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Fox earned an 8.2 overnight Nielsen rating for the Daytona 500 yesterday afternoon, which saw rookie Trevor Bayne become the youngest driver ever to win NASCAR's signature race. The overnight rating is up 17% from a 7.0 overnight last year, which saw the race air up against NBC's coverage of the Vancouver Games, and also up 3% from an 8.0 overnight in '09. Fox also earned a 4.4 overnight for pre-race coverage, up 19% from a 3.7 last year. NASCAR.com also saw record-breaking traffic yesterday, according to date from Omniture and Bango. The site saw a record 1.6 million unique visitors (+11%) and 11.2 million page views (+8%). On the mobile front, the site saw 300,000 unique visitors (+100%) and three million page views (+169%) (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
COVERAGE NOT HELPFUL FOR CASUAL FANS: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes Fox "didn't do much to draw in casual fans" during its coverage of the race yesterday, especially during the "dramatic final laps." In those final laps, Fox forgot about something "crucial in big-time sports meant to reach broad audiences -- basic storytelling." The net should have "avoided identifying cars by their numbers or sponsors," as it is the "drivers who should be emphasized because they're the stars." Also, the "on-air analysis lapsed into too much jargon, like talking about a 'green-white-checkered' finish when it would have been clearer to say the cars would race a couple of laps to the finish unless there was another wreck." Hiestand: "In a complicated ending, there was too much emphasis on replays and analysis of car damage and wrecks rather than setting up viewers for what could happen next" (USA TODAY, 2/21). In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes Fox' coverage "was both interesting and infuriating." The production and direction "were among the best you are going to find on sports television." However, with broadcasters Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip "so loathe to criticize anything," the race often felt "like an infomercial for NASCAR" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 2/21).
TNT averaged a 6.2 overnight Nielsen rating for last night's NBA All-Star Game, up 35% from a 4.6 overnight last year. The net earned a 4.4 fast-national rating and 8.1 million viewers for coverage of NBA All-Star Saturday Night presented by State Farm, marking the most-watched All-Star Saturday Night in the event's 26-year history. This year's All-Star Saturday Night figures are up 13% and 23%, respectively, from a 3.9 rating and 6.554 million viewers last year. The telecast peaked from 10:30-11:00pm ET, with nearly 10.4 million viewers tuning in for Clippers F Blake Griffin's winning dunk in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. The '11 All-Star Saturday Night ranks as the most-watched NBA telecast on cable for the '10-11 season. Meanwhile, the final round of the Slam Dunk contest drew 4.5 million votes via NBA mobile, compared to 1.2 million votes for last year's final (THE DAILY).
HOOP SCOOP: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes of NBA All-Star Saturday Night, "Give TNT high marks for an entertaining broadcast of what had become a rather stale made-for-television event" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 2/21). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes TNT reporter Craig Sager's interview with Justin Bieber during the second quarter of last night's All-Star Game "sadly" was the "highlight of the telecast" up until that point. Sager is "in his element" in an event like the All-Star Game. Hoffarth writes, "So vapid, and yet so compelling, Sager's conversation went on so long TNT had to go to a split screen to show the game action that'd otherwise be missed." Until Lakers G Kobe Bryant, who earned the All-Star Game MVP award, "gave L.A. viewers something of a rooting interest, TNT's investment in a kajillion minutes of coverage over the weekend ... seemed even more wasteful than usual" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 2/21).
In negotiating U.S. TV rights for the '14 and '16 Games later this year, the IOC “anticipates some bid proposals will include plans to launch a stand-alone 24-hour cable channel in the U.S. that will be devoted to the Olympics,” according to Mickle & Ourand of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The IOC "anticipates the three expected bidders -- NBC/Comcast, ABC/ESPN and Fox -- to look into the feasibility of launching such a network." Sources said that ESPN “has spoken to the IOC about the possibility of a broadband channel, patterned after ESPN3.” IOC Finance Commission Chair Richard Carrión said that the IOC “sees value in a U.S. Olympic television channel because it would make Olympic values relevant in the market year-round.” But Mickle & Ourand note a traditional cable TV network “faces several hurdles, including obtaining carriage on cable and satellite systems that are near capacity.” No new channel launch “over the past several years has approached the 70 million home distribution mark.” The USOC started trying to put together a network as early as '06, eventually “signing the biggest American cable operator, Comcast, as a partner in July 2009.” But that partnership “dissolved in the summer of 2009 after the IOC, NBC and others bashed the partnership.” Creating an Olympic network now “would require USOC approval,” and it “theoretically would be limited to the terms of the broadcast agreement with the IOC, potentially making it viable for a maximum of eight years” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 2/21 issue).
