02/22/16: NFL Network’s Combine lift; Verizon gets skinny w/ ESPN; Toyota’s big Daytona day



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CYNOPSISSPORTS
02.22.16

Good morning. It’s Monday February 22, 2016, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing. 

Just weeks after the Super Bowl, it’s time for data to come out to play, opening the books on the season to come. NFL Network launches coverage of the NFL Combine starting Wednesday in its annual celebration of the athlete measurables and statistics used to dissect the potential of those players and, subsequently, the teams that draft them. Hyundai now serves as the presenting sponsor of the Combine, both on NFL Network and on digital, while digital video program Combine LIVE will be presented by Old Spice with Visa on board as an associate sponsor.

Meanwhile, NFL Network host Rich Eisen will again don his cleats, with the 12th Annual “Run Rich Run” which will look to benefit the NFL PLAY 60 relationship with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Fans can show their support by submitting videos of themselves running the 40-yard dash and are encouraged to donate money to the cause. Meanwhile, NFL Network and DIRECTV have each pledged $25,000 to help support play therapy at the charity. Cynopsis Sports spoke with NFL Network Senior Coordinating Producer Mike Muriano about the growth of the combine, the role of technology and what to expect this week and in the years ahead.

Muriano on the Combine schedule: Our coverage itself actually begins on Wednesday, which will see most of the 32 coaches and GMs have press availability ranging from 9-4p while on Total Access, they will go on to full Combine preview mode. As for the Combine itself, last year was the first time that the on-field drills began on a Friday, which continues this year by running Friday through Monday. However, traditionally the first day would see offensive linemen and tight ends working out. Now, it will be the offensive linemen and running backs working out while the tight ends will work out on Saturday with the quarterbacks and wide receivers, which is obviously a positive for that group. Sunday is defensive linemen and linebackers and Monday will see the defensive backs.

On the evolution of coverage: Having been here with the network since launch and to see how this event has grown, I can say that while the event itself hasn’t changed much, when we started covering it, our first batch of coverage was a producer and a  relatively new-to-America Mike Mayock standing outside the building. Then we got in the building with a small footprint, and once the trust continued to grow, they continued to let us expand our footprint and provide more coverage. Soon NFL Digital and NFL Media were integrated so there’s lot going on now and people are tuning in. We are always trying to be cognizant of the hardcore football fan who knows these players. But we also want to be cognizant of our storytelling, here is something you may not know about this player and why it is important that you know it, for more casual fans so we can broaden the audience as well. Because of that, we need to provide context to the data, for example if a kid runs a 4.3, what does it all mean? What teams might be able to use him?

On leveraging data: There are a couple of things that are changing how we can tell the story. One thing is insight data, which really allows us to dive in to the measurables from these kids. We try to present that so we can showcase who a player measures up against either currently or historically. We are looking at height, weight, speed, size, etc. When you punch that straight into the computer, what does the computer give you back? We also try to counter that with what our football brains  Mike Mayock, Charles Davis, etc.  think about who that player reminds them of. Sometimes it matches up with the computer, sometimes it doesn’t. Both of those differences are interesting to us.
We will also be experimenting with, but not for broadcast this year, our next-generation of stats and what stories we can tell with that. This is an informational year with that and I expect that we will do more with it in coming years, perhaps as early as 2017. That said, I would say that while we won’t say any of it on the live broadcast, we might see some of it this year in the primetime show in the post-produced content. We are going into it with no expectations.

On creating a tentpole event: As recently as ten years ago, the combine may have gotten ten credential requests from the media and now it gets hundreds. Because of this growth, the event is expanding as early as next year and there will be larger footprints in place to accommodate, not just the media, but also NFL fan curiosity. They won’t necessarily be able to go inside the stadium as events are happening, but the NFL sees an appetite there for the event itself and try to perhaps build it out. What we’ve seen is not only ratings growth but also the continued interest and the whetting of the appetite for NFL fans has been great.

On Rich Eisen’s run: That began when we were still figuring out who we were and what the combine would be for us, and there was an off-the-cuff mention from the broadcast booth of him saying “I think I want to run the 40.” It was an adventurous time for us, so we thought, “Why not?” Then the life it took on, not only becoming Rich’s avatar and the covers of books. But what I love most is that it’s now become a charitable cause and generates money for St. Jude’s. Its bought us a lot of social currency and a way for us to acknowledge that while this was a serious business, there was also room for some fun here.

ON THE AIR

Verizon’s FiOS TV is adding ESPN to its skinny bundle via a new Custom TV package that will be available to subscribers. The package, Sports & More, will differ from its Custom TV Essentials, which will remain available as the same price and include the likes of ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, NBCSN, NFL Network and regional channels. “For many customers, less is more  they would rather pay less and get more of the content they are actually interested in,” said Tami Erwin, president of Verizon’s Consumer and Mass Business group. “The original Custom TV has proven very popular since we launched it last year, and we’ve incorporated our customers’ feedback to make the next generation of Custom TV even better with a simpler choice and a much wider variety of channels available.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred address the possibility of expansion on Friday, noting that there was an upside to adding more teams. MLB.com reports that he noted his desire to get through the CBA negotiations, but noted that "Expansion is important. I think baseball is a growth business. There are huge advantages to getting to 32 teams. But I don’t see it as an immediate issue for us."

