By Leah Hochbaum

As the U.S. baseball season drew to a close, sports programmers got down to business at the 17th edition of SPORTELMonaco, which, along with sister-markets SPORTELAsia, SPORTELDubai and SPORTELAmerica, is considered by industry insiders to be one of the most important places to make and break sports programming deals. As they say in the sports world, it’s game on.

The event, held in Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum October 16-19, drew 1,550 participants and 126 exhibitors from 717 companies and 62 countries. There were 143 stands, up from last year’s 118.

“We’ve added some 27 stands from last year,” said William Vitale, chairman of Vital Communications, which does the sales and marketing for SPORTEL. “It’s a very strong market.”

He attributes this strength to a revitalized world economy in a post-9/11 world. “Thank God we haven’t had any SARS or bird flu this year,” he said, referring to the 2003 Hong Kong market that had to be cancelled due to an outbreak of the SARS virus. “Also,” he added, “mobile content is fueling a lot of new business. It’s a trend we’ve noticed in the last couple of years.”

Indeed this trend has been catching on with a slew of SPORTEL attendees. Ettore Botta, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Sandra Carter Global, said that in addition to looking forward to a lot of interest in pre-Olympics programming, and selling soccer, baseball and golf from its sports catalog, the company is hoping that SPORTELMonaco will be “tremendous for mobile and broadband” now that Sandra Carter has a series of Golf pro tips, which run 80 seconds each and are designed for mobile.

“We are, as everybody else is, orienting ourselves to the mobile market. One of the things we’re very excited about this year is our partnership with conVISUAL, a German company experienced in mobile interactivity,” said Botte, adding that Sandra Carter is representing conVISUAL in the U.S. and South America. “Mobile interactive TV is only starting right now in the U.S. and we are launching an interactive morning news program with Fox-TV in New York that will have loads of polling and sweepstakes.”

But while some companies came to Monaco for mobile, others were simply in it for traditional programming.

“We’re here to renew contracts for next year,” said RAI Trade sports director Massimo Migani on the first day of the market. “We don’t expect any big issues, but we’re still crossing our fingers that everything will go well.” The company, which distributes minor sporting events, including kayaking and basketball, focuses mostly on soccer and cycling. “Soccer is really everywhere in the world and we are the representatives for Italian soccer.”

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) also came to the market with buying and selling in mind. “SPORTEL is one of the must-do lynchpin content distribution conventions of the year,” said WWE deputy chief executive of International Television Andrew Whitaker. “We come to renew friendships and establish new business opportunities with regions that we are currently involved with and those which we are not.” The company brought a library of wrestling series to SPORTEL, including Raw, SmackDown, AfterBurn, WWE Experience, as well as a number of specials, including Royal Rumble, WrestleMania and SummerSlam.

Other companies in attendance include Brazil’s Globo TV Sports, Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW-TV) and ProsiebenSat.1 Media, as well as Italy’s Mediaset and U.S.-based ESPN International and Fox Sports International.

During the little downtime at the market, there were conferences a-plenty to attend, including one on Tuesday October 17, entitled “Preparations for the Beijing 2008 OIympic Games.” Other events included a roundtable on “Opportunities in Digital Gaming” on Wednesday, October 18, and an international symposium on “New Competitors in the Sports Rights Arena” held on Monday, October 16.

“When you bring the buyers, the sellers come, and vice versa,” said Vital Communications’ Vitale. “There are a lot of new opportunities to be found through networking. This is simply a must-attend market for those who want to do business in the sports arena.”