Monday, August 1st, 2011

Cynopsis: Sports

Good morning. It’s Monday, August 1, 2011, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.’s recent introduction of a new digital audio player that gives fans the ability to build their own custom sports audio experience via ESPN Audio NOW, is clearly cranking up the role of audio at the company to 11. New technology is helping ESPN deliver content to the ears as well as the eyes (witness the company’s new ‘Sports for Your Ears’ campaign) and the site now reaches nearly two million unique listeners per month, more than double the previous year’s numbers.

As competition for time and audiences increases, Cynopsis Sports spoke with Traug Keller, SVP of Production, Business Divisions at ESPN about the evolving role of audio in a digital age, the impact of social media on topical discussions and how content is developed with the ear in mind.

Keller on the strategy behind ESPN Audio: Our strategy is pretty simple as we made the decision a few years back that we are not radio, we are audio. At a time when the rest of the radio industry was taking it on the chin, we said ‘Oh my gosh, look at all of the additional speakers out there through which good audio content can flow.’ That led to our decision to just be everywhere, on satellite, on the computer, on the iPhone, on smartphones, Xbox. Let’s just be wherever there are speakers and push our audio content through.

On the keys to success: What will determine success in the future of audio in this digital age is content. You’ve got to put compelling content on or people are gone. While that’s certainly true in terrestrial radio, it’s even more true in digital audio. There is a fair amount of stuff out there and you are competing for everyone’s time, so we got to entertain and inform, keep it tight and not waste people’s time. That’s why we built Search Trends, to put more power in the hands of the sports fan and allow listeners to make the content as relevant as possible and give them what they want when they want it.

On how social media influences content: Social media has helped, and the interesting thing about Twitter is that our producers are using Twitter now so they can figure out what’s pushing people’s buttons. Our producers are scanning Tweets and can find a hot topic and go with it before moving to the next topic. That’s allowed us to see instantly what’s resonating with the audience and fine tune the show to meet those needs.

On the air

The BBC and Sky Sports have inked a deal that will place F1 races on the two networks beginning next season creating an environment where fans will have to pay in order to see every race from the series. The BBC currently runs every Grand Prix race on free TV but will now only broadcast half of the races between 2012 and 2018. British Sky Broadcast will now show all the races, with half under an exclusive window. BBC will now run extensive highlights of all the races.

CBS and Golf Channel are poised to benefit from Tiger Woods’ return to the sport at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational from Aug. 3-7. Golf Channel is set to run the opening rounds with CBS lined up for weekend play with all players advancing to the weekend in this tournament. Woods hasn’t played since May 12, when he withdrew from the Players Championship due to injury.

The return of the post-lockout NFL delivered record numbers of fans to NFL Network and NFL Network’s coverage of a frenzy of team moves from Tuesday through Thursday handed the channel with a 288% increase in average total day viewership over the same time period last year, with an average of 186,000 fans tuning in to watch the news. In primetime, NFL Network averaged 290,000 viewers over the three days period to mark a 202% jump over 2010. The NFL’s digital media platforms which include, NFL Mobile Only From Verizon and others saw a 143% spike in unique users over last year as 5.7 million fans logged on from Monday through Thursday. Both properties set single-day records for Thursday’s coverage.

Fox jumped back in to the Dodgers/MLB dispute, filing papers on Friday saying Dodgers owner Frank McCourt should be blocked from hiring an investment bank to sell the team’s cable television rights. McCourt, who previously had a deal with Fox that was voided, has asked the court for permission to retain Blackstone Advisory Partners to restructure Dodger finances and marketing the team’s cable rights, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, the Dodgers’ current contract with Fox stipulates that the team cannot negotiate with any party besides Fox before Nov. 30, 2012.

MegaTV is entering an alliance with ESPN Deportes in an effort to connect and serve the U.S. Hispanic audience across multiple platforms. The alliance was marked with the launch of four hours of original programming under the new sports block, “Clasicos de ESPN Deportes,” exclusively on MegaTV.

