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NBC Universal President & CEO Steve Burke yesterday "declined to confirm whether the broadcast unit would throw down the requisite billions to ensure its reign as the home to the Winter and Summer Games" by securing U.S. TV rights to the '14 Sochi and '16 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, according to Anthony Crupi of ADWEEK. Discussing NBC's sports properties during Comcast's Q4 earnings call, Burke said, "We're here to make money, and we're going to be disciplined. We're going to concentrate on businesses that have good returns." Crupi noted complicating matters for NBC "are rival nets ESPN and Fox, both of which also plan to make a run at the 2014/2016 rights bundle," and "naturally, the more bids there are on the table, the greater the cost of securing the games." On the same call, Comcast Chair & CEO Brian Roberts "dismissed speculation" that the merged organization "would look to unseat" ESPN. Roberts: "I don't really see that as a realistic thing." He added that they "will instead concentrate on exploring synergies between the various NBC Sports assets and Comcast cable channels Versus and Golf Channel." Roberts: "We have a long-term opportunity to do some big things with these brands (ADWEEK.com, 2/16). Roberts said of NBC Sports and other NBCU sports properties, "We are going to bring it to another level where it has never been before" (VARIETY.com, 2/16). In L.A., Meg James noted negations for U.S. rights to the '14 and '16 Games are "expected to begin in a few months, and NBC has long outdistanced its rivals." But NBC "lost more than $220 million on its broadcast" of the '10 Vancouver Olympics, and Comcast "doesn't appear to be as willing to bid for the games at any cost" (LATIMES.com, 2/16).
QUITE A QUARTER: In Philadelphia, Bob Fernandez reports Comcast's profit "bloomed to more than $1 billion" in Q4 '10, prompting Roberts to "declare that the cable giant's businesses performed well on all fronts." The financial performance of NBCU "was not contained in Comcast's earnings report because the deal closed after the first of the year." Burke said that the "greatest potential benefit in the NBCU deal was reviving the NBC broadcast-TV network, but that doing so would take several years" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/17).
ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser yesterday “backtracked on his claim that NASCAR was somehow fixing the sport based on Dale Earnhardt Jr. being on the pole for the Daytona 500,” according to Alisha Hord of SPORTING NEWS. Kornheiser, during an interview with Jimmie Johnson on "PTI," said he knows "absolutely nothing about NASCAR" and he is being "crushed" by the media for his statement. That comes after Kornheiser on Tuesday’s episode said that Earnhardt earning the pole "is a ‘good set-up moment,’ and NASCAR is somehow conspiring to get the driver of the No. 88 into Victory Lane.” Kornheiser on Tuesday said, “Someone I talked to who covered auto racing for a lot of years (Liz Clarke of The Washington Post, on Kornheiser's radio program), said she believed there was a 60 percent chance that Junior qualified with a car not quite up to code and people looked the other way.” Clarke also told Kornheiser that “she wasn't the only one who was suspicious.” Clarke: "People who covered racing for a long time, a lot were just laughing when they heard Junior won the pole because of the rich NASCAR tradition of ginning up story lines and outcomes” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 2/17). NASCAR Managing Dir of Corporate Communications Ramsey Poston yesterday said of Kornheiser, “I think he quickly realized his limitations when it came to racing." But USA TODAY’s Nate Ryan notes Kornheiser’s comments “caused a stir among ESPN's motor sports staff.” ESPN VP/Motorsports Rich Feinberg said that the network “didn't agree with Kornheiser" (USA TODAY, 2/17). ESPN’s Dale Jarrett said of Kornheiser’s comments, “It pisses me off.” Jarrett: “Did NASCAR plan that? Why hell no. … Was it because it’s the 10th anniversary of his father’s death? Well no, it doesn’t have anything to do with that. It aggravates you that that perception is out there. I can assure everyone that it can’t happen" (THE DAILY).
MR. FIX IT? In Jacksonville, Gene Frenettte wrote it is “believable that a veteran racing media member might think” NASCAR would help Earnhardt be successful. The sport would “obviously rejoice over an Earnhardt victory,” and there would be “no better kick-start for TV ratings and fan reconnection to the sport.” But it is a “far bigger leap to be convinced NASCAR would surreptitiously help Earnhardt Jr. in any way” (JACKSONVILLE.com, 2/16). YAHOO SPORTS’ Jay Hart wrote it is “one thing for fans to espouse those theories, quite another for a journalist to do so on national television -- even in a light-hearted forum like PTI -- with no more proof than he talked to someone who's 60 percent sure” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/16).
