ESPN is put in a tough spot when it comes to stories like the Aaron Hernandez murder charge because it "invariably must juggle its status as a news organization with ... folks who care more about roster changes than police blotters," according to Brian Lowry of VARIETY. ESPN "to its credit" during various incarnations of "SportsCenter" yesterday asked "whether the National Football League has an image problem." Seeing that ESPN "pays billions to the league for the right to televise games and breathlessly chronicles its every move, wondering aloud about the NFL being damaged by some of its negative publicity would appear to strike a blow on behalf of journalistic independence." But the net "feels a bit over its head dealing with a story of this kind, while news networks like CNN are a trifle out of their element." ESPN’s Chris Mortensen mentioned that 29 NFL players "have been arrested since the Super Bowl, but quickly downplayed that figure statistically given the number of pros employed by the league." Lowry noted there was not "any immediate mention during the time I was watching of Ray Lewis," who was charged with murder in '00 and is set to join the net as an NFL analyst this season. The net is "going to have to get accustomed to being about more than just the customary wins and losses" (VARIETY.com, 6/26). Meanwhile, the Patriots had been posting updates on their website about the Hernandez story, and Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw asked, "How many teams are going to do that about one of their own players in trouble?" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 6/26).
ESPN DEDICATING RESOURCES TO STORY: Last night's edition of ESPN's "SportsCenter" began at 10:30pm ET and led with the Hernandez arrest, with ESPN's Michele Steele reporting live from Hernandez' home and Jeremy Schaap live from the jail where the TE is being held. The first non-Hernandez report was approximately 30-minutes into the broadcast and was the back-and-forth comments between Yankees GM Brian Cashman and 3B Alex Rodriguez about the player returning to the field. The 6:00pm "SportsCenter" also dedicated roughly the first half-hour to Hernandez and included reports from Steele, Schaap and ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss from Patriots HQs. The arrest also is being covered on the national news outlets. "CBS This Morning" made Hernandez its second story today, dedicating a little more than four minutes to a live report from Don Dahler outside the jail and a live interview with "The NFL Today" host James Brown. ABC's "GMA" and NBC's "Today" first covered Hernandez at the bottom of the opening hour. The arrest was the second report on ABC's "World News" last night and the third story on NBC's "Nightly News." CBS' "Evening News" noted the arrest about 23 minutes into the broadcast (THE DAILY).
BALANCING ACT: SI.com’s Richard Deitsch yesterday chronicled the TV coverage of Hernandez' arraignment on his Twitter feed and wrote, "NFL Net continues to show charges being presented live. ESPN switches off live footage for analysis with Roger Cossack. Brutal judgement. … That's as brutal news judgement as I've seen in some time. And for ESPN management suits who disagree with me, check my @ responses. … NFL Net has stayed live the whole way. No breaks. Well done.” CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman wrote, “Good job NFL Network staying with this Hernandez hearing. It's obviously not a great look for the league." SCHAAP'S SLIP OF THE TOUNGE: In Milwaukee, Tyler Dunne notes Schaap yesterday "accidentally used the wrong Aaron" when speaking on air about Hernandez, and instead used Packers QB Aaron Rodgers' name. He did "quickly correct himself on air." Rodgers tweeted, "Not funny ESPN." Schaap replied, "funny, no. But I did correct myself, right then, which of course the clip does not include." He went on to write, "Trust me, not my first slip of the tongue, even today" (JSONLINE.com, 6/26).
ESPN President John Skipper discussed the value of sports rights, handling Bill Simmons and the company's recent layoffs in a Q&A conducted by Marisa Guthrie of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. The following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Where's the ceiling on sports rights? Skipper: Ultimately it's a free market, and sports rights end up being sold and valued for what they're worth. ... The value of sports has appreciated because it's the only thing that people have to watch live.
Q: What rights package do you not have that you want? Skipper: I regret not being able to get hockey back. We made a strong bid for it last time (in 2011). But the NHL felt well served by NBC. So that's kind of something you have to respect, that they wanted to stay with the incumbents. And of course, it was very difficult for me to lose World Cup soccer. ... But I'm generally pretty proud of what we've been able to assemble -- but we weren't able to get the men's basketball tournament, the World Cup, the Olympics, hockey.
Q: Is there a cable-vs.-broadcast divide when it comes to rights? Skipper: We're going to put the college football championship on cable. Wimbledon is on cable. Next month we'll have the British Open on cable. It doesn't matter much anymore. I would acknowledge there's a small divide in ratings because there still are 10 million to 15 million households that don't get paid television. But they tend to be very light sports viewers.
