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Volume 21 No. 2


For the 11 years I’ve been at SportsBusiness Journal, I get pitched every summer to do a story on the untapped media potential for youth sports.

At one point or another, just about every media company has invested in youth sports, trying to find a gem like the Little League World Series, which provides some of ESPN’s biggest summer audiences. They all have found that youth sports has not gained any traction, at least not in traditional media.

One linear TV network has decided to take a different view of youth sports by focusing on nonlinear TV platforms. New York regional sports network SNY set up a partnership with the Overtime app backed by WME-IMG that will create youth sports clips from summer basketball tournaments in Gotham, like Hoops in the Sun, Dyckman and LES Express. Clips from the tournaments can be seen on both SNY’s linear TV channel and Overtime’s digital app.

Overtime will create an SNY channel on its app and SNY plans to sell a multiplatform sponsorship around it.

“Our goal this summer is to keep learning and hopefully set something up for the high school basketball season,” said SNY President Steve Raab.

SNY and the Overtime app are showing youth sports clips.
Overtime launched in 2015 as a social media network that traded on user-generated sports content, sometimes consisting of highlights from professional games recorded over a television set. The app has evolved into something that looks more akin to Snapchat or Instagram, featuring user-generated video streams, pictures and memes from various sporting events. The app gives users a sense of games from a fan’s viewpoint.

“The opportunity to partner and create content with a group that has real digital experience was too good to pass up,” Raab said. “Overtime has become the go-to place for crowd-sourced and high-quality high school sports video.”

Raab said youth sports has not been a moneymaker for traditional linear television. For example, SNY has viewed its high school programming as more of a marketing initiative than a moneymaking one.

SNY has hosted and televised a high school basketball tournament — the SNY Invitational — each January for the past eight years even though the event has not been profitable for the RSN.

“I can’t see a way to make money on it,” Raab said. “But it’s good for the brand and feels like the right thing to do. For one weekend, we can view that tournament as a community and marketing initiative.”

SNY’s partnership with Overtime grew out of that basketball tournament. Overtime produced clips from the two-day event. When SNY’s Raab saw the amount of traffic Overtime generated during the tournament — almost 1 million video views — he saw a youth sports opportunity that went beyond traditional TV. Overtime reaches 11 million unique users per month, Raab said.

“Today, we don’t see a path where we can fit high school sports into the traditional RSN business model,” Raab said. “How do you aggregate meaningful and comprehensive high school content? We can’t hire people to go out and shoot every game. But with Overtime and the audiences it brings, we see an opportunity to make money on it.”

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

NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in talks with Fox Sports and NBC Sports about joining one of their broadcast teams, according to industry sources, the clearest sign yet that Earnhardt is close to a move to the booth.

Fox and NBC are NASCAR’s two media rights holders, with respective deals that run through 2024. Earnhardt, NASCAR’s most popular driver every year since 2003 and the son of late icon Dale Earnhardt Sr., announced about two months ago that this would be his last year racing full time. He has stated he was open to getting into broadcasting after enjoying guest stints in the booth with both networks, but talks with the two networks had yet to be reported.

It is unclear which, if any, of the two networks is closer to a deal with Earnhardt, or whether he has definitively committed to getting into media. Industry observers for years have been expecting Fox to eventually seek a successor to Darrell Waltrip, the 70-year-old NASCAR Hall of Famer who has called NASCAR races for the network since it bought the sport’s media rights in 2001. NBC, meanwhile, is seen as having less of a natural move to make were the broadcast booth to stay as three-men teams. NBC’s two analysts, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte, have received strong reviews and are under the age of 50.

Fox and Kelley Earnhardt Miller, co-owner, vice president and business manager of JR Motorsports, the NASCAR Xfinity Series team she co-owns alongside Earnhardt, declined to comment. NBC had not commented by press time.

Earnhardt started working with WME earlier this year, the first time in his career that he has worked with outside representation. But how involved WME is with the talks was unclear as of press time. NASCAR broadcasters typically earn low-to-mid-seven figures annually, according to media industry executives.

One of the more interesting sports experiments was tested over the weekend during the play-in games for The Basketball Tournament — a glorified pickup basketball tournament with a winner-take-all $2 million prize.

At the end of games, held over the weekend in Philadelphia, the game clock shut off at the first dead ball after the four-minute mark for the rest of the game. Officials set a target score by adding seven points to the leading team’s score. Whichever team got to the target score first won.

Tournament organizers made the move with a TV audience in mind. They are looking to keep a flow at the end of games, eliminating the late-game strategy of stopping the clock by intentionally fouling.

Because ESPN carried the play-in games live on ESPN3 and some tournament games on ESPN, The Basketball Tournament creator Jon Mugar discussed the rule changes with ESPN’s Burke Magnus, executive vice president of programming and scheduling, and Dan Ochs, director of content strategy.

“ESPN loves it — it was a main reason why they decided to carry all of our games live on ESPN3 for the play-in event,” Mugar said. “It sounded gimmicky at first, but it makes a lot of sense. It’s not like you’re lowering a 15-foot basket, like they did in the MTV ‘Rock ‘N Jock’ game back in the ’90s. There’s a reason for it, and it’s well thought out.”

