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Overnight ratings for yesterday’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament games were down from the comparable first Sunday in ’11, but the tournament remains on pace for its best audience in 18 years. Through Saturday’s coverage, the tournament is averaging a 5.3 fast-national Nielsen rating and 8.0 million viewers across CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, marking the best three-day audience for the event since '94. The figures through Saturday are up 4% and 3%, respectively, compared to a 5.1 rating and 7.8 million viewers last year, and up 15% and 14%, respectively, from ’10 when CBS was the only net airing the tournament. Saturday’s coverage of third-round games earned a 6.1 rating and 9.3 million viewers, marking the highest-rated and most-viewed first Saturday since ’07. The Saturday rating is up 3% from last year while viewership was flat. The four networks also averaged a 5.4 rating and 8.0 million viewers for coverage of the second-round games, marking the most-viewed Thursday/Friday since ‘91 (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand notes although ratings are currently up, the tournament “might be ratings-challenged now with fan favorite/villain Duke gone and no teams from the Pacific or Mountain time zones -- which have about 20% of the U.S. population” (USA TODAY, 3/19).
TALENT REVIEWS: In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes Turner's Charles Barkley “is having a second consecutive championship performance in the CBS-Turner Sports coverage of the men's NCAA Tournament, mixing his straight-on commentary with his unique humor.” Barkley yesterday said that the Univ. of Kentucky “would win the tournament.” When asked “who could beat the overall top-seeded Wildcats, Barkley replied, ‘The Toronto Raptors’” (DENVER POST, 3/19). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick noted Turner's Marv Albert called the Norfolk State-Missouri upset Friday, and at the end of the game he said, “And that’s it!” Albert allowed “the rest to speak for itself.” Mushnick: “Good for him. Good for us. Good for the archives.” But Mushnick noted Barkley “still has two weeks to get one thing right and to say one thing useful” (N.Y. POST, 3/18). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes St. John's coach Steve Lavin “has been stellar as a guest analyst” on CBS's NCAA Tournament coverage. His “strongest point of the weekend was addressing some of the controversial lane-violation calls we've seen in the tournament.” Lavin “correctly pointed out that though the calls weren't popular, they were correct.” Jones writes the “best announcing team” was Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel, who were “assigned to call the NCAA Tournament games from Nashville.” Eagle and Spanarkel “are the best duo calling tournament games.” They are “the Thinking Man's announcers.” Eagle might be “the most underrated broadcaster in sports, and Spanarkel doesn't have an overwhelming personality but an intelligent one.” Jones: “I'll take intellect over outrageous any day” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/19). Meanwhile, the N.Y. POST’s Mushnick writes play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan all weekend “was particularly skilled in avoiding facts about Syracuse’s continuing picks-and-rolls toward the netherworld.” Harlan used “distractions," “speed bumps in the road” and Saturday, “significant issues.” Harlan “also can’t speak simple basketball.” Mushnick: “One doesn’t shoot, one ‘hoists.’ One doesn’t ‘make’ three-point shots, [one] ‘authors’ them” (N.Y. POST, 3/19).
FAMILY TIES: USA TODAY’s Hiestand notes CBS’ Clark Kellogg this week “will be in Atlanta for the South Regional," while Ohio Univ., which features Kellogg's son, Nick, will be in St. Louis for the Midwest. CBS Sports Exec Producer & VP/Production Harold Bryant said, "We have no issue with whether or not it's his son's game. As a lead analyst, we just want him on the most marquee games possible." Kellogg’s wireless look-ins “aren’t prompted because CBS had any problem with him calling his son's action.” Hiestand: “Too bad CBS didn’t use Kellogg to cover his son's team, given that family ties can create dramatic TV sports.” When ESPN's Bob Griese covered his son’s football game, who was a quarterback at Michigan, Griese “broke down on-air as Brian's team won the Rose Bowl to seal a share of the 1997 season national title.” And Fox' Darrell Waltrip “teared up as brother Michael won the 2001 Daytona 500” (USA TODAY, 3/19).
Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said that he "plans to ease his workload a bit more this year by no longer calling games in Colorado," according to Jim Peltz of the L.A. TIMES. The 84-year-old Scully, who is entering his 63rd season with the team, will call all home games and road games "only in California and Arizona, which means he'll still announce more than 100 games this season." Scully had already "pared his travel schedule in recent years to the Dodgers' 81 home games at Dodger Stadium and cities mostly west of the Rocky Mountains." Announcers Eric Collins and Steve Lyons again will "broadcast the Dodgers' other road games that are not nationally televised" (L.A. TIMES, 3/18). Scully said before Saturday's Giants-Dodgers exhibition game, "There really is no big reason. I just wanted to back off a little bit more on the travel. That is basically it" (ESPNLA.com, 3/17). In L.A., J.P. Hoornstra noted Scully "hasn't worked a full 162-game schedule" since outgoing Owner Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers in '04 (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 3/18).
NBA TV saw a big audience increase for its coverage of the NBA trade deadline last week, with the average number of viewers tuning into its afternoon show posting a 77% increase over last year (122,000 vs. 69,000). The channel's 7:00pm ET show posted a 47% gain in the average number of viewers, as well (160,000 vs. 109,000). "It's a full-season trend that we're seeing," said NBA Digital GM Christina Miller. "Our deadline shows are the latest part of that." Miller said that the good numbers translated online, too, with unique users to NBA.com and team sites increasing 23%; page views up 22% and video views up 21%. "We are using a lot of our resources to be in multiple places," she said. "There were great storylines across the board and a lot of surprises throughout the day."
In San Diego, Bill Center noted FS San Diego's coverage of the Padres' Spring Training game against the Royals "actually reached television sets in San Diego County and Las Vegas." Cox announced 10 hours before game time of Padres-Royals "would be carried on Channel 18 or 23 -- depending on the area -- rather than on the dedicated Channel 56 and Channel 1056-HD." FS San Diego on March 10 announced via Twitter that its "complete launch in San Diego would be Monday -- although there was no mention of what Cox channel would be carrying FSSD." The net is also "negotiating with a Tijuana station and the Padres are hopeful that the link to Mexico will be completed much earlier than it was last season" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/18).
SLAM DUNK: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes, "You know which crew is stealing the March Madness show? ESPN's Trey Wingo, Kara Lawson and Carolyn Peck, who are hosting the women's tournament." ESPN's whip-around coverage is a "smart way to cover that tournament as the network whirls around from one game to another, keeping casual sports fans interested in an event they might not normally follow." But the only way that coverage "works is if the studio crew is knowledgeable and personable, and that's what Wingo; Lawson, a WNBA and former Tennessee star; and Peck, a former Gators and Purdue coach, are" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/19).
HORSE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR: In London, Greg Wood reported Channel 4 confirmed that it has "secured exclusive rights" to all domestic horse racing coverage starting in '13, including the Derby, Grand National and Royal Ascot. The "four-year deal" is believed to be worth US$24-32M. The BBC currently holds the rights and Wood noted racing has been "an important part of the BBC's sporting portfolio since the early 1960s." The new deal "will see a return to a more traditional arrangement where the broadcaster pays for the rights" (GUARDIAN, 3/18).
MOVING ON: In Chicago, Ed Sherman wrote, “Instead of wrapping up the week in sports business, I'm going to wrap up nearly 3 1/2 years on the beat today.” Sherman wrote his last post for his Crain's sports blog and has “decided to move on to pursue other opportunities.” He plans to launch “a national sports media site at ShermanReport.com” next month and is “looking forward to returning” to the golf beat he covered for 12 years at the Chicago Tribune (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 3/16).