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Volume 21 No. 47

Leagues and Governing Bodies

ESPN has handled IndyCar’s international media rights since 2001.
Photo: Getty Images

IndyCar is taking its international media rights back in house and forming a new entity called IndyCar Media, a move the series believes will make for a better product and fuel global growth.

 

The open-wheel series currently licenses its international rights to ESPN International, which airs or sub-licenses races on channels in more than 100 countries. However, intrigued by increasing international interest in IndyCar, fueled in part by former Formula One champion Fernando Alonso running the Indianapolis 500 in 2017, the series is ending the ESPN International deal after this year and starting the new venture beginning in 2019.

 

IndyCar has not formally announced the plans, but CEO Mark Miles revealed them to Sports Business Journal. Miles, who made a similar move in a prior stint with the ATP, said that bringing the rights in house will allow IndyCar to better develop broadcaster relationships, maximize marketing potential and in the long term generate more revenue.

 

“We want to make this a high priority,” Miles said. “IndyCar has great opportunities internationally, and we want to build our relationships ourselves; that’s at lots of levels, so it’s not just about sales.”

 

IndyCar is looking into running street races as soon as 2020 in the beach city of Punta del Este, Uruguay, and the beach region of Gold Coast, Australia, underscoring the series’ growing international ambitions.

 

IndyCar used to work with IMG on international media rights deals before moving its business to ESPN International in 2001. ESPN had the non-U.S. rights to all parts of the world except Brazil. ESPN handled everything from transmitting the world feed and doing technical problem solving to collecting fees and handling exchange-rate risks. But ESPN actually hired IndyCar owner Hulman & Co.’s in-house IMS Productions subsidiary to produce the world feed, something that reinforces IndyCar’s move.

 

IndyCar started informing international media outlets while Miles was at the Sportel Monaco conference late last month where he met with 12 to 15 broadcasters from 10 countries.

 

As part of the move to form IndyCar Media, IndyCar has hired ESPN International executive Heather White to help lead the new group alongside Stephen Starks, IndyCar’s vice president of promoter and media partner relations. Miles said he’s open to working with local consultants in different regions. IndyCar, for example, consulted with Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures on its recent U.S. media-rights deal that it signed with NBC Sports.

International stars like British legend and D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney help give interest in the league a boost around the world.
Photo: Getty Images

Major League Soccer is in discussions with international broadcast partners regarding its next media rights deals across the globe, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.

The rights, which cover every country outside of the United States and Mexico, are being marketed and distributed by IMG, which acquired them in 2014 in an eight-year deal. Previously, MLS’s international TV rights were held by MP & Silva.

The current slate of global deals — in which MLS matches get distributed to more than 170 countries and territories around the world on networks like Sky Sports in the U.K., Eurosport across Europe and beIN Sports across Southeast Asia and Australia — expires in 2018. The next set of deals will run from 2019 to 2022. IMG’s agreement with MLS, which was brokered by Soccer United Marketing and also includes the international media rights to U.S. men’s and women’s national team matches played in the U.S. and in World Cup qualifiers, also expires in 2022.

While MLS and IMG do not provide viewership numbers in the various territories, industry executives said that the presence of MLS matches alongside other major European leagues has been a boon for its brand awareness and visibility to savvy soccer fans globally, as well as serving as a showcase tool for potential players and coaches. It is unclear how much revenue the league brings in via these deals, although the previous deal with MP & Silva was valued in the eight figures, and the new deal with IMG is viewed as an increase, according to sources. MLS and IMG co-produce a world feed of the games and deliver that to the partners. From that point, each broadcast partner handles its own ad sales and localization of the coverage.

MLS and IMG declined to comment for this story.

In the different territories, IMG and MLS are in various stages of discussions with potential new partners, which range from larger terrestrial networks as in its previous deals, as well as with digital streaming partners like Amazon, Facebook and YouTube. This year, Facebook has secured the rights to stream the Premier League in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, as well as the UEFA Champions League in Latin America.

MLS executives traveled to global sports marketing convention Sportel in Monaco last month to meet with a variety of potential partners. It is expected that deals will begin to be finalized in the next four to five weeks, around the same time as the 2018 MLS season ends with its MLS Cup Final on Dec. 8, an event that will be showcased live across those 170 countries.

The Seattle Storm’s Alisha Valavanis (left with former WNBA President Lisa Borders) is one of six women in CEO/president positions with WNBA teams.
Photo: nbae / getty images

The WNBA has maintained its top spot in overall diversity and gender hiring practices within sports, according to the latest data compiled by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida.

The 2018 WNBA Racial and Gender Report Card, created by the institute known as TIDES, gives the WNBA an A+ for both its racial and gender hiring practices. TIDES gave the league an overall score of 97.6, up from 93.7, or an A grade, in 2017. The WNBA earned 95.1 points for its racial hiring practices and an unprecedented score of 99.9 for its gender hiring practices in 2018.

It is the 14th consecutive year that the WNBA has been awarded an overall score of at least an A grade for its gender and racial hiring practices.

“The fact that the WNBA has women in leadership positions with support of the NBA, it would be surprising that they weren’t the best, but they are still off the charts,” said Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the study and director of TIDES. “It is not just lip service. It is because they are making it a more successful league, with their attendance and ratings up this year. Diversity is good business.”

Despite the strong grades, the report noted a decline in the number of people of color in WNBA head coaching jobs, with three of the 12 teams having coaches of color, which is tied with the lowest number since 2006.

Still, the WNBA is the most diverse league in sports with 52 percent of all team professional positions held by women, up 13.2 percentage points from 2017, and 27.7 percent of all team professional positions held by people of color, up slightly from last year.

“They are way ahead of the standard, but there is opportunity in terms of GMs and coaching positions,” Lapchick said. “That being said, I am not concerned because everything else is so good.”

 

There are 36 women and 12 people of color working at the vice president level or above in WNBA team front offices, the report says. Six women are CEO/presidents at the team level, up one from 2017, matching the highest number that was set in 2010. Four people of color hold the CEO/president role, up from three last year and matching the highest number set in 2015.

The NBA is the only league comparable to the WNBA in gender and diversity levels. The NBA this year earned an A+ for racial hiring practices and a B for gender hiring practices.

“There is a focus on making sure that the slates of candidates that we consider are diverse,” said Oris Stuart, chief diversity and inclusion officer for the NBA, which owns the WNBA. “It is also about being connected to those places where diverse candidates will show up and having a reputation that we are a place that has great opportunity.”

At press time, the WNBA had three key executive openings, including the league president title left vacant after the departure of Lisa Borders. Expect a continued diversity emphasis as the league fills those positions.

“It is an inclusive process and I’d like to believe that we will have great choices from great people and the pool will be diverse,” Stuart said. “I can’t predict what the outcome will be, but I can guarantee that it will be an inclusive process throughout.”