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ESPN will carry an NFL Wild Card playoff game this season, marking the first time an NFL postseason game will move off broadcast TV. ESPN has committed to pay $100M per season to carry the game, sources said. ESPN says the NFL exercised an option to move one Wild Card game to cable starting this season. The move is not without some risk for the NFL. Last season's least-viewed NFL Wild Card game averaged 27.6 million viewers (NBC's Chiefs-Colts on Saturday afternoon). That would be the most-viewed program in cable TV history, topping the '11 BCS Championship (Auburn-Oregon), which averaged 27.316 million viewers. The Wild Card playoff announcement is part of ESPN's NFL deal signed in '11 that put the channel "on the path" to carry a game that previously had been produced by NBC. Similar to its regular-season structure, ESPN's game will be simulcast on a local broadcast station in the participating teams' markets. It will also be available on WatchESPN. Meanwhile, NBC will pick up a Divisional playoff game from either CBS or Fox. Sources say NBC is not paying extra for its divisional playoff game; the deal it signed in '11 accounted for the Divisional playoff game. It will alternate between the AFC (CBS) and NFC (Fox) each season. It has not been determined which conference's game NBC will carry this season.
The return of a full season of NHL games led to strong numbers for NBC and NBCSN. Regular-season games on NBCSN averaged 351,000 viewers over 88 telecasts in ’13-14, down 10% from the lockout-shortened ’12-13 campaign (57 games), but still the net’s best figure on record for a full season. This season was up 6% from the last full season in ’11-12 and up 1% from the previous record of 348,000 viewers in ’10-11. The audience for last year’s lockout-shortened schedule was the NHL’s best on cable TV since ESPN and ESPN2 combined to average 474,000 viewers in ’93-94. Meanwhile, NBC had its best NHL audience since acquiring rights prior to the ’05-06 season. NBC averaged 1.68 million viewers for its regular-season games, up 19% from last season and topping the net’s previous high of 1.62 million viewers in ’10-11. The NHL average on NBC this season also is the league’s best on broadcast TV since ABC averaged 2.0 million viewers in ’01-02.NHL REGULAR-SEASON AUDIENCE TREND ON BROADCAST TVYEARNETWORKGAMESVIEWERS (000)'13-14NBC131,683'12-13*NBC131,473'11-12NBC121,580'10-11NBC111,621'09-10NBC101,560'08-09NBC101,530'07-08^NBC101,400'06-07NBC91,344'05-06NBC61,376'04-05NHL Lockout-Season Cancelled'03-04ABC51,547'02-03ABC51,656'01-02ABC51,999NHL REGULAR-SEASON AUDIENCE TREND ON CABLE TVSEASONNETWORKGAMESVIEWERS (000)'13-14NBCSN88351'12-13*NBCSN57392'11-12NBCSN90332'10-11NBCSN53348'09-10NBCSN52297'08-09NBCSN54318'07-08NBCSN56272'06-07NBCSN58212'05-06NBCSN56162'04-05NHL Lockout-Season Cancelled'03-04ESPN2n/a209
TNT's Craig Sager said that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's on-air well-wishing on Sunday was "a moment he won't soon forget," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Sager said, "It was just fabulous, an uplifting, tremendous thing for me." Deitsch noted after two days of chemotherapy, Sager "was in high spirits." On April 10, Sager "was in Dallas to work a Spurs-Mavericks game when he started feeling ill." After the Mavs' team physician recommended Sager check himself into a Dallas-area hospital, Sager said that he "was told his hemoglobin had dropped to dangerous levels." Sager was "immediately given a series of blood transfusions and additional testing." Doctors "started five days of chemotherapy on Saturday," and Sager said that he will "undergo three treatments each day through Wednesday." Sager: "My personality has not been affected. I'm trying to stay positive and I feel pretty healthy. I feel obviously better than I did last week. Thank God for the NBA on TNT, because I am watching all the games and it is therapeutic. ... All of sudden they are administering the first chemo and [ESPN's] Mike Breen gets on the air and says, 'Hey, we just want to say we miss Craig Sager.' That happened right as the first chemo came. I was like, Wow, I feel better now from the love and support of the airwaves!" Sager said that his doctors told him that he will "be in the hospital for at least four weeks" (SI.com, 4/21).
