SBD/Issue 86/Sports Media

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  • NFL Continues To See Ratings Jumps Despite Lopsided Playoff Games

    Fox' telecast yesterday of the Vikings-Cowboys NFC Divisional playoff game earned the weekend's best NFL overnight Nielsen ratings, and it is up 14% from the comparable Eagles-Giants last year. Vikings-Cowboys also marks the best early-window Divisional game since Eagles-Cowboys earned a 25.8 overnight in '96, and the first time in a decade that an early Sunday Divisional game has outrated the late game. The game earned a 48.4 in Minneapolis-St. Paul and a 40.4 in Dallas-Ft. Worth. CBS also scored a 23.1 overnight for yesterday's Jets-Chargers in the late-window AFC Divisional game, marking the best Sunday AFC divisional game since a 24.3 for Patriots-Colts in '05. Jets-Chargers peaked at a 27.3 rating in the 7:30-8:00pm ET window. CBS Saturday earned an 18.7 overnight Nielsen rating for the Colts-Ravens AFC Divisional game in primetime, up 18.4% from the 15.8 overnight for Cardinals-Panthers primetime game on Fox last year, and up 10.0% from CBS' Ravens-Titans in the '09 Saturday early window. Meanwhile, Fox earned a 17.9 overnight for Saturday's Saints-Cardinals NFC Divisional game, up 13.3% from Cardinals-Panthers in '09, and up 5.3% over Ravens-Titans (THE DAILY ).

    NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES OVERNIGHT NIELSEN RATINGS
    NET
    DAY/
    TIME (ET)
    '10 GAME
    RAT.
    NET
    '09 GAME
    RAT.
    % +/-
    Fox
    Sat./4:30pm
    Cardinals-Saints
    17.9
    CBS
    Ravens-Titans
    17.0
    5.3%
    CBS
    Sat./8:00pm
    Colts-Ravens
    18.7
    Fox
    Cardinals-Panthers
    15.8
    18.4%
    Fox
    Sun./1:00pm
    Vikings-Cowboys
    23.9
    Fox
    Eagles-Giants
    20.9
    14.4%
    CBS
    Sun./4:30pm
    Jets-Chargers
    23.1
    CBS
    Steelers-Chargers
    21.4
    7.9%

    ON TOP OF THEIR GAME: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes CBS' broadcast crew of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms "turned in a first-rate performance" during Jets-Chargers, as they made the "thriller even more compelling." Simms was "as aggressive as the Jets' defense, first-guessing with flair throughout the game," and his opinions were "pointed and original" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/18). Also in N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes under the header, "Simms Shows Why He's Best." Mushnick lists four reasons why Simms is "football's best analyst" (N.Y. POST, 1/18). 

    OFF THE MARK: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones wrote it is "startling just how wide the gap is between Fox's top NFL broadcasting team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman and the No. 2 crew of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa." The No. 2 team, which called Saints-Cardinals, is "average at best," due to the "analysis of Johnston and Siragusa, whose remarks are too often after-the-play second-guessing" (TAMPABAY.com, 1/17). In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes Albert, Johnston and Siragusa "may have set a broadcasting record for the constant use of the 'he does a nice job' bromide in covering plays and players" (DENVER POST, 1/18). Meanwhile, SI.com's Peter King writes he did not like Fox "going to a commercial with a compelling closeup of Kurt Warner laying on the ground, being tended to by trainers, in what might be the last game of his career" (SI.com, 1/18).

    OTHER BOOTH OBSERVATIONS: In Dallas, Barry Horn writes Buck and Aikman during Vikings-Cowboys "gave up on the Cowboys" with the Vikings leading 27-3 and six minutes remaining in the game. At that time, Aikman said, "Make no mistake this is a big win for Brett Favre." Buck added, "This is the first time Brett Favre will get a playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys." Horn: "I'm not saying they were premature or they were wrong. It's just unusual for network announcers to tell their audiences a game they are working is over so early" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/18). Meanwhile, in Baltimore, David Zurawik wrote there were "too few replays [and] questions of calls" during CBS' telecast of Colts-Ravens. There "wasn't enough time for adequate replays of pivotal and/or controversial moments" during the game. Zurawik: "It was maddening not to be able to see some of the calls in slow motion or to watch replays shown from more than one angle" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 1/16).

