07/27/20: Home Team Sports chief Craig Sloan breaks down the RSN perspective

 

Medias First Morning Read
Monday July 27, 2020

With leagues continuing to plot their way back to competitive play, regional sports networks continue to reap the benefits of a sudden abundance of content. With RSN inventory oversold in some markets and virtually sold out in a score more, Home Team Sports reports that the market is flush with interest from brands looking to convey their messages. Cynopsis Sports caught up with HTS Executive VP Craig Sloan to ask about market conditions and what partners are looking for.

Sloan on pandemic fallout: We created three core principles to guide us in how we approached this suspension of play. First and foremost, we focused on an employee-first mentality to ensure our team’s health and safety while creating the ability to remain connected and productive in a work-from-home environment. Secondly, we didn’t want to speculate, with all the rumors and information in the marketplace. We used our league and team partners as our guides for a return to play. And third, we took an empathetic approach to our very loyal client base and allowed very flexible terms for these partners to navigate their individual business needs. I believe these three guides allowed us to be transparent in our communication, function at every level of our organization and even thrive in a very uncertain climate.

On what partners are looking for: With the vast majority of our clients choosing to just pause their sponsorships until the MLB, NBA and NHL resumed play, most of our partners today are looking for additional valuable inventory. With an impaired entertainment marketplace, brands are looking for emotionally connected content focused on what we’re all looking for during this time – comfort, security and an escape from some of the unique stressors that have weighed on all of us during these past few months in particular. So far, the ratings have been well above our already high expectations, creating tremendous value for our partners.

On the state of RSNs: Without live games from mid-March until late July, our Regional Sports Network partners created a great deal of linear and social content focused on some of our favorite memories by providing classic games, moments and stories. This strategy served home team fans well, but nothing compares to the emotional re-start of our sports seasons. Fans have been deprived of content they care deeply about – content that’s part of their DNA. In fact, our research shows that 56% of fans say home team sports play a big role in defining who they are. When you combine these communities of fans with extremely strong distribution, RSNs are poised for continued growth as we move into this new age of TV consumption.

On demand: Never in my career have I seen this much pent-up demand, even as many traditional sports-spending categories have been challenged in this unique environment. Many brands have approached us with a desire to help celebrate this re-opening and help huge communities of viewers become fans again. These brands have picked up on the increased importance of every game in these truncated seasons, and they want to help us find ways to insert fan-centric content within and around our game coverage.

On trends: The ad sales trends we are seeing for the Regional Sports Networks are centered around the expansion of brands and categories that are normally focused on the Adults 18-49 demographic within primetime entertainment programming. With the RSNs dominating primetime ratings on a nightly basis, the RSNs have become a great vehicle for brands to reach consumers at a time when viewing habits are changing. We are seeing a big uptick in interest and participation from categories like technology, e-commerce, OTT and food delivery services, matching those that have evolved quickly and are leading the way in supporting our economy.

PROGRAMMING

With baseball back, ESPN saw its exclusive coverage of Thursday night’s Yankees/Nationals game generate an average audience of 4 million viewers to score a record for a MLB Opening Night game telecast, according to Fast Nationals from Nielsen. The telecast is the most-watched regular season MLB game on any network since 2011 and was up 8% from the previous Opening Night record. Additionally, the second half of ESPN’s exclusive Opening Night telecast presented by John Deere doubleheader at 10p pitting the Giants/Dodgers, generated an average audience of 2,764,000 viewers and is ESPN’s most-watched MLB regular season late night game ever.

WWE announced that its initial plans for SummerSlam are off the board, stating that “In coordination with our local partners, government officials and TD Garden, WWE’s SummerSlam and related events will no longer take place in Boston. Refunds are available at the original point of purchase. We are grateful to the city of Boston for their longstanding partnership and look forward to holding WWE events at TD Garden in the future.” They added “SummerSlam will stream live on Sunday, August 23, at 7 p.m. ET on WWE Network, and information regarding a new location for the event is forthcoming.”

