03/16/15: Spike TV President punches up Friday Night franchises; CBS, Turner prepare for Madness; Visa grabs the rings


Good morning. It’s Monday March 16, 2015, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing. 

Spike TV launched the latest piece the “Spike’s Friday Night Lights Out” moniker over the weekend, serving up two knockouts with the debut of Premier Boxing Champions on the network. The franchise joins Bellator MMA and Glory kickboxing under the branded umbrella, reeling in the likes of Dana Jacobson, Scott Hansen, Antonio Tarver and Jimmy Smith for its broadcast team. The network put its own spin on the broadcast, working with Al Heymon’s team to bring in new production tech, a streamlined flow to the bouts and more.

Cynopsis Sports spoke with Spike TV President Kevin Kay about the channel’s approach to sports, the backstory to the PBC and how Spike is putting its own stamp on combat sports.

Kay on the role of sports on the network: We’ve been involved in sports for a long time, in fact Spike was born with the WWE and then we had the UFC and, more recently, Bellator. It has always been an important part of our schedule and has done very well for us from a ratings perspective. We’ve trained our audience, a good portion of which are young men, to come here for combat sports. When you put the PBC into the mix with Glory kickboxing and Bellator and give it the Friday Night Light Out destination, it’s really a good fit. If you look at USA, WWE is a very important part of their schedule but they are a general entertainment network. When you look at Turner, they have the NBA on TNT. We all want to be in the sports business, and at Spike, we’ve carved combat sports as our niche and I think it is really important to have live event son the network.

On branding Friday nights: We’ve been sitting on Friday nights as well as Saturdays for Bellator, as it’s been good for audiences, ticket sales, arenas, etc. As Glory came into the picture, they were on Saturdays and we wanted to get to this idea that Friday nights would be best for combat sports, so we had a conversation with them and they were fine with it. When we started talking to PBC, they were already talking with NBC about doing some Saturday events, and I thought that was great news because we were looking for Fridays. So it made it possible for them to go to NBC on Saturdays and do CBS on weekends in the afternoons, I believe. We now get PBC exclusively on Friday nights. It worked out nicely for us, it’s a great place to be. It’s nice to see 32 or 34 live events on Friday nights on our channel and over time, we hope to expand that.

On PBC discussions: Al and I were introduced a couple of years ago, when we first started thinking about boxing. I understand mixed martial arts, but boxing is a whole different model. I was doing my research and going to a lot of different boxing promotions to get as much information as I could. When we met, there was really no conversation about getting into business with Al, it was about him telling us how boxing works, what we should be on the lookout for and why we were getting some of the answers we were getting from people. Al and I become friendly off of that conversation and six months ago, he called and said he was putting together an organization, called the PBC, and he wanted to talk to us about it. He came in and we sat down, talked about Friday nights, his roster of 150+ guys, his desire to build something that isn’t dependent on PPV and becoming partners. I loved what I was hearing because everyone else was telling us, “We can’t do this and we can’t do that.” Al said he wanted to update the presentation, and put on competitive fights with guys who weren’t just trying to add to their wins to get on PPV. Those were the things I wasn’t hearing from anybody else.

On the PBC on NBC and Spike: I think NBC did a great job. Al Michaels and Marv Albert are two legends in sports broadcasting. That’s what broadcast TV does, their production was slick. A lot of those same elements are on Spike as well. We are bringing in a different broadcast team that is more in the vein of what we do, which is to try to appeal to a younger audience and is edgy. I really was anxious to be innovative, so we got Dana Jacobson, who is terrific. I was anxious to find a woman to be a regular anchor for a sports show on this network. I think that is important. Scott Hansen is so quick and so smart. Jimmy does Bellator for us and brings MMA fans into boxing, while Antonio is so knowledgeable about boxing. In addition, you will see us get right into the fights. Within ten minutes  probably less  we will have guys in the ring. We introduced some production enhancements, such as devices in the gloves that measure punch speeds. That is very cool.



CBS Sports and Turner Sports finally have their lineup for the NCAA Tournament. With the brackets locked in, TruTV tips off the action once again with the First Four, slated to take place tomorrow and Wednesday with eight teams in the mix. The first game will pit Manhattan/Hampton at 6:40p on the network, followed by BYU/Ole Miss at 9:10p. Wednesday’s action will begin with North Florida/Robert Morris at 6:40p, followed by Boise State/Dayton in the nightcap at 9:10p. CBS, TBS and TNT then join in on the fun on Thursday as the second round begins with top seeds Kentucky and Villanova set to play, while Duke and Wisconsin are slated to begin on Friday. CBS opens the books at 12:15p with Notre Dame/Northeastern, followed by truTV at 12:40p with Iowa State/UAB. TBS gets in on the action with Baylor/Georgia State at 1:40p while TNT begins its coverage at 2:10p with Arizona/Texas Southern. Friday will see CBS open with Kansas/New Mexico State, followed by truTV’s Michigan State/Georgia, TBS’ Northern Iowa/Wyoming and TNT’s West Virginia/Buffalo.

