05/16/15: SPECIAL REPORT: CYNOPSIS MEDIA PRESENTS: Sports Upfront 05.16.14


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by Chris Pursell

Welcome to the 2014 Cynopsis Sports Upfront Preview. In this special edition, we will talk with executives from around the industry about putting their best foot forward as they make their pitches to sponsors and media buyers. We’ll look at national ad spend from 2013, where upfront dollars are heading, how networks are positioning themselves, who the top players are for each sport, and how partnerships are evolving.

In an industry where image and results are equally important, Golf Channel’s new logo reflects a move to own the word, and sport of, golf. Regina O’Brien, SVP of Marketing, Golf Channel, told Cynopsis Sports about the company’s approach to advertisers and the new look for the channel.

O’Brien On Golf Channel’s partnerships with sponsors: One of the advantages of Golf Channel’s position within NBC Sports Group and NBCUniversal is we can provide cross-platform sponsorship opportunities for clients that target a wide range of high-income, affluent audiences. Whether it is within the golf vertical on Golf Channel and Golf Channel on NBC, or creative applications like Select Sector SPDRs sponsoring the CNBC Business Report within Morning Drive, Golf Channel’s daily morning show, there are custom opportunities for sponsors to integrate their brands with our portfolio. With several deals in the works currently, we anticipate more sponsors coming on board this year with not only a presence within our golf properties, but across the NBCUniversal portfolio.

On why a new logo was created: The new logo has provided clarity for our brand, and not only provides benefits for Golf Channel, but also for our distribution partners, who have responded positively to the new look. Specifically, our distribution partners appreciate the stronger connection to the NBC brand, which adds to Golf Channel’s value and prestige. And as Golf Channel has grown in prominence as a brand – evident by the network’s tremendous growth the past three years including most-watched year records being set each of those years – it became paramount to visually synchronize the various marks under the Golf Channel umbrella and to create a logo that positions the company for the future.

The previous version of our logo, which was used subsequent to Golf Channel becoming part of the NBC Sports Group in 2011, always was intended to be transitional. With this new synchronized look across all of NBC Sports’ golf properties, our ad sales team is able to offer cross-platform sponsorship opportunities where clients can engage golfers in a variety of manners, via Golf Channel, NBC, GolfChannel.com, four mobile apps – including streaming via Golf Live Extra – and events like the Golf Channel Am Tour. The clarity and repetition of the Golf Channel brand across NBC Sports’ golf portfolio is important as advertisers needs evolve and they seek effective cross-platform media offerings that super-serve their target audiences.
On the process: We started reviewing new logo ideas in October 2012 with the Troika agency, although much of the creative work along the way was handled internally by our creative team, led by David Piccolo. The final design was approved in May 2013 and the process to prepare for implementation began. Our goal was to launch the new logo across all of our platforms on May 5, 2014, which was the day that also kicked off one of the biggest weeks on the PGA TOUR. We chose the week of THE PLAYERS Championship not only because of its marquee value on the schedule, but also because it’s a tournament that is covered exclusively by Golf Channel and NBC. By all accounts, the new logo has been very well received in the ad community and also embraced by distributors as a more flexible, cleaner option, and one that provides a more clear connection between Golf Channel and NBC.
On desired results: First and foremost, we wanted clarity about who we are and our vision to connect the world to golf. We also wanted to create a simple, brand architecture across all of our golf brands that both connected to NBC Sports and made it easy to create extensions. There also was an opportunity to use the word "golf" to our advantage. If you look around the world, the English word "G-O-L-F" is recognized in almost every language as a connection to our sport.  So, as Golf Channel has grown to become a global media business that now reaches upwards of 120 million homes worldwide, the word becomes our common connection between consumers and the game we love.

The 2014 upfronts have dedicated themselves to big events, from miniseries to musicals. Of course, that resonating theme designed to appeal to advertisers looking to avoid the DVR and trend on social media channels has been a long-running asset for the sports community.

This year’s "perfect storm" of sports events  beginning in January with the BCS Championship, followed by the Super Bowl, Winter Olympics and running through March Madness/playoffs and into the World Cup next month, positioned 2014 as a tent pole year for networks. Looking into the summer and beyond, networks have been taking the stage to trumpet their successes in order to keep the momentum moving forward and turn sponsors into partners.

"Live event programming continues to be the most valuable programming there is and the best example is the recent NBC deal with the IOC," said Scott McCune, founder of consultancy firm McCune Sports & Entertainment Ventures and recent Coca-Cola executive. "On the heels of Sochi, you can see what the Games did for primetime, it launched Jimmy Fallon at night. So I think it’s a seller’s market and buyers are at the mercy for the premium stuff of the sellers."

London and Sochi also helped propel streaming platform NBC Sports Live Extra, which has since gone on to establish digital options for advertisers and a successful ground game for the company, with streaming successes not only for the Olympics, but for the NHL and the Premier League in recent weeks as well. With the Super Bowl and NASCAR coming to NBC Sports in 2015, the company is leveraging that platform and recent ratings successes into new deals.

"This past year has surpassed all of our expectations, and we delivered incredible value to our partners," said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports and NBCSN. "The Olympics helped us establish breakthrough technology and the advertisers have embraced it. It’s a great user experience and it helps Seth Winter and his team to go out and see advertisers and know that their brands are going to be positioned in a property that it well produced, that treats the brand with respect and is also breaking ground in the way that sports are covered and the way stories are told."

Last year, according to Kantar Media, national ad spending for the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL alone hit $4.968 billion, up from $4.495 billion in 2012 for a rise of 10.5%. Analysts project a similar rise in 2014, at least for the A-list properties, as attention to big events swells.

