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Despite Exit, David Levy’s Presence Looms Large Over March Madness

David Levy leaves Turner Sports in the hands of Jeff Zucker, but his mark on the NCAA Tournament will stretch through 2032.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

To most viewers, the 2019 NCAA Tournament will appear to be business as usual on TV relative to the past eight editions.

Behind the scenes, however, things have changed in a major way. Three weeks ago, David Levy, Turner President since 2013, announced he would be leaving the company after 33 years. When CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus took his spot at March Madness Media Day last week, Levy was noticeably absent, replaced this year by WarnerMedia Chairman of News and Sports Jeff Zucker.

Levy’s resignation came just a few days after an appeals court upheld AT&T’s acquisition of WarnerMedia, which initially was approved in June 2018. Levy is credited with putting Turner at the forefront of the sports world. On the NBA side, he helped grow “Inside the NBA” and negotiate the joint management of such assets as NBA TV, NBA.com and NBA Mobile. Turner’s NBA deal runs through 2024-25.

Read More: New In March Madness Media For 2019: More VR, Alexa And Familiar NFL Analyst

With MLB, Levy negotiated Turner rights that include one league championship series and two division series during the postseason. That deal runs through 2021.

But Levy’s crown jewel was March Madness. In 2010, Turner Sports beat out ESPN to join CBS on a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with the NCAA. In 2016, Levy and McManus signed an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension with the NCAA that goes through 2032.

Levy didn’t even make it through half the deal at Turner, but his legacy will continue to loom large over March Madness.

“David Levy’s always been an innovative thinker,” said Ernie Johnson, host of “Inside the NBA” and NCAA March Madness. “For him and Sean McManus to hatch this plan to bring Turner and CBS together and, ‘Hey, suddenly we’re going to bring March Madness to folks in a different way’ was game-changing. I don’t know that we’ll see that kind of a partnership again for that long a term that they struck.”

Johnson also expressed admiration for Levy as a person. It was a common refrain among Turner’s talent, who view Levy as a friend far more than a boss.

“He texted me this morning,” said Kenny Smith. “We were at the Super Bowl together. We go on vacations together. He was at my mom’s funeral. It’s a different relationship.”

“He trusted me,” added Charles Barkley. “There are times I say something, I know there is gonna be blowback. I told him, ‘I’m going to go after a player. I’m pretty sure the agents are going to call.’ They always want to talk to these guys. There have been several times where players say, ‘I’m not talking to you guys because of something Charles said,’ which I don’t give a s***. But he said, ‘Just do your job.’”

The NBA on TNT, the MLB relationship and the CBS Sports March Madness partnership are left in the hands of a highly experienced media executive in Zucker, who also served as president and CEO of NBC Universal from 2007-2010 and then became president of CNN Worldwide in 2013 before receiving his new title earlier this month.

The transition should be a smooth one. As executives within WarnerMedia, Zucker and Levy worked side-by-side to a degree over the past six years.

“I was aware of everything that David was doing, if not the minutiae of the day-to-day relationship,” Zucker says of the March Madness partnership. “But I was certainly in the meetings and aware of what was going on. David has been terrific to work with and has been incredibly helpful to me in this transition.”

With a deal signed through 2032, March Madness is perhaps the least of Zucker’s concerns at the moment. Other aspects of the sports world are more pressing.

“We will continue to be a player in the premium sports area in the major sports packages,” Zucker said. “Obviously, there’s not a ton of them that are available, but we will be there. That’ll continue to be a part of what we’re doing. But I think the area for growth really is in the newer, emerging sports that are not at that level. That requires some business development that we have the opportunity [to grow] between having the cable network outlets and Bleacher Report. I think the combination of those two gives us an opportunity to foster growth there. Obviously, Bleacher Report is incredibly important to us, and we’ll continue to invest there.”

To that end, Zucker continuously weaved B/R Live, Bleacher Report and Turner Sports’ OTT platform, into conversation during his pre-March Madness media availability. B/R Live currently carries parts of Turner Sports’ NBA, UEFA Champions League and National Lacrosse League rights, along with other digital content.

READ MORE: March Madness Wagers Expected To Cross $8.5 Billion, According to AGA

The Match: Tiger vs. Phil match was also carried on B/R Live in November, and Zucker confirmed that events like the newly-created pay-per-view exhibition are the “kind of things we’re interested in.” When asked about a potential NFL deal, Zucker was quick to mention that he has experience with the league through acquiring the rights to Sunday Night Football in the mid-2000s during his time at NBC.

Sports fans pick their favorite teams, decide what to watch and, nowadays, place their own bets. But one thing sports fans can’t dictate is where their sports live and when they go on air.

