06/26/17: NeuLion adds EFL to passion playlist; NBA Draft sees stock soar; NHL commits to collegiate power play

Good morning. It’s Monday June 26, 2017 and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.

As the popularity of OTT continues to rise, NeuLion unveiled plans for its newest partnership in the space, locking in a deal with the English Football League for a new platform that will go live in August dedicated to the 72 clubs in the organization. Matches will become available worldwide for the first time through the EFL’s new digital streaming platform, powered by NeuLion, titled iFollow, which will serve up over 1500 matches in HD quality this season, at a cost of $140, featuring live audio commentary, full match replays, highlights, behind-the-scenes content and blacked out games.
With the addition of the league, NeuLion has now seen its roster growing OTT networks span passion plays that range from tennis to surfing to MMA and more through various partnerships. Cynopsis Sports spoke with NeuLion Executive Vice President Chris Wagner about the upcoming launch and how NeuLion has evolved.
Wagner on the English Football League platform: We’ll be offering a new service called the virtual announcer. The way the English Football League works is that they don’t have the rights to the radio broadcasts in each arena so we have an encoder at the venues with a total of 72 clubs. We will take the live match right out of the arena that includes all of the ambient sound noise – so you hear the cheering and all of the background sounds – and virtually the league will have their commentary in a central location so the stream goes through a virtual announcer workstation where the guy is basically watching the game streamed across his computer with a headset and a microphone. There, they call the game and provide commentary and the audio then gets overlaid and mixed with the video stream, which is then pushed out over the network to a fan watching it on a PC, mobile or tablet.
It is available on the NeuLion platform as a new feature and therefor available for other Neulion clients to take advantage of. I see it surfacing either around limited rights where you may not have radio rights and you need to create your own commentary, or you could also strip out the broadcast commentary and overlay a different language on top of it. So if you wanted to deliver live sports in Japan, for example, you could have a commentator sitting in Tokyo calling the game off their laptop.
On the evolution of the company: Our reach has definitely gone global, which is the biggest thing that’s happened for us over the past 24 months as OTT has turned into a global phenomenon with right holders more interested than ever in reaching the fan directly. When we started out, the distribution model was pretty much through the cable operator, but we’ve now countered that and next week will see the opening of our new London headquarters where we’ve gone from five to 60 people there.
On NeuLion’s lineup of enthusiast networks: These channels, especially with skinny bundles growing, have the opportunity to go directly to consumers and their chances of succeeding are better than ever versus counting on cable distribution and that’s why you see so many of them popping up. On our end, we have World Surf League for surfing fans, PokerGo for poker fans, we work with a group to aggregate rugby, Tennis Channel Plus, etc. Live is the secret sauce here, and if you are into surfing for example, the lifestyle, the equipment, etc. are all part of the mix.

The 2017 NBA Draft gave ESPN a rise, as coverage notched a 2.7 metered market rating on Thursday for a 13% uptick over 2016. That number also marks the third-highest rated NBA Draft on the network. On the digital front, the event set several streaming records, drawing an average minute streaming audience of 135,200 viewers, up 55% and 1,153,500 unique viewers, up 107%. In addition, ESPN delivered 39,215,000 total minutes streamed.
Meanwhile, Wednesday night’s 2017 NHL Awards and NHL Expansion Draft saw the Joe Manganiello-hosted event (along with the selections of the Vegas Gold Knights’ core team) rank as the most-watched NHL Awards on record across North America, according to the league. The event scored an average audience of 1.95 million viewers on NBCSN and SN, for a year-over-year increase of 239%.
ESPN will continue to carry BYU football, announcing that the company picked up the option to showcase games through the 2019 season. As part of the original agreement, which remains intact, ESPN receives first selection rights to all BYU home games, with a minimum of one game designated annually for BYUtv. Select BYU road games are televised by ESPN through other conference agreements.
Outdoor Channel is bringing Deadliest Catch to the network courtesy of a syndication deal for the first six seasons – including 82 episodes – of the show. “We are thrilled about acquiring the cable syndicated rights to the first six seasons of Deadliest Catch for Outdoor Channel and look forward to bringing the excitement of these episodes to our viewers,” said Jim Liberatore, CEO and President of Outdoor Sportsman Group Networks. “If ever there was programming that captures the thrill and adventure of the outdoors, this is it.Deadliest Catch is a compelling series for our core hunt/shoot/fish audience, as well as a broader audience seeking adventure programming.”

