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Volume 20 No. 42


Bloomberg Sports is making its first significant entry into the European market with this week’s introduction of BSports Football, a soccer analytics data product focusing on five major European leagues.

BSports Football will be a multiplatform digital product analyzing teams and players from the English Premier League, La Liga in Spain, Bundesliga in Germany, Ligue 1 in France and Serie A in Italy, as well as continental competition such as the Champions League and the UEFA European Cup Championship.

BSports Football will be unveiled Wednesday.
The product will be akin to Bloomberg’s suite of online and mobile sports data products sold in the United States, particularly around fantasy football, but the European entry will be targeted to both mainstream fan markets as well as bookmakers and bettors in areas where legalized gambling around soccer exists. Bloomberg will formally introduce the new offering Wednesday at an event it is hosting in London.

BSports Football is the first major effort to arrive out of an alliance struck earlier this year between Bloomberg Sports and IMG in which the agency acquired a minority stake in Bloomberg’s sports data unit. The deal, which industry sources value between $6 million and $8 million, was struck with an eye toward opening European and Asian markets for analytics products built particularly around soccer and cricket.

“This in a lot of ways is the next big step in the strategy we’ve embarked upon to become a true global operation,” said Bill Squadron, head of Bloomberg Sports. “We think this is going to become a compelling information tool.”

BSports will be offered free for an initial trial period, and then sold at a rate of either about $6.50 a month or a little more than $32 for an entire soccer season. One subscription will enable access across nearly every personal computer, tablet or smartphone, similar to how many digital products are now sold in the U.S. BSports will begin with analysis only on a pregame and postgame basis, but in early 2013 Bloomberg intends to bolster the product with live, in-match analytics.

The University of Oklahoma’s block of branded programming on Fox Sports Net will result in upward of $7 million in new annual revenue from both Fox and the school’s multimedia rights holder, Learfield Sports.

Oklahoma’s agreement to have branded content — including live games — run on Fox regionals in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas will pay the school $58 million over 10 years, industry sources say. Some of that money will go toward the production of events.

Oklahoma considered its own network before deciding on a featured spot on Fox regionals.
While that’s not Texas money — the Longhorns’ deal with ESPN for the Longhorn Network pays $300 million over 20 years — the Sooners will not face distribution battles that have been so frustrating for Texas fans.
Sooner Sports TV Powered by Fox, as it’s being called, will reach 9 million households on FSN channels in the four states.

Learfield, the longtime rights holder at Oklahoma, is rewriting its deal with the Sooners to include new rights and terms that will increase the payout to the school from its current $7.5 million a year. The extension between Learfield and Oklahoma is expected to take the relationship out to 2022 and increase the revenue to the school by $1 million to $2 million annually. The old deal would have ended in 2017.

Oklahoma and Learfield have agreed to the parameters of that deal, but it has not been finalized, both sides said.
“Learfield has been engaged with us in everything from sales to sponsorship activation, and this creates an even broader platform for them to sell,” said Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione.

Sooner Sports TV turned out to be a trendsetter in the Big 12 Conference. Texas Tech announced an agreement with Fox last week that will put football, basketball, Olympic sports events and two magazine shows on the Fox regionals in the same region. New conference member TCU has a similar arrangement with Fox. Those go into effect this season.

Sources say Fox is in talks with three other Big 12 schools — Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State — to show their live games and shoulder programs.

The Big 12 gives its schools the right to exploit any home games that are not picked up by the conference’s TV partners, Fox and ESPN.

“This is the best of all possible worlds,” said Lee Berke, a TV consultant who worked with Oklahoma and TCU on their deals. “Oklahoma seriously contemplated a channel and it had the ability to construct that. We looked at every possible way to offer this programming. This was the right model for Oklahoma and its fans, and for regional networks that need content.”

Sorting through who gets what in the aftermath of these deals can be complicated.

Sooner Sports TV, clearly the most expansive school arrangement with Fox, will have a minimum of 1,000 hours of programming on the Fox channels. Content will be produced by SoonerVision, the production arm of the athletic department. The school has spent between $4 million and $5 million and hired 95 employees, including full and part time, to develop its production capabilities.

Fox eventually will take over, the school’s official website and the home for live streaming of any events that don’t go to Sooner Sports TV. College Network operates the website through the 2012-13 season. Any live events that don’t go to TV will be streamed live on the site.

