SBJ Morning Buzzcast

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: November 30, 2023

Episode Summary

NASCAR’s big media rights payday; Salt Lake City moves closer to 2034 Olympics; ESPN Bet gets first league deal; and highlights from day one of Dealmakers.

Episode Notes

NASCAR’s big media rights payday; Salt Lake City moves closer to 2034 Olympics; ESPN Bet gets first league deal; and highlights from day one of Dealmakers.

Episode Transcription

Joe Lemire:

Hello from Washington D.C., site of Sports Business Journal's Dealmakers conference. I'm senior writer, Joe Lemire, on site for the event, and the first day was so full of great content and networking that I went a few hours without looking at my phone, and when I finally did, well, NASCAR was almost $8 billion richer. That's right. Our John Ourand and Adam Stern reported that NASCAR's latest media rights deals are worth 1.1 billion per year for the next seven years, and include not only broadcast incumbents, Fox and NBC, but also streaming giant, Amazon Prime Video, and also Warner Brothers Discovery, who will simulcast races on cable through TNT and on streaming via the Bleacher Report Sports Tier on Max. Overall, it's a 40% increase on annual rights fees over the current deal and enables NASCAR to reach new, and crucially, younger audiences.

As NASCAR's Chief President Steve Phelps said, "If we think about the opportunity to really have broadcast cable and streaming, we think it's an important thing for the next seven years. It signifies to the sports world, to the sponsors, to everyone, that NASCAR is clearly a tier one property and a must have property, and that's what I think will be the overarching message that will be signaled here." The inventory on Fox will decrease from 18 races to 14, but still include the Daytona 500. NBC will go from 20 races to 14. Both networks will carry a handful on the primary broadcast channel and the majority on the cable alternative, FS1 for Fox and USA for NBC. Amazon and WBD Sports will each have five mid-season races. The ones on Amazon will be the first exclusively streamed NASCAR races. Importantly, NASCAR created a new rights package for its practice and qualifying sessions.

Amazon will carry the first half of the season and build the habit of tuning in there, prior to taking over the races. WBD will handle the rest, airing them on TruTV, as well as streaming on Maxs. WBD's Bleacher Report and House of Highlights will each have rights to air some highlights in short videos. All of these streaming and social platforms are an important piece to ensuring that NASCAR reaches a younger audience. Amazon's NFL Thursday Night Football, for example, has a viewing demographic that's seven years younger on average. The CW has previously announced will air the second tier NASCAR property, the Xfinity series, and Fox will continue to carry the Craftsman Truck series. To mitigate issues with fans contending with more than a half dozen media entities covering races and qualifiers, NASCAR has solicited agreement from the participants to ensure cross-promotion across all the different channels.

As someone who has personally cut the cord, although I do subscribe to YouTube TV, whose skinny bundle is admittedly a halfway measure, using a streaming device rather than a good universal remote with tactile numbers is already more cumbersome, so knowing where to tune in advance is certainly helpful. All told, this is a seismic deal for NASCAR, which in the realm of wavering media rights valuations in other sports, and a potential threat from another Motorsport of Formula One, the stock car circuit raced ahead with a giant leap in revenue, while simultaneously diversing its reach through new channels and streaming platforms. One of the great joys of watching sports in the past dozen years has been the second screen experience of Twitter, where social conversations have evolved around live events, sharing insights and memes, news and jokes in real time.

Some communities have been particularly active. NBA Twitter is its own beast, with the players themselves often joining in the fun, usually with an eyes emoji quote, tweeted above a news or rumor. I'm hardly alone when I say I've made friends over Twitter, whether it's people I later met in real life or still haven't. It's been an indispensable resource for journalists looking to amplify stories, build audiences, and track news, and while there had been signs of decline for a while, one wonders what potentially irreparable harm was delivered Wednesday evening on the stage of the New York Times Dealbook Summit, when Elon Musk who acquired the company and rebranded it X, gave a flippant and profane reply in response to advertisers who were boycotting the site after he gave credence to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. He did apologize for that, but then he also told brands, "Don't advertise and emphasize that comment with words that would surely get me fired."

While other sites like Instagram and TikTok have become social media front-runners generally, Twitter/X has always been particularly well-suited to sports and media. It's hard to see why advertisers would want to return now. Our Rachel Axon is attending the IOC meetings in Paris, where the International Olympic Committee has designated clear favorites for the next three Winter Olympiad. Although the formal final votes won't be held until next summer, the French Alps are lined up to host in 2030. Salt Lake City seems set to receive the 2034 games, that's 32 years after its previous Olympiad, and Switzerland has been moved to a privileged dialogue for 2038, granting its bid more time to drum up the proper national support it has previously lacked when seeking to host. Climate and physical sustainability have become hallmarks of Olympic bids in the last few cycles, and while previously one country was unlikely to host two games in a short period of time, now that is almost seen as an advantage.

