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What Showtime Sees in Sports

2/13/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Showtime Sports’ brand new executive vice president and general manger, Stephen Espinoza,
takes over a division that for years has been known for its championship boxing events, but
has recently expanded into the mixed-martial-arts ring with its Strikeforce franchise. It has also
struck content partnerships with such major players as the National Football League, Major
League Baseball and NASCAR. The former attorney for Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions
spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the network’s sports
strategy, which includes potential marketing and content tie-ins with sister network CBS Sports Network, as
well as possible co-production opportunities with Showtime’s scripted series division.

MCN: What was it that attracted you to take the reins of
Showtime Sports?

Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza

Stephen Espinoza: It’s a really exciting time to be at
Showtime. The network as a whole is an incredible brand
— the scripted side has had unparalleled success over the
last few years. The decision, as a
whole, was easy for me, because
the network is on such an upward
trajectory.

I look at the sports programming
and there’s such a
sol id foundation and a very
broad base here. There are areas
that I’d like to tweak and polish
up, but it really offers an attractive
and compelling variety of
unique programming.

The flagship has been boxing
for 25 years here, but to look
at this and to have representation
across what we think of as
prized franchises — the NFL,
NASCAR, baseball, mixed martial
arts and boxing — is unparalleled
with the exception of ESPN.
And it’s not just representation
in each category or franchise,
but unique, compelling content
in each category for a premium
network that’s not primarily in
the sports business.

MCN: What is it about Showtime’s
sports franchises that
you feel makes them unique
compared with what else is on
the sports dial?

SE: Inside the NFL is an institution,
and people know about the quality analysis that
goes on there. Inside NASCAR provides uncensored access
to the inside wire between the car and driver. It
symbolically represents what we would like to provide
to our subscribers, which is that insider’s view.

With our docudramas, whether it’s The Franchise or Fight
Camp 360
, we take great pains to give viewers an authentic,
inside view that isn’t provided elsewhere. With Game of
Honor
, what that documentary does well is blend enough
of the storylines so that
the hardcore sports fan,
the casual sports fan and
the non-sports fan are all
equally entertained. That’s
difficult, but when it’s done
well, it’s sort of magic.

MCN: How much of an
emphasis will you place
on boxing and how competitive
will Showtime be
with rivals such as HBO
for rights to marquee boxing
matches?


SE: We’ll be absolutely,
100% competitive. We
will certainly get our fair
share of the biggest fights going
forward.
MCN: Showtime jumped back
into the pay-per-view business
in an aggressive way last year.
Is that a strategy you’ll look to
pursue further?
SE: Getting back into the payper-
view business isn’t the goal
but a by-product. We’re going
to be in the business of top-tier
fi ghts and top-tier talent. If
you’re in the business with, let’s
face it, the two top fighters in the
game today, [Floyd] Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao,
then by virtue of being in business with them, you’re
in the pay-per-view business. Th e goal is to provide the
most compelling programming and athletes, so pursuing
Mayweather or Pacquaio,
if successful, puts us
back in business. Our No.
1 priority is getting compelling
programming for
our subscribers. The payper-
view [events] come by
necessity as part of getting
A-level talent.

MCN: Do you expect to
take full advantage of the
resources with CBS to help
promote your big events?

SE: We certainly do. It’s an
important aspect of what
we do because it’s smart
business and it’s important
from a competitive standpoint
as well. One element
that’s changed since last year is the continual emergence
of CBS Sports Network. Even if I wasn’t motivated from a
promotional standpoint, they would be calling me up to
see what we could give them.

So we have essentially two affi liated platforms — one of
our own in Showtime Extreme and then our sister company
in CBS Sports Network — that are very valuable to us from
a promotional standpoint in terms of expanding our programming.
Part of the challenge is making nonsubscribers
aware of your programming, so that’s an important piece
of the strategy.

MCN: Are you looking at any other genres in the sport
arena?

SE: Th e great thing with [Showtime Entertainment president]
David Nevins, who’s on the scripted programming
side, and our president, Matt Blank, is that they’re both
huge sports fans. They’re always interested in what I’m
doing and vice versa. David Nevins and I collaborate
on the documentaries, which is another area in which
we will be expanding. I’ve gone to him with a couple of
scripted opportunities to see what looks good to him. One
came in through a sports personality, one was inspired by
an athlete’s experience. It wouldn’t surprise me if something
along those lines came out of this relationship.

MCN: Will The Franchise return for this upcoming baseball
season?

SE: We certainly hope so. It’s one of our more successful,
if not our most successful, projects in a while. One of
the really interesting pieces of it is that the demographic
we attracted with that show is far, far younger than you
would expect for Major League Baseball [content]. When
you look at the demographics across our network, the age
and the makeup of our audience was roughly what we get
for an MMA show — roughly a third of the audience is under
35 — so we’re absolutely interested in bringing it back.

MCN: Would you pursue the current World Series
champs, the St. Louis Cardinals, or revisit the Giants?

SE: It would most likely be a different team. We’ve had
discussions with a number of different franchises. There
are a lot of moving pieces and a lot of approvals to get, so
we hope to have something soon.

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