NBA 2K League Finds Media Rights Partner, Viewership for Inaugural Game Disappoints

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The NBA and Twitch have agreed to a multi-year partnership that makes the video streaming service the league’s first official media rights partner. The agreement ensures that the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League will be broadcast live, in its entirety (up to 199 games); with all games featuring live commentary and updates from around the league. Twitch has announced plans to introduce “Extensions” to increase viewer engagement during broadcasts (they’re going to need to draw viewers first, see Fan below). Twitch is a Founding Partner (i.e. they’ll have an equity stake) of the upstart league.

Howie Long-Short: Twitch was acquired by Amazon (AMZN) for $970 million, back in 2014. The company increased concurrent viewership +21% during Q1 ’18 (to 953,000), growing its already large lead within the game streaming market over 2nd place YouTube Gaming (GOOGL, -12% to 272,000). Facebook (FB, +103% to 56,000) and Microsoft’s (MSFT, +90% to 9,500) also reported significant growth with their streaming audiences last quarter.

As for AMZN, the company posted its most profitable quarter ever in Q1 ’18. It grew revenue +43% to $35.7 billion, while net income rose 121% to $1.6 billion. Cloud computing (+49% YoY to $5.44 billion), subscription services (+60% YoY to $3.1 billion) and ad revenue (+139% YoY to $2.03 billion) all contributed to the record quarter.

Fan Marino: The NBA 2K League’s inaugural season kicked off yesterday, with Bucks Gaming and Pistons GT participating in the league’s first ever game (Pistons won 49-44). Just 9,000 watched the contest, a particularly disappointing total considering OWL’s opening day drew 408,000 concurrent viewers. This league is far from the slam dunk predicted following last month’s successful gamer draft.

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MLB, Tencent Partner to Grow Sport of Baseball in China

Tencent

MLB has partnered with Tencent (TCEHY) to grow the sport of baseball in China. As the Official Digital Broadcasting Partner of MLB within the country, TCEHY will live stream 125 games (including the All-Star Game and every game of the Postseason/World Series) exclusively on Tencent PC, Mobile and OTT platforms. The technology giant has also committed to broadcasting a series of MLB highlight shows and supporting/broadcasting youth baseball and developmental events. Super Baseball Week (April 4-8) will kick off the new partnership; 5 straight days of games featuring the league’s biggest stars (see: Trout, Judge, Bryant).

Howie Long-Short: Tencent Holdings Limited (TCEHY), one of 50 constituent stocks making up the Hang Seng Index (largest companies on HKSE, represent +/- 58% of HKSE cap), is a leading provider of comprehensive internet services in China. The company’s social messaging app WeChat has more than 1 billion users. TCEHY was recently named China’s most valuable brand for a 4th straight year, with WPP and Kantar Millward Brown assessing its brand value (how a brand powers business) at $132.2 billion (+25% YoY). Just how big of a global player is Tencent? The company’s market cap is $496 billion, $30 billion more than Facebook (FB).

Fun Fact: Just one sports related brand made the Top 100 most valuable Chinese brand of 2018 rankings, Anta Sportswear (ANPDY) at #78.

Fan Marino: MLB opened an office in China in 2007 and has maintained 3 Development Centers within the country (Wuxi, Changzhou and Nanjing) since. The fruits of those labors have started to pay off. 3 players have graduated and gone on to sign MLB contracts (“Itchy” Guiyan – O’s, Hai-Cheng Gong – Pirates and Justin Qiangba – Red Sox) and another 12 are currently playing professionally in China. The success can’t just be measured by players on the pro level, though. Since 2014, 36 players have graduated from the program and gone on to play collegiate baseball.

