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Ravens LB Ray Lewis is “close to signing a multi-year contract” with ESPN, a day after he announced he would retire following the NFL playoffs, according to sources cited by Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Lewis is “expected to have a significant role on the network's Monday Night Countdown program.” As with “most ESPN NFL talent, Lewis would also be featured on multiple platforms, including ESPN Radio.” No formal announcement from Lewis or the network is “expected until the conclusion of the Ravens season.” Sources said that Lewis and his reps from William Morris Endeavor “met during the season with several of the NFL broadcast networks.” Sources added that one of Lewis' main requirements “was flexibility in his schedule so he could attend the games of his son," Ray Lewis III, who will be a freshman at the Univ. of Miami next season. That scheduling “made Lewis an unlikely fit for a full-time role on the Sunday morning shows aired by CBS or Fox where he'd be required to be part of pre-show meetings on either Saturday or early Sunday.” There is a “possibility Lewis could work for ESPN on some Sundays depending on his travel.” Given his “star power, it's very likely Lewis would have a role on ESPN's multiple-day coverage of April's NFL draft” (SI.com, 1/3). In Baltimore, Jack Lambert noted despite Lewis’ “declining play on the field,” he is “still one of the most recognizable football players in the country.” Marketing Evaluations Exec VP Henry Schafer, whose company produces Q Scores, said this summer that Lewis is “recognized by 67 percent of average sports fans and has a Q-score of 20.” Schafer said that “both of those numbers are above the national average for football players” (BIZJOURNALS.com, 1/2).
EXTRAORDINARY TV POTENTIAL: In Baltimore, David Zurawik wrote success on TV is “far from guaranteed, even for someone the stature of Lewis.” But SI’s Deitsch said Lewis’ TV potential is “extraordinary.” Deitsch: “He’s considered to be incredibly charismatic, a great speaker, great communicator and on top of that has incredible name recognition, because he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer.” ESPN NFL Senior Coordinating Producer Seth Markman said, “Ray Lewis has instant name recognition among all football fans and when he speaks he never holds back. You know he will be candid in offering his insights and opinions. That’s everything you hope for in an analyst.” THE DAILY's John Ourand said Lewis is “the kind of polarizing figure TV executives love” (BALTIMORESUN.com, 1/2).
KNOWN QUANTITY: In Baltimore, Chris Korman wrote Lewis' "gift for hyper intense gab ... will continue to make him money." Experts said that Lewis' name "will always resonate in the Baltimore area and with true NFL fans," but added that he will "need to evolve in other ways if he hopes to continue growing his brand." Korman noted Lewis "could command a six-figure payout per engagement, especially fresh off retirement." Under Armour Senior VP/Global Sports Marketing Matt Mirchin said, "We'd like him to be an Under Armour athlete for life." Lewis "told Under Armour officials during a recent meeting that he hoped to stay and invest in Baltimore." Mirchin "believes Lewis will resonate as a pitchman for years to come, whether or not he opts to stay in the spotlight." Korman noted Lewis has "long shown an interest in businesses outside of football," but those efforts "have largely foundered." Several business projects Lewis "launched during his playing days failed, and the multi-company empire he envisioned being built on his name and reputation has yet to materialize." Among other businesses Lewis has "tried his hand in real estate," opening South Florida-based commercial real estate firm RL52 Realty in '10. That company "appears to have closed" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 1/2).
ESPN averaged a 6.4 overnight Nielsen rating for last night’s Louisville-Florida Allstate Sugar Bowl, up slightly from a 6.3 overnight for the Michigan-Virginia Tech matchup in last year’s Sugar Bowl. Louisville topped all markets for the game with a 28.4 local rating, which marks ESPN’s best bowl game rating ever in the market (dating back to 2000). Through three BCS bowl telecasts, ESPN is averaging a 7.5 overnight, up 9% from the three corresponding games last year (ESPN).
