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The NFL saw positive results for overnights from the NFL Divisional Playoff games over the weekend. CBS’ Broncos-Chargers led the weekend with a 25.1 overnight in the late afternoon window on Sunday, up nearly 6% from Patriots-Texans in the same time slot last year. The game also marked the second-best overnight for a Sunday AFC Divisional Playoff game in 18 years. Broncos-Chargers peaked at a 27.5 during the last half-hour of the game from 7:30-8:00pm ET. Despite leading Divisional weekend, the Broncos-Chargers overnight is below the 27.7 rating earned by Fox’ 49ers-Packers in the same window during Wild Card weekend. Meanwhile, Fox earned a 21.8 overnight for 49ers-Panthers in the early window yesterday, up 2% from Falcons-Seahawks in ’13. The game earned a 35.8 local rating in the S.F.-Oakland-San Jose market and a 42.1 rating in Charlotte. Fox also earned a 19.5 overnight for Saturday afternoon's Seahawks-Saints game, down 10% from the double-OT Ravens-Broncos game on CBS in the same window in ’13, but up 4% from the net's 49ers-Packers game in primetime. It is the net's second-best overnight for a Saturday Divisional Playoff game since the '97 Packers-49ers matchup (20.2 overnight). Seahawks-Saints drew a 48.4 local rating in Seattle-Tacoma and a 51.1 rating in New Orleans. CBS earned a 19.4 overnight for the Patriots-Colts game on Saturday night, up 4% from the Divisional primetime window last year, but down 10% from Ravens-Broncos in ’13 (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND OVERNIGHT RATINGSNETTIME (ET)'14 GAMERAT.'13 NET'13 GAMERAT.% +/-Fox4:00pmSeahawks-Saints19.5CBSRavens-Broncos21.6-9.7%CBS8:30pmPatriots-Colts19.4Fox49ers-Packers18.73.7%Fox1:00pm49ers-Panthers21.8FoxFalcons-Seahawks21.32.3%CBS4:45pmBroncos-Chargers25.1CBSPatriots-Texans23.85.5%
THE CREAM RISES: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes a "huge gap exists" between the team of Joe Buck-Troy Aikman and "the rest of Fox’s NFL broadcaster roster." That was "evident considering the performance of Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch" during Seahawks-Saints. They were "far, very far, from awful but had an annoying habit of beating points to death, as if all of us watching were idiots" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/13). In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes it would be "stretching the point" to say Lynch was "as awesome in the booth" as Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch was on the field. However, the broadcaster "provided steady, concise analysis" (DENVER POST, 1/13).
DIERDORF'S SWAN SONG: CBS during Patriots-Colts on Saturday aired a shot of Gillette Stadium posting an image of the scoreboard in which congratulations were given to network analyst Dan Dierdorf, who is retiring after a 43-year NFL career as a player and broadcaster. CBS' Greg Gumbel said, "You have no idea how many men and women from CBS Sports have contacted me over the last couple of weeks and asked me to pass on to you how proud and happy they've been to be associated with you." Gumbel added, "I know I speak for all the men and women of CBS Sports as well as every single member of our crew when I say that it has been such an honor and such a privilege to have been alongside you these last eight years." Dierdorf: "Thanks to all the great men and women that I've worked with here at CBS -- Sean McManus, our boss that's up here in the booth, I had those years with Dick Enberg, with Verne Lundquist. It's hard to believe it's over but it is and I'm the better for it" ("Patriots-Colts," CBS, 1/11). CBS' "The NFL Today" aired a video tribute to Dierdorf featuring his broadcasting partners throughout the years and former teammates thanking him for over 40 years of contributions to the NFL. Dierdorf said of his broadcasting career, "Making the friendships and having them last all these years, that's the best part of the job. That's what I am going to miss the most" ("The NFL Today," CBS, 1/11). SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote, "Nice work by CBS Sports producer Charlie Bloom to track down Joe Buck, Al Michaels, Bob Costas, Dick Enberg, former NFL teammates (Conrad Dobler, Jim Hart) and CBS talent such as Verne Lundquist and Lesley Visser for an 'NFL Today' tribute piece to Dierdorf" (SI.com, 1/12).
