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Conference USA Strikes New Deal With ESPN, CBS Sports Featuring Mid-Week Football Games

“Obviously, revenue is important, but what kept coming up with our membership was exposure.”

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Conference USA has agreed to a new five-year media partnership with ESPN and CBS Sports that will see the league continue to air football and basketball games with its previous partners with one noticeable shift: the conference’s football games in the month of October will primarily be played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

The move mirrors what the Mid-American Conference calls “MACtion” during the month of November when it plays the majority of it’s conference schedule on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for increased national exposure.

“Obviously, revenue is important, but what kept coming up with our membership was exposure,” Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod told Sports Business Journal. “How do we maximize our potential and move forward? … This is our chance to prove ourselves and then hopefully we’ll go back to the market (in five years) and increase our value.”

CBS secured the “tier one” rights for the conference, giving it the selection of 18 football and basketball games throughout the season. Additionally, CBS will air the conference’s football championship game, the men’s basketball tournament championship game, and the women’s basketball tournament semifinals and finals.

“We really liked is there are championships involved here,” said CBS Sports Executive Vice President of Programming Dan Weinberg. “That’s always the goal at CBS Sports to crown champions, and we’ve got several in this deal. … Another point that we liked was the deal retains our status as the league’s primary partner.”

The conference’s mid-week football games will be shared between the ESPN trio of ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU, while CBS will air its portion of games on CBS Sports Network. Sources told Sports Business Journal each conference member would make roughly $750,000 per year from the new deal.

Conference USA will add Liberty, Jacksonville State, New Mexico State, Sam Houston State, and Kennesaw State to the conference over the next two years. They’ll join existing members Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky, and UTEP for a 10-team conference.

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Final Round of U.S. Open Averages 5.9 Million Viewers on NBC, Peacock

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NBC Golf Logo
(Illustration) | NBC Golf Logo – Courtesy: NBCUniversal

The final round between Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy during the 124th U.S. Open from Pinehurst Resort and Country Club highlighted Sunday at the golf tournament in which the network attained a total audience delivery of 5.9 million viewers on NBC and Peacock. The seven-hour window ranks as the most-watched East Coast final round of the event since 2013 and is up 9% over the last U.S. Open to be held on the East Coast from Brookline, according to data from Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics.

Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch reported that the presentation had a 2.8 rating and that Nielsen measurements of the consumption equated to an average of 5.55 million viewers. Ratings were down by 11% from the final round of the U.S. Open last year from the Los Angeles Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif.

Viewership of the competition peaked at 11.4 million viewers from 6:15 to 6:30 p.m. EST and 11.3 million viewers from 6:30 to 6:45 p.m. EST. When excluding streaming-based viewership, the audiences peaked at 10.8 million and 10.7 million viewers, respectively, during those same aforementioned quarter hours. The total peak audience of 11.4 million viewers is the highest peak audience for any U.S. Open competition since 2015. DeChambeau ended up defeating McIlroy by one shot, highlighted by his emerging out of a bunker for par on the 18th hole of Pinehurst course No. 2.

Primary broadcast coverage of the U.S. Open garnered a total audience delivery of 3.1 million viewers, which is up 13% from the 2022 iteration of the event. Moreover, it exceeds the previous six U.S. Open events and is now the most-watched East Coast U.S. Open since 2013. The broadcast was also the most-streamed golf event on record for NBC Sports, the second time this record was broken during the tournament following first-round coverage on Thursday. Overall consumption of the event was up 17% year-over-year across all feeds.

Coverage of the U.S. Open as a whole on NBC averaged 3.1 million viewers, which is up 13% compared to the previous year. Additionally, 2.89 million viewers within the aggregate figure watched the tournament on NBC, according to data from Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics.

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Venu Sports Announces Founding Leadership Team

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Venu Sports Leadership Team
Courtesy: Venu Sports

Venu Sports, the new joint streaming venture from ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery, has announced the members of its founding leadership team that will report to Pete Distad, the chief executive officer of the entity. The team will be based in New York and Los Angeles and features executives with vast experiences in entertainment, media, technology, sports and sports betting companies.

Brian Borkowski has been named the chief marketing officer for Venu Sports and will be responsible for marketing, branding and growth strategies to help the brand launch and grow. Borkowski previously worked at FanDuel where he was the senior vice president of marketing for the company as it continued its expansion. Additionally, he has held various leadership roles with Hulu, including vice president of media and acquisition, along with head of subscriber acquisition. Over the years, he worked as the chief marketing officer of analytics firm Verikai and also had marketing leadership roles with Neilson Financial Services and Farmers Insurance.

