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Volume 25 No. 214
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SBJ Media: Charlie Ebersol Speaks

We’re at the end of college-visiting season for high school seniors, which means that I will be in Madison with my daughter on Friday. We’re checking out the University of Wisconsin.

 

CHARLIE EBERSOL OPENS UP ON DEMISE OF AAF

Ebersol said the longterm vision for the league was "not aligned" with that of investor Tom Dundon
  • In his first on-the-record interview since the Alliance of American Football folded, Charlie Ebersol expressed regret and frustration over the plight of his league, which filed for bankruptcy earlier today and owes creditors $48.4 million. Below are some of the highlights from our 45-minute talk. Check out a bigger story on my interview with Ebersol in tomorrow’s Sports Business Daily.

    • On why the league failed: "I know everyone has conspiracy theories. But, unfortunately, this may have just died because the main investor and the founders had different visions of what the company was supposed to be. ... Our long-term vision for building something slowly and getting enterprise value was not aligned with [Tom Dundon’s] vision of how he saw the league.”

    • On accusations that he misrepresented the league’s financing: “We raised over $170 million in the second quarter of last year. We ultimately raised well over $200 million before the launch of the football league. When it became clear that our primary investor was either not able to, or not performing in line with the signed contracts which had been vetted by multiple banks, ... we went out to the market after the success of the first weekend and offered to let other people buy in. Ultimately Tom made an offer to buy in."

    • On whether creditors will get paid: "I don’t know. I can’t answer that question."

    • On players and staff getting stuck with hotel bills: "Players were fraudulently charged for their hotel rooms. We have worked very closely with a lot of those players to get them all paid back by the hotels because the hotels should not have charged them. The hotels were paid."

    • On injured players paying for their own rehab: "That is absolutely not true. Our team reached out to every single player that was injured during the season and walked them through all of their workers' comp options and their HR options and their medical options. We have the necessary insurance, so all the players are covered."

    • On reports that Dundon invested only to gain access to AAF tech: "That was extraordinary irresponsible journalism. It would take someone five seconds to Google and figure out that there were legal protections in place around the technology by our investors. The idea that Tom Dundon had some secret plan is asinine and not true."

    • On why he has stayed silent: "I was told not to speak. That was incredibly difficult. The communication and transparency that we prided ourselves in over the last several months was largely taken away from us, which was a huge problem."


NETWORK EXECS DISH ON NFL TV SCHEDULE

  • The amount of publicity the NFL generates around the release of its schedule always amazes me. NFL Network is in the middle of revealing all 32 teams schedules tonight in a two-hour show. ESPN2 also is running a two-hour reaction show. I had quick chats tonight with several network execs to find out their thoughts.

  • CBS (Sunday slate)
    • Top game: Chiefs-Patriots in Week 14
    • Strength of Schedule: The NFL made CBS happy by loading its schedule with good games involving the Patriots, Steelers and Chiefs.
    • Keeping an eye on: The NFC schedule is so strong, CBS will see more high-quality crossflex games, like Saints-Seahawks, Vikings-Bears, Cowboys-Jets, Packers-Chargers.
    • Exec Speak: “I feel good,” CBS Sports' Sean McManus said. “We have some really good crossover doubleheader games, and we kept our No. 1 pick -- the Kansas City-New England game.”

  • ESPN ("MNF")
    • Top Game: Colts-Saints in Week 15
    • Strength of Schedule: It’s been 10 years since ESPN doubled up on the Packers twice, and five years since the Steelers appeared twice. Both play two "MNF" games this season.
    • Keeping an eye on: Two big-time NFC East rivalry games -- Cowboys-Giants and Giants-Eagles -- show that ESPN’s relationship with the league is as strong as it’s been in years.
    • Exec Speak: “Our schedule is incredibly balanced,” ESPN's Burke Magnus said. “We start strong and we finish strong. There’s a compelling storyline with every game.”

  • Fox (Sunday slate)
    • Top Game: Cowboys-Patriots in Week 12
    • Strength of Schedule: Fox ends the season with a remarkable stretch that will see the highly rated Cowboys anchor its last four doubleheaders. That doesn’t even include Cowboys-Bears on “TNF” in Week 14.
    • Keeping an eye on: The NFC East plays the NFC North this year -- matchups that consistently bring big ratings. All are Fox games.
    • Exec Speak: “We felt like we had such a deep pool of games this year partly because the NFC division winners last year were so strong: Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans and the Rams,” Fox's Mike Mulvihill said.

  • Fox ("TNF")
    • Top Game: Eagles-Packers in Week 4
    • Strength of Schedule: Fox’s "TNF" schedule starts with four games that would fit into the “SNF” slot, including Eagles-Packers, Rams-Seahawks, Giants-Patriots and Chief-Broncos. 
    • Keeping an eye on: Fox last year requested games for “TNF” that would have anchored Sunday doubleheaders. This season, that late Sunday window schedule is as "good of a group of doubleheader games as we’ve ever had,” Mulvihill said.
    • Exec Speak: “It’s about as strong as we could have asked for when we started the process,” Mulvihill said.

  • NBC ("SNF")
    • Top Game: Packers-Chiefs in Week 8
    • Strength of Schedule: NBC’s strategy is to come out of the gate as fast as it can with high-profile teams that bring ratings. That’s the case this year with a September schedule that starts with Packers-Bears and Steelers-Patriots in Week 1.
    • Keeping an eye on: NBC’s November schedule, which insiders expect to bring big ratings with matchups like Patriots-Ravens, Vikings-Cowboys and Bears-Rams.
    • Exec Speak: “It’s what we’ve all come to expect from the Sunday night schedule -- blockbuster games, all the big stars on multiple times,” said NBC's Fred Gaudelli.

