Sinclair gets serious about DTC with new board appointments

Writing this newsletter from SBJ’s headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina

Sinclair has made its strongest efforts yet in its efforts to launch a direct-to-consumer service around its local sports rights by appointing a board of directors for its subsidiary Diamond Sports Group which has a ton of experience in local sports rights and streaming services.

New board members include Randy Freer, who led Fox Sports’ RSNs and served as CEO of Hulu, and David Preschlack, who led NBC Sports’ RSNs and its sports betting initiatives. Former NBA manager Bob Whitsitt and NFL manager Maryann Turcke will also join the board, as will Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley. The new five-person board replaces a three-person board that included David Dunn, Jason Pappas and Steve Rosenberg.

As part of his announcement for the new board, Sinclair’s Ripley said his company will “softly launch” a direct-to-consumer service “later this quarter” in five RSN markets. This means the soft launch will take place in Miami, Tampa, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Detroit – all markets where a Sinclair RSN holds local MLB rights (Marlins, Rays, Royals, Brewers and Tigers).

In September, Sinclair plans to complete a full DTC launch. “While DTC pricing will be announced closer to going live, it should be attractively priced compared to other similar professional sports DTC offerings,” Ripley said in a statement.

When Apple Music launched in 2015, it was derided. Many promised features didn’t work at first, and the service became the butt of jokes. Still, the service registered about 20 million paying subscribers in one year.

Apple improved the service after its launch and now has more subscribers than Spotify. NY Times reporter Tripp Mickle has suggested that Apple’s much-derided start to its MLB streaming deal may follow the same path.

Mickle’s Apple book, “After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul,” will be released tomorrow. Anyone interested in Apple’s entry into the sport should run and buy it – and I’m not saying this just because Tripp is a close friend who signed me up in the acknowledgments.

Apple is on its way to becoming a big player in sports. The book provides an in-depth look at the service industry – the reason Apple is getting into sports. It details the tension between creation and operations, a tension sports media executives live with on a daily basis.

The book is 414 pages. Mickle spent over two years there and interviewed over 200 people.

Mickle, a former SBJ reporter, details Apple’s service industry efforts in new book

With an NHL regular season on the league books with ESPN and Turner Sports, the TV numbers can be interpreted in many ways. You are the judge.

Factors indicating that the glass is half full:

  1. Average viewership for games on TNT, ESPN and ABC increased by around 18% from the COVID-impacted 2020-21 season, which was the last for NBC Sports.
  2. The Winter Classic on TNT produced a record cable TV audience for an NHL game.
  3. More exposure to general ESPN programming, such as “SportsCenter,” with content produced specifically for “The Point.”
  4. More female viewers, especially on an entertainment network like TNT, which saw the demo jump 56%.
  5. A younger, digital-native demo has been exposed to a ton of games on ESPN+ this season.

Factors indicating that the glass is half empty:

  1. Outside of the pandemic-ravaged 2020-21 season, this season on ABC would be the least-watched season ever (dating back to 1994) and the first to average less than 1 million viewers.
  2. Overall viewing of NHL games on linear television has dropped dramatically, with a large number of games being exclusively streamed.
  3. Only two games on ABC have attracted more than a million viewers.
  4. The Winter Classic attracted its smallest ever television audience with the switch to cable television.

My colleagues Austin Karp and Alex Silverman dig into SBJ’s numbers and spoke to TNT, ESPN and league executives to get their thoughts. My boss Abe Madkour also shared his thoughts on acting and studio pitches in season one with Turner and Disney.

    Despite the fact that the PGA Tour has dissuaded its business partners from entering into agreements with LIV Golf, NEP Group is on the verge of establishing a relationship with the Saudi-backed golf league.

    After writing about this potential deal in this week’s magazine, I received an email from someone who knows the company inside out. I promised this person confidentiality to execute the email.

    “NEP is now a world power. While there may be risk, the overall risk to his golf franchise in the United States is slim. Golf is a grind that has a ton of logistics and assets tied to it – someone like Game Creek would have to invest tens of millions in additional assets to be able to cover the entire season from Hawaii to California by the way by Florida in addition to finding an experienced crew to succeed without a drop in quality and innovation. This is where NEP has a clear advantage.

    NEP is used to supporting tenders from all sides and has never had problems renewing its contracts and expanding its reach. It would be shortsighted for golf to punish NEP considering they have been the main producing partner since golf began on television. Without NEP, there’s no golf on TV. Period. Sudden stop.

    My magazine column this week focused on Fox Sports executives’ satisfaction with the first two weeks of the USFL rankings. That’s because the new league’s TV numbers are similar to those shown by traditional spring leagues, like F1, MLB’s “Sunday Night Baseball” and the NHL.

    Week 3 issues arrive tomorrow. But based on projections, USFL TV numbers will remain healthy. Fox’s Saturday afternoon game will average more than 800,000 viewers and its Saturday primetime game will average about 1.1 million viewers. These numbers are 6% better than the previous week and are on par with “Sunday Night Baseball”, the Premier League and the UFC.

    “The USFL needs to establish that it belongs in the same category as sports that have been on the spring schedule for many years,” Fox Sports’ Mike Mulvihill told me for the column. In the first three weeks, the new league hit that benchmark.

    • The NBA saw its best viewership for the first round of the playoffs since 2018, averaging about 2.99 million viewers for 43 games on ABC, TNT, ESPN and NBA TV, SBJ’s Austin Karp reports. See more details on the first round in SBJ tomorrow.
    • TNT’s first season with the NHL means 24 live matches this week for Turner Sports across NBA playoffs, Stanley Cup playoffs, WNBA and MLB coverage. A considerable number for the people of Atlanta. A comparison to ESPN’s family of networks this week? Look for the combo of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ABC, ESPNU, ACC Network, Longhorn Network and SEC Network will broadcast 97 live linear TV events.
    • If you’re seeing more typos than usual today, there’s a reason. I spent the morning with SBJ’s Michael Smith and Josh Carpenter at the Hale Irwin-designed Waterford Golf Club in Rock Hill, SC. No kidding: Smitty has parried six of the last 10 holes. (Note: I didn’t).

    (lr) SBJ’s Josh Carpenter, me and Michael Smith

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