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NBC earned a 2.5 overnight Nielsen rating for the Bruins' OT win over the Capitals yesterday in Game Six of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, marking the best non-Stanley Cup Final game overnight in 14 years. The comparable Flyers-Sabres Game Six last year earned a 1.6 overnight. NBC also earned a 2.4 overnight for Flyers’ elimination of the Penguins in Game Six of their series. There was no comparable early-window game on Sunday last year. Saturday's Bruins-Capitals Game Five earned a 1.5 overnight, up from a 1.3 rating for the comparable Capitals-Rangers Game Five last year (THE DAILY). NBC Sports Group CMO John Miller said showing all NHL Playoff games on the NBC platform is “huge.” Miller: “We have multiple platforms all reinforcing each other, so it’s simply more shelf space ... and as a result of every game being on all the time, it puts us in where basically either a March Madness or an NBA has been where you’re able to see everything. As a result, people are finding the excitement of the game, they’re seeing more of it and clearly, the fans of those sports are watching it.” Miller noted NBCU “very aggressively cross-promotes on all of the channels” and the planning with the NHL began “back in the fall as the season was beginning to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs ... into something that’s competitive with the NBA Finals or March Madness.” Miller: “We’ve made a concerted effort to go after what we thought were the casual fans, the people that would be engaged in a hockey game and all the excitement that goes with real stakes” ("Sports Biz: Game On!," NBC Sports Network, 4/20).
SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT: YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote parity has "led to some fascinating hockey in the first round of the NHL Playoffs, but it's leading the League to an interesting test of its popularity in the U.S." The Red Wings and Penguins have already been eliminated, and large-market teams like the Rangers, Devils and Blackhawks are on the brink of being eliminated. Wyshynski asked, "Should this make the NHL and NBC more than a little nervous?" The pair has had an "incredibly fortunate run since 2008: Two Detroit Red Wings vs. Pittsburgh Penguins finals; then the Chicago Blackhawks' drought-snapping run against the equally Cup hungry Flyers; and then the Boston Bruins pulling a 64 share in a Game 7 to help NBC to huge ratings despite the presence of a Canadian team in the championship round." Meanwhile, the NHL and NBC "could end up with Florida vs. Nashville" this year. Wyshynski: "I actually see this as a chance for the NHL and its television partner to make a compelling statement." It is a "chance to make a statement about the NHL's surge in popularity not simply being tied to Original Six franchises playing for the Cup or outdoor hockey games." And it is a "chance for us to gauge how far the League has come since the lockout" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/22). Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said of the NHL playoffs, “Is the league ready for a Nashville-Ottawa Stanley Cup Finals?” N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica: “That’s what happens in this league. You end up with Virginia Commonwealth against George Mason playing for the Stanley Cup.” Lupica said the NHL “makes their regular season look more and more irrelevant every year” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 4/22).
SAY WHAT? The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes play-by-play announcers are "always looking for the memorable victory call," and NBC's Dave Strader had an "unforgettable description" of the Predators’ win over the Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Searching for a "catchy moniker to capture Music City’s reputation, Strader blurted out, 'Honkytown has taken down Hockeytown as Nashville wins the series four games to one!'" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/23). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Matt Yoder wrote Strader was "trying to play off the famous Nashville honky tonks for his closing call of the series, but honkytown implies something quite different." Yoder: "It's a shame, too, because he sounded so convincing in the delivery of that prepared series clinching line" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 4/20). In Vancouver, Stephen Shalagan writes, "We all know what Strader was trying to accomplish. Yes, Nashville is the epicenter of country music, and we all know he was shooting for something like, 'Honkeytonk,' or 'Honkeytonktown' but he reached for the stars, and ended up with 'Honkeytown'" (THEPROVINCE.com, 4/23).
IDENTITY THEFT: In Vancouver, Harrison Mooney notes while speaking with Fox Sports' Mike Dunsmore, Canucks D Kevin Bieksa pretended to be Canucks C Ryan Kesler "for the duration of the interview." Dunsmore mistook Bieksa for Kesler after the Canucks' Western Conference Quarterfinal Game Four win over the Kings, and Bieksa, "recognizing the gift-wrapped prank the moment he saw it, just went with it." Bieksa said of Dunsmore, "That guy's an idiot. It's his own fault if he can't tell the difference between an all-star centre and a plug defenceman. He shouldn't even be allowed in the room" (VANCOUVER SUN, 4/23).
IN PURSUIT OF PUCK: CBC Exec VP/English Services Kirstine Stewart said last week that she has "every intention of bringing back the National Hockey League to the public broadcaster when the current contract with the league comes due two years from now." Stewart said, "We’re going to. That’s our plan.” But the FINANCIAL POST's Jamie Sturgeon wrote Stewart's statement is "perhaps a brave face and false hope given her opponents." Both Rogers Communications Inc. and CTV-- now Bell Media -- were "already formidable foes before BCE Inc. bet on TV content to fuel its telecom businesses and acquired the network and specialty-channel operator, a strategy that has raised the stakes for all." Since being acquired by the "telecom giant last spring, the new Bell Media has lapped up sports broadcast rights left, right and centre in a race only Rogers has been able to keep pace with." The pair's joint $1.3B purchase of a controlling stake in Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Ltd. in December "all but guarantees the Saturday night NHL games the CBC has been able to secure from the league for decades will be lost, some analysts say, either entirely or in part." Still, Stewart argues that the CBC "can compete" (FINANCIAL POST, 4/20).
