NBC’s 2 1/2 hours of planned coverage Saturday afternoon of the Belmont Stakes was supposed to center on I’ll Have Another, the 3-year-old colt who has captivated the sports world (and beyond) trying for horse racing’s first Triple Crown in 34 years. But the horse was pulled from the race today after suffering a tendon injury during training, turning the Belmont into pretty much just another race. That’s an awful turn of events for NBC Sports, which certainly was planning to devote all its coverage to I’ll Have Another, its trainer Doug O’Neill and the rest of the team and watch the monster ratings come in. The network last year signed a big deal to consolidate the Triple Crown races under its flag and had caught lightning in a bottle with this colt, which won one of the best races I’ve ever seen last month at the Preakness to set him up for a chance to be only the 12th horse to take the Triple Crown. Now it’s off to the much more lucrative stud farm for I’ll Have Another, while scribes scrap the first drafts of those Seabiscuit 2 scripts.
Time Warner Cable is looking for other sports rights to add to its two new Southern California regional sports networks that are launching October 1 — and that now includes the lucrative local TV rights to the Los Angeles Dodgers. “We are hopeful that we will have an opportunity to speak with the new ownership,” TWC Sports president David Rone told Sports Business Daily. “Those are conversations we are interested in having and prepared to have.” It’s not a surprise that the new networks, Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Spanish-language Time Warner Cable Deportes, would seek to bid on those rights, but it marks one of the first open acknowledgments that they are ready to compete with current rightsholder Fox Sports for a long-term Dodgers deal that could be worth $3 billion or more. (The Dodgers were purchased in March for $2.15 billion, a record price for a U.S. sports franchise. Much of the team’s value is wrapped up in the next TV rights deal.) The RSNs showed that they will be a major player in the nation’s second-largest media market, plopping down serious cash in a 20-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. But now the networks need other content, and Rone said in the interview that they are seeking out other deals, including college sports rights.
Time Warner Cable SportsNet and its Spanish-language sibling Time Warner Cable Deportes will launch October 1 as the exclusive home to the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, Major League Soccer’s L.A. Galaxy and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. The regional sports networks’ names were unveiled today; at launch, they will show than 120 live sports events per year including local high school sports. “We are building Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Time Warner Cable Deportes from the ground up to be the new homes for Southern California sports fans,” Time Warner Cable Sports President David Rone said. “Our networks are created around live coverage of some of the region’s signature franchises and represent a 24/7 commitment to give fans more access and insight than they have ever seen before.” It will be the first time that all Lakers games will be on one network after TWC inked the team to a 20-year deal in February and announced the formation of the networks.
Rupert Murdoch has sent a letter to employees of News Corp following today’s release of a UK select committee’s findings on phone hacking at News Of The World. Murdoch’s note comes a week after he testified before the Leveson Inquiry into UK ethics and says in part, “We certainly should have acted more quickly and aggressively to uncover wrongdoing.” However, he adds that News Corp’s internal Management and Standards Committee has completed its review of the Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun and has found no illegal conduct “other than a single incident reported months ago, which led to the discipline of the relevant employee.” He also gives a shout-out to his embattled son, noting “News International, at the instigation of James, instituted important governance reforms.” Below is Murdoch’s full letter:
DirecTV is dropping the price for its exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package this year to $199.95 for existing customers, about a 40% reduction over last year’s cost, the company announced today. That’s the lowest price for the service in …
Sports television couldn’t have gotten off to a better start to the year than last night’s Super Bowl. NBC had the game, the most-watched event in TV history. A total of 111.3 million viewers tuned in to see the team from the nation’s largest media market win the championship in the nation’s most popular sport. As if anyone needed further proof, the New York Giants’ victory over the New England Patriots is the latest example of how important live sports is to broadcasters and the advertising industry that pays their bills. The leagues and the networks that show them know this better than ever, and watching how each exploits and benefits from this reality will make for a fun spectator sport in 2012 as they go head-to-head with the carriers who are increasingly blanching at the increasingly high fees sports-rich networks can and plan to command. In the middle and up for grabs is the biggest slice of what ZenithOptimedia estimates is $61.9 billion in expected TV ad spend this year, led by anticipation for the London Summer Olympics. Here’s a scorecard of the players to watch:
If the Super Bowl isn’t enough, the most powerful sports league flexed its muscle in December by inking a broadcast rights deal with NBC, CBS and Fox for a combined $27.5 billion over nine years — a whopping 63% increase over the previous contract. (ESPN and the NFL Network have a separate contract for cable.) The deal comes just in time for the networks and affiliates’ retransmission consent negotiations with cable and satellite providers and sets up a showdown over those fees – Miller Taback analyst David Joyce crunched the numbers and found that for all media partners to break even on the new contract, the average pay TV subscriber would have to pay an extra $11.23 a month, up $6.87 from the previous contract that ends after next season. It will be a serious fight. “Congress and the Federal Communications Commission need to throw a flag, because rules and regulations shouldn’t force consumers to bear the burden of broadcasters’ profligate spending, which will surely enrich NFL owners and players just as much as it will impoverish all pay-TV subscribers, particularly those who will never watch an NFL game,” American Cable Association CEO Matthew Polka said after the deal was announced. The new contract, struck in December, came after a labor lockout that threatened the start of the season and centered on how owners and players would split its revenue, including lucrative TV rights. In effect, the potential loss of games only proved how valuable the NFL is, much like the NBA’s own labor stoppage, which trimmed the season but it quickly re-upped with key advertisers and sponsors.