Tomorrow! After a year that saw a slew of deals between sports and esports entities, how are these new partnerships actually benefitting the brands? What have these sports powerhouses learnt about esports fans? How is competitive gaming being leveraged? Hear from some of the innovators from the sports world, including the NFL, Big Ten Network, the 76ers and Mindshare, who took on esports and learn from their experiences at our latest webinarHow Sports Brands Can Leverage the Esports Explosion,” taking place on June 27. Book your spot now by clicking here.
FOX Sports powered up a driver helmet visor camera for the first time in a live Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series race yesterday, locked on to Danica Patrick’s helmet on Sunday. “FOX Sports owes a huge ‘thank you’ to Peter Larsson and BSI, Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing and NASCAR for working with us to bring about this monumental NASCAR television experience,” said Barry Landis, FOX NASCAR race producer.  “Our in-car cameras are a great platform and are very telling about the sport, but a visor camera moves with the head movement of the driver and is as close to being behind the wheel as we’ve ever seen before. Viewers will get an authentic perspective of what Danica is seeing throughout the race.”
FOX Sports also announced that the July 19 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race from Eldora Speedway is moving from FS1 to FOX Business Network at 9:30p that event to accommodate a CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal double-header match expected to feature the US Men’s National team on FS1 that evening.
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The National Hockey League and the NHLPA announced plans to partner with the University of Illinois to evaluate the possible addition of hockey as a varsity sport as part of a move that will see the NHLPA and NHL fund feasibility studies exploring the potential of adding NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey programs at five institutions across the US. Illinois is the first university to participate in the study, which is funded by the Industry Growth Fund, a joint venture between the two organizations to help grow the game of hockey and enhance fan experience.
Meanwhile, the NBA and Basketball Australia announced the official opening of The NBA Global Academy, an elite basketball training center at BA’s Centre of Excellence at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.  The NBA Global Academy will serve as the NBA’s hub for top male and female prospects from outside the United States. “Basketball Australia is delighted to partner in this venture, which will enable our world-class coaches and athletes to share their knowledge with the NBA,” said Basketball Australia Chief Executive Officer, Anthony Moore.  “Our Centre of Excellence has an incredible track record of producing athletes who can compete on the international stage.  We are honoured to be hosting The NBA Global Academy and helping to develop promising young talent from around the world.”

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the New York Post that live-streaming games is the future of the NFL. “The thing we have to be careful of is millennials,” Kraft told the outlet. “They don’t watch TV, they don’t have TVs or subscribe to cable. So we have to bring that audience in. Partly it’s done through fantasy games and linking to that. Over-the-top is a great opportunity.” He noted that the league will be “very interested” to see how the games do on Amazon, because it will be on Amazon Prime, a subscriber service.
Twitter reports that there were 3.2 million Tweets about the #NBADraft during the evening of the event. The top Tweeted moments of the night were:
  • Celtics select Jayson Tatum #3 overall (7:55 PM ET)
  • Lakers select Lonzo Ball #2 overall (7:48 PM ET)
  • News breaks that Jimmy Butler is being traded to the Timberwolves (7:53 PM ET)
  • Suns select Josh Jackson #4 overall (8:02 PM ET)

Amazon is navigating uncharted waters for Breakaway courtesy of an esports match set for today at noon PT with the Royal Dutch Navy, Red Bull Esports, and AMD. Teams from Echo Fox and Rogue will square off on a battleship to play the game, which will be shown on the Red Bull Esports Twitch channel with giveaw ays of four AMD Ryzen CPUs and a number of Breakaway alpha keys.
McDonald’s is stepping up as a sponsor for the StarCraft 2 World Championship (WCS) eSports Series in Australia, according to AdNews. The deal is limited to the region, but includes s naming, on-ground activations, content integration and branding for activations linked to the event.
YouTube Red announced that Good Game, a new scripted series from Dan Harmon’s Starburns Industries that follows the lives of an esports team vying to move up the ladder, will debut on Aug. 30 on the platform. The series stars Game Grumps’ Dan Avidan and Arin Hanson as well as Michele Morrow.
Mobile title Color Switch is partnering with Skillz to get into esports. “The creation of organizations such as the NFL and NBA began with games that were the most popular of their time,” said Andrew Paradise, CEO and founder of Skillz. “Today, Color Switch is one of the most popular games in history, and with this partnership, we’re excited for it to transcend gaming to become a sport for millions of players and spectators around the world to enjoy.”

Cubs/Nationals on MLB Network at 7p.

You can’t afford to ignore the esports explosion
Register for our June 27 Webinar: How Sports Brands Can Leverage the Esports Explosion , as sports executives at the  NFL Big Ten Network , Mindshare NA and the Philadelphia 76’ers cover:
  • What esports players have learned since their investment that can help shape your strategy
    • How the sports and esports industries can help each other
    • How to leverage the gaming craze with complementary programming
    • The kinds of data potential partners should review and so much more!

ON THIS DAY in 1916: The Cleveland Indians became the first major league team to try wearing numbers on their jerseys.
In the Know: In the show Friends, Monica’s ex Pete Becker (played by Jon Favreau) was determined to become a champion in which sports organization? (Email [email protected] with your answer and be sure to include your name, company and city.)

Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question: In which city were the first modern Olympics held under the IOC? Answer: Athens. Kudos: John Ferlazzo/London; Meagan Perez-NBC Sports/NY; Matt Meachem-Gracenote/NY; Brad Stern-POM Technologies/NY; Wayne “World B.” Otto-Pro-Am Sports/Boone; Synda Kollman-Charter Marketing Group/Deerfield Beach; Dory Petsrillo-CoxReps/Dallas; David Hauptman/Denver; Matt Sautter-Imagine Communications/Denver; Judie Henninger-Valentine Productions/Santa Monica; David Westberg-SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union/Burbank; Justin Karp-Pac-12 Networks/San Francisco; Tony Reyes-Stoopid Buddy Stoodios/Burbank

Later — Chris

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