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Volume 22 No. 12

Media

If you think Katie Nolan has been invisible since joining ESPN 11 months ago, you’re probably too old.

 

Nolan has co-hosted “Snapchat on SportsCenter” since last November, which has helped her find a new younger audience that she did not know existed. After her first couple of shows on the social media platform, she thought it was bombing because it was not generating a lot of reaction when she checked her Twitter feed.

 

“Then I logged into my Instagram,” Nolan said. “I had hundreds of messages from really young people. These were people who had never seen me before. It opened my eyes to the fact that there are a lot of young people who are using the same internet we use in a really different way. They’re paying attention to stuff that we dismiss as an app.”

 

Last week, Nolan launched a weekly late-night show on the ESPN+ streaming service called “Always Late with Katie Nolan,” which will hit on sports and pop culture topics. Nolan still wants to host the Snapchat show at least once a week but needs to figure out when.

 

"Always Late with Katie Nolan” launched last week on the ESPN+ streaming service.
Photo: ESPN Images

The move to keep a show on Snapchat while launching a show for ESPN’s streaming service gives Nolan a foothold in the digital world, which is how she got her start. Fox Sports hired her to co-host a television show in 2013 based on a series of YouTube videos she had made.

 

“When ‘Crowd Goes Wild’ got canceled and Fox gave me a digital series, I felt like I was going backwards. That’s bad,” Nolan said. “Now, in 2018, I don’t feel that way anymore. I know it’s only been five years, but thinking of the internet as the D-League of TV is kind of gone. That line is going to keep getting blurred between what’s TV and what’s internet.”

 

Nolan said she has learned to enjoy the freedom that comes with producing shows for a digital audience.

 

“If next week we decide that something was a little bit too long or too short, we can change it,” she said. “I know everybody probably says this the day their show launches to kind of hedge for themselves. But I do think that the show we’re making today is going to be vastly different from the one we’re making in the middle of football season. I have no idea what’s going to happen.”

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

Ed Goren has produced some of the world’s biggest sports events — Super Bowls, World Series, Daytona 500s, BCS Championships, Stanley Cup Finals.

What on earth was he doing at the World Armwrestling League championships in Atlanta last week?

“I’m 74 years old, and I am having the time of my life,” the former Fox Sports president said last week. Goren is the executive producer and senior adviser for the league, which has a three-year deal with Turner’s B/R Live streaming service. “When people ask me what my favorite sport is to produce, I say, ‘Whatever I’m doing this week.’”

Goren said he joined up with the league about six months ago to offer counsel on the best way to produce the matches, which involve some of the biggest personalities that Goren said he has ever encountered.

“There’s more need for sports content today than ever before,” Goren said. “With all these platforms offering sports content, like B/R Live, it’s opened the door for all these niche sports. If Stephen Ross can launch the Drone Racing League, I can get excited about all the personalities in arm wrestling.”

Goren recalled having dinner with “Sunday Night Football” announcer Al Michaels last month when he started talking about the league. Michaels interrupted Goren, saying that he used to call arm wrestling in the late 1970s for ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Michaels jokingly referred to it as his “breakthrough event,” Goren said.

Goren had Michaels tape a spot about his time calling arm wrestling, which ran before a July tournament. Turner executives say they are happy with the league’s performance so far, citing stats that show the average viewer watches more than 50 minutes of continuous coverage per event on B/R Live.

Home Team Sports — the Fox Sports-owned sales unit — will not be affected by Disney’s plans to sell Fox’s regional sports networks. That’s the view of HTS President Kyle Sherman, who points out that his group sells national advertising for all RSNs, not just the ones that used to be owned by Fox.

“Whoever buys the RSNs will continue to be our customer,” Sherman said. “There’s no other company that does what Home Team Sports does. There’s nobody else to pick up the slack.”

For example, when the Los Angeles Dodgers left Fox Sports-owned Prime Ticket to sign a local media rights deal with Time Warner Cable in 2013, it still used HTS to sell its advertising.

The sale of Fox’s RSNs comes as HTS has diversified its business into naming rights. When HTS was trying to sell the naming rights to the Los Angeles Coliseum last year, it brought in Denver-based Impression Sports and Entertainment to help it complete a sale to United Airlines.

HTS executives were so impressed with the way that Impression’s business strategy around naming rights complemented its strategy around selling advertising for RSNs that it bought the company. For Sherman, the two companies shared the same goal: connecting brands to fans.

Now, 15 months later, it’s easy to see why HTS was so enamored with Impression. Over the summer, it sold title sponsorships to three college football bowl games in 21 days: the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl, the Servpro First Responder Bowl and the Cheez-It Bowl. Impression also is working with Auburn and the University of Colorado on naming-rights deals.

“There’s a lot of cross-over relationships between us,” Sherman said. “When you go into a meeting with us and Impression, it leads to other good conversations. [Impression Sports President Chris Foy] can talk about a completely different set of rights.”

Facebook Watch ran a poll during a Phillies-Giants game this season.

During one of the CrossFit Games’ Facebook Watch live streamed in March, viewers were asked to vote on the type of workout they wanted to do. The request generated 316,395 comments while it was live.

Facebook used a similar programming strategy in May during one of its first Major League Baseball games — a Phillies-Giants matchup — when a poll popped up asking viewers to rate the performance of Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

Facebook has not taken to live sports as aggressively as sports leagues and conferences would like. But these examples show the social media company’s strategy as it pertains to acquiring live sports rights. Facebook will emphasize its ability to produce what it calls “participatory video.”

In other words, Facebook viewers interact with their video more than traditional television.

“This shows the promise and potential we can bring to live sports,” said Dan Reed, Facebook’s head of global sports partnerships. “We can capture the best parts of watching in an arena.”

Sports leagues have spent most of the past decade hoping that deep-pocketed digital media companies such as Facebook will step up and bid against traditional TV companies for their media rights. League executives view participation of these digital companies — including Amazon, Google and Twitter — as the surest way to keep their rights fees high.

So far, Facebook has not been a huge spender on live sports rights. Facebook has some deals with sports leagues — most notably a deal with MLB for weekday afternoon games. One year after launching Facebook Watch — and days after announcing its international expansion — Reed said the company still wants to have partnerships with broadcasters, rather than competing with them for sports rights.

“We view ourselves as a platform, not a broadcaster,” Reed said. “We are about enabling rights holders, leagues, broadcasters, athletes and clubs to reach an audience and build a community around their audience. We’re very interested in working with broadcasters. We are actively engaging broadcasters all around the world. That’s a priority of ours.”

Facebook’s sports strategy goes beyond live games. Through its Watch platform, Facebook has found success with some of the biggest personalities in sports, like quarterback Tom Brady (“Tom vs Time”), basketball’s Ball family (“Ball in the Family”) and Shaquille O’Neal (“Big Chicken Shaq”).

Reed specifically brought up “A New Breed of Golf,” with golf instructor Michael Breed, who critiques videos that viewers uploaded of their swings. That’s the kind of interaction that Reed believes sets Facebook apart.

It’s not about having viewers scroll through 300,000 comments. Rather, Facebook executives point to statistics that show viewers who comment spend more time watching a specific event.

Reed offered a window in how Facebook will go after sports rights, pointing to the 10 Chicago Cubs games it simulcasts into the Chicago market as an example.

“The comments section was like you’re sitting in the bleachers, following the highs and the lows with the fans,” he said. “People who communicate view 2 1/2 times longer. It shows the power of engagement.”