    Writer Says Fox Reporter
    "Slobbering" Over Favre
    WRONG APPROACH: In Toronto, Chris Zelkovich writes NFL broadcasters "venture off the field far too often in search of stories and images that have nothing to do with the game." Fox "decided that Saints [TE] Jeremy Shockey was the story" during Saints-Cardinals, while CBS turned Colts-Ravens "into the Peyton Manning show." Manning was "clearly one of the game's stars," but CBS "treated him as if he were the only player on the field." Zelkovich writes Fox also "gave similar treatment" to Cowboys QB Tony Romo during Vikings-Cowboys (TORONTO STAR, 1/18). The ST. PETE TIMES' Jones wrote Fox sideline reporter Chris Myers was "slobbering all over Brett Favre during a postgame interview." Jones: "How could he not ask about Favre's controversial touchdown pass with two minutes left?" Meanwhile, Jones noted Nantz is in a commercial with Manning for Sony televisions and wonders how CBS can let Nantz do the ad with Manning. Jones: "Why should we trust anything Nantz has to say about Manning ever again?" (TAMPABAY.com, 1/17).

    STUDIO CHATTER: The DAILY NEWS' Raissman wrote it "sure looks like CBS has already targeted" recently retired LB Junior Seau, "if not for a role on 'The NFL Today' then as a game analyst." Seau during an appearance on Showtime's "Inside The NFL" Wednesday was "glib, funny, insightful." CBS owns Showtime, and it "sure looked as if this was an audition for Seau." Raissman: "If it was, Seau didn't just pass. He stole the show" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/17). Meanwhile, the N.Y. POST's Mushnick wrote just because CBS studio analyst Dan Marino was a "terrific quarterback with the Dolphins doesn't mean he's unable to confuse the game to a national audience." After the Ravens-Patriots AFC Wild Card game, Marino noted Ravens QB Joe Flacco had "only 10 attempts for 34 yards passing." Marino: "And they win a playoff game in the NFL. That's amazing!" But Mushnick wrote there was "no logical reason to pass much" in the Ravens' 33-14 victory, and it "only made sense to run the ball and the clock" (N.Y. POST, 1/17).

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  • McGwire Chose MLB Network For Costas; Experts Analyze Strategy

    Mark McGwire's decision to grant MLB Network the first television interview after his admission to using steroids was driven by Bob Costas' role with the network, according to a source familiar with McGwire's strategy. "If Bob had been on HBO, they would've had the first interview," the source said. "If Bob was on, name your station, they would've had the first interview. So it was the host that drove that decision." The decision to go with Costas was part of a PR strategy that focused first and foremost on getting the news out and in the open to allow McGwire to get to work as hitting coach for the Cardinals, according to the source. The strategy -- which included a statement and simultaneous AP story on Monday afternoon, followed by the Costas interview that evening -- has been lauded by some in PR circles for its targeted approach but criticized by others for its brevity. Sports and entertainment marketing and communications consultant Joe Favorito praised the decision to lead with the AP and follow with Costas. "It was a very good way to manage the news cycle and get the main message -- about the use of steroids -- out very clearly," he said. But MGP & Associates President Mike Paul disagreed with the approach. "I don’t think a one-day-and-done strategy ever works," he said. "Not in politics and especially not in sports and entertainment. If McGwire were my client, I would have had the exact opposite strategy."

    Most Public Relations Experts Agree With
    McGwire's Choice Of Costas, MLB Network
    CHOOSING COSTAS THE RIGHT MOVE? McGwire and his reps felt the first on-camera interview he gave on the subject needed to be a "serious, solid, tough but fair interview," and they identified Costas as the ideal interviewer for the job. "Bob Costas is widely recognized as being a tough and fair expert journalist," the source said. "And when you have something important, that's big, all you can ask for is tough and fair. Nobody wanted to go a route where it would be perceived as a friendly, softball interview." Most public relations experts questioned by THE DAILY agreed with the decision to choose Costas and MLB Net. SCP Worldwide Senior VP/Communications Eric Gelfand agreed with the decision to select the network based on Costas, noting interviewers have "undoubtedly become part of the story." As a result, he said, "The choice of interviewer almost dictates what outlet you should go to, not the other way around." Former USOC Chief Communications Officer Darryl Seibel, who now serves as Managing Partner for 776 Original Marketing, noted Costas is "one of the most respected baseball authorities" in the country. "In terms of image and perception, the newsmaker benefits from being interviewed by someone who is credible and respected," he said.

