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Volume 21 No. 43

Media

TV and digital producers have spent years talking about the need to use different production values for digital video. By now, everyone in the business must know that simply transferring televised video to mobile and digital platforms doesn’t work. Mobile audiences are younger and are used to watching video differently.

 

Eric Johnson is betting that the same strategy will hit the ad sales marketplace. One of ESPN’s top ad sales executives for 18 years, Johnson officially left the network in January. He recently set up his own shop, called Won Worldwide, and has already started working with a handful of clients, most notably the soon-to-launch Alliance of American Football.

 

“We’re in a business that tends to move incrementally slow because of the nature of the way the business is built. That makes it difficult for all of us to wean ourselves off of what we know into what the unknown is,” Johnson said. “We do know — the way viewership is changing and the way we’re transacting our business currently — that the idea of just adding more into the mix is not going to be the solution.”

 

Johnson set up his company in the past couple of months to help leagues, media companies, social media outlets, marketers, athletes and talent form better consumer connections. He has hired around a half dozen contractors, a number that could double by the time the AAF launches in February. “Being a little bit in this space can allow me to organically think about how to connect all these different disciplines into one, and — at the same time — disrupt some of the model as it currently exists,” Johnson said. “There’s an opportunity to create better integrations that feel more custom, which, in turn, allows you to have less of them.”

 

Because he’s dealing with the AAF, a new league that wants to modernize the way sports are distributed and watched, Johnson is able to take more ad sales risks than traditional TV companies and bigger leagues. There’s still way too much money to be made in keeping the same business model for broadcast networks and the biggest leagues.

 

“A brand-new startup league has none of those expectations and an opportunity to be a little bit more innovative in the space that we’re doing,” Johnson said. “We have an opportunity to show some innovation in ways where you can still make money and just do it differently.”

 

Johnson was one of ESPN’s top ad sales executives before starting his own shop, called Won Worldwide.
Photo: John Ourand / Staff

When talking about their league, executives with the AAF have stressed the innovations they will roll out, particularly with regard to how it approaches media. It is focused on developing a robust app that will allow for in-game fantasy, for example.

 

But the league also plans to approach advertising differently, as it plans to have as much as 60 percent fewer commercials than a typical NFL or college football game. It will not have TV timeouts and will not cut to commercials after scores.

 

Instead the league will use a dual screen for a commercial that can run anywhere from six to 30 seconds. It also will try to incorporate brands into the telecast more often.

 

“There are conventions that we’re having the opportunity to rethink right now,” Johnson said. “Consumption is changing radically, and at a faster pace. People used to say, ‘Give me content for free, and I will watch commercials gladly to access that content for free.’ Consumers now have told us that they’d rather pay in instances when the commercials and marketing don’t fit well into the overall structure of the broadcast.”

 

Johnson’s company is set up to guide disrupters through changes that are coming to the media business. Eventually, he expects all media companies will embrace those changes.

 

“Things always move slower than we think,” Johnson said. “There’s not going to be a switch that’s tripped. Rather, sponsored messages will become more a part of the ultimate live games, whether they are streamed or broadcast. The opportunity to have a direct connection with fans on the back end will become increasingly more important. As the business model moves to direct-to-consumer, that’s one of the benefits.”

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

NBC host Rebecca Lowe on the set in Washington, D.C.
Photo: NBC Sports

Before the English Premier League kicked off its season in August, “Men in Blazers” hosted a live audience at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., officially billed as the duo’s second annual Premier League inauguration.

With EPL Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore and British ambassador Sir Nigel Kim Darroch in attendance, NBCSN produced the “Men in Blazers” show with several hundred in attendance, most wearing EPL jerseys and most talking with American accents. The impressive turnout underscored the fact that Baltimore, Washington and Richmond, Va., were the top-three EPL markets last season.

NBC Sports brought the EPL to the D.C. market Sept. 29 for a fan fest where it produced the “Premier League Live” studio show — sort of an English soccer version of “College GameDay.” People started lining up at 4 a.m. just to take part, said Jenny Storms, chief marketing officer for NBC Sports Group. Around 2,000 people attended the event.

