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Cynopsis: Sports
02/27/12

Good morning. It’s Monday, February 27, 2012, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.

With two new teams in tow, Major League Lacrosse is looking to outdo last year’s record-breaking season with the league’s most games ever on television. The organization has turned to social media to drive awareness and chat amongst fans as the sport continues to grow and this year MLL will see 42 games on ESPN3, six on ESPN2 and the debut of MLL on CBS Sports Network, which will broadcast 14 matches as well as weekly series Inside the MLL. The season will begin on April 28.

Cynopsis Sports spoke with MLL Commissioner David Gross about the growth of the sport, the role of social media, and where, exactly, the league will expand to next.

Gross on the state of the MLL: There are so many things driving our sport right now. Let’s start with the fact that we’re growing. We’ve got two new teams with Charlotte and Ohio and we think those two teams are going to do very well where it counts the most and that is at the gate. They’ve had a good amount of time up to the launch and they’ve done all the things that we ask a team to do. We’re a niche product and we don’t have that money to do a big media spend.  It’s got to be a grassroots focus and those two organizations have really embraced grassroots, taking advantage of social media and they’ve done a tremendous job of building up a fan base for something that people haven’t seen yet.

The next thing is our expanded television. ESPN has been a tremendous partner of Major League Lacrosse since 2003, airing games and also adding games to ESPN3. This year for us to be able to take 14 games and be able to put it on CBS Sports Network, was exciting. All 14 games are live, all in primetime, plus to get 18 episodes of our magazine show Inside the MLL in great spots on their network is huge. This shows the growth of the league, the growth of the sport and puts on a really good trajectory for where we are headed.

On national interest in lacrosse: The sport itself is growing, so our base is growing. It’s been 20 years now of great growth, averaging about a 10% a year for the past decade. People are gravitating toward lacrosse because it’s got every aspect a fan wants to see and a player wants to participate in-that you score a lot. That’s what American fans like, that’s what kids like to play. It’s a different mindset. Once you pick up that lacrosse stick it becomes part of you. As more and more people migrate to the west and to the south, they are bringing the game with them. I really think we are at the tip of the iceberg in terms of growth, it’s not going to slow down. In fact, it is only going to grow faster as we get more coaches, better field space, and more referees. That’s the only thing that has slowed us down as a sport. Visibility also helps, I think when I was in college, the NCAA finals was the only game of lacrosse that you could ever find on TV.

On ways they are engaging fans: We look at social media as another platform, and we embrace all the platforms, we’ve got games on TV, we’ve got games on the web, we’ve got games on your phone, but we also create a lot of video, social media, where fans are talking and things can go viral, we are placing content there. We are asking fans questions, we are doing contests, and people wonder if we are just replacing people who go to our website with people who go to our Facebook page. The answer, for us, has been absolutely not. The more stuff we put on social media, the more people go to our website. We’ve noticed a year-to-year increase, in September was an over 300% increase in unique visitors to our website, January was close to 400%. A lot of it is attributed to our social media.

On next opportunities for expansion: There are markets that we are looking at strongly, and there are venues we are looking at. We want to be back on the west coast, but if we are going to do the west coast, it almost becomes a four team plan, adding two teams one year and two years later, adding two more teams. We already have Denver sitting out west, so we really want to have all four in place, even if they are coming in at a staggered pace.

On the Air

After a rain delay threated to push the Daytona 500 up against the Academy Awards as well as the NBA All-Star Game to wreak all kinds of ratings havoc, weather conditions finally forced NASCAR officials to delay the race for the first time in the 54-year history of the event. FOX will now air the race at noon today. Officials made the call just after 5p. 

TNT’s coverage of NBAAll-Star Saturday Night handed the channel with a 4.4 US HH rating in metered market overnights, according to Nielsen. That was good enough to tie for the second-highest rated NBA All-Star Saturday Night all-time. Top five markets were Miami with a 9.4, followed by San Antonio, Orlando, Oklahoma City and Atlanta and Chicago tying at number five. Meanwhile, the network’s coverage of the 2012 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge delivered a 2.1 US household rating in the metered market overnights, to tie the 2004 contest as the highest-rated telecast in the event’s history and up 17% over last year.

The Daytona 500 may have been delayed, but after recording its most-watched season ever in 2011, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on SPEED increased household ratings by 9% with a 1.63 over year ago numbers for the Daytona event, according to Nielsen Media Research. The Friday night race had an average viewing audience of more than 1.8 million people.

