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Volume 26 No. 225
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SBJ Unpacks: NBA Return Gives TNT Boost Over Pre-COVID Viewership

For the first time since last fall, four of the big five pro leagues will be in action on the same day this weekend. The fifth, the NFL, is proceeding gently with its modified training camp.

As we finish another work week, that’s worth celebrating. Behind each of these leagues’ return is months of hard work from dedicated, creative people, and they deserve credit. But the headlines this week kept a lid on the celebratory mood, with several top NFL stars opting out of this season and MLB postponing games as infections keep popping up.

-- Ben Fischer

   

LAKERS-CLIPPERS DELIVERS OPENING NIGHT-TYPE AUDIENCE

  • TNT's return doubleheader for the NBA last night (2.9 million viewers) was well above its single-game season average prior to the pandemic, but the marquee game -- Lakers-Clippers - did not deliver any record-setting viewership, SBJ's Austin Karp reports.

  • Lakers-Clips on Thursday night averaged 3.4 million viewers in the late window (but still one hour earlier than a normal TNT late game). That figure is below the 3.6 million viewers that the same matchup drew on opening night for TNT back in October -- but it comes with a caveat. TNT last night for both of its games had to compete with RSN blackouts in the local markets, something it does not normally compete with for its normal NBA telecasts. When figures for Spectrum SportsNet (Lakers) and FS Prime Ticket (Clips) are added to TNT’s figure last night, the game tops opening night.

  • In the early tilt last night (also an hour earlier than normal), TNT averaged 2.1 million viewers for Jazz-Pelicans (does not include RSN figures for FS New Orleans or AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain). On opening night, TNT averaged 2.3 million for Pelicans-Raptors -- a game the lacked Zion Williamson as well as any audience figures for a non-measured Toronto market. The doubleheader last night averaged 2.9 million viewers without RSN numbers included. TNT for a typical NBA game before the pandemic was averaging just 1.4 million viewers per game. That was down around 12% from the same average at the same point of the 2018-19 season.

  • Some other bright spots? TNT's “Inside the NBA” averaged 1.3 million viewers, which is the pregame show’s best figure since the opening week of the 2018-19 season and up 101% from the show’s average earlier this season. Bleacher Report also had its best site traffic since April and saw a 107% increase over NBA opening night. Social content across handles for the NBA, NBA on TNT and NBA TV also saw video views jump 36% compared to opening night.
     
  • Meanwhile, advertisers spent an estimated $6.87 million during TNT’s two games last night, according to iSpot.tv data analyzed by SBJ's David Broughton. Below are the top five spenders last night, as well as the top five brand advertisers from the regular season before games were suspended.
 
TOP ADVERTISERS DURING NBA RETURN ON TNT (2 GAMES)
BRAND
ESTIMATED AD SPEND
FanDuel*
$425,000
GEICO
$425,000
AutoTrader*
$343,000
Dick's Sporting Goods
$343,000
Rocket Mortgage
$343,000
TOP ADVERTISERS DURING NBA GAMES BEFORE SEASON SUSPENDED
(ALL NATIONAL LINEAR TV GAMES)
BRAND
ESTIMATED AD SPEND
State Farm*
$22 million
Taco Bell*
$12.5 million
Metro by T-Mobile
$11.7 million
Toyota
$11.5 million
GEICO
$10.3 million
NOTE: * = NBA league sponsor.
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SOURCES: MANFRED THREATENS SHUTDOWN IF ANOTHER OUTBREAK OCCURS

  • Late Friday afternoon, ESPN's Jeff Passan cited sources as saying that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark that "if the sport doesn't do a better job of managing the coronavirus, it could shut down for the season." Should another outbreak materialize, Manfred, who has the power to shut the season down, "could move in that direction."

  • Bleacher Report's Scott Miller reports an MLB internal investigation "found the Marlins were very lapse in following protocols during (their) Atlanta trip last weekend," which included "players going out, players in hotel bar, etc.."

