Serving Fans, Filling NichesNetworks focused on corners of the sports world enter fall with high hopes 8/22/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Single-Sport cable networks are
still relatively young compared to
the three-decades-old ESPN and the
mass-audience broadcast networks that televise
live sports. But they have
become a vital part of sports advertisers’
Networks such as NFL Network,
MLB Network, NHL Network,
NBA TV, Golf Channel, Tennis
Channel and Fox Soccer serve
many purposes for both viewers
and advertisers, while continuing to
expand in improved programming
“I’m a huge fan of those networks,”
says Adam Schwartz, a
sports specialist ad buyer at Horizon
Media. “They may not get the
huge ratings of broadcast networks,
but they draw the passionate fans.
And for advertisers who can’t spend
massive dollars for sports programming,
it gives them a venue to have
a presence in each sport.”
Fox Soccer (a rebranding of Fox
Soccer Channel) underwent a major relaunch
on Aug. 13 in conjunction with the start of
the Barclays Premier League season in England,
debuting a new name, new graphics
and a multiplatform makeover that includes
better integration of Fox Soccer, premium
service Fox Soccer Plus and FoxSoccer.com,
along with broadband service FoxSoccerTV.
Lengthy Tune-In Times
Studio shows like Match Day and Goals on
Sunday now originate from new sets on the
Fox Network Center lot from Studio A and
B, where Fox NFL Sunday and other Fox network
sports studio shows also originate.
Fox Soccer recently lost TV rights for U.S.
Major League Soccer matches to NBC and
NBC Sports Network after this year. But David
Nathanson, Fox Soccer executive vice president
and general manager, points to leadership
among single-sport networks in average viewer
length of tune-in time. Key remaining assets
include UEFA Champions League matches and
Italy’s Serie A, along with English contests.
Nathanson cites investments in new and
expanded sets, opening up opportunities for
more segment sponsors on the studio shows.
New advertisers in the fold include Apple,
Burger King, KFC and Samuel Adams.
NHL Network is also giving its NHL Live
studio, in the same building as its NHL Store
Powered by Reebok in midtown New York
City, a complete makeover with an entire new
set and control room.
After a test run last year with permanent
cameras in four of the league’s arenas, this
year the network is in the process of installing
cameras in all 30 arenas.
Mark Preisler, NHL Network executive producer,
says the goal each night is to be able to
show footage from a team’s morning practice
and pregame skates and to do live interviews
from the various arenas before the games. A
new multipurpose studio in Stamford, Conn.,
currently under construction, is to open up
next year. Beginning in mid-September, the
network will televise more preseason games
than last year, and it will carry 78 feeds of live
games during the season.
NFL Network sports a new
broadcast team for the Thursday
Night Football games that kick off
on Nov. 11, with main NFL Draft
analyst Mike Mayock joining veteran
play-by-play announcer Brad
Nessler in the booth. The network
has also added Kurt Warner as an
analyst who will appear on the
pre- and postgame shows each
week, joining returning analysts
Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders,
both Hall of Famers.
Signature nightly show NFL Total
Access (7 p.m.) has undergone
a complete overhaul with a new
look, a faster pace and more analysts.
The network now has permanent
cameras at every team’s
practice facilities, which will enable
both Total Access and Around
the League (5-7 p.m.) to present live reports
as news happens from each facility.
Lockout End Aids NFL
Mark Quenzel, NFL senior vice president
of programming and production, says a lot of
fans discovered the network during the past
few weeks as the NFL lockout was settled.
Over a three-day period from July 26-28, immediately
following the then-tentative agreement
being reached, the network averaged
290,000 viewers per night—a 202% increase
over the same period in 2010.
in addition to live games and live
information and news shows,” Quenzel says.
“We are no longer just about televising repeats
of classic games. And because we serve
only one master, the NFL, our goal is to be first, accurate and the most comprehensive place to get NFL news.”
NBA TV, now operated for the NBA by
Turner Sports, is in a tougher spot, with a
current lockout of players and an impasse in
negotiations between team owners and the
Players Association. The network is left hoping
the dispute is resolved in time to start the
regular season, if not to get some exhibition
game telecasts on.
NBA TV is scheduled to televise 96 live
regular season games in 2011-12.
MLB Network continues its live primetime
airings on Tuesday, Thursday (often a day
game as well), Friday and Saturday through
the end of the season. The service typically
alters its September schedule to showcase
contests with pennant-race implications.
The network won’t air any live games during
baseball’s upcoming postseason. But it
will have reporters and analysts at all game
locations and will have a set at the World Series
site to produce live pre- and postgame
coverage each night, CEO Tony Petitti says.
Location reports will complement studio out put from headquarters in Secaucus, N.J.
“We feel good about where we are and the
progress we’ve made,” Petitti says of the network,
now in its third year. During the first
six weeks of the third quarter, the network
averaged 185,000 viewers in primetime, up
26% over last year.
NBC Nets Swing for Golf
Golf Channel cites its best ratings
growth since the network added PGA
coverage in 2007 and expects some
strong promotional help from sister
channels in the NBCUniversal fold.
Mike McCarley, who took over as
president of the Comcast-owned Golf
Channel in late January after Comcast’s
acquisition of NBCUniversal, says the
next phase of integration into the new
NBC Sports Group will be seen in the
fourth quarter. During the PGA Tour
playoffs and the President’s Cup tournaments,
there will be lots of promotion of
the network on NBC.
Further, Golf’s David Feherty Show finale on Sept. 13 will tie in with NBC’s
Sunday Night Football telecast on Sept.
11. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony
Romo will be a guest on Feherty’s show
two nights after the Cowboys play the
New York Jets—prompting promotional
mentions on SNF.
Tennis Channel is gearing up for its
centerpiece U.S. Open tennis coverage,
which begins Aug. 29 and runs through
Sept. 11. It shares cable coverage of the
Open with ESPN and in all will televise
240 hours, including 75 hours of live matches.
After the tournament comes men’s and
women’s Tour Finals and Davis Cup and Fed
Ken Solomon, Tennis Channel chairman/
CEO, says Davis Cup finals ratings were up
20% and Fed Cup finals rose 85% last year
vs. 2009, and he is hoping for another strong
ratings boost this year. Overall ad revenue is
up 50% this year, Solomon says, bolstered
by new advertisers including American Express,
Travelers Insurance and Blue Delta
Water, among others. He adds the network
has grown its $1 million-plus ad-spenders.