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ESPN dropped Hank Williams Jr.'s introduction from last night's Colts-Buccaneers "MNF" game after Williams made “controversial comments Monday about President Obama” on Fox News, according to Michael Hiestand of USA TODAY. ESPN in a statement said, "While Hank Williams Jr. is not an ESPN employee, we recognize he is closely linked to our company through the opening to 'Monday Night Football.' We are extremely disappointed with his comments, and as a result have decided to pull the open from tonight's telecast." Williams Monday morning “compared this summer's so-called golf summit between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner as ‘one of the biggest political mistakes ever.’” He said, "It would be like Hitler playing golf with (Israeli leader) Benjamin Netanyahu" (USA TODAY, 10/4). Following Williams' comment, Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade said, “I don’t understand that analogy actually.” Williams: “I’m glad you don’t, brother, because a lot of people do. They’re the enemy.” Kilmeade: “Who’s the enemy?” Williams: “Obama and Biden! Are you kidding? The ‘Three Stooges.’” Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson said, “You used the name of one of the most hated people in all of the world to describe, I think, the President.” Williams: “That is true, but I’m telling you like it is.” Following the interview, Carlson said, “I just want to say that we disavow any of those comments or analogies that he made" (“Fox & Friends,” Fox News, 10/3).
TAKING IT ONE GAME AT A TIME: ESPN said that the intro "will be pulled for one game and any further decision will be based on how contrite the singer-songwriter is in the immediate future.” The net “skipped over the intro without mentioning the controversy" during the game broadcast. Instead of “leading into the opening bars of Williams’ song after a pre-packed 15-second promo, the network cut to Mike Tirico in the booth and proceeded like nothing happened” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/3). However, ESPN's Adam Schefter did report on Williams' segment not airing prior to the game on "Monday Night Countdown." The overnight "SportsCenter" also touched on the issue and included statements from both ESPN and Williams (THE DAILY). In St. Petersburg, Eric Deggans noted “some had called for Williams’ theme to be dropped permanently from the show, but ESPN wasn’t prepared to go that far" (TAMPABAY.com, 10/3). Williams' situation wsa discussed on all three network morning shows today, and CBS’ Chris Wragge said, “No offense to Hank, but the game didn’t suffer. It’s just a theme song” (“The Early Show,” CBS, 10/4).
TWITTER REAX: CNBC's Darren Rovell wrote on his Twitter feed, “Given ESPN's handling of previous issues, I think there's a good chance that Hank Williams Jr. is never on MNF again.” The N.Y. Post's Bart Hubbuch wrote, "Don't think I'm going out on a limb by predicting you will never hear Hank Williams Jr. on MNF again. Hope he didn't need the money." SI.com's Richard Deitsch: "1. Much respect for ESPN.com to keep open comments section below its Hank Williams Jr. story. 2. Damn, it's heated.” But SI.com's Jimmy Traina wrote, “No doubt this Hank Williams 'controversy' was drummed up to generate interest in an unwatchable MNF telecast tonight" (TWITTER.com, 10/3).
FOURTH DOWN: ESPN earned an 8.0 overnight Nielsen rating for the Colts-Buccaneers "MNF" telecast from 8:30-11:30pm ET, down 22.3% from a 10.3 overnight for Patriots-Dolphins in Week Four last year. In Indianapolis, the game earned a 24.3 local rating on ESPN and an 11.2 rating on WTTV-CW. In Tampa-St. Petersburg, the game earned an 11.0 rating on ESPN and a 10.5 rating on WFTS-ABC (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
TBS earned a 4.8 overnight for the ALDS Yankees-Tigers Game Three last night, up 30% from the comparable Yankees-Twins Game Three clincher last year, which aired on a Saturday night. Earlier in the day, Rangers-Rays Game Three earned a 2.8 overnight, flat compared to Game Three of the same matchup last year, which aired on a Saturday afternoon. Through four days across TBS and TNT, the MLB LDS is averaging a 2.6 overnight rating, down 28% from the first four days last year, when the LDS began on a Wednesday night and all games aired on TBS (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
AMERICA'S PASTIME: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes for more than "two hours Sunday, viewers in the New York market could choose between watching" Tigers-Yankees Game Two and the NFL Giants-Cardinals game. Though most of the time "the games overlapped, the Giants-Cardinals broadcast on Fox had a big ratings edge in the New York market." From 5:15-5:30pm ET, the football game's 13.1 local rating "was nearly twice the 6.8 for the Yankee game on TNT." A "similar choice was available to viewers in the Milwaukee market" with the Broncos-Packers matchup overlapping D'Backs-Brewers Game Two. The Brewers' victory on TBS "drew a considerable audience but rarely exceeded the one for the Packers' 49-23 win." The rating for the Brewers' game "grew steadily from a 7.9 at 5 p.m. to its 29.9 peak from 7:15 to 7:30, when it was greater than the 16.2 rating for the last segment of the Packers blowout" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/4). In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley reports Broncos-Packers earned a 43.6 rating in the local market, while D'Backs-Brewers drew a 22.0 preliminary local rating, meaning "roughly double the number of viewers watched the Packers beat the Broncos, as watched the Brewers beat the Diamondbacks." The "same sort of dynamic" was in place three years ago, when a Packers-Falcons game drew 268,000 HHs in the Milwaukee market while the Brewers-Phillies NLDS game being played at the same time drew just 118,000 local HHs (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 10/4). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes, "Here's how hard it is to go against the NFL: Sunday, the Green Bay Packers drew 44% of Milwaukee households and the Milwaukee Brewers drew 20%. In Phoenix, the Arizona Cardinals drew 21% of local households while the Arizona Diamondbacks drew 6%" (USA TODAY, 10/4).
