With today's FCC approval of Comcast's acquisition of NBC-Universal, it's a good moment to re-visit my post from a year ago about the potential of this on the sports-media front, with updates on my recommendations based on new realities a year later:
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)
*MMA/UFC (via Versus -- thanks, reader Zak W.)
*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)
*Tony Dungy (via FNIA)
*Keith Olbermann (via 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)
*The other NBCSports.com "Talk" sport blogs.
*10 regional TV networks' online sites (getting huge investment for video and reported content)
*Darren Rovell (via CNBC)
*Rick Chandler (Deadspin alum and NBCSports.com lead blogger)
*RotoWorld (via NBCSports.com)
*Access to all of the NBC Local online sports content talent, including Deadspin's Drew Magary.
*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 SBNation, which exponentially boosts Comcast's local online efforts. (Comcast's VC unit is already an investor in SBNation.)
*Gobble up as many early-stage sports-media and sports-tech start-ups as you can. For example, FanVibe (which is trying to be Foursquare for sports); numberFire (which cleaned house in fantasy football projections in 2010); and, yes, self-servingly, they should at least ask about Quickish.
*Fanhouse just flooded the market with 100 talented writers, bloggers and web producers. You can cherry-pick any you want: Leave the newspaper alums to Sporting News and start with the folks who have already achieved online virality: Clay Travis, Bethlehem Shoals and a few others. They're all available.
*Partner with Yahoo! Sports, which has the massive online reach but lacks a TV presence.
*Build your own version of ESPN3.com, an online-only cable network.
The idea of a new sports TV network gets all the headlines, because it involves a lot bigger dollars spent and generated. 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.