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Fox Sports offered 4K streams for the 2018 FIFA World Cup last year, but in order to watch them, you had to own a HiSense TV. For the Women’s World Cup that begins this Friday in France, those higher quality streams will be more readily available. The network told Engadget that for the first time 4K broadcasts will be available inside the Fox Sports and Fox Now apps. They’ll still be somewhat limited though: You’ll need an Apple TV or Roku device to watch the action on the pitch in 4K (2160p). Read the full article on Engadget (6/5/19). And here’s a primer on all the World Cup teams courtesy of the New York Times.
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New Jersey: The New Sports Gambling Mecca?
In just a few years, New Jersey’s fledgling sports betting industry could overtake the well-established Nevada market, according to a new Eilers & Krejcik Gaming analysis. Their Sept 2018 report predicts the Garden State’s revenues from sports gambling ($442M) will surpass Nevada ($410M) in 2021. There could be as many as twenty online sports books by the end of this year. And an article by Darren Heitner in The Sports Biz (11/16/18) says the $260.7M in legal wagers made in NJ in Oct 2018 represented a 42% increase from Sept. Online wagers accounted for 67% of the total legal bets placed and 75% of gross revenue.
Update (11/28/18): MLB makes a deal with MGM Resorts to become the sport’s first gambling industry partner.
Update (12/5/18): Overview of the draft of the proposed Federal Sports Betting bill (from The Sports Biz)
Update (12/12/18): New Jersey Sports Betting in Nov 2018 By The Numbers (from The Sports Biz)
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Ticket Optional Season Tickets
Huh? You can find references to the concept of a “season ticket” as far back as the 1820’s in the theatre. Since 1987, variations of the PSL (Personal Seat License) have become ever more widespread. A couple years ago, Bill Simmons did an informative, funny recap of the PSL history. In 2019, the Oakland A’s will bring new disruption to the season ticket market by offering a package called A’s Access. For $240 (and up), fans are being offered general-admission access to all 81 games at the Oakland Coliseum (social areas and standing-room party decks) plus a set number of reserved-seat upgrades and discounts on parking, merchandise and concessions. For more info, read this SB Nation interview (Aug 3, 3018) with A’s COO Chris Giles.
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11 Things You Should Understand About Female Sports Fans
Here is a compelling list of reasons why a sports fan is a sports fan is a sports fan…period. This Buzzfeed article may be a few years old, but it’s as relevant today as ever, perhaps even more so given today’s challenging social environment.
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The Continuing Transformation of ESPN
ESPN has been through a great deal of turmoil in the past year from continued audience shrinkage (14M lost subs between 2010 and 2018) to talent and leadership challenges. Yet, they are persevering down a necessary path of reinvention to buttress the accelerating evolution of viewing patterns. “We have to challenge ourselves on how we maintain relevance and connection at every point along the way, so that the ESPN brand continues to mean something special,” says Justin Connolly, executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for Disney/ESPN Media Networks. This includes the launch of the ESPN+ app in April with a $4.99/mo price point. Variety has published two articles (March 27, 2018) on the topic: one is reprinted in the NY Post plus a Q&A with new ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro
Update (4/12/18): More details on app launch day: ESPN+ video streams in high definition at 60 frames per second and subscribers can pause, rewind, or restart anything they’re watching live. Five concurrent streams are allowed per ESPN+ account. Subscribers also get the ESPN app and website ad-free – no display ads, pre-roll or post-roll spots. There will, however, still be commercials when watching live events broadcast via one of the ESPN channels available with cable/satellite authentication.
