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Volume 21 No. 2


The unified metric that combines online and mobile traffic being developed by digital measurement agency comScore Inc. is likely to benefit sports media publishers in particular.

ComScore’s recently announced Media Metrix Multi-Platform seeks to blend traditional online data with audiences consuming digital content on smartphones and tablets. Still in beta form, the data is expected to be ready for broad release in the spring.

Such blended metrics have long been sought within the digital media industry, particularly given that mobile audiences are not included in current comScore rankings yet make up more than 50 percent of overall traffic for some outlets. The Media Metrix Multi-Platform will arrive after roughly two years of development by comScore toward a unified metric.

Sports publishers stand to gain disproportionately given that many leading outlets, such as ESPN, Yahoo and, each anecdotally report internal traffic data showing huge spikes of traffic on weekends when users are typically on their smartphones and tablets as opposed to personal computers. Football season, between live tracking of real-life college and pro games and fantasy football on Sundays, is particularly noted for this dynamic.

In sample Media Metrix Multi-Platform data from September 2012 released by comScore, ESPN jumped from 47.3 million unique online users to 65.49 million when also including its mobile audience during the month. ESPN jumped from the 23rd-largest U.S. online audience, regardless of genre, to 19th in the new measurements. That represented the second-largest rise of any entity behind Internet radio outlet Pandora.

“We as consumers are really platform agnostic now and have brands follow us pretty much wherever we go,” said Andrew Lipsman, comScore vice president of industry analysis. “So it’s really important to have measurement that reflects that reality. There’s more refinement we need to do over the next several months, but we think having a set of unified, synthesized data will have a big impact on the marketplace.”

Third-party measurement data from companies such as comScore is widely used by marketers to aid in making advertising purchases.

ComScore is also seeking within the Media Metrix Multi-Platform index to develop a new “views” statistic that combines online page views, total video plays and mobile application starts to create an overall number of times with which each brand is engaged digitally. Engagement-based data such as time spent will also be part of comScore’s enlarged, cross-platform measurement.

ESPN, like several of its key competitors, internally has been promoting the advent of multiplatform audience measurements such as this for some time now.

“This beta data reinforces all the things we’ve learned over the past couple of years and see in our own internal analytics,” said David Coletti, ESPN vice president of digital media research and analytics. “We see this as a very encouraging development.”

Still, the new comScore data will likely not quell industry debate over the relative merit of panel-based measurement, which uses smaller audience samples, versus full server accounting to measure digital traffic. Media Metrix Multi-Platform will use both panel and census-based methodologies.

Also, within the sports category in particular, most of the leading entrants are roll-ups of several smaller outlets, with those amalgamations in a heightened state of flux over the past year, further complicating the task of measuring reach.

The first Golden Boy Promotions fight card that was televised nationally aired nine years ago on HBO Latino, emanating from the Olympic Auditorium, a historic venue that since has been converted into a Korean-American church.

Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer was flipping through a stack of old fight credentials last month when he came upon one from that night.

“To go from there to where we are now is amazing to think about,” said Schaefer, who on Saturday finally celebrated a nibble of what Oscar De La Hoya’s company has sought since its inception, the return of boxing to major network television. “Here we are, bringing boxing back to CBS, with events on multiple [networks], the most active promoter in the world by a large margin. That’s a long way to go in a short time.”

The Miguel Cotto-Floyd Mayweather fight in May was Golden Boy Promotions’ only pay-per-view fight this year, a significant drop from the four to six PPV fights in previous years.
It has been eight years since boxing last appeared on one of the major terrestrial networks and 14 years since it last ran there with any consistency. Now, in the span of two weeks, it returns to both CBS and NBC, the latter of which will air a card promoted by Main Events at 4 p.m. Saturday.

NBC has committed two slots to Main Events in each of the next two years as part of a larger deal to provide fights for NBC Sports Network. Schaefer said Golden Boy has no such commitment from CBS, but he is optimistic that the network will deliver more slots, largely because it’s a sensible way to expose mainstream sports fans to the fighters who later will appear on the CBS-owned premium network Showtime.

After dealing exclusively with HBO on the premium TV side from 2003 to 2009 and putting 75 percent of its premium shows on the network from 2010 to 2011, Golden Boy swung heavily toward Showtime this year, with 17 dates, compared with seven on HBO.