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MLB Takes “Next Great Leap” in Sports Broadcasting

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Facebook (FB) has landed the exclusive broadcast rights to stream 25 Major League Baseball day games (primarily on Wednesdays) during the 2018 season; the first time a “big 4” U.S. sports league has awarded exclusive distribution to a social network. Industry consultant Lee Berke called the deal “the next great leap” in sports broadcasting, comparing the milestone to the migration of games from network to cable television in the mid-to-late 1980s. It’s been reported that the social network paid $30-$35 million for a package that includes; the live games (MLB network will produce the broadcasts), on demand highlight packages (for every game) and weekly recaps of all 30 teams. The first Facebook Watch broadcast will be on April 4th (Mets vs. Phillies).

Howie Long-Short: While this is a landmark deal in sports broadcasting history, it’s premature to call it a “great leap”; it’s more like a big step. A “big 4” sporting event appearing exclusively on a digital platform is noteworthy; it’s just not the game-changer that Berke implies. All 4 leagues have broadcast rights tied up through at least the balance of the decade and none are expected to forego linear television money in the next round of negotiations. There may be a day when FAANG companies control exclusive NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL broadcast rights, just don’t expect it to come anytime soon.

Fan Marino: In the hours following the announcement, Twitter (TWTR) and MLS announced their own streaming partnership; a 3-year deal gives TWTR the exclusive English broadcast rights to at least 24 live matches/season that air in Spanish on Univision (plus on-demand highlights). A week prior, AMZN announced a deal with the UFC to stream PPV events (cost $64.99) on Amazon Prime Video (do not have to be Prime member); while YouTube TV (GOOGL) locked up exclusive live streaming rights to the Seattle Sounders FC, it’s 2nd MLS deal (L.A. FC). The arms race between digital companies seeking to lure users with sports, is officially on.

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Bleacher Report Diversifying Revenue Streams, Reducing Platform Dependency

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Bleacher Report (B/R) is building out e-commerce and content licensing departments, as the company looks to diversify its revenue streams (1/3 currently comes from ad sales on the company’s social media accounts) and reduce platform dependency (12% of referral traffic comes from Facebook). Best known for their “team streams”, delivering fan-specific news; the company intends on selling content themed merchandise, capitalizing on a series of successful original video brands (Game of Zones, Gridiron Heights, No Script) and their House of Highlights Instagram account (8 million followers). Come Spring, the company’s parent company Turner Broadcasting System will launch a sports streaming service; using B/R to drive viewers both through their website and mobile application. President Rory Brown said the goal is for the app to become the “home base for sports fans.”

Howie Long-Short: Turner Broadcasting System, a division of Time Warner (TWX), acquired B/R for $175 million in ’12. They then invested $100 million in to the company in March 2016. President Brown said the company increased revenue 17% YOY in 2017 (though no figure was provided); but, that the company is profitable. As for TWX, the company grew revenue 6% YOY in Q3 ’17, with HBO leading the way (+13% YOY); Turner was up 6% YOY during the quarter. The company will report Q4 ’17 and Full-Year 2017 earnings on Feb. 1. 

Fan Marino: The B/R Entertainment division (just 2 years old) has experienced early success. Facebook (FB) reportedly paid the company “millions of dollars” to license the series, “No Script” starring Marshawn Lynch; while, it’s animated (NBA stars as medieval characters) series “Game of Zones”, has received 40 million views and landed AT&T as an ad sponsor. The company plans on introducing 5 more original series in ’18.

Editor Note: B/R is the premier digital sports media outlet. In December, the company had 120 million “interactions” on social; more than 2x the number ESPN reported (55 million). The company has the most engaged readers because it consistently delivers the best content (across all sports). I don’t write that because B/R publishes our work; I pursued a partnership with B/R because I wanted to align with the best. We couldn’t be prouder to have an association with them.

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Facebook Hires Eurosport CEO to Negotiate Sports Streaming Rights Deals, No Interest in TNF

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Facebook (FB) has hired Eurosport Chief Executive Peter Hutton to lead its multi-billion dollar global sports rights initiative. The move is yet another strong indicator (they bid $600 million for rights to Indian cricket, losing to Star India) that the social networking service sees live sports as a key part of its streaming growth strategy. The hiring appears timely as the deadline to submit bids for the rights to stream the EPL in Europe is Feb 9. Hutton isn’t expected to begin his new role until after the completion of the Winter Olympics though, making Facebook appear to be an unlikely destination for the Premier League now.

