Sports Summit: Panelists Say Sports On TV Is Worth Every Penny

'It's The Product That Makes You Keep Cable,' YES CEO Declares

Sports programming deserves all the money it gets and then some, at least from the perspective of sports networks.

“Going forward, I would argue that the value of sports is increasingly geometrically,” Tracy Dolgin, CEO of YES Network, said during a panel session at the Sports Business & Technology Summit in New York. The reasons are well known: most sports viewing is done live and, as Dolgin said, you can watch any TV show you want on Netflix, other "over-the-top" services or even on DVD if you are willing to wait long enough. “Sports is not: sports is available one way. It’s the product that makes you keep your cable subscription.”

What’s more, multichannel video distributors sell more than just video – but “there’s nothing better than video to hold a broadband customer,” Dolgin said.

Antonio Briceno, deputy managing director at international sports programmer beIN SPORT, said the rapid growth of sports networks in the United States made it a difficult proposition to launch two channels (one in English, the other in Spanish). It was expensive to buy the soccer rights, for the likes of Spain’s top professional league, needed to break through with distributors. But beIN, backed by Al Jazeera Media, has compiled more than 20 million subscribers in about 10 months, and is available to more than 80 million, he said. “That was a big bet, and I think we did well in that regard.”

BeIN SPORT’s challenge now is to be perceived as more than just a soccer network, Briceno said.

Alexander “Sandy” Brown, CEO of ONE World Sports, which launched primarily with Asian sports content, said his network’s priority is to improve production values and branding. It’s launching in high definition and adding a domestic soccer team – the New York Cosmos – this August to add appeal to distributors that now include New York-focused Cablevision Systems along with Dish Network and Mediacom Communications.

He said millennials are interested in international sports, and efforts by the likes of NBC Sports Group to raise the profile of England’s Barclays Premier League games in the U.S. (as group chairman Mark Lazarus discussed earlier at the summit) should help ONE World’s cause. His network also will be adding more European content, he said. “We think there’s a market for it, a very sizable market.”

As for the bigger picture of multichannel video distributors, the business model that Dolgin called great for providers and consumers both, the remaining challenges that keep authenticated “TV everywhere” services from being widely adopted need to be resolved quickly, the YES chief said. Those include consumer awareness and understanding; wide availability; common platforms; workable authentication; measurement of advertising and rights, he said. He said he's confident those challenges will be met -- but they need to be met in two or three years.

Briceno said beIN SPORT also needs to have its nascent authenticated streaming service made available more widely to counteract a perception that its programming – including away games played by the U.S. men’s soccer team to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup – isn’t easily accessible. Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead led the panel.