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TV Executives Optimistic For Sports Ratings Rebound In 2021

Executives are optimistic the 2021 fourth quarter can bring normalcy.

Russ Heltman

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Insiders around the sports television industry are tepidly optimistic that 2021, especially the final quarter, can bring viewership closer to pre-pandemic levels. The Hollywood Reportegauged the issue’s temperature this week as positive signs grow from the NCAA Tournament and young-MLB season. 

ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball ratings are up over 30 percent compared to last season, while the NCAA Tournament slightly lagged behind 2019 figures. 

“Now the challenge is, how do we get fans back in the building and how do we reestablish sports as an engine of social connectivity and a place where people come together?” Executive VP and head of strategy and analytics at Fox Sports Michael Mulvihill told The Hollywood Reporter. “When that happens, I think you’ll see viewership get back to more normal expectations.”

One key factor sports television has going for it is the scarcity of wide-ranging live programming. Monoculture is increasingly fading in today’s society but people are still coming together to support their teams. 

“Our concern, if we have one, it’s more about the general trend of TV use than it is about interest in sports rebounding,” said Mulvihill. “I think the share of viewing taken up by sports is probably going to increase this year. We just don’t know what the trend in that total pie of viewership is going to be.”

The WWE and NBC have teamed up to help drive subscribers to Peacock, NBC’s new all-encompassing streaming app. The WWE exclusively aired Wrestlemania 37 on Peacock this past weekend after NBC began housing all WWE content in January. This is one of the ways leaders in the industry are adapting to the landscape.

Executives are hoping these positive signs culminate in a lucrative 2021 fourth quarter. Fall football action along with the baseball playoffs are crucial periods for sports television revenue.

“I feel like we can look at September and the football season and baseball postseason with a lot of confidence that it’s going to look like a normal sports event,” Mulvihill said to The Hollywood Reporter. “That will bring a resurgence of interest along with it.”

Sports TV News

The NFL Still Considering Multiple Offers For Sunday Ticket

The NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has not bid for the package but has stated it is willing to partner with the new rightsholder for a potential deal.

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Sunday Ticket Negotiations

DirecTV currently has the rights to Sunday Ticket. That deal expires at the end of this upcoming football season. The NFL is expected to make a boatload of cash when they decide which media organization gets the next rights to the package. The only question is… who will that be?

Alex Sherman of CNBC reports that the NFL has had the respective bids of Disney, Apple and Amazon for weeks now. DirecTV has decided not bid for the package. However, they are interested in partnering with the new rightsholder for a potential deal. DirecTV knows that Sunday Ticket is a staple in bars and restaurants and is interested in maintaining those relationships.

Outside of the bar/restaurant industry, success has been limited for the satellite provider with the football package. Fewer than two million subscribers signed up for Sunday Ticket each year which made the package a money-loser for the satellite TV provider.

According to the report, the NFL wants more than $2 billion for the rights and a stake in NFL Media, which is being packaged with Sunday Ticket. Also on the table is the NFL’s mobile rights. The league’s previous mobile agreement with Verizon has ended.

An interesting piece of the negotiations is Sunday Ticket price. According to the report, a buyer would have limited flexibility on pricing. The NFL signed contracts with CBS and Fox and within the framework of those deals, language mandates Sunday Ticket have a premium price. That’s to prevent loss of viewers from the networks that feature local market Sunday afternoon games. So essentially, the price is the price for the consumer.

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Sports TV News

F1 Renews With ESPN For U.S. Media Rights

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

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F1 ESPN

The racing series F1 has decided to stick with ESPN through 2025.

ESPN was reportedly in a three-way bidding battle with Amazon and Comcast. According to the report, F1 told both Amazon and Comcast on Friday that they had decline to accept either one’s offer.

The reported value of the three-year contract is set to pay F1 $75-90M per year for the U.S. media rights. Amazon had offered to pay roughly $100M per year, with the right to sublicense to a linear broadcast network. Comcast’s offer was similar to ESPN’s in terms of value and the structure. They also wanted to put select races on it’s streaming service, Peacock.

Netflix was in on the negotiations, as well. The makers of Drive to Survive, the streaming series that many credit with the sport’s explosion in popularity in recent years, wasn’t close on on their financial offer. Also, it seems F1 executives were not ready to put all of its races on a streaming service just yet.

Currently, F1 receives $5M per year for ESPN to broadcast it’s races. ESPN has grabbed about 1.0 million viewers per race. That makes F1 a more than viable option for the network to invest into again. ESPN will be able to put a small number of races on its ESPN+ streaming service exclusively. The vast majority being on ABC or ESPN.

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Skip Bayless Says He And Stephen A. Smith ‘Sorted Out’ Their Disagreement

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

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Skip Bayless

Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless were locked in a war of words last week following the First Take host’s appearance on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast.

The origins of their partnership were discussed and Bayless admitted he did not like the way Smith characterized the state of First Take before he arrived on set. Smith insisted that Bayless simply misunderstood what he meant by saying that he was told the show needed him.

Over the weekend, Skip Bayless says he and Stephen A. Smith got together at the Bayless home in California to talk things out in private.

“He was in LA, he came over, we sat by the pool,” he said on the latest episode of The Skip Bayless Show. “It wasn’t the easiest conversation for a while, but we slowly but surely sorted it out. We got through it, and we have been through so much together.”

Bayless reiterated that he considers Smith a brother. They love each other. That doesn’t mean they are always going to remember events the same way or see eye-to-eye all the time.

“Brothers fight. We have fought before. I’m assuming we will fight again.”

Fighting doesn’t mean the relationship is fractured. In fact, Skip Bayless was adamant that he remains closer to Smith than he is to most people in his life.

“I don’t trust easily because of the way I was raised, but I do trust Stephen Anthony Smith. Trust him with my life. Always have and always will. I trust he will always be there for me, and you better believe I will always be there for him.”

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