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Volume 20 No. 42


Don’t tell New Orleans Saints fans that NFL preseason games are meaningless.

A SportsBusiness Journal analysis of preseason games broadcast locally over the past four seasons shows that the Saints scored the highest local ratings for their games, and did so by a wide margin. How dominant were the Saints?

The Saints, with Drew Brees at quarterback, have averaged no worse than a 37.2 local preseason rating since 2010.

The 15 highest-rated games locally leaguewide across the four-year span were all Saints games. That’s 15 of 16 New Orleans preseason games tracked between 2010 and 2013, and the one that didn’t register was Week 4 in 2012, when Hurricane Isaac caused power outages in New Orleans so Nielsen was unable to track local viewership of the game.

While seven other clubs across the league averaged at least a 14.0 local rating in each of last four preseasons, none of those clubs ever posted a 30.0 average for a preseason. The Saints hit that average all four years ­— with their lowest average being a 37.2 in 2010 (see highlighted teams in chart, at right).

Cox Sports Television has been the Saints’ local preseason rights holder since 2006. The network controls the majority of the ad sales for the games, with the Saints holding a small amount of inventory for partner fulfillment, according to the team.

 About the deals
Hall of Fame Game
Such a hybrid arrangement is not uncommon, according to executives from multiple NFL clubs. However, factors such as the presence of team-owned broadcast-quality production facilities in a stadium, team-related shoulder programming that is part of the rights deal, and broadcast partnerships with other teams in the market are just a few of the factors that prevent a single preseason ad sales template from being replicated from one NFL market to another.

Comparisons of teams’ preseason viewership from year to year can be tricky; game time, location, opponent and national broadcasts can each play a factor. While those fluctuations even out for most clubs across the span of several seasons, a few teams have significant deviations in their numbers over the past four seasons. The Seattle Seahawks, for example, signed a five-year deal with Tribune Broadcasting’s KCPQ (Fox) prior to the 2012 season, replacing Gannett-owned KING (NBC), which had been the team’s rights holder for the previous eight seasons. The club’s local ratings last preseason were nearly double what they were in 2010 — a good start on TV to a season that ended with a Super Bowl championship on the field.

TEAM 2013 2012 2011 2010
Arizona Cardinals 9.3 9.1 11.2 13.2
Atlanta Falcons 8.5 6.8 9.1 8.4
Baltimore Ravens 20.7 14.3 21.0 20.4
Buffalo Bills 15.2 13.8 13.6 14.9
Carolina Panthers 14.5 12.5 14.5 14.9
Chicago Bears 13.7 11.8 14.1 11.6
Cincinnati Bengals 15.5 12.9 15.6 18.2
Cleveland Browns 17.1 17.2 17.7 18.8
Dallas Cowboys 9.6 14.3 18.3 17.9
Denver Broncos 18.6 18.7 19.0 19.0
Detroit Lions 11.5 10.4 12.1 9.4
Green Bay Packers 16.4 25.0 22.6 23.1
Houston Texans 17.5 13.7 15.7 13.1
Indianapolis Colts 15.0 19.8 13.2 15.5
Jacksonville Jaguars 12.9 14.2 15.0 13.1
Kansas City Chiefs 22.3 18.3 20.6 21.3
Miami Dolphins 7.8 7.6 11.1 9.5
Minnesota Vikings 16.4 13.3 16.0 18.2
New England Patriots 14.8 12.5 13.7 11.9
New Orleans Saints 38.6 38.8 39.0 37.2
New York Giants 6.1 5.4 5.4 5.4
New York Jets 4.9 6.2 5.2 4.6
Oakland Raiders 2.6 5.5 8.7 5.5
Philadelphia Eagles 13.3 13.9 14.3 11.5
Pittsburgh Steelers 23.7 27.1 27.8 29.6
San Diego Chargers 12.9 12.3 19.7 14.7
San Francisco 49ers 10.8 8.2 9.2 10.5
Seattle Seahawks 22.3 13.1 12.5 11.9
St. Louis Rams 9.4 8.7 12.4 9.4
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9.0 7.2 9.0 7.8
Tennessee Titans 16.9 15.4 20.2 20.1
Washington Redskins 11.6 9.7 15.5 12.8
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of data provided by the NFL and local rights holders
Chicago Bears 448,063
New York Giants 415,733
Philadelphia Eagles 395,063
New York Jets 388,267
Dallas Cowboys 379,438
Houston Texans 327,000
New England Patriots 317,563
Pittsburgh Steelers 314,375
Washington Redskins 294,750
Denver Broncos 292,875
Minnesota Vikings 276,500
Seattle Seahawks 273,250
Cleveland Browns 267,063
New Orleans Saints 244,733
San Francisco 49ers 241,667
Baltimore Ravens 209,188
Detroit Lions 203,769
Arizona Cardinals 200,938
Green Bay Packers 196,438
Kansas City Chiefs 195,313
Atlanta Falcons 193,250
Tennessee Titans 190,938
Indianapolis Colts 169,563
San Diego Chargers 163,286
Carolina Panthers 161,688
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 148,250
Oakland Raiders 140,333
Miami Dolphins 139,733
Cincinnati Bengals 133,125
St. Louis Rams 125,714
Jacksonville Jaguars 92,625
Buffalo Bills 91,700
Sources: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of data provided by the NFL and local rights holders

