Tuesday, August 23, 2005
When the NHL signed a deal with OLN many in the media and blogging worlds were wondering if anyone would take notice to the channel that previously only got attention by airing live coverage of the Tour de France. However, it’s been long known that Comcast didn’t just want the NHL, but the NFL as well (as mentioned a few times throughout the media section here).
Comcast doesn’t plan on stopping at just two major sports though. Mediaweek is reporting that Comcast is also looking to sign a deal with Major League Baseball.
Not only did it snatch away cable rights for the National Hockey League for the next several years last week, but now Comcast/OLN has set its sights on landing Major League Baseball’s Sunday-Wednesday-night cable package, the rights to which expire at the end of the current season.
ESPN’s exclusive negotiating window expired in June, and sources inside and outside of MLB confirmed that TV rights discussions have taken place with Comcast/OLN.
Another factor in the negotiations is MLB’s plan to start its own Baseball Channel, possibly before the start of next season. Were Comcast to include a provision to carry the Baseball Channel in any rights offer it proposed, it could be a sweetener that might lure MLB.
The potential Baseball Channel is similar to Comcast’s deal with the NHL to bring the NHL Network to the US.
If you think there’s no chance ESPN would let Comcast into the picture, remember the above - the exclusive negotiating window is over, and Comcast certainly has money to throw around (remember, Comcast was looking to takeover Disney, ESPN’s parent company, but the bid was rejected). ESPN wasn’t looking to add any more baseball games to its lineup either. Back in June Variety reported ESPN was going to concentrate more on original programming.
And [Mark Shapiro, executive VP of programming and production for ESPN] is negotiating a new contract with Major League Baseball but says, “I’m not interested in carrying five games a week unless I get full network exclusivity,” a concession baseball seems unwilling to grant except for the traditional ESPN game of the week on Sunday night.
I added in Shapiro’s full name title in the brackets for quote awareness. Also to note: Shapiro will be leaving ESPN Oct 1st, so there could be an attitude change at the network with his departure.
Steve Zipay’s Newsday column today, A hockey lockout to hockey blackout, brings up a huge NY negative about the OLN-NHL deal: Cablevision customers may be blacked out for all OLN games.
“In markets where OLN is offered on a digital sports tier, which includes Cablevision, we are required through our contracts to black out the games,” an OLN spokesperson confirmed yesterday. “There will be alternative programming in that time slot. We are working with our affiliates on the situation. We believe OLN should be included on expanded basic, not a sport tier.”
However, with Comcast bidding for MLB and NFL games, the channel may not only get out of expanded basic, but put into basic itself as a real ESPN counterpart. Of course, only time and at least one more signed deal will put pressure on some cable systems to make the switch, but Comcast seems very likely to push hard to get at least one of these deals done, if not both.
A company like Cablevision, which has had feuds with the YES Network and Time Warner, may be hard to budge, but concrete programming should go a long way to create real customer and possibly corporate pressure to move the channel into a different tier, allowing its customers to not be subject to constant blackouts.
A broader complaint about OLN’s exclusive games - that all other games will be blacked out across the US on Monday nights, OLN’s exclusive night - should disappear by the 2006-07 season, when the NHL has stated they will schedule only one US game on a Monday, if possible.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
ESPN declined to match the agreement the NHL made with Comcast and NHL games will air on Outdoor Life Network for at least the next two seasons.
The deal doesn’t end with tv though:
The deal with Comcast goes beyond just television rights. Comcast will bring the NHL Network to cable systems in the United States, and provide on-demand game broadcasts and computer streaming of live games.
I’ve written a good deal about it, as you can see from the media category here, but I do need to add something that no one has seemed to mention yet:
With the NHL being broadcast on OLN, no one will complain about low ratings. OLN’s highest ratings aren’t very high and NHL or no NHL, there are no expectations for a large amount of people to suddenly flock to the channel. Comcast and the NHL can concentrate on the product first, numbers second - at least at the beginning, and that helps everyone.