NBC will begin using the on-air look and feel of Golf Channel this weekend when it broadcasts the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The "Golf Channel on NBC" branding will continue throughout the golf season on NBC's 10 PGA Tour events, similar to the way ESPN's brand is used on ABC telecasts. NBC will use Golf Channel's graphics, leaderboard and logos during the Saturday and Sunday telecasts of the tour. A combined logo with the Golf Channel "G" and NBC's peacock will accompany some of the graphics. "This will certainly be a way to grow the Golf Channel audience and extend the brand," said Mike McCarley, the NBC Sports veteran who was named Golf Channel's new president shortly after NBC's merger with Comcast was approved last month. McCarley said Golf Channel will benefit from extensive promotion on the 20 networks and 40 websites across NBC and Comcast. For example, spots during the Saturday broadcast of the PGA Tour on NBC will promote European Tour golf that airs the next morning on Golf Channel. "A lot of NBC Sports has been defined by golf over the years, and to take the Golf Channel brand and put it front and center on NBC is a testament to the brand Golf Channel has become," McCarley said. A one-hour Friday night special on Golf Channel will pair talent from both networks for the first time in "State of the Game Live," a roundtable discussion that will feature two of the game's most popular analysts: NBC's Johnny Miller and Golf Channel's Nick Faldo, along with other talent from both networks. The show is the first of what is expected to be several cross-promotional efforts between the two nets. McCarley said the move is strictly about branding and was not an attempt to achieve cost efficiencies. "Our consumer-facing brand for golf is Golf Channel," he said. "We'll have a complete focus across NBC Universal on this brand." He expects there to be future efforts to integrate CNBC and Golf Channel because their audiences are so similar. CNBC currently runs a business break in Golf Channel's live "Morning Drive" show.
Golf Channel removed reporter Jim Gray from its coverage of this weekend's PGA Tour Northern Trust Open after Gray "apparently got into an argument with golfer Dustin Johnson's caddie Bobby Brown" after the first round on Thursday, according to Michael McCarthy of USA TODAY. Johnson was penalized two strokes after "nearly missing his tee time, a mistake which Brown blamed on himself." Gray "went out on the course to interview Johnson about the blunder in the middle of his round," which Brown "objected" to. Brown and Gray then "argued over the matter" after Johnson's round. Golf Channel was "non-committal on whether it will use the freelance Gray again after his second altercation in less than a year." Gray last August "got into an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation" with U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin after Pavin "disputed Gray's report about Tiger Woods' selection to the team" (USATODAY.com, 2/18). ESPN.com's Bob Harig reported Brown told Gray "that he should not have been discussing a rules incident with Johnson on the course during the round" (ESPN.com, 2/18). A Golf Channel spokesperson said Gray was removed from the telecast because he "became a distraction from the golf being played." The spokesperson: "Our focus is to deliver great golf coverage and not take away from the viewer's enjoyment of the competition" (THE DAILY).
FORGETTING HIS ROLE: In N.Y., Phil Mushnick wrote Gray "has become difficult to defend because he hasn't broken his nasty habit of drawing attention to himself with indiscreet, excessive behavior ... which he seems to confuse with hard-hitting journalism" (N.Y. POST, 2/20). GOLF WORLD's Chris Millard asks, "Would Gray dare ask Kobe Bryant a question as the Lakers guard was heading up court?" Millard: "Gray's puerile 'look at me' act, which has never been suited for golf, is increasingly grating" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 2/21 issue). In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes it might be "time for Jim Gray to sit out a few plays." Jones: "There's a difference between being a hard-nosed reporter and an egomaniac who makes news as often as he covers it" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 2/21).
The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin reports "HNIC" studio analyst Don Cherry "will stay at CBC till at least the 2012 NHL playoffs." By extending Cherry's contract, the CBC "has pushed its chips firmly behind the cult of Cherry's personality." But a source said that while Cherry "has done very well by CBC, the reverse ain't necessarily so." The source: "He's grown his own brand, not ours, and when he leaves he'll be fine, but there will be nothing left behind for us" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/21).
STAYING WITH A FRIEND: MLS and Fox Soccer Friday announced that they have reached a one-year extension for the network’s national broadcast rights agreement that sources say is worth $6.25M. That is much less than the $20M deal MLS was seeking but more than double the $3M per year that Fox Soccer was paying. Terms of the deal have Fox Soccer broadcasting up to 31 regular-season games, plus three MLS Cup playoff matches, including a conference final. The package includes 15 games on Saturday nights and 14 on Friday nights; 20 of the 31 broadcast windows are exclusive to Fox Soccer, as are all three playoff games. The net has been a national broadcast partner of MLS since '03 (John Ourand, THE DAILY).
SWING AWAY: In N.Y., Bob Raissman cited sources as saying that the Yankees "will not do a deal" with current radio partner WCBS-AM before its exclusive negotiating window expires in April. A source said of the Yankees, "They want to test the market. It's as simple as that." Raissman noted WCBS currently pays the Yankees $13M per season. The Red Sox receive $18M for their radio rights, and that "appears to be what the Yankees are looking for" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/20).
MIXED REAX ON HOCKEY DAY: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes NBC "did a solid job" with the feature stories it aired as part of the net's "Hockey Day in America" coverage yesterday, although it was a "predictable paint-by-numbers series of stories to ensure diversity." However, Jones did wonder why with NBC "trying to beef up Versus' hockey coverage" the net had its top broadcasting team of Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire "call the Penguins-Blackhawks game instead of Versus' coverage of the outdoor game between the Canadiens and Flames" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 2/21).