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Big Ten Network Elevating Digital Game During Conference Tournament

The Big Ten Network will leverage its contributor network to increase social content during this weekend’s Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.

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Photo Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

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The Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament starts Wednesday in Chicago and digital will be the name of the game. It’s the second year BTN has exclusive rights to the first 10 games of the tournament, and Jordan Maleh, BTN senior director of digital marketing and communications, wants to make sure the network is optimizing its reach, not only for those with access to the Big Ten Network but non-viewers, too.

“Live events are our core business and we’re thinking year-over-year, how do we adapt to digital?” Maleh said. “In terms of elevating and impact, the plate has become a little more full. So from our end, it’s knowing how we complement the events and games and understand how to maximize our rights.”

BTN has long featured school-specific social handles to push school-specific content and while those follower counts are lower than the mother ship BTN accounts, the engagement is increased because of how rapid school fan bases can be, Maleh said.

That’s especially true when the social content leverages the tournament broadcast rights.

READ MORE: Pac-12 Network Grows Viewership Thanks to Cross-Platform Integration

BTN uses third-party editing company WSC to cut and post highlights across social media. Those highlights are sponsored by State Farm, while Gatorade-sponsored vignettes of iconic Big Ten Tournament moments will be pushed across the channels. All the while, on-air talent from BTN will be synced with the Opendorse platform and push video from their personal handles.

But the most ambitious part of the digital strategy revolves around BTN’s multiplatform video/producer, or MVPE program, which will feature seven videographers creating custom content for each of the 14 school-specific accounts.

“From our end, a unique angle different from other networks is the content we break down to school-specific,” he said. “That’s where you get every highlight and every piece of content for that school. That’s where you see Tom Izzo and Cassius Winston walking into United Center or celebrate if they cut down the net.”

MVPE began last year with three pilot schools — Michigan State University, Penn State University and University of Minnesota — to best maximize the network’s rights and provide more comprehensive digital content. The MVPE program was partly modeled after the NFL’s Live Content Correspondents program but adjusted for BTN’s school campus model. The network embeds the freelancer with the athletic department and provides equipment, ranging from laptops and cameras to GoPros to capture exclusive content.

“From our end, we never had a presence onsite,” Maleh said. “We want to make mobile-first content as fast and the most efficient we can. This is day of, hour of and minutes after.”

It’s worked, in a big way: This year, the program expanded to include seven total schools to prove its sustainability and profitability, with the intent to eventually cover all 14 schools. According to Maleh, MVPE coverage included approximately 55 percent football and men’s basketball and 45 percent Olympic sports.

“That’s a huge value add for the schools,” he said. “A lot of departments might not have the bandwidth to cover, so that’s where we come into play.”

The Big Ten Tournament will be a departure for the program as the seven correspondents are all in Chicago producing for each Big Ten school which will expand the depth of digital coverage of the tournament, Maleh said.

The Big Ten Tournament MVPE content will be presented by Yahoo! Sports, and Maleh is excited about the program’s future. The first year, it generated 4 million video views. This year, that number soared to 26 million. The 2,987 social posts across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter generated more than 97 million impressions. Between impressions and views, sponsorship buy-in can ultimately help the model remain sustainable, Maleh said.

“We want to be a scalable content consumption model,” he said. “There is growth, extreme growth, and with our future goal of all 14 schools, that’s scalable and that’s an interest for us.”

READ MORE: How the NFL LCC Program Brings Fans ‘As Close As They Can Get’

Maleh hopes the program is something other conference networks might model initiatives on, continuing the network’s innovation pattern. It would only be natural, given the Big Ten Network’s legacy as a pioneering brand on television.

“We take pride in being the first collegiate conference network,” he said.  “As a benchmark, we do compare against the landscape of other conference networks, but from an innovation standpoint, we like to be the first network to do X.

“We like to be first in the space. We have been and hope to continue to be.”

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Golf Digest Back Charging For Growth With New Owner

Golf Digest is set to embark on its third ownership transition in its nearly 70 years of operation and all signs point to growth under new owners.

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Photo Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Discovery, Inc. continues its drive into golf with the acquisition of Golf Digest.

Discovery had already entered the golf space, attaining exclusive rights deals outside the U.S. for the PGA Tour, European Tour and Ladies European Tour. GOLFTV, an international streaming service launched by Discovery this past New Year’s Day, is in year one of a 12-year, $2.4 billion deal carrying the PGA Tour’s TV and streaming rights outside the U.S. Discovery also has global content deals with Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari, using GOLFTV as its platform.

The bullish approach follows the trend of niche content in today’s media landscape. Discovery knows this firsthand with Food Network and MotorTrend. In sports, Discovery has had success with Eurosport and realizes sport fans crave consistent coverage.

READ MORE: The Caddie Network Partnership With Golf Digest Shows Power of Niche Platforms

“We’re looking to evolve our business and investing in content and genres that work for traditional and digital channels,” says Alex Kaplan, Discovery Golf president and general manager. “We learned from our experience with Eurosport Player, it’s very difficult to build an engaged fanbase when we offer multi-sport content.

“Let’s go deep into a specific vertical. Golf rights were available in an expansive way, and it’s not just compelling to watch, but fans play it, buy it, travel for it. It’s an ecosystem that was particularly compelling.”