FOX Sports is adding Carl Edwards to its lineup of drivers who will serve as race analysts for its coverage of the NASCAR XFINITY Series this season. This will mark Edwards’ first go-around and he will rotate with the likes of Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick on microphone duties. He is first slated to hit the broadcast booth on April 8 on FS1.

Speaking of the FOX Sports/NASCAR tandem, the company utilized Vizrt and Stype to display on-air graphics and data-driven augmented reality graphics at the Daytona 500. The AR graphics were used to virtually display race summaries, driver information, sponsor logos and other race-related information along the sides of the track, powered by a specialized camera tracking system supplied by Stype in tandem with real-time 3D graphics technology from Vizrt.

English-language, multicultural Asian-American  entertainment network Myx TV announced that Super Fight League will now run on the network with exclusively produced highlights packages of contemporary fights and fan favorite fights from the past. Super Fight League 46 will premiere on U.S. cable on the network on March 9 at 10p.

Linda Cohn anchored her 5000th edition of SportsCenter yesterday, and, in a media call, telling listeners the key to avoiding boredom. “I’m someone that still follows my teams religiously, so I have a fresh feeling from that, and that’s sort of like a legal drug for me, where here we are in February right now, one of the dog days of the sports calendar, and there’s always something going on, and I think it’s easier if you take the fan element out of it for me, that in this day and age with social media and everybody knowing everything about everybody, athlete, team, fan, you name it, the branches that come off of a team or a story, I mean, take what’s going on, the life of Cam Newton following the Super Bowl loss. That hasn’t ended two weeks after the Super Bowl loss, or this whole Peyton Manning thing of 20 years ago, this story from 2003. As a journalist, as a broadcaster in this field, I don’t think there’s ever a dog day anymore. There’s always something new to talk about and give a fresh spin on.”


A CYNOPSIS MESSAGE


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SPONSORSHIP & PROMOTION

FOX Sports and Toyota unveiled a new partnership that began at the Daytona 500 yesterday, with the auto brand sponsoring multiple FOX Sports/FOX Lab production initiatives, including efforts in virtual reality and 360-degree video such as the NextVR feed of the race. “At Toyota, we know NASCAR fans live for heart-pounding action of the sport,” said Ed Laukes, Vice President Marketing, Performance and Guest Experience for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. “Through the partnership with FOX and NextVR, Toyota is sponsoring a fully-immersive experience that brings fans closer to the action than they’ve ever been before. The 360 videos we’re producing with Furniture Row Racing and the No. 78 Camry extend our reach and give fans at home a truly unique behind-the-scenes perspective.”
 
Under Armour reupped with the University of South Carolina for a long-term partnership extension that keeps Under Armour as the official outfitter of the Gamecocks’ varsity intercollegiate athletic programs through June of 2026. UA will design and supply training footwear, apparel and equipment and game-day uniforms for the school’s men’s and women’s varsity athletic teams and includes integration into the brand’s marketing, social media, in-store, and grassroots activations.

DIGITAL & STREAMING

This year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit franchise set record traffic highs over the launch period, drawing a record 4.7 million unique visitors, according to Omniture, for its first three days. That’s a markup of 33.2% in unique visitors. Mobile traffic also benefited, with a rise of 60% in unique mobile visitors compared to the same period in 2015, while video streams on the site were up 18% YoY.

NBC Sports Live Extra saw its coverage of the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying soccer tournament earlier this month generate 8.4 million live minutes and 118,000 unique users across three matches featuring the U.S. Women’s National Team. 

THE MAIN EVENT

Virginia/Miami on ESPN at 7p.


A CYNOPSIS MESSAGE


TOP WOMEN IN DIGITAL AWARDS EVENT
Thursday, March 24
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ON THIS DAY in 1980: The Miracle on Ice sees USA bests the USSR 4-3.

In The Know: The very first WrestleMania took place at what venue? (Email [email protected] with your answer and be sure to include your name, company and city.)

Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question: What was the name of Tom Cruise’s character in Days of Thunder? Answer: Cole Trickle. Kudos: David Kopelman-MLBAM/NY; Rob Casalaina-ITN/NY; Todd Singer-American Banknote/NY; Erin Weissman-ABC/NY; Brianne Maciejowski-Miles/Sarasota; Michael Narracci-NESN/ Watertown; Christian Matthews-Washington Redskins/DC; Keith Wan-WWE/Stamford; Andy Pittman-TAMU/College Station; John Kukla-KDFW-KDFI/Dallas; Brad Brown-Nevco/St. Louis; Joe Lyons-Back Nine Productions/Dallas; Matt Sautter-Imagine Communications/Denver; Miriam Aardahl-OMD/LA; Adam Deverell-Cox Reps/LA; Jim Bernard-FOX Sports/LA; Neal Stevens-Stevens & Associates/Beverly Hills.

Later — Chris
Chris Pursell for Cynopsis | Sports @VegasandVine
02.22.16

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