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Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy Thursday said the TNT NBA broadcasters who will call games during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will get some college work in ahead of the event. Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller are participating in the tourney, and Levy said, "We are going to have the talent that's doing play-by-play and color get some runs in. We'll work with our CBS partners to make sure that happens." Several TNT and NBA TV studio hosts and analysts also will contribute to coverage of the tournament, but Levy said he is not worried about their familiarity with the college game. "The studio guys are a lot different than the play-by-play and color guys," he said. "The studio guys follow college basketball all season long, so it's not like I'm concerned about that." Meanwhile, Levy said the decision to pair Kerr with CBS' Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg for the Final Four and national championship game was not about ensuring a Turner presence on the broadcasts. "It really wasn't about getting one Turner guy and one CBS guy," he said. "It was like, 'Who are the best matchups that will have the best telecasts? Who's worked together? Who feels comfortable together?' And where we think the synergy will be." Levy said it came down to finding the best fit in selecting Kerr over other analysts. "We just thought that Steve Kerr would add a lot to the broadcast and to that team," he said. "We think there's going to be a lot of synergy there. We thought he'd be a good addition" (Erik Swanson, THE DAILY).
KERR EXCITED: Kerr said Turner Sports Senior VP & Exec Producer Jeff Behnke talked to him "several months back" and asked how he would "feel about doing college games." Kerr: "I told him I'd love [it]. He surprised me. I figured I'd do some games. I didn't think I'd be doing the Final Four." Kerr noted he has "done three college games for Fox in the last six weeks or so in anticipation of doing the tournament," and he is "following the college game more closely." Kerr re-joined TNT in October after three years as President of Basketball Operations & GM for the Suns. Kerr: "The last three years with the Phoenix Suns, I was attending college games all over the place scouting. I feel I've got a pretty good handle on players and the game itself. ... The rules are obviously a little different. But in terms of the broadcast, it's basketball. As a color guy, you're still really talking about what you're seeing unfold in front of you and what you anticipate happening. That part comes pretty naturally. The work comes at the collegiate level in the preparation and in knowing the players because there are so many teams out there." Kerr also discussed working with Nantz and Kellogg for the first time, saying, "It's always different with a new crew. You adjust and you adapt. The biggest thing for me is just fitting in, trying to add what I can to the telecast without stepping on their toes because those guys do an incredible job" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/20). Kerr said that he "expects to work with Nantz and Kellogg during one of CBS' conference tournament games to prepare for the new assignment" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/21).
WILD CARD: CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus Thursday said that TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley "will be a key part" of the coverage. McManus: "Charles is excited about it. He's obviously a student of the game. He loves the game of college basketball. Our goal was to take the best of CBS and blend in the best of Turner. I think we've done that." FANHOUSE.com's Milton Kent wrote Barkley's penchant for "free-flowing thought and filter-less expression may prove to be as entertaining to watch and listen for as the games, as well as challenging for producers and executives" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/20). Meanwhile, USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes the TNT additions to the tournament broadcasts "inevitably led to subtractions." Announcer Dick Enberg "wasn't expected to return," and analyst Jay Bilas "won't continue moonlighting on NCAA games." McManus said of Bilas, "His deal with ESPN precluded him from joining our coverage" (USA TODAY, 1/21).
It took 10 minutes for CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus and Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy to come up with the announcing and studio assignments for the two companies’ upcoming NCAA men’s basketball tournament production. The duo paired two CBS announcers (Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg) with a Turner announcer (Steve Kerr) for the Final Four. They also plan to utilize two studios: one from CBS in N.Y. and one from Turner in Atlanta. Staff Writer John Ourand spoke with McManus Friday morning about how they arrived at these decisions.
Q: How did you come up with the talent assignments?
McManus: David and I sat down a few months ago. We started with the existing CBS team. We looked at the talent that Turner has doing their basketball package. We started filling in the boxes, and it was a very, very simple process. It initially took about 10 minutes. The number of eligible Turner announcers fit perfectly into the grid. If you look at the combination of the two teams, it’s as strong a broadcast team as on any sporting event.
