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Play ball! Scripps creates Scripps Sports division to acquire league or team rights

Courtesy E.W. Scripps

Brian Lawlor, long-time Scripps' Local Media division head, named president of new sports effort.

Cincinnati's E.W. Scripps Company, which owns 61 TV stations and the national ION network, is getting into sports.

Scripps wants to "further leverage its local market depth and national broadcast reach for partnerships with sports leagues, conferences and teams," the media company announced Thursday.

"There is no better way to reach every generation of sports fan than through live broadcast television," said Adam Symson, Scripps' president and CEO, in the announcement. "Scripps is working with the leagues and teams that recognize the role our assets can play in increasing reach and visibility for audience engagement."

Brian Lawlor
Courtesy E.W. Scripps
Brian Lawlor

Brian Lawlor, head of Scripps' Local Media division since 2009, will be Scripps Sports president.

Scripps "primary focus for sports rights will be in markets where we have second stations which are not affiliated with ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox," says Lawlor in an email.

Contracts with the Big Four broadcast networks do not allow for large-scale pre-emptions to broadcast a full schedule of the Reds or a local college basketball team. (WLWT-TV'S Reds contract was a point of contention with NBC, which was not pleased by all the primetime pre-emptions, particularly in May sweeps. WLWT-TV dropped Reds games after the 1995 season.)

If Scripps Sports acquires rights to a national sports league, those games would primarily be carried by the ION station, Lawlor says.

"Scripps own 48 ION stations, which means we have local market FCC licenses and towers, with UHF signals. Those are all in different cities. With the Scripps-owned stations plus affiliations with 124 stations owned by others, ION reaches 97 percent of U.S. television households through over-the-air broadcast and also reaches most of the U.S. through cable carriage," Lawlor says.

Individual Scripps stations have dabbled in sports for decades. In the 1980s, WCPO-TV telecast Xavier University basketball. This year, WCPO-TV obtained the local rights to simulcast the Bengals-Dolphins game carried on Amazon Prime Video Sept. 29, and the Bengals-Browns game on ESPN's Monday Night Football Oct. 31.

The company "has a long history of acquiring sports rights for local markets, including the National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, National Women’s Soccer League and multiple college sports rights, including several Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the Big Sky Conference," Scripps said in its media release.

From the release:

Lawlor serves on the board of Misfits Gaming, one of esports’ top gaming companies, with professional teams in the League of Legends, Overwatch and Call of Duty Leagues. He is a board member of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Broadcasters Foundation of America. Lawlor also serves on the advisory board of the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a past chairman of the ABC Board of Governors and a former president and chairman of the NBC Affiliates Board. He also previously served as the television board chairman for the NAB.

Broadcasting & Cable magazine named him “Broadcaster of the Year” in 2012 and one of the “80 Most Influential People in Television.” In 2021, Radio + Television Business Report named him “Broadcast Television’s Best Leader.”

Lawlor will continue to report to Symson. He also will continue to lead Local Media while Scripps works to identify its next steps for division leadership.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.