It’s been a while since I’ve written a Sunday thoughts column and you certainly deserve one here. My apologies for not writing one in a long time. Let’s get cracking.
ESPN vs. NBC Is Starting To Heat Up
This battle is going to quite interesting. While the book “Those Guys Have all The Fun: Inside The World of ESPN” depicted a healthy sports property competition between ESPN and NBC, the real war starts now. With the NBC Sports Group establishing itself through Golf Channel, Versus (NBC Sports Network) and the Comcast SportsNet regional sports networks, the battle with ESPN is heating up. ESPN is well established with its networks, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNews, ESPN Classic, ESPN3.com, ESPN Deportes and anything else I’ve forgotten to mention (ESPN the Ocho).
Earlier this year, we saw the two companies battle over the NHL (NBC Sports Group), Olympics (NBC Sports Group), Pac-12 (ESPN and Fox) and Wimbledon (ESPN). Last week, NBC Sports Group surprised most everyone with a successful bid for MLS taking Fox Soccer’s portion of the contract, now sharing the league with ESPN. This could make for a very interesting partnership with both contracts expiring in 2014.
NBC Sports Network is positioning itself for its rebranding on January 2, 2012. Not only will Versus change to a new name and go beyond being Versus 2.0, the new network will take the NBC Sports brand and run with it. The Group hopes to make NBC Sports Network a true destination for the sports fan. NBC Sports Network is in the running for the first half of the NFL Thursday Night Football package that will begin in 2012. We’ve heard that it will air college hockey games on the weekends to help fill programming holes. There was the announcement that NBC Sports Network will start airing 1-2 Notre Dame football home games next season. And there was the report that two studio shows will premiere next year with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio and CNBC’s Darren Rovell as hosts.
With NBC Sports Network assisting the main network with the NHL, Horse Racing’s Triple Crown and the Olympics, 2012 is shaping up to be a busy year for the Group.
So what about ESPN? With the network having so much inventory, one won’t have to worry about its programming. With the network firmly established with college sports, Wimbledon, MLB, Monday Night Football among others, ESPN will be quite busy. And it’s also in a decent position in case the NBA lockout wipes out an entire season.
But what about Sports Rights Armageddon coming up in 2012 and 2013 when rights for MLB, MLS, NBA, NASCAR, NFL and the PGA Tour all come up for bid? You know NBC Sports and ESPN will be chomping at the bit to win as many sports properties from each other. Let’s handicap each sport to see where they could land.
ESPN is firmly entrenched with MLB in a relationship that dates back to 1990. Their rights expire in 2013 and I’m sure ESPN, Fox and Turner would like to remain in the sport. You can rest assured ESPN wants the October postseason rights back after being shut out in 2006 by Fox and Turner. And while Versus did consider bidding for the ESPN Sunday and Wednesday night contract back in 2005, ESPN made sure it kept its portion of the deal by also adding Monday Night Baseball. Expect NBC Sports Group to come in to possibly drive the bidding up and maybe even steal a contract. But with NBC Sports Group committed to the NHL, it might be difficult to clear primetime games in April and May. However, Sunday afternoons would be open and that is Turner’s portion of the contract. Perhaps NBC Sports Group could bid for that part of the contract to gain the playoffs to keep them off ESPN. I don’t see NBC being interested in MLB on Saturday afternoons, although you never know.
Now that both ESPN and NBC Sports Group have MLS until 2014, expect Major League Soccer to assess how each company does from the period between 2012-2014. MLS will most likely combine both contracts into one to have ESPN and NBC bid against each other. ESPN has been trying to establish itself as the soccer network in the U.S. thanks to its performance with the Men’s and Women’s World Cups over the last two years plus obtaining English Premier League rights through Fox Soccer. Expect ESPN to do all it can to win this contract from NBC.
You know there are producers at NBC who wax nostalgic over the NBA on NBC days during the 1990′s. This could be a very interesting battleground between ESPN and NBC. Expect Turner to keep its portion of the NBA contract and possibly even gain the NBA Finals in alternate years. ESPN and NBC could bid heavily for this contract. And while ESPN has practically sold its soul to the NBA, remember that NBC once gave the NBA heavy promotion and was instrumental during the Chicago Bulls championship years. Would the NBA split this contract to have three TV partners? I seriously doubt it. But NBC could make this a very difficult bid for ESPN by driving the price up dramatically.
I project ESPN keeping the NBA.
