Yankees Seek to Re-Acquire YES Network, Hold Buyback Option

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The New York Yankees have expressed interested in re-acquiring the 80% of the YES Network controlled by 21st Century Fox (FOXA), if FOXA is to proceed with the sale of its film and TV assets (including 22 RSNs). The team reportedly holds a buyback option in the event the network (the most valued/viewed RSN among FOXA lot) goes up for sale. Last week, we wrote that Comcast (CMCSA) had submitted a $65 billion all-cash offer for 21st Century Fox’s (FOXA) assets that trumped the $52.4 billion all-stock offer that The Walt Disney Company (DIS) placed in December; DIS is expected to submit a counter bid. Yankee Global Enterprises, the holding company that owns the baseball club and NYCFC, controls the remaining 20% of YES.

Howie Long-ShortFOXA initially purchased a 49% stake in the YES Network for $1.862 billion in 2012. In 2014, the company acquired an additional 31% at roughly the same $3.8 billion valuation. The 1st place Yankees are drawing the network’s highest ratings since ‘12 and YES also controls the rights to broadcast both Brooklyn Nets and NYCFC games, so it’s certainly not unreasonable to expect FOXA to sell the asset at a valuation north of $4 billion. This means the team would be re-acquiring the network at a loss. That may not be of concern for the franchise though, as they likely value the ability to own/distribute their content with the recent proliferation of direct to consumer platforms/services.

According to Moody’s Investor Service, if Comcast were to acquire FOXA assets the combined entity would carry +/- $170 billion in pro-forma debt; more than every company in the world not named AT&T/Time Warner (which just completed a $85 billion merger).

Fan Marino: Back in April, Forbes released its rankings of the most valuable Major League Baseball teams. The Yankees topped the list with a $4 billion valuation, making them the 2nd most valuable team in all of sports; behind only the Dallas Cowboys ($4.2 billion). The team generated $619 million in revenue last year, 96.5% more than the league average ($315 million). Forbes has the NYY valued at +/- 6.5x revenue, slightly higher than what the Houston Rockets sold for in 2017; for comparison purposes, the Carolina Panthers recently sold for less than 6x revenue. I continue to maintain that David Tepper got a good deal.

The Yankees have signed the PBP voice of the YES Network (for Yankee games) to a 3-year extension (network option for 2 more years) worth more than $1 million/year. The deal makes Michael Kay the highest paid local broadcaster in MLB. Kay takes home a higher annual salary than some of the team’s biggest stars; Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge will make $604K, $620K and $622K respectively this season.

Fun Fact: The value of the NYY has compounded 15% annually since George Steinbrenner group bought the team for $8.8 million in 1973.

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Comcast Submits $65 Billion All-Cash Offer for Fox Film/TV Assets, Including 22 RSNs

CMCSA

Just 24 hours after the announcement that a federal judge had approved AT&T’s $85 billion takeover of Time Warner, it was reported that Comcast (CMCSA) submitted a $65 billion all-cash bid for 21st Century Fox’s (FOXA) film and TV assets (including 22 RSNs); trumping the $52.4 billion all-stock offer that The Walt Disney Company (DIS) had placed in December. Comcast’s interest largely surrounds FOXA’s 30% stake in Hulu, as the acquisition would give CMCSA controlling interest in the OTT service (already own 30%). NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke stated, “we would be very very interested in growing that business.” In fact, it’s possible that if Comcast’s offer were to be selected, the company wouldn’t even end up controlling the RSNs; language within their bid indicated the company would match any regulatory commitments made by DIS; including to “divest… any of the RSNs.”

Howie Long-Short: FOXA shares rose +7.7% (to $43.66) on Wednesday following report of the Comcast bid. DIS closed up +2% (to $106.30), while CMCSA shares remained flat ($32.32) as investors expressed skepticism about the company increasing their debt level to 4x earnings; necessary to finance both the Fox deal and their purchase of Sky PLC (SKYAY).