Q: Grantland editor Bill Simmons has a unique position: He's part of ESPN, but he criticizes the company on Twitter and gets suspended. Skipper: Bill is a unique talent. There has never been anybody writing about sports who has had more readers than Bill Simmons. Bill creates a lot of great content for us. He is passionate about what he does, and every now and then that passion explodes onto his Twitter account, and we have to figure out how to deal with it. I'm personally very fond of Bill. He's done a lot for our company. It has been about 99.8 percent great.
Q: ESPN recently laid off about 400 people, 5 percent of its U.S. workforce. Will there be more cuts? Skipper: We are at the end of it. We had not for a long time looked at our organization with an eye toward making sure that our resources, our people, our money was spent against things that make a difference. The world's a little different. There's really 10 distribution deals to do now, and they're long-term, so we consolidated some of our affiliate sales functions. We closed the Denver office; we quit doing 3D. So we eliminated a bunch of jobs. But we are adding people for the SEC Network; we're adding people in digital; we will add people for the new SportsCenter. We are continuing to put more resources in L.A. We're not retrenching (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 7/19 issue).
NBC Sports generated more than 70 million minutes of consumption for its live streaming of the '13 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, offered digitally as part of an expanded TV Everywhere distribution. While mobile streaming of the playoffs was offered for the first time this year, the web-based streaming generated more than 47 million minutes of consumption, more than four times the comparable figure from a year ago. The Blackhawks-Bruins Stanley Cup Final, live streamed for the first time, represented nearly half of the 70 million total minutes. The triple OT Game 1 of the Final was the most-consumed individual game digitally with 8.9 million minutes.
The Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports digital alliance in May continued to hold onto the No. 1 spot in the monthly comScore multi-platform reach rankings of U.S. sports site, boosting its lead over No. 2 ESPN from 5 million unique visitors in April to more than 8 million in May. But overall, the list essentially stayed the same as the prior month, with Bleacher Report-Turner Sports Network, FoxSports.com on MSN and the new Sporting News Media again rounding out the top 5. As also was the case in April, Perform Sports is erroneously listed as its own entity at No. 12 in addition to its proper slot at No. 5 as part of Sporting News Media with American City Business Journals (parent company of SportsBusiness Journal and THE DAILY). ESPN, as is custom, held a large lead in consumption metrics, posting an average of 101.4 minutes per user during the month, more than twice the 42.4 minutes per user for Yahoo-NBC, and 41.7 minutes per user for Fox.
Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports Network*
Bleacher Report-Turner Sports Network**
FoxSports.com on MSN
Sporting News Media/Perform Sports
USA Today Sports Media Group***
NFL Internet Group
Sports Illustrated sites
NOTES: * = Includes Rivals.com and ThePostGame.com. ** = Sites include NBA.com, PGA.com, NCAA.com and WNBA.com. *** = Includes 81 local Gannett newspaper sites, 23 Gannett-owned broadcast TV station sites, USA Today High School Sports and BNQT Media Group.
Showtime yesterday said that its Adrien Broner-Paulie Malignaggi welterweight championship boxing match last Saturday "drew 1.3 million viewers, the network’s second biggest audience for a fight telecast." MULTICHANNEL NEWS' R. Thomas Umstead noted the bout "fell just short of the record 1.4 million viewers garnered by Showtime's Dec. 2012 Miguel Cotto-Austin Trout fight, the most watched bout since Showtime began tracking individual fights in 2009." The three-fight card overall "drew 900,000 viewers, the second highest average audience" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 6/26).
GOODELL'S HARD-KNOCK LIFE: NFL.com's Dan Hanzus wrote if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "has his way, more teams will be involved" with HBO's "Hard Knocks" going forward. Goodell last week said, "We're talking about some kind of formal rotation where teams participate in the show on a more regular basis. Not necessarily more frequently, but on a regular basis so that it is a shared obligation and it would give more teams an opportunity to have this." Seahawks GM John Schneider said that his team was "approached, but Seattle was not interested" (NFL.com, 6/26).
FINEBAUM FINDING HIS WAY BACK TO WJOX: In Birmingham, Bob Carlton reported local sports talk radio station ESPN 97.3 The Zone is "going off the air less than two years after the station launched in August 2011, clearing the way for Paul Finebaum's new ESPN radio show to return" to WJOX-FM. Sources said that The Zone's last day on the air "will be Friday." The "demise of The Zone all but assures that Finebaum's show will return to WJOX, although ESPN has yet to announce that" (AL.com, 6/25).