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ESPN earned an 8.5 overnight Nielsen rating for the Chiefs-Patriots "MNF" game last night, up 2.4% from an 8.3 rating for Broncos-Chargers in Week 11 last year. In Boston, the game earned an 11.0 local rating on ESPN and a 21.2 rating on WCVB-ABC. In K.C., the game earned a 12.8 local rating on ESPN and a 17.0 rating on KMBC-ABC (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
BEING FLEXIBLE: The NFL opted to flex out of the Colts-Patriots "SNF" game Dec. 4, with NBC instead taking the Lions-Saints game that had been scheduled for Fox. The move, however, left Fox with only two 1:00pm ET games; CBS had seven. So the NFL moved Broncos-Vikings from CBS to Fox, marking the first time a game switched Sunday afternoon broadcasters as a result of NBC's flex schedule, which has been in effect since '06. By contract, CBS carries all interleague games played in an NFC stadium, and Fox carries all interleague games played in an AFC stadium. "We worked with CBS and Fox to ensure a broadcast pattern on Sunday afternoon Dec. 4 which will increase the coverage areas of our nine 1:00pm games," said NFL Dir of Corporate Communications Dan Masonson. "This move allows the games in those windows to be broadcast to a wider audience." Sources said Fox protected its Packers-Giants game from being flexed into "SNF." Sources also said the NFL did not want NBC to take the Bengals-Steelers game from CBS, worried that the loss of that game would weaken CBS' single-header window too much (John Ourand, THE DAILY).
N.Y. WHO? On Long Island, Neil Best writes among the "many reasons NFL ratings are immune to the unpredictability of sports is that unlike other major pro leagues, New York needs it more than it needs New York." Best: "Even a week as devastating for New York football as this past one mostly causes the NFL and its TV partners to shrug." This is a league that last played in L.A. shortly after Jets QB Mark Sanchez' "eighth birthday, and has suffered not at all from blowing off the nation's second-largest market." Best: "Having said all that, it certainly is not a good thing for the league if the Giants and Jets execute a tandem dive in the standings" (NEWSDAY, 11/22).
REALITY TV: In a special to BROADCASTING & CABLE, NBC's Al Michaels wrote, "At a time when 'reality television' is anything but, sports comes the closest to manifesting that designation." At its best, sports are a "wonderful communal experience -- you know you're sharing your viewing pleasure oftentimes with millions or tens of millions of others." But, Michaels wrote, "Here's a word of caution to my peers and colleagues. Don't let the technology overwhelm ... the game itself." Michaels: "Wall-to-wall talk from the booth or every-two-second camera cuts to fans in the stands chewing fingernails is what will get an audience ready to throw shoes at their television sets. Sometimes it's good just to slow it down a little" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 11/21).
ESPN's new rights deal with the NFL allows it to show more highlights than ever before. At what point are all the added highlights too much? For six SBJ/SBD staffers, the network may be nearing its saturation point. The SBJ/SBD panel, which consisted of SBJ Copy Editor Betty Gomes, Assistant Managing Editor Rob Knapp, Research Associate Brandon McClung, and Media Reporter John Ourand and SBD Assistant Managing Editor/Ratings & Research Austin Karp and Television Editor Paul Sanford, watched one full week of two ESPN NFL studio shows from Nov. 7-11. On Nov. 14, we met to discuss them. Here's an edited transcript from that discussion, and also read Ourand’s column in this week’s SportsBusiness Journal.
Q: What did you think of the shows overall?
Sanford: These shows are so redundant. They have so much programming. There are three hours of "Countdown" now. "NFL Live." "Audibles." "NFL 32." How many times can they show the same thing?
Karp: That's on top of the stuff that they're already running on "SportsCenter." It seems completely unnecessary, especially for "NFL 32," to be an hour long.
ESPN's "NFL 32" is an hour-long show
covering multiple topics in the NFL
Q: Let's talk about "NFL 32" first. It is a new show that doesn't look like any of ESPN's other NFL shows. How did that work?
