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ESPN's Chris Broussard yesterday "drove right into America's culture wars by calling homosexuality 'an open rebellion to God' and implying that gay people can't be Christians," according to Scott Collins of the L.A. TIMES. Appearing on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" to discuss Wizards C Jason Collins' announcement he is gay, Broussard said, "I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality. ... If you're openly living in unrepentant sin ... that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ." Broussard also expressed "some irritation that those who disapprove of homosexuality are, he says, labeled as intolerant and bigoted." Broussard was "not saying anything he had not said publicly before," but he "took on a polarized subject at the top of a news cycle," so his comments "exploded across social media" (L.A. TIMES, 4/30). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Sophie Schillaci noted ESPN yesterday "offered a tepid apology." The net in a statement said, "We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins' announcement." Broussard later "took to Twitter to expand on his comments" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 4/29).
HOW ESPN COVERED IT: BROADCASTING & CABLE's Dade Hayes noted the Collins news "seemed to faze ESPN, which awkwardly stuck for two hours with its coverage" of Tebow's release and a "routine sampling of highlights before covering Collins" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 4/29). VARIETY's Brian Lowry wrote ESPN is "going to have to cover" this story. The question is "whether the channel needs to look beyond its customary assortment of talking heads, or otherwise risk more exchanges like the one of which Broussard was a part on Monday." Broussard has "every right to his personal opinions, but what he expressed goes well beyond his role as an expert on basketball." So far, in regard to the Collins story, ESPN and "its hoops crew clearly look way out of their league" (VARIETY.com, 4/29). The 11:00pm ET edition of “SportsCenter” last night led with highlight from the Thunder-Rockets playoff game, then reported on the Collins announcement. Coverage included commentary from SI’s Franz Lidz, who co-authored the SI article with Collins, as well as analysis from ESPN's NBA analysts Marc Stein and Tim Legler ("SportsCenter," 4/29).
COVERAGE VARIED ACROSS DIFFERENT PLATFORMS: VARIETY's Jon Weisman noted Collins' announcement "provided a new demonstration of how idiosyncratically different media cover a story." ESPN anchors "called the announcement 'courageous' and introduced a piece on Collins by saying his announcement represented 'a landmark day in sports, and to some extent, in our society.'" In contrast, ESPN.com early yesterday afternoon "downplayed the story," giving it "no special treatment in the website’s main display section and making it the No. 2 story on its headline stack," behind news of the Jets releasing QB Tim Tebow. SI, which had the exclusive, covered the news "as a true watershed moment on its website." FoxSports.com also made it "the site’s top story." On conventional news sites, coverage "varied widely as well, arguably for socio-political reasons." NBCNews.com and CNN made Collins their lead stories yesterday, but FoxNews.com did "not put the story high enough to be seen on first view when its home page loaded, instead making it the No. 8 story on a headline stack lower on the page" (VARIETY.com, 4/29). ESPN.com had the Collins news as one of its top five stories, while FoxSports.com also led with the story on its front page. Neither CNN.com or FoxNews.com led with the Collins story.
TIME FOR MIKE & THE MAD DOG: Collins' announcement is the cover story for the May 6 issue of SI, and WFAN-AM's Mike Francesa called the move to feature the news a "dramatic attempt to sell magazines." Francesa said of the announcement, "I really don’t care. It means less than nothing to me that there is a gay player now out in the NBA.” He added, “We all realize there are plenty of gay people in America. You’ve got to figure some of them are playing sports. The fact that they don’t feel comfortable enough to come out, we now have to force them out or push them to come out” (“Francesa,” WFAN-AM, 4/29). Meanwhile, SiriusXM's Chris Russo, Francesa's former on-air partner, did not spend much time on his talk show on the Collins story. He wrote in a series of tweets, "I do not care about this Jason Collins story, everyone tells me to discuss it. I could care less about someone's sexuality. ... We have NFL Draft, an epic Bulls-Nets game, Lakers get swept & Howard's acting out, interesting baseball stories-that's worth talking about" (TWITTER.com, 4/29).
NOT ALL RESPONSES POSITIVE: The AP's Tim Reynolds noted Collins' message "was not unanimously well received." Thousands of tweets about Collins "included a gay slur." Dolphins WR Mike Wallace had to "backtrack from, delete and eventually apologize for two tweets he posted about the Collins story, in which he said he did not understand homosexuality" (AP, 4/29). In N.Y., Hoffman & Haughney note sports websites received an "unusually high number of reader comments on stories about Collins’s announcement." Many of the comments on ESPN.com were "strongly critical of Collins; some included gay slurs." ESPN PR News Content Dir David Scott: "We are reviewing comments, flagging those that cross the line and handling according to our policies." SI Managing Editor Chris Stone: "We’ve been pretty careful about curating the comments on our site because it did get a little bit out of hand pretty quickly." Though he added that the comments "had been largely positive" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/30).