  • This news comes as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on MLB's shortened season, writes SBJ's Eric Prisbell.

  • Tonight, 20% of the league's 30 teams will not play because of the postponement of games related to positive tests within the Marlins, Phillies and most recently the Cardinals. Two Cardinals' players have tested positive, which prompted MLB to postpone their game today in Milwaukee. It has been rescheduled as part of a doubleheader Sunday. MLB believes the rescheduling is consistent with protocols to allow enough time for additional testing and contact tracing to be sufficiently conducted.

  • The Cardinals said they learned of the positive tests last night from testing that had been conducted Wednesday prior to their game against the Twins. They have instructed players to self-isolate in their Milwaukee hotel rooms; the team is currently conducting rapid testing of the entire traveling party.

  • While the health of infected players and staff clearly remains the top priority, the reconfiguration of schedules on the fly only accentuates the challenges of playing 60 games in 67 days. MLB intends to make up some lost ground with doubleheaders in the coming weeks, but questions are already arising about potentially compromising the integrity of the season. To that end, the Marlins, who saw an 18th player test positive today and whose return to the field won't be until Tuesday at the very earliest, will enter next week having played three games while many teams will have already played 10. 

  • The Marlins will transport infected players and coaches on multiple sleeper busses from Philadelphia, where they have been in quarantine, to Miami, according to ESPN's Jesse Rogers. The rest of the team is expected to remain in Philadelphia, where it undergoes daily testing. 

 

 

PAC-12 GOING WITH 10-GAME, CONFERENCE-ONLY SCHEDULE

  • The Pac-12 this afternoon confirmed it will shift to a 10-game conference-only football schedule that starts on Sept. 26, joining the SEC in "pushing back its season by nearly a month because of the coronavirus pandemic," per the AP.

  • Earlier today, university presidents "approved a model that adds an additional cross-divisional game to each team’s slate and pushes the start back three weeks." In the Pac-12, several of its schools, including USC, UCLA and California, are "operating under restrictions set by local authorities to slow the spread of coronavirus that would prevent football teams from practicing."

  • Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel noted the Pac-12 "plans to start with aggressive scheduling -- with USC vs. UCLA, ASU vs Arizona and Washington vs Stanford planned for Week 1." The conference also will "give schools the option to delay the start of the season by a week." Week 1 opponents "could push back the game to Dec. 12, for example, if playing that week doesn't appear realistic."

 

 

BETTMAN CONFIDENT BUBBLE PLAN WILL WORK OUT

  • NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Friday said he is confident the bubble can keep players safe, because “we went through a variety of phases to get to the point that we could actually start playing.” Bettman, appearing on NBC's "Today," said, “The players are being tested every day in the bubble, as are all the other personnel in the bubble. All tests have been negative and so we are feeling good about the fact that we've got a contained environment.”

  • Bettman noted one of the "reasons that we’re playing in Toronto and in Edmonton in Canada is because of the availability of testing and the fact that the amount of COVID-19 is very limited in those places and frankly, throughout Canada." Bettman noted the league is "paying for our own tests, they’re commercially available and we certainly wouldn’t do anything that puts ourselves and our needs in front of the medical needs of a community.” 

  • The Ringer's Katie Baker noted the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway tomorrow, beginning an "improvised, isolated, and ambitious" postseason slate. Teams in the markets are suited with "multiple hotels ... numerous permanent and pop-up restaurants; and access to amenities like pools, cornhole, movie theaters, and, in Toronto, a professional soccer and football stadium." 


MSG NETS LOOKS TO EVOLVE WITH NHL RESTART

  • MSG Networks is finalizing preparations for the NHL’s restart tomorrow. With plans to carry at least the first three games of the Rangers and Islanders’ respective series, MSG today unveiled a comprehensive plan for fan-engagement initiatives and increased original programming meant to get fans ready and keep them watching. These include Zoom watch parties integrated into the broadcasts, a free lunch reward program through sponsor Postmates and “Around the NHL,” a new weeknight hockey program.

