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The NFL conference championship games once again drew big overnight ratings yesterday, but both telecasts were down compared to figures from last season. Both networks also had their respective lowest Championship game overnights since ’09. CBS led with a 27.9 overnight Nielsen ratings for its Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship in primetime, down 16% from Fox’ Giants-49ers OT game in the primetime window last year. Ravens-Patriots this year was also down from a 29.1 for the same matchup on CBS in the early window last year. The game, which aired from 6:45-10:00pm ET, gave CBS an easy win among all networks in primetime, and the net’s fifth best AFC Championship overnight since it acquired NFL rights. Ravens-Patriots yesterday peaked at a 30.2 rating from 9:00-9:30pm. Meanwhile, Fox earned a 26.1 overnight for the 49ers' comeback win over the Falcons in the NFC Championship yesterday afternoon from 3:00-6:15pm, down 10% from CBS' early window last year and down from Giants-49ers in primetime (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
LACKLUSTER BROADCAST: In Baltimore, David Zurawik wrote CBS "once again failed to deliver the goods" with Ravens-Patriots last night. Zurawik: "How many promotions for CBS can you cram into a telecast?" From the pregame show "through the first half, everyone connected with the telecast was certain New England was going to win and didn't even try to hide it." However, analyst Phil Simms provided "energized, focused and generally sound analysis throughout the game." In fact, he "carried the telecast, giving it whatever verbal life it had." The "best thing anyone at CBS Sports did Sunday was Shannon Sharpe denouncing" Patriots coach Bill Belichick for not giving a postgame interview (BALTIMORESUN.com, 1/20). Sharpe said, "There's something to be said about being gracious in defeat. ... Bill Belichick makes it real easy for you to root against the Patriots. You can't be a poor sport all the time. You're not going to win all the time, and he does this every time he loses. It's unacceptable" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/20).
PREGAMING: SI.com's Richard Deitsch notes that "unlike Fox, CBS opted not to send its pregame show to Gillette Stadium for the Ravens-Patriots game and it was a missed opportunity." Fox' pregame show for the NFC Championship game "offered immediacy for viewers -- the feeling of something big happening behind them." Conversely, CBS' "The NFL Today" felt "distant from its own championship game -- the second biggest game it will air this season." You also "had to feel bad" for show host James Brown, who "once again drew the short straw as the interviewer for the absurd and painfully unfunny E-Trade baby segment" (SI.com, 1/21). Meanwhile, in Tampa, Tom Jones writes, "Seriously, did Fox really call its NFL postgame show on Sunday the 'Yippie Kay Yay' postgame show because it was sponsored by the newest 'Die Hard' movie? Ridiculous" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/21).
KINGS OF NEW ORLEANS: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand reports NFL Network tomorrow will announce it is planning to air 140 hours of coverage from New Orleans, the site of Super Bowl XLVII. It is up 41% from last year, and will include "425 people and 11 sets, up from nine on-site sets last year." Coverage plans are highlighted by a 10 1/2-hour pregame show. Combined with a "3 1/2-hour postgame show means NFLN will have 14 hours of game-day coverage -- up two hours more than last year." NFLN's expansion comes "at a time when on-site Super Bowl coverage from various networks also is increasing." CBS Sports Network will have "more than 50 hours of live coverage from New Orleans." NBC Sports Network will have "more than 20 live hours." ESPN will broadcast "more than 120 hours of live TV and radio programming" (USA TODAY, 1/21).
