SBJ/November 17 - 23, 2003/Media

Fox Sports Net clears Thanksgiving table for 6 fresh hours of poker

Fox Sports Net is going "all in" when it comes to the No Limit Texas Hold 'Em poker craze, airing six straight hours of the new Showdown at the Sands tournament on Thanksgiving Day. The production will be unique in that it will go to air less than 24 hours after the completion of the tournament.

Poker events such as ESPN's World Series of Poker and The Travel Channel's World Poker Tour — both surprise ratings hits this year — didn't make it to television until months after they were completed, and aired in weekly episodic form. That's partly because televising poker tournaments requires taping dozens of hours of play, and then going back to pick out key hands and players and adding an audio track from an announcer as if it were being called in real time.

Fox will do the same thing but with much less turnaround time. It also intends to distinguish itself by starting coverage with preliminary rounds, or "satellite games," in which amateur players come to the table with only a few dollars and have the chance to advance to the final rounds and win the grand prize of $1 million.

"We're presenting not just the final but everything leading up to that," said George Greenberg, Fox Sports Net's executive vice president of programming and production. "To me, telling the story of how these guys got there is just as important as the finals."

Fox will not have to pay a rights fee to cover the tournament — which is hosted and bankrolled by Carl Icahn, owner of the Sands hotel casino in Atlantic City, N.J. — but will spend more than $250,000 on production expenses, Greenberg said. He added that the venture is extremely cost-effective because Fox will be able to repeat the telecasts throughout the year.

ESPN and the World Poker Tour have been credited with revolutionizing poker on television by adding such elements as miniature cameras that can show every player's hand, and instant odds based on what cards a player has. Fox will try to up the ante with a camera that will show viewers the "flop" card, the next card in the deck, adding to the drama.

The marathon will be broken into six one-hour episodes, and the final two will re-air at 8 p.m. ET. All six will be shown repeatedly on Fox Sports Net over the next year as programming filler. ESPN also will be airing a poker marathon on Thanksgiving Day, rerunning the World Series of Poker from 1 to 8 p.m. ET.

"DREAM JOB" SPONSORS: Wendy's, Labatt Blue, Mazda and Visa are sponsoring "Dream Job," the ESPN reality show in which ordinary citizens compete for a one-year contract to become an anchor on "SportsCenter."

Wendy's will stage a "Wendy's Wild Card" promotion through soft drink cups and espn.com, offering a chance to win one of 50 video cameras to make an audition tape. ESPN will pick one person from that group to become one of the 10 contestants on the show.

Labatt Blue already is activating the sponsorship through a "Labatt Blooper" area on espn.com, where users can view some of the more comical moments from the first round of auditions, which have been staged nationwide. When the show begins airing on Sunday nights this winter (the first of six episodes is Feb. 22), Labatt will run a promotion on its own Web site that allows people to compete in contests similar to ones on the show.

FSN West’s L.A. Kings coverage regularly includes coach’s pregame speech to team.

FSN WEST SHOWS PREGAME SPEECH: Fox Sports Net West and the Los Angeles Kings are making coach Andy Murray's pregame speech a regular part of game broadcasts. Murray wears a wireless microphone while a small digital handheld camera records his pep talk 90 minutes before most home games.

Fox and team officials then review the speech and pull out two or three segments to use during the telecast, with the key message of his speech featured at the opening. Announcers refer to moments of the speech when they apply to what is taking place on the ice, as the director switches between clips of the speech and replays of the announcers going to a telestrator.

Fox also has wired players, referees and Murray during games this season.

Another element of the telecasts is two live talk-back interviews from the bench with the team's assistant coaches. Announcers can get immediate answers from the coaches as they help direct the action.

Andy Bernstein can be reached at abernstein@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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