What is the National Women’s Hockey League?

The National Women’s Hockey League is almost at the midway point of their inaugural season. The NWHL is the first professional women’s hockey league, starting their inaugural season with four teams all located in the northeast region of the United States.

The four-teams located in New York City, Buffalo, Connecticut and Boston will each play an 18-game schedule (9 home, 9 away) and participate in two practices per week. The teams are owned by the league and per the league this will not change during year one.

The league does not have a .com domain instead calling NWHL.co their home on the web, which I found very interesting. The .co domain is a rather new domain, debuting in 2010, for ‘companies’. In year one, the NWHL has made an impact by signing their first corporate sponsor, Dunkin Donuts. Accessibility of games is important especially in the infancy of any league, and making their games available for free on YouTube, and providing a free archive provides the league a platform to promote their product to potential new fans.

The Boston Pride was the first team to secure a television deal, striking an agreement with the New England Sports Network (NESN), home of the Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox, for 8 games. Boston was able to then sign another agreement with ESPN to air games on ESPN3, the ESPN digital platform. The broadcast successes of the Pride can be attributed to the venue, Alexander C. Bright Hockey Center at Harvard. Harvard University has heavily-invested in their athletics broadcasting infrastructure, which allows the Pride to take advantage of the venue they are playing in to maximize their broadcast exposure.

The league has been very transparent by posting their player salaries for public viewing on their website. The salary cap for year one is $270,000, and all teams are within $10,000 of that cap. The maximum player salary is $25,000 and only earned by one player in the league this season,Kelli Stack of Connecticut. The minimum player salary is $10,000 earned by 16 of the 72 reported player salaries is the most common denomination earned by a NWHL player this season. The average salary is just under $15,000 for the year and the median salary is $14,500.

I look forward to continuing to follow the growth of the league and hopefully it is able to provide a stable, professional women’s ice hockey league that spreads the popularity of the sport amongst men and women around the globe.

Naming-Rights Deal, New Standard in Sponsorship

The value of the naming-rights to professional stadiums and arenas plateaued with the economic recession in 2008. With almost 30% of the naming-rights sponsors at professional venues being financial service institutions this makes a lot of sense. Prior to the recession, Citigroup secured the rights to the New York Met’s new stadium, Citi Field, for 20-years and $400 million dollars or $20 million annually. Some naming rights deals came under flak, but none as much as Citigroup, as they ended up receiving a federal bailout. Recently there has been an influx of naming-rights deals for professional stadiums and arenas. In the last two weeks, the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans have secured partnerships. The value of the naming-rights deals is often dependent upon a number of factors including the market size, frequency of events, and number of impressions the stadium name will garner the company. These impressions typically include television broadcasts, social media, digital, print media and number of spectators. The naming-rights for an NFL venue typically would garner much more than an MLS stadium for the added prestige as well as the increased number of impressions the venue’s sponsor will garner over the life of the contract.

Naming-rights deals are typically lengthy, due to the nature of the agreement. Many naming-rights deals can lead to nicknames for the venues, and lead to the sponsors being synonymous with the venue. An example of this would the ‘The Forum’, which was short for the St. Petersburg Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is now known as the Amalie Arena, but many local outlets and fans still call it ‘The Forum’. The average length for the 19 MLB stadiums that I was able to find term lengths for was 22.3 years, the longest of the four major US sports.

Like most marketing agreements, there are multiple facets to these deals. The sponsors are not only paying for the naming-rights and signage there are typically larger strategies within these agreements. Here is a draft of the agreement signed between the San Jose Sharks and SAP. Typically, organizations highly value these agreements for the long-term annual revenue stream they provide. The average annual revenues garnered by the naming-rights for MLB stadiums were $3.5m per year. Some organizations do not sell naming-rights for their venues due to the perceived value of their branding. Examples of these stadiums in Major League Baseball include Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Occasionally venues struggle to sell their naming-rights, such as the Dallas Cowboys. The Dallas Cowboys called their new venue Cowboys Stadium until they reached an agreement with AT&T in 2013. AT&T Stadium generates the Cowboys $17m per year in revenues or the next 20 years. The Cowboys put this valuation on it and refused to change their asking price until they found a partner that was willing to pay their price.

