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A federal judge in N.Y. yesterday “allowed sports fans to pursue a lawsuit" accusing MLB, the NHL and several media companies of antitrust violations in how they package games for broadcast on TV or the Internet, according to Stempel & Baker of REUTERS. U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin said that the subscribers “could pursue claims that the packaging has reduced competition, raised prices, and kept them from watching their favorite teams located outside their home markets.” The defendants include MLB, the NHL, various teams in both leagues, Comcast, DirecTV, and MSG, and other RSNs. The subscribers in the suit contended that if they "wanted to watch games from outside their home markets, they were required to buy packages that included all out-of-market games, even if they were interested only in one or a few nonlocal teams.” The packages “at issue” include MLB Extra Innings and NHL Center Ice for TV and MLB.tv and NHL GameCenter LIVE for the web. Scheindlin dismissed claims that Comcast, DirecTV and other nets "conspired to monopolize markets," but allowed "similar claims against" MLB and the NHL to proceed. Among the “dozens of defendants" were the Yankees, YES Network, the White Sox, the Blackhawks, the NHL Rangers and various Comcast SportsNet and Root Sports RSNs (REUTERS, 12/5). YAHOO SPORTS’ Jeff Passan wrote if MLB were to “avoid settling and lose, the consequences could change the league's TV structure -- for worse, it contends.” The league “fears a TV policy without restrictions would harm smaller-market teams, which would face competition from the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox and other high-profile, big-money teams looking to expand their reach beyond local markets” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/5).
CBS today announced plans to “bring along lots of its shows and stage them in an outdoor square” in New Orleans during the net's coverage of Super Bowl XLVII, according to Michael Hiestand of USA TODAY. Networks carrying Super Bowls over the years have “gradually lengthened their pregame show and brought their other shows on-site.” But CBS' plans for its “temporary on-air hub in New Orleans' Jackson Square in the French Quarter will take on-air TV tonnage to a new level -- almost rivaling how TV networks use the Olympics to cross-promote various shows.” Five sets will be used for the net's "various shows." In addition to its evening and morning news shows and Sunday morning's “Face the Nation” being on-site in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, CBS also will "bring comedian Craig Ferguson's late-night show” and the network's daytime program “The Talk.” The net also will “use the staging area to hype various new sports ventures, including at least 50 hours of shows on its revamped CBS Sports Network cable channel” (USA TODAY, 12/6).
Fox Sports execs yesterday met with Speed staff in Charlotte and addressed reports of the company's plan to rebrand the motorsports channel as Fox Sports 1. Sources said the meeting was led by Fox Sports co-Presidents & co-COOs Randy Freer and Eric Shanks. The execs assured the Speed staff that they will be a key part of any rebranding of Speed and added that Speed's production facility in Charlotte would contribute significantly to programming in the future. They did not comment on how many employees would be kept in Charlotte, or if any would be relocated to Fox Sports' offices in N.Y. or L.A. They said they would come back early next year to update staff on their plans. The meeting was supposed to be held the week of Nov. 5, but was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy. Fox Sports plans to convert Speed, which is in 81 million homes, into Fox Sports 1 by August, according to a recent report in SportsBusiness Journal. The conversion was written into recent TV rights agreements that Fox cut with MLB and NASCAR, and the company recently began sharing a five- to 10-minute "sizzle reel" with sports and media execs touting its plans for the new channel. Fox Sports still has not confirmed its plans for Speed publicly.
Syndicated radio host Paul Finebaum is profiled by Reeves Wiedeman in this week's issue of THE NEW YORKER. Wiedeman writes Birmingham, Ala.-based WJOX-FM has "become the second-highest-rated sports station in the country, thanks largely to Finebaum." The Paul Finebaum Radio Network can be “heard on twenty-one stations in Alabama and throughout the South, but it emanates" from WJOX. Finebaum's show “attracts nearly a quarter of the adult male listeners in Birmingham ... with a broad demographic range.” Memphis-based WMFS-FM sports radio host Chris Vernon said outside of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, Finebaum is "the most famous person" in the state. Wiedeman writes Finebaum’s listeners “do not tune in for his thoughts on the sports world at large.” Finebaum, when asked how much airtime was devoted to topics other than college football, cupped his fingers into a zero and said, "The summers are hard.” Wiedeman writes Finebaum is, “by his own admission, an unlikely candidate for the voice of the South," as he is 57 years old, "Jewish, and bald.” He “prefers MSNBC to ESPN, and expresses surprise that he has not ended up in a more academic profession.” Finebaum said, “I have a very difficult time listening to sports radio.” Wiedeman writes, "This air of detachment from his listeners’ chief passion occasionally brings him in for criticism.” Almost “despite himself, Finebaum is deeply connected in the world of college football, especially" in the SEC. His show is “most popular when teams from the conference do well,” but it is “most compelling when the wheels come off” (THE NEW YORKER, 12/10 issue).
