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It still does not have a name and it has not hired a top editor, but Bill Simmons unveiled details of his new project, which will be a website that will be 70% sports and 30% pop culture. It is expected to launch in late April or mid-May. And while it will be fully owned by ESPN, its eventual name will not carry the ESPN brand. "This is something that was really important to me when my contract was up at the end of last year," Simmons told THE DAILY. "It's going to have a bunch of quality writers. And it's going to have the flexibility to have a lot of people come in and write one time a year or a couple of times a year, whatever." Simmons would not say who he has hired to write for the site, other than Chuck Klosterman and Katie Baker. "We're going to start with somewhere between 8 to 12 writers that will be on staff fulltime and some freelance people that will be involved on a weekly or bi-weekly basis or a monthly basis," Simmons said. The site will depend on sponsorships, with Simmons saying that his goal is to cap the number of advertisers at between five and 10 "and make them more like partners." He drew a parallel with the ESPN documentary series "30 for 30," which focused on signing a few sponsors. "They were integrated with everything we did. I feel like they were happy with how the arrangement worked out," Simmons said. "I think it's possible to do that with a website." By limiting the number of sponsors, Simmons believes that the site will not become a slave to page views and a minimum number of posts per day.
PODCAST NETWORK POSSIBLE: Simmons also hopes to set up a network of podcasts, patterned after Adam Carolla, Kevin Smith and NPR. Simmons' podcast, "The B.S. Report," is the most popular sports podcast on iTunes. "We are going to have some podcasts beyond just mine. We're going to create a couple of new ones and, maybe, have a little bit of a network," Simmons said. "If we could brand some sort of a network that has a stable of podcasts, that will help the site, too." Walter Bernard is designing the site. "The hope is that people will go to this site, and they won't feel overwhelmed," Simmons said. "That's a problem with some of the mainstream sites. There's so much content that people have trouble trying to discern what's worth reading and what's worth their time."
Q: It sounds to me like the site is going to be a sports version of the Huffington Post.
Simmons: Not really. I would say it's an extension of the stuff that I've been doing for the last 10 years, not just with the column, but with "30 for 30."
Q: What would you compare it to?
Simmons: Ideally, the model would be Mirimax-Disney, where ESPN.com would be Disney -- more traditional. We'd be Mirimax, and we'd get a little more leeway creatively. Creative leeway was really important to me. The first few years, Mirimax got to take chances with some of the movies they picked that maybe Disney couldn't have picked. That's what I'm hoping is going to happen here from a writing standpoint.
Q: If the site were up-and-running today, what would be on the home page?
Simmons: It's more columns and features. It's more like the stuff that I'm doing. The one guy that we have who's going to be a full-time contributor is Chuck Klosterman. This is going to be the place that he writes. Whether he writes a feature or a column or a 500-word blog post, it's going to be on this site. We're going to have a couple blogs, we're not going to have 40 of them. There might be some days where we have four new things up. There might be days where we have nine. It would depend on the day.
Q: Will you post any news?
Simmons: The site's going to complement ESPN.com. I don't want to compete with it. That umbilical cord is really important to me. We're keeping my box on the main page. The box that I have on the main page is going to shift to a box on the site with the last four or five links.
Q: What is ESPN's involvement with this?
Simmons: ESPN fully owns it. It's going to be separate. I'm proud of ESPN for this. People take shots at ESPN. Sometimes they're deserved, sometimes they're not. The one thing you have to do if you're a successful company is you can't just rest on the fact that you're a successful company. ESPN makes $3 billion per year of profit. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't take chances.
NBC and Versus Sunday will televise "Hockey Day in America," and Chicago "will be the epicenter of what NBC, Versus and the NHL hope will be a new tradition for the sport," according to Ed Sherman of CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS. NBC and Versus "will devote nine hours of coverage Sunday," including three games. NBC will televise Penguins-Blackhawks nationally at 3:30pm ET, and it is "anchoring its studio coverage at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park" in Chicago. Sherman noted the day "will be more than about the NHL," as the "extensive coverage will include features on hockey, ranging from an inner-city program in Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minnesota." NBC Sports Exec Producer Sam Flood, who "got the idea by watching Hockey Day in Canada during last year's Olympics," said that the "goal is to provide compelling content to reach a broad spectrum of fans" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 2/17). MEDIAPOST's David Goetzl noted the coverage begins "with a pre-game, magazine-style show on NBC," followed by a doubleheader on NBC and the Canadiens-Flames Heritage Classic on Versus. Comcast SportsNet New England, Chicago and Philadelphia "will also play a role with their announcers appearing." Goetzl noted McDonald's will sponsor Sunday's coverage, and that NBC's "Today" and "Nightly News" were scheduled to "feature stories about hockey in America this week" (MEDIAPOST.com, 2/16).
