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Volume 22 No. 7

Media

For the first time since its launch 25 years ago, ESPN2 will not finish the year as the second-most-viewed sports TV channel.

 

Even with three weeks left in the TV ratings year, it’s clear that ESPN2 will fall all the way to fourth in both prime time and total day viewership. That puts the network behind both NBCSN and FS1 — both of which posted record high viewership for their channels this year in the time period from Jan. 1-Dec. 2.

 

ESPN remained the most-watched sports channel by a wide margin — a position that does not seem likely to change any time soon.

 

Ratings upswings in the current television environment are not the norm, especially among many of the top sports. NBA ratings are down early, NASCAR ratings continue to slump and MLB ratings provided a mixed bag last season (Fox and MLB Network were up; ESPN and FS1 were down).

 

Coverage of Games 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Final boosted NBCSN’s viewership.
Photo: Getty Images

NFL numbers look gaudy so far this season. And many of the sports networks saw ratings increases in 2018.

 

“In the world of TV today, growth stories are few and far between,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports.

 

NBCSN was helped by the Pyeongchang Olympics, which accounted for 13 of the 20 most-watched shows on the network. NBCSN also was helped by four NASCAR races and three NHL playoff games — Games 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and the Golden Knights; and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Capitals and the Lightning.

 

“The Olympics were definitely a positive, but it was the fourth Olympics on NBCSN,” Lazarus said. “The NHL, NASCAR, English Premier League all drive ratings and drove our growth. We have every confidence that we will continue to build properties with our audiences.

 

The NBC-owned Golf Channel also set a viewership record, as its average of 113,000 total day viewers is up 7 percent from last year. The channel placed sixth among sports networks, behind NFL Network and above MLB Network.

 

FS1’s gains come from its coverage of the World Cup and Big Ten football, plus the MLB playoffs, which included coverage of the NLCS Game 7 between the Dodgers and the Brewers.


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

Because “Monday Night Football” doesn’t have the flex option, the latter part of its schedule each year is filled with meaningless games that create little buzz and generate unimpressive ratings.

But that’s not the case this season, as the network’s Monday night schedule is filled with games that have playoff implications, including Vikings-Seahawks on Dec. 10 and Saints-Panthers one week later. ESPN executives are crossing their fingers that the Broncos will still be in the hunt on Christmas Eve when the team plays the Raiders.

Magnus

Through week 13, “Monday Night Football” viewership was up 9 percent, averaging 10.737 million viewers.

“I love our hand coming down the stretch,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and scheduling. “That makes all the difference in the back end of the schedule. And if you can get a rivalry game, like we had Dec. 3 with an NFC East matchup — Redskins-Eagles — that had major playoff implications, that’s even better. I never get too excited or too depressed about ratings because it’s a very fickle business.”

Magnus is enjoying “Monday Night Football’s” good fortune this season, adding that it’s impossible to predict which games will draw the biggest ratings. For example, before the season even started, Magnus was most excited about two 49ers games — one against the Packers and one against the Giants.

“With [Jimmy] Garoppolo injured and the 49ers not being the team we hoped they’d be and, obviously, the Giants not playing anywhere near expectations, those ended up not being what we thought they would be,” he said. “But at the same time, you get Chiefs-Rams, which sounded like a pretty good game but not something that you would have thought would have had two 9-1 teams.”

Middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez (right) signed an 11-fight, $365 million deal with DAZN.
Photo: Getty Images

In a 30-second commercial spot that aired nationally during NFL, NBA and college football telecasts in recent weeks, iconic ring announcer Michael Buffer reads from an index card, trumpeting DAZN’s broadcast of Canelo Alvarez’s Dec. 15 fight against little-known Brit Rocky Fielding. DAZN, the recently launched direct-to-consumer network, will offer the bout for free to viewers who sign up for a 30-day trial of the service, which is regularly priced at $9.99 a month.