Q: Why did you decide to use two studios?
McManus: The studio in New York is going to be the main hub for the telecasts on Turner and CBS Sports. Turner is going to be doing a lot of other studio programming and needs a separate entity down in Atlanta for pregames, postgames and a lot of Internet stuff. During those first two rounds, we’ve got 16 games on Thursday and 16 games on Friday. There’s more than enough work to do on those games at the New York studio, so one in Atlanta is necessary.
Q: Do you have concerns about using NBA analysts on the college game?
McManus: I really don’t because they are first and foremost basketball fans. We were all down in Atlanta on Wednesday night for a combined CBS-Turner dinner. I was talking to Charles Barkley, and my impression was that Charles was as big a college basketball fan as he was an NBA fan. They will obviously study hard. They are professionals. They will watch a lot of college basketball during the season. I think they will be very ready to do the games when they start in March.
Q: Turner doesn’t have college basketball. Will you give some of their analysts reps during your regular season games?
McManus: That’s something we’ve talked to David and his team about. If we can work that out in the schedule, we’d love to do that. These are professional broadcasters who are college basketball fans who follow the game. I think we’ll be absolutely fine.
Q: How have the two companies been working together?
McManus: There were a lot of skeptics out there about taking two disparate companies who have different cultures and different approaches sometimes and putting them together. If you talk to anyone in the advertising marketplace about the advertising sales, the fact is that it really is one team out there, a combined CBS and Turner sales team. We’ve divvied up the sales. There’s been a noticeable lack of pride or ego. The goal is really to serve the advertisers and to generate the most revenue.
Q: What about production?
McManus: When you take two different production teams -- both of whom have their own philosophies -- and put them together, there’s a possibility for a lot of tension and a lot of argument. There’s been almost none. We’ve agreed on philosophy. We’ve agreed on equipment. We’ve agreed on manpower and talent. It’s been remarkable for the lack of friction and the cooperation.
Q: What changes will the home viewer notice?
McManus: This is going to be a very different viewing experience. We have to pound this home between now and that First Four broadcast on Tuesday. This is not going to be the way CBS used to present it. It’s going to be up to CBS and Turner to educate the viewer and explain to them that they actually will be playing the role of producer now. If you want to watch the Syracuse game on TNT, you can watch the Syracuse game. We’re going to tell you if there’s a barn burner on CBS or a barn burner on truTV. But you have to find that game and you get to play producer yourself.
The NFC and AFC Championship games, TV's "highest-rated shows after the Super Bowl," will be played at 3:00pm and 6:30pm ET, respectively, Sunday afternoon, but it "would be better to have one in Sunday prime time and have the other in Monday prime time," according to Michael Hiestand of USA TODAY. Playing the games on separate days would "fit the game plan of today's big sports: stretch out playoffs to milk them for all they're worth." It also would "allow for more than just more hype and hours of TV pregame and postgame shows," as it would "likely deliver a democratic thumbs-up: higher TV ratings." But USA TODAY's Michael McCarthy writes fans "get infuriated when TV manipulates sports for its own benefit, such as moving the World Series from afternoons to prime time." Sunday is the "ideal time and place for these games," as "more people are home; more people are watching TV." The Sunday on which the two championship games are played "is better than Super Sunday in some ways because there are two games, not one, and there is less pregame hype passing as programming." McCarthy: "Don't mess with success" (USA TODAY, 1/21).
