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The AFC and NFC Championship game telecasts this past Sunday averaged 53.4 million viewers on CBS and Fox, marking the most-viewed conference championship Sunday since NBC and CBS combined to average 60.2 million viewers in '82. The Steelers' 24-19 win over the Jets from 6:40-9:54pm ET earned CBS a 28.3 fast-national Nielsen rating and 54.9 million viewers, marking the most-viewed AFC Championship game ever and highest-rated AFC title game since Patriots-Jaguars earned a 28.5 rating on NBC in '97. Steelers-Jets is up 7.6% and 16.9%, respectively, from a 26.3 rating and 46.9 million viewers for CBS' Colts-Jets in the early window last year. However, Steelers-Jets is down 7.5% and 5.3%, respectively, from Fox' Saints-Vikings NFC Championship in the late window last year. In this year's early window, Fox earned a 28.1 rating and 51.9 million viewers for the Packers' 21-14 win over the Bears in the NFC Championship game, which is up 6.8% and 10.6%, respectively, compared to Colts-Jets in the early window last year. However, Packers-Bears is down 8.2% and 10.4%, respectively, compared to Saints-Vikings in last year's late window (THE DAILY). In Chicago, Lewis Lazare reports WFLD-Fox earned a 50.6 local rating and 1.771 million HHs in the market for Packers-Bears, "more viewers than the Bears' 2007 Super Bowl appearance, but not as large a rating as the team's 1986 Super Bowl telecast." The '07 Colts-Bears Super Bowl earned a 50.2 local rating in Chicago, while the '86 Bears-Patriots Super Bowl posted a 63.0 rating in the market. Sunday's NFC Championship "capped a season of surging ratings for the Bears" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/25).TOP 10 MOST-VIEWED NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
GAMES SINCE '75YEARNETGAMERATINGVIEWERS (000)'82CBS49ers-Cowboys42.968,690'10FoxSaints-Vikings30.657,933'95Fox49ers-Cowboys34.256,809'11CBSSteelers-Jets28.354,850'08FoxGiants-Packers29.053,937'96FoxCowboys-Packers33.352,685'93CBSCowboys-49ers33.351,987'11FoxPackers-Bears28.151,900'78CBSCowboys-Vikings35.051,640'82NBCBengals-Chargers35.051,620
ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS: DAILY VARIETY's Stuart Levine notes there is "feverish anticipation" that the Packers-Steelers Super Bowl "could topple" the viewership record of 106.5 million set during last year's Saints-Colts Super Bowl. If the ratings for Sunday's conference championship games are "any indication, this Super Bowl should go through the roof." Fox is "being careful not to raise expectations," as the network "doesn't want to be seen calling anything less than a record-setting audience a ratings disappointment" (DAILY VARIETY, 1/25). In L.A., Joe Flint wrote under the header, "Green Bay Packers And Pittsburgh Steelers Should Be Ratings Gold For Fox." Flint: "Anyone who thinks that a Super Bowl featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers won't deliver the numbers that the New York Jets and Chicago Bears would because they are from larger markets is sadly mistaken." Fox "won't have to do a lot of promoting to get people pumped for the Feb. 6 showdown." NBC Sports & Olympics Chair Dick Ebersol yesterday noted both the Packers and Steelers are "iconic brands," and added, "This is going to be a monster." Ebersol: "I would give my eye teeth to be [Fox Sports Media Group Chair & CEO] David Hill this morning" (LATIMES.com, 1/24). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes Fox "lost the biggest TV markets with NFL teams" when the Jets and Bears lost. But given the Packers and Steelers are "brand names and the NFL's huge national fan base minimizes the importance of market size, Fox might get the first Super Bowl in 15 years to draw more than 45% of U.S. households" (USA TODAY, 1/25).
MAJOR STORY LINE? In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy "will be a major story line" leading up to the Super Bowl. Unless Fox "doesn't want sleazy details of the NFL's dark side to interfere with America's Party, it probably won't totally ignore the story during its marathon Super Bowl pregame coverage and its game telecast." There are "a few ways to handle the story," and "two of the options were on display Sunday." ESPN's "NFL Primetime" Sunday after the AFC Championship "keyed off Roethlisberger's answer to a question about his thoughts following the win while he was kneeling on the turf with a towel covering his face." ESPN's Chris Berman "did not get into specifics," saying, "Whatever happened, or did not happen, everybody knows the story of why he didn't play the first four weeks of the season." But Raissman writes, "That was a mistake. Maybe Berman didn't want to present the facts, but he should not have assumed everyone watching knew the allegations that led Roger Goodell to suspend the quarterback." Meanwhile, CBS announcer Jim Nantz during the third quarter of the AFC Championship said Roethlisberger had "seen quite an odyssey." Nantz "did not make any assumptions," rather he "detailed exactly why Roethlisberger was suspended then set up" CBS analyst Phil Simms. Simms said that he "did see a change in Roethlisberger's 'personality,' adding he thinks the quarterback is more patient and 'feels good' about himself" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/25).
