TNT earned a 5.9 overnight Nielsen rating for the NBA All-Star Game last night, up 9% from a 5.4 overnight for last year’s game, which aired up against the Academy Awards. The 5.9 overnight is down 5% from a 6.2 in ’11 and up 17% from a 4.6 in ’10. Meanwhile, TNT earned a 4.3 overnight for coverage NBA All-Star Saturday Night -- which featured the Sears Shooting Stars competition, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk Contest -- down slightly from a 4.4 overnight last year, but still the fourth-best figure in the net’s 28-year history with the event (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes TNT's coverage of Saturday night's NBA All-Star Game festivities overall was “pretty good.” The skills competition is “getting a bit tired, but the NBA is smart enough to keep the action moving.” Jones: “Unfortunately, the marquee event of the night -- the slam-dunk contest -- is becoming a bore” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/18).
CHUCK WAGON: Twitter was filled with commentary during the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. The commentary by TNT's Charles Barkley during the broadcast was a hot topic. HoopsWorld.com’s Alex Kennedy wrote, “Charles Barkley's commentary has been the most entertaining part of this dunk contest.” Grantland’s Bryan Curtis: “Most amazing part of that was Charles Barkley advising viewers to turn it off. That might be a sportscasting milestone.” NFL Network’s Molly Qerim: “The only thing entertaining about this Dunk Contest is Charles Barkley.” Bears sideline reporter Zach Zaidman: “Charles Barkley's commentary is the only reason to keep watching the dunk contest. It's been ‘turrible.’” ESPN's Kevin Negandhi: "The only 50 tonight belongs to Charles Barkley." Yahoo Sports Radio’s Sean Pendergast: “Eventually All Star Saturday will just consist of Charles Barkley standing in the middle of the floor with an open mic for three hours.”
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: TNT's Ernie Johnson following the All-Star Game issued a correction for comments analyst Reggie Miller made late in the fourth quarter. He said, "Earlier tonight, in the course of the telecast of the All-Star Game, an article was referenced about Michael Jordan and it was said on the telecast that it was on Bleacher Report. That is incorrect. It was an article written by Wright Thompson of ESPN.com. It was an error and we admit it and we regret it. We want to make the record clear.” Miller during the game cited Bleacher Report's Timothy Rapp as writing the story in question (“2013 NBA All-Star Game,” TNT, 2/17).
GOING TOO FAR? The TAMPA BAY TIMES' Jones notes Barkley last week on “Inside the NBA” “took a shot at his rival school after four Alabama football players were arrested in connection with a pair of robberies” on Feb. 10. Barkley's head was “wrapped in a big white bandage stained with fake blood.” Barkley said to Johnson, “I got mugged in Tuscaloosa, Ernie, and my credit cards are missing." Analyst Kenny Smith said, "You're such an Alabama hater. Why don't you leave those kids alone, man?" Barkley replied, "Oh, it's my fault they're mugging people?" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/18). In Birmingham, Kevin Scarbinsky wrote to Barkley, "It is your fault that you think two Alabama students getting attacked on campus by Alabama football players, getting kicked in the ribs and back and knocked unconscious, is funny" (AL.com, 2/15).
The Big East “plans to start rebuilding its brand this month with two new TV deals, albeit at a much lower value than the conference had hoped when it started negotiations more than a year ago,” according to Ourand & Smith of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The Big East is “close to finalizing deals with two partners, NBC and CBS, that will give the conference exposure across multiple networks.” The NBC agreement will “put football and basketball games primarily on its cable channel, NBC Sports Network, with the ability to move some games to the NBC broadcast network.” CBS also is “close to renewing its package of basketball games for its broadcast channel.” NBC will pay close to $25M annually over six years “for a bucket of games to go on NBC and NBC Sports Network.” Sources said that CBS’ contract will pay $2-4M per year “for its package of basketball rights.” Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said that the conference is “unlikely to cede the Big East name to the Catholic schools that are breaking away.” Aresco said, “We’re talking to them. Our strong inclination is to keep the name.” Aresco said that “solidifying the conference’s media rights is a crucial first step toward rebuilding the Big East brand.” Aresco: “We’re trying to be realistic. We’re not the Big East of even several months ago.” Aresco added, “We know we have to prove ourselves on the field. We can’t argue that we’re the Big East of the past. We have to accept that and move on” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 2/18 issue). Sources said that ESPN has "until Thursday" to match NBC Sports Network's seven-year, $20-23M per year offer for the Big East's media rights (ESPN.com, 2/15).
The Cubs likely will "wave goodbye to their longtime TV home" after their current TV deal with WGN expires at the conclusion of the '14 season, according to Paul Sullivan of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts yesterday said, "Local media rights have been increasing in value. Hopefully at some point we will be able to get more value for our media rights. It's just something that's playing out over time." Leaving WGN would "mark the end of an era soaked in nostalgia" for the Cubs, as WGN has broadcast games since '48. Tribune Co. "steadily decreased the number of Cubs games on WGN over the years because more money could be made on cable." Now that Tribune Co. "no longer owns the team, the Rickettses have no obligation to keep the games on their station." Meanwhile, the Cubs have "explored having their own network." A source said that they have "even filmed interviews with legendary players for future use in network programming." But Ricketts when asked about those plans said, "We're still in the early stages and don't have all the options laid out" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/18). In Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer notes it is "widely believed the Cubs would not have the time (nor, perhaps, the will) to grapple with such a large undertaking with so many other projects in progress." One of the potential "speed bumps" is the fact that Comcast's contract with the Cubs for most of their other games "doesn’t allow the Cubs to sell TV rights to another local cable outlet." That contract "goes through the 2019 season." The current price WGN pays the Cubs is "believed to be less than" $20M for the roughly 70 games it has each year (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/18).
