12.21.15 Good morning. It’s Monday December 21, 2015, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.
With 2016 around the bend and the Rio Summer Games looming, NBC Sports Group and NBCSN President Jon Miller is starting the New Year with a bang, courtesy of the Winter Classic.
The NHL tradition has scored seven of the most-watched regular season games for the league for the past 25 years, and has evolved into a staple of the NHL/NBC partnership, which has seen league viewership grow 79% since its original season on NBC/OLN in 2005. Last season saw NBCSN averaging 1.231 million viewers, marking the best NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs ever for the network, anchored by the Wednesday Night Rivalry series, averaging 577,000 viewers in calendar 2015 up 4% from the WNR series in 2014 (554,000).
Cynopsis Sports spoke with Miller about the legacy of the Winter Classic, the Olympics and the company’s plans for eSports.
On the creation of the Winter Classic: We used to be heavily in the bowl business – at one time, NBC had the Fiesta Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Orange Bowl all on New Year’s Day. In 1995, we got out of the business when the BCS started, so we eventually started looking at other opportunities and in 2004 we acquired the rights to the NHL for NBC. At that same time, the Boston Red Sox came back from three games down in the LCS to beat the Yankees and go on to win the World Series. We were looking for something to put on New Year’s Day so we had the idea of having the Bruins play the Rangers at Yankee Stadium, especially because the Boston/New York rivalry was as hot as it had ever been. So I proposed it to my boss at that time, Dick Ebersol, who thought we could have some fun with that. But Gary Bettman was a little unsure because they didn’t have a special events unit and [it wasn’t clear if] the Rangers would be able to give up a home game, but he said to see what we could find out.
The Bruins were interested. The Rangers had some interest but didn’t know if they could get out of their Madison Square Garden commitments, though they were willing to try. So we went to the Yankees, who basically laughed me out of their offices, saying that we’d never see hockey at Yankee Stadium. So, I didn’t get a lot of love that first year, and then we got derailed when the 2005 season was cancelled. Then John Collins joined the NHL and I pitched him on the idea. In the summer of 2007, he told me he had good news and bad news. He said they had canvassed all the teams that could host an outdoor hockey game on New Year’s Day and everyone had said no – except Buffalo. I said, let’s have the Penguins play the Sabres.
On the Boston/Montreal competition: This year we have a great rivalry, probably the greatest rivalry in hockey, in Montreal coming to play Boston. Our talent is excited about it and the hockey world is excited about it.
On the NHL right now: The NHL is booming. Our ratings continue to grow and we’re ahead of where we were at this time last year. Our Wednesday Night Rivalry series is up to close to 600,000 viewers, which is up over last year, and we came off of the best Stanley Cup Playoffs ever. The sport continues to get new fans in large part, I believe, because of how the sport is being showcased. We super-serve the NHL fan and they know that they’re going to be treated well. I take a lot of pride in that.
On CMO John Miller’s departure: For 30 years, he has been NBC’s secret weapon. He’s the guy who created Must-See TV. He is able to aggregate the different parts of the company to work closely together. We all root for each other’s success and that comes from John.
On Year One with NASCAR: We had a lot of challenges weather-wise, but we still ended up blowing through our numbers. NBCSN had a historic year and is the fastest-growing cable network out there. The final race did the highest rating it had done in 10 years. We are the home of motorsports, between Formula 1, IndyCar, Xfinity and Sprint Cup. We crowned all four champions this year on NBC, not to mention that both IndyCar and Formula 1 both had their best years. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that with the addition of NASCAR, each of these properties helped carry the other.
On the Olympics: Rio is going to be spectacular. It’s going to be our first live Summer Games since Atlanta in ’96. Atlanta only had a couple of hundred hours – the broadcast next year will have over 3000 hours live on all platforms. We just did a shoot with over 130 Olympic athletes in West Hollywood and you’ll start to see those promos.
On eSports: We’ve got a group here that’s doing a deep dive on the eSports space. After the first of the year, we’ll be able to make some announcements about the level of our investment and we’ll also be talking about programming opportunities.
Abby Bambach is the leading scorer in international soccer history for both men and women. It’s fitting that her final game on Wednesday became the most-watched non-World Cup U.S. Women’s Nation Team match in the history of FS1. The Wambach-led team’s 1-0 loss to China averaged 709,000 viewers, peaking at 882,000from 10:15-10:30 p.m. ET.
The final 10 episodes of MSG Network’s “The Garden’s Defining Moments” series will kick off December 23rd, narrated by Ben Stiller. Important enough for dedicated spotlights are the New York Rangers Game 7 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in 1994; Wrestlemania I in 1985; and Rocky Marciano’s defeat of Joe Louis in 1951.
The NBA Development league is the home of the up-and-comers, hopefuls and broken hearts. NBA TV will telecast a record 12 live games from the D-League starting Jan. 6, with the Idaho Stampede vs. the Canton Charge.
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GoDaddy will not run a Super Bowl commercial for the first time in 12 years, according to Adweek. NASAR driver Danica Patrick appeared in a series of racy Super Bowl commercials for the web domain registrar over the decade. But GoDaddy gave up its sponsorship of Patrick’s racecar in 2016 although it retains a personal deal with the star driver.
espnW is teaming with Girls in Tech to create a “Super Football Hackathon” weekend from Jan. 15-17 in San Francisco. Apps created during the hackathon will launch three weeks prior to Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, 2016. “The hackathon will be an opportunity to demonstrate the innovation and inspiration that occur when women unite behind sports and technology,” said Laura Gentile, SVP/espnW and Women’s Initiatives.
New Orleans Saints/Detroit Lions on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. ET
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