As record dollars continue to be shelled out for marquis sports properties’ TV rights (in the UK, for instance, the English Premier League recently enjoyed a 70% fee increase), other up-and-coming leagues with strong growth potential become an increasingly attractive option.
Many of these new leagues are following the fitness craze that’s sweeping the nation. We’ve written about how extreme fitness competitions like CrossFit and Spartan Race are invading living rooms on major national cable networks such as ESPN and NBCSN. But it’s not just extreme. NBCSN signed on for another year of Grid League, a co-ed sport focused on strategic athletics racing (think CrossFitters of all ages in co-ed competition), and this past December NBCU launched Radius, a new multiplatform fitness and lifestyle brand available through subscription and customized to fit the needs of any consumer.
The Now Factor
Radius is designed from the ground up to satisfy the anytime, anywhere preferences consumers have adapted. It enlists six top-notch fitness trainers to perform workouts—which you can then follow yourself—on the network every morning at a set time. “The trainers are the best trainers in the world,” said Jon Miller, NBC Sports and NBCSN’s president of programming. “They take their time explaining the exercise, showing people the right way to do it so that they don’t get hurt and they get the most effectiveness out of it,” he said. “We want people to make Radius part of their morning routine,” said NBCSN’s senior director of original programming Michael Kane. Sound like appointment viewing? That’s the idea.
But while Radius airs on NBCSN, the real work happens on demand, at your own level, whenever you have the time to work out. That’s where the digital component comes in. “The programs that you see on television is a sampling of what you see on the app,” said Kane. We’ve often used the term ‘Netflix for fitness.’ I think we’re a little bit more focused than that. But basically, it goes back to the anytime anywhere concept,” he said. In this sense, it’s digital focused. “We think it has a real opportunity to change the whole fitness dynamic going forward,” said Miller.
New League, New Fans
As for Grid League, since it’s a new sport for most Americans, from a production standpoint it requires some explanation on the part of the network and the league itself. “Whenever you have a new sport start, you want to give the viewers a chance to come in and experience it, and that doesn’t just mean the folks who are passionate about what they’re watching,” Kane said. So they worked with the league on putting together a series of videos explaining each of the competitions. “We want people to be able to watch it, follow along with it, understand it and enjoy it and become passionate about it,” he said.
Yet it’s true that not all Americans are fitness nuts (though the trend seems to be on the rise in recent years). So how niche is too niche? “Different properties will require different benchmarks,” according to Miller. “I think that we have the luxury of trying some different things. We make sure that we put them in a position to succeed, and then we will evaluate over a period of time if we think it’s got real growth opportunities or not, and we’ll make decisions accordingly.”