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ESPN earned a 2.6 overnight Nielsen ratings for yesterday's U.S.-France FIFA Women's World Cup semifinal from 11:30am-2:15pm ET. The overnight matches the figure for the U.S.-Brazil quarterfinal this past Sunday afternoon (THE DAILY). Poynter Institute Ethics Group Leader Kelly McBride noted the U.S.-Brazil quarterfinal game last Sunday "generated a lot of buzz," and ESPN was "in place to capitalize on the thrilling match, thanks to heavy lifting done weeks, months and even years before this week’s final games." Ratings for this year's event "are skyrocketing, compared to the women’s World Cup four years ago." The 3.89 million viewers that tuned in for Sunday's U.S. victory gave ESPN its "largest American sporting audience all weekend, beating out ESPN's 'Sunday Night Baseball' by a full rating point." In addition, the Women's World Cup home page on ESPN.com "has generated nearly 1.5 million views, and espnW set a record for traffic Monday." The numbers are "predictably much smaller" than last year's men's World Cup, so McBride asks, "Why invest the resources for a smaller audience?" ESPN Exec VP/Production Norby Williamson said that it has "nothing to do with equality." It is "about potential new markets." McBride added, "It’s great to see women getting the same level of coverage as men. Sure, there’s a long way to go before women athletes have the same opportunities. But getting the same coverage for the same reason -- because there’s money to be made -- is true progress" (ESPN.com, 7/13). Newsday's Neil Best wrote on Twitter, "Props to ESPN for huge time and money commitment to women's World Cup, which Team USA has validated" (TWITTER.com, 7/13).
TAKING A NATION BY STORM: CBSSPORTS.com' Mike Freeman noted social media is making the U.S. women's team "one of the most popular phenomenons in the country right now." What the '99 World Cup-winning U.S. team "did was more impressive but this title run by the women will be more watched." Freeman: "This is simply an incredible mix of a great physical accomplishment, national pride and the Facebook generation. By the time the women are done, and if they win a championship, they might be the most Tweeted and Facebook'd non-NFL champion we've seen" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/13). NBC News’ Anne Thompson reported the U.S. team is “using the burden of high expectations to sell Nike and themselves.” The team is “creating a new generation of fans, and they are a social media phenomenon, building their fan base on Twitter and Facebook, attracting not just girls and women but some of America's best-known male athletes,” including Heat F LeBron James and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (“Nightly News,” NBC, 7/13).
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING? In N.Y., Alessandra Stanley notes the U.S. is "suddenly transfixed by a sport that plenty of Americans still consider foreign and even a little suspicious." Both the U.S. and France yesterday "were gracious not just after the match but in the middle of it," and "even ESPN’s efforts to oversell American patriotism didn’t ruin the good feeling." Stanley writes ESPN "opened its coverage on Wednesday with a nauseating ode to the 'American spirit,' one of those corny, morning-again-in-America spots with music, waving flags and slow motion" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/14). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey writes under the header, "World Cup Overkill Won't Change Fact That Many Americans Don't Care." ESPN has been "ramming the Women's World Cup down our throats." Soon after the U.S. beat Brazil on Sunday, ESPN "was lecturing us on What This Game Meant." Morrissey: "We shouldn’t have been surprised to learn from the Worldwide Leader that It Meant Everything because ... it’s our moral obligation to love soccer the way the rest of the world does. If we don’t, we’re isolationist goobers. The overkill was almost enough to make you gag and turn against anything having to do with this team" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 7/14).
