Monday, December 12th, 2011

Cynopsis: Sports

Good morning. It’s Monday, December 12, 2011, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.

With the NBA back and bowl games set to kick off this week, ESPN Radio suddenly find themselves flush with additional content heading into the new year. With the NBA schedule set, ESPN Radio will broadcast 24 regular-season games, including four doubleheaders, during the season in addition to All-Star events (including the 61st All-Star Game) and The Finals. In college football, the platform is set for 28 bowl games, including the BCS Championship as the rest of the BCS games.

As ESPN continues to cultivate both local and national audiences through its platforms, Cynopsis Sports spoke with Mo Davenport, Senior VP & General Manager, ESPN Radio about the impact of the NBA lockout, the national spotlight on the BCS Championship and strategies for 2012.

Davenport on the return of the NBA: The NBA is one of those properties, like MLB and college football, that has really performed well for us. We start out on Christmas day with Boston at New York then Miami at Dallas for a nice doubleheader. What’s cool is that inside the opening on Christmas Day, we have four owned-and-operated stations in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. We end up hitting three of those four markets in just the first day with this lineup to announce that we are back and that is a good way to get going.

On the advertising impact of the lockout: On the advertising side, we had 92 advertisers in our NBA coverage last year, we’ve seen some of them come back in spite of the late start. Some of our big ones last year like Shell and Autozone, Ford and Subway we are inviting back. The NBA is good product and great content and you can’t invent a storyline like what happened with Chris Paul and the Lakers. I think it’s something our advertisers should be looking at. The lockout was one of those situations where all you can do is stay in touch with your advertisers and if they commit to budgets someplace else there is nothing really that you can do about it. That’s happened in some cases but we are optimistic that the product is good, the production is great and they will respond to that.

On plans for Bowl season: We have 28 Bowl Games and the last five cover the BCS and the National Championship Game. Mike Tirico will do that game along with Jon Gruden. The cool part about that is that we are getting a little more aggressive about sending our big talk shows down there so Mike & Mike will be down there a few days prior to the National Championship Game, as well as Colin Cowherd and Scott Van Pelt. It’s almost like the Super Bowl has that Radio Row sort of feel. The BCS, I believe, is the second-most listened to and watched sporting event next to the Super Bowl, so that’s the type of excitement that we can build by bringing some of our more important talk properties down there.

On the New Year for ESPN Audio: We are off to a strong start on the content side, our ratings appear to be very sound, and revenue is off to a fundamentally good start. Coming out of the gate, we feel like we are in nice shape. As we look ahead, our focus will continue to be on serving the sports fan and, most importantly, improving our content and lengthening the amount of time that consumers listen to us. The other thing that’s important to us is to think about our local strategy. We have the four owned-and-operated stations in markets where we have local websites as well.   We believe there is an opportunity for us to look more holistically at those operations and look at the content, sales, marketing, etc. to make New York, for example, feel more like a team effort as opposed to a separate radio station and a separate website. That would include logistics, joint newsrooms, things like that. I think that will help speak better to a local advertiser.

On the Air

Canada’s biggest telecommunication companies are buying the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and MLS’ Toronto FC in a content play amongst rivals. Rogers Communications and BCE Inc. bought a majority stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in a move to secure programming for their sports channels, digital properties and smartphones. Although competitors on those platforms, both will now own 37.5% of the country’s largest sports conglomerate. The deal also includes a minor league hockey team, and the Leafs and Raptors TV stations.

Thursday night’s Browns/Steelers game on NFL Network continues the channel’s uptick this season, with an average of 6.6 million viewers (not including over-the-air stations in Cleveland and Pittsburgh) watching the game. That marks a 22% spike from the comparable game in 2010 and ranked as Thursday’s most-watched program on cable. Viewership in each of the five Thursday Night Football games this season are all up over last year with an average of 7.0 million viewers. 

CBS personality Charlie Casserly reports that some changes could be on the way to Thursday Night scheduling, telling viewers on Sunday that at this week’s owner’s meeting, attendees will discuss “eliminating all coast-to-coast travel for a Thursday night. One of the concepts that they’re going to talk about is possibly implementing having time zone travel. You can only travel one time zone on a Thursday night. As a general manager, I’d be in favor of that.”

