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The NFL Conference Championship games averaged 53.7 million viewers across Fox and CBS, marking the most-viewed Conference Championship Sunday since '82, when NBC’s Bengals-Chargers and CBS’ 49ers-Cowboys combined to average 60.2 million viewers. This year’s two games also mark the most-viewed programs on all of TV since the Super Bowl last February. Fox finished with a 30.6 rating and 57.6 million viewers for the Giants-49ers NFC Championship, marking the third-highest viewership ever for an NFL Conference Championship game. Giants-49ers is up 8% and 5%, respectively, from a 28.3 rating and 54.9 million viewers for the comparable Steelers-Jets AFC Championship on CBS in the late window last year, and up 9% and 11%, respectively, from the Packers-Bears NFC Championship in the early window. Giants-49ers also peaked at 69.0 million viewers in the 10:00-10:45pm ET window. For the '12 NFC Playoffs, Fox averaged a 23.9 rating and 42.6 million viewers, marking the net's most-viewed NFL Playoffs ever, and up 11% and 10%, respectively, from a 21.6 rating and 38.7 million viewers last year. Meanwhile, CBS earned a 27.4 rating and 48.7 million viewers for the Patriots-Ravens AFC Championship from 3:07-6:16pm ET, down from the early window NFC Championship last year and down from CBS' AFC Championship in the late window. However, the 48.7 million viewers mark the second-best viewership for an AFC Championship in 30 years, behind only last year's game. Patriots-Ravens also marks the highest-rated early AFC Championship in 17 years and most-viewed early window AFC Championship in 30 years (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). In Baltimore, David Zurawik noted WJZ-CBS reported that "1.112 million area viewers watched the Ravens-Patriots" game. WJZ GM Jay Newman said that the game set "what is believed to be a record for the station," with Nielsen data indicating that the game was "seen by 78,000 more local viewers than watched the Ravens-Giants Super Bowl" in '01 (BALTIMORESUN.com, 1/23). Meanwhile, in Houston, David Barron noted KHOU-CBS drew a 28.1 local rating for the game, "which ranked 33rd among the 56 major markets." KRIV-Fox drew a 28.9 local rating for the Giants-49ers NFC Championship game, which "ranked 43rd" (CHRON.com, 1/23).MOST-VIEWED NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMESYEARNETWORK
GAMEVIEWERS (000)'82CBS 49ers-Cowboys68,690'10Fox Saints-Vikings57,933'12Fox Giants-49ers57,600'95Fox 49ers-Cowboys56,808'11CBS Steelers-Jets54,850
PREDICTING SUPER RATINGS: In N.Y., Richard Huff writes a "record number of viewers could tune [in] to the Super Bowl rematch between the Giants and the Patriots" on Feb. 5. Horizon Media Senior VP & Dir of Research Brad Adgate said, "It could very well surpass last year’s record of 111 million viewers. It is a rematch of one of the most exciting Super Bowl games played." Huff notes predictions of "big ratings for the Super Bowl come after a weekend of huge audiences for the AFC and NFC championships" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/24). In DC, Tracee Hamilton writes NBC "got lucky with the Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning matchup in Super Bowl XLVI." The huge fan base across New England and the N.Y. area "guarantees good ratings for NBC" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/24). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said of the Giants-Patriots matchup, “This is the game that America wants. This is the right game. Nobody wanted the Harbaughs in there, nobody. Except the Harbaughs” ("Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 1/23).
GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH? In Toronto, Cathal Kelly writes despite being broadcast in "roughly 230 foreign territories, only a third of the total Super Bowl audience comes from outside" the U.S. So the "self-proclaimed 'greatest show on Earth' comes up well short when compared to the Olympics, the World Cup, the European Football Championships, the Champions League and any cricket match that involves both India and Pakistan." Kelly writes what the NFL "wants is what the other football already has -- a pipeline into all those homes in the developing world" (TORONTO STAR, 1/24).
BLACKING OUT? In Boston, Johnny Diaz notes Miami-based Sunbeam Television Corp., which owns Boston’s WHDH-Fox, has "blacked out its stations on satellite provider DirecTV in a dispute over fees, but could declare a truce and temporarily restore service if both parties fail to come to terms before" the Super Bowl. What Sunbeam officials "won’t say is whether they will allow viewers to see the big game on DirecTV, as they did in Miami for a playoff match." The company "lifted a blackout at its Miami Fox affiliate station for last Sunday’s NFC championship game, a special edition of 'American Idol,' and that evening’s local newscast and sports show." On Thursday, U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) sent FCC Chair Julius Genachowski a letter "requesting he ask DirecTV and Sunbeam 'to reach terms under which the signal will be restored.'" U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) sent a letter to DirecTV and Sunbeam officials on Friday, asking them to "come to a resolution before the Super Bowl" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/24).
