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Volume 21 No. 1

Media

NASCAR and the agency developing its new website, SapientNitro, have partnered to sell the digital platform they’ve developed to other sports and entertainment organizations.

SapientNitro, a massive independent advertising and marketing agency with more than $1 billion in annual revenue, will lead the sales effort. It will share a portion of revenue with NASCAR.

The agency hopes to sell the digital platform it developed for NASCAR, which it is calling a “fan engagement platform,” to organizations ranging from college conferences to small sports leagues to musicians.

The platform could save other leagues, teams and organizations months developing a new digital offering and some labor costs associated with that process. It will allow a sports organization to quickly publish content, syndicate it across Web, mobile and tablet devices, and provide a social community where casual and avid fans can interact.

Unlike MLB Advanced Media, which provided back-end digital services for other sports organizations, NASCAR won’t have a role in managing clients that use the fan engagement platform with others. SapientNitro will service the clients and manage their digital operations.

“What the platform brings is that personalization and that social media integration and a design around fan engagement,” said Marc Jenkins, NASCAR vice president of digital media. “The hope is to be able to lower the cost of sports and entertainment properties in managing their own digital rights and simplify the process, as well. It’s a toolbox they can use.”

SapientNitro hopes to land three to six clients for the fan engagement platform within the next year. It struck a similar partnership with Citi around its “Bridge track” platform, an advertising and consumer management platform, and it now has more than 20 clients using the platform.

“It starts out as an opportunity for a known client,” said Scott Petry, a vice president with SapientNitro. “Both the client and SapientNitro have the idea that we’ll do it as a partnership and create something that’s reusable, and then we’ll go market and sell it.”

Leagues, conferences and other outlets that sign up to use the “fan engagement platform” developed for NASCAR’s site would be able to personalize their site to reflect their own sport’s interest, but the back-of-the-house elements from the way video is posted to the way social media is managed would be similar. Users also would be able to customize their sites for avid and casual users in the same way NASCAR says it will do for its new iteration of nascar.com.

“I wish it had been available in September [2011],” Jenkins said. “We would have saved four or five months of development.”

SapientNitro also works with The Football League in England and Ganassi Racing. Its corporate clients range from Audi and Coca-Cola to Target and Unilever.

Sporting News has made a significant equity investment in Burst, a Boston-based digital media company that makes software apps to develop user-generated content around youth sports events.

Think YouTube merged with ESPN’s “SportsCenter” for kids and Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd. Or, think of how people use Instagram to manipulate photos. Sporting News wants people to use Burst to manipulate youth sports videos in a similar way.

Burst Out will allow users to post youth sports videos on the Sporting News website.
“We think we can expose a whole new generation of sports fans and athletes to our site in a way that will be personally relevant to them,” said Sporting News President and Publisher Jeff Price. “We think this is at the heart of where user-generated content can be really valuable.”

Sporting News becomes the lead strategic investor in Burst. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the companies expect to collect revenue from sponsorship elements that are built within the app.

Sporting News is owned and operated by American City Business Journals, parent company of SportsBusiness Journal/Daily.

Burst will use Sporting News’ investment to launch Burst Sports. Using this app, people can create highlight packages and share videos from youth sports events and games they attend. The app creates a “bubble” that allows specific people to share and watch all the videos taken from one game. If you missed the play when your child scored a touchdown, this is where you could see if someone else shot video of it.

The “bubble” lets parents pick out videos of their kids and post them on social media sites like Facebook or email them to friends.

“So much of our world is filled with broadcasting, the opportunities that narrowcasting present are incredible,” said Bryant McBride, CEO of Burst. “The opportunities to narrowcast are incredible and they are not tapped. It’s one of the last frontiers of sports — to be able to easily capture it, share it and save it, and curate it and index it.”

The Burst app, which is available for free via iPhone and Android, also allows people to cut the videos into a highlight real with a couple of clicks.

One of the more interesting applications will be Burst Out, which will allow users to post youth sports videos on sportingnews.com. Sporting News will select the five best videos in three categories: best effort, best spirit and best plays. It will allow the site’s visitors to vote for the Burst Moment of the Week.

“We’ll interview the winner each week via Skype, so these kids are actually going to be featured,” Price said. “Thanks to ESPN, everybody in the world knows what a sports highlight is, but very few people in the world today can actually create a highlight that would be ESPN worthy. Burst will enable you to do that.”

Ultimately, Sporting News plans to build a presenting sponsorship opportunity around Burst Out.

John Ourand
Observations from my three-day visit to Los Angeles last month:

> One of the questions that gets asked most frequently in sports business is whether the NFL will ever relocate a team to Los Angeles. I think the league will have a home team in Los Angeles eventually, but I was struck by the popularity of the dominant football team that already plays in that market. The city already has a pro-style football team in the USC Trojans. I knew USC was popular; I’ll admit that I didn’t realize how big the team’s brand was in Los Angeles, especially considering the NCAA sanctions that banned the team from postseason play for the past two seasons.

I was in the city the week before USC’s loss at Arizona on Oct. 27. Sources say ESPN approached USC about bringing its popular “College GameDay” pregame show to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum the following Saturday as USC hosted highly ranked Oregon, but only if USC beat Arizona. USC lost, and ESPN opted to send its “GameDay” production to Alabama-LSU instead.

The presence of “College GameDay” matters because it whips up additional corporate interest around the game. But the Oregon-USC game already had drawn a lot of corporate attention. Fox committed to carry the game on its broadcast channel and was looking to put a pregame set on the field. Pac-12 Networks was looking into producing pregame and postgame shows from inside the stadium. Those plans were shelved when USC lost to Arizona. Still, last Saturday’s USC-Oregon game was scheduled to have brands like Muscle Milk, Nissan and Aflac hosting events around the game.

Nobody knows if a Los Angeles-based NFL team will be successful, but the strength of the USC brand in Los Angeles suggests that college football will continue to dominate the market for the foreseeable future.

> At some point, every conversation I had in Los Angeles came back to the Dodgers. The team is in the middle of an exclusive negotiating period with Fox Sports that ends Nov. 30. Nobody knows what will happen with the rights. The team could stay with Fox, move over to Time Warner Cable, align with another media company like DirecTV or launch its own regional sports network.

My prediction is that Fox keeps the rights. It’s clear that Fox wants them. Co-president Randy Freer is handling the negotiations, but sources said that News Corp. President, COO and Deputy Chairman Chase Carey has been active in the discussions, too. Some of the negotiations have gone beyond a strict rights fee approach and could include the team getting an equity stake in Prime Ticket. Fox’s deal to keep the Angels included giving the team equity in FS West.

The rights may go into the open market. In fact, I expect the Dodgers will want to test the waters and see how high their rights fees can climb. Ultimately, though, expect Fox to do whatever it takes to keep them.

> The launch of Time Warner Cable’s two regional sports networks — TWC SportsNet and TWC Deportes — is the biggest story in sports media right now. As detailed in this week’s cover story, the entire industry is keeping a close watch on the channels to gauge how successful they are.

Distributors like DirecTV and Cox publicly have complained about price and at deadline hadn’t cut deals yet. TWC had signed Verizon, AT&T and Charter and expected to land more big distributors last week.

I have little doubt that the networks will be a part of the Los Angeles scene for a long time. I traveled to the offices and studio in an office park in El Segundo, Calif., and they felt fresh and new, as you would expect for networks that had launched just three weeks earlier.

“Everything is a work in progress with two new networks,” said Time Warner Cable Sports President David Rone. “But it’s game time, and we’re ready to go. … There’s been all this noise and hype around these channels, and now it’s actually going to come to life when it matters."

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.