 

NBC-WASSERMAN PACT SEEN AS GAME CHANGER

  • It was around a year ago that LA 2028 Chair Casey Wasserman approached NBC’s Mark Lazarus with the idea to combine media and sponsorship sales for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. “I happen to do this for my day job, so I understand what marketers need,” Wasserman said, referring to hearing an oft-expressed frustration from brands on the complicated process to buy Olympic rights.

  • Don’t overlook this deal -- it carries a huge amount of significance in the Olympic media world and will help cover much of LA 2028’s ambitious $2.5 billion domestic partnership sales goal. Engine Shop's Terrence Burns, a veteran Olympic consultant, went so far as to call it the "biggest change in Olympic marketing since Olympic marketing was created in 1984.”

  • Ben Fischer and I covered this story in Sports Business Daily this morning. Here’s how we see it:

    • Why this deal is good for NBC: The network had been seeing official Olympic partners scale back on media activation in favor of NGB or organizing committee sponsorships, sources tell us. Brands had become cautious when it came to buying media. This new structure means that sponsors will spend across LA 2028 NBCU -- a similar structure that other big properties have with production/distribution rightsholders. NBC, which will take the lead on these sales, will not have to worry about having the USOC or an NGB undercut it in price.
    • Why it’s good for LA 2028: Team USA sponsors usually have to buy NBC time separately. In some cases, they have to jockey for time with competitors who lacked official sponsorship designations. This allows LA 2028 to offer media-driven sponsorship packages, similar to the CFP, that give brands more comprehensive coverage if they want. NBC’s financial commitment gives LA 2028 a revenue cushion as it staffs up, develops its offering and begins selling.
    • What do sponsors think? This is a mixed bag. Some, like Engine Shop’s Burns, are happy. “It’s what everybody’s holding their breath for -- 'what other value are we going to get, other than just renting the Rings?'” Others are taking more of a wait-and-see approach. One sponsor told us, “There is a big difference between one-stop-shopping and the only place to get almost everything you need. The more avenues that marketers have access through the better value they can achieve.”
    • What are the red flags? One of the biggest challenges for LA 2028 and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Partners joint venture has been convincing marketers to act fast, given the long lead time before the Olympics in L.A.. With NBC’s cash on hand, the pressure to finalize deals for 2028 now lessens. NBC, of course, holds all Olympic rights through 2032 and will be selling the Games before and after the ones in L.A.



SPEED READS

  • The NFL was caught off guard when AT&T U-Verse and DirecTV Now dropped NFL Network earlier this week. A league spokesperson emailed me a statement that said the NFL “never heard a word" until the network and RedZone channel were pulled. What does this mean? I called one of my cable industry sources for perspective. He saw this as a negotiating ploy by AT&T, which is in talks about a new deal for NFL Sunday Ticket. AT&T’s move is seen as a last ditch effort to try and bundle NFL Net distribution with a new Sunday Ticket deal. AT&T’s message to the league: if you take Sunday Ticket away from us, there’s no guarantee that we’ll carry your linear channels.

  • The bids are in for the Fox Sports-branded RSNs that Disney is trying to sell. Liberty/MLBSinclair Broadcast Group and Ice Cube's Big3 submitted bids of around $10 billion for the 21 channels, according to Bloomberg. The Big3 bid also comes with fresh backing from Magic Johnson.
  • Nine of Harvey Schiller’s friends and family surprised the longtime sports exec with an 80th birthday party in Atlanta on Monday night. Schiller was in town for an Air Force Academy board meeting when his son Derek, the president & CEO of the Braves, invited him out to dinner. When Schiller arrived at Bone’s in the Buckhead area of town, he was surprised to see two of his grandkids, his daughter-in-law and old colleagues like Scott McCune (formerly of Coca-Cola), Mike Plant (president & CEO of Braves Development), Jeff Cravens (formerly of the USOC and NBC), Mike Pine (formerly of Turner) and NBC Sports Senior VP/Communications Greg Hughes. “I’ve known Harvey for 25 years,” Hughes said. “I haven’t seen him much happier.” Schiller’s actual birthday is April 30.
    Friends and family came out to Bone's in Atlanta for Harvey Schiller's surprise birthday party
        

LET'S DO THE NUMBERS

  • 46% -- Increase in viewership for Monday’s “Morning Drive” on Golf Channel compared to the same four-hour show after The Masters last year (82,000 vs. 56,000 viewers), according to SBJ's Austin Karp. Compared to two years ago, the increase is 44%. It’s another example of the rising tide that Tiger Woods can deliver. He likely won’t be on the course again until next month’s Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, giving CBS another shot at ratings glory.


IN MEMORY

  • We lost a longtime colleague at SBJ last week as researcher Brandon McClung tragically took his own life. My editor Abe Madkour wrote a touching tribute to Brandon and what he meant to our newsroom.

 

Enjoying this newsletter? We've got more! Check out SBJ College with Michael Smith on Tuesdays and Thursdays for insights into all the latest news around the world of college sports.

Something on the Media beat catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to either me (jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com) or Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessdaily.com) and we'll share the best of it. Also contributing to this newsletter is Thomas Leary (tleary@sportsbusinessdaily.com).