10/29/18: ESPN discusses the rise of its podcast forums

Good morning. It’s Monday October 29, 2018 and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.

ESPN Podcasts scored a record in September, generating 39.3 million IAB compliant downloads, easily topping its previous record of 36.0 million set in May of this year, and marking a rise of 50% over September 2017. The company also reports that ESPN Podcasts drew a total of 5.47 million US Unique Audience, as measured by Podtrac, an increase of 36% vs. September 2017, with Fantasy Focus Football, scoring its best month in its 10-year history, with just shy of 4.6 million total IAB compliant downloads, averaging nearly 162,000 IAB compliant downloads per episode. Topping the charts was The Dan LeBatard Show with 8.2 million downloads.
Breaking new ground in the podcast landscape is ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 Podcasts, which returned last week for a fourth season with five all-new audio documentaries, beginning with “Juiced,” about Jose Canseco’s memoir is live now, and the most recent episode being “All In: Sparking the Poker Boom,” examining the 2003 World Series of Poker. Cynopsis asked Jody Avirgan, podcast host and producer who oversees ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcasts, about the format and series’ impact on sports media.
Avirgan on the role of podcasts on media: I see ESPN as doing three kinds of “digital audio” really well — there’s the radio shows that get posted into podcasts, there’s the original talk shows, and then there’s storytelling. I’m most obsessed with storytelling, and see that as the biggest place to find new audiences and do ambitious journalism. One thing that I think about a lot is how to make stories that a core sports audience will like, but also one that will break out into the larger world. You hear this about 30 for 30 all the time: “I don’t like sports, but I love 30 for 30.” That’s music to my ears. I also think it’s good business to be there for those listeners.
On how strategy has evolving: Overall, we’ve just seen podcast listening explode. So we’re trying to develop new shows, and build a bit of a network effect where we can become a home for listeners who just want engaging, smart, fun audio. We’ve gotten much better about marketing our new shows and stories as well, making sure that our radio and TV and web audiences know about new podcasts.
On how the 30 for 30 Podcasts fit into that strategy: I see 30 for 30 as the flagship storytelling podcast at ESPN (and I’d like to think, in general). But I also see it as a really cool extension of the 30 for 30 brand. It’s not a chance for us to tell more stories in new ways, and I want to make sure that every fan of the 30 for 30 video series is also listening to the podcast.
On the 30 for 30 series: Podcasting is intimate, it’s emotional, so it’s a great place to tell stories with built in stakes and consequences. Luckily, sports stories have a lot of those! We also get to tell some stories in audio that we wouldn’t be able to tell in video. We can take you to places where there may not have been cameras, we can go back in time, we can tell more obscure stories. It’s just another gear for us to have.
On favorite moments: Truly my favorite thing about 30 for 30 is the range. I love that we can tell a story about Trayvon Martin, then tell a story about a poker heist, then do a multi-part series about Bikram Yoga. It’s that diversity of stories and creative approach that I value the most. I want to do serious journalism, but I also talk a lot about how we need to do “romps” — stories that are just fun to listen to as well. We’ll keep trying to do it all.

