09/10/14: Exclusive: USA Today Sports Media Group’s For the Win hits the green; Weekend ratings updates; Nike drops Ray Rice


Good morning. It’s Wednesday, September 10, 2014, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing. 

After launching For the Win, dubbed “the first mainstream sports media property focused exclusively on social news, USA Today Sports Media Group is poised to climb the next rung, launching a spinoff entitled Fore! The Win, devoted to golf content. The newly-launched platform marks the first sport-specific vertical to develop from FTW, taking that same social news approach to golf-centric stories. The editorial team, managed by Mark Pesavento and Jamie Mottram, includes Chris Chase, Chris Strauss, Nick Schwartz, Nina Mandell, Laken Litman, Ted Berg, and Nate Scott, with Mike Foss serving as editor.

Cynopsis Sports spoke with Mottram, who serves as Director of Content Development for the company, about the For the Win franchise and launching the new brand.

Mottram on FTW growth: Since launching last April, FTW increased from 5 million monthly unique users, with most users coming from USA TODAY, to as many as 15 million monthly uniques, with most users coming from organic sources. In July, for example, year-over-year viral traffic was up over 300%. 

On categories: The NFL is always out in front, but World Cup was huge for us and opened our eyes to the appetite for excellent digital soccer coverage. The same goes for Olympics and those sports that are a bit off the beaten path. Some of our biggest successes come from less obvious source material. Generally speaking, subjects that cross over into the mainstream (i.e., sports stories that you see on the TODAY show), do very well for us. FTW is always looking for stories with universal appeal, and we’ve gotten really good at telling them in a social- and mobile-friendly way.

On golf: We’ve found a lot of this material from the world of golf, probably because golf has a healthy star system (e.g., Tiger, Rory, Phil) that lots of people are interested in without needing much context or backstory. It’s also a sport that, unlike, say, football, many adults actually play as a lifelong pursuit.
On Fore! The Win: Without paying golf any extra attention, FTW golf content finds a steady and sizable audience. Now we’re going to cater to those fans, creating a sub-brand within FTW that’s all golf all the time. This new vertical, Fore! The Win (ftwgolf.com), is where you’ll find what golf fans are talking about, like a cool visualization of the evolution of Tiger’s swing or that buzzy moment when Rory had a heckler ejected. It only traffics in golf material that’s either going viral or, as is often the case, golf material that hasn’t gone viral yet.We’ll ramp up from here, integrating Fore! across FTW and further reconfiguring the experience to cater towards golf fans and sponsors. As part of that, we’re likely to increase Fore!’s content production, too.
What’s most interesting is that this approach serves as a test for developing other verticals/sub-brands within FTW, which is to date a one-stop shop for social sports news. The brand can, however, develop as a hub for many different social content experiences.


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Monday’s season-opening Monday Night Football doubleheader on ESPN took the night among all networks, according to Nielsen, in households, viewers and all key male and adult demos. The Lions win over the Giants in the early game averaged an 8.4 household rating, with 9,809,000 households and 13,728,000 viewers. In New York, the game delivered a 7.3 rating on ESPN and a 9.3 on WABC-ABC, for a combined 16.6 rating in the market. In Detroit, the game delivered a 10.3 rating on ESPN and a 20.3 on WXYZ-ABC, for a combined 30.6 rating in the market. The late game featuring the Cardinals victory over the Chargers delivered a 7.1 rating with an average of 8,272,000 households and 11,515,000 viewers. In San Diego, the nightcap delivered a 19.1 rating on ESPN and a 15.6 on KUSI-IND, for a combined 34.7 rating in the market.  In Phoenix, the game delivered a 15.7 rating on ESPN and an 11.3 on KTVK-IND, for a combined 27.0 rating.
CBS reports that The NFL on CBS’s Week 1 regional coverage on Sunday was seen by an average of 16.5 million viewers, and notched the most-watched NFL singleheader game debut on CBS in 16 years. Those numbers are up 6% from last year’s 15.5 million, and up 11% from 14.9 million in 2012. The fast national household rating/share (Live + Same Day) hit a 9.9/22, up 4% from last year and ranking as the highest-rated NFL singleheader game debut for CBS in 15 years.

Following questions about the NFL’s extent of knowledge in the Ray Rice domestic abuse issue, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will appear on CBS This Morning in an interview with co-host Norah O’Donnell to discuss the firing of Rice from the Ravens and his subsequent suspension from the league. In a preview of the Q&A, Goodell stated “Well, we had not seen any videotape of what occurred in the elevator. We assumed that there was a video. We asked for the video. We asked for anything that’s pertinent. But we were never granted that opportunity.”

