Tuesday, May 14, 2024

UFL on Fox average ratings at nearly one million viewers in league's first season

 By Zachary Baru

We have reached the midpoint of the United Football League's first season, and so far the league has averaged 946,000 viewers per game on Fox according to Nielson Media Research.  

Games through Week 5 have been up 29% compared to games through Week 5 in the 2023 season, which had two separate leagues, the XFL and the United States Football League.  Games through Week 5 in 2023 only averaged 731,000 viewers per game on Fox, showing a significant growth in the league's viewership on Fox as compared to last season.

Although these ratings are great signs for the league and for Fox as well, the reality of increased sports betting throughout the nation in recent years should also be noted.  Since a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, 38 states and the District of Columbia now allow some form of sports betting.

In addition to Fox, the UFL this season has games airing on FS1, ESPN, ABC and SiriusXM.  Games on Sirius XM are using two different channels, Fox Sports on SiriusXM and ESPN Xtra on SiriusXM.  The season concludes in June with two Conference Championships, one on ABC and the other on Fox.  Both will also be on SiriusXM satellite radio.  The season ultimately wraps up with the first-ever UFL Championship, airing Sunday, June 16 on Fox and SiriusXM.  The championship will be played in St. Louis at the Dome at America's Center.

The most viewed game on Fox this year topped 1 million viewers, as the Michigan Panthers vs. St. Louis Battlehawks had 1,349,000 viewers on March 30.  St. Louis also leads the league in attendance this season, averaging 35,014 fans per game through three home games according to OutKick.

The top ten markets through Week 5 on Fox may surprise some, with Birmingham leading the way.  St. Louis is next, followed by New Orleans, Detroit, Tulsa, Kansas City, Memphis, Louisville, San Antonio and Columbus, consecutively.  Not all markets have teams in the UFL, as Kansas City, Columbus and New Orleans does not have UFL franchises.  

With average viewership on Fox nearly reaching 1 million, the league should feel upbeat about the response to spring football in just the merged-league's first season as the United Football League.  The increase in sport betting should be factored in, but the fact remains people are still watching the games, regardless of the reason.  For a spring football league, and one just in its infancy, the UFL should be proud of what is has accomplished on television in its first year after the merger.

UFL Franchises:

Birmingham Stallions, Protective Stadium

Houston Roughnecks, Rice Stadium

Memphis Showboats, Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium

Michigan Panthers, Ford Field

Arlington Renegades, Choctow Stadium

D.C. Defenders, Audi Field

San Antonio Brahmas, Alamodome

St. Louis Battlehawks, The Dome at America's Center

Source: Fox Sports, Nielson Media Research, OutKick, Forbes

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes SportsBusinessBoston.com and WesternMassSportsBiz.com.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The art of ticket collecting dies in a digital age, and the trouble venues face

By Zachary Baru

Remember coming back from a game and saving your ticket, storing it in a closet, only to say "one day I'll create a collage of this".  Some of us did, others like myself are still telling themselves this, but either way it's yet another lost art to the digital age.  For those of us who love collecting memories to events, or for Gen Z who probably don't even know such an option existed, the reality now is it's just no longer an option at all.  

This creates two sets of problems: fans will no longer have something physical to connect to past experiences, and venues now have 18,000+ fans entering, of which only half actually are given a ticket.  The ladder actually represents a myriad of problems, but let's save that for later.  

Experiences That Last a Lifetime, or Until Deleted From the Apple Wallet

Starting with experiences, they can certainly be digital, and often now will be videos and pictures on phones, but experiences are also often physical.  A ticket from a past event can bring the mind back to exactly when that event happened, and just how great that event was.  It's fun for fans, just as pictures on a wall trigger great memories, but from a marketing perspective its also a great promotional tool reminding fans of positive experiences.  This might be the part where some would say I'm reaching too far, but just think of all the things you see and touch each day and how often those objects remind you of certain tasks, and especially memories.  Either way, something tangible can and will remind a fan to want to return to an event.  A digital ticket on an Apple Wallet that is deleted after a game is useless once the event ends.  

