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Volume 20 No. 42


Four years into its effort to leverage its financial markets expertise in the sports world, Bloomberg Sports is substantially expanding its professional baseball scouting tools.

The company has built out capabilities with partner MLB Advanced Media to link as many as eight customized video angles to its analytics platform.

Bloomberg works with 26 of 30 MLB teams to varying degrees.
That platform previously included real-time statistics, location-based data and various ways for teams to analyze that information, but only one, standard broadcast video feed. The new system now incorporates cameras each team has placed in its ballpark that are designed to isolate on specific positions and players.

For example, when a club looks to analyze specific batter-for-pitcher matchups, it can isolate specific pitches and now have those pitches directly linked to video from multiple vantage points.

Bloomberg Sports intends to formally introduce the expanded platform at the winter meetings, which will take place next month in Orlando.

“Being able to incorporate a whole suite of video options was really the one last big piece we were needing to having this be a true one-stop solution,” said Bill Squadron, head of Bloomberg Sports.

“There’s a great interest around the industry in marrying data with video as video has become such a critical piece of puzzle, and we now have the ability to truly tie that all together,” he said.

The company works with 26 of 30 MLB clubs to varying degrees. Several teams, including the Chicago Cubs and Washington, have extensive alignments with Bloomberg Sports.

But the new effort represents a move to upsell many clubs spending at a more modest level, and convert some of the remaining holdouts. The expanded analytics system carries a base price of about $200,000 a year for the hardware, software, and technical support.

Bloomberg Sports also intends for the expanded scouting system to be implemented by major clubs for their minor league affiliates.

“As clubs’ video coordinators have become more important to their overall baseball operation, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to improve their workflow and their efficiency,” Squadron said.

The NHL is crafting a series of Canadian television deals that could increase its average annual rights fees to more than $350 million, nearly double the current amount, while creating a Sunday night telecast franchise for the league.

The ongoing negotiations involve five Canadian networks: CBC, TSN, Sportsnet, and French-language broadcasters RDS and TVA. Negotiations are focused on 10-year deals, the same length as the $2 billion agreement between the NHL and NBC Sports Group that was reached in 2011. The forthcoming Canadian deals are expected to escalate in value over the length of the contracts, possibly exceeding a total of $400 million by the end of their terms.

CBC is expected to remain the NHL’s major partner and retain “Hockey Night in Canada.”
The league hopes to complete the deals before the Olympic break in February and could present any pending agreements as early as Dec. 9, when the NHL’s board of governors convenes in Pebble Beach, Calif., for the first of two days of meetings. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and Chief Operating Officer John Collins have led the negotiations for the league. The NHL and the networks declined to comment on negotiations.

The NHL is receiving about $190 million annually from its Canadian rights deals with CBC, TSN and RDS. Those agreements took effect in 2008 and expire after this season.

The deals would bring another massive spike to the league’s media rights, on top of the sizable increase NBC Sports Group paid in 2011, going from an average of $77.5 million per year to $200 million per year. The agreements also provide yet another example of the robust marketplace for live sports programming.

Additionally, the deals come at a key juncture for the NHL, as three months ago, the league outlined plans to increase revenue generated at the league-office level by $1 billion over the next three years. Getting more than $350 million annually in Canadian media rights fees — meaning more than $150 million in new annual revenue — would be a key step in helping the NHL reach that goal.

According to industry sources, CBC will remain as the league’s major partner and will retain “Hockey Night in Canada,” its iconic franchise since 1953. But the network would see its rights fee go up and some of its current inventory go to other programmers.

CBC (the over-the-air, public Canadian Broadcasting Co.) now pays $121 million a year. In the new deal, CBC is expected to pay about $175 million a year. However, it would lose the rights to the NHL All-Star Game and some playoff broadcasts, sources said.

“It meant a lot to the NHL and CBC for the network to keep ‘Hockey Night in Canada,’” said one source. “The key was maintaining that relationship while still making a workable deal [financially] for CBC so they wouldn’t get hurt too much. It looks like a fair resolution was found.”

In the current deal, CBC shows four of the eight first-round playoff series; two of the four second-round series; one full conference final plus four games of the other; and the Stanley Cup Final. The new agreement is likely to be without one of those four first-round series and without the four-game conference final package. However, CBC would retain its priority selection of series.

The NHL has successfully engaged TSN and Sportsnet in competitive bidding for the newly available inventory. TSN is likely to be the future rights holder of the NHL All-Star Game and is the leading candidate to own the rights to that second conference final, sources said. TSN’s current deal gives the network four first-round series, two second-round series and three games of the conference final series where CBC has the other four.

In its current deal, TSN pays $40 million annually. Sources said that TSN’s reluctance to pay substantially more has been the biggest stumbling block in the league’s overall negotiations with the Canadian networks, but the issues are expected to be resolved in the coming weeks.