Knapp: I like the attempt to differentiate. That's what you have to do. All these different shows have, pretty much, the same subject matter. What's going to set them apart? "NFL 32" at least seems to be trying to make that attempt. It uses a different set. Obviously, some of the construct is the same as the other shows. But I can look at that one and tell what I was watching. I appreciated that part of it, more than "NFL Live," which looked like it was pulled out of "SportsCenter."
Gomes: "NFL 32" had a much more casual feel, with panelists sitting in chairs rather than on a bank set. I don't know if that is good or bad. They had some features that were different than some of the shows I've seen before. They have a former scout that comes out and talks. The name is stupid, "Caveman."
Knapp: Give him a chair! When he came on set, I thought he was taking the panelists' drink orders.
Gomes: Making him stand like that was awkward. Listening to what he had to say, I got something out of it. First time I saw him I thought, who is this? ESPN didn't identify him until after he was already speaking. Then ESPN had the name on screen. Since I was a first-time viewer, I didn't know who the heck he was. ESPN could have, maybe, introduced him better.
Q: What about the other talent on "NFL 32?"
Knapp: "NFL 32" is a conversation show. A conversation show is going to live and die by the quality of the conversation. If they're supposed to interact, then it's important who's on the set interacting. You never knew who was going to be on the set from one day to the next. If you're trying to differentiate, that's one way you can do it: with the personnel.
Karp: Chris Mortensen is fantastic when he's doing one of those insider interviews. All I really want out of "NFL 32" is that 10-minute segment he does on the "Mort Report." I view him more as an information guy, not a host.
Knapp: Mortensen did not seem very comfortable handling the host duties. If you're going to be a host on a conversation show, you've got to make the conversation go. One day, Kordell Stewart was sitting in. We barely heard from him. You've got to get people involved and get them on point. Mortensen was acting more as the guy answering the question than the guy who's trying to move the conversation along.
Karp: On Monday's show, when Adam Schefter and Mort hosted because Suzy Kolber was at "Monday Night Football," it was like the inmates were running the asylum there. Nobody was driving the conversation. It didn't seem natural at all. Not a lot of chemistry.
Knapp: I like Suzy Kolber as host. I thought she did a pretty good job. I thought she was the best host of the week.
Q: "NFL 32" is set up as more interactive than other shows. It collects tweets and uses video questions from Facebook. Did those work?
McClung: The tweets that are running at the bottom and the ticker are way too much for me to follow. It gets in the way of the conversation.
Gomes: I agree.
Knapp: But it was differentiation. It set it apart from the other show that we watched.
Karp: I'm not a big fan of the Twitter stuff. But I like that they took a video question from Facebook from a fan. That was interesting. Something new.
Sanford: With social media, sometimes I think these companies think it's cool and they force feed you Twitter and Facebook. I think you can tone that down and still interact a little more. The constant tweets is too much, but they think they have to do it because everyone is on Twitter.
Karp: The Twitter stuff annoyed me. I'm on Twitter. I use it. But it took away from the serious conversation that they wanted to have. The tweets weren't providing information. If I want that sort of thing, I'll watch "SportsNation," where there's more fan interaction, or a talk show with Dan Le Batard or Jim Rome. That's where you want to see the talk show interaction, which is what Twitter was being used for.
Particpants found NFL Live to be repetitive
Q: What about "NFL Live?" We've all seen that show before. How did it work last week as an hour-long show?
Knapp: "NFL Live" did not seem different from anything else ESPN does. It was hard for me to see it as a separate entity.
Ourand: I felt "NFL Live" to be tired. I get a headache listening to analysts talk about double gap zone blitzes from the A side. I have no clue what they are talking about sometimes.
Knapp: Mark Schlereth is going to have his B-gap. You can't take that away from him. I thought "NFL 32" had more upside. As a standalone premise, it had more opportunity to get better. I don't see how "NFL Live" is going to be anything more than an hour holed out of "Countdown" or "SportsCenter" with different guys.
Q: Let's not differentiate between the shows. How did you enjoy watching these two hours of NFL programming?
Gomes: I didn't like the crossover of content. If you're watching both shows, you saw Jon Gruden's segment on Cam Newton and Andy Dalton twice. You saw a segment about Penn State twice. Are the shows going for two different audiences, so they don't think people are going to see them twice? Because I was watching both shows, I got impatient with that. I've already seen it.
