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Broncos QB Tim Tebow has turned down a request by CBS "to join their 'NFL Today' studio show" during coverage of the Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship game Sunday, according to Mike Klis of the DENVER POST. Tebow yesterday said, "I'm not doing it." The Broncos lost to the Patriots 45-10 last Saturday night in an AFC Divisional playoff game (DENVERPOST.com, 1/17). The N.Y. POST notes it "appeared that CBS wanted to keep football's most recognizable figure on TV for another week, even if his team had been knocked out of the run-up to the Super Bowl." Lions DT Ndamukong Suh appeared last Sunday on the net's studio show prior to the Ravens-Texans AFC Divisional game after losing to the Saints in the NFC Wild Card round (N.Y. POST, 1/18). In Alabama, Bill Bryant writes the decision is a "smart move" by Tebow, as he has a "lot of work to do anyway, now that the Denver Broncos' season is over" (HUNTSVILLE TIMES, 1/18). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes while Tebow-mania is "down to its final vapors," this weekend will "feel a little lonely without him." Gay: "I agree the whole Tebow thing go to be too much, saturated with hyperbole and strained, magniloquent theories about why he'd become the country's most-discussed athlete. But at its core was an obvious, irresistible truth. Tebow helped the Broncos win a lot of very fun football games" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/18).
NO SPONSOR TIE-IN: CBS Exec Producer Harold Bryant yesterday said the net did not have Suh serve as a guest studio analyst last weekend because of his endorsement deal with Subway. The chain sponsors CBS' NFL postgame show. Bryant said, “We brought him in because he's a top NFL player” (USATODAY.com, 1/17). Suh said of his time on the show, “I loved it. I mean, it was something that I had a lot of fun with. I got to hang out with Dan Marino, James Brown, all those different, cool former players and analysts. It was a great time. I enjoyed it and looking forward to doing it many, many years down the road after we win some championships in Detroit.” Suh said he had not thought of becoming a commentator, but noted, “A lot of people told me I'm kind of a natural" ("Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," NBC, 1/17).
LIFTOFF IN HOUSTON: In Houston, David Barron noted the Ravens-Texans game Sunday "set another standard for the most-watched Texans game since the franchise debut in 2002 against the Cowboys." The playoff game earned a 37.0 local rating, which translated to "an average audience of 808,546 households in the Houston designated market area" (CHRON.com, 1/17).
Tennis Channel signed a multiyear carriage deal with Verizon, which will start carrying the channel on its FiOS TV Ultimate HD package and premium Sports Packages. "Verizon plans to more widely roll out Tennis Channel next year," the company said in a statement. Verizon, like Cablevision, had been carrying Tennis Channel through a deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative. Tennis Channel went dark on Verizon and Cablevision during last year's U.S. Open, when its NCTC deal expired. Tennis Channel still does not have a deal with Cablevision (John Ourand, THE DAILY). After the deal with Verizon was completed, Tennis Channel yesterday began "popping up on Verizon's FiOS TV ultimate package as well as a separate FiOS sports package offered to subscribers in California, upstate New York, Texas, Florida and other markets." Tennis Channel yesterday also "petitioned the courts to enforce a recent FCC administrative judge's ruling that Comcast must make the channel more widely available to its customers." Comcast said that it would "file a response to the Tennis Channel next week." The FCC is "expected to decide on that dispute in the coming months." Financial terms of the "new multi-year Verizon FiOS TV-Tennis Channel agreement were not disclosed" (LATIMES.com, 1/17).
MAJOR COVERAGE: SI.com's Bruce Jenkins reviewed the early TV coverage of the Australian Open and wrote when Tennis Channel made its debut 7:00am ET Monday, viewers "couldn't help but notice the dropoff in quality since TC made its dramatic breakthrough at last year's French Open," when the coverage team included John McEnroe, Ted Robinson and Lindsay Davenport. McEnroe is "not in Melbourne" for the tournament this year, while Robinson, the "radio voice of the San Francisco 49ers, is immersed in one of the Bay Area's most compelling sports stories in years." Meanwhile, Davenport is "on maternity leave." Jenkins: "TC has taken some pretty big hits, relying on [Bill] Macatee, [Martina] Navratilova and Tracy Austin as its three-person crew on big matches." Tennis Channel "remains a vibrant entry," but the tournament is "primarily an ESPN2 production." Some have "criticized ESPN's tennis coverage for being too bland, and it seems there was a concerted effort to change that" (SI.com, 1/17).
NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France in a recent interview with BROADCASTING & CABLE’s Ben Grossman spoke about “what the sport needs to do better to get its ratings back into Victory Lane.” The following is an excerpt from the Q&A:
Q: What did TV partners tell you they want to see you do differently?
France: They were pretty satisfied with the presentation of the events. Fox has always wanted to not have an open weekend after the third or fourth weekend, they were pretty critical about that, and we eliminated that. (With) the schedule, there is always input on start times. We moved them around a bit last year and we will do it again this year. But it's not just about what they want from us. We are pretty aggressive about what they need to do for NASCAR. It's a two-way street.
Q: So what do you want from them?
France: We are always the sport that is under-covered given the ratings and size of the events. In particular, ESPN. They just have so many platforms. So we are pushing real hard with them to have a more integrated approach. We have hired people to service them better, so we can help them accomplish that. They have the most assets to be deployed; it doesn't mean everyone else doesn't have some big ones and good ones. We are going to work to make them a better partner.
