By Zach Leonsis:
As we look back on the last twelve months here at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, we have enjoyed several significant developments. But perhaps none were more exciting than the announcement of our largest acquisition in years: our purchase of NBC Universal’s remaining equity ownership in NBC Sports Washington.
We reclaimed our local media rights as part of our larger growth strategy for our Monumental platform, becoming fully vertically integrated across teams, venues and media; building scale amongst our peers and most importantly enhancing our fan experience.
Since closing on our acquisition one year ago, the preparatory work that’s taken place to fully integrate the network into our larger Monumental platform has been laborious but also incredibly rewarding. While viewers likely didn’t notice much change at all during their 2022-23 NBA and NHL regular season broadcasts on NBC Sports Washington, our team worked tirelessly in background on a variety of important upgrades that fans will begin to enjoy this season.
Buying back our local sports rights created exactly what we hoped it would: a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild a network that matches the needs of our future while improving the fan experience. I am very proud of the work that our team has accomplished thus far and am even more excited about the additional upgrades that we will debut throughout the course of this season. I believe we are building the best-in-class regional media experience in all of sports.
An enormous amount of time went into thoughtfully planning this transition, with meticulous attention to detail in developing new production infrastructure, studio spaces, streaming platforms, a rebrand, and new programming initiatives. All the while, our team navigated challenging lead times presented by a COVID overhang and other well publicized supply chain issues. My direction was to make sure that this significant investment back into our network materially upgraded our programming and set us up for the long-term.
We want all of our games and programs to feel worthy of airing in ‘primetime.’ Like the national television quality experiences that we’ve come to enjoy from some of our most important partners, big events in important markets like Washington, D.C. deserve a premium treatment. I’d like to highlight four areas of investment that I believe will achieve these goals and greatly improve our fans’ everyday broadcast experience.
On June 21st, we strategically announced that NBC Sports Washington would be rebranded as Monumental Sports Network in September. We felt it was of critical importance to inform our fans of this transition over the course of the Summer to avoid surprising and disrupting our fans’ experience heading into the 2023-24 NBA and NHL regular seasons.
Believe it or not, when we began this process back in the Spring of 2022 (!), Monumental Sports Network was not the leading candidate for the network’s rebrand. Our directive was to work with our brand agency of choice, HZDG, to whiteboard dozens of new names and brand concepts that would resonate with fans and better reflect our Monumental teams. The instruction was to thoroughly vet many different brand concepts with focus groups including season ticket members and casual fans alike. We spent additional time and budget to run confidential surveys under NDA to gauge fans’ responses to many different options. We used fan data to lead us to the right answer. And we were pleasantly surprised to see all of those data points point to one outcome: the new Monumental Sports Network brand that you see today.
The new brand perfectly represents our media company within the larger Monumental platform, connects with D.C. iconography by incorporating the Washington Monument’s silhouette into the Monumental ‘M’ and reflects all of our teams’ red, white and blue color schemes. Our new brand’s positioning is meant to present itself as confident, authentic, iconic, inclusive, and innovative.
Our new brand, and what it stands for, extends to all components of our network – from our on-air programming to our digital platform, to our on-air graphics, and to our future studio. To achieve the bold, future-focused look that we sought to achieve, we knew we needed to develop new on-air graphics for all live games, studio programs, and original programming. We hired 2Fresh Creative, an animations agency who has worked with several national networks to develop incredibly crisp, 4K quality, 3D animations interspersed with 2D imagery to provide fans with a beautiful new broadcast experience. We are ecstatic with how this work came out and are so excited for our fans to feast their eyes on some stunning new eye candy.
Content & Programming
The network’s programming is core to the entire media organization’s purpose. Any and all upgrades in technology and branding ultimately seek to enhance the programming that our fans want to watch. Central to our network’s programming are our live games for the Capitals, Wizards, Mystics, Go-Go, and other teams; our studio programs that support those live games and our original programming efforts. So, it’s no wonder why we spent a significant amount of time in a cross-departmental fashion reviewing all of our individual programs to see how we can make them better for fans.
Live games are our most valuable programming, so it made sense for us to double down on enhancing the traditional broadcast of games while launching new and more innovative ways for fans to watch their favorite teams play.
These are just a few of the new live game enhancements that our fans can expect to enjoy this season:
- Sideline reporters will travel and report on-the-ground for all games, home and away.
- Players and coaches will be mic’d up in-game at least 40 times per season, bringing fans closer to the action during broadcasts.
- Additional point-of-view cameras will be positioned on our announcers, capturing the most dramatic calls for all games.
- Unparalleled access and views for fans watching Alex Ovechkin’s chase of history to beat Wayne Gretzky’s all time goal scoring record.
- Unique crash box camera angles will be positioned closer to the ice during Washington Capitals games for a new look at live game action
- We’re adding new access to behind-the-scenes and point-of-view cameras outside the Capitals’ locker-room for home games.
