NFL Network yesterday sent employees an email "asking them not to comment" on the sexual harassment allegations against several analysts with "anyone in the media," according to sources cited by Kevin Draper of the N.Y. TIMES. The NFL also is "considering hiring an outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation, as Fox News did last year to investigate allegations of sexual harassment by the longtime network chief Roger Ailes." The lawsuit and suspensions are the "latest in a wave of sexual harassment scandals," though they are "not the first accusations to hit the sports world." Fox Sports fired National Networks President Jamie Horowitz after claims of sexual misconduct in July, Rogers Communications fired Blue Jays analyst Gregg Zaun in November after inappropriate behavior and Seahawks radio announcer and Pro Football HOFer Warren Moon last week was "accused of harassment." The allegations are the "latest in a string of bad news for the NFL" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/13). SI.com's Conor Orr wrote it was "only a matter of time before this movement, which has swept its way through Hollywood, politics and the television news business, began to dig into the sports world." While it is "unfair and inappropriate to predict further fallout in this case," Jami Cantor -- the former NFL Network wardrobe stylist who came forward with the allegations -- may have "opened the door to some significant revelations down the road" (SI.com, 12/12).
ANOTHER ALLEGATION AGAINST NFL NET: USA TODAY's A.J. Perez notes TV sports reporter and host Lindsay McCormick took to Instagram yesterday and wrote that an NFL Network exec asked if she would “plan on getting knocked up” if she was hired. McCormick: "In my last interview with NFL Network a few years ago, the head of hiring talent said to me, 'If we hire you, do you plan on getting knocked up immediately like the rest of them?'" McCormick "didn’t identify the NFL Network manager who made the comment or when the interview was conducted" (USATODAY.com, 12/13).
FURTHER REVIEW: ESPN's Donovan McNabb was among those listed in Cantor's complaint, and his alma mater Syracuse released a statement yesterday in response. The school stated, "We will follow this litigation closely. There is no place for sexual harassment in the Syracuse University community." McNabb is a current member of the Syracuse BOT and is "designated a 'life trustee' as opposed to a 'voting trustee.'" He has "donated money to multiple projects related to the SU football program, including for its weight room and for lockers" (SYRACUSE.com, 12/12).
NBC Sports California yesterday severed ties with Jose Canseco after a "series of bizarre tweets about sexual harassment," while the A’s also "quickly distanced themselves" from his comments, according to Susan Slusser of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Canseco, who served as a pre- and postgame analyst for the net's A's coverage last year, yesterday tweeted, “These women complaining against sexual misconduct are just racist against ugly men.” He followed up with six related tweets that "mentioned being beaten and molested by women as 'kind of a turn on.'" NBC Sports California, which "typically finalizes contracts with baseball analysts in January, made it clear that Canseco will not be returning." He had "been expected to be part of the studio crew" for the '18 season. Canseco via text message said, “If people can’t take a joke, that’s ridiculous. What I’m saying really has no meaning. Those tweets don’t even make any sense, they’re a bunch of riddles” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/13).
The NBA has struck a short-term partnership with social video service Twitch to live stream up to six G League games per week for the rest of the ’17-18 season, as well as highlights and on-demand feeds. Twitch, which is popular in the esports community, will enable a variety of enhanced features to the G League live streams, including customized graphical overlays and co-streaming in which chosen Twitch community members will be able to offer their own game commentaries. The co-streaming option will allow for a variety of alternate takes on the G League games, including potentially more analytical or humorous takes or foreign-language discussions. The live games on Twitch will begin on Friday. Financial terms were not disclosed, but sources said Twitch paid the NBA an undisclosed rights fee. Both the NBA and Twitch will sell advertising against the G League content. There is no commitment beyond this season. Amazon-owned Twitch showed "TNF" on Dec. 7 and has also done deals in '17 to air the Interactive Football League and Lucha Libre AAA wrestling. A source said the platform is actively pursuing more second- and third-tier sports packages. Twitch Senior VP/Content Michael Aragon similarly said that “given sports of all kinds represent an adjacent interest to our community, we are always open to discussing possibilities with other leagues.” Last season, Facebook had a deal for the G League, with the platform streaming around 520 games.