SHUFFLING THE LINEUP: SI.com's Deitsch wrote Dierdorf's retirement gives CBS an "opportunity for forward-thinking change that will also reward NFL viewers: It's time to move Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts up to the network's No. 2 team." Deitsch: "I can make a compelling argument that Eagle and Fouts on talent and chemistry alone could be the No. 1 team at CBS, but the network is heavily invested in Jim Nantz as its lead announcer across multiple sports and the same with Phil Simms as its primary NFL voice." However, that "would not be based in reality." As a No. 2 team, Eagle and Fouts "would be a significant upgrade for CBS." They call "an excellent game, use humor in their broadcast as well as any NFL broadcast team, and thankfully dial down on overhyping players and coaches." Moving them up to No. 2 also would "strengthen CBS's No. 3 team, which would feature Gumbel and a new partner finding chemistry" (SI.com, 1/12).
NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE: In Charlotte, Cleve Wootson Jr. noted Fox ran a segment on its pregame show prior to 49ers-Panthers that had “some fans crying foul,” as it featured “typical Southern stereotypes, like a mullet and thick accents.” Jerseys for Panthers QB Cam Newton and WR Steve Smith were “hung on the wall.” One of the characters in the segment was wearing a “seersucker suit and sports a mullet,” while both people shown were “drinking a dark liquid out of jelly jars” (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 1/12).
After years of rumored talks, the NFL formally asked several TV outlets to bid on a package of Thursday night football games that a winning bidder would share with NFL Network. The league last week sent formal Requests for Proposal notices to its current broadcast partners plus other interested players, like Turner Sports, for a package of games that would start in just eight months. The bids are due by the end of the week. The NFL is auctioning a one-year deal with a bigger TV channel to help build “Thursday Night Football” into the same high-powered brand as "SNF," which is the top-rated show in primetime, and "MNF," which is the top-rated show on cable. It is likely that the NFL will use the one-year deal as a springboard for a longer Thursday night deal. It is not clear how many games the winning network would get or when those games would air, but the NFL is looking for the bids to be up to eight games covering in the first half of the season. The package would only include regular-season games; no playoffs. NFL Network the past two years has produced 13 games, and the NFL today released a statement attributed to NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp that reads, "NFL Network has done a tremendous job turning Thursday into a night for NFL football and will continue to do so. We want to make it even bigger and accelerate its promotion and growth with an additional partner." Considering that "SNF" consistently gets the most viewers on a competitive TV night, it is conceivable that one of the broadcast networks would step up and buy the package. It also is expected to draw interest from one of the sports channels that have launched over the past few years: FS1 or NBCSN. Turner Sports could use an early-season Thursday night package on TNT before its Thursday night NBA games start. And while ESPN has shown tepid interest so far in another NFL package, the Disney-owned company certainly will kick the tires (John Ourand, Staff Writer).
STAYING AWAY FROM GOOGLE: CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin said the Thursday night package is "where I think the digital thing comes into play." Sorkin: "They may try to sell this package to a Google or a Netflix or somebody who wants to play in that new world" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 1/13). However, REUTERS' Grover & Baker cited a source as saying that Google, which had "expressed interest in streaming NFL games in the past, was not asked to bid" (REUTERS, 1/12).
DOES LEAGUE PREFER NETWORK PARTNER? In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes the league’s "preference would probably be a broadcast network like NBC, CBS or Fox, but it would also be pleased if a cable channel got the package." Each of the networks "to receive the proposal from the league reaches more television homes than NFL Network’s estimated 72 million" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/13). CBSSPORTS.com's Jason La Canfora reported that the league "is looking for roughly" $800M, and NFL Network "would like to be able to keep late regular-season games leading up to the playoffs." However, chances are that the net that "lands the deal will want those games." La Canfora: "This has always been the plan -- to use the full-season package to get higher carriage fees and get on Time Warner Cable, then sell off half the package" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/12). The AP notes as the NFL "keeps drawing monster TV ratings, any additional games are hugely appealing to networks." While the viewership for Thursday night games "has been significantly lower than for other packages, live sports are increasingly valuable in an age of DVRs and splintered audiences -- and none more so than the NFL" (AP, 1/12).
