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  Zach also writes and

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  Zach also writes and

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  Zach also writes and

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  Zach also writes and