The length of NASCAR races are too long and should be shortened in the future, Fox Sports Media Group Chair & CEO David Hill said last night during a Fox Sports reception on NASCAR's Media Tour. Hill said, "There is more diversion ... more opportunity for stuff than any other time in man's history, and I think a lot of the races are too long." An ideal broadcast in Hill's eyes would include 40 minutes of pre-race coverage, a three-hour race and 20 minutes of post-race coverage. Hill suggested that shorter races might help reverse declining NASCAR ratings. In an effort to drive ratings this season, Hill said Fox and its cable network, Speed, will emphasize drivers in their broadcasts rather than mechanics. He called the Car of Tomorrow, which was introduced in '07, a red herring that shifted media and spectator attention away from drivers and onto the car. He also called out reporters for treating five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson as "ho-hum" and advocated treating drivers like heroes. Fox will try and do that by linking today's drivers to legends of the sport in a new introduction that will run at the beginning of each race. It also will introduce a new technology to the race broadcast that will show the degree of turning a driver makes as he steers the car. Those efforts will be complemented by new programming on Speed, which unveiled a new documentary program called "The 10," that will countdown the 10 greatest moments in NASCAR this February. Speed also showed a clip from "The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt," a documentary that recounts the legendary driver's '01 death during the Daytona 500 (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).
IN NASCAR'S HANDS: Fox' deal with NASCAR runs through the '14 season, and Hill said that it is "too soon to speculate on if the relationship will continue past the current deal." He added that he personally would "like to continue airing NASCAR on Fox," but because it is a "business decision, the next few seasons will determine how aggressively Fox pursues a new contract." NASCAR has aired on Fox since '01. Hill also said that Fox is "content with the consistent start times NASCAR instituted last season to simplify the television schedule for viewers." Meanwhile, Hill "didn't miss a beat" when asked if he would "push NASCAR to shorten any of its races." He said, "NASCAR doesn't negotiate" (Jenna Fryer, AP, 1/24).
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE: SBNATION.com's Jeff Gluck reported Fox NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds yesterday, "working as the M.C. for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing media tour stop, was wrapping up the program when he decided to offer some 'off-script' remarks for the 200-plus journalists in attendance." McReynolds "proceeded to remind the media that we all make our living in the sport and asked for us to be more positive in 2011." McReynolds: "I know it's easy to write about all the bad things and I know it can't all be about the good things, but (here's) the only thing I reach out to you: If it's television ratings (you're writing about), we know the ratings are down. How about also promoting that we're second only to the NFL? If there's 25,000 empty seats at Michigan, how about making sure you document there's still over 100,000 people in those grandstands? Things like that will get our sport back to where we were." Gluck noted while McReynolds was speaking, "there were reporters literally groaning and cursing under their breath." Gluck wrote, "If you want me to believe tweeting about declining TV ratings or blogging about an attendance issue is somehow contributing to that problem, that's a tough sell. I truly doubt being 'more positive' about ratings and attendance and the sport in general is going to bring fans back. And, by the way, that's not my job anyway" (SBNATION.com, 1/24).
ICY RECEPTION: In North Carolina, Monte Dutton writes McReynolds was "kind enough to serve as a guest lecturer on media ethics." He "instructed us all to accentuate the positive, specifically noting that we should all stress the people in the grandstands instead of the ones who stayed home." Dutton: "This, of course, is the television version of journalistic -- it's kind of absurd to use the word -- ethics. Many a recent Sprint Cup race has been visited by strange Halloween costumes that look for all the world like thousands of empty seats" (GASTON GAZETTE, 1/25). In Birmingham, Doug Demmons writes the "reason stories point out that grandstands have 20,000 empty seats instead of 100,000 filled seats is because it was just a few years ago that all the seats were filled." Demmons: "That's why it's called news. But McReynolds' comments came across as a plea for everyone to spin the news in the most positive way possible in order to support the sport and save everyone's job" (BIRMINGHAM NEWS, 1/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee noted media members took to Twitter and Facebook "to vent about the condescension inherent in McReynolds' statements" after he spoke. Busbee wrote, "What if McReynolds was right? What if we do go a little too heavy on the negativity?" But he added, "It's possible to call out a sport while still loving it; it's possible to expose flaws not for the sake of muckraking or pageviews, but because you'd like to see those flaws corrected for the long-term health of the sport" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/24).
