SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: August 18, 2022

Episode Summary

The NWSL adds to its C-suite; CA regents ponder next step against UCLA; Bally Sports + sets national launch; the W's strong viewership season and podcast suggestions

Episode Transcription

We are all happy to hear that Dick Vitale said he was cancer free after lengthy battles with lymphoma and melanoma. Strength to Dick Vitale as he continues his fight. And this is your Morning Buzzcast for Thursday, August 18th. Good morning. I'm Abe Madkour, hope you're doing well. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast.

After five months on the job, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman is beefing up her executive team with a number of major hires that should help what has historically been an under-resourced league office. Berman has hired a new CMO in Julie Haddon, a new COO and Chief Legal Officer in Bill Ordower and also a Chief Sporting Director, Tatjana Haenni. The hires bring the league's full-time staff to 32 employees, a number that's expected to grow further by the end of the year. Now James and company supported the NWSL in its searches.

So let's talk about the hires. First, Julie Haddon has worked at the NFL from 2016 to 2021. She was most recently the league's Senior Vice President of Global Brand and Consumer Marketing. She has some real marketing experiences she'll bring to the NWSL. She plans to build out a marketing team of at least six people. Meanwhile, Bill Ordower is well known in soccer circles. He has spent more than two decades at MLS and Soccer United Marketing at one time. And at one time, was Major League Soccer's general counsel.

So we've talked about the momentum around the NWSL and the business interest and interest among investors. We know they are eyeing expansion. We know there are two teams in Southern California this season. Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC have really continued to perform quite well. Franchise values continue to increase in SPJ this week. We reported that they expect the next expansion fee could be as high as $50 million.

But the league office has been very under resourced. And one of the keys for Jessica Berman in taking the job as commissioner was a commitment from ownership to invest in league personnel. Former commissioners Lisa Baird and Marla Messing, both were faced with the duties of commissioner and running a league without proper staff resources and support. So it's good to see owners give Jessica Berman the resources necessary to bring on some high caliber talent to help continue to grow the NWSL.

Let's move on to college sports. A big story from ESPN yesterday reported that 11 college presidents and chancellors who make up the College Football Playoff's board of managers met earlier this week and discussed the possibility of restructuring how college football is governed and floated the idea of college football potentially being governed outside of the NCAA. The most logical place for the sport to be run outside of the NCAA would be under the auspices of the College Football Playoff.

The CFP currently oversees the sport's post-season playoff and oversees many post-season bowl games, but this shift in oversight to all regular season and post-season games would mean that rules, operations, organization, logistics would all fall potentially under the CFP instead of the NCAA. It would be a significant move away from the NCAA and ESPN reported that discussions are in such early stages and this would be a very, very complicated process, so early stages, but this has been discussed for some time. It's interesting that it came up by the college presidents and chancellors now.

The other discussion on Monday's meeting was yes, expansion of the College Football Playoff. Remember the current deal with four teams has four seasons remaining and runs out after the 2025 season. Many still want to expand sooner and we're hearing more and more calls for either a 12 or a 16 team playoff. We know how this was tabled earlier this year, but I anticipate this topic of expanding the CFP gaining momentum after the new year, and there could be enough support to change the system before the deal runs out in 2025.

Staying with college sports, we noted yesterday on Wednesday that the University of California Regents were reviewing UCLA's pending move to the Big Ten. And the early line on that meeting is that Regents are concerned enough about the move that they will look to impose new rules that could limit campuses from making major decisions involving athletics on their own. But there is still uncertainty on whether the board of Regents can do anything actually to stop the move. To be fair, there were a few Regents who suggested there might be an avenue to block UCLA's move to the Big Ten, but those details were scarce. So while no specific action was taken to stop the move, they did talk about potential changes to policy. The next step could happen at a September board meeting. So the bottom line is this will stay in the news and stay a little bit in flux. But right now, all things still a go for UCLA to move to the Big Ten.

An NBA team president told me this week to keep an eye on Sinclair Broadcast Group's plans to launch a national streaming service. Remember that service has been tested in five markets so far this summer. He called it the biggest story he was watching because it greatly impacts his franchise. Well, there is some news, as Sinclair said it will launch a direct to consumer national streaming service for Bally Sports called Bally Sports+ on September 26th. It will impact 19 of Bally's regional sports networks that are operated by Sinclair's Diamond Sports Group. Now those regional sports networks, as we all know, feature baseball, NBA, NHL, some college, a lot of other sports. So this will be a national service in those 19 markets.

What's the price? The service is set to be priced at $19.99 a month or $189 a year. Now that's not cheap, but remember, Sinclair sees this as a way to draw cord cutters who still want to watch their local sports team and will sign up for this direct to consumer service at nearly $20 a month. It's a gamble, it's a test, but it's a major story in sports media and will mark the biggest test to date of whether that traditional regional sports network model can work as a streaming platform and as a streaming option. So late September is when Bally Sports+ will launch in those 19 markets.

We started the podcast talking about the NWSL and the momentum around women's sports. Here is another indicator of that momentum. The WNBA started its playoffs last night and is coming off it's most viewed regular season on television in 14 years. Yes, you heard that, right. I said it right. 14 years. Games on ABC, ESPN ESPN2 among others average 379,000 viewers. That was up 16% over the 2021 season. The WNBA this year saw its most viewed All-Star game in six years, had its most watch draft since 2004. There was more attention around the WNBA than ever and it is translating into more and more viewers. Now, as the league has $75 million in new investment, it can spend some of that money in new marketing to amplify the league even more. So there's more and more traction for the WNBA, continuing a theme we've seen around women's sports all year.

So as we end the Buzzcast, a couple of things to look for. On SPJ Spotlight, Austin Karp and I talk about some of the key viewership trends this month that he's keeping an eye on. And we also talk about why Amazon's deal to become Nielsen rated is so important, so check that out on If you want to look into the crystal ball of what will take place in sports media in say, 2025, don't miss this week's Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. They talk about who will be the biggest players, the biggest winners, the biggest losers in sports media, and one of the countries top analysts, Michael Nathanson from MoffettNathanson joins the podcast to talk about the changes he expects to see in sports media over the next few years. It's a really good listen.

And finally, while we're talking about podcasts, many in the business know CAA Sports' co-head, Mike Levine, as Vino is one of the nicest and most talented guys in the business, but these CAA executives, they don't talk frequently. So it was really good to listen to Vino on the podcast Nine Questions with Eric Oliver, where Vino discussed his career and approach to life. It's a really good podcast as Eric Oliver asks very smart questions and it's full of introspection and points of view of how Vino lives his life. So I highly recommend, it's a good listen, Nine Questions with Eric Oliver and his special guest Mike Levine from CAA Sports. So that is your Morning Buzzcast. It is Thursday, August 18th. I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening. Hope you have a great day, stay healthy, be good to each other. I'll speak to you tomorrow.