It’s certainly worth noting that Comcast’s bid places a +/- $24 billion valuation on the 22 RSNs.

SKYAY is another name to watch. If DIS counters CMCSA’s bid, it’s possible that Fox will up its bid (currently $14.38/share) for the European pay-tv provider. Fox currently owns 39% of the company and was planning to acquire the remaining 61%, with the intention of flipping the asset as part of the proposed $52.4 billion transaction. Should a bidding war arise, John Janedis, an analyst at Jefferies LLC said it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the winning bid to reach $80 billion. For reference purposes, Comcast bid $16.72/share for 61% of Sky. The domestic cable/internet provider wants the asset (and Star – India) to expand its business overseas.

Fan Marino: AT&T’s (T) acquisition of Time Warner (TWX) includes several sports-related properties including Turner Sports, Bleacher Report and the newly launched Bleacher Report Live service; an untethered (i.e. no subscription needed) premium sports streaming service. T also takes controlling interest in the country’s largest pay television distributor, DirectTV. TWX shares rose 2% on Wednesday to $97.95, while T shares declined 6.2% (to $32.22) on the news.

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College Rugby Sevens Make ESPN Debut, Pac-12 Goes for 6th Straight Title

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Niche college sports, particularly non-varsity club sports, have historically fallen out of the purview of athletics sports rights holders and into a gray area of content replete with official logos and representation, but lacking mainstream coverage. That trend will end this weekend as the fastest growing sport in the country makes its way to ESPN linear and ESPN digital platforms for the first time; College Rugby Sevens. Army, Navy, Air Force and Notre Dame will headline The Penn Mutual CRC field, as 24 teams compete for a National Championship. 30,000 people are expected to attend the two-day event at Talen Energy Stadium (Philadelphia).

Howie Long-Short: Disney (DIS) reported fiscal Q2 ’18 profits increased 23% YoY (to $2.94 billion), with Black Panther ($1.3 billion in box office sales) and theme parks (+13% to $4.88 billion) spearheading revenue growth (+9% to $14.5 billion). Operating income for the company’s cable networks businesses (including ESPN) declined 4% YoY to $1.73 billion. Brook Barnes at the NYT attributed the decline to “higher costs – notably spending on unprofitable streaming services like ESPN+ and hulu – and subscriber declines at ESPN.” ESPN would not disclose the number of subscribers who have signed up for the ESPN+ service, but CEO Bob Iger said “a number of people have signed up for the trial and our conversion rates have been good so far”; adding “basically, I give it a so far, so good.”

21st Century Fox Shareholders (FOXA) have scheduled a date (July 10) to vote on the proposed $52.4 billion asset sale (including regional sports networks) to The Walt Disney Corporation (DIS). Comcast, which said it was preparing a cash offer (as opposed to DIS’ all-stock offer) for the FOXA film studios/cable networks/entertainment businesses, has +/- 6 weeks remaining to submit the bid. Should DIS lose out on the RSNs that are expected to boost the ESPN+ offering, Bob Iger won’t panic; he says the platform is “not reliant at all on the assets”. That’s true right now, as all the local MLB, NBA and NHL broadcast rights are tied up under contract; but, as those deals begin to expire, DIS will want to add the 5,500 games they currently carry to ESPN+. As I’ve previously explained, when a fan in St. Louis can get all the Cardinals and Blues games for $4.99/mo., they’ll subscribe to ESPN+.

Fan Marino: The Pac-12 has dominated the collegiate rugby landscape over the last eight years. The conference has won six of the last eight CRC Championships, with California winning the last five years (Utah won in ’10). This year, Arizona and UCLA are among the tournament’s favorites. Bill Walton would like to remind you that it is, in fact, the “Conference of Champions”.

