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Phil Mickelson’s three-shot win in the British Open yesterday helped give ESPN its highest final-round rating for the event since it moved to cable. ESPN earned a 3.6 overnight Nielsen rating from 8:00am-1:30pm ET for Mickelson’s come-from-behind win, up 10% from a 3.3 for Ernie Els’ win last year. While it is the highest mark in the four years since the tournament went solely to cable, yesterday’s rating remains below the 3.9 overnight the final round in ’09 got on ABC. Saturday’s third-round coverage drew a 3.1 overnight rating, up slightly from a 3.0 overnight in ’12 (THE DAILY).
CHAMPION NETWORK OF THE YEAR? GOLFWEEK's Martin Kaufmann wrote the "first 33 hours or so of ESPN’s coverage were often exasperating," but the final four hours "were exhilarating." Kaufmann: "There were moments on Sunday morning when I literally caught myself holding my breath ... because I was so enthralled by the coverage and the drama that was playing out. ... I was mesmerized by the final few hours of coverage." Kaufmann added he "really respected the discipline that ESPN showed in its handling of Tiger Woods’ final round." When Woods slipped to 2-over-par, ESPN "kept its focus on those who had passed him." Meanwhile, the net's microphones "picked up Woods yelling a profanity on No. 5," and anchor Mike Tirico "handled this deftly." He said, “We hear that all too often ... unfortunately" (GOLFWEEK.com, 7/21). SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote ESPN's Tirico and Scott Van Pelt and ESPN Radio's Bob Wischusen "did sensational work during the tournament." When ESPN "sends a professional host ... to an event and the host opts to make the broadcast about the event and not about the host, they get a great broadcast" (SI.com, 7/21). SPORTS ON EARTH's Peter Richmond wrote ESPN's coverage "turned out to be uncluttered, unhistrionic and altogether … professional." The net "pretty much allowed the sport to speak for itself." The "biggest disappointment" was the "absence of the one graphic any major needs: a leaderboard box throughout the round, tucked into an upper corner." But for the "most part, we were given huge chunks of graphic-free golf, for once, blessed stretches when the screen was entirely absent of anything but players." On-course reporters Judy Rankin and Dottie Pepper's analysis "was terse and enlightening" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 7/21).
TIGER WATCH CONTINUES: GOLF DIGEST's John Strege wrote Woods on Saturday played an "imprecise shot at the second hole causing him to vocally express his displeasure in a manner frowned upon by network television executives." ESPN's Paul Azinger said, "Tiger's either unaware the microphone is there or he doesn't care." ESPN's Sean McDonough replied, "Clearly, he doesn't care, Paul, because you have to be a fool to not be aware there are microphones everywhere" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 7/20). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes Azinger "abandons his candor -- and sacrifices our respect -- the moment" Woods appears. Azinger during ESPN's coverage Thursday and Friday "dove south the moment Woods teed off." Mushnick: "The Tiger-centric telecasts -- even throughout majors -- long ago became transparently ridiculous, even before Woods proved he is not the most fabulous guy in the world" (N.Y. POST, 7/22). In Montreal, Jack Todd writes, "Mickelson gets the win and 10 per cent of the media coverage -- while 90 per cent goes to Tiger Woods and the relentlessly self-promoting Lindsey Vonn" (Montreal GAZETTE, 7/22).
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS: The N.Y. POST's Mushnick notes after a three-putt from Lee Westwood, ESPN’s Curtis Strange "borrowed from tennis to call it 'an unforced error.'” Mushnick: "There are forced errors in golf?" Then there was Azinger’s "observation Zach Johnson 'has a commitment to impact.' Who in the field didn’t?" (N.Y. POST, 7/22).
