Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 26 No. 5

Media

Sinclair believes that adding the RSNs make its the preeminent local sports provider in the country
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Sinclair Broadcasting Group has "made a big bet on the future of live sports to pair with its new offerings" in buying the 21 Disney RSNs for a reported $10.6B, according to Ben Strauss of the WASHINGTON POST. Sinclair President & CEO Chris Ripley said, "We will become the preeminent local news and sports provider in the country. And those two genres, in terms of live viewership, are head and shoulders above any other genre." Ripley said that he expects to "package the RSNs and broadcast channels to cable distributors, which pay fees to broadcast stations even though they are available over the air free." Ripley suggested that there would be "some business operations streamlining involved in sales and back-end management as well." Ripley added that Sinclair also "sees opportunity in legalized sports betting and building out content for the RSNs." Strauss notes when the RSNs were owned by Fox before the Disney acquisition, "most of the channels offered little beyond live games and pre-and-postgame coverage" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/7). In Atlanta, Tim Tucker noted Ripley "expressed confidence in the sustainable value of sports broadcast rights despite increased resistance from some cable subscribers to paying high fees for sports networks." He said, "We asked ourselves sort of a simple question: Ten years from now, would the local MLB, NBA and NHL teams' rights be important to people? And the answer to that was pretty easy -- they will be" (AJC.com, 5/6).

ADDED LEVERAGE: Sinclair's purchase of the Fox-branded RSNs is the worst possible outcome for distributors. That was the consensus from many media execs contacted since the deal was announced last week. There is a reason Sinclair's share price rose 35% yesterday in an overall down market. As the country's biggest owner of local broadcast stations, Sinclair now holds much more leverage in distribution negotiations with the RSNs. The company also has a well-earned reputation as a tough negotiator. Adding the RSNs is sure to make those conversations tougher. Look for Sinclair to offer equity stakes in RSNs as their rights deals start to expire, which is how Sinclair's RSN relationships with the Cubs and Yankees are structured. Several teams already own stakes in the Fox RSNs. Ripley said, "We expect that to be a core tenet of renewals going forward because we do think that it aligns interest better and it variable-izes the expense structure" (John Ourand, SBJ Media).

BUSINESS AS USUAL: In Ft. Lauderdale, Wells Dusenbury noted while FS Florida will "soon be under new management, the Sinclair deal doesn't significantly impact negotiations" between the Marlins and the network. The two sides have been "working on a new deal for 20 months -- much of it with the knowledge there would be an ownership change -- meaning the Marlins wouldn't have spent all that time at the negotiating table if they had to start from scratch with a new group." The Marlins' current deal with FS Florida, which expires after the '20 season, pays the team $15-20M per season (South Florida SUN SENTINEL, 5/6).

Swofford said his conference could not be in any better shape in the lead up to the ACC Network's launch
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

The ACC Network "remains the top focus of those around the league" just over three months from its Aug. 22 launch date, as "distribution deals are worked out, programming decisions are made and talent is hired," according to Brant Wilkerson-New of the Greensboro NEWS & RECORD. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said, "We don’t think we could be in any better shape for that than we are right now." Among the "big-name national carriers that have yet to reach a deal" for the ACC Network are Comcast, Charter, Dish Network and AT&T U-verse. It is "likely several of those deals could be announced near the launch date." One thing the conference "learned from watching other conferences launch their networks was ensuring they had proper leverage in the marketplace, and Swofford feels that the ACC Network has that in partnering with ESPN" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 5/7). Swofford said all of the carriers "will come into play as we work towards the launch." He said, "You’ll be able to get the network one way or another just about anywhere" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/7).

MONEY MATTERS: The AP's Aaron Beard noted the ACC "hopes the channel’s launch helps it close a financial gap" with its Power Five peers, which has "only grown in recent years." The average payout for the ACC’s 14 full-time members for the '16-17 season was $26.6M, with football "driving the revenues." By comparison, the SEC distributed nearly $41M per school. Swofford has "declined to talk about specific financial projections for the ACC Network, and has said it could take years to provide full benefits" (AP, 5/6). Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock said he has "no idea" yet about the level of revenue that the ACC Network will provide, but it "will be more" than his school receives now. He said, "We’ll gain some ground on our national peers. We won’t gain ground within the ACC. But we love it from a visibility and recruiting standpoint and a financial add-on, so that will be a nice influx of revenue, whatever it may be, that the SEC already enjoys." Babcock said VT has hired 10-14 new people to "help us with the network" and any productions coming from a new broadcast studio (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/3).

MORE EXPOSURE: In Virginia, Michael Shroyer notes the impending launch of the ACC Network has the conference "mapping out a content plan for next year that includes a push for more member schools" to air their spring football games. VT was one of six ACC teams not to televise their spring game in '19, and it has "been that way" since coach Justin Fuente took over the program in '16. VT's spring game was "broadcast on ESPN3 for the last few years of Frank Beamer’s tenure." The ACC has "let its members decide whether or not to televise their spring games in the past." Swofford said that that "won’t change ... but the conference wants to get more of those games on the air" (ROANOKE TIMES, 5/7).

