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Crawford: USAU Has Chance To Get Live TV Games In Upcoming Media Contract

[caption id=“attachment_20381” align=“aligncenter” width=“640”]An ESPN cameraman at the 2013 Club Championships. Photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com[/caption]

USA Ultimate CEO Tom Crawford said in an interview this week that he believes there is a chance that USA Ultimate will be able to broadcast games live on a television network as a part of the next media deal for the organization.

The ESPN contract, which began in 2013, expires after this year. USA Ultimate is already working on a new deal that is expected to begin in time for the College Championships in 2017.

When asked if USA Ultimate has a chance to “get games onto live TV beyond a web portal like ESPN3,” Crawford was clear: “Yes. I think so.”

While noting that the sport has developed a positive reputation and looks good on air, he also acknowledged that there are “challenges in viewership.” It is difficult to make deals for live cable TV coverage when the audience simply isn’t big enough to generate revenue through advertising.

Notably, there is more competition than ever in the sports television landscape. Fox Sports has pushed to challenge ESPN’s supremacy with the launch of channels FS1 and FS2, but the nascent networks still have little in the way of live sports programming, opting more for studio shows and talking heads. That could be a possible in for a niche sport like ultimate.

See Crawford’s full remarks below.

Charlie Eisenhood: This is the final year of the ESPN3 deal that will run through the National Championships this October. What are USA Ultimate’s biggest priorities, looking ahead to the next media deal, whether that is a renegotiation and extended contract with ESPN or something different altogether? Are there things that you’ve learned throughout the last few years with the ESPN3 deal? How do you approach this upcoming 2017 year with a media deal in mind?

Tom Crawford: We just want to do everything with Ultiworld.

CE: [Laughs] Good answer! Perfect.

TC: [Laughs] I thought that’s the answer you wanted.


Going forward, I think we’re exploring a variety of options. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about what those are, other than to say that there is interest, for sure, from the broadcasting community on our sport. I think we’ve got some challenges in viewership. You would know this better than anybody. But we don’t get a ton of people watching. And, even though we’ve got a ton of people – supposedly, according to SFIA – playing the sport, the viewership could be better.

Any of the groups that we talk to, part of what we’re going to be talking about is – in addition to providing high quality production and coverage so we can continue to show the sport off to all the people who have never heard about it before. We also want to try to get a little bit better promotion of it, so that more people will watch and the viewership numbers can begin to be driven up a little bit. And I think that’s going to be an interesting part of the conversations.

CE: I know you don’t want to talk too much about this, but I will ask: obviously this is a challenge with the numbers. You’re absolutely right: the live-viewing numbers are just not enough to really move the needle from a big television network standpoint. But is there a chance that you’re going to be able to get games onto live TV beyond a web portal like ESPN3?

TC: Yes, I think so.

CE: Any particular reasons why? Are you going to be able to negotiate that? Or is there a belief that if you build it, they will come?

TC: These first four years were really, really important to establish legitimacy, a reputation.

I’ll give you an example coming out of the US Open in Rhode Island. At the end of it, we do some debriefing – actually, we do it every day. And one of the things that happened this year that was really interesting for us, because, you know, we don’t get a lot of this feedback, is that a blend, sort of a combo, of the University of Rhode Island. You know, they’ve got some pretty big time sports there. Their basketball program is – I’d be very surprised if they aren’t the Big Dance this year. They’ve got a really good team, good coach. They do pretty high quality sports production there.

A couple of those folks were standing there with us and the ESPN folks. And, basically, in front of the ESPN folks, said, you know we want to compliment you guys. You guys do a much better job than many of the other sports that we work with, including our own athletic department, in the way that you put your sport out there, the way that you produce it and present it. And it was really fun to work with you.

And this is all informal, but informally, the ESPN guys said, ‘Yea, we agree. We agree that it’s fun to work with you guys because we love the way you work closely with us and we really feel like you guys are a partner and we don’t always feel that way with the other groups that we work with.’