Rogers Communications-owned Sportsnet is in the bidding for available playoff games but is also seen as the front-runner to purchase a new regular-season offering of a weekly Sunday night telecast. A featured Sunday night game would join CBC’s Saturday franchise, TSN’s weekly Wednesday broadcast of a game featuring at least one Canadian team, and NBCSN’s “Wednesday Night Rivalry” as tentpole weekly events.

“The NHL has seen the success of MLB on ESPN and the NFL on NBC on Sunday nights,” said a source. “The league is very confident that they can have relative success with a Sunday night game in Canada.”

In recent years, Sportsnet has provided regional telecasts of Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs games. A national Sunday night game, along with any playoff broadcast rights it may acquire, would make Sportsnet a stronger national player.

Together, the sum of the TSN and Sportsnet deals is expected to surpass $125 million annually for the league.

A bid from TVA, a French-language network owned by Pierre Karl Péladeau — who is attempting to bring an NHL franchise back to Quebec City — could result in an additional partner for the NHL. TVA is negotiating to obtain some of the French-language rights currently held exclusively by RDS, which would still remain as the league’s primary French partner.

RDS pays approximately $30 million for its exclusive NHL rights. With or without TVA, the new French-language deals are expected to surpass $50 million for the league.

Details about digital rights that would be included in the new deals were not available.

Digital video developer and syndicator CineSport has struck a partnership with talent representation and marketing outfit The Legacy Agency to create and distribute video content built around the agency’s clients.

The Legacy Agency will make video distribution to CineSport’s base of more than 400 clients a component of its endorsement packages for its athlete and broadcaster clients. The two companies also will co-create exclusive video programming featuring many of those personalities.

The Legacy Agency represents dozens of current athletes and broadcasters, including New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, pro golfer Jim Furyk and Fox Sports lead football analyst Troy Aikman. The New Jersey-based CineSport’s video clients include the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and USA Today Sports Media Group, and reach a total audience of more than 7 million monthly unique users.

Both companies declined to outline specific video segments under development. Content from the alliance should start appearing early next year and include commentary and breaking news analysis, long-form interviews, and sponsor-driven packages. This would augment CineSport’s current offerings, which consist heavily of game highlight packages.

“We’re both really playing to our strengths, and this is another way to enhance the reach of our clients digitally beyond their own social media followings,” said Mike Principe, The Legacy Agency chief executive. “We think this is something that will really enhance the value of our clients in the marketplace.”

Financial terms were not disclosed, but for video folded into larger endorsement deals for clients of The Legacy Agency, the companies will participate in a revenue-sharing agreement. For newly created content series, the pair will act as equity partners.

“The ability to deal directly with talent and have true speed to market is a big leg up for us,” said Michael Dresner, CineSport chief operating officer.


NASCAR appears to have found its sweet spot on TV.

Though viewership remains well below 2005 levels, NASCAR and network executives are happy with the sport’s performance this year and expressed confidence that its multiyear ratings decline has been stemmed.


SBJ Podcast:
John Ourand and Tripp Mickle analyze NASCAR's ratings performance and its prospects going into its final year with ESPN and Turner.

NASCAR averaged 5.8 million viewers per race this season on Fox, TNT, ABC and ESPN. This marks the third time in the last four years NASCAR has drawn right around 5.8 million viewers — a consistent performance that stands in contrast to the five seasons of declining numbers NASCAR posted between 2005 and 2010.

Coverage on Fox, TNT and ESPN averaged a 3.6 Nielsen rating and 5.8 million viewers for 35 out of 36 Sprint Cup races, equal to a year ago. (The race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 15 isn’t counted in the ratings performance because of a five-hour rain delay.)

“From an overall number, it’s a good number and strong number,” said Steve Herbst, NASCAR vice president of broadcasting and production. “Consistency is something we’re looking for all the time and … as long as we can keep our consistency week to week and partner to partner, we’ll be pleased with where we are.”

Fox Sports executives say they compare the network’s NASCAR ratings with other television programs, rather than with a TV number from eight years ago. Within the coveted male 18-49 demographic, NASCAR was the fourth-highest-rated show on TV in the first and second quarters.

In 2005, when NASCAR posted record high ratings, its races ranked 12th with the 18-49 male demographic. And in 2001, it ranked 14th in that demo.

Execs plan ahead for shift in ‘15

NASCAR and its TV partners will face a challenge maintaining the audience that has been tuning in to the races when their new deals take effect in 2015.

Next season the sport will be back with ESPN, Fox and Turner. But in 2015, it will begin new media deals with Fox and NBC.

In 2015, a total of 16 Sprint Cup races will air on either Fox or NBC, which is the same number that aired this season across Fox and ABC. But NASCAR could see some audience erosion for the races that are going to cable. Seven races will air on Fox Sports 1, which is in nearly 9 million fewer homes than ESPN, and 13 races will air on NBC Sports Network, which is in nearly 20 million fewer homes than ESPN.

