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ABC’s Pacers-Knicks Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 1 led all NBA telecasts over the weekend with a 4.9 overnight Nielsen rating, down 6% from the comparable Heat-Pacers Game 1 last year. The game earned a 9.1 local rating in N.Y., which is the best figure for an NBA Playoff game in the market ever on ABC, excluding the NBA Finals. ABC also earned a 3.8 for Grizzlies-Thunder Western Conference Semifinals Game 1 in the early window on Sunday. There was no comparable semifinal game last year, but Game 7 of the Grizzlies-Clippers First Round series also drew a 3.8 rating in the window. Among the four series-clinching first round games on Friday night, Thunder-Rockets Game 6 on ESPN topped all telecasts with a 3.2 overnight, up 10% from Grizzlies-Clippers Game 6 last year. In ESPN’s early window on Friday night, the net drew a 2.9 for Knicks-Celtics Game 6. There was no corresponding game last season. ESPN2 also aired two games on Friday night, drawing a 1.3 overnight for Grizzlies-Clippers Game 6 and a 0.5 overnight for Pacers-Hawks Game Six (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).WARRIOR DASH: Comcast SportsNet Bay Area earned a 6.31 local rating in the S.F.-San Jose-Oakland market last Thursday for the Warriors' series-clinching Game 6 against the Nuggets in the Western Conference First Round. That figure marked the highest-rated Warriors telecast ever on the net. The previous high was a 5.73 rating for a Warriors-Lakers game in '08. CSN Bay Area averaged a 4.74 local rating in the market for the six first round telecasts (CSN Bay Area). Meanwhile, in Oakland, Marcus Thompson II notes Spurs-Warriors Western Conference Semifinal Game 4 will air Sunday at 3:30pm ET on ABC. The "last time the Warriors played on a major network was April 6, 2008, when ABC carried their game against" the Hornets. It is a "coveted slot usually reserved for the NBA's showcase teams," such as the Lakers and Heat. On average, the NBA "gets about double the viewers on ABC that it does on TNT or ESPN" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 5/6).
BEST IN THE BUSINESS: SPORTS ON EARTH's Will Leitch wrote ESPN's Mike Breen is the "best broadcaster working right now." The "key to Breen is he is always forceful without forcing it." He hits "all the big moments in a broadcast without owning them." He is, "in the purest sense, a describer." He "doesn't try to paint some poetic picture or conjure up anything. He just tells you what's going on in the plainest possible sense" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 5/3). Meanwhile, in Tampa, Tom Jones writes rumors persist that ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, Breen's broadcast partner, is "at the top of Brooklyn's wish list" to replace interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. Jones writes, "Please, Jeff, don't take that job. Don't take any coaching job. You're the best basketball game analyst on television. We need you on TV" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/6).
NBC earned a 10.4 overnight Nielsen rating for the race portion of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday from 6:00-7:00pm ET, up 16% from last year and tied with ’10 as the best overnight for the race since ’92. Louisville topped all markets with a 43.7 local rating, followed by Ft. Myers-Naples (19.7) and Cincinnati (18.8). Pre-race coverage on NBC from 5:00-6:00pm earned a 6.2 overnight, up 15% from last year (NBC).KENTUCKY DERBY OVERNIGHT RATINGS TREND ON NBCYEAROVERNIGHT
WINNING HORSE'1310.4 Orb'129.0 I'll Have Another'119.7 Animal Kingdom'1010.4 Super Saver'0910.2 Mine That Bird'089.5 Big Brown'079.8 Street Sense'068.9 Barbaro'0510.0 Giacomo'0410.1 Smarty Jones'038.9 Funny Cide'029.3 War Emblem019.4 Monarchos
THE HORSE WHISPERERS: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes NBC's horse racing coverage of the Derby is "right up there with the best sports broadcast of the year, and you don't have to be a horse racing enthusiast to enjoy it." NBC's Bob Costas and Tom Hammond "do a masterful job hosting, satisfying both the casual viewers and die-hards." Meanwhile, Donna Brothers "might be the best sideline reporter on television." The only "clunker in the coverage was how the network used Michelle Beadle," as she was there to "provide fun features and report on topics such as fashion, celebrities and so forth." Jones: "Good idea, but it felt like NBC just threw her out there and said, 'Okay, be funny'" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/6). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes with a 19-horse Derby field and "bouncing odds from the morning line -- in some part due to an off-track -- it mostly kept the odds in view in a crawl" (N.Y. POST, 5/6).