ANOTHER SPECIAL IDOL: In N.Y., Bill Carter wrote Fox, doing "everything it can to stave off the first significant ratings slide for its hit 'American Idol,' is giving its audience an extra shot at viewing Sunday’s special edition of the singing competition." Because the Giants-49ers game went into OT, the show was "relegated mostly to the 11 p.m. time slot, meaning it doesn’t count in the prime-time ratings (only three minutes will count)." As a result, the special "drew an audience of 19.8 million viewers, fewer than watched the show’s premiere last week, even though it followed a National Football League game seen by more than 50 million viewers." Fox will replay the Sunday night special tonight at 8:00pm ET (NYTIMES.com, 1/23).
The USA Today Sports Media Group has acquired Big Lead Sports, marking a major deal for what had been the largest independent entity in online U.S. sports media. The purchase, announced this morning, was for about $30M, according to industry sources. USA Today parent company Gannett had already owned about 30% of Big Lead Sports, previously known as Fantasy Sports Ventures before a '10 rebranding, and the latest deal represents a purchase of the remaining equity. Big Lead Sports, in addition to prominent sports blog The Big Lead, operated a network of more than 500 sports blogs and content sites, and had been a regular fixture in the top 10 most trafficked sports sites each month according to comScore. USA Today, prior to the deal, also had been a top 10 comScore mainstay, meaning a combined traffic total might only trial industry leaders Yahoo Sports and ESPN. "The sheer scale of Big Lead Sports is very significant," said USA Today Sports Media Group President Tom Beusse. "What they've done is build up a fantastic network of sites with a strong, original voice, and that's not easy to do. And this gets us into the fantasy business in a meaningful way. Quite frankly, there's an awful lot we can do with this." Beusse said operation of the Big Lead Sports properties will remain essentially intact. However, after a transition period of several months, Big Lead Sports CEO Chris Russo will depart the company he helped create more than five years ago. "I want to build something else after taking a bit of time to recharge," Russo said. "I enjoy the entrepreneurial world, and I want to figure out what the next challenge is."
TALKS BEGAN LAST YEAR: Talks on the deal began quietly early last year, soon after Beusse took his current position. The sale price for Big Lead Sports is less than a third of what Yahoo paid for Rivals.com in '07, and similar to what Yahoo then paid for Citizen Sports Network in '10. Both of those independent online companies held much less scale in terms of traffic and far smaller advertising businesses than what Big Lead Sports has, with Rivals.com in particular focused instead on subscription revenue. But Russo branded his deal a positive one. "We're very pleased. We believe this is a meaningful exit, and one of only a handful that have occurred in this space in the last few years," he said. "We have great content and a lot of scale. They've got a great brand, are obviously a larger entity, and this is something where combining resources we think makes a lot of sense."
Breeders’ Cup Senior Dir of Event Communications Jim Gluckson said NBC Sports has made a "strong commitment" to horse racing by signing a multiyear deal to air the annual event, and he added he believes the move of the Breeders' Cup Classic to primetime will result in a "lot more viewers." Gluckson said of NBC, "They have created an attractive multiyear proposal for us, making it a win-win for all parties. ESPN has been a great partner for the past six years and we’re still working with them for the global distribution of the Breeders’ Cup. They still have the international rights" (Molly Hogan, THE DAILY). NBC Sports VP/Communications Adam Freifeld said that “nothing in the contract requires the Classic to be in prime time.” However, he noted Santa Anita hosting the '12 Breeders' Cup "provides the opportunity” for the primetime exposure (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 1/24). The DAILY RACING FORM’s Matt Hegarty notes NBC has been “rapidly attempting to turn NBC Sports Network into a major sports broadcaster, and the network has recently struck deals with the National Hockey League to bolster its programming.” The net currently “holds the broadcast rights to the three races of the Triple Crown and reached an agreement late last year with the Jockey Club to broadcast prep races for the Kentucky Derby.” In addition, the net “has an agreement with the New York Racing Association to broadcast live races from Saratoga Racecourse.” Freifeld said that NBC’s family of networks “plans to broadcast 56 hours of horse racing programming this year, up from 5 ½ hours two years ago.” Both Freifeld and Gluckson noted that the two parties “have not yet decided on staff for the broadcasts, including the racecaller” (DAILY RACING FORM, 1/24).