  • There also is the matter of producing and broadcasting remotely. MSGN Senior VP/Marketing & Content Strategy Kevin Marotta joined SBD’s Andrew Levin to discuss that, and more, on the latest SBJ Unpacks podcast

  • “It’s been at times challenging and at times super interesting,” Marotta said. “People are used to having a producer in their ear talking to them and that’s not something that’s happening, so that’s a change that has to be made. We are reliant on set direction remotely … adjusting how things are framed without necessarily being able to grab it ourselves and move it ourselves. And then also the flow of content, uploading and editing content remotely without all the benefits of being in our office.” 

 

 

UBS: ISLES' NAMING-RIGHTS DEAL CHANCE TO CAPITALIZE ON N.Y. MARKET

  • While the pandemic continues to rock the sports business, especially the sponsorship market, Swiss investment bank UBS thought it was still the right time to lock into its $350 million-plus naming-rights deal with Oak View Group for the Islanders’ new Belmont Park arena. It’s the largest such deal to date for a standalone NHL arena.

  • UBS sees the deal as an opportunity to show its commitment to New York and its North American business. And for OVG, the deal could open the doors to USB’s high-end clients who may want to invest in the company’s future arena and stadium projects in the U.S. and throughout the world.

  • “When OVG said ‘You know, look our business is going and doing these big stadium arrangements and running the stadium,’ it just became clear that if there's more to come, let’s have a look,” UBS Group Chief Marketing Officer Johan Jervoe told SBJ’s Karn Dhingra this week.

  • While the 20-year deal includes many of the typical premium elements for UBS to entertain clients at Belmont, it also includes marketing opportunities to amplify its brand through traditional media channels, social media and any future media distribution platforms. 

  • “It's a multiple year deal that includes all channels, both the ones we know of today and then ones we don't know of today,” Jervoe said. “And when you look at the location, when the planes are up flying again, you will have 55,000 planes flying over that stadium every year. If you look at the top shot of the arena from above, you'll see the branding is extremely prominent, but also, you know it's clearly a premium location and a premium branding.”  

 

BINGE WATCHING WITH RICH LISK & JENE ELZIE

  • With 2020 forcing everyone across the industry to shift their calendars around, SBJ's Kody Timmers is catching up with execs, talent, team personnel and more to see how they are making the most of an unprecedented summer. Below, N.Y. Riptide & GF Sports Exec VP Rich Lisk and Athletes First Partners Chief Growth Officer Jene Elzie dish on what they're reading and binge watching. 
  • Rich Lisk:

    • Reading: "Atomic Habits" by James Clear.
    • Binge watching: Netflix' "Outer Banks" (with my younger son), HBO's "Run" (with my daughter) and "The Newsroom."

  • Jene Elzie:

    • Reading: "Red at the Bone" by Jacqueline Woodson and "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas.
    • Binge watching: "Watchmen," "Normal People" and "Cheer." 

 

Lisk has been taking in "Outer Banks" with his son; while Elzie is binging "Watchmen" on HBO
Lisk has been taking in "Outer Banks" with his son; while Elzie is binging "Watchmen" on HBO
Lisk has been taking in "Outer Banks" with his son; while Elzie is binging "Watchmen" on HBO

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: LASTING IMPACT

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from L.A.-based consulting firm Rebel Ventures Founder & CEO Craig Howe, who writes under the header, "Transformational Trends In The Sports Business."

  • "Watching games unfold on the court, pitch, field, octagon, etc., across our many different screens may look somewhat the same, albeit minus the passionate crowd energy. However, in the front offices of sports organizations across the globe, the lasting impact and changes created by COVID-19 will be felt for years to come."

  • To read the full contribution, click here.