MAKE A PICK AND STICK WITH IT: In Boston, Chad Finn writes the reaction to ESPN studio analyst Tom Jackson saying that he picked the Patriots in last Sunday's Jets-Patriots game "so he would -- and this is still hard to believe -- motivate the Jets" was "swift and universal in tone ... on radio and other media." Jackson, "who was not reprimanded by ESPN management," said on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" Monday, "It was done premeditated. I played a bit of a psychological game with the Jets." But Jackson Thursday said, "I've been on air for almost 25 years and I have always prided myself on being impartial. Every time I've made a pick on TV or anywhere else, it reflects what I believe will happen based on my research and what I've observed as an analyst." Finn writes, "It's open to interpretation whether Jackson is better at explanations than he is at predictions. But one question remains: Why would someone as accomplished as Jackson jeopardize his credibility?" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/21). In Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes he has "always liked Tom Jackson," but Bianchi "lost a lot of respect for him" after hearing Jackson's explanation of his pick. Jackson is a "national analyst for ESPN; he's not writing a picks column for the high school newspaper." He is "supposed to give us credible analysis of who he thinks is going to win." Bianchi: "He's not supposed to be making his picks based on motivating the team he WANTS to win" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 1/21). WEEI.com's Kirk Minihane wrote under the header, "Tom Jackson And The Death Of Credibility." Minihane: "If I'm the guy in charge of ESPN, I suspend Jackson for the rest of the playoffs, or at least as long as the Jets are alive. And then I make this clear to him: You pick the team that you think is going to win the game. That's it" (WEEI.com, 1/20).
COOL CUSTOMER: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will call the Packers-Bears NFC Championship Sunday for Fox, and in Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley noted Buck "has been criticized for being too understated, too cool in his call" and has been "scolded at times for being unplugged from emotionally dramatic moments." But Wolfley wrote the criticisms "are not flaws, but strengths." Wolfley: "I'll take the guy who is enhancing a dramatic moment rather than taking it over" (JSONLINE.com, 1/20). ESPN.com's Anna McDonald noted Buck calls "some of the biggest moments in sports," but he said that he is "there to set them up and move out of the way, making the memories about the players, not himself." Buck: "I'm more into what is happening on the field than to hearing myself talk." McDonald noted Buck "wants to be remembered as someone who just has fun during a broadcast and never minds being the butt of the joke" (ESPN.com, 1/20).
BEST & WORST SO FAR: In Miami, Barry Jackson lists what he has not "liked about NFL playoff coverage," including "obvious, repetitive analysis." Fox analysts Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa were "by far the most egregious, repeatedly telling us things we already knew (or saw on replay)" during Seahawks-Bears last Sunday. There also was "lazy commentary from CBS' studio analysts" last Saturday following the Ravens-Steelers game. The analysts were "quick to blast" Ravens QB Joe Flacco and the officials "for the Ravens' loss, but why no criticism of the receivers?" Meanwhile, Jackson writes the "things we liked" included CBS' "SuperVision slow-motion replays, especially on big hits and great catches." Also, CBS analyst Phil Simms' "preparation was evident throughout" the Patriots-Jets game, "especially when he correctly predicted New England's first onside kick attempt would be up the middle" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/21).
Private equity firms are “hot for a stake in MLB Advanced Media, but the company's directors re-affirmed in a board meeting last week that they aren't looking to sell,” according to a source cited by Nicholas Carlson of BUSINESS INSIDER. MLBAM is viewed as "in-play" in private equity circles “mostly because of its awkward cap structure; it's owned in equal parts by all 30 MLB teams.” Private equity investors “figure those team owners -- and MLBAM management -- would like some liquidity.” Their pitch is “for the teams to give up some or even all of their ownership stake in exchange for perpetual revenue share,” and the new company “would get a perpetual license to show MLB games.” A source said MLBAM gets a "call a day" from private equity firms, but indicated that it “isn't looking to sell a stake for a few reasons." MLBAM reportedly believes that "selling a billion dollar stake in MLBAM any time soon would make it very hard for owners to argue that they're broke in upcoming labor negotiations with players.” A source said that “most of the biggies” are calling MLBAM, including TPG, Blackstone, Bain Capital, Elevation, Spectrum and Quadrangle (BUSINESSINSIDER.com, 1/19).