These naming-rights deals do not always run their course. Early exit agreements can be negotiated when venues or the sponsor no longer value the partnership. Often, sponsors continue their relationship with the organization through different marketing capacities. There are a number of naming-rights deals that are nearing expiration including BMO Field, M&T Bank Stadium, O.Co Coliseum, Qualcomm Stadium, Toyota Park and the Verizon Center. O.Co Coliseum and Qualcomm Stadium, both serving as homes to NFL teams in California, are nearing the end of their usefulness and in dire need of replacement or renovation. The Verizon Center, home to the Washington Capitals and Wizards, as well as the Georgetown Hoyas, will be seeking a new sponsor, as Verizon has announced that they will not renew the partnership. New venues for the Detroit Red Wings and the Atlanta Falcons are in the market competing against existing venues without a naming-rights deal such as the Palace at Auburn Hills (home to the Detroit Pistons).

These sponsorships appeal to a large group of global, international and local companies. They can be viewed as high risk – high reward because of the high cost associated with the sponsorship. Due to the long-term status of these deals, they are not always available. There is a limited inventory and as with all sponsorships, it must make sense for both parties and be a part of an overarching theme or strategy. These deals are important in order to fund the improvements and renovations at many stadiums and are becoming more common at colleges and for stadiums in minor leagues across the country. As organizations around the world see the success and mutual benefits experienced by the teams and sponsors, these deals become more commonplace overseas as well. Overseas it is common for the naming-rights to be grouped in with their kit (jersey) sponsors such as for Manchester City (Ethiad Stadium) or Arsenal (Emirate Stadium). Recently, Real Madrid of La Liga secured a naming-rights deal in order to finance repairs of their stadium. This practice will only continue to grow as teams see the opportunity for a new revenue stream.

College Athletics Websites And The People Behind Them

In society today, you don’t see many thriving businesses that are not represented on the Internet with easy-to-use, aesthetic website. When fans look for information, they often look for the official website of the team or league. This is no different from any college athletic department, which must keep their websites updated in order to keep their fan base privy of the most current information. Information found on college athletic websites includes rosters, statistics, schedules, history, staff directories, and facility information, in addition to press releases, photographs and supplemental video.

Often the individuals that manage these websites are the same people that are writing and distributing press materials to the media. Taking a look at NCAA Division I institutions, these individuals usually work in communications offices, or sports information departments. These departments can have anywhere from one to 15 (University of Texas has 15 Communications employees) staff members, as well as countless graduate assistants, interns, student-workers and volunteers. The responsibilities of these departments can range depending on the structure of the athletic department to include public relations, community affairs, marketing, social media, video content, creative services, statistics, website management amongst other responsibilities.

With their website aggregating not only the majority of their work but also serving as the first place their fan base goes for information it is imperative to stay cutting edge. There are four major ‘players’ in the digital platform space that host these websites, they are CBS Interactive, Neulion, Presto Sports and SIDEARM Sports. At the Division I level, SIDEARM Sports is currently the leader in the industry hosting 123 websites (as of July 1, 2015). This takes in to account the 19 schools that SIDEARM Sports will add as partners due to joining Learfield Sports.

According to SIDEARM Sports’ President and CEO Jeff Rubin, one of the reasons his company was attracted to Learfield was for the potential upside in growth, by gaining entry to other programs in the major conferences. “We believe strongly in our expertise and our points of difference and knew that if we were able to initiate conversations with Learfield partner schools we would be in a position to hopefully win over their business.”

Learfield’s university multimedia rights partners transitioning to SIDEARM Sports’ platform include Army, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Louisville, Memphis, Missouri, Montana, N.C. State, Northern Iowa, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, SMU, South Dakota, Texas A&M and Tulsa.

Most of the schools that SIDEARM Sports is adding to their portfolio are coming to them from CBS Interactive, which has the second-largest portfolio with 94 clients at the moment. Not all Learfield Sports properties have joined the SIDEARM Sports portfolio due to multi-year commitments with prior hosts. 58 Learfield Sports schools are currently under contract with SIDEARM Sports competitors, Presto Sports, CBS Interactive and Neulion. There is not one conference with a uniform host for all of their member schools.

