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Fox and Turner are "taking an early look at the NHL’s cable TV package, raising the likelihood that the league will have a competitive bidding process -- with as many as four networks -- as it negotiates new TV deals this year," according to Ourand & Lefton in this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Versus’ exclusive negotiating window "ended in late January, leading the league to send out feelers to several networks to gauge interest in the NHL’s TV rights." The league "reached out to ESPN, which held the NHL’s TV rights from 1992 to 2004, and is still engaged in talks with Versus, its current rights holder." Versus is "expected to make a strong bid to retain the NHL, which is the Comcast-owned channel’s highest-rated programming." But the league’s outreach to Fox and Turner "shows that it wants to build an auction process that will push the TV rights package well above the $77.5 million annual payout it gets from Versus." Sources at those two programming groups said that while things "still are in the exploratory stage, they are interested in examining the rights package further" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 2/28 issue).
The Nationals have signed a two-year deal to shift their flagship local radio home to the CBS Radio-owned WJFK-FM, beginning this season, formalizing a long-rumored move. The pact includes a significant co-marketing partnership element in which the club and WJFK will combine on a variety of shoulder programming, promotional events and other activities. "This is really much more, much broader than just a broadcast rights deal," said Nationals COO Andrew Feffer. "We're talking about a variety of promotion, original programming, offseason events, and so forth that really makes this more of a full-fledged, integrated partnership. I definitely see this deal going well beyond these initial two years." Financial terms were not disclosed, and the club is still finalizing other affiliate radio agreements. The Nationals formerly had their flagship radio home on the Bonneville Int'l-owned WFED-AM, and recent DC-area rumors have suggested the club may still be heard this season on that station. Feffer declined to address the status of WFED. The shift to the Manassas, Va.-based WJFK, however, gives the Nationals a strong FM signal, placement on an all-sports radio format and on a station that fills in some key geographic pockets of Northern Virginia that had not been fully served in the club's prior radio footprint. Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler will remain the club's primary radio broadcast announcers. The Nationals-WJFK shoulder programming will include a twice-weekly, hour-long in-depth segment on the team in season to complement customary daily pre- and postgame shows. WJFK is constructing a studio set behind Section 106 of Nationals Park, designed to correspond to its FM dial position of 106.7, where it will broadcast the pre- and postgame coverage and special live broadcasts of some of its sports talk programming.
Open Sports "has ceased operations after failing to find a sustainable niche in the hypercompetitive digital arena," according to Eric Fisher of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The Florida-based operation, "seeking to blend fantasy sports with sports news, commentary, social networking and other material, was founded largely in the hopes of challenging established market leaders such as ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and Yahoo." A "major fantasy games partnership struck with Fox Sports in 2009 sought to further that aim, with the two entities collaborating on a series of fantasy football and NASCAR products." But Open Sports "was never able to find institutional venture capital funding or enough advertising revenue to ensure long-term financial viability." Fox Sports "ceased its partnership with Open Sports soon after the 2010 NFL season, and the company folded soon afterward." Open Sports Founder Mike Levy: "It just didn’t work out. Not every one of these things do work out. It’s my blunder and I take full responsibility for everything. I was never able to get professional, institutional venture funding. They didn’t think there was really room for another major player in fantasy, and that it was too late to really get traction in the space. And in retrospect, I probably should have listened" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 2/28 issue).
In N.Y., Mike Battaglino reported HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg Friday said that the Jets "would not return to 'Hard Knocks' in 2011, but the network would welcome an encore at some point." Greenburg: "We will give Rex and the Jets the year off from 'Hard Knocks.' But you never know what the future holds. ... Hopefully someday Rex and the New York Jets will be back on HBO." Battaglino noted training camps "could be cut short this season if the expected NFL lockout drags into the summer." HBO "has not announced plans for next season" (N.Y. POST, 2/26).
BATTLE WAGES ON: The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbbiggin writes Rogers Sportsnet NHL analyst Nick Kypreos "gave vivid evidence of the friction between Team Sportsnet and TSN" on Saturday when he tweeted about the Panthers trading D Bryan McCabe to the Rangers. The tweet "drew some derision in Twitterdom," which "led Kypreos to send an angry message to a friend." That Twitter post read, "I'm confident it will get done. Those (expletive) at tsn try to discredit me all the time. I'm really (expletive)!" Kypreos "sent the message as a tweet, not a text, making it public," and Twitter users "went wild at Kypreos' profane diss." Dowbiggin writes of today's NHL trade deadline, "It's clear there's no love lost between the network TV types who'll battle for scoops in the 10-hour deadline day marathon" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/28).
NUMBERS GAME: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes if NASCAR is "interested in attracting viewers, the announcers need to get out of the habit of referring to drivers by their car numbers." Viewers "not used to watching NASCAR get lost when the announcers say things such as, 'Watch out for the No. 88 car.' Or, 'Oh, the 48 car got loose coming out of Turn 3.'" The sport "needs to do whatever it can to accommodate newer viewers" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 2/28).
FINDING A NEW VOICE: In Tacoma, John McGrath noted the role of Mariners TV announcer will be filled by "a collection of temporary stand-ins" this season, as the idea is that late announcer Dave Niehaus "can't be replaced." But McGrath wrote it "hardly" would be a "dishonor to Niehaus' memory to hire a broadcaster unfazed by the possibility fans will rush to a harsh judgment largely predicated on the fact he's not Dave Niehaus." There are "better ways to celebrate Niehaus' contributions to the franchise associated with his voice than depriving deserving broadcasters a chance to describe Seattle games in their own voice." A Niehaus statue "is one way," and that "already is in the planning stages" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 2/27).
LIVE IN COLOR: ESPN is making its weekly magazine available to Barnes & Noble's tablet, Nook Color, starting with the current issue. Subscriptions are available for $2.99 per month or $3.99 for single issues. With the deal, ESPN the Magazine is the first general sports magazine that will be available on Nook Color (John Ourand, THE DAILY).