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Volume 21 No. 1
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Media headlines for 2015? They’re all right here … maybe

2015 is the year when viewers will see many of the changes from rights deals signed over the past few years, such as NBC getting NASCAR, Fox getting U.S. Open golf and ESPN getting U.S. Open tennis. Here’s how I see the year in sports media developing.

NFL will renew with CBS for one year.

Every media executive I’ve contacted believes CBS will keep “Thursday Night Football” for one more season before the NFL takes it to the open market. The more interesting negotiations will occur the following year when all the networks scramble for the package. It’s more than a year off, but in February 2016, I expect CBS to sign a long-term deal keeping the Thursday night series. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the NFL Network simulcasts end, and I would bet that the two work out some kind of partnership around their cable channels, NFL Network and CBS Sports Network, as part of the deal.

NFL will add two playoff teams for 2015 season.

This isn’t a daring prediction. Everyone in the business is preparing for the NFL to expand the playoffs next season. The most interesting part of this prediction is when one of the games will be played — look for ESPN’s game to be moved to Monday night, marking the first time the NFL moves a playoff game off the weekend.

EPL will stay with NBC.

ESPN and Fox will team up to pursue the EPL aggressively, but the English soccer league will stay with NBC for three more years. ESPN and Fox will write a bigger check, but the EPL will have a hard time leaving NBC after just one three-year deal.

CBS and ESPN will renew their one-year deals with the Masters.

I had to make sure at least one of my predictions comes to pass.

The Big Ten rights talks will move to 2016.

The conference will start preliminary discussions on a pre-emptive renewal deal with ESPN, but conference Commissioner Jim Delany will decide to create a bidding war and take its rights to the open market. ESPN, Fox, NBC and CBS all will submit significant bids for Big Ten rights in 2016.

U.S. Open tennis viewership will drop.

In its first year on ESPN, the U.S. Open’s viewership for the marquee matches will drop by double digits. CBS will try to pick up the rights to some weekend matches from ESPN, but those talks will go nowhere.

NASCAR viewership will drop.

The move of several races to Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network will cause viewership to drop. But the combination of new rules and a simpler TV schedule will bring renewed interest from Madison Avenue.

MLB will start next season without an in-market streaming deal.

Fox Sports and MLB are closer than ever to a local streaming deal, but they won’t be able to get over the hump by Opening Day — too many big issues remain unresolved.

Fox will take another run at Time Warner.

Time Warner will continue to fend off Rupert Murdoch, opening the door for a closer partnership between Turner and CBS.

Bill Simmons will leave ESPN.

Simmons will be one of many who pursue a Dan Patrick model of disaggregating their personal media rights, which means packaging and selling their radio, TV shows, columns, websites, etc. There’s no shortage of venture capital around to finance these platforms.

Distribution: The Comcast and Time Warner Cable deal will close in the first quarter, but with significant restrictions on how much the company can charge for its sports channels. The Dodgers’ SportsNet LA will cut a deal with DirecTV shortly after the Comcast-TWC deal closes. … AT&T and DirecTV will close their deal shortly afterward. Pac-12 Networks finally will get a DirecTV deal soon after AT&T takes over. … Dish Network will continue to drop regional sports networks, as the satellite provider focuses its strategy more on its wireless spectrum. Verizon looks into buying the service. … ESPN will sign a long-term carriage deal with DirecTV that gives the satellite provider rights to WatchESPN for the first time.

Quick Hits: Google/You Tube, Amazon and Netflix will not get involved in sports bidding in 2015. … ESPN’s College Football Playoff will reset the highest-rated cable telecast ever with 30 million viewers. … The dispute between MASN and the Nationals will not be resolved. … Buoyed by the move to Chicago, the NFL draft will break viewership records this year.

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