 

When Buffer suggests that the offer must be a misprint, it leads to an exchange with Alvarez, who insists three times in Spanish that, yes, he is done with pay-per-view, where he has been for nine of his last 10 fights.

 

“Pay-per-view is totally screwed,” Buffer says as the spot concludes.

 

That’s the grenade DAZN tossed at the boxing establishment two months ago when it signed Alvarez, the sport’s leading pay-per-view attraction, to an 11-fight, $365 million deal that promises to include all of his fights as part of the monthly subscription.

 

The pitch that DAZN makes to U.S. fight fans is based on a value proposition that challenges the pay-per-view underpinnings of both boxing and MMA. Fight fans have a long history of paying for premium programming. Because rights to fighters and fights typically have been sold piecemeal, combat sports are a natural place for a startup network to turn for live events.

 

Following that playbook, DAZN launched in the U.S. in September with a programming menu made up mostly of combat, fed by deals with U.K.-based boxing promoter Matchroom and MMA promoter Bellator.

 

DAZN executives are quick to point out that its combat-heavy launch is only a starting point. Last month, the network announced a streaming deal with MLB that will allow it to create a nightly live whip-around show targeted at cord-cutters.

 

“We are not here to be a fight-sports niche broadcaster,” said Joe Markowski, executive vice president of North America for DAZN. “It’s very much an entry strategy for us. … Sure, we want to dominate fight sports. But we’re not just going to stick to fight sports.

 

“If we can do a job with the content we’ve got right now and meet our target, my board will give me the firepower … [to] make serious moves for major domestic content. And Dec. 15 is very much the start of that for us.”

 

Skeptics of DAZN’s combat rollout say that while the network is entering at a point of great disruption in boxing, leading content providers Top Rank and Premier Boxing Champions already are locked in to long-term deals with ESPN and Fox, respectively. While DAZN is the favorite to land free agent Gennady Golovkin — who Alvarez beat in his most recent bout on Sept. 15 — after that it may find a dearth of marketable fighters.

 

Even with DAZN bidding aggressively, Showtime and Fox have held strong by dangling lucrative paydays from traditional pay-per-view, which is where Showtime will take Manny Pacquiao’s January fight against Adrien Broner. It’s also where Fox will put a March show featuring Errol Spence Jr. against Mikey Garcia and where ESPN likely will turn later next year.

 

“One thing that those of us in the subscription service business know is that you need consistency of high-quality programming,” said Stephen Espinoza, Showtime president of sports and event programming. “One or two or even three or four tentpole events a year is not a recipe for success. Whether it’s on a traditional platform or a streaming platform, there has to be a year-round consistent supply of quality programming.”

Good Karma Brands founder and CEO Craig Karmazin (third from right) hosts ESPN’s “Monday Night Countdown” crew at The Tundra Trio in Green Bay.
Photo: Reminisce Photography

This past summer, Good Karma Brands bought two radio stations in Milwaukee — WKTI, a country music station, and WTMJ, which has held the Green Bay Packers’ radio rights since 1929.

 

For Good Karma, there was a sort of back-to-the-future quality to the deal. Craig Karmazin and a group of friends started the company in 1997 with the purchase of two radio stations in tiny Beaver Dam, Wis. Since then, Karmazin has expanded the company well beyond just radio, in which it now owns 11 stations around the country.

 

In 2011, Good Karma started buying homes around Lambeau Field to set up premium hospitality areas for Packers games — or what became The Tundra Trio. Around the same time, Good Karma launched the Wisconsin Sports Awards. A couple of years later, it helped launch the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl with ESPN.

 

Good Karma Brands

Headquarters: Milwaukee
Launched:
1997
No. of Employees:
205
Website:
goodkarmabrands.com
What they do:
Good Karma Brands is a sports marketing and broadcast company specializing in customized solutions for local marketers throughout the country.