CBS Sports’ announced that its coverage of the 112th meeting of the Army/Navy football classic on Saturday delivered an average overnight household overnight rating/share of4.0/9 in metered markets, marking a 14% jump over last year’s 3.5/8. The game, which was won by Navy, peaked at a 4.9/11 from 5:30-6:00p.

Consulting firm Price WaterhouseCoopers painted a rosy picture for the future of sports in a report on the global sports market dubbed “Changing the game: the Outlook for the Global Sports Market to 2015.” The study projected that in spite of the global economic downturn, the sports industry has not only thrived, but many major sporting events are actually more popular than ever. The report states that over the next five years to 2015, global sports revenues will grow to $145.3 billion at an annual compound growth rate of 3.7% due to an improved economy, as well as a TV advertising rebound. Gate Revenues will continue to be the biggest chunk of the global sports market with 32.6% at $44.7 billion in 2015. Sponsorship serves as 28.8% with 2015 revenues projected at $45.3 billion. Media rights will make up 24.1% of the pie with growth from $29.2 billion in 2010 to $35.2 billion in 2015.

NBC Sports Network has found their headliners for the first offering of upcoming boxing series “NBC Sports Network Fight Night.” Promoter Main Events, which is working with the channel on the show, announced that a bout featuring former heavyweight champ Sergei Liakhovich facing former title challenger Eddie Chambers, according to The fight will headline the Jan. 21 card at the Asylum Arena in Philadelphia and marks the debut of the show

Golf Channel is bolstering staff, naming former ESPN staffer Andrew Smiley as coordinating director, managing the network’s studio directors and studio productions, including Golf Central, The Golf Fix, School of Golf, Morning Drive, Grey Goose 19th Hole and Live From broadcasts from golf’s major championships. Smiley also will serve as lead director on select studio programming. This week, Golf Channel will be debuting two new series to the slate, with animated series Golfers Anonymous set for Friday at 8p and Best of Britain on Saturday at 8p.

USA Network is turning to NFL Network’s Kurt Warner for the channel’s new series “The Moment,” according to Variety. The series will feature Warner hosting the show, which looks at “personal reinvention and life transformation.” The first episode should debut in the second quarter.

The BBC was named broadcaster of the year by Formula 1’s governing body the FIA. The award was presented at an FIA gala event in India on Friday, where the winners of the organization’s championships were given their trophies. The BBC has a contract to broadcast F1 in the UK until the end of 2018 but will share coverage of the sport with Sky beginning next year.

Sponsorship & Promotion

Snapdragon is taking over the name for San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, at least for a few, key days. Qualcomm, which owns the rights, is revising all signage to its Snapdragon division just ahead of three key games that will be played at the venue: the Sunday night Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens contest on Dec. 18, the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 21 and the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28, according to local reports. An estimated 30 million people are expected to be exposed to the brand during those games. Once the games are completed, the venue will once again revert to Qualcomm Stadium.

NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice was one hand for the Spike Video Game Awards where he announced that Baltimore Raven’s player Ray Rice was voted as the Digital Cover Athlete of the upcoming video game “NFL Blitz” from EA Sports. Fans cast ballots during the show to determine the winner.

Digital Fields

ESPN has tapped Don Van Natta Jr. for its investigative reporting team where he will serve as Senior Writer, ESPN Digital and Print Media. Van Natta will begin reporting for ESPN on January 1 based out of Miami. Van Natta was most recently a national correspondent for The New York Times.

The Main Event

Devils/Lightening on Versus at 7:30

ON THIS DAY in 1973: San Diego files an anti-trust suit, blocking a Padres move from the city to DC.

Answer to Yesterday’s Sports Trivia Question: What team did Larry Bird beat for his first NBA Championship? Answer: Houston. Kudos: Paul Brewer – Turner SI Digital/NY; Chris Crowley – 203 Studios/Stamford; Larry Kahn – Golf Channel/Orlando; Rick Resnick – Univision/NY; Barbara Griesman –  Ellison Media Company/Phoenix; Steve Morrow – Eclipse TV/Mill Valley; Richard Levine – AT&T Operations/LA; Jim Himmel – RM Marketing/San Clemente; Bobby Matthews – CBS2/KCAL9/LA.

In The Know: Who is the Cleveland Browns all-time rushing leader? (Email 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 Cynopsis | Sports

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