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Volume 21 No. 1


Home Team Sports has started selling in-arena video advertisements through a partnership with Access Sports Media.

The move allows the Fox Sports-owned sales group to continue with a sales strategy it calls “surround the fan,” meaning packaging national TV spots on regional sports networks, in-arena signage and video ads on concourse TVs.

The new deal will see HTS sell ads on concourse screens in more than 50 MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL venues. HTS already sells in-arena signs, promotions and sponsorships for more than two dozen professional teams. It also handles national ad sales for almost all regional sports networks.

“We’re not just selling RSNs; we’re selling fans,” said Kyle Sherman, executive vice president of Home Team Sports. “The market is becoming ready for this type of sale.”

HTS signed T-Mobile as its first client with a package that includes spots on RSNs and the in-arena video system.

The deal makes HTS the exclusive sales representative for Access Sports Media, which means that Access pays HTS a representation fee. It’s not clear how much that fee is worth.

“This is a natural extension of what we currently do,” Sherman said. “We’re hitting local fans in local markets with their messages.”

Access Sports Media screens are the ones located above concession stands showing the game feed plus pregame and postgame shows. The company is rated by Nielsen and reports reaching around 70 million fans a year.

Moving the NBA on TNT off of Thursday night?

Taking on a third TV partner?

Bringing the NBA’s digital rights back in-house?

These are three of the ideas that have been floated as the league starts the process of negotiating its next media deal.

TNT’s Thursday doubleheader will be competing regularly with NFL games.
The talks are still in their embryonic stages, so the ideas may never come to fruition. But the fact that such topics are even being contemplated illustrates how the league and its TV network partners are viewing the upcoming negotiations: Everything is on the table as both sides try to figure out how the NBA media landscape will look into the next decade.

One change the NBA is considering would see the league take back some digital rights that it licensed to Turner Sports as part of its last media deal, signed in 2008. Turner has jointly managed the league’s digital business out of Atlanta since then, and that operation has been a key feather in the cap of the company. Turner can point to the growth of and NBA TV, in particular, as proof that the relationships is working. NBA TV has seen its ratings and distribution increase since the deal.

Still, NBA executives are looking at other digital opportunities, which could include bringing the rights back in-house or licensing them to other digital companies, such as YouTube. The NBA has launched YouTube channels around the D-League and Summer League.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that he is interested in over-the-top carriage for some NBA programming.

Over the past couple of years, NASCAR and the PGA Tour pulled back their digital rights from Turner to execute their digital efforts internally.

The league also is looking into the possibility of carving out a new package that it would sell to another partner. ESPN and Turner’s exclusive negotiating window does not open for another year, but the league is considering whether it should hold back a package of games that it would sell to another media company, such as Fox Sports or NBC Sports Group. Any new deal would start with the 2016-17 season.

Perhaps the most unlikely move being discussed involves moving Turner’s “NBA on TNT” doubleheader off of Thursday nights. NBA owners are concerned about the NFL’s expansion of “Thursday Night Football” to a full season and are considering whether placing their games on another night, avoiding the highly rated NFL, would help their own TV ratings.

The NFL expanded its Thursday night package on NFL Network in 2012, four years after the NBA cut its most recent media deal. The NFL is further expanding its Thursday efforts this year, with a slate of games on broadcast network CBS set to air in the fall.

The NBA’s current TV partners, ESPN/ABC and Turner, have more than two years remaining on their eight-year, $7.5 billion deal. ESPN and Turner would not comment on the ideas being floated. Still, it’s likely the NBA’s new deal will include a wider array of digital rights. Over the past several decades, the NBA typically has been an early adopter in digital media circles, being the first league to embrace cable television and create its own TV channel.

The NBA’s two internal media committees — one featuring team owners, the other with team operators — have met separately in the past three weeks, and sources said the league’s digital rights are a big focus.

NBA spokesman Michael Bass said, “As always, our internal discussions are confidential.”

Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins, who is a member of the six-member team executive committee, would not comment on any of the group’s negotiations but said their focus is on the digital future of the league.

“It’s about the next 10 years,” he said.

Bryan Srabian, the director of digital media for the San Francisco Giants, oversees nine social media accounts for the team: Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter and Vine. As all teams and leagues try to improve the game-day experience, Srabian believes that the Giants need to have a presence on every social media platform that is out there, especially in a tech-savvy market like San Francisco.

“We’re just scratching the surface. Generally speaking, it’s more important to reach those fans,” he said. “To get 10 seconds of someone’s attention is extremely valuable. It’s definitely a huge opportunity for us to figure out the right way.”

Srabian spoke on a South By Southwest panel I moderated in Austin, Texas, this month about how to get fans off the couch and keep them going to games. One of the most interesting themes to emerge from that panel dealt with how teams like the Giants are using social media today.

I expected to hear about apps that provide advanced statistics, highlights and team-driven contests.
To my surprise, Srabian spoke more about curating all the social media content about his team than creating his own content for the Giants’ accounts.

Srabian and his staff spend game days at AT&T Park monitoring social media, retweeting fan tweets and sharing fan videos and pictures.

Should teams actively promote fans’ use of their mobile devices at games?
“We’ve learned that our fans are savvy and are going to create a lot of great content,” Srabian said. “We want to use that. We want to make them the stars and essentially let them be the brand and the voices. We try to give our fans the platform.”