Conferences must also decide whom to allow to host their website. They are looking for different content management tools than a typical school would be looking for. The value for a conference comes from the ability of a host to aggregate. Some of the more notable conference website deals include the Big 12 Conference and their deal with Neulion. Neulion and their base of clients has grown substantially in the last 5 years, based on the success of the Neulion College Platform. Outside of the college landscape, Neulion has made waves in the sports industry for their video platforms, including the Tennis Channel Plus, which is the digital component for the Tennis Channel.

CBS Interactive (CBSI) has been a competitor in the space since the .com boom in the late 90’s. Last year, CBSI saw the need to rebrand their video platform, formerly known as LiveU. Now one subscription to a member school will grant access to all of the schools, establishing a digital network for all of the college rights that CBS controls. This mainly covers the Olympic sports, which are streamed by the schools themselves. They’ve rebranded this all-access subscription service as College Sports Live featuring live streaming and on-demand audio and video coverage.

“We’re seeing fans are consuming more than just one school’s content,” says Hirsch. “That’s our goal and so far we’re seeing that and we’ll continue to add content to make it richer and continue to reduce any fragmentation we may find.”

The services that each of the four major competitors offer are similar, but their differences come in their live in-game statistics, creative services, content management tools and how they integrate different aspects of their experience such as video, social media and statistics.

College Athletics, Big Business: High Pressure for Athletic Directors

College athletics fall under the large umbrella of education due to their affiliation with universities and colleges. College athletics are also big business. Thanks in large part to the explosion of college football, the value of their television rights along with the donations that the programs are able to generate benefit the university as a whole. According to the NCAA report released in April, the 39 postseason FBS games distributed $505.9m to participants. This is an increase of almost $200m from the $309.9m generated during the 2013-14 bowl games under the Bowl Championship Series. Not all athletic departments sponsor football. It’s tough to understand the funding the financing that athletic departments report because there is no standard and different accounting standards are applied to their financial reports.

Private universities keep their financials private, but public university must honor open-records requests and open their financial books. USA Today does a great job of compiling these findings in to an interactive table. The most interesting thing that can be gleaned from this table is the total subsidy the athletic departments receive from their respective universities. Out of the 230 public universities that reported their financial records, only 7 schools reported not accepting any subsidies during the 2013-14 fiscal year. Subsidies at schools that are in the highly competitive football offering SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 typically received lower subsidies due to high valued media rights deals. Schools from the Group of Five (Mountain West, MAC, C-USA, AAC and Sun Belt) had average subsidies of between $15-25m per school.

The top of the athletic departments on college campuses are typically the athletic director. Athletic directors may be “in charge” but they are not usually the highest paid figures on campus, typically trailing high profile college basketball and college football coaches. The average salary for a FBS D1 athletic director in 2013 was $515,000 per year, a 14 percent increase from 2011. These high profile, often underpaid administrators manage the multi-million dollar media rights deals, conference affiliations, head coaches, budgets, capital expenditures fundraising and athletic department employees. Often held accountable for the on-field progress of individual programs, the position is difficult to compare to anything. To get a better idea of the roles of the modern day athletic director, check out Jason Belzer’s piece for Forbes.com

Recently, Street & Smith’s SportsBusinessJournal conducted a study looking at Division I athletic directors. I’d like to highlight a few of my key takeaways from this study, that I found intriguing considering all the facts presented in this post. Only 10 Division I Ads have been on the job for at least 22 years. They’ve served at Wagner College, Utah, Saint Joseph’s (Pa.), Lehigh, UNC-Charlotte, Bethune-Cookman, Florida, Wake Forest, Purdue and Siena College. Four of the ten are currently in the Power Five Conferences. At the time of the student 17 schools including Syracuse and Michigan were operating with interim athletic directors, an alarming high number considering the study looked at all 351 Division I Athletic Departments.