Jessica Casano-Antonellis will serve as the senior vice president and head of communications for Venu Sports. Casano-Antonellis previously led communications at SiriusXM and also worked as the vice president of communications for Disney+ and Hulu at The Walt Disney Company. Among her responsibilities were overseeing communications initiatives for streaming propositions, including launching and rolling out Disney’s flagship streaming service.

Tim Connolly is the chief business officer of the company, possessing responsibilities pertaining to strategic initiatives for the sports streaming platform. Some of these areas of focus include content rights and licensing, distribution and strategic partnership and subscriber growth and retention strategies. Connolly previously helped lead subscriber growth for Apple TV+ and MLS Season Pass at Apple, along with serving in senior leadership roles at Hulu and The Walt Disney Company.

Amit Dudakia will be responsible for product management and design, along with programming and editorial for Venu Sports in his new role of senior vice president and head of product. Dudakia most recently worked as the senior vice president of product management for Fox Technology and Digital where he led product and design for the FOX Sports division. Dudakia started working with the Fox Corporation at FX Network where he helped launch a variety of entities under its umbrella.

Skarpi Hedinsson has been named the chief technology officer of Venu Sports and will be responsible for technology strategy and execution for the streaming service. Hedinsson was previously the chief technology officer of the Los Angeles Rams and played an integral role leading the team envisioning, designing and implementing technology within SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park. Hedinsson is the former chief technology officer of Disney/ABC Television Group, working in the role amid the launch of the WATCH ABC and WATCH Disney services.

David Hillman will oversee legal matters for Venu Sports in his new role of chief legal officer. Before joining Venu Sports, Hillman worked on the corporate legal executive management team at Paramount Global, recently serving as executive vice president and general counsel for CBS Sports, CBS News and Stations and Broadcast Operations. Within his position, he observed negotiations for strategic content agreements across several genres. Hillman previously held similar positions at Simon & Schuster and Westwood One.

Gautam Ranji will serve as the chief financial officer for Venu Sports, having purview over financial operations for the joint streaming venture. Ranji is the former chief financial officer and treasurer for Sphere Entertainment, involved in fiscal functions and within the management team that launched the Sphere in Las Vegas, Nev. Before this endeavor, he was responsible for strategic planning and business development at CBS and was a co-leader for the integration following the merger between Viacom and CBS, currently known as Paramount Global.

Judy Schwab is the senior vice president and head of people at Venu Sports, overseeing workforce planning, organizational effectiveness and talent acquisition along with the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Schwab previously worked as a leader in human resources within the Apple Services division, and she was also a member of The Walt Disney Company leading human resources for its direct-to-consumer businesses. She was a key member of the leadership team that helped launch Disney+ and integrated Hulu as well.

In addition to the leadership team at Venu Sports, more than 150 engineers and executives are working to build the product that will look to serve sports fans without a traditional cable subscription. The service will combine several linear television networks owned by The Walt Disney Company, Fox Corporation and Warner Bros. Discovery that broadcast sports programming. Pricing and a launch date for the service have not yet been announced.

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FOX Sports Draws 1.59 Million Viewers for UFL Championship Game

This year’s championship game, which was called by Curt Menefee and Joel Klatt and also featured a visit from Tom Brady in the booth, peaked at 1,723,000 viewers from 6:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

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Photo of the UFL Championship game on FOX Sports
Photo Courtesy: FOX Sports

If television viewership is the barometer, spring football had a heck of season. It all culminated with FOX Sports drawing 1.59 million viewers for the United Football League championship game between the Birmingham Stallions and the San Antonio Brahmas, which the Stallions won 25-0.

The Stallions’ third consecutive championship was up 38% over their second championship a year ago when they played Pittsburgh in the USFL championship game. It was also an increase of 11% over the XFL Championship game from last year between Arlington and DC.

This year’s championship game, which was called by Curt Menefee and Joel Klatt and also featured a visit from Tom Brady in the booth, peaked at 1,723,000 viewers from 6:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

The UFL regular season was split between FOX and ABC/ESPN this year. The regular season average television audience of 816,000 was more than 30% higher than the pace from the previous year and the recent conference championship games were up 57% over the averages from the USFL and XFL last season. According to SI’s Mike Mitchell, the league saw a large increase in the 18-49 demographic on FOX compared to USFL programming in 2023.

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