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The Evolution of Fantasy Sports
Fantasy sports is a huge deal. In 2017, there were 59.3M players in North America alone (including 29% female players). Players say they are more interested in sports because of fantasy: 64% watch more live sports and 61% read more sports content because of fantasy. On average, fantasy sports players (age 18+) spend $556 on a combination of league-related costs, single-player challenge games, and materials over a 12-month period. FanDuel and DraftKings danced around a potential merger in 2017 until the justice department said no deal on antitrust grounds. Now our friends at FCFL – Fan Controlled Football League, who are developing a cutting-edge nextgen fantasy experience, have put together a fascinating history of fantasy sports infographic tracking all the way back to Strat-O-Matic baseball in 1961, a card and dice game (we played) that calls itself “the original fantasy sports game”.
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The Derivation of Hut, Hut, Hut!
Watch any football game and you’ll hear “hut, hut, hut!” more than any other word, in fact almost every play. But where did this phrase come from? Bill Pennington of The New York Times has written a fascinating article called Hut!, Hut!, Hut! What? (Jan 31, 2018) that attempts to craft the narrative. It turns out the answer may go back as far as the 1890’s when John Heisman, for whom the Heisman Award is named, coined the term “hike.” The article theorizes this likely evolved into “hut”over time because of football’s longtime love of military terminology. It’s an entertaining, informative read.
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This Is What Sports Is All About
You grew up following teams across different sports, likely (but not definitely) based in your hometown. Going to a game was a special experience. You began to identify with specific players on those teams. Your parents bought you t-shirts and perhaps a jersey or two. Over time, your fandom grew for some teams and shrank for others. In adulthood, the connection remained and your passion continued to grow even when you moved to another city. One day you discovered your favorite team would be playing in your adopted hometown. You proudly wore your jersey knowing the home fans would let you have it. Then this happened…Rangers Great Rod Gilbert gives fan ultimate surprise (Jan 8, 2018). This is what sports is all about.
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They’ve Shatter’d The Glass Ceiling
ABC Wide World of Sports brilliantly defined sports as “the human drama of athletic competition.” The metric often used for illustration is when a statistical record is broken, some more hallowed than others. Yet there are other records, often far more important, that are defined by smashing through a heretofore unbroken barrier. As we soon close 2017, it’s high time to recognize the accomplishments of these three competitors, all of whom are women.
K-Lani Nava became the first female to play and score in a Texas high school state championship game. She kicked nine extra points in a 78-42 win for Strawn School, played at Cowboys Stadium. Read more about this special game (Dec 21, 2017). This past fall, Sarah Kustok was named the first (and only) primary female analyst for an NBA team, the Brooklyn Nets, something that should have happened years ago in every sport. Bleacher Report recently covered this story (Dec 22, 2017). Last but certainly not least we pay homage to Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, who recently passed away at the age of 82. Mamie was the only known female pitcher in the Negro Leagues. She joined the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953 throwing a fastball, slider, circle change, screwball and curveball. Her record over three years was reported to be 33-8. The NY Times recently wrote about her life (Dec 20, 2017). These three women, along with many others, are real sports heroes for they having paved the way now and in the future.
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The Sports TV Future May Be :06 Ads
If you’ve been watching the World Series, you’ve noticed how Fox has integrated shorter length ads interstitially into their broadcasts ranging from :30 down to :06 seconds. A similar pattern is starting to occur on Sunday football games. Their professed goal is to be less disruptive, especially in lieu of those seemingly interminable commercial pods after a touchdown or other change of possession. During their Turkey Day broadcast, they are planning to replace one entire pod with these shorter messages. We think this concept has merit. Anything that creates more programming continuity is a good thing, especially in a world where people’s attention span wanes almost immediately. Of course, as with anything like this, the devil is in the details. Here’s a link to an article in the NY Times (Oct 27, 2017) on the topic:
People tuning into Fox Sports to watch football on Thanksgiving Day may be distracted from their turkey-eating bliss by a new type of commercial: six-second messages from brands that take over most of the screen, relegating the broadcast of the game to a small square on the side. Read the full article here.
