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Volume 25 No. 107


ESPN's overnight rating for the Home Run Derby saw an increase from two years ago

ESPN and ESPNews combined to earn a 4.4 overnight rating for Bryce Harper’s win in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby last night, down 23% from ’17, which drew a 5.7 on ESPN and ESPN2. Last year’s event (an 8-year ratings high) had noticeably more star power with the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge competing, while last night’s event also saw considerable competition from cable news networks. Ratings for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News saw a 39% year-over-year increase last night, with discussion around President Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin. The Derby on ESPN alone last night drew a 4.1 overnight, which is up from a 4.0 for the event in ’16, won by Stanton. The Derby last night peaked at a 4.5 rating from 9:15-9:30pm ET. DC and Chicago (the event featured two Cubs players) led all markets with a 9.0 rating. Based on overnights, ESPN projects to be in the top two networks across all TV in primetime last night (Josh Carpenter, Assistant Editor).

VIRTUAL WORLD: Yesterday's final of the inaugural Home Run Derby VR Championship competition drew a peak audience of more than 120,000 viewers on Twitch. The event, following qualifying rounds that were open to the FanFest and Play Ball Park visitors in DC over the weekend, was also streamed live on YouTube, Facebook and Mixer (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).

PLAYING HARD BALL: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote Fox is going to "start shoving" former MLBer David Ortiz "down America's throat." Ortiz "doesn't know when to shut up, talks over colleagues, and cannot be controlled" host Kevin Burkhardt (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/15). Also in N.Y., Phil Mushnick wrote under the header, "ESPN Making Baseball Tougher To Watch By Trying Too Hard." Routinely starting with the first pitch, ESPN "will prove that it’s incompatible with genuine baseball fans." Last Sunday's Dodgers-Angels game "was ESPN-standard insufferable" (N.Y. POST, 7/15).

Companies that host new niche sports offerings have "almost limitless" options in today's world for streaming their events as tech powerhouses like Amazon, Facebook and YouTube are "experimenting with sports rights," according Kevin Draper of the N.Y. TIMES. Pure streaming plays "abound, with television companies like ESPN, with ESPN+, and Turner, with B/R Live, attempting to disrupt themselves." Others, like Stadium, Eleven and FloSports, "project bright futures for their well-funded start-ups as they hope to become even fractionally as profitable as ESPN." Leagues can also "opt to stream directly on social media platforms like Twitch and Twitter." ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus said that "no matter how small or unpopular a league or team is, their games are probably streaming to fans somewhere." But even with an "energetic promotional campaign," streaming services and the niche sports they show "face plenty of significant challenges before they become a viable alternative to broadcast or cable television." They "need more exposure and more eyeballs." A "relatively small amount of people know these sports and services exist." Streaming services also have "yet to figure out a way to take advantage of the economics of bundling." FloSports "encompasses all of the possibilities and pitfalls of this business." Launched more than a decade ago, it "followed ESPN’s early playbook: Begin by buying rights to niche sports, and slowly work toward more mainstream ones." FloSports is "mostly known for its running and wrestling coverage." FloSports co-Founder & COO Mark Floreani said that the company has "signed more than 100 rights agreements this year already, though none is with a major sports organization." He "argued that streaming allows FloSports to show niche sports better than a traditional television channel would" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/17).

Blaze Pizza (@BlazePizza) is not a brand that typically uses its social media accounts to cross into the sports world. But with brand investor, ambassador and franchise owner LeBron James deciding to join the Lakers, Blaze capitalized on the moment. By promoting a free pizza giveaway to celebrate James’ arrival in L.A., Blaze saw its Twitter followers increase ten-fold in the week of July 8-14 compared to a typical week. Blaze Social Media Manager Rahiel Dawit said of involving James in future posts, “Maybe his move to Lakers can open up the door to do more. We are all Team LeBron regardless of personal opinion or your favorite team. Anything he does, we like to promote. We do a lot with the LeBron James Foundation. It’s important that we maintain our own brand voice and it doesn’t become another part of the LeBron machine.”

Must-follows: Complex. They are all about culture and you know what is hot when you follow them.
Favorite app: Instagram. I’m on it a little too much.
Average time per day on social media: A lot.

A moment in time:
The idea of free pizza was already in talks internally, but as soon as he made the final announcement, we hit the ground running. We wanted to tell the story for those who didn’t know his involvement with Blaze. There was a reason for the posts leading up to the announcement of our free pizza day. There was the video of his prank at our Pasadena location and the video of his “Uninterrupted” interview with Maverick Carter.

Relationship with LeBron James:
LeBron has control over his social media, so we can’t force him to share or do anything. We gave his team a heads up that we were going to do this and showed them the social posts. It was a surprise to us when he did share it. It was great for us to see that. Any brand would love his support. We just happen to have a leg up since he is a partner of ours.

Giving social media accounts a boost:
We increased our Twitter conversation by 400% over the course of that Monday and Tuesday. It had a huge impact in gaining fans, but also the conversation of Blaze and LeBron, for those who didn’t know the connection. Even if you don’t have a Blaze near you, you at least know of it and hope we come to your city because of LeBron.

Dealing with trolls:
We’re in the restaurant business so even if he wasn’t a partner, everyone's brand deals with this. My advice to the team is to ignore all the haters and focus on the people who love us and love him.

Benefits of having a social-savvy NBAer plug brand:
That’s a great thing about LeBron that he does, too, on his own channels. Anything he does tweet about us comes from an authentic place. It’s not anything where we say, “Talk about us today.” He’s doing it on his own. It helps us tremendously.

Working with other athletes and celebrities:
Not in this capacity. We’ve done some things and may be doing more things that are in line with culture. We donated pizza for Quavo from Migos’ birthday.

Fast-casual brand that does well on social media:
For sure, Taco Bell. I like their approach to social. I follow them personally from my accounts to see what they are doing and how they are doing it. They have their pulse on everything.


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