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ESPN's exclusive negotiating window to pick up the rights to the Pac-10 conference's football championship game ends today, and execs from the network are submitting their bid. "This week, we're ending our process with ESPN where we'll have a deal with them or go to market," said Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott. "My objective would be to wrap up [negotiations] by the holidays. ... Others have indicated to us that they are ready to move quickly if it becomes available." It is not known how much ESPN plans to bid for the game. It is believed ESPN will air the game on ABC. Scott clearly is hoping the '11 game commands similar terms to the Big Ten Championship game, which was sold to Fox last month. The Big Ten cut a multi-year deal; the Pac-10's deal will be for just one year, which would depress the price a bit. Fox agreed to pay the Big Ten an escalating fee of between $20-25M a year over the course of a six-year deal. The contract includes marketing rights to the game and the ability to sell the title sponsorship and other sponsorships. Pac-10 Properties, which is managed by Fox, holds the rights to selling sponsorships around the '11 Pac-10 game. ESPN was granted the exclusive window per the broadcast contract between the conference and ESPN that went into effect in '07. Fox and Comcast also have expressed interest in the Pac-10. "We got a great reaction to the idea of the home-hosted site," Scott said. "There's a lot of demand for these games." While Scott is pushing to get a deal done this year, he said he still has options. "It's not my druthers, but there is an option to save the 2011 TV rights and include it in the broader package going forward," he said. "But that might not be until the middle of next year."
NBA Telecasts On TNT, ESPN Up Big As
Heat Games Delivering Large Audiences
The NBA saw big early-season gains on TV during the opening weeks of the season, with ESPN and TNT both basking in double-digit percentage ratings and viewership increases for their game coverage. TNT is averaging a 1.8 U.S. rating and 2.846 million viewers for 14 telecasts through Dec. 5, up 38.5% and 44.8%, respectively, from the same point a year ago. The net has benefited from big numbers for a couple of Heat telecasts. The season-opening Heat-Celtics matchup earned a 4.6 U.S. rating and 7.348 million viewers, becoming the most-watched NBA regular-season game ever on cable TV. The net also had a 4.2 rating and 7.096 million viewers for LeBron James' return to Cleveland on Dec. 2. TNT's best regular-season rating for the '09-10 season was a 2.6 for the Celtics-Cavaliers season opener. The net is seeing significant gains in all key adult and male demos. Meanwhile, ESPN is also seeing big gains early in the '10-11 season, averaging a 1.4 U.S. rating and 2.152 million viewers for 19 games through Dec. 5. That is up 27.3% and 30.3%, respectively, from the same point last season. Heat telecasts have also been a boon for ESPN -- the net's Oct. 29 Magic-Heat telecast earned a 2.3 rating and 3.774 million viewers, while the same matchup on Nov. 24 earned a 2.0 rating and 2.985 million viewers. ESPN's best NBA regular-season game last season was the Christmas Day Heat-Knicks telecast, which earned a 1.7 rating and 2.652 million viewers. The network is also seeing big gains among all key adult and male demos.
NBA TV SEES SUCCESS FOR FAN NIGHT: NBA TV, which became a Nielsen-rated network at the beginning of November, is averaging a 0.2 U.S. rating and 219,000 viewers through 24 games this season, all of which are non-exclusive telecasts. The net has seen its best ratings for the NBA Fan Night games on Tuesday nights, averaging a 0.3 rating and 378,000 viewers for games chosen each week by a fan vote. The Nov. 9 Jazz-Heat telecast was the net's most-viewed program ever, earning a 0.5 rating and 659,000 viewers. NBA games across all networks have reached 54.966 million unique viewers to date (meaning those viewers who watched for a minimum of six minutes), up 28% from the same point last year, while total reach for Hispanics is at 6.317 million viewers, up 41%.NBA GAME RATINGS, VIEWERSHIPNETGAMESU.S.
FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake yesterday said that the commission will "look at what the government can do to help prevent customers from losing television channels during disputes between pay-TV operators and broadcast station owners," according to Amy Schatz of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Lake said that the FCC "will next year study whether it could better protect consumers during the fee disputes, also known as 'retransmission consent' negotiations." However, though the FCC "plans to re-examine its rules next year, that's no guarantee that the agency will actually change them." The FCC "has broad rules governing the retransmission-consent process that basically requires both sides to negotiate in good faith." Lake said that the organization "would look at how it should better define what it considers 'good faith' and possibly require cable operators, broadcasters and others to tell consumers farther in advance when there is a possibility they could temporarily lose access to some TV channels." Schatz notes a dispute between Cablevision and News Corp. in October "left three million cable customers in the New York City and Philadelphia metropolitan areas without access to Fox television stations for more than two weeks" during the MLB postseason (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/9). The AP's Joelle Tessler noted pay-TV providers "want the FCC to adopt new rules that would prohibit broadcasters from interrupting signals during negotiations or before popular events, and mandate binding arbitration in disputes." But given the FCC's position that it has "limited authority," Congress "has been looking at the issue" (AP, 12/8).
Former WNBAer Leslie Thinks
ESPN Could Cover League Better
Former WNBAer Lisa Leslie said it is "absolutely not" the NBA's fault for failing to push the WNBA more, but instead is "really more the media." Leslie: "It's ESPN. It's the TNTs of the world ... though, really, TNT has done a better job, I have to admit. They've covered the WNBA really well, if you have (NBA TV). But ESPN is probably the main focus that drives our sports." Leslie added if the WNBA "had a place" on ESPN, viewers "would be more informed" about the league. FANHOUSE.com's Tom Lorenzo noted Leslie "lauded the media for its coverage" of this year's Storm-Dream WNBA Finals, but she insisted that it "hadn't done enough to keep viewers informed on what led up to" the matchup. Leslie: "It would be nice to have that buildup to it to see where these teams started. Where did these teams come from? How did they get there?" (FANHOUSE.com, 12/8). ESPN2 aired 18 regular-season WNBA games and seven postseason games during the '10 season (THE DAILY).
LEGEND IN THE BOOTH: Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria said he told radio play-by-play announcer Dave Van Horne yesterday "he can broadcast as long as he wants to broadcast." Van Horne yesterday was honored as the '11 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting, and Loria said, "It's not going to be determined by us. I told him he can work as long as he feels he's doing the job he wants to do." Van Horne joined the Marlins in '01 after working with the Expos since the franchise's inaugural season in '69 (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 12/9).
ROAD SHOW: TNT yesterday announced that its studio crew of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith "will make the trip" to the Jan. 27 Heat-Knicks game at MSG. The trio will "unveil the starters for the NBA All-Star game during the live pregame show." Johnson, Barkley and Smith "also will broadcast live" as part of TNT's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day coverage at the Jan. 17 Thunder-Lakers game (AP, 12/8).
LINGERING PERCEPTION PROBLEM: YAHOO SPORTS' Steve Cofield noted CBC News covered the announcement that UFC 131 will be held at Rogers Centre in April "with a business reporter, Amanda Lang, who had a predictable take on the sport." Lang "tried to cover both sides, pro and con, but the constant images of blood and violence probably makes this three and a half minute report nearly intolerable for those who have watched MMA for years" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/8).