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Crosby (l) And Ovechkin Likely To Receive
Heavy Dose Of Exposure On HBO Series
HBO Sports plans to produce its "24/7" series around the Capitals-Penguins rivalry this winter. The network will debut the four-episode series on Dec. 15 at 10:00pm ET and will air the "24/7" episodes in the run-up to the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which will feature the two teams playing on New Year's Day at Heinz Field. NBC holds the rights to that game. The series, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at athletes as they prepare for an event, made its name originally in the boxing world. Earlier this year, HBO produced a "24/7" series around NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, which it ran in the lead-up to the Daytona 500 (John Ourand, THE DAILY). In Pittsburgh, Seth Rorabaugh reports much like HBO's "Hard Knocks," the series "will have players wearing microphones on and off the ice and would offer an uncensored look at the Penguins and Capitals leading up to" the Winter Classic. The Dec. 23 Penguins-Capitals game is "expected to be one of the main focuses" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/23). YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote, "Despite some palpable Sid vs. Ovie fatigue amongst hockey fans, this is exactly why you book the Capitals and Penguins in the Classic: To create a pop culture phenomenon." Moving the event from Wrigley Field to Fenway Park in '10 was a "lateral move," whereas this is a "blockbuster, to the point where HBO finds it compelling enough to build sports programming around it." Wyshynski: "Hopefully ... this series will offer the warts-and-all access that 'Hard Knocks' has perfected in covering teams like the New York Jets. The intensity of this rivalry, and the personalities on both sides of it, demand that presentation" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/22).
NFL Seeing Push To Connect With Kids
Pay Off In Week One TV Ratings
Nielsen indicated that the "largest increase in NFL viewership for any age group during the league's first week ... was a 30% jump among kids under 12," according to Hannah Karp of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. While kids "make up a small fraction of the league's total viewers, they accounted for a healthy 8% of the overall increase." The news "comes at a good time for the NFL, which despite its high profile, has long been the chosen sport of Baby Boomers" -- fans over 55 years old "made up 30% of the league's total viewers in week one." It also suggests that a "recent push by the league to connect to youngsters may be paying off." NFL VP/Fan Strategy & Marketing Peter O'Reilly said the league has put a "major emphasis" on getting kids hooked on the game. Karp notes the NFL in '08 "launched an online fantasy role-playing game called 'Rush Zone' aimed at kids as young as six," and the league said that it "now has two million registered users -- twice as many as it had last year." The league this fall "began airing short cartoons Monday nights on Nicktoons about a 10-year-old San Diego Chargers fan named 'Ish' with football-player super powers." The NFL said that the first episode, "which aired Monday before the season's first game and reran throughout the week, drew 1.4 million viewers." However, "for all the traction the league made with kids, it has shown some preliminary signs of weakness with young people generally." The NFL said that its numbers in '09 "showed growth in viewership among teens," but Nielsen indicated that people aged 12 to 17 and young men between 18 and 24 "both turned out in smaller numbers for week one" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/23).
Pitt Panthers Television Will Air Some
Men's Basketball Games Live
The Univ. of Pittsburgh and Comcast Tuesday announced the launch of Pitt Panthers Television, a "programming service that will present more than 500 hours of Pitt athletics coverage per year," according to Paul Zeise of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. The channel will broadcast "live football and men's basketball pre- and postgame shows, women's basketball games and women's volleyball games as well as other Olympic sports and original programming." It also will have rebroadcasts of home football games, "some live broadcasts of men's basketball games as well as football coach Dave Wannstedt's weekly news conference." The first football rebroadcast will air Sunday and feature tonight's Miami-Pittsburgh game. Football and men's basketball games will be available on demand. The channel will be "available with second-tier packages to people in Central and Western Pennsylvania." It will not be available on basic cable packages, but Pitt Associate AD/Marketing & Promotions Chris Ferris said that the "hope is that it will be at some point." Pitt AD Steve Pederson said that the school "will make money off the venture through selling advertisements and generating sponsorships" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/22). Pitt joins the Univ. of Connecticut and Syracuse Univ. as Big East schools "using a similar television network initiative" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 9/22).
