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Zach Leonsis: Launching Monumental Sports Network ‘An Opportunity to Play Offense’

“I really felt like our network and many other RSNs became shells of themselves, just being placeholders for the live games.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Monumental Sports Network

Recently Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Washington Capitals, Wizards, and Mystics, flipped the switch on the regional sports network it took full control over last year officially rebranding NBC Sports Washington as Monumental Sports Network. To MSE president of media and new enterprises Zach Leonsis, buying out NBCUniversal’s remaining stake in the network ahead of the implosion of the RSN model earlier this year proved to be a smart move strategically.

“We viewed it as an opportunity to play offense,” Zach Leonsis told Front Office Sports. We were able to create a lot of efficiencies and consolidate our content programming efforts. But there’s no doubt that it was also a defensive measure, too.”

“I really felt like our network and many other RSNs became shells of themselves, just being placeholders for the live games,” he added. Even though live games are always going to be [the most popular] in terms of what drives ratings versus your original programming during the day, we can still give people a reason to tune into our network and give them permission to be a fan.”

There are 11 other NHL franchises currently still under agreements with Diamond Sports Group, which is still in bankruptcy proceedings. The NHL has been advising those 11 teams on formulating contingency plans should DSG cut ties with contracts as a part of its debt restructuring.

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Ed Werder Moves on from ESPN

“While this marks the end of my partnership with ESPN, I expect to continue working because, as so many studio hosts have proclaimed—and I still devoutly believe—’Ed Werder has more.’”

Barrett Sports Media

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Photo of Ed Werder and a logo for ESPN
Photo Courtesy: ESPN

After more than a couple of decades of work at ESPN, Ed Werder took to social media to announce he is no longer with the company.

“For 26 years, I’ve had the privilege of reporting on the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys while holding an ESPN microphone,” he wrote. “But that time is coming to an end. I will immediately begin considering other opportunities to continue my work covering the NFL.

“My ESPN career was highlighted by being assigned to cover 20 consecutive Super Bowls and included having my contributions honored at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I would be remiss if I didn’t express appreciation to my incredible colleagues and to the players, coaches and other NFL team members who trusted me with their unique insight when covering their games or breaking news. I’ve created some incredible lifelong memories. My gratitude to all who have been in the audience, and I remain thankful to have been provided the most coveted platform in broadcast journalism.”

Werder made it clear he is not retiring or looking to stop covering the NFL, saying, “While this marks the end of my partnership with ESPN, I expect to continue working because, as so many studio hosts have proclaimed—and I still devoutly believe—’Ed Werder has more.’”

Werder was laid off by the company back in 2017 but returned in 2019 to be the bureau reporter for the Dallas market. Werder also hosts The Doomsday Podcast with Matt Mosley with weekly Dallas Cowboys coverage.

ESPN released a statement about Werder’s departure. “Ed Werder has been a mainstay on ESPN’s NFL coverage for more than 25 seasons. He has elevated our programs, including Sunday NFL Countdown, and the multiple platforms he’s contributed to while reporting at signature games, Super Bowls, and nearly all league events. His journalistic instincts and relationships have benefitted fans throughout the years. We thank Ed for everything he contributed and wish him success in the future.”

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Celtics-Pacers Game 1 of NBA Eastern Conference Finals Averages 6.43 Million Across ESPN, ESPN2

This marks the most-watched NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 on any network since 2018.

Barrett Sports Media

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NBA on ESPN – NYC Sign

The first game of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night averaged 6.43 million viewers across the traditional broadcast on ESPN and alternate presentation on ESPN2, according to Nielsen Media Research. This marks the most-watched NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 on any network since 2018 when the Celtics faced LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The traditional broadcast on ESPN featuring the lead announcing team of Mike Breen, Doris Burke, JJ Redick and Lisa Salters averaged 6.28 million viewers, while NBA Unplugged with Kevin Hart averaged 151,000 viewers on ESPN2. Guests included in the alternate presentation, which is a collaboration between ESPN, Hartbeat and Omaha Productions, included Joel McHale, DeMarcus Cousins, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Lou Williams.

The Game 1 broadcast was the most-watched program of the day on all of television and also finished first in key adult and male demographics. The broadcast was up 8% from the comparable game between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics last year on TNT, which averaged 5.95 million according to Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch. Moreover, the contest is up 6% from the 6.07 million average audience for the Game 1 matchup between the Pacers and Celtics in the 2022 season on ESPN.

