Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe on Thursday confirmed that "until further notice, no high school football games will be broadcast on ESPN's Longhorn Network," and only one non-conference Univ. of Texas football game "will be available for telecast," according to Suzanne Halliburton of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN. More discussion on Longhorn Network's programming "is expected in early August, when the conference's athletic directors meet about the network." ESPN in a statement said, "We recognize more discussion needs to take place to properly address the questions raised by the conference. This is uncharted territory for all involved so it's logical for everyone to proceed carefully." The scheduled appearance of high school games on the channel had created some controversy in recent days, and Texas A&M has asked the NCAA "to interpret its own rules as to whether high school athletes who appear in games shown on the Longhorn Network would be eligible to play for UT." Texas A&M AD Bill Byrne said, "I have continued to communicate our concerns to the conference office and my fellow athletic directors. We are pleased that the (Big 12) commissioner has started to address these concerns, but many questions remain." Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin: "High school games are very problematic. NCAA rules are extremely directed at recruiting functions. If we have an unequal playing field for various schools, that we think is a problem. That creates uncertainty" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 7/22). In K.C., Blair Kerkhoff notes there was speculation that A&M "might seek conference affiliation elsewhere, perhaps the Southeastern Conference, if Texas’ network showed high school games." Beebe's statement Thursday "suggested that the conference explore such opportunities together when the league’s new $1.3 billion deal with Fox Sports kicks in next year." Beebe: "Members are committed to working together to address issues in a manner that benefits all members. Elements of our new television agreement, which takes effect in 2012, need clarification" (K.C. STAR, 7/22).
BIG PROBLEMS? In Houston, Brent Zwerneman reports Longhorn Network "has threatened to do what the departures of Nebraska and Colorado could not -- bust up the Big 12." Loftin Thursday "used the term 'uncertainty' time and again in describing the state of the league, thanks to the start" of the Longhorn Network next month. Loftin: "The (recent) announcement by ESPN that the Longhorn Network might carry a conference (football) game in addition to a non-conference game was troubling, and then following right after that was ESPN's announcement regarding high school games being televised as well. Both of those, we believe, provide a great deal of uncertainty right now for us and the conference" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/22). SI.com's Andy Staples wrote under the header, "Texas' Longhorn Network Sparking Another Big 12 Missile Crisis." The Longhorn Network has fueled an "internal squabble among league members," because it is a "bigger deal than the members realized when they agreed to remain together." Beebe "is smart, and so is" UT men's AD DeLoss Dodds. Staples: "Cooler heads should prevail here and keep the conference from exploding. But the fact that it only took 13 months after the Big 12 Missile Crisis for another major fissure to reveal itself suggests the league's members aren't exactly Superglued together -- particularly at the top" (SI.com, 7/21). ORANGEBLOODS.com's Chip Brown wrote, "Any time you are in unchartered waters, it's bound to get choppy. This week was certainly choppy. UT's Big 12 brethren are already on heightened awareness about LHN because it's only giving Texas $15 million more per year in TV revenue than any other school" (ORANGEBLOODS.com, 7/21).
Hockey announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick announced on Thursday that he "has joined NBC/Versus exclusively," ending his relationship calling Devils games for MSG Network channels after 21 years, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN N.Y. Emrick, who turns 65 next month, "wrote a letter to fans that was posted on the Devils' official website." He said that a "lighter load of regular-season games, while still working the playoffs, led him to make the decision." Emrick wrote in part, "I wanted Devils fans to know of this news quickly after I reached the decision since their kindness to my wife Joyce and me on countless occasions brought us so much joy. Candidly, it has also left me with a sense of regret that I will not be continuing to call the team's games" (ESPNNY.com, 7/21). Emrick, who will remain the lead play-by-play voice for the NHL on NBC and Versus, said, "I’m not feeble and I’m not hobbling along. I still have the energy. I still love the sport and love any excuse to be inside watching it. But it’s time to look ahead." Emrick had "pared his Devils duties by five games in each of the past three seasons." He called 59 games last season and "nearly that many for NBC and Versus." Emrick: "At one point in March, I did eight games in 10 days, all in different cities, and they were all spread out enough that I had to fly to each one of them. By the eighth game, I probably wasn’t doing the job I was doing on the first of the eight" (NYTIMES.com, 7/21). Emrick's contract with MSG Network expired after the '10-11 season, and he said he will do "around 75 or 80" games next season, down from the approximately 110-120 he had been calling. He will "continue to do a full schedule for Versus and NBC during the playoffs" (Bergen RECORD, 7/22).
