Monday, August 15th, 2011

Cynopsis: Sports
08/15/11

Good morning. It’s Monday, August 15, 2011, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.

Last week’s announcement that MLS had struck a deal with NBC Sports Group was a coup for the league, according to executives. With the deal providing a three-year agreement allowing for the first broadcast network coverage of MLS games in English in America since 2002 as well as a slew of content for NBC Sports Network and an additional outlet for the US Men’s team. With ratings moving upward for the sport, MLS executives are keen to maximize rising interest and entrench audiences through their new partners.

Cynopsis Sports spoke with MLS Executive VP Dan Courtemanche about soccer’s future stateside, what the deal brings to the sport and how negotiations went down.

Courtemanche on contract talks: We have a current agreement with Fox Soccer for this package and they had a window where they had an exclusive negotiating period. That expired in May and once that expired and we did not have an agreement, we engaged in preliminary discussions with the folks at NBC Sports. Those discussions were expedited over the last couple of weeks and fortunately we were able to finalize the deal.

On partnering with NBC Sports: There are a number of factors that went into it, NBC Sports is well respected, their promotional expertise, their superb production and broadcast quality, the fact that NBC Universal is one of the most important and connected media companies in the world. Distribution ultimately played a role in the decision. Versus (soon to be NBC Sports Network) has 80 million households and Fox Soccer had a shade under 40 million. So we doubled our distribution. Fox Soccer has been a great partner and they hired a number of individuals to increase their resources in production, on air talent, graphics package. We had a good experience with them but it was hard to turn away the package that NBC Sports offered.

On the league’s broadcast goals: Independent research shows that there are tens of millions of people in this country who are connected to soccer. Some are avid fans, some casual. It’s our job to make them fans of MLS Clubs. On Fox Soccer, we were seeing the core fans tuning in to watch games but NBC provides us with the opportunity to reach some of those individuals who may watch the World Cup when it comes on but they are not necessarily engaged in MLS. But now through the promotion and distribution that NBC offers, we should be able to reach those audiences.

On the Air

Big embarrassment or wily legal maneuvering? Sports media outlets around the country were consumed over the weekend with Texas A&M’s potential defection from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference that could cause a potential domino effect and alter college lineups for nearly every broadcaster. On Sunday the SEC proclaimed that no action was taken on voting in A&M or any other new member although the conference would examine it in the future. Some analysts were quick to suggest that this was legalese so the conference wouldn’t get sued and officials are actually waiting for A&M regents to meet today to officially leave the Big 12 before they extend an offer. Network executives said they would uphold their deals while everything was intact, but will be monitoring the situation “closely.” One executive stated that they were already being consulted on potential new members.

Univision’s coverage of the United States National Team against the Mexican National Team last week drew 9.4 million viewers who tuned in to all or part the broadcast. The game ranked as the top program for the night among Adults 18-34, Men 18-34, Men 18-49 and Persons 12-34. The friendly contest also drew more than 1 million minutes of live streaming across 25,000 unique media players at UnivisionDeportes.com.

The Atlanta Braves lost one of their icons with the passing of Ernie Johnson Sr., 87. Johnson served as the long-time voice of TBS’ Atlanta Braves coverage and is a member of the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame. He is the father of Turner Sports announcer Ernie Johnson Jr. “The Turner Sports family is saddened by the loss of Ernie Johnson Sr.,” said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. “He was an iconic voice who helped create a national fan base for TBS’ baseball coverage of the Atlanta Braves. Our deepest sympathies to his wife Lois, his children Ernie Jr, Chris and Dawn, and his grandchildren.”

With rain washing out Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race on ESPN, the Watkins Glen race will now be held (weather permitting) at 10a this morning on the channel.

ESPN kicked off its coverage of England’s Barclays Premier League in the U.S. over the weekend, with Fulham facing Aston Villa on ESPN2, ESPN3.com and ESPN Deportes. The company is set to televide up to 74 matches for the season, with Ian Darke calling the action along with analyst Steve McManaman and on-site reporter Darrell Currie.

