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NBC earned a 1.7 final Nielsen rating and 2.9 million viewers for Saturday night’s Kings-Devils Game Two, marking the lowest audience for a NHL Stanley Cup Final telecast since ’07, when the series featured Ducks-Senators. Saturday night’s telecast was down 23% and 17%, respectively, from a 2.2 rating and 3.569 million viewers for Bruins-Canucks last year (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). In Detroit, Ted Kulfan wrote many people predicted this Stanley Cup Final matchup “wouldn’t attract many television viewers and thus far, that group is correct.” Every game in last year’s Bruins-Canucks series, including the games on cable TV, “did better" than Saturday’s Game Two on NBC. The overall numbers “are a little surprising” since the first two games in this series have gone into overtime. The early numbers mean this series could be the “least-watched and least-remembered" Stanley Cup Final series ever (DETROITNEWS.com, 6/4).
Negotiations for the next big sports media deal will “begin in earnest this week as Major League Baseball officially takes its national TV rights to the open market,” according to Ourand & Fisher of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. MLB execs have been “negotiating with network partners ESPN, Fox Sports and Turner for the past several months.” But those exclusive negotiating windows “have ended without deals.” Sources said that the final window with ESPN ends in the middle of this week, “allowing MLB to start negotiations with other networks, like NBC Universal, which has made no secret of its desire to pick up a package of rights" for NBC Sports Network. Sources “expect new deals to be finalized as soon as this summer.” Fox and ESPN in their initial discussions with MLB have “expressed interest in expanding their deals.” Fox currently owns MLB’s broadcast TV package, but sources said that the net is “interested in picking up cable packages.” Fox execs have “looked into turning its motor racing channel Speed into an all-sports network that could house those games.” It also could “decide to place a package on FX, which is scheduling more sports.” ESPN’s current deal “gives it access to an extensive regular-season schedule, but no playoffs.” Sources said that the network is “interested in adding some playoff games to the schedule.” It also is “interested in extensive highlight rights.” Meanwhile, sources said that Turner is “interested in maintaining, if not expanding, its current set of rights” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/4 issue).
EA Sports yesterday announced at the E3 conference in L.A. that it has acquired a multiyear, multi-title video game license from UFC, snatching the MMA property's intellectual property from rival publisher THQ. The deal ends several years of often bad blood between UFC and EA Sports, during which UFC President Dana White in '09 said he was "at war" with the publisher. White had accused EA Sports of saying MMA was not a real sport and irrelevant, a charge EA Sports strongly denied. White's public anger toward EA Sports nonetheless continued well into last year, and on several occasions he also verbally attacked the earning reports of EA Sports parent Electronic Arts. "I personally don't know what went on back on then, but this deal is a major long-term, global play for us," said EA Sports Exec VP Andrew Wilson. "I have found UFC to be nothing but consummate professionals and absolutely amazing to work with. We have big plans to grow together." White appeared on stage with Wilson during EA Sports' presentation yesterday at E3. No details, however, were disclosed on specific forthcoming titles or projected release schedules in the deal. THQ previously produced three versions of "Undisputed" as part of its UFC deal, generally scoring better critical and retail acclaim than EA Sports' "MMA" title, developed through licensing deals with individual MMA fighters. Financial terms of the new deal were not disclosed. But THQ, electing to focus on its core suite of games, received an undisclosed cash payment from EA to exit the remaining term of its UFC deal. THQ, meanwhile, is planning to shut down its San Diego development studio as part of the license shift.
MADDEN REWORKED: EA Sports yesterday at E3 also announced a reworked social gaming strategy for "Madden NFL," disclosing plans for a new "Madden NFL Social" on Facebook sometime this fall. The effort seeks to build on the publisher's first football foray in the space, "Madden NFL Superstars," which did not generate significant traction, in part through its focus on digital card collecting. "The social gaming space is moving very fast, and it's our mission to deliver authentic gameplay experiences on that platform. We know this has to be a 'beat-you' game, really focused on competition against your buddy, as opposed to a collecting game," Wilson said. EA Sports also appeared as part of Microsoft's separate E3 presentation, showing more detail to previously disclosed plans to make EA Sports' "Madden NFL" and "FIFA" titles compatible with the Kinect motion sensor (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
X MARKS THE SPOT: ESPN and Microsoft yesterday announced they have expanded their relationship for ESPN on Xbox LIVE to add WatchESPN as part of the service. The extended agreement will deliver authenticated versions of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU and ESPN Buzzer Beater/Goal Line to Xbox LIVE Gold members who receive their video subscription from Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Verizon FiOS TV or Comcast Xfinity TV (ESPN). Xbox also announced deals with the NBA and NHL. Xbox already offers MLB.tv (CABLEFAX DAILY, 6/5). In Portland, Allan Brettman notes Nike announced a partnership with Microsoft for an Xbox product called "Nike+ Kinect Training." Nike VP/Digital Sport Stefan Olander said that with the program, personal trainers "work with the user to assess their physical strengths, identify areas for improvement and create a personalized workout." He added, despite the partnership, Nike was "not really getting into gaming." Brettman notes Nike's electronics partner "has always been Apple Inc.," but now, the company "has a dual relationship with Microsoft" (Portland OREGONIAN, 6/5).