March Madness – and other Turner Sports content – won’t look much different this NCAA Tournament or in the near future. But behind the camera and in the board rooms, it is clear: WarnerMedia is entering a new era.

David Levy finally gets to have a spring break. But his fingerprints on Turner Sports won’t be gone for a long time. 

Jeff Eisenband is a broadcaster and writer based in New York City. He previously served as senior editor of ThePostGame and has contributed to the NBA 2K League, NBA Twitch channel, DraftKings, Tennis Hall of Fame, Golfweek, Big Ten Network, Cheddar and Heads Up Daily. A graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Jeff truly believes Northwestern will win national championships in football and basketball.

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NBA, Instagram and New Era Deliver Shoppable Championship Moment

As Instagram expands into e-commerce, it’s teaming up with the NBA and New Era to offer fans the opportunity to buy officially licensed championship gear.

Michael McCarthy

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Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Sports fans are most likely to open their wallets and make an impulse purchase after their team wins a championship. As Instagram expands into e-commerce, it’s teaming up with the NBA and New Era to offer either Golden State Warriors or Toronto Raptors fans the opportunity to buy officially licensed championship gear as they’re popping champagne.

Here’s how the digital “tap to shop” promotion will work: The minute the buzzer sounds ending the 2019 NBA Finals, Instagram will instantly offer a $50 cap/t-shirt bundle for the winning team via New Era. The combo will be exclusively available on Instagram for 24 hours after the game’s conclusion. After that, the gear may go on sale at NewEraCap.com.

The 37.7 million followers of Instagram’s NBA account just have to tap on the post for details, then tap again to buy. Instead of being sent elsewhere they can handle the entire purchase within the app.

As the “authentic cap” of the NBA, New Era is currently selling Warriors/Raptors hats emblazoned with the gold “2019 NBA Finals” logo. The NBA, Instagram and Fanatics offered a similar “shoppable moment” after the Warriors won the Western Conference Finals.

“As the Authentic Cap of the NBA, we’re excited to honor the championship team with the official New Era Authentics: Championship Series Cap and Team Celebratory Tee Bundle exclusively available through the NBA’s Instagram,” says John Connors, New Era’s director of basketball. “This partnership gives us an opportunity to reach fans and provide them with product that helps them celebrate their team’s NBA championship.”

Paige Cohen, a spokeswoman for Instagram’s tech communications, notes fans “want to be part of” the winning team’s celebration. “They shop the gear, they get all decked out,” Cohen says. 

Cohen has a point, according to sports retail expert Mike May. Capitalizing on the thrill of victory can create a “financial windfall for those who have the right product at the right time.”

It can even inspire couch potatoes to put down the clicker and play the sport they’re watching on TV.

“When (fans) emotions are high there’s often a disconnect between common sense and spending — and spending just takes over,” says May, who consults for PHIT America. “It’s an interesting day and age that we live in. It gets faster. The immediacy of Instagram just adds to the festivities — and the spending.”

READ MORE: Canadian Craze Carrying NBA Finals Viewership

Instagram and New Era previously partnered with the NFL to offer a digital shopping experience during the 2019 Draft in Nashville.

The ceremonial act of young college football stars putting on the cap of their new NFL teams has become part of the NFL Draft day ritual. A photographer shot photos of the players in their New Era caps. The photos were shared to the NFL’s Instagram account, complete with shopping tags, driving fans to NFLShop.com. The caps sold for $30 to $38.

The NBA can tap into a huge pool of hoops fans on social media. The NBA’s Instagram account boasts the most followers of any pro league account. The account has drawn 11.8 billion views, and 1.3 billion engagements, this season alone. And Instagram’s new role as a digital mall keeps growing.

In March, the social media giant launched a “Checkout on Instagram” button that enables users to shop and buy products without leaving the app. Users enter their name, email, billing information and shipping address.

Over 1 billion people use Instagram every month, according to Hootsuite, with 500 million on the platform every day. Roughly 60% utilize Instagram to discover new products.

READ MORE: NBA and Twitter Team Up to Bring “Virtual Sports Bar” to Life

Sam Farber, the NBA’s vice president of digital media, said the Finals offer the league an opportunity to “test innovative initiatives” during its biggest event of the year.

With the Raptors leading the Warriors 3-2 in the NBA Finals, the series returns to Oakland for Game 6 Thursday night. If the Warriors survive, the Finals moves to Toronto for Game 7 Sunday night.

“We’re excited to partner with both Instagram and New Era to bring exclusive merchandise to fans in a new way.”

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Stanley Pup Correspondent Fetches New Fans for NBC Sports & NHL

According to NBC Sports, the Stanley Pup campaign has had more than 18 million impressions this postseason.

