I had been sitting on an analysis of the sports-media potential of a Comcast merger with NBC-Universal for a month, until the deal looked sealed. The NYT's Richard Sandomir beat me to it, but I want to drill into it just a little bit.
Here's the top-line: The sports-media monster that comes from Comcast-NBCU has the potential to be the biggest alternative to ESPN in the history of sports media. Note how I avoid using "competitor," because I'm coming at this from a consumer/fan perspective: More choice is a good thing. No one will ever replace ESPN, but this might offer another comprehensive high-end option.
The fundamental thing Comcast-NBCU needs to do is -- like ESPN within Disney -- create one all-encompassing sports brand that will be the focal point for all sports on NBC, Versus, Golf Channel, Universal Sports, all the Comcast regional nets and across every media platform -- sorry, Versus, you're gone. Let's call it "NBC Sports Network" (NBCSN)
There are plenty of TV assets currently accessible to Comcast/NBCU to make NBCSN a compelling network, across multiple channels:
*NFL Sunday Night Football
*NFL Red Zone channel (!!!)
*Notre Dame football
*Grand Slam tennis finals
*US Open (USA)
*At least one golf major championship
*Mountain West college football
*Bull Riding, Cycling, MMA and other Versus sports
*The 76ers and Flyers (fwiw)
*Dan Patrick (via FNIA)
*Keith Olbermann (via FNIA and MSNBC)
*Peter King (via FNIA)
*10 regional sports TV networks in some of the biggest markets, all of which could feed a "mother" channel.
But they need more, a lot more: National studio programming, and lots of it. And not cheesy ones either. Take sports coverage as seriously as fans do. As Sandomir pointed out, they need a SportsCenter franchise. I'll go one better: They need a PTI-like franchise, too.
Then there are the TV assets that a cash-flow powerhouse like Comcast-NBCU could afford to buy, like the NCAA Tournament, more Olympics, NFL Thursday Night Football. And I'd cut a deal with the NBA and MLB networks to get access to cut in to any game they want.
(By the way, here's a memo to NBCU's new Comcast overlords: Now that you own MSNBC, try to recruit MSNBC's brilliant primetime programming honcho Bill Wolff -- an ESPN veteran, by the way -- to be your head of all programming for NBC Sports Network under Dick Ebersol.)
But I'm actually equally intrigued by the online sports powerhouse that could be created. Again, let's review the assets that the new company has access to right now:
*Pro Football Talk (via NBCSports.com)
*College Football Talk
*Darren Rovell (via CNBC)
*Alan Abrahamson (via NBC Olympics)
*Rick Chandler (Deadspin alum and new NBCSports.com lead blogger)
*RotoWorld (via NBCSports.com)
*10 regional TV networks' online sites (getting huge investment for video and reported content)
*Access to all of the NBC Local online sports content talent (Drew Magary, Mike Tunison, Janie Campbell)
*The MSNBC.com front-page firehose
And, again, with Comcast's cash flow powering it, here are the simple, logical and efficient moves that NBC Sports Network could combine with the existing assets to instantly turn it into a Top 2-3 site online, with massive growth potential in local media and social/mobile media:
*Acquire Citizen Sports, which instantly gives you a footprint in social media and mobile.
*Acquire SBNation, which exponentially boosts Comcast's local online efforts.
*Acquire Deadspin (and make Drew Magary and Tommy Craggs lead NBCSports.com columnists)
*Give Bill Simmons $10 million to start his own sports-media venture, with 50 percent ownership by Comcast-NBCU
(And if they really wanted to move the needle, they would approach every single one of Yahoo's lead sport bloggers and offer to double their salaries -- with 5-year contracts -- to come over to the new NBC Sports Network site. Sorry, Mottram and Pesavento -- but you can come, too! Billions in cable fees go a long way.)
The idea of a new sports TV network gets all the headlines, because it involves a lot bigger dollars. But much more efficiently, the new company can massively expand its existing footprint online, bringing together all of these various (and valuable) assets -- along with a couple quick acquisitions -- to become a leader in emerging sports media, not just televised sports media.