XFL Cancels Reboot Season, Vows 2021 Return

WWE founder Vince McMahon’s alternative professional football league, the XFL, is canceling the remainder of its inaugural season due to the coronavirus. The move follows other professional sports leagues and organizations shutting down venues and events to help thwart the spread of the pandemic that has infected more than 125,000 people and killed about 5,000.

Games have been streamed on Disney-owned ESPN’s ESPN Player, the standalone service only available outside the United States.

With many state and local governments issuing moratoriums on large gatherings of people (limited to 250 or less), the decision was largely out of McMahon’s hands.

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“Currently, the XFL will not be playing its regular-season games,” the league said in a statement. “However, all players will be paid their base pay and benefits for 2020 regular season. All XFL ticket holders will be issued refunds or credit towards future games. The XFL is committed to playing a full season in 2021 and future years.”

The XFL, which had completed five weeks of its season, was scheduled to hold its championship game on April 26. The NFL doesn’t begin play until September.

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Netflix to Bow Documentary Series on Tennis Star Naomi Osaka

Netflix will bow an untitled documentary series on tennis star Naomi Osaka, in association with Uninterrupted and produced by Film 45.

The series follows multiple-Grand Slam-champion Naomi Osaka, who became the first Asian player to reach the No. 1 singles ranking after winning her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open in 2018 and second at the Australian Open in 2019.

The documentary series also gives audiences a window into the life of a global tennis superstar. It will cover Naomi’s pivotal year, from the U.S. Open in August 2019 and on tour with the tennis star as she plays in each of the Grand Slams and prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, Osaka emigrated from Japan to the United States as a child, where she rose to become the first Asian player to reach the heights of international tennis. The series follows Naomi to Japan to understand her connection with the country she represents and the reflections of her multi-cultural identity.

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“To be able to tell my story and let people in during this big year, working with a team that really understands me, has been a rewarding experience,” said Osaka in a statement. “It won’t look like a traditional sports documentary, and I’m so excited to share it with everyone.”

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The series is directed by Garrett Bradley whose short film Alone was shortlisted for an Academy Award. At Sundance 2020, Bradley won Best Director for her U.S. documentary feature in competition TIME.

Vudu Greenlights ‘Legacy’ Series Showcasing Children of Famous Athletes

Vudu, Walmart’s digital video service, Jan. 7 announced it has ordered the eight-episode docuseries “Legacy.” The new Vudu Original will star 13-time NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade, who will also serve as an executive producer on the series.

“Legacy” joins Vudu’s slate of original content including series “Mr. Mom” and feature film Adventure Force 5.

“Legacy” will chronicle the lives of gifted young athletes who all have one thing in common — they are the children of famous athletes, and they are working toward living up to the name on their back while also building their own athletic identity.

The docuseries will be available for free exclusively on Vudu in 2020.

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“Legacy is a part of Vudu’s commitment to invest in creating premium and compelling original content for families to enjoy together,” Jeremy Verba, VP and GM of Vudu, said in a statement.

The docuseries will follow Wade’s son, Zaire Wade, as he navigates his senior year of high school as a Division I basketball prospect; and Randall Cunningham’s daughter, Vashti Cunningham, who is a track and field athlete specializing in the high jump and a contender to win gold at the 2020 Olympics.

The series will also shadow Evan and Elijah Holyfield, the sons of former heavyweight world champion boxer Evander Holyfield. Evan is following in his father’s footsteps and pursuing a professional boxing career, while Elijah (who played at University of Georgia) has chosen a different path as an NFL running back. Additional names will be announced in the coming months.

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“I’m proud to executive produce ‘Legacy’ and bring my son’s athletic journey to other aspiring young athletes,” said Wade. “I hope this docuseries leaves viewers feeling inspired through showing the hard work and dedication needed to turn your dreams into reality.”