Among other findings:

After the Saints games, 11 of the 16 next-highest rated games were Pittsburgh Steelers broadcasts, with local ratings that ranged from 21.3 to 31.4 during the past four years. Thirteen of the Steelers’ 16 preseason games in the four-year span aired on local CBS affiliate KDKA, the club’s TV partner since 1998. (The other three were national Fox and NBC broadcasts and thus carried by those local network affiliates.)

The Oakland Raiders’ 2.6 average rating last year was the lowest among any club in the four years measured. Oakland was also one of only five teams to not see a double-digit average at least once in the four-year span. The others: New York’s Jets and Giants, and two clubs in the Southeast — Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

From a viewership perspective, 25 of the 27 games that garnered the most local viewers were broadcast in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia. The Chicago Bears averaged 448,000 weekly viewers for their preseason games across the past four years, tops in the league, with the New York Giants coming in at No. 2, with nearly 416,000 viewers per game (see chart).

Knowing your hometown team is playing in front of a national audience seems to generate interest in most markets. Across the league, 29 teams had at least one of their four traditional annual preseason games broadcast on NBC, CBS, Fox or ESPN over the past four years. (The only three without: Buffalo, Cleveland and Miami, though the Dolphins appeared in the additional Hall of Fame Game last year.) Of those 29 teams, 22 saw an increase of 15 percent to 30 percent in the size of their local audience for those games. On the high side, the Washington Redskins saw their local viewership jump by 36 percent, and the Jets’ viewership in the New York market nearly doubled if a game was nationally televised. The gains were more limited for the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, who saw their average in-market audience increase only about 5 percent during nationally televised games compared with those shown just on their local rights holders.

A total of 38 broadcasts were blacked out locally across the four years, although the number of teams affected dropped from eight in 2010 to four last year. Those four clubs were:

Buffalo: The Bills have had three straight preseasons without a home game shown in Buffalo.

Cincinnati: The Bengals have not had a home preseason game broadcast locally in the past four seasons.

Oakland: Seven of their last eight home preseason games have been blacked out.

Tampa Bay: Every preseason home game for the past four years has been blacked out.


There were 512 total possible local preseason broadcasts from 2010 through 2013. That counts coverage in both the home team’s market and the road team’s market for each of 256 games. The annual Hall of Fame Game, which features only a national TV broadcast, was not included in this analysis.

Of those 512, 38 were blacked out in the home team’s market during that time because of insufficient ticket sales, and three broadcasts were not rated because of weather issues (Hurricane Isaac in New Orleans in 2012; Hurricane Irene in New York, for a Jets-Giants game, in 2011). Eliminating those, that left 471 NFL preseason showings that could be tracked in the NFL’s 30 team markets from 2010-13.

