Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 42


Fox and NBC will have to wait at least another year if they want to negotiate a national NBA rights package. That’s because the exclusive negotiating window for the league’s current national rights holders, ESPN and Turner, doesn’t open until late next spring.

Sources with both ESPN and Turner say they have no plans to open that exclusive window earlier. An earlier start, of course, would mean the exclusive negotiating period also would end earlier, thereby opening the door sooner for Fox, NBC and others to bid for a package.

That doesn’t mean the NBA’s TV negotiations have stalled. Rather, in recent weeks the league has stepped up conversations with both ESPN and Turner about renewing their deals before getting to the exclusive window.

The NBA’s interest in cutting a deal early is to profit from the current frothy market for sports rights.

In the past month alone, the International Olympic Committee and Major League Soccer have signed significant rights deals. MLS’s deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision, in particular, represented a huge increase for the league in its average annual rights fee received.

By cutting a deal early, the NBA also would avoid selling its rights at the same time the NFL plans to sell a Thursday night package of games. That NFL package is expected to draw a lot of interest. Earlier this year, the NFL signed a one-year deal with CBS with an NFL option for a second year. There’s some fear that a new NFL deal could take money out of the market.

ESPN and Turner’s interest in cutting a deal early additionally aims to avoid a bidding war with competitors like Fox and NBC. The league’s TV ratings, combined with its attractive young demographic, make it a hot TV property.

ESPN and Turner have two years remaining on their eight-year, $7.5 billion deal, which expires at the end of the league’s 2015-16 season. League and network sources expect the new deal to at least double its average annual rights fee. Even though digital rights are expected to be a big part of the discussions, the deal price is being driven by the reach from traditional television, sources said.

Over the past four months, the league’s two internal media committees — one featuring owners, the other with team CEOs — have met regularly to discuss how they want to approach these negotiations while focusing on myriad issues related to a new deal.

It is likely the NBA’s new deal will include a wider array of digital rights. Under the leadership of former Commissioner David Stern, the NBA considered itself an early adopter, embracing cable television before other leagues and creating its own TV channel.

The committees also have looked into a push by the networks for increased flexible scheduling to create better matchups later in the season, a move they say will boost viewership.

Conversations between the league and its network partners were slightly delayed by the Donald Sterling saga, but the Clippers sale is not expected to have even a short-term impact on the TV talks.

Bill Koenig, NBA president of global media distribution, leads the negotiations with ESPN and Turner executives.

With the potential for the first horse racing Triple Crown in more than three decades, NBC is devoting resources including cross-promotion on other NBC Universal-owned platforms, a record amount of television coverage, and a quickly produced documentary on race horse California Chrome to ensure a big television rating for the Belmont Stakes.

“We are promoting it everywhere, not just on NBC and NBC Sports Network; we are including all of our news shows like the ‘Today’ show, on CNBC, on our regional sports networks, all of our affiliates, you name it,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network.

NBC Sports has done similar promotions for other big sports events, such as the Super Bowl, NFL Kickoff, the NHL playoffs, golf’s U.S. Open and, in horse racing, the Kentucky Derby.

“I won’t make any ratings predictions, other than it will be high,” Miller said.

NBC Sports announced last week that it would devote 16 hours to race coverage, including 2 1/2 hours on NBC starting at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday for the race itself. The other 13 1/2 hours of coverage will air on NBC Sports Network and will include a half-hour documentary that NBC Sports produced titled “California Chrome, the Unlikely Champion,” hosted by NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas.

Had Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome not won the Preakness Stakes on May 17 and set himself up to possibly win the Triple Crown, NBC Sports would have devoted about seven hours of coverage to the Belmont, Miller said. The last horse to win the Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978.

NBC Sports’ coverage at Belmont will begin hours away from the finish line. Included will be a documentary on Triple Crown candidate California Chrome hosted by Bob Costas.
Photo by: NBC SPORTS GROUP (2)
“We had [the coverage plan] ready to go Saturday night after the Preakness and we pulled the trigger Monday morning,” Miller said. “It’s the most ever for the Belmont.” It surpasses the record 11 hours of coverage that NBC Sports devoted to the race across NBC and NBC Sports Network in 2012, when Triple Crown contender I’ll Have Another scratched the day before the race.

The Kentucky Derby always draws a big audience, regardless of the horses running; this year’s event drew 15.2 million viewers. But the number of people who tune in for the Belmont Stakes varies wildly, depending on whether there is a Triple Crown at stake (see chart).