Athletic Directors had a number of common experiences in their past, including similar schools or past work experiences. I thought that it was interesting that the most common former employers for athletic directors were collegiate conference offices, government or municipalities and NFL teams which speak to the fact that college athletics are big business. The tenure of these top dogs at major universities also seems to be impacted by the conference that the school belongs too. The Power Five schools all have average AD tenures between 6.8 and 7.2 years long. Since the study was conducted, two athletic directors in the BIG EAST will have their tenure ended. While conferences that do not sponsor football including the MAAC, Big East, West Coast Conference, Atlantic 10 all have tenures over 8 years in length.

At some point in the future, I will do another post discussing the scarcity of female and minority administrators in collegiate athletics, but at the DI level this is even a larger problem. There are 26 out of 334 are females, while 39 are a minority male. Only three of the 65 athletic directors in the Power Five conferences are female.

The final takeaway from their study was the overwhelming amount of DI college athletic directors that have experience as a former student-athlete or coach. 201 of current athletic directors were student-athletes prior to their appointment, while 122 served as coaches. 258 ADs have at least one master’s degree while 13 have at least two master’s degrees. 48 of these degrees were in education while 38 were in business administration, the majority by far. 48 ADs have at least one PhD, 27 of which were focused on education.

While college athletics are definitely big business dealing with potentially billions of dollars, it definitely comes full circle back to the importance of education. Having a deep understanding of how the education industry works, and being able to juggle the multitude of responsibilities associated with the position. For all those interested in college athletics, or with any aspirations to become a college athletic director or to understand the underlying of college athletics, I suggest subscribing to Street & Smith’s SportsBusinessJournal for access to their report along with their insight and breaking of big stories directly relating to the industry.

The Future of Multimedia Rights in College Athletics? Outsourcing or In-House?

Before examining why schools have been outsourcing their valuable multimedia rights, it is first prudent to see what exactly they are giving up. According to the Oxford dictionary, multimedia is the use of a variety of artistic and communicative media. This vague definition proves the point that the terminology is open-ended and left to the interpretation of those drawing up the contracts. Typically schools that are outsourcing their multimedia rights include hospitality, signage, print, digital, corporate sponsorships, television, radio and coaches’ shows. The schools outsource these rights to a third-party in order to garner a guaranteed revenue stream. Outsourcing also reduces the number of employees at the university, typically when the rights are sold, the third-party will allocate at least one full-time member of their staff to oversee the rights. Depending on the market size and demand for the school, these staffs can be much larger. Some of these deals have additional performance based revenue, while others are flat annual fees paid to the schools that have no bonuses or built-in incentives.

The two major players in the college multimedia rights market are IMG College and Learfield Sports Properties. As of June 1, 2015, IMG College owns the rights to 76 Division I schools,while Learfield controls the rights to 89 Division I schools and they share the rights to Alabama, South Carolina and Miami. Other owners of multimedia rights include CBS Collegiate Sports Properties, Fox Sports, Rockbridge Sports Group and JMI Sports. Over 160 schools currently manage their own multimedia rights.

Five years ago, a few of the powerhouse football schools held on to their multimedia rights and sold the assets internally. Some of the holdouts included Ohio State, Michigan State, University of Southern California and West Virginia. Since then Ohio State and West Virginia have signed with IMG College and the University of Southern California has signed with Fox Sports. Mark Hollis, the Athletic Director at Michigan State since 2008, has kept the in-house model a staple of Michigan State. Michael Smith of Street & Smith’s SportsBusinessJournal, wrote a great piece in 2013 chronicling how Michigan State was possibly leaving cash on the table, but enjoyed the benefits of controlling their own rights. These benefits include having complete control over your rights and portraying transparency with your sponsors. Instead of dealing through a third party company, all of the Michigan State sponsors work directly with the athletic department. As of 2013, Michigan State was receiving around $6m per year for their multimedia rights while their competitors in the Big Ten including Wisconsin ($7-8m), Michigan ($8-9m) and Ohio State ($11m) were all garnering more from their rights. The advantage for Michigan State comes down to their ability to relate with their sponsors and to accommodate local sponsors that may otherwise be forgotten.

