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Nate Silver said he will cover a "whole range of topics where data-driven journalism can be helpful" as part of his recent deal with ESPN, and sports "is certainly among those." Silver appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" Friday and said, "I was in sports before I covered politics. We're still going to be covering politics." Silver said in terms of using data, sports coverage "has come a long way since Michael Lewis wrote 'Moneyball' about 10 years ago now, and in baseball in particular." Silver: "Almost every team has a statistical analyst on their payroll, sometimes the so-called stathead is running the team. So baseball ... is the one place where you've already seen reaching equilibrium. But it's way behind still in coverage of elections, for example. Part of the problem is people are looking for narratives." Silver noted he previously worked for Baseball Prospectus and said "one great thing about baseball is that it's probably the world's best data set." Silver: "Some people put it to me that it was almost devised to give statisticians a fun problem to work with. ... It's a unique environment there to kind of train yourself to use data and statistics in a better way" ("Morning Edition," NPR, 7/26).
COULD BE A GAME CHANGER: FORTUNE's Douglas Alden Warshaw noted Silver is "potentially an intellectual leader" at ESPN whose presence "could be transformative to sports television." While at the N.Y. Times, Silver was "a prognosticator and a brand, a conjuror who with his FiveThirtyEight.com blog was scarily accurate in predicting the outcomes of elections." That was the "sizzle," but the "actual steak is that Silver is able to tell stories we can all dine out on using data." Silver's ability to "use numbers as a thread and weave data throughout a coherent narrative, when coupled with ESPN's resources, gives him the opportunity to transform how sports stories are told on the TV." Silver could "be something special if ESPN supports him with production, vision and creativity." To get the "most out of their substantial investment in Silver, ESPN needs [to] avoid thinking of him as just some new talking head who requires infographics instead of highlights." The net should "start thinking up new production values, elements and animations to support Silver's style of storytelling" (FORTUNE.com, 7/24).
KEEP SPORTS IN THE EQUATION: However, in Boston, Chad Finn writes ESPN in "promoting its coup of landing" Silver has "left those of us over here in the sports section wondering exactly what he will do that relates to ... well, sports." ESPN President John Skipper said that Bill Simmons’ Grantland site "will serve as somewhat of a model and noted that Silver is getting back to his 'sports roots.'" He added, “Our expectation is he will determine the content of that site. Politics remains at the core of what he does, so politics is going to be important there.” Silver said, “I have a background in sports, and that would be a big focus here, but it’s not just going to be a politics site or a sports site." Finn notes the "idea of how to structure the site is already percolating." Silver: “One model we’ve talked about is kind of the old, the current actually, USA Today, where you have those four sections; you have news, sports, money, and life, and you can kind of fit most things we want to cover into one of those four bundles" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/26).
With a goal to "create a lighter, less serious alternative," Fox Sports 1 represents "perhaps the most significant challenge yet to ESPN," according to Alex Ben Block of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Block conducted a Q&A with Fox Sports Media Group co-Presidents & co-COOs Randy Freer and Eric Shanks, who are "shepherding the launch" of FS1. Below are excerpts from the conversation.
Q: There are more sports on TV than ever. Will the audience for Fox Sports 1 justify the huge expense?
Freer: When you go back to when there was CNN, and Fox News and MSNBC launched, the marketplace expanded. Today, the sports marketplace has expanded rather dramatically, so there's lots of room to exploit that.
Shanks: If you don't have a multisport national outlet, you don't really have the ability to compete for the rights packages out there. That was one of the deciding factors. You need to have shelf space on a national sports network.
Q: How will FS1 be different from ESPN?
Freer: This is not about Fox Sports 1 versus ESPN, NBC or anyone. This is about the collective Fox Sports, on the broadcast network.
Shanks: We have always lived by the mantra that we're going to coat the information pill with a little bit of entertainment. ... I think that's where the Fox attitude does come in. Fans know when they see the Fox Sports shield that they are going to get something that is probably a little bit different, done a different way ... and you're going to have a little bit of fun.