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The Rams Are Suffering The NFL’s Worst Attendance Decline In Decades
The honeymoon appears over for the Los Angeles Rams and may have never started for the Los Angeles Chargers. Attendance and fan enthusiasm is seriously lagging for both franchises. Did the NFL’s greed close their eyes to reality? Each team is paying their fellow owners $645 million for the privilege of calling LA their new home. Some in the league look at this as a long-term play pointing to the opening of the new shared stadium…but that’s not until 2020. This article appeared on fivethirtyyeight.com (Daniel Levitt 9/27/17).
Los Angeles spent two decades on the NFL sidelines. Then, within the span of 12 months, not one but two teams announced that they would move to L.A. If the more than 13 million residents of the greater Los Angeles area are thrilled to finally have multiple NFL options, they have a funny way of showing it. Read the full article here.
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Virtual Reality Reaches The Big Leagues With Intel
This season, MLB has been experimenting with VR live streaming. There’s no better way for any professional league to learn. This article appeared on SportsTechie.com (Joe Lemire 8/28/17).
Beginning during the 2017 MLB regular season, Intel True VR is livestreaming one MLB game every Tuesday. Available via the Intel True VR app, the technology uses multiple panoramic, stereoscopic camera pods to create a more natural, realistic and immersive view that brings MLB fans closer to the action. Read the full article here.
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A-Rod’s Next Chapter Is a Whole New Ballgame: Business
Alex Rodriguez is building a 2nd career after baseball and it’s far more diverse than just appearing on Fox baseball broadcasts. This informative article appeared in Fortune (Patricia Sellers 7/23/17).
Give Alex Rodriguez some credit. Who else sinks from superstar to scourge of his industry and uses his time in purgatory—in this case, a record-setting yearlong ban from baseball for use of performance-enhancing drugs—to diligently build a second career? Read the full article here.
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The Unlikely Rise of … Shuffleboard?
With all things old becoming new again, why not Shuffleboard? Read this fascinating article in The Ringer (Jamie Feldmar 7/5/17).
This summer’s hottest new game is best known as a geezer’s pastime. But this new wave has a competitive pro circuit, a party atmosphere, and even advanced analytics. Shuffleboard is cool now. Read the full article here.
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A New, Safer Football Helmet is Heading to the NFL in 2017
Interesting article from Inc (Kevin Ryan, 5/12/17) about the NFL’s latest helmet safety efforts. Will be interesting to see how players, networks and advertisers react both publicly and behind-the-scenes.
NFL games might sound a lot different this season. Seattle-based startup Vicis has been working since 2013 on a new type of football helmet that’s designed to yield on contact. The result is a thud sound, instead of the violent crack players and fans are used to hearing. The softer impact means less trauma to the head, and the theory is that this will reduce the likelihood of brain injuries or concussions.Outside of testing scenarios, Vicis’s helmet, called the Zero1, has yet to make its way onto the heads of NFL players–but that’s about to change. According to the company, 25 of the NFL’s 32 teams have purchased stockpiles of the helmet from Vicis to distribute to their players during practices this spring. Read the full article here.
(11/17) What a startling new movie on brain injuries tells us about media coverage of the NFL. Read the full article here.
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Verizon Is Paying the NFL $21 Million for Exclusive Streaming Rights to One Football Game
Variety, Todd Spangler (May 3, 2017)
Verizon will pay a pretty penny for the rights to live-stream a single NFL game next season across the globe — with the telco forking over a premium because the matchup won’t be on broadcast on national TV in the U.S. Verizon is paying the league $21 million for rights to the Sept. 24 regular-season game between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, which will be played at London’s Wembley Stadium. The Wall Street Journal first reported the price tag. The telco will stream the game live across its portfolio of video platforms including AOL, Fios TV, Go90 and Complex.com. Read the full article here.