TSN "SportsCentre" anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole are "leaving their network next month for Fox Sports 1," where they will be "a major part of a three-hour Fox Sports Live program that will air nightly" from 11:00pm-2:00am ET, according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. "Fox Sports Live" is expected to "have more than a dozen regulars, including anchors, update people and a rotating cast of former athletes/analysts." Fox Sports execs offered Onrait and O'Toole "a deal that included bringing over their longtime producer." On the surface, "it's a smart, outside-the-box hire." Chemistry is "hard to develop for this type of show, and Fox Sports executives believe Onrait and O'Toole already possess it." It will be "interesting to see how their style plays in the States." ESPN's Charissa Thompson is also headed to FS1, though it "won't be formally announced for another month due to contractual obligations," as is ESPNews anchor Don Bell. Fox also is "trying to fit Andy Roddick ... into a position on the same program." One "key production signing" by FS1 is the "hiring of former NFL Network producer Bardia Shah-Rais." One ESPN employee who worked with Shah-Rais called him "the best hire Fox Sports 1 has made so far." FS1 in total is "expected to make around 200 hires." Meanwhile, CBS Sports Group Chair Sean McManus and Turner Sports President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy are "interested spectators in the evolution of Fox Sports 1." McManus said, "You are always cognizant of what someone else is doing, and I applaud them for being aggressive. It will be interesting to watch." Levy: "It will be a challenge if you don't have live sports. We manage a 24-hour property -- NBA TV -- and Fox Sports 1 is a competitor for that as well. A lot of rights are long-term rights, and having secured those, you feel better, but everybody is a competitor" (SI.com, 5/5).
CHEMISTRY LESSON: SB NATION's Steve Lepore noted Onrait and O'Toole are "cult figures in Canada for putting together an often hilarious sports newscast that harkens back to the days of 'The Big Show' on ESPN." If FS1 "allows them to do their thing, this could be a really, really solid hire for the new network" (SBNATION.com, 5/3). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Matt Yoder writes since the days of Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick anchoring "SportsCenter," ESPN has "ensured none of their talent outshine the network or the highlights." In that regard, Onrait and O'Toole will be a "direct counterpunch from the outset for Fox Sports One." They will be given "every chance to become household names and their irreverent humor will serve as an immediate alternative to the establishment." Onrait and O'Toole's "off-beat, envelope-pushing style is quintessential Fox" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 5/3).
Univ. of Missouri AD Mike Alden has "expressed confidence in ESPN's ability to negotiate with the nation's most powerful carriers" for carriage of the SEC Network, though it has "struggled to do the same for the controversial Longhorn Network," according to Terez Paylor of the K.C. STAR. Alden said that ESPN is "banking on the power" of the SEC and ESPN brands to "aid it during negotiations with cable providers, something other conferences -- like the Pac-12 -- don't have." Alden said, "It's difficult for the Pac-12 Network, knowing it doesn't have a national brand, at least according to analysts, to be able to deliver on that (and get broadcast) to the state of Iowa or Arkansas. Whereas the brand of the SEC, because it resonates in California, it resonates in Nevada, it has more of a chance for greater exposure.” Paylor reported Alden "essentially confirmed reports that ... the SEC has ceded ownership of the network" to ESPN. He said of the positives and negatives stemming from that decision, “By owning, you have opportunity for more extended control over content and scheduling and you have a chance to generate more revenue. But the risks associated with that can be significant, and I think they're finding that out in the Pac-12 right now." Alden said that the SEC had to "buy back the third-tier television rights" to "get the network off the ground." Alden added that the SEC will "reimburse Missouri for the roughly $4.3 million it stood to make annually" from Learfield Sports for the next five years. Alden: "[The] SEC will make us whole so it will continue to be $4.3 (million) so it won't impact our budget" (K.C. STAR, 5/5). In Georgia, Aaron Brenner noted Comcast, Time Warner, Dish Network and DirecTV "combine for 68 million subcribers," and the negotiations "better start sooner rather than later." Brenner: "Just ask the Big Ten and Pac-12 how difficult it is to get their ducks in a row and avoid angering fans who can't watch their favorite team immediately" (Columbus LEDGER-ENQUIRER, 5/3).