Around the dial, Univision reports that UniMás’ coverage of the international friendly match between Mexico/Chile on Saturday delivered an average of 1.9 million Total Viewers and 1.2 million Adults 18-49. The simulcast made UDN the most-watched Spanish-Language cable network in Total Day and Primetime on Saturday.

NBA TV reports double digit growth over the third quarter of 2014 with primetime viewership up 27% and total day viewership up 15% versus the same period last year. The network’s growth was bolstered by coverage of NBA Summer League, free agency, the FIBA World Cup and WNBA Playoffs. The 2014 WNBA Playoffs saw the most-viewed telecasts ever for the network with an average of 114,000 total viewers for eight live game telecasts, up 30% over last year. NBA TV also delivered its two most-viewed WNBA Playoff telecasts of all time  Game 3 of the WNBA Western Conference Finals, Minnesota vs. Phoenix, on Sept. 2 with 210,000 total viewers and Game 1 of the same series, held Aug. 29, with an average of 168,000 total viewers.

NBC Sports reports that its Formula 1 ratings, through 8 races on NBCSN, averaged 388,000 viewers this season, up 98% from 2013. Meanwhile, Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix on the channel averaged 422,000 viewers, making it the most-watched Italian GP since 2006.

Wrapping up ratings nuggets, FOX Sports 1’s UFC Fight Night: Jacare vs. Mousasi delivered a peak audience of 1,068,000 total viewers from 11:30-11:45pm on Friday, according to Nielsen. The main card posted a .73 household rating, averaging 911,000 total viewers, up 12% compared to the average of the prior 18 UFC Fight Nights on the network. After the fights, FOX Sports Live averaged 299,000 total viewers and 202,000 viewers in the A18-49 demo from 11:58p-1a, for a 156% and 193% increase respectively over its average in those times during September 2013.
The Federal Communications Commission will vote Sept. 30 on eliminating blackout rules in sports with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stating yesterday that the rules "have to go."

FOX Sports has selected the Oklahoma/West Virginia game for Sept. 20 at 7:30p on FOX. Play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson, joins Charles Davis and sideline reporter Molly McGrath on microphone duties. FOX Sports 1 will feature Louisville/FIU at 3:30p and San Diego State/Oregon State at 10:30p.

Curt Schilling is back and will rejoin ESPN to resume his duties as an MLB analyst on Thursday’s 10p edition of Baseball Tonight on ESPN2. Schilling will appear on the set with ESPN MLB Insiders Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian, Jayson Stark and Keith Law.

ESPN’s inaugural coverage of the College Football Playoff will feature the single Centuries from Fall Out Boy. Centuries was released yesterday and marks the first single from Fall Out Boy’s forthcoming album on Island Records. It will be the featured track on ESPN’s College Football Playoff game and studio telecasts, and in on-air promotions throughout the season. The song will also be a central part of the regular-season marketing efforts to promote the top college football matchups across ESPN’s networks each week.

In Beta Research Corp’s annual Cable Subscriber Study, cable and telco TV subscribers ranked ESPN as the top network for perceived value among network viewers. In addition, 23% of all respondents named ESPN among their Top Five Favorite Networks, up from 20 percent in 2013.

MSG Networks signed Mike Bossy as a hockey analyst for the 2014-15 season. Bossy will appear on MSG’s hockey roundup show Hockey Night Live on Saturday evenings and will also handle studio analysis for select Islanders telecasts on MSG+.

Integrated Sports Media announced today that it will bring "Clash of the Cruiserweights" to North American fans on Sept. 27, live from Moscow. Three world championship fights will be featured on "Clash of the Cruiserweights," promoted by Andrey Ryabinsky (World of Boxing), which is being distributed in North America by Integrated Sports Media for live viewing at noon on both cable and satellite pay-per-view via IN Demand, DISH and Vuboquity.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) and PlayOn! Sports entered into a long-term partnership agreement making the regional sports network the official home of 59 IHSA Championship events, which equates to over 160 hours of dedicated local preps sports championship coverage. The deal begins this scholastic year with events produced and delivered via PlayOn! Sports:

The Arizona Coyotes and broadcast partner FOX Sports Arizona have slated a three episode series entitled Coyotes Camp: Building The Pack. The series follows the franchise throughout their 2014 Training Camp with a behind-the-scenes look at the Coyotes’ players, coaches and management. The first episode will debut on Oct. 6 at 7p on FOX Sports Arizona.


