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Volume 24 No. 157


The Big 12 is "nearing a cable agreement with Fox that will more than triple the conference's revenue over its current contract," according to Smith & Ourand of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Sources said that the two sides are "close to finalizing a long-term deal that will pay the 10-team league more than $60 million a year, well up from the $20 million it now receives from its cable contract." The conference also has a "network broadcast contract with ABC/ESPN worth $480 million over eight years" through '15-16. It was "first thought that the Big 12 would extend its cable agreement to 2016 to make it concurrent with the ABC/ESPN contract," but sources said that the Fox extension "will go beyond 2016 and could go out as long as 10 years, to 2022." Meanwhile, Fox "has been in discussions with eight of the league's schools about establishing a conference-specific channel for a handful of football games, up to 60 basketball games and Olympic sports." The channel "would not include programming from the University of Texas, which has partnered with ESPN on a new Longhorns channel, or the University of Oklahoma, which is planning its own channel, as well." Sources said that Fox' cable deal with the conference and the potential channel are "separate conversations." Talks for the potential channel "have centered on having Fox flip one of its three Fox College Sports national channels, which are carried on cable sports tiers," though "whether the channel could be called the Big 12 Network remains to be seen because only eight of the 10 schools in the conference would be participating." Smith & Ourand note while a new channel "would significantly boost exposure and potentially aid recruiting for the eight schools, it is not expected to provide a financial windfall" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/14 issue). The $60M figure was initially discussed last summer, when conference officials were trying to hold the Big 12 together amid conference realignment talk, but subsequent negotiations have pushed the numbers well above $60M a year (Smith).

The NCAA men's basketball tournament tips off tonight with two of the First Four games on truTV, "one of four channels carrying the tournament" beginning this year, according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. The four-channel plan "means all games will be seen nationally," so fans "can watch straight through to a buzzer-beater or a 40-point blowout -- as long as they know which networks the games are on." But the "biggest challenge" for CBS and Turner Sports is to "persuade sports viewers that truTV exists." Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy: "That first day, people will wonder, 'Where's truTV?'" Sandomir notes the network "has 91 million subscribers and its viewership is 65 percent male," but "unlike TNT and TBS, it is not known for sports." Yet truTV will carry 13 games, more than the 12 games scheduled for TNT. Levy: "We needed four networks and it's a top-10 cable network in adults 18-to-49." Turner studio analyst Charles Barkley said that he "told his bosses at the Turner that it was wrong to begin the NCAA contract with four games on truTV." Barkley: "I watch Jesse Ventura's show and I like the Lizard towing people, but truTV's hard to find. It's not in a lot of hotels and our target audience are basketball players and fans; depending on what hotel they stay in they may or may not get truTV. I thought they should be on TNT and TBS." Barkley said his suggestion was "not received very well" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/15).

THE TRU IS OUT THERE: TNT's Charles Barkley, who will serve as a studio analyst for the tournament, appeared on CBS' "The Late Show" last night and said of the tourney coverage, "We start tomorrow. We gave you two days to try to find truTV. Good luck with that" ("Late Show," CBS, 3/14). YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Eisenberg wrote, "Just because all 67 NCAA tournament games will air in their entirety doesn't mean that viewers will be able to find them. Anyone know what channel Tru-TV is? You have until Tuesday night's first game to find out" (, 3/14). In New Orleans, Ted Lewis notes Pittsburgh players and coaches, who will play the winner of tonight's first game, "hope the team hotel has" truTV. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon: "The first thing I thought of was to get a place with truTV" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/15). In K.C., Sam Mellinger wrote, "What in the name of public-access obscurity is truTV? And do I get it?" (K.C. STAR, 3/14). Meanwhile, Cox Communications Dir of Communications Christine Martin said that the MSO is "finalizing plans to carry truTV in HD from Tuesday through March 20 when the network will be carrying NCAA men's basketball tournament games." Cox also "plans to offer a six-channel mosaic (CBS, TBS, TNT, truTV, ESPN and CBS College Sports) on SportsZone channel 998 during the tournament" (DAILY OKLAHOMAN, 3/11).