MLB Network tonight debuts “Baseball IQ,” its first original game show, in which representatives from each MLB team go head-to-head in a battle royale of baseball trivia. The series was taped last week -- at a brisk pace of four sessions of filming per day -- and two episodes will air back-to-back tonight from 9:00-10:00pm ET. Host Matt Vasgersian said each round of competition features “two players facing off, alternating listing correct answers within a category.” Vasgersian noted because of baseball’s wealth of history and statistics, it was difficult for the players to really prepare. “You kind of have to come here with your knowledge base,” Vasgersian said. “If you try to open up a baseball almanac before you got here, you’d be flooded with stuff that would probably muddy the waters for you.” Despite the difficulty in preparation, Vasgersian said he was impressed with more contestants “than I thought I would be.” He said, “Some of the categories that have been built, they haven’t gone nearly as deep into as we expected, and then others, they’ve come close to listing every answer correctly, which has surprised us.” He added, “After guys come on the show once, one thing I’ve taken their temperature on is whether or not they play Sporcle. Sporcle is a website, it’s the ultimate time-killer. It’s just thousands and thousands of quizzes. ... It gets you used to working with a clock, and makes you think on more of a time constraint. It’s the only way I think you could humanly prepare for something like this.” Vasgersian also noted that the show’s staff, in the interest of fair play, specifically avoided certain categories or questions based on the contestants participating in a particular round. He said, “Everybody that comes on here has a specialty. So if it’s a guy from the Mets playing against a guy from the Phillies, we’re not going to flip him softballs about the career of Tug McGraw.”
IN HIS BLOOD: Vasgersian has quite the background in game shows -- both as contestant and host. He co-hosted FSN’s “Sports Geniuses” from ’99-’00, and was a contestant on both “The Dating Game” and “Supermarket Sweep.” In addition, Vasgersian’s mother appeared on “Password” when he was just six years old. He said, “I think that’s how I got hooked in, subliminally.”
FROM THE CONSTANTS THEMSELVES: THE DAILY spoke with several “Baseball IQ” contestants to get their take on the show.
Q: How did you get the honor of representing your franchise on the show? Did you volunteer? Nominated? Lost a bet?
Giants Manager Of Client Relations Greg Marinec: There were two tests given. I scored in the top four of the first test, and was the high-man on the 2nd test, and off to Secaucus I went!
Rangers Senior VP/Ballpark Entertainment Chuck Morgan: More of volunteer, most of PR people were busy with other things. ... I was kind of next on the list.
Braves Corporate Partnerships Manager Mark Lehman: Volunteered to take a baseball trivia test with about a dozen other Braves front office staff and scored the highest -- won by one point.
Tigers Dir Of Marketing Ron Wade: It was a pretty intense process. The Tigers sent an e-mail to all staff letting us know if we wanted to participate that we'd have to take a written exam. ... The top five scorers moved on to a second set of harder questions. I had the highest score after it was over.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your baseball IQ going into filming?
Wade: Probably a six-and-a-half. I'm an American League fan, so I had to do a lot of studying on the NL.
Morgan: Baseball IQ from 1960 to 1975, probably an 8 or a 9 ... from 1976 to 2011, probably around a 5.
Q: What did you do to prepare for this challenge?
Marinec: Spent a lot of time on the Baseball Almanac and Baseball-Reference.com websites.
Wade: Besides drive my wife crazy by asking her to ask me questions? I re-watched most of the Ken Burns "Baseball" documentary, spent some quality time with MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com, had my co-workers fire random questions at me.
Lehman: Borrowed some record and trivia books from our media relations department and studied “a little” over the holidays. However, mainly just went into this with what I already knew and didn’t know.
Q: Were there any subject areas you felt particularly confident in? Any subjects you hoped wouldn’t come up?
Marinec: I felt confident being able to answer questions about events and/or players that have taken place during my lifetime (since 1970). Not so much about stuff before that.
Morgan: Older trivia, more concerned about current questions than older trivia.
Wade: I was pretty confident with the Hall of Famers and I memorized a lot of milestone "clubs." There are so many possible subjects to cover, that I didn't fear one -- I feared them all!
Q: Was there anyone you looked to for guidance before heading on the show -- a Yoda of baseball trivia, if you will?
Lehman: Just my dog Charlie, asked him to wish me good luck as I headed out to participate.
Marinec: There really was not as I am the biggest baseball nerd I know.
Q: Going into filming, who did you see as your biggest competition?
Lehman: All of the baseball statistical analysts that represented a number of the other clubs. Couple of Ivy Leaguers in that group.
Wade: I thought going against someone from the Baseball Hall of Fame would be intimidating just because they had every team's history at their fingertips.
Q: Are your colleagues trying to break you down to find out how far you made it on the show?
Lehman: I'm just telling them to watch the show. I need ratings to launch my next career in television!
Marinec: Yes but at the same time, they realize I am unable to reveal. Only my wife knows so far.
Morgan: Not really, (they are) too busy getting ready for the 2012 season.
Wade: Yes. I hear "How did you do? or "Did you win?" at least five times a day.