HARD TO SAY GOODBYE: In N.Y., Raissman & Ackert cited sources as saying that Emrick "will likely be replaced" as the Devils' lead announcer by Steve Cangialosi. The Devils' pre- and postgame host, Cangialosi "had served as Emrick's backup since 2006" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 7/21). ESPN N.Y.'s Mazzeo wrote under the header, "Emrick's Departure Leaves Massive Void." Emrick has been a "staple in New Jersey for more than two decades," and Devils fans "grew up with Emrick in their living rooms, and later, on their computers." Mazzeo: "He was a New Jersey institution, synonymous with Devils hockey. ... Emrick isn't retiring. Devils fans will still be able to listen to him on NBC and Versus. But the fact is, he's impossible to replace" (ESPNNY.com, 7/21). In Newark, Mike Vorkunov wrote, "Two years ago, the Devils held Doc Emrick Night at the Prudential Center, honoring the man whose voice had chronicled two decades of action and three Stanley Cup championships. He had become as much as part of the organization as its narrator. That will no longer be the case" (NJ.com, 7/21).
ESPN Exec VP/Content John Skipper recently sat down with VARIETY's Stuart Levine to "talk about all things ESPN, the TV sports landscape, the chances of the Super Bowl ending up on cable and what demographic the network sees as an untapped viewer base." The following is a portion of the Q&A:
Q: In broad strokes, how do you see [the] TV sports landscape right now? Skipper: I actually see sports as a very attractive segment in entertainment because it’s live. That’s why things are so active in sports right now, why ratings generally are up and why there’s generally more competition than ever for rights.
Q: Years ago it was assumed a Super Bowl would never come to cable. Yet now, with ESPN holding the rights to the BCS Championship Game, could you see that happening? Skipper: I could certainly envision it. It makes me happy, but I don’t see it happening in the near to medium term. The NFL has been very clear that they don’t see putting the Super Bowl in the perceivable future on cable.
Q: ESPN has made a big international push lately, especially with acquisition of the Premier League. How do you see that push going forward? Is that a major objective for the network? Skipper: The world’s getting smaller, of course, and we’re finding that people here care about sports that have traditionally been international. ... Changing demographic patterns mean people care about other sports.
Q: Do you see Versus as your main competition right now and in gathering more sports rights, such as Wimbledon, is that part of the objective in trying to keep your distance ahead of them? Skipper: Anybody’s who’s bidding against us is a competitor. In terms of resources, Fox has enormous resources, NBC Comcast has big resources, Turner does. The thing about Versus is, right now, it’s the only other 24/7, 365, multisports network. So I think that’s why people sort of go, “They more look like you than anybody else.” But lots of people are competing (VARIETY.com, 7/20).
SportsNet N.Y. announcers Ron Darling, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez called Wednesday night's Cardinals-Mets game from Citi Field's Pepsi Porch, "the overhang in right field, where a broadcast table was set up with monitors, microphones and stuff they needed to do their job," according to Bob Raissman of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Wednesday's game was not "the first time SNY's crew had been on location, having once worked from the upper deck" at Shea Stadium, but "this particular remote was bizarre." Raissman writes, "Other ways to describe it are self-indulgent, gratuitous, distracting, funny, unusual, original, infuriating and revealing." For those "who actually tune in to watch a baseball game, not to see what the voices are eating during the tilt, it was distracting." Raissman: "It's a good idea when announcers can watch a game from a different angle, a different perspective. It's not such a good idea to give viewers a close-up look of Hernandez putting ketchup and mustard on a hot dog before he starts chomping on it while the game is being played" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/22). After the first hit of the game, Darling said, "As soon as this ball goes down the line, a little knuckleball that Schumaker gets past Duda who was playing even with the bag, Gary Cohen had to stand up and look down and to his left to try and find the ball from Carlos Beltran." Cohen said he "would compare (the view to) Spring Training" and added, "I have had the opportunity a couple of times to sit down on the Berm at Port St. Lucie. It's a little bit lower but it's the same general perspective." Hernandez said, "The one difference I see being up here as opposed to behind the plate? The game looks hard up here. From this angle, the game looks hard again. Sometimes from where we sit the game goes slower, it looks easier, 'How does he not get that ball, how could he not catch that?' Here you can see why" ("Cardinals-Mets," SNY, 7/20).