Wrapping up college basketball’s regular season, ESPN reports that the company dipped slightly from last year’s high marks but still saw its second most-viewed season of all time. ESPN averaged 1,376,000 viewers for the sport, off pace from the 78,000 viewers it recorded a year ago across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPNEWS, SEC Network, SEC Network+ and Longhorn Network, according to Nielsen. The ESPN and ESPN2 tandem combined to televise the five most-viewed games this season on any network with the two Duke/North Carolina games notching the top two spots. ESPN telecasts in Louisville averaged a metered market-leading 5.9 rating, its 13th straight year at the top, with the market topping Greensboro, Raleigh-Durham, Kansas City and Columbus in the top five.

On the women’s side of the game, ESPN reports that ratings for college basketball were up sharply this season, with viewership bolstered by its Big Monday franchise, rising 36% in 2014 with an average of 405,000 viewers and ratings up 50% to a 0.3 household score. Top markets included Hartford/New Haven on top with a 1.7, followed by Knoxville and Louisville.

It would appear that Major League Soccer it looking north for its next franchise, with multiple reports stating that the league will tap Minneapolis to host its newest team. The city’s bid is led by Bill McGuire, owner of Minnesota United FC, who reportedly is firming up a land deal for a new stadium with the support of MLS.

ESPN is going to the mats for coverage of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships from March 19-21, televising all six sessions will be televised while every match will be carried on ESPN3. ESPN offers the semifinals (March 20) and finals (March 21) in primetime while ESPNU offers the first, second (March 19) and quarterfinals (March 20), in addition to the medal round (March 21).

Voters selected Bucks/Pelicans for this week’s NBA TV Fan Night presented by Sprint on Tuesday. The game tips off at 8p with Vince Cellini, analyst Isiah Thomas and guest analyst Penny Hardaway will provide analysis during theAutoTrader.com Pregame Show at 7:30p along with the Sprint Halftime Report and NBA GameTime presented by Kia postgame.

SEC Network revealed a new slate of ESPN Films’ SEC Storied documentaries, lining up four stories on consecutive Mondays beginning April 13 on SEC Network. The new slate will feature stories that include “the lasting friendship between Shaquille O’Neal and his former coach Dale Brown, assistant coach Bernadette Locke’s impact on the Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball program in the early ‘90s, Dominique Wilkins’ troubled transition from high school in North Carolina to the University of Georgia, and the 1985 Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball duo Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro.”

MSG Networks unveiled its schedule for MLS’ New York Red Bulls with 19 games on deck and all games available on MSG GO. The channel’s first Red Bulls telecast takes place March 28 at 7:30p when the Red Bulls visit Columbus and pregame set at 7p. “MSG Networks is thrilled to partner with the New York Red Bulls for a 19th season of coverage,” said Andrea Greenberg, executive vice president, MSG Media. “The New York Red Bulls have been a proud partner for a long time and we are expecting another exciting season.”


2015 Cable Hall of Fame Celebration
Presented by The Cable Center
May 5, 2015 at the Navy Pier, Chicago, IL
2015 Honorees
Chris Berman, Sportscaster, ESPN
William H. Roedy, Global Health Ambassador & former Chairman/CEO of MTV Networks
Steve Simmons, Chairman, Patriot Media and Communications
JC Sparkman, Retired COO, TCI
Tony Werner, EVP and CTO, Comcast Cable
Eleanor Winter, SVP, NCTA
www.cablehalloffame.com, 720-502-7500


Toyota has rings on its mind, inking a deal with the IOC as part of the organization’s top sponsorship program. The agreement for the Olympic Games runs through 2024 and sees the brand become the first car maker to join 11 other global brands in the program in a deal reported to be just south of $1 billion with the deal including the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The deal begins immediately in Japan through 2016 with the global program launching in 2017, according to reports.

Meanwhile, Visa charged up another five years with the NFL. ESPN reports that the league had extended its partnership with the company. Visa told ESPN.com that recent controversies within the sport did not serve as a deterrent to the renewal. "We had direct and indirect dialogue, by making public statements, with the league this year," Chris Curtin, Visa’s chief brand and innovation marketing officer, told the site. "We believe they are addressing issues with the seriousness that they deserve, and we have maintained a watchful eye."

The UFC made its deal with Monster Energy official, naming the beverage brand as the official energy drink of the promotion. The agreement spans multiple years and will see the company also sponsor select athletes in addition to Ronda Rousey. The partnership will see the company’s logo get center placement on the canvas and promoted on multiple UFC entities inside and outside the Octagon, including its Belt the Champ promotion and the Monster Experience.

The Legacy Agency announced that over 20,000 fans attended Baseball City – the largest interactive Spring Training event in the country- over the weekend. The event offered fans a slate of interactive programs, clinics, brand activation platforms and appearances by current and former MLB players as part of the two day celebration that kicked off Cactus League play. Attendance was more than triple the first year.