LARGER CELEBRATION: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen notes "Hockey Day in America" is "part of USA Hockey's Hockey Weekend Across America, which will include events in 48 states." USA Hockey Exec Dir Dave Ogrean predicted that NBC's coverage "will draw the attention of non-fans and symbolizes how far hockey has come as a sport." The Wild as part of Hockey Weekend Across America "will hold the team's first outdoor practice at the John Rose Oval in Roseville, Minn." Wild VP/Communications & Broadcasting Bill Robertson said that they "expect 2,500 to 3,000 at the free event" (USA TODAY, 2/18).
Epix, a new premium network, VOD and online service, "will televise Vitali Klitschko's heavyweight title defense against Odlanier Solis from Cologne, Germany on March 19," according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. Epix, which launched in '09 as a joint venture between Viacom, its Paramount Pictures unit, MGM Studios and Lionsgate, is "available in more than 30 million homes." Boxing promoter Lou DiBella brokered the Epix deal for Klitschko-Solis, and Epix President & CEO Mark Greenberg said that he "liked the idea of a heavyweight title fight kicking off the network's involvement in the sport." Greenberg, a former exec for both HBO and Showtime, said that his network has "not yet committed to a long-term involvement with boxing," though he "made it clear he is very interested in it." Rafael noted HBO and Showtime "helped build their subscriber bases by offering top-level fights," and Greenberg "thinks it can also help Epix." Epix has "signed on for American coverage" of the March 19 bout, and sources indicated that it is "paying in the $150,000 neighborhood for the rights." Greenberg said that he "would evaluate how things go with Klitschko-Solis before making a commitment to more fights and, perhaps, larger fees." The fight will air live at 6:00pm ET on Epix, "as well as be streamed live on its website, with a network replay" at 10:00pm. Greenberg said that replays "will also be available on the website and via the network's on demand platform." He also said that "while the live broadcast will only include the main event the replay could also include undercard action" (ESPN.com, 2/16).
The chart below lists final Nielsen ratings from recent sports telecasts. All ratings listed are U.S. ratings (THE DAILY).
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT. NASCAR Sprint Cup: Budweiser Shootout2/12Fox8:29-10:06pm4.5 NBA: Lakers-Magic2/13ABC3:30-6:00pm3.5 NBA: Heat-Celtics2/13ABC1:00-3:42pm3.4 PGA Tour: AT&T Pebble Beach Nat'l Pro-Am:
NASCAR Sprint Cup: Daytona 500 qualifying2/13Fox1:00-4:00pm2.0 PGA Tour: AT&T Pebble Beach Nat'l Pro-Am:
NCAA Basketball: Kentucky-Vanderbilt2/12CBS1:00-3:00pm1.0 "NBA Countdown"2/13ABC12:30-1:00pm1.0 Skiing: FIS Alpine World Championship (taped)2/13NBC12:00-12:30pm0.8 NHL: Bruins-Red Wings2/13NBC12:30-3:00pm0.8 Monster Energy AMA Supercross (taped)2/13CBS12:00-1:00pm0.7 NCAA Basketball: Purdue-Illinois2/13CBS1:00-3:00pm0.7 Rugby: USA Sevens World Series2/13NBC4:30-6:00pm0.7 Rugby: USA Sevens World Series2/12NBC3:30-6:00pm0.6 Winter Dew Tour: Toyota Championship2/13NBC3:00-4:30pm0.6 "ESPN Sports Saturday"2/12ABC4:00-6:00pm0.5 Skiing: FIS Alpine World Championship (taped)2/12NBC1:00-2:00pm0.5 Winter Dew Tour: Toyota Championship2/12NBC2:00-3:30pm0.5 "College Basketball Today"2/12CBS12:30-1:00pm0.4 TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) NBA: Lakers-Celtics2/10TNT8:16-10:51pm2.94,714 NCAA Basketball:
NBA: Lakers-Knicks2/11ESPN8:06-10:37pm1.52,298 NBA: Mavericks-Nuggets2/10TNT10:51pm-1:23am1.32,042 NCAA Basketball:
