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NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol said the company is "definitely out there looking to add other major sports" after signing a 10-year, $2B deal to keep the NHL on NBC and Versus Tuesday. Appearing on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s weekly show on Sirius XM Radio, Ebersol noted there are “four of five other places … whose rights will come up" in the next few months that the company will go after. He said, "You can be quite confident you're going to see a much greater range of important sports on Versus in the immediate years to come." Ebersol said there will be a “much greater … commitment to shoulder programming built around” NHL broadcasts on Versus, specifically with pre- and postgame coverage. Ebersol: "I see much more programming that gets much more intimate about the players in the league, about the various things that always excite fans ... and much more of an attempt to be year-round thorough coverage of the sport than has been in the past." He noted the NBC Sports Group will formally announce this summer the Versus name "will change to something close to just that simple phrase, NBC Sports.” Also, Comcast-owned RSNs will be "referred to something like NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC Sports Chicago, etc., which I think will give viewers everywhere a much better sense of just who we are.” Meanwhile, Ebersol said what is "really important to more and more fans is the expansion of the number of homes that take Versus.” Ebersol: “That's equally as important for us to get into more hotels and more bars and more places where people congregate” (“NHL Hour,” Sirius XM Radio, 4/21).
BACK IN THE GAME: In Albany, Pete Dougherty writes the NHL's new TV deal shows the league "as a viable player again in the TV landscape." There is "no question Versus ... has improved its hockey coverage." Yet there is "still the perception that a sport needing to resonate with more mainstream sports fans needs [ESPN] to become viable" (Albany TIMES UNION, 4/22). In Detroit, Jamie Samuselsen wrote, "The NHL's new TV deal with Versus and NBC is actually a good thing. Versus takes the sport seriously and dedicates the resources to it that the sport deserves. ESPN treats it like an afterthought and employs a slew of announcers who can’t even pronounce some of the names correctly" (FREEP.com, 4/21). Meanwhile, the GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin reports the NHL's new contract does not include a "discount for the potential loss" of the Coyotes and Thrashers to Canadian markets. Sources indicated that NBC/Versus "has no recourse for compensation" should the Coyotes, Thrashers "or any other troubled franchise decamp." The possibility of "losing Phoenix (No. 12 media market in the U.S.) or Atlanta (No. 7) is an assumed risk in the deal" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/22).
Channel 4 San Diego officials "held a meeting Thursday in which employees were told that the station won't retain the rights to broadcast Padres games when the current contract expires after this season," according to sources cited by Dan Hayes of the NORTH COUNTY TIMES. Sources said that officials "didn't say which entity would secure the contract rights," but they "did inform the staff that the station won't carry games beginning in 2012." Sources said that Fox Sports "has proposed a 20-year broadcast agreement that would assure the Padres" of $17-22M per season. The deal "would require Fox to start a San Diego-based network" similar to FS West in L.A. Multiple sources confirmed that if Fox wins the rights, Channel 4 "would pitch the network on retaining as many of its employees as possible." Channel 4 Station Manager Dennis Morgigno: "We have not heard that the Padres have a new deal, but we are not negotiating with them actively." Sources said that the Padres and Channel 4 are "at least $6 million per season apart in negotiations." Sources also noted that the Padres "have previously explored an in-house production for broadcasts as well as a relationship with Comcast." Meanwhile, Hayes notes the team has "held talks with XX Sports 1090 about renewing a radio contract that expires after this season" (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 4/22). In San Diego, Norcross & Posner cite a Padres source as saying that "no deal has been reached with another company to carry the games." However, the club "has made no secret of the fact it wants broader coverage of its games." Cox-owned Channel 4 "has been the primary home of Padres telecasts since 1997, and its exclusive home since 2004" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 4/22).
The $30M personal loan that Fox gave Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt last week was "not only to help him meet payroll and pay for increased security after the shocking beating of a San Francisco Giants fan, but also to stay in McCourt's favor after learning he had approached rival Time Warner Cable for a similar loan," according to Diane Pucin of the L.A. TIMES. Two sources said that McCourt told Fox officials that Time Warner was "ready and willing to assist him with his financial problems." Time Warner reportedly "also was ready to offer a full sponsorship package that included naming rights for Dodger Stadium." Sources said that weeks before making the $30M loan, Fox "had reached a tentative agreement with McCourt for a new Dodgers television contract worth $3 billion over 20 years that would include a $375-million upfront payment." But MLB Commissioner Bud Selig "has not yet ruled on the proposed deal." The Dodgers "grew in importance for Fox after Time Warner in February surprised everyone by striking its own 20-year deal with the Lakers." A source said that Selig was "upset with Fox because he had asked it to 'stand down' and not get involved with McCourt's finances." The source added that Selig also "did not want to immediately act on Fox's proposed deal because he feared McCourt would use some of that money to cover personal debts." McCourt "grew worried when Selig did not immediately act on the proposed Fox deal and reached out to Fox and Time Warner about needing a cash infusion." Pucin notes when Fox sold the Dodgers to McCourt in '04, the deal "included a clause that would allow Fox to match any competing offer for television rights." MLB on Wednesday assumed control of the Dodgers from McCourt (L.A. TIMES, 4/22).