And for what?  If it is an attempt to reduce expenses, my question is just how much are venues really saving on tickets that don't exactly cost a lot to purchase in bulk orders.  But more importantly, how much are you saving now that you are eliminating the opportunity to place advertisements on the back of the paper tickets, as some venues formerly did?  Now that venues may hand out an extreme limited quantity of paper tickets for each event, often because there was some email or text transfer issue, venues are not going to have the opportunity to sell advertising.  Especially if a venue is only printing well under 100 paper tickets to an event that seats 18,000.  This can possibly be the biggest reason for a need to bring back paper tickets, as a lot of potential advertising revenue is lost for each event.

"I Don't Have a Ticket, My Friend Bought It"

Finally, there is one last problem with the loss of paper tickets, which almost anyone who has attended an event over the last few years has noticed - many people simply don't have tickets.  Laughable, I know.  But it is the reality with a digital approach to ticketing.  I work for two pro teams in Florida in two different departments, both of which involve working with fans each event.  Working in guest services for one team, I notice this every single game - half, at most, of the fans entering a section actually have a ticket.  

When a person buys multiple tickets, only the fan who purchased the tickets receives them.  They are immediately told they cannot screen shot, and by now most fans know that if they attempt to screen shot, they are just sent back to the box office because they are denied entry.  What happens here is one person buys for two, three, or more people, and only one person actually knows where the seats are, and only one person can actually prove where they are sitting to ushers or fans already in the seats.  This causes many negative interactions between fans, but also negative interactions with ushers and supervisors.  Since fans know screen shots are not allowed, many simply will not do this even for proof of where to sit.  Not to mention, I have noticed the overwhelming majority of fans immediately add a ticket to their own Apple Wallet, something obviously only viewable to themselves.  The end result is in your average party of two or three who attends an event, typically only one person actually is in possession of a ticket showing where they are sitting.  This creates a laundry list of problems for fans entering, fans sitting in a seat where someone else thinks they are sitting, and yes of course, the ushers and supervisors who are left to try to police it all.  

It's not easy when once again, half of the fans actually have a ticket showing where they are sitting, and the other half have consumed more alcohol than they probably should have.  All kidding aside, the fact remains that when tickets are not physically dispersed, it is extremely difficult for fans to determine where they are sitting and how to prove if they are actually allowed in a specific section or not.  It can be chaotic, and having been on both ends of this, I can attest that it is frustrating as a fan when someone else buys your ticket, and the usher does not believe you when you try to return to your seat from the bathroom.  In some venues, their platform does not allow the ticket to be transferred without being resold.  All of this could be fixed by simply buying cheap paper tickets, selling advertising on the back, and giving them to fans at the box office. 

The Goal

I'd like to think the goal of all of this is a positive one like "going green", but while that may be true in some cases, in most cases it seems teams' carbon footprints are so far through the roof in other areas that it is hard to buy that claim.  Many teams do not have recycling throughout the venue, many teams do not have proper use of solar power, and teams' carbon footprint with flying and buses to and from airports and hotels does make it hard to buy a claim of being green.  To be fair, there are some teams that do excel in this category, and they should be applauded.  The majority of them however, do not, making the case for a common sense approach to brining back an art that anyone in Gen Z may not even know.  A time when you could actually remember an event without staring at an iPhone screen.  A time when you actually had a ticket to enter a section, and a time when you could actually pick up a piece of your childhood, and remember it for the rest of your life.