Learfield, meanwhile, picks up the rights to sell the majority of advertising and sponsorship within the branded TV programming, which will include at least one live football game, eight live basketball games and several live Olympic sports events. Other shoulder programming and game rebroadcasts will be part of the content as well.

Fox will have some ability to sell units into the TV programming, but Learfield will retain most of the time. Learfield also will have the ability to roll ad units on Fox into its corporate sponsorship packages.

Given that Oklahoma has been considering a network for more than two years, Learfield had a go-to-market strategy ready at the start of this year.

Three founding partner positions have been sold and a fourth is nearly done. The first three to come on board are Chickasaw Nation, an Oklahoma-based Native American nation that runs casinos and off-track betting; Chesapeake Energy; and a co-op of groups on campus, including the alumni association.

Greg Brown, Learfield’s president and CEO, said selling TV ad units and sponsorships is well within the agency’s competency. Learfield has long been selling advertising for its TV and radio broadcasts of Oklahoma events, as well as coaches shows and any other programming.

Learfield has a sales staff of 10 based in Norman, Okla., that runs Sooner Sports Properties, making it one of Learfield’s “two or three largest properties,” Brown said. Eric Barnhart is the longtime general manager of the Oklahoma property.

Brown said Learfield has not decided if it will add to the sales staff.

The SEC’s negotiations with ESPN about a new channel are nearing their final stages, and a glimpse inside the talks reveals that three issues are close to being resolved before the channel’s expected launch in August 2014.

The SEC needs the local TV rights back from the schools to give the channel part of the content it needs. Those rights belong to the schools’ rights holders — IMG College, Learfield Sports and CBS Collegiate Sports Properties — so the SEC must negotiate with them to acquire those rights before launching a channel.

Those local rights amount to one football game per school and roughly six to eight basketball games for each school, plus a host of nonrevenue sports events including baseball, softball and soccer.

ESPN is not likely to partner with another media company on the SEC channel. That leaves Charlotte-based ESPN Regional Television, the ESPN unit that operates ESPNU and manages all of the network-owned bowl games and basketball tournaments, poised to take a significant role in the channel.

Sources familiar with the negotiations say that ESPN Regional Television’s Charlotte office likely will become the headquarters for the new SEC channel because it already has the infrastructure and talent to get the channel up and running efficiently.

Months ago, Comcast reached out to ESPN about the possibility of partnering on an SEC channel, sources said. Comcast was looking into the possibility of flipping its Comcast Sports Southeast channel into an SEC channel, but those talks did not progress. Comcast is the biggest cable operator in the SEC’s markets.

As part of the deal to run the channel, ESPN will take over almost all of the SEC’s marketing rights, giving the network the ability to package its TV ad sales with the conference’s corporate sponsorships.

IMG College holds the SEC’s marketing rights, and the agency could retain some ability to sell corporate sponsorships, but those details have not been finalized. Sources say ESPN ultimately will take over those rights when it completes talks for the channel.

Such a channel eventually will become a cash cow for the conference. But the SEC will have to spend some money first to regain control over all of its live games. CBS and ESPN have the first pick of football games. Those games that are not picked fall into the schools’ local TV rights or third-tier rights package.

As part of the conference’s current arrangement, each team is permitted to televise one football game each season on pay-per-view. Some schools take advantage of that and others don’t. A pay-per-view game at one of the top SEC schools can generate around $750,000 for the rights holder.

CBS has the rights at LSU, while Learfield has Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. IMG College has the rights at the rest of the schools, except for Ole Miss, plus a minority share of the Alabama property.

The Pac-12 had to go through similar negotiations with the rights holders when it started its networks. The league eventually agreed to pay $100 million over eight years to get those local TV rights back.

The SEC’s deal will likely be more expensive because SEC football games are considered the most valuable regular-season property in college sports. But sources say it’s a step the conference has to take to build its live game inventory. Those 14 football games, even if they are the least attractive games on the schedule, plus close to 100 basketball games, will be critical to the new channel’s programming.

The network also will need the baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer and other nonrevenue sports that have to be acquired from the rights holders.

Being able to package TV advertising from the new network into corporate sponsorships will give ESPN a sales advantage when it takes over the SEC’s marketing rights. The SEC’s list of corporate champions includes Allstate, AT&T, Dr Pepper and Regions Bank, while a second tier of sponsors has Aaron’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Golden Flake, UPS and eight others.

ESPN Regional also owns the marketing rights to the Big 12. The Pac-12 keeps its rights in-house, while Learfield has the Big Ten, and Raycom Sports markets the ACC.