Cable and satellite distributors in the 11-state SEC footprint "can expect to pay a rate of $1.30 to carry the soon-to-be-launched SEC Network," according to sources cited by Ourand & Smith of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The channel’s license fee outside of SEC territory "drops to 25 cents." The price point is "more expensive than other college conference channels like Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Networks," but ESPN "could have leverage as it negotiates with cable operators, as it appears to be on the cusp of landing a deal with one of the industry’s biggest distributors." Sources said that Dish Network, the third-largest U.S. distributor, has "agreed to carry" SEC Network from its August launch. The deal "has not been completed and is part of a bigger overall deal that it is negotiating with ESPN." AT&T U-verse, with 4.5 million subscribers, previously said that it "would carry the channel." Comcast and Time Warner Cable are "the biggest cable operators in the SEC’s footprint, and ESPN is using its schedule to apply pressure against them." The network’s first football game on Aug. 28 "will be between two schools based in Time Warner Cable markets: South Carolina and Texas A&M." The second game of its doubleheader "will feature Vanderbilt, which is in a Comcast market, against Temple, in Comcast’s hometown of Philadelphia." BTN, which launched in '07, "currently charges up to $1 in its 11-state footprint from New Jersey to Nebraska" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/13 issue).
It appeared MLB Network officials had an idea the ruling on Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez' 211-game suspension would come down Saturday morning, as the net "had a number of their top analysts and reporters in place in their Secaucus, N.J., studios, ready to leap into action," according to Neil Best of NEWSDAY. Following the news that the suspension had been reduced to 162 games, MLB Network featured "thorough reporting and analysis from every angle, and with no apparent pro-MLB bias, a trademark of the network since it launched" in '09. An MLB spokesperson explained why the net had many on-air analysts in place by saying, "Since news reports all week were saying that the decision could be announced at any day, we put several of our on-air staff on call in the studio over the weekend so they could be in position to cover the story when the news of the decision broke. ... We were prepared to cover the story at any point this weekend." Best reported ESPN and ESPN2 "were tied up with live college basketball games at the time the ruling was announced, but ESPNews covered the story with its top baseball people." YES Network "was showing a replay of Friday night's Heat-Nets game, but it did include the A-Rod news in a crawl on the bottom of the screen." YES "rarely goes live with news developments, even those involving the Yankees, because it is not set up as a breaking news operation, especially in the offseason" (NEWSDAY, 1/12).The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers wrote on his Twitter feed, “Great collection of clips on MLB Network showing A-Rod's ever-changing take on his PED use from 2007 forward in interviews. Crazy swings" (TWITTER.com, 1/11).
"60 MINUTES" SPOTLIGHT: CBS' "60 Minutes" last night aired an exposé on the Biogenesis scandal, and FOXSPORTS.com's Jon Paul Morosi wrote any "serious reporter would have loved to land" the interviews that the show did for the segment. CBS' Scott Pelley, who interviewed MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, MLB COO Rob Manfred and Biogenesis Founder Anthony Bosch for the segment, "is one of the finest journalists in America," and he "proved it again" last night (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/13). However, SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote the segment "was a half-hour infomercial designed to restore and maintain the public trust in a sport that has faced more scrutiny for performance-enhancing drugs than any other." MLB "chose a venue that would garner a favorable audience, and came out with a story whose happy ending was being anointed as a shining beacon of clean athletic pursuit, with the commissioner riding off into the sunset, head held high and job well done" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 1/12). THE NATION's Dave Zirin wrote nowhere in the "60 Minutes" piece did it "analyze or even mention the fact" that Rodriguez’ suspension will mean the Yankees organization, "much to their glee, is saving" $27.5M. It also did not "ask about why, if according to the Joint Drug Agreement, Rodriguez should have received 50 games for a first offense, he ended up with 162." Zirin wrote "60 Minutes" reported the story "in a fashion that the MLB Network could not have done more effectively" (THENATION.com, 1/12). ESPN N.Y.'s Wallace Matthews wrote on Twitter, "I still don't know why A-rod got 162 when the CBA calls for 50. How about asking that one, Scott Pelley?" Yahoo Sports' Dave Brown: "60 Minutes, at least tonight, not a very complete telling of the story. And the first words out of Pelley's mouth about Bosch was false. ... Pelley asked some unbelievably inappropriate and unhelpful questions to Bosch" (TWITTER.com, 1/12).
