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Fox earned a 7.7 final Nielsen rating and 13.4 million viewers for Sunday night’s NFL Pro Bowl, marking the game’s best viewership since '97. The 7.7 rating also marks the highest-rated Pro Bowl since an 8.6 rating on ABC in '00. This year's Pro Bowl was also up 8% and 9%, respectively, from a 7.1 U.S. rating and 12.3 million viewers on ESPN last year. Fox won the night among all nets and saw a 5% bump among adults 18-34 (Fox). DAILY VARIETY's Rick Kissell noted the Pro Bowl "dominated the night in demos," including averaging a 4.4 rating in adults 18-49 (VARIETY.com, 1/31). In Honolulu, Ferd Lewis notes Pro Bowl viewership "has increased 53 percent in two years with the move to a pre-Super Bowl slot." Last year's game at Miami's Sun Life Stadium was the "first Pro Bowl played prior to the Super Bowl, and back-to-back years of improvement after sliding viewership are credited to the decision to move the game from the week following the Super Bowl." Hawaii Tourism Authority Tourism Brand Manager Michael Story said that he believes that "promotion of the Pro Bowl by Fox throughout the playoffs also helped the ratings" (HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER, 2/1). The AP's Bob Baum wrote the decision to stage the game "a week in advance of the Super Bowl, rather than after it, is paying off, if TV ratings are any indication." Baum: "For NFL junkies, even half-speed football helps fill the two-week void between the conference championships and the Super Bowl" (AP, 1/31). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "Americans obviously think that anything with football helmets is worth watching. ... I don't get it because it's obviously not football" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/31).
KEEPING A WINNING GAME PLAN: BROADCASTING & CABLE's George Winslow notes Fox "plans to come out with the same team and game plan" for Sunday's Steelers-Packers Super Bowl "that worked so well three years ago" for Super Bowl XLII featuring Giants-Patriots. Fox Sports Senior VP/Field Operations Jerry Steinberg: "What we did in Arizona in 2008 was probably the leanest, most efficient Super Bowl that anyone had done." Winslow notes preparations for the Super Bowl "began soon after last February's Super Bowl telecast on CBS wrapped in Miami, and continued throughout the regular NFL season." Video-production company Game Creek Project Manager Jason Taubman, whose company is assisting Fox on the broadcast, said, "We start building for the Super Bowl on the very first game of the regular season. We don't do the reconfiguration at the end. It is more of a slow crescendo. As the season goes on, we start slotting more equipment into the infrastructure. So it isn't a big upheaval in the last few days. They are basically working from the same facility they've used all season" (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 1/31 issue).
RECORD SETTER? A Hollywood Reporter poll conducted by Penn Schoen Berland found that Steelers-Packers "will lead to record ratings for Fox." The poll showed that 78% of Americans "plan to watch the game," up 5% from last year and 10% from '09. Men "make up the bulk of this ratings increase," as 89% said that they would watch the game. The poll indicated that 68% of women will watch the game, up 9% from '09. The number of participants in the poll was not released (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/31). But in Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley wrote it "does not appear that Steelers-Steelers will match or surpass" last year's Saints-Colts Super Bowl XLIV in viewership. The Colts featured QB Peyton Manning, "if not the most popular player in the NFL, then the most recognizable one," and the Saints presented the "unprecedented story of a city reclaiming its identity after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina." Wolfley: "The Saints' Super Bowl story was ... more than a football story. It transcended football." Saints-Colts also had "what every network begs from providence -- a competitive game." Also, a winter storm "hammered the mid-Atlantic area, prisoning viewers inside their homes during Super Bowl weekend" (JSONLINE.com, 1/30).
RAKING IN THE CASH: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Georg Szalai cited a report by Evercore Partners analysts Alan Gould and Bryan Kraft as estimating that TV network owners are earning between $12-146M per year "on their current NFL contracts." The analysts suggested that CBS is making a $146M profit, Fox $107M, ESPN $83M and NBC $12M. They added that some are "likely reporting losses at the network level, but improve their result when including owned-and-operated TV stations." The calculation for this season "includes estimated advertising revenue -- plus, in the case of ESPN, an estimated 15 percent of the network's affiliate fee payments from its distributors -- minus the estimated production costs and NFL broadcast right license fees." It also "assumed that Fox, CBS and NBC each got a third" of the benefit from televising this year's Super Bowl (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/31).