The NBA revealed a multidimensional plan for in-venue and broadcast enhancements for the resumption of the 2019-20 season. More than 300 NBA fans each game will be invited to appear live on the “Michelob ULTRA Courtside” 17-foot video boards surrounding the court. Those fans will have the opportunity to digitally interact with each other throughout the game using Microsoft’s “Together mode” to create a virtual experience by removing fans from their individual backgrounds and bringing them together in a shared visual space. In collaboration with broadcast partners ESPN and Turner Sports, more than 30 cameras, including many in robotic form, will be repositioned closer to the court and showcase never-before-seen camera angles in places that are otherwise not accessible with fans in the arena. Microphones around the court will capture enhanced sounds from the floor, including sneaker squeaks and ball bounces. DJs and announcers will be in-venue to help replicate the sounds and experiences teams are accustomed to in-arena. Additionally, all viewers will have the ability to impact visual effects in the venue through a virtual cheering experience. NBA Digital will provide customized viewing options on NBA League Pass and NBA TV where fans will have access to alternate feeds with new camera angles, enhanced graphics, gaming options, in-language and influencers calling the game.

The NHL has its own in-game innovations up the proverbial sleeve as the league prepares for an expanded Stanley Cup playoffs. NBC and Sportsnet will use 32 cameras per game for the competition, with new angles and visuals with the additional tech. In addition, the networks will also be using a JitaCam, a camera on a large, 360-degree crane that can be positioned over the ice In addition, the league worked with game presentation representatives from each of the 24 participating teams “to gather audio that is unique to their home arenas, including goal horns, in-arena music compilations, motivational videos and specially produced clips from fans to replicate chants unique to each market,” per NHL.com.

BKFC will reportedly find a new home at DAZN, according to multiple reports. The bare-knuckle boxing organization’s new deal with the platform will being in August, per The Athletic, with all events streaming exclusively on DAZN.

Who will take home the win? Join us on August 12th to find out: These Cynopsis Sports Media Awards finalists have gone above and beyond in delivering exceptional content, motivational campaigns and powerful coverage during a time when the sports world has been turned upside down. Join us as we applaud their initiatives and rally behind them with this virtual awards celebration. Registration is free – click here to get started.

Formula 1 is shifting plans to host races this year in the US, Brazil and Mexico due to pandemic blooms. The US Grand Prix in Austin was set for Oct. 23, Mexico City on Oct. 30 and Brazil on Nov. 13. Instead, the series will now see new races in Germany’s Nurburgring on Oct. 11, in Italy’s Imola circuit on Nov. 1 and the a race at Portugal’s Portimao circuit on Oct. 25.

Due to the recent decision by China’s General Administration of Sport that China will not host any international sporting events in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all WTA tournaments that were slated for China on WTA’s provisional calendar will no longer be held, irunning from the China Open the week of Oct. 12 and running through the Guangzhou Open on Nov. 23. “We are extremely disappointed that our world-class events in China will not take place this year,” stated Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO. “Unfortunately, this decision also includes the cancellation of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen and as result, the corresponding Porsche Race to Shenzhen. We do however respect the decision that has been made and are eager to return to China as soon as possible next season.”

FOX Sports is revamping sports betting show “Lock It In” to “FOX Bet Live,” debuting the new iteration today at 4p on FS1. “As sports begin to return, we couldn’t be more excited to bring television’s first sports betting show back to the airwaves as FOX BET LIVE,” said Charlie Dixon, Executive Vice President, Content, FS1. “While the show will continue to provide the same entertaining and informative opinions, we’ve taken the opportunity to align more closely with our partners at FOX Bet and we look forward to bringing viewers the latest sports wagering news and information.”

