Serving Fans, Filling Niches

Publish date:

Single-sport cable networks are
still relatively young compared to the threedecade-old ESPN and
the mass-audience
broadcast networks
that televise live
sports. But they have
become a vital part
of sports advertisers’
marketing mix.

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 advert
isers, while continuing
to expand in
improved programming
and production.

“I’m a huge fan
of those networks,”
Adam Schwartz, a
sports specialist ad buyer at Horizon Media,
said. “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, along
with broadband service FoxSoccerTV.


Studio shows like Match Day and Goals on
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 executive
vice president and general manager
David Nathanson points to leadership
among single-sports 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 cited 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, 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.

Executive producer Mark Preisler said 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, opens 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 playby-
play announcer
Brad Nessler in
the booth. The network
has also added
Kurt Warner as an
analyst who will appear
on the pre and
post game shows
each week, joining
returning analysts
Marshall Faulk and
Deion Sanders, both
Hall of Famers.

Signature nightly
show NFL Total
(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 from 5-7 p.m. to present live
reports as news happens from each facility.


Mark Quenzel, the NFL’s senior vice presidnet
of programming and production, said 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 to
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.

“We’re going to be doing more original
programming, in addition to live games and
live information and news shows,” Quenzel
said. “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 fi rst, 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 the league’s 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 post game
coverage each night, CEO Tony Petitti said.
Location reports will complement studio
output from headquarters in Secaucus, N.J.

“We feel good about where we are and the
progress we’ve made,” Petitti said of the network,
now in its third year. During the first
six weeks of the third quarter, the network
has averaged 185,000 viewers in primetime,
up 26% over last year.


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.

President Mike McCarley, who took over
running of the Comcast-owned Golf Channel
in late January, after Comcast’s acquisition
of NBCUniversal, said 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 Cup finals.

Chairman and CEO Ken Solomon said Davis
Cup finals ratings were up 20% and Fed Cup
finals rose 85% year over year, and he is hoping
for another strong ratings boost this year.
Ad revenue is up 50% this year, he said, bolstered
by new advertisers including American
Express, Travelers Insurance and Blue Delta
Water, among others. He said the network has
grown it $1 million-plus ad spenders.