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WWE Gets $1 Billion for SmackDown Live, Shares Up 33% in Last Week

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21st Century Fox (FOXA) has agreed to a 5-year deal worth more than $1 billion for exclusive broadcast rights to WWE’s SmackDown Live show. Effective October 2019, the 6th highest rated original show on cable television will move from USA Network to FOX’s over-the-air TV network. FOXA plans to move the Tuesday night staple to Friday evenings and will continue to broadcast the 2-hour show live. WWE reportedly chose the FOXA bid despite a larger offer, as “new Fox” committed to promoting the show during tentpole sports broadcasts (think: NFL on Sun, NFL on Thurs, MLB, CFB). NBCUniversal, the show’s current rights holder, declined their right to first refusal to negotiate a new contract after deciding to retain WWE Monday Night RAW with a deal worth $240 million annually; that show will continue to air on USA Network. Combined the new deals are worth +/- $445 million annually, a +/- 145% increase on the $180 million/year that the company currently brings in for the 2 prime-time shows.

Howie Long-Short: We noted in yesterday’s newsletter that Fox was among the favorites to land the WWE franchise and should it do so, was likely to air SmackDown Live on its Big 4 network; so, we weren’t exactly shocked by Monday’s news. The deal’s total value had us doing a double-take though, as earlier reports pegged the show’s value at +/-$110 million/year (up from $30 million/year on deal signed in 2010). WWE shares rose again on Monday, closing +12.5% (at $57.86); the stock is up 33% since last Wednesday’s close (RAW deal broke Thurs.) and a whopping 192% over the last 12 months (from $19.80).

The next shoe to drop is likely to be UFC’s linear cable broadcast package, with 20+ live events. FOXA currently pays $165 million annually for exclusive broadcast rights, but that deal expires in December. While earlier reports indicated that FOXA would let the UFC walk if it successfully acquired WWE rights, it now appears as though the company wants to retain the rights and is willing pay an extra $10 million/year ($175 million) to do so. Of course, it’s no guarantee that will be enough, as industry experts have been expecting the UFC’s deal to fetch $200 million+.

Fan Marino: There is the possibility (if not high probability) that SmackDown Live will outdraw RAW during the deal’s duration. While RAW currently draws 3 million viewers (compared to SmackDown Live’s 2.59 million), SmackDown Live’s pending move to FOX will put the show in 30 million additional homes on a night with far less competition in terms of programming.

For those who don’t follow the WWE, SmackDown Live was historically an inferior product to RAW (even taped at one point). However, a 2016 draft split the company’s talent roster, requiring fans to watch both shows to see all their favorite superstars. Should SmackDown Live begin to outdraw RAW (as we expect), look for some of the promotion’s biggest names (think: Roman Reigns, Ronda Rousey) to join Miz and AJ Styles on the SmackDown Live roster; the WWE will want the opportunity to put forward its best product on its biggest stage (i.e. broadcast television).

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NBCUniversal To Sign Monster Deal for RAW, WWE Shares Skyrocketing

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It’s been reported that NBCUniversal (CMCSA) intends on retaining exclusive broadcast rights to WWE Monday Night Raw with a deal worth +/- $240 million/year. Under the terms of the proposed contract, RAW will remain on USA Network where it’s resided since ’05. WWE will have to find a new home for SmackDown Live though, as NBCUniversal passed on renewing its expiring deal with the franchise. It’s been rumored that the SmackDown Live package could be worth an additional +/- $110 million/year (worth $30 million/year under current deal), with Fox, Amazon Prime and Facebook Live all considered viable landing spots for the Tuesday night show (6th most watched on cable TV).

Howie Long-Short: The outcome of this deal represents best-case scenario for the wrestling promotion. The value of their broadcasts will double (worth $180 million in ’18) and should Fox (FOXA) land SmackDown Live, it’s possible that they would broadcast the show on their over-the-air TV network; had Fox won rights to both shows, it’s likely SmackDown would have been relegated to FS1 (30 million less households). Should SmackDown Live end up on Fox, the show would have the opportunity to beat RAW in the ratings for the first time since the company split the roster in 2002.

