Show Some Respect: Sports Leagues, ESPN Give Hollywood a Blueprint for Success

"I don’t know that [sports] gets its full appreciation and credit for both ground it broke and the size of its influence on the market,” Geoff Reiss, CEO of the professional bowlers’ association, tells TheGrill

Last Updated: October 2, 2012 @ 4:54 PM

Paging Rodney Dangerfield — sports just can’t get any respect.

The sports industry has set the standard for the rest of the entertainment industry, embracing digital, luring billions in rights fees and satisfying the consumer above all else.

Yet Geoff Reiss and Ed Desser (pictured below) bemoaned that the industry operates without the esteem bestowed upon another prominent entertainment sector – Hollywood. 

Jonathan Alcorn

“Sports has become a big part of the overall entertainment landscape, and I don’t know that it gets its full appreciation and credit for both ground it broke and the size of its influence on the market,” Reiss, CEO of the professional bowlers’ association said at TheGrill, TheWrap’s annual conference.

“A lot of things that happened in sports over the last five to 10 years are the beginning of playbooks you’ll see applied in the overall entertainment industry.”

Like what?

The leagues embraced digital earlier and with more success than many others in media and entertainment. From NBA League Pass to MLB TV, the sports leagues have endeavored to put all their content on every device for — get this — a paying consumer.  

While Netflix haggles with studios over exclusive rights to movies and studios delay the digital releases of their movies, much can be learned.

Also Read: Forget 'Monday Night Football' — How About an ESPN Super Bowl? 

“Windows don’t exist in sports because the value is almost entirely real-time,” Desser, former NBA TV president and founder of Desser Sports Media, said. “There’s greater exclusivity in sports than in entertainment, and it may be a window into the future when everyone is demanding all 12 episodes of a show instantaneously. That’s pretty much what NBA League pass and NFL Sunday ticket are.”

No company epitomizes these changes better than ESPN, whose president John Skipper fell ill and was not able to make his scheduled appearance at the conference.

Reiss picked up the slack and praised his former company.

"ESPN decided early on to be a media company, to diversify itself relatively early," he said. "They adopted a mindset that said we're indifferent and happy to cannibalize our own business. We want to provide the best sports experience wherever fans are going to be."

Not only have the sports leagues and networks found success in digital, they are also making more money than ever from traditional television.

Fox Sports, Turner Sports and Major League Baseball closed a $6.8 billion broadcast rights deal Tuesday morning.

For baseball, the amount it receives doubles to about $800 million annually.

Will people notice?

“If that was a studio deal, someone entering a $6, 7, 8 billion deal, it would be a stop the presses moment across industry,” Desser said. “That gets played up big in sports trades, but doesn’t get felt in a whole lot of other places.”

One reason may be that in sports such a deal is commonplace.

While the DVR, Netflix and other new technologies have hurt the TV networks, sports is sitting pretty since it must be seen live. Rights to everything from the Olympics to the World Cup to the NFL continue to skyrocket.

Loyalty matters, too, as fans can't live without their local teams. 

Just a day earlier, Time Warner Cable launched two new regional sports networks, which will be the home to the L.A. Lakers, Sparks and Galaxy, as well as other programming.

Dresser noted that the deal is precedent-setting because there will be both and English and Spanish language RSN in the same market.

It’s precedent-setting for another reason.

“It’s the single biggest team rights transaction in sports history,” Dresser said. “I think that qualifies as being important.”