Turner Sports announced today a multiyear agreement with recently retired NBAer Shaquille O’Neal to serve as an analyst across its portfolio of NBA assets. O’Neal beginning with the ‘11-12 NBA season will join TNT as a full-time analyst on the network’s "Inside the NBA" studio show, alongside Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley. In addition, he will be a part of the network’s NBA All-Star Weekend and NBA Playoffs coverage. The agreement also includes a development deal with Turner’s entertainment and animation networks (Turner). SI.com’s Richard Deitsch notes O’Neal “replaces Chris Webber as the fourth member of the studio.” O'Neal is an “outgoing, charming figure but not nearly as candid or open as Barkley was as a player,” and the "jury is still out on whether those skills will translate to a star analyst.” However, what makes TNT a “potentially good fit for O’Neal is ‘Inside the NBA’ already has a natural flow, and longtime stars in Barkley and Smith.” Deitsch: “O’Neal will not have to be the dominant figure on set; he just needs to be interesting” (SI.com, 7/14). In Boston, Chad Finn writes, “The chemistry on the program between Johnson, Smith, and Barkley has made the five-time Emmy-winning program arguably the best sports studio show on television. O'Neal outsized personality may change the dynamic somewhat, but the interaction between the charismatic O'Neal and the outrageous and hilarious Barkley should make for compelling television” (BOSTON.com, 7/14). Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Don Walker wrote on his Twitter account, “Shaq is joining Turner Sports. With Charles in Charge also in the studio, will this be comedy or basketball? Or both?” CSN Bay Area’s Ray Ratto: “My God, they ruined the show already" (TWITTER.com, 7/14).
One “key hurdle” for Sony Pictures and its marketing team heading into the Sept. 23 theatrical release of “Moneyball” is that the film's “core story -- centering on how baseball player value is analyzed -- might be too ‘inside baseball’ for some” audiences, according to Dave McNary of DAILY VARIETY. Sports movies are “historically a tough sell -- particularly overseas, even if they succeed domestically.” McNary noted where Michael Lewis’ book that the film is based on was “able to dive into the numbers” that make up the central theme, the filmmakers “have to deliver more story than stats.” Sony “will be looking to attract fans beyond those in fantasy baseball leagues who don't know OPS from the USPS.” The film's creative bench “reteams a trio of heavy hitters” -- producers Scott Rudin and Michael De Luca, and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin -- behind last year's "The Social Network." But it is “an open question as to whether Sony and the filmmakers can duplicate the success” of the Oscar-winning film. Sony recently released the first trailer for "Moneyball," and the “stars are making some early promotional forays on behalf of the film, but with a release date less than two and a half months away, the studio is keeping a low profile.” Still, audiences are “starting to get glimpses of how” the film and MLB are “aiming to drive interest in one another.” Brad Pitt, who stars as main character A’s GM Billy Beane, “lent his voice to narrate an opening bit” of Tuesday's All-Star Game that “honored baseball greats of the past and present.” Also, actor Chris Pratt, who portrays player Scott Hatteberg, “appeared in a celebrity softball game Sunday as a run-up to the All-Star matchup” (VARIETY.com, 7/13).
IS THE ENDING HOLLYWOOD ENOUGH? In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel asked if Hollywood will be "satisfied with" the true ending of the A's' seasons under the "Moneyball" concept. The team made the playoffs four straight years from '00-03, but "never won a series." It was not until '06 when the A's "defeated the Twins in the divisional round did Oakland win a playoff series under Beane's Moneyball" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 7/12).
The premiere episode of Showtime’s "The Franchise: A Season with the San Francisco Giants" aired last night, and for a series “promising viewers unprecedented access to a baseball team, the first installment came off a little puffy,” according to Scott Ostler of the S.F. CHRONICLE. The episode “wasn't deep, there were no shocks or surprises, but maybe that's going to be part of the charm of the series.” For Giants fans, it had to be "excellent watching, glimpses of the team you won't get anywhere else.” However, for the “rest of the baseball world, it will be interesting to see if the series reinforces the image of the Giants as zany, offbeat guys having fun playing a game, or causes folks in New York and Philadelphia to roll their eyes and switch the channel.” The “guy who jumps out” is P Brian Wilson, “because everyone else seems kind of normal and real.” The show made it “hard for a Giants fan not to hang on every Wilson scene.” Ostler writes one of the highlights of the show was the scene where Giants manager Bruce Bochy "tells Brandon Belt he has made the big-league team." Ostler: "Belt gets emotional and Bochy, not wanting to send the kid back to the clubhouse in tears, says, ‘You can hang with me for a while. Need a beer?’" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 7/14). In S.F., Eric Freeman writes the episode "sticks to baseball," and the results "are mixed, especially for Giants fans, with forward momentum occasionally being impeded by the need to explain events and developments for more casual viewers." However, there is a "lot to recommend about 'The Franchise' and plenty of reasons to hope for the future." The behind-the-scenes footage "is likely fascinating to anyone," and viewers "get a sense of the access Showtime has early in the hour, when Andres Torres has conversations about going on the DL ... in the second week of the season." Freeman: "While the episode may not have been fantastic, Showtime gets enough small moments right that I'm hopeful future episodes will focus less on the broad strokes and more on the details" (SFWEEKLY.com, 7/14).
