Time for the look back at the Year in Sports Media in 2012. Lots of great stuff. The year has been very interesting and we have seen a lot of things.
Just doing a Top Ten is never enough for the Year in Review. It’s always an even dozen with some honorable mentions mixed in.
Let’s go over what were the Sports Media Stories of 2012.
12. Embrace Debate Leads To Rob Parker Suspension
One of the silliest stories in 2012 was ESPN’s commitment to debate programming. Two shows were revamped to accommodate more debate among ESPN personalities, First Take and Numbers Never Lie. Due to outrageous statements made on First Take, mostly by Skip Bayless, the show received lots of attention and increased ratings. But the pressure to stand out may have caught up with Rob Parker who questioned whether DC NFL Team quarterback Robert Griffin III’s authenticity.
It led to Parker’s suspension and allegedly more oversight over the shows. We’ll see if it leads to some more control and fewer outrageous statements.
11. Steve Sabol (1942-2012)
One of the pioneers in sports television passed away in 2012. Steve Sabol’s impact on the National Football League’s popularity through NFL Films cannot be measured. With his father Ed, the Sabols brought fans closer to the game by thinking outside the box. Games weren’t just regular contests, they became movies with Hollywood production values and full orchestrations. Instead of showing games from high in the stadium, NFL Films went to field level and made extreme closeups of the players. In addition, Ed and Steve introduced slow motion photography to sports.
In 2011, Ed Sabol was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It would behoove voters to induct Steve sometime soon to join his dad.
10. Big Media Taps Into New Media
2012 saw Turner Sports purchased the much-criticized and now-improving Bleacher Report, USA Today buying Big Lead Sports and NBC Sports aligned itself with Yahoo! Sports. This is more than getting pageviews and improving comScores, this is about expanding portfolios and attracting younger audiences. According to comScore, Yahoo! has been the most popular sports news site for several years outpacing ESPN.com. Bleacher Report may get criticized for its multiple and questionable slideshows, but its hiring of some respected editors and writers have increased the quality of the site to the point where Turner Sports purchased the site for beaucoup bucks. And I have to make this disclaimer, Fang’s Bites is an independently-owned blog that is affiliated with USA Today Media Group. We will see more purchases in 2013.
9. NASCAR Renews with Fox
Fox Sports was the first of NASCAR’s TV partners to renew its ties with the sport taking the first half of the Sprint Cup season. For an estimated pricetag of over $2.4 billion through 2022, Fox remains with NASCAR in a relationship that dates back to 2002. Fox is expected to put some of its races on its new all-sports channel, but we’ll get to that later. And expect live on-streaming in this new contract. However, NASCAR’s ratings are a question-mark, but bidding for the second half in 2013 is expected to bring even more money. It’s all going to be quite an interesting year for NASCAR.
8. NBC Steals English Premier League and Formula One From Fox
October turned out to be a good month for NBC Sports Group as far as acquisitions were concerned. It first obtained the rights to Formula 1 as Fox gave just a nominal bid. Then a couple of weeks later, it emerged as the frontrunner to the English Premier League and then won out over a concerted combined bid from ESPN/Fox. While NBC Sports Network won’t be known as a college sports destination or for MLB, perhaps it can become an international sports channel with the EPL, Formula 1 and Olympic Sports. NBC Sports Network will have some sports to watch year-round with the English Premier League, Formula 1, MLS and the NHL (when it finally returns).
7. NFL Network Picks Up Its Last Two Holdouts
Since 2010, NFL Network has been gaining momentum in picking up carriage agreements with the major cable providers. It finally was able to sign deals in 2012 with its last two remaining holdouts, first Cablevision in August and then the very last one, Time Warner Cable in September. Thanks to the increased audience, NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football package had record ratings for its new 13 game schedule. It was a struggle for NFL Network to get all eight major cable and satellite providers on board, but after eight years, it finally got it done.
