Thursday, March 28, 2013
Update: The story below was originally published on April 3, 2012. Today we learned of 12 sports writers and editors fired from The Sporting News even as it partners with a UK-based company called Perform to chase digital sports rights and invests millions of dollars into this project. Another bad digital decision for this very strange management group.
It's been a long and winding road for The Sporting News (TSN). The weekly "Bible of Baseball" that started publishing in 1886 is now an online publication struggling for an identity. Pictured above is a 1949 edition featuring Jackie Robinson.
In 2006, TSN was purchased by American City Business Journals (ACBJ). If this company sounds familiar, it should. Scenedaily.com and Rowdy.com are two NASCAR online brands owned by ACBJ. The company calls itself the largest publisher of metropolitan newsweeklies in the country and is known for its business journals.
Back in 2008 a new online version of TSN was rolled-out called Sporting News Today. The project was designed to deliver updated sports news in a daily online publication. Click here for a story from sportscircuits.com about the ultimate demise of the product in August of 2011.
In a subsequent move to gain digital market share, ACBJ pulled-off one of the most unpopular moves in recent sports history. Click here for a story from sportsbybrooks.com on how ACBJ paid America Online (AOL) millions to kill the popular AOL Fanhouse and replace it with TSN-branded sports content.
"Our target is to be a top 10 sports site in terms of traffic, and the immediate combination with AOL should satisfy that on day one," TSN president Jeff Price said to paidcontent.org.
Price left Sports Illustrated Digital in April of 2009 after working as SI's Chief Marketing Officer for years before being named president in 2005. His history is one of mergers, agreements for shared content and purchases of smaller sports websites. He joined TSN in February of 2010.
Price's shared content efforts appeared to get a shot in the arm when AOL decided, in what some called a desperate move, to purchase The Huffington Post for over $300 million. Click here for the official press release where the top executives from both companies talk about everything under the sun, except sports coverage.
TSN boasts of its connection to the Huffington Post through the AOL deal. Click here to view the front page at HuffingtonPost.com. To get to sports, users must click the "More" button. The sports tab sits between the "Good News" and "Gay Voices" sections. Once on the sports front page, there are no links to NASCAR or motorsports of any kind. TSN is a tiny link at the bottom of the page.
All of this brings us back to NASCAR and ACBJ's record in the sport. Most fans remember the day in January of 2010 when stories began to appear online about a massive layoff underway inside ACBJ. It was targeted at NASCAR and it was not pretty.
Click here for a link to a Tom Jensen story about the demise of the NASCAR Scene publication. Once the dominant publication in the sport, ACBJ never "got it" during the digital transition and in the end Scene was closed and staff members terminated.
Two of the remaining NASCAR-themed business interests of ACBJ were SceneDaily and Rowdy, both online projects. Rowdy was a small and independent effort led by a group from Charlottesville, VA. ACBJ liked their efforts so much they bought the entire thing and moved the Rowdy staff to Charlotte, NC.
Click here for the note only weeks ago from Rowdy.com co-founder Tom van der Voort about changes to that business. After several years of floundering without direction or support, Rowdy.com was closed. Any remaining NASCAR content will appear on the TSN website.
Tuesday, word began to creep out that this time it was SceneDaily about to be affected. Reporter Bob Pockrass then confirmed that later this week visitors to SceneDaily.com will be redirected to the TSN NASCAR page. Just like that, another stand-alone NASCAR website is gone.
Pockrass advises that he is still working full time on the NASCAR beat for TSN. Click here to view the TSN NASCAR page which features little original content, many links to other news sources and a generic feel. It's clearly a move to put NASCAR content into a much broader online framework within a specific brand.
Price has the backing of top executives at ACBJ who are putting it on the line that he can bring The Sporting News brand back to life and make it a profitable business. With bigger fish to fry, NASCAR is going to take a step back on the sports priority list.
SceneDaily and Rowdy were both good websites that made a concerted effort to provide fans with original content. Thanks to those who worked on them both, your efforts will be missed.
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Blast from the past: This story was originally posted last fall when the first rumblings of big movement within FOX were underway. Today, FOXSports1 is being formally announced at the FOX "upfront" sales meeting out West. Twitter users can stay updated on this big topic by following TheDalyPlanet account. It should be interesting to see what is being added and what motorsports series and shows are going away.
