NFL Network averaged 566,000 viewers for its three-day coverage of the '11 NFL Draft, the net's best mark in the six years it has broadcast the event live. The net's previous record was set last year with 560,000 viewers. NFL Network's coverage of the first round Thursday night averaged 1.04 million viewers, the net's best opening round audience ever. Friday marked the net's best rounds two and three ever with 549,000 viewers. Coverage of the final four rounds Saturday saw viewership rise 7% from '10. ESPN averaged 2.994 million viewers for its three-day coverage of the Draft, down significantly from last year's record-setting audience. The net averaged 6.003 million viewers for Thursday's first round, down 17.7% from 7.290 million viewers in '10. ESPN and ESPN2 combined to average 2.386 million viewers on Friday night, down 28%. This year's first round competed with an original episode of Fox' "American Idol," Steve Carell's final episode on "The Office" on NBC and two NBA Playoff games on TNT. Cleveland-Akron topped all U.S. metered markets for the first round on ESPN with an 8.0 local rating, while K.C. finished second with a 7.6 rating. ESPN saw ratings among males 18-34 grow slightly (+1%), but saw ratings among men 18-49 drop 4%. ESPN did see gains across its Internet and mobile properties during the first round. ESPN.com saw nearly 10.4 million unique visitors during the first round (+7%), while ESPN Mobile Web had 5.5 million uniques (+52%). The three-day combined draft audience for NFL Network/ESPN/ESPN2 was 42 million viewers this year, marking the second-best NFL Draft audience ever behind last year's figures (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand reports this year marked the "second-most-watched draft, with 42 million viewers tuning in for at least one minute." Last year's draft earned more viewers, and "potential excuses" for the decline include "strong TV competition Thursday." NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock also said it was a "very poor draft" from a player perspective (USA TODAY, 5/2). In St. Louis, Dan Caesar noted there were "a couple extenuating circumstances this year." The draft had "no ratings from the Birmingham, Ala., market because of massive tornado-related power outages there" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/1).
GRADING THE DRAFT: SI.com's Richard Deitsch reviews draft coverage and writes the "moment where the NFL Network won the television draft" was when QB Ryan Mallett "slid down the draft board to the third round." NFL Network's Mayock, Rich Eisen, Charles Davis and Brian Billick "dug deep into" Mallett's selection by the Patriots with the No. 74 pick, and each "offered insight on why the quarterback had tumbled down." Deitsch: "The network owned the Mallett selection." Meanwhile, ESPN's "terrific quartet" of Trey Wingo, Trent Dilfer, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. Saturday "restored order nicely" for the net. Deitsch: "Each year it feels like ESPN's second-day crew outshines its so-called wow guys." But ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Jay Rothman said of announcer Chris Berman, "Chris is a guy's guy, man. People like him, people don't like him. Just like everybody else. My take is he's a guy's guy and I know how the fans respond to him at Radio City. They love him" (SI.com, 5/2).
In an effort to "boost its television rights revenue, the Izod IndyCar Series is considering adding races to its 2012 schedule that would expand and sweeten the five-race package now held by ABC," according to Tripp Mickle of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The rights agreement for ABC’s package, which includes the Indianapolis 500, is "set to expire this year." ABC "pays $6 million annually for the rights to the Indianapolis 500 and four other races: St. Petersburg, Milwaukee, New Hampshire and Las Vegas.” It has held the rights to the Indianapolis 500 for 46 consecutive years. IndyCar has hired IMG and Barry Frank to "represent it in its TV rights negotiations," and ABC has a "90-day exclusive negotiating window that runs from April through the end of June." IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard said, "ABC has been a great partner, but I also know there’s significant interest from other networks" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/2 issue).
GOING BACK FOR SECONDS: SPEEDTV.com reported IndyCar "received written commitment April 28 from the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul and the mayor of Porto Alegre of their intention to play host" to a second annual race in Brazil. IndyCar Commercial Division President Terry Angstadt said, "What’s exciting to us is this three-country platform -- to have a race in a section of Brazil with close proximity to Argentina and Uruguay. It’s a very business-friendly market so it’s perfect for IndyCar" (SPEEDTV.com, 4/30).
MLB.com will not pull a YouTube clip from last night's ESPN broadcast of the Mets-Phillies game, when fans at Citizens Bank Park learned of the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and began chanting "USA." MLB.com for years has had a policy of keeping game highlight clips only on its site and those of licensed partners, while generally allowing non-game action and events of historical import such as the "USA" chant to stay on third-party sites like YouTube. That policy, though long unchanged, has been the subject of recent criticism on some sports-related sites including Deadspin.com and BleacherReport.com. One "USA" chant clip on YouTube as of this morning had more than 72,000 views, while another, almost identical one had more than 56,000 views. A similar clip also is on MLB.com.
The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Vascellaro & Schuker reported as Steve Burke "eases into the role" of President & CEO of NBCUniversal, he is "doubling down on an idea that's fallen out of favor in the media business: synergy." Burke is "fixated on strengthening ties between assets as diverse as theme parks and cable channels like CNBC to pump up interest in NBCU's franchises." He calls the strategy "Project Symphony." Vascellaro & Schuker noted Burke "set the tone early" when he selected former Golf Channel President Page Thompson "as integration chief" before the Comcast-NBCU merger closed (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/30).
DISHING IT OUT: CABLEFAX DAILY notes a U.S. District Court last month "filed a sealed opinion and order denying ESPN's motion for summary judgement in Dish's '09 most-favored nation lawsuit," and the ruling "opens the door for a possible trial." Dish sued ESPN, claiming that the network "violated a MFN clause by giving Comcast and DirecTV better deals for ESPN Classic and ESPNU." Dish claimed that it has incurred more than $1M in damages. One of the alleged breaches cited by Dish in the filing is that ESPN "granted another MVPD the right to distribute ESPN telecasts via the Internet without imposing a subscription fee specifically for such distribution" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 5/2).
GOOD TALK: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes Fox' interview with Rays P David Price during the team's game against the Angels on Saturday was the "best interview" of the weekend. Because Price was not pitching in Saturday's game, "he was able to talk during the action with no time constraints." Fox announcers Josh Lewin and Eric Karros "didn't have great questions, but Price's answers were thoughtful, insightful and, occasionally, funny, making the interview one of the highlights of Saturday's broadcasts" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 5/2).
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: In N.Y., Klein & Hackel wrote the U.S. "finally joined the rest of the hockey world this year, as the annual men's world championship tournament is being carried on general-access television for the first time." Versus will air "at least 11 tournament games" from Slovakia, including all games involving the U.S., the semifinals and the Finals on May 15. The tournament "is a staple in Northern Europe and in Canada, where it is carried on TSN" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/1).