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The new broadcast partnership between MLS and NBC provides the league with a "chance to grow its base," according to Paul Kennedy of SOCCER AMERICA. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that the league "was ready to return to English-language network television, from which it has been absent during the regular season" since '08. NBC Sports President of Programming Jon Miller said, "We won’t just be promoting Major League Soccer inside soccer games. We’ll be promoting Major League Soccer inside Notre Dame football games, the NHL, Indy Car, PGA Tour golf, obviously the Olympics next summer." Kennedy notes MLS offers "attractive demographics and what Miller termed 'blue chip' sponsors" for NBC and Versus, which will be renamed NBC Sports Network next year. Garber and Miller "go back together to Garber's days with the NFL," and the MLS commissioner indicated that the deal "came together quickly" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 8/11). Miller said one of things that "worked in our favor is that several of the owners” of MLS teams also own NFL and/or NHL teams. Miller: "Those owners have seen what we do when NBC Sports puts their marketing and promotional muscle behind something. We bring something so unique to the table that you can’t get anywhere else” (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 8/10).
NO KNOCK ON FOX SOCCER: NBC picks up the MLS package from Fox Soccer starting next season, and Garber said yesterday, "This was not a negative statement about Fox Soccer, it’s a positive statement about NBC Sports and its newly branded network. Fox has done a terrific job promoting [the] sport, and we hope to keep working with them." In N.Y., Jack Bell noted MLS' broadcast deals with NBC, ESPN and Univision all expire at the end of the '14 season. Garber said the timing was the "key thing" in the NBC deal. Asked if plans going forward could include an MLS network, Garber said, "It's too early to comment" (NYTIMES.com, 8/10).
CHANGING DIRECTIONS: In Tacoma, Don Ruiz writes the national profile of MLS "took a couple of steps forward" yesterday thanks to the NBC partnership. Sounders minority Owner & GM Adrian Hanauer said, "The league continues to gain momentum, to gain credibility. ... It’s exciting. (These networks are) in a lot more homes, which ultimately is good for us. I think Fox has been a very good partner … but with the infrastructure and the capacity to promote our league within the NBC family of networks, I think it will end up being a good thing" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 8/11). SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted while Fox Soccer "had carried MLS since 2003, the network's primary focus has always been on its heavy inventory of international soccer, particularly the English Premier League." That focus "clearly irked MLS officials." One of the "attractions of a move to NBC is the number of homes the network's properties can offer." Versus is in 76 million homes in August while Fox Soccer is in around 40 million. An NBC spokesperson said that "no announcers have been named for the new package and that such an announcement is likely months away" (SI.com, 8/10). In L.A., Joe Flint wrote the MLS/NBC partnership "is a blow to Fox Sports." Landing the MLS package is NBC Sports Group's "latest move in a push to compete more aggressively" with ESPN and Fox Sports. Flint noted the "next big fish that NBC Sports will try to land is the NFL's new eight-game package of Thursday night games" (LATIMES.com, 8/10). Meanwhile, DAILY VARIETY's Josh Chetwynd examined the state of soccer on TV in the U.S. under the header, "Can TV Soccer Kick Second-Class Status? Ratings Rise, Coverage Grows, But U.S. League Is Key" (DAILY VARIETY, 8/6).
WIN FOR MLS: Following yesterday's MLS-NBC announcement, DC United Senior VP/Marketing Communications Doug Hicks wrote on Twitter, "This is a big deal for our sport in this country. Congrats to all involved. ... I've long admired VS work with the NHL and am looking forward to working with them to showcase dcunited." Dynamo President Chris Canetti wrote, "MLS lands TV deal with NBC Sports. Another great sign of growth for our league and sport." IMG Consulting Senior VP Tim McGhee wrote, "MLS deal w/NBC Sports a win for both sides. Another major league property for NBC & potential for great exposure for league." The Boston Herald's Kyle McCarthy: "NBC Sports deal is a big step forward for MLS. The shift is probably a good fiscal move for FOX Soccer as well. ... MLS has done a nice job of setting up a possible rights battle between ESPN and NBC Sports in 2014. Ratings must grow to spark it, though." But Grande Sports World Marketing Manager Vedran Agovic wrote, “Love the move but NBC needs to broadcast more than two regular season MLS games. Por favor.”