Q: Your TV deals are up in 2014, but when do negotiating windows open with your current partners?
France: Not for a little while, but we are having conversations, because a lot of our partners have been clear they would prefer to renew. All things being equal, our first hope is that the incumbents do renew.
Q: Will ratings continue to climb overall this season?
France: I don't know what all is going to happen in match-ups, and we will have the Olympics which will have some negative effect on us. If we can make that up in other places, sure. There is an enormous thing on this -- do you get the right match-ups. All that stuff really matters, that's the last 10-15%.
Q: What do you as a sport need to get better at?
France: A lot of things. Social and digital media is a great opportunity for everybody, but even more so for us because we are under-covered (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 1/16 issue).
ESPN is “a network as big as the leagues it covers,” but the net may have “gotten too big for its own good,” according to Nick Summers of NEWSWEEK. As a business, ESPN “thrives because it is playing a different game than the big public-airwaves networks.” NBC and CBS “make money from advertising,” but ESPN “takes in even more from cable-subscriber fees -- an average of $4.69 per household per month.” By comparison, the next “costliest national network, TNT, takes in just $1.16 from about as many homes.” ESPN had a “revenue of $8.5 billion last year,” and has “become the principal cash spigot of the Walt Disney Co., the network’s 80 percent parent.” To “the largest corporation on earth” the net has become “more important than Disney World and Disneyland combined.” ESPN’s costs are “defrayed whenever it passes on surcharges to cable operators.” But as viewers begin to “squawk over rising cable bills, cable operators protest that the sports giant has gotten too pricey and too coercive in its terms.” American Cable Association President & CEO Matt Polka said, “ESPN, through ... sheer muscle, has been able to say to us, ‘You will carry this service on the lowest level subscription you offer, and you will make all of them pay for it.’” Summers notes while government action rides in part on November’s elections, “a more pressing concern to ESPN and cable operators is the risk, in a down economy, that consumers will simply cut the cord.” And they “definitely don’t like the notion of pick-and-choose plans that have been floated.” Summers asks, “Wouldn’t it kind of make sense for fans to pay more, though -- to pay the true costs of sports programming, so that nonfans don’t have to chip in?” ESPN Exec VP & CFO Christine Driessen said, “This notion of trying to appropriately charge the ‘correct’ cost to the consumer -- it’s just not going to work out that way.”
BALANCING ACT: Summers reports in order for ESPN to “maintain favorable access to athletes, teams, and entire leagues, it is widely accused of downplaying stories that cast sports in a negative light.” Live games may “lead fans to watch ESPN more and more, but they’re seeing less and less of the network they fell in love with.” Today, there is often “excellent journalism to be found in the ESPN empire, from its 'E:60' and 'Outside the Lines' programs -- to documentary fare like '30 for 30.''' ESPN The Magazine distinguishes itself “with investigations, and ESPN.com is a go-to destination for breaking news.” This kind of coverage “is crucial to the network’s reputation,” but viewers “do expect ESPN to bring them the truth about the athletes and coaches in whom they invest so much.” ESPN has “always kept an awkward balance, somewhat unique in broadcasting, in that it covers sports leagues journalistically at the same time it pays them billions of dollars for the rights to broadcast their games.” Similarly, the net “covers athletes as news figures at the same time it benefits from their promotion.” Summers writes this conflict of interest “can result in gratingly off-key programming choices.” If ESPN has “taught us one thing about broadcasting sports, it’s that storylines matter: matchups are more riveting when there are heroes and villains.” Having played the “underdog for the first half of its corporate lifetime, ESPN has, to many, become the dynasty it feels good to root against” (NEWSWEEK, 1/16 issue).
The Chargers have agreed to a three-year extension with Clear Channel to broadcast all of the team's preseason, regular-season and postseason games on radio through the '14 season. Chargers games will continue to air on KIOZ-FM and KLSD-AM. Both stations will air live coverage of all Chargers games, as well as pre- and postgame shows. The AM station also will air the "Chargers Power Hour" show year-round from 3:00-4:00pm PT Monday-Friday (Chargers).
NAME CHANGE: On Long Island, Neil Best reports Mike Francesa's "Mike'd Up" WFAN-AM radio show changed names yesterday to "Mike's On." The name change was “fallout from Francesa leaving the TV version of ‘Mike'd Up’" on WNBC-TV last spring. The television station “had rights to the name and chose to hold onto it” (NEWSDAY, 1/18).
READY, SET, ACTION: ESPN.com’s Keith Hamm reported YouTube yesterday “launched a handful of channels promising high-quality, original programming.” During the past few months, “most of the anticipatory hype has been lavished upon Tony Hawk's Ride Channel.” Teaming up with some of "the best people in the skate industry," Hawk said that the channel “will cover the gamut, from trick tips and tour clips to music and art.” Other channels launched yesterday include “NBC's Alliance of Action Sports (Alli), the Red Bull channel, and Network A, a collaboration between athlete agency Wasserman Media Group and Bedrocket Media Ventures” (ESPN.com, 1/17).
TALKIN' HOOPS: Former Univ. of Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams, who “works as an analyst for the Big Ten Network, will join ESPN 980, a Washington-based sports radio station, as its ‘college hoops insider.’" Williams will “appear weekly on ‘The Sports Fix’ with Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro, and on ‘The Sports Reporters’ with Andy Pollin and Steve Czaban.” Williams “will be on the station through April 3” (Baltimore SUN, 1/18).