The lowest viewership in the last 20 years was in 1996: No Triple Crown was at stake, and 4 million tuned in and saw Editor’s Note win. The largest audience came in 2004, when 21.9 million viewers watched Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones lose the Belmont by a length to Birdstone.

That 2004 running of the Belmont also drew a record crowd of 120,139 to Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., said David O’Rourke, vice president of corporate development for the New York Racing Association. The NYRA owns Belmont as well as Aqueduct and Saratoga.

As of last week, all of Belmont Park’s 26,000 seats from the dining areas to the grandstand were sold out, O’Rourke said. Those tickets are priced from about $1,000 at the trackside tent area to the lowest $20 grandstand seat. General admission without an assigned seat costs $10, and attendance always depends on walk-up business the day of the race, O’Rourke said.

The Belmont on TV

Year Network Avg. viewership (millions) Triple Crown contender Winner
2013 NBC 7.0 None Palace Malice
2012 NBC 7.7 None* Union Rags
2011 NBC 6.8 None Ruler On Ice
2010 ABC 4.7 None Drosselmeyer
2009 ABC 6.6 None Summer Bird
2008 ABC 13.1 Big Brown Da’ Tara
2007 ABC 4.9 None Rags To Riches
2006 ABC 5.0 None Jazil
2005 NBC 7.7 None Afleet Alex
2004 NBC 21.9 Smarty Jones Birdstone
2003 NBC 15.7 Funny Cide Empire Maker
2002 NBC 12.4 War Emblem Sarava
2001 NBC 6.8 None Point Given
2000 ABC 4.3 None Commendable
1999 ABC 9.3 Charismatic Lemon Drop Kid
1998 ABC 9.1 Real Quiet Victory Gallop
1997 ABC 8.2 Silver Charm Touch Gold
1996 ABC 4.0 None Editor’s Note
1995 ABC 5.1 None Thunder Gulch
1994 ABC 5.9 None Tabasco Cat
1993 ABC 6.4 None Colonial Affair
1992 ABC 6.7 None A.P. Indy

* Triple Crown contender I’ll Have Another scratched the day before the 2012 Belmont Stakes.
Source: NBC Sports

The race draws about 100,000 when a Triple Crown is at stake, versus about 50,000 when there is no chance of a Triple Crown winner. This year, LL Cool J will perform on Saturday and Frank Sinatra Jr. will sing “New York, New York,” traditionally performed during the post parade before the race.

“The over/under is 100,000,” O’Rourke said.

In recent years, NBC Sports has focused its Kentucky Derby coverage not just on the sporting aspect of the race but also on entertainment elements, including having entertainment reporters cover the celebrities who arrive on the red carpet at Churchill Downs.

That is not the plan for NBC’s coverage at the Belmont this year, Miller said.

“There will be celebrities there, but I think this is more of a historic event in sports,” he said. “It is something you almost have to watch.”

NBC will air its first MMA bout in July as part of a multiyear deal with the World Series of Fighting that runs through 2017.

The move signifies a change in strategy for the Comcast-owned company. When NBC Sports Group passed on a UFC deal in 2011, its executives said MMA was off-brand and difficult to get advertisers to support. Soon after, the World Series of Fighting bought time on NBC Sports Network, which ran two cards in 2012 and six in 2013.

“We dipped our toe in the water back in 2012,” said Gary Quinn, NBC and NBCSN vice president of programming. “[NBC and NBCSN President of Programming Jon Miller] needed proof that it would deliver.”

NBC executives decided the series’ performance was good enough ratings-wise for an extension. In 2013, the six World Series of Fighting telecasts averaged 198,000 viewers. For 2014 to date, two telecasts have

averaged 228,000 viewers.

The new, four-year extension is not a time-buy, but it does not involve a rights fee, either. Rather, NBC has committed to cover some of the production costs.

The deal calls for NBC to carry live 14 World Series of Fighting events this year: 12 on NBCSN and two on NBC. More events will be added in the next few years. The events will be held Friday and Saturday nights in the 9 p.m. ET slot. NBC’s two live cards this year will air on July 5 and Dec. 27.

The deal also includes a big digital component. NBC will stream the undercard on its website, making it available to anyone with a broadband connection. It will stream the bigger matches on an authenticated TV Everywhere basis.

Quinn said NBC also has committed to have its regional sports networks re-air some of the cards and it plans to hold bouts in markets where it operates RSNs.

