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Versus "will stay in Philadelphia" following the joint venture between Comcast and NBC Universal, according to Bob Fernandez of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. Some Comcast employees "had been concerned that Versus -- or even the regional sports networks -- might relocate to New York after control of the businesses was taken over" by NBCU. Meanwhile, NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol yesterday said that he "expected to bolster Versus by acquiring the rights to more sports for it, though he declined to say which sports." Ebersol also indicated that the company "would change the Versus name to some variation reflecting the NBC brand, but he said the change was months away" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/3). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reported NBC Sports’s golf programming "will be rebranded 'The Golf Channel on NBC,' and some of its on-air talent will appear on the Golf Channel" (NYTIMES.com, 2/2).
SOME VERSUS OFFICIALS OUT: NBC Sports continues to assert its dominance over the NBC Sports Group, with at least three more Versus execs being told that they no longer have jobs at the network. Sources tell THE DAILY that the network's coordinating producer for NHL games, Mike Baker, and Senior VP & Exec Producer Leon Schweir were told that they will not be returning to the network. It is not known if Baker or Schweir will assume other roles within Comcast. Their duties will be overseen by NBC Sports execs Jon Miller, who was promoted to president of programming for NBC Sports and Versus, and Sam Flood, who was promoted to executive producer of NBC Sports and Versus. On the digital side, Versus VP/Digital Media Neal Scarbrough also has been told that he will not be returning with the network. On Tuesday, Versus President Jamie Davis was told that he would not be returning to the net. So far, it appears that all of the layoffs from the combined company have come from Versus execs; THE DAILY has not heard of any that have come from NBC Sports, to date. Baker has been with the channel since '05, coming over when the channel was named OLN and it first picked up NHL rights. Versus hired Scarbrough in the fall of '08, and it hired Schweir in the spring of '09 from Big Ten Network (John Ourand, THE DAILY).
BULLISH ON NEW GROUP: Ebersol yesterday announced the executive leadership of the newly formed NBC Sports Group, and he said of the moves, "Our great strength is the programming, production, marketing and relationship orientation of NBC Sports. The people being moved into all these roles are people who have had great success at that." He also said it will take "18 months to two years to blend more and more talent across" Comcast and NBC Sports. The N.Y. TIMES' Sandomir noted Ebersol named former Turner Entertainment Group President Mark Lazarus President of NBC Sports Cable Group and promoted NBC Sports Senior VP/Strategic Marketing, Promotion & Communications Mike McCarley to President of Golf Channel. Ebersol said Lazarus understands aspects of cable television "that are not replicated in our business." McCarley "has not run a network before," but Ebersol said he has the marketing skills "to make the Golf Channel go pop" (NYTIMES.com, 2/2).
CBS College Sports' coverage yesterday of National Signing Day for high school football players featured "one of the more awkward moments of the day" when Rich Rodriguez, who was serving as an analyst for the net after being fired as Univ. of Michigan coach last month, "interviewed his replacement," Brady Hoke, according to the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. The interview "started off on a strange note when Hoke, who was on the phone, exchanged pleasantries and the camera showed Rodriguez with a blank stare on his face." The conversation was "cordial but it was hard not to feel for Rodriguez" (CHICAGOBREAKINGSPORTS.com, 2/2). In Detroit, Kevin Bull writes the interview was "semi-awkward." Hoke acknowledged there was a "good foundation laid" under Rodriguez, and Rodriguez congratulated him on "a great class." Meanwhile, Rodriguez "seemed relaxed and insightful" during CBS College Sports' coverage (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 2/3). ESPN's Michael Wilbon noted the exchange between Rodriguez and Hoke was "awkward to watch," though Rodriguez "went on to handle the interview well." Wilbon: "They didn't just decide, 'Okay, let's get Brady Hoke live,' and we know enough about television to know that had been discussed, it had been arranged. They probably knew about this yesterday." ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said Rodriguez "handled it like a pro" ("PTI," ESPN, 2/2). YAHOO SPORTS' Matt Hinton wrote, "When you put a guy who was just canned voice-to-voice with the guy who was hired essentially to be the exact opposite of the first guy, everything comes across as a little ... awkward" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/2).
BEST WAYS TO FOLLOW: In Charlotte, Scott Fowler notes he "sat in ESPNU's studios in Charlotte" during the net's 10 hours of coverage yesterday and "monitored the network's coverage as National Signing Day unfolded." The coverage was "interesting," but Fowler writes, "I also felt like Bill Murray in 'Groundhog Day' -- living the same moments over and over again on Feb. 2." Fowler did note new ESPN analyst Urban Meyer was his "favorite person to listen to on the telecast because of his bluntness" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/3). Meanwhile, CBSSPORTS.com's Dennis Dodd wrote Twitter "reached a new level of coolness" during Signing Day. Dodd: "If you were following the right people, you would watch the whole thing unfold before you." Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly "was a key contributor," as he was "subtly selling his program with urgency" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/2).
In Honolulu, Ferd Lewis reports the Univ. of Hawaii and the Big West Conference "plan to look at ways the school can continue its pay-per-view package" when UH "moves from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference in football and to the Big West in most other sports" in '12. The Big West's "three-year agreement with Fox expires this spring," and Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell said that talks "will resume shortly." UH "receives approximately $2.5 million per year from its local TV rights agreement" with Oceanic Time Warner Cable and Honolulu's KFVE-MYT, "of which PPV is a key element." But officials have said that UH's move to the MWC and Big West puts the status of the "lucrative nine-year-old PPV operation up in the air" (HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER, 2/3).
SUPER SHUTDOWN: PAIDCONTENT's Joe Mullin noted federal officials yesterday "gave a full list of the sports-streaming websites they have seized in advance of" Sunday's Steelers-Packers Super Bowl XLV. The officials "defended their actions, saying that each year sports leagues and broadcasters lose millions of dollars from illegal streaming." But Mullin noted the sites are "already back up at a variety of new web addresses, and critics of the government's action were quick to note that at least one of the sites ... was found to be legal by two Spanish courts" (PAIDCONTENT.org, 2/2).
LAST GO ROUND: Twins radio announcer John Gordon said that this season "will be his final year behind the microphone." Gordon, 70, has served in the role since '87, and he said that while he has "no health concerns," he is "ready to move on to a new phase of his life." Gordon "already had planned to cut back his broadcasting schedule for this year," as he will "do 90 games" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/3).
ROUND MOUND OF THE INTERNET: In San Antonio, Tim Griffin reported TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley has launched a new website, CharlesBarkley.com, which offers an "intriguing" look at "one of the most interesting men in professional sports." Visitors "can see some of Barkley's greatest moments, along with occasional chats and his commentary on all kinds of pop culture topics" (MYSANANTONIO.com, 2/2).