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The Pac-10 Conference has agreed to a massive media rights deal with ESPN and Fox that is worth $3B over 12 years, according to multiple sources. A formal announcement will come tomorrow. The deal, which averages out to $250M per year, includes football, basketball and Olympic sports rights and quadruples the conference's current deals with ESPN and Fox. The conference is holding some rights back that it plans to use for a dedicated channel. The deal is a blow to Comcast/NBC, which was vying to pick up the rights for Versus. Comcast/NBC still is in play to operate a conference channel, but sources said it has told the conference that it is unwilling to actually own such a channel. As part of its deal, ESPN is picking up football and basketball rights, plus rights to a package of Olympic sports. ESPN has committed to carrying an unknown number of football games in primetime on ABC. Fox picked up football and basketball rights. It will carry football games on its Fox broadcast channel in primetime and on FX. It will carry basketball games on FSN. ESPN and Fox will rotate coverage of the Pac-10's basketball tournament and football championship game. The conference becomes the Pac-12 on July 1 when Colorado and Utah enter the conference (Ourand & Smith, SportsBusiness Journal). In San Jose, Jon Wilner reports by splitting the rights between ESPN and Fox, the conference "has more outlets for getting its football and basketball games on TV" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 5/3).
CONFERENCE NETWORK COMING AS WELL: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reports the Pac-10 “will start its own network on cable television in 2012,” but the big difference between it and the Big Ten Network is that the Pac-10 “will retain full ownership of its network.” Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said, “We didn’t feel we had to give equity to get the broadcast and cable packages we got.” Sandomir reports the network “will carry at least 350 sports events.” The Pac-10 also is “creating a digital channel, like ESPN3, to carry at least 500 events annually, and a properties division to handle sponsorships.” Meanwhile, Scott said that “the timing” of the Pac-10’s deals with ESPN and Fox helped the conference. Sandomir notes the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and ACC “have all wrapped up contracts in recent years.” That left the Pac-10 looking at ESPN; Fox, “which has elevated its ardor for college sports after losing its BCS bowl rights to ESPN; and Comcast, which was looking to raise the profile of its Versus channel” (NYTIMES.com, 5/3).
Conference USA attorney Orin Snyder has “asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit ESPN filed against the league over its new television contract” with Fox, according to Iliana Limon of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. ESPN in the lawsuit alleges that “it reached a contract extension agreement with Conference USA via e-mail, but the league later decided to pursue a new deal with Fox Sports Media Group.” ESPN also alleges that C-USA “never gave the network a final offer to consider before beginning negotiations with Fox, a right ESPN contends was part of the previous contract.” ESPN “asked the court to enforce terms of a $22-million, five-year agreement it contends it reached with Conference USA, voiding the $43-million, five-year contract agreement the league reached with Fox Sports Media Group in January.” Snyder said, "Unfortunately, ESPN appears to be using this lawsuit to send a message to the marketplace. The lawsuit is without any merit, and we are confident that it will be dismissed." C-USA last week issued a response to ESPN’s complaint, claiming that Commissioner Britton Banowsky and ESPN Senior VP/College Sports Programming Burke Magnus “agreed to select terms for a potential extension.” But the conference “argues Banowsky and Magnus agreed in June they needed ‘to negotiate and execute a long-form agreement before being contractually bound.’" C-USA's original contract with ESPN from July ‘05 through June ‘11 “states the network is eligible for the right to an extension or renewal if it only changes the amount of money paid to the conference.” The conference argues that ESPN “was the first to introduce changes during the contract negotiations, voiding its right to refuse a final offer from the conference before it began negotiating with other parties” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/3).
