Welcome to another edition of Ad Age Sports Media Brief, a weekly roundup of news from every zone of the sports media spray chart, including the latest on broadcast/cable/streaming, sponsorships, endorsements, gambling and tech.
They can Dish Network it out, but they can take it?
In the latest pay-TV carriage kerfuffle, Dish Network and Sling TV on Thursday dropped Fox’s owned-and-operated broadcast stations in 17 media markets, a blackout that prevented tens of thousands of football fans in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Washington, D.C., Houston, San Francisco and Atlanta from watching the Eagles-Packers game. Those aforementioned cities represent nine of the nation’s 10 largest DMAs; Boston, whose local Fox affiliate is owned by Cox Media Group, was the only top 10 market to be spared the ravages of the Dish drop.
As first reported by Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand, Dish also dropped the Fox cable nets FS1, FS2, Big Ten Network and Fox Deportes. While the prospect of losing even more subscribers led Dish rival DirecTV to come to heel in its recent carriage beef with CBS, Dish has never been one to back down from a scuffle—even if it means alienating hordes of NFL and college football fans.
In a statement, Fox noted that “Dish/Sling is at it again, choosing to drop leading programming as a negotiating tactic regardless of the impact on its own customers.” Fox went on to claim that Dish decided to drop its networks “in an effort to coerce us to agree to outrageous demands.”
Dish in turn said Fox was charging a “double-digit percentage rate increase for continued carriage of its local channels,” before characterizing the programmer’s proposed rate hikes as “profoundly anti-consumer.” The satellite TV provider also charged Fox with pulling its channels, rather than the other way around, a claim that Fox says is entirely false. In a letter sent to Sling TV Group President Warren Schlichting, a Fox lawyer wrote, “Fox never de-authorized its receivers for Dish and is continuing to transmit its signals to Dish. Indeed, Dish is the party solely responsible for any ‘blackout’ of Fox’s channels.”
While consumers once again are presented with the stinky end of the proverbial stick, Fox last night ran a pair of call-to-action promos that served as a reminder that a carrier can never hope to win a battle for hearts and minds. In one spot, a patriarch not only discovers that “Dish took away our NFL and college football games on Fox,” but soon learns that unseen goons allegedly in the company’s employ somehow managed to make off with his smartphone and laptop. The second spot suggests that the “Dish Took It” tag line applies to the stymied customer’s wife, who appears to have been spirited away at the very moment the fed-up sports fan decides to switch providers.
The “Dish Took It” promos aired during Fox’s premiere broadcast of “Thursday Night Football,” and while untold numbers of Dish subs were prevented from watching the Eagles-Packers nail-biter, the ratings were solid. The game averaged a 12.6 overnight rating in Nielsen’s 56 metered markets, up 18 percent versus last season’s Vikings-Rams opener (10.7). That game went on to average 14.4 million viewers and an 8.9 household rating.
In addition to Thursday’s TV blitz, Fox took out a full-page ad in Friday’s Wall Street Journal under the banner “Dish Took Your Favorite Fox Sports Away.” The ad copy includes a shareable hashtag, a toll-free telephone number and a URL that leads to a site designed to help Dish subs find an alternate provider in their immediate area.
Through Week 3 of the 2019 NFL season, TV ratings in all combined windows, regional and national, are up 3 percent year-over-year, with an average draw of 15.8 million viewers and a 9.2 household rating. The late national window shared by Fox and CBS remains TV’s biggest draw, averaging 23.2 million viewers and a 13.2 rating, good for a year-to-year increase of 5 percent. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” deliveries are steady at 20.1 million viewers and an 11.7 rating, while the Sunday afternoon regional windows on Fox and CBS are up 7 percent to 15.3 million/8.9. ESPN’s revamped “Monday Night Football” package is up 6 percent to 11.5 million/6.9. To date, the only outlet to experience ratings shrinkage is NFL Network; over the course of its two primetime Thursday telecasts, the cable channel is down 16 percent to 6.48 million/4.0.
Our get-the-Led-out subheading here may not work (it’s pronounced “DA-Zone,” not “Day’s Inn”). But everything else about the upstart streaming service seems to be firing on all cylinders. As we reported days ago, DAZN will roll out its new fall marketing campaign (“It’s Fight Season on DAZN”) with a 60-second buy in NBC’s Sept. 29 “Sunday Night Football” broadcast. Set to air just six days before the IBF middleweight title bout between Gennadiy Golovkin and Sergiy Derevyanchenko, the launch of the autumnal offensive coincides with a can’t-miss Cowboys-Saints showdown on NBC. (As NBC pointed out a few days ago, the Cowboys have topped the 20 million viewer mark in no fewer than 25 “SNF” appearances. Back in August, we predicted that this NFC air war would scare up 22.7 million viewers, although that forecast was made with the assumption that Drew Brees would be under center for the Saints.)
Designed to convert fight fans into DAZN subscribers, the fall campaign will feature 30-, 15- and six-second versions of the initial two-minute spot. In addition to the “Sunday Night Football” buy—on the heels of Sunday night’s debut, the “Fight Season” promo is slated to air in NBC’s four subsequent NFL broadcasts—DAZN also has invested in the network’s upcoming Notre Dame college football slate as well as its English Premier League broadcasts.