“Partnering up with our RSNs makes sense from a programming perspective,” Quinn said.

NBC will use Todd Harris on the telecasts and Bas Rutten as an analyst.

The NFL has signed distribution partnerships with Amazon and Roku to place the forthcoming NFL Now digital video service on the Fire TV, Kindle Fire and Roku streaming platforms.

The league also has signed a deal with existing corporate partner McDonald’s for the quick-service restaurant to be the third presenting sponsor of NFL Now. McDonald’s joins Verizon and Gillette as launch sponsors, while Amazon and Roku are the fourth and fifth distribution partners for the service following Verizon, Microsoft and Yahoo.

NFL Now is still slated for a debut in August and will provide a customizable feed of highlights, original content, team-specific material, NFL Films content and some repurposed content from and the NFL Network.

In a statement, NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp said: “Our agreements with Amazon and Roku drive towards our goal of securing the broadest possible distribution for NFL Now at launch, providing fans a robust NFL video experience no matter what platform or device they are using.”

Sports Illustrated this week will launch Planet Futbol, a new stand-alone site dedicated to year-round coverage of soccer.

The visual template for Planet Futbol, to debut this week, differs from that of
The new destination, at, is the fifth vertical SI has created in the last 18 months, following The MMQB with Peter King, SI Swim Daily, Extra Mustard and SI Edge. An outgrowth of a previous Planet Futbol soccer blog from SI soccer writer Grant Wahl, the new site will feature extensive contributions from Wahl, fellow staffer Brian Straus and a large group of other correspondents.

The timing of the launch of Planet Futbol is clearly geared toward the start of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. But SI executives said there is now more than enough fan and advertiser interest to support a dedicated destination to soccer.

“This is a continuation of the strategy we’ve been on, whether it be MMQB, Swim Daily or these other destinations. The fan appetite in these areas is voracious, we want to serve that interest, and we believe all boats within our operation are lifted by adding these things,” said Paul Fichtenbaum, Time Inc. Sports Group editor.

Planet Futbol will feature a mix of text, video, audio and photos. But similar to, it will not feature live game rights and instead will be a journalistic-driven effort.

Initial advertisers for the new site include Marriott, Degree, Edge Shave Gel, Hublot, Canon and Gatorade.

“When we decide to launch a vertical, we want to be sure that we can do it well and engage audiences on their preferred devices,” said Brendan Ripp, SI publisher. “With Planet Futbol, we are tapping into a passion among our staff, our clients and a vastly growing global fan base. This has been a successful formula for all of our recent franchise launches and a vital element to our momentum and growth.”

Additional site extensions with SI Digital are under consideration, Fichtenbaum said, including one for college football.

The visual template of Planet Futbol also veers away from and many grid-based sports sites, and is designed to “inject as much flexibility as possible, both on the front end and back end,” Fichtenbaum said.

The arrival of Planet Futbol extends a wave of growth for SI’s digital operations. Its total of 19.2 million uniques in April’s comScore rankings of the most trafficked U.S. sports sites was up 24 percent from the same month last year, and individual elements within SI’s rollup number such as and Swim Daily have posted their own runs of double-digit percentage audience increases.

Stack, a New York-based youth sports media outlet, has acquired training provider Velocity Sports Performance and digital developer Driven Apps, as it seeks to create a full suite of information, training and online and mobile products for youth sports.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but both acquisitions were cash-and-stock deals.

Stack will fold Driven Apps, maker of official mobile apps for Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade in addition to its training-oriented products, into its operations. Velocity Sports Performance, operator of more than 40 athletic development and training facilities around the country, will continue for at least the short term under its own brand name.

“We’re trying to empower young athletes in any way we can, and while we’ve done well on the media side so far, the question was how we could extend the brand into these coaching and training avenues,” said Nick Palazzo, Stack co-founder and chief executive. “This is a big next step for us in our evolution.”

Stack publishes Stack Magazine, distributed in high schools and generating a readership of more than 5 million, and operates, a regular on monthly comScore rankings of top U.S. sports sites. The company also holds partnerships with Yahoo Sports and the Amateur Athletic Union, among others.

Management at the acquired companies, including Velocity Sports Management President and CEO Peter Barbaresi and Driven Apps Chief Executive Jake Edwards, will continue in their roles.

“We are basically the brick-and-mortar translation of what Stack already does from a content development standpoint,” Barbaresi said of Velocity’s training centers. “So bringing that brick-and-mortar together with the digital into one operation we think is a juggernaut proposition.”