Sports Business Journal: “Making your Media Rights More Valuable” By Ed Desser and John Kosner
Updated: May 7, 2018
NBA Commissioner David Stern (our boss for 23/8 years) often said that no one is going to treat you as well as you treat yourself. The NBA had to be the best property it could possibly be, not rely solely on its media partners to grow audience and value. That attitude helped propel the league’s ascension to its current place in the sports hierarchy.
Naturally, everyone wants a bigger media deal, but with the cross-currents of changing media consumption patterns and pay TV subscriber declines, this isn’t automatic. A sports enterprise must organize itself to continually grow, well in advance of rights negotiations, in order to capture more rights value. Here are some tips to consider designed to build product value in today’s multimedia marketplace:
• Make yourself smarter. Understand how the market sees you, warts and all. Talk with media, advertising and business contacts outside your “bubble.” “Google” yourself to see what the uninitiated see in search results. Track the sentiment on your property on Twitter. Review the published research on sports properties and audiences.
• Systematically Gather Data (beyond TV ratings) which provide insight into the underlying popularity and growth of your product, such as stream views, unique visitors daily & monthly, “likes.” These digital metrics demonstrate the value of your property, and provide network partners with added evidence of the prudence of investing in you. Also quantify the stats for your sport’s collective players, coaches, personalities, teams on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube . The reach can be staggering. Use that data to inform your own decision-making.
• Develop a database of fans by collecting e-mails for a newsletter and social media “likes/followers/subscribers” to indicate the strength of your property, and leverage to increase participation and audience.
• Dedicate staff to your media relationship. David often said, someone that understands the partners’ business needs should be “losing sleep” thinking of ways to service and improve the relationship (we did). Organize to get your people invested in the success of the partnership.
• Annual or quarterly meetings with your media partner(s) can provide a useful forum to surface issues before they become problems, and to work together to increase the value of your property and relationships. Senior and operational staff from each should participate. Immediate post-season meetings are ideal review/preview opportunities.
• Promotion is not just the province of networks. Properties can use their own assets to drive viewership, which increases popularity, ratings and media value for networks and distributors. This also better serves your fans; ultimately higher viewership translates into bigger rights fees.
• Harness controlled inventory in local game telecasts, in-venue videoboards, websites, apps, radio and podcasts, to build TV audience and enjoyment. Getting current fans to watch more is the lowest-hanging fruit.
• Advertising your major events, using well-targeted paid media, can increase consumption and lead to greater ultimate media value ROI.
• Sponsor development enlarges the pool of advertisers to buy into your sport, an implicit signal of value of association to fans, other sponsors and networks’ willingness to invest. The more sponsors you have, with budgets earmarked to support your media relationship, the greater the network will value your rights.
• Strategic Scheduling of event telecasts beyond the usual pattern can grow value. Look for alternate dates and times, consider stunts, and search for attractive lead-in windows.
• Program Development of new concepts and shows help to promote the core event and familiarize the casual audience with your athletes. Roone Aldridge made famous the “up close and personal” approach of sports storytelling (people care about people), which will never go out of style. Also utilize the greats of the game and celebrities to help tell your story.
• A Content Factory operated by your property can efficiently generate an ongoing stream of highlights and feature material for a streaming platform, website, social media posts, and for network partner telecasts with tight production budgets (more open than ever to making use of high quality programming provided by the subject entity), as MLS has provided to ESPN/Fox/Univision.
• Improving the event experience better serves existing fans, and indirectly improves the atmospherics of game telecasts. The bigger and better the event feel, the more exciting on TV.
• Quality Control matters. Don’t wait for your media partner to complain about lighting, PA or game presentation. Objectively look at how your events appear on TV, and proactively improve wherever you can, without being asked. Not only will this improve the product, but also your media reputation. The NBA has done this by tightening the length of its games.
• Think differently about Millennials, who have a unique interest, and want new ways to participate. Are there different kinds of highlights you can produce (such as vertical orientation) or new fantasy or video games that would especially appeal to them, as the next generation of fans? The NBA uses a special tighter camera just for live action and highlights viewed on phones.
• Social Media Participation by your teams, athletes, coaches, broadcast talent, and administrators on a sustained basis is essential. No longer are publishing of media guides or post-event press conferences sufficient. New efforts aimed at providing wide access to new areas are necessary.
• Serve new audiences through aggressive outreach and a dedicated strategy. Ratings falling are the new normal, . Fans have more options, so you can’t assume that they will continue showing up in the future without catering/outreach. You must expand the base (e.g., younger fans, women, ethnic audiences, etc.) just to stay even. For example, the NHRA permits kids under 10 to attend events for free with an adult. Never underestimate the appeal of getting your youngest fans onto the playing surface, meeting your athletes, getting them hooked early.
These are just examples of some of the ways you can grow the value of your media rights in anticipation of the next negotiation. Don’t wait until the exclusive negotiation period to engage with your partner(s) and focus on your future business. Making the commitment now will pay dividends.
Ed Desser is President of Desser Media (www.desser.tv), a sports media consultant, with 40 years of industry experience. For the past 20 years, John Kosner was the senior digital media executive at ESPN, and is now President of Kosner Media (@jkosner). The two worked together running the NBA’s media business during the 80’s and 90’s.