Sony Expands Sports Solutions Division, Eyes College-Venue Market

Over the past five years, Sony Electronics has developed into a dominant player in professional-sports venues, building HD production facilities at more than 20 pro stadiums and arenas around the U.S. Since the launch of its venue-focused systems solutions division five years ago just as pro venues began making the jump to HD, Sony has seen steady work in collegiate and local sports, but its primary focus has remained on the high-end pro market — until now.

Over the past month, Sony has significantly boosted the size of its sports sales and marketing teams and adopted a more regional structure with an eye on the college, minor-league, and local sports-production markets around the country.

“Pro-sports venues are where we have really seen the majority of the business over the years: MLB ballparks, NFL Stadiums, arenas, etc.,” says Steve Stubelt, VP, strategic business development, Sony Electronics Professional Solutions Division. “We’ve done some college and minor-league stadium and arena work, but that was the exception, not the rule. Now, as we see colleges coming into the market in a big way, that requires us to take a different look at the marketplace.”

A Realigned Strategy
In April, Sony upped its sports-focused sales force from four to 12 regional managers led by National Sales Manager Chris Sullivan, who has been at the forefront of Sony’s sports A/V-systems effort since its inception five years ago.

“Our guys will be able to get out there and be much closer to the customer,” says Sullivan. “Most of them will be within a drive of the customer, rather than hopping on a plane. That is absolutely necessary for a lot of these [colleges and local-sports] customers.”

College Market Jumps Into Spotlight
Though acknowledging that there is still plenty of room to grow in the pro sports market ¾ saying that Sony has penetrated only about 50% of the overall HD pro-sports-venue market thus far ¾ Stubelt sees an invaluable opportunity to capitalize on the rapidly changing college-sports-video scene.

“The [college projects] may not be the same dollar amounts, and [the market] is not as big as professional stadiums, but there are certainly valuable dollars that are there,” he says. “We have always looked at this with the intention that the first few years would be predominantly pro with some crossover into college. But, in the five years that followed that, we expected a pretty big ramp-up in the college space.

Even before the reorganization, Sony was making some serious strides in the college market, with recent large-scale projects at Penn State University and the University of Georgia. Like many recent HD upgrades at high-profile athletics programs (University of Florida and University of Oklahoma, just to name a couple), the Penn State installation was built around a central control room connected via fiber to several on-campus athletics venues. This “hub-and-spoke” design, as Stubelt calls it, provides connectivity to secondary athletics venues, allowing Olympic sports to gain a level of exposure rarely seen in the past.

Pac-12 Set To Pack a Major HD Punch
Nowhere is this collegiate production growth more apparent than at the soon-to-launch Pac-12 Network, where six regional sports nets and one mother-ship network are currently in the works. Pac-12 Enterprises has tapped Sony to supply the cameras, switchers, and XDCAM solid-state products for this massive undertaking.

“The Pac-12 has 12 universities that have to ramp up for this new exposure that they will be getting ¾ not only for football but for their Olympic sports,” says John Studdert, VP, end-user sales, Sony Electronics Professional Solutions Division. “We want to be closer to that. We will now have someone located right in the Northwest, who will be able to work very closely with the Pac-12 and its universities, as well as the professional and minor leagues.”

The Pac-12 may just be the beginning, however. Reports of a potential SEC conference network begin to surface, and the continued growth of high-priced RSNs around the country could lead to newfound exposure for niche college sports and local-sports programming.

“We believe that some of the sports networks will be looking to increase their coverage outside of Division I teams and into niche markets,” says Studdert. “It could be streaming or on lower-channel packages, but, wherever it is, we need to get there in advance of that coverage. We believe those mid-tier schools are going to become a target for sports networks. We want to be there, and I think we have a great product offering for them.”

More Than Just HD Video
Sony’s realigned sports organization will also look to provide comprehensive systems solutions that go beyond just HD production technologies, such as cameras and switchers. Sony is also expanding its offerings to include IP security and surveillance technologies as well as complete digital-signage networks (displays, networked players, and more). The company has already deployed this approach successfully during the recent upgrade at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

“This is not just audio and video, it’s all encompassing,” says Studdert. “Sony is unique in that way because we have so much to offer.”