Writer's Note: This was a special article for me.  I do not write these posts for monetary gain.  I do not host advertisements like other bloggers or writers may post, I do it simply because I love sports and I love business.  This to me is a great way of combining my two passions, and this particular article was extremely special for me to write.  Not only am I a nostalgic person, someone who loves remembering the past and learning about the past as well, but I also have been given a great opportunity over the last year to work for two pro teams where I see this very topic come up each week during the games.  I started this past season looking at this particular change to ticketing as a positive one, but now that I am experiencing it on a week-to-week basis, I've noticed, well, there is at the very least a discussion to be had here.  It's also been interesting to me that I have not seen many articles about this written or discussions about this in the media.  I hear fans' feedback every event, and even co-workers feedback as well, but I just don't see this topic at all in the media.  So if you read this, do not think there is a right or wrong answer here.  Any article that leaves a reader with that, in my opinion, is not leaving the reader with a proper feeling.  I just want people to look at this change in live events with the question of "is this good or bad for the industry and the fan?"  It's that simple.  Only the reader can make that choice, because lets face it, some fans love this change.  There's also a lot of paper being saved.  And there's also a lot of memories that fade away and a lot of fans left frustrated.  I love the phrase "adapt or die", but I wonder, are there some things that just don't always have to change?  Thanks for reading.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes SportsBusinessBoston.com and WesternMassSportsBiz.com.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The brilliance behind ESPN3 and the growing digital empire of Disney/ESPN

By Zachary Baru

It might be easy to forget about the array of channel offerings from ESPN, as the network has grown from just one channel covering UConn basketball and Hartford Whalers hockey, to the global powerhouse it has become today.

Flash back to the 1980-81 National Hockey League season, and ESPN was the rights holders of, that's right, eleven Whalers broadcasts.  Home broadcasts, to be exact.  That's a far cry from what the "worldwide leader in sports" is today, part of a media empire owned by Disney, and connected to a portfolio that not only includes Disney Studios, but ABC, Hulu and of course, Disney+.  Suddenly, the brilliance of ESPN3 comes into play.

The Future of Distribution

I noticeably left out ESPN+ above, as it is ESPN's streaming subscription service.  But ESPN+, in many ways, is the future of ESPN.  This is where the role of ESPN3 becomes more important, and ESPN unsurprisingly has done a masterful job implementing it into it's collection of content.  

When I said ESPN+ in many ways is the future of ESPN, I don't only mean the significance of a streaming platform in today's environment of entertainment, but also the speculation of many that ESPN will one day distribute directly to consumers.  Many sources, lead by Sports Business Journal and Front Office Sports, have written about ESPN's possible plans of going direct to consumer.  Sports Business Journal reports that this potentially could happen by 2026.  

With the possibility of ESPN being a direct to consumer service similar to that of HBO Max and the Showtime App, both of which allow consumers to directly subscribe to the service without a cable subscription, suddenly content becomes more important than ever.  And when it comes to content, ESPN has no shortage in sight.  

The Crowded Family of ESPN

Between ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews (no that's not a typo, that's how it's spelled), ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, and of course, ESPN+, ESPN is already not only producing a great deal of content, but they are producing an enormous amount of live content each day.  This is where ESPN3 comes into play, no pun intended.  

ESPN3 has been producing streaming content since the network began in 2005, when it was initially called ESPN360.com.  It began streaming live sporting events in 2007, and in 2010 was rebranded as ESPN3.  With the launch of subscription service ESPN+ in 2018, much of ESPN3's content was shifted over to ESPN+ to offer subscribers more options, and especially, more live events. 

ESPN3 in Present Day

Today, ESPN3 could be referred to as somewhat hidden, but still advertised whenever a live event is shown on an ESPN channel's bottom line or any graphic advertising an ESPN3 game.  It's not the type of channel you will see a commercial for, as you'd see for ESPN+.  ESPN3, however, is still visible through the ESPN App, which many sports fans use on mobile phones, tablets or smart TVs.  A game that is airing on ESPN3 will most likely not be one of the first games shown on the app where live events are displayed, rather it usually is at the end of the list.  The one exception is if ESPN3 happens to be streaming one of your "favorited" teams.