STREAMS TO BOOST USER ENGAGEMENT: The G League streams will include a variety of other enhancements aimed at boosting user engagement, including potential elements such as in-game polling. “We see this as a real laboratory for experimentation for us, to play with different types of game presentations,” said NBA VP/Global Media Distribution Jeff Marsilio. “We’ve used the G League as a testing ground for a lot of new things, and this partnership continues in that spirit.” The deal comes after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in September said that the future of league broadcasts could include more interactive elements that are available on outlets such as Twitch. “We are always in the market for new ideas to enhance the production, distribution, and consumption of our game,” said G League President Malcolm Turner. “It is a fluid topic. We can learn and track some things. Basketball has been televised roughly the same way for decades. For us, it helps inform how fans will consume our game in the future whether it’s the G League and beyond.”
The NBA’s partnership with Twitch to air select G League games for the remainder of the ’17-18 season is “one of the most intriguing attempts yet to figure out the future of sports programming,” according to Ben Cohen of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. There will be “dozens of ways to watch the same basketball game” on Twitch, and the consumers will “get to choose what they want.” The deal only covers the G League, but NBA officials said that it “reflects their broader strategy to reimagine how basketball games should be presented.” Twitch execs added that it “represents their own new front.” Cohen notes the standard formula for sports broadcasts has “remained mostly the same over the years.” The play-by-play announcer and color analyst call the game alongside camera angles that are “familiar by now.” However, the NBA “believes that’s about to change.” Twitch broadcasters “interact with their viewers through a live chat room adjacent to the stream, as if a television analyst were responding to questions while on the air, and the league hopes that loyal audiences will build around the streamers.” NBA VP/Global Media Distribution Jeff Marsilio said, “You might find one creator who is a stats geek and wants to dig into the numbers, or you might find somebody else who wants to do something that has more of a comedic presentation. You take one version of the game and make it many versions of the game for many different kinds of people.” Cohen notes the NBA “plans to monitor data from the Twitch streams for viewership and engagement trends, but the league will also pay attention to a more subjective measurement.” Marsilio: “Does this feel like a new way to watch the game that’s adding value?” (WSJ.com, 12/13).
AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT: Marsilio said that the incentive behind the NBA’s partnership with Twitch is to “engage with younger fans in the kind of way that hooks them for good.” He said, “Roughly half of our (NBA) fans in the U.S. are under 35, and that makes us the league with the youngest average age among its fans of any U.S. sport. … They’re the kind of fanbase that will take the time to learn something that might not be so easy to learn at first. They’re not intimidated by steep learning curves. And that will translate -- I hope -- to G League” (USATODAY.com, 12/13).
Disney with a potential acquisition of many 21st Century Fox properties could “have some antitrust issues" with ESPN linking up with Fox' stable of RSNs, according to David Faber of CNBC. CNBC’s Jim Cramer added the RSNs "would fit in really well" with ESPN and Disney's recently-acquired streaming platform, BAMTech. Cramer said observers will "now hear talk that if Disney really feels that there's a problem with ESPN," Disney could combine ESPN with the RSNs and potentially "spin it off to shareholders" for a separate media unit. Cramer said Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger is “doing what you need to do when people don't think that your company has a vision. He's giving you a vision and he’s giving you a narrative and I've always said bank with him. He will figure it out” (“Squawk on the Street,” CNBC, 12/12). In N.Y., Barnes & de la Merced note Disney acquiring Fox' RSNs and its movie studio are the "biggest governmental hurdles" it could face. But a potential Disney-Fox deal, which could be made official as soon as tomorrow, could "supercharge Disney’s global streaming-service ambitions, threaten to undercut Silicon Valley’s entertainment aspirations and most likely prompt further consolidation in Hollywood." MoffettNathanson co-Founder Michael Nathanson said, "For Hollywood, it begs for more consolidation. ... What happens to CBS and Viacom?" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/13).
