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The NCAA men's basketball tournament is averaging a combined 6.0 U.S. rating and 9.4 million viewers through the regional finals across CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, up 11% from a 5.4 rating and 8.5 million viewers at the same point last year on CBS. The 6.0 rating also marks the highest average rating at this point in the tournament since '05, when CBS averaged a 6.3 rating. Coverage of the regional finals on Sunday averaged a 7.6 rating and 12.6 million viewers, flat and up 6%, respectively, from a 7.6 rating and 11.9 million viewers last year (CBS). Louisville's WLKY-CBS averaged a 37 local rating for Sunday's Kentucky-North Carolina game, a rating that is "near Super Bowl levels." WLKY's coverage peaked at a high of 44.3 near the game's finish (COURIER-JOURNAL.com, 3/28). CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus yesterday said he is "extremely pleased" with the ratings and the general coverage by CBS and Turner in the first year of their partnership. "Everything turned out even better than I hoped it was going to," he said. "From a production standpoint the broadcasts were absolutely seamless." McManus singled out the studio shows and announcers for successfully alerting viewers to close finishes on other networks (William Cooper, THE DAILY). CABLEFAX DAILY notes though Turner's "tourney run is over, the decision to air every game across 4 channels has clearly paid viewership dividends" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 3/29).
NOT SETTING A NUMBER: McManus yesterday shied away from giving a rating projection for the VCU-Butler Final Four game, which features the highest combined seeds (No. 11 for VCU, No. 8 for Butler) of any national semifinal game ever. Instead, McManus said the competitiveness of that game, as well as Kentucky-UConn, will determine the ratings for Saturday’s games. "I'm not going to say it's going to do a bad rating because we have two teams from a mid major," he said. "I think it depends on the storylines that develop between now and then and how close the game is" (Cooper). But in N.Y., Bob Raissman writes the tournament ratings, "which have registered on the high side, are about to fall off a cliff." The VCU-Butler matchup "doesn't register with the casual fan, those coveted eyeballs transcending the hard core and driving the ratings." Raissman: "When matched against the right opponent, a disrespected little guy like VCU can attract viewers, tantalize them with the prospect of pulling off the upset. But they must be playing a big bad dog, not a Butler Bulldog." A "bad lead-in, ratings wise, to the Connecticut-Kentucky nightcap won't be good for business" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/29). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said this Final Four "doesn't have enough sizzle." Paige: "You've got to have a Duke, you've got to have teams from major markets. ... You're going to see ratings down" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 3/28).
DO NOT BE DECEIVED BY NAMES: When both VCU and Butler made the Final Four, instant reaction from many in the sports community was that the lack of a marquee school in one semifinal would hurt CBS' ratings. THE DAILY asked ESPN Senior VP/Research & Analytics Artie Bulgrin whether marquee teams or competitive games drive ratings more. "It has always been a combination," he said. Bulgrin pointed to the fact that there has been just a 2.4 rating point range in 10 of the 11 Final Fours from '00 to '10 when you average both games (8.0-10.4). He suggested that shows the VCU-Butler game should perform well in TV ratings. In '03, ratings were hurt when Kansas beat Marquette by 33 points in the first game, hurting the lead-in for the second game (Texas-Syracuse) (John Ourand, THE DAILY). CNBC's Darren Rovell added, "Cinderellas aren't necessarily a positive for ratings. CBS would rather have two powerhouses." But Rovell noted last year's Duke-Butler national championship game "actually had the highest ratings in eight years" ("Street Signs," CNBC, 3/28).
PREPPED FOR THE BIG GAME: CBS will feature a three-man booth for the first time in their broadcasting of the Final Four, but announcers Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr stressed that their experience working together during the Big Ten tournament and the First Four games in Dayton would pay dividends during this weekend's coverage. "The chemistry was there right away," said Nantz. "The neat thing is there is not a battle of egos. That is not going to be an issue." Nantz noted the trio also would be better due to the ability to focus on just the games as opposed to having a "big-picture slant" in discussing the upcoming tournament during previous broadcasts. "Now we're going to be locking in on games that are crucial," he said (Cooper). Meanwhile, in California, Doug Krikorian wrote it is "bad enough that ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas is a shameless shill for the NCAA." But Krikorian adds, "What I find even worse is his know-it-all pomposity that inspires my hitting the mute button as it's his turn to give the party line on any controversial subject like officiating, which I think has been too often unnecessarily intrusive during the tournament" (Long Beach PRESS-TELEGRAM, 3/29).
MMOD ON THE RISE AGAIN: March Madness on Demand through the first two weeks of the tournament has seen a 60% increase in total visits across online, iPad and iPhone apps. There were 41.6 million visits across MMOD broadband and mobile platforms from the start of the First Four on March 15 to Sunday. The tournament to date also has garnered 12.7 million total hours of streaming video through MMOD online and the iPad and iPhone apps (Turner). ADWEEK's Mike Shields reported MMOD for the entire '10 tournament "generated 11.7 million hours of live streaming video and audio." The increase "appears to be at least partially driven by the popularity of Apple products." However, Web viewers also "hung around longer, as users averaged 64 minutes of streaming from Mar. 15-27, while mobile users averaged 25 minutes over the same time period." Turner and CBS "have so far declined to release ad revenue figures for 2011 -- though given the robust online video market, dollars are surely up significantly" (ADWEEK.com, 3/28).
