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Archive for Sports – Page 2

WWE beefing up content output

WWE Logo

I took a double-take reading a recent headline “WWE Studios Expands into Scripted Series…”. I mean, isn’t wrestling by definition scripted? What’s the big deal?

It turns out the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) is expanding its studio operations to try and take advantage of “peak video.” Moving beyond TV wrestling-related fare, it hopes to  expand into more prestige content. It hopes to do this while still keeping a connection to its roster of stars and the “squared circle.”

This includes a couple of prestige projects. These include a documentary on Andre the Giant for HBO, and a feature starring Dwayne Johnson (aka former WWE star The Rock) that is to be written and directed by Stephen Merchant. A tag team alliance between WWE and powerhouse Hollywood agency WME helps drive this endeavor.

Although not directly mentioned, the WWE’s own SVOD service, The WWE Network, may also be a factor. At a relatively hefty $9.99/month, the service may be finding out what a lot of cable channels have: playing in a very specific niche is difficult, even considering the avid WWE fans who subscribe. Just a few examples are Spike (created as a men’s network), MTV (24/7 music), and Oxygen (women). All had to broaden their content and dilute their niche base to keep growing.

Doubleteam for the win?

While WWE Studios, and the WWE Network, may never go beyond an outer ring of wrestling, they can diversify their content while not tagging out of the wrestling connection completely.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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[update] Vets’ NFL boycott appears to fall short

A quick follow-up on a recent post that discussed a proposed veterans’ boycott of the NFL over Veteran’s Day weekend

Although I don’t have direct access to Nielsen ratings, the New York Post published an article that indicated that Week 10 (Veteran’s Day weekend) NFL audiences maintained the same level as Week 9. Thus it seems the grass-roots effort to hit the NFL and its sponsors where it most hurts fell short of a first down, much less a touchdown.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Revamping SportsCenter isn’t just a Snap

ESPN logoYesterday ESPN continued its evolution of its SportsCenter mothership by launching a version of SportsCenter on Snapchat. Battered by the dynamic changes in media over the past decade, SportsCenter has been the subject of much tweaking – minor and major – as ESPN tries to stem the audience erosion of its headline program.

Of course, two five-minute episodes a day on Snapchat doesn’t replace watching an hour’s worth of SportsCenter on TV, but it is a way to be more relevant to a particular demographic of young sports fans – helping fulfill ESPN’s mission to serve all fans.

Almost needless to say, the forces working against the classic version of SportsCenter started with the mainstreaming of internet use, and accelerated with the use of mobile apps and services. As with general news, the need for an overview of the day’s sports news was reduced by the ability of fans to get sports scores, news, and updates all through the day.

Coupled with all-day sports updates was the increasing personalization offered by digital services. Why sit through an hour’s worth of sports news to get a minute’s or two coverage of your favorite teams? Highly localized coverage of a city or of just a team meant one could just go straight to the wheat and forget the chaff.

These media-related changes were also compounded by cultural changes, in terms of expectations for talent diversity, talent “attitude,” and so forth that required updates to keep up with the times.

As with many things ESPN, most other TV networks/media properties would love to be in their position in terms of audience and revenue – the problem is ESPN set the bar so high in the past that market adjustments take on a relatively higher profile.

Serving the Fan

As for me? I’m a relatively big sports fan but I pretty much stopped watching SportsCenter regularly in the late ’90s. I still rely a lot on ESPN, but only for the teams and sports I like, and almost exclusively through the ESPN mobile app and what comes through my Facebook feed. ESPN is still carrying out its mission in my case – and its presence across today’s various permutations of TV, internet, mobile, radio, and print means it can still service most sports fans.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Will vets force NFL’s hand with Veteran’s Day boycott?

NFL logoVeterans and their supporters are gearing up for an NFL protest of their own over Veteran’s Day weekend. Tired of what they perceive as disrespect to the national anthem, flag, and country, they want their voice heard by taking their eyes and ears away from the NFL.

