SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: January 5, 2024

Episode Summary

Takeaways from the NCAA/ESPN deal; the future of Bill Belichick in New England and who won the week?

Episode Transcription

A new PGA Tour season is upon us as The Sentry is taking place in Hawaii. But despite the new season, there remains a ton of uncertainty around professional golf. Around the relationship between the PGA Tour and LIV, about future investments in the PGA Tour. And it certainly feels like some fans are getting worn out from the fractures in professional golf. That's what I've heard from a number of you, but others, let me know how you feel as the PGA Tour season tees off.

And this is your Morning Buzzcast for Friday, January 5th. We're finishing up the first week of 2024. And we'll finish with a very big deal for the NCAA and ESPN as they reached agreement on a $920 million eight year agreement that will give ESPN exclusive rights to 40 championships, including the Women's Final Four. It's a big win for the NCAA and new President Charlie Baker as the deal has an average annual value of $115 million.

That's a very healthy increase from the $40 million annually that the NCAA was receiving in the previous deal. And this new deal runs through 2032 and this agreement will conclude at the same time as the rights for the NCAA men's basketball tournament sunsets. That deal, of course, is with CBS and Warner Bros. Discovery, that will allow the NCAA great flexibility in its next round of media negotiations around 2032. Now on the Buzzcast, we talked a lot about whether the NCAA would keep their bundle together of all their championships. The decision to keep things bundled largely as they have been is confusing. Well, it's complex. While there was a public narrative that the woman's basketball package could be healthy on its own, there was at least some fear that breaking off the most lucrative pieces of the bundle or of the package would devalue the remaining sports and leave them really with nobody bidding on them.

In many media circles, consultants and network sources told me that the value of the package was far greater being bundled and maintained and there are simply complications of having more than one broadcast rights partner on these championships. And so the decision was to keep the bundle and ESPN was the perfect partner for that. It's a very good deal for women's college sports. It means more exposure for the women's championships, women's basketball, women's volleyball, women's gymnastics will be on ABC. The deal was also struck within ESPN's exclusive negotiating window and so it was never brought to the open market, which could have driven the value up even further. But bottom line, in the end of the day, a great deal for the NCAA, a great deal for its championships and for new President Charlie Baker and a big deal for Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN.

So let's move on. My inbox has been filled with questions all week about what will happen in New England? And could this weekend be the final weekend we see Bill Belichick roam the sideline at Gillette Stadium? Seems almost unbelievable for me to even consider that. He's been there, what, 24 years? 17 division titles, 13 AFC Championship games, nine trips to the Super Bowl, six Super Bowl titles. He is a seminal figure in the history of the NFL. Patriot's owner Robert Kraft and President Jonathan Kraft are scheduled to meet with Belichick on Monday morning following Sunday season finale against the Jets and that will likely determine the future of Bill Belichick in New England. It's understandable that the Krafts are not pleased with the way this season has unfolded or the last few seasons. There were rumors throughout the season that the Krafts had made their decision to move on from Bill Belichick.

There are a lot of people out there who believe the Patriots need to change their approach on the football side. Under Belichick, they don't embrace sports science and analytics. And The Athletic reported that the Patriots are one of only four NFL teams that do not employ a multi-person analytics and research department on the football side. But I still don't believe it'll be that simple to part ways with Bill Belichick. And will Belichick be able to explain his plan to turn things around? And if they do decide to go in a different direction, do they fire him? Do they try to trade him? We will soon see if Robert and Jonathan Kraft feel the 71-year-old Bill Belichick can change fortunes in New England. Regardless, it will be a fascinating weekend and story to watch.

We talk a lot about strong ratings across sports, so I do need to touch on where the numbers are a bit softer. Despite the great visuals from the Winter Classic at T-Mobile Park on New Year's Day from Seattle, the NHL saw record low viewership for the Winter Classic on TNT and TruTV. It averaged 1.1 million viewers. That was at three o'clock Eastern Time on New Year's Day. The game did have competition from the Rose Bowl, so that certainly did not help. Now remember last year's game, that was Penguins-Bruins from Fenway Park, that aired on January 2nd, and that drew 1.7 million viewers. So this year you see how it gets hurt when it's on New Year's Day up against football, a record low viewership for the Winter Classic.

Meanwhile, the NBA has to be wondering what happened to its dominance on Christmas Day. Well, we know what happened, along came, yes, the NFL. And that means the NBA had its least watch Christmas Day audience on record, as the league went up against a number of NFL games airing on Christmas Day. ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 2.8 million viewers for the NBA games. That is well below what they're usually drawing. The previous low for context was 4 million viewers. And so this year, 2.8, they averaged for their five games. So the NBA certainly feels really good about its in-season tournament getting noticed earlier in the season, but certainly now its Christmas Day appointment viewing is hurt dramatically by the NFL. And don't be surprised if the NFL continues to schedule games on the Christmas holiday. So the NBA will have to figure out other points on the calendar to amplify its broadcast.

Two notable names in the news. First, Marie Donoghue, who is Amazon's Vice President of US Sports Content and Partnerships, really Amazon Sports' number two executive, is leaving the company. Now she, along with Amazon's Jay Marine, were named SBJ's Most Influential People in Sports Business in 2022. Marie Donoghue really spearheaded Amazon's acquisition of Thursday Night Football. She has been a leader at ESPN and at Amazon. She joined Amazon in 2018, but now will move on.

Meanwhile, the Washington Spirit of the NWSL named Kim Stone as CEO. Kim Stone is the first person to hold that position. She'll officially join the club on January 11th. Now, Kim Stone is a very notable hire. She has nearly three decades of sports business experience. I first met her when she was at the Miami Heat. She went to the Golden State Warriors and opened the Chase Center in San Francisco. Most recently, she's been with the Oak View Group where she was running UBS Arena, of course, home of the New York Islanders. She is a strong operator. And as Washington Spirit owner, Michele Kang, looks to build out her sports portfolio, it was a smart move for her to bring on such an experienced leader as Kim Stone as CEO of the NWSL's Washington Spirit.

And as we end on a Friday, who won the week for me? Well, the NCAA and ESPN with a very good week with that massive deal we talked about. But also who had a great week? Professional women's hockey. What an impressive start to that league. A league that was put together in such a short window of about six months. They did venue agreements, they did broadcast agreements, they brought on more than 20 corporate partners. They had to do employee and consulting agreements. They had to handle teams and travel and equipment and roster moves, all of that in about six months. And the first week that launched, this week, was very well received. So a great start to the Professional Women's Hockey League. Congratulations to everyone involved. And so that is your Morning Buzzcast for Friday, January 5th. I'm Abe Madkour. Thanks for listening to the Buzzcast. Stay healthy, be good to each other. I'll speak to you on Monday.