In the case of France, that means a 2024 Summer Games in Paris and a 2030 Winter Games in the Alps, with IOC Olympic Games Executive Director, Christophe Dubi, saying, "We have a lot of building blocks from Paris that can be reused as well, and this for sure is an advantage when you have five and a half years to organize the games." In other news, ESPN BET landed its first major League partnership with the NHL as Penn Entertainment, which owns the score and is a partner in the ESPN BET venture reached an agreement for its brands to become official NHL betting partners. ESPN in the U.S., the score in Canada, ESPN BET began accepting wagers in 17 states two weeks ago. Speaking of ESPN, Disney CEO, Bob Iger, and ESPN Chair, Jimmy Pitaro, spoke at a company town hall on Wednesday and again pledged that a direct-to-consumer version of ESPN is a priority, with an expectation of a launch by 2025.

Many of the panelists here at Dealmakers were asked their thoughts on the viability of direct-to-consumer live sports subscriptions and the verdicts were mostly positive, but some noted the historic swing of the pendulum from bundling to unbundling and back, with an eye toward a new age of bundling coming soon, which could make it a little harder for some DTC services, but a property as big as ESPN with a media rights inventory as large as it has, may indeed be the property that can break through those potential headwinds. The day as the Dealmakers yesterday ended with my interview of Monumental Sports President of Basco Operations, Michael Winger, a thoughtful leader in his first year running the Wizards Mystics and the G-League Capital City Go-Go, who described his own deal making style and showed a wide range of considerations in every decision, noting the importance of team culture as well as building trust and relationships with the other NBA franchise executives in order to lay the foundation for trades, and while also, on the other side, describing the league's new tracking data system is providing remarkable potential for new data-driven insights, with one's imagination just about the only limiting factor.

Ilana Kloss, the CEO of Billie Jean King Enterprises, described a tipping point in the growth of women's sports saying, "Now we have the billionaires investing in women's sports. It's not charity, it's good business. What needs to come next," she added, "is a growth in media rights revenue. That's really where the money is," she said, while adding that, "data rights, including for betting data are another area of growth." Kloss said, "Female athletes, particularly in nascent leagues like the PWHL she's helping spearhead, think more of we and us than I and me because they recognize the need for collective growth, not just individual growth. Her panel counterpart, Cole Van Nice, the Founder and Managing Partner of Elysian Park Ventures, described youth sports as a massively important part of the sports business. The idea that participation leads to later fandom as well as all the mental and physical benefits that come with participation.

He mentioned that youth sports has become a $30 billion business and that cost is leaving the base behind a bit, overlooking many underserved communities in particular, but he also noted that girls' participation is going up while boys' participation in sports seems to be going down, clearly an opportunity for many companies and brands to get involved there, and women's sports in particular have an opportunity to be more agile and innovative because they are less entrenched. A lot of interesting thoughts on the state of youth sports. NBC News' political analyst, Chuck Todd, came on and wondered aloud whether the Big Four conferences, what used to be known as the Power Five prior to the exodus of what was the Pac-12 might realize they have nearly 64 schools on their own and organized their own basketball tournament. It'd be like the concept of the European soccer league for soccer, but for March Madness, that would remove the charm of upstart schools having a chance to make a tournament run.

He mentioned his alma mater, George Washington, and then we certainly saw Florida Atlantic and San Diego State make a run this year, for instance. Unless there was the introduction of an expanded tournament draw, such as with 96 teams that codified the format in place before a runaway Big Four tournament could take hold, or he suggested, "Maybe there's room for a college sports relegation system, in which there are two tiers of conferences with upward and downward mobility between them." Fascinating food for thought, and Chuck Todd added that he spoke with Mark Cuban earlier yesterday who told him he hadn't really thought about launching a third party presidential bid, but Todd noted that Miriam Adelson's pending purchase of the majority stake in the Mavericks might be a signal otherwise.

"She's the single most important donor to the Republican Party. Without her, they would not have been able to win the house in 2022. She writes the big fat, super packed checks. She's not writing a check to Donald Trump this year and it's upsetting him." It's interesting to me that suddenly Mark Cuban has her as a business partner. There were also great insights from Super Bowl and NBA champions turned athlete investors, Malcolm Jenkins and Andre Iguodala. Today, we have Ted Leonsis, Josh Harris, and four Major Sports League Deputy Commissioners all taking the stage. I'm signing off for now as I sit here. A Stephen Strasburg long toss away from the Jefferson Memorial, pink sunrise glow taking the sky. Should be another fantastic day in D.C.