Facebook has a new champion. The company reports that the most "liked’ person in the world on the platform is now an athlete with Cristiano Ronaldo taking the top sport. Ronaldo leapfrogged singer Shakira to claim the spot, reeling in 107,120, 000 likes on Facebook (as of Sunday evening) compared to Shakira’s 107, 090, 000 likes.


Bing hits March Madness with the new partnership with the NCAA. The alliance will see the NCAA offer 10 years of raw historical data about teams, tournaments, win loss ratio, home vs. away stats, etc. and deliver it to Microsoft to analyze and review. The result will see the company offer fans key patterns over the years that contribute to a team’s success. Results were made available following Selection Sunday with Bing’s new NCAA bracket building tool. “We’re pleased to add Bing and its parent company Microsoft to our NCAA Corporate Partner Program as the official bracket data partner of the NCAA,” said Keith Martin, NCAA Managing Director of Marketing and Broadcast Alliances, according to Bing’s site. “Bing’s search services will allow fans to have some fun as they access data for their bracket selections.  This new technology provides information that allows our fans to be more analytical after Selection Sunday.”

Bleacher Report punched it ticket to the big dance, launching the NCAA March Madness Bracket Challenge Presented by Dove Men +Care for the 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. The site’s challenge will allow fans to change one pick following the third round of tournament action and before the Sweet 16 with contestants given the chance to enter the Bleacher Report Ultimate Sports Fan Contest and compete for a grand prize that includes four trips for the winner and a guest to sporting events of their choice. “We’re offering a new, unique way for fans to compete in our NCAA March Madness Bracket Challenge this year, with a fun twist that will spark additional engagement throughout the tournament,” said Dorth Raphaely, General Manager of Bleacher Report. “We also redesigned the Bracket Challenge to be fully optimized across all mobile devices for this year’s NCAA Tournament, as we continue to pursue opportunities that enrich the fan experience.”


CBS and Turner will offer new insights for fans watching the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, debuting the Rail Cam. The system will see a robotic camera riding along a track on the sideline that is able to move up to 25 mph during the Final Four and Championship Game. "We’re always seeking new opportunities to bring the viewer closer to the action," said Craig Barry, SVP of Production and executive creative director, Turner Sports. "Rail Cam will deliver a unique, ground-floor point of view along the entire sideline during live game action. We feel it presents a new, dynamic perspective and this level of innovation is something both Harold [Bryant, CBS Sports EP/SVP, production] and I really value."

TVU Networks saw its TVUPack IP video transmission solutions utilized during the recently completed 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. Broadcasters used TVU Networks’ mobile cellular uplink backpack solution to offer live shots from various venues at the World Championships and throughout Vail. In addition, TVU deployed additional bandwidth networks such as private wireless hotspot and MIMO microwave mesh to ensure a high level of transmission reliability and dependability in the higher mountain elevations. "TVUPack was an essential tool for TV8’s coverage of the World Championships. Often times, the ability to go live from the mountain can be limited by terrain or challenging bandwidth environments. However, TVUPack performed beautifully whenever we used it to go live  regardless of the location of our shoot. The pack was easy for our reporters to operate, and was an essential part of our production plan," said Terry Michaud, Broadcast Engineer, TV8, Vail Resorts.


Time for the women’s tournament announcements. ESPN unveils the 64-team NCAA Championship field as part of Selection Monday at 7p.


April 16, 2015  | NYAC | 8-10:00am
Cynopsis Sports will honor 4 executives who changed the way their sports entities connected with fans around the country:

GEM AWARD Morgan Flatley, Chief Marketing Officer – Gatorade
LEGACY AWARD Sean McManus, Chairman – CBS Sports
VISION AWARD Gary B. Bettman, Commissioner – NHL
NAVIGATOR AWARD Juan Carlos Rodriguez, President of Univision – Deportes Univision Communications Inc.

ON THIS DAY in 1991: Nets’ coach Bill Fitch becomes the fourth NBA coach to win 800 games.

In The Know: Which state has had the most different schools (not teams) finish as runner-up in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship? (Email Chris-Sports@cynopsis.com with your answer and be sure to include your name, company, city and time zone. Unofficial rules: Only the second four correct answers from each time zone will be mentioned; and once you’ve been mentioned in any of the Cynopsis editions, you can’t be mentioned again that calendar week.)

Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question: Who are the only two MLB players with at least 20 home runs in each of the last 11 seasons? Answer: David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera. Pujols missed in 2013 with 17. Kudos: Michael Klein-Getty Images/NY; Art Salisch-HEARST Television/NY; Jamie Herstein-Time Warner Cable Media/NY; Matt Collins-Microsoft/NY; Jerehmy White-BusyBuddy Books/Glen Rock; Tom Moore-Kalt Productions/LA.

Later — Chris
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