    MISSING THE MARK? Some observers disagreed with the decision to lead with MLB Net. Communications consultant Vince Wladika, who spent years at Fox Sports and MLB, said McGwire's first public interview should have been in the form of a press conference. "I’m a little old school," he said. "To me, the right forum was a press conference -- that is the 'fairest' way to not play any favorites with the media." But Wladika said he believes McGwire's reps likely were worried about his ability to handle the forum of a press conference. "By doing Costas," he said, "McGwire and his advisors were counting on -- and trying to take advantage of -- Bob’s extremely strong credibility as an interviewer to bolster McGwire’s believability to the media and public." MGP's Paul said McGwire's reps likely chose MLB Net because they "believed they would go easy" on McGwire, as the league-owned network "has a biased interest in his future." Paul also pointed to MLB having previously worked with sports communications consultant Ari Fleischer, who advised McGwire ahead of his admission. "No coincidence there," Paul said.

    NO RESTRICTIONS: No restrictions were set prior to the interview with Costas, according to the source, who added that McGwire wanted it to be "no restrictions, take what comes, explain it all." Of the hour-long interview, the source added, "There was an initial consideration of doing it shorter, but the more it was thought through, the decision was the longer the better; the more time for Mark to just tell his story." Meanwhile, McGwire has been criticized for refusing to admit that steroids enhanced his performance. But he truly believed everything he told Costas, according to the source, who added there was a consensus among his reps not to "put words in someone's mouth that they don't believe because you think it will lead to better PR." The source added, "It has to be authentic; it has to be genuine." That did not mesh with most observers, who criticized McGwire's performance in the interview for his refusal to admit that steroids enhanced his performance. Wladika said McGwire's assertion that his records are "completely legit" was a "travesty." He stated McGwire was "either poorly prepared by his PR handlers -- or he didn't listen" to their advice. Paul believes McGwire is "giving only a half-truth, which is one of the most hurtful types of lies," and his assertions showed he is "not fully humbled himself and he is lying about portions of his story." Paul added, "As a result, McGwire's reputation is still in crisis."

    DON'T FORCE IT: Several execs noted the importance of not forcing McGwire into a scripted story. Ketchum Sports & Entertainment Managing Director Ann Wool said an athlete's handlers can "make suggestions on how to approach an answer to a question, but the best media training comes when advice is given, not a script." McGwire "clearly articulated his guilt, which was the goal of the interview, not the anecdotes surrounding it." Favorito said you "can't force anyone to say what they do not want to say." He added, "All you can do is advise and counsel. The main message, which was an admission of steroid use, was the one that needed to be conveyed and was conveyed pretty clearly." Seibel agreed, saying well-crafted messaging "will quickly unravel if, at some level, it's not a reflection of what the newsmaker actually believes -- and the media will quickly recognize and dismiss this as spin, not substance."

    McGwire Has No Plans To Further
    Discuss His Admission In A Formal Setting
    NO FURTHER PLANS: Following yesterday's meeting with Cardinals fans, McGwire has no plans to discuss his admission in a formal setting, according to the source, who said he believes the story now is "pretty much spent." Several execs agreed with the decision not to hold a press conference. "These days I don’t believe you have to hold a press conference to get the news out," said Edelman GM of Sports & Sponsorship Mary Scott. "Holding a press conference also means you need to be willing to answer every reporter’s questions, and for something like this there would have been hundreds of media in attendance." Seibel agreed, noting press conferences make it "all-but-impossible for reporters to capture and convey the human element." Seibel: "Rarely do you get to know or understand how a person truly feels during a press conference, especially if the news is difficult." However, Paul speculated the failure to hold a press conference now will only "add more interest in McGwire's story this spring versus reducing it." He added, "I am sure he hopes the media will not be interested in the future in his steroid story, but they will be, especially on Opening Day as McGwire becomes a coach in the league. His team may need him to speak to the press at a press conference then." Gelfand said a press conference can play an "important part" of any strategy. "It allows you to speak to every media outlet at once," he noted, "helping you to better control the message and eliminates you from having to go from 'door-to-door' explaining yourself over and over potentially prolonging the media cycle."