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Top 8 Basketball Movie Coaches
Just in time for the Final Four, Fandango has posted the Top 8 Basketball Movie Coaches video produced by Deep Sports. Please watch, like and share with your FB friends:
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Want a Piece of Mohamed Sanu? Go Out and Buy Some Shares
NY Times, Ken Belson (Jan 23, 2017)
For the next two weeks, football fans are going to learn a lot more about the Atlanta Falcons, who crushed the Green Bay Packers, 44-21, to earn the right to face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5. Quarterback Matt Ryan & wide receiver Julio Jones have an undoubted value on the field and among fantasy football fans, but a teammate, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, has value in an additional place — on the stock market. Sanu is one of a handful of N.F.L. players who were paid a hefty upfront fee by a company called Fantex Holdings in return for a share of his future earnings. Read the full article here.
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Super Bowl LI To Feature Player POV Replays – Without Attached Cameras
Digital Trends, Trevor Mogg (Jan 12, 2017)
Eager as ever to make the most of available technology to enhance its live sports coverage, Fox Sports will once again offer something a little different during its next major broadcast. As part of its Fox Sports Lab tech initiative, the company is planning to give viewers point-of-view perspectives from players on the field during Super Bowl LI in February. Read the full article here.
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FOX Sports, GoPro To Offer Incredible View From Referees POV For Big Ten Championship
One of the little covered aspects of mainstream sports media is the continued use of technology to give fans increasing access and information to live events. From Lipstick cams to Skycam, the cabled camera that floats over the field for football to digital overlays, the broadcast world has been groundbreaking on a number of fronts around sports. Read the full article here.
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ESPN Loses 621,000 Subscribers; Worst Month In Company History
OutKick The Coverage (blog), by Clay Travis (Oct 29, 2016)
The biggest business story in American sports this fall isn’t the declining NFL ratings or anything that’s happening on the field, court, or ice, it’s the collapse in ESPN subscribers, which reflect a larger trend in the collapse of cable subscribers in general. Read the full article.
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What If…DraftKings & FanDuel Merged?
(October 13, 2016) This past June, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins told USA Today a merger between his company and FanDuel was a “very interesting idea.” The two companies today control almost 95% of the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) marketplace. From several POVs, this makes too much sense not to eventually happen. Here’s why:
- Shareholder value – Why split the pie when a combined entity would own the space? Currently both are unprofitable companies that may not be able to coexist in the long-term.
- Similar offerings – There are subtle distinctions between the games both currently offer, yet combining them would not be difficult.
- Cost efficiencies – A pairing would bring more effective use of marketing/advertising dollars as well as a reduction in legal and lobbying costs.
- Similar partnerships – Both companies have struck functionally similar endorsement deals with professional sports leagues and other key stakeholders.
- Legal Issues – As referenced above, FanDuel and DraftKings are already joined at the hip through their ongoing legal battles against regulation of DFS as unlawful gambling. Their interests are also mostly aligned across lobbying efforts in Congress.
All that said, a merger would raise certain antitrust concerns to ensure consumers are not adversely impacted by anti-competitive business behaviors. This could show up in areas such as game pricing, winner payouts and/or forms of innovation that ordinarily occur when there are two or more material players in the market. Given a combined entity would control the market as it is currently defined, other companies that are already struggling to compete (or might consider launching a competitive product) would be even more adversely impacted. The other major concern is a merger would likely result in streamlined operations meaning people will lose their jobs as positions become redundant.
So while merger discussions make sense, it’s also clear there are issues to be resolved in a space that continues to evolve rapidly. Stay tuned…
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What If…Sports Video Consumption Is Changing? (VR edition)
(June 17, 2016) Our last post looked at the impact of OTT and mobile on traditional TV entities like ESPN. Clearly today’s consumer has many more choices to consume all sorts of different content and the options continue to expand. What’s on the horizon? Sports VR.
Virtual Reality (and Augmented Reality) is here and starting to carve out its space. Research firm Tractica estimates combined revenue for head-mounted displays (HMDs), VR accessory devices (controllers, hand tracking devices, locomotion devices, and VR vests/suits) and VR content will increase from $108.8 million in 2014 to $21.8 billion worldwide by 2020. Cumulative worldwide sales of HMDs will reach 200.1 million units. Over 52.2 million accessories will also be sold in this period.
