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Volume 20 No. 42


TruTV will carry the semifinals of the NCAA Final Four in April. So will TNT. TBS, too.

In an unprecedented move, Turner Sports and CBS will produce three different telecasts for each of the two national semifinal games, each with its own set of announcers. The traditional national telecast will run on TBS, while TNT and truTV will carry the same games at the same time with announcers and camera angles customized to each specific team.

TNT and truTV also will produce different halftime shows that will be focused on the different teams in the Final Four. Pre- and postgame shows will be simulcast across all three channels.

Let’s say the country’s top two teams last week — Kentucky and Michigan State — meet in one semifinal. TNT would use announcers with connections to Kentucky during its telecast, while truTV would use a Michigan State-focused crew for its production. Turner officials have not decided what types of talent they will pursue and maintain that all options for using unique personalities are on the table.

“This concept is born out of the popularity and incredible passion fans have for their college basketball teams and schools, and with this innovative approach we are tapping into their


SBJ Podcast:
John Ourand & Tom Stinson
expand on Turner's Final Four plans

enthusiasm with three distinct telecasts,” said Lenny Daniels, Turner’s executive vice president and COO.

CBS will carry the championship game exclusively on April 7, meaning school-specific telecasts will not be used during the final.

The 2014 Final Four marks the first time that the semifinals will be carried exclusively on cable television. Typically, properties that move from broadcast to cable see viewership figures drop. For example, when the British Open moved from ABC to ESPN in 2010, weekend ratings dropped 35 percent. It’s widely believed the Final Four would fare better than that.

With this strategy of surrounding the event by carrying the games across three fully distributed cable channels, Turner is certain to generate buzz around the games, which almost certainly will attract aggregate viewing numbers that would be higher than if only one network carried the event. The combined number from all three channels possibly could close the cable-broadcast gap. Earlier this year, CBS averaged 15.7 million viewers for its Final Four coverage.

TBS is in 100.5 million homes, TNT is in 99.3 million homes and truTV is in 92.3 million homes. In March 2013, those three channels carried several NCAA tournament games during the first three rounds. For the month, TBS was the fourth-most-viewed cable channel in prime time (averaging 2.3 million viewers), TNT was seventh (1.7 million viewers) and truTV was 19th (1.0 million viewers). Viewership figures for each channel were essentially flat from the previous March.

On the ad sales side, Turner and CBS will likely maintain their strategy of doing one national sale that will see the same advertisements run at the same time in all three productions. That approach seemingly worked for the networks since they started to share the tournament in 2011.

Daniels said Turner and CBS collaborated on the decision, which he says was the result of pushing for innovation rather than chasing viewer numbers.

“This is really about giving fans alternate viewing options,” he said. “Ratings are always a consideration, but we’re not worried about them. We’re looking for innovative, forward-thinking ways to present these games.”

CBS and Turner have not made any announcements about who will call the games. CBS’s top college basketball team — Jim Nantz, Steve Kerr, Greg Anthony and Tracy Wolfson — are considered likely candidates to handle the traditional telecast on TBS.

Daniels said the companies have not decided who to pursue for the TNT and truTV telecasts, but they want to target people who know those teams best.

“We are planning to go after the person who best fits what that’s about — bringing passion to these telecasts,” he said. “People who know the most about certain schools are the people who live it and breathe it every day.”

Next year will mark the 33rd consecutive year CBS has carried the tournament. In 2014 and 2015, Turner will carry the Final Four semifinals; in 2016, Turner will carry the semifinal and championship games. CBS and Turner will carry the Final Four and championship in alternate years after that.

CBS and Turner pay an average of $771 million annually over 14 years, a contract that ends in 2024.

If Ralph Sampson and Virginia’s basketball team had just taken care of business against Division II Chaminade on that night in 1982, there might never have been a Maui Invitational.

But the No. 1-ranked Cavaliers couldn’t avoid the greatest upset in college basketball history, and Chaminade, emboldened by its victory, decided to capitalize on its newfound fame by starting its own annual tournament in Maui in 1984.

Lahaina Civic Center has been expanded but remains an unmistakably intimate hoops venue.
Now, the EA Sports Maui Invitational, which celebrates its 30th event next week, is as synonymous with Thanksgiving as turkey and dressing. The event has evolved into probably the most recognizable of the myriad preseason basketball tournaments played annually, with its three days of games leading up to Thanksgiving and the unmistakably intimate Lahaina Civic Center serving as the venue.

“We set out to make this a preseason Final Four, and when you look at the fields, that’s what it has become,” said Steve Lesnik, whose Chicago-based agency, KemperLesnik, has operated the tournament since 1990.

Lesnik worked for Kemper Sports at that time, primarily running golf events, including the Women’s Kemper Open in Wailea, Hawaii. Through his connections at the golf tournament, he was introduced to athletic officials at Chaminade, who eventually sought Lesnik’s help to transform the then-Maui Classic into a more prestigious event.

Over the 23 years since, KemperLesnik has operated the tournament on behalf of Chaminade, a private school based in Honolulu that still technically owns the eight-team event, which features seven schools from the mainland and the home-standing Silverswords.

The current arrangement between Chaminade and KemperLesnik goes through 2025.

“The event has reached a point where it’s certainly worth preserving and maintaining at the highest level,” Lesnik said. “That’s how we look at it. We try to provide a Final Four type of experience in the best place you could hope to have a tournament. That was our vision, to have a preseason Final Four.”

KemperLesnik handles everything from the TV negotiations with ESPN to the selling of the one and only title sponsor the event’s ever known: EA Sports.

The model enables KemperLesnik to cover the expenses for each of the teams that travels to Maui and, after agency fees, Chaminade collects a tidy profit that goes to its athletic department.

Specific figures were not available.

KemperLesnik’s event division of five employees works year-round on the Maui Invitational, as well as the agency’s other events, including the boys and girls McDonald’s All-American games.

KemperLesnik has been integral in the tournament’s recent improvements. Lahaina Civic Center has been expanded in capacity from 2,500 to 3,500, and fan-friendly accessories, like a beer garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean, have added to the experience.

The tournament also brought on former Wake Forest and South Carolina coach Dave Odom to serve as its chairman, replacing longtime ambassador Wayne Duke, the former Big Ten commissioner. Odom’s charge is to assemble the best field among the preseason tournaments, and with a backdrop like Maui, it’s not often difficult. This year’s event has Arkansas, Baylor, California, Dayton, Gonzaga, Minnesota and Syracuse.

“It’s really about the benefits to Chaminade and doing something great for the visibility and the recruiting for the school,” Lesnik said.