Although ESPN3 content has become less and less over the years, ESPN3 is still producing a decent amount of live games each week.  A glance at ESPN3's schedule on this particular week shows only one live event on Thursday, but 26 live events on Saturday.  This is typical, as the network does broadcast a large amount of college events, which have heavy weekend schedules.  ESPN3's content, however, is varied.  There are alternative streams of NBA games, giving fans different views of the court, international soccer exhibitions, as well as international pro leagues for multiple sports.  All of this leads to the goal of any player in the TV industry in 2022: content.  Content is king.  Not just any content, but good, well-produced content.  And although some of ESPN3's offerings might not be your first choice, they do offer a varied selection. 

The Game Plan 

So what does this all mean?  ESPN, as expected, is playing the game well.  They are keeping up with other streaming platforms and ensuring that they have enough live sports produced on a weekly basis to keep people watching the ESPN App in some way.  Whether that is a paying subscriber for ESPN+, or a paying cable subscriber who gets access to ESPN3.  And whatever they choose to do with their ESPN3 content, the important thing to remember is that this "extra" channel gives the network a lot of options with how they are going to move forward if they ever distribute directly to consumers.  

At a time when content is everything, ESPN3 has allowed Disney to position itself exactly where it wants to be for the foreseeable future, the reigning "worldwide leader in sports".

Source: ESPN, Sports Business Journal, Front Office Sports

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes SportsBusinessBoston.com and WesternMassSportsBiz.com.

Friday, August 20, 2021

New media rights deal with ESPN a homerun for the NHL

By Zachary Baru

Perhaps some fans would call it a "hat trick", but regardless of what you refer to it as, the new media rights deal that places National Hockey League games on ESPN for the first time since 2004 is a major victory for the NHL and their brand.

It was June 7, 2004, at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.  The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Calgary Flames in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, marking the last time ESPN broadcast an NHL game.  A lot has changed since 2004, and ESPN now has more networks than ESPN2 and ESPNews (yes, that is how they spell it).  ESPN is now an entire digital platform, as the ESPN App includes not only all linear ESPN networks, but also ESPN3 and ESPN+ live content, available exclusively to ESPN+ subscribers.  

To say it is a different world in media is an understatement, but this provides quite the opportunity for the NHL as they transition into a new media rights partnership.  In addition to games that are already on ESPN+, the new deal places games on Hulu as well, a platform owned by ESPN parent Disney.  Between ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, ESPN+ and Hulu, the NHL never has had more exposure, thanks to this new media rights deal.  

In addition to games across multiple channels and platforms, the new deal with ESPN can almost certainly provide more air time for NHL highlights on ESPN's SportsCenter, the highest rated sports highlight show in the U.S.  These highlights are arguably just as beneficial for the NHL as the platforms, since millions of non-NHL fans will be introduced to daily highlights, giving the NHL the opportunity to add new fans each day.

There are many reasons why having the NHL on ESPN brings the league to new levels, but besides the number of platforms of Disney/ESPN and the addition of highlights on SportsCenter, the legitimacy of ESPN cannot be overlooked.  ESPN is the premier brand of sports entertainment in the United States and in many parts of the world.  Simply being aired on ESPN brings the NHL to a higher level on par with other major leagues.  Not being on ESPN is perhaps a major reason why the NHL has lost respect of some sports fans since the league's departure from ESPN in 2004.  Now with the new rights deal, non-NHL fans might be more likely to give the NHL more respect, and most importantly, the television ratings and attendance that the NHL needs to compete with the other three major leagues.  Of the four major leagues in the U.S., the NHL will be the last to secure a current media rights deal with ESPN.

Whether it is long overdue or perfect timing in the new media landscape of digital platforms, the NHL on ESPN rights deal comes at a great time for the league.  On the network side, it also gives ESPN coverage with all four major leagues in the U.S., something that is very important to ensuring ESPN secures its status as the top sports network in the U.S. and in many areas of the world.  The recent additions of games on ESPN+ and the new coverage that will be coming to Hulu will give the NHL the streaming coverage all major leagues need in this new age of media consumption.  It is hard to say who benefits more from this new rights deal, but regardless of the true winner, both ESPN and the NHL have improved their brands in a partnership that has the opportunity to take the NHL to even new heights.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes SportsBusinessBoston.com and WesternMassSportsBiz.com.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Why tonight’s Super Bowl LV will likely become the most watched TV event of all time

By Zachary Baru

In a year filled with lockdowns and social distancing, tonight’s Super Bowl LV has a very good chance of setting a new television viewership record.  