The acquisition includes all brands under the Golf Digest brand, including Golf World, Golf Digest Schools and The Loop. According to the press release, Golf Digest attracts 4.8 million monthly readers and 60 million monthly video views. That’s along with its 2.2 million social followers.

This is Golf Digest’s third transition of ownership in its nearly 70 years of operation. All three have brought the media company different advantages, says Golf Digest editor Jerry Tarde, who’s been with the company for 42 years.

Tarde said The New York Times, which acquired the magazine in 1969, brought the basics and values of journalism, while Conde Nast, the owner since 2001, brought design, art and sophistication to the brand. Now, Tarde believes Discovery will bring growth.

Tarde, along with being editor-in-chief, gains a new title and role: Discovery Golf global head of strategy and content.

“This is an organization we’re at the heart of, in terms of developing sports and connecting with a high-value audience that’s passionate about the subject,” Tarde says. “This is the most exciting thing to happen to Golf Digest since it was founded in 1950. It lights a fire under us and gives us an opportunity to improve and expand U.S. coverage.

“We’ll also be able to extend it worldwide to more than 200 countries.”

On the other side of the equation, the acquisition gives Discovery a golf presence in the U.S. Kaplan said Discovery has been collecting its golf assets and knew an editorial vertical would be crucial, but it could take years to build. The Golf Digest acquisition allows Discovery to acquire that piece with one check.

“Our offering to golf fans and golf advertisers is now that of a global platform,” Kaplan says. “We can bring an aggregated golf audience anywhere in the world.”

READ MORE: GolfPass Could Set Standard in 21st-Century Sports Media

With a strong strategy in place, it will be business as usual for the time being, Tarde says, but there will be talk of new ideas and potential investments. Discovery will retain Golf Digest staff, continue the U.S. monthly print product and acquire global licenses for editions 70 countries.

“We’ve got a great team that’s been underutilized, really,” Tarde said. “Because of the way the publishing economy has been treated, our business has been in retreat. That’s now the way I spent my first 30 years. We were charging.

“This is the exciting part, we’re back on the charge.”

Like Tiger Woods on the prowl on Sunday.

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Inside the XFL’s New TV Deals

With nine months to go until its first game, the XFL has locked in its lineup of broadcast partners for all 43 regular season games.

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Photo Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

With nine months to go until its first game, the XFL has locked in its lineup of broadcast partners.

The deals will see all 43 games appear on either broadcast or cable TV and will see them divided up between ABC, Fox, ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2.

What do you need to know?

1. – 24 of the XFL’s 43 games to be on broadcast TV (13 on ABC; 11 on Fox)

2. – According to Joe Flint of the WSJ, the deals are for three years, but no cash is changing hands.

3. – As part of the deals, the broadcast partners will cover the production costs of the games, which John Ourand notes will run $400,000 per game.

4. – Disney and Fox will keep all the television advertising inventory for the games while the XFL will handle the selling of sponsorships in the venues, according to Flint.

Will we see a repeat of 2001? 

The XFL’s reboot will come 19 years after McMahon and company attempted to make spring football a thing. Like the AAF this year, the league started with a promising opening night and then sputtered to the end. By the end of its first and only season, the XFL saw its ratings fall from a 9.5 to a 1.5 at their lowest point, according to OSW Review.

While the first time around may have not gone as planned, executives from all sides of the table are enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“The effort Vince is throwing behind it with his own personal capital and the combination of Fox and Disney platforms give us the best chance to make spring football work.” – ESPN programming chief Burke Magnus to Joe Flint of the WSJ.

Rolling into upfronts…

The announcement of the deals couldn’t have come at a more strategic time for all parties involved with upfronts scheduled to begin in six days. Given the fact that the broadcast partners will be responsible for selling ads, it would be rather surprising if the XFL inventory wasn’t included in their presentations.

Last year alone, the television upfront market for commercials generated $20.8 billion in commitment from advertisers, up 5.2% from the previous year, according to an estimate by Media Dynamics.

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Why Fewer Ad Breaks are Coming to the Super Bowl

Fox will be cutting back the number of commercial breaks for the big game by one, having only four breaks per quarter instead of five.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

Next year’s Super Bowl might feel slightly different to viewers.

That’s because Fox will be cutting back the number of commercial breaks for the big game by one, having only four breaks per quarter instead of five, according to Brian Steinberg of Variety.

Fewer breaks, but the same amount of commercials…

Although Fox will be cutting down one whole commercial break each quarter, the four that remain will be slightly longer, allowing the broadcaster to still have the same amount of slots for advertisers even with fewer breaks in the action.

This isn’t a first for the NFL…

The league has been working with broadcast partners since last year to find new ways to deliver advertisements during telecasts. The initiative last year focused on delivering more sponsored vignettes and less “billboard” ads, a change that could be difficult at times for the networks seeing as in the past they have used the “billboard” inventory as bonuses to big-spending sponsors, according to Variety.

Why do they want to cut down? According to calculations from Streaming Observer’s Chris Brantner, the average NFL fan watches almost 24 hours of advertisements in a season.

Or other leagues…

As leagues battle for the attention of their consumers, making sure they give them less time to check their phone or change the channel has become a priority.

Earlier this year, MLB announced that it was planning to reduce each national commercial break by 25 seconds, NASCAR has been using split screen advertising since its days on ESPN back in 2011, and the NBA has done it with ESPN during timeouts.

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