- New wireless cameras will be positioned for game production, capturing more in-arena excitement and reactions.
- There will be more opportunities to get to know players with longer-form, personality driven postgame interviews.
- Fans will also see more advanced analytics during broadcasts.
- The ability to chose different camera angles or broadcast feeds within our recently launched digital streaming experience.
- Once our new studios debut mid-season, our pre and post-game show coverage will receive an incredible refresh (more on the studio later)
We’re also developing brand-new alternate broadcasts of our games, doing more with our live rights than ever before:
- Fans can anticipate at least 100 alternate feeds across both the Wizards and Capitals’ regular season games each year.
- The network will pursue the production of alternate feeds upon the opening of its new state-of-the-art studio experience later in the 2023-24 NBA and NHL regular seasons.We anticipate debuting 50 alternate feeds this season.
- Alternate feeds will feature rotating on-air talent including former players, team personnel, local media personalities, and more – but in a more casual, conversational setting while analyzing the game.
- Alternate feeds will also feature advanced data analytics and other data visualizations courtesy of Sportradar to enhance the on-screen experience.
- Alternate feeds will be available on our network’s digital platform during non-conflict nights, i.e. when the Capitals and Wizards aren’t playing at the same time.
Alongside these improvements and additions to our live game broadcasts, we’re pursuing several additional original programs that fans should expect to see on our air outside the live game window. Those programs include:
- Hometown with Rachel Nichols: A new long-form interview series featuring nationally recognized and award-winning journalist & sportscaster Rachel Nichols. Rachel returns home to her native Washington D.C. to tell the stories of the region’s top sports talent and celebrities.
- By the Book: In conjunction with Caesars Sportsbook, Monumental will re-launch the network’s marquee sports betting series for a third season. Highlights will include the show being produced from the new studio, featuring new cutting-edge graphics, and new and additional on-air talent.
- Caps Red Line: A new weekly series will highlight the best behind-the-scenes, off-ice stories with players, staff, and other Capitals fanatics stories, hosted by network host Alexa Landestoy.
- Wizards Magazine: A new weekly series will feature the best behind-the-scenes, off-court stories with players, staff and other Wizards fanatics stories, hosted by network host Wes Hall.
- Top 10 Series: Program will count down the greatest moments in Capitals and Wizards history in this new format series; episodes may include greatest goals, buzzer beaters, dunks, and comebacks.
- Classic Capitals and Wizards games: Fans will be able to relive classic Capitals and Wizards games and anniversaries tied to major rivalries and marquee matchups during the 2023-24 seasons.
- Other specials and limited series in development: Fans will gain behind-the-scenes access to Monumental’s sports teams’ players and coaches, there will be new studio specials celebrating important moments throughout the season, podcasts diving deeper into stories both on and off the court/ice, and new limited series focusing on fashion and the NBA.
I find it personally rewarding to bring Rachel Nichols back to Washington, D.C. to cover all of our teams, not just the NBA. Rachel’s amazing career speaks for itself and it’s a pleasure to welcome her to our Monumental team alongside our already amazing group of on-air talent including Alexa Landestoy, Wes Hall, Joe Beninati, Craig Laughlin, Chris Miller, Drew Gooden, Alan May, and so many more.
One of our primary goals for our content redevelopment efforts is to ensure that our 24/7 air represents who we are and ultimately establishes the network as the premier destination for DMV sports programming. We seek to achieve this goal by creating immersive gameday experiences that build up to our live games and then feed off of this momentum outside of the live game window. Our team is tired of hearing from me about how I don’t want infomercials running during lunch hour anymore. We’re making real changes so that when you tune into our channel, you know you’re tuning into a true sports experience that embraces and appreciates your fandom.
Studios and Broadcast Technology
Our largest area of investment is clearly the build out of our soon-to-be-launched state of the art production facility and studios located in newly constructed offices adjacent to Capital One Arena. We partnered with Diversified as our integrator of choice to build out this critical infrastructure for our future operations. We have long known that our new facility would not be ready in time for the start of the 2023-24 NBA and NHL regular seasons. Despite beginning our work in June of 2022, many pieces of equipment feature lead times of greater than 12 months. We are excited to debut these new studios for our fans around the mid-season mark, closer to the turn of the calendar year.
We are building an SMPTE-2110 facility from scratch which means we’re building the foundation for a private cloud solution as well as supporting hybrid cloud production. We’re implementing new technologies such as server virtualization, network topologies that facilitate hybrid cloud, as well as being a resolution independent facility. Our future infrastructure will immediately improve our video quality from 1080i at 30 frames per second to 1080p at 60 frames per second with a path forward to get to 4K quality video & broadcasts once transmission workflows allow for it. This facility is built to scale should we add additional programs, need to build additional studios and/or control rooms, or need to pursue additional cloud-based productions from remote locations (on-site coverage, high-school or collegiate games, and more).
