08/14/17: Litner passes judgement on YES Network; PGA Championships drives TNT; NHL sees red over C’ville

Good morning. It’s Monday August 14, 2017 and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.

Just a year ago, YES Network experienced a season that not only saw the network dropped from the Comcast lineup, but also struggle with a Yankees franchise that would go on to finish fourth in the American League East, spelling a rough outing for the staple RSN. Flash forward a year, and new network President Jon Litner – who took on the duties in Sept. 2016 – is now overseeing a completely different trajectory for the channel, bolstered by a Yankees team that is poised for a Wild Card slot with rising stars such as Aaron Judge, while the channel has found peace with the region’s MSOs.
The former Group President of NBC Sports Group is riding a viewership surge that has seen average total viewership for the YES Network’s Yankees game telecasts through the first half of the 2017 season swell 57% year-over-year in the New York DMA to mark the outlet’s highest first-half viewership for Yankees telecasts in five years. Cynopsis Sports caught up with Litner to chat about his first year atop the channel, the Aaron Judge effect and the future of the network.
Litner on joining YES Network: Having spent 25 years in the business across an assortment of different sports network and leagues, I had the opportunity to reflect on where I thought I would have the most fun and where I could really have an impact. For me, the opportunity to be in New York with my hands behind the wheel of a regional sports network anchored by the New York Yankees, along with the Brooklyn Nets and our MLS franchise NYC FC, where I could build on what is an amazing trajectory for the YES Network in partnership with FOX and the Yankees was rally attractive to me.
On goals: I had some personal goals when I took over, but the number one thing that I wanted to make sure – from an operational perspective – that the management transition went smoothly and I think it clearly has. We have a great executive team, the production values have never been stronger, and our ad sales revenue is back in a positive trajectory. In addition, our digital efforts have seen incredible growth and innovation as we look to serve our audience in new ways.
On the next level: The genie is now out of the bottle and we are celebrating that. The more people across all demographics who want to touch the Yankees to be a part of an extraordinarily talented team that has captivated the city, that fact is that not everybody can see them in the comforts of their living room. We are beginning to do that through our digital product which is seeing enormous growth, and features an audience that is far more active than traditional viewers through elements such as our Facebook Live production. We are also looking to serve the fan through technology where we are looking at augmented reality, 4K, our Yogi production truck, etc.
On Aaron Judge and this year’s team: The impact that the Yankees have had on this city this year and the impact that Aaron Judge has had on baseball nationwide has been astounding. Aaron is this extraordinarily talented young man with this great story who plays the game hard the right way, but – above and beyond that – what he has been able to do transcends team affiliations. He has become a national story and is a guy who, when he comes to the plate, people tune in because they don’t want to miss it. He has been terrific for the team and for us.

The 2017 PGA Championship opened play with a bump for TNT, notching a .8 household rating with 1.1 million total viewers on Thursday, according to Nielsen fat nationals. That marks an uptick of 14% and 9% over last year’s comparable coverage. op rated local markets for Thursday’s telecast include Orlando, Oklahoma City and Fort Myers, all tied with a 1.9 HH rating. Meanwhile, PGA.com, managed by Turner Sports, lined up a 64% increase in live video views and 29% growth in time spent watching live video over last year.
Meanwhile, NBC’s coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open wrapped up by ranking as the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecasts year-to-date in 2017, for the first time in history despite its morning/early afternoon telecast window. The final round posted a .78 household score with 1.1 million viewers, up 28% over 2016.
Morocco formally announced that it will take on the joint bid from the US/Canada/Mexico to play host to the 2026 FIFA World Cup. According to the AP, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation confirmed its intention to enter the bidding process for the tournament on Friday, which would mark the country’s fifth attempt following failed efforts for the 1994, 1998, 2006, and 2010 editions.
ESPN detailed more plans for this year’s ESPN Fantasy Football Marathon presented by DraftKings, which will feature 28 straight hours of live fantasy football news, analysis and content starting today at 7p. The Marathon will include Fantasy Football specials in primetime, segments on multiple editions of SportsCenter, and Fantasy Football-themed editions of series such as First Take, Jalen & Jacoby,Mike & Mike, NFL Live, OTL and SportsNation, as well as a special live TV edition of the ESPN Fantasy Focus Football podcast. Also returning with be  the ESPN “Fantasy Island” and the Celebrity Fantasy Draft, live podcasts on ESPN Audio, special editions of Mock Draft Mondays, and more.
The United Soccer League named Las Vegas as the third and final USL expansion franchise that will join the league for the 2018 season. The new franchise will play at Cashman Field. “Las Vegas brings a significant level of excitement to the rapidly growing professional soccer landscape in the United States,” said USL CEO Alec Papadakis. “The USL is leading this growth in the sport’s popularity and demand by identifying and securing thriving new markets, such as Las Vegas, which continues to drive the league toward its goal of becoming one of the top Division II leagues in the world, alongside the likes of the English Championship, Liga Adelante in Spain, and Germany’s 2. Bundesliga.”
Figuring out:
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The National Hockey League and the Detroit Red Wings moved quickly to take on the unexpected use of the Red Wings logo as part of the white supremacist activities in Charlottesville, with both organizations strongly condemning the use of the image and announcing plans to protect the logo. “We are obviously outraged by the irresponsible and improper use of our intellectual property as seen this weekend in Charlottesville, Va,” the league said in a statement. “This specific use is directly contrary to the value of inclusiveness that our League prioritizes and champions. We will take immediate and all necessary steps to insure the use is discontinued as promptly as possible, and will vigorously pursue other remedies, as appropriate.” Meanwhile, the team added that “The Detroit Red Wings vehemently disagree with and are not associated in any way with the event taking place today in Charlottesville, Va.,” the team said in a statement, adding that “We are exploring every possible legal action as it pertains to the misuse of our logo in this disturbing demonstration.”