Game 4 of the 2018 World Series handed FOX with a 9.8/19 metered market rating on Saturday to mark the fifth night in row that the network took the night among broadcast channels. That marks a dip of 7% in the Nielsen ratings from ight among the Big 4 and facing college football on both ABC and CBS, that’s a bop up of just under 5% from Game 4 a year ago. Meanwhile, an epic Game 3, which serves as the longest World Series game in history with an 18 inning battle, averaged a 9.5/20 in metered markets. The Dodgers walk-off win delivered over 13.2 million viewers to the company, with FOX Deportes marking is most-watched World Series Game 3 ever, with 462,000 viewers, while FOX Sports Digital reeled in an average minute audience of 176,000, over 36% over last year.
In college football, week 9 of the regular season saw ESPN’s ratings grow 56% for its Saturday lineup while ABC aired the highest-rated primetime game over the evening. ESPN’s collective 56% ratings increase on Saturday was generated by individual game window successes, with the network’s noon, late afternoon and primetime windows all up year-over-year. Iowa/Penn State delivered a 1.8 overnight and was up 157% from the same game window last year. The network’s primetime audience was up 63% year-over-year for Texas A&M/Mississippi State while its early window audience up 23% for Purdue/Michigan State. ABC’S Saturday Night Football featuring Texas/Oklahoma State and Clemson/Florida State saw a 2.5 overnight for the Tigers/Seminoles blowout while the Longhorns/Cowboys matchup generated a 2.4 overnight.
Around the dial, CBS Sports’ coverage of the SEC on CBS Georgia/Florida game on Saturday ranked as the highest-rated afternoon college football game on any network this season, delivering a 4.5/10 average household rating/share and up 105%.
Meanwhile, CBS Sports also announced that its SEC on CBS doubleheader on Nov. 3 will now include the Georgia/Kentucky battle at 3:30p, followed by the previously-announced Alabama/LSU matchup. The early game will see Carter Blackburn, analysts Aaron Taylor and Rick Neuheisel, along with reporter John Schriffen on microphone duties.
Wrapping up the ratings news, Thursday Night Football Presented by Bud Light on Thursday drew an average audience of 12.5 million viewers across all platforms, including FOX, NFL Network, FOX Deportes, NFL digital, FOX Sports digital, Amazon and Yahoo Sports for a rise of 7% over last year’s Week 8 matchup. The Nielsen-measured audience was 12.1 million viewers, up 6%.
Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, USA Baseball and the Atlanta Braves announced the debut of the rebranded Hank Aaron Invitational, which will add new elements to the event formerly known as the “Elite Development Invitational.” The event will continue to be a unique amateur development event designed as a youth-oriented, on-field diversity initiative that aims to get high school-age players, with diverse backgrounds, to the next levels of the game. The joint MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation will cover all operations expenses, allowing the event to be entirely cost-free for all participants. The Hank Aaron Invitational will be held in July and August at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, with the 44 players invited to play in a special showcase game at SunTrust Park.
FIFA’s plans to launch a Club World Club and Global Nations League have been put on hold due to resistance from UEFA and European clubs. Now, a taskforce will be launched to look into tournament options before reporting back to the FIFA Council when they meet in March next year in Miami.
NHL’s fourth president John A. Ziegler Jr. died Thursday at the age of 84. “The NHL family was saddened to learn of the passing of former League President John Ziegler,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “From 1977 until 1992, as just the fourth President in NHL history, John oversaw the growth of the League from 18 to 24 teams, including the 1979 addition of four teams from the WHA. He was instrumental in the NHL’s transition to becoming a more international League – during his tenure, the share of European-born players in the NHL grew from two to 11 percent, players from the former Soviet Union first entered the League and games between NHL and European Clubs became a nearly annual tradition.
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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson landed a new sponsor for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team next year, inking a deal with Ally Financial to serve as primary sponsor for every race of both the 2019 and 2020 season. “The opportunity to work with a partner like Ally is incredible,” Johnson said in a team release. “Their commitment to leading in both the workplace and the community is something that resonates with me in a big way. They’ve sent a strong message about how much they believe in me and in our team, and I will do my part to make sure it’s the best investment they’ve ever made. I’m ready to chase more history with Ally on board the 48.”
Legends has been named the sponsorship sales agency by LA 2028. The company will work with U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Properties to help develop, identify and secure sponsorship opportunities for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Under the multi-year agreement, Legends will work with the joint venture to market and sell the collective LA 2028 and Team USA story.
Girl Up and WWE unveiled a multi-year partnership to support the creation of  Sports For a Purpose, which will launch in the fall of 2019 and “create a culture of sports participation for girls around the world.” The program will equip Girl Up’s girl leaders with tools and resources so that they can help tackle gender-based barriers girls face to playing sports, including access to safe play spaces and sporting equipment.