X MARKS THE SPOT: In Cincinnati, Shannon Russell reports the Xavier Univ. men's basketball team's "trials and tribulations will be documented on the small screen" during the tournament. In partnership with CBS and Turner Sports, N.Y.-based producers Danielle Santoro, Alexis Arguello Jr. and Blake Berson "have begun filming 'Xavier Confidential' -- a look at the Musketeers as they prepare for, and play in, their sixth straight Big Dance." The first footage "airs during tonight's NCAA Tournament post-game show on truTV, and all segments will be shown on" If Xavier advances to at least the Sweet 16, the footage "will be converted to a documentary." The producers "have been shadowing the team for two days and counting" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 3/15).

CBS employing a larger video player for
this year's March Madness on Demand
NEW FEATURES ON MMOD:'s Richard Deitsch noted there is a "larger video player" this year for CBS' March Madness on Demand, "so when people initially log into the MMOD application, the size of the initial viewing window will be larger than it was in past years." The personalized "My Channels" feature under "Settings" allows you to "plug in your Zip code and TV provider to see your channel lineup for every game, including games in HD." The "Game Center" dashboard "features in-game highlights and live stats, including a traditional box score, scoring streaks, a lead tracker, and a chart of players in foul trouble." The new "March Madness Social Area" is a "virtual meeting place for fans, as well as for Turner social hosts/reporters who will cull through social media to provide the most interesting tweets and social trends regarding the tournament" (, 3/11). In addition to MMOD, will be running complete coverage from every game of the NCAA tournament, including pre- and post-game stories, up-to-the-minute scores, live stats, video highlights and photo galleries. Turner Sports runs the site for the NCAA. The site will also include historical features such as fan voting for the best classic game, Legends features, “Where are they now” and moments in history from the NCAA Vault as well as post-game press conferences and other behind-the-scenes video. Coca-Cola, an NCAA corporate champion, is sponsoring the Coke Zero March Madness Social Arena, a social media hub for fans to interact with Turner and CBS sideline reporters (Turner Sports).

UNSUNG HEROES: The UPS Store yesterday launched its Print Madness promotion, which highlights team managers. Through April 15, the videos of five managers representing four schools will be posted on The UPS Store Facebook page, and users can vote for their favorite team manager story by "liking" the video on Facebook (UPS Store).

Gus Johnson is "not CBS's top college basketball play-by-play announcer,” but the games he calls “feel like the most riveting events around,” according to Greg Bishop of the N.Y. TIMES. This has “gained Johnson a loyal following” as he prepares for the start of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament today. Syracuse Univ. Center for Television & Popular Culture Dir Robert Thompson said, “He seems better at responding emotionally to a sporting event than anybody I’ve heard. If he read ‘Hamlet,’ we’d all be into Shakespeare. It’s like when we sent a man to the moon and Walter Cronkite said, ‘Hot diggity dog.’” But Bishop notes Johnson’s delivery “also opens him to criticism: too much of a fan, tries too hard, does not prepare enough for broadcasts” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/15). In Pittsburgh, Bob Cohn noted Johnson “lends his voice to the NFL, college football, boxing and just about anything where there are winners and losers, including video games,” but “this is his time, March Madness.” Johnson's fans “embrace and reflect his enthusiasm, hanging on every chord change and decibel elevation.” Johnson, “loud and proud, offers no apologies.” Johnson: "I just want to have fun. I love basketball. It's so passionate. I love sports. I'm a fan.” Cohn wrote Len Elmore, Johnson's partner on CBS, is “more subdued,” an analyst and “self-described ‘second banana’ to Johnson” since ’03. Elmore acknowledged he has "never had a partner like Gus." He said that they “have a splendid chemistry, their contrasting styles working in harmony” (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/13).