Ian Thomas

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Photo Credit: NHL

The multiple-month grueling road to the Stanley Cup Final annually catches the attention of the sports world. This year, one of the most dogged chroniclers of that journey has helped the league gain even more traction – Sunny, the Stanley Pup correspondent.

The idea for a Stanley Pup correspondent was the brainchild of Matt Ziance, manager of consumer engagement at NBC Sports. After seeing the way that Sunny, a labrador and guide dog in training, had captivated audiences as the official Today Show puppy, the idea of having a dog being a continued part of the network’s coverage of the NHL playoffs was spawned.

“Each year during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we’re always searching for new, organic ways to stand out in our overall marketing messaging,” Ziance said. “While looking at successful campaigns across our properties, we saw a strong connection between our fan base and utilizing puppies in our campaigns.”

That led NBC Sports to incorporate the Stanley Pup across its broadcasts and social posts on a weekly basis. Across the playoffs, Sunny traveled more than 10,000 miles across the country while attending games in Boston, Denver, San Jose and St. Louis, as well as appearing at the network’s studios in Stamford, Connecticut – creating unique content while also finalizing his guide dog training by working in high-volume areas and new surroundings.

That content has been a boon for NBC Sports, the NHL and the reach of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. According to NBC Sports, the Stanley Pup campaign has had more than 18 million impressions this postseason across collaborations with The TODAY Show, the NHL, the We Rate Dogs Twitter account and the Guide Dog Foundation – an audience that includes many who are connecting to the Stanley Cup and the NHL in a new way.

Dan Palla, director of consumer engagement marketing at NBC Sports, said the network spends significant time in the build up to the launch of the playoffs each year thinking of “every single way we can make the Stanley Cup Playoffs bigger than it has been before.”

“The tagline we use is ‘there is nothing like playoff hockey’ – there is an inherent truth to that and every hockey fan knows that,” Palla said. “It’s also about growing the game and making the Stanley Cup Playoffs resonate off the ice, and thinking of new ways to draw people into the compelling games and the culture.”

Palla said when he first heard of the idea of bringing Sunny onto the hockey team, he said “it’s hard not to smile when you think of a Stanley Pup correspondent – we knew it was an opportunity to bring hockey to audiences in a different way that felt like a shot worth taking.”

The NBC Sports team worked with the Today Show staff to understand what worked well with Sunny in terms of content, as well as with the Guide Dog Foundation to ensure that the experience would also be beneficial to Sunny’s training.

READ MORE: Like Novak Djokovic’s Outfit? NBCUniversal Wants To Help You Buy It

The ability to capture hockey-related content with Sunny has allowed the two NBCUniversal programs to have cross-company promotion on-air as well as on social media, while also having hockey content reach new audiences. For example, the Stanley Pup correspondent was featured on the popular We Rate Dogs Twitter account, which has more than eight million followers. That also helped spark user-generated content coming from hockey fans and dog lovers alike on how their own ‘Stanley Pups’ were enjoying the playoffs.

Palla said NBC Sports has made it “mission critical” to help raise awareness of the sport and the NHL outside of the traditional ways of marketing hockey, something that he thinks has helped viewership. The NHL 2018-2019 regular season averaged 424,000 viewers across NBC Sports’ TV and digital platforms, up 2% from the previous year.

Both Palla and Ziance said the network has been thrilled with Sunny’s contribution to this year’s playoffs. While Sunny is now leaving the NBCUniversal family to become a full-time guide dog, Ziance said the idea of another future Stanley Pup Correspondent is something the network will consider not only for the 2020 playoffs, but potentially for the regular season as well.

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Twitter Doesn’t Want Sports Rights

Front Office Sports

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

You can count out at least one social media company from the TV sports rights game. 

According to Max Mason of The Australian Financial Review, the company is not interested in battling for major sports rights, but wants to partner with rights holders, such as TV broadcasters, to extend their audiences and bring in more money.

Friend, not foe…

While Twitter does have deals to broadcast games on its platform with leagues like the WNBA, NWHL and more, the goal for the platform is not to be a linear TV broadcaster.

“The way that we’re approaching our business and our partnerships in the space is not to compete with rights holders. I don’t want to be a linear television broadcaster.” – Kay Madati, Twitter’s vice-president and global head of content partnerships

Bigger together…

Instead of competing with one another, Madati and Twitter want to serve as a way for traditional linear broadcasters to be able to amplify their content and drive new revenue.

“We’re here to make those events bigger by marrying the conversation that happens on our platform around those things. We’re here to actually come to them and say ‘we can make your event, your investment in this property that much bigger and that much better’.” – Kay Madati

More video is good for Twitter…

According to Mason, video has become the dominant source of revenue for Twitter, comprising 50% of money coming in.

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