03/23/15: Alison Overholt talks future of espnW brand; NCAA Tournament roars; NBC, FOX send in the drones


Good morning. It’s Monday March 23, 2015, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing. 

In the midst of the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship, and with the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup just around the corner, espnW continues to shore up its legacy as a staple voice for the company. The brand made headlines (and a national radio show) during the NFL domestic abuse aftermath and has since generated new audiences and outlets for its lineup of talent. Meanwhile, espnW.com is knee deep in the Women’s Tournament, offering live coverage of each round of games, contributions from ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, coverage of ESPN’s 3 to See and Need to Know initiatives, stats, analysis and stories on other players to watch and more.

Cynopsis Sports spoke with espnW Editor-in-Chief Alison Overholt about her first year at the job, how the brand is making the most of its opportunities and what’s ahead.

Overholt on year one: We’ve spent the last year really digging in and trying to take the foundation of what espnW is really doing, covering women’s sports, female athletes and trying to elevate the level of quality of all the storytelling that we are doing while building on that foundation. This year has been all about expanding into new spaces and growing as well as adding voices who have a new and unique way of piecing together stories about sports and society. In addition, we are trying to bring new storylines into our space. For example, Jane McManus owned the story the perspective about domestic violence and where it intersects with sports in our culture. She changed that conversation and is now really finding her voice in spotlighting the role women have in shaping policy in sports and the NFL.

On growth: One of the core principles that I brought with me was to create a continuity of storytelling across all of our platforms. When somebody comes to espnW on social media, they shouldn’t feel like they are interacting with a different kind of brand than when they go to espnW.com. If they see one of our talent on television, they should have gotten to know them based off their writing on our site. We should be finding a way to connect these things. As a result, it led to a lot of the growth that we’ve seen. As we’ve unified the voice, the message and where people can find our talent, it has created a consistent experience for fans who are coming to us, which has resulted in fans coming back more often, as well as the addition of new ones.

On synergy at ESPN: We’ve built up credibility within our own company. It’s leading to growth and opportunities, for example we led the conversation around the NFL domestic violence, and that gave us the opportunity to do a radio special. The radio special goes really well and now we are partnering with our friends over in radio and now they gave us a shot at a national radio show. After a successful three month run, you now see our talent invited to guest host other high-profile opportunities. Our talent has run with it and you are now seeing them on other shows.

On women’s issues in sports: From where I am sitting, it is a really interesting time in terms of a shift in culture. My background before I got involved in sports was that I was a technology reporter and it is always fascinating to me the parallels between the tech sector and the sports sector. There’s not a lot of conversation about the similarities but if you look at the conversations about where the women are in Silicon Valley, there is a lot of crossover compared to the sports industry. Frankly, if you take ESPN out of the conversation, because ESPN makes a point of ensuring that we have a tremendous number of women involved across the entire company, the representation is appalling. I think it is really interesting because socially we are approaching an amazing moment because women are standing up and saying this is something they care deeply about and they want their voice to be heard and respected.

On the Women’s World Cup: One of the high points for espnW was the last World Cup four years ago when the site was just launching. So we are expecting there to be as much excitement this time around as well. We will have reporters at every single match, we will have Julie Foudy on the ground reporting for us and for SportsCenter. We have a full coverage plan in place at espnW.com, which actually began at 100 days out. So we now have a dedicated landing page, we will be doing a focused campaign of 24 teams in 24 days, introducing each team to fans. We are going inside training, we have a couple of really big features planned around some of the top stars and we have a series of short films we will be rolling out this summer.


The 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament opened with a bang, as Thursday’s games on CBS Sports and Turner Sports delivered the all-time highest rating for the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament, averaging a 6.6/14 in overnight Nielsen numbers and up 10% versus 2014. On Saturday, third round coverage the continued the momentum, notching the all-time highest rating for the first Saturday of the NCAA Tournament with an average of a 7.4/17 overnight rating/share, up 14% compared to 2014. For the first three days of action across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV, game have averaged a 6.5/14 overnight rating/share, also the highest for the period. On the digital front, the companies report that NCAA March Madness Live has seen a record-setting 47 million live video streams through Saturday, a 7% increase over last year.

The college basketball postseason has also been kind to ESPN, which reports that it scored is most-viewed Championship Week ever, as the 70 games that ran across ESPN, ESPN@ and ESPNU averaged 710,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. That marks an uptick of 24% over 2014. In addition, the North Carolina/Notre Dame game for the ACC title, averaged more than 3.5 million viewers, to rank as the most-viewed Championship Week on ESPN since 2009.

ESPN also laid out plans for the NCAA Men’s Division I Ice Hockey Championship, starting with eight regional semifinals and four regional finals from March 27-29 across ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3. The Northeast Regional launches Friday, March 27, with Yale/Boston University at 2p on ESPN2. The West Regional also begins March 27 with St. Cloud State/Michigan Tech at 4:30p on ESPN3. In the East Regional Semifinals, play begins when ESPN2 shows Boston College/Denver at 3p while the Midwest Region launched with Rochester Institute of Technology/Minnesota State Mankato at 4p on ESPNU. ESPN’s lead hockey play-by-play commentator John Buccigross teams up with Barry Melrose to call the action in the East Regional and, for the third consecutive year, the Frozen Four.

The General Assembly of the German Olympic Sports Confederation selected Hamburg as the official German nominee for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The north German city bested Berlin in the voting, according to the AP. Plans for the city include converting an industrial-site in the port into the "Olympic City.” In addition, the Hamburg Olympics would be climate-neutral and focus on CO2 neutrality.

