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Volume 25 No. 4

Media

ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro, overseeing his first Upfront this morning in N.Y. since taking the position in March, insisted the net’s relationship with the NFL is not strained and that he has spent significant time with league execs over the past two months. Pitaro praised ESPN’s upcoming “Monday Night Football” schedule, and was further supported by an unannounced appearance at the Upfront by Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones to tout “MNF” and the recent addition of Jason Witten to the booth. “The relationship is not strained. I’ve known the executive team, the leadership team at the league for many years. ... That relationship is a huge priority for ESPN,” said Pitaro, who met with the media for a half hour following the Upfront, far longer than similar sessions with former ESPN President John Skipper. Pitaro: “Together, we want and we need to grow the game of football, and that’s the priority. We’re very happy with our schedule, the support we’ve received from the NFL, our Wild Card game, and we’re incredibly excited about our new 'Monday Night Football' booth.”

ON THE PLUS SIDE OF THINGS: Pitaro said he was “very happy” with initial subscription conversions for the new ESPN+ OTT platform, but declined to specify any purchase numbers related to the product a month after its public debut. “We’re pleased with the number of users that are trying out the app and we’re also very pleased with the conversion rate,” Pitaro said. “People are converting from free to the paid experience, and the technology is incredibly strong. ... And it’s incredibly important to have that direct relationship with the sports fan.”

BALLS & STRIKES: ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus sought to put a brave face on early-season “Sunday Night Baseball” viewership that has sunk 30% to date. “A weekly series, it’s so volatile until you get into the meat of the schedule,” Magnus said. “The comparable matchups we’ve had at the beginning are not what they were last year. We have strong matchups coming, and there’s absolutely no concern around ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ long term. We love the new booth. We love the production and innnovation. ... As soon we put a Yankees-Red Sox game on there, I think we’re going to get healthy.” Alex Rodriguez, now part of the “SNB” broadcast team, also was part of the Upfront, announcing a new four-episode, in-depth interview show dubbed “Pivot,” which will feature Rodriguez as executive producer and host. Rodriguez referenced his own prior issues around PEDs and subsequent industry re-emergence, saying, “You don’t have to be defined by your mistakes.”

Fox' upfront presentation included discussions about the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia
Photo: FOX SPORTS PR

Fox held its upfront presentation yesterday in N.Y., and the words "live sports" were "thrown around so many times during the presentation it was almost an athletic feat in itself," according to Rose, Guthrie & O'Connell of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Fox TV Group co-Chairs & CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman used the platform to predict that Fox' fall lineup will draw 82% live viewing "courtesy of new entry 'Thursday Night Football.'" Newman said, "We have an opportunity to chart a new course for broadcast television. Positioning our network for the future and not tethering it to the past -- and spoiler alert: It’s really bright." What that future holds exactly, however, is still "very much up in the air." Fox "didn't commit" $600M a year for "TNF" rights to "not make it the focal point of its advertising pitch" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 5/14). Ad Age's Anthony Crupi tweeted, "Why does it matter that Fox Sports owns the fall? Because in the 20 weeks of the football season, consumers spend about $300 billion more than they do January through August" (TWITTER.com, 5/14). BROADCASTING & CABLE's Michael Malone noted Fox President of Advertising Revenue Joe Marchese during the presentation talked up "JAZ Pods, which will feature two 30-second national commercials per break." Marchese said that the spots will "appear in Fox’s prime, in Fox Sports and on National Geographic." Walden and Newman said that the 82% live viewership they are predicting is "ahead of NBC's projected 74%." The duo mentioned the net's "younger viewers, and massive social footprint." Fox' Joe Buck came out during the presentation to "talk about sports, including the World Cup" on Fox and FS1, "TNF," college football and the World Series. The words “We own the fall" appeared on the screen. Alex Rodriguez was next, talking about how baseball was headed for a "great, great summer and even better October" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 5/14). Washington Post's Steven Zeitchik: "Joe Buck comes out at Fox upfront and goes right to the topic of the day, saying 'you can now gamble' on sports and soliciting applause, which he gets." NPR's Eric Deggans: "The fact that Joe Buck is killing the best at Fox's #upfront is all you need to know about who is actually sitting in that roomful of advertisers" (TWITTER.com, 5/14).

