ESPN baseball analyst Terry Francona said that he took a job with the net to keep "his foot in the game after a hectic offseason that followed eight seasons" managing the Red Sox, according to Nick Cafardo of the BOSTON GLOBE. Francona acknowledged calling his first Red Sox game Thursday night for the team's Spring Training matchup against the Yankees was "a little awkward." But he said, "I'm just trying to do the best I can." He also said that he "doesn’t plan to be too critical in his new role." Francona: "There’s a way to say what’s going on. You don’t have to be a bad person. I’ll be myself." As for his managerial career, Francona said that he "probably needs to take a step back before he can go forward." He said, "My passion is being on the field. But I think it would be really healthy for me to step back and look at things without so much emotion. I was pretty worn down by the end of last year" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/23). Francona said, "I didn't particularly like the way my tenure ended. That doesn't mean it's not going to be really fun to see a lot of people tomorrow. At the same time, I got a job to do and I don't want it to be a side show. So I'll certainly be cognizant of the fact that there's a game to play" (BOSTON.com, 3/22). In Boston, Peter Abraham notes Francona is "still getting used to being a television analyst." But Francona said that "Sunday Night Baseball" host Dan Shulman "has made it easy for him" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/23).
STRAIGHT SHOOTER: ESPN Senior VP & Exec Producer Jed Drake said during a conference call when Francona works Red Sox games, he expects him to "be candid." Drake: "I expect him to give insight that will be exceptional and special because of his knowledge of these players and their strengths and weaknesses, and I expect that he's going to go right down the middle of this. ... We're all going to take this straight ahead. And while I understand -- and I appreciate the unique situation -- I helped manufacture it, if I dare may say." Drake said once former "Sunday Night Baseball" analyst Bobby Valentine left the net to manage the Red Sox, ESPN "sort of put on the full court press" to bring Francona into the booth. Drake: "I enlisted Jon Gruden's support to reach out to Terry, which he did" (THE DAILY).
Comcast execs feel that "ratings-grabbing sports" such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics are at the heart of a strategy to transform NBCU's entertainment unit into "a multimedia juggernaut that takes advantage of its parent's deep pockets, scale and digital know-how," according to Douglas Alden Warshaw of FORTUNE. When NBC secured rights to the next four Olympic games for $4.4B, it showed "just how high the stakes are" for Comcast Chair & CEO Brian Roberts, as the company "seeks to make a success of NBCU, and in the process validate his decision to merge the two companies into a content and distribution colossus." Under Comcast's control over the past 11 months, NBCU's revenue edged up 4% to $21.1B. But Comcast's "ambitions extend far beyond simply turning NBCU into a well-managed business." NBCUniversal President & CEO Steve Burke said, "Sports is how we're going to move forward with the rest of the company." Warshaw notes the company plans to "blanket Olympics coverage across all its digital platforms and existing channels." If Comcast's "big bet on sports pays off -- if it can woo viewers and advertisers, boost the fees its rivals pay to carry NBC sports, and come up with a slew of interactive services that keep consumers from cutting the cord -- the rest of NBC can expect to follow suit." Roberts "insists that he didn't overpay for the Games." He said, "This deal makes economic sense." NBCU not only has TV rights but "also controls all U.S. digital distribution of the Olympics on its own platforms." It is a "significant departure from" the days when former NBC Sports Chair Dick Ebersol was in charge. Digital was "almost an afterthought for Ebersol, either because he didn't think the online audience was big enough -- or feared cannibalization" (FORTUNE, 3/19 issue).
USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand asks, "Should networks consider hiring [Saints coach Sean] Payton as an analyst?" Hiestand: "In a word: Yes. That he'd only have a one-year gig is no big deal." As to whether image-conscious networks, "a description that fits all of them," should see Payton as damaged goods, Hiestand writes, "Probably not. As the NFL's punishment of the Saints continues to ricochet around on-air echo chambers, Payton might even end up looking like a sort of victim." The media and fans probably are not going to "settle on Payton as a singular villain and instead conclude he's just another guy who went overboard in a violent sport whose violence has to have some boundaries" (USA TODAY, 3/23).
REALITY CHECK: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes, "Not even the coming of Tim Tebow" will convince the Jets to be on HBO's "Hard Knocks" this season. Raissman: "Too bad. There would be nothing better than, immediately after they thrashed the Jets for acquiring Tebow, hearing the same self-righteous offended parties pursue the verbal equivalent of jumping off a roof if Jets suits then announced the team would be doing an encore performance" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/23).
PROMOTING MAJORS: GOLFWEEK's Beth Ann Baldry notes for the “first time in recent memory, officials from the four LPGA majors recently got on a conference call” with Golf Channel Senior VP/Programming Tom Knapp to “discuss a new branding platform to help elevate exposure around the majors.” LPGA Chief Communications Officer Kraig Kann said that Golf Channel “plans to broadcast a one-hour special on the tour’s major during the week of the Kraft Nabisco.” Baldry writes that type of coverage is “unprecedented for the LPGA” (GOLFWEEK, 3/23 issue).
ALL ABOARD: BROADCASTING & CABLE's George Winslow noted Broadcast Sports has "added three new HD on-board cameras, for a total of four systems, for coverage" of this year's Izod IndyCar Series races. The new cameras, which are "incorporated into the chassis of cars, will first be used" in this weekend's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on ABC. Most IndyCar races this season will have six cars "equipped with the new four-camera system, a number that will increase" to 12 cars for the Indy 500 (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 3/22).