In final tallies, FUEL TV’s Fight Week, which spanned from February 13 to February 19, handed the channel with record ratings, setting all-new highs in viewership across multiple time periods, according to figures released by Nielsen Media Research. On top of scoring its most-watched day and most-watched program, anchored by the inaugural UFC on FUEL TV: Sanchez vs. Ellenberger on Wednesday, the outlet also saw its most-watched week in network history with Total Day average finishing up 260% on both Total Viewers and M18-49 compared to the same week last year.

David Stern told reporters that he plans to be retired within five years and is targeting deputy commissioner Adam Silver as his future replacement. Stern named Silver as his hopeful successor, according to the AP, dubbing the 20-year employee of the NBA a “first-rate, top of the class executive.” The final choice, of course, will be made by team owners.

Michael Ballack is joining ESPN as a studio analyst for the UEFA European Football Championship 2012 coverage beginning Friday, June 8 and running through Sunday, July 1. Ballack will contribute to ESPN and ESPN2’s English-language coverage of the quadrennial European championship, appearing on pre-match, halftime and post-match shows as well as SportsCenter, ESPNEWS and other news and programs. Ballack will join Steve McManaman and Alexi Lalas as the three week tournament’s lead English-language studio analysts. ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes will combine to offer more than 200 hours of live coverage of the UEFA EURO 2012.

Three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. locked in a deal with SPEED where he will serve as an analyst on SPEED Center. Hornish is also competing this season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Penske Racing and has previously won the Indianapolis 500 in 2006 and recently became a Nationwide Series winner at Phoenix International Raceway this past November.

The NHL and NHL Original Productions announced that Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal will become the next player to be profiled on the all-access series NHL 36. As part of the show, Neal will be followed for the 36 hours. 

IMG Audio announced that with the college baseball season underway, the company is bringing games to 130 affiliates across the country, including statewide networks for the defending champion South Carolina Gamecocks, Arkansas and Nebraska. In addition, this season, for the first time, Cal baseball goes on commercial radio at 960 AM San Francisco. This week IMG Audio is slated to carry 26 college baseball games and bring affiliates approximately 196 collegiate broadcasts and nearly 590 total hours of college sports.

Sponsorship & Promotion

The Knicks’ Jeremy Lin was honored with his own ice cream flavor by Ben & Jerry’s, only to have the company rejigger the recipe and apologize to people offended by the mixture. The flavor featured vanilla ice cream with honey and bits of fortune cookie, which was later swapped for waffle cone. “Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA, and recognize that he was a local Harvard graduate,” read the apology on the Facebook page.

Lots of discussion out there regarding the Bull’s Derrick Rose new endorsement deal with Adidas that is reportedly worth more than $200 million after incentives are included over a period of 14 years.

Digital Fields

Recent success has propelled the Knicks’ digital platforms to record numbers since the beginning of February with KnicksNow.com and NYKnicks.com, social media and mobile platforms all scoring growth and all-time highs. Since Feb. 4 web traffic on NYKnicks.com and KnicksNow.com has increased more than 770% compared to the two weeks prior, reaching 13.4 million page views, a record for a two week period and the highest week-to-week increase in history for the sites. Unique visitors grew 531% and video views during the timeframe ballooned more than 2000% versus the previous two weeks to 1.8 million total. In addition, the team has added 500K Facebook likes.

The Main Event

Daytona 500, take two, at noon on FOX.



ON THIS DAY in 1987: The NCAA cancels SMU’s entire 1987 football season for violations of NCAA rules.

Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question: What NBA team originally drafted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar aka Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor? The Milwaukee Bucks. Kudos: Rick Rosenfelt-New York Jets/Florham Park; J. Barry McMullin-Professional Bull Riders/NY; Brian Ricco- BOXTV- The Boxing Channel/Secaucus; Andrew Joyner-Wasserman/Raleigh; Greg Finch-Time Warner Media/Dallas; Kathryn Kieser-Haworth Marketing and Media/Minneapolis; Ron Salcedo-Zimmerman/Nashville; Bill Robertson-Tunheim Partners/Bloomington; Tom Akers-Outdoor Channel/Chicago; DavidHauptman-Katz Television Group/Denver;Joe Pedri-KLAS/Las Vegas; J.R. Jackson-KMPH Fox 26,KFRE CW 59/Fresno; Dennis Treleven-Fox Networks Group/LA; Roman Saienni-FOX Sports/LA.

In The Know: What team did Rod Tidwell play for in “Jerry Maguire”? (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 Cynopsis | Sports
02.27.12

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