Thursday, December 03, 2009

Comcast-NBC: Online Sports Juggernaut?

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 (!!!)
*Olympics
*Notre Dame football
*Grand Slam tennis finals
*US Open (USA)
*At least one golf major championship
*Mountain West college football
*NHL
*Golf Channel
*Bull Riding, Cycling, MMA and other Versus sports
*The 76ers and Flyers (fwiw)
*Bob Costas
*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:

*NBCSports.com
*Versus.com
*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.

-- D.S.

7 comments:

joemak said...

Dan,

All great points. Love reading this type of stuff. I am not sold they can do a national sports show though. CNNSI tried to do it but lost a ton of money in the process.

Rebranding Versus is a great idea. DJ Litten just made a great point on Twitter that Notredame football will be moved to Versus therefore forcing Directv to carry it.

I think there online presence has a long way to go. Profootball talk was a great start and hiring other top bloggers is definitely good. I don't think they acquire SBNation as it will be too expensive. I see them acquiring Yardbarker instead because it will be much cheaper and then they can shape the local blogs the way they want. Owning the ad space is more important then owning the blogs. Citizen sports makes sense since no one uses NBC's fantasy games anyway but they will be highly overpriced.

Bill Simmons is the best idea of all and they are probably the only ones that could afford to pay him that price tag and it would totally pay off.

Lord Bodak said...

They need a true SportsCenter competitor, which means they need to provide honest coverage of all sports, not just the ones they carry. For examples of what not to do, look at the way ESPN forced NASCAR coverage down our throats when they got the NASCAR contract after virtually ignoring it for years, and the way NHL coverage has been virtually nonexistent since the NHL moved to Versus.

ESPN's problem is they no longer report the news, they create the news. This is not a good thing and hopefully competition will come and challenge them.

SwaggerTooth said...

Great post. How about Comcast/NBCU coming after YOU? You always seem to have great ideas like this...

Jamie Uyeyama said...

I love the big ideas and it would be awesome if they were thinking the same thing. Very interested to see what will happen and would love to see them take on ESPN even if the only result is making ESPN better.

TheStarterWife said...

I've been a little surprised that none of the sports bloggers have looked past the deal to see if it will even get past the anti-trust regulations.

Johnny b said...

In theory yes more choice is good for the consumer. However, Comcast is involved and they are a notoriously anticonsumer company. I would be willing to bet that this merger is going to be a bad thing

Monica said...

Sign up Bill Simmons and I never go to ESPN.COM again. Ever.