THE FRANCESA FACTOR: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes the "last thing Yankees brass wants to see" is Rodriguez doing another interview with WFAN-AM's Mike Francesa in which he criticizes Selig's office, yet Yankees execs' hands "are tied." Francesa's days "are numbered on YES," but "allowing A-Rod to once again use Francesa as his lap dog would still be a huge coup" for the host. If YES "pulled the plug on the interview, A-Rod would have another reason to whine about the deck being stacked against him" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/13).
ESPN Senior VP & Exec Producer Jed Drake on Saturday said that internal ratings projections for the '14 FIFA World Cup are "up quite a bit" from the '10 tournament in South Africa, according to Michael O'Connell of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. A number of factors "work in ESPN's favor, but none are likely bigger than the timing of the games." Rio de Janeiro "will only be one hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone," which means primetime games will start at 6:00pm ET and 3:00pm PT. ESPN also has "a stronger U.S. team in its corner this time around -- and an increased awareness for the most popular sport on the planet." U.S. World Cup ratings in '10 "jumped 41 percent" from the '06 World Cup in Germany. The final was "watched by 15.5 million viewers on ESPN sister network ABC and 8.8 million viewers on Univision" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/11).
MAKING THE PITCH: ESPN Films in April will premiere a series leading up to the World Cup called "30 for 30: Soccer Stories," including a mix of feature-length and 30-minute-long documentaries. The two feature-length films in the series are "Hillsborough," directed by Daniel Gordon and detailing the '89 disaster at an overcrowded stadium, and "White, Blue and White," directed by Camilo Antolini that focuses on Argentinian soccer player Ossie Ardiles' rise to prominence in England's top league. In addition, a collection of 10 vignettes about Brazilian culture will be featured throughout the net's World Cup programming (ESPN). The series "will air one doc per week, doubling up the half-hour ones for their premieres" (THEWRAP.com, 1/11). VARIETY's A.J. Marechal reported director Brett Ratner's entry in the series, titled "Mysteries of The Jules Rimet Trophy," has "a decided.ly historic edge." Ratner said, "One of my passions, and opportunities I’ve never gotten (to pursue) was to make a film with Nazis in them. All of my contemporaries like Tarantino and Spielberg have made their Nazi film, and I haven’t been able to tackle them. I heard about the Jules trophy ... that Hitler was obsessed with stealing. And, one man who worked with the Italian World Cup was able to hide the trophy from the Nazis. It was an incredible story" (VARIETY.com, 1/11).
In Charlotte, Jim Utter reported ESPN NASCAR reporters Dave Burns and Mike Massaro "will make the move" to NBC Sports in '15. Sources said that Burns is "expected to become part of NBC’s pit road reporting team in NASCAR while Massaro is expected to become an in-studio host." Burns currently "serves in a similar role with ESPN as does Massaro, who has hosted the show 'NASCAR Now' and worked pit road during race telecasts." Burns worked with NBC when the network "previously broadcast NASCAR events" (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 1/11).
THE RIGHT STUFF: In Philadelphia, Matt Gelb noted the Phillies must send 34% of the TV rights fee from their 25-year deal with Comcast to "MLB's revenue-sharing pool." The rights fee is the "only part of these TV deals" subject to MLB's revenue-sharing. Thus, teams "making these deals find profit in other areas, like an equity stake in the network and a share of advertising revenue." Those aspects of the Phillies deal "could be worth billions more" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/12).
TURNING THE PAGE: ESPN says that it saw an uptick in the rate base for ESPN The Magazine, which grew to 2.1 million from 2.0 million. The increase coincided with a 9.4% increase in '13 ad pages. ESPN The Mag also saw a 10% increase in ad revenue to $286.2M in '13. SI led all sports mags with $545.2M in revenue last year, but that figure was down nearly 6% from '12. See Wednesday's issue for more details on sports magazine revenue figures from '13 (Ourand & Karp, Staff Writers).
BIRD ON A WIRE: In St. Louis, Dan Caesar notes FS Midwest, which has the MLB Cardinals' local TV rights, "plans to increase its number of spring training telecasts" by 50%. There had been a "record number of 10 games last year" and will be 15 this season (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/13).