An unscientific sample of several of my acquaintances who are vets indicates that such a boycott is gaining momentum among their wider network of fellow vets and ex-servicemen. Several Facebook pages are dedicated to this NFL boycott, including this one that has over 200,000 “likes” and 36,000 people committed or interested in the protest event.

Some fuel was added to the fire this past Sunday. Despite the fact it was the NFL’s “Salute to Service” Sunday, specifically created to honor servicemen, about 18 players from six teams continued their protest. As anyone who has followed this story knows, even though the players do not see their kneeling or sitting as disrespectful but as a way to call attention to legitimate grievances, many people – particularly vets – do perceive the players’ actions as an affront against America.

From a media perspective, an interesting aspect to this boycott is that many of the prospective boycotters are older men – so if they boycott will anyone care? I semi-jokingly said to one of my ex-serviceman friends that since he and his friends are outside the 18-49 and 25-54 demos, their boycott may be like the proverbial tree falling in the forest – if no one pays for the 55+ demo to begin with, does their viewership boycott even count?

Aside from key demos and even if the follow-through on the boycott is limited, such an organized boycott can still send a chilling message to NFL sponsors and advertisers. They are a much more important audience than the NFL or players, because once sponsors get worried about the impact of the protest on their brands, they will be able to force change on the NFL by threatening to terminate sponsorships or advertising. NBC recently confirmed advertiser concerns in Adweek.

The Art of the Deal

Looking at the past, we’ve seen far fewer than 36,000 people complaining being able to force changes in TV or media properties.  The interesting aspect here is that brands are coming down on both sides of this issue, so some compromise will need to be reached that will allow continued protests/calls to action while not impinging on the patriotic beliefs of a significant share of NFL fans.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Big data, the Astros, and media

It’s been almost 15 years since Moneyball was published, but its repercussions are still being felt through baseball. Bloomberg’s republishing today of an August 2014 article on Jeff Luhnow, Houston’s data analytics guru,  discusses how he implemented Moneyball-like innovations – first for Saint Louis, then for Houston.

Sports Illustrated's prescient 2014 cover

Sports Illustrated‘s prescient 2014 cover. Courtesy Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated went even further earlier in 2014, declaring the Astros the 2017 World Series champions in an especially impressive act of clairvoyance.

Teams in baseball relying on “big data” continue to show benefits when it is properly implemented and adhered to. This help for mid- or low-tier teams can narrow the gap against the “big money” teams who have much larger wallets and thus a larger margin for error.

In media also, big data is being used to narrow the gap between smaller and larger media properties, whether used to drive better targeting, higher ROI of advertising, or developing programming. But as with baseball, data doesn’t guarantee outcomes – human choices and dumb luck can negate all the predictive data.

There is also the consideration that baseball is pretty much a series of one v. one interactions – the pitcher v. the batter; the outfielder v. the ball in flight; the infielder throwing to another player. It is unlike football, where to have a successful play, you need the line to block; the quarterback to throw; the receiver to run his route; and all of that is being done with the other team trying to interfere.

Media is much more like football than baseball; it is a complex interaction of many factors that boil down to whether a consumer is watching your commercial on the program you bought it on (or watching your program on your subscription service). So while big data can certainly address many issues, the humans in the loop will still be important for many years yet.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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The Bizarro world of NBC, F1, and NASCAR

For those of you not comic book nerds like myself, Bizarro World is a story within Superman about a planet that is home to Bizarro and everything is the opposite of Superman’s Earth. It’s become known in popular culture, particularly in relation to the “Bizarro Jerry” episode of Seinfeld.

F1 logo

I’ve felt a little Bizarro the last couple of Sundays when the NBC network has featured live coverage of Formula 1 while NASCAR playoff races were relegated to NBCSN. It is particularly unusual considering NBC will lose F1 after this season concludes. While I realize this coverage is probably dictated by the rights agreements, it is strange to consider that F1, with its minuscule fan base within the USA, gets the NBC “mothership” for two straight weeks.