ESPN yesterday announced that former Univ. of Florida football coach Urban Meyer "will be a college football game and studio analyst for the network," according to Robbie Andreu of the GAINESVILLE SUN. Meyer "will work a weekly regular-season game and select bowl games," and he also will "provide studio analysis throughout the year on ESPN's daily College Football Live program, NFL Draft, spring games and bowl games, including during the network's on-site BCS coverage." Meyer also will "contribute to ESPN's Saturday morning College GameDay show, making a weekly appearance from his game site." Meyer will debut in the job tomorrow for ESPNU's coverage of National Signing Day. The net "would not reveal any details about Meyer's contract." Meyer said that in his analyst role, he "will not criticize coaches or players, but that he will offer strong opinions (even on Florida) when they are warranted." Meyer: "It's not my job to be critical. My job is to analyze college football." He added that there will be "no conflict between his broadcasting career and the work (still to be determined) he will be doing in the UF athletic department, where he still has an office." Meanwhile, Meyer said that the job "allows him to stay involved in football without having to sacrifice significant time with his family." Meyer: "In the offseason, it's going to be minimal. During the season, it will be weekends, Friday and Saturday" (GAINESVILLE SUN, 2/1). In West Palm Beach, Jason Lieser notes Meyer "can continue living in Gainesville while working for ESPN" (PALM BEACH POST, 2/1).
NICE ADDITION: YAHOO SPORTS' Matt Hinton wrote if Meyer's "postseason auditions during the Las Vegas Bowl and BCS Championship Game are any indication," he will "do just fine on camera, and may even be the one person on the network not named 'Ron Jaworski' allowed to talk X's and O's in a way that doesn't amount to an especially fancy highlight package." Still, Meyer is an "oddity in the Land of Talking Heads, where former coaches are almost universally fired or retired in the conventional sense -- that is, well past their prime" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/31).
A DIFFERENT SET OF RULES: FANHOUSE.com's Milton Kent noted Meyer "doesn't want to criticize anyone" in the role. He also "doesn't want to formally cut his ties to Florida," as he "apparently wants to continue assisting the school in raising funds, even while he may be called on to comment on the team and school's doings." Kent: "The terms that were laid out would hardly pass the smell test in any journalism ethics course. ... And doggone it if it's all OK with ESPN." Allowing a coach who "just stepped off the sidelines to maintain any ties with a school, much less the school he just left, raises serious questions about his objectivity and impugns the integrity of the outlet for whom he works" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/31).
DC-based blog network SB Nation has hired Rob Neyer, former baseball writer for ESPN.com, as its national baseball editor, marking a major talent acquisition for the startup outfit. Neyer, who joined ESPN.com forerunner ESPNet SportsZone in '96 and proceeded to spend 15 years with the company, is widely seen as one of the original trailblazers for high-quality online sports journalism and analysis, particularly with regard to sabermetrics and statistics-based content. "Rob is one of the best pure Internet talents anywhere, someone who really gets how to engage audiences online," said SB Nation Chair & CEO Jim Bankoff. "We've prided ourselves on attracting the best native web talent anywhere, and this is an extension, certainly a high-profile extension, of that strategy. We're very excited." Neyer will remain based in Portland. Financial terms of his hire were not disclosed but industry sources said he will receive stock options in SB Nation, similar to other full-time employees there. ESPN said in a statement it will now look to replace Neyer.
ESPN's U.K. channel "may not have revolutionised British football in the manner of Rupert Murdoch's Sky Sports," but it is "adding a few flourishes to the televised game," according to James Robinson of the London OBSERVER. The channel is "pioneering a more experimental approach" to coverage of the FA Cup, which broadcasters like to wrap "in nostalgia and treat its history and traditions with reverence." ESPN has persuaded teams "in the early rounds of the competition to allow cameras into dressing rooms," and host Ray Stubbs "has anchored coverage from pitch-side within touching distance of players." ESPN Europe, Middle East & Africa VP & Channel Manager Jeroen Oerlemans said that these moves are "part of a conscious attempt to position ESPN as a broadcaster who 'brings the fans closer.'" Oerlemans: "We wanted to be UK-oriented and not in any way, shape or form an American sports channel. The UK is clearly less brash. We are a lot more down to earth." Robinson noted ESPN officials "emphasise that relations with News Corp and Sky are cordial, pointing out that Sky market ESPN to their subscribers in the UK and that the US network piggy-backs on the Sky platform." ESPN Int'l Exec VP & Managing Dir Russell Wolff added that the net is "happy for Sky to be the senior partner in the UK" for coverage of the EPL. Wolff: "There will be markets where we bid against each other; there are other territories where we will not. You could have a very good second position in a market if that's the best business model you can build at that time." Robinson noted industry observers expect ESPN to "bid for at least two of the six packages of Premier League games when negotiations over the next series of three-year deals" for rights in the U.K. beginning with the '14-15 season begin next year (London OBSERVER, 1/30).
