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Volume 26 No. 5
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SBJ Media: WarnerMedia Could Change The Channel For Golf

I was blown away by a visit to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary this weekend -- a historic prison that once housed Al Capone.

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WARNERMEDIA THINKING BOLDLY IN PGA TOUR RIGHTS TALKS

HLN or truTV could be turned into a golf network if WarnerMedia gets the PGA Tour
  • WarnerMedia has told the PGA Tour that it would consider converting one of its existing TV channels into a golf-focused one, but only if it winds up with the PGA Tour rights that currently are being negotiated. WarnerMedia execs discussed the idea in preliminary talks with the Tour around its next round of rights, which are up in 2021.

  • During its initial conversations with media companies, the PGA Tour has made it clear that it wants to control its own linear TV channel. NBC execs have discussed letting the Tour take an ownership stake in the NBC-owned Golf Channel, which has carried the Tour’s cable TV rights exclusively for the past 13 years. WarnerMedia owns channels like HLN (Headline News), which has distribution in 86.3 million U.S. homes, or truTV, which is in 84.1 million homes. Those two would be the most likely channels to be flipped if the company follows through on its initial plan. Other WarnerMedia channels like TBS, TNT, CNN or Cartoon Network almost certainly would not be part of any plan to create a golf-focused channel.

  • WarnerMedia has not finalized its negotiating strategy for Tour rights and still is weeks -- or months -- away from submitting a formal bid. It’s possible that the company’s ultimate submission does not include a plan to flip one of its channels, but the fact that it has even considered such a plan shows how serious it is about the PGA Tour rights, which currently reside with CBS, NBC and Golf Channel. WarnerMedia also is launching a direct-to-consumer streaming service called HBO Max next spring; its execs have said that they want live sports to be part of its programming mix. Rights to PGA Tour events could fit in with that strategy.

  • Even though two years remain on its current U.S. deals, the PGA Tour will invite media companies to deliver formal pitches in the coming weeks. The Tour already has held informal talks with the incumbent networks, as well as others like Amazon, ESPN, Fox and WarnerMedia. The Tour hopes to have a new media-rights deal in place by the end of the year.


MANNING GOES LONG FOR ESPN+ DOCUMENTARY SERIES

Jay Leno joined episode 1 to look at how a Hupmobile helped in forming the NFL
  • ESPN+ today posted the first four episodes of “Peyton’s Places,” a documentary series that ESPN Exec VP/Content Connor Schell calls the "most significant original content bet that we’ve done to date for ESPN+.” Those are strong words for a streaming service that has carried a lot of original content since its spring 2018 launch, from premiering two “30 for 30” documentaries to “More Than an Athlete” featuring LeBron James. “It’s been building in terms of these types of stories that we want to build for the platform,” Schell said.

  • Produced by NFL Films and hosted by Peyton Manning, the new series has 30 episodes and aims to tell the story of 100 years of the NFL. ESPN plans to post one episode per week through the Super Bowl. All of the episodes have been shot; many still are going through the production process. “It’s the history of the NFL in an entertaining way,” Schell said. “We always look for ways to inform, entertain and surprise our audience.”

  • In one episode that has not yet been posted, Manning visits Graceland, dresses up like Elvis and plays quarterback in a football game on the mansion’s lawn. “That’s one that stands out,” Schell said. In another, Manning recreates the Immaculate Reception. One of the episodes that has already posted has Manning and Cris Carter recreating a 1926 New York Giants publicity stunt where Manning throws a pass off the top of a building to Carter. “Peyton’s really good at this,” Schell said. “He’s really smart. He’s really funny. He’s really curious.”

 

SATELLITE, HEADLINES READ

  • The carriage battle between Dish Network and the Fox Sports-branded RSNs shows no sign of easing. I’m told that the two sides did not even talk to each other over the weekend. This is a dispute that looks like it’s going to last for a long time.

  • DirecTV used to market itself as a distributor that never let channels go dark. Times have changed, as news that DirecTV lost 778,000 subscribers in the second quarter has put numbers to the distribution fights it has been having.

 

 

SPEED READS

  • Since Jimmy Pitaro took over the helm at ESPN, there has been little noise related to on-air talent talking politics. But Dan Le Batard recently put the company's policies to the test. In my SBJ column this week, I look at how sports TV execs increasingly are taking a harder line in making sure they stick to sports, despite the fact that covering current events may take some top talent into political waters.

  • It’s always notable when Fox Sports makes a change to its NFL pregame show. This season, it will add Tony Gonzalez to its “Thursday Night Football” pregame show. Gonzalez and Michael Strahan will be part of every show. Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long will split duties this season.

  • Cool insider moment for golfer Colt Knost yesterday during his booth debut on Golf Channel. With Brooks Koepka running late for his final round tee time in Memphis, Knost -- a 34-year-old current PGA Tour player who has been dabbling in the media space recently -- texted Koepka while on air. The four-time major winner promptly responded, saying he was “on his way” and “already loose.” Koepka clearly was telling the truth. He went on to win the World Golf Championship event. But it was Knost who stole some headlines. CBS’ Amanda Balionis tweeted her support: “@ColtKnost is going to be great for golf television.”
     
  • The Pat McAfee hire is an interesting one for ESPN. The brash former NFLer will be in the booth for college football games on Thursday nights this season. It's definitely a window that can use a little exposure. College football used to have Thursday nights in the fall to itself, but once the NFL expanded its "TNF" slate, ESPN's ratings started to decline. McAfee may not be a cure-all, but he brings a level of excitement to the booth -- not to mention 1.5 million Twitter followers.

 

 

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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).