Knapp: These shows seem to be designed for the hardcore NFL fan. And the hardcore NFL fan is going to watch "SportsCenter." And if they're going to watch these shows, they're going to see this stuff over and over again.
Q: How can these shows improve?
Karp: I want to see who scored on my fantasy team. Did somebody get injured? Do I need to look to pick up somebody? I'd like to see a fantasy focused show on a Monday.
Knapp: I was surprised by how little talk about fantasy there was over all of the episodes. There was one short segment, and it was who to take in the coming week.
Karp: I love John Clayton, Adam Schefter and Mort when they're giving me the inside stuff. If you brought Mort on with some serious journalists, that might be something I'd watch. I'm more interested in an "NFL Reporters" show.
Ourand: My pet peeve is with the amount of ex-athletes. "NFL Live" had one discussion between Schlereth and Marcellus Wiley talking about fines for hits to the head. Both of them came out and said the fines were ridiculous. That's a very ex-football player thing to say. Wingo, as the host, didn't take the other side. I grew tired of the jock-ocracy.
Knapp: When people would disagree, somebody would say their part, then somebody would say their part. They didn't really challenge each other. You especially have to have that in "NFL 32." People need to challenge each other. With the revolving door of people sitting down in there, that might change from one day to the next. But if people disagree, you need to take that one step further. That's what's going to drive interesting conversation on that show.
Q: What did you like about the shows?
Gomes: I wasn't able to watch much NFL at all on Sunday. Watching those shows on Monday afternoon, gave me everything I wanted. It's not going to be like that for all the viewers. But I enjoyed watching it that day.
Knapp: I really liked the Jets-Patriots rap on "NFL Live" on Friday. They probably spent more time putting that together than pretty much anything else on the show.
Gomes: For me, the best part is the newsy parts of "NFL 32" with the "Mort Report." Whenever that part came on, I listened a little bit closer because I was going to hear something I haven't heard yet. I guess that's why I liked "NFL Live" better. It was a set that I was familiar with and I knew what I was going to get.
McClung: With "NFL Live," I liked the highlights and the technical breakdowns and analysis. I think both shows would benefit from a half-hour format. The second half-hour to both shows just seem to drag on.
Turner will no longer manage the digital business operations and sales for SI, according to an internal memo that was obtained by THE DAILY. The memo, which was sent out by Turner Sports COO & Exec VP Lenny Daniels and Time Inc. Sports Group President Mark Ford, said oversight of the SI Digital business will move from Turner Sports to the Time Inc. Sports Group over the next few months. Turner Sports will continue to manage its current digital portfolio and plans to launch its own "branded digital destination" at some point next year. The memo: "Time Inc. and Turner Broadcasting have determined that Sports Illustrated Digital and Turner Sports Digital businesses are better served autonomously. Each will benefit from an operating model that leverages their discrete strengths in the marketplace -- video and television extensions for Turner Sports and journalism, storytelling and analysis from Sports Illustrated."
Taylor Twellman will replace John Harkes "as ESPN's lead analyst in the booth for MLS and U.S. Soccer broadcasts in 2012," according to sources cited by Grant Wahl of SI.com. Harkes was "recently informed that his contract would not be renewed." Twellman has "spent this season working in ESPN's studio coverage and as the analyst for local broadcasts of the Philadelphia Union." Ian Darke will "continue to be ESPN's lead play-by-play voice for the U.S. national team, the English Premier League, Euro 2012 and select MLS broadcasts," while Alexi Lalas will stay in his position as a studio analyst. Adrian Healey is "expected to continue calling MLS games when Darke is not involved." Meanwhile, NBC Sports is "currently pursuing" MLS Sounders broadcaster Arlo White and Fox Soccer's Kyle Martino as its "targets for broadcasts that could begin as soon as January." JP Dellacamera "will stay at Fox Soccer while continuing to work as the local voice of the Philadelphia Union" (SI.com, 11/21). In Seattle, Joshua Mayers noted White in May said that his contract "was for three years and that, at that point, he planned to stay." White took over for Kevin Calabro on the Sounders call before the '10 season (SEATTLETIMES.com, 11/21).
