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NBC Sports Group is having a "huge week" as it "debuts its coverage of what most soccer fans consider the best league in the world" with the EPL, according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. NBC Sports will air all 380 EPL games, which is "more tonnage than anywhere else on the globe (including the U.K.)." NBC Sports Soccer Group Coordinating Producer Pierre Moossa said, "Our coverage is going to be very simple: We are going to get out of the way and just cover the game and the league properly. It's an amazing product and it speaks for itself." Over the first three weeks of the season, NBC and NBCSN will televise 17 EPL matches "including five over the first weekend." Each match will be "preceded and followed by pre- and post-match shows" hosted by Rebecca Lowe and analysts Robbie Earle, Kyle Martino, and Robbie Mustoe. Arlo White is NBC's lead EPL broadcaster and will be "assigned to games with either analyst Lee Dixon or Graeme Le Saux." NBC will have its own announcers for what it "deems are the best games of the weekend and will use the world feed announcers for all the other games it airs and streams." Moossa said that the EPL and its clubs have been "highly receptive to NBC regarding player access, meetings and promotional work." The clubs have "made managers and players available to NBC broadcasters and producers prior to the season for off-the-record meetings on each club." NBC's "Premier League Live" Saturday pregame show will air each week at 7:00am ET. The moment the players "come out on the pitch, about 35-40 minutes in, NBC will switch to the game site." The studio show "will air live on Sunday at 8:00 a.m. for about 25 minutes before heading to that day's kickoff" (SI.com, 8/11).
STEEL SHARPENS STEEL: In L.A., Kevin Baxter noted NBC is "wagering hundreds of millions of dollars and an unprecedented number of broadcast hours" on the EPL, whose viewers "tend to be more upscale and better educated than the general sports audience." NBC Sports Group President of Programming Jon Miller "believes soccer will give his network a leg up on traditional sports broadcasting powers ESPN and Fox." Martino, who previously covered soccer for ESPN and Fox, said that "fierce competition among the three networks has benefited the sport and its fans in the U.S." Martino: "Everyone's trying to challenge the next person to raise the bar. Fox is raising the bar, ESPN's raising the bar, and NBC's raising the bar as well." Martino, who is also NBC's lead MLS analyst, added, "The idea is to give the audience everything. Don't try to pick what we think they're going to be interested in. Give them the option to follow any team that they want. Give them an introduction to a lot of these teams" (L.A. TIMES, 8/11).
IF IT AIN'T BROKE: Martino said, "What NBC has been really smart about is to not try and change what has been done, whether they are familiar with watching it on Sky Sports (in the United Kingdom) or different networks. That is to not change what has been done before, and re-write the book on how to cover the Premier League, but to stay true to the authenticity and history there. And add some of these little aspects that NBC is known for when it comes to storytelling. That's the familiarity the American fan has when they watch the NFL, or Major League Baseball, or the NBA. Some of those little nuances and ways to cover the game, and to bring (EPL coverage) to the next level without dumbing things down or making it a sport it's not. I think that little dance is a delicate one that everyone has tried to do. So far NBC has done such a good job of getting that right" (PHILLY.com, 8/11).
BONUS PLAN: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Christopher Botta reports "all but one of the major TV, satellite and Internet providers have agreed to pick up the free bonus package of EPL matches" NBC will make available. NBC Sports has created Premier League Extra Time, a package of 184 EPL matches that will not be broadcast on NBCU TV nets "but instead will be available to the providers to air at no extra cost for customers" who receive NBCSN. The "only holdout, as of last week, was Charter." Miller said, "We could have charged $15 or $20 a month for a service like Fox Soccer 2Go, and we might have gotten 100,000 people who would have bought it. But we made the decision to make the additional games available at no charge, as long as you had NBCSN. This is a way to strengthen the pay-TV ecosystem so that people have a reason not to cut the cord, to not go away from their cable and satellite providers" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/12 issue).
Comcast, Cablevision, Charter, Cox, Verizon, AT&T and Suddenlink -- distributors that account for nearly 45 million subscribers -- have committed to carry FS1 on its Aug. 17 launch. That leaves DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks -- accounting for more than 47 million subscribers -- as distributors that do not have deals in place for FS1 yet even though its launch date is just four days away. All four distributors are in active negotiations for FS1, sources say. Time Warner Cable handles programming negotiations for Bright House. When Fox announced the channel earlier this year, it said it planned to launch FS1 into 90 million homes (John Ourand, Staff Writer). In Phoenix, Paola Boivin reports while FS1 officials "would not comment on distribution," sources said that it will "almost certainly be part of basic cable services and not require an extra fee." It is "common for carriage negotiations to go down to the wire, although, as the Pac-12 Networks learned from its ongoing standoff with DirecTV, agreement is no sure thing" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 8/13).
