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DirecTV continues to "plug away at a deal that would allow it to retain the exclusive rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket package, but the satellite-TV giant said it has yet to finalize an agreement with the league," according to Anthony Crupi of ADWEEK. DirecTV Chair & CEO Mike White on Thursday during an earnings call said that the negotiations "began to pick up steam after the NFL season officially ended on Feb 2." He added, "Now that we’re through the Super Bowl we’ve both agreed to extend our exclusive negotiating period. Our conversations with the NFL are progressing in a very positive and constructive manner." White said that he "continues to be very optimistic that DirecTV will hold onto the rights. DirecTV’s current agreement expires at the end of the '14 season. White "hinted that the digital rights component of the new agreement may have complicated the negotiations, before adding that he hopes to have more to say on the matter later this year." He said, "From our perspective, we’re optimistic. We very much value our relationship with the NFL, we think it’s important to our brand -- but we’re also looking for opportunities, as we did last year, to strengthen what we’re doing in a smaller way with our DirecTV app and the Sunday Ticket Experience" (ADWEEK.com, 2/20).
BALL SO HARD: MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Farrell noted sub fees for the Dodgers' SportsNet L.A. are "more than twice those that other baseball teams charge." White warned that subscribers in the L.A. market "could see increases in monthly RSN surcharges if the satellite giant carries the channel at current prices." He said, “I certainly think when you see these kinds of increases in a given market like the Los Angeles market has experienced with both the Lakers and the Dodgers, it’s frankly what has driven us to have to do a surcharge. I think you can expect us to see probably a more than an average increase in that surcharge as we pick up these kinds of situations" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 2/20). White called SportsNet L.A.'s rate a "staggering increase relative to any other benchmark in Major League Baseball" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 2/21). DirecTV currently does not have a carriage deal for SportsNet L.A. (THE DAILY).
Principals involved in the forthcoming digital network 120 Sports said they are looking to add more leagues beyond those currently participating, and have held discussions with every major U.S. pro property. The venture currently involves MLBAM, the NBA, NHL and NASCAR, as well as Campus Insiders and Time Inc. But MLBAM President & CEO Bob Bowman in a conference call on Thursday afternoon said no property has outright rejected the project. Bowman said, "We'd love to have all the leagues participate. I wouldn't read anything into the absence of anybody right now, and we continue to talk to all the major properties. We have critical mass right now, and we felt it was appropriate to launch this and move forward." NFL sources concurred, saying multiple conversations have occurred regarding potential future participation by the league. But the NFL is currently focused on its other digital ventures, including the forthcoming NFL Now over-the-top network. Meanwhile, the traffic from 120 Sports will be assigned to SI for purposes of third-party metrics reports, such as the ones comScore issues. The traffic assignment holds the potential to further shake up what has been a somewhat turbulent sports category over the past year. SI will be one of the exclusive sales agents for the venture along with the White Sox-owned Silver Chalice. Bowman: "We're all amalgamating content into this, and it's appropriate they're the ones instead of any particular league that should have the traffic." Silver Chalice COO Jason Coyle will be 120 Sports President (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).
WELCOME TO THE NEW AGE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's William Launder reports 120 Sports, which is "slated to launch this spring, will be aired on its own website and app but its content could also appear on third-party sites." Time Inc.'s investment is one of several steps it has "taken to ramp up online video, where changing consumer viewing habits have fueled hopes that more ad dollars will flow to the medium." Time Inc. Exec VP Todd Larsen said the investment is "one of many we hope to invest in as part of our plan to turn our brands into cross-platform powerhouses" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/21). In Chicago, Robert Channick notes 120 Sports -- like WatchESPN -- will be "available on a wide range of mobile devices." However, unlike WatchESPN, 120 Sports "won't require authentication." Another "major difference is that 120 Sports will not offer live game broadcasts." Coyle said that the net will have a "full-time production staff." He added, "We reconfigured the [office] space for this opportunity. We want the authority of television, but this is a digital-only product, so we had to really shape it just for the work flow and for what this concept was going to entail" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/21). Larsen said that the launch of 120 Sports is "a signal of Time Inc’s strategy as an independent company." He added, "At a time when the dynamic of how consumers are engaging with sports content across many devices is evolving rapidly, 120 Sports is the opportunity to play a meaningful role at the nexus of where all that is happening" (FT.com, 2/21).
DIGITAL GETDOWN: In N.Y., Kaja Whitehouse writes 120 Sports "joins a similar move by ESPN and the soon-to-launch NFL Now app in trying to attract eyeballs of sports fans through their smartphones and tablets." The effort by the leagues to "go directly to the fans, as opposed to selling rights through a network like ESPN, shows that they are getting more aggressive" (N.Y. POST, 2/21). VARIETY's Todd Spangler wrote 120 Sports is "looking to create a kind of next-gen ESPN -- but without any live games, and lacking content from the NFL." The venture has "more than 100 full-time production, talent and marketing staff" (VARIETY.com, 2/20). RECODE.net's Peter Kafka writes the news of 120 Sports' launch, "at a minimum," is "interesting because it represents the first digital investment Time Inc. has made in quite a long time" (RECODE.net, 2/20).