Friday, August 12, 2005
The Los Angeles Daily News is reporting that ESPN might want to keep the NHL:
Despite some public display of non-affection, ESPN officially wants to keep the NHL, sources say, although the network balked in April at renewing its annual contract with the league for $60 million a year when it appeared there would be no agreement reached to start the 2005-06 season.
ESPN’s decision might be made only to help quash rumors that Comcast, the cable company that owns OLN, wants to establish its own alternative sports channel to compete against ESPN.
This contradicts many of the rumors out there, take it as you like.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Apparently there are things just as important as war planning at Northern Command in Colorado, which works to keep America safe from terrorists.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that the NHL and Comcast are close to signing a two-year, $100 million US deal. ESPN does still have an option though:
If the NHL approves the deal - and that is considered a formality at this point - the contract will be forwarded to ESPN. In April, ESPN opted to not renew its $70 million option to televise NHL games for 2005-06 and 2006-07, but the network retains the right to match the new offer, according to a source. ESPN has carried NHL games in the United States since 1985.
Comcast plans on putting the games on OLN.
OLN is available in about 61 million households, compared with more than 70 million for ESPN2 and 80 million for ESPN, but the new programming should help OLN expand its reach.
The numbers certainly aren’t horrible and as mentioned, the new programming should have many cable systems add OLN to their lineups. Of course having OLN and knowing you have OLN are two different things.
It’s been rumored that Comcast will pursue an NFL contract to broadcast Thursday and Saturday night games late in the NFL season.
The NHL plus the NFL can be a real ESPN competitor, but before that Comcast will need to make changes to OLN. First, the channel needs to be renamed and rebranded, something I can’t imagine them not doing with the addition of one major sport, and possibly more. Expect a large commercial campaign, one that will probably use the NHL hard (some free exposure never hurt). It would be in Comcast’s best interest to use its own cable systems to push the “new” channel and to also hit a lot of bar and restaurant magazines. After all, think of a bar and tv, what’s on? Local sports networks and ESPN. OLN isn’t, even if the bar has the channel and while NFL games will certainly bring awareness to the network’s existence, the NHL alone probably won’t.
Along that same thought-process, the new-OLN should start a SportsCenter-esque highlight show (ensuring the channel is left on at bars after the game). In fact, if they stick to sports, they can probably compete pretty quickly.
After that, they’ll just need to purchase some decent filler. Survivor’s ok for night’s off and the All Star BBQ Showdown is ok for daytime, but variety and action will be the keys here. Minor league sports are a great place to start since Comcast already has the rights to a few broadcasts. I’m sure any minor league or team wouldn’t mind a little extra exposure (and perhaps a little extra sponsor money from the larger audience).
It’s got potential, but there’s still a lot to be done. All these changes may also take a while to do, so for now the NHL will probably be on “just” OLN.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
It’s August 4th and hockey is on the front of ESPN.com.
Update: Within ten minutes of this post the front of ESPN has changed the front page story from hockey free agency to sports and anger. The tidal waves and earthquakes have discontinued. Please go back to your regularly scheduled life.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Newsday’s sports media man Steve Zipay wrote today about the NHL finding a new national cable deal, possibly with Comcast’s possibly-soon-to-be-transformed OLN.
We have the mandatory flashback:
In April, ESPN opted out of its $60-million annual contract with the NHL, and ESPN executive vice president Mark Shapiro suggested that the network would only consider a revenue-sharing deal with the league when it reached a collective bargaining agreeement with its players. Since then, Shapiro has said ESPN would consider paying a rights fee, but a far smaller one.
And the interesting update:
Comcast can afford the acquisition, according to Prudential Securities. “Assuming that Comcast were able to win both the NFL and NHL contracts for a combined price of $480 million per year ($80 million for the NHL and $400 million for the NFL), this represents just 2 percent of revenues and 5 percent of operating cash flow,” a Prudential research note stated. “We believe it is possible for affiliate rate increases, combined with incremental advertising revenue . . . to largely offset the contract cost.”
