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Cubs Remain Determined To Launch TV Network

Jason Barrett

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In recent years, Cubs’ owners, the Ricketts family, have raised ticket prices, added large video boards to Wrigley Field to capitalize on advertising revenue, and next up for the 2016 World Champions might be their own television network.

The Cubs’ current contracts with NBC Sports Chicago, ABC-7 and WGN-9 expire after the 2019 season. Since purchasing the franchise in 2009, the Ricketts family has looked toward the 2020 season as a target for launching their own TV network.

“We have a big passion for controlling our own destiny,” said Crane Kenney, the Cubs president of business operations. “It’s sort of like conversations in the real estate market. We like controlling our own destiny. You start adding partners and it becomes a lot more complicated.”

Some fans may not be excited about the need to purchase a more premium cable package to access Cubs games when they get their own network, but a TV network deal could potentially fund the player payroll and allow GM Theo Epstein to compete with the likes of the Yankees and Dodgers for premium free agents.

“(Bulls and White Sox Chairman) Jerry Reinsdorf has been an amazing partner, as has Comcast,” Kenney said. “It’s been a very successful thing. If it made the ultimate sense, it would (make sense to stay). But I’d say at the moment we’re 80 percent inclined to do it on our own.”  In their current contract, the Cubs own a 20% stake in NBC Sports Chicago, formerly Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.

This past season the Cubs also streamed four games on Facebook and are not opposed to a deal with a digital company. Considering the Facebook broadcasts were not heavily promoted, the Cubs were very satisfied with the results.

“These are conversations we’re having today, that’s the next phase of the test,” said Kenney. “One of the questions we’ve been asking is, what if you sold OTT rights separate from your linear package?”

With the growth of digital media companies, and their willingness to invest in sports programming, the Cubs see potential in a partnership with Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and others.

“There’s a strategy where widely distributed over-the-air television broadcasters can reach an incremental audience by distributing on a platform like Facebook,” said Dan Reed, Facebook’s head of global sports partnerships. “Facebook reaches a different audience. It’s an audience that’s on the go and accustomed to spending more time on their phones.”

The Cubs are locked into their current TV contracts for 2018 and 2019, but for a major market franchise as popular as they are, it ‘s logical for them to control their TV rights on their own network in the future.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

Sports TV News

Kevin Burkhardt: ‘Honor To Be In People’s Homes’ During Thanksgiving Broadcast

“There were a couple on the calendar that I thought that it might hit me and be very, very cool.”

Ricky Keeler

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On Thanksgiving, Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen will call their first Thanksgiving Day game for FOX when the New York Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys (4:30 PM ET). It’s been a memorable year for Burkhardt and Olsen in their first year as the A broadcast team for FOX that will end in the duo calling the Super Bowl in February.

Burkhardt was a guest on The Season with Peter Schrager podcast this week and talked about the honor of getting the chance to be on the call for a Thanksgiving Day game.

“The whole job is big and we are doing big games every week. There were a couple on the calendar that I thought that it might hit me and be very, very cool. One of them was Dallas-Green Bay, which turned out to be epic a couple of weeks ago.

“The playoffs and the Super Bowl will be great, but Thanksgiving Day. Growing up in a football family, it was kind of eating around both games. Catch the early game, halftime, go throw the football in the street, eat the meal between games, then the Cowboys game comes on, you watch that. Maybe halftime you watch or maybe you throw the football again. Watch the rest of the game, you have dessert after the game. That was the day.

“It is an honor because you are in a lot of people’s homes every week. I feel like you really are in people’s homes…. You are kind of like hugging everybody. I think it’s beyond awesome, I really do.”

Burkhardt mentioned to Schrager that he and Olsen knew they had big shoes to fill after taking over for Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (both now at ESPN) and it felt like walking in to a new job, but the A crew at FOX helped them and he liked that he and Olsen got to do it together.

“It’s been awesome. It really has. When you go into a situation like this, Joe and Troy were there for 2 decades, that’s a long time. People have long-standing relationships. Even though I’ve been at FOX for 9 years and Greg was there last year, we are the new guys essentially.