It is not uncommon for a Super Bowl to set viewer records, as an event when so many turn to their TV for more than just the game.  The halftime show has become an event in itself, and the game is more of an American tradition than a sporting event.  But this year something is much different - social distancing has become the new norm, and with that, ratings could have a large spike. 

Ratings could see a large rise for two factors, and both of which work off one another.  The first, being many more people at home than usual, as this year more than any year people are staying inside.  On a typical Super Bowl Sunday, people may stay inside, but they go to parties and watch in large groups.  That will all likely change this year.

Those large Super Bowl parties in many cases will become small groups of two or four, multiplying the ratings of would-be parties of 10 or 20.  Even if fans watch the game with two or three other people, the NFL would still see much higher ratings than the usual ratings of parties of 10 or more, normally counted as one household rating.  That one household could potentially become two, three or more households staying at home.  

Another completely non-COVID factor that should not be forgotten is the teams and players themselves.  Tom Brady alone will draw in many viewers, whether you love or dislike him.  As Brady goes for his seventh championship ring, many will watch to either root for him, or in hopes he won't get another Super Bowl ring to add to his collection.  You can certainly count on the large Boston demographic, and worldwide New England Patriot fanbase, Brady's former team, to either root him on or seek their revenge.  

The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs also have a fairly large following nationwide, adding to the potentially massive ratings for this evening.  While the two markets playing tonight are not traditionally recognized as large media markets, the Chiefs have a following that travels across several midwest states that do not have NFL teams.  Tampa is also no small city if you include the entire metropolitan area.  The city itself only has 387,000 residents, but the entire metro area including St. Petersburg and Clearwater has a population of just over 3 million people, the eighteenth largest metro area in the country.

With these factors playing off each other, and the effects of COVID-19 changing many peoples’ lifestyles, this years’ Super Bowl will be watched in a much more intimate way, driving up the ratings, and very likely setting a new TV viewership record as the most-watched TV event in history.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes SportsBusinessBoston.com and WesternMassSportsBiz.com.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The most innovative team of the year: appreciating all the Raptors have done, in only two months

By Zachary Baru

Having no venue to play at, having no where to practice, and figuring out a way to market their slogan "We the North" in Tampa, Florida would each be a full-time project for any sports franchise to accomplish.  But imagine doing all of that in the span of only two months.  The Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association did just that, and should undoubtedly be given credit as the most innovative of the year.

Now of course, the title "most innovative team of the year" is not an actual award.  But in the eyes of sports fans worldwide, there are few teams in 2020 that have changed and adapted as much as the Raptors.  If there ever was a team to get a "most innovative" award, the Raptors would almost certainly be in the running, if not the one on top.

The Venue

The Raptors entered November 2020 not knowing where they would play home games.  Forget the venue, forget the city, they didn't even know the country.  With COVID-19 creating a travel ban, the Canadian-based team and only NBA franchise in the country had to adapt to the conditions of the pandemic.  As if that was not hard enough, the NBA decided to allow teams to play at their home venues instead of the bubble that was created the previous season, meaning the Raptors needed a home, and fast.

Enter beautiful Tampa, Florida.  Yes, Tampa, Florida - not Tampa Bay, the region it is often referred to as.  But the City of Tampa happens to have Amalie Arena, a 20,500-seat arena that has never been home to an NBA team.  While the arena is fairly new, built in 1996, it has been updated throughout the years and happens to be a modern arena that also is home to the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Practice Facility

When talks between the Raptors and Amalie Arena heated up and become a reality, mostly all within one month, the Raptors had another issue: where to practice.  Since the arena is home to the Lightning, and since most NBA teams have designated training facilities for full practices, the Raptors once again needed to make an eleventh-hour decision.  Just like their venue, the Raptors were able to secure a practice facility very quickly, finalizing the agreements for both all within about a one-month span.  