SUCCESSFUL FIRST HALF: Comcast SportsNet Chicago is averaging a 4.1 local rating in Chicago for its Bulls telecasts going into the All-Star break, up 64% from a 2.5 rating during the same period last year and marking the net's best Bulls average at the break. The top 10 highest-rated Bulls regular-season telecasts in the net's history all have occurred this season (CSN Chicago)....CSN New England is averaging a 4.7 local rating through 46 Celtics game telecasts this season, up 42% from a 3.3 rating at the same point last season. The net is on pace to break its Celtics ratings record (3.5 local rating) set during the '08-09 season (CSN New England)....FS Indiana averaged a 2.2 local rating for its Pacers telecasts through 53 games, up 24% from the same number of games last year. The net averaged a 4.0 local rating in Indianapolis for Tuesday's Heat-Pacers game, marking the highest-rated Pacers telecast since January '07 (FS Indiana)....FS Oklahoma earned a 5.8 local rating in Oklahoma City for its telecast of the Feb. 8 Grizzlies-Thunder game, marking the net's highest-rated Thunder regular-season game ever (DAILY OKLAHOMAN, 2/16).
RECORD SEASON AMONG HISPANIC VIEWERS: Nielsen Media Research indicates that 26.7 million Hispanic Americans watched NFL regular-season games in '10, and an average of 1.3 million Hispanic viewers made it the most watched NFL season ever in the demo. Fox' telecast of the Thanksgiving Saints-Cowboys game drew 2.8 million Hispanic viewers, making it the most-watched regular-season game ever among Hispanic viewers. The playoffs averaged 2.7 million Hispanic viewers, marking the most watched NFL postseason ever in the demo. CBS' telecast of the Steelers-Jets AFC Championship Game averaged 4.2 million Hispanic viewers and ranks as the most-watched conference championship game ever in the demo. Fox' telecast of Packers-Steelers Super Bowl XLV averaged 10.0 million Hispanic viewers, marking the most-watched show in U.S. television history in the demo, besting 8.95 million for the Spain-Netherlands FIFA World Cup Final last June (NFL).
FLYING HIGH: CSN Philadelphia averaged a 3.7 local rating for its telecast of Tuesday's Flyers-Lightning game, marking the highest-rated regular-season Flyers game on the net since an October '02 game against the Sabres (CSN).
In St. Louis, Dan Caesar reports the "top five viewed stories on STLToday.com" on Thursday until 4:00pm CT involved Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols following he and the team not reaching a new contract before a self-imposed deadline. Wednesday was the deadline for a new deal, and there were "approximately 2.2 million 'hits' on the site, about half a million more than on a normal weekday." The "massive volume of coverage this week not only locally but nationally" of the Cardinals and Pujols "provides a tidy capsulized view of ... where the tent known as the media circus now is pitched." Caesar: "Some topic -- any topic -- always is necessary to fuel the fire" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/18).
THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED: Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said that the league office is "committed to broadcasting every men's basketball game when it completes its new broadcasting deal." Scott said, "Going forward all media rights will go to the conference. So all basketball games which I think are about 182 games, we're going to package everything ourselves. When it comes to football and men's basketball we are going to commit to every game being broadcast. And No. 2 we are going to put a premium on more national exposure, especially for our high-profile games" (SEATTLETIMES.com, 2/17).
STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: FANHOUSE.com's Milton Kent noted troubled actor Charlie Sheen has appeared on Dan Patrick's syndicated radio show "twice this week." The first appearance was arranged by Patrick "to discuss Sheen's impromptu pep talk last week to the UCLA baseball team," and Sheen "came across as cavalierly endorsing casual drug and alcohol use." He made his second appearance Wednesday, calling in "presumably to reduce some of the heat he's been taking." Kent: "The whole situation has left Patrick ... in a bit of a quandary. ... It's a gold mine of virtually free publicity for Patrick and his show, but, in accepting the buzz, does he run the risk of acting as an enabler to Sheen?" (FANHOUSE.com, 2/16).