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ESPN earned an 8.8 overnight Nielsen rating for the Rams-Giants “MNF” telecast last night, down 17% from the comparable Saints-49ers game in Week Two last year. The net has now seen a ratings decline for all three of its “MNF” telecasts this season. In N.Y., last night’s game earned a 10.3 local rating on ESPN and a 4.9 rating on WWOR-IND. In St. Louis, the game earned a 12.4 local rating on ESPN and an 11.0 rating on KPLR-IND (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
FAST START: NBC earned a 14.3 final Nielsen rating and 23.4 million viewers for the Eagles-Falcons “SNF” game, up 3.6% and 1.4%, respectively, from a 13.8 rating and 23.1 million viewers for the Giants-Colts matchup in Week Two last year. Eagles-Falcons was the No. 1 primetime program for the week ending Sept. 18. The telecast also aired up against the Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox, which drew a 7.7 rating and 12.4 million viewers. NBC is now averaging a 15.2 rating and 25.4 million viewers through three NFL game telecasts, marking the most-viewed three-game audience figure since NBC reacquired NFL rights prior to the ’06 season and the best NFL three-game primetime average since ABC started with 25.5 million viewers for “MNF” in ’94 (THE DAILY).
NEED FOR SPEED: Eagles coach Andy Reid said that he did not challenge the ruling that Falcons CB Kelvin Hayden intercepted a pass thrown by Eagles QB Michael Vick during Sunday's game because his staff “didn’t get a second look at the play." Reid: “Well there was no replay for us to look at, and I actually had the people from the broadcast apologize, send me an email and apologize on that.” PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio reported NBC did generate “multiple replay angles,” but it was not until after the window for challenging that the net “detected an angle that would have triggered a reversal of play” had Reid thrown the red flag. During the process of checking replays, the Falcons “smartly hustled to get the ball snapped, so that no review could be conducted.” NBC "SNF" Producer Fred Gaudelli said that “40 seconds elapsed before" Falcons QB Matt Ryan got the next play started (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 9/19). Gaudelli said, “Our job is about getting it right. Personally, I was disappointed” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/20).
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: FOXSPORTS.com’s Jason Whitlock writes NBC "SNF" announcers Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels "went overboard with their criticism" of Falcons CB Dunta Robinson for a hit on Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin. Whitlock: "Yes, Robinson went helmet to chin/helmet on Maclin. Yes, Robinson deserves a fine under the new NFL guidelines. But it’s damn hard to unlearn years of ‘blow up’ football in just a year.” The transition to a “safer form of football is going to be rocky.” Whitlock adds, “Let’s cut the players a tiny bit of slack. … Don’t crucify them for a culture they didn’t create.” Whitlock: “My other beef with Collinsworth and Michaels is they didn’t rip Mike Smith for the kneel-down strategy at the end of the game that forced the Flacons to punt the ball to DeSean Jackson and survive a Hail Mary pass from the 50. … I hate it when 50-year-old broadcasters find it easier to rip 25-year-old players than 50-year-old coaches” (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/20).
ARE WE MISSING SOMETHING? In N.Y., Bob Raissman notes during CBS' coverage of Sunday's Jaguars-Jets game, there was “no visual evidence provided for anyone interested in seeing how" Jets WR Plaxico Burress was doing. CBS instituted a "Burress Blackout.” Raissman: “For whatever reason, Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf, who called the game, had little to say about Burress. He was hardly mentioned in the first half. If you hadn’t seen him on the TV screen, you wouldn't have even known he was in the game. The network’s excuse will be that Sanchez didn’t throw a pass Burress’ way until the fourth quarter.” But Raissman adds, "With all the interest Burress’ story has generated, CBS should have paid some attention to him. A few first-half replays of him being doubled would have sufficed” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/20). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Chase notes ESPN during last night's Rams-Giants game showed "zero replays" of Giants LB Michael Boley's touchdown celebration, during which he threw the football "directly at the head" of a guy standing on the sidelines. ESPN's announcers also did not "allude to this moment once during the broadcast” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/20).
FLYING COACH: The NFL Network's debut last Thursday of “A Football Life: Bill Belichick” was viewed by an average of 657,000 fans, making it the most-watched documentary in the eight-year history of the network. NFL Net's encore of the show at 10:00pm ET Thursday attracted 252,000 viewers. The show was the second-most watched program in the Boston market in the time period with an average of 151,000 viewers (NFL).
The NFL's decision to "hold off on awarding a new TV package for at least a year surprised TV network executives, who originally believed the league was one or two months away from cutting a deal," according to John Ourand in this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. One network exec said, "I was shocked. I really thought that would be the next deal that they would do." Up to four networks "were having informal talks with the NFL about a new Thursday night package of eight games during the first half of the season," though that package "was never officially on the market." The NFL "started the informal conversations to gauge interest in the package." Several network execs "were expecting talks to heat up as soon as the league finalized its 'Monday Night Football' extension with ESPN," but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "squashed that idea Sept. 8." Goodell: "It’s not likely that we would do it in the next year. We’re going to continue our discussions with our current partners and evaluate aspects of our new labor agreement as part of that. (We’re going to) make what we expect to be the best decision for our fans, for our 32 clubs and for our partners." Ourand notes that means the NFL "will renew its broadcast packages, which expire at the end of the 2013 season." A league source said that the "decision to wait a year before awarding the new eight-game package is partly a result of the NFL’s decision not to increase its schedule to 18 games." The "only way to carve out a new package with a 16-game schedule would be to take games away from CBS and Fox’s current packages, which could be problematic as the league goes back to those networks in renewal talks" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/19 issue).
