SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: January 17, 2024

Episode Summary

Start your morning with Buzzcast with Austin Karp: Amazon makes a big investment in Diamond Sports Group; another marquee name is floated as the next leader of PGA Tour Enterprises; and NFL Wild Card games keep the ratings train moving.

Episode Transcription

Rise and shine. This is your Morning Buzzcast for Wednesday, January 17th. I'm Austin Karp, slightly bleary-eyed this morning after a double overtime midnight finish for Georgia Tech Clemson hoops last night. But I'll take a road win in the ACC for the Yellow Jackets. It was appointment TV last night, did not disappoint.

Now, onto sports business. Let's start this morning with some big news in the media space as Jeff Bezos looks to be getting deep into the RSN world. Diamond Sports has unveiled what is being called a restructuring support agreement with its creditors. Under the framework, Amazon will make a minority investment in Diamond and become its streaming partner. While Sinclair, Diamond's parent company, will make a $495 million cash payment to the firm to settle litigation. The deal also includes a promise from some debt holders to provide $450 million in financing to support Diamond's operations as it finalizes a reorganization plan to emerge from chapter 11 bankruptcy. And to repay $350 million of existing debt. Prime Video is now going to become Diamond's primary partner on direct to consumer access for streaming Diamond's RSNs if the deal is approved. No details have been released yet regarding any pricing and/or availability.

Now, Diamond operates 19 RSNs under that Bally Sports brand name and it has games from over half of Major League Baseball, the NBA, and NHL teams. The deal is set to be presented to a Houston bankruptcy judge, as early as today, for expected approval, despite MLB already coming out with its objections. MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, rejected Diamond's proposed deal with Amazon recently. So we'll see what the next turn in this saga is pretty soon, and what the future is going to be for Diamond Sports Group.

My colleagues, Josh Carpenter and Ben Fisher, have been keeping tabs on the search for a new leader for PGA Tour Enterprises. That's the new mountain of cash the tour will soon be sitting on once it finalizes. Who is actually funding that effort? The NFL's, Brian Rolapp, and Sports Business vet, Sean Bratches, were mentioned last week as potential leaders. Yesterday, it was former longtime NFL exec, Chris Halpin, sources told SBJ. Halpin was last with the shield two years ago as Chief Strategy and Growth Officer. And since then, has been CFO at digital media conglomerate, IAC. Now, these are big names being floated, and rightfully so, it's a marquee job with major assets. Whoever's going to be running this business is going to be sitting on top of that money and is going to be among the most powerful people in the industry. It's a tall order for search firm Korn Ferry, but the executive names that have come to light thus far all come with strong sports business bona fides.

My colleagues also reported that PGA Tour Commissioner, Jay Monahan is in Saudi Arabia this week meeting with Public Investment Fund Governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, trying to hammer out the deal to fund golf's future. It would be their first meeting in person since early June. Now, that meeting also comes as Al-Rumayyan is now facing a $74 million lawsuit for alleging having carried out the instructions of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, with the malicious intent of harming, silencing, and ultimately destroying the family of Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief.

As much as I find the intersection of sport and geopolitics to be fascinating, let's move over to the NFL Wildcard weekend, where the league looks like it's on the path to another year over year viewership gain. The dominant matchup with the Sunday 4:30 Eastern time window where Fox, even with the Packer's route of the Cowboys, drew close to 40 million viewers. That's the network's best wild card since 2015. Close behind was NBC's Lions vs Rams game on Sunday night. That drew close to 35.8 million, which is NBC's third-best wild card game since 1988, and up 25% from the same window last year. Even the Texans blowout win over the Browns gave NBC an uptick in the Saturday afternoon window, drawing 28.7 million viewers. On Monday night, the Bucs put the Eagles out of their late season misery to the tune of 28.6 million viewers, which is lower than the 31.2 million for Cowboys vs Buccaneers last season, but still Disney's third-best playoff game audience on record.

The only figure we're still missing is Bills vs Steelers on CBS, which had to be moved to that Monday afternoon window. That figure should be coming out later this morning.

I will tell you one thing that did not do well against NFL action on Monday night, and that is the Emmys. Another record low for that awards show, 4.3 million viewers on Fox. Now, that sort of audience number is kind of like an NFL game, like Ravens vs Titans from London in week six on NFL network at 9:30 in the morning on a Sunday. Might be time for that awards show to try and avoid the NFL playoffs going forward, but I digress.

Even with a wild card game on Peacock this year, it's looking like an overall audience win for the NFL in this round. And it likely sets up another win for the NFL this off season, when it will bid out that wild card game again. Could Amazon be the next to grab that sort of matchup? Or could this be something that goes into ESPN+ as part of a broader deal between Disney and the league? One thing is for certain, more big games will be going to streaming. That is the future.

But, for now, let's see how many fans actually stick around with Peacock between now and the Paris Olympics. The platform has the Premier League and they were heavily advertising the movie Oppenheimer coming to the service. But is that enough to slow the churn from Peacock which, to date, has had one of the higher churn rates among the streaming platforms?

Now, over in the college ranks, Learfield clearly sees value in Coach Prime in Boulder. The company, and the soon to be Big 12 program, are extending their relationship with a new 10-year multimedia rights deal that'll run through 2035, reports my colleague, Ben Portnoy. The two sides have partnered since 2001, but beyond multimedia rights and licensed merch sales and ticketing and other areas, Learfield is going to have the ability to sell naming rights on the west side of Folsom Field, Colorado Events Center, and the school's indoor practice facility. The numbers with Dieon Sanders on campus really are astounding. Merchandise sales grew 198% between July and December 2023, compared to that same span in the prior year, while Coach Prime related merch accounted for 23% of Colorado's total sales.

The Buffs also had huge gains in primary single ticket revenue, up 270%, and secondary ticket sales were up 147%. Colorado was also the second most searched football team this past season across Learfield's SIDEARM Sports sites. Now, let's see if the Buffaloes can put it together on the field, and you have a really good story there in Boulder, both on and off the field.

A couple of quick hitters to wrap things up this morning. Could there be a new RSN coming to the St. Louis market? With the collapse of Diamond Sports Group, meaning the future of Bally Sports Midwest is likely in peril, the Cardinals and Blues could link up for a new network that would host the games for all the teams in New York City.

Powerade has its latest NIL deals, signing pacts with USC men's basketball player, Isaiah Collier, and LSU women's hoopster, Flau'jae Johnson. Expect to see the two in ads for Powerade, which is the brand that Coke activates for its deal with the NCAA around March Madness.

Finally, Ohio State formerly named Ross Bjork to the lead chair in the Buckeyes Athletic Department. He'll formally take over for Gene Smith on July 1st. And meanwhile, the Fighting Irish announced that Pete Bevacqua will formally take the reins at Notre Dame on March 25th.

So that is your Morning Buzzcast for Wednesday, January 17th. Abe Madkour is back again tomorrow. Everyone have a great hump day and enjoy the rest of your week.