Join Cynopsis on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 from 1:30-2:45p for the How to Sell Digital Advertising in a Fragmented Media World Webinar. You will hear from sales expert Bob Maund, West Region VP, Digital Sales for CNBC & NBC News Group at NBC Universal and Steve Bookbinder, Co-founder and CEO of Digital Media Training. This fast-paced, idea-packed webinar is tailored to TV sales and marketing teams. Register Now.


JUST ANNOUNCED: Sports Media Awards Finalists

Our annual Cynopsis Sports Media Awards Breakfast is set for Thursday, April 16 from 8:00-10:00am at NYAC. Network with your peers and hear about the year’s best sports programming and marketing.

Join award finalists, support your colleagues and network with the best in the industry!

(((( Preview the list of finalists & register for the Awards event ))))


More good news for Major League Soccer and the US Soccer Federation, which announced on Friday an official partnership with the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies that makes the company the exclusive and Official Healthcare Sponsor of MLS and US Soccer, including the US Men’s, Women’s and Youth national teams. The partnership will include brands such as Band-Aid, Bengay, and Neutrogena, among others.

NBA Green Week is back, with the league, its teams and players participating in greening programs and events to encourage fans to focus on “three pointers”  reduce, reuse, recycle. Throughout the week, NBA and NBA Cares social channels will post Sprint “three pointers” with #NBAGreen that will offer game highlights and “simple-to-implement tips.” Beginning today, fans can enter to win prizes using #NBAGreenSweeps. In addition, the league will work with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant a tree each time #NBAGreen is posted (up to 25,000 trees) throughout the week. Additionally, the NBA will plant three trees for every three-pointer hit during an NBA game March 22-29. In collaboration with Bonneville Environmental Foundation, the NBA and Sprint will purchase renewable energy certificates to ensure all 64 NBA games played during Green Week are powered by renewable energy.

NASCAR locked in a five-year agreement with K&N Filters for the brand to continue as the entitlement sponsor of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series through 2021. The renewed deal ensures that K&N Filters will own exclusive rights as the title sponsor for a total of 12-consecutive years. Additionally, K&N Filters acquires the designation as the “Official Automotive Filters of NASCAR.” 

The New York Red Bulls entered the largest marketing partnership in club history, naming Yanmar as an official partner of the club. The deal will see, for the first time in club history, a marketing partner with presence on both the training jersey as well as permanent in-arena branding. Yanmar will have their logo designated on both sleeves of the club’s training jersey and permanent Yanmar branding signage will be displayed in the lower bowl level seating in Red Bull Arena. 


Dubai-based Pay TV operator OSN struck a deal to launch OSN WWE Network HD in the Middle East and North Africa, just ahead of WrestleMania. “OSN has a long-standing relationship with WWE, and we are now expanding that relationship further by launching OSN WWE Network HD exclusively in the region,” Andy Warkman, OSN Vice President, Sport and Production said in a statement.


Golf Channel and Golf Channel on NBC brought in the drones for its coverage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. Licensed pilots from FAA-licensed production team operated the equipment and offered aerial footage that included: beauty shots of holes 3, 6, 8, 9 including green complexes; beauty shots of finishing holes 16, 17 and 18 at sunrise and sunset; sweeping shots of Bay Hill Lodge, the Rolex Clock, iconic flowerbeds featuring the iconic Arnold Palmer umbrella logo and Bay Hill sign; Arnold Palmer on the 18th green giving his signature thumbs up; the path John Daly took several times on the par-5 6th hole in an attempt to carry the water before carding an 18 in 1998 and more.

Drones also played big for FOX Sports and Feld Motor Sports, which tapped HeliVideo Productions to explore possibilities surrounding drone camera technology. Companies tested the use of multiple live-event drone cameras for more than an hour, with Monster Energy AMA Supercross riders on the closed indoor dirt course. “While certainly not limited to use in motor sports, capturing the speed and on-track aggressive competition of Monster Energy Supercross from new and unique angles with multiple drones in operation at the same time was a great place to start,’ said Eric Shanks, FOX Sports President, COO & Executive Producer. “We’re thrilled with what we learned from this live-event simulation, and we are excited to see where it takes us next.”

MEDIAPRO group upgraded its production workflows ahead of the launch of its new 24/7 F1 channel, F1 LATIN AMERICA overseas. Live production systems were provided by EVS, with 11 EVS XT series production servers receiving up to seven feeds directly from Formula One Management (FOM), including the principal transmission, redundant and personalized signals, on-board camera feeds and information about the circuit.


The Madison Square Garden Company named Sharon Otterman as the company’s Executive Vice President and CMO, effective April 20, 2015.. Otterman joins MSG after nearly six years at NBCUniversal, where she most recently served as senior vice president and CMO for MSNBC and NBC News.


Wizards/Warriors square off on NBA TV at 10:30p.


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ON THIS DAY in 1994: Wayne Gretzky sets an NHL record with 802 goals scored during his career.

In The Know: Let’s go easy. Gretzky’s number has been retired league wide. What number is it? (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: Austin Carr still holds the record for most point in a Men’s NCAA Tournament game. Which school did he play for? Answer: Notre Dame. Kudos: Kyle Helm-CBS Sports/NY; Jon Latzer-CBS Digital Media/NY; Ged Young-GC Marketing LLC/NY; Paul Abramson-Playmakers Media Corp./NY; John Miller-NBC Sports Group/Stamford; Adam Zimmerman-CSE/Atlanta; Howie Schwab-Sports Jeopardy/West Hartford; Rich Packer-American Basketball Enterprises/Tampa; Bob Ramsey-Weigel Broadcasting/Chicago; Steve Scheer-FOX Sports/LA; Jeff C. Fellenzer-University of Southern California/LA; Larry Hutchings/Nipomo; Jack Simmons-Fox Sports/LA.

Later — Chris
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