The WWE is projecting record revenue in ’18, boosted the company’s deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (reportedly worth +/- $20 million/year) and with a reduced corporate tax rate, it’s possible (if not likely) the company will set a record for profits too. Combine that rosy outlook with the enthusiasm over the company’s pending TV deals and it explains why shares are up 18% (to $51.42) since Thursday (5.17).

Fan Marino: Hulk Hogan, who has been out of favor with the WWE since ’15 (racist comments), is reportedly in discussions with the promotion about a return. Once the face of the organization, the company was quick to remove all references to the Hulkster following the incident. While purely speculation, WrestleMania 35 (New York City, April ‘19) would seem like an opportune time to bring him back; of course, Hogan and Mr. T faced Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff in the main event at WrestleMania I in 1985.

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Sports-Centric Streaming Service Raises $75 million From TV Programmers

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Fubo TV has announced it has closed on a $75 million Series D round, increasing the total amount that the company has raised to $150 million; including a $55 million Series C round in June ’17. The sports-centric digital TV service will use the newly raised capital to expand its engineering and product teams (plans to double staff, open 2nd office by end of ’18), increase its marketing budget and acquire additional content rights. Launched in 2015, the live TV streaming platform has found a niche targeting sports fans (offering 30,000 sporting events/year); surpassing 100,000 subscribers in September 2017. While impressive, the company still lags far behind Sling TV (2.2 million) and DirecTV Now (1.2 million) in terms of market share.

Howie Long-Short: Existing shareholders (and TV programmers) 21st Century Fox (FOXA), Sky (SKYAY) and Scripps Networks Interactive (DISCA) all exercised their pro-rata rights, participating in the latest round; while AMC Networks (AMCX) invested in the company for the first time. While it appears to be an ill fit on the surface, Fubo TV isn’t the only web TV provider that TV programmers have invested in. The Walt Disney Co., pending final approval of its 21st Century Fox acquisition, controls 60% of Hulu; Comcast owns 30% and Time Warner owns 10%. It’s also worth pointing out that A&E, Discovery Communications, AMC and Viacom are invested in Philo.

Fubo TV’s business model is predicated on both recurring monthly subscription fees and ad sales. Despite having just launched “server side ad insertion” in January, ad sales represent a “low single-digit percentage” of total revenue. The company is expecting an overall revenue run rate of $100 million within 12 months.

Fan Marino: Fubo TV’s $45/mo. package, marketed as “a real sports package, for the real sports fan”, contains 85 channels; a collection of local TV networks (think: ABC, CBS, FOX), national cable networks (think: FS1, NFL Network), RSNs (think: MSG, YES, NESN) and difficult to find conference networks (think: Big 10 Network, Pac-12 Network). The bundle includes more sports channels than any other competitor, but lacks the most valuable (to a sports fan) national cable network; ESPN. Is ESPN (and ESPN2) worth the additional +/- $55/mo. required to retain your cable bundle? Probably not, but I’m not signing up for an OTT service without it.

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ESPN, Fox Sports Submit Joint Bid for UFC TV Rights

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ESPN (DIS) and Fox Sports (FOXA) have submitted a joint bid worth at least $320 million annually, to split exclusive television broadcast rights to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Reports indicate that ESPN would contribute between $120 million and $180 million per year, to add +/- 15 premium live-events to its new ESPN+ service; with Fox Sports committed to spending $200 million per year, for the bulk of the TV package. There had been speculation Endeavor would hold on to UFC broadcast rights and distribute them direct-to-consumer following the company’s $250 million acquisition of the digital video broadcasting provider Neulion.

Howie Long-Short: In 2016, Endeavor paid $4 billion for the UFC expecting to cash in on this round of rights negotiations; but, poor ratings (-22% on Fox, -17% on FS1 in ‘17) and the pending availability of WWE television rights, lowered expectations dramatically. Initial reports had the company seeking $450 million/year, but by late 2017 Fox was offering just $200 million/year to extend broadcast rights into 2019.