NBC bet big on the Olympics in June on the backs of new owner Comcast, blowing out rivals’ bids with a $4.38 billion move for a comprehensive rights deal through the 2020 Games. We’ll begin to figure out how smart that was right away: the network is prepping the London Summer Olympics for July and August. The all-in for Olympics programming is part of a bigger play by Comcast, which is setting itself up to compete with the likes of ESPN and Turner in the sports realm by rebranding its niche Versus channel the NBC Sports Network. Visions of ESPN’s $4.69-per-customer carriage fee are spurring the move — Versus took in $122.6 million in ad revenue last year, according to SNL Kagan, while ESPN took in $1.48 billion in ad sales and $5.27 billion in affiliate revenue. It’s a long-term play for sure, but Olympics coverage will plant NBC Sports Network’s flag in a bunch of new homes this summer, as eventually will new deals signed last year with the NHL (10 years, $2 billion; ESPN and Turner were in the race for that deal) and to a lesser extent Major League Soccer (three years, about $30 million). NBCUniversal and Comcast aren’t the only ones gunning for ESPN. Fox Sports in October beat out the sports giant for English-language rights to the next soccer World Cup contract in 2018 and 2022, in bidding that also saw NBCUniversal-owned Telemundo claim Spanish-language rights from Univision. Fox Sports and cable sibling FX also inked a multiyear deal with UFC, the mixed-martial arts league.
Chase Carey said back in November that News Corp had no interest in buying the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that appears to have changed. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Fox has signed a nondisclosure agreement that allows it to bid to purchase the team. According to WSJ, Fox would seek a 15%-20% minority interest only — it doesn’t want to own the team outright, like it did from 1998-2004 — in a move designed to give it leverage over lucrative local TV rights. Currently, Fox Sports’ regional Prime Ticket network has exclusive rights through the end of next season, and just settled a lawsuit with the Dodgers, who wanted to shorten that exclusivity window to force a bidding war for TV rights, which could be worth as much as $3 billion. That monster number is at the heart of what will be a wild bidding process to buy the team, with that potential windfall driving up the price of what any new owner (and there are many lining up to bid) will have to pay to purchase the team from owner Frank McCourt. Those initial offers from those numerous ownership groups are due January 23.
Joe Torre, the former Los Angeles Dodgers manager who last year moved into Major League Baseball’s front office, stepped down from his executive post today and announced he was joining LA developer Rick Caruso to bid on the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team is being sold by current owner Frank McCourt as part of a bankruptcy settlement with MLB that included the early auctioning of the team’s local TV rights, which could fetch as much as $3 billion. Forbes estimates the franchise is worth around $800 million, and some believe any sale would eclipse the record price for a baseball franchise, set a couple of years ago with the Chicago Cubs’ $845 million tab. Caruso is the man behind The Grove complex adjacent to the LA Farmers Market among other real estate holdings. And Torre has done a little bit of everything in the sport: winning an MVP as a player, winning multiple World Series as manager of the New York Yankees, and a long stint as a broadcaster in between. He was EVP Baseball Operations at MLB before deciding to join Caruso.