OK, enough ‘geek speak’ – what does it really mean? It means our video will be increasingly clearer for viewers, of higher quality for your brand-new 4K television and will feature more brilliant (and true) colors. It also means that fans will soon enjoy programming featuring multiple national television quality studios. The facility will feature two magnificent studio spaces which can be combined into one grand experience on nights when we don’t have game conflicts (the majority of nights). Studios A and B span multiple floors to provide greater ceiling height and more dramatic, sweeping camera shots. Both studios will be lit up with a variety of touchscreen LED and 4K quality video screens to create a brand-new immersive experience for our fans. We are also building out two additional insert studios for the rare occasion when we have three simultaneous live events occurring all at once, or for when we are pursuing our alternate broadcasts of Capitals and Wizards games. These studios will be spectacular and unlike anything that regional sports programmers have built before for fans.
For some additional context, the live games, studio shows, and original programs that you watch on our network today are shot using equipment that is anywhere between 7 and 20 years old. A lot has changed since then and much of the network’s current equipment is well past its useful life. Most, if not all, of the equipment won’t even integrate into the new technology that we’re building, so this will be an entire refresh for our production infrastructure. Most networks are having to slowly but surely transition from their legacy technology infrastructure called SDI to the IP-based 2110 future that we are building for today. Having seen the on-screen results of a camera shootout that compares our current equipment to our new equipment, I can tell you that you will notice a significant difference once it’s online.
We’ve also made changes to our transmission and playout services for distributors which should fortify the network’s uptime, reduce any and all disruptions in service, and ensure great quality video for our partners and fans alike. I am anxious to open these new studios for fans to enjoy – soon!
Last, but certainly not least, we have launched a brand-new digital streaming experience to replace all legacy NBC Sports and Monumental Sports Network apps and websites. Our new digital experience perfectly complements our live linear experience, allowing Pay TV subscribers to watch our games and other programs through authenticated login with TVE credentials, while also delivering some new enhancements to make their experiences even better.
By visiting our website optimized for desktop, tablet, and mobile at www.monumentalsportsnetwork.com or by downloading one of our apps on iOS, Android, Apple TV, or Fire TV, fans will enjoy greatly enhanced experiences for live streaming of games and their respective pre and post-game shows, on-demand programs which they can add to their watch list, articles and blog posts that cover the latest Caps, Wizards, and Mystics news, access to advanced statistics, ticket integrations, and much more.
We’re introducing a brand-new home page layout that prominently features our upcoming live games, personalizes a user’s experience, utilizes advanced recommendation engines to encourage new content discovery, and leverages advanced data & analytics from Sportradar to educate our fans.
Our new live game pages put users in control of their own experience. You’ll be able to watch the game via a variety of different camera angles, rewind to watch that last great play again, watch replays in slow-motion, clip and watch highlights, and switch between different games on our air in an instant. We’re also loading up our live game pages with advanced data modules that allow you to track the game in a brand-new way.
We’ve pursued a couple of deep integrations with third parties to add additional utility to our apps and sites. First, we’ve pursued a deep integration with Ticketmaster, so fans can seamlessly manage their account, access tickets, and tie their user experience to their in-arena experience. Second, we’ve made several significant data integrations with Sportradar which will fuel a specific stats page within our platform as well as boost our traditional and alternate broadcast coverage.
Fans can expect continual upgrades to the app and web experiences throughout the course of the 2023-24 regular season with new features on our product roadmap including dedicated series pages, ‘red zone’ style multi-viewing experiences for when we have multiple simultaneous games, new podcast experiences, and much more. We will continue to squash bugs in the platform and will always focus on speed of service.
We understand the importance of creating a world-class streaming experience in sports for our fans. It must take advantage of the unique capabilities that digital can provide, it must delight users based on intuitive ease of use, and it must provide real incremental value that hasn’t been realized before. We are scratching the surface of what our digital experience can become and will continue to upgrade this experience often.
With such a significant effort across a variety of diverse workflows, this work could not be achieved without the full commitment of a great team. I am so proud of our team at the network – some of which transitioned with us from Comcast and others which we have added more recently to augment the existing team. I’d like to personally acknowledge Friday Abernethy, Charlie Myers, Jordan Silberman, Jim Van Stone, Kelly Skoloda, Peter Biche, Abby Blomstrom, Monica Dixon, Chris Thorman, Bill Bell, Frank Crisafulli, Caitlin Mangum, Jim Kowats, Brett Sullivan, Amber Webber, Patrick Duffy, Andrew Hale, Eric Rosas, Grant Hastings, Anu Rangappa, Steve Webber, Steve ‘Huey’ Farrell, Tim Mazzacua, Hassan Chaudry, Kara Hartnett, and the many, many more executives across all of Monumental that have contributed to a successful launch.
We welcome your feedback and are excited for you to enjoy this brand-new way to enjoy your favorite Monumental teams!