NOT THAT IMPRESSED: WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY's Alexandra Steigrad writes despite the net's "fancy facility and the big names behind the venture, none of this sounds particularly revolutionary." Most sports-centric sites "already have live-streamed content available on multiplatforms," which "could make grabbing share from competitors such as ESPN a tall order." However, 120 Sports brass said that the venture is "'different' because content is produced solely for a digital audience, meaning, at the very least, it will be produced quicker" (WWD.com, 2/21).
The Yankees-themed Broadway play "Bronx Bombers" has "struck out at the box office, with dismal sales prompting producers to post a closing notice for the end of this week," according to Gordon Cox of VARIETY. The show has "so far spent every week of its run well below the $200,000 mark; last’s week best-yet tally, $177,559 for audiences averaging 63% of capacity," represented "just 24% of the production’s gross potential." All three of the sports-themed projects from producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo "have been backed by the sports leagues related to each respective play’s subject matter, but none of the productions have snowballed into hits" (VARIETY.com, 2/20). PLAYBILL.com's Adam Hetrick noted the production "will end its Broadway run" on March 2 at Circle in the Square theater, and when it closes, it "will have played 31 previews and 29 regular performances" (PLAYBILL.com, 2/20). The play debuted on Feb. 6 (THE DAILY).
Red Sox Chair Tom Werner on Thursday said that NESN reporter Jenny Dell, who was "removed as the in-game reporter in late January, is free to leave" the RSN. In Boston, Chad Finn noted Dell has "spent two years at NESN and has a year remaining on her contract after the network picked up her option." NESN execs "haven't commented on the specifics of why she was removed from the Red Sox broadcast," but the "public perception is that they made the change because of the ethical questions raised" by her dating Red Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks. Sources believe at least "part of the reason she was moved is as a penance for considering leaving -- Fox Sports 1 expressed interest in hiring her, but that fell through -- with time remaining on her contract" (BOSTON.com, 2/20). Werner said, "I think we came to the conclusion, and Jenny came to the same conclusion, that it would be a distraction for her to be a reporter, and so she’s moving on" (BOSTONHERALD.com, 2/20).
SPRING CLEANING: In Albany, Pete Dougherty writes CBS performed some "much-needed renovation on 'The NFL Today' panel" by hiring Tony Gonzalez and parting ways with Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe. The show had "become stale and lags behind 'Fox NFL Sunday' in the ratings, although Sharpe is the only analyst who lent personality to the set" (Albany TIMES UNION, 2/21). In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley wrote Marino was the "biggest name and weakest link on that show for some years." Fans "never went into Marino’s hour expecting him to make even a single observation worth repeating and he always came through for you." Even when "talking about his former team ... he was reliably uninteresting" (JSONLINE.com, 2/20).
AROUND THE TRACK: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin wrote of ESPN IndyCar analysts Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever, "I think sometimes they feel the need to over-explain things, which bogs down the delivery. They need to let things rip because most of the audience is in tune to the sport." Meanwhile, NBCSN's Leigh Diffey "certainly brings excitement, but the key to that broadcast booth is Townsend Bell." Cavin: "I've known him for years, but he's been even better than I expected him to be." Expect new ESPN IndyCar analyst Allen Bestwick to be a "smooth and professional addition" (INDYSTAR.com, 2/20).
STONE COLD: Chicago-based media reporter Robert Feder notes White Sox analyst Steve Stone has agreed to return to WSCR-AM “as its resident baseball expert.” WSCR Program Dir Mitch Rosen said that Stone starting March 10 “is expected to appear several times each week on all of the Score’s prime shows and occasionally on weekends.” Stone “had been a fixture” on WSCR for more than seven years before he “signed on last year” with WLS-AM as its baseball correspondent (ROBERTFEDER.com, 2/21).
LET ME BE FRANK: FS1 on Thursday announced the addition of research firm Luntz Global CEO Frank Luntz as an exclusive sports communication analyst. Luntz will primarily appear on "Fox Sports Live" -- either in-studio or remotely. Luntz will host a segment called "Sound Off," which has taped focus-group discussions featuring audience members that cover a range of sports topics (Fox). Sports Media Watch's Paulsen tweeted, "Because nothing says fun like a Frank Luntz focus group. Get that weak cable news garbage out of here, Fox Sports 1." Awful Announcing's Ben Koo: "Fox sees ESPN's hiring of Silver and Olbermann and jumps the shark with Frank Luntz who I'm sure sports fans were just clamoring for."