Travel Channel’s new reality show, “NFL Road Tested: Cleveland Browns,” follows the Browns as they prepare for each week's game, but in "trying to go through the whole week in a short period of time,” the show gives viewers “just a taste of each day but loses focus, hopping through people and places,” according to Connor Kiesel of WEWS-ABC in Cleveland. The 30-minute show follows a “linear structure, going day-by-day up to the culmination point on Sunday.” However, that is “not enough time to flesh out characters.” While there is a “fly-on-the-wall nature which is sometimes captured, episode one feels rushed, trying to cram too much into too little time.” The show “finds interesting details but needs to better streamline its story.” Kiesel wrote the "star of the show ... isn't a player but the Browns’ 66-year-old equipment assistant Mike Thatcher.” He is shown in the locker room "cleaning shoes and reminiscing about a cameo he made in the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption.'" The scene is “real, endearing and funny.” "NFL Road Tested" is produced by Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam’s wife Dee’s company, RIVR Media, though Haslam “never becomes the overwhelming focus of the show you might expect him to be” (NEWSNET5.com, 12/5). MEDIA LIFE magazine’s Tom Conroy wrote the show is “based on the hope that the jobs of the Cleveland Browns' support staff … will be worth watching.” Conroy: “They're not. The show ranges from dull to ludicrously dull.” Critics normally “object to fakery in documentaries, but by the end of the episode most viewers will be begging for distraction.” The show "should have been road-tested before it aired” (MEDIALIFEMAGAZINE.com, 12/4).
INSIDE THE SHOW: Show narrator Rick Riley said with the addition of Haslam, “for the first time in a long time there is reason for optimism” among Browns fans. Browns CEO Joe Banner said, “Jimmy leads and he’s got an energy and a contagiousness about him that just comes natural. That’s who he is. You can’t be around that and not feel it.” Pro Football HOFer Jim Brown said Haslam’s “leadership is obvious, his understanding of success is obvious." Brown: "He’s not bashful.” Riley noted the key to "success in the NFL is to build an organization that is strong from top to bottom and everywhere in-between.” Browns rookie RB Trent Richardson said, “We’re going to build it” ("NFL Road Tested," Travel Channel, 12/4).
CABLEFAX magazine announced its '12 CableFax Program Award honorees. TNT's Ernie Johnson, host of "Inside the NBA," was named Best Sports Host. YES Network's "10 Years of YES" took home the distinction of Best Regional Show Or Series. NBATV's "The Association: Denver Nuggets" was named Best Sports Show Or Series. ESPN's broadcast of the '12 NBA Eastern Conference Finals was awarded the Best Opening Sequence and the net's Spanish-language documentary series "Capitales del Futbol" was recognized as the Best U.S. Show In Latin America (CABLEFAX magazine, 12/ '12 issue).
SAY CHEESE: In Green Bay, Maria Amante reports the producers for Style Network's "Tia and Tamera" and MTV's "Run's House" and "Life of Ryan" are "looking to create a documentary series revolving around Green Bay Packers fans." Reality TV production company Good Clean Fun Casting Associate Kjerstin Johnson said, "We find it fascinating, and think the personalities are great, and want to catalog it a bit." Johnson said that Packers fans who "are loud, energetic and passionate will get attention from those casting the series" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 12/6).
NEED FOR SPEED: National Speed Sport News has partnered with producer Jim Roller to spearhead its video, TV and production efforts. While leading the development of the new Speed Sport TV and its related initiatives, Roller will continue in his role as senior producer for the American Le Mans Series, which will air on Fox and ESPN networks in '13 (National Speed Sport News).