LOCAL NEWS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Elizabeth Winkler writes if a Fox-Disney merger "runs afoul of regulators, sports will likely be their focus." Fox' 22 RSNs are worth roughly $23B in enterprise value, which "makes them nearly a third of the total value" of the deal. The RSNs would give Disney a "conspicuously dominant sports portfolio." The issue would be "how much more dominant would Disney be" after getting the Fox RSNs (WSJ.com, 12/13). USA TODAY's Eli Blumenthal writes it is "unclear whether Fox will also retain" stakes in networks like Big Ten Network and Fox Deportes. But for the RSNs, adding Fox' stable, which has rights to 44 of 81 MLB, NBA and NHL teams, would "help make ESPN's planned 2018 streaming service more attractive to sports fans that want to 'cut the cord'" (USA TODAY, 12/13). Pivotal Research analyst Brian Weiser said of possible monopoly concerns with ESPN adding the RSNs, "That's compensated by the fact that when rights deals are going to be negotiated in a few years, all of the tech companies will be bidding on rights" (DEADLINE.com, 12/12).
Around 450 of ESPN’s on-air announcers, reporters and hosts are in Bristol, Conn., today to hear a series of presentations from ESPN’s top execs discussing the health of ESPN’s business. The meeting, which was scheduled after a series of high-profile social media gaffes and corporate layoffs, is being held in a gym on the ESPN campus. ESPN President John Skipper’s main message will be that ESPN’s brand is bigger than any individual talent member and he will call on the group to work together to help the network grow. Perhaps the most anticipated talk will be given by Senior VP and The Undefeated Editor-in-Chief Kevin Merida, who will spend 15 minutes discussing ESPN’s new social media policy. Skipper will conduct a 15-minute Q&A at the end of the two-hour-and-fifteen-minute meeting. Skipper is scheduled to kick-off the meeting at 12:30 with a 15-minute talk about the state of ESPN’s business. He will be followed by Exec VP/Content Connor Schell, who will outline ESPN’s programming philosophies and new initiatives. Other presentations will be given by President/Global Sales & Marketing Ed Erhardt, who will be interviewed by Sage Steele; and VP/Consumer Insights Barry Blyn and Senior Director/Marketing Strategy Samira Zebian, who will talk about ratings and the state of ESPN’s brand.
The state of pregame studio shows was discussed on a recent edition of "The Bill Simmons Podcast" on THE RINGER, with Simmons noting the ratings for most NFL pregame shows have "dropped precipitously." He noted it is "so easy to get information in so many other places, you don’t necessarily need a pregame show for your info.” The Ringer's Bryan Curtis noted the “biggest single thing that’s changed with studio shows is that hardcore sports fans have gotten so much smarter" while "medium sports fans have probably gotten slightly smarter." Curtis: "If you’re a hardcore sports fan, that studio show is just on a completely different level than you. It’s like ten rungs down the ladder from you.” Simmons: “It’s beneath you.” Simmons noted “Fox NFL Sunday” has maintained ratings despite not having “phenomenal analysis” in part due to the “characters, the puff pieces, Rob Riggle -- guys I like but I don’t really take their opinions seriously.” The Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay noted the Fox pregame is a “hang” and they are “comfortable voices that you’re familiar with and grown up with in some instances." He said the same could be applied to TNT's “Inside the NBA,” as the hosts are “funny and they are irreverent, but they’re not giving you some insane breakdown” of a game. Simmons noted both the MLB postseason pregame shows on Fox and TBS were not "nearly as good" as they were last year. Simmons: “When I see five people on a studio show, I laugh my ass off. ... When you have a five-person (panel) and it’s a half-hour (show) and it’s four- and five-minute segments, it’s a disaster. There’s no way you’re going to have a normal conversation” ("The Bill Simmons Podcast," THERINGER.com, 12/8).