Twenty-five games were televised nationally on either NBC, CBS or Fox. Only the local viewership data for those games is included here. For example, Tampa Bay and New England played a preseason game last year that aired nationally on Fox. WFXT, Fox’s Boston affiliate, earned a 14.6 local rating for the game, and WTVT (Fox) in Tampa generated a 10.0 local rating. Those figures were used in the team-by-team analysis here.

ESPN aired 16 games, and the majority of those broadcasts were simulcast by the local rights holder for each club. For those simulcast games, the local ratings (and viewership) for each broadcaster were combined for tabulation here.

CBS stations 9 teams

NBC stations 8 teams

ABC stations 6 teams

Fox stations 4 teams

Other 5 teams

WHAT’S NEW: In February, the Atlanta Falcons announced WUPA (CW) as their new local TV partner, replacing WXIA (NBC). In March, WJXT (independent) replaced WTEV (CBS) as the official TV station of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Each team had been with its previous rights holder for more than a decade.

Earlier this month, the Carolina Panthers signed a multiyear agreement with Time Warner Cable, allowing the media company to become the team’s exclusive cable provider. Carolina’s preseason games will be simulcast in their Charlotte home market with current rights holder WCCB (CW). WCCB’s deal expires after the 2015 season.

WHAT’S OLD: On the other side of the tenure continuum, the Miami Dolphins have been on WFOR (CBS) since 1983, and WKRC (CBS) in Cincinnati has been Bengals’ local partner since 1988.

In March 2013, the San Francisco 49ers and KPIX (CBS) announced a new agreement that includes a 10-year extension of the Niners’ preseason game broadcast rights through the 2023 season. That team-station partnership dates to the late-1970s, making it the oldest such continuous preseason relationship in the league.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Philadelphia Eagles’ decade-long relationship with WPVI (ABC) expires after this season. The team’s preseason games over the past four years have averaged 395,000 viewers locally, trailing only the Bears and Giants.

The Houston Texans and KTRK (ABC), who have been together since the team’s inaugural season in 2002, will see their current five-year deal end this year. The Texans’ average of 327,000 viewers per preseason game over the past four years ranks sixth leaguewide.

In St. Louis, the Rams’ two-year deal with KTVI (Fox) ends this year. That partnership dates to 2009. And in Minnesota, the Vikings are in a year-to-year deal with KARE (NBC). That station has aired Vikings preseason games since 2010.

At least six teams have rights deals signed through 2017 or later.

Resource Guide LIVE research associate David Wood contributed to this report.

Average viewership for last year’s Dolphins-Cowboys game topped 10 million.

The NFL’s preseason schedule kicks off again this year with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. This year’s game, on Sunday, features the New York Giants against Buffalo, from Canton, Ohio, with a national broadcast on NBC.

National viewership for last year’s game was down 9 percent from 2003, but the game still traditionally outdraws just about every other type of programming it goes up against. Current rights holder NBC has won the night in prime time in all six years it has aired the game.

NBC’s rights to the game expire after next year’s matchup.

Sources: NFL Network, SportsBusiness Daily archives

Fox Sports Digital and Sporting News Media have struck a multiyear digital partnership that will create one of the most highly trafficked sports media entities in the industry.

The two companies will collaborate on an array of sales and content initiatives. News, features and video content from each entity will appear on the other’s properties, and the two will jointly sell into a bundle of assets that includes, Yardbarker,,, and Sporting News Media’s widely syndicated ePlayer video service.

News, features and video from each entity will appear on the other’s properties.

The deal also arrives as Fox Sports Digital is ending its exclusive relationship with Microsoft’s MSN portal after more than a decade. Fox and MSN will continue to work together on some online traffic referral but on a much smaller and nonexclusive level.

Financial terms for the Fox Sports Digital-Sporting News Media alliance were not disclosed.