The most-written about new sports play, of course, is the addition of NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football to CBS’ lineup with eight games on the docket. Executives are hoping that those eight days will help offset a decline in viewership among adults 18 to 49 this past season. In fact, CBS reportedly said Wednesday it would have actually won the race in that demographic if all sports telecasts were excluded from its competitors. Analysts are already predicting a hot market for the CBS/NFL Network franchise, as brands gear up for the weekend and look for a viable national platform to market their wares.

"The marketplace has reacted very favorably to Thursday Night Football on CBS," said John Bogusz, Executive Vice President of CBS Sports Sales and Marketing. "We are currently selling inventory and writing business for CBS’s two NFL packages, Thursday Night Football and Sunday afternoon football."

88% of Americans consider themselves to be sports fans, according to Ed Erhardt, President ESPN Global Sales, who spoke at the ESPN upfront. In addition, 31% are avid fans. Despite high-profile competition, Erhardt went on to state that other upstart sports-themed channels hadn’t dented sales for ESPN, noting that the overall sports pie has grown due to the demand for live viewing.

ESPN’s pitch showcased the company’s recent additions, including the SEC Network, with heavy emphasis on ESPN’s reach and engagement. Execs noted that 96% of all ESPN programming is watched live and that American males spent more time watching SportsCenter than any other TV program: 2.7 billion total hours in 2013. Those numbers allow brands moving in early to prepare for a fully-immersive experience.

"When they acquire live programming, it’s beneficial for the brands that look at it more strategically and get involved early with more of a partnership program, for example ESPN and Home Depot for college football," said McCune. "That is a far more effective plan than just going out there and just trying to buy based on a CPM and trying to get ratings points." 

That sentiment has prompted new initiatives from networks. FOX Sports’ HTS is hitting media buyers with "Surround the Fan," a new campaign showcasing the company’s ability to reach the fans of every MLB, NBA, and NHL team in the U.S. by packaging national TV spots on regional sports networks, digital and mobile platforms, as well as on in-arena signage and concourse video screens, effectively reaching fans wherever they consume sports.

"If you had asked us just a few short years ago as what our organization does, we probably would have said, ‘We are great at connecting brands to fans through our linear product/RSNs,’" said Craig Sloan, SVP at Home Team Sports. "Now as you look at this company and how it continues to evolve, it is truly about this idea of surrounding the fan. We want to be connecting brands to any sort of vehicle that the fans would use to consume content."

Sloan noted that internal studies showed an interesting stat on sports viewers, notably between a viewer who is just following content and someone who is involved in content, such as watching their favorite sports team. 

"When that happens, brand awareness goes up substantially because they are watching with intent," he said. "Secondly, trust goes up because it is in a trusted environment. The Yankee fan in NY will be in a more trusting mindset when they are watching a Yankee game than when they are watching other content. That then motivates them to trial, so they go for intent to purchase. The last part was that they become big advocates. They are already social in nature regarding the content, they spend over two hours a day thinking about their favorite team. That’s quite a bit of time."

On Spanish-language channels, while soccer continues to be front-and-center for the likes of Univision, Telemundo, FOX Deportes and ESPN Deportes, but the additions of the leagues such as the NFL, NBA and NASCAR are also changing the dynamics and creating new opportunities for partnerships.

"It’s a lot more than throwing GRPs on a spreadsheet," said Tom Maney, Fox Hispanic Media’s Executive Vice President of Advertising Sales, noting the company’s embrace of the digital watercooler and growing digital outreach, including FOX Deportes NEXT. "Our marketplace is sophisticated now. We are doing things in digital, integrations and content partnerships that take more time but advertisers want us to follow the consumer. That’s the big challenge."

Univision’s upfront angle pushes the company’s influence on Hispanic audiences. Univision Deportes Network announced a deal earlier in the week to own Spanish-language rights for the next 8 years to every U.S. National Men’s Soccer Team match in the US as well as the Spanish-language rights to MLS and the exclusive rights to the first-ever, special edition Copa America Centenario in 2016 and the Gold Cup 2015.

"Sports continues to be a passion point for Hispanics in the U.S. and soccer is the No. 1 sport for Hispanic Americans," said Juan Carlos Rodriguez, President of Univision Deportes. "In fact, Liga MX delivers more viewers than any other soccer league in the U.S. and Univision Deportes gives fans that 24/7 access that they crave. It is no surprise that Univision Deportes Network is the No. 1 Spanish-language sports network and the fastest growing cable network in any language and we continue to see advertisers respond to that growth by investing more on our air."

As negotiations continue, expect more of the same for the upfront season, said one media buyer, with CPM increases in the upper single digits for staple sports properties as well as volume increases with more inventory on the table.

"If we want to be part of an event, you just need to be part of it from the beginning," he said. "That’s the cost of business these days."

Top Sponsors in 2013, according to Nielsen
Bud Light, Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, Southwest Airlines, Direct TV

Sprint Wireless, State Farm Insurance, Taco Bell, Microsoft Windows, KFC

Verizon Wireless, Taco Bell, Viagra RX, Samsung Galaxy S III, Budweiser

Discover Credit Card, Geico Auto Insurance, Coors Light, MYCLEANPC.COM, Subway

Chevrolet Silverado, AT&T Wireless, KFC, Budweiser, Sprint Wireless

Cialis RX, FedEx, Konica Minolta, Titleist Pro V1, IBM Business

Continental Tires, Volkswagen Passat, Adidas Micoach, EA Sports, Gatorade G Series
AT&T Wireless, Bud Light, Capital One Credit Card, Southwest Airlines, Lowes

AT&T Wireless, Taco Bell, Aflac, Verizon Wireless, Home Depot

Later — Chris
Chris Pursell for
Cynopsis | Sports @VegasandVine

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