The LPGA laid out plans for the launch of the LPGA Women’s Network, which goes live today ahead of the Solheim Cup. According to the org, the Women’s Network “will give its subscribers the opportunity to receive golf tips and instruction from LPGA Teachers; to engage with the LPGA and its players through an interactive blog and video series; and to connect with each other.” “The LPGA Women’s Network is designed to help nurture women’s interest in the game of golf,” Ashleigh McLaughlin, Manager of Digital Marketing and Brand Strategy for the Women’s Network, told LPGA.com about the new venture. “LPGAWomensNetwork.com will start as a blog and will quickly grow into an online community that celebrates the growth and connections women can find through golf.”
fuboTV announced that it now has authenticated TV Everywhere support for NBC Sports. Subscribers to the service can now watch sports programming from NBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel and the Olympic Channel, in addition to Comcast/NBC Sports regional sports networks – directly on the NBC Sports app and website. 

ESL locked in its team and schedule for ESL One New York next month from Sept. 16-17, which will see both the North American and European qualities each feature seven invited teams along with one from the open qualifiers which run Aug. 19-20. Representing North America will be Cloud9, OpTic Gaming, Misfits, NRG eSports, Immortals, Counter Logic Gaming, along with Renegades. On the European side will be G2 Esports, Hellraisers, BIG, Gambit Esports, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Team EnVyUs and FlipSid3 Tactics
Westwood One is adding markets to Checkpoint Radio’s nationally syndicated radio show is hosted by Nate Bender, Robbie Landis, Norris Howard and Joe Sloan and dedicated to esports and gaming. Joining the lineup for the weekly broadcast will 97.5 FM The Fanatic in Philadelphia, 101 ESPN in St Louis, and ESPN 97.5 FM in Houston. In three months, Checkpoint Radio has grown in North America to include markets such as Toronto, Denver, Phoenix, Vancouver BC, Tampa, Montreal, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Rochester, and Orlando.
The High School Esports League locked in plans for its first HSEL Majors season, offering scholarship prize pools and tournament play as schools face off against other schools in their region and run the leaderboards. The HSEL Majors launches Oct. 8 with playoffs starting early December. Titles will include League of Legends, CS:GO, Overwatch, Hearthstone and Rocket League.

Mets/Yankees on ESPN at 7p.
The 5th Annual Cynopsis Digital Model D & It List Awards
If you are proud of a digital campaign or project that your team has carried out in the past year, grant your team the recognition they deserve by entering our  Model D Awards . And, if there is an individual that has gone above and beyond by pushing the boundaries of digital innovation, they belong on   Cynopsis Digital’s “It List.”
ON THIS DAY in 1959: The American Football League is formed with franchises in Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, NY and LA. 
In the Know: What was the original name of Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays? (Email [email protected] with your answer and be sure to include your name, company and city.)
Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question: What is John Daly’s nickname?  Answer: Long John, but I’ll also accept Wild Thing/Lion. Kudos: Michael Ritz-BucStar Consulting/NY; Brian Scweibert-Publicis Media/NY; Rick Rosenfelt-New York Red Bulls/Harrison; John Douglas Miller-NBC Olympics/Stamford; Synda Kollman-Charter Marketing Group/Deerfield Beach; Mike May-PHIT America/Wellington; Andy Pittman-TAMU/College Station; Judie Henninger-Valentine Productions/Santa Monica; David Westberg-SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union/Burbank; Tom Moore-Kalt Productions/LA
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