The upcoming Showtime series featuring the MLB Giants will be a "documentary, and not 'Hard Knocks' or '24/7'-type reality series," said team President & COO Larry Baer. The cable network and MLB Productions last month announced plans to run a series on the Giants this year chronicling the defense of their World Series title with "unprecedented team access." The news quickly generated concern among some players and Giants execs, including Senior VP & GM Brian Sabean, and some team members were not informed of the project before Showtime and MLB Productions announced their plans. But questions were aired earlier this month at a team meeting held in S.F. when most players were in town for the Giants' annual FanFest. "We're definitely moving forward. They've already begun to gather footage, and were in New York last month during the trophy tour there," Baer said. "Unfettered access into the clubhouse isn't going to happen. But this is MLB Productions doing this. These are the people who did our World Series DVD. These are people we know and trust."
FS North will be the exclusive home for Twins games beginning this year, meaning the "end of weekend games" on WFTC-MYT, according to Neal Justin of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. The deal is leaving "a lot of fans crying foul," as 18% of viewers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market do not have cable or satellite. Also, FS North is "not part of" the basic cable tier in the region. Twins President Dave St. Peter said that the team "was sensitive to fan reaction, but that cable exclusivity in local markets was 'inevitable.'" He noted that 16 MLB teams "have already gone that route." St. Peter: "The days of significant packages with broadcast TV in sports are gone." Justin notes WFTC carried 25 games in '10. With the new FS North deal, "more games will be available in some form on TV." At least 158 of the Twins' 162 games will be televised, including eight national games on Fox. That is up from 133 games in '05. Neither St. Peter nor FS North Senior VP & GM Mike Dimond "would discuss financial details or the length of the deal" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/17). The four games that will not be televised are "midweek home games" that start at 12:10pm CT. The Twins ranked second behind only the Cardinals "in regional sports network ratings for the season" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 2/17).
Fox is the "favorite to land the Pac-12 media rights contract -- perhaps the overwhelming favorite," according to Jon Wilner of the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS. Fox, which is in the "middle of an exclusive negotiating window" with the conference, last month announced a $25M deal for the rights to the '11 Pac-12 football title game. Sources indicated that "that was the Fox way of saying: 'We want your business over the long haul.'" A source added, "Fox is the leader in the clubhouse." Wilner noted if Fox does not win the rights, then it will be "probably Comcast/NBC" that strikes a deal with the Pac-12. The conference is "looking for a deal in the $140-150 million range," and sources said that there is "no indication that ESPN will be willing to pay what the Pac-12 wants or provide the exposure opportunities the Pac-12 is seeking." A source said, "ESPN has no place to put them." Fox, meanwhile, is "clearly ramping up its coverage -- to the point, one source said, that it may consider broadcasting Pac-12 football games on the Fox over-the-air network (not FSN) to compete against ESPN/ABC in the 8 p.m. Eastern window." Wilner added, "I also believe commissioner Larry Scott wants to make the Pac-12 Network happen, and that the only reason it won’t happen is if Fox essentially pays the league to not form a network." If the Pac-12 "signs with Fox and also creates the Pac-12 Network, Fox would almost assuredly be the partner." But "getting the Pac-12 Network up and running will be expensive and complicated," and "one hurdle may stand above all others: Time Warner Cable." It is the "dominant distributor in Los Angeles, and it’s notoriously stingy when it comes to sports networks" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 2/16).
Last Thursday, less than two weeks after Sam Flood became Exec Producer of NBC Sports and Versus, he hosted a conference call with everyone who works on NHL games for the two networks. Flood's purpose was to outline his philosophy for how the games should look on television and start to develop common production values across the two networks. "Our job is not to produce a hockey game," Flood said on the call. "Our job is to react to the hockey game and tell the story of that game and celebrate that game." For Flood, the first big cross-platform, same-day event occurs Sunday, when NBC shows the first "Hockey Day in America presented by McDonald's" from 12:00pm-6:00pm ET, followed by the Heritage Classic on Versus. The six-hour window of "Hockey Day in America" will include staggered regional start times leading up to a national game on NBC. The NBC and Versus productions will use commentators from NBC, Versus and the Comcast SportsNet RSNs and will throw video back-and-forth to all sites, regardless of what network is covering them. "We're using all the assets of NBC and Versus and combining them to create a nine-hour window," Flood said. "That's why I'm executive producer of both places, so that we can use these synergies and work together. We're seeing it." In less than three weeks on the job, Flood already has instituted several changes on Versus' telecasts. Yesterday, he changed the lighting and camera positions for Versus' studio show. "We started at 4:00pm and had the set completely re-lit and ready to go at 7:00pm," Flood said. "It's the kind of can-do attitude that was fabulous to see and fun to be a part of." Flood also instituted NBC's "Inside the Glass" system -- having an additional commentator between benches -- to Versus' telecasts. "I immediately taught the 'Inside the Glass' system to producers and announcers at Versus," he said. "Everyone's been wonderful and embraced it."
