From the Symposium – Sports Media & Technology

The third and final discussion panel that I attended at last Friday’s Princeton Sports Symposium was on “Sports Media & Technology.” The panelists were Steve Hellmuth (EVP of Operations and Technology, NBA Entertainment), Jon Litner (President, Comcast Sports Group), Burke Magnus (Senior VP of College Sports Programming, ESPN) and Bill Rasmussen (Founder, ESPN and Founding Partner, College Fanz Sports Network), and the moderator was Susan Briglia (VP of Branded Content, Collegiate Images).  Here are some of my notes from the discussion:

Burke Magnus on the new deal between the BCS and ESPN:

  • ESPN does have the advantage of dual revenue streams (subscriber fees and advertising) compared to over-the-air stations, but they also have several other reasons to make the deal.
  • College football is considered a foundation of ESPN.
  • The company feels like they made a big mistake a few years ago in letting the BCS go to begin with, so there was a feeling of wanting to get back what they never should have lost.
  • The decision is also based on a content-focused philosophy. ESPN has many platforms to leverage the content on, and the deal does allow them to use all these platforms, including ESPNU.  They now feel like they are well positioned in the sports from the start of the season through to the very end.

Jon Litner on the ESPN/BCS deal and competing with ESPN:

  • Comcast is focused on regional rights, so they don’t feel like they compete with ESPN and that there is room for everyone (meanwhile, ESPN feels like that have more competition now than ever before).
  • The BCS was created in part by ABC, and ESPN/ABC already have the rights to most of college football, so there is a good fit.
  • The deal will also help the various bowls in selling title/naming rights (more exposure across the ESPN platforms).
  • It is more viable now for the BCS to be on cable.  For example, the MLB League Championship Series and NBA Conference Finals are on cable.  Also, 95% of Fox’s BCS audience viewed the games via cable or satellite (not over-the-air).
  • The cable migration has already occurring on a regional level (YES, NESN, etc.) so this has become the norm.

On teams/conferences creating their own networks:

  • The number one challenge is distribution.  This is what the Big Ten Network has struggled most with.
  • The iconic brands will succeed, but many smaller initiatives fail to get off the ground, such as attempts in Minnesota and Kansas City.
  • The SEC weighed the options and went with ESPN because the didn’t want to take the distribution risk. The safer course was to take the guaranteed money from rights fees.

On sports media content:

  • Networks want new ways to connect with the audience.
  • The branded show, specifically SportsCenter, was the brilliant concept to put sports programming on the map.  Bill Rasmussen specifically shared a fun story on how no one believed in the SportsCenter concept when they first launched it. Bill was right, everyone else was very wrong!
  • The question is, what original content do we own or can you afford to create that will resonate like SportsCenter, after considering the money spent on just the rights fees.
  • Innovation can push content to new levels.  Two examples are pocket cameras for poker and PTI for talk/opinion shows.
  • Two other important questions to consider are, how many people are watching and how long are they watching.  Efforts like SportsNation on ESPN try to engage the audience and keep them interested longer.
  • Media companies know that there is a two-screen formula (TV + laptop/mobile), but they don’t know how to create the one-screen formula (interactive TV).

The panel members were also asked to sum up their careers in just three words:

  • Bill Rasmussen:  Excitement, Enthusiasm, Energy
  • Burke Magnus:  Passion, Hustle, Love
  • Jon Litner:  Perseverence, Passion, Listening
  • Steve Hellmuth:  Work, Innovation, Knowledge
  • Susan Briglia:  Passion, Persistence, Belief

Finally, Lewis Howes sat down with Bill Rasmussen for a video interview after the panel ended.  You can check out the interview on SportsNetworker.com.  This wraps up my coverage of the Princeton Sports Symposium.  There were several other panel discussions going on in parallel to the ones I attended on topics such as the Olympics, Athlete Representation, and Professional/Amateur Sports Properties, and I’m sure those panels were just as interesting and informative.  They did an excellent job compressing a lot of information into a half-day event, and I got to network with some great people.  I look forward to attending again next year!