NASCAR and its broadcast partners will be challenged to keep fans as the sport moves to those new networks. They’re planning to work together to promote the changes next season.

“We anticipate the issues that come with changes like that,” said Steve Herbst, NASCAR vice president of broadcasting and production. “Whatever dip we get going forward, we’ll build back up again in short order. Any bumps along the road we see being smoothed out quickly.”

ESPN executives said they plan to keep its promotion and production values high next year, which will be its final season carrying NASCAR. Its ratings increased 3 percent this season, and even though it knew early on that it would not be keeping rights to the sport, it didn’t decrease promotion. Just last week, ESPN had Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson host “SportsCenter.”

“We have no intention of letting our foot off the gas,” said Dan Ochs, ESPN’s director of content strategy and acquisitions. “It is an interesting position to be in. But we’re going to have the same production values and the same team behind and in front of the camera.”

— John Ourand & Tripp Mickle

“The way we look at our properties is in how they compare to prime-time entertainment programming,” said Mike Mulvihill, senior vice president of programming and research for Fox Sports. “In the demos that we sell, we are a top-five show in the first and second quarters. That works for us.”

NASCAR started the 2013 season strong. Its first race, the Daytona 500 on Fox, drew national media attention after Danica Patrick won the pole, and it posted the biggest year-over-year ratings increase in the race’s history. It earned a 9.9 rating and averaged 16.6 million viewers. That race’s success created enough momentum for NASCAR to be ranked among the top two sports on TV during 11 out of 12 weekends it aired on Fox.

Another bright spot for NASCAR was the ratings performance of the Chase, which was up 6 percent over last year and averaged a 2.8 Nielsen rating and 4.6 million viewers. The Chase was preceded by a race-fixing scandal at Richmond International Raceway that caused NASCAR to bounce Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. from the Chase and insert Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon. Talk of the controversy dominated NASCAR for several weeks and fueled interest in the Chase, which became a close contest between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.

ESPN finished with viewership increases for seven of its 10 Chase races, and it did so despite most of those races going head-to-head with the NFL on Sundays.

“We were pretty steady and pretty consistent,” said Dan Ochs, ESPN’s director of content strategy and acquisitions. “We thought we’d have a tighter points race at the end, but the numbers held up.”

Turner Sports was the only partner of NASCAR to see a significant decrease in its ratings and viewership. It posted the lowest ratings of its 25 years of broadcasting the sport when TNT, which shows six NASCAR races in June and July, averaged 4.7 million viewers, a 6 percent decrease from a year ago.

Herbst predicted that moving to two broadcast partners in 2015 and eliminating Turner’s six-race package will help improve ratings for those six races. “There’s an element of getting people accustomed to Turner,” Herbst said. “They come on the scene and you have to get accustomed to them being there, and by the time you are, you’re moving on [to ESPN].”

NASCAR launched an industrywide initiative two seasons ago to help it attract new fans, and it saw gains in two areas where it’s concentrating: Hispanics and young men. Viewership among Hispanics rose 40 percent and viewership among 18- to 34-year-old men rose 4 percent. The increase in male viewers wasn’t enough to offset the 25 percent dip it saw in that segment a year ago, but the sport’s executives were encouraged.

Viewership for the Nationwide Series was down slightly this year. Through 33 events, it averaged 1.7 million viewers per event, a 13 percent decrease from 2012. The decline was driven in part by the departure of Patrick, who raced in the Nationwide Series last year before switching to the Sprint Cup Series full time this season.

A month into the NBA season, just two teams have developed local streaming services, even though the biggest regional sports network groups reached agreements with the league to stream games locally at the start of the season.

What gives?

The answer from media and team executives is that local live streaming is still coming this season, but fans need to be patient.

“We want to make sure that we are buttoned up from a user-authentication standpoint,” said Boston Celtics President Rich Gotham. “I think Comcast’s plan is to roll it out and test it, and I’m hopeful by spring to pilot a few games. We want to make sure that when we do it, it will be easy for the consumer.”

The Trail Blazers are selling live streaming, but it’s not part of a TV Everywhere strategy.
Fox Sports Net expects to start rolling out local streaming services next month for all 16 teams for which it holds the rights, sources said. Comcast is moving at a slower pace, but sources said they do expect to have streaming services ready for its seven teams by the end of the season.

NBA executives were not available for comment.

Time Warner Cable Sports streamed its Los Angeles Lakers games last season and is doing so again this season. And the Portland Trail Blazers are selling live streaming of their games to fans who do not have access to that team’s rights holder, CSN Portland.

