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Tiger Woods will play the first two rounds of his '11 PGA Tour season at this week's Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines with Rocco Mediate and Anthony Kim, and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem acknowledged that there "will be more made-for-TV-and-Tiger pairings this year," according to Diane Pucin of the L.A. TIMES. Finchem said that there still is a "formula that takes into consideration such things as world rankings, money winnings, Nationwide Tour finishes and many other factors." But he added, "We are going to do it a fair amount during the course of the year. It does help our television product. We also think it creates a little bit more interest." During the '08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Mediate and an injured Woods competed through an "extra 18 holes on the fifth day plus a sudden-death hole before Woods won." Mediate yesterday said, "Funny how that pairing happened, huh? What a shocker" (L.A. TIMES, 1/26). In N.Y., Larry Dorman notes the Farmers Insurance Open grouping of "local favorite Phil Mickelson, the budding star Dustin Johnson and the English standout Justin Rose also appeared to be no accident." Mickelson and Johnson "often play practice rounds together, were teamed up in last year’s Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, and should put on a long-drive display guaranteed to provoke some wonderment from galleries." The PGA Tour "will need the lift as it begins negotiations this year to renew its network television contract, which is set to expire" in '12 (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26).
TIME TO DRAW THE LINE? The AP's Doug Ferguson reported Finchem is "asking the USGA to review the Rules of Golf after two prominent players were disqualified for rules violations that were reported after they signed their scorecards." TV viewers this season have "called in violations" on Camilo Villegas and Padraig Harrington. The golfers were "assessed two-shot penalties, but because officials were notified after the round, the players were disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard." Finchem yesterday said, "I just think that there's a lot of discomfort with this whole situation and questions raised." He noted that he is "to meet with the USGA executive committee next week at its annual meeting, and he has spoken with the European Tour, which he said has joined him in questioning the rule." Finchem: "I feel comfortable given the quality of the people at the USGA today that if we can just get into a room and talk seriously about the options, we ought to be able to give this a very careful review" (AP, 1/25).
Top Rank and Showtime formally announced today that the May 7 Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley bout will be a PPV product of the cable network, and plans call for "four fight preview episodes" on CBS as part of a new series called "Fight Camp 360," according to Lance Pugmire of the L.A. TIMES. Announcers Gus Johnson, Al Bernstein and former boxer Antonio Tarver are expected to call the fight, Pacquiao's "first non-HBO pay-per-view bout" since '06. Top Rank Chair Bob Arum declined to reveal financial terms of the deal but said, "Is there a cash difference? Hopefully, there will be by getting this fight out there to a bigger audience. I believe it will result in increased sales." Pugmire reports Arum for years has "yearned for a return of Saturday fights on CBS, as he once delivered in the 1970s," but yesterday he was cautious when asked if the new partnership could "serve as a precursor to more boxing on network TV." Arum: "One step at a time. Obviously, we're looking forward to see if it's feasible and see what will happen when we put boxing back on network TV. I'd love to put some really good Saturday night fights back on the networks in prime time" (LATIMES.com, 1/26). Arum stressed that he has "no complaints with HBO, just that Showtime/CBS had a much broader reach, especially in being able to promote fights." He said, "We were limiting our reach. Now that we got this commitment from CBS, and because they own Showtime, we now have the capability to expose this to 150 million homes (compared to 28 million for HBO), in conjunction with some of their biggest programs" (USATODAY.com, 1/26).
ON A BIGGER STAGE: Arum, a friend of CBS Corp. President & CEO Les Moonves, said that it has "not been determined exactly how CBS will be involved" with the fight. Showtime will produce "Fight Camp 360" to promote the bout, and Arum said that the first three episodes will "air live on CBS first and then on Showtime." The fourth and final episode "will be on Showtime live first and then will be repeated on May 7, the day of the fight, on CBS." Arum asserted that reports of CBS' "The Early Show" being based in Las Vegas the week of the fight are "premature." He said, "We’re working with CBS to see which assets will be available, but I have a firm commitment from Les Moonves that he will lend his full support to this project." Arum noted that Top Rank has "been talking with Moonves and CBS for more than two years about such a deal" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/25).
