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ESPN earned a 5.5 overnight Nielsen rating for last night's series-clinching Mavericks-Thunder NBA Western Conference Finals Game Five, flat compared to the comparable Celtics-Magic Game Five last year. The game earned a 20.6 local rating in Dallas-Ft. Worth, marking ESPN's best NBA rating ever in the market. The game also earned a 20.3 local rating in Oklahoma City (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). In Oklahoma City, Mel Bracht reported ESPN averaged a 27.0 local rating in Oklahoma City for Monday's Mavericks-Thunder Game Four, a franchise record rating. The mark "shattered" the previous record of a 25.1 for Game One of the series on May 17. Game Four also averaged an 11.5 local rating in Tulsa, setting a new record for the Thunder in that market (DAILY OKLAHOMAN, 5/25).
PERFECT RECIPE: TNT earned a 6.1 U.S. rating and 9.8 million viewers for Tuesday night's Heat-Bulls Eastern Conference Finals Game Four, up 24.5% and 27.9%, respectively, from a 4.9 rating and 7.6 million viewers for the comparable Lakers-Suns Western Conference Finals Game Four last year. Through four games of the Eastern Conference Finals, TNT is averaging a 6.2 rating and 10.4 million viewers, up 32% and 38%, respectively, from the first four games of the Lakers-Suns series last year (Karp). In N.Y., Michael Starr notes TNT's viewership for Heat-Bulls is "nearly 50 percent more than the first four games of last year's conference finals (Celtics-Magic), which averaged 7 million viewers on ABC and ESPN." The "big numbers are being driven by the big story in the NBA playoffs this year" -- Heat F LeBron James against Bulls G Derrick Rose. But the games also "have all been close," and Tuesday's Game Four "even went into overtime." Starr notes there is "talk" that the Heat-Bulls series "could draw more viewers than the championship series, which will start next on ABC" (N.Y. POST, 5/26).
SAY WHAT? In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel writes it is "hard not to like" ESPN studio analyst and Basketball HOFer Magic Johnson, but adds, "For the love of the English language, he really needs to stop talking." Engel: "Magic Johnson often makes Emmitt Smith sound like an English teacher. ... Does Charles Barkley butcher the English language on the same level as Magic? Yes. But at least he does it with a smile, a wink and laughs at himself" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 5/26).
The Big East Conference this week "turned down an offer" from ESPN that "would have paid Big East schools in the neighborhood of" $11M each, according to sources cited by Mark Blaudschun of the BOSTON GLOBE. ESPN told the Big East that the new TV rights proposal "was its best offer, considering that marquee schools such as Penn State, Maryland, Notre Dame, and Boston College were not coming through the door as the No. 10 team in football." The net was "content to take a chance" on the additions of TCU and "perhaps Central Florida with a fair-market offer." Big East Commissioner John Marinatto conceded that he is "taking a gamble, but he may have a hole card if NBC/Comcast and Fox come in and elevate the offer in the fall of 2012." However, Blaudschun notes "less money might be on the table when the Big East does get around to finalizing its television contract" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/26). CBSSPORTS.com's Brett McMurphy noted the Big East "has until September 2012 to determine its football membership because that's when ESPN's 60-day exclusive media rights renegotiating window with the league begins." There have been numerous football programs mentioned as expansion targets, "including Villanova, Central Florida, East Carolina and Houston." However, college industry sources said that the Big East is "also considering the possibility of pursuing Army and Navy as football members to get to 12 teams." The Big East "would be attracted to Army and Navy because of their national appeal and also because the schools could join as football-only members" (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/25).
NET GAIN: Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott noted there has been a "focus on the money that we've generated from our ESPN/Fox contract," but said from his perspective the "longer-term benefit from fans is not just going to be the national exposure we get." Scott: "It's going to be what we are able to do with launching our own network." He added, "What our Pac-12 network is going to allow us to do is make sure that every football game and every basketball game will be on air. ... We're going to have a home for Pac-12 sports" ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 5/24).
Fox Sports Media Group co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said that the network's Olympic coverage "would depart the traditional Olympic TV formula" if Fox wins the bidding for the '14 Sochi and '16 Rio de Janeiro Games next month. Shanks said, "We plan on doing everything live. It just makes sense." USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand noted Shanks is the first Fox official to say that the net would "depart from NBC's formula of holding the best Olympic action on tape for primetime shows." Fox would "still have packaged primetime shows that feature storytelling and features" (USATODAY.com, 5/25).
CANADA DRY: ADWEEK's Anthony Crupi wrote the Canucks' advancement to the Stanley Cup Final "could prove to have a chilling effect on NBC's ratings." The net is "almost certain to take a hit" because the Vancouver market is "not included in the Nielsen TV ratings sample." The Senators were the last Canadian team to play in the Cup Final, in '07, and that year's Ducks-Senators series "drew the lowest ratings in history, averaging just 1.76 million viewers over a span of five games." Tomorrow's Lightning-Bruins Eastern Conference Finals Game Seven will determine who plays the Canucks, and Crupi wrote a Bruins win "could help defray the loss of those Western Conference households." Crupi: "The Hub is hockey mad" (ADWEEK.com, 5/25).
GIVE ME LIBERTY.... In Memphis, Ron Higgins reports the Dec. 31 AutoZone Liberty Bowl "will be televised on ABC instead of ESPN." The game "will be one of just five bowls out of the 35 postseason games not televised by ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU." AutoZone Liberty Bowl Exec Dir Steve Ehrhart "gave much credit for the bowl and ABC getting together to" AutoZone Senior VP/Marketing Lisa Kranc (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 5/26).
FACES IN THE CROWD: MLBAM has struck a partnership with JibJab Media Inc., which has built renown in recent years for allowing Internet users to insert photos of themselves or others into humorous animated videos. The two entities will collaborate on a new effort within Jib Jab's "Starring You" platform in which fans will be able to place photos into videos of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." Those videos will then be embeddable into Facebook, Twitter, e-mail or personal blogs. The program will be accessible from MLB.com, the 30 individual club sites and JibJab.com (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).