UPDATED: The NFL said that this is the longest TV deal ever for the league’s broadcast rights. Although terms weren’t disclosed today, the total package for America’s most popular sport is now estimated at $7 billion (counting earlier cable-rights deals with ESPN and DirecTV). That’s even more than the lofty increases some were expecting. The NBC contract solidifies the network’s flagship Sunday Night Football and includes a primetime game on Thanksgiving. The CBS agreement provides it access to AFC and NFC games for the first time in the same season. The networks will continue rotating the Super Bowl broadcasts; NBC is up next this season. “The agreements would not have been possible without our new 10-year labor agreement and the players deserve great credit,” NFL commissioner Roger Goddell said. “Long-term labor peace is allowing the NFL to continue to grow, and the biggest beneficiaries are the players and fans.” The league also plans to add to the number of Thursday night games carried by the NFL Network, but how many has yet to be decided. Here are the releases announcing the deals, starting with NBC:
NEW YORK – December 14, 2011 – NBCUniversal today agreed to a new and extensive media rights agreement to extend its NFL rights package through the 2022 season. The new agreement includes many enhancements that broaden the exposure of NFL content on NBC, and across other NBCUniversal platforms.
“This is a great day for NBCUniversal and the NBC Sports Group. There is no more powerful programming on television than the NFL and no better program than Sunday Night Football. The long-term agreement announced today provides us with significant enhancements to our existing NFL package, ensures that we will continue our partnership with the NFL for many years, and adds tremendous value to the many assets of NBCUniversal. We could not be more pleased,” said Steve Burke, CEO, NBCUniversal.
“Sunday Night Football on NBC is the most-watched program on primetime television, and we’re excited to continue our long-term partnership with the NFL,” said Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Sports Group. “The new primetime Thanksgiving game starting in 2012, the upgraded playoff package and the three Super Bowls are all major enhancements to our new agreement. The additional digital and programming rights add tremendous value to the NBC Sports Group portfolio.”
This new and extensive media rights agreement includes many enhancements vs. the previous agreement:
L.A. Lakers icon Magic Johnson is the latest big entertainment name to throw his hat in the ring to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, which are currently in bankruptcy protection and could be about a month away from holding an auction to sell the franchise. The NBA Hall of Famer probably won’t be the latest high-profile star to attach himself to a potential ownership group — Johnson’s team, confirmed today, is a Santa Monica-based group of private investors known as Guggenheim Baseball Management, which includes Mark Walter, CEO of financial services firm Guggenheim Partners, and veteran baseball exec Stan Kasten — as bidders jockey for position in an auction in which the team will likely fetch more than $1 billion. (Johnson and his Magic Johnson Enterprises sold his ownership stake in the Lakers last year and also is part of the group that is trying to bring the NFL to downtown Los Angeles, so he’s definitely a serious player.) Other big names being bandied about as part of separate possible Dodgers ownership groups include Dallas Mavericks and HDNet’s billionaire owner Mark Cuban — he tried to buy the Chicago Cubs from Tribune a year ago — and former CNN host Larry King. Those kind of high-profile figures also don’t hurt in boosting the Dodgers’ profile as networks prepare to take a crack at landing the team’s lucrative local TV rights, which could mean a $3 billion windfall to the financially strapped team — if the courts can ever decide how that process will unfold.
A U.S. Bankruptcy judge today set December 7 to kick off a two-day hearing about whether the Los Angeles Dodgers can begin marketing the team’s lucrative future local TV rights, which Fox Sports holds through the end of the 2013 baseball season. Fox already has sued the Dodgers to block any early rights sale. The network claims its regional network has an exclusive window to renegotiate a new deal as part of its current contract, and that that team is using bankruptcy protection to break that agreement. (As part of that lawsuit, Fox will ask Judge Kevin Gross to dismiss the team’s bankruptcy altogether in a hearing set for December 27.) How valuable are those TV rights? Soon-to-be-ex-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt at one time had a $3 billion deal with Fox in place before it was rejected by Major League Baseball and commissioner Bud Selig, forcing McCourt to seek bankruptcy for the team and eventually agree to sell the franchise outright.
The NBA’s locked-out players rejected the league’s latest offer for a new collective bargaining agreement today, with union executive director Billy Hunter calling the proposed deal “extremely unfair.” He said the players’ association is beginning the process of disbanding …