Q: Why did Fox lose the L.A. Dodgers TV rights to Time Warner Cable?
Freer: Look, deals are deals. They get complicated. In the end, it wasn't that hard because the Guggenheim folks were very clear about what they were trying to achieve. We were pretty clear on what we could do. We weren't able to marry those two, and they did what they needed to do with someone else -- who, by the way, is a distributor that complains first and foremost about the cost of sports rights.
Q: There are Fox sports channels all over the world. Will you coordinate with them and share rights?
Freer: We truly are the only company out there -- certainly in sports -- that has a global reach. ... That's one of the exciting things about 21st Century Fox. Somebody who is looking to expand globally can come to us because we're a place they can do it under one umbrella. We can coordinate and create real value across the globe (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 8/2 issue).
BALANCING ACT: FS1 on Thursday formally announced the cast for its nightly "Fox Sports Live," and in L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes he "can't be sure if this won't just smell a lot like the 'Best Damn Sports Show Period' all over again." Show Exec Producer Mike Hughes said, "Where 'Best Damn' took a lot of liberties in scripted comedy and skits, this has a different stance. There are parallels in that the camaraderie of the cast is probably people you'd want to hang out with. But that's where it ends." Former "BDSSP" co-host Charissa Thompson, who will host "Fox Sports Live," said, "We won't be having as much cheeky fun as we did. That was a much more relaxed and looser format. This will follow more under the news and analysis rule." Hoffarth notes if FS1 is to "be taken seriously, it has to be serious in how it breaks away from its past and creates newness on a landscape where ESPN and family already have established a long-term comfort zone." This "Fox Sports Live" show likely will "set a tone as to where the channel goes and how it's received" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 7/26).
MONEY TO BE MADE FROM NEWS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sharma & Futterman write one of Fox' major challenges for new programming such as "Fox Sports Live" will be "building large and loyal audiences." But establishing "successful news and talk shows is also a critical part of the business." Kantar Media data shows that at ESPN, such programming "accounted for 43% of the $2.8 billion in ad spending it attracted" in '12. Sharma & Futterman: "Done right, studio shows can be hits." ESPN said that "SportsCenter" has "averaged 842,000 viewers so far this year, making it the second top-rated show on ESPN behind its rapid-fire debate show 'Pardon the Interruption'" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/26).
SAY MY NAME, SAY MY NAME: FS1's Regis Philbin appeared on CBS' "Late Show" on Thursday and discussed his new "Crowd Goes Wild" show that debuts Aug. 19. Letterman asked, "Don't read anything into this, but why would you do this?" Philbin: "I've been out of it for about a year-and-a-half and I thought, 'Sports? I love sports.'" Letterman replied, "This is just to get you out of the house. That's all this is, isn't it?" Philbin said his co-host is a "great big defensive end who (played) 14 years in the NFL" but then could not remember his name. Philbin: "I know the guy. I just spent the weekend with him. Travis ... Honest to God, this is really embarrassing." Someone off-camera then prompted Philbin that it was Trevor Pryce, and Philbin said, "Trevor Pryce! Dammit!" Letterman then noted, "This is the kind of thing you're going to get every night on the Fox Sports Network" ("Late Show," CBS, 7/25). Pryce on his Twitter feed wrote, "Yep. Regis just called me 'Travis' on the Dave Letterman Show...after he forgot my name. @CGW Reeeeeg..."