Schaefer conceded one obvious factor in the shift: The hiring of former Golden Boy attorney Stephen Espinoza to run Showtime’s sports division. But he said that increased rights fees offered by Showtime, which has increased its boxing budget as its subscriber base has grown, were a far larger factor. While the networks will not discuss their budgets publicly, sources say the gap has narrowed to within 20 percent, with HBO spending about $35 million this year and Showtime at about $30 million.

“The emergence of Showtime as a major player clearly has been the biggest thing to happen in boxing in 2012,” Schaefer said. “For years, it was one player: HBO. Now, it’s a competition. And competition is good.”

Whether driven by competition for content, as Schaefer suggests, or fueled by the need to keep its large roster of fighters busy, the increase in output at Golden Boy has been striking. The company launched in 2002, when De La Hoya bought the operation of longtime Southern California promoter Roy Englebrecht. Golden Boy went national in earnest with a monthly series on HBO’s Spanish-language channel in 2003. It also handled a handful of co-promotions on ESPN2 and Telefutura that year. But its initial growth came slowly.

The big jump came in 2010, when Golden Boy produced 60 live shows broadcast in the U.S. or Mexico, up from 34 the year before. That number rose to 78 in 2011 and 79 in 2012.

The breakdown for 2012, based on data provided by Golden Boy: Along with the 24 on premium cable, the CBS fight and one HBO pay-per-view, there were 25 on Telefutura; eight on Fox Deportes, Fox Sports Net or Fuel; and 20 broadcast in Mexico on Televisa. Golden Boy’s current deal with the Fox channels, signed in April, has the promoter providing 12 of its shows from the U.S., 12 of its shows from Mexico and another 12 shows from Mexico acquired from other promoters.

The single pay-per-view — Floyd Mayweather’s defeat of Miguel Cotto in May — marks the first time the company has promoted fewer than three pay-per-views in a year since 2004. Golden Boy ran either four or six pay-per-views every year from 2005 to 2010.

“There were too many pay-per-views,” Schaefer said. “I’m not saying that we should move away from them totally. But the direction we’ve gone — us and other promoters — to do fewer of them is healthy for the sport. We have the product. What we need is the exposure.”

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The Cincinnati Reds jumped past the Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers to register the largest share of radio listeners among a key demographic in 2012, while the New York Yankees, playing in the nation’s top market, once again had the league’s largest audience.

Those results highlight the 2012 MLB regular-season data provided to SportsBusiness Journal by radio tracking firm Arbitron.

Radio broadcasts of Cincinnati Reds games owned a 26.3 percent share of men 25-54.
In Cincinnati, the Reds’ broadcasts on Clear Channel-owned WLW-AM averaged a league-leading 26.3 share among the male 25-54 demographic, up 23 percent over the comparable mark in 2011. That means that 26.3 percent of all men ages 25 to 54 who were listening to the radio in Cincinnati this summer when the Reds were playing were tuned to the team’s games on the club’s flagship station, WLW.

The Reds’ radio performance over the past three years mirrors the team’s on-field performance: In 2010 and 2012, the club finished first in its division and first in radio listenership across MLB. In 2011, the club finished in third place in both categories.

Detroit, No. 2 on this year’s list, saw its share mark increase 19 percent from 2011, to 25.9. The increase came in a season that saw the Tigers advance to the World Series.

The Brewers, meanwhile, fell from No. 1 last year to No. 3 in 2012. Milwaukee advanced to the National League Championship Series in 2011 but missed the playoffs this year, finishing third in the NL Central.

In terms of raw audience size, while both the Yankees and the New York Mets benefit from playing in the nation’s largest market, CBS Radio, which holds the radio rights for both clubs, has seen steep drops in the audience for those teams’ games over the past few seasons. The Yankees’ league-leading average of 297,200 listeners per game on WCBS in 2012 represented a year-over-year decrease of 18 percent and a drop of 34 percent compared with 2010. The Mets’ WFAN had the season’s third-highest average audience size this year (209,100 per game), but that was 3 percent lower than 2011 and 28 percent less than 2010.