The combined entities are projected to generate more than 65 million unique visitors a month in comScore monthly multiplatform rankings of U.S. digital sports media, a total that generally would trail only traditional category leader ESPN. The new, joint listing, to read “Fox Sports Digital - Sporting News Media,” will begin appearing in the comScore report as early as September. During the most recent comScore rankings, on MSN ranked fourth, with a total of 44.3 million uniques, and Sporting News Media was seventh, with 28.9 million.

Merging traffic

The Fox Sports Digital-Sporting News Media agreement continues a period of consolidation for the digital sports media industry, as many of the major players continue to look to amass as much scale as possible. Among the deals:

August 2012: Turner Sports buys Bleacher Report to gain a widely trafficked, year-round consumer destination. 

■ December 2012: Yahoo Sports and NBC Sports join forces to create an entity that typically has been no worse than No. 2 in reach in the industry. They expanded the deal for the Sochi Olympics earlier this year.

 March 2013: Perform Sports strikes a deal with Sporting News owner American City Business Journals to create Sporting News Media. ACBJ is the parent company of SportsBusiness Journal. 

Source: SportsBusiness Journal

“This is a situation where we think we’ll both be able to play to our strengths and create something together that is really powerful and has really extensive reach,” said Juan Delgado, Sporting News Media chief executive.

For Fox Sports, a driving motivation in the pact was to deepen its reach in high-demand video programming. Video has been a core part of Fox’s digital strategy over the past year as it relaunched and created Fox Sports Go, the network’s authenticated digital video platform. This new deal gives Fox Sports access to ePlayer, in turn increasing its amount of video programming far quicker than anything that the network could do itself organically, as well as the much higher advertising rates that arrive with it compared with most forms of digital display advertising.

“Video [advertising] still has inventory constraints. There are still more people who want to buy into quality video than what exists out there,” said Pete Vlastelica, Fox Sports executive vice president of digital. “That situation doesn’t exist with display.”

Both sides said they did not have concerns about potential audience confusion with the alliance of two consumer-facing sports media brands. Internal Sporting News Media metrics suggest there is as little as 7 percent audience duplication between the two brands.

“We’re looking to be very thoughtful about how we build audience, and we see a situation where these brands are very compatible,” Vlastelica said. “And this is so much more than just a traffic exchange or a comScore deal. This is a really deep partnership that is going to change what we can provide to the user and to the advertiser.”

The Sacramento Kings have signed a 20-year media rights extension with NBC Sports Group worth between $690 million and $700 million, another sign of the team’s resurgence under owner Vivek Ranadivé.

Ranadivé bought the team in June 2013 for $535 million and is set to build a $477 million arena complex for the franchise. Now, he has a media rights deal for the team that will keep the Kings on Comcast SportsNet California through the 2033-34 NBA season.

Vivek Ranadivé bought the Kings in 2013 for $535 million.

Sources peg the deal as being worth an average of $35 million a year over the next two decades, an amount that represents a significant windfall and long-term stability for a midmarket franchise that plays in the country’s 20th biggest designated market area. Terms of the team’s current deal were unavailable, but NBC Sports Group, which operates CSN California, will pay the team between $25 million and $26 million next year, with close to a standard 4 percent increase kicking in annually.

If the contract were to run the entire 20 years, NBC Sports Group would be paying the Kings more than $50 million in rights fees in the deal’s final year.

Like most local NBA media deals, the agreement includes a “reset,” which would adjust the fee to match market rates. It’s not clear when that reset kicks in, but similar deals have reset provisions that take effect at the 10-year mark of the deal, if not sooner.

The deal’s starting value falls in line with similar NBA teams’ media contracts. For example, FS Ohio pays the Cleveland Cavaliers an annual average of $25 million, and Sun Sports pays the Miami Heat an annual average of $20 million. In Los Angeles, Prime Ticket paid the Clippers $25.8 million last year.

The deal terms point to higher revenue for CSN California, which will sell all pregame, in-game and postgame advertising and sponsorships. The Kings handled those sales in the prior deal.