When an athlete does something wrong, they get put on probation. When this action is to be shielded from the media, the term is secret probation. But the top of the heap is when someone does something that is so outrageous it deserves a special penalty. Then, it's double-secret probation time.
The logo above is from the FOX Sports 1 network in Australia. As you may remember, FOX executives Rupert Murdoch and David Hill both came from down under with a long history in sports TV. FOX operates multiple sports channels in that nation. Now, one may be making the trek to the US.
The American version of FOX Sports 1 is the double-secret probation cable TV network. This topic is already causing a big mess and the FOX Sports gang is trying very hard to keep it out of the media at all costs. In this day and age, that is next to impossible.
The hot rumor that has been simmering for months is that FOX Sports is set to end the floundering SPEED channel and rebrand that network into the US version of FOX Sports 1. SPEED has never flourished under the network's various management teams and continues trying to be a racing network on the weekends and a lifestyle/reality network on the weekdays.
The big problem for FOX is that ABC, NBC and CBS all have national cable sports networks up and running right now. FOX is far behind on the new sports TV business model and is playing catch-up. In typical FOX style, throwing money at the issue seems to be the order of the day.
Here is an excerpt from a Thursday Broadcasting & Cable story by John Lafayette on what FOX and parent company News Corp are about to pay to buy high-profile programming for the new network:
News Corp. is stepping up to the plate to take a swing at building a national sports cable network that can take on leader ESPN, sliding past Comcast’s NBCUniversal.
NBCU has already rebranded its Versus network as the NBC Sports Channel and has been hoping to get a boost from a new Major League Baseball deal. But according to published reports, Comcast got left in the on-deck circle because it wasn’t willing to pay as much as News Corp., which will be putting a bigger package of games on both its Fox Network and its Speed auto-racing channel, which will be rebranded as Fox Sports One.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the COO of News Corp was taking questions Thursday from the media after a communications conference in New York City. Sports was very much on the mind of the reporters. Here is Lafayette's round-up on that topic:
News Corp. COO Chase Carey said reports that the company would convert its Speed channel to a national sports network that would compete with ESPN were "rumors and speculation" at this point.
The latest round of stories about a new national network came amid word that News Corp.'s Fox was near a new deal with Major League Baseball that would give it rights to televise more games than its current deal does.
"We obviously haven't announced anything," said Carey, speaking at the Goldman Sachs 21st Annual Communacopia Conference in New York Thursday.
Carey did say, "We do like the sports business," adding that the company's underdeveloped networks like Speed and Fuel "do give us a real opportunity to do some really exciting things."
SPEED is currently on the air riding out existing contracts, including NASCAR. The sanctioning body's deal with the network is up in 2014 and nothing has been said about the continuation of any NASCAR programming on the new network. That is just not a good sign.
The bottom line is that other sports events being acquired for FOX Sports 1 conflict with the large blocks of Friday through Sunday time SPEED now devotes to NASCAR. While FOX does have other cable network outlets like FX and FUEL potentially available for NASCAR shows, it would seem doubtful that the kind of February to November NASCAR programming now carried by SPEED will return.
It will also be very interesting to see if NASCAR returns to the FOX Broadcast Network for Sprint Cup Series races in the new TV contract without the associated programming on a support network like SPEED. Normally, part of the leverage to carry that type of "shoulder" content comes from awarding the same network or media company the big prize of live races.
It was reported this week that on September 14 FOX Sports filed for a trademark on "FOX Sports 1" with the US Patent & Trademark Office. If the lack of original programming on SPEED and the billions about to be spent on Major League Baseball by FOX did not convince you that change was coming, perhaps trademarking the new network nationally will do it.
Working hard to live up to its double-secret probation status, FOX and News Corp have steadfastly denied any change is taking place. No one in the rank-and-file at SPEED has been told anything. If NASCAR has made any determination of future plans with FOX, the sanctioning body is not saying a word.
Change eventually comes to all media properties and in the digital age of new technology this is really no surprise. It's just a shame that NASCAR was never allowed to be the centerpiece of SPEED over the last decade. It just makes one wonder why these two companies were never able to use that kind of cooperation to grow their own internal brands.
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