FILLING OUT THE CREW: BROADCASTING & CABLE's Tim Baysinger reported former NFLers Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher have joined FS1 and will contribute to "Fox Football Daily," the net's "weekday football show airing" at 6:00pm ET. They also will appear on the Sunday pregame show "Fox NFL Kickoff," which will air at 11:00am during the NFL season. Former NFLers Ronde Barber and Scott Fujita "have joined as well." "Fox Football Daily" also added Fox' Joel Klatt and the net's lead college broadcast team of Gus Johnson and Charles Davis. Petros Papadakis and Erin Andrews also will "make appearances on the show" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 8/12).
CROWDED FIELD: FS1's Jason Gay said the net's "Fox Sports Live" is going to be the "antithesis of 'SportsCenter'" and his show, "Crowd Goes Wild," will be the "afternoon component" for the net. Gay said FS1 will "return to the culture of fun." Gay: "It's just the idea of fourth quarters and overtimes and Game Sevens and bowl games and just the big, marquee moments in sports being fun." He added this is all "taking shape on the fly here." Gay: "This is a new network and these people on the programs all are fresh to television and they'll find a way. But people can expect something different" ("The Will Leitch Experience," SPORTSONEARTH.com, 8/12).
College football blogger Clay Travis will be a regular studio analyst for FS1's "Fox College Saturday," and he could prove to be "one of the more polarizing sports personalities," according to Darren Heitner of FORBES. Travis has "slowly been working on his master-plan to redefine what it means to be a sports media professional." That plan is "expected to receive a dose of performance enhancing promotion as Travis becomes an integral part of a network that wants to become a real contender against ESPN." He has "built his persona from the ground up by being unabashed and unafraid to report the news as he sees it." Travis, a former Deadspin.com writer, founded OutkickTheCoverage.com in early '11, a sports site "dedicated to all things SEC-football along with trending topics in the sports landscape." The website, which has "expanded to become a well-known channel for quality content," currently generates 500,000-1,000,000 visitors each month, with Travis "managing both the website and contributing content on a daily basis." Travis also "co-hosts a sports radio talk show" on WGFX-FM in Nashville and a national sports radio show on NBC Sports. Travis over the last six months "engaged in a fair amount of discussions with major media properties about not only the future of Outkick the Coverage, but also where he was headed professionally." When FS1 "came calling, the decision was essentially a no-brainer." Travis said, “Ultimately, the offer put on the table was too exciting to pass up -- the opportunity to be on their morning college football show and to be out in L.A. with them for the launch of a major network like FS1." Heitner noted Outkick the Coverage is "now FoxSports.com’s official college football blog" (FORBES.com, 8/12).
CLAY-MATION: A panel of SI.com writers discussed changes to the college football media landscape, including the addition of Travis to Fox' coverage. Stewart Mandel said, "I really like the Clay Travis move. Much like Bill Simmons showed on NBA draft night, a funny and opinionated writer who knows the sport has a lot more to offer than another generic ex-jock like Joey Harrington." Andy Staples said, "In the blogosphere, the Travis hire was almost universally panned. I actually think it could work. Everyone is assuming Clay will bring the same fan-baiting, SEC-centric approach that he brings to his website to the show. And he will. ... Clay didn't go from blogger on the CBS website to talent on a network show by accident. Every step of the way, he has identified what his target audience would respond to and then given the audience an abundance of that material. ... Clay will do and say things that will make the audience respond." But Martin Rickman said, "I'm not the biggest fan of Travis' written work, as I often find it too misogynistic and self-serving. Will his voice and personality translate better on camera? It's too early to say. It's worth a shot, I suppose" (SI.com, 8/9).
Former Browns QB Bernie Kosar was reprimanded for negative on-air comments he made about the Rams during the Browns-Rams preseason game last Thursday, but there is "absolutely no reason" he should be fired for his comments, according to Terry Pluto of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. The "best action is to talk to Kosar about his approach to the games." Pluto: "But fire him? For what? Being in a bad mood and coming off as grumpy?" SI's Peter King in a tweet wondered whether Kosar was drunk, but Pluto wrote Kosar "was not drinking" and that his "comments were clear." It is a "cheap shot to suggest he was drinking." King also shares the "same agent as Rams coach Jeff Fisher," which puts King "in the position of sounding biased" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 8/13). In Cleveland, Bill Livingston wondered if Kosar was a "trifle over the top and too personal with his comments." By the "Milquetoast standards of NFL broadcasts and the God-ing up of players by ESPN, yeah, he was." But Kosar was not "wrong" in what he said. Livingston: "'Candidly' is one of embattled Browns' owner Jimmy Haslam's favorite words. The adverb obviously does not apply to the broadcast booth under the new regime, though -- even when the barbs are directed at the other team" (CLEVELAND.com, 8/12).