 

Amazon Injecting Tech into NFL Thursday Night Football

Amazon Prime Video for the third year will stream NFL Thursday Night Football, beginning Sept. 26 at 8:20 PM Eastern with the Green Bay Packers hosting the Philadelphia Eagles

This season Amazon will again feature three viewing options, including the default Fox broadcast with Troy Aikman and Joe Buck, sports journalists Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer providing commentary on a second feed, in addition to U.K. English language broadcasters Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth.

Amazon is also offering “X-Ray for TNF,” software that enables users to watch and understand the game without taking their eyes off the screen or missing a play.

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“X-Ray” brings statistics previously available only to coaches and announcers to all Prime Video users on demand, on every play.

Users can gain insights such as a quarterback’s average time to throw, a running back’s average yards after contact and a wide receiver’s average yards of separation, which are enabled through Next Gen Stats’ real-time player tracking.

The software is available to anyone streaming TNF on Android, iOS, and Fire TV. To access X-Ray, users simply flip their phones, tap the “Stats by X-Ray” button on their phone or tablet or click ‘up’ on the Fire TV remote control during the game.

In addition, Amazon is streaming “NFL Next,” a new 30-minute live show available exclusively on Prime Video at 7:00 PM Eastern each Thursday and produced by NFL Films.

The show provides insight and commentary from two-time Super Bowl Champion Chris Long, NFL Network’s Kay Adams and Next Gen Stats expert James Koh.

“We’re revolutionizing the way football fans stream Thursday Night Football and allowing Prime members to personalize how they watch and hear the game,” Marie Donoghue, VP of Prime Video Sports, said in a statement. “We think both longtime sports fans and those new to the game will love watching and engaging with TNF on Prime Video and Twitch.”

“We’re excited to collaborate once again with Amazon Prime Video to produce a different kind of NFL show,” said Ross Ketover, Chief Executive of NFL Films. “To have the talents of Chris Long, one of the most insightful players to play this game, paired with a dynamic personality like Kay Adams makes for a show we think fans are going to love.”

For the third year, TNF will also be available on Amazon-owned gaming platform Twitch, including co-streamed commentary on Twitch’s interactive social video service.

 

U.S. Pay-TV Ace Card: Live Sports

With the exception of Amazon Prime Video, subscription streaming video services in the United States — notably Netflix — have shied away from live sports programming.

That reality has been a lifesaver of sorts for traditional pay-TV, which just bowed myriad NFL and college football programming packages for the 2019 season.

New data from Altman Vilandrie & Co., a industry consultant, found that 90% of 5,000 pay-TV survey respondents watch live sports.

Indeed, the survey found that sports — specifically the National Football League — is must-have programming for pay-TV.

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Ninety percent of the sports fans who watch sports regularly are subscribing to traditional or virtual MVPDs (Internet-based TV like YouTube TV or Hulu Live). In contrast, only 67% of sports non-viewers are subscribing to Pay TV.

Of the four major pro sports, the NFL was the number one sport for viewers who wanted to watch their favorite team (88% of NFL fans) and for fantasy implications.

In contrast, the NBA had the fewest respondents who watch because of a favorite team (76%), but the highest respondents that watch because of a favorite player(s) (54%).

This confirms the player-driven focus of the NBA and the impact high profile players have on the sport.

“There’s no question that the NFL dominates the current survey but the breadth and diversity of sports interest among younger viewers predicts a shift in the American sports TV landscape,” Matt Del Percio, principal at Altman Vilandrie & Co., said in a statement. “Sports fans now have many more viewing choices than ever and pay-TV providers must find ways to reach new fan bases while retaining fans for traditional sports who subscribe at very high rates.”

Early ‘Madden 20’ Football Release Helps Jumpstart July Video Game Sales

The early release of Electronic Arts Sports’ annual NFL video game, Madden 20, helped boost July video game sales from the previous-year period, according to new data from The NPD Group.