This deal makes too much sense, for everyone involved, not to be completed. Endeavor could take in as much as $380 million/year, a figure that seemed unfathomable back in December.  The Walt Disney Company would acquire some much-needed content for ESPN+ and Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) would retain the bulk of the UFC TV package, while holding firm on their $200 million offer. Sure, they’re paying $80 million/year more for less programming; but, they retained live assets (Fox wants to be 80% live sports, news) and are still well positioned to pursue the WWE contract.

Fan Marino: It’s not nearly as rare as one might think for DIS and FOXA to share broadcast rights. Both ESPN and Fox Sports carry Big Ten athletics, Pac-12 athletics, MLS and USMNT matches.

As for the UFC fanatic, this deal means they’ll be forced to spend an additional $4.99/mo. (ESPN+) on fights, that they previously had access to with a cable subscription.

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Yahoo! Exits European DFS Market

Yahoo!

Less than a year after entering the European market, Yahoo! (AABA) has decided it will cease hosting paid-entry daily fantasy sports contests for its overseas users. The decision, effective at the completion of the English Premier League season (May 14), will leave free contests (including season-long offerings) as the only options available on the U.K. platform. Yahoo! isn’t the first DFS provider to pull out of Europe, FanDuel engaged U.K. users in 2016 before deciding to re-allocate marketing resources to a U.S. market with 5x the number of DFS players (53 million to 10 million).

Howie Long-Short: Yahoo! is exiting the U.K. DFS market for the same reason U.S. DFS operators are gearing up for legalized sports betting; there is no market for “substitute” gambling, when in-game betting is a reality. Those that play fantasy sports for fun, compete in free season-long competitions; while those that want in the action, have sports gaming apps at their disposal.

DraftKings UK, Sportito and PlayON are the biggest remaining DFS players in Europe. DraftKings has raised capital from 21st Century Fox (FOXA). Sportito is a joint venture between ASAP Italia and SportRadar. EQT Holdings Management (EQGP), a publicly traded private equity/venture capital firm with 11 exits (IPO/M&A) to its name, led Sportradar’s +/- $55 million P.E. round in July ’12. As for PlayON, despite the company’s $43 million valuation; there are no ways invest in the company.

Fan Marino: Speaking of DraftKings, the company recently announced a partnership with the Arena Football League, that will give users the ability to compete in newly formed contests while watching league games within the application. It’s the 2nd broadcast rights deal the DFS company has signed within the last 6 months. In October, DraftKings secured rights to live stream EuroLeague games (applies to players participating in contests $3+).

As non-traditional players (think: FAANG) begin acquiring sports rights, keep an eye on the gaming companies. DraftKings CEO Matt Kalish hit the nail on the head when pointing out that what DFS players (and gamblers) “really want is a one-stop shop”, where you can play (and in the future gamble) and “consume game content” in the same location.

DraftKings has made no secret of their intention on moving into the sports betting space, should SCOTUS rule it legal. Corporate spokesman James Chisholm was quoted as saying DFS companies are “perfectly positioned to succeed (think: 10 million users) in a legal sports betting market.” The company has hired a “Head of Sportsbook” and is reportedly “contacting potential casino partners.”

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Comcast Drops Big Ten Network from All But 9 “Home Markets”

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Comcast Corporation (CMCSA) has dropped Big Ten Network from its cable offerings in all but 9 “home markets”, explaining several factors played into the decision; “ranging from the costs programmers charge us to carry their channels and the amount of viewership, to available alternatives.” Subscribers in Illinois (IU, ILL, NW) Indiana (IU, PUR), Maryland (UM), Michigan (UM, MSU) Minnesota (UM), New Jersey (RU), Ohio (OSU), Pennsylvania (PSU) and Wisconsin (UW) will continue to receive the conference network. Iowa (IU) & Nebraska (NU) are the only “home markets” excluded from the list, as Comcast does not provide services to residents of those states. CMCSA has stated there are no plans to cut the network from the remaining “home markets.”

