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A Question of Sport - Broadcasting & Cable

A Question of Sport

While it may be DVR-proof, sports on television has some major issues to be decided in 2011
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Going Into Labor

In TV sports, there is football and then there is everything else. And while many industry observers believe the NFL may be headed toward some sort of a work stoppage next year, few think it will wipe out an entire season. The prevailing opinion right now is that there will be a work stoppage, but it will only knock out a few preseason games before cooler heads prevail. What could come from a new labor deal, though, is the groundwork for a schedule change, which could lead to a new TV package of games being made available.

Also staring down the barrel of a labor dispute is the NBA, with the conventional wisdom leaning toward a work stoppage before next season as the sides are said to be much further apart than the NFL. And the timing of that couldn’t come at a worse time, as the NBA is riding a wave of some nice ratings momentum and buzz this season.

Who Will Land the Olympics?

With a lousy economy, the International Olympic Committee pushed back the TV deals for the next round of Olympics, but the time may be nearing to ramp up the process. For the U.S. rights, many in the sports world expected ESPN to moneywhip them away from incumbent NBC, especially after ESPN missed out on NCAA basketball dollars. But then came the Comcast-NBC Universal merger, and suddenly no one is sure where the Olympics will end up.

“This may be the first big statement by Comcast post-NBC: Are they going to step up and spend, or do what they’ve always done and get just close enough not to get it?” notes John Ourand, media reporter for the authoritative trade publication The Sports Business Daily.

There are plenty of smaller rights deals coming up to keep an eye on, as leagues like the NHL and MLS try to manufacture bidding wars for their expiring contracts with Versus and Fox Soccer Channel, respectively.

Will We Have a New Sports Network?

Everyone says it’s silly to take on ESPN, but that doesn’t mean there will never be a new national sports network. Keep an eye on Fox, where execs continue to explore the possibilities of launching something, and have held internal meetings in recent months to weigh options (which also include putting more sports on FX).

Ourand wonders if CBS could do something wider with its CBS College Sports network, especially after bringing in ESPN alum David Berson as its new president. And keep an eye on Comcast-NBCU, as it is hard to believe Dick Ebersol won’t have bigger things in mind for Versus, and NBC Sports in general, on the cable side.

There could also be some new networks in the college ranks, perhaps from conferences like the Pac-10 or Big East, though the University of Texas will probably beat them both to the punch.

Also Worth Watching for

• TNT has to pay for its new March Madness partnership with CBS somehow, so can Turner turn its NCAA basketball rights into higher sub fees? “That’s a big ask when Cablevision went without NFL football for several weeks,” says Ourand.

• Can someone—anyone—figure out what happened to NASCAR’s ratings and how to fix them? And don’t say get Dale Jr. to start winning: we’re trying to be realistic.

• Who will hire the fantastic former ESPN Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play man Jon Miller?

• Will Tiger Woods start winning again, and if he does, will golf ratings bounce back?

• What will TV Everywhere mean for sports, especially when people can start watching ESPN on their iPads?

• Will an anticipated deep-dive book on ESPN by Tom Shales and Jim Miller become the WikiLeaks for the Worldwide Leader?

E-mail comments to bgrossman@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman

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