So not only is ESPN not willing to match the old contract of $60 mil per season, but Comcast has topped it by offering $20 mil more per year? Sounds like a decent deal to me - but the NHL should make a call over to the NFL offices and find out how serious the NFL is about possibly making a deal with Comcast. Being on OLN isn’t ideal. Being on an ESPN competitor with a major league like the NFL just might be (plus some extra cash to top it off).
Thanks to Eric McErlain for the pointer.
Monday, August 01, 2005
Did you know? If you follow hockey you do, but if you only casually follow the sport, you might be unaware.
Canadian sports website TSN leads with a story about the beginning of the free agent season. Another Canadian sports site, Sportsnet, does the same.
On the other side of the border ESPN doesn’t have a thing about it on the front of the site, although there is a Sidney Crosby story from Scott Burnside. Going to ESPN’s NHL front, there is a story about the market. Another note: ESPN has not added the NHL back to a main spot on their horizontal menu bar that’s on all inside pages of espn.com. It is listed under “more”.
Sportsline doesn’t have a thing about the beginning of the free agent season today. To make matters worse, Sportsline also crashes FireFox frequently, not sure what from (could be an ad), but I lost my browser a couple of times by visiting. Fun. Sportsline still has the NHL in a prime spot on their main menu.
Fox Sports joins the list of no front page coverage. Going into the NHL area, there is a lead story about the top free agents by Roger Sackaroff. Fox Sports also has the NHL listed after the other major sports on their main menu.
Sports Illustrated has nothing, although I’m sure that surprises no one, they’ve never been hockey heavy. There is a Crosby story that flickers by on the front though. Like ESPN, SI still has the NHL under the “more” list on the main menu.
So there you go, huge shocker - Canada’s got the beginning of free agency as a lead story, and the US has it buried, if at all.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Like many other people out there on the internet, I’m getting a lot of my information through RSS feeds today. I’m subscribed to many, and it’s currently the easiest way for me to get as much information and keep up to date with as many websites as possible. So why can I not find one official hockey site with a feed?
I took a visit to the major league sites: NHL, AHL, ECHL, UHL, CHL, OHL, QMJHL, WHL and even took a visit over to the SPHL. Not one has a feed auto-detected*. These sites are about easy information for the fans, there’s no reason why each and every one shouldn’t have an RSS feed to hook in visitors. I’d even settle for an Atom feed.
This site has a feed, along with almost every other blog out there and all major news sites as well. ESPN, Sportsline, Fox Sports, CNNSI, CBC Sports all have multiple feeds going, and TSN is working on getting more than just one feed going there.
So I took a visit to each official NHL team site - and again - not one had a feed auto-detected*. How could a team not have feeds? It’s such a great way to connect with fans. Yes, I’m sure they’d all love to have email lists and attempt to collect demographic information and such, but there’s no reason not to offer feeds as well. You can offer global feeds and then break it down into game previews and recaps, promotions, news and anything else you can think of.
Think of how great it would be if you could visit NHL.com and pick and choose which info to subscribe to, whether it’s on a league-wide basis, conference, divisional, team, etc. The possibilities are endless. Most teams and league sites have dynamic news systems already in place - adding a way to generate feeds from them should not be difficult at all.
Also, do it right - full feeds, have them sponsored if you must, but you’re probably not going to have as many subscribers if you just have partial feeds (and don’t have those sponsored, and then plaster ads on the pages you want people to go to, that’s just tacky).
Don’t know how to get started? Consult with me. Want to work with someone not associated with hockey? I’ll point you to someone else. Worried about formats, statistics, traffic and bandwidth? Consult with Feedburner.
If a league or team really wants to start interacting with fans, open up commenting on some of the editorials posted. Yes, fans can be rabid, and moderation can be hard, but it’s still an option.