Howie Long-Short: The timing of this decision is likely related to a recent report indicating the Pac 12 Network average subscriber fee declined 63% over the last 5 years (to $.11), while the Big Ten Network (B10) fee increased 30% over the same time (to $.48). Rising carriage fees are directly correlated to the “(rising) costs programmers charge us to carry their channel”; and with basketball season over and football season not starting for another 4 months, CMCSA sees the opportunity to lower the amount it pays the conference to carry the channel.

If in fact the decision is final, their loss would be a gain for Time Warner (TWX), DirecTV (T), DISH and Verizon (VZ); carriers that offer the network nationwide, as passionate Big Ten football fans will switch providers before missing a big game. For those interested in owning a piece of the Big Ten Network, you can invest in Fox Entertainment Group (FOXA); they control 51%, with the 14 member Universities owning the balance.

Fan Marino: College football programs utilize different accounting methods, with some schools allocating a larger percentage of their conference payouts to the sport (in FY16 it ranged between 45%-85% at Big 10 schools); making it tough to compare apples to apples. If you remove the conference payout ($16.1 million) from the ledger, the picture becomes clearer.

In 2016-2017, Michigan ($40.3 million), Ohio State ($24 million) and Penn State ($16.3 million) had the football programs within the conference, that generated the largest surplus (discounting the payout); while Purdue ($11.97 million), Minnesota ($13.4 million) and Indiana ($14.6 million) operated at the biggest losses. Of course, it’s not a coincidence that Michigan, OSU and PSU finished 1st, 3rd and 2nd, respectively; while Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana ended that season that season 10th, 5th and 11th out of 13 teams. The more a program wins, the more revenue it generates. Northwestern, a private institution, does not release its football program’s financials.

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Pac-12 Networks Lags Far Behind Big Ten, SEC Networks

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SNL Kagan, a media research firm, has published a report detailing the average subscription fees for 26 national sports networks; data that reflects just how far Pac-12 Networks (P12) lags behind the Big Ten (B10) & SEC Networks. While the B10 and SEC command average subscriber fees of $.48 (+30% since ‘12) and $.74 (launched in ’14), respectively, P12’s average subscriber fee has declined 63% to $.11, over the last 5 years. Just 4 of the 24 national sports networks that existed in 2012, have failed to increase their average subscriber fee since (Olympic Channel -11.5%, Tennis Channel -17.5%, beIN Sports -35%) and P12 experienced the sharpest decline among the group. The Sportsman Channel ($.06), Outdoor Channel ($.06), Outdoor Television ($.05) are the only national sports networks that command less per subscriber than P12 does.

Howie Long-Short: College networks operate on a tiered structure where subscribers within “home markets” pay higher subscription fees than “out of market” subscribers. So, as a network expands distribution and adds out-of-market subs, the average per sub fee will decline. In 2016, P12 signed distribution deals with Dish Network (DISH) and DISH owned Sling TV; a conscious decision to add viewers at the expense of their average subscription fee. One would imagine the average fee would drop even further if the network wereable to work out its long-time impasse with DirecTV and add 37 million households nationwide.

To be fair, P12 has added 7 million subscribers within the last 5 years and the network is on solid financial ground; paying out $2.75 million to each member institution in 2018. Of course, that’s just a small fraction of the estimated $8 million that each SEC and B10 member institution earned, from their respective conference networks, in 2016.

Fan Marino: You can’t buy Pac-12 Networks, as the outlet is wholly owned by the conference’s member institutions, but you can buy shares in both the B10 and SEC. Fox Entertainment Group (FOXA) controls 51% of B10 (Universities own balance) and SEC, is a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (DIS, 80%) and Hearst Communications.

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