Last year, the club stopped sending on-air personalities on the road with the team in order to save money
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Real Salt Lake Chief Business Officer Andy Carroll said that the plan is still to keep the broadcast team of David James and Brian Dunseth "grounded for RSL road games" because of the cost savings, according to Alex Vejar of the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE. The savings "allow the team to allocate more money to players and also to invest in Dunseth, James, producer Kenneth Neal and sideline reporter Samantha Yarock, who does travel to all RSL road games." RSL last August stopped airing NWSL Utah Royals FC games live on KMYU-TV and stopped sending on-air personalities James and Dunseth on the road with RSL. At the time, Carroll said that those decisions were "made for financial reasons," after their previous broadcast partner, American Sports Network, folded in August '17. Afterward, the team had to "shell out for broadcasts." Carroll said the amount of money saved by having James and Dunseth call road games from a broadcast booth inside Rio Tinto Stadium was “somewhere in the mid-six figures" for an entire season. Carroll is "aware of the limitations to not having broadcasters on the road, but he feels the club has made significant investments to counteract those drawbacks." The Royals, after having live TV broadcasts cut before the end of last season, have "returned to KMYU for road games this season." That feed comes from the NWSL. But for home games, there is "no local television option" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 5/7).

Univ. of Oklahoma Dir of Digital Media Tory Kukowski (@OU_Athletics) has seen his fair share of athletic accomplishments during his 12 years at the school. He said OU is “very fortunate to have high-profile events to celebrate,” adding, “Not to joke about it, but it’s kind of becoming routine.” One of the seemingly routine events is OU having a Heisman trophy candidate. OU ran three campaigns for Baker Mayfield in each of his three seasons, as well as last year for Kyler Murray. Kukowski said of Mayfield, “The first year was a little more of a longshot. That year we really capitalized on him being big into video games. That campaign was called 'The Gamer.' The next year, we had two guys -- he and Dede Westbrook -- and it happened to be a year of a presidential campaign. We did a dual ticket campaign.” He added, “In Baker’s third year, we didn’t need to get quite as creative because his record numbers were the campaign. This year with Kyler, we had a unique opportunity with his two-sport ability and paid homage to the 'Bo Knows' campaign."

SOCIAL SNAPSHOT
Must-follows: Kevin DeShazio is a leadership consultant who is really good. Another is Jon Gordon.
Favorite apps: It's a new app we found called MoShow. We have been using that for a lot of quick turn, bringing photos to life.

Average time per day on social media: 6-8 hours.

Building social media campaigns:
We try to highlight the future of our teams first. There are those situations for awards like a Heisman or No. 1 draft pick that demand their own attention. We take a step back and take a look at. What are the strengths of that individual from an on-the-field performance and personality-wise as well? We look at what we think we’ll be able to work with them on because we want them to be a part of it and want them to be invested in it, because it’s really about them.

Evolution of promotion:
We don’t necessarily do as many hard mailers. We’ve done as part of our campaigns some email communications that tie in with the look and feel of the whole campaign. It’s the power of social media. In the old days, where you were dealing with hard types of mailers, it was out of necessity at the time as the digital space wasn’t as big. Ultimately this leads to more people. In essence, it is free for us. There is no hard cost for us where if you print out mailers, there is a cost associated with that.

Social media philosophy:
It’s team-first with everything. Our digital media philosophy is it’s not about us individually. It’s about the teams and the student-athletes and programs we are promoting. With the history and tradition we have, the goal is always achieving that at the highest level in every regard. Our cycle of success starts with recruiting. Every communication tries to have a recruiting message in it. If we recruit well, we are going to do well on the field, which is the second part of that cycle. No. 3, we are going to have more fans in our building supporting our teams. And with that, the fourth part is, the more people we have, the more revenue we generate. The more we generate, the more we can update facilities, and that goes back to recruiting.

“Why Oklahoma” and other episodic features:
We’ve done some different types of series. This one is very much recruiting focused. We had a number of our guys who were in the NFL Draft, six or seven in that room. We did it around Pro Day and capitalized on the opportunity of having them all back. It was about an hour-long shoot, but we got so much great content out of it. When we started going through the footage and going through the editing process, we had about seven or eight very specific topics that we can break it into. We’ll carry this through the summer. We’ll put them all together in the fall and it will be like a 30-minute TV special for us.

Working with brands:
Obviously sponsorships and partnerships are a huge revenue driver for us. It’s a key piece of what we do. But we try to make sure anything we do from that standpoint is something that makes sense, something that is closely tied to our brand and the values of our brand. Ultimately it is something that provides value to our stakeholders, primarily our fans.

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