WGN-AM yesterday announced the hiring of veteran broadcaster and former Cubs player Keith Moreland as the radio color analyst for Cubs games, succeeding the late Ron Santo, according to Bruce Miles of the Illinois DAILY HERALD. Moreland, who signed a "three-year contract," will work alongside play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes. Moreland, who called Univ. of Texas baseball games for 16 years and football games for nine, "apparently impressed the Cubs and WGN enough during stints on both radio and TV the last two years." Moreland beat out fellow former Cubs player Dave Otto. WGN Sports Dir Dave Eanet: "Keith is a terrific broadcaster. He’s been doing the job at a very high level. ... He’s got a nice conversational sound." Moreland said, "I’m just going to be me. I can probably butcher the English language with the best of them. I do understand the game. I feel very confident knowing the things you might be thinking of doing strategy wise. I think probably mine will be a little more analysis, but I’m also still a guy who likes to have fun, and Pat’s easy to have fun with" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 2/17). In Chicago, Paul Sullivan notes Moreland has a "folksy style with an analytical bent and isn't shy about criticizing players." Moreland "won't be a cheerleader in the Santo vein, but he has no qualms about his allegiance." He said, "First and foremost, I want them to win. It's much easier to do your job when you win" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/17). Moreland added, "No one can replace Ron Santo. All I can do is be myself" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/17).
TAGGED OUT IN A RUNDOWN: The NATIONAL POST's Jeremy Sandler reported Rogers Communications has told Blue Jays TV analyst Rance Mulliniks and on-field reporter Sam Cosentino that they "will no longer be part of the team for Blue Jays broadcasts on Sportsnet and Sportsnet One." Mulliniks: "I think it was really a result of there was some changes in management at Rogers Sportsnet and they just really wanted to go in another direction." Cosentino who will continue to work for Rogers on the network's junior hockey coverage. Sandler noted the departures "leave play-by-play man Buck Martinez and analyst Pat Tabler to handle the Blue Jays games" (NATIONALPOST.com, 2/16).
In Kentucky, Jerry Tipton reports Univ. of Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart yesterday on Twitter announced "what amounted to a ban on the use of the overhead angle" that ESPN used for Tuesday night's Mississippi State-UK men's basketball game. Barnhart wrote, "We have expressed the concerns with the new overhead camera use at future games & will no longer approve the camera location in the future." UK Associate AD for Media Relations DeWayne Peevy noted that the school "cannot control how a network televises a game, but the school can control where cameras are positioned." ESPN Communications Manager Mike Humes in a e-mail said the camera placement "wasn't something we're going to implement season-long" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 2/17).
READY FOR BATTLE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin noted there is a "sports-radio market clash" coming in April, when TSN Radio "will make it three stations with sports content battling for position in the lucrative Toronto market," joining Rogers' The Fan 590 and Corus-owned CFMJ-AM. CFMJ has Maple Leafs broadcast rights, and Program Dir Gord Harris "wants it known that his station will stay the course despite the impending clash of the titans on radio." Harris said that whether the stations' owners "have made the decision to go after the Maple Leafs radio rights again" is a "confidential matter between the station and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment." Dowbiggin wrote CFMJ "will apparently stay the course from now till the end of the 2011-12 NHL season rather than sell off rights" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 2/16).
LOCAL SYNERGY: In Chicago, Lewis Lazare noted with the joint Comcast-NBCU venture "now a done deal, look for a closer relationship to begin to emerge between" the city's WMAQ-NBC and Comcast SportsNet Chicago. WMAQ and CSN Chicago sources said that "talks have just begun now about what may be possible, and any substantive developments are expected to come months from now." But CSN Chicago President James Corno said that the RSN already is "running promos identifying the station as part of the NBC Sports family." Lazare noted "further down the line, more synergies could be realized, including sharing of programming and talent" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/16).
CLOSER TO A RETURN: Cavaliers radio announcer Joe Tait yesterday said that he "still plans to return to the microphone by the end of the season." Tait appeared via phone on FS Ohio's "Cavaliers Live" pregame show, and said that he "was recovering slowly but surely after heart surgery early this season." Tait added that "this season would be his last" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/17).