NBC and Turner shared one NASCAR contract until 2006 until ESPN swooped in and took it away. ESPN has made a big commitment to the sport. While Versus has IndyCar and looks like it will keep its portion of that contract, I don’t see NBC bidding for NASCAR. I believe ESPN will keep NASCAR and could possibly pick up some additional races in the next contract.
There are a lot of dynamics in play here. There’s the aforementioned Thursday Night Football contract currently up for bid. There’s NBC’s Sunday Night Football which I think Comcast will want to keep for the network at all costs. And you have ESPN about to renew Monday Night Football into the next decade. I don’t see either network losing their NFL primetime packages. I could see NBC also renewing Sunday Night Football for the same length of time as ESPN’s contract.
If NBC Sports Network wins the rights for the first half of Thursday Night Football, expect to see a long-term deal to run in concert with NBC’s Sunday Night Football package. The bidding for Thursday Night between Fox, NBC, Turner and maybe even ESPN could make for a very interesting story.
I do think NBC Sports Group will get the Thursday Night package starting in 2012.
ESPN did carry PGA Tour events up until 2006 when the PGA chose to go with Golf Channel, NBC and CBS. ESPN dropped out of the bidding to carry individual events for the current contract and I don’t see it going for a new contract especially with Tiger Woods not doing so well. ESPN has committed to golf’s major events and I foresee it continuing with that policy. And with the newly combined Golf Channel/NBC entity, the NBC Sports Group could bid for more tournaments although the PGA Tour is most of CBS’ summer programming. CBS will want to remain with its 20 PGA tournaments and there’s also the CBS Sports Network which the Tiffany Network wants to stock its inventory as well, but that’s another story entirely.
The Big East Conference recently held its annual football media day and with it deciding to wait until its contract opens up next year, it will have plenty of suitors including ESPN, NBC Sports Group and Fox. However, if the SEC starts poaching the Big 12, it could lead to the breakup of the Big East as the ACC and Big 10 might rip it up for parts so we’ll have to wait for all of the dust to settle. If the Big East survives, expect competitive bidding among the aforementioned parties. With ESPN and the Big East having so much history between the two, I expect the four letter network to keep the rights.
The French Open rights will be coming up for bid in the next couple of years. With NBC having lost Wimbledon to ESPN this year, NBC could attempt to get out of the tennis business, but it also could try to wrest the cable rights away from Tennis Channel and putting a combined bid in for the entire two week tournament. If NBC commits to some live tennis, then perhaps Roland Garros could commit to the Group. Plus you know ESPN would love to shut NBC out. This will be a very interesting battleground. I’ll say ESPN takes the French with Tennis Channel as a partner.
You know that ESPN vs. NBC is going to be an interesting battle for years to come.
Where is CBS Sports on Twitter?
It hit me as I was driving to a jobsite last week that we don’t see too many CBS Sports personalities on Twitter. It should hit you that my mind works in strange ways.
You have College Football Today co-hosts Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman, but I think they set up those accounts on their own. CBS Sports golf analyst David Feherty just recently set up an account, but that was mostly to promote his new Golf Channel show. NCAA Tournament analysts Greg Anthony, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis have their own accounts, but again set up independently from CBS Sports. And NFL/NCAA announcer Kevin Harlan is also on Twitter, but I don’t see Jim Nantz, Greg Gumbel, Phil Simms, Dan Dierdorf, Ian Eagle, Gary McCord, or any of the other CBS personalities on the service.
To be honest, I don’t think this is a company-wide policy not to be on Twitter and social media, it just seems to be a coincidence that many CBS Sports announcers don’t partake. I haven’t written an e-mail to CBS Sports asking about this. I will send one to see if there’s a social media policy, but I don’t think there’s any memo from higher ups banning their announcers from joining Twitter. Consider the fact that ESPN, Fox and NBC have encouraged their announcers to join, it seems very quiet on the CBS front. Just an observation and certainly not a criticism.
Video of the Week
And I’ll conclude with the one of the best videos from this past week or any other week. This is the reunion of U.S. Army Major Michael Harlow with his wife, Darla, pulling off the ultimate surprise at a Mississippi Braves game. Darla threw out of the first pitch thinking the team had chosen her at random for the honor. Little did she know that the catcher was her husband, home from Afghanistan for ten weeks. The best story was that Major Harlow had set this up with his two daughters to surprise Darla. We have the video from WAPT in Jackson, MS.
As you saw from the video, this isn’t the first time Major Harlow surprised his wife. The first time he pulled off the surprise, she fainted. It’s a good thing she did not this time around.
And those are the Sunday thoughts.