So, all of those groups talk to each other. So we’ve worked hard to develop a really strong, positive reputation as a good group to work with, as a good sport to work with. And that we do our part – and work our tails off to make sure that – when it goes up on somebody’s network, it looks really good and they are happy to have it on the network. And that’s going to help us in our next negotiations that we enter into.

Originally published at: http://ultiworld.com/2016/07/22/crawford-usau-chance-get-live-tv-games-upcoming-media-contract/

Reading this article reminds me of an interesting thought that has occurred to me a couple times over the last year. When USAU first started their partnership with ESPN, the commercials during the broadcast were extremely limited…basically Five Ultimate (This is the microwave shot) and promos for sportscenter. More recent broadcasts have included a number of other commercial spots such as ones you could see on broadcast TV. I have been wondering about the change. Are companies seeing the value of advertising to our demographic or are these commercials part of package. For example, Company X pays some amount of money for 100 ads to be shown during any random ESPN3 broadcast. The first possibility is exciting as it would seem to indicate that companies see some value in advertising during ultimate broadcasts and that translates to more dollars and more TV time. The second possibility is more disheartening.

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Here’s a few questions for folks interested in this:

  • Do you watch network television? Do you get cable?
  • When was the last time you watched something that you stumbled upon while changing the channel?
  • What percentage of video media do you consume online vs. on tv?

For me: I haven’t gotten cable for over 12 years and can’t remember the last time (other than on a plane) where I started watching something after flipping channels. I’ve got an Amazon stick that allows me to watch ESPN3 and Youtube live streams on my TV.

It seems to me that the goal of network television for ultimate is going against the current trend in media consumption. If visibility is indeed the primary strategy for USAU, I’d think the better tactic would be facilitating more live streaming (by making it more accessible to new, first time streamers, our current endemic providers like Fulcrum and Ultiworld, as well as non-endemic online media like ESPN3), figuring out new ways to use the two-way medium of internet to engage viewers in the game, and then using social networking to get people to watch (take a page from Brodie’s playbook).

I think our position as a newer, less entrenched sport gives us a huge opportunity to build our media strategy around these big changes in media consumption unencumbered by traditional ways of doing things. Thoughts?

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During College Nationals I was texting with someone in a different DMA (designated market area) and they were getting different commercials than we were (we were getting all pro-bono commercials that I assume ESPN was just writing off, the other area was getting local ads).

What I think is happening (although confirmation from USAU would be great) is that ESPN bundles some or all of their ESPN3 programming advertising together and sells it by market. Given what have been reportedly very low impression numbers from our broadcasts, it seems unlikely that anyone is buying advertising specifically for ultimate on ESPN3.

That said, from the limited AUDL games I’ve watched it does seem they may have some league advertisers buying ESPN3 ad space, so maybe the event organizer can sell ad space as well?

The problem with streaming is that you only reach people who know about it, the people already in the sport. To grow the sport you need to reach people that aren’t already players, people who haven’t seen it. And TV coverage does exactly that. The week after the ESPNU college broadcast in June two people in my company of 120 mentioned to me that they’d been channel surfing and saw Ultimate. Neither had ever seen it before. So yea, lots and lots and lots of people have TV’s and channel surf around the sports networks. Comparably, I haven’t yet had someone come to me and say they saw Ultimate for the first time through a tweet or FB post. Anecdotal i realize but a data point.

I hear you. I remember going to PE conferences and people would say they saw the sport on CSTV. And it’s also clear that looking at social media mentions and neilson ratings the viewership is stagnant or declining.

On the other side, a LOT of people have been turned on to the sport through Facebook and Twitter - just look at Brodie or the NKolakovic’s stuff. This might be a generational thing - which plays into the point of who are we looking to appeal to?