As with any new category, one way to gain a useful perspective is to follow the money. AR/VR is the new kid on the block. VCs have already invested over $1.7 billion in the 12 months ending March 2016, $1.2 billion of that in the first quarter of 2016 alone. There are already four unicorns in the space (over $1B valuation): Magic Leap, Oculus, Blippar and MindMaze. Mayfield Venture Capital Managing Director Tim Chang has described VR as “the next evolution of human storytelling at a whole new level — this is what it’s like to be me.”
So who’s doing cool work in the sports VR space? One company is NextVR who has jumped into live sports experiences with both feet. They were at the Master’s tournament in April covering two of the holes. This season they broadcast an NBA game (Warriors/Pelicans) in VR. And, they’ve worked with Fox Sports on boxing, auto racing and the Big East men’s basketball tournament. This week consumers will be able to watch the 9th, 17th and 18th holes of the US Open in VR.
Another interesting company is LiveLike VR. They are building virtual stadiums such as for the Manchester City soccer club on the Samsung Gear platform (and others to follow) which will create a communal virtual viewing experience. Eventually, their plan is add Facebook integration so friends can seamlessly be invited to join the experience.
Leagues are likewise getting into the action. In February, the PGA Tour introduced their first VR videos shot for the Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. Two videos took viewers to the practice area for an immersive instructional experience with PGA pros. Another created a virtual experience on the course’s famous 16th hole with pro Rickie Fowler.
These are but a few examples of what is brewing in the sports VR space. The VR Fund, an early stage investor, has diagrammed the VR industry landscape as they currently see it. Obviously this will continue to expand and evolve. Like any early stage environment (think of mobile video in 2005 when it was a choppy, inconsistent experience), not every implementation will be perfect. There are as many questions as there are answers (we’ll address them in a future post). Yet, it’s a most exciting time to be watching the space. Play Ball!
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What If… Sports Video Consumption Is Changing?
Sports on-demand is booming. ESPN’s streaming app is available across the mobile spectrum (IOS and Android), Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Chromecast, Kindle and Xbox plus Sony & Sharp TVs, the Nexus player Nvidia Shield and Razer Forge TV (the latter two Android TV platforms).
However, one look at the Roku sports offerings tells the real story. Of course you will find WatchESPN, MLB.TV, WWE Network, NBC Sports Live Extra, NBA Channel, NFL on-demand, Tennis Channel Everywhere, CBS Sports Network and the NHL Network.And they also offer FuboTV, UFC TV, Red Bull TV, GoPro Network, MLS Live, the Hunt, Pursuit, Carbon TV & Bowhunting Channels, Sports Illustrated On-Demand, Lucas Oil Racing, The Billiard Channel, Ring TV, Callaway Golf TV, NHRA All-Access, the ACC Digital Network, BMX TV and even BuckingBull TV and Chukker TV (water polo) among scores of others. There is even a smattering of team specific channels such as Dodgers Nation, Seattle Sounders FC & Lakers Nation.
On the mobile app front, most every media company has multiple offerings albeit limited by the streaming rights they have secured. There are also numerous apps for scores and up-to-the-minute data. And this does not even include 3rd party apps that aggregate sports coverage like Yankees Live! that links to numerous sources including NY area newspapers and selected blogs.
For balance it should be noted that broadcast/cable is not dead: 9 of the top 10 all-time most popular TV shows in history are the most recent Super Bowls (can you name the one non-sports show to crack the list?) AND in 2015, 43 of the top 50 broadcasts were NFL games. Others included the Ohio State vs Oregon college football megacast (ESPN), the Duke vs Wisconsin NCAA tournament game and the USA vs Japan World Cup final.