Sky Sports soccer analyst Andy Gray yesterday was fired "following the emergence of a succession of recordings in which he could be heard making sexist comments," according to Ian Burrell of the London INDEPENDENT. BSkyB said Gray, who made about $2.7M (all figures U.S.) annually under his deal, had been fired after the discovery of "new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour." Gray "had been taken off air after the leaking of a conversation between him and fellow presenter Richard Keys in which the pair mocked" female assistant referee Sian Massey and EPL club West Ham Vice Chair Karren Brady on Saturday, and a "second leaked clip, involving Gray and football reporter Andy Burton, contained further comments about" Massey. The "new evidence, a third clip posted yesterday on the website YouTube, dated from last month," showed Gray "in the studio before going on air, lewdly asking his co-presenter Charlotte Jackson to tuck in a microphone near his waist." The scandal "coincides with a legal action being brought by Gray against News Corp" in which he claims he was a "victim of phone-hacking by the News of the World," one of News Corp. Chair & CEO Rupert Murdoch's U.K. newspapers. A source close to Gray said the firing was "retribution." The source: "This has been done from the inside. The whole thing is murky. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but Mr Murdoch is in town and Andy Gray is suing" (London INDEPENDENT, 1/26). YAHOO SPORTS' Martin Rogers wrote the "backlash against the pair has been spectacular and highlights just what a significant role Sky Sports has come to play in the English game." Sky's personalities have "become legitimate celebrities" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/25).
WORKING ON APPROVAL: The GUARDIAN's Dan Sabbagh reports Murdoch has "cancelled his visit to the Davos global economic summit in order personally to lead negotiations" with U.K. Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt in an effort to get News Corp.'s $12.7B buyout of Sky "approved by offering guarantees to safeguard Sky News' independence." News Corp. is seeking to buy the 61% in BSkyB that it does not already own. Hunt said he considered the buyout might "operate against the public interest in media plurality." For that reason, he "intended to refer the matter to the Competition Commission." But Hunt "in an unexpected move ... said he would consider an undertaking from News Corp that the company 'could sufficiently alleviate the concerns' he had." Such a move would allow Hunt to "accept its undertakings rather than make a reference to the commission" (GUARDIAN, 1/26).
NASCAR.com today announced that it will be adding a new fantasy game to its website. NASCAR Fantasy Live will provide live scoring during races. Sprint will be a partial presenting sponsor of the game and will receive branding and half of the ads within the game. The game will award points based on finish position, place differential, pass differential, laps led and number of fastest laps. Players will choose five drivers a week for their team (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal). USA TODAY's Nate Ryan noted it is the first NASCAR fantasy game to "offer live scoring a la the myriad leagues on the Internet for the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL." Traditional NASCAR fantasy leagues "have focused on finishes," but in the new game, players "will be able to monitor the performance via in-race data." League winners "will compete against each other in a playoff during the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup to determine an overall winner." NASCAR Senior VP Paul Brooks said the sanctioning body believes the game "can help attract more casual sports fans and a younger audience." GMR Marketing Exec VP/Sports Marketing Mike Boykin noted that the NFL "gained a strong foothold with the 18-34 group" due to fantasy football. Boykin: "Everyone has a team or a fantasy league team. There's an engagement there that's meaningful on a continuous basis" (USA TODAY, 1/26).
DAILY VARIETY's Tom Lowry looked at the negotiating strategy around U.S. TV rights to the Olympic Games and wrote “one of the first tests on the horizon for NBC Universal's incoming CEO Steve Burke will be trying to maintain the Peacock's dominance in Olympics coverage.” ESPN will “clearly be trumpeting its digital technologies and the high praise it received last summer for its World Cup coverage when it makes its case to the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland.” The outcome of the Olympic bidding “could very well set the agenda for NBC U under Burke.” Walt Disney Co. President & CEO Bob Iger “won over skeptics early in his tenure as CEO with the deal to buy Pixar,” and Burke “could make his mark by bagging another round of Olympic games.” Lowry: “The trick, then, would be to make the Games deliver the gold for NBC U's various platforms” (DAILY VARIETY, 1/25).
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD? Texas A&M AD Bill Byrne yesterday said of the Univ. of Texas starting its own TV network, “I can’t speak for the NCAA, but I would imagine the governing body will look into the use of a collegiate television network airing games of prospective student-athletes. I understand networks such as FSN and ESPN airing high school sports, but whether or not employees under contract with a university that may have additional contact would seem to be an issue.” Texas A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair said, “Are we all still going to be on the same level playing field? I want to be on the same level playing field as much as I can, particularly in recruiting” (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 1/26).
PLAYERS' PERSPECTIVE: USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand reports Fox’ coverage of the NFL Pro Bowl on Sunday “might produce an audition tape for an adventurous old TV camera to use for a comeback: the helmet cam.” Though not formally announced, Fox Sports Media Group co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said, “We have guys who’ve agreed to wear HD-cam helmets.” Hiestand notes the Pro Bowl also allows Fox to “mike at least 10 players and coaches -- with some audio live -- and let studio analyst Terry Bradshaw serve as a game analyst” (USA TODAY, 1/26).
ON THE DOWNLOAD: Zuffa LLC filed a federal lawsuit Friday against Justin.tv Inc. over the “ongoing failure to meaningfully address the rampant and illegal uploading” of video from live UFC PPV events. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada, “alleges copyright and trademark infringement.” It claims that on Oct. 23, “more than 50,000 people watched illegal live streaming feeds” of the UFC 121 PPV event (LAS VEGAS SUN, 1/22).