Deadspin.com Editor A.J. Daulerio "has been redefining" where to draw the line with sports journalism, and then "crashing over it," according to Gabriel Sherman of GQ. Daulerio's "tactics -- reporting rumors, paying for news, and making Deadspin's money on stories that are really about sex, not sports -- are questionable," but his "success is not." When he became editor of the site in July '08, it had 700,000 readers per month; now it has 2.3 million. A "dogged reporter who works the phones all day, he's also willing to go to some dark and seedy places." The site's story about Brett Favre's relationship with former Jets employee Jenn Sterger has "generated 5 million page views to date -- and plenty of debate about the TMZ-ization of sports journalism." Will Leitch, the Founding Editor of Deadspin and "one of Daulerio's closest friends, has gotten a little queasy." In July '09, when Daulerio "posted a link to the Erin Andrews stalker video, Leitch thought he went too far." The two "remain close but no longer talk about Deadspin." Leitch said that he "wouldn't have published the Favre photos." He added, "I never wanted people to feel like they needed to take a shower." Still, Sherman notes posts like that "coexist with legitimate investigative journalism." Daulerio, who earns "about $100,000 a year," receives roughly 200 e-mails a day, a "steady stream of tips about athletes, sports executives, and media personalities getting drunk, getting laid, and getting stupid." Even author Buzz Bissinger, who infamously "shredded Leitch for Deadspin's tone and journalistic standards" during Bob Costas' HBO show, is "volunteering to work for Daulerio." Bissinger: "I have to say, I like what he's doing. He's breaking stories. ... In terms of the Costas thing, I now twitter all the time and people go, 'You're just like Deadspin.' My response is, 'Well, yeah, I am. The world changes.'" Daulerio said that he "has no plans to leave Deadspin." He wants to "continue to grow the site and has expanded beyond sports with a general-interest offshoot called Deadspin XY" (GQ, 2/ '11 issue).
FS Midwest in its first season as the "sole carrier" of MLB Cardinals games locally has increased its "slate of games to about 150 and all three of its announcers -- Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky and Rick Horton -- return," according to Dan Caesar of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. The announcers "will work about 100 games" each, which is an "increase of 39 for Horton but a cut of 20 for McLaughlin and Hrabosky." McLaughlin "will do play-by-play in all his games, working with analysts Hrabosky and Horton 50 times each." Horton "will do play-by-play about 50 times alongside Hrabosky." Horton "primarily has been an analyst" during his seven seasons on Cardinals telecasts, and most of his "relatively small amount of play-by-play has been on radio." But FS Midwest Senior VP & GM Jack Donovan said that he has "no reservations about Horton's lack of TV play-by-play experience." Caesar notes there "had been some rumbling last fall that Horton might go after the analyst vacancy on Washington Nationals telecasts to work with former Cardinals broadcasting colleague Bob Carpenter." However, Horton said that he "never seriously pursued the job." Meanwhile, Donovan said that Hrabosky "will be on about 40 to 50 postgame shows on days when he isn't in the booth, thus giving him more total appearances than last season." Hrabosky, Horton and Cal Eldred "will take turns as analysts on that program." No changes are expected "in the radio booth, with Mike Shannon and John Rooney set to return" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/21).
The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin reports Toronto Star hockey columnist Damien Cox Thursday signed a deal to join Rogers Sportsnet, under which he will "appear as a co-host of 'Prime Time Sports' on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 and as an analyst on 'Hockey Central' and the network's other shows." Cox previously was expected to join TSN, but the "sticking point with TSN was apparently Cox's desire to continue writing his Star column and blog, a condition TSN was not willing to meet." Rogers "had no problem with the dual roles, and so Cox will continue at the Star." "Prime Time Sports" co-host John Shannon "has been assured by Rogers executives that he will have 'a significant role' and does not expect to leave the program or the TV network." Dowbiggin writes the move signifies the "gloves are off between TSN and Rogers," as sources said that TSN "has told Pierre McGuire, Darren Dreger and Dave Naylor that they are not to work for any Rogers-owned sports radio properties" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/21).
CALLING THE ACTION: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin reports ESPN's Vince Welch "will get his first chance to do play-by-play of an IndyCar race Aug. 14 for the return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway." Welch, a pit reporter for ESPN's coverage of the series, will move to the booth at New Hampshire "to fill in for Marty Reid, who will be working NASCAR's race at Watkins Glen International that day." Most of ESPN's broadcast team "remains the same" this season, as Scott Goodyear "joins Reid in the booth with Rick DeBruhl and Jamie Little working the pits with Welch." Former driver Eddie Cheever "again will join Reid and Goodyear in the booth at Indy, with Jerry Punch the fourth pit reporter." Versus has yet to announce its lineup (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 1/21).