SHOULD HE BE ON AIR? Kosar's comments were a hot topic of discussion on sports talk radio shows and ESPN's afternoon programming yesterday. Denver Post columnist Woody Paige noted Kosar has acknowledged he suffers from Post-Concussion Syndrome and said, "I don't know that he should go on-air and be an analyst and not be any more prepared than he was. If he's going to say those things, he's doing it in the wrong location." ESPN's Jackie MacMullan said, "You don’t have to make it so cruel and so personal and so biting. It was all unnecessary, the language he used. ... I'm not really sure why he would be on the air again." Columnist Kevin Blackistone said, "If he's bringing you this as an analyst, he's really not doing anything more than anybody would do at a sports bar." Blackistone: "If you're going to be analyst, don’t just tell me somebody's horrible. Point out to me as an expert how it is they're horrible." ESPN's Israel Gutierrez: "You can be entertaining and you can be critical without being a jerk" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 8/12). ESPN's Antonio Pierce said, "When you talk about somebody's family, that's a little personal. I have a problem with that." ESPN's Herm Edwards: "Words are powerful and I think you have to be careful. ... It was a little bit surprising coming out of Bernie's mouth to hear what he was saying" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 8/12).
Bengals LB James Harrison yesterday "explained his disdain" for HBO's "Hard Knocks" after his "aversion to the crews was part of last week’s episode," according to Joe Reedy of the CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. Harrison said, "I don’t feel they deserve to be here. They did nothing to be here, other than want to be here. They didn’t put no blood, sweat and tears into none of this. All these men in here, they did that. ... No one deserves to see this, to come inside of this unless you’re a part of this." Reedy noted there was "one scene during last Tuesday’s show where Harrison jumped in a car of an unsuspecting motorist to avoid cameras." While Harrison "doesn’t like 'Hard Knocks,'" a camera crew is supposed to be with him this week "for one of his 5 a.m. workouts" (CINCINNATI.com, 8/12). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell reports Harrison recently was "strolling off the practice field" when CB Adam Jones "noticed cameras in the vicinity." Jones said, "I blew him a kiss, and he looked right back at me!" Bell notes it "must have been a quick glance," as Harrison "was not playing along." Jones: "He does not like the 'Hard Knocks' cameras" (USA TODAY, 8/13).
HARD WORK: THE MMQB's Richard Deitsch reports about 30 "Hard Knocks" staffers "work onsite during the filming, and a half-dozen in the crew, including director Rob Gehring will spend seven weeks in total with the Bengals." Staffers "work 12-to-14-hour days, and often clock 100 hours per week." The crew "typically shoots 300 hours of film for each 55-minute program." There will be "60 players wired for sound during the course of filming." The "mantra among NFL Films staffers is to avoid being intrusive at all costs, and it helps immensely that the Bengals’ coaches ... have bought into the documentary experience." Bengals OT Andrew Whitworth said, "I don’t think it is disruptive at all as far as practice goes. ... For the most part they do a great job of disappearing. You even often catch yourself going, 'Dang it, I forget they were here.'" Deitsch writes it is "remarkable how seamlessly the NFL Films crew embedded themselves during a pair of practices" earlier in August. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "It doesn’t disrupt you at all unless you allow it to. My only thing with our guys was I told them your time off is your time off. You don’t need to include any others in whatever you are doing." Meanwhile, Deitsch notes players "can see their marketability rise with a memorable appearance," and agents often "reach out to HBO and NFL Films staffers in an attempt to get their players airtime." The show was contacted by the agent for Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick, "letting them know they were happy to help out anyway they could" (MMQB.SI.com, 8/13).
ROSE-COLORED GLASSES: USA TODAY's Will Leitch wrote there "isn't a sports television program I thoroughly enjoy more every year than NFL Films' 'NFL Yearbook' series that runs on ESPN2 in August." The show basically is a "half-hour infomercial, produced by the league, intended to excite you about the upcoming season." Any "disappointments your otherwise successful team suffered are scrubbed away." The forward-looking conclusions to the shows are "inevitably" given "blandly optimistic titles, like 'A New Beginning,' 'Sky's the Limit' or 'Growing a Foundation.'" The videos are "prepackaged messages telling you that everything is OK, that your team is going to win all its games this year, that the NFL is all powerful and altruistic" (USA TODAY, 8/13).
U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) yesterday "sent a letter" to CBS President & CEO Les Moonves and Time Warner Cable Chair & CEO Glenn Britt "urging both to agree on a contract," according to Roger Yu of USA TODAY. The letter read in part, "The status quo is unfair to the millions of your customers who are caught in the middle of your dispute, and we strongly encourage both sides to resolve it immediately." Yu reports several consumer groups also "called for more involvement from federal regulators." Sports has "become a rallying point for proponents of a quick resolution," as several NFL preseason games "were blacked out in the affected markets." Sports Fan Coalition New York/Tri-State Chapter Chair Scott Weiss said, "We'd like to see sports shows put back on air. The FCC should get involved to make sure fans don't get hurt in these disputes" (USA TODAY, 8/13). Moffett Research analyst Craig Moffett predicted that TWC "will only be able to hold out until football season begins." CABLEFAX DAILY notes there are "some unique dynamics in the NY market this time." But Moffett said, "We're still talking about a relatively run of the mill battle for leverage where the broadcaster ultimately has the upper hand." BTIG Research analysts "agreed that TWC's negotiating position will weaken 'dramatically'" in mid-September, when the NFL returns to CBS and the fall TV season begins (CABLEFAX DAILY, 8/13).