SVG Sit-Down: John Servizzi on Newly Formed Tupelo Raycom’s Future, Impact on Live Sports Production

This week, Raycom Media announced it will combine two of the most well-known production companies in the sports sector: Tupelo-Honey Raycom and WebStream Sports. The new entity, Tupelo Raycom, aims to combine the diverse expertise and staff of both companies to better serve productions of all sizes and budgets. Although both companies were already under the Raycom umbrella (Tupelo-Honey and WebStream were acquired in 2012 and 2015, respectively), the two companies will now officially become a single entity serving events, music specials, and branded features.

Founded by Cary Glotzer in 1996, Tupelo-Honey produces mid-level events in four sectors: Sports, Live, Entertainment, and Digital. In the sports sector, Tupelo produces college football, college basketball, and other programming for NBCSN, ESPN, and other broadcasters and is the exclusive production company for national Arena Football League broadcasts on CBS Sports Network and ESPN2.

WebStream Sports, founded in 2006, has made its name on cost-efficient yet high-quality remote, in-venue, and studio productions. The company’s client list ranges from broadcasters Turner Sports, ESPN, and CBS Sports Network to mid-major conferences Big South, Horizon, League, Southern Conference, and Ohio Valley Conference. WebStream recently produced its first college bowl, the Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl game, for ESPN in December.

John Servizzi, EVP, Tupelo Raycom

John Servizzi, EVP, Tupelo Raycom

Glotzer will serve as CEO of the new Tupelo Raycom with WebStream founder John Servizzi and Greg Weitekamp as executive VPs. No positions have been eliminated in the combination, and the company will operate offices in New York City; Indianapolis; Charlotte, NC; and Nashville.

SVG sat down with Servizzi to discuss how the two outfits are looking to combine their efforts, the impact of the deal on the live–sports-production industry, and how he sees the live–college-sports-production market, which WebStream helped develop, evolving in the coming years.

First of all, why does combining Tupelo-Honey and WebStream Sports make sense?
Cary was already the executive in charge of both entities for Raycom at the corporate level, and, right from the beginning, it was clear to both of us that [WebStream] could have an immediate impact on many of the shows [Tupelo-Honey was] doing. The Arena Football League is one that springs to mind: controlling production cost is essential, which is something we excel at. So we immediately identified some [properties] that we could get together on.

As time went by, it became clear that the things that Tupelo is very good at — branded entertainment and network-level shows — were things that WebStream did not have much experience with. And the things that WebStream is really good at — working with lower budgets, keeping costs down, having a full-time staff at our disposal, and less reliance on contractors — were incredibly complementary. So, when you looked at the organization as a whole, it was obvious that some of WebStream’s assets were going to be very beneficial when applied to Tupelo. And, as we started to peel back the layers, it made more and more sense to put the two together and begin operating as one.

How do you believe this new entity will better serve the live-sports-production market?
There are a lot of sports clients out there that don’t know exactly where they fit in this new world of streaming and endless screens. So our ability as a [combined entity] to do any show at any level is extremely important. There are folks that don’t like WebStream’s next-generation model, and that’s okay because Tupelo has tremendous relationships with large remote-truck vendors and we can bring in a full truck and do it that way. The key is that we can do any show at any level: whether it’s a network-level show or aspiring upstart or somebody that’s been doing network-level shows for several years but now has to scale back because the costs are high and the audience is shrinking or fragmenting. We know that we can grow and evolve with all of those [clients]; no matter the show, the answer is “Yes, we can do that.”

What can we expect from Tupelo Raycom in the next 12-18 months?
Cary and Tupelo have always been good at being very nimble; he has always been quick to jump on the next thing and adapt quickly to change. It’s very much a chameleon approach: we can be anybody that we need to be. I think a lot of that certainly remains, which is a great asset. I don’t think any of us know where this thing will be years from now, but, in the short term, we are very focused on maintaining our tremendous client base and maintaining those relationships.

It’s also important that Greg and I get to know as many of [Tupelo-Honey’s clients and vendors] as possible, and it’s also important that all the folks at the former Tupelo become [familiar with] the WebStream way as well. We’re not going to force anything, so I wouldn’t look for the next 12-18 months to bring any tremendous change. But we are looking to have the staff organically grow together. We’re going to see where we have synergies and give the staff time to grow into their roles. We need some time to figure out what’s next and what we’re capable of, but one thing we know for sure is, what we’re capable of now is better than what we were capable of separately.

WebStream Sports has played a major role in the development of the college sports-video-production market over the past decade. How do you see this market evolving in the coming years?

evolves and continues to become a more essential part of what the colleges are doing, outsourcing some of that work is a possibility for more folks. Schools are being asked increasingly to shoulder more of the production. That’s comfortable and easily done in some instances, and, in others, it’s just not. There are folks that are [asking], after making an initial major investment in equipment, what to do when something breaks. What do you do five years down the road when this initial capital investment needs to be replaced? I think that market will open back up eventually [to third-party production] like us and others. It will look different for sure — they won’t be bringing in big trucks — but, in the next few years, I see schools beginning to reevaluate what their core is and what they do well.

How do you believe the at-home production model will affect the market for low-end and mid-level shows that Tupelo Raycom specializes in?
I think there is still a long way to go for [at-home production]. Let’s say you’ve got your at-home productions [perfected] and that’s great. Once you’ve mastered the basics of an at-home, how do you take it to the next level without driving up the costs? In most cases, that next level puts the truck back onsite. And that’s really the discussion: how do we take that next step for those clients? They can go only so far. And, as their content increasingly moves to more eyeballs, they’re going to be expected to deliver a higher-level [show] that they may not be ready for. It’s our job to help them through that process.

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