BACK AT RINGSIDE: MEDIA BISTRO's Marcus Vanderberg reported boxer Roy Jones Jr. is "returning full-time to HBO Sports as a permanent expert analyst" on "HBO Boxing After Dark." HBO Sports Senior VP & Exec Producer Rick Bernstein said, "We were not searching for a permanent analyst on the Boxing After Dark series, but Roy simply blew us away with his performance as a guest analyst last year and we decided it's time to bring him back" (MEDIABISTRO.com, 1/20). Jones previously served as an analyst from '96-'05, "mainly working" on "Boxing After Dark" (ESPN.com, 1/20).
The chart below lists final Nielsen ratings from recent sports telecasts. All ratings listed are U.S. ratings (THE DAILY).
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT. NCAA Basketball: Maryland-Villanova1/15CBS1:00-3:30pm1.0 "The NFL Today"1/15CBS3:30-4:30pm6.3 AFC Divisional Playoff: Ravens-Steelers1/15CBS4:30-8:00pm19.4 "Fox NFL Special"1/15Fox7:30-8:00pm4.7 NFC Divisional Playoff: Packers-Falcons1/15Fox8:16-11:23pm17.0 Incredible Dog Challenge National Finals (taped)1/15NBC3:30-4:30pm0.8 Golf: "Ticket to the Tour" (taped)1/15NBC4:30-6:00pm0.4 NCAA Basketball: Purdue-West Virginia1/16CBS1:30-4:00pm0.6 "The NFL Today"1/16CBS4:00-4:30pm7.1 AFC Divisional Playoff: Jets-Patriots1/16CBS4:30-7:45pm24.2 "Fox NFL Special"1/16Fox12:00-1:00pm5.4 NFC Divisional Playoff: Seahawks-Bears1/16Fox1:00-4:15pm19.1 "Skate for the Heart" (taped)1/16NBC4:00-6:00pm0.9 TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) BCS National Championship:
"Sunday NFL Countdown"1/16ESPN11:00am-
Virginia Tech-North Carolina1/13ESPN9:00-
RECORDS KEEP FALLING: The four NFL Divisional games last weekend averaged 35.1 million viewers, marking the most-watched Divisional weekend ever. The previous record was set in '93 with 34.2 million viewers. Last weekend also marked the first time that each of the four Divisional games earned over 30 million viewers. The 35.1 million viewers are also up 6% from 33.0 million viewers last season (NFL).
CAPITALS INTRIGUE: In DC, Dan Steinberg reported Capitals TV ratings have received a "boost" from the team's appearance on HBO's "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic." Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic in the 12 games "since HBO's series began airing in mid-December" has averaged a 2.1 local rating in the DC market for Capitals games, up 68% from a 1.25 rating for the same 12-game stretch last year. The net had averaged a 1.56 rating for 31 games "prior to the debut of the HBO show," meaning that the last 12 games are up 35% from the early-season numbers. Steinberg noted Capitals ratings are up 41% for the season (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/20)....CSN Philadelphia averaged a 3.4 local rating for Tuesday's Capitals-Flyers game, marking the net's most-watched Flyers game this season. "Flyers Postgame Live" also averaged a 3.2 rating Tuesday, marking the highest-rated Flyers postgame show this season (CSN).
HEAT WAVE: Sun Sports is averaging a 5.4 local rating in the Miami market for its Heat telecasts this season, "more than double the 2.5 last season and a 2.7 in 2008-09." The numbers "are growing," as Heat games averaged a 4.6 rating in November and a 6.1 rating in December. WPLG-ABC averaged a 15.1 local rating in the market for the Christmas Day Heat-Lakers game, beating the 14.1 rating WSVN-Fox averaged for the Lions-Dolphins game the following day and marking the "first time the Heat outdrew a comparable Dolphins game" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 1/19).