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Volume 24 No. 216

Media

The NBA has expanded its partnership with Verizon in a wide-ranging, multiyear agreement that will see official league content distributed on the telecom giant’s Oath portfolio of digital media brands. The agreement calls for a series of highlights and original programming, including a daily morning show on Yahoo Sports that will include highlights and commentary, access to sample and purchase NBA League Pass on Yahoo Sports and Verizon, and the development of augmented reality content through L.A.-based video company Ryot Corp., another Verizon holding. The deal expands significantly upon a prior deal the NBA struck with Verizon in ’15 to distribute content through the carrier’s mobile-oriented go90 video streaming app. Renewal talks began to take on a new complexion after Verizon’s purchase last year of Yahoo, which it merged with AOL to create Oath. “We’re always interested in expanding our reach as much as possible. But this deal is also about pushing forward with regard to innovation,” said NBA President of Global Content & Media Distribution Bill Koenig. The two sides will collaborate on alternative game presentations, similar to what the league has done with its mobile-specific camera angle for NBA League Pass and its ongoing work with Twitch for the G League. The strategy fits in with the NBA’s desire to create unique ways for viewers to watch NBA games. Financial terms were not disclosed, but a source said the deal is expected to be a three-year agreement. The new Verizon agreement contains a sizable fantasy component that will include customized fantasy highlight packages and the development of new fantasy basketball games. “With the addition of live NBA games, highlights, classic footage, originals and more to our mobile sports offering, Yahoo Sports and Verizon’s family of media brands are becoming the first screen for fans of live sports,” said Verizon Senior VP and Global Chief Media & Content Officer Brian Angiolet. Koenig and Angiolet were responsible for finalizing the deal.

Interim ESPN President George Bodenheimer's appearance on the sidelines before the Alabama-Georgia CFP title game last week "projected an aura of calm and stability for a network that has not experienced calm and stability for weeks," according to Ourand & Smith in this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. ESPN President John Skipper's "stunning exit and revelation that he suffered from a substance abuse problem flooded ESPN's headquarters with angst during the network's busiest period of the year." No one "knows who will be ESPN's next president" and nobody from ESPN has even been "contacted about applying for the position yet." But even with that uncertainty, the "mantra among both ESPN executives and staffers has been to keep their heads down and shut out all of the noise around Disney's search for a new president." Bodenheimer's "steady influence and reassuring presence already has been felt by the rank-and-file and has helped keep the network on track" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/15 issue).

STILL UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: In N.Y., Hannah Withiam notes author Jim Miller has "gone on the record doubting Skipper's 'addiction' was his downfall, wondering in a first-person account why Skipper would not just take a leave of absence to deal with his issue." If not an addiction problem, was Skipper's handling of ESPN's latest controversies -- "SC6" host Jemele Hill's "suspension for a second violation following her tweets calling President Trump a 'white supremacist' and the abrupt cancellation" of Barstool Van Talk the "nail in the coffin?" Miller said, "I don't think John Skipper resigned as president of ESPN because of having to deal with social media. I don't think that's true. ... I think social media wound up being probably one of the biggest thorns in his side that his predecessors didn't have to deal with and something that his successor is definitely going to have to deal with." Withiam notes though Miller would "not offer any names" for who ESPN's next president might be, he "hypothesized it would be the first time in decades that person came from the outside" (N.Y. POST, 1/17).

There is some reason for the NFL to hope Sunday's Vikings-Eagles NFC Championship "could offer a meaningful bump" to its sagging TV ratings, according to Rob Tornoe of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. There is a "lot of buzz about the Vikings thanks to their walk-off win over the Saints." And not only do the Eagles remain the No. 4 television market in the country, but last week’s Vikings-Saints game "pulled in an impressive 55.5 rating" in Minneapolis-St. Paul. That "bodes well for the NFL" heading into Sunday. Plus, the Eagles have been a "reliable television draw all season" (PHILLY.com, 1/16). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck writes what Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, Eagles QB Nick Foles and Vikings QB Case Keenum "lack in traditional star power, they make up for in the kind of everyman human interest angles that can’t help but capture the imagination of a lot of fans who are understandable weary of all the controversy and the competitive status quo." Of the eight postseason games that have been played so far, "only two have been decided by more than one score." Schmuck: "That’s entertainment." Whether this postseason "provides enough of it for fans to allow the NFL to get a fresh start next season remains to be seen, but the league couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to turn the page on a very chaotic" '17 season (BALTIMORE SUN, 1/17).

PLAYING FAVORITES? BLEACHER REPORT's Mike Freeman writes the possibility of a Jaguars-Vikings Super Bowl "causes NFL execs to throw up in their mouths." There is "no way" it would be a "ratings bonanza." Freeman: "That's why the league will be quietly crossing its fingers Super Bowl media day doesn't include reporters interviewing Case Keenum before pivoting to Blake Bortles" (BLEACHERREPORT.com, 1/17). In Boston, Steve Buckley writes under the header, "For This Week At Least, Roger Goodell Is A Patriots Fan." He writes, "While plucky underdogs make for good copy, the Super Bowl will get the highest ratings if it has big stars and/or heinous villains. The Jaguars have neither. The Patriots boil over with both" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/17).

ON THE WAY DOWN
: In Atlanta, Tim Tucker notes the Eagles-Falcons NFC Divisional playoff game Saturday "posted a 29.3 rating" in Atlanta, down from a 35.0 rating for the comparable Falcons-Seahawks matchup last year. That ratings difference "means about 138,000 fewer homes in the Atlanta market watched Saturday’s game than watched the Falcons-Seahawks game a year earlier -- about 707,000 homes vs. about 845,000" (AJC.com, 1/16).

IN NEED OF A TURNAROUND: In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg noted the Panthers have "lost a quarter of their local TV audience over the past two years." An average of 413,000 people "watched the Panthers each week in the Charlotte TV market" in '17, down 3.9% from last season. That dip followed a "decline of 20.6%" in '16, when the team finished 6-10 following a trip to the Super Bowl a year earlier (BIZJOURNALS.com, 1/12).

The opening week of Overwatch League action drew an average audience of 280,000 globally over four days, OWL officials said. Last Wednesday's opening day drew an average audience per minute of 408,000 before falling back on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Viewership peaked at 437,000 during the first day Dallas Fuel-Seoul Dynasty match, and a total of 10 million people watched at least some part of the first week. It is not clear how much of the OWL viewership came from North America, a key question for potential sponsors. The OWL struck a two-year, $90M deal with Twitch making it the exclusive third party distributor everywhere except China. In China, streaming partners are  ZhanQi TV, NetEase CC, and Panda TV. Half the action also streams on Blizzard's in-house platform, MLG.com.

GAINING IN EXPOSURE: The OWL was featured on CBS' "Evening News" last night, with the net's Mireya Villarreal calling the league the “latest phenomenon in the popular world of esports.” She added the OWL is "sparing no expense to make this feel like a real sporting event." The report noted there is an estimated 191 million esports fans worldwide, and the industry last year earned $660M in revenue. Expectations are that figure will grow to $1.5B by ’20.

 For more coverage of the business of esports, visit our partners, esportsobserver.com.