MEDIA MONITOR: All three network morning shows led with Collins' announcement, with ABC's "GMA" including a taped interview with Collins by George Stephanopoulos. CBS Sports’ James Brown appeared on "CBS This Morning" live via satellite with N.Y. Times columnist William Rhoden and Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban appearing live in-studio. NBC featured player reactions, commentary from SI's Jon Wertheim and former NBA John Amaechi, who announced he is gay in '07. It also had a live interview with Martina Navratilova via satelitte and N.Y. Post columnist Mike Lupica in studio. Both ABC and CBS led their 6:30pm ET national news programs with Collins last night, while NBC's "Nightly News" first mentioned Collins following reports on the Boston Marathon bombing investigation and Afghan President Hamid Karzai receiving secret money from the CIA (THE DAILY).
The Penguins heading into the last week of the NHL regular season were "on pace to post the highest average RSN rating for any U.S.-based MLB, NBA or NHL team since 2002," according to Ourand & Broughton of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Penguins games on Root Sports Pittsburgh were averaging a 12.56 local rating, "a mark that would be the highest RSN rating for any U.S.-based NHL team on record." Only the '02 Mariners, who "pulled a 13.2 average on FSN Northwest that year, would have a higher rating" among U.S. teams in the three aforementioned leagues over the last 15 years. The team has "nearly doubled its TV audience" since the '08-09 season, when it won its most recent Stanley Cup. Root Sports Pittsburgh Senior VP & GM Shawn McClintock said that 16 of the 20 highest-rated Penguins games of all time "occurred this season." Ourand & Broughton note it "wasn't just Pittsburgh that saw a burst of viewership interest in the NHL this year." The RSN audience for 17 of the 21 teams "registered increases, with 16 of them showing double- or triple-digit jumps" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/29 issue).
PENS RULE THE ROOST: In Pittsburgh, Michael Sanserino reported Root Sports Pittsburgh on Saturday night at 7:37pm ET "switched coverage" from the ninth inning of the Pirates-Cardinals game to the Hurricanes-Penguins. The long-running Pirates game "created a conflict for Root Sports," and some fans were "surprised at the move, considering the Penguins game carried no playoff implications." But Pirates Senior Communications Dir Brian Warecki wrote in an e-mail, "All parties discussed the options, determined the coverage plans given many different game scenarios and agreed to those plans well in advance." McClintock said that the RSN "tried to satisfy its baseball fans by keeping the live score on the screen, showing highlights during stoppages in play in the hockey game and airing extended highlights and a postgame interview at conclusion of the Penguins game." MLB Network "picked up coverage" of Pirates-Cardinals after Root Sports switched to the Penguins game (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 4/29).
Television rights to the Nationwide Series "could be in play this summer when NASCAR opens its negotiations with ESPN," according to sources cited by Mickle & Ourand of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. ESPN has had "internal conversations about bidding only on the Nationwide races that overlap with its Sprint Cup schedule instead of the entire season." The reason has "more to do with production expenses than ratings points." The net airs Sprint Cup races from August to November, and ESPN is "able to use the same production crew, production trucks and other resources to cover both Nationwide Series races and Sprint Cup races on the same weekend." It is "much costlier for ESPN to produce the Nationwide Series’ first 16 races during the first half of the NASCAR season." ESPN has had Nationwide Series rights since '07. A move by ESPN to "bid only on the second half of the Nationwide Series would allow NASCAR to experiment with new ways of selling its secondary series and offer it great flexibility." NASCAR could "split the Nationwide package between its Sprint Cup rights holders," and that would "allow Fox to buy the first half of the season and ESPN, or another broadcaster, to take the second half." Fox has "expressed interest in obtaining the rights to the first part of the Nationwide Series but has not had any formal talks with the sanctioning body" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/29 issue).
YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan writes the Phillies are "whetting their appetite over what could be" when their RSN deal with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia expires after the '15 season. Philadelphia-based Comcast "does not want to lose the rights of the team that from 2009-11 ranked among the three highest local baseball broadcasts." But the "problem is, Fox Sports, which has scooped up local rights to about half of baseball, wants to further its grip on the sport." A source said of Fox, "They want Philadelphia. They got the Yankees, which helps. They're not going to have the Red Sox. They're not going to have the Mets. They want another East Coast team" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/28).
OH, LORD: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes Celtics G Jason Terry's recent postgame reference to God "must have rubbed Al Trautwig, anchoring the Madison Square Garden Network postgame show, the wrong way." Terry, after the Celtics' win over the Knicks in Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Sunday said, "We give God the glory. I woke up this morning and he told me 'keep fighting, you guys ain't dead.'" Trautwig then sarcastically said on MSG Net, "Yeah, I'm glad God spoke to Jason Terry this morning. That's good to know." Raissman notes neither Trautwig nor his colleagues "chose to mock or even chastise" Knicks G J.R. Smith for the role his one-game suspension played in the game's outcome (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/30).
TEE TO GREEN: In Milwaukee, Gary D'Amato noted the USGA yesterday launched USOpen.com. The site "includes several new features and enhancements designed to bring fans closer to the on-course action." The U.S. Open "suite of digital products also features a new iPad app that will deliver live video, real-time scores, news and highlights throughout the championship." There also is "an interactive experience that includes live coverage of marquee groups and selected holes" (JSONLINE.com, 4/29).
K.C. MASTERPIECE: FS K.C. drew a 7.9 local rating for the first game of Sunday's Royals-Indians doubleheader, marking the highest-rated Royals telecast ever on the RSN. Through 20 games, Royals telecasts this season are averaging a 5.7 local rating, up 35% over '12 (FS K.C.).