Monday, April 4th, 2011

Cynopsis: Sports

April 2011

Good morning. It’s Monday, April 4, 2011, and this is your weekly Sports article and editorial from Cynopsis.  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! 


Finding Success in Sports Programming — without Sports Programming

By Chris Pursell

April has always been a strong month for sports. Not only do fans have The Masters, MLB opening day, the NCAA Tournament finals, and the NFL Draft, but NASCAR is in full gear and the NBA and NHL are both gearing up for the playoffs. For a television network with broadcast rights to these games, the inherent following in each of these sports presents branding gold and promotional opportunities. Meanwhile, channels that don’t have rights to live games are still finding new ways to tap into the sports market.

Comedy Central will debut Sports Show with Norm Macdonald on April 12, which follows the channel’s recent finale of The Onion SportsDome, a spoof of ESPN’s SportsCenter. Current TV recently scored a Sports Emmy nomination for its series Vanguard, and will debut docu-series 4th and Forever on May 26, chronicling the 2010 football season of Long Beach Polytechnic High School, dubbed “Sports School of the Century” by Sports Illustrated. DirecTV channel The 101 continues to do well with The Dan Patrick Show, and executives recently brought the series into syndication. Meanwhile, VH1 has established a franchise with Basketball Wives, which became the channel’s highest rated program in the timeslot since 2009. The list goes on.

Of course, some ideas have been more successful than others. One channel that continues to find success in sports programming, without actually airing live games, is Cartoon Network. With partnerships with the NBA, sports-themed online games and webisodes, as well as the success of “The Hall of Game Awards,” executives at the channel are leveraging fans and up-and-coming fans into ratings and dollars.

“Sport is a natural thing for us to be involved in and engaged in because it’s an important part of our audience’s life, particularly with boys,” said Stuart Snyder, President and COO of Cartoon Network. “You can’t be in our space without thinking about how sports resonate with our audience. We started with My Dad’s a Pro, and we saw the opportunity to create an awards show that turned out to be incredibly successful. We absolutely will continue to do sports-themed programming and integrate it into our brand. That said, it has to be the right idea of course, and the right thing for our audience.”

The first-ever Cartoon Network Hall of Game Awards ceremony aired on February 25 and drew double-digit ratings and delivery gains among targeted kids and boys audiences compared to the same time period last year. According to Nielsen Media Research, kids and boys aged 6-11, 9-14 and 12-17 all scored year-to-year improvements ranging between 29% and 76%.  The inaugural sports award and entertainment event, taped in Los Angeles and hosted by Tony Hawk, also drew solid ratings and delivery increases among boys 2-11 and attracted an average 1,487,000 total viewers. On Thursday, Cartoon Network announced at their annual upfront presentations that there would be a second go-around for the fledgling awards show.

“Part of what we are looking to do with the awards is to incorporate sports in the kid business and expand our advertiser base,” said John O’Hara, Executive VP and General Sales Manager of Cartoon Network Ad Sales and Marketing, who noted that brands such as Sears, Pepperidge Farms Goldfish, Kid’s Foot Locker, and Hasbro/Nerf all came aboard as sponsors as a result of the event. “We were able to do customized spots about eight weeks out from the event that utilized every platform that we have and paid off on the big night. Once the first show was under our belt, and it went well, we immediately heard from other advertisers. We already have the nice problem of potentially having more demand than supply for the show, so that’s terrific.”

Cartoon Network had previously taken advantage of its relationship with Turner Sports to broadcast Run It Back Sunday, a remix of the NBA on TNT game of the week with special effects, animation and pop-up trivia mixed into the game. The channel had also run a short-form series My Dad’s a Pro, which followed the experiences of Boston Celtics guard Eddie House and his seven-year-old son Jaelen in season one and NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez and his son in season two.

The results prodded the NBA to approach Cartoon Network on a new initiative announced earlier this year for a major, integrated campaign aimed at marketing the league to kids dubbed “Hoop Troop.” now includes a mix of video, original programming, online interactive games and kid-friendly versions of scores, and standings.

“We are always looking for additional opportunities both online and on our schedule to work with leagues about what we can do to help them reach a demo for us and for them, but it has to be done in the right way,” said Snyder. “Sport is a powerful component to a brand, but only if you are able to make that content embrace your demo, make it right for your audience, and make it entertaining and fun. When it works, it is a great thing to be a part of.”

In My Opinion

FX’s confirmation this week that it would be carrying live NCAA football games over the fall continues to elevate the value sports can bring to a brand. As networks push and prod producers to develop new ways to tie their channel to the world of athletics, and subsequently their built-in fanbase, expect even more of this programming in the future with premiums being placed on events that were once low key. Given the media attention to these events and shows, the smart programmers will find a way to make these programs organic to their audiences. The others will find a much-hyped cancellation on their doorstep. 

This is the inaugural Cynopsis|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 Cynopsis|Sports
March 14, 2011

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