Notes from around the sporting world as it wakes, ever so slightly, from its slumber and more broadcasts start airing …
More Big Sports Ratings
NASCAR returned this weekend to a 38% jump in ratings from their last race in March, and scoring a three-year ratings high:
In the golf world, the PGA put on a four-player skins match on Sunday, which brought in 2.35 million viewers, 16% more than their last comparable event. The viewership was comparable to a regular PGA Tour event from the second quarter of last year, but up 44% among the 25-54 age group.
Certainly the pause in sports and the unorthodox ways they are resuming are doing very little to dampen interest in watching live sports right now.
And also in sports documentaries, as ‘The Last Dance’ continued to obliterate ESPN’s previous documentary ratings records with its concluding airings staying right up there:
"The Last Dance's," uh, last dance was as big as the others: 5.65 million viewers Sunday, and a series average of … 5.65 million same-day. ESPN says ep 1 is up to 15M across platforms. https://t.co/zyTRwIQ39g— Rick Porter (@rickporter) May 18, 2020
Lack of Fans for Broadcasts
We’ve all accepted that if games are going to proceed any time soon in the United States, they will be entirely fan-free affairs. For the most part, we’ve thought about the potential upsides in such a setup – the things the broadcast can do to have a little more fun, given the circumstances – but I was interested to see reactions out of Germany, where the first major pro sports league has resumed.
To my surprise, there have been complaints about the sterile nature of the initial Bundesliga broadcasts without fans in attendance, though the ratings were a smash (ESPN):
Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge predicted one billion total TV viewers for the weekend. That might be impossible to prove one way or another, but domestic broadcaster Sky Deutschland was happy about a ratings record, with over six million Germans watching the Saturday afternoon matches that included the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 044.
It was a number to quiet those who hoped fans would boycott the broadcast of spectator-free games, although the eerie in-stadium silence, punctuated only by players and coaches shouting and referees’ whistles, certainly made for an underwhelming TV experience and prompted some observers to call for the league to pipe in crowd noise.
Such a move would not appease everyone and the fact is that, while the reasons for caution might be understandable, many season-ticket holders and match-going supporters remain averse to these so-called Geisterspiele (ghost games).
“It is apparently necessary for economic reasons,” Bayern supporter Christian Nandelstadt told ESPN. “If that’s the case, I’m fine with it. But the clubs should not act as if they do every fan a favour.” ….
“I was skeptical before the match, and I remain skeptical afterward,” Dortmund fan Nicolas Diekmann said. “Soccer without fans inside the stadium is not the same. It doesn’t feel like a competition.”
I don’t think any of that is a reason not to play the games if you can – people, clearly, will still watch and enjoy what’s available – but I do think it’s a reminder that playing games without fans in attendance will impact the TV-viewing experience. It’ll probably feel “less.”
The Regional Cost of Failing to Deliver Games
We’ve been waiting on a report like this for a while, so a big kudos to the Sports Business Journal for culling (via MLB’s financial presentation) what happens to most RSN contracts when teams fail to deliver X number of live games. Until now, we could only speculate on how the financial side of things would be sorted out between teams and their broadcasters.
Per SBJ, teams are contractually obligated to deliver between 140 and 150 games (national broadcasts get the rest). If they fall below the lower threshold (presumably different for different RSNs), then the RSN pays ONLY for the games it actually receives.
In other words, the rights fees paid to teams from RSNs are NOT locked in regardless of games played. Every game that isn’t played this year will cost a team an average of $500,000 in lost revenue. This is what we were expecting to be the case, and now we know.
Sinclair and Marquee
It’s surprising to me that a recent spike in Sinclair’s stock price is being attributed by some to Crane Kenney’s comments about an expected carriage deal for Marquee with Comcast when baseball returns. Setting aside legitimate concerns about baseball actually being able to return (that’s still TBD), there’s the fact that there is faaaaar more money for Sinclair tied up in its Comcast negotiations for its huge portfolio of FOX RSNs, which are due around August.
Kenney’s comments, which were similar to the optimism he’s expressed all along anyway, seemingly shouldn’t carry the day with respect to Sinclair’s overall RSN outlook. So, then, I suspect there’s more going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about (broader confidence that sports will indeed return soon? increasing confidence that Comcast is going to have to pony up to keep all the RSNs?).
In any case, for better or worse, Sinclair’s ability to keep its head above water can only help as they steer the Marquee carriage negotiations with Comcast, DISH, and YouTube TV. Recall, it wasn’t so long ago that they gave us reason to wonder if they might be forced to take whatever deals they could get, even if they weren’t particularly advantageous to the Cubs.