Trackbacks are another option. Either add a link for bloggers to use at the end of all articles on a website, or simply have them auto-detected when someone pings a page (many blogging apps will auto-ping pages linked to).
So go, do something for the fans. Make your information more easily accessible and if you want to interact with the fans, do so.
* I use the term auto-detected because if one of these sites do have a feed they don’t have it setup for readers and such to find it easily and may simply link to it somewhere else on the site that I missed. If you find any of these, please point it out to me.
Monday, July 25, 2005
As the NHL seems ready to play games again, it has no national U.S. cable TV deal. An idea: Put games, with players and coaches miked live, on ad-free HBO, where anything goes with on-air expletives.
“That’s intriguing,” HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg says. “The only issues would be how much (money) they’d want and the games’ significance. I’m not sure regular-season games would have the heat we’d need. But if they gave us an open book, we’d fill the pages.”
It was mentioned in the St Pete Times today, and Sports Central’s Greg Wyshynski didn’t glance over it at all, breaking down some pros and cons of putting certain games on HBO.
The idea of putting a few games on pay cable may seem crazy to some, but it isn’t pay-per-view (like some games up in Canada) and a channel like HBO has many, many subscribers (there’s a reason so many people are able to talk about the Sopranos, they’re not guessing who was whacked the night before). If hockey wants to do anything edgy, they have an outlet and if only a few late season games are put on the network it could be done very well with length time to prepare. Lockerroom cams can be shown live, as there’s no reason for censoring and, of course, everything could be in HDTV. It could even give the NHL a bit of a premium feel to it. After all, games will still be on NBC and some other national network - there’s no reason not to experiment with a pay cable channel like HBO.
Chris Baginski left a good comment on my previous post about the US national TV situation.
- More games are needed on NBC, which broadcasts in HD.
- The NHL should definitely not go with Comcast, and most likely not with ESPN either.
- The NHL should go with either Spike TV, TBS or USA. The best thing to do would be to get a revenue sharing contract with two of them, getting games on two networks on two nights as well as more revenue and exposure. Though hopefully they’d show games on more than one night a week for each network.
I’m in complete agreement about NBC - the NHL should do whatever they can to get more games on the network, even if it means footing the bill for the extras. As I wrote previously, exposure is more important than anything else right now.
I can’t say I’m as down on Comcast - possibly because the rumors aren’t that Comcast would only put games on OLN, but also the E! network (which has a greater reach) while it gets its ESPN-rival network ready. Is it the channel you’d want to be on? Not really, but if the NHL has a chance to be part of a real sports channel it might be worth the risk. HD also comes into play here - Spike and the other networks don’t have HD broadcasts available widely right now - it’s an assumption, but I’d think any new sports network would immediately push HD right away.
One scenario too many are overlooking is a contract with multiple partners. Why not get a few games on USA, and some on Spike? See who promotes the game better and brings in better ratings and go with them in the future. The NBA has a contract with TNT and ESPN - NASCAR has a split-season contract with Fox and NBC (although NASCAR has currently chosen not to renew the deal with Fox, it is assumed NBC won’t pick up the other half, another network will still share the circuit).
There’s no reason the NHL can’t try and up the number of games on NBC, give a serious call to HBO and still sign more than one national cable company to broadcast games. It gives the NHL the potential to reach a wide demographic of fans, get feedback from fans about what type of broadcasts they like best, and also gives them multiple income streams (so it’s easier to possibly switch up or drop a network later on). Sure, hard core fans might have to reach for the TV Guide a bit more to see what game is being televised where, but they’ll do it (and NHL.com posts a complete schedule with TV listings anyway).
The NHL should also play hands-off with these networks (at least at first) to let them be as creative as possible. Let ideas succeed and fail with the broadcast and not in a conference room. Each network would probably wind up using the best ideas from the other ones and you’d be left with some great productions within a year or two.
As they keep saying, game on.