SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: February 7, 2024

Episode Summary

A look at the ESPN, Fox, WBD streaming partnership, more movement in the college landscape related to NIL; what the Big Ten/SEC partnership could mean to the future of college sports and Elevate adds to its portfolio.

Episode Transcription

What's old is new again on this Wednesday, February 7th as the Great Re-Bundling is underway in sports. I'm SBJ senior writer, Joe Lemire. Abe is off to the Super Bowl. And into the Vegas spirit, I'm starting a small residency on the SBJ Morning Buzzcast as I'll be with you the rest of the week. I'll start with the news breaking late afternoon yesterday that Disney, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery are teaming up on a joint venture that will offer a wide array of live sports programming. This sports centric bundle is expected to start sometime this fall. Although the exact launch date is unscheduled, the price point is undetermined, and the project is as yet unnamed. Although I will call it Sports Hulu as the working title as it has shades of the late aughts when the original Hulu launched widely in 2008 by streaming Fox and NBC programming with Disney joining a year later.

Two of those same three partners are now helping birth Sports Hulu. In this case, each of the three partners, as a reminder, that's Disney, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery will assume 1/3 ownership, an equal board representation with content made available on a non-exclusive basis. What we do know is that the bundle will include 14 linear networks and the ESPN+ package. Half of those 14 are Disney owned entities including ABC and the full ESPN portfolio, four Fox channels including the flagship broadcast network and all three WBD sports channels, TNT, TBS, and truTV. Which will at the very least help consolidate and make sure that everyone doesn't have the same March quandary of trying to find truTV for early round March Madness coverage. Though Disney Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery will loan equal shares, revenue is not expected to be split evenly and will be proportionate to the program it contributed.

This kind of package very much targets a national sports fan, not the least of which because no regional sports networks are included. But what will be shown are notable amounts of NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, FIFA World Cup, NASCAR, WNBA, UFC, PGA Tour, college sports, three of the four tennis Grand Slam tournaments, two of the four golf majors. And the forthcoming TGL and the partridge in a pear tree. So that's quite a lot for those who are seeking to get most sports coverage. But this won't be a true one-stop shop as the consortium lacks CBS and NBC and thus also Paramount Plus and Peacock. Not to mention Amazon with that Thursday Night NFL package, as well as some of the other rights they've picked up. So the overall NFL coverage will certainly be incomplete and it will be missing heavy doses of global soccer. The Premier League in UEFA Champions League won't be seen at all and only a minimal number of MLS matches are carried by Fox Sports as everything is on Apple TV+.

It's worth noting that all of ABC and Fox will be available, not just their sports rights. So those fans of The Bachelor and Masked Singer can get their fill too. Sports Hulu is independent of ESPN's pursuit of its own direct consumer streaming option targeted for 2025. While the broadcast market has rapidly splintered over the past decade or so, this now represents a pendulum swing back to consolidation. Rather than consumers needing six disparate sports streaming services, they might only need two or three to meet their needs. There's some movement at the regional level too independently of this as recently seen by the creation of gain. That's a particularly inspired acronym by the way, standing for Gotham Advanced Media and Entertainment. That's a 50/50 joint venture of YES Network and MSG Networks.

In other news, today is the traditional national signing day. Although it's a day that's lost its luster in the college football calendar as the December early signing day has supplanted it as the more critical milestone for solidifying recruiting classes. Several major programs, however, have changed coaches since then and teenage prospects remain prone to changing their minds. So there could be a few newsy developments. But what was already decided this week, however, was a federal judge's decision to reject a motion for a temporary restraining order filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee by the Attorney's General of Tennessee and Virginia. Seeking to overturn the NCAA rule prohibiting NIL financial inducement to be a direct part of the recruiting process. The plea was made in advance of signing day and was related to a broader suit challenging NCAA NIL rules that was filed after the revelation that UT was under investigation for related infractions.

Though the temporary injunction was not granted, US District Judge Clifton Corker said it was because recruits would not be irreparably harmed by the rule remaining in place for now. But he did also write, quote, "Considering the evidence currently before the court, plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim under the Sherman Act," which of course bans monopolistic practices. This follows Monday's decision by a National Labor Relations Board official to designate that Dartmouth men's basketball players are employees with the right to unionize. So there's quite a bit of movement afoot in the college landscape. And regardless of what the AGs of Tennessee and Virginia ultimately accomplish in court, it's probably too little to turn my alma mater UVA into a football powerhouse anytime soon. But one other signing day note, IBM is announcing this morning that it has partnered with Edge3, a data-driven college recruiting platform co-founded by former NFL players, Kenyon Rasheed and Brian Jones. It will apply watsonx AI capabilities to its scoring system to help recruits and coaches find the best matches.

This is the third recent AI partnership of note to arise around scouting and recruiting, following an IBM collaboration with La Liga Sevilla FC and SAP's work with Bundesliga Bayern Munich and Hertha BSC. We wrote in December that MLB's Texas Rangers were also building a similar platform in-house. The goal is to use generative AI to aggregate and summarize a wide array of inputs. Ranging from structured data such as on-field statistics and scouting combine metrics to unstructured text and scouting reports. And one other college sports note while we're on the topic, our Ben Portnoy spoke to sources about the SEC-Big Ten strategic partnership. He was told that this was not intended as a first step towards the session into a breakaway college football league. And that there is no nefarious intent, put that quote, "Everything is on the table."

Moving up from the Mid-Atlantic of Tennessee and Virginia to Maryland, we arrive in Baltimore where the Wall Street Journal reported that the Orioles controlling owner John Angelos, was on the verge of selling naming rights to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Complete with a press release drafted and set to be released up until news reports that the Angelos family had reached an agreement to sell the franchise to a group led by billionaire David Rubenstein. T.Rowe Price, an investment firm whose headquarters shares the Inner Harbor with the Orioles was sent by the Journal to be the naming rights partner and surprised by the development. The status of that agreement is now unclear. And from the agency world, Elevate Sports Ventures has acquired executive search firm SRI, which has 15 offices across four continents. Placing predominantly C-suite execs into roles at every English Premier League team, Disney, Ferrari, the WTA, World Rugby and so on.

Elevate, which won the 2023 Sports Business Award for best in property consulting, sales and client services, now launches a new vertical called Elevate Talent. Which will be chaired by Liz Moulton, Elevate's chief people officer and an SBJ Game Changer honoree. Jim Chaplin, who is CEO of SRI, joins Elevate Talent as its global president. A few more sports headlines before we wrap up. Jose Altuve, the Astros star second baseman who had been entering the final season of his contract, signed a five-year $125 million deal. That is a defacto lifetime contract for the current 33-year-old. Also, CBS had three times as many golf viewers on Sunday afternoon while showing a rerun of Saturday's third round at Pebble Beach than the CW did for the live final round of LIV Golf. Rain had forced the cancellation of the scheduled fourth and final round. Both tours play this weekend with the PGA Tour at the WM Phoenix Open and LIV Golf playing in Vegas on the three days prior to Super Bowl Sunday.

Thanks for tuning into today's Morning Buzzcast. I'll be back tomorrow. But if you can't wait for my Super Bowl picks both the final score and a TV audience prediction, be sure to tune in for the new Sports Media Podcast dropping later today.