Finally, NBC will make the upcoming Rio Olympic Games content available to carriers in both 4K and HDR. However, once again many of the most popular events, including the opening and closing ceremonies, swimming, track & field and basketball will only be offered on a 24-hour delay. Why? We have no idea.
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What If…The Super Bowl Launched New Tech?
(Feb 3, 3016) The Super Bowl has always been a huge event television day for many reasons…and not just because it is the second-largest day for U.S. food consumption after Thanksgiving. It’s also the ideal showcase for new technologies. In honor of the big game this Sunday, here are some fascinating firsts from the past 50 years and a preview of this year’s debuts:
- Super Bowl I (1967): The only Super Bowl simulcast in the US by two networks: NBC had the rights to broadcast AFL games nationally while CBS held the same rights to NFL games. Both networks were allowed to televise the game. Also, the NFL and holder of the only known video recording of the game are currently battling over its release.
- Super Bowl III (1969): First game to officially bear the name, Super Bowl. While the Orange Bowl was sold out for the game, the live telecast was not shown in Miami due to both leagues’ unconditional blackout rules in place at that time. J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!
- Super Bowl VII (1973): The first Super Bowl televised live in the host city after the lifting of the unconditional blackout rules.
- Super Bowl XII (1978): First use of an Electronic Palette graphics system (created by CBS and Ampex) for a painting-like aspect to visual graphics including the game intro, starting lineups and commercial break bumpers. CBS also unveiled their “Action Track” which showed, during replays. the trail of a football being kicked. CBS also unveiled the “Action Track” which showed the trail of a football that had been kicked during replays.
- Super Bowl XV (1981): The first Super Bowl to provide closed captioning for the hearing impaired.
- Super Bowl XXVIII (1984): First use of Skycam cameras. Also, Apple’s famous commercial introduced the Macintosh computer.
- Super Bowl XXX (1996): Some proxy servers blocked the game’s web site because the game’s Roman numeral (XXX) was associated with pornography sites.
- Super Bowl XXXIII (1999): The starting lineups were shown using a virtual TV metaphor. To viewers, it appeared as if the end zone opened up and a giant TV came out of the ground. The virtual TV displayed video that announced the starting lineups.
- Super Bowl XXXIV (2000): The first Super Bowl to be aired in HD (720p) and 5.1 Dolby Digital.
- Super Bowl XXXVI (2002): The first Super Bowl presented in 480p enhanced definition widescreen format.
- Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004): The infamous Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson halftime “wardrobe malfunction.” After the game, Jackson’s name was searched more than any term in Internet history which contributed to the creation of a comprehensive site dedicated exclusively to video now known as YouTube (founded Feb 15, 2005)
- Super Bowl XLII (2008): Over four days, Phoenix TV station KTVK broadcast a live video webcam stream from outside the stadium covering the pre- and post-game activities.
- Super Bowl XLIII (2009): The first NFL Films home video release released on Blu-ray. It was sold exclusively through Amazon.
- Super Bowl XLIV (2010): Sirius XM satellite radio carried 14 game feeds in ten languages.
- Super Bowl XLV (2011): Super Bowl debut (in Cowboys Stadium) of world’s largest high-definition video screen: a $40 million, 600-ton video board with 25,000 square feet of displays measuring 72 feet tall and 160 feet long.
- Super Bowl XLVI (2012): First Super Bowl legally streamed online.
- Super Bowl XLVII (2013): NFL Mobile from Verizon live stream attracted three million unique viewers to the video player, up 43% from the previous year. Viewers generated nearly 10 million live video streams, up more than 100% YoY, resulting in a record 114.4 million minutes streamed.
- Super Bowl XLVIII (2014): First use of beacons to provide personalized mobile ads based on physical location.
- Super Bowl XLIX (2015): Largest social media engagement – 265 million Facebook related posts + 28 million tweets. Half of the 66 commercials shown during the game featured a hashtag. The first game/site specific mobile app for a Super Bowl. Zebra Technologies partnered with the NFL to introduce radio-frequency identification (RFID) transmitters to track each player’s movement. Trackers were placed inside the shoulder pads to measure distance travelled, speed and positioning. Also, the most watched television program in US history, attracting more than 114.4 million viewers, the fifth time in six years a new record was set.