I think the questions we should be asking are:

  • What is going to get us the best bang for our buck?
  • What will allow us to set up the sport longer term?
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I agree those are good questions. And a lot of work is going into figuring that out right now. Not work I’m involved with but definitely work I’m excited about.

lots and lots and lots of people have TV’s and channel surf around the sports networks

This seems like a terrible way to encourage growth. A non-targeted shotgun approach that won’t bring new fans to the sport and makes accessing the live content harder for the current membership/fans. How many new fans were brought in my the CBS sports broadcast of mixed WFDF finals? Forget that, how many people even saw it? The CEO of USAU didn’t even catch the whole game.

On the other hand, think about partnering with something like Twitch. Accessible to every ultimate fan with internet (I, like Kyle and a growing fraction do not have cable TV), and even offers some aspect of this channel flipping that everyone seems so obsessed by. It has Chromecast compatibility, so you can even watch it on a big screen TV ad not just laptop screen.

Will 40 year olds be flipping through Twitch? No. But how many 40 year olds are looking for a new sport to engage with. I’ll bet it’s way fewer than teenagers and younger who populate Twitch and other services I’ve never heard of because I’m “old” at 30.

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Live TV gives the sport a level of legitimacy that streaming just doesn’t.
Example 1: Bartender, can you turn ESPN 2 on?
Example 2: Bartender, can I plug in my chrome cast to stream some ultimate? Also, what’s your wifi password and is there an outlet I can put my laptop next to?

I’m a cord cutter who hasn’t had cable in 5 years and a player who appreciates streamed games but live sports on TV are still a staple in american society that streaming doesn’t hold a candle to. Note that while Netflix and Hulu have made inroads for shows and documentaries live events are still dominated by networks. In addition, once streaming live events becomes mainstream you can bet current content producers like ESPN and FOX sports will be there with the highest viewership streaming platforms in the industry.

This whole discussion assumes viewership and visibility should be primary goals for USAU. I guess that’s a discussion for last week.

This weeks best streaming: http://www.allstarultimatetour.com/

Would you please pass on to those involved to keep international viewers in mind? It feels odd that i can watch all games up to semifinals of the college/club championships, but the games deciding the winner, is out of reach because ESPN3 is not available outside the US.

Example 1: Bartender, can you turn ESPN 2 on?
Example 2: Bartender, can I plug in my chrome cast to stream some ultimate? Also, what’s your wifi password and is there an outlet I can put my laptop next to?

Is this something that is happening at meaningful levels? People going to bars and asking for ultimate? If it is, who is it lending legitimacy to? The bartender?

If that is the strategy, who are we missing in it? I’d say families and kids. I’ve got two kids, I’d say it adds a heck of a lot more legitimacy to the sport (for my kids) if I sit and watch ultimate on my tv via chromecast while my kids see me doing that than if I say “hey, dad’s going to the bar to watch ultimate” (and, maybe I’m a bad ultimate fan, but I don’t care enough to try and find a bar that’s going to be up for turning ultimate on their TV).

For the record, I’m not saying relationships with ESPN, FOX and others are bad. I think ESPN3 has been great (particularly this year). I just think the idea of thinking of live network TV as the holy grail of visibility is potentially flawed when we could be laying the groundwork to make ultimate the best sport for the future of live sports: internet streaming.

This whole discussion assumes viewership and visibility should be primary goals for USAU. I guess that’s a discussion for last week.


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FWIW, I watch fris-BAY! all the time at the Pub when I’m pulling one of my ‘pretend to be working/writing’ dinners. So, I have the wifi for every pub I frequent. I guess if I knew it was on, and my alternative was Twins-Braves, I might ask bartender to switch over to the game.

Aside, was streaming some USAU game on my computer to the ‘big TV’ while I coded data analysis software (cough) on the small screen.

'Why do they all run out on the field? That looks dumb.'
I have to say. I kind of agree. I mean I kind of do it. I’ve done it a lot in the past. I feel it. But, all 90 seconds should be put to use, I think. Thoughts?

PS. I’ll be attending Braves-Twins next week. Battle of the bottom, and a free 25 year commemorative mug of Twins series victory over the Braves (I lived in ATL at time).

Live footage of Crawford’s meetings with ESPN on this possibility: http://i.imgur.com/KADRtXZ.gif