Fox Sports VP/Communications Dan Bell acknowledged that newspaper headlines shown as part of piece that aired during the Sept. 11 Falcons-Bears game concerning the injury Bears QB Jay Cutler suffered during the NFL Championship Game "were fabrications,” according to Jim Romenesko of POYNTER.org. Bell said, “It was misleading.” The net during the game “flashed three newspaper headlines across the screen," and announcer Daryl Johnston "told viewers that ‘these are the actual headlines from the local papers in Chicago.’" However, the Chicago Tribune sports department "didn’t buy it and started an investigation.” The Fox graphics read, “Cutler Leaves With Injury,” “Cutler Lacks Courage,” and “Cutler’s No Leader.” The Tribune Sunday ran an article under the header: “Fox Sports: ‘Misleading.’” The article read, “The whole production rang false to us. The headlines didn’t look real. The language used in them was off. And since we know that most Chicago media had defended Cutler, we looked into it. We searched throughout Illinois newspapers for those headlines -- Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily Herald, every other paper in the state. What did we find? Nothing.” Bell said, “The wrong word was used. Our attempt was to capture the overall sentiment nationwide following that game” (POYNTER.org, 9/19).
EASY TARGET? WSCR-AM's Matt Spiegel noted Fox’ Joe Buck and Troy Aikman during Sunday's Saints-Bears game discussed Cutler displaying his frustrations on the sideline by standing off away from the bench and throwing a towel. Spiegel said, “I don’t even know that I blame Fox as much. This storyline has been created, it’s there, so they’re just doing the lazy TV. ... Joe Buck brings it up in kind of the ‘I’m not saying, I’m just saying’ way, where he doesn’t really lay into Jay, but he brings it up like, ‘Well, people have talked about it, what do you think?’ And Aikman had to defend him. Aikman at one point said, ‘That’s where I would be standing too, is down there, so I can actually watch the game, Joe.’ But Joe just kind of lays it up there, like maybe the fans will bite on that” ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 9/19).
The TSN Jets channel is "landing on Shaw cable television in time for Winnipeg's re-entry" into the NHL, according to Ted Wyman of the WINNIPEG SUN. Shaw Communications announced Friday that it reached "an agreement with Bell Media, which owns TSN, to run the Jets game channel in time for the team's first pre-season game" tonight against the Blue Jackets. The announcement "allays much of the fear among Winnipeg hockey fans, who had been concerned that TSN Jets would possibly not fly on their local cable providers in time for the new NHL season -- despite weeks of TSN advertisements for the channel and its more than 60 Jets games to be telecast by next spring." The channel will be "available for free as part of what the Calgary-based company calls a 'preview' until Dec. 1 on its standard and high-definition packages," and on Dec. 1, TSN Jets "will be provided to customers for $9.95 per month" (WINNIPEG SUN, 9/17). MTS announced Sunday that it also will carry TSN Jets and provide its customers with a free preview of the channel until Oct. 31. Beginning Oct. 3, MTS customers will be able to sign up for the '11-12 season telecasts for $9.95 per month (MTS).
ON THE AIR: The Sabres yesterday announced a multiyear extension of their broadcast agreement with Entercom that will keep WGR-AM as the Sabres' flagship station in the Buffalo radio market. The deal will allow WGR to continue simulcasting all Sabres games and serving as the home for weekly segments featuring the team's front office staff. WGR has carried Sabres games since '05, and will continue to use the broadcast team of Rick Jeanneret and Harry Neale (Sabres). Meanwhile, the Sabres' TV crew this season will add NHL Network "On The Fly" host Brian Duff as "the game-night host for the broadcasts without Rick Jeanneret" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 9/20).
The Big Ten Network and CBSSports.com's College Network yesterday announced a new partnership to create the Big Ten Digital Network, which will bring the official athletics websites for the Big Ten Conference, its member schools and BTN under one umbrella. The newly redesigned and launched BTN.com serves as the hub for the new Big Ten Digital Network. The Big Ten Digital Network will enable greater content sharing, particularly video, across all websites. BTN will gain additional ad inventory across all sites and will provide more than 500 exclusive non-televised events to the official athletics websites’ multimedia subscription services (BTN).
COVER TWO: The DAILY VARIETY’s Sam Thielman noted Velocity is partnering with the NFL on "NFL Single Coverage" and "Greatest NFL Rivalries," set to air tomorrow at 8:00pm and 8:30pm ET, respectively. The two shows are “produced by NFL Films in association with Intersport and the network.” "Single Coverage" will explore key NFL games in depth; "Rivalries" will follow teams and athletes “through the heat of competition.” The net “has ordered eight episodes of each” (VARIETY.com, 9/19).
NOTES: In Oklahoma City, Mel Bracht reported Cox Communications “has launched three On Demand channels” for the Univ. of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Univ. and Tulsa football teams. Cox Oklahoma will “produce the majority of the content, which is available free to digital customers in the FreeZone” (NEWSOK.com, 9/16).... St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Bill Coats and Ron Cobb are retiring from the paper. Coats covered the Univ. of Missouri and the Rams and retired Saturday “after nearly 34 years.” Cobb was the Blues' beat writer and covered tennis, and in “the final phase of his 31-year run at the paper Cobb moved to the copy desk” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/17)....SI.com’s Peter King reported the NFL Network has hired the Miami Herald's Jeff Darlington. King: “I think the NFL Network made a great hire. ... He’ll be a difference-maker nationally the way he was in South Florida” (SI.com, 9/19).