Making Sports 'Worth' It

In 2012, we found out that networks will seemingly pay anything for sports and that for two weeks in the summer, NBC’s Olympics head man Jim Bell may have been the most hated person on Twitter.

Despite the backlash NBC received from the Twitterati over its Olympics coverage, its decision to live-stream many events signaled a growing reliance on networks’ ability to provide sports fans with viewing options that go beyond the traditional television set. Plus, NBC appeared to be crying about it all the way to the bank.

“The model worked,” Jon Litner, group president for NBC Sports Group, said at the recent B&C/Multichannel News OnScreen Summit. “Now the question is, how do you apply that model and migrate it across not just national business, but also regional sports networks?”

Grabbing TV Everywhere rights is now considered a must for TV partners, as the use of digital properties has increased, including huge events such as the Super Bowl. Last year’s game was the most-watched single sports event ever on the Web, with more than 2.1 million unique visitors combining to stream 78 million-plus minutes. This year’s game could break that mark.

Rights to stream games either through online or mobile were included in nearly every media rights pact—and there were a lot of them—that was signed in 2012.

Speaking of Those Rights Fees…

Between Major League Baseball, English Premier League soccer and college football’s BCS bowl games, 2012 saw media rights fees soar to astronomical levels.

MLB’s new deals will net a combined $12.4 billion between Turner, Fox and ESPN over eight years. That’s a more than 100% increase from their current deals. While the majority of these new rights pacts don’t kick in until 2014, subscribers’ TV bills may be affected earlier.

It’s not just being felt on the national stage either: The Los Angeles Dodgers are looking at a huge payday as incumbent Fox battles for rights with newcomer Time Warner Cable. Regional sports networks have been charging cable and satellite operators more to offset the rising price of sports, and DirecTV is charging subs an extra $3 in areas that carry multiple RSNs. A DirecTV representative said it “is a way of recovering some, but not all, of the skyrocketing cost of sports in certain markets.”

The Worldwide Leader’s Crowded ‘World’

The year 2012 began with NBC rebranding Versus as NBC Sports Network, joining CBS in having its own all-sports cable net. This year, Fox is expected to join the fray with Fox Sports 1, its rumored sports channel that has become one of the industry’s worst-kept secrets.

Fox officials have remained coy on the network. “We continue to evaluate the potential for a national sports channel,” Fox Sports Media Group copresident Randy Freer said when Fox renewed its rights deal with MLB. Published reports argue that the plan is for Speed to be rebranded beginning in August, with Fox also using its coverage of Super Bowl XLVIII in early 2014 as another launch point.

While NBC and CBS have struggled to challenge ESPN, the acknowledged leader in that space, Fox has properties that the other two don’t, namely Major League Baseball.

Meanwhile, CBS is hoping to give its own allsports net a “Super”-sized boost next month. The network will house all of its properties under one roof in Jackson Square, as it sets up shop in New Orleans for Super Bowl week.

NHL Season on Thin Ice

The NHL became the latest league to have a lockout—except theirs doesn’t look like it will have a happy ending. At presstime, 625 games had been lost, which translates to roughly 51% of the season, and time is running out. It’s likely that if a deal is not in place by Jan. 11, the league will lose the full season, its second complete cancellation in eight years. Should the NHL ice its entire season, Litner said he will sit down with league officials to discuss NBC’s compensation.

Outside of Canada, nobody wants the NHL to return to the ice more than NBC, which has struggled to fill NBC Sports Net’s schedule without it. Reinforcements are coming though, as the net will begin airing Formula One racing and the English Premier League this year.

E-mail comments to and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays