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FS1 averaged 1.78 million viewers for "UFC Fight Night" on Saturday, which featured Chael Sonnen defeating Shogun Rua by submission in the first round during the net's first-ever primetime telecast. That audience figure is second best for the UFC since it signed a rights deal with Fox Sports heading into '12. FS1 also ended up higher among all key adult male demos on Saturday compared to the four broadcast TV nets. The UFC's previous fight cards on FX averaged 1.29 million viewers. The only card to perform better than Saturday night's telecast was on Jan. 19, when FX averaged 1.9 million viewers for a broadcast that featured Vitor Belfort defeating Michael Bisping from Brazil. Meanwhile, FS1 averaged a 0.3 overnight for its debut "Fox Sports Live" telecast after the UFC bout from 10:43pm-12:00am ET. By comparison, ESPN earned a 0.6 overnight for the 11:00pm-12:00am edition of "SportsCenter." FS1 also earned a 0.6 overnight for its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race from Michigan Int'l Speedway on Saturday from 12:30-2:30pm. ESPN in the same window averaged a 0.7 overnight for Australia-Puerto Rico in the Little League World Series (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
MIXED REACTIONS TO DEBUT: SPORTS ON EARTH's Joe DeLessio lists eight observations from the debut of "Fox Sports Live," writing, "For all the talk of how Fox Sports 1’s highlight show is an alternative to SportsCenter, this was the first sign that much of the show would actually be pretty familiar to SportsCenter viewers." "Fox Sports Live" is not "so much blowing up the format as it is adding a layer to it by having the same panel on the show every night and throwing to it regularly." Co-hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole are "as good as advertised," as they are "as funny and irreverent as all the YouTube compilations suggested." FS1 "tried hard to position the show as a 'fun' alternative to SportsCenter, but for better or worse, the panelists don’t really come across as wacky, towel-snapping jocks." There was "a tiny bit of ball-busting in episode 1, but for the most part, they aimed either for straightforward analysis or taking a side in a mostly-civil debate" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 8/19). TIME's Sean Gregory writes the production quality "was just fine: it has the Fox Sports feel." The ticker on the bottom of the screen "wasn't distracting, and I was pleasantly surprised that it provided an update from the World Track and Field championships." The format of "Fox Sports 1 on 1" is "mighty promising," but the inaugural episode featuring Michael Strahan interviewing Patriots QB Tom Brady was "predictably dull." However, the net "deserves a look" (TIME.com, 8/19). YAHOO SPORTS CANADA's Chris Zelkovich wrote Onrait and O'Toole "apparently emerged relatively unscathed" in their debut. The two have "transported themselves holus bolus to the U.S." (CA.SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/18).
WORK IN PROGRESS: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes FS1's debut was "uneven." It is "obvious Fox is to be taken seriously," but there are "kinks to be worked out." "Fox Sports Live" was "all over the place," as viewers were "overloaded with too much information." There was a "ticker running on the bottom and another set of notes and graphics above that ticker and still another set of notes and graphics running down the right side." The panel ranged from "looking nervous to offering no insight." Former ESPN host Charissa Thompson "seemed to be the only one comfortable." That is "what you get when you hire analysts with next to no television experience." The show should "rely even more on Onrait and O'Toole." They "clearly were the stars of the show" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 8/19). Blogger Ed Sherman writes, "At times I really thought I was watching an old rerun from 'SportsNight,' the terrific ’90s show written by Aaron Sorkin." Sherman: "There’s going to be an adjustment period to JayDan. It is going to take time to get used to their pace and rhythm. And their humor. At first blush, I do think the Canadian guys are funny. My advice, though, would be: Don’t try to be too funny" (SHERMANREPORT.com, 8/19). In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes of "Fox Sports Live," "Two words sum up the premiere -- loud and confusing." The overall hour had "a smugness about it -- as if the channel had invented TV sports coverage." And the "all-too-busy screen produced ongoing confusion." There has "got to be improvement in this bells-and-whistles show" (DENVER POST, 8/19). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Tim Goodman wrote "Fox Sports Live" has "a lot of segments." Viewers get "highlights, then a toss over to some in-studio banter and then back again." And "then back and forth again." The panelists "change, but the volleying back and forth -- which can get tiresome if what you really want, say, is a bunch of highlights in a row -- doesn't" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 8/18).
TWITTER REAX: WQXI-AM's Mike Bell wrote, "Liking Fox Sports Live, with Jay Onrait & Dan O'Toole...closest thing to loose, hip energy of Olbermann & Patrick from back in the day." Former ESPN NHL analyst Matthew Barnaby wrote, "I love Onrait and O'toole in the States with @FOXSports !!! Great place to get caught. Solid additions throughout!!!" BYU announcer Mike Wrubell wrote, "Not loving the omnipresent Charissa Thompson-led panel, but the Canadians are on point." Meanwhile, Fox has released a video of Onrait and O'Toole addressing some tweets about their first show.
FS1 A NICE LANDING SPOT FOR UFC: In N.Y., Marc Raimondi wrote FS1's production of "UFC Fight Night" was "fantastic." The net "made the fans feel like they were watching a big-time sporting event." The new camera angle -- with the camera "on the same plane as the canvas -- gave a whole new ingenious way to grasp the grappling aspect of MMA." UFC also delivered its "deepest free TV card ever." For "pure entertainment value, this might have been the UFC’s best show of the year -- and it was free." FS1 has "a chance to be huge for the UFC." Saturday night was "only an excellent, Bruce Buffer-level introduction" (NYPOST.com, 8/18). In Houston, Jeremy Botter wrote UFC's debut on FS1 "was a success by any measure." The fights were "excellent and memorable" (CHRON.com, 8/18). SI.com's Jeff Wagenheim wrote under the header, "UFC Finds A Home With Fox Sports 1 Debut" (SI.com, 8/18).
GETTING THEIR FOOTBALL FIX: "Fox Football Daily" premieres this afternoon on FS1 with Curt Menefee hosting a panel that includes Jay Glazer, Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss and Ronde Barber. Urlacher said that he "misses playing football but is enjoying his new role as an analyst for Fox." Appearing in the third quarter of last night's Colts-Giants game, Urlacher said it is "definitely an adjustment" going to work in the media. He said, "I'm having a good time with it. We have a good crew here. ... It's been fun so far." He added, "We have good camaraderie on this show as well. I think any time Jay's around, it's going to be fun" (Mark Potash, SUNTIMES.com, 8/18). THE MMQB's Peter King writes of Moss, "I love the hire, because he might actually be honest and say some smart things. But I'm skeptical of his staying power." King: "Can he stay interested in TV? It seems so anti-Moss, to sit in a studio and talk football" (MMQB.SI.com, 8/19).
USING TOO MUCH SEX APPEAL? SPORTS ON EARTH's Colin McGowan wrote Thompson and Erin Andrews in a video on the Hollywood Reporter website "try to affect 'blonde-tastically flirty' and end up somewhere around a generic Esquire Hot Lady Profile that's been left outside during a hurricane." The only time "we hear either of them speak, in the midst of so much doe-eyed preening and hair-flipping, is when Andrews jokes 'Are these our engagement photos?'" The photo shoot and accompanying video "is Fox asking Thompson and Andrews to announce that the network will also feature good-looking women." McGowan: "All I want is for Thompson and Andrews to be good at their jobs. Fox should too" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 8/16).
HEALTHY COMPETITION: In Columbus, Michael Arace writes it is "easy to bash ESPN and forget that the network still practices some world-class journalism." It covers "certain issues -- performance-enhancing drugs, for instance -- better than anyone." Yet ESPN can "use the competition" from FS1, even if it is "coming from a couple of yippy little dogs nipping at exposed ankles." The "plucky outfit that once touted a far-flung idea on the backwater of cable television has grown into a monolith." Its "hubris is such that it can create its own morality" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 8/19).
On Saturday night at 7:24pm ET, ESPN "SportsCenter" anchor Steve Levy sent out a tweet saying, "its me and [Scott Van Pelt] on SportsCenter after little league world series on espn #notour1stshow." The message behind the hashtag Levy used was obvious. "Fox Sports Live," the newest competitor to "SportsCenter," was three-and-a-half hours from debuting and already picking up a lot of media attention. But ESPN execs feel they have the experience and personalities to hold off any challenges. In separate phone conversations yesterday, THE DAILY spoke with Van Pelt and "SportsCenter" Senior Coordinating Producer Michael Shiffman about some of the decisions behind what ESPN put into Saturday's show.
On choosing Levy and Van Pelt to anchor "SportsCenter" Saturday night:
Shiffman: We wanted to put our best foot forward. We knew it was their first night, and we want to have our strongest anchor teams out there as well.
Van Pelt: We've worked together for many years. He just celebrated his 20th year at ESPN, and I've been there more than 10. This is a show you know, and these are people that you know. I don't think it was entirely coincidental that we were asked to do this. We have a sense of pride in our place. We are proud to be asked to be the ones to sit out there, and if there is some kind of a taste test going on, remind people that this is what you know.
On changes to "SportsCenter" on FS1's launch night:
Shiffman: Our overall theme was to attack the show like we do every single night, which is to do the best highlights possible, the best storytelling possible and be really smart. That's not different from what we did other nights before they launched.
Van Pelt: During our production meeting, I told an anecdote of a basketball coach friend I had spoken to that day. I explained to him that there was this new network that's launching, and he says, "Oh, what is it?" I said, "Fox Sports 1." He said, "What channel is that?" He hadn't heard and had no clue. It's a good reminder that when you live in our small little world, you could convince yourself that this is a big deal, that they're ready to join the fight, and it's crickets outside the walls of our little fraternity. With that thought in mind, my philosophy is that we do exactly what we do and have done for 30-some odd years.
What was the best part of Saturday night's "SportsCenter?"
Shiffman: We try to maximize our resources. Last night, we had reporters at two of the NFL games. We have Mark Schwarz at Jaguars-Jets and Pedro Gomez at Cowboys-Cardinals. We had the My Wish feature. Those things have always been staples of the show and, as far as I can tell, will continue to be staples of the show.
Van Pelt: I can't think of a stand-alone moment that I'm most proud of. It wasn't like we said, "Let's do one highlight where we really show Fox what we can do." It wasn't like that. It wasn't anything that differentiated itself from any particular day.
On the idea that Fox Sports 1 is bringing fun back into sports:
Van Pelt: The easiest thing in the world to do is to talk a bunch of junk on Twitter. They're really good at that -- poking the bear with a stick. I would swing up, too, if I were them. That's what they're doing. The idea that they co-opted fun in sports and that ESPN and "SportsCenter" is some kind of a trip to the dentist is laughable. I have fun every single time I do "SportsCenter." If they want to be fun, great. Go have fun. I encourage you to do so because we do it every day. That's the one thing I found to be a head-scratcher, that they planted their flag on this fun hill, as if they discovered it. Like they're the Christopher Columbus of fun in sports and they're putting their flag down on that hill. Really? We've been living here since 1979. Welcome to the fun of sports.
On FS1's launch:
Van Pelt: If you reference [co-President] Eric Shanks or ["Fox Sports Live" Executive Producer] Michael Hughes, these are guys that I like whose talent I respect and who I sincerely wish well. The PR folks wanted to make it a jousting war verbally. Sincerely, I like those guys. This is a big, giant buffet table and there's room for everybody to belly up to the table. Sincerely, you just wish them the best because I like those folks. But I work for ESPN and I'm proud to do so. We'll do our part to keep our seat at the table.
NBC earned a 0.8 overnight for the net's debut EPL match on Saturday afternoon, which featured Manchester United-Swansea City, with DC topping all U.S. markets with a 2.2 local rating. NBCSN on Saturday aired two games (Liverpool-Stoke City and Arsenal-Aston Villa) and the three-game average for NBC Sports Group was a 0.5 overnight. ManU-Swansea City also marked the best overnight in U.S. history for an EPL opening weekend match. Last year's opening EPL Saturday averaged a 0.3 overnight for three matches across ESPN and Fox Soccer. NBCSN also averaged a 0.3 overnight for its EPL doubleheader on Sunday, which featured Crystal Palace-Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea-Hull City. That figure is up from a 0.2 overnight for Fox Soccer's opening Sunday doubleheader last year (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor). NBCSN's "Premier League Live" studio show opened with co-host Rebecca Lowe saying, "We are coming to you live this morning from our international broadcast center in Stamford, Connecticut. It's a big day for everyone here. For the next nine months we will be your home for exclusive coverage of the Barclays Premier League. The new season has at last arrived, and we will cover every angle of the opening weekend and bring you all ten matches live" ("Premier League Live," NBCSN, 8/17). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes NBC "had a strong opening weekend" for the EPL. Ratings were "decent," but the "product and NBC's coverage were outstanding." It is "early, but NBC seems to have made the right choice" in tabbing Lowe as co-host of "Premier League Live." Jones: "She knows her stuff" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 8/19).
NBC GOES ALL IN: In DC, Steven Goff wrote "one thing is certain," and that is the EPL, "regarded as one of the most popular global sports brands, has never had an American stage like this before." NBC is "promoting Premier League coverage as if it's the NFL." Among NBC's challenges is "introducing the league to casual viewers without insulting sophisticated fans" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/17). PHILLY.com's Jonathan Tannenwald spent Saturday morning at NBC Sports' HQs to watch the production and wrote, "I came away quite impressed, as so many television viewers did." There are "certain sporting events you can broadcast with a half-measure, but NBC was committed to not doing so for this." The presentation "lived up to the hype, and to NBC's high standards." Soccer this past weekend "took another big step towards being America's sport of the present" (PHILLY.com, 8/18).
GIVE THE AUDIENCE WHAT IT WANTS: SI.com's Tom Dart wrote, "With NBC Sports emphasizing that all 380 Premier League games are live on television or the internet, it is unfortunate for MLS that its live matches are scheduled far in advance." NBCSN viewers on Saturday were "served up the goalless draw" between the Red Bulls and Union, rather than Sounders F Clint Dempsey's "first start in his home state" of Texas (SI.com, 8/18).
NEW START ACROSS THE POND: In London, Jonathan Liew notes BT Sport launched in the U.K. this month, and Liverpool-Stoke City marked the net's first time televising the EPL. Some viewers "encountered technical difficulties with the BT Sport app." BT Sport's coverage was, "admittedly, a little silly at times." But the "serious stuff was better." Signing up former Stoke City manager Tony Pulis as a pundit was a "cruel masterstroke." If there was "one area in which BT were well stocked, it was bodies" (London TELEGRAPH, 8/19).
ESPN will launch its long-rumored NFL team content network on Aug. 28. The new NFL Nation will contain reports for every team in the league, and represents a marked expansion from its prior, five-year-old, division-based blog network. However, NFL Nation reports will not be restricted to blog items and will appear across every ESPN platform. ESPN has transferred 11 of its writers from those blogs and its city-based sites to NFL Nation, and will supplement that with 21 new hires. Newly-added reporters include John Keim, formerly of the Washington Examiner, and Phil Sheridan, formerly of the Philadelphia Inquirer. ESPN.com Editor-in-Chief Patrick Stiegman said, "When you take localized content like this that also resonates nationally, that's a sweet spot for readers. The appetite for NFL content remains insatiable, and this is our push to serve that demand" (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).MEGA WATT: In Houston, David Barron reports Texans DE J.J. Watt is in a new "MNF" promo for ESPN's season-opening doubleheader, which includes Texans-Chargers. Watt is shown "about to pick up a fumble" and says to himself, "It's Monday night. I'm about to get that ball, and the whole world is going to see it: Ken, the guy I used to deliver pizza to. Ken Norton Jr. Ken Griffey Jr. Definitely Kenny Loggins." Loggins at that point is shown on camera "singing a parody of his song 'Footloose.'" The spot was created by Wieden + Kennedy and will air during the weeks leading up to the game along with similar ads featuring Falcons WR Roddy White and Bears WR Brandon Marshall. ESPN "had to obtain permission from Griffey and Norton to use their names." The "key to making the storyline work was catching up with Loggins, who agreed to film his contribution during a day off from touring" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 8/19).
MLB this morning announced a six-year contract extension with SiriusXM for the carrier to continue as the league's official satellite radio partner. The deal covers the '16-21 seasons. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the league and SiriusXM currently have a 11-year, $650M deal that began in '05, and it is believed the new deal builds upon that. The primary structural change in the new deal is that Premier and All-Access Sirius subscribers will now have access to every MLB regular-season and playoff game, a feature already available to XM subscribers. That enhanced availability to Sirius subscribers begins immediately. "Baseball has been an essential part of our programming lineup, and we're very happy to extend our relationship with MLB to deliver the games to our subscribers for many years to come," said SiriusXM President & Chief Content Officer Scott Greenstein in a statement.
ESPN drew a 2.5 overnight for last night's Yankees-Red Sox matchup, marking the net's best MLB rating of the '13 season and best for any game since Yankees-Mets on June 24, 2012. The comparable Yankees-Red Sox game from Aug. 19 last year earned a 2.0 overnight. Meanwhile, Fox earned a 2.1 overnight for its Saturday afternoon regional MLB coverage, which featured Yankees-Red Sox in 73% of the country. The last Fox telecast to feature the two teams was on July 21. That broadcast averaged a 2.5 overnight (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick notes when Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez came to bat in the first inning of Friday night's Yankees-Red Sox game, the "fans in Fenway Park booed." Yankees announcer Michael Kay then said the crowd is "now trying to rub salt in the wounds, some of the Fenway faithful chanting 'Derek Jeter.'" Announcer Ken Singleton said, "No, it's 'You're a cheater.'" Singleton added, "Derek's not here" (N.Y. POST, 8/19).
AROUND THE HORN: In N.Y., Bob Raissman noted when SiriusXM host Chris Russo’s new contract begins, there "will likely be an unexpected element in the deal: television." Sources said that MLB Network is "seriously considering simulcasting all or part" of Russo's show, "which likely will be reduced to three hours." Meanwhile, the bidding for Yankees radio rights is "coming down the stretch." Previous reports put Clear Channel’s bid at $14M, "which would air on WOR-AM." Sources said that the offer now is "somewhere between" $18-20M annually (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/18).
ELEPHANT NOT IN THE ROOM: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins reported the A's TV contract "became an issue again Thursday when, for the fifth time in 23 days, their game wasn't televised. CSN Bay Area President & GM Ted Griggs said that the Giants "have the advantage" of 15 games on KNTV-NBC and are "generally selected more often than the A's on Fox and ESPN." Griggs said, "It's my goal to make sure every A's game is televised, and we are trying very hard to do that" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/17).
VARIETY's Rachel Abrams reported Fox Television Stations Group is "sniffing around acquisition targets in several major markets," including S.F., Seattle and St. Louis. The push is "part of a larger strategy to add to its station holdings in NFL markets, particularly markets with NFC teams," the conference for which Fox has TV rights. Fox currently has deals "in 11 of the 16 NFC markets." Sources said that Fox is "actively looking at stations in the Seattle market, where Tribune owns the existing Fox affiliate, KCPQ-TV." The Seahawks are "seen as an NFL franchise on the rise, which is only fueling Fox’s interest in the market" (VARIETY.com, 8/17).
LATE-NIGHT DRAMA: CBS Sports has acquired the rights to the Mountain West Conference's football championship game starting this season. CBS will carry the annual games as part of a multiyear deal, financial terms of which were not disclosed. This season, CBS will carry the game on Dec. 7 at 10:00pm ET, the same day as CBS' broadcast of the SEC Championship, which kicks off at 4:00pm. CBSSN is the conference's primary television partner and is scheduled to carry 23 regular-season games this fall (John Ourand, Staff Writer).
NEW VISION: MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds reported Cablevision's high school sports service MSG Varsity entering its fifth year is "expanding its digital offerings, but will drop its linear channel." MSG Varsity "will offer over 500 professionally filmed games and events during the 2013-14 school year." Shortly after the conclusion of events, encores "will be available on-demand." However, MSG Varsity "will no longer be available" on the Cablevision dial. The MSO said that it will "announce its content plan for the linear channel position over the next few weeks" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 8/16).
TURNING A BLIND EYE: In N.Y., Bob Raissman called CBSSN the "Dweeb Of The Week." As FS1 launches, NBCSN "goes all in" with the EPL and ESPN prepares to launch Keith Olbermann's new show, CBSSN "quietly falls deeper behind its competitors." It is "an afterthought, a collection stop." With "few exceptions, it's a place for CBS Sports to dump excess cargo -- a nonfactor despite its owner's deep pockets and creative whizzes throughout the broadcast network division" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/18).