Live radio broadcasts of Pistons games will move to WMGC-FM beginning in '15, marking the station's "first foray into Detroit's pro sports" and breaking WXYT-FM's "monopoly" in the market, according to Steve Schrader of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. WXYT is the home of the Lions, Red Wings and Tigers, "which frequently causes scheduling conflicts." This past season, 79 regular-season Pistons games were broadcast on WXYT and three were carried on WWJ-AM (FREEP.com, 4/22). In Detroit, Bill Shea notes WMGC Owner Greater Media has scheduled a press conference for 3:00pm ET today. Greater Media said it will make a “major announcement.” Pistons games for five years have been on CBS Radio-owned WXYT. CBS Radio Detroit Market Manager Deb Kenyon said that "not having Pistons play-by-play broadcasts frees up the broadcaster’s stations for flexibility." She added, "We did look into it. But after really looking at what they wanted and what we wanted, it didn’t make sense for our (station) cluster." Shea notes a "significant number of Pistons games" ended up on"CBS Radio-owned WWJ-AM due to "overlapping schedules" this past season. WMGC last year "changed formats to sports talk from adult contemporary music" (CRAINSDETROIT.com, 4/21).
WELCOME BACK: The Rams announced a multiyear renewal with ESPN Radio 101 St. Louis. Current play-by-play announcer Steve Savard and analyst D'Marco Farr will continue in their respective roles. The Rams have been with ESPN Radio 101 St. Louis since the station launched in '09 (ESPN).
ESPN is unveiling an expanded SEC Network brand campaign this week with new school-specific spots and print ads for all 14 of the conference’s institutions. ESPN said the campaign, which will include social media and digital extensions, was developed in collaboration with McKinney, Durham. The spots are intended to celebrate long-standing traditions from the conference, as well as each school’s fan base. ESPN, which owns the SEC Network, and McKinney worked with each of the schools to develop the campaign. The spots and print ads will run across ESPN’s platforms and on school platforms. Imagery from the campaign is being integrated into the ESPN.com home page beginning today, with the help of California-based digital agency RED Interactive. The SEC Network will launch on Aug. 14, and plans call for the channel to air 45 football games this season.
Astros Owner Jim Crane hopes that Comcast SportsNet Houston’s bankruptcy proceedings could "move fast enough for a resolution to be reached in a month’s time," according to Evan Drellich of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Officials with the Rockets, Comcast and Astros have "participated in mediation sessions" with U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes, "but those discussions haven’t led to an agreement." Crane said, "That may be over for right now. We may have one more meeting. Then it goes back to bankruptcy court, and that guy (Bankruptcy Judge Marvin Isgur) can move at light speed if he wants to." Crane added, "I would like to see something resolved within 30 days, one way or another. He could make that happen -- it could linger longer than (that), but it’s certainly not good for us, and it’s not good for the Rockets. I don’t think it’s having any big term effect on Comcast.” Crane said that the Astros "did offer to make concessions in those meetings." Crane: “It’s a 20-year deal and some of the offers have been less than that. We’re weighing those" (CHRON.com, 4/21).
L.A. STORY: In L.A., Bill Shaikin carriage issues related to Time Warner Cable SportsNet LA "is an embarrassment to the Dodgers, and to the city." This is an "outrage to the fans who just want to see their team, and who have less than zero interest in the public finger-pointing between TWC and DirecTV." Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten said, "It's an issue that consumes us every day. We are doing all that we can behind the scenes to help Time Warner and get this into as many homes as possible. I have to be honest: there are not a lot of things we can do." Shaikin wrote if DirecTV is "using the Dodgers to draw its line in the sand against the proliferation of high-cost sports channels, this could be a long-term blackout" (L.A. TIMES, 4/20).
Boston-based WBZ-CBS, the official broadcaster of yesterday's Boston Marathon, "made the most of its unparalleled access to the 26.2 miles of the course and had camera crews who stayed at times a footstep ahead of the elite runners," according to Mark Perigard of the BOSTON HERALD. Analyst Toni Reavis was "knowledgeable and enthusiastic, with an uncanny ability to get inside competitors’ heads based on their strides." However, the station "suffered technical hiccups at key moments during the women’s race" when the image "just froze." It also "seemed as if there was a commercial break every three minutes." Perigard: "But give WBZ credit for finding a way to pay the bills and keep the race coverage going with the use of a split-screen." Meanwhile, NECN's coverage "seemed so tranquil, it might have been in another city," whereas WHDH-NBC and WFXT-Fox "zeroed in on security checkpoints and marked the scale of law enforcement’s reach" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/22).