Marshall Faulk and Orlando Pace are returning to the Rams, at least for the preseason. The former Super Bowl Champion teammates have joined the Ram’s broadcast crew for the team’s preseason games this summer on KTVI. Faulk will serve as color commentator for the games and will be joined in the booth by Andrew Siciliano, who will call play-by-play. Pace and broadcaster Maurice Drummond will work as sideline reporters.

UFC has unveiled more contests to its fight card for Versus’ upcoming UFC Live 6, adding a bout between Yves Edwards and Rafaello Oliveira to the Oct. 1 event. The card will be held at the Verizon Center in Washington DC.

The NFL lockout may have put the kibosh on HBO’s Hard Knocks this year, but that won’t be the end of the show, according to executives. This summer, HBO Sports will offer viewers a special 90-minute edition of the show on Aug. 31 that will showcase clips from previous seasons as well as a Where Are They Now? features. The series, which has showcased five different teams since 2001, will come back for the 2012 training camps.

Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann played fantasy casting on the July 28th edition of Current’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” for the upcoming movie based on the book ESPN: Those Guys Have All the Fun underway at Fox. Their choices? Patrick suggested Jason Bateman to play himself with Olbermann played by Ben Affleck.

Sponsorship & Promotion

With summer heat beating down most of the country, the Gatorade Company is once again teaming with the NFL to educate athletes, parents and coaches about heat-related illness and the importance of proper hydration for practices and games. As part of the 2011 Beat the Heat program, NFL players will hold hydration awareness efforts that drive parents and coaches toward educational materials designed to keep athletes safe and on the field.

The Kraft Sports Group is entering a multi-year marketing partnership with Putnam Investments designed to build awareness-building opportunities with high-profile branding of new and improved properties at Gillette Stadium. The stadium, of course, is home to the Patriots. As part of the deal, the two companies will seek to redefine and upgrade the fan experience through use of leading technology, social media and greater levels of connectivity.

Fresh off a gold medal at the XGames, Shaun White is officially parting ways with Red Bull after four years according to ESPN. The contract expired over the winter, and was valued at more than $1 million annually.

Digital Fields

Microsoft and ESPN are transforming ESPN on Xbox LIVE on August 25, just in time for college football. The two companies announced an overhaul to the service, featuring a new user-friendly redesign as well as refined voice control through the power of Kinect, along with new features and deeper levels of personalization. New features are set to include My Sports, which allows fans to select their favorite sports and teams and designate those channels as favorites, a mini guide, and split screen action to watch more than one game at a time.

The Main Event

AL East leading Red Sox host Al Central hopefuls the Cleveland Indians on ESPN at 7p.

ON THIS DAY in 1976: The 21st Olympic Games close at Montreal, Canada

Answer to Yesterday’s Sports Trivia Question: Who is the only pure placekicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?  Jan Stenerud. Kudos: Adam Licker – ABC Family/NY; Benjamin J. Newman – CBS Local Media’s WBZ-TV & TV38/Boston; Mike Doyle – Spot on Media Consultants/Madison; Stephen Narissi  Optimedia/NY; Greg Moloznik  GLM Media Dynamics/Scottsdale; Tom Moore – Kalt Productions/LA

In The Know:  Who is the all-time passing leader for the St. Louis Rams franchise?  (Email [email protected] with your answer and be sure to include your name, company, city and time zone. Unofficial rules: Only the second four correct answers from each time zone will be mentioned; and once you’ve been mentioned in any of the Cynopsis editions, you can’t be mentioned again that calendar week.)

In My Opinion …

The upcoming Pac-12 networks are taking a look, the Longhorn network is taking a look, and now the NCAA is taking a look. Is high school sports on a university-branded TV network really a sly recruiting advantage or is it inevitable in a digital society desperate for content? The answer, of course, is both and I give props to the NCAA for quickly pulling together the summit to explore the issue. If a university or conference feels its brand is strong enough to carry a network, great, but how much more friction will the have-nots be able to handle? Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Thursday he was concerned about the potential negative effects of high school football games on Texas’ Longhorn Network calling it a “Pandora’s Box.” And that is literally what it is. Of course, I fully expect games to (eventually) be allowed.

Agree or disagree?  Send in your views for posting here to chris [email protected] under Emails to the Editor …

Later — Chris
 Chris Pursell for Cyn opsis | Sports

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