The Arena Debate and Local Sports Talk Radio

December 30, 2016

Since the SoDo arena was first proposed, dividing lines have been drawn between those supporting the plan and those opposed, whether on an economic development basis, political views, the future direction of Seattle, etc.  That has extended to sports talk radio as well, with KJR 950 supporting the plan, and in many ways actively campaigning for the arena.  As such, the station has interviewed Chris Hansen multiple times, along with other arena supporters.  In contrast, the potential redevelopment of KeyArena and any other regional arena proposals, often get quickly shot down as not feasible by those at the station.

Meanwhile, 710 ESPN, likely influenced by the Mariners and Seahawks, their broadcast partners, has barely mentioned the SoDo proposal.  Essentially, they’ve practically ignored the plan over the last couple of years, using arguments that the anti SoDo groups have applied.  This position stands out, because early on in the SoDo developments, 710 was not so indifferent.  And especially recently, they’ve taken the banner of KeyArena redevelopment and ran with it.  This included an interview with Tim Leiweke, the public face of one of the two groups planning to respond to a city issued RFP for renovating KeyArena.

Expect this situation to carry on into 2017, until one plan finally stands above the other.  Then both stations will likely support whatever arena plan that is, because only then can progress be made towards the ultimate goal, which is getting NHL and NBA franchises to fill that arena.

Pac-12 Football Championship Game

November 30, 2016

It’s the early ’90s all over again, as #4 Washington takes on #8 Colorado in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game in Santa Clara on Friday.  Both teams are having renaissance seasons reminiscent of 25yrs ago, when both programs were national powers.  This is the third consecutive year the title game will be held in the neutral home of the 49ers.

Since neither school has played in the title game previously, and boast numerous Bay Area alumni, it’ll be interesting to see the attendance for the game.  The previous two games had 45K (on a Fri.) and 58K fans; with Stanford playing in the second one on a Saturday, and undoubtedly helping bump up attendance.  This year’s matchup is also the second best in terms of national college football playoff rankings, after 2014’s #2 Oregon vs #7 Arizona (yes, hard to believe).

The neutral site game can still work. But the conference may want to consider playing the game at the Rose Bowl.  These days, the conference champion isn’t assured of playing in the Rose Bowl Game, so it’s not guaranteed the conference winner would play two consecutive games there to end the season.  The Rose Bowl has an aura that not many venues have in college football, something the conference should take advantage of by staging its premier game there.  Los Angeles is a recruiting hotbed, so two programs would be rewarded by gaining additional exposure to those athletes.

The area wasn’t great for the conference basketball tournament, but football might be a different story.  And while so many conferences are playing their championships in modern NFL stadiums, there’s an intrigue factor about playing a conference championship in a historic stadium that speaks to college football.  Even for a conference that sees itself on the tech and media cutting edge.

Local Aspects of AT&T – Time Warner Deal

October 29, 2016

The proposed purchase of Time Warner by AT&T includes local aspects for sports fans.  First, AT&T is the minority partner in the M’s ROOT Sports Northwest.  That is one of four RSNs that AT&T has an ownership stake, via its purchase of DirecTV last year.  Analyst opinions have been split over the years as to whether DirecTV/AT&T would seek to expand their RSN portfolio or sell it off.  Given the sports rights that may be acquired thru Time Warner, AT&T may now see those assets as something to capitalize on, especially in the mobile space, going forward.

Second, the Pac-12 Network has yet to agree to a carriage agreement with DirecTV/AT&T.  That’s been a thorny issue since the network débuted.  And now that AT&T is the largest pay TV operator, this lack of carriage remains detrimental to the conference.  As the merger agreement moves through the regulatory process, the standoff between AT&T and the Pac-12 may be an item that gets attention (and resolved) before approval is granted.

There is a long way to go between now and government approval, which is no certainty. Approval would make the new AT&T an even bigger provider and distributor of content than Comcast.  With a sports portfolio likely eclipsing it as well.  And as such, could impact fans throughout the Puget Sound region.

Sounders Valuation Again Tops Forbes List

September 29, 2016

The Sounders once again topped Forbes’ MLS valuation list.  According to the magazine, the club’s value increased from $245M to $285M over the last year.  As with last year, Forbes bases the valuations on a multiple of assumed revenue.  It’s not the clearest way to value a team, as a multiple of operating profit would be preferable.  But in Forbes defense, MLS financial figures are not easily found.

