Content is king.
With video providers espousing a three-screen strategy — home, PC and mobile — that’s especially true because dynamic, original content brings eyes and ears.
That’s one way to look at what’s happening across the country, including with the Browns.
For fans, it’s difficult to escape Browns programming. On local TV, there is a Sunday morning coach’s show on WJW (Channel 8) and preseason game telecasts on WKYC (Channel 3). Regional cable network produces shows on SportsTime Ohio. Radio includes WTAM (1100-AM) for games on Sundays and WKNR (850-AM) Monday through Friday evenings. Some of the content is produced independently, like most of STO’s programming, but recently the Browns have begun — in a cooperative effort with STO and WKNR — to get involved in the production end.
Nationally, it’s nothing new as all four major sports leagues — NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL — have launched their own TV networks in recent years with varying degrees of success. But locally it’s a growing trend.
But for fans, is it a good one?
Staying in charge
“It’s a way for teams to control the message and get the message out to a wide audience,” said John Ourand, a columnist covering media issues for Sports Business Journal and the website Sports Business Daily.
It wouldn’t be the first time that has been an issue. One of the more recent instances involved the announcement of the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball coach earlier this year. Instead of giving the traditional media a first interview with the coach, the Iowa sports information department limited their access to Fran McCaffery, the new coach, and players. He gave his first interview to the Big Ten Network, an outlet of which the school has partial ownership.
Jim Liberatore, president of SportsTime Ohio, the cable home of the Indians that is owned by the team’s owner, Paul Dolan, said owners of teams who produce their own programming and outlets that are owned by a team have to ask themselves a fundamental question.
“What do you want this network to be?” he said. “Do you want us to just say good things about the team, or do you want this to be a network where we are respected and objective and [commentate] on sports and the game?”
In the realm of the Indians, Liberatore said that hasn’t been a problem. His station’s on-air commentators, Bruce Drennan of All Bets Are Off and Chuck Galeti of Last Call. have carte blanche to offer their opinions as long as no personal attacks are involved.
“There have been some pretty dicey situations where [Paul Dolan] could have put his foot down, but he hasn’t done that,” Liberatore said.
That’s the issue that the Browns face with Post-Game Live, which is hosted by longtime Cleveland area play-by-play man and on-air host at WKNR, Michael Reghi. Before the beginning of the season, the team hired Vic Carucci, a nationally known and respected football writer, to handle duties on the daily radio show, which airs at 6 p.m., and the Sunday TV show on WJW, Browns Insider.
“We feel that all the shows are very objective … They’re not infomercials,” Browns senior vice president of business development Jim Ross said. “I’d say it’s more about getting the word out about what’s going on with a team without putting a filter about what’s being said. And we’ve been very careful about that.”
With names such as Reghi and Carucci, the team and programs gain instant credibility among sports fans in the area. Ross knows this and said it’s important that the team and shows walk a very fine and straight line.
He said there’s a temptation to use the vehicles merely as promotion tools, but they also recognize something about the Cleveland area.
“We’re in a unique market,” he said. “They want to get to know our players. They want to get to know our coaches. They want to know what’s going on with our team.”
Reghi, who is no stranger to controversy when it comes to opinions related to a team he has covered, acknowledges that there could be a danger in the situation. The buzz in media circles after he lost the Cavaliers’ TV play-by-play gig was that he was dismissed because he was too critical of the team. Yet the Browns came to him when looking for an anchor for the postgame show.
“I think what you’re hoping to achieve with the Browns [is fairness], what they said to me is ‘Michael, just be fair,’ ’’ he said.
‘‘There are some teams that certainly want cheerleaders and pompom wavers,” Reghi said. “Then it’s incumbent upon me to ask whether I want to align myself with that.”
Follow the money
Ultimately, what is happening with local teams creating programming, regional cable channels and networks concerns one thing — money.
“As you take a look at the trends and media, sports media and media rights are growing at such a fast clip right now that I think all teams are taking a look at what they’re doing in media to see how they can own a certain piece of media so that they can start reaping those rewards,” Ourand said.
Considering that the total amount spent on advertising in the first half of 2011 topped $32.5 billion, according to a report from Sports Business Journal, it’s not difficult to see why.
“I think that a lot of teams are looking at every single possible way they can to monetize television. It’s a way of getting their message out, getting their players out there and making some money too,” Liberatore said.
Ross, who said that the Browns are one of the teams leading this trend, doesn’t deny it all goes hand in hand.
“This is driven by promoting our brand on a year-round basis, meeting customer demand for content,” he said. “I’d say that’s first, but these are revenue streams for us and they’re becoming significant revenue streams for us. That’s important for us.”