The Falcons have “declined the opportunity to appear” on HBO’s "Hard Knocks," according to a league source cited by Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com. The source said that the Falcons had “extensive discussions at every level of the organization about appearing on the show, but eventually decided they wanted their focus for the 2012 season to be exclusively on the football field.” With the Falcons “out of the picture, HBO could look again” at the Jets and Jaguars, who have “both shown previous interest in appearing on the show.” A league source said that the Ravens and 49ers are “also being looked at as options” for this season's show. Yasinskas noted the Jaguars have “historically struggled to sell tickets and market the team in the Jacksonville area,” and an appearance on "Hard Knocks" could “jump-start their fan base” (ESPN.com, 4/21). CBSSPORTS.com’s Josh Katzowitz wrote the Falcons on “Hard Knocks” could have been “interesting with new offensive and defensive coordinators, with general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and with the receiver duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones.” Katzowitz: “Instead, you have to wonder if HBO will shift its sights back to the Jets” (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/21). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes it “seems no NFL team wants to be” on “Hard Knocks.” Jones: “A part of me understands why teams aren't interested. The show can be a distraction, and in the ultraparanoid, extremely secretive NFL, teams don't want anyone (i.e. other teams) getting a peek inside their organization.” Jones writes he would "like to see" the Broncos on the show, but he “might be sick of Denver by season's end.” After last season's coverage of former Broncos QB Tim Tebow and this season's planned coverage of new team QB Peyton Manning, the Broncos “have become the NFL's most-followed franchise” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/23).
INSIDER ACCESS: MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro noted a 30-minute preview episdoe of Showtime's "The Franchise," featuring the Marlins, aired Saturday night, and the episode “was entertaining, enticing and enlightening.” With “full access to private meetings and phone conversations,” the preview had “plenty of drama.” In “great detail, the episode showed the inner workings that led to manager Ozzie Guillen being suspended for comments he made to Time magazine about Cuban leader Fidel Castro.” The franchise is “in the public eye like never before.” (MLB.com, 4/22). Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria in the episode said of the comments made by Guillen about Castro, “My initial reaction was, ‘Wow, this is not the Ozzie I know for all these years.’ But I realized we had to deal with this and deal with it quickly.” Marlins President David Samson: “This is about as bad as it can get without getting to termination.” Loria said he stated “unilaterally” the suspension is going to be five games and “that’s that.” Guillen told Samson, “I feel terrible.” Loria added, “Commenting on political things is just not a very smart thing to do” (“The Franchise,” Showtime, 4/21).
Fox earned a 2.7 overnight Nielsen rating for MLB regional coverage on Saturday from 4:00-8:00pm ET, which featured Yankees-Red Sox in 91% of U.S. markets. That figure is up from a 1.7 on the corresponding weekend last year, which featured Braves-Giants in 69% of markets. From 6:15-6:30pm, all markets were switched over to the ninth inning of White Sox P Philip Humber’s perfect game against the Mariners, with that portion of the telecast earning a 3.3 overnight. The 8% of markets seeing Mariners-White Sox were then changed to Yankees-Red Sox from 6:45-8:00pm. For Fox’ first regional coverage featuring Yankees-Red Sox last season (April 6 in 84% of markets), the net earned a 3.0 overnight (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
LESS THAN PERFECT: In Tampa, Tom Jones notes Fox switched to the White Sox-Mariners game in the ninth inning as Humber "went after a perfect game," but the switch initially "was only partway." At the time, the Red Sox led the Yankees 9-1, and Fox "decided to split the screen and put both games up at the same time." After Humber "got the first out in the ninth, someone at Fox finally wised up and put the perfect game on the screen by itself" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/23). CSNCALIFORNIA.com’s Paul Gutierrez wrote on his Twitter account, “Humber going for Perfection and Fox goes to split screen with Yankees-Red Sox?. Seriously?!?” SB Nation’s Andy Hutchins wrote, “I hope we all remember when Philip Humber made an absolute mockery of FOX with the picture-in-picture perfect game” (TWITTER.com, 4/21). In Louisville, Rick Bozich noted the longer Humber "persisted in retiring the Seattle Mariners one-two-three every inning, the more miffed I became that Fox didn’t dump yet another colossal Yankees-Red Sox game for the perfect game that was unfolding at the same time in Seattle" (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 4/23). Meanwhile, in Albany, Pete Dougherty wrote, "What we never saw in six minutes of postgame coverage was whether the last out truly should have been an out." Fox showed the "celebration of the White Sox players and eventually got to one replay, which was from the center-field camera," but viewers "never saw a view from the first-base dugout" (TIMESUNION.com, 4/21).