EA Sports today releases "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters," which "boasts new features aimed to drive sales," including the video game debut of Augusta National, according to Mike Snider of USA TODAY. OperationSports.com Exec Editor Chris Sanner said that the addition of Augusta National is "important." Sanner: "I can see some people who haven't played 'Tiger' in a few years definitely picking it up based on Augusta alone." The "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" series "could use a lift," as Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said that the game last year "accounted for less than half of the $90 million or so in sales annually from 2007 to 2009 when Woods dominated the PGA Tour." Pachter said the decline of the franchise is probably "more closely correlated" to Woods' on-course play "than to his personal troubles" (USA TODAY, 3/28). In N.Y., Robbie Brown writes Augusta National's inclusion in the EA Sports game is an "unexpected step toward modernity," as developers "have spent years replicating the course in exact detail." Developers said that they used "laser scanners to measure every sliver of the course -- every bunker, every fairway, every tree -- within six millimeters of accuracy." But that "has not stopped golf purists from questioning the wisdom of selling a video game version at all -- even one that is so stunningly accurate." Augusta National's proceeds from the game "will benefit a nonprofit foundation that promotes youth golf" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/29).
RELIVING HISTORY: GOLFWEEK.com's Ryan Lavner noted in the game's "Masters Moments" mode, users are "tasked with re-creating some of the greatest shots in tournament lore: Larry Mize's walk-off chip in 1987, Tiger's 'in-your-life!' chip-in on 16, Phil Mickelson's slash-through-the-trees 6-iron on 13." In the "Tiger at the Masters" mode, users "can relive each of Woods' four Masters titles by attempting to equal or beat his scores while playing against the field in real time" (GOLFWEEK.com, 3/26). GOLFCHANNEL.com's Jay Coffin noted the game "also has features unique to the Masters, including Jim Nantz and David Feherty calling the action." Coffin: "After each hole is complete the score is recorded on a trademark Masters scorecard and the lingo is spot on when referring to the first nine, the second nine and the second cut" (THEGOLFCHANNEL.com, 3/25).
UNPRECEDENTED ACCESS: KOTAKU.com's Owen Good reported Augusta National "let a camera crew and a bunch of actors walk all over its storied course" for an ad for the game. Good: "These Green Jacket moments had no green screen. 'James from San Jose' really did blast out of the sand on No. 10. 'Thomas,' the guy representing 'you' on No. 18 really did drain that eight foot putt." The ad was "filmed in a day this February at Augusta National." The concept, which came from Heat, S.F., was "one of about five suggested and EA Sports instantly loved it." The crew "used the broadcast towers that have been put in place for CBS' coverage and recreated other camera angles familiar to longtime viewers." Good wrote the "entire spot, beginning with the soaring anthem and Jim Nantz invoking Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, sounds very much like a broadcast promo" (KOTAKU.com, 3/25).
In Oakland, Joe Stiglich reported the A’s three-game Spring Training series against the Giants through tomorrow “will air on radio station KFRC 1550-AM, and not on flagship station KTRB 860.” The team indicated that a “plan for regular-season broadcasts will be unveiled later in the week.” KTRB is in receivership, and a source said that the station’s receiver “is looking to sell the station for a higher purchase price than the A’s are will to offer.” Stiglich: “I was told that the A’s weren’t willing to budge because they knew they had a fallback plan in KFRC, which is equipped to start airing games on very short notice” (IBABUZZ.com, 3/28).
DEFENDING THEIR COVER SELECTION: Tiger Woods is on the cover of Golf Digest's April issue, and Brand Editor Bob Carney noted the decision "drew notice and criticism from a number of readers ... especially after officially ending our playing-editor relationship with Woods." But Carney wrote Woods is "finally a man who has confessed his mistakes -- publicly -- and vowed to turn things around -- in particular to be a conscientious father." Carney: "We respect that intention. What we've learned about Tiger, we think, ought to make us less apt to judge him on a perfectionistic scale, and more likely to see a human being, not an icon, who is one of the best ever to play our sport. He is certainly a contender for the first major of the year, the Masters. For those reasons we feel he deserves to be on the cover" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 3/27).
OFF TO A FAST START: ABC averaged a 1.4 overnight rating for its telecast of Sunday's IndyCar season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The 1.4 rating was the highest for an IndyCar race on the net, excluding the Indianapolis 500, since July '07 (IndyCar). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes the rating is a "promising season start, given ABC's IndyCar races last year averaged a 0.8 rating" (USA TODAY, 3/29). In Birmingham, Doug Demmons notes the rating "is small compared to NASCAR or the NCAA Tournament, but huge compared to most IndyCar races" (BIRMINGHAM NEWS, 3/29).
SAYING GOODBYE: In Phoenix, Bob Young reports Suns announcer Gary Bender "announced his retirement from broadcasting Monday, effective at the conclusion of the season." Bender, who will serve as a consultant to the Univ. of Kansas Alumni Association, "has called Suns TV games for nearly two decades." He "has been the TV or radio voice of five pro football, basketball or baseball teams" in addition to serving "as a network broadcaster for CBS and ABC" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/29). YAHOO SPORTS' Kelly Dwyer wrote it is "good to remember Bender as the voice of dozens of memorable NCAA Tournament games from the 1980s and early 1990s." Bender also "worked as the needed voice of reason on some often-combative NBA playoff games alongside Rick Barry and Bill Russell" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/28).