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ESPN and Fox Sports have emerged as the front runners to sign a new rights deal with MLS, according to several sources. The sides are in advanced negotiations that would have MLS double its rights fees to an annual average of $70M per year for at least eight years. The two channels have been negotiating a joint bid with MLS, though sources caution that no deal is signed; the two sides are continuing to negotiate specific deal points. A source with direct knowledge of the negotiations said, "There's still a lot of work to be done on this. Don't write this as a done deal." One of the sticking points holding up the negotiations appears to center on the length of the deal. NBC Sports Group Friday said that it pulled out of the bidding process, leaving ESPN and Fox Sports as the remaining bidders. NBC released a statement to THE DAILY that said, "We've enjoyed our partnership with MLS. Don Garber and his team are building something very positive, and we wish them well." The MLS package includes U.S. Men's National Team World Cup qualifying home matches. It is not clear how these games would be split between FS1 and ESPN. The deal also will include TV Everywhere rights that would allow ESPN and Fox Sports to stream live games to authenticated users. The big rights fee increase comes as something of a surprise given MLS' recent viewership performance. The audience for 20 MLS matches on ESPN and ESPN2 in '13 dropped 29% from '12. NBCSN's 37 games averaged 112,000 viewers this season, an 8% decrease from '12 (Ourand & Botta, Staff Writers).FOX TO SWOOP IN: In Philadelphia, Jonathan Tannenwald reported NBC "sincerely wanted to keep its relationship with MLS going," as the net "put in a considerable effort to have as many MLS-Premier League doubleheaders as possible in 2014, and to cross-promote MLS on an equivalent level with the EPL." The "number one factor in Fox's desire to get back on board" is the net's ownership of FIFA World Cup rights from '15-22. MLS' new set of deals "might not be broken out into 'primary' and 'secondary' packages," as the league has done in the past. Instead, it is "likely that the two deals will be closer to equal." It is not known "if the new deal will have a formal stipulation for the split of games" between FS1 and FS2 (PHILLY.com, 1/9).
DirecTV is "less than thrilled with the WWE's plans to launch an online network and said it will have to rethink its relationship with the programmer and whether it will continue to offer its pay-per-view specials," according to Joe Flint of the L.A. TIMES. Traditional pay-TV distributors "have for years counted on WWE's pay-per-view specials as a solid revenue source." Distributors and WWE typically "split the cost to consumers 50-50." While WWE has said that it will still make its PPV events available to cable and satellite operators for sale, "having them also available on the new platform is likely to cut into buy rates." DirecTV in a statement said, "Clearly we need to quickly re-evaluate the economics and viability of their business with us, as it now appears the WWE feels they do not need their PPV distributors." Flint notes DirecTV is the "first multichannel video program distributor to issue an official response to the WWE's over-the-top network." WWE Chair & CEO Vince McMahon said, "It’d be foolish for them not to want to carry the pay-per-view anymore. It’s found money for them" (L.A. TIMES, 1/10).
ESPN's Dan Le Batard yesterday was "stripped for life" of his Baseball HOF voting privileges, "one day after it was revealed he filled out his ballot based on the results of a poll of Deadspin readers on who they felt belonged in Cooperstown," according to Clark Spencer of the MIAMI HERALD. The Baseball Writers' Association of America, whose "most tenured members vote" on the HOF, also "suspended him from the organization for one year." Le Batard on Thursday said, "It was worth it. I knew this would be the consequence. Hopefully, change is a consequence, too" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/10). BBWAA President LaVelle Neal said that the group's constitution "gave them the option to hand Le Batard a five-year ban." Neal said, "But to do that, we'd have to ... file for him to have an opportunity for a hearing. We decided we wanted to act quickly, so we came to the conclusion we'd pull his card for one year and ban him from voting for the Hall of Fame for life." Neal added that the BBWAA BOD was "in discussions over how to deal with the issue for eight hours Wednesday and a few more" on Thursday. In Chicago, Paul Sullivan notes there will be "no ramifications against Le Batard's media outlets" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/10). Baseball HOF President Jeff Idelson said, "I’ve known Dan a long time and I respect him as a journalist. But I thought the way that he went about it was disappointing and disrespectful to his own membership" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 1/10).