Total sales topped $762 million from $759 million last year. Software sales skyrocketed 34% to $340 million from $253.7 million — largely due to football.

Hardware sales continue to suffer as consumers await pending new edition consoles from Sony and Microsoft. Console revenue fell 22% to $169 million from $216.6 million. Accessories fell 12% to $254 million from $288.6 million.

Through July, game revenue is down 4% at $6.4 billion from $6.6 billion last year.

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The annual football video game featuring former NFL coach John Madden was released in July instead of August in part to its inclusion of select college teams.

NCAA-sanctioned games have been shelved in recent years following litigation from some players regarding lack of compensation for their likeness or name featured in games and marketing.

The NCAA reached a $20 million settlement in 2014 with plaintiffs, who included lead plaintiff and former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. It was also the last licensed year for college-themed sports video with NCAA 14.

Madden 20 features a new segment, “Face of the Franchise: QB1,” showcasing elite quarterbacks beginning with their collegiate careers.

EA reached license agreements with 10 colleges: Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, LSU, Oregon, University of Southern California, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

AT&T Boss: HBO Max to Offer Live Sports, News — in the Future

HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s pending subscription streaming service, will “ultimately” offer live sports and news, in addition to original and catalog programming, Randall Stephenson, CEO of parent AT&T, told investors.

Speaking July 24 on the fiscal call, Stephenson said the branded OTT service would be revealed in further detail to investors in a presentation on the Warner studio lot in Burbank, Calif., on Oct. 29.

“You should assume that ultimately HBO Max will have … live sports and premium sports,” Stephenson said. “Those are going to be really, really important elements for HBO Max. The same with news.”

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The live programming and sports elements would significantly differentiate HBO Max from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Hulu, which cater to original and catalog programming.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson

In fact, Netflix remains adamant it will not offer live sports, a market Prime Video dabbles in with Major League Baseball and Premier League soccer in the United Kingdom.

WarnerMedia, the media successor to Time Warner, last week revealed the management team behind HBO Max, which is slated to launch in Spring 2020.

While banking on the HBO brand, the streaming service will borrow liberally throughout the WarnerMedia business portfolio, which includes Turner and Warner Bros.

Indeed, Turner has pay-TV carriage license agreements with MLB, the NBA and NCAA March Madness men’s national championship tournament. How those contracts would relate to HBO Max remains to be seen. But Stephenson doesn’t see a problem.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to take advantage of the unique content deals that we have within WarnerMedia,” he said.

The CEO said the recently-ended HBO series “Game of Thrones” significantly increased HBO digital subscribers – a trend he hopes will continue with Max.

“HBO Max will be a key part of this wireless strategy as we get into next year pairing unique premium video content with our wireless, TV and broadband business,” Stephenson said. “[It] is going to be something special in the marketplace. And the implications of that to profitability, we think, are pretty important.”

 

 

Neulion Rebranded to Endeavor Streaming, Snatches WWE from Disney’s BamTech Media

Backend tech support for streaming video is becoming big business.

Endeavor Talent Agency, whose subsidiaries include William Morris Endeavor, IMG, and Ultimate Fighting Championship, announced the formation of Endeavor Streaming, encompassing the company’s video streaming products and services.

The over-the-top video venture is driven by Neulion, which Endeavor acquired in 2018 for $250 million.

NeuLion, which provides backend support for live-sports streaming, is being absorbed within the new group alongside Endeavor’s internally developed video platform technology, and now operates under the Endeavor Streaming moniker.

Endeavor Streaming provides backend tech support for the NFL, NBA, UFC, and Euroleague. Notably, the platform just signed professional wrestling brand WWE away from Disney’s BamTech Media.

BamTech, which Disney acquired for about $3 billion, provides streaming tech support for ESPN+, HBO Now, PlayStation Vue, The Blaze and WatchESPN, among other services. It will also power Disney’s upcoming branded SVOD service.