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH THESCORE’S AUBREY LEVY

  • TheScore VP/Marketing & Content Aubrey Levy and his wife have been splitting time between the Catskills and their N.Y. apartment the past few months, and Levy says he’s remained busier than he originally thought he would overseeing the Toronto-based media and betting company, without live sports. Levy: “Our guys spun up a ton of new formats -- long form reads, interactive content, polls, quizzes, contesting. … Social content continued to perform fairly well during this period, driving engagement from our social feeds back towards our app. And as a result, fortunately, we were able to keep just shy of 75% of our app user base around.”

  • Levy spends most of his days video conferencing on Zoom or Google Hangouts. “We have a couple different moving pieces and all of them have to be so heavily integrated between content and product and analytics and marketing and comms,” he said. “There are elements where you're off doing your own thing, but by and large, you need to move in lockstep with other teams.” Levy: “There’s a pretty heavy level of communication.”

  • The return of the NBA and NHL is certainly welcomed news for theScore, which is focused on having a successful finish to 2020 by rolling out a new betting app -- currently only available in New Jersey -- in Indiana and Colorado. With a big focus on betting, Levy is certainly watching how each sport continues to combat the coronavirus. “Each league is going to have their own set of circumstances they have to deal with,” he noted. “I'm pretty optimistic that most of the major leagues are going to go and hopefully figure out a path through.”

  • When Levy isn’t huddled up in his living room workspace, he likes to get outside for a run or quick workout before his day starts. “There’s a bonanza of Netflix going on,” he said of his content consumption. And Levy has even ventured for a U.S. history lesson via the HBO series “John Adams,” partly inspired by his wife’s reading habits. “My wife is reading the biography of Eliza Hamilton (and) like everybody we watched ‘Hamilton’ when it came on Disney+,” Levy said.

 

Levy and his wife have been splitting time between the Catskills and their N.Y. apartment the past few months
Levy and his wife have been splitting time between the Catskills and their N.Y. apartment the past few months
Levy and his wife have been splitting time between the Catskills and their N.Y. apartment the past few months

 

SPEED READS

  • NBA action resumed Thursday night in Orlando, and there was no shortage of sponsorship activation, per SportsAtlas' Will Cavanaugh. With the Pelicans and Lakers acting as the home teams, each was able to provide marquee partners with significant exposure via virtual signage throughout the games. The Pelicans’ venue naming rights partner, Smoothie King, was featured most noticeably via on-court signage, while the team’s practice facility sponsor, Ochsner Health, also appeared in front of both teams’ benches. The most noticeable absence during the Clippers-Lakers game was prominent signage featuring Staples, which serves as the naming rights partner for the teams’ shared facility. The Lakers’ two primary activations were occupied by practice facility sponsor UCLA Health (on-court) and jersey sponsor Wish (bench area).

  • When the NHL returns to play tomorrow, the league and its players will be actively and openly supporting social justice initiatives, health professionals and other essential workers during the pandemic, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. Players will be sporting #WeSkateFor decals on their helmets to support Black Lives Matter and other social movements. Additionally, prior to both tomorrow’s Oilers-Blackhawks game as well as Penguins-Canadiens game, 24 healthcare professionals and others will be honored for their courage via a virtual ceremony. 
  • CFRA research analyst Tuna Amobi on CNBC today noted the absence of live sports during much of the pandemic lockdown “accelerated cord cutting in the paid TV ecosystem,” but the “return of sports will likely have the opposite effect.” Amobi: “In other words, more and more people are likely to subscribe to pay TV when you have the NBA back and all of the other leagues.” Amobi added that as a result, there could be some “deceleration in the growth of streaming services.”

  • From the beginning of the NBA bubble on July 7 through July 28, the league, teams and players generated $63 million for 53 brand partners, which include all the jersey sponsors, many top league sponsors, and a handful of athlete sponsors, according to data provided to SBJ's David Broughton by Hookit. Approximately $22 million of that value was generated for Nike and $40 million (64%) of the total value was generated on Instagram. Meanwhile, the NWSL, teams and its players athletes generated over $1.8 million for the 20 corporate partners over the Challenge Cup. Secret ($670k) and Nike ($640k) accounted for 70% of that total value.

 

 

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Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.