MARK LAZARUS: Hello, everybody, and thanks for joining us. This is a big day for us with today’s six‑year extension announcement for the Premier League in addition to this morning’s announcement of a long‑term agreement with the Preakness.
With today’s six‑year extension, we are thrilled that the Premier League will be part of our family on all of our platforms through the year 2022. And that includes this current season, which, as you know, just launched this weekend, seven seasons with the Premier League.
You do the math, that’s an additional 2,280 matches over the next six years plus hours of other related content, shoulder programming, original content, library programming, which we have used extensively and will continue to use. We will continue to innovate with this product. It gives us nine months of weekend, morning and early afternoon programming that has become synonymous with NBC Sports, and built what we believe is a real destination for our growing fan base in the U.S.
We are thrilled that over this period of time, we’ll be able to monetize these rights. There’s a complete set of rights here across all forms of media and working with the Premier League has been a tremendous pleasure for us. Really led on our team by Jon Miller, our president of programming, and Pierre Moossa, our producer.
We built a tremendous relationship with our counterparts at the Premier League, and they have awarded us and trusted us with their product for the next six years – seven seasons, including this one – and we couldn’t be prouder.
Can you cite the ways that Premier League has helped define NBCSN?
MARK LAZARUS: Well, I think that when you look at the quantity of live events, the live hours, and the fact that it is largely weekend mornings, it has set us as a weekend destination.
And it also has given us a third pillar in our live sports exclusive strategy; one being Premier League, two being NHL ‑‑ and really first has always been NHL, which has been with us the longest — and third being motorsports with IndyCar exclusively on cable, the second half of the NASCAR season, and Formula 1, exclusively.
We are a destination for live sports, and we think that that has helped define us. We also believe that the type of programming that is exclusive, and that we are the only ones who can provide it to the fan bases that love it, has differentiated us from our competition.
With so many sports rights now in very long‑term deals, there’s not a whole lot of major events that are coming up to renew. How especially valuable is Premier League as something that, one, is available, but two, that it’s also growing?
MARK LAZARUS: Well, we think first, that it’s growing; second, that it’s got a very young audience profile, a very affluent audience profile. Also, the exclusivity factor, that we are the only media company that will be able to exhibit this and utilize this on all of our platforms.
And third, really, the term; the ability to now have a six‑year term in what historically has only been a property that was available for three years, we found tremendously valuable and important.
We are very excited by all of those elements, and we think it brings value to the fans and the growing fan base to our distribution partners, whether they are cable operators, satellite providers or broadcast affiliates; and to the marketing community that is looking for this young, affluent audience that is becoming more and more exclusive in television and in television sports.
What dates specifically did you make this bid and when did you specifically find out that NBC had been awarded the rights?
MARK LAZARUS: Well, the official bids were due last Thursday, and we worked through the weekend. I’m not going to be able to tell you specifics, but we worked through the weekend to try to secure the deal.
And is it your intention heading forward that the talent that is in place today on the Premier League will be the talent in place for the new six‑year extension?
MARK LAZARUS: Without committing or hurting our negotiating ability, we are very pleased with the talent that Pierre and Sam Flood have put together. We always evaluate our talent, but suffice to say we are extremely happy with the group we have. Part of what they have brought, the presentation that they helped us deliver, is part of the recognition that I think we are being rewarded for here by being granted this extension.
You used the phrase “complete set of rights.” To what degree do you have additional digital rights that perhaps you didn’t have previously and to what degree does acquisition of a more complete set of rights help ensure rights holders against increasing dislocations or changes in terms of the way the people are consuming sports these days?
MARK LAZARUS: First, it’s not necessarily a more compete set of rights than we have currently in our deal. But, what the Premier League does, is it provides a complete set of rights for those in the territory that you’re bidding in.
So, we are protected from the consumer behavioral change and how they are going to consume. Whether it’s digital, whether it’s television, whether it’s a pay‑for situation or whether it’s free over the air, we will have the ability, as long as we work within certain parameters that we have committed to, and we will work on our programming plan each year with the Premier League.
This is, in a way, similar to the Olympics. No matter what technologies get invented between now and over the next seven years, we paid for the right to try to monetize this product against whatever form of viewership consumers are using. And that gives us great comfort in buying rights.
And the other aspects of it, and you live with it in Houston with regional sports networks; there is no regional sports network. There’s really just the national broadcast. So, the exclusivity, we think, has heightened value.
Do the terms ‑‑ the way things are changing ‑‑ for any set of negotiations, it’s increasingly critical to make sure that you have all potential platforms sewed up what you’re doing a rights deal.
