Top sports media stories in 2012: Spiraling rights fees, ratings; ESPN cleans up; Mixed opening for NBC Sports Net

From my perspective, the biggest sports media story in 2012 occurred on April 16. That’s when went live. Then again, I’m biased.

There has been plenty of other sports media news in 2012. Here’s a look:

Infinity: While talking about the outrageous rights fees for sports the other day, Ed Goren, the former top production man at Fox Sports, noted that Fox paid $400 million for its first four-year deal with the NFL in 1994.

“Remember when everyone thought that was out of sight?” Goren said. “Now it’s nothing.”

Indeed, $400 million barely would get you the NFL preseason in today’s market.

The lavish spending continued in 2012. Baseball was the biggest winner, with ESPN, Turner, Fox all re-upping with a new megadeal. As a result, Bud Selig and friends will more than double their annual haul from $750 million to $1.55 billion when the new contract kicks in.

Other sports also enjoyed the money grab with new expensive contracts. There seems to be no end how much the networks, especially ESPN, will pay in rights fees. Even the European Premier League went to NBC for $250 million over three years. Keep in mind, this is for a league not based in the United States and for a sport most Americans don’t care about.

Why the sports lust by the networks? See the next installment.

Soaring ratings: In a continuing splintered TV marketplace, ratings continue to rise for sports (with the exception of baseball: more on that below). Sunday Night Football on NBC is shooting for its second straight season as the top-ranked show in primetime. The Summer Olympics were the most-viewed event of all time and the NFL’s overall numbers are ridiculous. Elsewhere, there were ratings increases for the NCAA basketball tournament, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup playoffs, and more down the line.

Sports remains the last bastion of true reality television. And you have to watch it live. It’s not the same on DVR.

If sports fans keep watching, the networks will keep paying. It’s that simple.

ESPN: President John Skipper spent like crazy with deals for baseball, the new college football playoff, Big Ten, ACC, SEC, etc. Guess you can do that when your network is valued at $40 billion. Skipper secured crucial programming for the long haul, and even better, shut out his upstart competitors.

NBC Sports Network, Year 1: Some things worked; others not so much. The Stanley Cup playoffs did solid numbers, as fans loved the multi-platform approach, and the Summer Olympics had viewers seeking out the network.

However, any momentum has been dulled considerably with the NHL lockout. Speaking of games, NBC Sports Network couldn’t get in the game for baseball or make deals with the major college conference for much needed live sports programming. The Big East still is out there. What’s left of it.

NBC Sports Network remains a work in progress, but it is difficult to see how far it can go without significant games.

Gold medal: NBC did record ratings, exceeding expectations for the Olympics in London. However, the complaints about the tape delay approach reached new heights. It all is so antiquated in today’s modern media age.

It seems NBC is listening.

“We evaluate our business models all the time, and seek the best ways to satisfy the majority of viewers, as well as advertisers, and our affiliate stations,” said NBC Sports president Mark Lazarus. “We have to wait for the data from these Games to come in, and then we’ll make our plans accordingly.”

Prediction: Everything will be available live on your TV for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Next train out of Bristol: ESPN saw some big name personalities walk out the door: Michelle Beadle, Erin Andrews, Jim Rome. So much was made of their departures that the ESPN PR crew started to issue press releases for routine contract renewals, as if to say, “Hey, somebody likes it here.”

Skipper didn’t seem upset about the defections: “Getting excited about people leaving is very overrated — whether it be executives or on-air. Mostly it gives somebody else a chance to shine. I can’t think of a single instance where losing a talent has been significantly debilitating to a specific program. I don’t think we’ve ever canceled a program because we couldn’t find somebody to do it.”

One big name who stayed: Scott Van Pelt.

World Series blues: While other sports showcases continue to go up, the World Series declined again. Sure, another four-game sweep didn’t help. But there’s also another element in play. For whatever reason, the World Series doesn’t seem to matter as much as it used to. Baseball, unlike the other sports, has gotten extremely provincial. If your team isn’t playing, you’re not interested, or as interested.

Penn State: The biggest sports story of the year saw premature reports of Joe Paterno’s death and the Big Ten Network taking hits for not covering the NCAA press conference that announced the unprecedented sanctions. On the plus side, Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Sara Ganim won the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the scandal.

Musical chairs: Yet another wave of conference realignment. Maryland and Rutgers in the Big Ten? Louisville in the ACC? All in the name of maximizing TV revenue.

Poor UConn. The Huskies look like the little kid standing while the others have their chairs.

Gruden: ESPN went to a two-man booth for Monday Night Football, elevating the status of Jon Gruden. It resulted in much fascination for the former coach, who could keep that post for the next 10-15 years if he wants. A big if considering he could be on the sidelines in 2013.

Finally tuned in: After oh so many years, Time Warner cable finally agreed to a deal to carry the NFL Network. As a result, New Yorkers finally were introduced to a wonderful man named Scott Hanson and NFL RedZone.

Tebow mania: Yeah, ESPN went a bit overboard. The network took more hits for its coverage than Tebow did playing quarterback for the Jets.














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