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Volume 21 No. 2


After months of enduring defections and disappointment, the Big East plans to start rebuilding its brand this month with two new TV deals, albeit at a much lower value than the conference had hoped when it started negotiations more than a year ago.

The Big East is close to finalizing deals with two partners, NBC and CBS, that will give the conference exposure across multiple networks. The agreement with NBC will put football and basketball games primarily on its cable channel, NBC Sports Network, with the ability to move some games to the NBC broadcast network.

CBS also is close to renewing its package of basketball games for its broadcast channel.

ESPN has the right to match NBC’s offer. Sources said that Bristol had not seen NBC’s offer yet, as of late last week. Typically, a network has about a week to decide whether to match a bid or not. ESPN could decide to match the offer to keep the programming away from its rival, NBC. Or ESPN could decide that it’s not willing to pay the Big East as much as NBC.

NBC will pay close to $25 million per year over six years for a bucket of games to go on NBC and NBC Sports Network. The two channels’ football game inventory will be substantially more than the 25 to 30 games ESPN carried each year, according to industry sources. The deal will bring live sports content to NBC Sports Network, NBC’s 24-hour sports channel that has struggled to attract viewers outside of NHL games.

The Big East, in its former model, had eight football teams. With future expansion planning to take the conference to 12 teams, which could lead to a football championship game, NBC will have 50 percent more game inventory.

NBC’s new deal with the Big East would start with the 2013-14 basketball season and the 2014 football season. One of the quirks in ESPN’s current contract with the conference is that it extends through the 2013 football season.

CBS’s contract will pay $2 million to $4 million per year for its package of basketball rights, sources said.

Both the NBC and CBS deals take into account the impending departure of the Catholic 7 basketball schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova. The conference is negotiating an early exit with those schools, which are under contract to stay in the Big East for two more years.

But Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said the conference is unlikely to cede the Big East name to the Catholic schools that are breaking away.

“We’re talking to them,” he said. “Our strong inclination is to keep the name.”

Aresco, a former executive with CBS and previously ESPN, would not discuss specifics of either deal. But he said that solidifying the conference’s media rights is a crucial first step toward rebuilding the Big East brand.

“We’re trying to be realistic. We’re not the Big East of even several months ago,” Aresco said. “But we think we’re the best positioned to challenge [the top five conferences] and put ourselves in a better place with the schools we have.”

It was 2011 when the Big East and ESPN were on the doorstep of a deal that would have paid the conference $150 million a year over a long-term contract. But some administrators in the conference balked because they thought the Big East should take its rights to the open market in an attempt to find a bonanza like the Pac-12’s $250 million-a-year deal.

ESPN has a 33-year relationship with the Big East and was keen on renewing. But the conference now bears little resemblance to the collection of basketball schools that originally made up the Big East.

Shortly after the Big East rejected ESPN’s proposal, around September 2011, Syracuse and Pittsburgh left for the ACC, and later West Virginia departed for the Big 12. Last year, the ACC took Notre Dame and Louisville, and the Big Ten grabbed Rutgers, leaving the conference and Aresco scrambling. Deals to bring in Boise State and San Diego State also fell through last month when both schools reneged on their commitment to the Big East and returned to the Mountain West.

Big East additions have included SMU, Houston, Memphis, Central Florida, Tulane and East Carolina, with Navy coming aboard in 2015.

The Big East knows that it’s not negotiating from a strong position, which is why its TV deals will last six years, a term much shorter than other college conference deals that typically range from 12 to 14 years in length. The hope is that after six years, the Big East will be able to command a higher fee.

“We know we have to prove ourselves on the field,” Aresco said. “We can’t argue that we’re the Big East of the past. We have to accept that and move on.”

Aresco touted the schools that have remained, saying the conference has the potential to be competitive in football with Cincinnati, South Florida and SMU, and basketball with traditionally strong teams like UConn, Temple and Memphis.

“We want to be the conference that can challenge,” Aresco said. “It’s a big part of our heritage. We have schools with the resources that can do it. We have schools with a history of success. … We’re in better shape than people expected us to be. We’re a more geographically coherent conference.”

Fox plans to end the suffering of NASCAR fans who have complained for years about missing early laps of the Daytona 500.