Howie Long-Short: Discovery Communications (DISCA) owns Eurosport, the home to the next 4 Olympic Games (through ’24) in most European markets. DISCA paid just $1.44 billion for European rights to the games, across all platforms, which is a fraction of the $7.65 billion NBC is paying for television and online rights to the games through ’32. The company reported Q3 earnings in early November; revenue was up 6% YOY (to $1.65 billion) led by its international portfolio, but net earnings remained flat as U.S. subscriptions continued to decline. CEO David Zaslav said at the time, that the company was looking forward to leveraging the Scripps Networks Interactive portfolio upon the closing of the $14.6 billion acquisition (to occur in early ’18). The company will report Q4 and full-year 2017 financials on February 27th.

Fan Marino: Facebook has decided against bidding on the NFL’s Thursday night package. Noteworthy, as the company has bid on the package in past years and the league’s Sunday (through ’22) and Monday night (through ’21) packages are tied up for the next several years. As for TNF television rights, Fox and Disney (would put games on ABC) are both likely to bid; while CBS & NBC, who shared the rights this year, are looking to pay less (paid $450 million in ’17).

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Playoff Fantasy Football Contest Paying Out in Bitcoin

FanDuel

The NFL Playoffs start tomorrow (Tennessee at Kansas City, 4:35p EST) and FanDuel is giving daily fantasy football players the chance to win Bitcoins (BTC); the first time a sports-tech company has awarded cryptocurrency as a consumer promotion. FanDuel will host a free single-entry contest (aka the Bitcoin Bowl) that will award the winner a single Bitcoin; and a second multi-entry contest, that costs $3 to enter and offers a multi-tiered payout (winner receives 2 Bitcoins). The deadline to enter and select a lineup is kickoff of the Tennessee/Kansas City game.

Howie Long-Short: FanDuel has raised capital from the following public companies (or subsidiaries of public companies) KKR & Co. (KKR), Google Capital (GOOGL), Time Warner/Turner Sports (TWX), NBC Sports Ventures (CMCSA) and Comcast Ventures (CMCSA); so, there are no shortage of ways to play the fantasy sports outfit. As for the popular cryptocurrency, the WSJ reported that Peter Thiel’s venture capital fund bet $15 million to $20 million on Bitcoin; upon release of that report, BTC prices shot up 14% to $15,447. The digital coins were trading at +/- $15,150 on the evening of January 4, 2018.

Fan Marino: Facebook (FB) has entered the DFS space, launching TheScore Fantasy on Facebook Instant Games; accessible only through their Messenger application. The mobile game currently enables you to play NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB & Premier League contests, but only against your friends and there is no monetary incentive to win. It’s not a game for the hardcore DFS player, but the simplistic interface and small roster sizes (just 5 players) could make it attractive to the next generation of football fans; those not yet of age (18) to play DFS.

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Facebook Watch Adds WWE and NLL, Social Interactive Components Worth Watching

Facebook Watch (FB) has announced partnerships with both the WWE and National League Lacrosse (NLL), giving the burgeoning video platform additional sports content. Beginning on January 16th (10p EST), a new weekly in-ring wrestling series entitled “Mixed Match Challenge” will debut; wrestlers from both Raw and SmackDown rosters will compete in a single elimination mixed tag-team tournament that spans 12 weeks. Watch will also begin airing a new weekly show from NLL productions entitled ReLax that offers fans insight and analysis on the weekend’s games. The show, airing exclusively on the Watch platform Mondays at 6p EST, will give fans a chance to interact and ask questions during the first hour of the show.