Liga MX returns to TUDN with the 2020 Torneo Guardianes this week, with over 100 exclusive telecasts on deck across the 17-week regular season. Matches will air five days a week including on Mondays with the debut of Lunes de Fútbol and telecast live across Univision Networks – Univision, UniMás, and TUDN. This season TUDN will launch with 14 teams as part of its portfolio following the recent long-term agreement with Atlético San Luis to telecast all the club’s home matches from Estadio Alfonso Lastras.

Comcast Corp. and the Sinclair Broadcast Group reportedly reached a multiyear carriage renewal to bring the RSN to the largest carrier in the Chicago region. “By including Marquee in the broader Sinclair agreement, we’re now able to give our customers access to Cubs baseball in time for the start of the season,” said John Crowley, senior vice president for Comcast Cable’s greater Chicago region.

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SPONSORSHIP & PROMOTION

Kia gassed up a partnership renewal with Rafael Nadal. The tennis star landed a five-year deal with the auto brand to extend a partnership that launched 16 years ago. “Our 16-year partnership with Rafa has inspired millions of people to play tennis, so at a time when he needs his fans the most, we wanted to put them at the heart of his training and encourage his successful return to competition,’ said Kia Motors President and CEO Ho Sung Song, per Tennis World. “We are excited about extending our partnership for the next five years and look forward to inspiring each other to continually move forward.”

The Premier Lacrosse League named Progressive Insurance as the official Home and Auto Insurance Provider of the league. In addition to receiving heavy media presence during PLL broadcasts on NBC platforms, the brand will also feature prominently during the PLL Championship Series via on-field LED signage and custom goal net wrap branding. Progressive Insurance will also become the official jersey patch sponsor of Redwoods LC, and PLL and Progressive Insurance will collaborate over the course of 2020 on exclusive sweepstakes and marketing efforts to promote games this summer.

DIGITAL, DATA & TECH

Major League Baseball unveiled a new virtual reality platform
that allows subscribers to the league’s MLB.tv subscription service to live stream out-of-market games through a headset. The initiative will serve up advanced player tracking statistics from MLB Statcast and features MLB.tv support, an interactive calendar, score updates, MLB standings, and on-demand, 360-degree video highlights.

ESPORTS

League of Legends developer Riot Games announced that all European competitions overseen by the company will now fall under the executives overseeing the LEC and European Masters. Changes will impact the Turkish Championship League (TCL), the League of Legends Continental League (LCL), and all events that fall under the Europion Regional League (ERL) infrastructure in addition to all esports initiatives out of the Middle East.

T1 Entertainment & Sports locked in a partnership with Hana Bank that will see the South Korean bank develop financial products for fans of the team. The deal sees Hana Bank land naming rights to the first floor of T1’s facility in Gangnam, Seoul.

Hawks Talon Gaming Club will team with StreamRecap, a platform that “builds video solutions that automate content creation and empower coaches in esports.” Hawks Talon becomes the first NBA 2K League affiliate to announce a deal with StreamRecap. As part of this effort, Hawks Talon GC will receive access to AI-powered instant highlights and a coaching suite which provides access for both Head Coach Wesley Acuff and the club’s players to review film and take notes in one central location.

The ESR 24/7 eSports Network partnered with GTR24h to bring eSim Racing to North America’s eSports market. GTR24h is the oldest eSport Simracing company in the world. The 5-year agreement with GTR24h gives ESR access to broadcast both historical and future eSim Racing content. “With Coca-Cola being the main sponsor for 2020 in Nascar’s iRacing series, we believe that eSim Racing is the next venture in eSports. We are excited to bring the oldest and biggest eSport Simracing competition to North America. Working together with GTR24h at the ground floor will prove to be a bright and fruitful future for Simracing,” says Wendy Wang, ESR 24/7 eSports Network CEO.

INDUSTRY & ROSTER MOVES

Major League Rugby named Mark Yates as the league’s new chief commercial officer. Yates joins from Fox Sports Southwest, where he led local and national sales for the RSN.

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