MASTER PLAN: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman reports "for months a new deal for the TV rights has been a key element of Mr. McCourt's plans to keep control of the team, despite mounting debts, an embarrassing and expensive divorce case and recent concerns over security at Dodger Stadium, all of which have brought increased scrutiny of his oversight of the team." At the same time, Fox officials indicated that "maintaining the rights to televise Dodger games ... has become increasingly urgent within Fox." Analysts value Fox's Southern California RSNs "at more than $1 billion." A Fox spokesperson said in a statement Thursday, "We want to be a part of the solution. A financially stable Dodgers team is good for fans, good for Major League Baseball, and good for Fox" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/22).
Fox announcer Joe Buck Thursday said that a "virus developed in the nerves of his left vocal cord in mid-February -- shortly after he broadcast the Super Bowl." In St. Louis, Dan Caesar notes Buck "has made significant progress, and while he estimates he still is a month or so away from full recovery, he's set to broadcast" Saturday's Reds-Cardinals game. Buck: "I just have to plow through it. I'm not damaging it or hurting it by talking. I'm just waiting for it to fire like it's supposed to." Buck called MLB games for Fox the first two weekends this season, and he said that he "can't recall missing an assignment in his career." He said that the ailment "'came out of the blue,' isn't painful and the difficulty he has now is raising his voice at the proper time" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/22).
NO SHRINKING VIOLET: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes ESPN/ABC NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy's "sense of humor and plain-spoken analysis are two huge" reasons why he has "risen to the top of the NBA's broadcast chain." Van Gundy's "transition from coaching to broadcasting, which began during the 2002-03 season when he worked at TNT, was accelerated by his willingness to criticize players and coaches who are part of a fraternity he once belonged to." Van Gundy said, "I didn't realize players you praise 99% of the time would get really sensitive over the 1% of the time you thought they could do something better. Those things are a little surprising" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/22).
EYE FOR TALENT: ESPN Producer Jay Rothman said the feedback from the "Gruden's QB Camp" draft prospect series "has been tremendously positive for us, even from the players' camps." In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes if Gruden in the series "seems to have taken his game up another couple of notches, and not just as a media consultant to up-and-coming players, it might have some residual effects." Jon Gruden "tends to keep a leash on his words" on "MNF," as he "could be working with some of these players and coaches again." But if potential employers "wonder what kind of field general he could be in the draft 'war room,' here's a window of opportunity for Gruden to rebrand himself" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 4/22).
BE OUR GUEST: ESPN MLB analyst Barry Larkin said that he talked to Reds COO Phil Castellini and VP/Baseball Operations Dick Williams "about doing some Reds TV games on Fox Sports Ohio -- but he couldn't work it out" after moving to ESPN from MLB Network. However, Reds Senior VP/Business Operations Karen Forgus said that the club is "interested in Larkin -- and other former Reds turned broadcasters -- doing guest shots on Reds telecasts" (CINCINNATI.com, 4/21).
Last weekend marked the start of the NBA Playoffs, and TNT's Sunday tripleheader earned a 2.8 U.S. rating and 4.5 million viewers, marking the net's best opening day of the playoffs in 27 years of televising the NBA. Those figures were also up 27% and 36%, respectively, from '10. TNT was tops among all nets on Sunday night in the adult 18-34 and 18-49 demos. ABC averaged a 3.4 rating and 5.3 million viewers for its two NBA playoff telecasts last weekend, up 17.2% and 18.5%, respectively, from a 2.9 rating and 4.4 million viewers for the net's first two telecasts last year. ESPN's Saturday tripleheader averaged a 2.2 rating and 3.4 million viewers, up 10.0% and 14.7%, respectively, from a 2.0 rating and 3.0 million viewers last year.