RISE AND FIRE: Johnson called Saturday's Washington-Arizona Pac-10 tournament championship game, during which Washington G Isaiah Thomas hit a game-winning shot in overtime. In Seattle, Percy Allen wrote, "What a great call by CBS announcer Gus Johnson. The narration was nearly as good as Isaiah Thomas' brilliant playmaking. Loved it when Johnson said: 'Cold blooded'" (, 3/12). Syndicated radio host Jim Rome said, “Every play-by-play guy develops his signature over time when a big shot goes in. … Gus Johnson goes with, ‘Aaaahhhh!’ The guy’s gotta file a trademark or a patent for that thing.” Rome: "You know how sometimes commentators are so bad or so annoying you have to watch the game with the sound off? Gus Johnson makes me want to watch the game with the visual off. … It’s like a symphony” ("The Jim Rome Show," 3/14). But in St. Petersburg, Tom Jones wrote he is “dreading listening” to Johnson and his “guttural screams every time someone makes a basket.” Jones: “Let’s hope he saves his inaudible yelling for the truly thrilling moments” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/14).

HIS BARK BIGGER THAN HIS BITE?’s Richard Deitsch wrote fans should count on Charles Barkley to “criticize the NCAA during the tournament.” Barkley: “When we sat down before I took this job, I said, You know what, I love working for Turner, but this thing can't just be about the money. I need some reassurances that y'all are going to let me talk about the education thing privately and on the air. I'm concerned about them (the NCAA) not graduating these players. I met with the NCAA. I said, Let's have a dialogue about you guys graduating these players. We just gave these damn people $11 billion (officially $10.8 billion). I'm not going to go on a rant about where the money goes but we have an obligation to graduate these players.” Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy said of Barkley, “I will tell you this, as long as he is educated on what the situation is, where the money goes, where the athletes go next, when he is educated, I think he is very effective. We have done a lot of working with Charles about the sport and what is happening with college sports and where the money goes.” CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus said that “the rules for Barkley are the same as the rules for the other analysts.” McManus: "We don't put a muzzle on (our analysts)" (, 3/14).

BASKETBALL IS BASKETBALL: Barkley appeared on CBS' "The Late Show" last night, and host David Letterman discussed Barkley's role in the tournament coverage. Letterman asked, "Do you know anything about college basketball?" Barkley: "Basketball is basketball. I mean it's no different. It's all basketball. The toughest thing is trying to learn all the players, which I don't think I'm going to be able to do that anyway. It's 68 teams. Some of these guys think that because they know the players' name, they know something about basketball. They don't know anything about basketball, they just know the players' names" ("The Late Show," CBS, 3/14). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes the "influx of TNT announcers accustomed to the NBA raises a significant question: can they adapt quickly, intuitively and knowledgeably, to the college games at a crucial time of year?" Barkley "showed several gaps in his college basketball acuity on Sunday during the tournament selection show" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/15). In Sacramento, Scott Lebar wrote Barkley "may not know truTV, Joe Lunardi (ESPN bracketologist), or Noah Dahlman (Wofford forward), but he does know how to entertain all of them” (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/14). But in N.Y., Bob Raissman writes unless Barkley "was sick" on Sunday during CBS’ coverage of the A-10 and Big Ten conference finals, “some brainiac likely instructed him to tone down his act." He was “subdued and deferential -- a colossal bore” (N. Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/15).

What are NFL players doing to keep busy without any on-field football to worry about? In the case of Redskins QB Donovan McNabb, he is preparing for a career in broadcasting. McNabb, who played guard on Syracuse Univ.'s basketball team from '95-97, will be relying on his basketball acumen during a stint as a studio analyst on Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic's coverage of the second round of the NCAA men’s tournament. McNabb will make his first appearance Thursday, when he will be featured on "SportsNet Central" at 10:00pm and 11:00pm ET. He also will appear on "Washington Post Live" with Ivan Carter at 10:30pm for a special late night edition of the daily talk show. McNabb will be back in studio Friday, for a 6:00pm edition of "SportsNet Central." Previously, the 12-year pro did on-air work for ESPN during the Super Bowl. Andrew Stroth at Impact Talent Associates, Chicago, handles marketing for McNabb.

