The Boston Red Sox, are, of course, a massive part of the collective New England consciousness this time of year, and a handful of stations in the DMAs across the northeastern corner of the U.S. are enriching their relationships with Sox TV partner NESN. An existing content partnership has been taken to new heights, with stations in Providence and Burlington providing two-minute local news and weather updates that run in the middle of the sixth inning during most games. Stations in Hartford, Conn. and Springfield, Mass., and perhaps others, are likely to come on board for the news share as well.
WCAX Burlington debuted its cut-ins July 20. Providence powerhouse WJAR tested the news inserts with NESN earlier this season, and officially launched the program in recent weeks. Vic Vetters, WJAR general manager, called it the “next step” in a three-year partnership that sees the NBC affiliate provide weather inserts for the local feed of NESN’s pre-and postgame show. “It’s a chance for us to put our news product and our talent in front of a different audience,” says Vetters. “Some of them watch our news, but some of them don’t.”
The CNN Model
The program’s architect, NESN VP of Marketing Paul Bermel, spent 13 years at CNN and has modeled it after CNN’s Newsource, which has affiliates share their local footage with the cable news giant when news breaks in the local markets. Taking the CNN model a step further, Bermel managed a program while working there that saw stations insert their news into the CNN Headline News (HLN) feed from their local subscription TV operator.
NESN, an abbreviation of New England Sports Network, is owned by Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Red Sox. The cable net sends out four feeds, customized by region, across New England. It has content partnerships with one exclusive broadcast affiliate in five New England DMAs—Cox Media Group’s WFXT Boston, Sinclair’s WJAR, Mt. Mansfield TV’s WCAX, Meredith’s WSHM Springfield and Tribune’s WTIC Hartford. The stations get exclusive content from, and access to, the Red Sox and the NHL’s Boston Bruins from NESN for their early evening newscasts.
In return, NESN gets customized weather reports from the stations. “It’s a win-win,” believes Bermel. “It’s a way to extend a relationship we already had with the stations, and it’s fantastic crosspromotional exposure.”
Boston Or Bust
The taped news inserts, typically running in night games Monday through Thursday, fit perfectly into a commercial break in the middle of the sixth inning, which usually falls in the prime viewing slot of 9 p.m. They’re framed with an L-bar bearing NESN, Red Sox and opponents’ logos, so a casual channel surfer would realize he or she is not watching a typical newscast.
The stations’ sports anchors get a monthly trip to Fenway Park to appear in the pre-and postgame shows, a choice branding opportunity for the sports operations in a region where Red Sox telecasts are as much a part of summer as traffic at the Bourne Bridge and analyzing Tom Brady’s readiness for the upcoming NFL campaign.
Anson Tebbetts, WCAX news director, said one fringe benefit of the arrangement was a station meteorologist getting to tag along on a blimp ride over Fenway. “We’re delighted with the partnership,” he says. “It helps us spread our message and our connection with the audience.”
Yet Sox fans’ dedication has its limits. At presstime, the team sits in last place in the American League East, not yet out of the running but not showing signs of busting out of a season-long slump either. The team’s household ratings at the All-Star break stood at 5.7, up 7% over the same point last year, though it’s worth noting that last year’s squad limped its way to 91 losses and finished 25 games out of first place.
“When the Sox are in the hunt, it’s not a small audience,” says Vetters, who adds that the program is a way to attract more female viewers to the station’s news.
Regardless of whether the Sox make the playoffs, the news inserts initiative will extend into fall and beyond, appearing in Bruins telecasts. But NESN’s broadcast partners in Hartford and Springfield are likely to start adding their own cut-ins before that. “I think there’s some interest there,” Bermel says.
Chiefs at NESN and the stations say the program is off to a strong start. “It’s a natural relationship,” says Bermel, “considering our fan base is spread throughout New England.”
TEGNA INKS DEAL TO SELL ITS MCLEAN, VA., HEADQUARTERS FOR $270 MILLION
Tegna, as the former Gannett broadcasting division is now known, has signed a contract to sell its McLean, Va., headquarters to private investment group Tamares for $270 million. The deal is expected to close late in the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter. Tegna will continue to occupy a portion of the building for 18 months, and plans to stay in the Washington, D.C. area thereafter.
On June 29, Gannett started trading as two separate companies—the broadcast and digital outfit Tegna, and the publishing division retaining the Gannett name.
“This agreement is a continuation of our goal to optimize our real estate portfolio across the company and allows us to transition to better use of space for our corporate headquarters,” says Gracia Martore, Tegna president and CEO. “Tegna remains committed to staying in the Washington, D.C. area and a process is underway to find the most appropriate space to meet our company needs.”
Tegna’s building occupies nearly 800,000 square feet on 17 acres northwest of Washington. “This state-of-the-art facility is one of the keystone properties in Northern Virginia and greater Washington, D.C.,” says Poju Zabludowicz, chairman of Tamares.
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