    See tomorrow's issue of THE DAILY for more commentary from our panel regarding various aspects of McGwire's admission strategy.

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  • Puttin' On The Hits: BeRecruited.com Sees Big Traffic Growth In '09

    BeRecruited.com Benefiting From Economic
    Recession; Traffic More Than Doubles In '09
    College recruiting hub BeRecruited.com last year generated 3.15 million visits to its site from high school student-athletes and 340,000 visits from college coaches, each more than double the traffic generated in '08, as interest in online recruiting continues to grow. Atlanta-based BeRecruited.com, like several other hubs it competes against, seeks to link prospective college student-athletes who are not elite prospects with college programs, similar to how a professional networking site such as LinkedIn operates. Among the factors that helped spur interest, from both sides, in the site over the past year was the economic recession. "Everybody is having to be a lot more efficient, which plays really well into what we’re doing,” said BeRecruited.com President Jeff Cravens. “There’s less money for recruiting, particularly going out on the road. Colleges’ discretionary spending is down, and parents aren’t spending what they used to either on taking their kids around. It was a slow evolution for us initially, but things are definitely picking up as more people continue to see how the Internet was tailor-made for this process.” The number of student-athlete visits to BeRecruited.com was up 131% compared to '08; the number of coaches’ visits was up 126%. Registrations also grew, by more than 50%. Nearly 7 million connections -- defined as a one-to-one contact between student-athlete and coach -- were recorded, up 128% percent from '08. In addition, student commitments to a particular school via BeRecruited.com, which relies on user self-reporting rather than Internet metrics measurement, surpassed 7,000 in '09, involving more than 1,500 different schools.

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  • Atomic Moguls Launches New Soccer-Themed Facebook Game

     
    Seattle-based Atomic Moguls has launched Galacticos Football, a new Facebook-based online game that seeks to combine elements of fantasy sports with those of popular Facebook social games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars. The company since a beta launch of the game in late November has attracted a monthly audience of more than 130,000 people, much of them outside North America, and is now generating several thousands of dollars per day in revenue from microtransactions. In the game, users operate a European soccer team and can purchase attributes to improve their squad. "People are out there looking for the next big thing in fantasy, and we think we're on to something here," said Brenda Spoonemore, Atomic Moguls CEO and a former NBA Entertainment exec. "We were looking for that intersection between fantasy and Mafia Wars, and are particularly excited by the element where you can play as much as you want and aren't limited by an external schedule, and that we're into virtual goods." Advertising for the game direct aim at Farmville with a tagline, "Get Off the Farm And Onto The Pitch." The company is prepping a similar game for another sport to be released later this month.



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  • Media Notes

    In Chicago, Lewis Lazare cites a source as indicating that the Blackhawks are "close to inking a new three-year contract" with WGN-AM. WGN is "currently in the middle of the second year of its first three-year broadcast deal with the Hawks," and the source said that the two have "established an extremely good working relationship." Lazare writes the Blackhawks have, "in just a matter of a couple of years, become a hot broadcast commodity again" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/18).

    CLOSING IN ON A DEAL? SI.com's Allan Muir noted a report by SI.com's Josh Gross last week cited a source as indicating that an agreement ending the DirecTV-Versus dispute "was expected by March." However, a Versus source earlier this month said, "I know (talks are ongoing), but it's pretty quiet. I don't think anyone at DirecTV is losing any sleep over this" (SI.com, 1/15). ESPN.com's E.J. Hradek noted NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Thursday said that the Versus and DirecTV have "started talking again," though he "stopped well short of saying the groups were anywhere close to an agreement" (ESPN.com, 1/15).

    REPLAY RULES: In N.Y., Klein & Hackel noted the NHL two weeks ago, in response to a FSN Pittsburgh producer witholding a replay during the January 7 Flyers-Penguins game, "issued a memo to all the holders of television rights, saying that 'replays from all camera angles [should] be shown in a timely sequence' to enable replay officials to rule accurately on disputed goals." The memo added, "In the case of video review, producers and their crews have an obligation to the game, the teams and our fans to provide any and all replays of the play in question." But Klein & Hackel noted nothing in the memo "indicated that penalties would result if another producer hid evidence from replay officials" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/17).

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