NOT A DRAW: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes under the header, "Major League Soccer Title Game Fails To Draw." The league's final between the Galaxy and Dynamo Sunday night "had its best-known players" in Galaxy F Landon Donovan and MF David Beckham playing on ESPN "on TV's most-watched night." The 0.8 overnight rating for the game was "about half what Fox drew that afternoon for taped English soccer" (USA TODAY, 11/22). MLS Cup drew a 2.8 rating in the Houston market (CHRON.com, 11/21).
The Scottish Premier League has agreed to a television deal "with Sky Sports and ESPN which will run until the end of the 2016-17 season,” according to Ewan Murray of the GUARDIAN. The nets will pay a combined $125.2M (all figures U.S.) “to continue to screen 30 live SPL matches each per season.” The figure represents an increase of $4.7M a year "on the existing broadcast agreement due to end” in ‘14. A key component of the deal “is the continuation of four Old Firm matches each season.” This “removes the possibility of the meaningful expansion of the 12-team SPL for which supporters have campaigned.” The league “had considered not extending its TV contracts beyond this season, which it was entitled to do due to a break clause in the existing deal which runs to the summer of 2014.” Had it done so, the SPL “could have established its own, standalone pay-per-view channel” (GUARDIAN, 11/22). In London, Graham Spiers notes after the collapse of the British arm of Setanta in ‘09, Sky and ESPN “picked up the SPL package, though their [$20.3M]-a-year offer, which the SPL accepted, was only half of the amount that Setanta had originally promised.” The SPL has, in effect, “renegotiated a deal that still had two years to run and the arrangement clearly thrilled” SPL CEO Neil Doncaster. He said, “I don’t believe the deal could have been better. There remains a huge interest in SPL football, and Sky and ESPN want to be a part of it.” Spiers notes the new deal will see all 12 SPL club dividing the $25M annual TV pot "between them" (LONDON TIMES, 11/22). The TV deal “comes just over a week since Clydesdale Bank revealed they would not be extending their title sponsorship of the league,” worth more than $3.1M a season, when it expires in ’13 (THE SCOTSMAN, 11/22).
OLD FIRM NEW LOCATION: In London, Charles Sale reports SPL clubs Celtic and Rangers “are in talks to revive the 39th game concept that caused such a storm in England.” The clubs are looking to take one of their regular-season matches “abroad to boost revenues and enhance their profile during a most difficult period for Scottish club football, whose interest in European competition ended in August.” N.Y., “where there is a considerable following for both sides, was regarded as the most suitable location.” But there also has been “keen interest in hosting a competitive Celtic v Rangers game in Qatar” (London DAILY MAIL, 11/22).
NBC Sports Group today announced the formation of “NBC Sports Network Fight Night,” a boxing series that will debut Jan. 21, 2012 from Asylum Arena in Philadelphia. The “Fight Night” cards will air on NBC Sports Network, which will be rebranded from Versus on Jan. 2. The bouts are being scheduled in cities with Comcast Sports Group RSNs, and the nets will help promote the events and have the ability to re-air fights. NBC Sports Group will work with Main Events and promoter J. Russell Peltz on a strategy that will allow any promoter to get their boxers involved in these programs. There currently are four dates scheduled for the series, with the first in January, followed by one in March, June and December. NBC Sports and Versus President of Programming Jon Miller said there will be a variety of different spots and creatives that will run in each market promoting the fights. Each event will also tie into local news operations of those RSNs, and the nets will be on site to give additional promotion in those markets. Miller explained, “If you’re in Philadelphia, you’ll have Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia there with you for the weigh-ins, press conferences, give them a lot of content, give them some special access that they will then share with all the other RSNs so that we make this a full NBC Sports group initiative.” The series will air on Saturday nights. “We've got a very robust NHL schedule on NBC Sports Network that’s Sunday through Wednesday, we’ve also got college hockey now on Friday nights, so we thought that Saturday night would be a perfect night to debut this,” Miller said.