ESPN Wednesday announced its college football broadcast pairings for the coming season, which include new analyst Urban Meyer calling noon ET games on ESPN with announcer Dave Pasch and analyst Chris Spielman. Analyst Ed Cunningham, who called ABC afternoon games last year, will partner with Mark Jones on ESPN2's Saturday primetime telecast. Additionally, Brian Griese will move from ESPN's Saturday noon game to ESPNU's Saturday primetime game, teaming with announcer Clay Matvick and reporter Allison Williams. Announcer Brent Musburger and analyst Kirk Herbstreit will call ABC's "Saturday Night Football" for a sixth consecutive year, with Erin Andrews serving as a sideline reporter for a second season. ESPN's Saturday primetime broadcast will feature announcer Brad Nessler, analyst Todd Blackledge and reporter Holly Rowe (ESPN). In West Palm Beach, Dave George writes under the header, "Urban Meyer Is Still A Coach, Even As An ESPN Analyst." Meyer's interviews, "including a spring-practice series with coaching peers at Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oregon and Utah, provide little of the unique insight one expects from a two-time national championship coach." George: "His generalizations on the hot topics of the day leave viewers wanting more but rarely getting it. ... TV, to put it mildly, is not Meyer's game" (PALM BEACH POST, 7/22).
SUNDAY NIGHT SUCCESS: In Boston, Chad Finn writes ESPN's Bobby Valentine "brings as much insight as any baseball analyst currently working on the national stage." Valentine and fellow analysts Orel Hershiser and Dan Shulman replaced Joe Morgan and John Miller on "Sunday Night Baseball." Finn writes Valentine "recognizes and fights to correct his main flaw, something the stubborn and out-of-touch Morgan couldn't or refused to do." The "result is that the new crew has proven to be a refreshing upgrade over" Morgan and Miller (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/22). Also in Boston, Bob Ryan writes Hershiser "has been great from Day One, and if Bobby Valentine can curb his instinct to tell us everything he knows about every topic, they can become a great ESPN 'Sunday Night Baseball' institution" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/22).
HOCKEY PERSONALITIES: Rogers Sportsnet hired Flames radio pregame and postgame host Rob Kerr as its announcer for Flames telecasts on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Flames. Kerr will team with analyst Charlie Simmer and host Roger Millions (Rogers Sportsnet). Kerr, who served eight years in the radio role, "will take over for Peter Loubardias, who was let go last week by Sportsnet" (CALGARY HERALD, 7/21)....In Phoenix, Jim Gintonio cited an NHL source as saying that Coyotes TV announcer Dave Strader is "expected to leave his position and accept a job with NBC/Versus." Strader served as an announcer for ESPN's NHL broadcasts from '96-04 (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/20)....Sabres G Patrick Lalime is retiring and "will become an analyst" on Senators TV broadcasts. Lalime "is to work 15 Senators games" on French-language network RDS next season "as well as contributing to other hockey shows" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 7/20).
ESPN averaged a 1.2 U.S. rating and 1.697 million viewers for its second year covering all four rounds of the British Open, down 20% and 16%, respectively, from a 1.5 rating and 2.020 million viewers last year. The tournament in ’09 aired on TNT and ABC, averaging a 2.1 rating and 2.778 million viewers. ESPN’s weekend coverage averaged a 2.1 rating and 2.908 million viewers, down 5% for both metrics compared to ’10. This year’s figures also mark the lowest-rated and least-viewed British Open weekend ever. Coverage of the final round did see year-over-year gains from last year, when Louis Oosthuizen had a runaway victory on Sunday. However, ratings and viewership for this year's third round were down 22% and 18%, respectively.
SHOW STOPPER: ESPN earned a 1.3 U.S. rating and 1.984 million viewers for “The ESPYs” on July 13, marking the award show’s lowest-rated and least-viewed telecast ever. The previous low was in ’03, when the event averaged 2.194 million viewers. Compared to last year, when comedian Seth Myers also hosted the event, this year’s audience figures are down 24%.
BAT BOYS: ESPN earned a 1.7 U.S. rating and 2.510 million viewers for the 16-inning Red Sox-Rays “Sunday Night Baseball” telecast last week. The broadcast did not end until 1:57am ET, but Red Sox-Rays was up 6% and 7%, respectively, from a 1.6 rating and 2.357 million viewers for Phillies-Cubs on the same weekend last year (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). Rogers Sportsnet averaged 649,000 viewers for the Yankees-Blue Jays four game series from July 14-17, up 31% from the Blue Jays’ season average of 505,000 viewers (Rogers Sportsnet).
The chart below lists final Nielsen ratings from recent sports telecasts. All ratings listed are U.S. ratings.