March Madness? The Action’s in April

Typically, the first weekend in May is considered a big one for television sports viewers as the Kentucky Derby battles with the second round of the National Basketball Association Playoffs, the settling in of a new baseball season and a major pay-per-view boxing match — and all of that will, indeed, take place one month from now.

But for cable sports networks, the first full week of April is almost just as action-packed, as industry executives hope several major events will have viewers kicking back in front of their big-screen TV to watch cable-exclusive events.

Tonight (April 4), TBS will air the Villanova-North Carolina NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship game — the denoument of March Madness — marking the first time the title contest will not be televised by a broadcast network. (It had been a staple for co-rightsholder CBS since 1982.)

While TBS, TNT and truTV have been airing many of the early-round tournament events for years — and last year TBS set a ratings record with its telecast of the semifinal Final Four round — it’s still a feather in cable’s cap to have both the College Football Playoff championship, currently on ESPN, and now the college basketball finals on TBS.

As for the potential loss of viewers in moving the game from a broadcast channel to a network that viewers need a subscription to watch, Turner president David Levy said that, in the viewer’s mind, there’s no difference between cable and broadcast — sports fans will find the content they want to watch on whatever channel or platform it’s on.

Meanwhile, ESPN last night (April 3) threw out the first pitch of the new baseball season with its New York Mets- Kansas City Royals telecast — the first ever Opening Day rematch of the previous World Series participants. The telecast was one of three Opening Day games for the 24-hour sports programmer, which will join various regional sports networks around the country in televising a dozen opening day games on Monday, even as RSN carriage battles involving the New York Yankees (YES Network vs. Comcast) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (over SportsNet LA), continue to make headlines.

Finally on Saturday (April 9), HBO Sports will distribute the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. pay-per-view fight, which many ringside observers believe will be the last of Pacquiao’s storied career. Prior to Pacquiao’s fight last May against Floyd Mayweather, which earned a record-breaking $400 million in PPV revenue, the multi-division champion from the Phillippines had generated a whopping $741 million in PPV revenue over his career, according to Forbes — the second-most ever, behind Mayweather.

If indeed this is Pacquiao’s last time stepping into the PPV ring, he will leave some mighty big shoes to fill. Middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez will continue his climb to assume the pound-for-pound PPV championship mantle held by both Pacquiao and the now-retired Mayweather when he steps into the ring May 7 against Amir Kahn.

But that’s a month from now. This week is cable’s big sports play.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.