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Volume 21 No. 1


When Fox Sports hired Vincent Cordero last June to run its Spanish-language network, the network was called Fox Sports en Español and it depended on live sports, like the UEFA Champions League soccer. The channel now is called Fox Deportes, and under Cordero’s direction has launched several studio shows to supplement its events. The result has seen Fox Deportes claim seven of the 10 most-viewed sports in Spanish cable, including the highest-rated boxing match (a 3.11 rating with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.) and English Premier League match (a 4.0 for Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United). Cordero spoke with staff writer John Ourand last week about his first nine months on the job.

When you started at Fox Deportes nine months ago, what changes did you immediately identify needed to be made?
: We had to shift the way in which we viewed our network from niche to general market. We needed to fully focus on the U.S. Latin marketplace, to serve it at the highest levels with the highest production, with the highest level of content.

What do you mean?
: America has a new face, and it is Latino. The census just came out when I started. The U.S. Latino marketplace has 50.5 million people, representing 16 percent of the total population in the United States. In the key media demographic, adults 18-49, U.S. Latinos represent 22 percent in the United States. In Chicago and New York, Latinos represent 30 percent respectively; and 58 percent of the L.A. DMA.

How do you better reach that audience?
: We launched a new branding campaign. We programmed the way we schedule live events differently. And there was an opportunity to really focus on news and talk. That was something historically that we had not done. We launched three new shows: “Fútbol Sin Códigos (Football without Boundaries),” “Crónica Fox (Fox Chronicles)” and “Fox Deportes Extra.” With those three shows, we went from producing 277 hours of news and talk in 2010, to — on a yearly average — producing over 800 hours.

What’s the model you’re using?
: The model that seemed clearest to me is what Fox News has done. It owned their space by redefining it. They originated a distinct and authentic and entertaining voice across all content, with strong talent and strong production, tailor-made to serve a specific customer. That’s without fear; without qualification.

Soccer obviously is popular. What else resonates with viewers?
: If you look at our total hours, we produce 1,700 hours of live original event programming. Essentially, 1,400 of that 1,700 is soccer. Top Rank and UFC have performed very well for us. We are the exclusive home of postseason Major League Baseball, including the World Series. We just acquired Formula One last year. In sports television, it’s all about events, and we own the events.

Why the push into news and talk then?
: On the English side, if somebody thinks about sports, who do they turn to? For the Latino marketplace, when someone wakes up in the morning or goes to bed at night or is interested throughout the day, and it’s something about sports, we want to be the default.

With the value of college media rights continuing to swell, ESPN and the Big East Conference are negotiating to extend their media deal, which ends after the 2013 college football season, according to several sources privy to the talks.

A deal is not imminent and could take months to complete, if at all, partly because the Big East schools aren’t on the same page in terms of strategy, sources said. But initial indications show the current trend of escalating rights fees will continue, as the extension being discussed would more than triple the conference’s current media rights fee.

ESPN and the Big East are taking an aggressive posture in extending their nearly 32-year relationship by initiating these talks much earlier than normal. Typically, with a deal expiring at the end of 2013, talks wouldn’t have started until next year.

ESPN currently pays the Big East an average of $36 million annually as part of a six-year contract for all of its sports. While initial numbers being floated may not be as rich as the ESPN/ACC deal that was struck last spring, it would still mark a major boost for the 16-team conference.

Sources indicate the early numbers range from $110 million to $130 million annually, but conference sources describe those figures as a starting point for any negotiation. The initial offer would fall short of the $155 million annual payout the ACC will receive from ESPN in a deal that kicks in this summer. But the bold push by ESPN shows the network wants to lock down college rights in the face of increasing competition.

Despite the long history between the conference and the network — they’ve been partners since 1979 — several obstacles have to be cleared before any extension can be finalized.

ESPN’s offer has created a division among the conference’s schools. Some want to rebuff ESPN’s offer and take the conference’s media rights to the open market. The reason: The amount of potential bidders in the market has helped other leagues increase their media rights more than they initially expected.

During ESPN’s negotiations for the ACC rights last year, the network’s bid leaped from about $120 million to more than $155 million per year once Fox emerged as a legitimate contender.

Just last week, the Big 12 verified that Fox intends to be a significant player in the college rights space with its 13-year, $90 million per year deal that more than quadrupled the $20 million the conference was getting in its previous cable arrangement.

Earlier this year, Fox Sports agreed to pay Conference USA a total of $42 million for its rights over five years.

And the Pac-10, which is deep into negotiations on the open market with Fox, ESPN, Turner and Comcast/NBC, has talked about signing an all-in media rights deal worth north of $200 million per year.

Still, ESPN’s initial offer has support among several other Big East schools, who are looking for ways to increase revenue and secure their futures in a league that seems annually to be the target of poachers from other conferences.

The 16 Big East schools — soon to be 17 when TCU joins — have to share the $36 million the conference gets annually from ESPN. A new ESPN deal would reset that market, making the Big East more competitive with other conferences and potentially convincing schools with bigger football programs — like Syracuse and Pittsburgh — to stay with the conference.

As the talks unfold, sources say, all eyes will be on Big East Commissioner John Marinatto, who succeeded Mike Tranghese in 2009 and embarks on his first major media negotiation.