Going with the Flo
Progressive has signed on as the presenting sponsor of Fox’s two-hour wrestling showcase, “Friday Night SmackDown,” which bows Friday, Oct. 4. The program returns to the broadcast airwaves after nearly a decade on the NBCUniversal Cable roster.
As we reported earlier this week, the Progressive deal was hashed out by Fox Sports executive VP, sports sales Seth Winter, whose affiliation with Vince McMahon’s wrasslin’ juggernaut stretches back to the 1980s, when Winter sold inventory in the then-WWF’s “Championship Wrestling” show on WOR-TV in New York.
Other key brands that will be involved in next week’s “SmackDown” launch include Pizza Hut, Boost Mobile, Snickers and Paramount, which drops the Will Smith sci-fi thriller “Gemini Man” on Oct. 11. Winter says that while Fox will reduce its Friday night commercial load by somewhere “in the 10-to-20-percent range,” the network has no plans to deploy its double-box ad format in the show.
♫ “Come with me, my love, to the sea, the sea of blood” ♪
Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley on Thursday told an Advertising Week crowd that the company is exploring a number of initiatives designed to improve both the viewing and advertising environments for its regional sports networks. Among the wrinkles that Ripley believes will be a boon to Sinclair’s local TV business is the introduction of granular sports-gambling data that will allow for a more engaging experience for sports fans of all stripes.
As part of a Department of Justice-mandated selloff, Sinclair recently purchased the Fox-branded RSNs from Disney for $9.6 billion and bought a 20 percent stake in the Yankees-Nets home channel, YES Network for another $3.5 billion.
In an interview with NBC News’ Claire Atkinson that published that same morning, Ripley said that legalized gambling “will add interactivity for the younger generation, and it will add skin in the game, which always makes people focus more.” Ripley noted that the growth of the sports book business also will beget a new advertising category that didn’t exist before, one that could bring in as much as “$1 billion” in ad sales revenue. “That’s new money coming in to buy inventory on the RSNs that didn’t exist before,” Ripley said.
Ripley also spoke with Atkinson about a plan to book more political advertising on the Sinclair RSNs. The CEO went on to present Atkinson with a gift-wrapped pull quote when he opined that the streaming wars amounted to nothing less than “a sea of blood.” “It’s going to be losses for many years to come for many of those companies who are going to be engaged in a major share battle,” Ripley said, adding that Sinclair’s investment in sports and local news would go a long way toward keeping the company from drowning in that crimson sea.
Hips don’t lie
Jay-Z’s Roc Nation has booked Jennifer Lopez and Shakira to perform at the Super Bowl LIV halftime show at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium on Feb. 2. As Ad Age’s E.J. Schultz reports, presenting sponsor Pepsi “announced the lineup Thursday, along with Roc Nation, which is overseeing the show as part of a new deal it signed with the National Football League in August.”
In a statement Thursday, J-Lo gushed, “Ever since I saw Diana Ross fly off into the sky at the [Super Bowl XXX] halftime show, I dreamed of performing at the Super Bowl.” The singer/actress/entrepreneur went on to add that the opportunity was made even more special not only by virtue of the fact that this year marks the NFL’s centennial, but because “I am performing with a fellow Latina. I can’t wait to show what us girls can do on the world’s biggest stage.”
As a capital of the Latin-American music business, Miami is seen as a perfect venue to feature the talents of these two artists, who will follow in the footsteps of three-time Super Bowl guest Gloria Estefan.
Don’t bet on it
While the NFL still hasn’t decided to go all-in on the gambling craze that’s been sweeping the nation’s other leading sports leagues, a new deal with DraftKings suggests the Shield is willing to at least dip a toe in the wagering waters. As Ad Age’s George Slefo reports, the pact that makes DraftKings the NFL’s “first-ever official daily fantasy partner,” but prohibits the company from using its affiliation with the league to market the sports-gambling side of its business. Instead, the agreement allows DraftKings to use the league’s branding in its marketing campaigns, which in turn might indirectly help boost DraftKings’ growing sportsbook business by serving to keep the brand front-of-mind among bettors as legalized gambling continues to gain traction across the U.S. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Dak feels like chicken tonight
It may not have been as pivotal a display of chill as Joe Montana’s legendary “Hey, that’s John Candy!” moment (trailing 16-13 with 3:20 left in Super Bowl XXIII, the 49ers quarterback momentarily paused his game-winning drive by alerting teammates of the presence of the “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” star in the stands). But Dak Prescott’s in-game enthusiasm for Wendy’s spicy chicken nuggets proved that star athletes occupy a different headspace than the rest of us. As captured by NFL films, the Cowboy’s star QB last Sunday called a play in the huddle before exclaiming, “Oh, spicy nuggets are back. I might have to stop on the way home.” Dallas was in the process of beating the Miami Dolphins by a score of 31-6, so Prescott likely could have rattled off the entire Wendy’s menu (breakfast sandwiches included) without ever being in danger of losing his focus.
Fifty shades of gray
The Brooklyn Nets unveiled a new color scheme for its home court, taking the wraps off an industrial-gray floor designed to evoke blacktop courts and the not-so-mean streets around the Barclay Center. According to ESPN’s Zack Lowe, while the NBA approved the new look, it took some trial-and-error to arrive at a shade that would be optimal for the TNT, ESPN and ABC TV cameras. The twin-tone color scheme and new typographical elements meant to evoke the design of the New York subway system can be examined here well in advance of the Nets’ Oct. 23 home opener.