NBC’s marketing efforts around the EPL are designed to celebrate the U.S. fans of the sport. “We have this rabid fan base of people really engaged in the U.S.,” Storms said. “How can we build on that?”

Last November, NBC produced “Premiere League Live” in New York City’s South Street Seaport area but did little to market the event outside of a handful of fan sites. NBC executives were surprised by the size of the crowd and the lines to see the event.

“We realized then that this was a successful model,” Storms said.

NBC waited to see how the crowd in D.C. would react before totally buying into the strategy. With the success of its D.C. event, it will have at least one more this season.

Sports Studio’s collection includes hundreds of jerseys from every sport and has helped it rack up decades of success.
Photo: Courtesy of Sports Studio

Chances are if there is a movie, TV show or commercial featuring professional sports, a little-known Hollywood authentic uniform and equipment firm, Sports Studio, helped bring it to life by supplying the gear.

 

The firm owns a 20,000 square-foot warehouse in Torrance, Calif., for its racks of pro team authentic sports gear, and it has licenses with the NFL, MLB, NBA, MLS and U.S. Soccer as the go-to provider for entertainment. That means if a brand wants to air a commercial with a team uniform, or a movie or a TV show needs historic league merchandise, they must go through Sports Studio.

 

The studio provides assistance on-set and makes sure to get every detail right.
Photo: Courtesy of Sport Studio

The hit NBC drama, “This is Us” opened its third season this fall with an episode about Franco Harris’s famed Immaculate Reception in 1972, which involved outfitting over a dozen actors in historic Steelers uniforms.

 

“We know it’s one call where we get complete authenticity, and as a show dealing in time and specificity in time and place, authenticity is always so critical,” said Jess Rosenthal, partner in Rhode Island Ave. Productions and executive producer of “This Is Us.” “So, we are grateful that the company shares that desire with us.”

 

Sports Studio started as a Hollywood sporting goods shop in 1972, and started making uniforms as a sideline for hit movies from that decade like “The Bad News Bears” and “North Dallas Forty.” By the mid 1980s the retail element went away, and the entertainment practice emerged.

 

Thread Count

In addition to being called on for about 200 photo shoots per year, Sport Studio’s work can also be seen in some pretty familiar places. Here are some examples of the company’s work, and the estimated number of projects per year in each category:

30 Movies
Examples: "42," "My All American"

200 Commercials
Example: Yahoo Sports

300 TV Episodes
Example: "The Goldbergs"

100 Other*
Example: “Bull Durham the Musical”
*plays/music videos/special events

The current CEO, Mark Koesterer, led a buyout of the firm in 2008 with a handful of partners, and expanded the offerings to supplying actors for athlete roles and on-set choreography of the plays that were meant to make the action on film look legitimate.

 

Perhaps the biggest challenge Koesterer and Sports Studio faced recently was the Jackie Robinson film, “42.” To get the 1940s and 1950s uniform material just right, Sports Studio contracted with a silk factory in China.

 

“We actually milled fabric from different mills and we tested it on camera and we settled on a design and manufacturer in China,” he said. “We had that fabric shipped to us specifically for that project.” Sports Studio made 750 period uniforms for the movie.

 

Sports Studio has handled a number of recent baseball projects, including “42,” “Pitch” and a Ted Williams documentary on PBS. What stands out for Nick Trotta, MLB’s senior director of global media programming and licensing, is that Sports Studio doesn’t just deliver the uniforms, but also consults on set.

 

The company made replicas of Allen Iverson’s 11 All-Star jerseys when the 76ers reired his number in 2014.
Photo: Courtesy of Sports Studio

“I personally value that, the clients, the producers are surprised by that,” Trotta said.

 

No detail is too small, down to the brace a player featured in a commercial is wearing.

 

“What kind of arm brace does Rob Gronkowski wear? What kind of arm brace does J.J. Watt wear? What does a knee brace look like for Matt Ryan?” Koesterer asked, referring to commercials he recently handled with those players.

 

The rise of the superhero movies has in part caused a decline in sports flicks, leaving Sports Studio more focused on TV and commercials. But Koesterer is convinced sports movies will rebound. Why?

 

“Because Americans love sports,” he replied. “Sports in general provides an outlet in a crazy world.”