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ESPN this morning announced that Chris Fowler has signed a contract extension through ’23 that will now see him become the play-by-play announcer on both ABC's primetime college football coverage as well as the national championship game. Fowler also will continue to host “College GameDay” and will remain a part of ESPN’s coverage of the four tennis Grand Slams (ESPN). SI.com's Richard Deitsch yesterday reported "some in ESPN management" did not want Fowler to host "GameDay" and call a game on the same day. While Kirk Herbstreit serves as an analyst for both "GameDay" and the primetime broadcast, Fowler's "responsibility on GameDay is much more demanding than Herbstreit's." Meanwhile, ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge is the "leading candidate to be an analyst for the non-Herbstreit playoff semifinal" (SI.com, 3/12).
TRANSITION GAME: SI.com's Deitsch reported Musburger's new role as the lead football announcer for the SEC Network "includes 15 regular-season games and a bowl game involving an SEC team that is not tied to the national semifinals." Musburger had the "opportunity to call SEC basketball, too, but he felt a level of comfort with Big 12 basketball, his current producer and director, and partners Fran Fraschilla and Holly Rowe." He will "remain with that team." Musburger, who received a three-year extension, said that he was "told that he would not call next season's national championship in the press box prior to the BCS title game in January." ESPN President John Skipper and ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Production John Wildhack "delivered the news." Musburger said, "Obviously, I was disappointed I was not going to be doing one of the semifinals and the final. I'm not going to mislead anyone with that and I have told Skipper and Wildhack the same thing. But I also know that was not going to change anything. It was time to take a different challenge and move on." (SI.com, 3/12). Musburger said of not calling the BCS title game, "Certainly if they asked me, I would have liked to have done it. I don't feel hurt by it. There comes a time when a corporation wants to make a change and it's not like they pushed me out on the curb." Asked if he feels like he will need to be a cheerleader for the SEC, Musburger said, "I don't have to cheerlead for them. ... I am not going to shill if things aren't going well and there's going to be some negative stories. I'm not going to dwell on them, but I've never shied away from that" (AL.com, 3/12).
MOVING ON: In Miami, Barry Jackson wrote the move for Musburger is "quite a step down from his previous role" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 3/12). In Atlanta, Andy Johnston wrote Musburger's new broadcast partner, Jesse Palmer, is "growing into his job as an analyst, but tends to dominate conversations by running on and on and on." Palmer might "benefit from a two-man booth, so he won’t have to fight for time with another analyst" (AJC.com, 3/12).
Longtime sports columnist Rick Reilly is giving up his weekly column for ESPN.com, moving exclusively to an on-air TV role. The move is part of a new deal signed with ESPN that will take effect July 1. In his new role, Reilly will present weekly video features for ESPN shows like "Monday Night Countdown," "SportsCenter" and "Sunday NFL Countdown." ESPN says that Reilly's reduced role will allow him to work on various books and screenplays and "travel the world." Last March, ESPN signed what they called a "multiyear contract extension" with the writer. ESPN hired Reilly from SI in '08 to write columns for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Reilly has been the center of several controversies over the past few months. Earlier this month, he apologized to FS1's Regis Philbin after describing him on-air as "the little guy in the makeup" (John Ourand, Staff Writer). Reilly's last column will be on June 30. USA TODAY's Chris Chase wrote Reilly in recent years has "earned criticism for various offenses such as misquoting his father-in-law, recycling old ideas and relying on the same jokes." It is popular to "accuse Reilly of mailing it in," but he was the "closest thing sportswriting ever had to a rock star" (USATODAY.com, 3/12).
Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten yesterday said he is not yet worried about Time Warner Cable SportsNet L.A. only being currently available to TWC subscribers because "historically, these deals get done much closer to Opening Day." Kasten, appearing on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," added, "Everyone can see the new Dodger channel, you just have to be with the right provider. Right now Time Warner has it on their systems. It's been offered to every system." CNBC's Jane Wells said, "They don't want to buy it yet." Kasten continued, "All you have to do, if you want to see the Dodgers, is let your provider know because some providers are saying, 'Gee, our customers don't want the Dodgers.'" Wells asked if Kasten is "expecting it to happen because they're saying it's going to cost as much as $4 a subscriber." Kasten said, "These deals get done because everyone has the same interest. Everybody wants high-quality entertainment, high-quality product. We think we provide that with the Dodgers. We know our customers want it and the system providers want their customers to be happy. At the end of the day there's almost always a way to get this done." Meanwhile, Wells noted the Dodgers are reportedly going to have to give $1.9B of their $8B TV deal to MLB as part of the league's revenue-sharing plan. Kasten: "It's not true that it's much more than we thought. It's exactly what we thought because this was after months and months of talking and dissecting and understanding the details. We're very happy about the revenue-sharing system in baseball" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 3/12).