FS1 averaged 964,000 viewers on a 24-hour basis last Saturday, marking a new record for the net since its August launch. The total-day audience also was the seventh-best in the combined history of FS1/Speed. FS1 was fueled by 3.5 million viewers on Saturday night for the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited, an audience that marks the best for any telecast in FS1's six months on the air. The previous high was 2.2 million viewers for an Oregon State-Oregon football game last November. FS1 on Saturday also saw its best “UFC Fight Night” audience. The telecast, highlighted by the Lyoto Machida-Gegard Mousasi bout, averaged 1.4 million viewers following the NASCAR race. Meanwhile, FS2 averaged 257,000 viewers for the Arsenal-Liverpool FA Cup fifth round match last Sunday, marking a new audience record for that net since its launch last August (Fox).
THE STARS ARE OUT: The NBA All-Star Celebrity game last Friday drew its best viewership since the event was introduced in ’03. ESPN averaged a 1.5 rating and 2.5 million viewers for the telecast from 7:00-9:04pm ET, which aired up against the Sochi Games on NBC (that telecast started at 8:00pm). The rating for the event has been flat the last four years, but viewership is up 8% from last year. The last time the event aired up against the Winter Games in ’10, it drew a 1.3 rating and 2.1 million viewers. Louisville was the top-rated market for Friday night’s telecast with a 3.4 local rating, followed by Greensboro with a 3.1 rating (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).NBA ALL-STAR CELEBRITY GAME AUDIENCE TRENDYEARNETWORKRATINGVIEWERS (000)'14ESPN1.52,451'13ESPN1.52,263'12ESPN1.52,360'11ESPN1.52,358'10ESPN1.32,106
WELCOME TO THE LOO: In St. Louis, Dan Caesar notes over the last two Saturdays, the “rising” St. Louis Univ. men’s basketball team “outdrew the long-entrenched” Univ. of Missouri team. ESPN’s VCU-St. Louis game last Saturday at 2:00pm drew a 3.9 local rating in St. Louis, while ESPN2’s Tennessee-Missouri game later in the afternoon drew a 2.7 rating. The week before, both played in a game starting at 4:00pm. ESPN’s St. Louis-La Salle game drew a 1.9 local rating, while FS Midwest drew a 1.7 rating for Missouri-Ole Miss (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/21).
DIAL TONE: In Boston, Gayle Fee wrote WEEI-AM “got more bad ratings news this week, taking another pummeling" from WBZ-FM during January and "stoking rumors that a shakeup is coming on the longtime sports talk station.” WBZ was No. 1 among males 25-54 in January, “while WEEI was sixth.” The “only bright spot” for Entercom-owned WEEI was in the morning drive, where John Dennis and Gerry Callahan “continued to show signs of life, finishing fourth with adult men,” while WBZ' “Toucher & Rich” ranked No. 1. WEEI’s struggles “fueled rumors” that new Entercom Boston VP & Market Manager Phil Zachary “would be shaking up the midday and afternoon-drive shows” (BOSTON HERALD, 2/20).
The charts below list final ratings from recent sports telecasts. Figures for ABC and CBS were not available at presstime.
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) Sochi Olympics (primetime)2/16NBC7:00-11:00pm12.121,270 Sochi Olympics (primetime)2/14NBC8:00-11:00pm10.919,109 Sochi Olympics (primetime)2/15NBC8:30-11:01pm9.617,097 Sochi Olympics (afternoon)2/16NBC3:00-6:00pm5.59,095 Sochi Olympics (afternoon)2/15NBC3:00-6:00pm5.18,204 Sochi Olympics (late night)2/16NBC11:30pm-12:30am4.56,765 Sochi Olympics (late night)2/15NBC12:00-1:00am4.06,195 Sochi Olympics (late night)2/14NBC12:05-1:05am4.05,956 NASCAR Sprint Cup: Daytona 500 Pole Day Qualifying2/16Fox1:00-3:30pm1.82,907 Liga MX: Chivas-Queretaro2/16UniMas5:48-8:00pm0.4939 Liga MX: Cruz Azul-Puebla2/15Univision5:55-8:00pm0.5793 College Basketball: Xavier-Marquette2/15Fox4:15-6:15pm0.4547 TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) NBA All-Star Game2/16TNT8:56-11:35pm4.37,506 NBA All-Star Saturday Night2/15TNT8:30-11:33pm3.15,693 "NBA All-Star Tipoff"2/16TNT7:00-8:56pm2.64,448 NASCAR Sprint Cup: Sprint Unlimited2/15FS18:00-10:32pm2.03,526 Sochi Olympics2/15NBCSN6:00am-3:00pm1.92,943 "NBA All-Star Tipoff"2/15TNT8:00-8:30pm1.62,767 Sochi Olympics2/16NBCSN6:00am-3:00pm1.62,565 Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game2/14ESPN7:00-9:04pm1.52,451 College Basketball: Syracuse-Pitt2/12ESPN7:00-9:15pm1.32,223 "NBA on TNT All-Star Challenge"2/15TNT7:00-8:00pm1.32,080