ESPN treated last night's U.S.-Mexico men's soccer friendly "like a big game before it started," but subsequently "undermined everything by shunting the first 20 minutes of the game over to ESPNews so that a Little League World Series *qualifier* could finish on ESPN2," according to Grant Wahl of SI.com. ESPN may have "policies that call for such measures, but it sure came off as a statement that this game didn't mean much at all." The game coverage "was strange," particularly since it appeared ESPN "was sort of overhyping this friendly." The network's "SportsNation" crew was at Lincoln Financial Field prior to last night's game, and a "cavalry of a half-dozen ESPN broadcasters was also on-hand." With yesterday's announcement that NBC Sports has signed a deal to broadcast MLS and U.S. national team games, it will be "curious to see how the presence of NBC Sports impacts ESPN's soccer decisions" (SI.com, 8/11). BROADCASTING & CABLE's Ben Grossman writes ESPN had "mixed messages for soccer fans" yesterday. Leading into the game, ESPN "turned its ample promotional muscle to an exhibition match," but then elected to start it on ESPNews. Grossman: "What’s the point of playing up this game like it is so big, and then not even airing it from the start where it was scheduled to air?" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 8/11). ESPN Senior Dir of Communications Bill Hofheimer today wrote on Twitter, "Starting US-MEX on ESPNEWS was unfortunate circumstance but this is one of the challenges of back-to-back live events. ESPN almost always sticks w/ the live event until it ends. Soccer fans would want the same if a match ran long. Fans were alerted of sched change and match was still available in HD and on ESPN3. Otherwise, hope you liked ESPN’s unprecedented commitment to this friendly."
LONG DAY AT THE OFFICE: AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Ben Koo writes under the header, "Rough Day For ESPN Soccer." The network's soccer coverage "trudged through a very long day," first with the NBC announcement and later with its decision to move the start of last night's game. Then, during the second half of the game, ESPN missed the "majority of the setup work" on the U.S. goal because it was "showing replay of the previous attack." Koo writes, "The missed goal setup, the ESPN News kickoff, and NBC's foray into soccer all combine for a pretty rough day for a network that has had nothing but high marks over the last year or so broadcasting the world's most popular sport." ESPN already has its "soccer package and it's considered the top package, but the long term implications are a bit ominous" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 8/11).
THE TWITTER WORLD EXPLODES: ESPN's decision to stick with the LLWS game instead of shifting to U.S.-Mexico was met with plenty of Twitter criticism last night. Houston Dynamo President Chris Canetti wrote, "US-MEX start bumped off ESPN2 to ESPNews b/c Little League baseball running late. C'mon!! Should be other way around." The Schenectady Daily Gazette’s Ken Schott wrote, “Epic fail by ESPN. U.S.-Mexico soccer looks like it will start on ESPNEWS because of Little League Baseball. A Southeast Regional semifinal game is running late. Emphasis on semifinal.” AP’s John Krawczynski: “Soccer getting bumped on ESPN for Little League? Sounds about right.” Washington Post’s Steve Goff: “USA soc being preempted on ESPN2 by Little League REGIONALS. Bring back FSC!” Broadcasting & Cable’s Ben Grossman: “Shame on you ESPN. Awful.” The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre: “What an embarrassment for ESPN. I hope you guys have ESPNews.” Freelance journalist Kyle Stack: “Is Little League baseball that important to ESPN that it can't bump *that* to ESPNews so that USA/Mexico can be shown on ESPN2?” SI’s Richard Deitsch joked, “Seems Jurgen Klinsmann has magically transformed into a 12-year-old Little League pitcher...”