This is not a gimmicky league. Former college players, many of whom play for pro leagues outside of the United States, compete in the league. The league uses a mix of NBA and NCAA rules.

As with most nascent leagues, it experiments with TV. It mikes refs and coaches and doesn’t shy away from picking up live conversations.

“From a viewership perspective and a production standpoint, we’ve really wanted to differentiate when it comes to audio,” Mugar said. “We’ll listen live to a coach and a general manager on the bench fighting about who should play and who should come out of the game.”

The new end-of-game rule only will be used for the play-in games. It will not be used during this year’s tournament. But it’s clear that Mugar is leaning toward using it for the entire tournament in 2018.

“One of the things I said to ESPN was that every game will end with a highlight — a made shot,” Mugar said. “If we put this into place next year, I guaranteed ESPN that there will be a game-winning shot for $2 million.”

The FIFA Confederations Cup was set to kick off in Russia last weekend.
Telemundo is hoping that FIFA’s Confederations Cup tournament this summer will set the stage for next year’s FIFA World Cup.

Telemundo, owned by NBCUniversal, outbid its chief rival, Univision, in 2011 for the U.S. Spanish-language rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, as well as to a host of FIFA properties, including the Confederations Cup.

The Confederations Cup, which features the winners of the respective national tournaments from each regional confederation, was scheduled to begin last weekend in Russia.

“We realize this is the big launch of our brand covering FIFA’s most popular events,” said Eli Velazquez, executive vice president of programming, production and content at Telemundo Deportes. “Not only do we want to present this tournament in a way that people expect to see soccer on television, but we also want them to say, ‘Wow, this is something that they are taking very seriously.’”

Telemundo will have more than 150 reporters, producers and other staff members working on the Confederations Cup, the most significant commitment of resources to a soccer tournament that the network has made in its 33-year history, Velazquez said. It also marks the first time that coverage of all of the tournament’s matches will be produced live from the venue cities.

The network will air all of the matches live and stream them on its website and app. Because of the time difference in Russia, most matches will air live in the morning, and the network will reair them each night in prime time on Universo, NBCUniversal’s companion Spanish-language channel.

“Working with NBC Sports Group, we have seen how different time periods change how content is consumed,” Velazquez said. “The live games are very favorable from mobile and digital streaming, and we think holistically it provides us with the opportunity to have a full day of coverage when you consider the rest of the coverage each day.”

Telemundo will air pregame shows every morning and postgame shows after the last match of the day. It will air its signature studio show, “Titulares y Mas” each night, with host Karim Mendiburu reporting live from Russia. The network will also add a special late-night show that will feature analysis and commentary, as well as on-site reports from the cities. Telemundo and Universo news and entertainment programs will also broadcast live from Gorky Park in Moscow and other locations in Russia throughout the tournament.

Telemundo declined to comment on ad sales for the tournament, as it does not break down revenue projections by property.

The Confederations Cup does not have the stature of the World Cup, but Velazquez said the network thinks there is an opportunity for it to grow, given Mexico’s involvement in the tournament. The network has increased marketing efforts around the tournament, though it would not say how much more it is spending. Ad spots will run on other NBC-owned networks, even touting Telemundo’s Spanish-language coverage during English-language sporting events for the first time.

“It’s no secret we’ve been investing in this tournament, and we want to show viewers that this is something that is bigger and more special than they thought about in the past” said Velazquez, noting the hiring of sports television veteran Bill Bergofin as Telemundo’s senior vice president of brand and content development; and Anomaly, which works with brands like Budweiser, Coca-Cola and MLB, to handle its marketing strategy around the World Cup. “And with the World Cup on our air the subsequent summer, we want to leave them with a good view of what they can expect next year.”

The U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier drew 4.5M viewers across Univision and Univision Deportes.

It’s no longer a surprise to see Univision draw more viewers than some English-language networks that carry the same soccer match. It happened again last week for the U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier, which averaged 4.5 million viewers on Univision and Univision Deportes, and 2.1 million viewers on Fox Sports 1. And that was the biggest World Cup qualifier audience in FS1’s four-year history.

I called Univision’s executive vice president of corporate research, Jed Meyer, to put those numbers into context.

“We expected it to do well,” Meyer said. “It met our expectations.”

Meyer was most energized by three parts:

Univision/UDN’s median age for the game was young.

The median age for Univision/UDN’s telecast of the U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier was 39. That’s the youngest median age for any televised sporting event last week, Meyer said. By comparison, FS1’s median age was 41 and the NBA Finals’ median age was 43.

Women watched the match.

Women made up 45 percent of the Univision/UDN audience. Last year, Univision/UDN’s audience for U.S. men’s team games was 38 percent female. Meyer credited the increase to the decision to simulcast the qualifier on Univision and the family-friendly start time of 8:30 p.m.

Digital numbers continue to increase.

Meyer was particularly happy with digital numbers that showed passionate viewers who were engaged with the match. Univision logged 639,000 video views and 750,000 social media interactions during the match.