NEW YEAR’S DAY: ESPN finished with a 9.4 U.S. rating and 17.0 million viewers for the Stanford-Wisconsin Rose Bowl, down 8% and 3%, respectively, from the Oregon-Wisconsin matchup last year. The audience is the lowest on record for a Rose Bowl telecast, which switched from ABC to ESPN in ’11. The net also averaged a 6.1 rating and 10.6 million viewers for Florida State’s win over Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, up 36% and 47%, respectively, from the West Virginia-Clemson Orange Bowl last year, which remains the lowest-rated BCS game since the current postseason system debuted in '99. The New Year’s Day primetime game last year featured the Oklahoma State-Stanford Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which drew an 8.4 rating and 13.7 million viewers. Meanwhile, ABC finished with a 6.6 rating and 11.0 million viewers for the Georgia-Nebraska Capital One Bowl. The comparable Michigan State-Georgia Outback Bowl last year on the net drew a 5.1 rating and 8.2 million viewers. ESPN’s South Carolina-Michigan Outback Bowl drew a 4.3 rating and 7.6 million viewers, up from a 2.9 rating and 4.5 million viewers for the South Carolina-Nebraska Capital One Bowl last year (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).AWKWARD INTERVIEW: USA TODAY's Chris Chase noted immediately following Stanford's defeat of Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, ESPN sideline reporter Heather Cox "had a deal to interview the winning coach and attempted to do [so] in the hoopla following the game." However, Stanford coach David Shaw was "getting pulled another way -- to the trophy presentation -- leading to an awkward on-air exchange." When Cox "tried to stop Shaw, he politely said he had to go to the trophy presentation." She "ignored him and began an interview anyway." It "lasted one question, before officials pulled Shaw to the presentation, effectively ending the interview." Cox thereafter was heard off camera asking, "Are you kidding me?" Shaw "departed for the trophy ceremony, then returned for another interview with Cox following the presentation" (USATODAY.com, 1/2).
A LATER GATOR? In Jacksonville, Garry Smits notes overnight ratings for the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl between Northwestern and Mississippi State "fell 24 percent from the 2012 game between Florida and Ohio State, which is prompting Gator Bowl Association president Rick Catlett to consider a new time slot if ESPN continues putting the nation’s sixth-oldest bowl game on ESPN2." Catlett said, "We’ve been on the deuce for three years and I think we need to be one of the top two (ESPN) platforms. There might be the possibility of changing dates to get on ABC or ESPN." Catlett said that he would "be willing to discuss dates on Dec. 30, or even the Saturday after New Year’s Day, if the game is on either ABC or ESPN." Catlett also said that the ESPN platform for the Gator Bowl "might improve if the game moves up in the SEC selection order from seventh." TaxSlayer.com VP/Development Brian Rhodes "indicated that a higher sponsorship fee would be discussed." Catlett said, "Our relationship with TaxSlayer is fantastic. Our sponsor is solid and that might get us a better TV and time slot situation" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/3).
PROMOTIONAL POWER: In Oklahoma City, Berry Tramel wrote Fox during its NFL broadcasts late in the regular season gave Cotton Bowl participants Oklahoma and Texas A&M "all the love." The Cotton Bowl's "move away from Jan. 1 and to a Friday night following New Year's Day gave it a prime-time slot for television and a good calendar spot for traveling fans." And Fox "embraces the game," as ESPN "has the contract of every bowl except the Cotton and the Sun Bowl (CBS)." Fox "spent Sunday promoting" QBs Landry Jones and Johnny Manziel and the "renewal of a rivalry that appeared over" when A&M jumped to the SEC. OU C Gabe Ikard said, "It's like we're playing an NFL playoff game, the attention they're giving to this game" (OKLAHOMAN, 12/2).