Howie Long-Short: The WWE experienced their “all-time best quarter” in Q3 ‘17, as the company grew revenue 14% to $186.4 million, set a company quarterly record for adjusted OIBDA ($40.4 million) and saw net income rise to $21.8 million (from $11.1 million YOY). The company will release its Q4 ’17 (and full year ’17) earnings report on Feb. 8th. 2018 projects to be a banner year for the WWE, with the company anticipating setting another record for revenue generation and targeting adjusted OIBDA of at least $115 million; which would also set a record.

Fan Marino: Mixed Match Challenge episodes will run 20 minutes in length and be optimized for mobile consumption. The social interaction elements included will be worth watching, as fans will have the opportunity to select match-ups and match stipulations. Teams will be announced beginning tomorrow night. You can find a list of participants, here.

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Amazon Takes on The Sports World; 25 Companies That Will Be Affected

Amazon has been credited with killing everything from book stores to electronics retailers since its 1994 launch. Now, with a market cap +/- $570 billion and $16 billion in annual operating cash flow, the company is taking aim at the sports world. In our final newsletter of 2017, we look at 4 of AMZN’s recent initiatives and the 25 companies most likely to be affected in 2018.

Amazon Expands Brand Registry Program, Now Includes Nike

In June, Nike (NKE) agreed to join Amazon’s brand registry program; seeking to curb counterfeiting and non-licensed selling within the e-commerce marketplace. The partnership also supports the athletic apparel and sneaker brand’s initiative to boost revenue through a shift to digital and DTC sales, relying less on struggling retailers. Competitors Adidas (ADDYY) and Under Armour (UAA) already have direct-sales deals in place with AMZN.

Names to Watch: FINL, DKS, FL, HIBB, BGFV; LON: SPD, LON: JD

Howie Long-Short: Athletic apparel and sneaker retailers count on NKE (70% of FL business comes from NKE); but NKE launched its “Consumer Direct Offense” strategy in fiscal Q1 ’18, increasing e-commerce business 19% YOY. Mediocre retailers beware, the company is maintaining just a few dozen wholesale relationships as it looks to increase its e-commerce business (from 15% of revenue to 30% over the next 5 years).

Amazon Entering Private-Label Sportswear Business

In October, Amazon (AMZN) announced it was entering the private-label sportswear business and working with the same Taiwanese suppliers, Makalot Industrial Co. (TPE: 1477) and Eclat Textile Co. (TPE: 1476), that some of the world’s biggest athletic brands use. Elcat’s involvement is particularly noteworthy as the company manufactures high-performance sportswear for Nike (NKE), Lululemon Athletica (LULU) and Under Armour (UAA).

Names to Watch: NKE, UAA, ADDYY, LULU; TPE: 1476, TPE: 1477

Howie Long-ShortAMZN wants to be in the private-label clothing business because it pushes retailers to sell inventory on the e-commerce site. Should a retailer choose not to, AMZN will simply produce the item themselves and compete directly against the brand.

The Pursuit of Exclusive Broadcast Rights

In September, the company hired Brian Potter to lead its sports video business. In November, Jim DeLorenzo, head of sports, Amazon Video, said the company was pleased with viewership numbers, engagement and the reliability/quality of the cloud-based streaming service during its season long experiment streaming Thursday Night Football (10 games, $50 million); though it is too early to say if the company will pursue future exclusive sports broadcasting rights. The company has since done deals that will deliver Prime subscribers 37 ATP tour events (previously owned by SKYAY), the AVP Beach Volleyball tour each of the next 3 summers and docu-series on Michigan Football.

Names to Watch: CBS, DIS, FOXA, CMCSA, FB, GOOGL, NFLX, AAPL, SKYAY

Howie Long-Short: NFL Senior VP, Digital Media, Vishal Shah recently said “we continue to think some of the best days are ahead [for traditional TV partners] despite some shifts in the media landscape.” That doesn’t sound like linear television will be excluded in the next round of negotiations, but the NFL is encouraging interested media companies to bid on both television and streaming rights for the leagues TNF package; leaving the door ajar for the tech giants to receive exclusivity for the first time.

Twitch: The Future of Game Broadcasts?