LONG WAIT: VARIETY's Daniel Holloway noted NBCU's upfront segment about NBC Sports yesterday "kicked off with the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team taking the stage." They drew a "standing ovation, but also inadvertently highlighted the fact that this is not an Olympics year for NBC." One of the Gold Medalists, after promoting the World Cup on Telemundo, said, "And let’s not forget about the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020!" It served only as a "reminder of how far away that is" (VARIETY.com, 5/14). The Wall Street Journal's Joe Flint tweeted, "I'm not saying the NBC upfront was long but when it ended attendees were shocked to learn it was five years later."

DIFFERENT APPROACH: PostWrestling.com's John Pollock: "The WWE has a major presence at today's NBC Upfront" (TWITTER.com, 5/14). In N.Y., Joseph Staszewski writes, "If you thought there was any chance WWE would build up Ronda Rousey in even a semi-conventional way, forget it." The company used Rousey as the "box office attraction she has proven to be" when it announced that she will face champion Nia Jax for the Raw women’s title at the Money in the Bank PPV June 17 at Allstate Arena in Chicago. The news "didn’t come on the company’s television programs, but by Jax challenging Rousey to her first title match during a WWE video" at NBCU's upfronts (N.Y. POST, 5/15). 

Networks like ESPN could benefit from viewers having a more vested interest in shows
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision on sports betting is "likely to be a boon for media and data companies that have existing relationships with the major sports leagues," according to a front-page piece by Liptak & Draper of the N.Y. TIMES. Benefactors could include networks like ESPN, which is "likely to benefit from more fans having a more deeply vested interest in the action -- resulting in higher ratings" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/15). In Columbus, Rob Oller writes, "One measurable you can bank on is an increase in TV ratings as viewers -- who might or might not be sports fans -- tune in to track their parlays" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 5/15). GOLF.com's Josh Sens noted gambling "fuels fan interest." Sens: "Will it get more people on the course? Maybe. But there’s little doubt that it will get more people watching" (GOLF.com, 5/14).

CUT TO THE CHASE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes gambling will have a "major impact on sports media," as there will be "tremendous demand for programming promising to give the sports gambler an advantage." There is "already plenty of that stuff with fantasy sports, but now the networks will cut to the chase and do it for genuine gambling-gambling." Gambling shows "will be popular." But it will "endanger anyone in sports media who isn’t offering an edge" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/15). NBC SPORTS BOSTON's Phil Perry wrote NFL broadcasts "could be significantly altered." The stigma "attached to doing the type of show that discusses lines, over/unders and props -- a stigma that has faded -- is now that much closer to being erased." The result "should be more opportunities for entertaining personalities to build followings, and for creative gambling-specific content to become staples for average fans" (NBCSPORTSBOSTON.com, 5/14).

WFAN-AM and ESPN Radio N.Y. finished April tied in the ratings "among men ages 25-54" from 3:00-6:30pm ET, according to Neil Best of NEWSDAY. What is "significant about that monthly period, which covers March 29 to April 25, is that it was the final full month for the afternoon drive time show featuring Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott." WFAN's Mike Francesa "returned to that time slot on May 1." ESPN’s "The Michael Kay Show" had narrowly beaten "CMB" in the "quarterly winter ratings book." Overall, WFAN and ESPN "finished tied for fifth in the market among men 25-54" from 3:00-6:30pm in April. WFAN’s ratings were "helped by Yankees afternoon games, but the final tally represented a relatively positive finish for Carlin, Gray and Scott before they moved" from 2:00-6:30pm to 1:00-3:00pm. WFAN’s morning show of Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti were "ninth overall, down significantly from that time slot’s performance" in '17, when Esiason was paired with Craig Carton and later Jerry Recco (NEWSDAY, 5/15).

The digital sports media category in April continued a general upward trendline for the year in audience and consumption. Monthly comScore rankings of multiplatform digital reach showed the category with a total audience of 183.2 million, up slightly from March and up 1.4% from April of last year. The average of 106 minutes per user in digital sports media consumption during the month was also up 8% from April ’17. ESPN again paced the category with a reach total of 78.5 million unique visitors and consumption totals of 5.31 billion minutes and an average of 67.6 minutes per user. Meanwhile, MLBAM posted a company record of 1.6 billion minutes in consumption in April for MLB.com At Bat, the best total ever in any single month for baseball’s flagship mobile app. The total was fueled in part by the arrival of MLB’s ’18 regular season. 