MLB announced today it will allow players participating in the July 10 All-Star Game in K.C. to post on social media platforms from the field during the game, expanding on a similar effort introduced during last year's Home Run Derby in Phoenix. Players will be allowed to post on Facebook and Twitter once they come out of the game, representing the first time players will be allowed on the platforms during the ASG itself. The league's normal social media policy for the regular season and playoffs prohibits all such activity by players during games. But the league will seek to build around the #ASG and #HRDerby hashtags during ASG week events. Along similar lines, ESPN and Fox also plan to incorporate social media during their broadcasts of the Home Run Derby and ASG, respectively. Last year's "Social Media Derby" for the Home Run Derby generated a peak volume of nearly 5,000 tweets per second, and when including both player and fan activity, ranked 7th in Twitter history at the time.
TV TIME: MLB today is also breaking a new TV spot entitled "The Pledge," highlighting league loyalty and the ASG's role in determining home field advantage during the World Series. Players involved in the spot include Blue Jays OF Jose Bautista, Tigers 1B Prince Fielder, Cardinals 3B David Freese, Yankees OF Curtis Granderson, Dodgers OF Matt Kemp, Rays 3B Evan Longoria, Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen, Red Sox DH David Ortiz, Phillies OFs Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki, D'Backs OF Justin Upton, Tigers P Justin Verlander and Angels P CJ Wilson.
In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes the Mets are “blessed with double-shock power” with WFAN radio announcer Howie Rose and SportsNet N.Y. TV announcer Gary Cohen, as fans “would be hard-pressed to find two better play-by-play voices today in baseball.” Cohen and Rose “received much-deserved praise” in the wake of Mets P Johan Santana’s no-hitter Friday night, but the “reality is their performances weren’t much different than they are every night.” Still, their play-by-play was “entertainingly dangerous, like sparks of electricity exiting a downed power line.” Even after Santana made it happen, both broadcasters said that they “purposely didn’t get carried away during the game because they did not believe ‘it’ could happen” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/5). Rose said of calling Friday’s game, "The only thing I disciplined myself to do was try to stay under control. I just thought, describe, describe, describe, the scene on the mound, the scene in the stands. The call ... I thought about my stamping it with the date and the time. The great Vin Scully stamped Sandy Koufax's, but no one will ever be as lyrical as Vin Scully. That's his." (SI.com, 6/4).
INDEPENDENT PARTY: In Boston, Greg Bedard noted NFL Network has “often been criticized because it is owned by the league and therefore its independent decision-making has been questioned.” But two developments last week “suggest the network is flexing its autonomous muscles.” First, the net “picked up a one-year option on the contract of analyst Warren Sapp.” Two league sources in April said that Sapp was “unlikely to have his contract renewed" following comments made on Twitter and on TV concerning former Saints TE Jeremy Shockey and the Saints bounty scandal. Bedard wrote NFL Net and NFL.com “definitely showed they are not house organs when they ran a full transcript" of comments from suspended Saints LB Jonathan Vilma (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/3).
PINCH HITTER: In Tampa, Tom Jones noted Rays TV analyst Brian Anderson was off this past weekend, so Todd Kalas joined Dewayne Staats in the Sun Sports booth for the series against the Orioles. It was “no surprise that the broadcasts were knowledgeable and enjoyable.” Kalas is a “pro and has no problem making the transition from sideline reporter to working in the booth.” The reason is that Kalas “knows what he knows and knows what he doesn't know.” He is not a former player, so his analysis “is based on extensive homework and reporting.” The experience allowed Kalas a chance to "show his stuff and perhaps work his way into a booth, if not here, then with another team if that's what he wants to do” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 6/3).
CORRECTION: Yesterday's issue of THE DAILY incorrectly stated that Fox earned a 2.6 overnight rating for its MLB primetime coverage on Saturday when it in fact earned a 2.8 overnight. THE DAILY regrets the error.