Still, it’s a bit hard to believe the Sounders are worth more than any of the New York or Los Angeles franchises.  With MLS even more of a socialist model than the NFL, one would expect valuations to roughly equate to market size, as with the NFL minus some unique exceptions (Cowboys, Packers, Steelers, etc).  But MLS clubs still have wide differences in stadium revenue generating opportunities as compared to the NFL.  So as a result, it’s quite possible that an upper middle market team could be more valuable than at least a few large market franchises.


What’s Streaming in Seattle Sports?

August 30, 2016

Streaming of sports events is big.  But it’s getting further attention, if that’s possible, due to the approaching kickoff of the NFL season and the league’s deal with Twitter.  Twitter will stream Thursday night games produced by CBS and NBC.

While Amazon is reportedly considering bidding for sporting events, what’s going on with the local teams?  Essentially the Seahawks, and Mariners and Sounders to an extent, are locked into national media deals that already cover streaming.  ROOT Sports Northwest, Mariner owned and part of AT&T, does not yet permit streaming of M’s games with cable/satellite authentication.  AT&T and its RSNs are among the few that haven’t reached a deal yet with MLB.

The Reign and Sounders 2 are two teams whose games are streamed and available without a pay TV subscription.  This is valuable to sports fans and probably leaves most fans wanting more from their other teams.  But it’s slow going with many rights holders involved and a lot of money at stake.

A sort of middle ground might find teams that already televise via an RSN, such as the M’s, offering an alternative broadcast online via subscription that complements the television broadcast.  The webcast could be stats heavy, or offer different camera angles or some other differentiation from the televised product.  It’d be a way for a team to try to reach fans that don’t subscribe to TV, but might be willing to pay for a quality online experience.  In time, those fans might transition to TV or to a new subscription streaming package of the actual games as seen on TV.

The possibilities are great.  None of this is new.  Hopefully teams in this region will take advantage of the tech expertise available locally in software, mobile and cloud to offer futuristic products in sports viewing that reflect the home audience.

MLS Partners with SeatGeek

July 31, 2016

Early this week MLS announced it will partner with SeatGeek to essentially open its secondary ticket market.  This is opposite what other leagues are doing with regards to the secondary market.  Kudos to MLS.  It’ll be interesting to see the impact of this move over time.

The Sounders get excellent attendance at matches.  Their next step is another big jump in numbers to get closer to selling out the CLink on a regular basis.  That’s a ways a way.  But a more open and dynamic secondary market should help.  The move surely will prove popular with season ticket holders, who now will have multiple options to list tickets, even at the same time.  This contrasts with recent moves to make selling tickets more difficult, such as the loading of tickets on a ticket card and the ticket placed in the team app.  And of course, all fans have preferred ways of handling their tickets and selling them should the need arise.

Major League Soccer proves it’s willing to shake things up and not settle for what the other popular leagues are doing.  This is wise given how young the league is and such trial and error may yield some surprise benefits in the future.  Along with the benefit of the doubt from its fans.

What’s With the Blazers?

June 29, 2016
Rumors are swirling that the Trail Blazers are about to decamp CSNW for ROOT Sports NW following their hire of Kevin Calabro.  This would represent a return engagement for the team and network in many respects.  The team left ROOT precursor Fox Sports NW for CSNW due to the Blazers concerns with the Seattle centric nature of the network at the time, which had the Blazers as second fiddle to the Sonics.  It probably helped that CSNW was offering much more than FSNW for the Blazers to become the focal of the new network.  That relationship soon turned sour once CSNW could not get widespread coverage throughout the Northwest, leaving many Blazers fans, even in Portland, unable to watch the telecasts.
Two questions immediately come to mind.  Are the M’s willing to share ROOT with the Blazers?  And can CSNW afford to lose the Blazers?  As mentioned here before, ROOT definitely could use more live programming.  And locking those rights up in the Portland market ensures extended carriage of the network, beyond it’s Seattle focus.  But adding the Blazers would also mean the M’s have to invest in ROOT, which they haven’t really done much of beyond a renovated studio.
Should the Blazers leave CSNW, that network would be in dire straights.  With limited carriage as is, the willingness of operators to carry the network without the Blazers would drop further.  It seems that CSNW has reached a stage where they must either go big, keeping the Blazers and maybe getting Timbers rights, or sell.  Maybe to Fox, maybe to ROOT.  Who knows?
While Sonics fans may not care, it makes sense that the Blazers covet the Northwest market.  ROOT seems the most logical way to accomplish this.  Following the Blazers’ TV decision, the next media item to watch will be whether the team also seeks a radio deal in the Puget Sound market.  After all, their radio voice is familiar to long time KJR listeners.