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The Falcons potentially accepting an offer from HBO to appear on the upcoming season of "Hard Knocks: is a “a no-brainer for the business and marketing sides of the organization, but the football traditionalists struggle with the notion of cameras following them during training camp,” according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. The Falcons “seem to be a strange partner because under [coach Mike] Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, they have run a focused, determined and no-frills approach to football.” Still, Dimitroff is a “staunch second-generation football man,” and he “appreciates that part of the league revolves around entertainment” (ATLANTA CONSTITION, 4/13). However, ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, "Nobody wants to watch the Falcons. Name two defensive players on the Falcons” (“PTI,” ESPN, 4/12). SportsNet N.Y.’s Eamon McAnaney asked, “Which team would be a better fit for ‘Hard Knocks,’ the Falcons or the Jets? I mean please, no-brainer. Matt Ryan is as dull as ice and are we going to waste two seconds arguing the entertainment value of Mike Smith over Rex Ryan? If I were HBO and the NFL, I would be begging Rex Ryan to do it. Those guys will do a good show on anybody, but much better if it’s the Jets, Rex and Tim Tebow” ("Loud Mouths," SportsNet N.Y., 4/12). USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand writes the Jets with new QB Tim Tebow would be “a more obvious choice, while the bounty-burdened” Saints would be “a better one.” It “doesn’t really matter for the NFL Films-produced show,” as it hopes to “create personal story lines around athletes -- even if they’re obscure.” HBO “doesn’t have to worry about ratings because it’s ad-free,” as the network “just wants buzz, which it builds from staying mum” (USA TODAY, 4/13).
GROUNDED JETS: Jets coach Rex Ryan has said he would prefer the Jets not participate in the show, and ESPN’s Dan Le Batard asked, “How did we get to the place where Rex Ryan now cares what people think, and is that a place where we want to be? ... He didn’t have a problem with all of these cameras around him and gas-bagging all over the place when he was in the AFC Conference Finals” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 4/12). SportsNet N.Y.’s Sal Licata said of Ryan, “He finally understands all the attention they had that was great. ... Now, though, it's simply focused on winning and if his team does not win this year, he is going to get the brunt of it from the media. It's time to focus and concentrate solely on winning football games, not the attention-craving that he's had in the past.” SportsNet N.Y.’s Marc Malusis: “I don't think it's favorable for him to go there and say we have no interest when Woody Johnson is telling everybody and their mother that he'd love the organization to go out there and do it. But as far as Rex making big-time bold comments, I don't think it's the last statement we've heard from Rex” (“The WheelHouse,” SportsNet N.Y., 4/12).
STAY AWAY: CSNBAYAREA.com’s Paul Gutierrez wrote Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie is “against such an open-book policy” that occurs from appearing on “Hard Knocks,” especially in “his first year on the job.” McKenzie on Wednesday said, "I like Raider business to stay Raider business, that's all. ... Players and coaches act a little different when TV cameras are rolling." He added, "I wouldn't want to have HBO here, but I'm sure some of the players (might), and I don't know if coach (Dennis Allen) would want to have those guys here. Don't ask me because my answer is, Stay away." Gutierrez wrote he has “no doubt” if former coach Hue Jackson were “still running the football side of things in Oakland, the Raiders would have been a leading contender to be on the show this summer.” HBO was “certainly interested” (CSNBAYAREA.com, 4/12).
ESPN announced Thursday the commentator lineup for the ’12 NFL Draft. Chris Berman will again host the net’s primetime coverage Thursday, April 26, and Friday, April 27, at Radio City Music Hall in N.Y. He will be joined by Mel Kiper Jr. and Jon Gruden on ESPN’s main set. Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter will report from an additional set at the venue, while "NFL32" host Suzy Kolber will conduct interviews on-site with draft prospects. Former Colts Vice Chair Bill Polian and "NFL Live" host Trey Wingo will appear from ESPN's HQs during the opening round. Polian will then appear on-set in N.Y. Friday and Saturday. Todd McShay will have a similar schedule, starting in Bristol and traveling to N.Y. on Days 2 and 3. ESPN’s telecast on Day 3 will feature Wingo hosting from Radio City with Kiper, McShay, Mortensen, Polian, Schefter and Trent Dilfer. Kolber will co-host from Bristol with analysts Tedy Bruschi, Herm Edwards and Ron Jaworksi (ESPN). USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand writes Polian “isn’t exactly an expert on NFL draft on-air yak.” Polian said that this will be “the first time in three decades he won’t be part of a team’s draft efforts.” He added that he “won’t hesitate to critique picks made by his old peers” (USA TODAY, 4/13). Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Jim Kleinpeter reported LSU coach Les Miles will “serve as an analyst for NFL Network’s broadcast of the draft on its final day, April 28.” Miles will also be “featured in interviews on April 26-27.” He will join host Rich Eisen and analyst Michael Irvin for the draft broadcast (NOLA.com, 4/12).