The SXSW panel was held a little more than a week after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote a provocative column suggesting that increased connectivity waters down the atmosphere at games. “It’s tough to clap when you have a device in your hand,” Cuban wrote on his blog. “It’s tough to yell when you are talking on your phone.”

A pioneer in social media, Cuban acknowledges that fans are using their smartphones at games. He questioned whether teams should promote that use. He wrote: “No question people use their phones and devices at games, but they use them when they are bored.”

None of the executives on my panel agreed.

“I appreciate Cuban’s post. Being with strangers and high-fiving — that’s the unique experience that teams are creating and selling versus something you can get outside the stadium,” said Facebook executive Bob Morgan. “But there’s a balance there if you look at what the fans are actually doing when they’re at the venues.”

As an example, Morgan cited Matt Cain’s perfect game for the Giants from 2012. As the game went into the later innings, AT&T Park logged the most uploads in its history. Even during one of the most thrilling baseball events — MLB has seen only 23 perfect games in its history — fans were eager to use their smartphones to document their experience.

“There were a phenomenal number of people who wanted to share that they were having this experience, tell people outside the stadium that they were here and connect with other people that were here,” Morgan said. “They need the connectivity to do that.”

It’s clear that fans are using their smartphones at games — a habit that is not likely to end. Morgan cited a stat showing that five of the 10 top Facebook check-ins in 2013 came from sports arenas — from Giants games in San Francisco to the Livestock Show & Rodeo in Houston.

From his nine social media accounts, Srabian is figuring out the right voice to use on all the sites. He wants to make sure that the Giants’ accounts on Facebook and Twitter are not posting the same items. He uses Instagram for more artistic purposes and Snapchat for more “immediate” photos.

“I might be the wrong person to run a Snapchat account,” said Srabian, who is in his 40s. “Companies are hiring youthful people to run these accounts. Our job is to talk to millennials.”

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

Michael Strahan’s SMAC Entertainment has sold a game show that he will host in prime time to a major, over-the-air network, one of several entertainment projects the hall-of-famer turned sports broadcaster/morning show host is working on.

Strahan is also the producer of an untitled major motion picture in development, a biopic on the late boxer Arturo Gatti. That project is being co-produced by Mark Wahlberg.

Strahan, who anchored the Giants’ defensive line, now anchors media projects.
Last week, Nickelodeon announced that Strahan would host and serve as executive producer for a new sports awards show called “Kids’ Choice Sports 2014,” in which kids will vote on their favorite athletes and teams. Nickelodeon will air the show live from UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion on July 17.

Strahan and entertainment executives Constance Schwartz and Mark Sudak formed the entertainment management, branding and production company SMAC Entertainment in 2011.

In an interview last week, Strahan and Schwartz outlined their plans with SMAC Entertainment. They would not reveal the name of the game show or the network that bought it, but said it was being co-produced by Scott St. John, executive producer of “Deal or No Deal,” and that the pilot was being shot in May.

“It’s physical and cerebral,” Schwartz said of the show. “So there will be physical stunts, and the stunts are based on questions you answer.”

Meanwhile, the script for the Gatti film is being written and will star Jerry Ferrara, who played “Turtle” in HBO’s “Entourage,” as the boxer.

Strahan and Schwartz hinted at other projects to announce soon.

The two agreed that Strahan’s high visibility has increased the opportunities for SMAC Entertainment, especially his role as co-host of the nationally syndicated morning talk show “Live with Kelly and Michael.” In that role, Strahan has been exposed to a different audience — women — and has been seen in a different light.

“Getting that show has opened up a lot of doors, because people see you in a different way,” Strahan said. “You are not just seen as the athlete anymore, or the jock who talks about football. You are seen more as the Everyday Man: someone people see everyday in the morning, and they accept your personality as how you are and who you are. It makes people feel more comfortable.”

Nickelodeon Group President Cyma Zarghami reached out to Strahan and to SMAC Entertainment to discuss the awards show concept. Nickelodeon has broadcast the “Kids’ Choice Awards” entertainment awards show for 26 years and started researching whether to do a specific, sports-themed show.

“When we decided we were going to do it, Michael Strahan was the first person we thought of as host and an executive producer,” Zarghami said in an email. “He has kids, he knows kids, and has a great smile.”

Strahan, who is a father of four, was excited about creating a show that he hopes will become an annual event, as well as working with the “sports council” SMAC and Nickelodeon have assembled to help draw up categories for awards, nominees and presenters.

The list of notables who have agreed to serve as advisers on the show includes former great athletes, such as Cal Ripken Jr.; executives from the NFL and NBA; and prominent agents from rival sports agencies, including Excel Sports Management founder and President Jeff Schwartz, Creative Artists Agency sports broadcast agent Andy Elkin, WME senior vice president Jill Smoller and IMG Clients Group senior vice president Alan Zucker.

“I threatened them,” Strahan joked, when asked how he got the rival agents to work together.

Constance Schwartz said all the agents who were approached agreed immediately because they wanted to be part of it.

Jeff Schwartz, one of the agents who agreed to advise on the show, praised Strahan as someone who possesses an unusual combination of broad personal appeal and business intuition. “Likeable and approachable, he is at the intersection of sports and entertainment, allowing for a unique perspective and understanding of both worlds,” Schwartz said.

The projects add to a 2014 calendar for Strahan that features his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. He was selected for enshrinement earlier this year.