CBS Sports has hired former Univ. of Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez to be a guest analyst for its coverage of National Signing Day on Feb. 2 on CBS College Sports. The net has scheduled seven hours of live programming, up two hours from last year, and will supplement the TV presentation with continuous coverage on CBSSports.com, MaxPreps.com and the CBSSports.com College Network of more than 175 official school athletic websites. David Berson, CBS Sports Exec VP and President of the CBS College Sports network, said, "We're going to have a much more unified approach to our coverage of Signing Day, which is one of the big days of the year for CBS." The network has scheduled interviews during Signing Day with coaches of several prominent programs, including Alabama's Nick Saban, Texas' Mack Brown, Oregon's Brian Kelly and Miami's Al Golden.
MLB Giants officials "sat down with the prospective producers" of the Showtime and MLB Productions series chronicling the team "over dinner at the winter meetings in Orlando, and they came away assured that they could deny access to the camera crew at any time they wanted," according to Gwen Knapp of the S.F. CHRONICLE. MLB Productions last year produced the series "The Club," which "reflected the contentiousness of the White Sox," for MLB Network. But Giants Senior VP & GM Brian Sabean said, "They assured us that it wasn't going to follow suit, as well as the fact that it wasn't going to be a 'Hard Knocks.'" Giants manager Bruce Bochy added, "I would not have signed off on this if I thought it was going to be about controversy and conflict. It's more about the players and (how) they're human beings, and what they do in the offseason. But it's not going to be 24-7 in the clubhouse." Knapp wrote without "edgier material," the show "seems like an odd addition" to the Showtime lineup. But Showtime Entertainment President David Nevins said, "We're trying to take people to a place they haven't been before, in an in-depth way over time, and I don't think we need to go to anything unseemly or controversial." As a result, the Giants "believe that they can minimize the risk while benefiting from telling their story on a national platform" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/23).
NO DRAMA, NO INTEREST: In Sacramento, Scott Lebar writes "anyone who has watched the range of reality shows -- hardly real, sometimes hardly shows -- knows you need key ingredients for success on this field of celebrity dreamers." Lebar: "Some require shooting from the lip. Some, shooting a caribou. Or both. For most reality genres, though, you need confessionals, confrontation and characters. Chemistry? No way. And the Giants had plenty." The Giants have several characters on the roster, including Ps Brian Wilson and Tim Lincecum and 1B Aubrey Huff, but "if fights don't break out, it's not worth watching." The Giants instead should "stick to base knocks and the amazing pennant race" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 1/25).
MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds cites sources as saying that the Univ. of Oklahoma "might be interested in working with Fox Sports" on the proposed Sooner network. Fox Sports was "said to have offered" between $3-5M in annual rights to the Univ. of Texas to partner on UT's forthcoming network "before being trumped by ESPN's far more lucrative bid." Fox operates FS Oklahoma and "has ties to the Big 12 Conference, whose football TV rights expire after next season." Other observers believe that OU "could bypass a third party entirely and work directly with Cox Communications, the predominant cable operator in Oklahoma, perhaps in some sort of revenue-sharing arrangement" (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 1/24 issue).
FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS: In Salt Lake City, Tony Jones reports Comcast is "pushing hard for Utah State to be invited to the Mountain West Conference, in an effort to keep a foothold in the Utah television market." As a result, USU "could be in line to receive an invitation to join the MWC, should the league expand to 12 teams." The MWC BOD is meeting this week in Las Vegas, and sources said that "expansion is on the table." Sources also noted that MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson "met with Comcast late last week" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 1/25).
SLIM PICKINGS: In London, Patrick Foster reports sports organizations "reacted angrily yesterday to an announcement by the BBC that it is to cut coverage of minority sports on its website, in order to focus on more high-profile events." BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said that the network "would cut 360 posts from BBC Online as it looked to slash" money from its budget. The BBC also announced there will be a "reduction in the overall amount of sports news" on its website. BBC Sport Head of Interactive Ben Gallop: "There will be less coverage of those sports and events that fall outside our main editorial priorities" (LONDON TIMES, 1/25).