WATCHING THE STUDIO WHILE THEY'RE AWAY: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Mike Barnes noted Fox Sports is "leveraging its coverage" of Super Bowl XLV Sunday by airing the Liverpool-Chelsea EPL match on Fox Soccer Channel "before the NFL game and sprinkling the coverage with American football flavor." The FSC studio team "will broadcast before and after the Premier League game from the 'Fox NFL Sunday' set in Los Angeles." A "1,000-square-foot 'pitch' will be built on the set, and a live audience will include 40 Chelsea and Liverpool fans, evenly divided." Fox Soccer VP/Production Jason Wormser: "It shows the power of our synergy that we are able to take our studio shows over to the 'Fox NFL Sunday' set to produce our round version of football" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/28).
Twackle, the sports news social aggregation created by Octagon Digital, has expanded to include a new "Twackle Now" feature that uses newly created algorithms to determine in real time which sports stories are about to go viral online, based in part on how and when stories are referenced by users on Twitter. The new predictive element of "Twackle Now" is designed to boost traffic to Twackle, and Octagon Digital is also looking to license the technology to other publishers. The technology functions similarly to how BuzzFeed.com tracks news stories, but "Twackle Now" will focus strictly on sports. "Twitter moves faster than any news organization and is typically the first place to break news," said Octagon Digital VP Jim DeLorenzo. "So this opens up a big resource for publishers and can help them get the scoop on their competitors."
USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand reports LeBron James' decision to join the Heat "started a buzz that's still surging through NBA national TV ratings, which are up on ABC (+45%), TNT (+29%) and ESPN (+23%)." Sunday's Celtics-Lakers game earned a 5.0 overnight rating on ABC, tying a Lakers-Cavaliers game from '09 as the network's highest-rated regular-season NBA game not played on Christmas Day (USA TODAY, 2/1).
HOT ICE: The NHL All-Star Game on Versus averaged 1.481 million viewers this past Sunday, up 36.2% from 1.087 million viewers in '09 and the net's best audience ever for the event. The NHL did not hold the event last season because of the Vancouver Games. Versus also saw increases for the game across all key male demos. Saturday's Honda NHL SuperSkills Competition averaged 1.183 million viewers, making it the most-viewed skills competition on cable since '03. Friday night's NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft averaged 624,000 viewers. The All-Star Game also marked the first "cross-channel priority" for NBC Universal under Comcast's ownership, whereby the game received broad promotion across 20 channels and 40 websites (Versus). The CBC yesterday announced that an "average audience of 2.389 million viewers tuned in" for the net's coverage of the All-Star Game. The viewership for Sunday's game was the "network's best" since '99, when it drew 1.67 million viewers. The CBC drew an average of 1.527 million viewers for the '09 All-Star Game (CP, 1/31).
OPEN FOR BUSINESS: The BBC switched Sunday's Australian Open men's final from BBC2 to BBC1 after Andy Murray advanced to play Novak Djokovic, and an "average of 3.5 million viewers" tuned in to watch Djokovic win in straight sets. BBC1's coverage of the match "dominated Sunday morning viewing" in the U.K. The viewership, however, was "down on a year ago, when Murray lost in straight sets in the Melbourne final to Roger Federer" and BBC1's coverage averaged 4.1 million viewers (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 1/31).
IF YOU HAVE NOTHING NICE TO SAY... YAHOO SPORTS' Jonathan Wall wonders why Golf Channel continues to "push this mic'd up coverage," because if the "first two weeks are an indication of the quality we can expect this season, then maybe we'd be better off watching the players from afar." Davis Love III during Thursday's telecast of the PGA Tour Farmers Insurance Open "took it to a new low, giving us 30 words, at most, during the first round." Love's "topics of conversation included the distance to the hole, his new snowboard, and shaping a shot to the hole," and Golf Channel's coverage "also included a mic'd moment that didn't include any commentary!" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/31).