Ohlmeyer Contends ESPN Was Professional
In Its Coverage Of Jay Mariotti's Recent Arrest
ESPN Ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer in his latest contribution notes the network is "occasionally challenged to report on its own employees and contributors," and its coverage of Jay Mariotti's arrest "appears to have been professional and responsible." ESPN on Aug. 21 posted a news story on the front page of its website about Mariotti's arrest on "suspicion of felony domestic assault," and then on Sept. 14 reported the news when the L.A. County DA's office concluded that there "was not enough evidence for the felony charge." Many ESPN viewers "anticipated more extensive coverage of Mariotti, commensurate with ESPN's past practice with scandalous situations." Ohlmeyer notes viewers criticized the net "for not doing more, but more doesn't seem to have been justified." ESPN Senior VP & Dir of News Vince Doria: "We reported on the Mariotti arrest (all day Saturday) on 'SportsCenter' and on The Bottom Line. In general, ESPN has not covered media personalities to the same degree and emphasis that we do athletes, teams, leagues, associations, etc." He added, "If the transgression directly touches sports -- Don Imus' comments on the Rutgers women's basketball team a few years ago, for example -- we may spend some time in discussion, but the Mariotti story did not fit that description." By comparison, Ohlmeyer notes ESPN in November "did an extensive piece" on "Outside The Lines" focusing on Raiders coach Tom Cable, who "had been accused of domestic violence but not arrested." ESPN Senior VP & Managing Editor of Studio Production Mark Gross: "In our judgment, we believe we offered the appropriate coverage for both stories. ... The Mariotti story was a news report with little factually confirmed detail, so we reported it as a straight, quick news item"
BOW DOWN TO THE KING? Ohlmeyer also addresses ESPN's decision to spike a story on ESPNLA.com detailing reporter Arash Markazi's night out in Las Vegas with Heat F LeBron James. Reaction from ESPN readers "wasn't aimed at the story itself but rather at the perception that ESPN was hiding something, trying to protect a star athlete from embarrassing revelations or covering up news to protect a valued relationship." But ESPN Digital Media VP & Editor-in-Chief Rob King said, "It's hard to recall a story that encountered such a series of breakdowns in our editorial process." Markazi told his editors that he "had not identified himself as a working writer, nor had he spoken directly with James or business manager Maverick Carter, both of whom were quoted in the story." King said, "Reporters at some point traditionally confront their subjects with the information they've managed to gather, offering them a fair opportunity to comment. It would be hard to argue that this story qualified as important journalism. And it's inarguable that our approach to covering LeBron in Las Vegas fell short in terms of fairness." Ohlmeyer contends "finalizing the editing process and republishing the story -- which didn't contain earth-shattering revelations, and was already floating through the blogosphere -- would have raised more questions than it answered." Attention would have "turned to the comparison of the two versions, leaving readers and critics to question every change and demand that ESPN explain and justify every word, phrase or characterization that was inconsistent." The entire situation was an "almost tragically comedic sequence of misconceptions and miscommunications, compounded by human error" (ESPN.com, 9/23).
TOO LONG OF A WAIT TO ADDRESS ISSUES: THE BIG LEAD’s Jason McIntyre writes, “After nearly a 60-day summer siesta, Don Ohlmeyer finally got off the bench to write about the Arash Markazi-LeBron James-Vegas story and Jay Mariotti’s arrest. Ohlmeyer waited far too long to address these issues, as both are stale and nobody cares about Mariotti until his next court date” (THEBIGLEAD.com, 9/23). Sports media writer Dan Levy on his Twitter feed wrote, “New ESPN Ombudsman column is up. 4,411 words and not ONCE does @JennBrownESPN or Icehouse appear. It's an absolute joke. … Ohlmeyer's work has been embarassing, frankly. And the thing is, ESPN knows it. But it's not like you can fire an ombudsman halfway through their term. How would that look?” Slate’s Josh Levin: “Ohlmeyer's new ESPN ombud column is his weakest, most equivocating yet.” CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman: “That was a pretty lame effort on Ohlmeyer's part.”
CBC Sports Exec Dir Scott Moore said that the net “will be there to cover” the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, if Canada sends a team despite safety concerns. Moore said, “The health and security of our staff is of the utmost [importance] to us. If we felt that this was compromised in any way, we would change our coverage plans to ensure the best coverage with the least possible risk. Having said all that, we knew that the stories in India would be off the field as much as in competition. That’s why we have such a strong news presence there” (GLOBESPORTS.com, 9/22).
TO CATCH THE PREDATORS: The Predators and FS Tennessee announced yesterday that the network will televise 60 Predators regular-season games this season, with three of the scheduled games airing on FS Tennessee’s sister network, SportSouth. The team also announced WBUZ-FM as the flagship station of the Predators' radio network beginning this season. The multiyear deal allows the station to carry select preseason, all regular season and all postseason games. A 30-minute pregame show and an hour postgame show will air on the station (THE DAILY).
WATCH THE LANGUAGE, BUDDY: In Vancouver, Ian Walker noted Canucks LW Alex Burrows, who is "rehabbing from off-season shoulder surgery, on Tuesday made his debut as a color commentator" for CKST-AM’s broadcast of the Canucks’ preseason game against the Flames. Burrows: "I don’t think the swearing will be a problem -- it’s more the people understanding me, I think. With the French accent sometimes I forget my words and things come out not as I wish it would.” Walker noted Burrows “filled in admirably alongside” play-by-play announcer Rick Ball (VANCOUVER SUN, 9/22).
BIG BROTHER WATCHING: In San Jose, Daniel Brown reports KPIX-CBS “Coach’s Corner” host Dennis O’Donnell “has been replaced by Kim Coyle,” effective immediately, after a "tense interview" with 49ers coach Mike Singletary during last week's show. The program is “done as part of a contracted partnership” with the 49ers, who have “editorial input.” 49ers Dir of Football PR Bob Lange said changing hosts was a “joint agreement (with KPIX) to give the interviews a better dynamic going forward.” Brown writes Singletary last week was “rankled by questions about the communication problems that plagued the 49ers in their season-opening defeat” against the Seahawks (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 9/23).