Monday, April 18th, 2011

Cynopsis: Sports

April 2011

Good morning. It’s Monday, April 18, 2011, and this is your weekly Sports article and editorial from Cyn opsis.  If you’d like to comment on this story, there is a space for that below the article.  Look for more of these in the future! 


 

NBA’s Record Season Leaves Broadcasters Floating, League Uncertain

By Chris Pursell

With sports television ratings up and broadcast deals scoring record amounts of dollars in almost every category, one thing observers can take away from it is that there are downsides to success. Indeed, the culmination of the 2010-11 NBA regular season is proving to be a mixed blessing for the league even while broadcasters spin ratings gold and prepare for a post-season afterglow.

On Friday, NBA Commissioner David Stern spoke to the media and noted that the league was on pace to continue its string of money-losing seasons in spite of earning around $900 million a year from its broadcast partners. With a lockout on the horizon if a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t reached, the next season could also be cloudy. The declaration proved to be a grim reality even as stadium attendance and merchandising grew for teams (1% and 20% respectively) and audiences reached all-time highs on each of the organization’s primary broadcast partners.

“The labor uncertainty is beginning to have an impact on our business,” NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said in the press conference. “As we are in discussion with advertisers and other partners about relationships for next year, we can’t assure them that we are going to have games.”

On the flip side, with the playoffs beginning last Saturday, it was those broadcasters who basked in the glow of double digit ratings spikes across the board. According to the league, Turner’s TNT saw audiences rise 42%, ABC jumped 38% and ESPN grew 29%. Those ratings boosts set high expectations for the playoffs, and all three outlets delivered their highest-rated regular seasons ever.

“It’s the product that’s on the floor. Its undeniable, the quality of the play and the players who are playing the game right now. We are seeing some of the best players in NBA history, when it’s all said and done,” said Doug White, Senior Director of Programming and Acquisitions at ESPN. “Of course, while the product that’s on the floor is the primary reason for the spike, we’ve been at this for a little while now and we’ve made some tweaks over the years and our production guys have done a terrific job making the experience enjoyable. They’ve done a great job listening to our fans, listening to our viewers and trying to tailor our broadcast to make watching more enjoyable for them.”

ESPN, with 71 game telecasts this season, finished with a 1.5 average rating, compared to 75 games and a 1.2 in 2009-10. ABC had 15 games in each of those seasons, and grew from a 2.3 score to a 3.0. NBA pregame shows on ESPN and ABC basked in the ratings glow. ABC’s  Buick Regal NBA Countdown averaged a 25% increase in ratings while ESPN’s Kia NBA Countdown saw a 33% jump in ratings. According to White, those gains were driven by a deeper following from basketball fans.

“I think we are bringing back some viewers who may have left, but I really think from what we’ve seen in our research, the fans that we’ve always had are watching more and longer,” said White. “So that’s great, you want to make sure you keep your fans and your fan base engaged as long as you possibly can.”

On the digital front, fan entrenchment was also on the rise. ESPN.com’s NBA section saw significant audience increases this season, including a 36 percent increase in total minutes spent, a 28 percent climb in daily unique visitors and a 21 percent gain in page views. In addition, total time spent consuming video of NBA games on ESPN3.com was up 175 percent compared to last year.

“It’s essentially parallel with what we experienced on the linear networks,” he said. “It’s our best year to date online. Our draft coverage is already up, and we expect that interest to continue to grow as we advance through the playoffs.”

The playoffs will mark some firsts for the network as well. ESPN 3D, in its first year of distribution, televised the NBA Playoffs and Finals on Saturday when the Chicago Bulls hosted the Indiana Pacers, marking the first time that the NBA postseason was broadcast in 3D. Viewers also saw a new graphics and animation package on the ESPN broadcasts.

“You’ll see a new graphics and animation package rollout for the playoffs,” said White. “The look that you saw during the regular season is going to be sunsetted and you’ll find a package that is going to be a lot more polished, one that is a nice refresher to the property and brings it up to date. It’s something that is going to be pleasing to the eye as well. I think fans are going to love the finish to this season.”

In My Opinion

Networks and advertisers have done their part, turning live event sports programming into “must see” television and providing long term, high-priced deals that have given stability to leagues as well as a television home that allows viewers to know when and where to view games year after year. The strength of sports brands continues to grow, is Tivo proof, and has full season orders that most producers could only dream of. As we saw with the NHL’s lockout in the 2004-05 season, once audiences break their viewing habits, it can have an effect that lasts for years. Hopefully owners and players will find a way to avoid killing the golden goose.

Off the Field
Notable quotes behind the scenes from the faces that drive sports media

Dan Beebe, Big 12 Conference Commissioner on how the Fox deal affects the survival chances of the Big 12: “Now there is even more of a demonstration of what we said by our words last summer, in the form of an agreement with a tremendous partner in the college sports industry and one that binds the conference together and provides for a unique situation with institutions that have the ability to use content in the future that may not be at the level of interest that our national media partners have and they can do something locally with it.”

Ken Aagaard, Executive Vice President, Engineering, Operations & Production Services at CBS Sports on why the network teamed with Turner for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament: “CBS was in a situation that we were losing a lot of money and it’s no surprise so something had to change and to be able to figure it out. So there was basically a whole other rebid that occurred and in that process, the only way to be able to make it work overall was for us to come together.”

Michael Lombardi, NFL Network Analyst on how the lockout will impact the draft: “Because of the setting that we are in, in terms of no free agency before the draft and no teams have solved any needs before the draft, this draft is wide open. It’s going to be completely unpredictable from the first pick to the last pick in the first round and the second and third. So I’m looking forward to it as teams talk about their needs and try to fill their needs and I think each pick will be unique and different.”

Golf Channel President Mike McCarley on how the Masters bolstered network ratings: “Golf Channel’s new relationship with NBC Sports is creating tremendous momentum for the network. From the best first quarter in our history to a record-setting Masters Week to significant ratings increases for nearly every show across every daypart, we’re looking forward to continued momentum.”

Turner NBA TV analyst Kevin McHale on whether media attention on Kobe’s slur will impact his performance: “As far as upsetting Kobe, yeah that’s bad… for the opponent. He plays better when he’s got an edge on. That’s the worst thing that can happen. You want that to happen to some soft guy who can’t go out there and is just going to crumble under the pressure.”


This is the inaugural Cyn opsis| Sports editorial edition – let us know what you think about the story, about the idea of our having a Sports related edition, or anything else on your mind.  Email Cynthia at [email protected] or email Chris Purcell directly here.

Later — Chris
Chris Purcell for Cyn opsis| Sports
April 11, 2011

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