The NCAA is forming a new committee designed to take a hard look at the impact of sports wagering. In a statement, the org said that “The Board of Governors Ad Hoc Committee on Sports Wagering will examine the sports wagering landscape and its potential impact on current NCAA rules, educational efforts, player availability reporting, and any associated risks as more states legalize sports wagering.” However, the NCAA states that current rules prohibiting sports wagering by student-athletes or athletics employees remain in effect.
Altered Reality Corp. announced a new licensing partnership with the NFL Players Association, via its licensing and marketing arm NFL Players Inc., to create the first-in-the-world shareable 3D imagery of NFL Players. The athletes will become “virtual presences” in ARC’s Play3D Augmented Reality App, the world’s first photorealistic hologram mobile camera. At launch, the mobile AR technology will feature seven professional football stars: Josh Allen, Saquon Barkley, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
NASCAR debuted its first app for the Apple Watch, which is now available in the App Store. The new app’s features include in-car and race broadcast audio, race schedules, driver standings and favorite driver functionality. The app is compatible with previous versions of the Apple Watch and syncs fully with user settings from NASCAR’s official app, NASCAR Mobile, for iOS devices.

Amid a week of high-profile investments that included Michael Jordan and Drake, Fortnite creator Epic Games announced its own round an investment of approximately $1.25 billion from companies that include KKR, ICONIQ Capital, Smash Ventures, aXiomatic, Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. This investment “creates powerful partnerships with highly strategic investment firms and individuals at the forefront of technology, entertainment, professional sports, esports, and live events.” New investors join Tencent, Disney and Endeavor as minority shareholders in Epic.
Mastercard opened the books to its first activation of the League of Legends World Championship, which will be anchored by The Mastercard Nexus, a League of Legends-themed experiential pop-up in the Gangnam Gu neighborhood of Seoul. Meanwhile, the 2018 World Championship Finals will kick off in Incheon with the “Finals Opening Ceremony presented by Mastercard,” which will include a performance of the 2018 Worlds anthem ‘RISE’ featuring The Glitch Mob, Mako, The Word Alive, and Bobby of iKON. There will also be a special performance debut of a new Riot produced song featuring Madison Beer, Miyeon and Soyeon of (G)I-DLE, and Jaira Burns. The Mastercard Nexus run from Nov. 1-3 and include experiences such as: “Become a Champion” through social, shareable Augmented Reality experience; the ability to play on high-performance gaming PCs and experience Riot Game’s Snowdown Showdown 1v1 game mode.
TwitchCon saw Twitch announce the expansion of their esports program, Twitch Rivals. The initiative has played host to 55 gaming events featuring Partners, Affiliates, and their friends, so far, awarding over $5 million in prizing. Streamers who participated in a Twitch Rivals event saw an average of 20% more viewers and 90% more ad revenue on event days and 10% more revenue from subs nearly a month later. In 2019, Twitch Rivals will more than double in size to 128 events, with the program expanding to cover more games and genres, such as MOBAs and even single-player RPGs, with millions of dollars in prizes.
Blizzard launched a new Blizzard Esports app, offering content, scores, schedules, and more for Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch (not including Overwatch League), StarCraft, StarCraft II, and World of Warcraft. The new platform means, – for the first time ever – that esports content from all of Blizzard’s games will be housed in one location, on both Android and iOS devices.
Ninja aka Tyler Blevins, will be livestreaming a Fortnite New Year’s event exclusively on Twitch with a full competitive computer set-up based in Times Square. For twelve hours, he will invite the world to tune in to his Twitch channel “where he will be playing his favorite game, Fortnite, alongside some of his notable friends, teeing-up audience surprises and, of course, demonstrating top gameplay.”

The NBA announced that Ralph Rivera has been appointed Managing Director of NBA Europe and Middle East where he will oversee the league’s basketball and business development throughout Europe and the Middle East and will be supported by the region’s senior leadership team to continue to grow the popularity of basketball.

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