AUTO ZONE: Fox topped all sports telecasts last weekend with a 5.2 final Nielsen rating for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Aaron's 499 from Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. That rating is flat compared to the same race last year. ESPN2 finished with a 1.8 U.S. rating for Saturday's Nationwide Series Aaron's 312, up from a 1.1 rating for the race last year, which aired on a Sunday afternoon following the Sprint Cup race due to a Saturday rainout. Versus last Sunday aired the Izod IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, averaging 323,000 viewers, down 34% from 490,000 viewers for the race last year.
Listed below are final Nielsen ratings from recent sports telecasts. All ratings listed are U.S. ratings (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) NASCAR Sprint Cup: Aaron's 4994/17Fox1:30-4:41pm5.29,039 NBA Western Conference Quarterfinals:
Hornets-Lakers: Game One4/17ABC3:22-6:11pm3.75,950
NBA Eastern Conference Quarterfinals:
76ers-Heat: Game One4/16ABC3:22-6:09pm3.04,546
MLB: (regional)4/16Fox4:08-7:12pm1.52,292 PGA Tour: Valero Texas Open:
NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals:
Capitals-Rangers: Game Three4/17NBC3:00-6:10pm1.11,639
NHL Western Conference Quarterfinals:
Coyotes-Red Wings: Game Two4/16NBC1:00-4:00pm1.01,529
PGA Tour: Valero Texas Open:
National Heads-Up Poker
Champions Tour: Outback Steakhouse
Pro-Am: Third Round4/16NBC4:00-6:00pm0.6829
Champions Tour: Outback Steakhouse
Pro-Am: Final Round4/17NBC1:00-3:00pm0.6761
Advance Auto Parts
Monster Jam World Finals 124/17CBS2:00-3:00pm0.4743
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) NBA Eastern Conference First Round:
Knicks-Celtics: Game One4/17TNT7:09-9:41pm3.65,989
NBA Western Conference First Round:
Nuggets-Thunder: Game One4/17TNT9:41pm-12:23am3.15,038
NBA Eastern Conference First Round:
Pacers-Bulls: Game One4/16ESPN1:00-3:41pm2.43,567
NBA Western Conference First Round:
Trail Blazers-Mavericks: Game One4/16ESPN9:48pm-12:41am2.13,456
NBA Eastern Conference First Round:
Hawks-Magic: Game One4/16ESPN6:58-9:48pm2.13,328
MLB: Yankees-Rangers4/17ESPN7:59-11:14pm1.93,037 NASCAR Nationwide Series:
NBA Western Conference First Round:
Grizzlies-Spurs: Game One4/17TNT1:09-4:05pm2.02,836
NBA: Bulls-Knicks4/12TNT8:16-10:48pm1.82,771 NBA: Spurs-Lakers4/12TNT10:48pm-1:22am1.72,623
CUP FEVER: Root Sports averaged a 16.5 local rating in Pittsburgh for Monday's Penguins-Lightning Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game Three. The rating was "neither a top 10 all time for a playoff broadcast or among the three highest Round 1 games," but it "nearly doubled the average for regular-season Penguins broadcasts" (PITTSBURGHLIVE.com, 4/20)....NESN averaged a 10.7 local rating in Boston for Monday's Bruins-Canadiens Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game Three, marking the net's highest-rated Bruins playoff game that was not a Game Seven (NESN)....Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic earned "peak TV ratings of 9.16 in the D.C. market and 4.97 in the Baltimore market during overtime" of the Capitals' double-OT win over the Rangers in Wednesday's Game Four of their series, "meaning about 273,000 homes in [the] area were tuned in." Three of the net's "highest-rated Caps games already have happened during this series, which will almost certainly be the best-rated Caps playoff series in CSN history" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/20)....FS Arizona averaged a 2.5 local rating and 45,065 HHs in Phoenix for Wednesday's series-clinching Red Wings-Coyotes Western Conference Quarterfinals Game Four, marking the net's highest-rated Coyotes telecast of the season (FS Arizona).
JUST FOR KICKS: ESPN2 averaged a 2.8 local rating in Portland for last Thursday's MLS Fire-Timbers broadcast, the highest local rating the broadcast earned in the U.S. The game averaged a 0.3 local rating in Chicago and a 0.2 U.S. rating, which was "on par with ESPN2's broadcast of a Philadelphia-Toronto MLS game that aired on the corresponding Thursday last year" (OREGONLIVE.com, 4/19)....ESPN Deportes earned a 9.4 Hispanic household coverage rating, 483,000 Hispanic HHs and 524,000 Hispanic male viewers 18+ for last Saturday's FC Barcelona-Real Madrid match. The game was the second-most-watched-telecast ever on the net, behind a November '09 matchup between the two teams that earned 512,000 Hispanic HHs (ESPN Deportes).