And for Super Bowl L (2016), here are a few of the firsts:
- Cameras: 70 cameras will be used to film the game, 40 more than in 2015.
- EyeVision 360: A new replay camera that will freeze on any moment and revolve completely around the play for a first-person point of view at any point on the field. Data will be captured with 5K resolution cameras, the highest resolution ever used to film a Super Bowl. To make this work, 36 cameras are being hung along the top deck of Levi’s Stadium. They are bunched toward the red zone at around the 25 yard line. “The idea is that these cameras are looking at the whole field,” says Ken Aagaard, Executive Vice President at CBS Sports Operations and Engineering.
- Pylon Cameras: Used during the current season but never before in a Super Bowl, two high-resolution cameras with microphones will be built into each pylon to provide a field-level view of the game in 2K resolution.
- New Super Bowl app: In addition to the Levi’s Stadium app (watch video replays, order food, check a bathroom line, find better parking or explore the venue), an additional app will allow people at the game to view a Super Bowl commercial once it airs on television, a live camera so attendees can see celebrities who are at the stadium, and express pickup for merchandise. Given the stadium features 40 gigabits per second of Internet bandwidth, the user experience is expected to be robust.
- Social Media: Facebook has unveiled a new feature that allows people to view live stats, comments from friends, news stories and more by searching for the game. Twitter will also have special emojis for the game and a separate tab for the game in the site’s “Moments” feature, which allows fans to follow tweets about live events, including sports, by clicking on the lightning bolt icon.
…and the home of the brave. PLAY BALL!
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What If…ESPN Is No Longer King?
(Jan 4, 2016) For the better part of the last two decades, ESPN has been the most well-known sports media brand and the largest cable network. In 2014, the Wall St Journal and TV by the Numbers reported ESPN earned an estimated $6.84 billion in subscriber revenues, $5 billion more any other network. And this does not even account for their enormous take from advertising. It has been reported revenues will have increased to as much as $7.28 billion in 2015. It’s safe to say Disney’s 1995 acquisition of ABC/Cap Cities for $19 billion has paid off handsomely…and then some. So where’s the concern?
Within Disney’s most recent 10K filing, it was reported ESPN has 92 million subscribers. This is the same number they had in 2006 down from 101.1 million reported in 2011 and 99 million in 2013. At an estimated $6.61 monthly per subscriber fee, this reduction in eyeballs adds up to over $550 million annually not including reduced ad revenues. The question is why? In five words: cord cutters, shavers and nevers.
A newly released Pew Research report says 67% of Americans have broadband connections at home. An additional 13% have a smartphone but no broadband at home while 68% have both. So high speed connectivity, once the primary stumbling block, is no longer an issue. What about access to content? Today there is Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Sling TV, Crackle and Verizon’s Go90; OTT offerings from CBS, HBO, Showtime, Univision and the upcoming NBCUniversal channel SeeSo as well as vertically-focused channels like NFL Game Pass, Docurama, WWE, the Dove Channel and LucasOilRacing.tv. Then there’s a little video company called YouTube.
Whether you have recently disconnected the cable umbilical cord (cutters), shrunk the size of your current package (shavers) or you’re among the 9% (and growing) number of primarily millennial and younger consumers who have never subscribed, therein lies the challenge for ESPN. As the cost of licensing sports rights continues to grow (including $608 million for the college football playoffs, $700 million to MLB and $1.9 billion annually for Monday Night Football), ESPN needs both monthly subscriber fees and advertising to feed the content beast…and these costs show no signs of going down anytime soon. Yet consumers are rebelling by cutting, shaving or simply not signing up. Leo Hindry, founding father of the Yankees YES Network told Bloomberg news that ESPN plus regional, collegiate and smaller sports networks cost every cable subscriber $35-$40/month. More and more people simply don’t want to pay for this content if they are not watching it.