EXPANDING ITS PRESENCE: In Tuscaloosa, Cecil Hurt reported while the network's live football games will "attract headlines" and subscriptions from various cable carriers will "translate into cash for the league and its 14 members, it is the overall pervasive presence of the SEC brand that many coaches see as the primary nonmonetary benefit of the new arrangement with ESPN." The network financially would "likely be viable on a regional-only basis," and this is "particularly true since the SEC region, as it is now defined, includes 15 of the top 50 television markets in the United States." That is a "crucial revenue base if, as expected, the SECN revenue distribution resembles that of the Big Ten Network, which gets a little more than $1 per customer within its regional 'footprint' and 10 cents per customer outside." However, that does "not mean the SEC schools will instantly become wealthy from the Network." Alabama AD Bill Battle: "It will take time." The key for the network will be "penetration in those other markets" if it wants to be "considered a true success" (TUSCALOOSA NEWS, 5/5). In K.C., Blair Kerkhoff wrote there is "no hotter market today than the SEC," and ESPN will "bank on the allegiance of college football’s most devoted and passionate fans to fund this new relationship." Announcing the network 16 months in advance "gives the league a big advantage by allowing it to line up nationwide carriers" (K.C. STAR, 5/4).
MONEY MATTERS: Alden said that MU's athletic department "expects to receive about" $20.7M from the SEC for FY '12-13. The K.C. STAR's Paylor noted the money "reflects Missouri’s share of the SEC’s TV revenue, NCAA Tournament and bowl money." In comparison, Alden said that UM "stood to receive roughly" $19M during its last year in the Big 12. Alden was "confident the SEC Network would increase the school’s annual payout." Alden: “You’re conservatively looking at -- with very conservative growth -- a couple million in additional revenue in 2015. But that’s very conservative." He added, "In order for us to gain on South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky -- those schools that are in that next tier -- we’ve got to sell more tickets, raise more money in our capital gifts, corporate sponsorships and on and on. It’s still an uphill battle" (K.C. STAR, 5/4).
Blackhawks Chair Rocky Wirtz wrote a letter to Comcast SportsNet Chicago VP & GM Phil Badella that “played a key role in the dismissal of anchor and Hawks reporter Susannah Collins” following an on-air slipup, according to Tim Sassone of the Illinois DAILY HERALD. Wirtz wrote the letter “after discovering Collins' involvement in Sports Nutz, an irreverent series of video shorts that could be deemed offensive by some.” Wirtz in the letter wrote in part, "In my opinion and those of others, (the videos) are incredibly offensive to a number of audiences, going well beyond professional athletes. Had we known of this earlier, we would have raised the issue immediately." The letter went on to ask CSN Chicago to "remove her from our broadcast immediately" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 5/5). In Chicago, Robert Channick cited sources as saying that a “nearly 4-year-old attempt to make a name for herself online had already set the wheels in motion for Collins' sudden departure.” Sources said that execs "had been mulling her future for several weeks after recently viewing sports-themed videos featuring Collins that were uploaded to YouTube beginning in 2009.” Sources added that the White Sox “also expressed concerns about the videos, but executives on Friday denied any involvement in the matter.” Despite the “potentially offensive YouTube videos, sports fans on Friday were overwhelmingly sympathetic toward Collins” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/4).