The 6.43 million viewership average is the third-largest audience within the NBA Playoffs, both being surpassed by Game 7 broadcasts on Sunday. ESPN broadcast the New York Knicks matchup against the Indiana Pacers that averaged 6.45 million viewers, while TNT presented the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets game that averaged 8.41 million viewers.

With young, dynamic stars including Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner, the Pacers have been a draw on national television this year. The team played in the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament Final against the Los Angeles Lakers and averaged 4.58 million viewers on ABC and ESPN2, the second-most watched game of the regular season.

For the first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs, games averaged 4.03 million viewers on ESPN, ABC, TNT and truTV, a metric that is down 12% from last year. The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC) has reportedly reached a framework for a new deal with the NBA that is in the process of being formalized, along with NBCUniversal and Amazon. Warner Bros. Discovery, the incumbent holding the “B” package and broadcasting NBA games within its associated divisions since the 1984-85 season, reportedly has the ability to match rights; however, there is ambiguity surrounding what would constitute meeting such criteria.

The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Discovery, along with the FOX Corporation, are preparing to launch a joint streaming venture in the fall, Venu Sports, pending regulatory approval. Moreover, The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Discovery will introduce a bundle for Disney+, Hulu and Max over the summer and recently reached a deal to allow TNT Sports to sublicense select College Football Playoff games from ESPN.

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ESPN Reaches 5-Year Deal to Sublicense College Football Playoff Games to TNT Sports

“We’re confident in the reach and promotion that this new agreement will provide as we enter the new, expanded playoff era.”

Barrett Sports Media

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ESPN; TNT; College Football Playoff
Courtesy: The Walt Disney Company; College Football Playoff; Warner Bros. Discovery

ESPN and TNT Sports have reached a five-year agreement that will result in TNT Sports sublicensing select College Football Playoff games from ESPN. TNT Sports will broadcast two first-round College Football Playoff games during the 2024 and 2025 seasons, along with an additional two quarterfinal games beginning with the 2026 season and ending in the 2028 campaign. These games will be primarily presented on TNT along with several other distribution platforms under the company’s portfolio. ESPN will present all other College Football Playoff games on its networks, which includes the CFP National Championship Game, in addition to managing the sponsorship program for presenting the College Football Playoff.

“We’re delighted to reach this agreement with ESPN, providing TNT Sports the opportunity to showcase these College Football Playoff games on our platforms for years to come,” Luis Silberwasser, chairman and chief executive officer of TNT Sports, said in a statement. “TNT Sports aims to delight fans and drive maximum reach and engagement for these marquee games.”

Earlier in the year, ESPN and the College Football Playoff agreed to a six-year contract to retain the network as the rightsholder of the event through the 2031-32 season. ESPN has been the broadcast home of the College Football Playoff since 2015 and is set to present the expanded format for the postseason tournament containing 12 teams beginning in the 2024-25 season. The network has expanded its package of games in the final two years of the deal that will include all four of the new first-round games in addition to the quarterfinals, semifinals and CFP National Championship Game.

“ESPN is pleased to sublicense to TNT Sports a select number of early round games of the College Football Playoff, an event we’ve helped to grow – alongside the CFP – into one of the preeminent championships,” Rosalyn Durant, executive vice president of programming and acquisitions at ESPN, said in a statement. “We’re confident in the reach and promotion that this new agreement will provide as we enter the new, expanded playoff era.”

“It is exciting to add TNT Sports, another highly respected broadcaster, to the College Football Playoff family,” Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, said in a statement. “Sports fans across the country are intimately familiar with their work across a wide variety of sports properties over the past two decades, and we look forward to seeing what new and innovative ideas they bring to the promotion and delivery of these games.”

The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Discovery, along with FOX Corporation, are part of the Venu Sports joint streaming venture that is expected to be released this fall. This offering will provide sports fans with a direct-to-consumer outlet wherein they will be able to subscribe and watch marquee sporting events and other programming on networks across the three companies. Pricing and a launch date have yet to be announced for the platform, the latter of which is “conditional on receiving regulatory approval,” according to the home page of the website. Both The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Discovery will also introduce a streaming bundle this summer that implements Disney+, Hulu and Max.

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