TWO-FACED: In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley wrote when watching the "Gruden’s QB Camp" segments that have been airing on "SportsCenter" lately and listening to Gruden talk to the players, “you are reminded again how much more you admire that Jon Gruden than you do the one who sits next to Mike Tirico in the ESPN ‘Monday Night Football’ booth.” The "QB Camp" Gruden “is enthusiastic, smart, sometimes smart-alecky, candid, challenging, inquisitive, precise and no-nonsense” and he “is a bit of a ham, yes.” The "QB Camp" Gruden "is a coach who is coaching and it makes for some terrific reality TV.” But on Monday nights, “for whatever reasons, Gruden decides to leave the QB Camp guy, or at least portions of him, back at the office.” Wolfley: “You do wish Gruden to become more like another blond commentator with credentials noted for his candor and generally disliked by the players he talks about -- Johnny Miller of NBC” (JSONLINE.com, 4/12).
In L.A., Dylan Hernandez reports Dodgers radio announcer Vin Scully "won't call the Dodgers' series opener against the San Diego Padres on Friday night, marking the fourth consecutive game he'll miss because of a cold." A team spokesperson said that Scully "could return to the booth as early as this weekend" (LATIMES.com, 4/12). Also in L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes the Dodgers should "begin accounting for the time when (gasp) Scully disappears." The Dodgers "can keep using a combination" of broadcasters Charley Steiner, Steve Lyons, Eric Collins or Rick Monday, but "all that seems to be is a scripted fire drill." MLB Network studio host Matt Vasgersian "must remain on the radar," while ESPN "Sunday Night Baseball" play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman also "has been mentioned." Hoffarth: "Just look at how the Lakers are still, 10 years later, trying to establish a regular play-by-play man in the wake of Chick Hearn's passing" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 4/13).
GET WELL SOON: In Boston, Chad Finn notes Patriots radio announcer Gil Santos "has been battling a severe case of pneumonia for much of the winter" and it "remains to be seen whether he will be able to return to the booth" when the '12 NFL season begins. Sources said that Santos, "a longtime smoker who turns 72 on Monday, was in such dire condition at one point that he lost feeling in his extremities and had to be put into a medically induced coma." Patriots radio rights-holder WBZ-FM "has not made any formal decisions" on the status of Santos and analyst Gino Cappelletti. If Santos "is well enough to handle the job ... it is expected that CBS Radio would accede to his wish to return for at least this year." Sources said that WBZ "intends to give Santos as much time as possible to progress in his recovery before turning to an alternate plan" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/13).
NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Aditi Kinkhabwala writes Michael Strahan's "recognizability is taking another leap as he contends to become a legitimate crossover personality." Strahan is in the "pool of candidates to replace Regis Philbin and sit alongside Kelly Ripa" on ABC's "Live! with Kelly." Kinkhabwala: "As unexpected as this latest foray into daytime talk is, Strahan has been a natural." ABC's "Live! with Kelly" Exec Producer Michael Gellman said, "He's a big guy, but not an imposing guy. We realized he wanted to have fun and he wasn't afraid to let loose and be silly. We enjoy him and Kelly gets a kick out of him" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/13).
JOINING THE CREW: Former MLBer Dale Murphy will join Chip Caray and Joe Simpson in the booth for a minimum of 14 Braves telecasts on FS South, FS Carolinas, FS Tennessee, SportSouth and Peachtree TV during the ’12 MLB season (Fox Sports South). In Atlanta, David O’Brien noted Murphy “gave it a test run during several spring training games, his first significant broadcasting experience” (ACJ.com, 4/11). MLB.com’s Mark Bowman noted additional games could be added to Murphy’s schedule “as the season progresses” (MLB.com, 4/11).
NEW GIGS AND DIGS: YES Network’s Kimberly Jones, the Boston Herald’s Ian Rapoport, Pro Football Talk’s Gregg Rosenthal and the Wall Street Journal’s Kinkhabwala have joined the NFL Media team. After seven years with YES, Jones joins NFL Network as its N.Y.-based correspondent. Kinkhabwala will relocate to Pittsburgh, while Rapoport has been relocated to Dallas. Rosenthal joins NFL.com as senior editor after eight years covering the NFL for RotoWorld.com, ProFootballTalk.com and NBCSports.com (NFL).
DYING BREED? In Albany, Pete Dougherty writes even with ESPN's announcement this week that Lisa Salters would join "MNF" as a sideline reporter this season, "you wonder about the importance" of the position. For every Salters and Erin Andrews, “you get sideline imposters such as Jenn Brown and Tony Siragusa.” Dougherty: “Rarely does the viewer get any relevant information unless it pertains to injuries. Only the truly skilled -- and I would include Salters, Andrews, Tom Rinaldi, Armen Keteyian and maybe a few others in this category -- are prepared enough to ask solid questions that will elicit meaningful responses” (Albany TIMES UNION, 4/13).