MARK LAZARUS: Well, it is. Our desire would be to have these complete set of rights for every property, but every property is different and different leagues either retain or bifurcate rights in different ways. We have to judge and make value determinations based on the available set of rights, and that’s what we did here.
I was wondering, could you walk us through how competitive the bidding process was, how many rounds it took until the deal was finished, and is it possible ‑‑ what the winning bid was?
MARK LAZARUS: Well, I can’t talk about the numbers. That’s not part of the agreement with us and the PL. And in terms of number of rounds, as I said earlier, we submitted our bid on Thursday morning. We didn’t hear back for a couple of days, but we worked through the weekend. We had a couple of points of contact.
I don’t know if it’s considered a single round, multiple rounds. I didn’t get into semantics. We were just happy to be having a discussion and be able to bring it to a successful conclusion.
In terms of the competition, we know what we bred. We know some of what we have heard in the industry, but that’s really a better question for Richard Scudamore and for the PL. We don’t know the amount of competition that truly existed or what it was made up of.
Outside of the obvious of making all of the games available on linear and digital platform over the past couple years, what is it you feel that the Premier League has been particularly pleased with in terms of NBC Sports’ production and coverage of their property?
MARK LAZARUS: I think a couple things. First, I think our marketing and promotion, and that we have emphasized all 20 teams, and that we are not just taking the top three or four. We are showing that this is a league of 20 teams and that they all have a chance to get going and that adds value to the League.
I think the way we run multiple matches; “Championship Sunday,” where we run all ten matches; the creativity in our marketing; the original programming to support the matches.
So it’s not really one thing. I think it’s just an overall working relationship, again spearheaded by Jon Miller and Pierre Moossa and their teams; that there’s a real spirit of how we’re trying to grow this.
You know, when we made our bid three years ago, we said to Richard, you know, if we are successful, we know we are going to have to pay more money to retain these rights. That has happened. That has happened, and we are proud that it was successful in growing the league, because we have grown and benefitted, as well.
That spirit of partnership that we showed them, they have clearly reciprocated with us in terms of how they deal with us; the access that we get to their teams, to their managers, to their ownership. It’s a great spirit of partnership.
Does this open the door in any more significant of a way of increased production in investment, maybe more trips over to England for the on‑site coverage like you did last year?
MARK LAZARUS: Certainly does. I think that investment, another thing that we did making that commitment to go over there, I think opened a lot of eyes for them. And certainly, having this now for seven more seasons, gives us the ability to continue to invest. In a three‑year cycle, the minute you sign, you sort of feel like you’re running for office again. We are in office for a little while now, so we can continue to invest.
A couple of questions. One piggybacking off the previous question. Maybe take a moment and describe the actual studio setup in Stamford versus anything you might have over in England. And curious in terms of how you folks plan to dovetail, if at you will, the PL coverage versus Sunday Night Football. To what degree does having those two properties, are you able to build them both up and do some cross‑marketing?
MARK LAZARUS: Well, first in, terms of what we have in Stamford, we have a dedicated studio and control room. We bring in every team to Stamford and our director and producer, they are talking to talent and producers, which is a much smaller group, who are on site. We work with PL productions. We take their feeds in. We supplement them. We complement them with what we call unilateral feeds or unilateral cameras. It’s really quite an extensive operation at Stamford; if you were to be in Stamford on a Saturday morning at 5:30 am, you would feel like you’re in the middle of Times Square with all of the activity that’s going on getting ready for a weekend of Premier League.
As relates to how we cross‑promote, I feel one of the hallmarks of NBC Sports is making big events bigger. We have what we call our “Championship Season,” which has some golf, the Premier League, the Solheim Cup, the Triple Crown to The French Open to the Tour de France, all wrapped up in it. And it’s really quite a great platform.
We use all of our properties to promote each other. And I think one of the big things, when we had the Super Bowl last year, we took our Premier League talent to the Super Bowl to work from there. Our studio programming tied it into the Super Bowl to not only promote what we are doing in Phoenix with the Super Bowl, but also the Premier League. And we will not stop doing that. It’s, again, one of the hallmarks of our company to be the biggest and strongest promotor of our partners and properties. It’s why we do believe when events come to us, we help grow their ratings and we have some great history to support that.
And you had a great first weekend of soccer, too. Should be pretty exciting.
MARK LAZARUS: We sure did. Thank you for noticing that.
Is this a deal where you have minimal production costs because you take in their feed? Does that make this deal financially more viable for you than if you had to pay for one or more of the feeds you take in?