The Rangers' television ratings are "off to a phenomenal start," and while the team is off to an MLB-best 13-3 start, the "improvement in television numbers outscores the play on the field," according to Barry Horn of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Through 10 games on FS Southwest and one broadcast on KTXA-CBS, the team is averaging a 7.4 local rating in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market. The team’s “Sunday Night Baseball” telecast on ESPN against the White Sox on April 8 averaged an 8.5 local rating, while local coverage on Fox’ Saturday afternoon telecast on April 14 averaged an 8.2 rating. All combined, the team is averaging a 7.5 local rating, which is a 450% increase “over the number of homes watching in 2007.” One of the main reasons for the spike is the "Darvish factor," as P Yu Darvish’s three starts to date have earned 10.7, 8.2 and 8.3 local ratings, respectively. His first start against the Mariners on April 9 earned a 10.7 rating, the "best ever for a Rangers game on Fox Sports Southwest" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/21). Meanwhile, in N.Y., David Waldstein notes the postponement of last night's Yankees-Red Sox game now allows Darvish to face Yankees P Hiroki Kuroda "on Tuesday night in a game that could draw unprecedented attention in Japan." The game will be "broadcast live in Japan" at 8:00am local time Wednesday. The matchup will mark the "seventh time two Japanese pitchers have faced each other in the major leagues, but this pairing is considered the biggest" (NYTIMES.com, 4/23).
BLUE JAYS VIEWERSHIP ALSO UP: In Toronto, Bruce Dowbiggin reports Rogers Sportsnet's average audience for Blue Jays games this season is “up 54 per cent over the previous year," and the audience for the April 9 Opening Day game against the Red Sox "shattered Sportsnet’s previous record” by 36%. The “cause of the ratings boost is the promising Jays team that finished well in 2011." Dowbiggin: "Fans starved for a winner, any winner, in Toronto are intrigued by the team which so far looks great against weak sisters but struggles against the American League’s best.” Sports fans “in the rest of the country (many without a dog in the Stanley Cup fight) are giving the team a look.” Dowbiggin notes Rogers Sportsnet “possesses a roster of experienced, opinionated voices” for its Blue Jays telecasts with a group that includes studio analyst Gregg Zaun, game analyst Buck Martinez, play-by-play announcer Pat Tabler and radio analyst Alan Ashby (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/23).
USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand reports as ESPN and NFL Network "offer dueling coverage of the NFL draft that begins Thursday night, they've agreed not to show prospects getting phone calls -- at the draft or anywhere else -- from agents or teams telling them they're about to be selected." NFL Network's Rich Eisen said that the ESPN-NFLN "'gentleman's agreement' is a good idea." Eisen: "The national TV coverage was cannibalizing (the event). There was something inherently wrong with it. I was getting complaints from viewers on Twitter and I don't blame them" (USA TODAY, 4/23).
ANOTHER NEW NET? In Austin, Kirk Bohls notes Texas Tech is "researching the feasibility of its own network." Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt said last week, "I would say we're past the initial stages. I'd say we'll decide something in the next 12 to 18 months. The opportunities are there. Oklahoma's is the format we would follow." The school learned through Bortz Media & Sports Group that its football games from '08-10 ranked "second in ratings -- behind only Texas" -- in six market areas within the league footprint, including Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin and St. Louis (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 4/23).
OPEN WARNING: The GUARDIAN's Ewan Murray reports R&A CEO Peter Dawson has "warned the BBC that its future broadcasting of the Open is at risk if it continues to scale down its live golf coverage." The BBC will air "only six days of live mens' professional golf" next year. The net has a contract to show the British Open live until '16 but Dawson "made it clear there is no guarantee of that agreement being extended." Dawson: "We obviously want the Open Championship to be seen by as many people as we can. The BBC know they need to get off the financial plateau they are on with the Open Championship by the next time it comes around. Who knows who will be on the scene then?" (GUARDIAN, 4/23).
NO RENEWAL: In Minneapolis, Michael Russo noted the Wild informed TV play-by-play man Dan Terhaar that his contract "will not be renewed." While all four broadcasters "have expiring contracts, the Wild informed TV color analyst Mike Greenlay and the radio team of Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid that they will be re-signed." Terhaar has been the Wild's TV voice for the past seven seasons (STARTRIBUNE.com, 4/20).
LOOKING BACK: Fox last night aired “Fox 25th Anniversary Special,” which looked back at the last 25 years of Fox programming. Fox Sports’ Terry Bradshaw and Joe Buck appeared to discuss Fox acquiring the rights to the NFL before the '94 season. Buck: “We knew we wanted to give the fans a little something more than just X’s and O’s.” Bradshaw: “We wanted to give them that edgier approach." Buck said that “risk-taking led to some incredible broadcast innovations,” including putting cameras “right on the field of play, even on players, allowing fans to hear the true sounds of the game" ("Fox 25th Anniversary Special," Fox, 4/22).