analytics, a move that will join Sportradar’s data capabilities with MOCAP’s efforts in artificial intelligence. MOCAP has sought to forge a niche in AI-powered data storytelling and player analysis, working with clubs such as the Warriors and Hawks over the past several years to enhance raw player location data. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal closed last week and Sportradar intends to retain MOCAP’s full team of eight employees. MOCAP co-Founder & CEO Arian Forouhar will also lead a new Sportradar analytics and storytelling group. Sportradar Senior VP/Product Management & Technology Ashok Balakrishnan said, “We’re trying to come up with a new approach to enhancing the fan experience. We think there’s a big opportunity to join the player tracking data we now have access to in a lot of sports with machine learning and open up a lot of new storytelling capabilities.” Targets for the newly created content will include media partners, brands and sponsors, fantasy sports operators, and leagues and teams themselves, among others.

In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg notes FS Southeast's Stephanie Ready is "taking on a hybrid role" this NBA season as a courtside reporter/analyst for the Hornets. TV play-by-play announcer Eric Collins and analyst Dell Curry "are back," and radio play-by-play announcer Steve Martin and analyst Matt Carroll also return. Carroll will also be alongside Ready on "Hornets Live" -- the pre- and post-game show on home games only. FS Southeast Senior VP & GM Jeff Genthner said that Ready will be "on the court throughout the game, but she will keep her analyst’s title while doing some reporting, as well." He emphasized she will "not be a traditional courtside reporter heard from only occasionally, but instead will provide analysis and updates throughout the broadcast" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 10/12).

NEW ADDITION: NBC Sports Bay Area yesterday announced Kerith Burke has joined the Warriors broadcasts team as a sideline reporter. She will also provide coverage across the network's signature programs and other NBA programming (NBC Sports Bay Area).

QUIET DEPARTURE: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's John Ourand reported Lindsay Czarniak "does not work for ESPN anymore." Her contract "ended in August and she chose not to renew it" (TWITTER.com, 10/10). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Alex Putterman noted Czarniak "still lists ESPN in her Twitter bio, and there is no mention of her departure from ESPN on either Twitter or Facebook." But she did "stop posting photos of herself and her colleagues in July" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 10/10).

IN HOT WATER: In Boston, Mark Shanahan reports NESN anchor Marc James is "being accused of harassing an aspiring young actress/model who declined his invitation to get together for drinks." James "previously worked for CBS Sports Radio, serving as a weekend and fill-in sports talk host." He was "also a sports-talk radio host" in Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and Charlotte (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/12).