EYES OF THE WORLD: Last night's nightly news editions on ABC, CBS and NBC all led with coverage of the Boston Marathon, with reports from Boston and highlights of the event. This morning's edition of NBC's "Today" led with co-host Natalie Morales discussing her experience running in yesterday's race, while both ABC's "GMA" and "CBS This Morning" reported on the marathon about 15 minutes into the broadcast (THE DAILY). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Hilary Lewis noted ABC, NBC and CBS before the race began yesterday all "devoted multiple reports on their morning shows to the massive security and resilience of this year's runners." All three shows began with reports about the marathon, with anchors in N.Y. "throwing to reporters on the scene in Boston" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 4/21).
ALL THE NEWS FIT TO PRINT: Numerous newspapers across the country featured an image from the marathon on their front page today, including the N.Y. Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. The following are a sampling of headlines from how the race played out (THE DAILY).
Arizona Republic: "Runners Take Back Boston"
Boston Globe: "Unstoppable"
Boston Herald: "Boston USA"
Charlotte Observer: "A Triumph Over Terror"
Dallas Morning News: "'We Know How To Endure'"
Hartford Courant: "Spirit Is Back"
Miami Herald: "With Every Step, Utter Defiance"
Reno Gazette-Journal: "'You Could Feel The Love'"
San Diego Union-Tribune: "Meb's Run To Glory"
South Bend Tribune: "America Strong"
The USGA’s newly released Rules of Golf mobile app provides a destination for referencing just what the title says. While there is some room for improvement, the app successfully brings the rulebook to mobile in a way that works. Rules of Golf was developed by the USGA in partnership with Lightmaker. It is a free download sponsored by Rolex. I conducted this week’s review on an iPhone 5 version 7.1 with AT&T service. A table of contents greets the user upon launch including topics like Etiquette, Definitions, Rules of Play and Decisions. There is also a handy How to Use section for beginners. Tapping on any one of these topics opens a deeper section of content. For example, under Rules of Play, rules 1-34 are listed, each of them containing a full set of rule points along with associated decisions. The app’s content is searchable and savable. Entering a keyword or phrase brings up relevant results, and tapping the star icon saves a rule to the user’s favorites. When viewing content pages, a rule can be shared via e-mail. Font size can also be increased for the blurry-eyed.
WINNERS: The layout and navigation of the app is very straightforward. In Wikipedia fashion, certain words and phrases within a rule or decision are linked to their basic definitions, or in some cases, other rules or decisions. This is very useful for finding information quickly. The favorites function is nice, too. The decisions section includes an alphabetical index that allows users to simplify their search by tapping on the first letter. With the exception of a Rolex logo above the content, the lack of advertising makes the experience clean. Certainly there is room for growth here, as I do not think golfers would mind seeing a few more ads.
PENALTY STROKES: The search functionality is promising but buggy. At times during the review period, the keyboard opened and closed repeatedly before a word could be entered. After a word was entered, there was sometimes no way to get back to the search box to enter another word. In the search results, it would have been nice to see more than just the title of the rule -- perhaps a few lines of content surrounding the search keyword. This would make it easier to find the desired information. I was confused as to why there was an index within the decisions section, but no index in the main navigation of the app. As for sharing, e-mail is the only option in the app’s current state. The omission of SMS and social sharing tools is an unfortunate oversight.
BOTTOM LINE: USGA’s Rules of Golf mobile app offers a very user-friendly, not overly complicated way to reference the rules while playing golf. It is sure to make a good companion for a day on the course as both a dispute resolver and a conversation starter. Some improvements like a bug-free search and an expanded list of sharing tools are needed in the short term. Down the road, the inclusion of video clips explaining the rules would be a nice addition.
Amie Sheridan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.
See Sheridan's previous App Review submissions for THE DAILY:
- Nike+ Running For iPhone Goes Far Beyond Basic GPS Tracking
- Razorgator For iPhone Needs Fine Tuning, More Customization
- DraftKings For iPhone Turns A Non-Fantasy Player Into An Addict
- NCAA March Madness Live For iPhone Brimming With User Engagement
- MLS Matchday For iPhone Covers Game Action Well, Lacks Fan Engagement