MBPT Spotlight: CBS Sports Network Continues To Evolve In Crowded TV Sports Marketplace

The competition for the eyeballs (and dollars) of sports viewers increased this month with the arrival of new networks Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2. ESPN undertook plans to retain its self-professed role as the "Worldwide Leader in Sports," and NBC and CBS also acted to boost their respective rosters of programs and personalities. Like rivals on any playing field, the competition just got that much more intense.

Sean McManus is chairman for CBS Sports, overseeing all sports properties across CBS operations, including the CBS broadcast network, CBS Radio, CBS Sports Network and CBSSports.com. He also is the executive producer for The NFL on CBS. Here, he speaks about sports media, fans, the NFL, the U.S. Open and the quest for ratings and marketing support.

You are unveilingThat Other Pregame Showon CBS Sports Network, so you must know a little something about how much fans want to consume and viewers want to watch when it comes to the NFL.
The most exciting programming on TV is the NFL. Last year we launched NFL Monday QB and it has been very successful. The hosts — Phil Simms, Rich Gannon and Steve Beuerlein [all former NFL quarterbacks] — worked well together and connected with the audience. We got a lot of word-of-mouth about the show. Last year, we also renovated and upgraded the CBS Sports Network studios [after moving from New York's Chelsea Piers to the CBS Broadcast Center] and moved in other shows such as Inside College Football. So after [the in-studio] NFL Monday QB, the next logical step was to do a studio pregame show on Sundays.

How important was the success of NFL Monday QB to the launch of
That Other Pregame Show?
If we didn't have success with the NFL Monday QB show, we would have been a bit hesitant to move ahead with another pregame show. But NFL Monday QB worked well. It found its own niche. It was different from anything that anyone was doing on any of the networks. So it made sense to expand on it.

This comes at a time when ESPN is ramping up its NFL coverage, Fox Sports 1 has launched, the NFL Network is 24/7 and NBC is doing more NFL coverage. How does the strategy behind the CBS Sports Network fit into the current and future landscape?

We want to get as many viewers as possible tuning in. But do we see [CBS Sports Network] challenging ESPN or the NFL Network in ratings? That's not our goal right now. Our goal is to put on a product that people start to talk about and want to find.

With so much out there, how do you do that?
There is room for a new show if it can differentiate itself from the others. That Other Pregame Show will be more informal, more freewheeling than pregame shows anyone else does, including CBS. It will be different and memorable.

What do you say when people will look at what you are doing and compare it to ESPN or NFL Network?

It's not going to be what you see on the NFL Network. It's not going to be what you see on ESPN. It's not even going to be what you see on CBS. It's going to be That Other Pregame Show. It's going to evolve, it's going to change.

What will viewers be seeing in the way of support for the new program?
We have the radio network, the interactive network, the broadcast network. We want it to all feed in to create more attention for the show. In today's television landscape, there is certainly room for another pregame show if that show offers a unique approach and perspective. That Other Pregame Show will accomplish that, as we combine all the assets of CBS Sports including CBS Sports Radio and CBSSports.com, creating a show focusing on the fans and how they consume football.

How are you looking at the sports broadcasting landscape with Fox Sports 1 now in the picture?
I give them a lot of credit for putting their money where their mouth is. They are definitely a formidable competitor not just for CBS but for all of us. They wanted to have people talking about them and they've done that. If you look at their history, the Fox network was supposed to be a disaster, and it worked. Then people said there wasn't room for Fox News and it worked. It's too short-term now to make a long-term prediction. But I applaud them for the amount of money they've spent and the amount of noise they've made.

Can you compare Fox Sports 1 to CBS Sports Network in terms of growth?
I can only speak for CBS Sports Network. We're doing twice as many live events than we did two years ago. We're in 50 million homes. We were in 25 million homes three years ago. We have a lot of great properties and personalities: AVP [volleyball], Professional Bull Riders, Major League Lacrosse, PBA [bowling], Arena Football, Jim Rome, Tim Brando, Doug Gottlieb, Allie LeForce. So that is a formidable lineup.

When you're looking at new technology and in-studio enhancements, what are the challenges to continually get a better product to the audience?
We always want to challenge our guys, both technologically and production-wise; we challenge our announcers on storytelling and talking about why things happen and not just what happened. We told our announcers, our analysts and our production people to go into every game as if it is your Super Bowl. It may be a game that's going to only 5% of the country but remember the basics, but don't be afraid to fail. Don't be afraid to try something new. We may get angry with our production team when they don't follow the basic rules of covering football. But we never get angry at them for trying new things. We challenge them to try new things. And as technology gets better and better, as you get more high-speed cameras, better audio, we are on the cutting edge of that and we will continue to be so.

CBS Sports Network covered the qualifying rounds of the U.S. Open last week and then works in conjunction with CBS through the finals. Are you able to be as creative in the tennis product as you are challenging your crew to be in the NFL?
We've looked at Fly-Cams. We've looked at Sky-Cams. Audio is always getting better. We've used SwingVision in golf [a super-slow-motion camera that helps to analyze golf swings]. The high-speed camera that we premiered in golf gives a really good look. There's not a lot new. But anything that's available, we'll find it and we'll try it.

Any early news about March Madness?
There will be. But it's not at the forefront right now.

This interview was reprinted with permission of NYSportsJournalism.com.

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