The draw for the Big East traditionally has been its strength in basketball. The league sent 11 teams to the NCAA tournament this past season and its ninth-place squad, UConn, wound up winning the national championship. Football, on the other hand, has been a drag on the conference.

The team with the best record in the NBA’s Western Conference also was crowned the league’s local TV champion this year. The San Antonio Spurs finished the season with a 10.19 local rating for its games on FS Southwest, up 52 percent from last year’s mark.

The Spurs’ local TV rating more than doubled that of the high-profile Miami Heat, which saw its local ratings on Sun Sports nearly double to a 4.94 average, third-best in the league. Thanks largely to the arrival of superstar LeBron James, the Heat posted a whopping 99 percent increase in its average rating from last season.

The Utah Jazz posted the No. 2 average rating, at 5.60, up 1.8 percent from last year.

Conversely, the team James left, the Cleveland Cavaliers, saw the biggest yearly ratings drop in at least seven years. Last year’s local ratings leader, the Cavs saw ratings on FS Ohio drop 54 percent. The team’s 3.93 average rating still was seventh highest in the league.

Overall, the local ratings story was a good one for the league. Fourteen of the 28 teams that SportsBusiness Journal obtained ratings on saw double-digit increases, including big market teams like the Los Angeles Clippers (up 130 percent on Prime Ticket), Chicago Bulls (up 91 percent on CSN Chicago) and New York Knicks (up 89 percent on MSG).

Ratings for the New Orleans Hornets and Toronto Raptors were unavailable.

“We expected ratings growth but we didn’t expect to double the ratings,” said Jim Corno, president of Comcast SportsNet Chicago. “[Interest in the Bulls] has gone beyond the avid fan to the casual fan, and people are now seeking out the games. Interest is getting pretty close to when we had Michael [Jordan] and Scottie [Pippen.]”

Not surprisingly, the big market clubs also had the biggest average audiences. Los Angeles Lakers games on FS West had the biggest audiences (271,000 homes), followed by the Bulls (157,000), Knicks (138,000) and Boston Celtics (116,000 on CSN New England).

For the second consecutive year, the New Jersey Nets were the league’s lowest-rated team. The Nets’ 0.29 average rating on YES Network was more than three times below the next lowest rating: the Clippers’ 0.99 local rating.

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Staff writer John Lombardo contributed to this report.

Is Pittsburgh the new Hockey Town?

For at least the fourth consecutive season, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the kings of the NHL’s local TV ratings, as Pens games on Root Sports this season averaged the league’s highest rating of 8.68.

In the NHL's 22nd largest market, the Penguins attracted the league's largest local TV audience.
The Penguins also have attracted the NHL’s largest average audience, at 101,000 homes per game, even though Pittsburgh is the league’s 22nd largest market.

Overall, local TV ratings presented a mixed bag for the league, with 11 of the 22 teams for which SportsBusiness Journal has data showing increases. Data was not available for the six Canadian clubs, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators.

Perhaps the most impressive showing was in St. Louis, where Blues games on FS Midwest posted a 32 percent increase even though the team did not make the playoffs. St. Louis finished the season ranked fifth in the NHL’s ratings grid, with a 3.07 average, which equals 39,000 homes.

On the other side of the coin, one of the league’s best on-ice teams, the San Jose Sharks, experienced one of the biggest local ratings drops. Sharks games were down 28 percent on CSN California. Its 0.80 rating placed 14th; its 20,000 average households finished 16th.

Not surprisingly, the league’s biggest markets posted the biggest local TV audiences. Following Pittsburgh, the largest local TV audiences came in Chicago (96,000 average homes on CSN Chicago), Boston (77,000 on NESN), Detroit (76,000 on FS Detroit), Philadelphia (71,000 on CSN Philadelphia) and New York (59,000 for Rangers games on MSG).

The Florida Panthers continued to suffer through TV problems. The club’s 0.16 rating and 3,000-home average were both league lows. Atlanta didn’t fare much better on FS South and SportSouth, finishing second to last in ratings and households.

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The Miami Heat has signed with Virginia-based mobile developer XCO SportsLink to develop a series of advanced mobile applications set to debut for the 2011-12 NBA season, if there is one.

The free Heat applications for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry platforms will include features such as video highlights, statistics, news, social media integration, alerts and push notifications, and a heavy emphasis on in-game content for fans attending AmericanAirlines Arena games.

The deal extends a run of deals for XCO SportsLink, including ones with the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats and Philadelphia 76ers guard Evan Turner.

“The whole development cycle in our platform is really beginning to accelerate,” said Alan Hayman, XCO SportsLink president. “People are beginning to really understand the concept of our apps being the single place a fan needs to go for everything.”

The 2011-12 NBA season stands in doubt, however. The collective-bargaining agreement expires in June, and league and players union officials are far apart ideologically on several key economic issues.

As a result, the new apps, even as they continue to be refined, will not be released until after a new CBA is reached. Still, planning and product development are happening now in order to restart fan development as soon as the dispute ends.

“We probably could have pushed something out for this [current] season, but elected to wait and really take full advantage of new-generation technology, and that will also mean waiting until everything is resolved,” said Michael Farmer, Heat director of Internet services.