It is also an interesting comment on NASCAR that it has been NASCAR on NBC logowilling to put six out of its ten NASCAR playoff races (and two of its three elimination races) on NBCSN. The final elimination race, reducing the playoff to four drivers, and the championship race, will be featured on the main NBC network.

The world of sports rights continues to work in mysterious ways as media companies try to find enough content to fill their sports outlets or to drive viewership to particular networks. The World Series, while having a solid home on FOX, is preceded by a playoff season that saw game coverage on FOX, FS1, TBS, MLB Network, and ESPN – almost more networks than teams!

Making life harder for viewers?

Content discovery is a key issue facing TV networks as viewing fragments further both within the traditional TV (broadcast + cable) and the larger premium video (+streaming) space. While spreading out coverage may make sense from the business side, for the viewer – especially the casual fan – finding that sports content is more difficult. Add in a few Bizarro situations – where a lower profile sport is shown on a higher profile network, or vice versa – and that makes the viewer’s life that much harder.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Who says TV brands aren’t important anymore

Just a quick hit post today…

For those who think brands don’t matter on TV anymore, the recent debacle with ESPN and its Barstool Sports program is clear indication that brand does. I’m certainly not in the Barstool Sports demo, but from the little I know about it, it’s a head-scratcher as to how this was allowed to get past the brand gatekeeper at ESPN.

ESPN logo

ESPN’s mission is to serve all sports fans – male, female, or whatever demo you want to choose – whenever and wherever they want sports content. With a strong message of inclusiveness and gender equality, ESPN and its Disney parent seem to be the completely wrong place for this partnership. Even with a supposed firewall between the TV and the online content, working with a content partner that built its audience at least in part using “bro” culture (and the playing off of insensitivities that implies), who in reality wasn’t going to link one with the other?

The silver lining here is that ESPN’s brand is so well defined that the mismatch was immediately apparent, even with a 1AM time slot that presumably was thought to be a safe harbor for edgy content. Other, weaker TV/media brands could have put something like this on and no one would bat an eye – because they have no expectations of weak brands or for what they stand.

While ESPN does have to constantly reinvent its content to keep pace with the changing audience, it must do so within the elasticity of its brand. Pushing the brand is one thing, but push it too far and the pop will be heard a long way.

 

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Two sides of digital sports

CBS Sports logoTwo pieces of news in the digital sports space have come up in recent days – one that makes a lot of sense and one that merely elicits a shrug. Both demonstrate principles worth remembering for digital media.

Our first piece of news is a little more detail on OTT service that CBS Sports plans to launch, discussed at Next TV Summit. This service will focus on sports news and talk, with no plans to include game coverage – even the “orphan” sports which ESPN’s future OTT service is rumored to include. This is an interesting choice given the headwinds both ESPN and Fox Sports have encountered with traditional sports news and with their competing sports talk programs (or sports yelling programs, if you go by usual content).

The saving grace here is the digital principle of low barriers to entry. CBS already has a large sports infrastructure set up, both linear and online, and the incremental cost of repurposing or creating new content is low. Plus, such a service gives yet another layer of “minor leagues” for developing talent in front of, and behind, the camera or microphone. Thus a CBS Sports OTT service may not set the world on fire, but it is likely to be highly manageable from a financial risk standpoint.

F1 Racing to Stream

F1 logo

On the other hand, we have news this week that Formula One – another of those immensely popular global sports that has little foothold here in the USA – will be jumping in the deep end of the digital pool. Sean Bratches, formerly of ESPN, announced that F1 will be launching a greatly enhanced digital and streaming product in 2018. For non-F1 fans (probably almost all of you), F1 was notorious under its previous leadership for barely acknowledging we are in a digital age. Its online footprint was small, and it severely restricted the ability of any of its teams or drivers to use online or social media to interact with fans.