The network will use its “double box” advertising system during the beginning and end of the Great American Race, ensuring that fans can see live race footage in a small box alongside the first commercials. The move expands on the final hour of uninterrupted coverage that Fox offered during last year’s Daytona 500.

Fox Sports wants to hold the momentum after the green flag.
“When you think about the flow of the races, there’s a huge crescendo of excitement that leads to that green flag,” said Rick Kloiber, Fox Sports’ senior vice president of advertising sales. “By using the double box early we can hold onto some of that momentum rather than going to a traditional break. This should build the vested interest of the audience deeper into the race.”

Fox executives first tested the effect early double box commercials had on its audience during the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4. During the first commercial break, it devoted two-thirds of the screen to a commercial from GM and put live footage of coaches and the bands in a small box in the right corner of the screen. Its research showed that viewers stuck with the broadcast and were more engaged with the commercials in that format. It tried that strategy again with its UFC broadcast Jan. 26.

The network, which broadcasts the first 13 Sprint Cup races of the year, plans to use the double box in early coverage of additional NASCAR races this season.

Kloiber said that the double box plans for the Daytona 500 helped with advertising sales. The race is 90 percent sold, and the amount of inventory remaining mirrors what was available the last two years. The network was able to increase the price of ads by 2 percent to 4 percent on average, but Kloiber declined to say what an average spot was selling for during the race.

“It’s a later moving marketplace for us, but that’s typical for the sport,” he said.

The only major advertiser Fox lost for the Daytona 500 is Pizza Hut. The chain, which sponsored the pre-race show throughout the first quarter of 2012, opted not to return. The network is still looking for another pre-race sponsor.

But sales were strong in other categories. All three of NASCAR’s manufacturers, GM, Ford and Toyota, plan to advertise. Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, Sprint, AT&T, McDonald’s, KFC and Taco Bell are returning, as well. Fox signed several new advertisers, including Sonic, Peak Antifreeze, TurboTax and Disney, which will promote its movie “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

Fox is looking for ratings to increase from last year’s race. Rain postponed its coverage of the 2012 Daytona 500, pushing the race to Monday night when it earned an 8.0 Nielsen rating and averaged 13.7 million viewers. That was down 12 percent from an 8.7 Nielsen rating and 15.6 million viewers in 2011.

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

ESPN has restructured its customer marketing and sales group, leading to the promotion of three sales executives.

Patricia Betron, Wendell Scott and Lisa Valentino were promoted to the role of senior vice president, multimedia sales.

All three will report to Eric Johnson, executive vice president of multimedia sales.

Johnson made the moves as a way to streamline his number of direct reports. Ten executives had reported into Johnson; now it’s just four: Betron, Scott, Valentino and Tim Bunnell, ESPN International’s senior vice president of programming and marketing. Bunnell also reports to Russell Wolff, executive vice president and managing director of ESPN International.

Johnson said he needed to cut down on his number of direct reports, in part, because he recently added ESPN’s international business to his portfolio.


“The marketplace is changing and digital is at the center of what we’re doing,” Johnson said. “We have a vision for what’s in the future and it involves every screen.”

Betron will oversee ESPN’s sales teams in Chicago and Detroit. Scott will oversee the sales teams in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Valentino will oversee the sales teams in Atlanta and New York.

“It’s the diversity of their experience that led to this,” Johnson said. “These three

executives handle a lot more than traditional ad sales.”

For example, Valentino will oversee ESPN’s print and digital sales, which include espnW, Global X Games and ESPN International’s digital properties; Scott will oversee sales for ESPN’s syndication and event properties, plus multicultural sales; and Betron will work with ESPN Research.

Other promotions within the group include Greg Rossi to vice president, multimedia sales; Jennifer Hoffnagle to vice president, multimedia sales; Danielle Brown to director, multimedia sales; and Sal Talluto to director, multimedia sales.

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

As the NBA heads into the second half of its season, the Oklahoma City Thunder, residing in the nation’s 41st-largest TV market, is posting some of the highest local NBA ratings in at least two years.

Through the first half of the season, Thunder games on FS Oklahoma are averaging an 8.6 rating, more than 45 percent higher than the second-place San Antonio Spurs, which are posting a 5.9 rating on FS Southwest.