Radio Stations:
Milwaukee: WAUK (540 AM ESPN), WKTI (94.5 FM ESPN), WTMJ (620 AM)
Cleveland: WKNR (850 AM ESPN), WWGK (1540 AM ESPN)
West Palm Beach, Fla.: WUUB (106.3 FM ESPN), WEFL (760 AM ESPN Deportes)
Madison, Wis.: WTLX (100.5 FM ESPN), WTTN (1580 AM ESPN Deportes)
Beaver Dam, Wis.: WBEV (1430 AM), WXRO (95.3 FM)

Events:
The Tundra Trio
Wisconsin Sports Awards
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl

Good Karma’s business still is predicated on radio — more than half of the company’s revenue comes from audio, Karmazin said. “It’s where we’ve invested and where we see the ability to truly sell product and truly help brands develop in ways that are difficult to gain that same return on investment across other forms of media,” he said.

 

But during an interview last month, Karmazin seemed most energized by a “Monday Night Football” game the Packers hosted against the 49ers in October that he believes best showcases everything his company has to offer.

 

In addition to the corporate hospitality around The Tundra Trio, ESPN set up its “Monday Night Countdown” set at one of the homes owned by Good Karma and Karmazin entertained new ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro for dinner before the game. Karmazin credits his close relationship with ESPN for helping Good Karma grow, citing partnerships around the Boca Raton Bowl and the ESPN-branded radio stations the company operates.

 

“The assets we have may seem kind of random with the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl game, the Wisconsin Sports Awards, my investment in the Milwaukee Bucks and our different ESPN radio and digital relationships,” said Karmazin, a minority owner of the Bucks. “But it’s allowed us to really develop a meaningful relationship with ESPN across so many different departments.”

  

While Good Karma has expanded beyond being a radio station operator, it’s clear that Karmazin has radio in his blood. His father, Mel, is a lion of the business, co-founding Infinity Broadcasting and working as CEO of Sirius Radio for eight years. In college, the younger Karmazin and some friends talked about creating an FM sports talk station in Madison, Wis., and syndicating Howard Stern for its morning show.

 

Karmazin and Good Karma President Steve Politziner (far right) host a private event with “Golic and Wingo” stars Mike Golic (second from right) and Trey Wingo.
Photo: Reminisce Photography

“I spent my second semester of college figuring out how I could actually make that happen,” he said.

 

Karmazin, though, couldn’t afford a station in Madison. Thanks to a $3.5 million loan, he was able to buy one in nearby Beaver Dam in 1997, followed by two other purchases. By August 1998, Karmazin had Stern’s show on one of those stations.

 

Good Karma had initial success as a small-market radio operator, but by 2002 Karmazin worried that terrestrial radio was going to lose listeners to satellite radio. He decided the best way to grow would be to align with ESPN.

 

“We didn’t want to be in the music business, we wanted to be in the sports business,” he said. “And we thought if we could combine best-in-class local activation with the ESPN brand, that because of the live and local and interactive nature of sports, that we would be less impacted by satellite internet radio, all the different trends that were coming to media.”

 

In 2003, Good Karma launched its first standalone ESPN market in West Palm Beach, Fla. In 2004, it launched in Milwaukee, and two years later it launched in Cleveland. By 2008, Good Karma launched in Madison.

 

Key Executives

Craig Karamzin: Founder and CEO
Steve Politziner:
President

“That was really a big change in concept for us as a company,” Karmazin said. “We did not really view ourselves as radio operators, but viewed ourselves as sports marketers who happen to own radio stations.”

 

The idea that Good Karma was more than just a radio station operator hit Karmazin early. He launched his first stations when the Packers were coming off a Super Bowl and Wisconsin was playing in the Rose Bowl.

 

“Everything we were doing from day one was truly sports marketing, whether it was the tailgate parties that we would execute, the digital promotions that we were doing all the way back in the late ’90s and early 2000s,” he said. “We love being in the local space and believe that there’s going to be a huge amount of growth opportunity for us there. Because as everyone else consolidates and looks at things nationally, we still are old school and believe in local relationships and actually getting local results and selling products for the partners we’re working with.”