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Le Batard addressed the controversy at the beginning of his ESPN2 show "Highly Questionable" on Thursday, saying, "I regret one portion of this. This is what happens in the modern culture -- you have the negative and it gets accentuated more than the positive. So the part about this that I regret is that I became part of the story yesterday instead of the three guys who, you know, had actually accomplished something. I wish I had waited a couple of days before doing it. That was my biggest mistake" ("Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 1/9).
CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf's "run of either playing in or broadcasting the NFL ends after nearly 4 1/2 decades" Saturday night, according to Dan Caesar of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. Dierdorf, who is retiring from the CBS booth following Colts-Patriots, said, "It’s been a little more traumatic than I thought it would be. I didn’t realize how many people wanted to talk to me and how much time it would take." Caesar notes Dierdorf is "still sharp on the air at 64, but it’s a case of matter over mind," as travel now "takes a heavy toll on his body." CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell both will be in attendance, and McManus "hopes a deal can be reached for Dierdorf to contribute" to CBS Sports Radio. Something Dierdorf has "no interest in, though, is a farewell tribute after the game Saturday." Dierdorf: “I can’t keep them from doing something, but this is a playoff game." But Caesar notes viewers should "expect coverage of Dierdorf’s departure in the pregame show." Broadcast partner Greg Gumbel also is "hopeful of getting something fitting in after the game." Dierdorf said, "I'm retiring, I'm not expiring. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do. I'll probably do some kind of radio, I'll do something" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/10). Dierdorf: “I’m a little melancholy. It’s a little hard to believe that this is my last game." In Boston, Chad Finn writes the "perception of Dierdorf is not unlike that of another accomplished broadcaster who recently retired, Tim McCarver." Once "perceived rightfully as great, it was with increased exposure to [his] flaws -- and yes, some slippage with age -- that he began to grate." That "leads to their strengths being overlooked" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/10). In Albany, Pete Dougherty writes Dierdorf, like "virtually all high-profile announcers, has his share of critics, but there is no denying his impact on his craft" (Albany TIMES UNION, 1/10).
ALLIE WAY: In California, Michael Lev notes CBS' Allie LaForce will "serve as the sideline reporter" during the Colts-Patriots telecast, "by far the most high-profile assignment of her broadcasting career." CBS Sports President David Berson said, "She is very comfortable on air. She's extremely genuine. That is Allie. Every assignment that she has been given, she has exceeded expectations. We believe she deserves this opportunity." LaForce "worked as a sideline reporter during the NCAA Tournament," and she "served in the same capacity for the Sun Bowl, where she also was the halftime host." LaForce said, "In the back of your mind, you're always hoping for an assignment like that. But I can't say I was expecting it." As a former Miss Teen USA, LaForce is "asked whether critics ever question her credentials -- and doesn't shy away from the subject." LaForce: "It's hard to avoid if you're involved in social media in any way. ... If you do your job and do it well, that's all you can ask of yourself" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 1/10).
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: On Long Island, Neil Best notes Fox' Kevin Burkhardt will "conclude his rookie season" by calling Saturday's Saints-Seahawks game. Burkhardt said, "I obviously was ecstatic, and a little bit incredulous ... All I wanted to do was just have a good year. That was winning the lottery, man, that phone call." Burkhardt was "expected to be in the middle of Fox's play-by-play depth chart in his first year, but his announcing team, including analyst John Lynch and reporter Erin Andrews, did well enough to be given several prominent assignments, culminating in this one." Fox "tries to reward a deserving team" with a postseason assignment in the divisional-round game not being called by lead team Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. The net has "expressed interest in expanding" Burkhardt's role "to include baseball and basketball, but he is under contract to SNY through the coming Mets season, so any additional work for Fox would have to be agreed upon by SNY" (NEWSDAY, 1/10).
Hendrick Motorsports' Steve Letarte, who leads the crew behind Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 car, has reached an agreement to join NBC's NASCAR coverage as an analyst beginning in '15. Letarte will join analyst Jeff Burton and race announcer Rick Allen (NBC Sports). Letarte, who began working at Hendrick at age 16, said that after becoming crew chief in '11, he "had no desire to hold such a job past age 40." HMS Owner Rick Hendrick said, "He has all the tools to be a terrific broadcaster, and I know our fans will enjoy hearing his perspective" (ESPN.com, 1/9).
CALL THE PEN: Former MLBer Brad Lidge confirmed that Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia "called him with regard to the job of Phillies in-game color commentator," the position vacated by Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews. In Philadelphia, Ryan Lawrence reports it is "almost certain" Lidge "will not be in the team's broadcast booth" in '14. Lidge said, "My family and I are finally getting settled in Colorado and it'd be tough right now to change that, even as cool of an opportunity as it is and as much as I love being in Philadelphia" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 1/10).
OS-GOOD TIMES: In Detroit, Helene St. James notes former NHLer Chris Osgood is "half a season into his gig as a TV analyst" with FS Detroit. Osgood said the biggest challenge "is knowing when to jump in, when to jump out, saying something that’s worth saying in a short amount of time. ... Doing color, it’s spontaneous -- so just learning how to say something that sounds important in a short amount of time." St. James notes Osgood is "not shy about his fondness for the organization that drafted him, employed him, and rehired him." Osgood: "I find myself biased towards the whole team, the Red Wings, because I played for so long for them. I find myself sometimes being too protective of the guys" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/10).
SHE'S GOT A KLUWE: In California, Michael Lev writes FS1's Charissa Thompson "did a terrific job" interviewing NFL free agent Chris Kluwe on "Fox Sports Live" this week. Thompson "treated the interview with the outspoken former punter with the utmost seriousness, refusing to lob a single softball Kluwe's way." Thompson is "among the bright spots on a network that's still finding its way" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 1/10).
In Chicago, Danny Ecker reported the combination of “missing Derrick Rose and losing 10 of 15 games in December” has led to lower ratings on CSN Chicago for Bulls games, “but the numbers are still up slightly year over year through the first 32 games of the season.” The RSN has averaged a 3.06 local rating in Chicago for 15 telecasts, up 3% through the same point last season. However that is a "far cry from two years ago," when the team posted a 5.81 season-long rating. Cavaliers-Bulls on Nov. 11 remains the RSN’s top-rated game this season to date with a 5.64 local rating (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 1/6).
NOTES: YES Network averaged 120,000 viewers for Warriors-Nets on Wednesday night, marking the RSN’s third-best Nets telecast for the ’13-14 season to date (TWITTER.com, 1/9)….Univision’s eight Liga MX game telecasts last weekend marked the net’s most-viewed opening weekend for the league in almost two years (Univision)….FS1 averaged 1.55 million viewers for the UFC 168 prelims on Dec. 28, marking the net's “fifth biggest draw” since its launch on Aug. 17 (NEWSDAY.com, 1/3).
The charts below list final ratings from recent sports telecasts.
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) NFC Wild Card: 49ers-Packers1/5Fox4:45-7:45pm25.847,100 NFC Wild Card: Saints-Eagles1/4NBC8:15-11:23pm19.134,363 AFC Wild Card: Chargers-Bengals1/5CBS1:06-4:20pm18.930,900 AFC Wild Card: Chiefs-Colts1/4NBC4:30-8:00pm16.027,576 "Fox NFL Sunday"1/5Fox4:00-4:45pm6.811,700 "The NFL Today"1/5CBS12:00-1:00pm5.0n/a "Football Night in America"1/4NBC4:00-4:30pm4.36,798 AT&T Cotton Bowl: Missouri-Oklahoma State1/3Fox8:11pm-12:30am3.96,541 College Basketball: San Diego State-Kansas1/5CBS4:30-6:40pm1.8n/a College Basketball: Michigan State-Indiana1/4CBS2:00-4:00pm1.2n/a College Basketball: Duke-Notre Dame1/4CBS4:00-6:00pm1.2n/a College Football: U.S. Army All-American Bowl1/4NBC1:00-4:00pm1.11,665 U.S. Olympic Trials: Short Track Speed Skating1/5NBC4:00-6:00pm1.01,447 Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular1/5NBC1:00-3:00pm0.91,343 Liga MX: Club America-Tigres UANL1/4Univision5:55-8:00pm0.61,149 "BMW Driving On Ice: Olympic Bobsled"1/5NBC12:30-1:00pm0.71,082 PGA Tour: Hyundai Tournament of Champions: Third Round1/5NBC3:00-4:00pm0.6834 FA Cup: Arsenal-Tottenham Hotspur1/4Fox12:15-2:00pm0.6772 Liga MX: Monterrey-Cruz Azul1/4UniMas7:56-10:00pm0.4690 "ESPN Sports Saturday"1/4ABC4:00-6:00pm0.5679 "World Of X Games"1/4ABC3:00-4:00pm0.5647 Off Road Racing: Lucas Oil Challenge Cup1/4CBS1:00-2:00pm0.5n/a TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) Rose Bowl: Michigan State-Stanford1/1ESPN5:08-8:36pm10.218,636 Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma-Alabama1/2ESPN8:28pm-12:24am9.316,339 Discover Orange Bowl: Clemson-Ohio State1/3ESPN8:25pm-12:18am6.711,400 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: UCF-Baylor1/1ESPN8:43pm-12:26am6.611,304 Chick-fil-A Bowl: Texas A&M-Duke12/31ESPN7:59-11:49pm5.08,689 Valero Alamo Bowl: Oregon-Texas12/30ESPN6:45-10:03pm4.57,547 Outback Bowl: LSU-Iowa1/1ESPN1:00-4:30pm3.25,435 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Nebraska-Georgia1/1ESPN211:50am-3:24pm2.64,518 National University Holiday Bowl: Texas Tech-Arizona State12/30ESPN10:15pm-2:05am2.23,514 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl:
Ole Miss-Georgia Tech12/30ESPN3:15-6:45pm2.03,124
PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote the Redskins' decision to hire Jay Gruden -- the younger brother of ESPN's Jon Gruden -- to be the team’s coach "raises an interesting question" regarding Jon Gruden’s role with "MNF." Florio: "When the Redskins land on Monday Night Football, will Jon be welcome at the practices and production meetings involving the team Jay Gruden’s team will be playing?" ESPN "plans to make no adjustments when the Redskins are playing." The net said in a statement, "If we have the Redskins, he will call the games. We will be transparent about their relationship. Jon is a professional and will call the games objectively" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 1/9).
SLOW PLAY: GOLF WORLD's Geoff Shackelford writes for "all of the incredible innovations ushered in with high-definition broadcasts, televised golf's glacial rate" of adopting ShotLink's shot-tracking technology is "holding back a spike in the kind of wonk-fueled fan interest" enjoyed by the NFL and MLB. For some reason, "ambivalence still reigns among TV folk when it comes to ShotLink." The "integration of more informative graphics" is "long overdue." Networks "don't take advantage of the larger widescreen display that HD broadcasting allows [for graphics], generally out of belief that courses are the most beautiful venues in sport and viewers do not want to be deprived of such scenery" (GOLF WORLD, 1/13 issue).
SPHERES OF INFLUENCE: UFC Exec VP & Asia Managing Dir Mark Fischer said that the outfit is "considering launching a Southeast Asia version of its reality television show, as well as a series pitting fighters from South Korea and Japan against each other." Fischer said that "The Ultimate Fighter" is now in its first season in China and "attracts as many as 16 million viewers" (WSJ.com, 1/10).