For over one year, Michigan State was the sole member of the Power Five conferences that was handling their multimedia rights in-house until early July 2014. Last July, Syracuse University, which had recently joined the ACC, terminated their agreement with IMG College, one of the two largest rights holders amongst college properties (Learfield Sports being the other). Less than two months later, at the end of August, Syracuse and IMG had confirmed a new rights agreement, it can be assumed for a larger rights fee than had originally been agreed too since their old deal had seven years remaining prior to being terminated.

In October of last year, Arizona State terminated their agreement with IMG College claiming damages of over $5m for “a failure to meet contractual obligations”, which according to reports in the Arizona Republic were mostly from a failure to provide contractually obligated radio coverage and spots. Arizona State was prepared to walk away from $7m in guaranteed payments per year through 2021. The Sun Devils have retained their rights and joined Michigan State as Power Five schools handling their rights in-house.

This spring, Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, announced that the Pac-12 would be exploring a new conference-controlled model eliminating third parties such as IMG College or Learfield Sports. By cutting out the third party, this would retain a larger piece of the revenue. Scott brought in two consultants, Chris Bevilacqua and JMI Sports’ Tom Stultz to help with the multimedia rights study. Last year, JMI Sports signed a multimedia agreement with the University of Kentucky for 15-years and $210m for an average of $14m per year. Stulz and Bevilacqua are the perfect combination to assist with this study due to Bevilacqua’s familiarity with the conference. This move is a long way down the road due to the long-term nature of multimedia rights deals unless member schools intend to buy themselves out of contracts or find ways out similar to Arizona State. The league has already sold league-wide deals to AT&T and Dish Network successfully, so it would be intriguing to see the value they could command with the quantity of inventory that would be available. The Pac-12’s expansive coverage of the West Coast along with their already established Pac-12 Networks would provide an unparalleled experience for potential sponsors.

As the Pac-12 is exploring a conference-wide model, schools in other conference continue to finalize deals with third party rights holders, looking for a guaranteed revenue stream. Two schools that recently finalized multimedia agreements for the first time include Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Georgetown University. VCU announced a 10-year agreement with Learfield Sports that will guarantee the university $20m over the life of the contract. VCU is an attractive school for Learfield due to the recent success of their basketball team. Learfield also controls the rights to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Louis and Duquesne all members of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The expectation according to VCU athletics director Ed McLaughlin is that the “agreement will help to grow our resources, our national recognition and our ability to create sustainable success for our student-athletes and coaches”. Learfield’s financial obligations to VCU along with their successful track record is the most often reason that schools decide to outsource their rights. The methods employed by third party Learfield and IMG College are proven commodities and if for some reason they don’t have the financial success expected at your specific school or market, there is typically a guarantee in the contract, which for VCU will amount to an average of $2m per year.

Georgetown is a founding member of the BIG EAST Conference. As a Jesuit institution, Georgetown is known for their academic curriculum along with their high ethical standards. Their recent 10-year multimedia rights deal with Fox Sports guarantees them between $1-3m per year depending on their performance, as well as a revenue-sharing aspect that activates once Fox recoups their investment. Fox Sports will look to gain from their second foray into the multimedia rights game investing in a broadcast partner for the second time (University of Southern California, a member of the Pac-12). By controlling the multimedia rights, as well as being a broadcast partner, Fox Sports stands to gain a lot from the Hoyas’ success on the hardwood. Athletic Director Lee Reed had the following to say in a recent interview:

“In higher education, especially at Georgetown, we will leave some money on the table if it’s not the right deal for us and it doesn’t make sense for us…but we still have a bottom line that we’re trying to get.”

Georgetown would not have made this decision to outsource their rights if the partnership wasn’t the right one. Fox Sports currently controls the multimedia rights for the BIG EAST as well, which makes one wonder what the media giant has in store for the future. In the short-term Georgetown will benefit from the financial returns and creative partnerships/sponsors that Fox Sports is able to bring forward. In the long-term this deal opens up possibilities and allows for maximum flexibility for both the BIG EAST and Fox Sports.

Here is a PDF with a table containing all DI schools and whom currently managers their multimedia rights. This chart has been updated as of June 1, 2016. A few deals included are going to start on July 1, 2016. Please let me know if you have any comments or corrections to this information.