By November 20, 2020, the announcement was made: the Toronto Raptors would call Tampa their temporary home.  And for their practice facility?  The franchise's quick and innovative thinking continued when they announced that their Tampa hotel's ballroom would serve as their practice court.  With a practice court just steps away from their rooms, and an arena just a short walk from their hotel, the Raptors management were not just innovative, they were accommodating, making the otherwise tough change of venue as easy as they possibly could for the players.  While there is no question it will be extremely tough for those who have family and other ties to the City of Toronto, the team seems to have genuinely tried to make the transition as comfortable as possible for players.

The Slogan

One last part of the Raptors' transition this season that seems to be overlooked is their marketing.  The team is known for excellent marketing, and although they didn't make any change to their widely popular slogan "We the North", the fact that they didn't make a change just might be the most important decision.  Many speculated the team might temporarily change their slogan to "We the South", but the Raptors were able to prove to their fanbase the teams' loyalty, while also taking the opportunity to promote their actual meaning behind the well-known slogan.  

For the teams' temporary court at Amalie Arena, the word "North" has been written in 25 different languages outside the court's border.   Those languages are English, Filipino, Portuguese, Spanish, Taiwanese Mandarin, Italian, French, Hindi, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Mongolian, German, Greek, Polish, Malay (Malaysian), Hausa, Mandarin, Contonese, Bengali, Turkish, Japanese, Russian, Hebrew, Arabic and Dutch.

The team wanted to emphasize that the slogan "We the North" did not strictly relate to geography, but to the many cultures who makeup their fanbase.  “We The North isn’t necessarily an idea of you living in Toronto, Canada. It’s more that we are the outsiders who play our game the way we play our game." said Kevin Mones in a press release.  Mones is the creative director at Maple Leafe Sports and Entertainment, ownership group of the Raptors.  

As for any questions about the possibility of a temporary slogan "We the South", the Raptors immediately ended that talk by sticking a large "We the North" front and center on the new court.  

From having no venue to play at, to having no where to practice, and even figuring out a way to market a slogan that geographically no longer made sense, the Toronto Raptors have proven the ability for a professional sports franchise to use an incredible amount of innovative thinking in an extremely short amount of time.  Given the pressure of everything they faced, it would be hard to not at least put the Raptors on the list of most innovative teams of 2020.  A feat the front office worked hard to achieve, and will be remembered in the industry for doing so for many years to come.  

Source: National Basketball Association, Tampa Bay Times

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes SportsBusinessBoston.com and WesternMassSportsBiz.com.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

State of the game: which NBA teams are playing with fans, without fans, and which are still TBA

By Zachary Baru

With each state having different restrictions on in-person events, it can become difficult to figure out which National Basketball Association teams are allowing fans, and which will be playing in front of empty arenas.  The NBA released an updated list on January 1, and below is a simplified version many fans want to know: does my team allow fans or not?  And exactly which teams around the league are allowing fans?  As cases are changing daily, this list could easily change as well.  In a challenging season like no other, the league continues to try to save the season, accommodating the different state regulations in all regions of the league.  

Teams Not Allowing Fans:

Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards

Teams Allowing Limited Fans:

Atlanta Hawks: Team family and friends, 10 percent capacity beginning Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 18.

Cleveland Cavaliers: 300 fans admitted.

Houston Rockets: "Reduced capacity"

New Orleans Pelicans: 750 fans, about 4% of capacity.

Orlando Magic: Approximately 4,000 fans physically-distanced.

Toronto Raptors: 3,800 seats fans allowed at a temporary home venue, Amalie Arena in Tampa.  There will not be any seats on the floor, and there will not be any seats within 30 feet of the court.

Utah Jazz: 1,500 fans allowed in the lower bowl and limited seating in suites.

To Be Announced:

Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.  Zach also writes SportsBusinessBoston.com and WesternMassSportsBiz.com.