The upcoming Tony Ponturo/Fran Kirmser-produced Broadway play "Magic/Bird" "seems determined to do something unconventional: recruit first-time theater-goers while satisfying the expectations of Broadway regulars," according to Scott Cacciola of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Ponturo said, "I think 'Lombardi' helped in the sense that it gave credibility to the concept of a sports play on Broadway. There's an understanding now that you can bring something different to that particular entertainment space." Cacciola reports the “one factor working in the new play's favor” is the backing of Basketball HOFers Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Kirmser said the two are the "underlying rights holders." He added that they “have been involved with the creative process.” Eric Simonson, who wrote the script, has “consulted and interviewed them.” Johnson “even sat in on a table reading of the script in Los Angeles this summer.” Cacciola writes the play “won't necessarily be a hyper-critical portrait of the Hall of Famers.” However, Ponturo said that “it was clear to him Johnson and Bird wanted the script to be honest and accurate.” At the same time, Ponturo “doesn't consider the suggestion that the play is a ‘feel-good story’ to be pejorative.” The show, which opens March 21 and features six actors, "will consist of 20 rapid-fire scenes over 90 intermission-free minutes.” The idea is “to give the production the uptempo feel of a basketball game while covering plenty of material.” Just as they sought the NFL's endorsement of "Lombardi," Ponturo and Kirmser went to NBA Commissioner David Stern “last December for the league's cooperation.” An NBA spokesperson said that Stern “gave the project his enthusiastic approval” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/22).
ESPN today said it will shutter its FarmVille-type social game, "ESPNU College Town," next month. The company's initial foray into social gaming, "ESPNU College Town" was a prominent part of ESPN's '10 Upfront presentation, and launched in September '10. The net this past summer said the game garnered more than 582,000 monthly users and more than 7 million total downloads, with an average user session in the game of about 70 minutes. But ESPN Dir of Digital Communications Kevin Ota said the game "has run its course." Ota: "All social games have a certain shelf life, and we're now shifting our attention to other games." ESPN earlier this year launched its second social game, "ESPN Sports Bar & Grill," and has others in development.
In West Palm Beach, Jason Lieser noted ESPN college football analyst Urban Meyer, "who has been rumored to be headed to Ohio State, will not broadcast a game for ESPN this weekend." Meyer "usually works with Dave Pasch and Chris Spielman." Those two are "doing Ohio State's game against Michigan, which might have been a factor in ESPN keeping Meyer in Bristol" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 11/21). In Michigan, Kyle Meinke notes one explanation "is it simply would be too awkward at best and a conflict of interest at worst, for Meyer to work the game" (ANNARBOR.com, 11/22).
WELCOME BACK: ESPN led off “SportsCenter” Monday night immediately following the Chiefs-Patriots "MNF" game not with highlights from the NFL game but by going straight to Pittsburgh, where analyst Barry Melrose briefly highlighted Penguins C Sidney Crosby’s return to action after being sidelined for more than 10 months (THE DAILY). Buffalo News' Mike Harrington wrote on his Twitter feed, "I just fell off my chair. ESPN is leading SportsCenter with Crosby. Didn't think they could spell NHL if I spotted them a letter.” Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont wrote, "My guess if Sid was a Yank: US coverage ystrdy would not have changed; CAN coverage cut by 1/3 or 1/2. Unless he played for CAN-NHL team.”
KINGS OF N.Y.: In N.Y., Christian Red notes the Yankees have "consistently hogged the New York media headlines, according to data released by HighBeam Research." According to HighBeam, the Yankees since '08 have "been at the top of the list for area sports teams that get the most media coverage" with 30% of media mentions. The Mets are in "second place this year with a 19% share." The Mets were also "second to the Yankees in 2010 and 2009." With their "improbable Super Bowl run in 2008, the Giants were second (25%) to the Yankees (26%) in media mentions that year." The Giants and Jets are "tied for third place this year (15%)" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/22).
BROTHERLY LOVE: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Eric Fisher reports Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia has "signed a multiyear online content and sales partnership with Calkins Media, publisher of the major suburban Philadelphia newspapers." The pact involves CSNPhilly.com "providing news coverage of the area’s professional sports teams for phillyburbs.com." Phillyburbs.com in turn will "lead high school sports coverage for CSNPhilly.com and help develop a high school sports show set to debut this winter on the Comcast Network." Financial terms were "not disclosed, but the two companies will participate in a revenue-sharing agreement based on advertising for the co-branded content areas" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 11/21 issue).