ESPN earned a 1.8 U.S. rating and 2.746 million viewers for the premiere of "Fab Five" on Sunday night from 9:00-11:00pm ET, marking the net's highest-rated and most-viewed documentary ever. The previous high was 2.517 million viewers for the premiere of "Pony Excess" last December, which was the final film in the "30 for 30" series (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones wrote the "outstanding documentary about this polarizing team was intriguing and, at times, disturbing as these young men became the targets of racism." The film not only depicted "America's view of the Michigan players, but the players' view of America" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/14). In Detroit, Jamie Samuelsen wrote a really good documentary can teach viewers things "about a subject that you thought you knew about" or change your opinion of "something that you had a pretty strong opinion on already." The film accomplished both, and it was a "very entertaining two hours of TV." However, the documentary "reinforced the image of Chris Webber," who was the only member of the team who did not agree to be interviewed for the project. He came across "as an extremely talented, extremely sheltered and extremely naive young man. ... Nothing was ever his fault" (, 3/14).'s Peter King in his weekly "Monday Morning Quarterback" column praised several NFL writers for their coverage of the league's labor negotiations and subsequent lockout. Yahoo Sports' Jason Cole earned credit for "being clear and very well-explained" in his coverage, as he "really gets the economic issues."'s Don Banks "has been irreverent and tough on both sides for letting it get to this point." Also, NFL Network's Albert Breer earned "kudos ... for working for the NFL's TV network and working as hard as you can to be a real journalist, getting both sides of a tough story" (, 3/14).

ESPN's Doria discusses social media
during online Q&A
WHISPERING TWEET NOTHINGS: ESPN Senior VP & Dir of News Vince Doria took part in an online Q&A yesterday and said Twitter has given him more "headaches, period," than happy thoughts. Doria: "No doubt social networking has contributed to the immediacy and volume of reaction to news stories. That's probably a good thing. The difficulty we're experiencing ... is that fact that reporters are often disseminating information without putting it through the vetting process that we have in place. We have policies to deal with this, but trying to enforce that policy consistently among the large number of news gatherers at ESPN has proven to be a challenge." He added the net embraces the fact social networking "has become part of the newsgathering process and will likely play an increasingly influential role moving forward" (, 3/14).

FOURSOME PLAYING THROUGH: YAHOO SPORTS' Jonathan Wall noted NBC for its coverage of the WGC-Cadillac Championship "did something you don't see very often, doing Sunday's telecast with a four-man crew" consisting of Dan Hicks, Johnny Miller, Peter Jacobsen and Gary Koch. It was an "interesting dynamic, especially when you have an opinionated guy like Miller in the mix." The telecast "wasn't a train wreck, and it seemed that the four talking heads got along quite well during the round." Jacobsen and Koch are "consummate professionals, so it was nice to have a new view from time to time" (, 3/14).

AN OFFER HE COULDN'T REFUSE? ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy during Sunday’s Magic-Suns game discussed the recent comments made by his brother, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, concerning NBA Commissioner David Stern, and Stern’s response a couple days later. Jeff Van Gundy said, “I thought Stan’s comments were snarky and I was surprised by what I thought were unbecoming comments by Commissioner Stern.” Van Gundy later compared Stern’s powers to Michael Corleone, which prompted ABC’s Mike Breen to compare Stan Van Gundy to Fredo. Jeff Van Gundy: “It’s very godfathery-like, ‘we’ll never hear from him again.’ I thought he was being taken to the Meadowlands to be buried. I mean my goodness, commissioner, don’t bury my brother yet” (, 3/14).