N.Y. Times political blogger Nate Silver, who has "attained national fame" for accurate predictions in recent presidential elections, is "moving his FiveThirtyEight franchise to ESPN," according to Brian Stelter of the N.Y. TIMES. Silver is "expected to have a wide-ranging portfolio" at ESPN. He will "most likely be a regular contributor" to Keith Olbermann's new show, "Olbermann," along with his "writing and number-crunching." Silver before creating statistical models for elections was a "baseball sabermetrician who built a highly effective system for projecting how players would perform in the future." He recently has "expressed interest in covering sports more frequently, so the ESPN deal is a logical next step." His three-year contract with newspaper is "set to expire in late August and his departure will most likely be interpreted as a blow to the company" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/20). USA TODAY's Rem Rieder wrote Silver's departure is a "huge loss for the New York Times" and a "major pickup for ESPN" (USATODAY.com, 7/20). ADWEEK's Anthony Crupi wrote, "ESPN is a seemingly perfect fit for Silver" (ADWEEK.com, 7/20).
THE SQUARE-OFF FOR SILVER: POLITICO's Mike Allen reported the "battle" for Silver has been "fought secretly and aggressively by several of the nation's top news executives for the better part of a year." He chose ESPN and ABC after he was "promised extensive air time, a role in the Oscars (airing on ABC through at least 2020), and a digital empire that may include websites devoted to weather, education, economics and other topics." Sources said that Silver was "aggressive but not greedy" when it came to money. Silver at times "felt unwelcome in the Times Sports section, and seemed to struggle to fit into its culture." The section is "among the most innovative at the paper, but not in the areas that are Silver’s wheelhouse." ESPN's recruitment was led by President John Skipper and Exec Editor John Walsh, who are "pushing the organization in a more analytical direction." Silver’s "youth and credibility were hugely attractive." The model they "proposed to Silver was Bill Simmons." Silver's flagship will "return to FiveThirtyEight.com," whose business model "mirrors Grantland’s: a strong, independent brand that ladders up to the bigger brand of ESPN" (POLITICO.com, 7/21).
TAKING HIS TALENTS TO BRISTOL: THE NEW REPUBLIC's Marc Tracy wrote the signing of Silver is "maybe the juiciest free agent signing since LeBron James bolted for Miami three years ago." ESPN has been "trying to land Silver for at least five years." Time.com columnist and former ESPN The Magazine Editor-In-Chief Gary Belsky said that the "original effort" to land Silver "had been spearheaded by Gary Hoenig, then the general manager of ESPN Publishing, and that the original plan had been for Silver to write for the magazine and ESPN Insider, a collection of paywall-protected premium content on the web." It is "not difficult to imagine Silver netting seven figures for himself," but "consider the possibilities in terms of resources, branding, and things to cover." ESPN hiring Silver and Olbermann are "best-of-both-world situations: Big-name journalists who are likely to bring in good ratings and pageviews, earn plaudits from highbrow validators." They both are "serious; at best mildly irreverent; and stat-very-happy." Their hires are a "sign that ESPN considers both sports and the challenge presented by Fox Sports 1 to be no laughing matters" (TNR.com, 7/20).
Fox Sports Senior VP & Head of Marketing Robert Gottlieb said that once Fox Sports 1 is "up and running this fall he'll likely start searching for a partner -- or partners -- that can come up with creative as effective as Wieden's long-running 'This is SportsCenter' campaign for ESPN," according to Michael McCarthy of AD AGE. Fox Sports currently works with S.F.-based Pereira & O'Dell "on a project basis." Gottlieb said that FS1 "hasn't decided if it will hold a formal agency review or approach it on a more ad-hoc basis." He added that Pereira & O'Dell "would be invited to participate in the review." The pitch "could revolve around Fox's telecast of Super Bowl XLVIII." Gottlieb said that he "plans to use Super Bowl week in New York as a 'secondary launch window' to blanket TV viewers, advertisers and media buyers with news about Fox Sports 1 and its programs." Gottlieb: "There's definitely big creative that we'll be unveiling ... so in the next couple of months, we probably want to start engaging on that stuff." McCarthy noted FS1 worked "early on with an agency" to create the net's "ambitious, 90-second-long commercial" during Fox' telecast of the MLB All-Star Game last week. But Gottlieb said that they "parted ways before the spot was completed due to 'pretty vast' creative differences." Gottlieb added that once the current branding phase is over, FS1 will "roll out new commercials touting specific new shows" such as "Fox Sports Live" and "Fox Football Daily" (ADAGE.com, 7/19).