NBC Sports Network averaged 656,000 viewers for its two NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games on Wednesday night, marking the net’s most-viewed opening night of the playoffs yet. The audience was up 23% compared to 534,000 viewers on the first night last year. Combined with one game on CNBC on Wednesday, the NHL’s opening night averaged 555,000 viewers, up 4% from last year. NBCSN’s Flyers-Penguins Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game One also marked the most-viewed opening night telecast in 10 years. Meanwhile, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia earned a 7.3 local rating for the Flyers' OT win over the Penguins, marking the net’s highest-rated opening Playoff game ever. The previous best was for the Sabres-Flyers opener in ’98. NESN also averaged an 11.6 local rating in Boston for last night's Capitals-Bruins Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game One, marking the net's best Bruins playoff opener ever.
STARTING LINEUPS: Fox finished with a 2.0 rating and 3.1 million viewers for its first MLB regular-season telecast last Saturday afternoon, which was led by Red Sox-Tigers in 43% of markets. That rating is flat compared to the comparable telecast last year, with viewership down slightly from 3.2 million viewers. The rating is tied with last year as the highest-rated opening weekend for the net since ’08. The Royals-Angels game also went to 17% of markets during the telecast, and in L.A., it earned a 3.0 local rating, marking the highest-rated for a Fox Saturday MLB telecast since July ’10 and highest for an Angels game in the market since ’08. Meanwhile, SportsNet N.Y. earned a 3.9 local rating (370,000 viewers) for Monday’s Nationals-Mets game, marking the net’s best primetime game since Mets-Tigers on June 24, 2010. Rogers Sportsnet averaged 1.33 million viewers for the Blue Jays’ home opener against the Red Sox on Monday, marking the net’s largest audience ever for a Blue Jays game. That figure is 36% higher than the previous record, set during last year’s opener against the Twins.
GREEN WITH ENVY: Golf Channel’s coverage of The Masters, which included pre- and post-round programming in the form of “Live From The Masters,” saw a 40% jump in viewership compared to last year. Coverage at The Masters also led the net to its most-viewed week so far in ’12. Meanwhile, leading into The Masters, viewership for the six PGA Tour events where NBC and Golf Channel shared coverage of the four rounds was up 20% year-over-year, and also marked the most-viewed string of tournaments leading up to The Masters since the current PGA Tour broadcast format was introduced in ’07. Golf Channel viewership for early round coverage remains up 16% from last year, with overall PGA Tour viewership on the net up 15%.
NOTES: FS Oklahoma earned a 10.0 local rating for Clippers-Thunder on Wednesday, marking the second time this season the matchup has set a new Thunder ratings record on the net. The matchup on March 21 earned a 9.8 local rating….ESPN2 averaged 498,000 viewers for Boston College’s win over Ferris State in Saturday’s men's hockey tournament championship game. That figure is down from the 826,000 viewers for last year’s Minnesota Duluth-Michigan finale on ESPN….Fox Soccer’s EPL Arsenal-Manchester City match last Sunday was the most-viewed, English-language soccer match for the week of April 1-8 with 409,000 viewers. By comparison, Telemundo’s telecast of the Mexico Primera Division Chivas de Guadalajara-Club America match on Sunday night averaged 1.9 million viewers.
The charts below list final Nielsen ratings from recent sports telecasts. Figures for ABC and NBC were unavailable at presstime.
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT. "Seve at Augusta"4/7CBS2:30-3:30pm0.9 The Masters: Third Round4/7CBS3:30-7:16pm5.0 MLB: (regional)4/7Fox3:30-7:00pm2.0 "Jim Nantz Remembers Augusta: The 1987 Masters"4/8CBS1:00-2:00pm0.9 The Masters: Final Round4/8CBS2:00-7:51pm8.0 Mexico Primera Division:
Chivas de Guadalajara-Club America4/8Telem.6:55-9:04pm0.9
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) NCAA Women's Basketball
Championship: Baylor-Notre Dame4/3ESPN8:30-10:43pm2.94,244
The Masters: Second Round4/6ESPN3:00-7:41pm2.74,053 NBA: Thunder-Heat4/4ESPN28:06-10:52pm2.02,977 The Masters: First Round4/5ESPN3:00-7:14pm2.02,661 NBA: Lakers-Clippers4/4ESPN10:30pm-1:12am1.72,421 MLB: Cardinals-Marlins4/4ESPN7:00-9:58pm1.62,416 NBA: Celtics-Bulls4/5TNT9:41pm-12:22am1.62,151 MLB: White Sox-Rangers4/8ESPN7:58-11:00pm1.31,945 NBA: Knicks-Magic4/5TNT7:06-9:41pm1.01,398 "NCAA Women's