Spike TV Gets ‘Aggressive’ on Live Sports

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Spike TV will play more aggressively in the
live sports arena as it looks to combine event coverage with
multiplatform, social media-driven opportunities
to attract a broad target demographic
of men 18-49, according to
newly named senior vice president of
sports and multiplatform programming
Jon Slusser.

The network is hoping to acquire live
sports programming to reach the network’s
two target demographics: young,
loyal mixed-martial-arts fans and older
male viewers attracted to the network’s
original programming like Deadliest
and Bar Rescue.

The network will be “aggressive” in
pursuing live-event programming,
particularly within the MMA category,
said Slusser, who was formerly senior
vice president of Spike Digital Entertainment.
The division helped create
such digital entities as Spike.com,
GameTrailers.com, UltimateFighter.com and GameTrailers TV.


The network currently offers live Ultimate
Fighting Championship events, but its
deal with the MMA outfit expires at the
end of the year — although Spike will offer
UFC library content in 2012. Also, the network’s Spike.com
website offers live bouts from the Bellator Fighting Championship
MMA property each Saturday night.

Spike would focus most of its resources on acquiring other
MMA-related programming like kickboxing, but Slusser also
wouldn’t rule out acquiring live boxing events.

“Fighting is in our DNA — it’s our blood, and there are extensions
beyond MMA that we want to look into,” he said.

The network will also set its sights on the motor-sports category,
although it’s unlikely to bid on any NASCAR-related
properties when the stock-car racing outfit’s
current deals with Fox/Speed, Turner Sports
and ABC/ESPN expire in 2014. “There’s a ton
of different motor sports that will appeal to
our audience and work for us,” he said.

Spike will look at lifestyle sports such as
extreme skiing, kayaking and rafting, as well
as marquee standalone sports events for live
telecast opportunities.


Slusser said acquired, live on-air programming
will be enhanced with second-screen
options like additional camera angles, as
well as opportunities for viewers to interact
with the athletes during the live telecast.

Live, multiplatform coverage is also
planned for major pop-culture events, including
the E3 convention in Los Angeles and
Comi-Con International in San Diego.

“The way you take advantage of these
multi-platform and socially-driven experiences
is by doing live events,” he said. “It’s
important to the network and our future.
The reason why guys have cable is for live
sports and live programming. It’s must-have
appointment viewing.”

While Spike will aggressively pursue live
sports packages, it’s unlikely the network will get into bidding
wars for TV rights to popular but expensive pro leagues.

“We’re open to everything and we’re making significant investments
in this programming, but it also has to make sense
for the audience and from an ROI (return on investment)
standpoint,” he said. “If you do the math on an NFL deal, it may
not work for us … I don’t want to take anything off the table,
but the [major sports packages] may not make sense for us.”

Spike’s move toward live sports programming comes as
the network is facing competition for male viewers from upstart
networks like Discovery Communications’ recentlylaunched
Velocity channel.

Spike is coming off a strong third-quarter primetime ratings
performance in which the network posted a 13% year-to-year
increase, averaging 934,000 viewers, according to Nielsen.