BRENLY'S BIND: Bob Brenly was a Cubs broadcaster from '04-12 before leaving this offseason to join the D'Backs, and the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES' Wittenmyer noted Brenly "never wanted to leave Chicago." In fact, Brenly "came so close to a five-year extension with WGN-TV last fall that he and his family went out to dinner to celebrate the agreement." Brenly said, "Because of the length of the current TV contract, nobody was willing to guarantee the rest of the deal." Since the Cubs are "expected to opt out of their TV deal with WGN after the 2014 season, the network sought protection against getting stuck with guaranteed contracts and no broadcast rights." Brenly probably still would "be in Chicago if not for former Cub Mark Grace’s DUI arrest that eventually cost him his job on the D-backs’ broadcast team." Brenly, who in October signed a five-year contract with the D'Backs, added, "The Diamondbacks were in a situation where they were in dire straits in their broadcast booth. They were willing and able to guarantee into the future a lot further than the Cubs were able to" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/17).
OTHER TEAM ISSUES: Ricketts yesterday said that the Cubs will "not schedule more night games or add signage in 2013." He added that there has "been 'a lot of progress' with the city in negotiations over relaxing city ordinances to provide the added revenue he says will fund" the proposed $300M renovation project. The CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Sullivan reports the Cubs plan on "re-doing the clubhouses next off-season as the first part of a five-year remodeling of Wrigley Field during the off-seasons between 2013-2017" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/18).
MSG Exec Chair James Dolan is "weighing the rollout of a national cable channel called MSG National," according to sources cited by Claire Atkinson of the N.Y. POST. The channel "wouldn't be able to offer Knicks or Rangers games -- but would look to air behind-the-scenes-type series and what is called 'shoulder programming.'" Sources said that while there is no launch date currently, MSG affiliate sales "are already pitching the concept to distributors." Atkinson noted MSG would mimic a "similar service from YES Network, which operates YES National for non-New York-area-based fans of the Yankees." An MSG spokesperson said of the proposed new channel, "This is not something we'll comment on at this time" (N.Y. POST, 2/16).
WEEI’s Glenn Ordway hosted his final show on Friday, and he reflected on more than three decades on the air in Boston. He said, “It’s been an unbelievable ride. I’ve been here since 1986 with the Boston Celtics.” Ordway added that he loved that job and it was “as much fun as I think anybody who grew up in this town and wanted to be a broadcaster, you couldn’t ask for more.” Ordway noted that the last 18 years and being able to “put together not only this show but be part of something very, very significant in this market and across the country has been a thorough joy.” Ordway: “Everybody’s time comes and goes, and there is a period in which you can excel at something, and it doesn’t mean that you're done or washed up or you're over. It means that the marketplace is changing somewhat and you have to change with the marketplace. That’s exactly what’s going on here.” Ordway addressed the listeners and said, “I thank every one of you. I hope you understood. In the last few days many of you did. Some of you obviously thought I was crude, rude, arrogant. Well, maybe I was. But it’s part of what we were doing here as a show.” He ended by saying, “Thanks to everybody. … You're all going to catch me around the corner some place so keep in touch.” Ordway noted, “I do have my Twitter account available so I have some free time. They’ve been bitching about me for the last year about how I can’t tweet but guess what? I got free time now. I’m gonna be tweeting my ass off!!!” (“The Big Show,” WEEI, 2/15).
In N.Y., Phil Mushnick reported there has been "extended debate at CBS Sports Radio Network headquarters as to what should go where in New York -- and soon." When CBS Sports Radio "is introduced here," the "brief run of CBS-owned WFAN as an AM and FM simulcast will end." Therefore, CBS and WFAN must "agree on what remains on FAN, what’s added to FAN and what’s removed from WFAN." Same for "what’s heard on new FM sibling 101.9." Mushnick: "Which becomes the national sports station? Which becomes the local?" (N.Y. POST, 2/17).
HOOKED ON A FEELING: ESPN President John Skipper said that the company "remains committed to its Longhorn Network but disappointed in its limited availability." Skipper said that ESPN continues to "work on lining up customers" for LHN, "which is available on AT&T U-verse and Verizon FIoS and recently added Charter Communications but remains absent from DirecTV, Dish Network and Comcast, Houston’s largest cable provider." Skipper: "Yes, we’re concerned. We wish we were further along in terms of distribution, but we’re confident that we will continue to get deals and that as those deals get done, we’ll get the distribution we need" (CHRON.com, 2/16).
LEAVING THE ISLAND? The FINANCIAL TIMES' Budden & Thomas report U.K. telecommunications company BT is "in discussions to acquire" soccer rights in the country from ESPN. The interest comes as BT "plans to roll out" as many as three sports channels to broadcast soccer, rugby and other sports content it already has acquired for almost $1.55B (all figures U.S.). ESPN rights "being touted for sale include broadcast rights to certain matches from the German Bundesliga, the Europa League and the English FA Cup." Satellite broadcaster BSkyB "is also interested in the assets." Analysts estimate that acquiring the rights together would "cost about" $31M annually (FINANCIAL TIMES, 2/18).
TOP OF THE LIST: In Baltimore, David Zurawik wrote the ESPN TV crew of Dave O'Brien, Doris Burke and Jeannine Edwards for Saturday's Duke-Maryland men's basketball game did "a fine job." The overall production was "solid to very good." It was the "announcing that carried the telecast," and Burke "was the star." Zurawik: "What a delight it was to hear Burke repeatedly peppering her analysis with what she saw at Maryland practice on Friday." Edwards' sideline reporting was "first-rate" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 2/16).