One of the BCS’ most vocal critics, Playoff PAC, is once again ruffling feathers for Fiesta Bowl officials, challenging the legality of a contract between bowl organizers and the Scottsdale visitor’s bureau that provides over $8 million to the Fiesta Bowl over 20 years. The Bowl requires teams and their affiliates groups to stay in hotels in Scottsdale and a nearby town while in the area to play the game, which Playoff PAC dubs a “kickback” and has subsequently filed complaints with the attorney generals of nine states whose teams have played in the game in recent years. Bowl officials have denied any wrongdoing, citing an ability to guarantee low prices for the rooms.

ESPN LA is all about New York this football season, reaching a deal with the New York Jets to broadcast the team’s games this year. All 16 regular-season games will air live on 710 ESPN, beginning with the Jets’ Sept. 11 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.The announcement touts Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez’ history with the USC Trojans as a key reason for the agreement.

In an effort to revive “the declining popularity” of horse racing, The Jockey Club has announced that they will underwrite the production of a national television series that showcases racing in 2012 as part of a “multi-million-dollar” effort to drive interest in the sport. Broadcasts of the new series will feature advertisements and promotions of other projects that the Jockey Club is set to launch including a free wager site and a social-networking game focused on racing,

Sponsorship & Promotion

London Olympic organizers inked a deal with Heathrow airport to serve as the 42nd domestic sponsor of the 2012 Summer Games, with the airport set to become a tier three sponsor, which is worth just over $16 million. The day after the closing ceremonies are expected to be the airport’s busiest day ever next year.

Old Navy is getting into the sports world, and will open Super Fan Nation areas within its stores tomorrow with the sale of branded goods from NFL teams as well as over 70 Division I schools. The retail chain will look to bolster sales with a high-end marketing campaign at college stadiums and arenas, as well as in-store appearances by college bands, cheerleaders and mascots and a 10-day national television advertising campaign

Digital Fields

Tiger may have had yet another bad weekend, but PGA.com scored back-to-back record-setting days during Rounds 1 & 2 of the PGA Championship last week. On Thursday, PGA.com drew nearly 53 million page views (up 28% vs. 2010) and a record-setting 2.1 million daily unique visitors (up 22% vs. 2010) while Friday’s traffic earned nearly 56 million page views(up 7% vs. 2010)and broke Thursday’s record with 2.2 million daily unique visitors(up 9% vs. 2010).

ESPN International has acquired Australia’s largest sports tipping and fantasy games platform footytips.com.au from Extra Corp Pty. Ltd. The site offers social tipping competitions across 20 of Australia’s favorite sports, including AFL and NRL and boasts hundreds of thousands of registered users. The acquisition will help strengthen ESPN’s digital audience as well as advertising revenue and local content offering in Australia.

BTN is teaming up with WhatIfSports.com to alter history. The simulation project, dubbed “Big Ten Legends & Leaders: 1996-2010,” will look at what could have happened if Nebraska had joined the Big Ten 15 years ago or what would have happened if the conference had establish divisions in 1996. Every day through August 26, a simulated season in Big Ten history will be highlighted on the network’s website, including box scores and play-by-plays for every hypothetical Big Ten Championship Game.

Joe Carney has been named Vice President, Sponsorship Sales, Eastern Region for MLB Advanced Media. Carney will now manage online advertising and revenue for MLB.com, the Club sites and all mobile and social media offerings.  Carney joined MLBAM from the NFL where as Director of Media Sales he developed and oversaw marketing and sales strategy across the League’s digital properties including NFL.com, NFL Wireless and NFL Mobile.

The Main Event

The return of Monday Night Football (ok, its preseason) with the Jets/Texans on ESPN tonight at 8p.


ON THIS DAY in 1990: Mark McGwire became the first to hit 30+ home runs in each of his first four seasons.

Answer to Yesterday’s Sports Trivia Question: Who is the all-time sack leader on the Denver Broncos?  Simon Fletcher with 97.5 sacks. Kudos: Bridget Burke – CBS Interactive – Sports/Atlanta; David  Hauptman – Katz Television Group/Denver; Jeff Anderson – DISH Network/Englewood; Jessica Schoep – STARZ Entertainment/Denver

In The Know:  What was the original name of the New York Jets?  (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.)

Later — Chris
 Chris Pursell for Cyn opsis | Sports
08/15/11

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