ESPN will likely dabble in OTT over time albeit on a limited basis to avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul (Bob Iger foresees it happening but not likely in a profound way during the next five years). This is why BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield says “ESPN now appears poised to become Disney’s most troubled business as consumer behavior shifts rapidly.”
As we enter this new period of industry disruption among content creators, distributors and consumers, who will be the winners and losers?
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What If…Sports Media Consolidation Is A Good Thing?
- ABA-NBA Merger – In 1976, four teams from the old American Basketball Association (Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs,Indiana Pacers, and New York Nets) joined the NBA. Two others, the Spirits of St. Louis and Kentucky Colonels folded and their players entered a dispersal draft. The NBA generated $4.56 billion in revenues during the 2013-14 season — that number is substantially higher now. Interestingly, closure may finally be coming to this deal almost 40 years later. As part of the merger, the owners of the St Louis franchise negotiated an agreement to be paid 14.2% of the share of all national television revenue paid to the four transferred franchises, in perpetuity. So far, over $300 million has been paid to Ozzie & Daniel Silna. The league may finally be on the cusp of a buyout to conclude these open-ended payouts. You can read the entire story in this excellent NY Times article.
- AFL-NFL Merger – Rebuffed in his bid for an NFL franchise, Lamar Hunt (owner of the Kansas City Chiefs) formed the upstart American Football League in 1960, growing it to 8 franchises in its inaugural season. Teams stocked their rosters with a combination of small/black college stars and NFL rejects. The league instituted new rules like the two -point conversion, sharing of gate revenues by both teams and names on the back of uniforms, all later adopted by the NFL. This merger of un-equals finally took place in 1966. All of the then current franchises were added to the NFL and none were moved to other markets. You can read much more detail on the NFL-AFL merger Wikipedia page. Today the total value of the 32 NFL franchises is in excess of $63 billion and still growing. The broadcast networks collectively add $3.1 billion to NFL coffers annually. And next season, DirecTV will begin a new eight-year, $12 billion deal.
- NBA + ESPN & TNT – In October 2014, the NBA announced a 9-year, $24 billion deal extension with ESPN and TNT for the league’s media rights through 2024-25. This means the two media companies will pay a combined $2.6 billion annually, an 180% increase over the current deal. ESPN agreed to increase its programming by adding over 750 hours of new content on digital and linear platforms as well as distribute this content internationally. Among the smaller print items is a framework to create a new OTT channel for mobile and web streaming which will be separate from the Watch ESPN app.
- Houston Astros & Enron – When it comes to naming rights deals, all others pale against this debacle. For the inaugural season in its new home, the Astros made a $100 million, 30-year deal with this Houston energy and financial trading company. Enron Field opened on April 7, 2000. By 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy mired in a well-documented financial scandal. The Astros, facing a PR nightmare, tried to prematurely end the naming deal, but Enron refused. Several court filings later, the two parties settled. By 2002, the stadium had been renamed Minute Maid Park.
- Fan Duel & AlphaDraft – If you’re not working in the industry or play multi-player professional eSports, this recent deal might not have hit your radar. However, it has the potential to alter the landscape of the burgeoning competitive multi-player video game space. One day after DraftKings announced it was expanding its daily fantasy games offerings with competition based on the popular game League of Legends, Fan Duel raised the stakes by announcing this acquisition. The CEO of FanDuel Nigel Eccles said “With over 200 million people globally watching eSports, AlphaDraft gives those fans a way to engage with this burgeoning entertainment product that creates an enormous opportunity for us. This is sports for a new demographic, with very little crossover with what are considered traditional sports fans, and this acquisition gives us the ability to leverage the expertise of AlphaDraft’s team, while helping their efforts in customer acquisition and building awareness of this new industry.”
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