Twitch, the live-streaming platform most often associated with video games, has agreed to stream up to 6 live G-League (Gatorade sponsored NBA minor league) games. Broadcasts will include interactive overlays (viewers can click a team name/logo for player, team, game and season stats), a loyalty program to reward viewer engagement during broadcasts (i.e. custom emotes for group chat) and the ability for users to provide their own live commentary (over the game feed) via the Twitch co-streaming feature.

Names to Watch: CBS, DIS, FOXA, CMCSA, TWX, RCI, MSGN

Fan Marino: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has gone on record stating he’d like to see changes in the way sports broadcasts are presented; pointing out the lack of live stats and chatter surrounding the broadcast, that gamers have become accustomed to. I’m not ready to give up Mike Breen, Marv Albert and Ian Eagle for Towelliee; but it’s worth watching to see if anyone else is.

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Sports Media Start-Up Using Niche Sports (and Facebook) to Build Audience

FANTOM, a Facebook (FB) based platform, is delivering live sports (20+ games including JUCO playoffs) and sports personalities to a social audience. Having partnered with 30+ rights holders and 20+ personalities, the sports media startup generates authentic (see: passion) content that brings “fans closer to the field” while their signature Catapult product (for brands and rights holders, FANTOM is free for viewers) ties custom content to a transaction (i.e. ROI). In their first year, the company broadcast from the NBA Finals, World Series and partnered with 10 sports leagues; including Ultimate Frisbee (AUDL) and Indoor Football League.

Howie Long-Short: FANTOM is taking a wise approach, embracing FB as opposed to trying to drive traffic away from it. The company understands that the “one show for one million people model is dead”. Facebook has 2 billion visitors/day and advanced targeting technology that gives niche sports a chance to find their audience; FANTOM is the place where fans can find those sports. The company is privately held and there are no ways to play it, for now.

Fan Marino: FANTOM isn’t bringing fans “closer to the field”, it’s bringing fans on the field; as San Antonio Spurs fans got to experience last night with ESPN Radio talent and FANTOM co-founder Ari Tempkin live from AT&T Center. You aren’t going to find NFL and NBA games on FANTOM, but if you have a taste (no pun intended) for Major League Eating it might be for you.

Joe Favorito (@joefav) recently did a Q&A with FANTOM co-founder Zack Rosenberg. You can check it out here.

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Facebook Hiring “Head of Sports Programming” To Bid on Rights

Facebook has announced it is looking to hire a “top level executive” to oversee sports rights acquisitions. The “head of sports programming”, will have a budget of “a few billion dollars” to buy broadcast rights on a global basis. The social network does not intend to produce sports broadcasts; it would like to stream events, partnering with leagues or broadcasters that have linear television distribution in place.

Howie Long-Short: Back in May, Zuckerberg said “the long-term goal is actually not to be paying for specific content like that” and that he would prefer to pursue a “revenue share model”; but those comments were made under the presumption FB would be producing the broadcasts. If the plan is simply to stream events and FB isn’t pursuing exclusivity, the up-front cash outlay becomes significantly more palpable (AMZN paid $5 million per NFL game, CBS/NBC (CMCSA) paid $45 million/game for TNF). EPL rights expire in ’18, with MLB and the NFL coming up shortly thereafter (’21 and ’22, respectively). Look for linear distribution rights to increase (again) with total broadcast rights skyrocketing, as the tech giants bid on streaming rights. I do not expect FAANG to receive any exclusivity in the next round of negotiations.

Fan Marino: Whistle Sports recently announced that it was creating its first exclusive show for FB Watch, the “Next Trickshot Superstar”; a 10-episode series, hosted by Chad Johnson that features trickshot artists competing for $25,000. As a video content creator, with a following of 375 million followers/subscribers (and growing 2.5 million/week), Whistle Sports has raised $80.5 million to date; TGNA, NBC Sports and CBS Sports all participated in the company’s $29 million Series C round, announced in January 2017.

Facebook reportedly seeking an executive whose job will be negotiating sports rights

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