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Volume 20 No. 42


The NHRA has signed a new sponsorship deal that has the potential to change the way sports fans experience events at home.

The drag racing organization cut a two-year sponsorship deal with Guitammer Co. that allows the technology company to capture sounds and sensations at races and send signals along with the ESPN race broadcast that shake the couches and chairs of viewers at home, allowing them to feel the race the way spectators and drivers feel it at the live event.

The ButtKicker will receive signals from the track delivered through ESPN broadcasts.
The two-year deal is the first test of Guitammer’s 4D Sports technology and its ButtKicker device. 4D Sports is the broadcast technology that Guitammer uses to capture audio and sensory experience at live events, and the ButtKicker is a $300 device that receives the 4D Sports signal and shakes the couches or chairs of viewers at home.

“It’s one more tool for the production team to engage the fan at home in a compelling way to bring live sports to life,” said Mark Luden, CEO of Guitammer.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t available. The agreement allows Guitammer to attach sensors to cars and work with ESPN to transfer the sensory information to viewers at home. It also includes at-track activation rights and advertising inventory during race broadcasts on ESPN2.

Luden said that the company signed its first sponsorship with the NHRA because the sport was receptive and its broadcast partner, ESPN, was interested. It also tested the technology during hockey games last year, outfitting seats in a Philadelphia Flyers suite with ButtKicker devices and shaking them each time players collided with the boards.

“The next step is to go after contact sports and offer that feeling at home so that when [broadcasters] show replay after replay of a big hit and say, ‘Can you feel it?’ the couch shakes,” Luden said.

Guitammer first got into sensory technology through the music business. It developed a platform that shakes and vibrates along with the bass and drum, so that drummers and bass players can feel each other’s beats during concerts. It later exported the concept into IMAX and home movie theaters. Luden said bringing that sensation to sports viewers at home was a natural extension.

The company in 2011 patented the broadcast technology that allows it to convert audio into a signal that can shake a couch or chair, Luden said. It also created the ButtKicker, a hardware device that can be wedged under the leg of a couch or chair, to shake viewers’ furniture.

Under Luden’s business plan, Guitammer will sign agreements with broadcasters and sports properties, allowing 4D Sports to provide a sensory experience at home through the ButtKicker and similar hardware devices. He envisions a day when viewers at home can pick a player on their fantasy football team and pay a fee to “feel” that player play the game.

“It’s much bigger than a thing with a funny name that shakes the couch,” Luden said. “We believe it opens the fan to the player and sport in the most personal way, and we’ll give a brand-new revenue stream to the entire [sports and broadcast] ecosystem.”

MLB saw its largest local ratings gains in its smallest markets this season. Six of the league’s eight smallest TV markets posted double-digit ratings jumps this year.

On the flip side, the poor on-field performance of many of the league’s big-market teams led to ratings declines, with numbers down sharply in four of MLB’s five biggest TV markets. In fact, five of those big-market teams saw their local ratings drop by more than 20 percent.

As is the case most seasons, a correlation exists between a team’s on-field play and its TV ratings. Buoyed by its first winning season since 2003, Kansas City Royals games on FS Kansas City registered a whopping 71 percent increase this season. Small- to mid-market teams that were in pennant races, like the Orioles, Pirates, Cardinals and Indians, also saw big increases.

“There is a heightened level of excitement around Royals baseball, and that is reflected in the increased viewership,” said Jack Donovan, general manager and senior vice president of FS Kansas City and FS Midwest.

But in New York, the country’s biggest market and where both local teams failed to reach the playoffs, Yankees games on YES Network saw a 32 percent decline, and Mets games on SNY dropped 30 percent. Since 2007, the Yankees’ TV audience has dropped 44 percent; the Mets are down 51 percent. That equates to 274,000 fewer viewers on average in 2013 than 2007.

Similarly, in the third-biggest TV market, Chicago, ratings for White Sox games dropped 45 percent and Cubs games were down 9 percent on CSN Chicago. In Philadelphia (the fourth-biggest market), the Phillies saw a 39 percent drop, while in Dallas-Fort Worth, the fifth-biggest U.S. TV market, the Rangers experienced a 21 percent drop.

The teams in each of those markets fell short of making the playoffs this season.

Of MLB’s biggest markets, only Los Angeles saw an increase in local ratings. The NL West-winning Dodgers posted a more than 40 percent increase over last year’s average rating. The Angels, while disappointing on the field, drew a 1 percent increase in the country’s second-biggest TV market.

The biggest percentage ratings drop occurred in Houston, where Astros games on CSN Houston were down 60 percent from last year. The Astros averaged just 9,000 homes per telecast, MLB’s lowest mark for a team since the Washington Nationals ended the 2008 season averaging 8,000 homes per game on MASN.

SportsBusiness Journal reviewed data from all 29 U.S.-based MLB teams; Toronto Blue Jays ratings were not available. Overall, 14 of the clubs showed local ratings increases; 15 showed decreases.

The Detroit Tigers were the top-rated team for a second year in a row. The Tigers averaged a 9.60 rating on FS Detroit during their run to the postseason. Four other playoff teams rounded out the top five: the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Red Sox.

MLB teams’ RSN ratings

* For 76 games on SportSouth. The Braves also had 68 games on FS South, averaging 98,000 households (+20,000).
Notes: For games played through Sept. 19. Changes compared to 2012.        
Source: Nielsen

NASCAR has become the latest league to align with youth sports digital programmer The Whistle, taking a minority equity position in the company in exchange for supplying video content and other assets to the media venture.

The Whistle’s deal with NASCAR is similar to ones struck with the NFL, PGA Tour and Major League Lacrosse. NASCAR will provide the company access to race highlights, behind-the-scenes footage and legacy content, and aid in the development of new programming. Content will appear on The Whistle’s distribution platforms, including online, mobile, YouTube and via connected gaming consoles.

NASCAR is looking to engage a young audience through The Whistle’s platforms.
The NASCAR footage on The Whistle, predictably, will not contain instructional segments like the network has for other sports, but it will veer sharply into personality-driven material.

“I think they saw a real opportunity to take the helmet off on these drivers and expose their personalities to a younger demographic,” said Jeff Urban, The Whistle co-founder and chief marketing officer.

“NASCAR has made the youth audience an important target for them going forward, and we’re pleased to be a piece of that strategy,” he said.

Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal revolves significantly around NASCAR’s gaining equity in the company in exchange for allowing access to the video content and assets. Urban said there was not a concern over diluting the company’s equity amid the steady series of league-level deals.

“These are minority positions, and even if you added them all up, it would still be a minority position,” Urban said. “But these are valuable partners, and we want to be aligned with the best properties to help us develop the most authentic content.”

Other investors in the The Whistle include former MLB President Bob DuPuy, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Clear Channel Communications Chief Executive Bob Pittman, among others. The company also is aligned on a non-equity basis with the U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. Soccer, the Harlem Globetrotters and IndyCar Entertainment, among others.

“Kids are more likely to be on other platforms than our own [web] site, so we’ve been aggressive on Facebook, aggressive on Twitter, aggressive on YouTube,” said Marc Jenkins, NASCAR vice president of digital media. “So we see partnering with The Whistle as another great way to engage the youth audience where they’re going to be.”