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League-Owned Networks Ready to Run Up the Score

More games—and prominent franchises—to elevate NFL Network, others 8/20/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

As the broadcast networks replace their summer
repeats with new series and returning favorites through the
coming weeks, sports league-owned networks are readying
for an eventful fall of their own.

In a little over two weeks, the NFL kicks off another football season, one
that will see the NFL Network carry
an additional five games. “It’s close to
a regular-season package,” says Mark
Quenzel, the network’s senior VP of
production and programming.

“We do a lot of really good programming
on this network, but
nothing replaces live games,” adds
Quenzel. “That’s the holy grail.”

Unlike in past years, when its
game slate began in November,
NFL Network will air its first game
Sept. 13. The channel’s first two
contests feature the popular Green
Bay Packers-Chicago Bears rivalry
and the Super Bowl champion New
York Giants facing off against last year’s rookie sensation, Cam Newton,
and his Carolina Panthers. “We’re coming out of the blocks with two
really good games,” says Quenzel.

The increase in coverage is big and exciting for the network, though
it doesn’t come without its challenges. Quenzel says adding five extra
games will test NFL Network’s high-quality meter. “We set a certain
standard for what we do around those games,” says Quenzel. “There’s
a lot more work to do.”

One trade-off NFL Network had to make in this increase was giving
up its primetime game on Thanksgiving Day to NBC; Quenzel says he
was more than happy to make the switch. “It’s a completely fair trade,”
he says, adding that putting such a popular game on broadcast TV is
better for the league. (The third NFL game on Thanksgiving has never
aired in broadcast; it always aired on NFL Network.)

While football is getting ready to begin anew, Major League Baseball is
rounding third and heading home on its 2012 campaign. For the first time
in its brief history, MLB Network is getting in on the postseason action.

The league’s new postseason format will feature two extra teams,
and with extra teams comes extra games. TBS will give MLB Network
two of its divisional round telecasts and instead carry the games of the
newly added wildcard round.

“It’s a really huge step for us,” says MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti.
“Up until now, we really haven’t had any significant exclusive content,
in terms of live games.” While MLB Network has produced games on
its own, they were blacked out in the teams’ home markets. “This is
the first time we’ll have something that’s really exclusive,” says Petitti.

The network this year will also exclusively broadcast live the Most
Valuable Player, Cy Young and other awards announcements by the
Baseball Writers Association of America for the first time.

Of course, it’s just not professional
sports if there’s not some
labor strife in play. This time, the
National Hockey League faces the
possibility of a delayed or canceled
season. At presstime, the league and
its players were continuing negotiations
on a new collective bargaining
agreement; the current one expires
Sept. 15. It is widely believed that
the league will lock out its players if
no agreement is reached.

Charles Coplin, NHL Network’s executive
VP of content, can’t concern
himself with that. “We’re planning
[like it’s] business as usual,” he says.

Whether there are NHL games or not this fall, the network will still
be there to service its fans. Coplin says one of the biggest goals will be
better synergy between the league’s platforms.

“One of our biggest focuses is to be cross-platform,” Coplin says, adding
that he wants a “common DNA” between the network, NHL.com
and its GameCenter app. Coplin also wants synergy across the league’s
rights holders, saying he’s looking for ways his network can complement
others.

On the hardwood, NBA TV hopes the massive popularity wave the
league experienced this past season can continue. With the season set
to begin on time this year, NBA TV on Oct. 31 will air the ! rst game
of No. 1 draft pick (and Team USA gold medalist) Anthony Davis of
the New Orleans Hornets.

Christina Miller, senior VP and GM of NBA Digital, is understandably
thrilled to have a full season on tap for 2012-13, to keep the momentum
moving down the court in the right direction. “Obviously,” Miller
says, “having [those early games] is critical.”

E-mail comments to tim.baysinger@gmail.com
and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays

November