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CBS earned a 19.5 overnight Nielsen rating for its NFL national window yesterday afternoon, which featured Patriots-Broncos in 79% of markets. That rating marks the best NFL overnight on any net this season and best regular-season figure since CBS earned a 22.5 overnight for Patriots-Colts in Nov. ’07 -- a matchup which had both teams undefeated headed into Week Nine. The 33-minute overrun from CBS’ national window, combined with the live "Survivor" season finale -- helped the net earn a primetime win last night, marking only the second time during the last 44 weeks that NBC has not won Sunday night. NBC, which wanted Patriots-Broncos flexed to “SNF," earned an 11.3 overnight for the Chargers' blowout win over the Ravens last night. Ravens-Chargers earned a 38.4 local rating in Baltimore and a 32.0 rating in San Diego. While CBS did see a big number for its national window, weaker matchups in the early window led to a 33% drop in the overnight rating. Fox also earned a 15.0 overnight for its singleheader yesterday, fueled by the Chiefs' upset of the undefeated Packers. That rating marks the net's best singleheader overnight rating in 12 years (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).NFL WEEK 15 OVERNIGHT NIELSEN RATINGSNET
'11 GAMERAT.NET '10 GAMERAT.% +/-Fox (single)15.0CBS (single)14.34.9%CBS (regional)7.2Fox (regional)10.7-32.7%CBS Patriots-Broncos (79%)19.5Fox Jets-Steelers (92%)16.816.1%NBC Ravens-Chargers11.3NBC Packers-Patriots15.2-25.7%
KEEPING RECORD PACE: NFL Network is averaging 6.4 million viewers through seven game telecasts this season, up 19% from 5.4 million viewers through the same point last season. The net finished its slate of eight games last season with a record 5.7 million viewers. Saturday night's Cowboys-Buccaneers game averaged 5.6 million viewers, up 27% from the comparable Panthers-Steelers game in Week 15 last year (NFL Network).
TALENT REVIEWS: In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes CBS analysts Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were “at their best” during Patriots-Broncos and “captured the ebb and flow of the high-scoring game, accurately noting how Denver's mistakes, particularly in the second quarter, basically destroyed a chance for victory against the veteran Patriots.” Saunders writes credit is due to “producer Lance Barrow and director Mike Arnold, who provided the needed up-close coverage of two key plays -- the somewhat disputed Patriots touchdowns during New England's 20-point second quarter.” Nantz “accurately pinpointed Denver's season-long problems in that 15 minutes of play throughout the season, noting that both the offense and defense had a tendency to fall apart.” And while Tebowmania “shook the stadium, both broadcasters refrained from any reverential commentary while pointing out Tebow's skills and team leadership” (DENVER POST, 12/19). In Baltimore, David Zurawik writes when it comes to TV analysts, there is NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, and then, “there is everybody else.” Collinsworth “was at his best Sunday night” for Ravens-Chargers. Listening to Collinsworth, “you got to the point where you not only understood what San Diego was doing to the Ravens, but could anticipate it.” Zurawik writes for the rest of the “pre-game and game telecast, it wasn’t the NBC team’s greatest game of the year,” but it was “still better than any other prime-time football coverage” (Baltimore SUN, 12/19). Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes NFL Network had the “best coverage” of the Week 15 games with Cowboys-Buccaneers Saturday night. Viewers “would have to admit the network’s work is outstanding, especially that of [Brad] Nessler and partner Mike Mayock.” Jones: “The camera work on NFL Network games is excellent” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 12/19).
HANDLING THE HURD STORY: The major NFL pregame shows largely skipped over the story of former Bears WR Sam Hurd being arrested on federal drug charges. “Fox NFL Sunday” touched on Hurd at the beginning of its “Headlines” segment four minutes into the program. Fox’s NFL Curt Menefee introduced it by saying, “A truly bizarre story.” Menefee and Fox’ Jay Glazer later addressed the story again, with Glazer referring to it as a “crazy story” and following up the initial report with more details. NFL Network's “NFL GameDay Morning” mentioned Hurd 34 minutes in, but had no discussion of the story, while ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" also mentioned Hurd during its "Week in Review" segment 50 minutes in sans discussion. Hurd was not brought up during CBS' "The NFL Today" (THE DAILY). In N.Y., Bob Raissman yesterday wrote “don’t hold your breath” expecting CBS’ James Brown to voice a Sam Hurd headline “before presenting an extensive, detailed report on the bust and the serious ramifications of it, especially if other players were among Hurd’s customers.” Raissman: “CBS won’t totally ignore the story. That would be foolish. Brown will likely state the facts and move on. That’s known as covering your posterior.” The same “will hold true on ‘Fox’s NFL Sunday’" where host Curt Menefee will "briefly interrupt the laughfest and probably do the same thing.” The wild card here is ESPN, as the net ” (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 12/17). The ST. PETE TIMES' Jones writes CBS’ Boomer Esiason “made a super point during ‘NFL Today’ on Sunday when he said more players, such as the Panthers’ Steve Smith, should be criticizing” Hurd instead of "going out of their way to take shots" at Tebow. Having said that, “the pregame shows could have spent a little more time” talking about the situation (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 12/19).