FAIR AND BALANCED? BLOOMBERG NEWS' Jonathan Mahler reported Fox "tested a show" for FS1 "that was not built around two guys arguing with each other in staged debate." The show, "tentatively called 'Red, White and Truth,' is to be hosted by Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock." He said that the show would be a "combination of interviews and panel discussions" and called it "a mishmash of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher." Whitlock: "There’s an opportunity to pump the brakes and be provocative without it being a shouting match." Mahler reported the "basic idea is simple: Replace pointless, contrived arguments over insignificant issues with genuine, original thoughts and conversations about subjects that actually matter." Mahler: "A worthy cause! But is it even remotely possible? ... Is it too optimistic to think that Whitlock might be on to something? Maybe we’re all getting sick of the manufactured outrage, the mindless debates." In the "absence of encouraging signs, all we have is the increasingly inescapable reality that it’s time for a better sports show, one that doesn't assault our senses and insult our intelligence" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 7/19).
WILD AND CRAZY GUYS: SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted FS1's "Crowd Goes Wild," an hour-long show hosted by Regis Philbin, debuts Aug. 19 and will air weekdays at 5:00pm ET, a "tough time slot to get viewer traction." But "one thing you can't teach in television is likeability, and Philbin has that, even at age 81." Also appearing on the show will be the Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay, "one of the best working sports columnists today," and former Sky Sports host and news anchor Georgie Thompson, who "has a major social media following among EPL soccer fans." There have been "far worse ideas on sports television, so we'll see where this goes." Deitsch: "Panel chemistry, obviously, is going to be huge here" (SI.com, 7/21).
STAYING OUT OF THE FRAY: In this week’s SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, John Ourand examines the counter-programming moves ESPN and FS1 are each making and cites NBC Sports Network execs as saying that while the net has “tinkered with some of its afternoon programming … they are not reacting to program schedules from other outlets.” NBC Sports Group President of Programming Jon Miller said, “We don’t look at what other guys are doing when we program our channel. We want to give our shows time to find their audiences.” Miller “highlighted ‘ProFootball Talk,’ which covers the NFL, and ‘Crossover,’ which features a well-known host in Michelle Beadle, as shows that he wants to give time to grow” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 7/22 issue).
SI's Peter King launched his The MMQB website today, and he called the site a "little more experiential" than what is currently out there. King said, "It's going to take you places where you really haven't gone before in the NFL, in my opinion." He noted there will be "smart video content in connection with the site." The site's main contributors outside of King are Greg Bedard, Jenny Vrentas and Robert Klemko, and King said, "I really want them to examine the game a little bit more." King said the "challenge" with a year-round NFL website is "putting up something interesting" during the offseason. King: "The biggest thing we have to add to the equation is we have to give people a reason to come. There's too much stuff out there. We have to force people to adopt something new in their football media experience" ("The Dan Patrick Show," 7/22). King writes of the site, "We’ll be the thinking person’s site for pro football. If you follow us this season, visit TheMMQB.com three or four times a day between now and the Super Bowl, read our stories, watch our videos and listen to our podcasts ... and if after doing that you don’t think you’ve been enlightened about the sport America loves, well, then I should be fired" (MMQB.SI.com, 7/22).