NASCAR's new media-rights agreement, which will see NBC Sports Network air 13 Sprint Cup races annually while ESPN loses its broadcast rights, "wasn’t exactly met with universal praise in the television world," according to Bob Pockrass of SPORTING NEWS. Some people in the industry "immediately began comparing NASCAR to the NHL, which suffered after moving its TV deal from ESPN to NBC." ESPN is "still considered the mother ship of all sports networks," and some "believe that if you’re not on ESPN, you’re not a big-time sport." Pockrass: "Will NASCAR be treated with disdain on SportsCenter, only being mentioned around its biggest events or when controversies erupt?" The biggest loss for NASCAR could be when ESPN "doesn’t go live to the track after the season finale to interview the Sprint Cup champion." That is what ESPN "does best, being in the middle of the action and making big events seem even bigger." Neither Fox Sports 1 nor NBCSN is "as familiar to NASCAR fans as ESPN," and both nets have a "long way to go before they become as big a part of the sports landscape" as the Worldwide Leader. Pockrass also noted it "doesn’t appear that NASCAR will have as many races on network as it has had in the past, and that’s not a good thing" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 7/24). SI.com's Lars Anderson wondered if this "influx of money" into NASCAR will signal to potential sponsors "that the sport is finally on the rebound." Anderson: "Surely, by making such a significant investment, NBC will aggressively promote NASCAR -- maybe even more than ESPN did -- which ultimately could be the biggest upside of the deal to NASCAR" (SI.com, 7/24).
SMILES DOWN GASOLINE ALLEY: In Indianapolis, Anthony Schoettle wrote there is "speculation among motorsports industry insiders that the new NBC-NASCAR deal could wreak havoc on the IndyCar Series schedule, but IndyCar officials weren’t letting that dampen their spirits Tuesday." The deal will "likely have two major, and relatively immediate, impacts" on IndyCar when it starts in '15. The inclusion of NASCAR races will "cause more cable networks to add the channel -- and add it to lower (less expensive) tiers." Also, NBC is "expected to promote its other motorsports properties -- including IndyCar races -- during NASCAR races." IndyCar VP/Marketing Kasey Coler: "Going back to the days of Versus, we could see this was a sports network with the resources and the vision to grow. This is a validation of that vision that was set out a few years ago" (IBJ.com, 7/24). NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said, "We would prefer to see a healthy IndyCar Series. I know we’ll help them significantly by moving to NBC and the NBC Sports Network. We’ll give a lot of visibility to that network and that in turn will be good for them" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/26).
MLB in June used its rising mobile traffic and the in-season period to continue its rise in monthly comScore multi-platform reach rankings of U.S. sports sites, moving to No. 5 in the month. While most other sites in the category that are heavily dependent on football-related traffic showed seasonal declines, MLB boosted its ranking from the 6th slot it held in April and May. Otherwise, the comScore list generally held form compared to recent months, with the Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports Network digital alliance, ESPN, and Bleacher Report-Turner Sports Network holding the top three spots, respectively. ESPN, as is custom, led in consumption metrics, posting an average of 88.6 minutes per user during the month.
RANK SITEUNIQUES (000) 1) Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports Network*55,231 2) ESPN51,748 3) Bleacher Report-Turner Sports Network**35,561 4) FoxSports.com on MSN33,702 5) MLB28,026 6) USA Today Sports Media Group***26,142 7) Sporting News Media/Perform Sports22,564 8) SB Nation20,435 9) CBS Sports18,193 10) Sports Illustrated sites14,370 11) Stack Media13,718 12) NFL Internet Group11,889 13) Active.com sites11,282 14) NHL Network8,005 15) Perform Sports6,397
YES Network "has seen a 39 percent drop in viewership" this season for Yankees games with stars like 3B Alex Rodriguez, SS Derek Jeter, 1B Mark Teixeira and CF Curtis Granderson missing all or most of the year, according to Justin Terranova of the N.Y. POST. Games are averaging a 2.5 local rating after earning a 4.1 last year. This comes despite the Yankees remaining "competitive in the AL East and wild-card races." However, Jeter is expected back in the lineup "this weekend and Granderson may not be far behind." It is possible a "pennant race and the return of some big names could bolster the numbers late in the season." Meanwhile, the Mets are having a "similar, though less severe, decline on SNY." Ratings are down 30% "from this time last year," going from 2.6 to 1.8. The "positive is the uptick that has occurred" when Ps Matt Harvey (1.96 rating) and Zack Wheeler (2.34 rating) start (N.Y. POST, 7/26).
THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes Rodriguez has been “getting pounded in the court of public opinion,” which is why he called into WFAN-AM on Thursday to speak with Mike Francesa. Francesa, whose show is simulcast by the YES Network, treated Rodriguez “kindly for six minutes.” Rodriguez’ orthopedist Dr. Michael Gross appeared on the show Wednesday, and Francesa’s “mugging of the Yankees, which continued on Thursday, was an obvious attempt to enlist his audience in A-Rod’s Army while trying to change the minds of people who despise the Yankees’ estranged third baseman.” Francesa was “attempting to make Rodriguez look good by casting him as the persecuted one taking on the monolithic Yankees" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/26).
ESPN earned a 3.1 U.S. rating and 4.4 million viewers for the final round of the British Open on Sunday from 8:00am-1:30pm ET. That rating is tied with last year for the best rating, while the viewership set a new cable TV record for the event, which moved exclusively to ESPN in '10. The final round viewership also marks the third-best audience all-time for golf telecasts on cable. The first round of the '10 Masters -- Tiger Woods' return to the sport after his sex scandal -- drew 4.9 million viewers, while the first half of the Woods-Rocco Mediate playoff in the '08 U.S. Open playoff drew 4.8 million viewers (the second half of the playoff aired on NBC). Meanwhile, the British Open's third round on ESPN last Saturday averaged a 2.7 rating and 3.8 million viewers from 9:00am-2:47pm, up from a 2.6 rating and 3.5 million viewers in ’12. The opening round last Thursday drew 1.4 million viewers, up from 1.3 million viewers last year (ESPN).
NOTES: NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the Tour de France last Sunday averaged 560,000 viewers, marking the most-watched final stage since ’09. The telecast was up 67% from ’12. Final week coverage on the net averaged 350,000 viewers, up 22% from last year. Complete coverage of the event on NBCSN averaged 287,000 viewers, down from 290,000 in ’12 (THE DAILY).... FS Southwest drew a 7.0 local rating in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market for Tuesday’s Yankees-Rangers game, marking the RSN’s highest-rated Rangers game this season. The previous high was a 6.9 rating for A’s-Rangers on May 21 (FS Southwest).
The charts below lists final ratings from recent sports telecasts.
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) CONCACAF Gold Cup: El Salvador-Haiti7/15UniMas6:37-9:04pm0.4732 CONCACAF Gold Cup: Trinidad & Tobago-Honduras7/15UniMas9:12-11:31pm0.61,023 MLB All-Star Game7/16Fox8:13-10:31pm6.910,956 CONCACAF Gold Cup: U.S.-Costa Rica7/16UniMas7:48-10:03pm0.61,126 "Open Championship Today"7/20ABC3:00-6:00pm1.21,701 MLB: (regional)7/20Fox4:00-7:30pm2.0n/a "Octane Academy"7/20NBC2:00-3:00pm0.3n/a CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal: Mexico-Trinidad & Tobago7/20Univ.6:11-8:31pm1.42,610 "Open Championship Today"7/21ABC3:00-6:00pm1.52,129 "UFC's Road to the Octagon"7/21Fox2:30-3:30pm0.3n/a CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal: U.S.-El Salvador7/21Fox3:30-6:00pm0.9n/a Dew Tour: Ocean City recap7/21NBC2:00-3:00pm0.5n/a CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal: Honduras-Costa Rica7/21Univ.6:40-9:06pm1.12,172 TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) MLB Home Run Derby7/15ESPN8:14-11:07pm4.16,651 British Open: Final Round7/21ESPN7:56am-1:35pm3.14,372 British Open: Third Round7/20ESPN9:01am-2:47pm2.73,776 MLB: Yankees-Red Sox7/21ESPN8:00pm-12:56am1.72,566 NASCAR Nationwide Series: Chicagoland7/21ESPN3:00-5:47pm1.62,341 "The ESPYs"7/17ESPN9:00-11:44pm1.52,269 British Open: Second Round7/19ESPN7:01am-3:39pm1.31,658 "NASCAR Countdown"7/21ESPN2:30-3:00pm1.01,459 British Open: First Round7/18ESPN7:01am-3:45pm1.11,398 British Open: Third Round (early coverage)7/20ESPN7:00-9:01am1.01,257