When action for the 2010-2011 National Basketball Association tips off on Oct. 26, Turner Sports and the NBA will be looking to rewrite the sports-rights playbook by launching a triple-play offering for the NBA League Pass. The package will make out-of-market pro basketball games available on all three screens—TV, broadband and mobile— for one price.
At press time, Cablevision, Cox and Dish Network had agreed to carry the NBA League Pass, with Turner Sports still in negotiations with other operators. “We are truly creating a one-stop shop, where you buy it once and watch it anywhere, anyhow, at any time,” says Bryan Perez, NBA digital senior VP and general manager. “It is kind of a TV Everywhere model coming to sports packages.”
While this is the first time the NBA League Pass will be available on all three screens, the development is the culmination of a long-standing Turner strategy to converge the way sports rights are acquired and distributed.
The strategy first took shape in 1999, during negotiations with NASCAR, when discussions were expanded to include both TV and digital rights and the final deal gave Turner day-to-day management of NASCAR.com. “Ever since then the strategy has been to partner with a league across as many platforms as possible, which we think makes sense for our users, distributors and sponsors,” explains Matt Hong, senior VP and general manager, Turner Sports.
Unlike ESPN and Fox Sports, which keep their brands front and center in all their digital efforts, Turner generally operates behind the league brands. So many fans may not realize Turner has quietly emerged as one of the largest players in the digital delivery of sports content.
Turner is in charge of running the digital operations for a number of leagues and associations, including NASCAR. com, PGATour.com, PGA.com, TBS Hot Corner on MLB.com and TNT NBA Overtime on NBA.com. Turner and the NBA jointly manage NBA Digital, which includes NBA.com, NBA TV and the league’s mobile operations. And last month, Turner inked a 14-year partnership with the National Collegiate Athletic Association to run NCAA Digital, which includes NCAA.com.
Turner also has a strategic partnership with Time Warner sibling SI.com, which puts Turner in charge of business, technical, marketing and advertising for SI.com and Golf.com, and with Yahoo! Sports, whereby Turner handles ad sales and supplies basketball, golf and NASCAR content.
ComScore MyMetrix data compiled by Turner for the second quarter of 2010 shows that Turner Sports had about 43.3 million unique visitors in the quarter if Yahoo!, SI.com, and NCAA.com are added into the other Turner managed sites like NBA.com. That’s ahead of ESPN at 27.5 million and FoxSports.com on MSN at 24.4 million.
Turner Sports’ large portfolio of digital properties provides important economies of scales in terms of technology, advertising and programming.
Turner runs the online and digital operations out of its Atlanta facilities, where it draws on both dedicated Turner Sports employees and a large centralized technology team that works for all of Turner’s networks and operations. “The way we are able to have this make economic sense for both ourselves and our league partners is that we can plug in and utilize the larger Turner infrastructure that provides core assets to everything from CNN.com to NBA.com and NCAA.com,” Hong says.
Turner typically bundles ad sales across all platforms— TV, online and mobile—or between its digital properties, and it is increasingly using video from these various platforms to strengthen SI.com, which it just took over managing this summer.
Looking forward, Hong says, Turner is looking to “double down” on its 10-year-old strategy of cutting multi-platform sports rights deals and offering content to distributors and consumers on as many platforms as possible. “We think that the notion that specific platforms are distinct and separate platforms is going to fade,” he says.
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