6. MLB New TV Contracts For A Lot of $$$
It started in August when ESPN renewed rights for its three nights of baseball games, a return to postseason and an increased amount of games for a total of $5.6 billion over eight years. Then in October, MLB announced deals with Fox and Turner for a combined $6.8 billion through 2021, providing them with TV Everywhere rights, postseason deals and a package of regular season games. For Fox, it allows the network to put games on its anticipated all-sports cable channel, but again, more on that later.
5. CBS & NBC Announce New Sports Radio Networks
2012 brought two new national networks to the sports talk radio scene. Within two days of each other, NBC Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio were announced by both companies and with respective partners Dial Global and Cumulus Radio. NBC Sports Radio has been airing limited weekend programming since September, however, CBS Sports Radio chose to wait until this month to begin full operation with a 24/7 lineup. Both have a long way to go to match the firepower and the reputation of ESPN Radio that has been on the scene since the early 1990′s, however, CBS has hired familiar names like Jim Rome, Doug Gottlieb, John Feinstein, Scott Ferrall and Dana Jacobson. NBC will wait until the NCAA Final Four to finalize its weekday lineup. No matter the case, ESPN Radio finds itself with some formidable competition to join Yahoo! Sports Radio and Fox Sports Radio for listeners.
4. ESPN Free Agency
We had some big names leave the ESPN nest, Erin Andrews, Steve Berthiaume, Michelle Beadle, Cindy Brunson, Doug Gottlieb, Dana Jacobson, Michael Yam to name a few, but many stayed including Scott Van Pelt. This seemed to be quite the year for free agency for ESPN. In some cases, the network chose not to renew and wave goodbye to those departing, others decided not to return for other opportunities while in others, ESPN went out of its way to make sure its desired talent stayed. For the first time, ESPN was transparent in making statements about its free agency signings or departures. In the past, it had issued terse statements when media inquiries were made.
3. Fox Spending Spree
As the year-end was approaching, Fox Sports through its parent, News Corp., went on a spending spree unlike any other in sports media. It not only set up an all-sports cable channel for operation in 2013 (again, more on this later), but it bought into the YES Network which will eventually lead into a majority share of the New York Yankees regional sports network and fully purchased Sports Time Ohio for the Cleveland MLB Team. In addition, Fox is reportedly close to signing a long-term deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for its media rights. News Corp. had money to spend with the company splitting off its publishing holdings into a separate company and of course, the proverbial fiscal cliff where tax credits were about to change. Will we see more of Fox’s financial muscle in 2013? I think that’s a safe bet.
2. The Emergence of Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2
While NBC Sports Network was attempting to bid for major sports properties, Fox Sports was quietly forming its cable sports strategy for 2013 and beyond. We began hearing rumblings about Fox rebranding Speed into an all-sports channel that would be named “Fox Sports 1″ then at the end of the year, the company’s Fuel channel would also be rebranded as “Fox Sports 2″.
In its new contracts with MLB, NASCAR, the Pac-12, UFC and other sports properties it signed in 2012, Fox had a provision to put games and events on Fox Sports 1. As part of its new contract with Major League Baseball, Fox Sports can place 40 regular season games on cable as well as several postseason games. We should expect a number of NASCAR Sprint Cup races on FS1 and most likely see some UFC events as well.
The strategy is in place. Let’s see how it’s enacted in 2013 and beyond.
1. NBC’s Olympics Both Fail and Succeed
Up until the London Olympics begin in late July, NBCUniversal had been downplaying both ratings and financial expectations stating that it expected to lose money and the ratings for a tape delayed event would not be as good as in 2008 when events were carried live from Communist China. Somewhere along the way, something happened. NBC broke even financially on the Olympics and they became the most watched event in US television history. That was the successful part.
The failure was the tape delayed aspect when many viewers wanted to watch events live. The #NBCFAIL hashtag on Twitter quickly spread like wildfire during the first weekend of the Olympics. In addition, online streaming was sluggish and haggard. But even with the delays and streaming problems, Americans still watched in droves. When the games were said and done, NBCUniversal could pat itself on the back.
Struggles of new regional sports networks to gain carriage agreements.
NHL Does Well; But Shoots Itself in the Foot with the Lockout
Tim Tebow Overload
ESPN Continues Dominance in College Sports