Following Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension from the NFL, multiple reports write that Nike and Electronic Arts are among the brands to have cut ties with Rice following the release of the famed video. EA Sports made the announcement that it will pull his image out of the company’s Madden ’15 video game on its Twitter account.

The NHL and the NHLPA are launching the NHL & NHLPA Future Goals Program, a North American initiative designed to offer “interactive education opportunities to each of the 30 NHL team markets in the United States and Canada as well as hundreds of additional communities.” The digital learning initiative will be powered by EverFi, the critical skills education leader that has certified more than 7 million learners. Using hockey as a learning vehicle, students will be able to understand the real-world application of key science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics. The program also introduces students to significant future career opportunities that exist in STEM-related fields.

Allstate, in celebration of the tenth anniversary of its Good Hands Field Goal Nets in college football stadiums around the country, is debuting multi-tiered marketing activations that will include new advertising creative, social and digital integration as well as public relations and promotional elements. Activations include the #ItsGood2Be Twitter Challenge, which allows college football fans have the chance to impact scholarship donations for their colleges and universities by tweeting why #ItsGood2Be a fan of their favorite college football team. In addition, each week of the regular season, Allstate will reward the Good Hands Field Goal Net school with the most fan conversation on Twitter with an additional $10,000 in scholarship donations.

With 2014 marking the Professional Bull Riders 21st year of competition, the organization will be celebrating the occasion by sending one fan and 20 friends and family members to Las Vegas to turn 21 with the PBR at the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals. In addition to travel and hotel accommodations at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, the winners will receive a special anniversary gift bag from longtime PBR partner Jack Daniel’s, VIP seating for the PBR World Finals at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, tickets to all PBR VIP parties and activities throughout the weekend, and invitations to the their birthday party on Oct. 25.


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The top five most mentioned players on Twitter during Week 1 of play (from Thursday 9/4 through Monday 9/8):
1.      Tony Romo
2.      Peyton Manning
3.      Ray Rice (@RayRice27)
4.      Tom Brady
5.      Andrew Luck
The top five most mentioned team accounts on Twitter:
1.      Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens)
2.      Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys)
3.      San Francisco 49ers (@49ers)
4.      Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks)
5.      New England Patriots (@Patriots)

The top five most Tweeted games during live telecasts by number of Tweets, as measured by Nielsen Social:
1.      @49ers vs. @dallascowboys (FOX)
2.      @Packers vs. @Seahawks (NBC)
3.      @Browns vs. @steelers (CBS)
4.      @Saints vs. @Atlanta_Falcons (FOX)
5.      @Giants vs. @Lions (ESPN)


CBS Sports announced plans to stream its entire 2014 SEC on CBS schedule exclusively on CBSSports.com and on the CBS Sports mobile app for iOS and Android, beginning with Georgia/South Carolina on Saturday. For the second consecutive season, SEC Live on CBSSports.com will feature multiple camera angles in complement to the game broadcasts, allowing fans to see a full-field view of the action in addition to the main camera view. The SEC on CBS schedule features a total of 16 games during the Network’s 14-week season.

This fall, ESPN Films and FiveThirtyEight will partner on two new series of short films, Signals and The Collectors, that will mark the latest projects to come out of ESPN content unit Exit 31 and will live on FiveThirtyEight.com. Signals, an anthology series from a diverse group of filmmakers, will explore stories where analytics and data meet compelling political, economic, science, lifestyle and sports narratives and launch Oct. 22. The Collectors debuts Dec. 10 tells the stories of an eclectic group of characters who collect data: from the official scorer at a baseball game, to a meteorologist tracking hurricanes.


Royals/Tigers on ESPN at 7p.

ON THIS DAY in 1962: Rod Lever wins the US Open to become the first man to win the sport’s Grand Slam in a single year since 1938.

In The Know: The Golden Egg is presented to the winner of what college football rivalry game? (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: Rick Martel and Tito Santana were known as what WWE tag team? Answer: Strike Force. Kudos: Jordan Goldberg-Disney and ESPN Media Networks/NY; Marc Wollis-NBC Sports Group/NY; Joe Lamberti-NBC/NY; Zach Linder-WWE/NY; J. Barry McMullin-WWE/Stamford; Jon Show-Show Sports Media/Charlotte; Chris Faulds-Bell Media Digital/Toronto; Synda Kollman-Charter Marketing Group/Boca Raton; Kevin Wicker-Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network/Mission; David Westberg-SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles local/LA.

Later — Chris
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