INSIDE THE EPISODE: Last night's show depicted the early part of the Giants' season, including the aftermath of the near-death beating Giants fan Bryan Stow suffered following the season opener at Dodger Stadium. Days after the attack, the teams played at AT&T Park. Giants P Jeremy Affeldt said, “The team came up to me and asked if I would address the crowd on fan violence. So I said, ‘I appreciate the opportunity to do it,’ I just wanted to do it in a positive way.” During every homestand, the "key members of the Giants brain trust,” including Managing Partner & CEO Bill Neukom, President & COO Larry Baer and Senior VP & GM Brian Sabean, “gather to assess the franchise’s direction.” Sabean said, “We’re winning at home, we’re .500 at on the road and we’re doing damage in the division. And as undermanned as we are, we’re doing the things you have to check off to have a winning season and get to the playoffs" (“The Franchise,” Showtime, 7/13).
LOOKING THROUGH ORANGE-COLORED GLASSES: HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Tim Goodman, an admitted Giants fan, reviewed the show and wrote, "I certainly liked all of what I've seen so far." He admits if the show was focusing on the Dodgers he would not watch and writes, "I hope for Showtime's sake that other people are less rigid in their loyalty. That other potential viewers don't have my closed mind." Goodman: "If the rest of the country wants to follow the team via this Showtime series, please do. I see the early kinks in the structure of the show but I'm otherwise blinded by bias here" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 7/13).
The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin reported the NHL Jets are "about two weeks away from announcing their regional broadcast package," and Rogers Sportsnet and TSN "are both still in the picture." TSN likely will "need to create a back-channel for the Jets as it did for the Montreal Canadiens regional English broadcasts." Sportsnet could "fit some games into the West channel, but would need a secondary channel for the rest of the inventory." NHL sources said that Winnipeg’s protected territory will include parts of "northern Ontario and Saskatchewan as well as Manitoba" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 7/13).
OFF TO A GOOD START: BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall Tuesday said that ESPN "has been instrumental in setting up intriguing matchups" as the team prepares for its first season as an independent program. Mendenhall: "The power of ESPN has absolutely amazed me to this point, of what teams will do to get on ESPN." ESPN VP/Programming & Acquisition Dave Brown said that BYU's "first five games this season will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2, while all but the Idaho State game on Oct. 22 (which will be televised by BYUtv), will be on the ESPN networks." He added that eight BYU games "are already scheduled to be televised next season" (DESERET NEWS, 7/13).
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU: In Portland, Kerry Eggers reported former Trail Blazers G Dan Dickau, "putting in some broadcasting work these days" for KXL-AM, is "in a peculiar spot." Dickau "hasn’t yet filed official retirement papers with the NBA, so he is technically still a player." Eggers wonders, "If Dickau were to attempt to interview a Blazer employee, would the league prohibit it? Would he be allowed on the premises of the Blazer practice facility or the Rose Garden complex?" (PORTLAND TRIBUNE, 7/12).
THE BRITISH IS STAYING! TSN has signed a new deal with the R&A for the "exclusive Canadian broadcast rights to the British Open tournament through 2017." The renewal "includes the French-language TV rights for the RDS cable sports channel, and streaming rights for The Open Championship on TSN.ca" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 7/13).