The deal also provides CSN California with more Kings content. The RSN will carry more games (80 compared to 70 last season, when 10 were sold to a local over-the-air broadcaster), and CSN California will produce more shoulder programming around the team, as well. The RSN has committed to add 30-minute pregame and postgame shows for each game. CSN California also has agreed to hire a reporter solely devoted to the Kings and will produce a monthly magazine show called “Kings Central.”

In addition, the deal calls for the RSN to produce season-preview and season-review shows, plus an annual NBA draft show.

The new deal replaces an agreement that expired this summer. It was negotiated by Kings President Chris Granger and NBC Sports Group President Jon Litner. Evolution Media Capital’s Alan Gold consulted with the Kings in negotiating the new agreement.

“I believe the terms of our new long-term agreement reflect a 21st century media deal,” Granger said. “NBCUniversal and Comcast SportsNet are best-positioned to help the Sacramento Kings provide fans with an unmatched viewing experience. We look forward to working together to create unique perspectives and innovative content across the many platforms where we interact with our fans.”

Last season, the Kings on CSN California averaged 26,000 homes per telecast, up 15 percent compared with the previous season but still toward the bottom of the league when compared with all NBA teams. Only seven NBA teams posted lower viewership figures last season.

SEC Network’s reason-for-being is its live events, particularly football. But in the run-up to the channel’s Aug. 14 launch, network executives are spending as much time planning strategy around its studio and shoulder programming.

That strategy will be evident in the first four hours of the channel, which is owned and operated by ESPN.

SEC Network will go live on that Thursday at 6 p.m., with a three-hour studio show, “SEC Now,” which will be followed by an episode of “SEC Storied,” a show about famous SEC alums and fans.

“For our first shows, we want to highlight the history of the conference and the importance of it,” said Justin Connolly, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming for college networks.

The “SEC Now” studio show will be set up as a whip-around show, taking viewers to all of the conference’s 14 campuses and offering a taste of the types of live sports that the channel will cover.

For example, one of the live events that will be featured on opening night will be Arkansas’ women’s soccer match against Creighton. Even though this will be an early season exhibition between the two schools, it will provide the network some of the live programming it has promised, while also giving Arkansas’ athletic department the chance to test its live production skills. The schools will produce much of the live content for the channel.

“We are going to try to do as many live sports as we can on this channel,” Connolly said.

The network’s most valuable content, its live football, will kick off two weeks after the launch on Thursday, Aug. 28, with two games. That will lead into a season where SEC football will dominate Thursday nights (with two windows) and Saturdays (with three).

In the 14 days between SEC Network’s launch and its first football game, the channel will focus its programming on one school per day, complete with news and information, and classic games. The final two schools to be featured will be South Carolina and Texas A&M — the two schools that will play in the network’s first football game on Aug. 28.

When it does not have live events, SEC Network executives still want to focus on live programming as much as possible, with studio shows and its simulcast of Paul Finebaum’s radio show, which runs Monday to Friday for four hours per day.

In looking at the regular week, SEC Network on Mondays primarily will be devoted to studio programming recapping the previous weekend’s games and providing story lines for the coming week’s games. “Monday is a day we’re light on events,” Connolly said.

The network plans to fill prime-time hours during the rest of the week, Tuesday through Friday, with live sports programming and will have studio programming leading into and out of those events. Weekends will be “wall-to-wall” with live events.

In terms of new programming, Connolly said he was particularly optimistic about a film-room show that the channel has planned.

“Our main challenge is in staffing,” Connolly said. “We have a lot of ideas. But it’s about finding the people and the resources to be live as often as we want to be.”

To that end, SEC Network will rely on the production might at ESPN to fill in the gaps.

“We’ve tapped into the resources of ESPNU, and are leaning on them for help in our coverage of Olympic sports,” said Stephanie Druley, SEC Network’s vice president of production for college networks. “We have to remain authentic to the SEC. Everybody knows about the fan passion around this conference. Our margin for error is basically zero.”