Advertising Technology

SEASON’s Rich Routman on the Blurring Line Between Sports Media and Sponsorship

Rich Routman is the EVP and GM of Season, a division of the Chicago White Sox-owned Silver Chalice Ventures. Rich is a digital media executive with experience in business strategy, corporate development, marketing and sales at companies including Collegiate Images and the National Football League. We recently spoke with Rich about his current role.

The Makegood: Rich, you have been working on the business side of sports and sports marketing for the past 10 years. What is it that draws you to the industry?

RR: The competitive market for exclusive sports content is continuing to double and triple rights fees (e.g. Monday Night Football’s over $100 million per game). With approximately 26 rights to contemplate in a multi-platform distribution deal, the key considerations and their corresponding values continue to draw me deeper into the industry.

I find these continuous changes to the content and rights landscape absolutely fascinating as each change has a significant impact on cable distribution, the traditional over-the-air television business, digital content consumption and the corresponding media markets. It’s equally exciting to witness how content and content distribution continue to push the industry forward through innovation, giving birth to a flurry of new businesses and as always, new media.

The Makegood: You are currently EVP and GM of SEASON, A Silver Chalice Company. Can you tell about how the company started and who is backing it?

RR: Silver Chalice Ventures was launched in January 2009, by Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Silver Chalice is focused on the creation of meaningful and profitable businesses in the digital media space and our strategy is to leverage our core areas of expertise in connected technology, content creation and sponsorship, media sales to drive company value.

SEASON itself was launched in January 2011, and our goal was to bring together the best linear sponsorship and advertising opportunity for the digital sports and entertainment space, delivering high quality, rights controlled video content to millions of engaged fans. Prior to SEASON’s official launch, our focus was divided between acquiring rights and building scalable inventory through publisher and affiliate distribution deals.

The Makegood: Some would say that that there is a CPM scarcity in the sports vertical. How does SEASON create a better balance of supply and demand?

RR: The sports vertical has always carried a high barrier to entry because the “official” league and individual team platforms are reserved for a select few brands, at spend thresholds that can break the bank.  We are absolute believers that the market demand, at the appropriate CPM and audience delivery thresholds, far exceeds the available industry supply.

With all of this in mind, SEASON was established.  And to date, we’ve strived to provide brand advertisers unilateral access to officially licensed premium sports assets (including coveted video) at scale on either a CPM or CPV basis.

We believe that through syndicated digital distribution, the industry can better unleash the value of high quality video content since we’re still at a point where no single site can deliver enough scalable viewership to impact television budgets (not even YouTube). We know that figuring out the “super-distribution” digital business model (as many have done in the cable and OTATV business for years) and doing so across exclusive content assets, will finally unlock value that we’ve yet to see from digital video. We feel that the SEASON platform, as it continues to grow, will no doubt put pressure on our over-priced competition, CPM / CPV (cost per view) and otherwise.

The Makegood: Nowadays, marketers are beginning to leverage sports media and sports sponsorship together. What do you see are the major advantages and disadvantages of this approach?

RR: As rights’ holders launch broadcast entities (such as the MLB Network and NFL Network) and broadcasters develop “sponsorable” events (i.e. ESPN’s X-Games), the days of sports media and sponsorship existing as two entirely divided strategies are soon coming to an end. These dynamic industry shifts are blurring the lines between incremental media and sponsorship, and in some cases, complicating matters for advertisers.

A holistic strategy that leverages both will drive future deal-making in the space, so long as the media community understands that one league or media company platform only gets you so far.  And as we see right now, significant audience proliferation means that even the best, most integrated sponsorship and media platforms need to be supplemented with relevant extended audience partnerships.

The Makegood: Thanks, Rich.