CBS Sports Radio launched nationwide yesterday, and "approximately 250 stations are taking various elements" of the company's programming, according to Mike Kinosian of TALKERS. CBS Radio Senior VP/Programming Chris Oliviero said, "We have a very aggressive growth schedule for 2013. We think we will add many more affiliates." Kinosian noted it "isn't as if CBS Radio will have the all-sports network field to itself, of course, as ESPN Radio, and Fox Sports Radio are among those already there." Considering that kind of imposing competition, clients and listeners "need to be shown significant differentiation among the network players." One clear "point of demarcation vis-à-vis the CBS Radio approach will involve listener interaction." Oliviero: "I cannot overstate how important a role that will play. It might be in the traditional way of people picking up a phone, or through social media. If you listen to some other sports radio networks, it is a great deal of one-way conversations, but we are going to be doing two-way conversations so listeners will be able to talk back. Yes, we will have interviews and yes, we will have monologs, but that is not all it will be." Jim Rome, "arguably sports talk's most successful syndicated host," is anchoring the 12:00-3:00pm ET mid-day time slot and is sandwiched by John Feinstein and Doug Gottlieb. Oliviero said of Rome, "For him to make the jump (from Premiere Radio) to CBS Sports Radio gives us instant credibility." Kinosian noted CBS Radio over the last several years had "investigated the concept of doing a national sports network." Oliviero said that the company "had conversations with a multitude of potential collaborators." He said, "We discussed what we were looking for in a partner and in distribution. From all of those conversations, the ones with Cumulus were the most engaging, most aggressive, and the most promising" (TALKERS.com, 1/2).
WELL-KNOWN HOSTS NEEDED: Oliviero said CBS Sports Radio's "over-riding programming philosophy as we went out there and tried to put together a 24/7 around-the-clock programming lineup was we need credible, opinionated, passionate talk-show hosts." He said, "We wanted recognizable names, credible names where people would see their names and say, 'I'm familiar with that person.' But, then, equally important they needed to be really good radio people." Oliviero explained the hiring of Feinstein by saying, "We saw an opportunity for a very intelligent type of sports conversation show. And John is very intelligent, takes a very straight-edged approach to sports talk, has a great Rolodex of guests. Plus, he doesn't shy away from tough topics" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 1/2).
MORNING GLORY: Former NFLer Tiki Barber is co-hosting a morning show on CBS Sports Radio alongside Brandon Tierney and Dana Jacobson, and the program is his "first broadcasting job since NBC parted ways with Barber in 2010." Barber said, "TV is a different animal than radio -- it's sound bites, it's looking good and sounding good in moments. Whereas radio is more about expressing your knowledge about things and expressing a deep, formulated opinion." In Virginia, Mark Berman noted Barber is "looking forward to the daily grind of radio, where he will be working for two former bosses from when he moonlighted in radio during his NFL career." Barber said that he "will be able to talk on the show about sports other than the NFL" and that the show "won't only be about sports." For example, he "wants to bring on another friend of his, Newark, N.J., mayor and former Stanford football player Cory Booker" (ROANOKE TIMES, 1/2). In Philadelphia, Peter Mucha noted the hosts of the morning show "are asking fans to give it a good name, since 'TBD in the AM,' as it's dubbed on Twitter not only reflects the hosts' first initials but suggests 'to be determined'" (PHILLY.com, 1/2).
THE MOHR, THE MERRIER: In DC, Jim Williams conducted a Q&A with comedian Jay Mohr, who yesterday began hosting a new show on Fox Sports Radio entitled "Jay Mohr Sports." When describing his motivation for getting into sports talk radio, Mohr said, "I listened a great deal to local sports talk radio on the road and was given a chance to do local fill-in work at Fox 570 AM in L.A. Then Fox Sports Radio came to me about a national show, and I said, 'Where do I sign?'" Mohr said, "The one thing that I want people to take away from my show is yes, sports is an important part of our lives, but it is a game, and it should be fun." He noted the show will be different than other sports talk shows because "Fox will keep the sports stars coming." Mohr: "My Rolodex of top comics will be in full use. They are great sports fans, and we will showcase them in a segment in our final hour titled 'Last Call,' where they will have some fun and give us some insight. Fans want smart, fun and entertaining sports talk, and that is our goal" (WASHINGTON EXAMINER, 1/2).