RANK
SITE
UNIQUES (000)
1
ESPN
78,535
2
CBS Sports*
55,220
3
Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports Network**
51,475
4
Bleacher Report-Turner Sports Network***
50,989
5
USA Today Sports Media Group^
45,505
6
MLB
37,480
7
SB Nation
36,831
8
NFL Internet Group
34,534
9
Sports Illustrated sites
26,218
10
Fox Sports-Perform Media^^
25,948
11
Minute Media#
20,117
12
MSN Sports
19,520
13
NHL Network
12,090
14
Deadspin.com
11,596
15
Diehard sites
8,902
RANK
SITE
TOTAL TIME SPENT (MINUTES)
1
ESPN
5.31 billion
2
Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports Network**
2.82 billion
3
MLB
2.46 billion
4
Bleacher Report-Turner Sports Network***
1.38 billion
5
CBS Sports*
1.08 billion
6
NFL Internet Group
948 million
7
Fox Sports-Perform Media^^
443 million
8
USA Today Sports Media Group^
368 million
9
SB Nation
342 million
10
Sports Illustrated sites
150 million

NOTES: * = Includes 247Sports.com, MaxPreps and Scout Media. ** = Includes Rivals.com, The PostGame.com, Rotoworld and FanDuel. *** = Includes NBA.com, NCAA.com and WNBA.com. ^ = Includes 81 local Gannett-owned newspaper sites, 23 Gannett-owned broadcast TV sites, USA Today High School sports, The Big Lead, and For The Win. ^^ = Includes The Sporting News. # = Includes 90min, 12UP, DBLTap and The Spun.

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April ComScore Sports

Patriots (@Patriots) Social Media Manager Cecily Faenza first joined the franchise as part of their media relations department. Faenza took over her current position in ’15 and, as of last fall, has also started overseeing content and social media strategy for the Kraft family's Overwatch League team, Boston Uprising. Faenza said of fan engagement during the NFL offseason, “We’re definitely not at the level we are at in-season, especially our game day engagement, but there’s still plenty of interest in our team.” Despite the lull during this part of the league year, Faenza noted the Patriots’ content strategy “doesn’t change” throughout the year.

How social media strategy and content change as the league year progresses:
The biggest change is the amount of content. At the most basic level, our content strategy is to create relevant, relatable, authentic content and that doesn’t change based on time of year. At this time of year, obviously we don’t have game previews or any of the storylines centered around game day so it’s more focused on the various points in the NFL offseason calendar like preparing for the Draft, the Draft itself and then introducing the new players to fans from both an off-field and on-field perspective.

Preparing for a drop in engagement during the offseason:
We’re still trying to create content for all the various segments, from fans who are interested in what the roster will look like to those who want to know what the players are up to during the offseason to a horse named Gronkowski qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. In terms of the Boston sports market, I feel like all the teams really rally together around this time, from players attending the games to teams wishing each other good luck and supporting each other. But we try to stay mindful that we’re not just competing for people’s attention with the other Boston teams or the other NFL teams, but everyone in each individual’s feed -- whether that’s cute baby pictures from your cousin or Taylor Swift or the Celtics.

Producing content between Super Bowl and training camp:
That’s where we try to really focus on the conversation around us and how we can be relevant and relatable even though it’s not football season. That can take on many forms, from posting about the fact it’s still snowing in April in New England to "Fortnite"-themed graphics to viral memes. We try to be careful on deciding what’s a good fit for us -- not trying to insert our brand into everything -- but what makes sense and making sure everything tracks back to who/what we are: a football team. In terms of content types, it could really be anything from video montages to graphics to funny Photoshops or behind-the-scenes photos.

Content and platforms drawing the most fan interaction and engagement:
Instagram. Relative to other platforms, we post the least there and are trying to curate a feed of great photos, graphics and videos. We’ve really increased the amount of video we’ve posted to the platform. We’re trying to create complementary content on Instagram Stories that’s a bit timelier, meaning it’s up for 24 hours as part of a bigger story versus posted as part of the algorithm, and really brings you through a story from beginning to end and we’ve had really solid results in terms of engagements and reach on the platform. We’re working to create content specifically for the platform -- square videos only -- or cutting out clips from longer form content to put on the platform.

Patriots who do a good job with their own social media:
Tom Brady and Julian Edelman are great at creating original, engaging content that’s true to their individual brands, including graphics, videos and behind the scenes photos.

If you know anyone who should be featured for their use of social media, send their name to us at jperez@sportsbusinessdaily.com.