WHO'S TO BLAME? In Chicago, Steve Rosenbloom wrote Wirtz’ “overreaction included cc'ing” Bulls and White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf and Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts, his “partners in a majority ownership of the cable channel, which ensured Collins’ expendability.” Reaction has “run virulently against” Wirtz’ letter as it “simply seems unfair.” Rosenbloom: “Heavy-handed. Overkill. … Wirtz dropped an atom bomb on a lady bug.” Rosenbloom continued: “Didn’t anybody take breath here? Didn’t any of Wirtz’s ace marketers explain the potential stain on the Hawks’ image?” The Hawks “should’ve been bigger than this,” but now they “seem small” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/5). FANNATION.com's Jordan Campbell wrote, “Regardless of whether CSN Chicago was behind the firing or if the Chicago Blackhawks were behind it, both parties are at fault.” Collins has brought a “tremendous amount of success to CSN Chicago in her coverage of the Blackhawks.” If the Blackhawks were behind the firing, CSN Chicago “should have remained loyal and supportive to one of their top-tier reporters” (FANNATION.com, 5/3).
SI.com's Richard Deitsch reported the Big Ten Network has signed "longtime ESPN college basketball analyst" and former Univ. of Illinois G Stephen Bardo. Bardo, who had been with ESPN since '05, signed a "multi-year deal with the network and will do a mix of games and studio." He said, "I think I did a pretty good job of establishing myself there and I think I am good at what I do. So now I thought: What did I want? Did I want to be at ESPN and hope to get an upper-echelon assignment, or go to a place where I could be more appreciated? The Big Ten is part of the footprint where I played, and I think I have a brand there" (SI.com, 5/5).
MORE ADDITIONS TO KING'S SITE: SI.com's Peter King writes his new football website will launch July 22, and is "adding a couple of strong column voices" in Deitsch and ESPN NFL business reporter Andrew Brandt. Deitsch will "write a column once a week for the site, as well as do some longer pieces on the influence of TV in the game we watch." He will "still do his fine work for both SI and SI.com, but for us he'll be NFL only." Brandt, a former agent and Packers VP, will "write a column on the business of football once a week, and write longer pieces when good stories come up" (SI.com, 5/6).
TOO MUCH TIME? In Denver, Dusty Saunders notes Rockies play-by-play announcer Jeff Huson has been "getting a lot of single-analyst time with Drew Goodman in the Rockies' Root Sports broadcasting booth this season." While "accurate and knowledgeable about players and the game, Huson still has a monotone-style delivery that too often sounds like he's lecturing a college class about the rudiments of baseball." Huson should "use shorter sentences with more 'pop' when describing what is happening." He "too often spends time commenting on the obvious, which has been covered on the field by the cameras" (DENVER POST, 5/6).
JET SETTER: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote the odds of free agent QB Tim Tebow "landing a TV gig as a college football analyst are much better" than the possibility of him landing one in the NFL, if he "wants to take the plunge." There is "no bigger name on the current Fox Sports roster, no bigger new name it could bring to FS1," than Tebow. ESPN execs are "aware Tebow could be in play." But "word is they believe he will be playing football somewhere this season" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/5). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote "even as his NFL relevance shrinks to near-absolute zero, the networks will be ready to pull hair and throw money at Tebow whenever Tebow is ready for them" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 5/5).
NEW ON THE SCENE: In DC, Dan Steinberg reported WRC-NBC has "hired Dianna Russini as a sports anchor and reporter." Her broadcasting career "has taken her" to N.Y.'s WNBC-NBC, Long Island’s News12, Comcast SportsNet Northwest and most recently WVIT-NBC in Hartford (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/3).