The first round of the NBA Playoffs saw big gains across each of the league's TV partners this year. ABC finished with a 3.5 rating and 5.6 million viewers for its four games during the first round, marking the net's highest-rated and most-viewed NBA opening-round coverage since a 4.0 rating and 5.795 million viewers for two games in '04. This year's figures are also up 25% and 31%, respectively, from five games last year. TNT's 23 games averaged a 2.7 U.S. rating and 4.2 million viewers, marking the highest-rated and most-viewed first round ever on cable. The net also delivered double-digit growth across all key adult and male demos, as well as among affluent homes. ESPN's eight games averaged a 2.3 U.S. rating and 3.7 million viewers, up 15% and 20.3%, respectively, from nine games last year (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes "brand-name NBA teams" like the Celtics, Lakers and Heat "can deliver big audiences." However, a "doomsday scenario" like a Grizzlies-Hawks Finals may not be a "disaster," as Sunday's Grizzlies-Thunder Western Conference Semifinal Game One drew a "respectable" 4.1 overnight rating. That mark is "up 52% from a Milwaukee Bucks-Atlanta game last year" (USA TODAY, 5/3).'11 NBA PLAYOFFS: FIRST ROUND RATINGS, VIEWERSHIPNETGMSRAT.% +/-VIEWERS (000)% +/-'10 GMSABC43.525.0%5,64031.0%5TNT232.728.6%4,17931.7%23ESPN82.315.0%3,66720.3%9NBA TV70.3n/a520n/an/a
JUMPING OUT OF THE GATE: NBA Commissioner David Stern yesterday said of the first-round viewership figures, "We actually couldn't be more pleased. We're actually a little surprised, but pleasantly." He added, "I know it isn't league management that's responsible. I'm pretty sure it's the compelling stories the players have been delivering on the court." The AP's Rachel Cohen noted the "big jump came on top of already-strong ratings" for the regular season (AP, 5/2). In Denver, Dusty Saunders noted the NBA "could produce its highest TV ratings in recent history." Saunders: "This could be a vintage NBA season. ... You don't need a Ph.D. in Nielsen mathematics to understand playoff growth. Numerous first-round games were nail-biters" (DENVER POST, 5/2). YAHOO SPORTS' Kelly Dwyer wrote this was "easily the most competitive opening round of the playoffs since the NBA went to this format in 1984, and fans tuned in as a result." Also, "consider this a reflection of Turner's work with the NBA." Dwyer: "Other national broadcast units have come and gone over the last 25 years, but TNT has long been the go-to source for how to broadcast an NBA game, and viewers are tuning in by the millions to acknowledge that" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/2).
GOING DIGITAL: NBA Digital across its online and mobile platforms saw record-setting traffic during the first round. NBA.com saw more than 200 million videos viewed (+101%), over 7 million average daily unique visitors (+68%) and more than 600 million page views (+29%), according to league internal data and Omniture. The NBA Mobile GameTime app also had 360,000 downloads according to data across Apple, Google and Research In Motion. Additionally, the NBA section of ESPN.com logged more than 151.8 million page views (+51%) compared to last year. Total minutes in the NBA section were also up 35% while daily unique visitors were up 20%. The NBA section on ESPN Mobile logged 92.3 million page views, up 62%. ESPN3.com also generated 32.6 million minutes consumed, up 177% (Karp).
NBC's coverage of the ‘10 Vancouver Games was the big winner at last night's Sports Emmy awards in N.Y. The event picked up five awards out of 12 nominations, and helped NBC and its properties win nine awards -- the most of any TV company for the night. The event won Emmys for best open/tease, best technical team studio and graphic design. ESPN's coverage of the FIFA World Cup also had 12 nominations, but won only three awards, including best live sports special. The World Cup's three Emmy wins equaled the haul taken in by CBS' coverage of Super Bowl XLIV, NBC's "Sunday Night Football" and HBO's "Hard Knocks." ESPN's "College GameDay" was the only other repeat winner, winning statues for best weekly studio show and best studio analyst (Kirk Herbstreit). The feel-good moment of the night was when NBC's NHL play-by-play Mike Emrick won his first Emmy. NBC's talent won three of the four available Emmys, including Cris Collinsworth as best sports event analyst and Bob Costas as best studio host. Costas' win also was based on his work with MLB Network. NBC's Al Michaels also was feted with the Lifetime Achievement award. ESPN's acclaimed “30 for 30” documentary series was shut out, with HBO's "Lombardi" winning best sports documentary. "Lombardi" beat out ESPN documentaries "The Two Escobars," "June 17, 1994" and "Robben Island: A Greater Goal." ESPN and HBO tied for second on the night, with seven Emmys each. CBS had six and Fox had three. Turner was nominated for seven awards and did not win any. Versus was nominated for one award and did not win.
SABOL NOT PRESENT, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Several award winners referenced NFL Films President Steve Sabol, who last month was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was not in attendance. NFL Films took away its biggest haul since ‘97, winning five Emmys, including three for "Hard Knocks," one for "Lombardi" and one for NFL Network's "Sound FX." ESPN Graphic Designer John Brenkus was the only winner to reference the death of Osama bin Laden, asking the crowd of TV execs for a round of applause "for bagging the bastard." Brenkus was accepting the best graphic design award for "Sport Science."