THE PERFECT STORM: SI.com VP & GM Jim DeLorenzo said that the combination of King’s “star power and readers’ appetite for constant NFL coverage is ‘the perfect storm’” for the new outlet. TECHCRUNCH.com's Billy Gallagher reported The MMQB is the “first sports-centric site to spin out” from the main SI.com site. The team of writers will try to “blend top notch sports reporting and analysis with beautiful ways to display media.” DeLorenzo said that the site will “display stories and videos in ‘Pinterest-style’ tiles, and that as the writers populate it with more content, they will eventually add an endless scroll so that readers can keep accessing older stories on one page.” King said, “We’re going to try to be all things to all people. ... If we haven’t shown you the game in a different way and shown you different media to cover the game, then we’ll have failed” (TECHCRUNCH.com, 7/21). King said what is happening is "really the media is changing" and he does not "want to end up being a dinosaur." King: "I want to be able to have a life in this business and so I just try to think about what's next … (and) in the last 10 years, both social media and video have become vitally important to the job of people in the news media. I'm just trying to stay current and trying to make sure we can deliver news and great storytelling is the way people want to consume it" ("The Jason McIntyre Podcast," THEBIGLEAD.com, 7/18).
TWITTER REAX: The launch of The MMBQ site has largely drawn praise on Twitter. CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman wrote, "Lots of compelling stuff from @SI_PeterKing & his crew on debut of http://TheMMQB.com. Many talented folks on board there." SI's Pete Thamel wrote, "Peter King's new @themmqb looks and reads great. What a striking lead image, too." CNN's Rachel Nichols wrote, "Great debut: @TheMMQB from @SI_PeterKing & crew. I wanted him to call it 'smart NFL stuff' but I guess this is better." ESPN L.A.'s Arash Markazi wrote, "Congratulations to my friend @SI_PeterKing on the launch of @theMMQB. It looks great." The Washington Post's Cindy Boren wrote, "Congrats to @SI_PeterKing @themantz and their MMQB crew for getting off the launching pad with a terrific product." Octagon First Call Managing Dir David Schwab wrote, "Smart for SI to put @SI_PeterKing @TheMMQB out as a standalone web/blog http://TheMMQB.com . It's compelling & advertisers will like it." However, B Nation's Dan Rubenstein wrote, "Congrats to SI on The MMQB -- I assume this means the @sbnation design team gets paid twice for SI's odd copy/paste effort."
SI.com's Richard Deitsch reported ESPN has moved the Sunday edition of "Outside The Lines" from ESPN to ESPN2, "and will now air the program one hour earlier" at 8:00am ET, a move that is a "de facto burying of the show." The network also moved the daily edition of "OTL" from its "current spot on ESPN at 3:00pm to a less favorable spot on ESPN2 at 4:30pm." Deitsch: "The show was just significantly devalued by management" (SI.com, 7/21).
DAVIS BACK ON NFL NET: In Denver, Dusty Saunders reports former NFLer Terrell Davis has signed a "two-year contract with the NFL Network as an analyst and reporter." Davis previously was at the net from '06-09, but the new deal will "give him a much higher profile" than he had before. He will be a "major part" of both "Inside Training Camp Live" and "NFL AM," while he will "appear regularly" on "NFL Total Access" (DENVER POST, 7/22).
SUSPENDED VIEWS: ESPN.com's David Newton reported NASCAR has "suspended the use of aerial camera systems that hang over tracks until the investigation into what caused a failure that interruped the Coca-Cola 600 ... is complete." ESPN had "planned to use" such a camera for this weekend's Brickyard 400 and the Aug. 11 road-course race at Watkins Glen (ESPN.com, 7/19).
REVIEWING THE HAWK: In Chicago, Dan McGrath reviewed MLB Network's "The Colorful Life of Ken Harrelson" and wrote the problem with the special on the longtime White Sox announcer is that there was "no corroboration of anything Harrelson said." McGrath: "It was not the documentary it was billed as being but a solid hour of unadulterated, unabashed, certainly unapologetic Hawk, with enough names dropped to fill six gossip columns." Meanwhile, Bob Costas' role was "overstated," as he was the "narrator, not the interviewer" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 7/21).