CARRIAGE CONCERNS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman notes subscriber fees for TWC SportsNet L.A. currently begin "at more than $4" and will likely escalate "to over $5 in coming years." TWC President of Sports, News & Local Programming David Rone "accused DirecTV of hypocrisy for not wanting to offer SportsNet LA in the same manner" it offers RSNs in which it owns a stake in Seattle, Denver and Pittsburgh. DirecTV Chief Content Officer Dan York said that the "high price that SportsNet LA is demanding makes the situation different." York: "It's only fair to give all consumers the choice." SNL Kagan data shows that there "are about 4.84 million pay-TV customers" in the greater L.A. market. TWC is the "largest pay-TV provider in the market, with about 32% of the subscribers." DirecTV "has about 27% of the market, while Dish Network Corp. has nearly 13%" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/13).
Nickelodeon today announced that it is launching a new sports award program voted on by kids, “Kids Choice Sports 2014,” which will be hosted and executive produced by Michael Strahan. The “Kids Choice Sports 2014” will air live from UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion on July 17 and will honor kids’ favorite athletes, teams and sports moments. Similar to Nickelodeon’s 26-year-old entertainment awards show “Kids Choice Awards,” presenters and award winners are expected to be "slimed" during the show. Strahan, who is the co-owner of entertainment management, branding and production company SMAC Entertainment, this morning announced the new awards show on “Live with Kelly and Michael,” which he co-hosts. “Our goal and hope is that this will be like the Super Bowl for kids, like that big of an event when it comes to sports,” Strahan said in a telephone interview. “And hopefully it only grows like all the major sporting events have over the years.” Nickelodeon and SMAC Entertainment have put together a “sports council” of high-profile former athletes, league execs and prominent sports and entertainment agents to lend sports expertise and help to create the categories for the show. The members of the committee include NFL VP/Entertainment Marketing & Promotions Tracy Perlman, NBA VP/Talent Relations Leah Wilcox, CAA sports broadcast agent Andy Elkin, Excel Sports Management President & Founder Jeff Schwartz, WME Senior VP Jill Smoller and IMG Senior VP Alan Zucker. Former athletes on the committee include Baron Davis, Ken Griffey Jr., Lisa Leslie, Cal Ripken Jr., Deion Sanders and Misty May-Treanor. Nickelodeon Group President Cyma Zarghami would not say if Nickelodeon was committed to broadcasting “Kids’ Choice Sports” after this year, but in an e-mail wrote, “We think this is an idea that has a lot of potential. Our ‘Kids’ Choice Awards’ are always one of the most highly anticipated and most-watched events of the year, and we hope to be celebrating our 27th year of ‘Kids’ Choice Sports’ down the road.”
Fox Sports and WFAN-AM reached a multiyear agreement that allows Fox to nationally air "The Mike Francesa Show" on FS1 and FS2 live. The show's weekday telecasts begin March 24 on FS1 from 1:00-4:00pm ET and on FS2 from 4:00-6:00pm. The show also will be streamed live via Fox Sports Go (Fox Sports). Francesa said that there was "more than one offer made for simulcasting the show" and the pact with Fox is "a four-year deal." Francesa yesterday on his radio show said, "They were very impressive when I started meeting with them over the Super Bowl week when they came to town. They really were very much into it, they really wanted to bring Fox Sports to New York ... and that's their plan to help them do that" (NJ.com, 3/12). Francesa said Fox' two-channel plan "doesn't make any difference to us." He added that Fox' deal "allows both outlets to be used, presumably in part to help promote both upstart channels." On Long Island, Neil Best notes FS1 is "available in significantly more homes than FS2, however, so some viewers will be shut out of the final two hours." Francesa said yesterday in an interview that the inclusion of FS2 "was not a big part of the negotiations and that he initially 'didn't see it being that big of an issue'" (NEWSDAY, 3/13).
SALK AWAY: WEEI-FM host Mike Salk yesterday in a station memo announced his departure from his afternoon drive show for "another opportunity." In Boston, Gayle Fee notes the station has "not named a replacement" for Salk, whose departure "was not unexpected" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/13). A spokesperson for WEEI-FM parent Entercom Communications said that the station will "use a rotating cast of hosts" alongside co-host Michael Holley "while searching for Salk’s permanent replacement" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/13).
NBC Sports Digital has struck a strategic partnership with Soccerly.com in which the soccer-devoted platform will supply content to NBCSports.com and its Pro Soccer Talk blog. The expanded online soccer content is designed in part as a complement to NBC Sports' cross-platform coverage of the EPL, though material from Soccerly.com will involve all of the major pro soccer properties. "Soccer is an increasingly important sport for NBCSports.com, particularly in a World Cup year," said NBC Sports Digital Senior VP/Strategic Relationships Kevin Monaghan. "We believe in the Soccerly team, which has a proven track record in the soccer digital world." Soccerly.com, formed 14 months ago by an investor group that included founders of Mediotiempo.com, is based in San Diego and is an open-source soccer content portal somewhat akin to the origins of Bleacher Report. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but will include both editorial and marketing components.