Sports Awards Score Big

BET on Tuesday (July 21) will launch its first annual Players’ Awards, the third network this month to offer a sports-themed awards show to its viewers.

Cable networks are using sports awards to capitalize on the appeal of sports content and athletes in an effort to score with male viewers in particular and sports fans in general. BET’s Players’ Awards — highlighting top performances in the NBA, as voted on by National Basketball Players Association members — is the latest in a growing category of sports-themed awards shows airing on cable networks.

Along with last week’s 2015 Nick Kids’ Choice Sports Awards and ESPN’s The ESPYs, Cartoon Network’s annual Hall of Game Awards is set to air later this year.

Network executives said the popularity of sports make it easier to build momentum and drive viewers to the awards telecast.

“Sports are really unpredictable, so it has appeal to the viewer as do the athletes that play the games,” Jay Schmalholz, executive producer of the Kids’ Choice Sports Awards, said. “What we recognize is their love of sports and [the awards shows] reflect what our audience is interested in.”

BET president of programming Stephen Hill said the network’s July 21 Players Awards will mix awards for NBA players with music and comedy performances to present an event that’s different from traditional sports awards shows. NBA players Chris Paul, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala will appear on the telecast, as well as hip hop artist Lil Wayne.

“It allows us to align ourselves with some of the more popular entertainers in the world today, and some of those entertainers don’t hold a microphone or a guitar but rather a basketball,” Hill said. “We know its sports and hip hop that drives that [male] audience in a lot of ways, and we think we can mix the two better than anyone else. Partnering with the NBPA allows us to work with entertainers and adds to our portfolio of events.”

Hill said BET would look at other sports-themed content as it looks to appeal to more male viewers. The network last month launched a new live boxing series, partnering with Roc Nation Sports to televise nine live cards over the next 18 months.

“We’re looking to do more programming that draws in hard to reach audiences, and that’s certainly male viewers,” he said.

While most sports awards shows target male viewers, Nick’s Schmalholz said the Nick Choice Sports audience is split evenly between young male and female viewers, given the high number of girls playing sports in school and in youth leagues.

“We’re really trying to reach kids that love sports and seeing their idols act as big kids in ways that they don’t see on other shows or on the playing field,” he said.

In an effort to attract a larger audience, ESPN moved The ESPYs to sister broadcast network ABC. The move helped the show — which celebrates individual and team sports achievement — generate 7.7 million viewers on July 15, up 250% from last year’s ESPN telecast, according to the sports programmer.

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.