Sirius, XM Score With Sports Programming

By | September 13, 2004 | Feature

By Paul Dykewicz

For sports fans, satellite radio is an increasingly enticing low-cost alternative to the much higher priced satellite and cable TV services.For sports fans, satellite radio is an increasingly enticing low-cost alternative to the much-higher- priced satellite- and cable-TV services. Sports channels are becoming an important feature of the expanding programming offered by U.S.-based satellite radio companies, and it is not just ESPN and Fox Sports that are leading the way.

New York City-based Sirius Satellite Radio [SIRI] is starting to distinguish itself as a national source of coveted sports programming by buying the rights to such content from entrepreneurial providers, professional sports leagues and major universities. Washington, D.C.-based XM Satellite Radio [XMSR] is taking similar measures, discovering its exclusive NASCAR Radio channel is one of the most popular in its 130-channel lineup.

NASCAR is the fastest growing spectator sport in the nation but there is no network that carries all NASCAR races. XM has become the only place wh0ere NASCAR fans can turn to hear a broadcast of each race.

In fact, XM this month launched a second NASCAR channel, NASCAR Radio II, allowing race fans to hear race-day conversations between drivers and their pit crews. NASCAR decides who the fans should hear, based on how the race is unfolding.

These programming deals show that entrepreneurs willing to focus on a popular genre like sports can find willing buyers of their services through satellite radio in addition to the traditional distribution channels of satellite TV and cable TV operators.

Sirius About Football

Sirius is airing the games of premier college football and basketball teams during the next four years in a deal with niche sports programmer College Sports Television (CSTV). Sirius paid an undisclosed but comparatively modest amount for these rights, compared with the $220 million, seven-year pact it signed earlier this year with the National Football League (NFL) to broadcast nearly all the games for the next seven years.

Because Sirius charges $12.95 a month, compared with $9.99 billed by rival XM, the monthly price difference of nearly $3 forced Sirius to develop what it hopes are superior programming options for niches of customers who are passionate enough about something to pay more to receive it. Brian Bedol, president and CEO at CSTV, said the mission is to connect college sports fans with the teams they love.

As part of a wide-ranging advertising, marketing and promotional partnership, CSTV will provide college sports programming to Sirius, and it will create marketing and promotional programs for the satellite radio service.

Lloyd Carr, the head football coach at Michigan, said the new initiative with Sirius and CSTV will bolster the fan base of his university, which has one of the most popular football programs in the country and traditionally is a leader in college team-apparel sales. Now, Michigan students, fans and alumni will be able to follow the Wolverines from anywhere in the country, hearing the voices of their favorite team’s announcers.

XM last week signed a pact with the Big Ten to carry its football and basketball games. XM previously had arranged similar deals with the Atlantic Coast Conference, now strengthened with the addition of the University of Miami and Virginia Tech this year, and the Pac Ten, said David Butler, a company spokesman.

Telcos And TV

The U.S. universities in the south, where football is almost a religion, could be an unexpected source of new subscribers for Sirius, said Jim Rozier, senior director of video services at Atlanta-based BellSouth [BLS]. Rozier, who arranged for his company to team with El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV to secure a video service to bundle with its other offerings to its subscribers, said the chance to gain access to the NFL Sunday Ticket offering from the satellite-TV services provider was an “overwhelming reason” why it was chosen.

A passionate fan of the Florida Gators, Rozier said he was interested in subscribing to Sirius and paying its $12.95-a-month service fee to help ensure he hears his team’s games throughout the fall. Also a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys, Rozier said his love of the Florida Gators outweighed all his other sports allegiances. Many sports fans have similarly strong loyalties to their universities, he added.

Unlike DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, Sirius subscribers will not pay more to hear college or professional sports events on the 120 channels now offered by the company.

Paul Dykewicz is senior editor/senior analyst of Satellite News. He can be reached at 301/354-1761 or at pdykewicz@accessintel.com.

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