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Volume 22 No. 12
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NBC builds consumer side of digital business

NBC Sports Group, one of the country’s biggest sports media companies, completed an acquisition earlier this month that seemingly has nothing to do with sports media.

The network bought Minneapolis-based Sport Ngin, a company that provides software technology to make it easier for youth and amateur sports leagues to run their businesses online. The deal, which will be announced formally this week, will see NBC rebrand the company as SportsEngine. Financial details were not made available.

“We believe that this [participation] market is even bigger
than the golf market.”

Chairman, NBC Sports Group

NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus says that the company, which will remain based in Minneapolis, is a perfect fit for NBC and will reside alongside his group’s other consumer transactional business Golf Now, which helps golf courses set up tee times online. Lazarus also drew a comparison to Fandango, an NBCUniversal-owned consumer business that sells movie tickets online.

“Having learned a lot from Golf Now, we began to think about other areas of the marketplace where we could use that experience,” Lazarus said. “We came up with the thought of getting involved in this youth registration and participation business. … We believe that this market is even bigger than the golf market. Participation is up. And there’s a need in the market for this to become automated and simplified for participants.”

What makes this deal so interesting is the way it shines a light on NBC Sports Group’s digital strategy, which Lazarus says has four main components. NBC has built out its streaming business. Like just about every other TV network, NBC Sports Group streams most of its own televised events to authenticated users. The only hole is in local streaming, but Lazarus said he’s still talking with MLB and the NHL about signing deals that would allow his regional sports networks to stream their games locally.

NBC also has its NBC Sports Gold service, which streams events that are not televised. NBC Sports Gold viewers do not have to be authenticated to view these streams.

The third component of NBC Sports’ digital strategy can be seen with its recent decision to launch PlayMaker, a service that handles the technical aspects of video streaming. The service already has signed NBC News and the soon-to-launch Olympic Channel as clients, and Lazarus says more partners will be announced after this summer’s Olympics.

“We realized that as we were doing all this streaming, we were using other people’s technology,” Lazarus said. “Why should we pay an outside company when we have the capability and wherewithal to do it ourselves?”
With its Sport Ngin deal, NBC Sports Group is building up the fourth part of its digital strategy: the consumer transactional business.

“Our digital, transactional consumer business is the fourth leg of our [digital] stool,” Lazarus said. “[These services] provide consumer benefit and value and fill a need in the marketplace.“

Sport Ngin executives sounded overjoyed to have NBC Sports as its new owner. Not only does the acquisition provide the 8-year-old company with a deep-pocketed and nationally well-known backer, but it also aligns Sport Ngin with one of the most active media companies in amateur sports.

“They’re the one company in the market that has invested the same way we have in youth and amateur sports, as evidenced by the Olympic investment and their connection with the USOC and national governing bodies,” said company CEO and co-founder Justin Kaufenberg. “Youth sports landscape is largely organized via the Olympic movement. The Olympic organization is really meaningful and prevalent in the way that youth sports is organized.”

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