This is the fourth time Arbitron has compiled a comprehensive MLB report of Portable People Meter data. The compilation includes listener data for MLB’s 29 teams in 25 markets where the PPM service has been put into place. Arbitron does not measure the Toronto market.

Under the PPM service, the device that makes the data possible is worn like a pager. It detects encoded audio tones within a station’s audio stream, logging each time that it finds such a signal. The service was introduced in 2007 as a way to eliminate the decades-old handwritten diary system.

Among other key findings for this year and dating comparatively through 2009:

In Chicago, the White Sox, who were alive in 2012 for a playoff spot until late in the season, averaged 135,500 listeners on WSCR this year, marking the teams’ highest average over the measured time period. The Cubs averaged 138,000 listeners on WGN in 2012, the team’s third straight decline. The Cubs have lost half their average per game radio audience since 2009; similarly, the team’s attendance at Wrigley Field has fallen four straight seasons — all seasons in which the team has missed the playoffs.

In the Mid-Atlantic, the Washington Nationals’ measured share more than doubled on WJFK-AM, up from a 3.0 in 2011 to a 6.8 this season. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles’ 7.8 share represented a 66 percent improvement on WBAL-AM. The Orioles this year made their first playoff appearance since 1997 while the Nationals made their first appearance since moving to the nation’s capital prior to the 2005 season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 15.5 share on KDKA-FM was more than double the club’s 2010 rate.

The St. Louis Cardinals averaged 116,600 listeners per game on KMOX-AM, translating to a year-over-year drop of 20 percent.

The Los Angeles Dodgers averaged 99,700 listeners on KLAC-AM. This was the station’s first year as a rights holder, and the year-over-year increase of 40 percent for the team was the biggest audience surge in MLB.

Top 10: By Share

Average percentage of male listeners, ages 25-54, who tuned into a local game for at least five minutes

Rank Team Station (Owner) 2012 2011 2010
1 Cincinnati Reds WLW (Clear Channel) 26.3 21.4 26.2
2 Detroit Tigers WXYT/WXYT-FM (CBS Radio) 25.9 21.7 20.4
3 Milwaukee Brewers WTMJ (Journal Communications) 20.8 22.0 13.1
4 Pittsburgh Pirates KDKA-FM (CBS Radio) 15.5 13.6 7.2
5 St. Louis Cardinals KMOX (CBS Radio) 15.4 19.1* 17.3
6 Philadelphia Phillies WPHT/WIP-FM (CBS Radio) 15.4 13.7 11.5
7 San Francisco Giants KNBR (Cumulus) 12.9 12.4 10.4
8 Cleveland Indians WTAM (Clear Channel) 11.0 17.2 10.8
9 Boston Red Sox WEEI-FM (Entercom) 9.9 9.6 9.7
10 Seattle Mariners KIRO (Bonneville International) 9.8 9.9 8.3

Top 10: By Audience Size

Average number of listeners who tuned in for at least five minutes (ages 6+)

Rank Team Station (Owner) 2012 2011 2010
1 N.Y. Yankees WCBS (CBS Radio) 297,200 363,000 448,100
2 San Francisco Giants KNBR (Cumulus) 216,200 216,300 163,800
3 N.Y. Mets WFAN (CBS Radio) 209,100 215,800 290,600
4 Detroit Tigers WXYT/WXYT-FM (CBS Radio) 199,700 201,200 180,600
5 Philadelphia Phillies WPHT/WIP-FM (CBS Radio) 169,400 187,300 160,500
6 Chicago Cubs WGN (Tribune) 138,000 184,900 215,400
7 Chicago White Sox WSCR (Clear Channel) 135,500 100,000 114,600
8 Seattle Mariners KIRO (Bonneville International) 120,800 101,000 95,000
9 St. Louis Cardinals
KMOX (CBS) 116,600 144,200 122,900
10 Cincinnati Reds WLW (Clear Channel) 114,800 112,000 127,700

* First year of new radio rights holder
Notes: Stations listed are AM frequency unless otherwise noted. Tigers and Phillies games are simulcast on two stations.
Source: Arbitron

On Nov. 1, NFL Network posted its lowest TV rating of the season, as 4.8 million viewers tuned in to watch the Chargers rout the Chiefs.