NASCAR today unveiled a new website that emphasizes a cleaner, simpler design and dominant, full-screen imagery. The site's debut comes a year after the sanctioning body bought its digital rights back from Turner and follows an eight-figure investment in a new digital division. NASCAR hopes the new NASCAR.com will help drive interest in, attendance of and viewership for the sport. The site will make written news secondary to digital illustrations, informational graphics and video. The top module, an image that covers the entire screen, will rotate through two to three features at any one time. Above it are a series of tabs for topics ranging from standings to drivers. NASCAR developed the site with SapientNitro. It will release a suite of mobile and tablet applications at a later date (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal). In Charlotte, Mark Washburn noted NASCAR.com this week “moves from Atlanta to a sleek new operations center” in downtown Charlotte. The hub beginning today will “operate the motorsport group’s Web operations and other digital products.” Turner will “continue to oversee ad sales and sponsorships for NASCAR digital through 2016.” NASCAR Digital Platform Managing Dir Colin Smith said, “It was a good relationship with Turner.” Washburn noted NASCAR “wanted to better emphasize fan engagement and relate to viewers in a new way through its website.” NASCAR.com attracts “about 6 million unique users monthly.” Fans watching races in the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series “will be able to follow their favorite drivers on the Web, or through tablets or other mobile devices” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/2).
Stats LLC and the PGA Tour have signed a multiyear deal in which Stats will become an official distributor and licensor of scoring data for the PGA, Champions and Web.com tours, including ShotLink data that previously was available only at PGATour.com. Stats also will create two new fantasy games for PGATour.com, replacing a prior deal the Tour held with Yahoo. One game will be a season-long contest, with the other a bracket-style game based around next month's Accenture Match Play Championship. The new pact significantly expands upon a prior relationship Stats held with the Tour. PGA Tour Senior VP/Strategic Development, Digital Media & Entertainment Paul Johnson said, "We're in a unique position where we own and really have an exclusive hold on our data with ShotLink. But this allows us to really tap into Stats' distribution network and help disseminate our content into additional places." Financial terms were not disclosed. The Tour last year elected to bring its digital rights in-house after working for several years with Turner Sports, a move similar to NASCAR's recent decision. Stats Exec VP Steve Byrd said, "Having strong league relationships is a core part of our business, and having this kind of deal with the Tour is something we've wanted for quite some time."
In Tampa, Damian Cristodero reported the Lightning and Sun Sports “agreed on a contract extension that begins with the 2013-14 season and guarantees at least 70 games televised annually.” It is “believed the deal is for between seven and 10 years and will pay the Lightning more” than the average $6.5M they get from the current contract that was signed in ‘00 and runs through this season. Ratings for Lightning games have “skyrocketed” from .60 local rating in the Tampa-St. Pete market during the ‘09-10 season to a 1.39 rating last season (TAMPABAY.com, 1/2).
LONGER REACH: In Austin, Gary Dinges reported Charter Communications announced Monday that it will make the Longhorn Network “available to many of its subscribers by the time the University of Texas kicks off its 2013 football season this fall.” Charter reports in Texas it "had about 167,000 customers as of June 30, 2012, primarily in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston areas.” The company “doesn’t serve Central Texas.” Nationwide, Charter has “about 5.3 million subscribers in 25 states, but plans call for Austin-based LHN to be available only on its cable systems in Texas, Louisiana and Virginia” (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 1/1).
AIRED OUT: In Chicago, Ryan Haggerty reports former NFLer Steve McMichael’s decision to run for mayor of Romeoville, Ill., has “cost him his spot on a Bears pregame show on Chicago’s ESPN radio affiliate.” McMichael was a “longtime analyst for a pregame show on WMVP-AM 1000.” Two days after McMichael filed paperwork to get on the ballot for the April 9 mayoral election, attorney John Fogarty on behalf of one of McMichael’s opponents, Romeoville Mayor John Noak, “sent a letter to the station stating that Noak was reserving the right to request equal air time.” McMichael said that a WMVP-AM official “called him Saturday and told him he would not be allowed on the air the next day for the show before the Bears’ season finale against the Detroit Lions” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/3).
OFF NIGHT: In N.Y., Marc Raimondi cited a report by gossip blogger Terez Owens as saying that UFC play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg missed UFC 155 on Saturday “because he’s in rehab for pill addiction.” Goldberg “has been with the UFC since 1997 and has not missed a major show before this past weekend.” Announcer Jon Anik, who “does the UFC’s events on FX and Fuel TV, filled in, partnering with longtime color commentator and comedian Joe Rogan” (NYPOST.com, 1/2).