Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Should The League Have The Media Power?

There has been even more evidence over the past few days of sports leagues and organizations gaining too much control, especially when it comes to media. Before long, this will become still another means to price the major sports out of the reach of potentially millions of casual fans, because now even more sources want more than their fair share of pieces of the pie.

Within the past week, Sports Business Journal unveiled that NASCAR is looking at facilitating an earlier than scheduled change of its TV network coverage. As you may be aware, in recent weeks Fox Sports and NBC Sports Network, both in need of live and better quality programming to fill air time, secured long-term rights to NASCAR from 2015 to 2024 which (already) total more than 8 BILLION dollars for NASCAR.  According to the SBJ story, ESPN and Turner Sports are now both willing to bail out early on their "current" NASCAR packages. What makes this worth watching is that NASCAR itself is reportedly becoming involved to facilitate this possible change. Seems to me this should be between, say, ESPN and NBC and Turner and Fox, or vise versa, and should not be public knowledge at this point in time. For example, ESPN recently "sold", or "licensed" as they put it, the rights to a group of college football telecasts it didn't care about to CBS Sports Network to help it (CBS) fill up air time. However, it is possible that NASCAR has, by contract, the ability to step in if this situation were to arise. If that is the case, it seems to give NASCAR additional power over major media, and that is not necessarily a good thing.

Also over this past week, MLB Advanced Media (a part of Major League Baseball) announced it has acquired the distribution rights to an upcoming major concert in New York City, which has absoutely nothing to do with baseball. In reading the Press Release to announce this, it comes out that MLB Advanced Media already owns some of the technical distribution for Glenn Beck's online channel, a major airline's in-flight TV service, and ESPN3's live streams of events.

By the way, it is not just "some concert". Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and the Kings of Leon are among the acts booked to participate.

In this instance, the fact that MLB now owns a variety of media distribution opportunities, which are NOT specific to its own product, means that some of the billions of dollars it takes in from broadcast rights are being used to directly compete with some of the media companies it provides product to.

If ESPN, for example, started its own baseball league, don't you think that MLB would be objecting like crazy? If that would be the case, why are the sports being allowed to compete with those that feed them?

But it doesn't stop there.

Also within the past week, the technology news site, All Things D, broke a story about Google and the NFL holding meetings to raise the possibility of Google coordinating for live streaming of the NFL Sunday Ticket package beginning with the 2015 season (after the DirecTV package runs out end of the 2014 season).

According to this story, if Google were to obtain a possible one BILLION dollar or more per year deal with the NFL for online distribution, it would not necessarily mean that DirecTV could not still retain the "TV rights" for Sunday Ticket.

Think about this. Reading between the lines, this tells us that the NFL could potentially double their league revenue for the same live action distribution rights, while putting streaming up against the TV networks already paying billions for those rights. It would appear that the TV networks would not even have a say, at least for the short term.

Sure, the concept of being able to watch the game of your choice online and not need to have DirecTV has appeal for the NFL fans at the moment. But that is not the point here.

Put all of these recent and current stories together. We have the NFL, MLB, and NASCAR each handling negotiations for multiple billions of dollars in revenue for years to come. After all these years of generating significant revenue from broadcast rights, merchandising, ticket sales, and, as best said, the games (or events) themselves.

Instead, these leagues and organizations are seizing the power. These right fees already mean additional dollars every month on the majority of cable/satellite costs (whether you are a fan or not). Sports ticket prices continue to rise on average every year so that teams supposedly can "meet" personnel and stadium costs.

With all of the money these leagues and organizations are ALREADY generating, shouldn't they be concentrating on keeping their sport within financial reach of its fans who made them what they are today? Sure doesn't look like it. We should all be concerned.

BOSTON: Shortly after the important Program Director change at WEEI came word that WEEI (and sister WRKO) will no longer carry the Celtics games effective immediately. No word yet, as of press time, regarding the "new" flagship station.

Speculation has begun that rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub could go after the games, even though it already airs the Bruins games, and use its sister stations to handle conflicting broadcasts. Doing so would figure to be a solid move for The Sports Hub, since it would then capture both audiences (Bruins & Celtics) for the station.

At the moment, the Bruins are the bigger story than the Celtics, coming off making it to the Stanley Cup Finals only a few weeks ago, while the Celtics are in rebuild mode with a new coach and less familiar starting lineup.

From here, WEEI letting go is as questionable of a move as changing Program Directors. I'm sure they (WEEI) will tell you that not having either the Celtics or the Bruins "frees up" the ability to provide unbiased coverage. If, however, WBZ-FM does add the Celtics to the mix, it means that "all" fans will be tuning in to Sports Hub for play-by-play and surrounding coverage. The hardcore Celtics who has been listening to WEEI for its coverage of the team would be given reasons to listen to its big competitor that it didn't have before. (The Sports Hub came into existence during the just ended stint of WEEI and WRKO holding the rights to the Celtics.)

Or, it could be interesting to see if a station or group other than CBS (owners of Sports Hub) come along and grab the Celtics' rights. Either way, it helps to take away from WEEI, and at a time when they can least afford it. Either way, the good news is that Sean Grande and Cedrick Maxwell will return for their 12th season as the radio broadcast team.

CHICAGO: Comcast SportsNet Chicago has added Jen Lada as a full-time anchor and reporter. In addition, CSN Chicago has brought in Tony Rice, who was the QB of Notre Dame's 1988 championship team, as its Notre Dame football beat reporter. CSN Chicago will also start airing full replays of Notre Dame home game telecasts later that Saturday night (or overnight). Amazing how this happens since NBC, which owns CSN, airs the home games live and NBC Sports Network is adding expanded pre-game coverage for this season.

Have a great Labor Day - and college football kickoff!

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