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ESPN earned a 7.4 U.S. rating and 13.5 million viewers for the Japan-U.S. FIFA Women's World Cup Final on Sunday, marking the sixth most-viewed soccer telecasts ever in the U.S. The telecast also marks the highest-rated and most-viewed soccer telecast ever on ESPN, beating out last year's U.S.-Algeria men's World Cup match (6.2 million viewers), and also marks the second most-viewed daytime telecast ever on cable TV, behind only last year's TCU-Wisconsin Rose Bowl, which averaged 20.6 million viewers. Japan-U.S. also delivered 548,000 viewers on ESPN3.com, marking the broadband channel's best audience ever for a women's sporting event and eighth-best audience among all events (ESPN). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said, “You’re talking about the equivalent of major professional postseason ratings in our big sports over here" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/18).
MOST-VIEWED SOCCER MATCHES ALL-TIME IN THE U.S.DATEMATCHNETRATINGVIEWERS (000)7/10/99Women's World Cup Final: U.S.-ChinaABC11.417,9757/11/10World Cup Final: Spain-NetherlandsABC8.415,9056/26/10World Cup Round of 16: U.S.-GhanaABC8.515,1937/17/94World Cup Final: Brazil-ItalyABC9.514,5107/4/94World Cup Round of 16: Brazil-U.S.ABC9.313,6947/17/11Women's World Cup Final: Japan-U.S.ESPN7.413,4587/9/06World Cup Final: Italy-FranceABC7.011,961
FAIR AND BALANCED: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes it was “refreshing” during Japan-U.S. to hear ESPN announcers Ian Darke and Julie Foudy “play it nearly down the middle, offering praise for the Japanese players and providing personal tidbits about them, as if they were, well, American.” ESPN “did a better job of humanizing the players” than ABC did when it broadcast the ’99 U.S.-China final. However, Darke was “condescending, evoking stereotypes, when he called one player ‘the tricky little Maruyama.'” Meanwhile, there were “moments when one could sense Darke and Foudy were rooting for the United States,” but they were “not openly rooting.” The announcers “repeatedly chastised the United States team for its multiple failures to convert scoring opportunities, especially during the first half” (N.Y. TIMES, 7/19). On Long Island, Neil Best writes ESPN “deserves credit for its thorough coverage, and for keeping the American flag-waving to a relative minimum.” Foudy “did not hide that she was pulling for the United States," but she and Darke for the most part “struck a balance between objectivity and the understanding they were speaking to an American audience” (NEWSDAY, 7/19).
BACK TO REALITY: In DC, Deron Snyder notes the U.S. team’s “thrilling performance” during the tournament was a “big hit at home, generating huge TV ratings and saturation coverage in print, cyberspace and broadcast reports.” But “unfortunately for diehards, it won’t result in a dramatic reshuffling of our pro sports preferences.” Soccer “will still trail baseball, football, basketball and hockey, and women’s pro soccer will still struggle to be viable” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 7/19). In St. Louis, Brian Burwell writes the ratings "say as much about the patriotic habits of American sports fans as they say about their appetite for world-class soccer" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7/19). The AP’s Jim Litke writes under the header, “Soccer Boom? No. Big Step Forward? Maybe.” Traffic on social media during Japan-U.S. was “eye-popping, … generating at its peak more tweets-per-second than either Britain’s royal wedding or the announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s death.” The U.S. team also will be “on the late-night and early-morning TV circuit this week.” But Litke writes there is “no need to waste time wondering whether soccer will ever be as popular on these shores as the big three of football, baseball and basketball.” Litke: “It won’t, for the next decade at least” (AP, 7/19).
FINDING THEIR FOOTING: In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote one “undeniable truth” that has emerged is that “after sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into women’s sports and forcing the revenue-sucking Title IX down a nation’s throats … there is an audience for women’s sports.” Engel: “The women who play and coach these sports should not necessarily just be happy with the status quo, and they should all be proud they have been part of a multi-generational movement that has established a tiny piece of footing that previously was likely thought as impossible” (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 7/18). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said of the ratings Japan-U.S., “It’s amazing how women’s sports how far it’s come in this country" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/18).
In the latest entry for ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project, Poynter Institute Ethics Group Leader Kelly McBride wrote "nearly everyone involved" in the recent confusion surrounding college football reporter Bruce Feldman's standing at ESPN "bears some responsibility." ESPN, as it stressed in a statement Friday afternoon, "did not suspend Feldman" for his participation in former Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach's new book. Instead, ESPN managers asked Feldman last Thursday "to not publish anything online, or go on the air, for what turned out to be roughly 24 hours, while they figured things out." ESPN gave Feldman the "all-clear on Friday afternoon, but Feldman as of Monday morning had yet to tweet or make any public statements, even to explain why he's not saying anything." ESPN VP/Editorial, Digital & Print Media Rob King and ESPN The Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chad Millman said that "at this point, Feldman's silence is self-imposed." McBride noted Feldman's silence on Twitter when news broke of his alleged suspension "was all the confirmation most bloggers and tweeters needed." ESPN has "hundreds of people fully engaged in the virtual space and did nothing to immediately correct the inaccuracy." Still, it is "not surprising that communication is complicated" at a company as large as ESPN. In hindsight, McBride believes ESPN missed "two opportunities to make decisions" regarding Feldman's involvement with Leach's book. After Leach filed a lawsuit against ESPN in '10, Feldman's "involvement with the book became an impossible conflict." But he "failed to seek and the network failed to provide clear guidance." Feldman and the book publisher "changed Feldman's title from co-author to editor, moving his name off the jacket and onto the title page." McBride added, "That changed the appearance of a conflict but not necessarily the actual conflict. ... If ESPN had better guidelines on who can write as-told-to books, this whole thing could have been avoided" (ESPN.com, 7/18).