NBA teams’ RSN ratings and audience size at midseason

Top 5
Team RSN Avg. rating (Change*)
Oklahoma City FS Oklahoma 8.6 (+207%)
San Antonio FS Southwest 5.9 (-41%)
Miami Sun Sports 5.7 (+5%)
Utah Root Sports 4.7 (-16%)
L.A. Lakers TWC SportsNet 4.3 (-10%)
Bottom 5
Brooklyn YES 1.1 (+262%)
Atlanta SportSouth 1.0 (-21%)
Washington CSN Mid-Atlantic 0.9 (-32%)
Houston CSN Houston 0.9 (-63%)
Charlotte SportSouth 0.6 (-22%)
Top 5
Team RSN Change* (Avg. rating)
Brooklyn YES +262% (1.1)
Oklahoma City FS Oklahoma +207% (8.6)
New York MSG +122% (3.4)
Golden State CSN Bay Area +69% (2.7)
L.A. Clippers Prime Ticket +56% (1.5)
Bottom 5
Boston CSN New England -35% (3.1)
San Antonio FS Southwest -41% (5.9)
Orlando FS Florida -54% (1.1)
Phoenix FS Arizona -63% (1.4)
Houston FS Houston -63% (0.9)
Top 5
Team RSN Avg. no. of Households (Change*)
New York MSG 254,000 (+137,500)
L.A. Lakers TWC SportsNet 234,800 (-24,000)
Chicago CSN Chicago 115,300 (-23,800)
Miami Sun Sports 91,900 (+6,500)
L.A. Clippers Prime Ticket 82,500 (+29,200)
Bottom 5
Indiana FS Midwest 21,200 (-3,600)
Houston CSN Houston 20,200 (-32,900)
Orlando FS Florida 15,500 (-18,200)
Milwaukee FS Wisconsin 13,600 (-1,600)
Charlotte SportSouth 7,200 (-2,200)

Note: Comparable data was not available for the Memphis Grizzlies (SportSouth), New Orleans Hornets (Fox Sports New Orleans), Sacramento Kings (CSN California) and Toronto Raptors (Sportsnet).

NA: Not available

* Changes compared to the same time period in 2010-11 season, the NBA’s most recent 82-game season. The lockout-shortened 2011-12 season did not begin until December.

Source: Nielsen

The Thunder’s 8.6 rating is up 207 percent from the team’s rating for the 2010-11 season, the NBA’s last full season.

“The formula is simple: The Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, Kevin Durant is one of the most marketable stars in the league, and the Thunder is the only professional sports team in Oklahoma,” said Jon Heidtke, FS Oklahoma senior vice president and general manager. “I’m not surprised by the TV ratings they’re pulling in.”

Overall, there were few surprises in the local market ratings analyzed for 26 of the NBA’s 30 teams.

The New York market has posted the biggest local ratings increases in the league. With the Nets relocating to Brooklyn, ratings for the team’s games on YES Network have jumped a whopping 262 percent from the 2010-11 season to a 1.1. Still, Nets ratings on YES are the fifth lowest rated in the league.

Knicks games on MSG are up 122 percent to a 3.4 rating from 2010-11. The Knicks’ average audience of 254,000 homes is the league’s largest, surging ahead of the second-place Lakers, which average 234,800 homes. The Knicks’ increase of 137,500 homes on average watching each game nearly matches the combined total audience for the bottom eight teams — the Suns, Hawks, Wizards, Pacers, Rockets, Magic, Bucks and Bobcats average 140,500 homes, combined.

The Bobcats’ average audience of 7,200 homes per game on SportSouth is the NBA’s lowest. The team’s 0.6 rating also is the NBA’s lowest and is down 22 percent from 2010-11.

Teams that have moved to new networks have seen ratings drops. In its first season on Comcast SportsNet Houston, the Rockets are tied with the Wizards for the second lowest rating in the league. Their 0.9 rating is down 63 percent from 2010-11, when games were on FS Houston. CSN Houston has had trouble getting distribution in the market, which has hurt ratings.

In its first season on TWC SportsNet, the Lakers are averaging a 4.3 rating, which is down 10 percent from the 2010-11 season, when games were on FS West.