With more than 1.6 million subscribers, WWE Network is one of the largest sports-entertainment OTT platforms in the world. Endeavor also supports U.K.-based BT and its new service, BT Sport Box Office; and OSN, the Middle East and North Africa’s entertainment network.

Endeavor Streaming will be co-led by chief technology officer Nick Wilson and president of business operations Will Staeger. Staeger previously served as SVP within IMG’s original content division following time at ESPN, WWE, and Dick Clark Productions.

“We’ve integrated Endeavor’s scalable platform with NeuLion’s industry leading technology and feature set to provide clients with the best tools and services in video streaming, removing technology as a barrier in reaching their consumers,” Wilson and Staeger said in a co-statement.

Endeavor Streaming will continue servicing major media providers, including Univision, Sportsnet, Sky Sports, MSG, National Geographic, and Big Ten Network. The group will also continue supporting Endeavor properties like PBR (Ride Pass) and UFC (UFC.tv and Fight Pass).

The platform recently streamed “UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor,” and received the “OTT TV Service of the Year” award at the Content Innovation Awards ahead of MIPCOM for its work on the NBA League Pass International product.

Meanwhile, the group has launched several new consumer products, including “Serie A Pass” and “Strive,” the latter of which features action from both Serie A and La Liga, Italy and Spain’s professional soccer leagues, respectively.

 

 

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson Ready for First-Ever PPV Golf Match

Move over boxing and mixed-martial arts fighting, golf superstars Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have upped their trash-talk and respective contributions to charities ahead of the Nov. 23 first-of-its-kind pay-per-view golf match over 18 holes at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. The winner takes home $9 million.

With much of America dealing with the Black Friday retail event, golf fans (largely male) can pay $19.95 to watch the sport’s two biggest names without leaving the couch.

Capital One’s The Match: Tiger vs. Phil begins at 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET. Woods and Mickelson will take to the course at noon PT/3 p.m. ET.

It will be available on DirecTV, AT&T U-verse, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Verizon and Altice (U.S.), Rogers, Shaw and Bell (Canada), Turner International (outside U.S. and Canada).

For Woods, the event is the culmination of 2017-18 season that has seen the sport’s former lone superstar rebound from No. 668 in the world rankings to No. 13 over the course of 18 events – including seven top-10 finishes and his first win in five years — at the Tour Championship in late September.

Mickelson, ranked 27th in the world, scored his first Tour win since 2013 at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

Both players and their respective caddies will wear microphones, and the broadcast will include real-time, hole-by-hole statistics to forecast certain outcomes during the match.

Being Las Vegas, MGM Resorts Race & Sports Books will offer real-time odds, money-lines and other information about the golfers’ performances.

The players can also make side challenges, such as who’ll be closest to the pin, whether one can make a putt from 10 feet away or the chances of getting up and down from a certain location on the course.

Money from side wagers will be donated to the winning golfer’s chosen charity.

Drone camera coverage will be provided, as will slow-motion cameras, golf animations and both real-time trajectories and flight paths for each shot.

 

WWE Eyes Uptick in Q3 Media Revenue, Including Home Video

World Wrestling Entertainment Oct. 25 reported a 9% increase in third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) media revenue to $142.1 million from $130.8 million.

The increase was due in part to the contractual escalation of core content rights fees, namely license fees associated with original programs, “Raw” and “Smack Down,” as well as the monetization of “Miz & Mrs,” the original series that debuted on USA Network, and the season eight premiere of “Total Divas.”

Other sources of media revenue include distribution of scripted, reality and other in-ring programming, as well as theatrical and direct-to-home video releases.

Indeed, the “other” category of media revenue topped $11.7 million, up 28.5% from revenue of $9.1 million during the previous-year period.

The growth in media revenue reflected increased sales of advertising and sponsorships across platforms, and the continued growth of WWE Network– the over-the-top video service that posted a 9% increase in average paid subscribers to more than 1.66 million.