BECOMING PART OF THE STORY: YAHOO SPORTS’ Doug Farrar wrote a video during NFL Net’s Thursday pregame coverage showed Cowboys DT Jay Ratliff “being restrained by two of Ratliff’s teammates in the team’s locker room during media access time.” The “target of Ratliff's ire was ESPN Dallas reporter Calvin Watkins, and though the subject of Ratliff's annoyance was unknown at the time, the sheer number of bleeps in the quick feed pretty much told the story.” Farrar cited the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel who wrote, “What happened in the Cowboys' locker room between nose tackle Jay Ratliff and a veteran Cowboys beat reporter on Thursday should not come as a giant surprise. … On Thursday, Watkins was asking Ratliff about the news regarding former Cowboys receiver Sam Hurd's arrest for drug trafficking” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/16).
NASCAR is "close to reaching an agreement to buy its digital rights back from Turner Sports, a move that could see the sanctioning body manage its own digital business as soon as May 2013," according to Mickle & Ourand of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Sources said that the deal is "not expected to be official until next year." It is "not clear how much NASCAR will pay to reclaim its rights," but sources said that it "would be in the mid-eight figures." Mickle & Ourand note the move "puts NASCAR in a stronger position to sell its media rights, which are expected to go on the market next year." The company is "preparing to put those rights up for sale, and its executives know that any network that bids on TV rights will also want digital rights to stream races online." Though NASCAR is "moving now to reclaim its rights, Turner will continue to run NASCAR.com for at least a year." That will give NASCAR time to "build up an infrastructure that can support and manage its digital assets independently." The group will "hire staff to oversee the site and likely base the group in Charlotte." Turner plans to be "involved with NASCAR even after selling back the digital rights." The deal now being discussed would "see Turner continue to handle some business operations, including ad sales, for NASCAR's digital properties beyond 2014, which is when Turner's original deal is scheduled to end" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 12/19 issue).
NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus is profiled by the N.Y. TIMES' Richard Sandomir, who notes it is Lazarus' job to "build a new sports empire -- not necessarily to compete head-on with ESPN, but to give it a stiff challenge." Lazarus is "blending NBC Sports, which he calls a '350-hour-a-year production boutique' that existed on weekends, except during the Olympics, with the sports properties that Comcast brought along when it took over NBC Universal: the profitable Versus and Golf Channel cable networks and 11 regional sports channels." He said, "NBC Sports has a great heritage and legacy, but it had limitations. The Comcast Sports Group didn’t have that great heritage and legacy. One of the great joys is to create a new group where each side longed for what the other one had." Sandomir notes in his position, Lazarus is also overseeing the "transformation of Versus into a more viable, higher-quality channel that will be renamed the NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2." MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that he "declined to stay at Fox Soccer Channel for more money because Lazarus and other executives convinced him of their vision about the future NBC Sports Network." Lazarus recently said that Versus, which is "anchored by the NHL, must improve markedly to push its number of subscribers to beyond 90 million from 76 million." Sandomir notes Lazarus lacks his predecessor Dick Ebersol’s "swagger but relies on a self-deprecating manner, a business background and his wit to win over converts." Lazarus has "quietly put the Ebersol era behind NBC" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/19).
GOING BEHIND THE NEW TV DEALS: Lazarus appeared on Versus' "CNBC SportsBiz" Friday and discussed the new TV deals the NFL signed with NBC, CBS and Fox last week. The deal will cost NBC $950M annually, but Lazarus indicated that he is "confident the entire NBCUniversal family will make a profit off the investment." He said, "We had a very disciplined approach and we expect that through the life of this deal we will have a profit on the overall outcome of the nine-year window. There's no doubt about it that the financial discipline that is instilled in this company demanded that" (CNBC.com, 12/16). Lazarus added, "There were a few moments where I doubted we'd find the economic path. ... It's a big risk. But we got value for it. We improved our package. Our first reaction was, 'That's a lot of money, and we have to have increased value to make that work'" (SI.com, 12/19).
The CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” has taken analyst Mike Milbury off the air "after he was charged with allegedly assaulting a 12 year-old boy who played against his son in a pee wee hockey game in Massachusetts,” according to Etan Vlessing of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. The CBC.ca site offered a statement from Milbury's lawyer that “denied any assault took place and insisted the TV analyst stepped between the two boys as they had an altercation.” Milbury is also employed by NBC Sports and NESN, and NBC Sports in a statement Friday said that Milbury “will also remain off air for the near future” (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 12/16). Milbury on Saturday in his first comments about the incident said that the player he pulled away from his son “verbally bullied and harangued Jake Milbury repeatedly on the ice” on Dec. 9. Milbury also said that he “never struck or assaulted the player, but did grab him by his uniform to cut short the on-ice scrum that he contends was a product of the persistent bullying his son faced.” Milbury: ‘‘No one was punched, kicked, or assaulted in any way. I know the ‘Mad Mike’ image that I have and all that. I love the game, I’m passionate about it, but I don’t smack kids around. I grabbed the other kid by the sweater to stop a fight and, yeah, I swore at him. That’s it. That’s what I did” (BOSTON.com, 12/17).
N.Y. Times columnist George Vecsey has decided to "step back" from his role with the newspaper, and his decision has drawn reaction from many in the journalism world. Vecsey Saturday wrote, "I love being a lifer at The New York Times, but a few things have convinced me that it is time to step back (not using the R-word) and write for the paper occasionally. I will always treasure the privilege of writing the Sports of The Times column" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/17). The N.Y. Times' Mark Bishop wrote on his Twitter feed, "Impossible to describe how we'll miss George Vescey in 140 characters." The Bergen Record's Steve Adamak wrote, "The business loses another voice, and person, of class." ESPN.com's Bonnie Ford wrote, "Hard to imagine press boxes without my dear friend and colleague George Vescey." Current TV's Keith Olbermann wrote, "Sportswriting's great loss. ... The press box will miss his constant class." Telemundo soccer announcer Andres Cantor wrote, "Today, with melancholy, I read George Vecsey's last column in the NYT. Great writer. Wrote about soccer when no one dared. Will be missed." CNN's Dave Schechter wrote, "Thank you George Vecsey, for your eloquence and for thinking soccer cool back when being a fan wasn't." Political commentator Mike Barnicle wrote, "NYT sports section will never be same without great George Vecsey. Wonderful writer, great reporter, fine human being. True trifecta." SI's Jon Wertheim wrote, "Notice the heavy rotation of the word 'gentleman' accompanying george vecsey news. What more can you ask for upon your retirement?"
In St. Petersburg, Pete Dougherty noted Time Warner "issued a response to MSG's statement released Friday night concerning the carriage dispute between the companies." The current agreement expires Dec. 31. The response read in part, "MSG wants a 53 percent increase in the price we currently pay. We buy sports all over the country, and a 53 percent increase is way out of line. ... We were close to an agreement for a 6.5 percent increase in the price we pay for MSG, but MSG inexplicably reneged on that offer two weeks ago, and they continue to demand that we pay millions for the rarely watched FUSE network" (TIMESUNION.com, 12/17). Meanwhile, MSG took out an ad in the N.Y. Times to advertise Knicks coverage returning to the net (THE DAILY).
NETWORK RELIEF: The AP's David Bauder noted ESPN's news-making coverage this past week on Brewers LF Ryan Braun and "another alleged case of sexual abuse by a sports figure are a boost and, no doubt, relief to the network's journalists after a tough month." Critics "roughed up the sports network for its handling of abuse stories involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and ex-Syracuse basketball assistant Bernie Fine." ESPN Senior VP & Dir of News Vince Doria said that as the "'big dog' in sports media, ESPN expects to get a lot of attention over how it handles stories." The net "hasn't hidden from openly discussing its role in their stories." Bauder noted the Bobby Dodd story "also indicates ESPN may have more opportunities to test itself on these types of issues" (AP, 12/17).
TWO-MAN SHOW: In Cleveland, Paul Hoynes noted the Indians will "use a two-man team in the radio booth in 2012 following the retirement of Mike Hegan at the end of last season." Tom Hamilton "signed a multiyear contract extension as he prepares for his 23rd season calling Indians games." Jim Rosenhaus, "starting his sixth year as part of the Tribe's radio team, will be Hamilton's partner." Rosenhaus has "spent the last five years being the producer/engineer for the Indians radio network" (CLEVELAND.com, 12/16). Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Marc Topkin reported Neil Solondz “will take over the Rays pre- and post-game radio duties.” Solondz, who “has been the radio play-by-play man at Triple-A Durham, replaces Rich Herrera, who was let go after the season” (TAMPABAY.com, 12/16).
INT'L GROWTH: DAILY VARIETY’s Anna Marie De La Fuente noted Fox Sports in February will launch a Portuguese-language channel, and the move means the network is “entering a relatively underserved pay TV market where ESPN, local net Sport TV and Fox-owned Speed are the only sports cable channels on offer.” Fox International Channels has also “bought out HM Capital Partner's majority stake in Fox Pan American Sports, the leading Spanish-language sports programming service in Latin America of which it previously owned a third.” This will “likely be renamed Fox Sports Latin America” (VARIETY.com, 12/16).