Forum: November surprises
Cleaning out my notebook as we look toward the last six weeks of 2019. A few things to remember — we have a great lineup for our Dealmakers in Sports conference on Dec. 4, and our Learfield IMG College Intercollegiate Athletics Forum on Dec. 11-12. In addition, you can meet our inaugural New Voices Under 30 class on the evening of Dec. 12 at the Refinery Rooftop. Go to our website for more information — we’d love to see you at any of these events!
BIG SURPRISE, PART I: When my colleague John Ourand emailed me that CBS Sports had won a package of rights for the UEFA Champions League, I had a one-word response: “Wow.” I was shocked. It wasn’t a CBS Sports-type of move and I didn’t anticipate the network being in the mix at all. In fact, CBS Sports deserves credit for how effective it was in keeping its intentions secret. Nobody knew it wanted the package, and so virtually everyone was surprised when it won the rights — including competitors like NBC Sports President Pete Bevacqua, WarnerMedia Chairman Jeff Zucker and Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks, who all expressed on the record at our recent Sports Media and Technology Conference how surprised they were that Sean McManus and David Berson emerged with the rights. I can’t say with confidence whether this is a big win for CBS Sports or UEFA, but it sends a strong and surprising message to the industry that CBS Sports is ready to pay for rights that it feels fit its portfolio. My question is whether the investment influences its strategy around renewals for the PGA Tour or the SEC.
BIG SURPRISE, PART II: The shocking, swift breakup between Joe Tsai and David Levy was the topic of discussion with all of my sources and everyone had a theory, from differing views of role and responsibilities, to a quick read that it wasn’t a fit, to veering into other lanes. But nobody saw this coming. I was surprised when I heard about Levy’s new role in September, as I couldn’t see the similarities to running a team and arena with his previous role in running a sports media company. But others stressed to me his position would be larger and broader and more entrepreneurial. Maybe that’s where the disconnect started. I still think Levy is well suited to bringing his creative deal-making skills to a tech company looking at a sports play.
CLOSING THE BOOK ON MLS 2019: MLS generated some real momentum and interest during its postseason, including a new format that fans and media praised and a fierce finals match between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders that drew nearly 70,000 frenzied fans in Seattle and looked fabulous on TV. Overall, I noticed far more mainstream media coverage and attention to the postseason and MLS Cup. But the league still needs to figure out the right broadcast window for its championship, as ABC’s audience was down 47% from the 2018 Atlanta United-Portland Timbers match on a Saturday on Fox. It marked the least-watched MLS Cup Final on a broadcast network on record, and it obviously got lost and overshadowed going up against an exciting NFL Sunday schedule. The league will likely revisit the window for its title match.
WHAT TO READ: I will be watching how The New York Times series on the state of football in America plays out. Earlier this month, the news outlet debuted the first part in a series in which it said it would “examine football’s hold on America, among children and their parents in the heartland, at public high schools and elite colleges.” It went on to say, “A significant decline in football’s prominence would represent an important cultural shift in America. The sport long ago surpassed baseball as the true national pastime, both in terms of participation and fanaticism, and seeing its numbers drop represents a chance to understand in real time how quickly the ground can shift.” The first part of the package included perspective from the National Football Foundation, which stressed its “Football Matters” effort to combat the narrative that interest and participation in the game is down. If you talk to insiders around the NFL, they have long felt The New York Times has had an aggressive agenda against the sport, from its coverage of CTE to player behavior. I’ll be keeping an eye on the tone and tenor of this series and how aggressively football’s powerful influencers and supporters defend the game and fight back against the negative narrative.
FINALLY: Who has seen “The Irishman” and what did you think? And is anyone else frustrated by the extremely limited release strategy of the Netflix film?
First Look podcast, with industry news and trends Abe is watching, at the 30:21 mark:
Abraham Madkour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.