Still, the game’s viewership more than doubled the audiences that tuned in to the NBA and college football that night. On TNT, 2.1 million viewers watched the Spurs win a nail-biter over the Thunder. And on ESPN, 1.9 million viewers watched Miami rout Virginia Tech.

The numbers are not surprising. The NFL’s TV dominance is well-documented. By any measure, it is the country’s most popular TV sport. This fall, for example, NFL games make up 24 of the 25 most-watched shows on all of television.
But this year is different. Last year, ESPN and TNT would not have faced Thursday night competition from the NFL on Nov. 1. NFL Network’s Thursday night package didn’t start until Nov. 10 last year.

The NFL’s decision to expand the number of Thursday night games from seven to 13 and start the schedule in September has had a cascading affect on the rest of the TV sports landscape. College football used to rule Thursday nights through mid-November. Now, its numbers that night are down and don’t look to be coming back any time soon.

The move certainly helps NFL Network, which is posting higher TV numbers for live games. Its 4.1 rating and 6.4 million viewers are up 11 percent and 3 percent, respectively, from last year’s Thursday night game package. Thanks to deals with Cablevision and Time Warner Cable, NFL Network can be seen in 12 million more homes than last year. According to Nielsen, it was in 57 million homes in December 2011; it’s in 69 million today.

It’s clear that adding extra NFL games on Thursday is hurting the TV performance of other properties. But one result that may have been unexpected is its impact on the NFL’s other TV partners, as well. Fox’s total game viewership is down 5 percent; CBS’s is down 3 percent.

Several industry sources blame the NFL Network’s expanded schedule for the viewership drop. They note the added games have taken two home markets — and their correspondingly big ratings — from the Sunday afternoon broadcasters and placed them on Thursday nights.

The prime-time NFL games on ESPN and NBC essentially are flat.

While Sunday afternoon may be affected, the big picture shows that more people are watching NFL games than ever before. If you add up the total ratings points for NFL games across all the networks, total viewing of NFL games is at its highest level ever, up 3 percent from last season.

Fox Sports believes the dip in ratings is a natural result that follows three straight years of ratings growth.

“Given all the factors that impact ratings that are outside our control — team performances, length of games and final scores — it makes no sense to expect ratings growth year after year ad infinitum. In the larger picture, total NFL viewing is up and the NFL on Fox is still the league’s strongest package,” said Michael Mulvihill, senior vice president of programming and research for Fox Sports Media Group. “We’re coming off our highest-rated season in 16 years, our third straight showing year-to-year growth, and this season’s ratings are still exceptionally strong. We’re really very comfortable with where we are right now.”

Similarly, ESPN says its NFL programming has not been affected by the Thursday night games.

“Are they taking share from us?” said ESPN President John Skipper. “For the most part, the answer to that has been no. They really haven’t.”

But it is having a clear impact on ESPN’s Thursday night college football package. Last year, ESPN’s Thursday night college football game had no NFL competition until week 10, when NFL Network started its schedule.

It comes as no surprise, then, that ESPN’s Thursday night viewership has dropped a whopping 35 percent this season going up against the NFL. Its 12 games that competed with NFL Network games this season (Sept. 13 through Nov. 29) drew an average of 1.8 million viewers, down from a 2.7 million average during the same period last year.

In fact, ESPN’s most-watched Thursday night football game this season occurred when it had no NFL competition at all. NFL Network had not yet started its schedule when South Carolina beat Vanderbilt in the season-opening game, one that drew 4.1 million viewers on Aug. 30.

ESPN’s least-watched Thursday night college football game was an Oct. 11 Arizona State rout of Colorado, which drew just 823,000 viewers. Its NFL Network competition that night, a close Titans victory over the Steelers, drew 5.7 million viewers.

The NFL also is chipping away at the NBA’s hold on Thursday night viewing. TNT’s Thursday night exclusive window has been a key element to its league package, and so far this year its Thursday night NBA games have averaged just 1.7 million viewers. There’s no direct comparison to last year when the league suffered through a work stoppage, but TNT’s average viewership is down from two years ago when it averaged 2.2 million viewers on Thursday night from Oct. 28 through Dec. 9. After the NBA returned last season on Christmas, TNT’s Thursday night package averaged 2.3 million viewers.