Univ. of Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione yesterday addressed the "progress being made" on the school's "24-hour, seven day a week network similar to that of the impending Longhorn Network," according to Anthony Slater of the DAILY OKLAHOMAN. Castiglione said, "We have had a great amount of interest in the prospects of a network here. We are interacting with a variety of different media companies and we know that we will have potentially a different model than the one that people keep hearing about in regards to the one at the University of Texas." Castiglione said OU must build a network "that is sustainable" for the school. Castiglione: "This isn't like you can just go out and buy a network. It isn't just a commodity. This is a very big undertaking. ... We are trying to position ourselves to be more available on all the emerging platforms the way the digital revolution is taking place, things we know about right now, as well as through things that from a technological standpoint can still be developed" (NEWSOK.com, 7/18).
TALKS CONTINUE: MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds reports ESPN has said that it is "gaining yardage as it pounds the distribution line" for Longhorn Network, "but has yet to reach affiliate paydirt." ESPN Exec VP/Affiliate Sales & Marketing David Preschlack: "We're talking to everybody, big and small. We're comfortable with where we are (some six weeks) before the Aug. 26 launch." Sources said that ESPN is "seeking a monthly sub fee of 40 cents for expanded basic carriage in Texas and adjoining states, and sports tier positioning in other markets." It is "akin to the model deployed by the Big Ten Network," which charges $0.70-0.75 cents "in the states within the conference footprint." Meanwhile, Preschlack said that the "Longhorn equivalent of Watch ESPN would be authenticated to the network's subs, with such content not part" of the main Watch ESPN app (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 7/18 issue).
MONITORING THE ENEMY: In Houston, Brent Zwerneman cites a source as saying that the Texas A&M regents meeting Thursday and Friday will include a "closed-door session concerning the Longhorn Network." The session "will be informational only," including talking points on the Univ. of Texas' "plans to air a Big 12 football game on the ESPN-owned network, and to potentially air high school games." The source added that "no action will be taken," as the regents "will simply be informed of the latest by lawyers concerning the deep-pocketed network" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/19).
SPORTING NEWS' Vinnie Iyer reports HBO is “optimistic” about carrying on with its documentary series "Hard Knocks" while “following the progress” in the NFL’s ongoing labor negotiations. HBO Sports VP/Sports Publicity & Media Relations Ray Stallone said, “We are monitoring developments and remain hopeful of presenting a new season of ‘Hard Knocks.’ Beyond that we are not going to speculate.” The Jets appeared on the series last year, but Iyer notes three of the NFL’s “up-and-coming teams, the Falcons, Lions and Buccaneers, declined to follow in the Jets’ footsteps” this year (SPORTING NEWS TODAY, 7/19).
VOICE OF A BIRD: In St. Louis, Dan Caesar reports MLB Cardinals analyst Al Hrabosky “is scheduled to remain in the Fox Sports Midwest booth for the Cards’ series that starts tonight in New York as he continues to recover from a procedure that left him without his normal voice strength and resonance.” Hrabosky underwent neck surgery “during the All-Star break, and his voice was noticeably weaker while calling the Cards’ series in Cincinnati over the weekend.” FS Midwest Media Relations Manager Geoff Goldman said Hrabosky "said the doctor told him it could affect his voice for a short time, but he should be back to normal soon” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7/19).
INVESTMENT POWER: In Raleigh, David Ranii reports North Carolina-based web-based software company PowerChalk “has raised its first funding from outside investors -- $1 million that it is using to boost sales and marketing and adding features to its product.” PowerChalk, founded by Chaz Henry, “allows a coach and player to upload and mark up videos of the player in action and compare them in slow motion to similar videos of a top professional.” The company “has been selling software subscriptions for about 18 months,” and to date has licensed its software to the Reds and Dodgers. It also has “been licensed to Little League Baseball” (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/19).
CHANGES IN THE METROPLEX: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reporter Anthony Andro has joined FoxSportsSouthwest.com where he will write columns and cover the MLB Rangers, college football and auto racing, among other local sports. Andro had covered motorsports and the Rangers for nearly 12 years at the Star-Telegram (FS Southwest). Meanwhile, Dallas Morning News columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor reportedly has been hired by ESPNDallas.com (DMAGAZINE.com, 7/14).