Welcome to the another edition of Ad Age Sports Media Brief, a weekly roundup of news from every zone of the sports media spray chart, including the latest on broadcast/cable/streaming, sponsorships, endorsements, gambling and tech.
No prize in the RSN Cracker Jack box
With less than a month to go before Opening Day of the 2020 Major League Baseball season, the presenting sponsor of the World Series has fired a 100 mph beanball at the skulls of local sports fans.
In a thread posted to Twitter Thursday afternoon, YouTube TV announced it has pulled the plug on streaming the Fox-branded regional sports networks now owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group. Citing an inability to come to terms with Sinclair on a new rights deal, YouTube TV’s online mouthpiece revealed that it “will no longer offer Fox regional sports networks, including YES Network, beginning February 29th.”
The YouTube TV account went on to note that company higher-ups “do not take this decision lightly,” before adding that the decision to drop the RSNs “is a reflection of the rising cost of sports content.”
YouTube TV’s 2 million subscribers on Thursday received a similarly worded email alerting them to the changes coming to the sports-programming menu.
For its part, Sinclair said it had offered YouTube TV a lower fee and a “short-term extension” of the original negotiating window. (The carriage deal expires tonight at midnight ET.) “They’ve not yet responded to this offer,” a Sinclair rep said in a statement. “Given the ease with which YouTube TV subscribers can drop the service and switch providers, we are surprised that they’ve chosen this course.”
YouTube TV is the third over-the-top service to black out the RSNs, following on the heels of FuboTV’s decision to cut bait on New Year’s Day and Sling TV’s ouster in July 2019. Sling TV is owned by satellite-TV giant Dish Network, the source of Sinclair’s most disruptive freeze-out; the Fox-branded RSNs have been dark in some 12 million Dish homes for nearly eight months. (Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen told investors last week that he hoped an agreement could be reached in due course. “We would love to do a deal with regional sports; we really like Sinclair,” Ergen said. “It was an unfortunate circumstance that Sinclair did not own the RSNs when our contract was up.”)
Many RSNs now trail only ESPN as the most costly line-item expense on the monthly programming bill; per SNL Kagan estimates, three of the Fox RSNs—YES Network ($6.74), Fox Sports Detroit ($6.69), Fox Sports Arizona ($5.48)—command among the priciest affiliate fees on the menu.
YES Network has already mobilized in response to the standoff, warning YouTube TV subs that they “might miss out on the New York Yankees’ quest for World Championship No. 28 on YES.” Along with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Yanks are favored to win the Fall Classic at 3/1 odds. The Yanks are slated to inaugurate the 2020 campaign with a road visit to Baltimore on Thursday, March 26, a game that will air exclusively on YES.
An FAQ posted on the YES Net site doesn’t offer YouTube TV customers much hope that things will be worked out in short order: “We hope that we can reach an agreement with YouTube TV. However, based on the discussions we have had to date, we are not optimistic.”
The RSN blackout also will keep the new Marquee Sports Network, a joint venture owned by Sinclair and the Chicago Cubs, off YouTube TV. The Cubs channel, which made its TV debut on Feb. 22, is also facing an uphill climb in its home market, as Comcast has yet to add it to its sports tier. (Comcast serves some 1.6 million subs in the Chicago area.)
An extended YouTube TV blackout would also impact NBA and NHL fans. The Fox-branded RSNs have the exclusive local rights locked up to 42 professional sports franchises, including 14 MLB clubs, 16 NBA teams and 12 NHL rosters.
In addition to its high-impact World Series sponsorship, YouTube TV is also the presenting partner of the NBA Finals.
Glow up? More like throw up
Philadelphians are Big Mad about the Ally-Sheedy-in-“The Breakfast Club” makeover that’s been foisted on the Phillie Phanatic, a glow up necessitated by the expiration of the mascot’s longstanding copyright.
An MLB mainstay since 1978, the goofy green glob appears to have undergone some offseason gastric bypass surgery, as his formidable gut has been slimmed down in favor of a somewhat more robust tail section. His fur is a lighter hue, some sort of arcane rhinoplasty has reshaped his snout and the addition of pink stars behind his eyes suggests that the optometrist who treated Elton John in 1972 still has his license.
Phillies fans were quick to express their discontent with the revised Phanatic, taking to Twitter under the rubric of the #NotMyPhanatic hashtag to beef about the cosmetic tinkering. Things became so heated that Gritty Himself had to step into the fray, warning haters to back off.
Naturally, money and greed lay at the heart of all those unasked-for nips and tucks; the Phillies in 2019 filed suit against the mascot’s creators, who are looking to overturn a 1984 deal that transferred the Phanatic’s rights to the ball club in perpetuity. (The cost to the Phillies organization: $250,000.)
According to Wayde Harrison and Bonnie Erickson, the creative force behind the Phanatic, the makeover is a cynical attempt by the Phillies to deny them their rights under the Copyright Act of 1978. A provision in the law gives creators the inalienable right to “terminate” a grant of copyright 35 years after the grant was originally made.
Phillies Twitter has been characteristically vocal in its support of Harrison and Erickson. The consensus is that if the team has the resources to give Jake Arrieta a three-year, $75 million contract—with a year left on the deal, that works out to $4.2 million per win—they can damn well find a way to reimburse the “people who created Philadelphia’s most iconic figure outside of Rocky.”
The day after we dropped our deep dive into how Olympics advertisers are bearing up under the enigma of the coronavirus, Discovery execs weighed in on their own summer prospects. Speaking to investors during the cable outfit’s fourth-quarter earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Gunnar Wiedenfels said Discovery, which owns the European TV rights to the Tokyo Games, was “looking at all scenarios” as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread across the globe.
“Well, look, I mean, obviously, on this issue, we’re monitoring it closely,” Wiedenfels said during Thursday’s call. “We are following the IOC’s lead, and that’s about all we can do. At this point, we are continuing to prepare for the Olympics. And … to the extent possible, we have taken out some insurance here.”
JB Perrette, president and CEO of Discovery’s international networks unit, went on to say that Discovery’s insurance policy is sufficient to spare the company from a full-blown catastrophe. “We’re prepared and we’re ready to go, and we’re excited about going,” Perrette said. “And we feel like it should be a positive for us. And if that doesn’t happen…it won’t have an adverse impact on our financials.”
Discovery in 2015 snapped up the exclusive European multi-platform rights to the Olympics for $1.4 billion. Its current rights package extends through the Paris 2024 Games.
Today in stupid
In a nod to legendary Lions running back Barry Sanders, country music crooner Garth Brooks paid sartorial homage to No. 20 during a recent Detroit performance. Because we’re all getting dumber by the second and because everyone has a little publishing empire that allows us to express our skull-clutching inanity at a moment’s notice, Brooks’ social media mentions became swamped by people convinced that the jersey was meant as endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential run. Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina doesn’t get it either.