Sports Entertainment Summit Looks at Future of Sports Business

The SVG/Variety Sports Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles offered attendees a solid overview of the current state of the sports TV and new media marketplace. For many panelists, and those in attendance, the desire to keep viewers in near constant contact with their favorite sports, athletes, and networks via social networking, TV broadcasts, and mobile devices, was top of mind.

“Sports is the content the consumer wants most and they want to get it when and however they want, and there are effective ways to do that,” said David Rone, president, Time Warner Cable Sports. “So we are working with content holders for the rights to get consumers the content they want it and we are working hard to do that from an authentication basis so that they can have content available for streaming 24/7.”

HBO President Ken Hershman said the network is focused on its HBO to Go and TV Everywhere offerings that allow HBO subscribers to access a wide variety of content from mobile devices and personal computers.

“It’s really complementary [to the traditional TV service],” he added. “It brings interactivity to the programming and gets younger people more involved in the way they watch.”

Eric Shanks, Co-President and COO, Fox Sports Media Group, tackled the eternally challenging question of rights; an issue that has only become more challenging as recent rights deals have eclipsed previous rights deals, and often by substantial percentage gains.

“There is a point when the spreadsheet says it doesn’t make sense [to bid more] and some will risk going above that point and others won’t,” he explained.

The rights game is also different on the national and regional level. Historically, the broadcast side has treated rights deals as a loss leader that can drive viewership of other programming.

“So you can rationalize taking a loss,” said Shanks. “But on the RSN side, it’s different because you don’t use that audience to drive primetime ratings. They have to deal with rights on their own merits.”

One new network that will be facing that challenge of dealing with rights on their own merits will be the Pac-12 Network. It launches one national and six regional networks on August 17 and viewers can expect more than 850 live sporting events to be broadcast in the first year.

“Our job is to give the fans an opportunity to have a deep relationship with the Pac-12 in combination with ESPN and Fox on a national basis and ourselves on a local, regional basis,” said Gary Stevenson, president, Pac-12 Enterprises.

For example, ESPN and Fox will broadcast 22 football and 66 basketball games, respectively, this season, while the Pac-12 Network have 35 football games and the rest of the hoops action. And then there will be 550 Olympic sports broadcasts.

“If you run an income statement on the return on investment for a water polo match, it will probably be negative, but you have to combine it together with all the other Olympic sports,” added Stevenson. “Pac-12 athletes have won more than 1,100 Olympic medals, and if it was a country, it would be fourth behind the U.S., Russia, and Germany. So our Olympic sports are the best in the country with fantastic competition and consumers will gravitate towards great competition.”

And the events themselves are not enough. Hershman discussed reality shows that HBO builds around major fights; HBO series that not only help promote the main event, but take viewers to places no one else can.

“And the production techniques we bring are unsurpassed,” he added. “We are also taking advantage of the social media aspects so that viewers can interact with their friends, score the fights, and argue with their friends over who won or lost.”