JOINING THE TEAM: Fox yesterday formally announced the addition of White Sox C A.J. Pierzynski as a pre- and postgame analyst for the net's coverage of the '11 ALCS and World Series. Pierzynski will join host Chris Rose and analyst Eric Karros live on-set for every broadcast, making his debut on Saturday at 7:30pm for coverage of the ALCS Game One (Fox).
British pubs and households "will be allowed to bypass domestic broadcasters of live Premier League football and cherry-pick cheaper foreign subscriptions under a landmark ruling made by the European courts today," according to Ashling O'Connor of the LONDON TIMES. The judgment means that the EPL "cannot continue to give its broadcasters exclusivity and permits pubs to continue screening live Saturday afternoon football using foreign satellite decoders." The ruling by the European Court of Justice "could force the Premier League into making a major change to how they sell their television rights in Britain and Europe and will dramatically change the broadcasting business for football and the creative industries." The ECJ said that soccer matches "did not constitute creative copyright and therefore could not be protected within individual territories." The ruling "is on the surface a victory for consumers, who will be allowed to choose a pay-TV service from across the European Economic Area, bypassing Sky’s exclusivity." It is a "blow for Sky and ESPN, who pay £600 million a year for the rights to show Premier League matches under a three-year deal that expires at the end of the 2012/13 season." It "could ultimately lead to less choice and higher prices if the Premier League decided to sell its rights on a pan-European basis to a single broadcaster at the next auction." Alternatively, the EPL "could choose not to screen matches in countries such as Greece and Albania in ordered to protect its core market in the UK" (THETIMES.co.uk, 10/4). The ECJ ruled in favor of pub owner Karen Murphy, who originally was ordered to pay almost US$12,379 in fees and costs after she was taken to court by the League for using a Greek decoder in her Portsmouth pub to screen matches, avoiding the League's own controls over where its matches are screened" (PA, 10/4).
NOT A COMPLETE LOSS FOR EPL: The ECJ said that “transmission in a pub of protected ‘works’ -- such as logos, pre-recorded films of previous match highlights and graphics -- required the permission of the author of those works.” The ECJ added that the EPL “holds no copyright under European law over the football matches themselves.” However, it said sporting events "have a unique and ... original character” and the EU recognised the “specific nature of sport.” The ECJ concluded that “member states could protect the intellectual property of sporting events through national legislation” (FT.com, 10/4). In Manchester, Owen Gibson notes EPL officials “are convinced that they can mitigate the damage.” Even if it “ultimately means they have to sell fewer matches on a pan-European basis to more than one broadcaster, they are confident they will be able to largely maintain the value of the rights deals that have underpinned the explosion in players wages over recent years” (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 10/4).
Tennis Channel has signed a multiyear extension to keep its rights to the French Open. Specific financials were not released. The 10-year deal keeps the French Open on the channel through '22. The deal gives Tennis Channel exclusive U.S. non-broadcast media rights to all French Open matches and includes streaming, digital, mobile, video on demand and "TV Everywhere" (John Ourand, THE DAILY). MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds noted Tennis Channel, which has "shared French Open rights with ESPN2 in exchange for coverage opportunities from the Australian Open, has yet to negotiate a similar arrangement with the worldwide leader for Roland Garros over its new" extension (MULTICHANNEL.com, 10/3).
ESPN yesterday announced that it has posted its most-watched fiscal year for the fourth consecutive year and that it tied its own mark for the highest-rated fiscal year on record. The net averaged 1,067,000 viewers on a 24-hour (total-day) basis, breaking the record of 1,048,000 set last year. The net's total-day rating for the last 12 months also ties its high set in '90 and '10. The ESPN family of networks also set a fiscal year record for combined average total-day audience with 1,535,000 viewers, breaking last year's record of 1,528,000. ESPN set its fiscal year record despite drops in total-day and primetime audience during Q3 (THE DAILY).
RADIO BLUE: The Dodgers officially announced that they “have entered a three-year agreement with KLAC-AM to be their flagship station.” In L.A., Shaikin & Hernandez report the deal “goes into effect starting next season.” KLAC will “broadcast the Dodgers' 162 regular-season games, as well as seven spring-training games and any postseason games.” The station will air “a postgame call-in talk show during the regular season and a season countdown program” from 7-8pm PT from Monday through Saturday during Spring Training. The deal “ends the Dodgers' four-year run with KABC-AM” (L.A. TIMES, 10/4).
GEARING UP: In Toronto, Raju Mudhar wrote the new Sportsnet logo is "eerily similar" to the Bills logo, with “red and blue stripes under the simplified name.” Mudhar wrote of the new Sportsnet magazine, “First impressions are pretty good. Well, actually, I hated the crudely Photoshopped cover, but the magazine looks much better on the inside and the content is solid. The in-depth NHL preview is the kind of thing people buy magazines for, while the cover piece on Sidney Crosby is well written but doesn’t particularly add much to the saga.” Meanwhile, CBC is launching “Gameday,” a new hour-long show that will air at 5pm ET Saturdays prior to the evening’s games. It will be “hosted by P.J. Stock and Andi Petrillo” (TORONTO STAR, 10/4).
NOTES: Cox Sports Television has hired Deuce McAllister to cover the Saints. McAllister will join Mike Nabors every night on the field during “Saints Tonight!” (Cox)….MSG Networks has hired Peter Ruttgaizer as Islanders host and reporter (MSG).