“You walk in, you don’t know how they are going to react to you, what they are going to think of you, if they think you are any good and all that stuff. From Day 1, it was like welcome to the family, we love you. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s been awesome. It felt like we’ve just fit right in. I think there’s been some cool symmetry, the fact that Greg and I got to do it together because we have such a bond.

“The fact that we got to jump in together I think has kind of been fun and helped us both because he knows me really well and I know him really well. Then, it was just getting everyone else to know us and vice versa.”

The one thing that Burkhardt did have to adjust to was a different style of show and that each production team has different viewpoint and creativity.

“The crew I’ve been on my whole life with Pete Macheska and Artie Kempner, they do a different show than Z (Richie Zyontz) and Russo (Rich Russo) do it. It’s not good, bad, or indifferent. Everyone has different viewpoints and creativity. I think it was just getting used to each other in terms of that, but it’s felt like I’ve worked with them for 25 years. It’s felt seamless. It’s felt fun.”

Even though Burkhardt is now the lead NFL play-by-play voice for FOX, that doesn’t mean he is going to change how he does a game.

“I’m not going to change my style or who I am. I’m not saying I’m not open to critiques and wanting to get better and to get coached. The basis of what I do and how I do it, I’m not going to change that now because I’m on the A crew. They liked me enough to put me here, so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. Maybe tweaks here and there, but if I radically changed now, I’d be a moron.” 

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Sports TV News

Kirk Herbstreit Energized, Not Worn Down By College GameDay

“I’ve been invigorated with this energy of the show and some of the different locations we’ve been to with the show.”

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Few in broadcasting have as busy of a schedule as Kirk Herbstreit. From announcing Thursday Night Football for Amazon Prime Video, to working as an analyst for ESPN’s College GameDay and Saturday night football schedule, the man stays busy. It would be easy to be worn down, but Herbstreit says he’s been energized by GameDay this year, rather than worn down, and pointed to new addition Pat McAfee as a a reason why.

“Pat has been huge for the show but for me personally, I can’t even describe what he means to me,” Herbstreit said. “For the travel and the fatigue. We’re in an era where I have four sons and their in their apartments in college and I don’t know if they have a TV. We’re in an era where nobody watches TV. It’s the damndest thing. They look at TV like I used to look at my parents and their radio.

“You look at everyone’s ratings and they’re going down, and you look at College GameDay and it’s the best 11 or 12 week start for the show. I’ve been invigorated with this energy of the show and some of the different locations we’ve been to with the show. It’s been a blast and it’s a year I’ll never forget.”

When asked whether Herbstreit was committed to his current schedule, he affirmed he’s locked in for the remainder of his contract.

“I’m completely committed. I think the part where people are like ‘Geez, you call a game on Thursday and a game on Saturday?’, then you throw in a three-hour show every week. I would never even let my mind think of that. I’m already think about what I wanna do after my five-years. Do I wanna stop working? Do I wanna just enjoy my family? Just do GameDay? Just do the Saturday night thing? I don’t know. I’m already think about ‘I’m on the treadmill for four more years’ and then see where I’m at at that stage of life. But it hasn’t crossed my mind to take something off my plate.”

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Sports TV News

World Cup Opener Delivers Big Ratings For FOX Sports

FS1 and FOX Sports streams accounted for 3.23 million viewers for the English-language broadcast of the opener. That number was 1.72 million in Russia four years ago.

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Many questions circled around the unusually timed 2022 World Cup and what it would mean for television ratings. FOX Sports saw a gigantic increase in ratings for this tournament’s opener compared to 2018.

FS1 and Telemundo combined for an audience of 7.23 million viewers for the Ecuador-Qatar opening match. That is a 128% increase from the Russia-Saudi Arabia match that opened the 2018 event.

FS1 and FOX Sports streams accounted for 3.23 million viewers for the English-language broadcast of the opener. That number was 1.72 million in Russia four years ago.

The broadcast on FS1 topped 43 of the 48 games from the group stage of the 2018 tournament.

In 2018, the event began in June with a 10:30 ET start. This year, the tournament got underway on a Saturday at 1:00 PM ET.

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