The RSN Summit Draws Record Crowd to Denver To Address Rapidly Changing Industry

Keynotes included top execs from Sinclair, Pac-12 Networks, and Altitude

As the regional-sports industry undergoes seismic change on multiple fronts, regional sports networks face a unique set of challenges and opportunities. More than 275 attendees traveled to Denver this week for SVG’s fourth-annual RSN Summit to network, learn, and exchange ideas about the most pertinent issues facing RSN leaders today.

NBC Sports Regional Networks’ Jon Slobotkin served as chairman fo r the 2019 RSN Summit.

Networks are being challenged to deliver more events and original content at lower cost, while also building beyond the linear distribution model and embracing multiplatform content. At the same time, the industry is facing a moment of monumental change, as media mega-deals and the evolving media-consumption habits of fans reshape the RSN landscape. The RSN Summit addressed these concerns, and many others, over two days at the Grand Hyatt Denver.

It is once again a time of great change across the regional-sports-network landscape,” said RSN Summit Advisory Committee Chairman Jon Slobotkin, SVP, content and live programming, NBC Sports Regional Networks, during his welcoming remarks. “But the mission remains the same. Regardless of network ownership, our customers — the fans — will always find their teams. As long as there are local sports fans, the most rabid and passionate of the species, all of us must continue to feed the appetite of this rooting beast.”

Opening Day Keynotes Address Sinclair’s RSN Plans and Future of Rights
The event kicked off on Monday with a trio of Keynotes outlining the current state of the industry. The first, a Keynote Presentation on the state of the rights market by Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures co-founder Chris Bevilacqua, took a look at recent rights deals affecting the industry and provided a deep look at the future of regional-sports media rights.

The RSN Summit also reflected the current moment, when the business is undergoing a tectonic shift with Sinclair Broadcast Group’s pending acquisition of 21 Fox Sports RSNs from Disney and its plans to co-launch the Marquee Sports Network with the Chicago Cubs in 2020. Sinclair VP, Corporate Development, Scott Shapiro, who helped lead negotiations in the company’s recent RSN deals, offered insight into why Sinclair views RSNs as valuable assets and how he sees the market evolving and also provided a sneak peek at the company’s plans.

Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures co-founder Chris Bevilacqua

“The promoted demise of the RSN business has certainly been overstated,” he said. “When you take a look at how this content performs within its market, the numbers speak for themselves. The content, especially the live games, is very strong.

“A sub is a sub is a sub,” he continued. “We don’t care if they are watching on their TV or their app or wherever. Even within the younger generations, the passion for the content is there, and it’s our job to figure out how to foster and present that.”

A Keynote Panel brought together two stalwarts of the RSN industry. KSE Media Ventures President/CEO Matt Hutchings and Pac-12 Networks President Mark Shuken laid out current challenges and opportunities, from the evolving distribution landscape to the impact of sports betting. Much of the discussion centered on how RSN operations must adapt to a rapidly changing media landscape largely driven by the younger generation of fans.

“We talk a lot about analyzing how younger generations consume content, and then we go back to our offices and continue to do a lot of the same things,” Shuken said. “We have the benefit of being in the position of serving [young fans] and discovering how they want to consume content, and we need to pay harder attention to what we learn from them and do everything we can to implement that into our business models.”

Hutchings touched on how he expects Sinclair’s entrance into the RSN fray to impact the business.

“I think this is exciting,” he added. “It’s always a positive when you get some new ideas and innovation, and we’ll get that with Sinclair. It’s never a dull moment in our business, that’s for certain.”

A presentation on the state of labor in the RSN world by Program Productions Chairman/CEO Robert Carzoli followed.

Day 2 Highlights: Production Tech, Sports Betting, OTT, Social
Tuesday began with “RSN Production Perspectives: Storytelling, Technology, and Evolving Workflows,” moderated by Slobotkin and featuring executive producers and production leaders from Fox Sports Regional Networks, AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, Pac-12 Networks, Altitude Sports and Entertainment, and Spectrum Networks.

A power panel opened Day 2 of the RSN Summit, featuring (from left) Fox Sports Regional Networks’ Michael Connelly, AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh’s
Doug Johnson, Pac-12 Networks’ Larry Meyers, Altitude Sports and Entertainment’s Ken Miller, and Spectrum Networks’ Jared Stacy.

The following panel addressed the hottest topic at the RSN Summit — sports betting — and comprised speakers from NBC Sports Philadelphia, VSiN, Sportradar, and STATS. Next up was a discussion on streaming and OTT strategy, featuring NBC Sports Regional Networks, NESN, and KSE Digital.

After lunch, social-media strategy took center stage with reps from SNY, Pac-12 Networks, and Midco Sports Networks sharing their tools, tips, and tactics for social-media success. Rounding out the day were panels on RSN/team partnerships — featuring the Colorado Rockies and AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain — and on original programming — featuring Pac-12 Networks, Spectrum Networks, Altitude Sports and Entertainment, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

The fourth-annual RSN Summit drew nearly 300 attendees to the Grand Hyatt Denver.

That afternoon, the Tech and Engineering Workshop hosted back-to-back roundtable discussions: “In the Studio and at the Broadcast Center” offered tech leaders from AT&T Sports Networks, SNY, Imagine Communications, NESN, and KSE Media Ventures; “In the Truck and on the Field” spotlighted NEP Broadcast Services, Canon, Mobile TV Group, and Fox Sports Networks. Rounding out the Workshop, a discussion of at-home production and the virtualized truck featured Gearhouse Broadcast, AT&T, Midco Sports Network, Mobile TV Group, Pac-12 Networks, and Spectrum SportsNet.

The RSN Summit was made possible by Title Sponsor Program Productions; Diamond Sponsors AT&T and Canon; Gold Sponsors Calrec/DiGiCo, Cartoni, Comrex, Haivision, LiveU, SOS Global Express, STATS, and Tedial; and Event Sponsors Avid, Gearhouse Broadcast, Imagine Communications, Lawo, Mobile TV Group, Sony, and Sportradar.

Stay tuned to www.sportsvideo.org for more coverage from the RSN Summit!

Brandon Costa, Jason Dachman, and Karen Hogan contributed to this report.