Reasons for the holdup are relatively mundane and largely center around the networks’ distribution deals. Fox Sports Net and NBC Sports Group plan to make local streams available only to pay-TV subscribers through the industry’s TV Everywhere initiative. As such, they have to cut new deals with distributors to allow for local streaming and set up an authentication process around it.

An interesting wrinkle to the deals has Fox Sports and Comcast SportsNet asserting what is being called “couch rights.” That means that pay-TV subscribers will be able to stream the games anywhere, even in other markets. For example, if a Heat fan who subscribes to Sun Sports is on a business trip to Los Angeles, that fan would be able to stream games to his computer or handheld device.

The Trail Blazers’ streaming efforts are not related to the TV Everywhere strategy used by Fox Sports Net and NBC Sports Group. Because Comcast Portland has not been able to cut carriage deals with several distributors, including DirecTV, the Blazers are offering to stream 58 regular-season games for $99.99 to fans where Comcast is not available.

Last year, the Blazers offered a similar plan and drew a total of 350 subscribers. As of last week, the Blazers had 104 subscribers for the live streaming package this year. The goal is to attract 500 to 600 subscribers this season.

While the Blazers and Comcast are interested in the NBA’s TV Everywhere live streaming, that effort would have no impact on the team’s live streaming package offered to fans with no access to Comcast services.

“We have had internal discussions and we are moving in the right direction on it,” said Dewayne Hankins, vice president of marketing and digital for the Blazers.

John Ourand
DirecTV CEO Michael White kicked off our annual media conference earlier this month with a message that threatened to throw a wet blanket on the good feelings in the sports media business.

“The concern we have as distributors is if you keep raising prices far in excess of [Consumer Price Index] inflation and household median income — especially for the bottom 60 percent of America, whose incomes are not growing,” White said. “There are some significant consequences down the road that we better be thinking about.”

White’s comments were a warning to broadcast networks and sports channels that the pay-TV model that has brought so much money into the sports business is being threatened by the increasing cost of those sports.

It’s a message that carries heft coming from DirecTV, a company that has marketed itself for years as the home of sports programming. Given the pending launch of the SEC Network, not to mention carriage fights DirecTV is having with CSN Houston, Pac-12 Networks and Longhorn Network, it is a message that DirecTV has been pushing for the past year.

The good news for White is that programmers already have bought into it. Networks and distributors still will fight over prices, of course. But programmers at the conference acknowledged that they need financially healthy distributors for their businesses to be successful.

“We’re all doing what we can do to keep the model sustainable,” said Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman. “If the model starts breaking down, everybody’s in a lot of trouble. We all need to work to figure out how to keep it working.”

SportsNet New York President Steve Raab echoed that point, warning that corporate “greed” — where TV channels fail to see a bigger picture — is the biggest threat facing the pay-TV industry today.

“My concern is that too many programmers think that … [they] are entitled to big resets and big increases across the board,” he said. “To me, it’s about value, partnership and delivering and improving and unlocking value.”

Programmers are exploring those partnerships through their TV Everywhere initiative that gives subscribers access to programming on multiple devices. The idea is that while distributors are paying more for their programming, they are getting a lot more content as well.

Silverman referenced his TV Everywhere application, BTN2Go, which has around 1 million downloads and has seen a 50 percent jump in viewership from last year. Thanks largely to ad sales around BTN2Go, Big Ten Network digital revenue is growing at a higher rate than any other revenue stream, Silverman said.

“If you get a cable subscription, you should get the network on any device you want. You shouldn’t have to pay anything more for it,” he said. “All of us are cognizant of costs that are going up. We need to keep cable subscriptions to where they are now and not have churn.”

While networks want to make sure the cable-satellite model remains healthy, they also believe live sports content will become even more valuable as the media world becomes even more fragmented. If it weren’t for live sports programming, distributors would be seeing many more cord cutters. Doug Perlman, founder and CEO of Sports Media Advisors, predicted that the next two leagues to negotiate rights deals — the NBA and Big Ten — will see significant rights fee increases.

“This is not irrational exuberance,” Perlman said. “To frame it as a bubble suggests that there’s sort of an impending radical change, which suggests that you think some of those dynamics are going to change. That’s possible. There could be massive disruption in the economy and in the global scheme. Short of that, I don’t see any of this changing.”

> DIRECTV WILL LIKELY WAIT ON WATCHESPN: Almost once a week, it seems, I hear from DirecTV subscribers wondering when it will start offering WatchESPN. I asked White that question on stage, and this was his response:

“We have a deal with Disney and ESPN that isn’t up yet, but will be up in the next couple of years. … They’d be happy to give it to me today if I paid them an arm and a leg for it. My customers won’t pay me anything for it. They expect it to be free. My view is that we probably will carry it. But it will be part and parcel of the digital negotiations that go with the next deal that we do with Disney-ESPN.”

Translation: DirecTV subscribers won’t have access to WatchESPN for at least two more years.

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