ESPN did its "journalistic duty late Sunday, slowly, carefully and with a minimum of emotional flourish informing viewers during the Mets-Phillies game that Osama bin Laden was dead," according to Neil Best of NEWSDAY. ESPN play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman "shared the news after the bottom of the eighth inning, with the score tied at 1, after a text message that analyst Bobby Valentine had shown him was confirmed" by ABC News. ESPN VP/Production Mike McQuade said, "We were reacting to the news in front of us. So we were cautious. But we weren't going to avoid the story, either." Best notes it was not until Valentine "noted the chants of 'U-S-A' that the announcers focused on the larger implications," but "even then, their approach was low-key." ESPN's handling of the news was a "just-the-facts approach, a far cry from the emotional delivery of Howard Cosell under similar circumstances in 1980," when he told "Monday Night Football" viewers about John Lennon's death (NEWSDAY, 5/3).
BREAKING THE NEWS: Shulman said after learning of bin Laden's death from Valentine's text, "I talked to the producer in the truck and asked if they knew what was going on. Or maybe they asked me. I couldn't just say something on-air because of a text, I needed corroboration. It all happened in about 30 seconds" (USATODAY.com, 5/2). Shulman added, "What happened Sunday night is not in the play-by-play handbook. I'm talking to guys in the truck, finding out what they knew, whether they wanted me to say something. I'd talk to them for three, four seconds, come back, call a pitch, come back, call a pitch. I couldn't have imagined having this situation and in my mind. I was very conscious of not wanting to say the wrong thing" (L.A. TIMES, 5/3). Valentine revealed that when McQuade and fellow ESPN Producer Tom Archer "initially went to him, he declined" to address bin Laden's death live during the broadcast because he "was not prepared emotionally to talk about it." Valentine: "When I heard it was confirmed, I got choked up. Tom Archer asked me how I was doing to get on and I didn't think I would be presentable." NEWSDAY's Best notes Valentine is "closely associated with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when he was manager of the Mets and slept at Shea Stadium for several days helping with relief efforts." Valentine said that ESPN staffers "in the production truck told him he didn't look quite ready to go on camera," even after the 14th inning (NEWSDAY, 5/3).
TRYING TO FIND THE RIGHT BALANCE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay notes Mets radio announcer Howie Rose "felt comfortable enough to go on the air with the news during the top of the ninth inning." Rose, working with partner Wayne Hagin, "didn't want to say anything on-air until they knew for sure." After announcing a strike call on air, Rose said, "This is becoming an almost surreal evening." Gay notes the "juxtaposition was bizarre." Rose recalls, "We had two wildly unrelated scenarios" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/3).
The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Russell Adams reported SI subscribers beginning yesterday were able to access iPad editions of the magazine through an app "which will be able to authenticate them as subscribers." Time Inc.'s People magazine "already had such an arrangement, but readers of most publications have had to pay separately for the iPad version regardless of their subscriber status." Time Inc. and "other major publishers have yet to agree with Apple on terms for selling subscriptions to their iPad editions, the next step beyond making them available to print subscribers." Talks are "hung up on Apple's resistance to sharing information with publishers about their iPad customers, which publishers say is critical to applying the 'TV everywhere' model to magazines" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/2).
FAMILIAR SITUATION: YAHOO SPORTS' Sean Leahy reported NBC's telecast of Lightning-Capitals Eastern Conference Semifinal Game Five Saturday "will once again be moved over to Versus should it run past the start time of pre-race coverage for the Kentucky Derby." The hockey game begins at 12:30pm ET, and the Derby coverage is "scheduled to begin on NBC" at 4:00 (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/2).
COSTLY PROGRAM: In London, Jonathan Sibun reports EPL clubs Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur and Scottish club Celtic are "among a group of major football clubs to have lost millions of pounds following the collapse" of Cre8 Publishing, one of the U.K.'s "biggest printers of matchday magazines." Cre8 "was put into liquidation earlier this month, leaving football and rugby clubs among unsecured creditors owed more than" $3.3M (all figures U.S.). Arsenal is "among Cre8 Publishing's biggest unsecured creditors." Other clubs owed money include Celtic at $660,000, Scottish club Rangers at close to $820,000, EPL club West Ham United at $170,000 and Tottenham at $70,000 (London TELEGRAPH, 5/3).