The July '11 rankings for the most-trafficked sports sites according to comScore shows little change at the top relative to recent months with Yahoo Sports again at No. 1, ESPN.com at No. 2 and FoxSports.com at No. 3. But MLB.com, in the sixth spot, saw its number of unique visitors balloon from 12.1 million in July '10 and less than 10 million in many other recent months to 17.4 million last month as a result of new beaconing technology developed by comScore. The technology essentially places a tag on each page on a particular publisher's site, allowing for easier tracking by the measurement agency to buttress other methodologies such as human panels. MLB.com first began active work with comScore on the beaconing back in the early spring, and the technology is used by all the other major sports sites. The recalibration for MLB.com, however, was particularly dramatic as its heavy amounts of game-driven daytime traffic had been greatly underrepresented by comScore panels that typically operate at night. MLBAM, which has been a frequent and vocal critic of third-party measurement data, sells advertising based on actual server data like most other sites, and it says those numbers remain higher than those published by comScore. But MLBAM execs credited comScore's efforts to publish better numbers, and said the new data will aid in gaining more business from ad buyers who use the third-party metrics. "ComScore has been focused on getting to the truth more than simply protecting their business model," said MLBAM President & CEO Bob Bowman. "It's definitely more accurate now, and it is helpful as it relates to our ad business, perhaps for the postseason, and certainly for next year."TOP SPORTS SITES FOR JULY '11 (RANKED BY UNIQUE VISITORS)
SITEUNIQUE VISITORS (000)TOTAL PAGES VIEWED (MM) Yahoo Sports48,0201,708 ESPN.com35,6462,138 FoxSports.com29,898820 Big Lead Sports18,443394 Turner-SI Digital*17,442513 MLB.com17,414679 NBCSports.com11,440243 NFL.com11,203278 CBSSports.com10,083316 USA Today sports9,182121
NOTE: * = Includes NBA.com, SI.com, NASCAR.com, PGATour.com, PGA.com, NCAA.com and WNBA.com
ESPN/ABC yesterday extended its deal with IndyCar, and in Indianapolis, Curt Cavin wrote it is "fair to say the ABC/ESPN deal was IndyCar’s best offer, and it was probably its best offer by far." Cavin: "I have talked to a half-dozen people so far on all sides of the aisle and not one has told me NBC was going to put races on network AND commit to paying the rights fee that ABC/ESPN has." However, he added NBC "sees IndyCar as a nice product for the soon-to-be-named NBC Sports Channel, and it sees opportunity for growth" (INDYSTAR.com, 8/10).
PLAYING FAVORITES? Univ. of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier Tuesday appeared on "The Dan Patrick Show" and said he was not sure whether the Univ. of Texas' Longhorn Network was a "fair deal or not" for other schools in the Big 12. When asked about a hypothetical Univ. of Alabama network, Spurrier said, "When Alabama had that ‘Hard Knocks,’ we weren’t all real happy with it. ... The week of the national championship game, ESPN kept playing that commercial, ‘Roll Tide, roll Tide, roll Tide.’ I even asked our commissioner, ‘How much did Alabama pay those guys to do that?’ He said, ‘They didn’t have to pay them anything.’ I said, ‘Well, what happened to ‘Go Gators’ or ‘Rocky Top’ or ‘Go Gamecocks.’ I didn’t think that was all that fair. But as we know, sometimes life isn’t all that fair. We just sort of complain a little bit and then move on” (“The Dan Patrick Show,” 8/9).
COACHES' CORNER: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir noted former NFL coach Bill Parcells is rejoining ESPN this season, and while he "has never been as interesting or quotable" as a studio analyst as he was on the sidelines, "he had the type of credentials that ESPN loves." Parcells won two Super Bowls as a head coach and amassed 172 NFL victories. Conversely, Sandomir noted new ESPN hire Eric Mangini's 33-47 record as an NFL coach, "combined with his blandness, inaccessibility and secrecy as a coach, do not suggest TV greatness" (NYTIMES.com, 8/10).
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY: GOLFWEEK's Martin Kaufmann notes CBS announcer David Feherty landed a "rare, perhaps unprecedented," interview with caddie Steve Williams after last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but Feherty's initiall 79-word question was too "convoluted." Kaufmann: "When in the name of Jimmy Roberts is CBS either going to coach up Feherty and Peter Kostis on interview techniques or hire someone who can ask a simple, concise question?" (GOLFWEEK, 8/12 issue).