MARK LAZARUS: Certainly there is some efficiency to taking feeds the way we are able to take, and the fact that they are all produced already over there. So there is an efficiency to that.
But I wouldn’t say we are skimping, and you see what we put into production. We supplement and we take two or three games a week that we really add a lot to. But certainly there’s some inherited efficiencies to the way this is produced on a global basis.
The deal you’ve done over the last couple years to provide for the online streaming ‑‑ and also the TV channels. Most of the deals that you have done have been pretty straightforward; either they take one or the other, or hopefully both. But with one of your marquis partners, which is Comcast, they have a bit of a different deal they put together where they put these overflow TV channels on a digital TV platform and there’s been a lot of complaints about it not working the same way as other providers have offered it, and I know your ability to influence Comcast is limited. But given what you know about what they have done, as you try to go out and negotiate with other providers or maybe even with some of the ones that you have to extend deals, can you give us any insight into what those conversations are like and how you try to convince them to take the full package instead of maybe tweaking it as Comcast has done and only taking half of it?
MARK LAZARUS: First, when we did these deals originally, a couple of years ago, it was new to all of us. So, we went through a learning process. Now, when we come back to the market and bring these games back with whatever form we are going to do over the next year or so, we’ll obviously come through with a lot more experience, as will they.
I think this is an MVPD-by-MVPD discussion. Comcast chose to approach it one way; whether it’s Cablevision or Charter or Time Warner have chosen another way. I think it’s really a better question for them than for us.
But certainly, our preference is for the broad distribution and ease of access both for television and online, and that’s what we have been pushing as what we are bringing to the fans. I think we have a credibility with the fans and we don’t want that to wane. So, we will work with all of the MVPDs to try to bring the best customer experience we can.
If I can follow‑up really quickly. In the release that they mentioned of live stream on NBC Sports Live Extra or other platform, Live Extra has been such an important part of what you have done, and having that be exclusively through authentication, do you foresee a day where there might be an over the top subscription package?
MARK LAZARUS: I don’t rule anything out. Seven years in media terms is a long time. We wanted to be upfront in our release that as media evolves, we will be in a position to evolve with it and that’s what this complete set of rights allows us.
For right now, we are going to approach it the exact same way we have for the last two seasons.
Did you submit a three‑year bid or did you just submit a six? And what are your ratings expectations going forward, and with the Women’s World Cup finals, the record‑setting ‑‑ does that change your perspective? Do you think that was an outlier?
MARK LAZARUS: First, as was prescribed in the tender, we did submit both the three‑year and the six‑year.
The World Cup, the women’s World Cup, we didn’t look at it ‑‑ it didn’t affect our thinking towards this property or this bid. We as a company are involved with the World Cup and FIFA on the Spanish language side.
So Telemundo and NBC UNIVERSO also had great success in women’s World Cup in Spanish language. We are very bullish on the men’s game from a FIFA point of view off into the future.
But that did not impact this. We have always believed in this sport, this particular league, the finest in the world, had a growth trajectory and we grew nearly 100 percent our first year. We grew another nine percent our second year, and we are off to a great start this year. We have to be realistic, but I think aggressive goals for this sport to continue to grow in the high single, double‑digit area for this season. We think that there’s still plenty of headroom for this property to grow from an audience point of view, both on television and digital.
I wanted to ask in terms of the current deal, has it been economically profitable for NBC, and looking ahead, can you make the new deal property?
MARK LAZARUS: We are a for‑profit business. So we only try to do deals that are only going to help us build value for our company and our shareholders.
We look at it not necessarily on this deal discretely. We look at what it does for the power of our sports portfolio and for our corporate portfolio. And when you put this together with hockey, NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, the Olympics, Tour de France, the NFL, this helps ‑‑ is another really, really strong addition for our portfolio. We have had much success with it in the first two seasons, and that gave us the confidence to be aggressive and to make a new deal and a long‑term deal. We have the expectation that this will continue to pay off for our company.
Obviously now you won the rights, but I’m curious, given that you know some big players were going to bid, FOX, I don’t know if ESPN bid, they may have. Do you give ‑‑ your level of confidence on retaining prior to receiving the news that you ended up retaining?
MARK LAZARUS: I was absolutely nervous. I had every confidence that if we were in the ballpark, we were going to have an opportunity, and there was nothing that led me to that other than the relationship and the trust that our team has built with the Premier League.
We took nothing for granted. But I spent a very anxious Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, until dialogue became clear that we were going to have the ability to negotiate to conclusion.
Nervous; anxious; but respectful of the process. Never did I have a sense that we were going to win until I was actually told that ‘you guys are going to win.’