NBC earned a 2.0 overnight for the season-opening NHL telecast on Saturday, which featured regionalized coverage of Blackhawks-Kings and Penguins-Flyers. That figure marks the best regular-season (non-Winter Classic) overnight on any net since ’02. The net drew a 19.4 local rating in Pittsburgh for the telecast, a 7.8 rating in Philadelphia and a 6.6 rating in Chicago, marking record local figures for each market (excluding Winter Classics). Meanwhile, Flyers-Sabres telecast on NBC yesterday drew a 1.4 overnight, which is tied with the Feb. 19 “Hockey Day in America” early window last year as the best overnight delivery for a regular-season NHL Sunday broadcast since '00. The game drew a 22.3 local rating in Buffalo, marking NBC's best figure in that market for a regular-season NHL broadcast (excluding Winter Classics). NESN also saw record local figures for the Rangers-Bruins telecast on Saturday, as the 9.4 local rating in Boston marked the best ever for a regular-season game. NESN’s previous high was an 8.9 rating for Canucks-Bruins on January 7, 2012 (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi noted Root Sports Pittsburgh earned a 6.7 local rating in Pittsburgh for the Penguins' Black & Gold scrimmage on Wednesday night (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/19).SHAKING OFF THE RUST: In Philadelphia, Ed Barkowitz noted NBC "opened its hockey window Saturday afternoon by showing Kings fans going crazy" as the team lifted its Stanley Cup championship banner. It was not until 3:35pm ET that NBC "mentioned the network was switching to the Flyers-Penguins, which fans didn't know hadn't started yet." Calls to the net were "met with busy signals." At 3:36pm, an "alert appeared that 'The Flyers Game is starting soon. Stay Tuned!'" The "puck dropped on the Flyers season" at 3:39pm (PHILLY.com, 1/19). ALLTHINGSD.com's Ina Fried noted there were "widespread reports from paying subscribers" to the NHL's GameCenter Live streaming app that they were "unable to load any of the promised live video from opening night." The NHL "acknowledged the issues in a Twitter posting Saturday night" (ALLTHINGSD.com, 1/19).
TOUCHING GESTURE: In Tampa, Tom Jones notes the Kings "brought a family that lost a child in the Newtown, Conn., shootings last month to help them raise their Stanley Cup banner before Saturday's season opener." Jones: "Great job by NBC to bring everyone the ceremony before switching its coverage to regional telecasts" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/21).
Even though Fox Sports has yet to formally announce plans for its national sports channel, Fox Sports 1, the company "already has moved forward with plans to flip Fuel into Fox Sports 2 this August," according to John Ourand in this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Fox on Nov. 27 "filed a trademark application for a Fox Sports 2 logo." Sources said that Fuel's switch to Fox Sports 2 will be "announced later this spring and completed in August, around the same time Fox rebrands Speed into Fox Sports 1." Fox Sports 2 will "complement Fox Sports 1," as the channels will be "aligned similar to ESPN and ESPN2, which share sports across both networks." The reason for the "surprise launch" of a second all-sports channel is that Fox execs "think they need a second outlet to handle the rights they've been acquiring." Fox Sports 2 will be "run alongside Fox Sports 1," with offices in L.A., N.Y. and Charlotte, where Speed maintains its HQs (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/21 issue).
The ratings news for the “heavily hyped debut” of Bellator MMA Live on Spike TV Thursday was “decidedly mixed,” according to Kevin Iole of YAHOO SPORTS. While the debut “certainly wasn't a home run for Bellator and Spike ... it was not a disaster.” The ratings were “OK and need to go up to maintain advertiser interest.” The telecast averaged 938,000 viewers, making it the “most-watched show in the promotion's four-year history, though it lost nearly half of its audience that was delivered by TNA Impact Wrestling.” The ratings for the event were “nearly triple the greatest viewership” in Bellator’s history, as the MMA outfit “drew 325,000 viewers to MTV2” for an event in May '11. By that standard, Thursday's telecast was a “grand slam home run.” However, it “failed significantly in several other categories.” The broadcast had a “strong lead-in from TNA Impact Wrestling, which averaged 1.82 million viewers, and failed to keep it.” The number of males 18-34 was “roughly the same for wrestling and Bellator.” TNA Impact Wrestling “drew 141,000 18-to-34-year-old males, while Bellator increased that slightly to 149,000.” The “biggest concern for Spike and Bellator officials has to be its performance” in that demographic. Season 13 of UFC's “The Ultimate Fighter” had its “worst-perform year” in '11, yet that show “still averaged 578,000 among men 18-34.” That figure was 388% better than Bellator's performance Thursday "among the same demographic.” The "Bellator MMA Live” telecast also declined Thursday in six of its quarter hour segments, “suggesting viewers turned away" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/19).