Even though the F1 fan base in the USA is small, those fans tend to be very avid (and upscale). Here we see a couple of digital principles – serving an enthusiastic niche can be lucrative, and a strong brand can sustain an online service. In the first instance, unleashing the power of online to connect with fans only makes sense – particularly in the USA, where homegrown coverage about F1 is rare.

As for the second point, the value of a media brand, often derided nowadays, still means something. In another venue, while we see a number of strong network brands launch premium OTT or ad-free services – HBO, Showtime, FX, and so on – many smaller cable networks without strong brands will be unable to do so. In F1’s case, their strong brand among their niche audience should provide a solid foundation, especially considering that this will be a global effort across countries with both large and small fan bases.

Moving Past “Me-Too”

While these two new efforts should be successful, the more interesting question is when will someone move beyond the “me too” stage and offer something unique in online sports? It may not be possible with licenses to games and highlights tied up in very expensive rights agreements, but is there a Netflix or Uber of sports out there somewhere?

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Afternoon playoff baseball… does it matter?

ALCS 2017 logo

I’ll admit I may be behind the curveball on this, with my Yankees out of the the “real” playoffs (ALDS/ALCS) for the last few years. As I turned on FS1 to watch the Yanks in the ALCS this week, I realized that playoff baseball is back to being played during the day (or at least the day and early evening). With an exciting series being played between the Yankees and the Astros, what a seemingly great opportunity for baseball to reach younger, nascent fans.

We know that baseball has taken quite a hit over the past decades, giving up the mantle of America’s game to football. And one of the anecdotal reasons is that for a long time, the best baseball – playoff baseball – was being played almost exclusively at night. While that provided many more eyeballs to drive revenues, it also, presumably, stood in the way of the next generations of potential baseball fans from watching games from start to thrilling finish.

But I’ll admit that my waxing poetic about listening to games on clandestine transistor radios while in school in the 1970s may not translate to today’s world. Youth today may not even care to watch a game all the way through, and just rely on highlights on their social media feeds. Staying up late to watch live just may not be the way young casual fans will engage with baseball – or any sport.

I’m sure MLB and its rights holders are executing research to explore the best way to reach and develop the next generation of avid fans. Whether it’s daytime baseball, or partnerships with emerging media companies, exposure is what counts when nurturing the potential next generation of baseball fans. If they can’t watch because of limits on access – or won’t watch because games linger on for 3½ hours or more – there is little hope they will watch when they age into that critical 18-34 demographic.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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World Cup viewership knocked out along with Team USA?

With a $200 million investment on the line, FOX got some news it didn’t want to hear last night when the USA Men’s National Team was eliminated from next year’s World Cup. While interest in soccer has increased with the US audience, not having the US participate is bound to significantly impact viewership levels and expected revenues.

Research discussed by ESPN for the 2010 World Cup showed that many people have a second or third favorite team they would follow if their primary team is knocked out – either based on heritage, favorite player, or other exposure to a country/culture, like vacations. For instance, in my case, in 2014 aside from the USA I followed England because my parents were both English, and Costa Rica as I once visited there. However, having viewership rely on people’s second or third favorite teams isn’t a recipe for great success.

One way around that is for an underdog make a significant run in the tournament – such as Butler in the 2010 NCAA basketball tournament. For World Cup 2018, Iceland is probably the team to create a stir if they have some success, which could add to interest in the beginning rounds of the tournament.

Another potential issue is the location – Russia – and the potential issues arising from playing in a country with whom the US has a chilly relationship. Will politics impact viewership? We may be seeing some of that with the NFL, with negative reactions to the national anthem protests. It may not be out of the question that increasing US-Russia rhetoric could turn people away.

It’s still a long way from the first whistle next June 14. Get ready between now and then for FOX’s marketing teams to convince you that the World Cup is not to be missed – even if it’s missing the USA.