So far this year, TNT’s lowest-rated Thursday night game was a close victory by the Dallas Mavericks over the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 6, which drew 1.2 million viewers. That same night on NFL Network the Broncos’ easy victory over the Raiders drew 6.8 million viewers.

Austin Karp is assistant managing editor for sister publication SportsBusiness Daily.

Going Head-to-Head: How the NFL has fared against college football, NBA on Thursday nights

Date NFL Network # of viewers (000s) ESPN (CFB) # of viewers (000s) TNT (NBA) # of viewers (000s)
Sept. 13 Bears-Packers 8,559 Rutgers-South Florida 1,333 N/A N/A
Sept. 20 Giants-Panthers 6,993 BYU-Boise State 2,069 N/A N/A
Sept. 27 Browns-Ravens 8,053 Stanford-Washington 2,116 N/A N/A
Oct. 4 Cardinals-Rams 6,435 USC-Utah 2,273 N/A N/A
Oct. 11 Steelers-Titans 5,651 Arizona State-Colorado 823 N/A N/A
Oct. 18 Seahawks-49ers 7,023 Oregon-Arizona State 1,878 N/A N/A
Oct. 25 Buccaneers-Vikings 5,165 Clemson-Wake Forest 1,171 N/A N/A
Nov. 1 Chiefs-Chargers 4,795 Virginia Tech-Miami 1,864 Thunder-Spurs 2,144
Nov. 8 Colts-Jaguars 5,194 Florida State-Virginia Tech 2,684 Thunder-Bulls / Clippers-Trail Blazers 1,625
Nov. 15 Dolphins-Bills 5,373 North Carolina-Virginia 1,218 Celtics-Nets / Heat-Nuggets 1,495
Nov. 29 Saints-Falcons 7,066 Louisville-Rutgers 1,699 Spurs-Heat / Nuggets-Warriors 1,574
Dec. 6 Broncos-Raiders 6,755 N/A N/A Knicks-Heat / Mavericks-Suns 1,926

N/A: Not applicable
Distribution: Both ESPN and TNT are in roughly 99 million homes, while NFL Network is in 69 million homes.
Source: SportsBusiness Daily analysis of Nielsen data.

Regional sports network executives are experiencing their own version of Groundhog Day, as games missed from a league work stoppage are starting to affect their bottom lines.

Last year, it was the NBA that canceled early-season games through Christmas. This year, it’s the NHL that’s canceling games.

In both cases, RSNs face a significant financial burden as the number of missed games continues to climb.

That’s because of a standard clause in most cable affiliate contracts called a “product guarantee provision.” This clause mandates that the RSN has to repay a portion of its affiliate fee if it cannot provide a specific number of games.

Last season, the NBA played an abbreviated 66-game season, meaning each team lost 16 games. Repayments on the NBA last season were not significant, sources said. Typically, a cable or satellite provider would deduct the fee associated from the product guarantee provision from its monthly payment. In several cases last year, though, the product guarantee provision did not kick in. In other cases, RSNs made a “payment” as part of other deals with the cable and satellite operator. Bigger RSN groups, like Fox Sports and Comcast SportsNet, can avoid specific payments by “horse trading,” or cutting better deals on other Fox or NBC channels.

So far this season, the NHL has canceled around 35 games per team, which means some repayment clauses already have kicked in.

Though standard throughout the cable industry, each product guarantee provision is negotiated separately. In general, RSNs have to make repayments once 10 percent of games are missed. The repayments are based on how much of an RSN’s programming is made up of NHL games. An RSN like Root Sports Pittsburgh, which doesn’t have winter professional sports other than the Penguins, a payment would be higher than for Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, for example, which carries both the Capitals and the Wizards.

NHL game ratings typically are lower rated than the NBA, meaning that RSNs are facing a lower rebate than last year with the NBA lockout.

But affiliate fees make up around three-fourths of an RSN’s revenue. RSNs do not have to pay teams for the games they don’t play. But, generally, the amount from affiliate fees is higher than the amount they pay for the rights. That means that the longer the lockout continues, the more painful it becomes for regional sports networks.

RSNs typically cost between $2 and $4 per subscriber per month and are among the most expensive channels distributors carry.