TNT finished with a 3.0 U.S. rating and 4.68 million viewers for its six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series telecasts this season, marking the net’s lowest NASCAR viewership under the current TV rights deal that began in ’07. This year's rating was down slightly from a 3.1 the past two seasons, but viewership was down 6% from the previous low of 4.98 million viewers last season. The average from ’12 does not include the truTV simulcast of the Coke Zero 400 from Daytona Int’l Speedway, which drew a 0.5 rating and 735,000 viewers alongside the TNT telecast. TNT’s NASCAR deal is set to expire after next season.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AUDIENCE TREND FOR TNT UNDER CURRENT TV RIGHTS DEAL
RACE-BY-RACE: TNT saw a tale of two halves for its six races this season. The first three races each had double-digit percentage drops compared to ’12. The last three races then realized year-over-year gains. The annual stop at Kentucky Speedway was rained out in its normal Saturday night slot, but TNT actually saw a jump in the audience with the telecast airing on a Sunday afternoon. Despite a drop in viewship for the six-race package, each of TNT's races this season ranked among the top five most-viewed cable TV telecasts during their respective weeks, and five of the six races were the No. 1 sports telecast on cable for their respective weeks. The broadcast of the Coke Zero 400 also marked TNT's best Sprint Cup audience since '10.
Neither Astros rookie P Jarred Cosart or the Rockets' recent signing of free agent C Dwight Howard "packs enough marketing punch to guarantee that all Rockets fans in the 20-county Houston designated market area and all Astros fans across a five-state area will have full access to their games on Comcast SportsNet Houston," according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. One analyst recently "predicted that full access for fans who subscribe to DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T U-verse and other systems will require not only months, but years, to become reality." CSN Houston is "available in about" 40% of the 2.2 million TV households "in the Houston area and in scattered pockets across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico." Data from SNL Kagan showed that while the RSN model "continues to succeed in some markets, CSN Houston 'has been a bust.'" SNL Kagan predicts CSN Houston will be "unable to strike carriage deals until" '14 with Suddenlink and '15 with DirecTV. Price remains a "key issue for both sides, but distribution is critical, too, and the unique nature of the CSN Houston footprint continues to complicate matters." Rockets games are "limited by NBA territorial restrictions" and "cannot be seen in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio or Austin." By comparison, Astros games "can be beamed across the entire five-state region." But the Astros "share the territory with Rangers games on Fox Sports Southwest." Barron notes while it would "benefit the Rockets to agree to a deal that would provide immediate, full carriage in the Houston 'inner market' while talks continue on the outer markets," CSN Houston President & GM Matt Hutchings "confirmed once more last week that all of CSN Houston's carriage talks focus on a deal that would cover the entire five-state region" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/19).
The plan for Fox Sports 1 is to be the "funny, irreverent, less serious sports channel," according to Karl Taro Greenfeld of BUSINESSWEEK. Fox Senior Exec VP David Hill said, "We are very much the underdog, and we have to convince the sports-viewing public that what we have on offer is better -- or as good as -- what ESPN has been offering. We have to create a personality.” Fox Sports since '10 has committed nearly $9B to "secure the rights" to the Big 12 Conference, the Big Ten Football Championship, UEFA Champions League, NASCAR, the FIFA World Cup, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, MLB and UFC. Currently there are "only about 60 employees, compared with ESPN’s 6,600." Producers have been "studying how to reinvent the format." Fox has done "extensive focus group research, interviewing thousands of sports fans and asking them which existing media group could develop a potential competitor to ESPN." Fox execs were "growing tired of ESPN’s stat-happy approach and wanted a funnier, more irreverent take -- hence 'jockularity.'” Fox Sports Senior VP & Head of Marketing Robert Gottlieb said, “If you look at a show like SportsCenter, there’s a seriousness to it that is reminiscent of old pregame shows. We feel like we can come in and give you the same information, but do it in a way that is so much more entertaining and fun." The structure of "Fox Sports Live," which will "feature the usual highlight packages along with guests and analyses, depends heavily" on hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole’s "schtick." O'Toole said, “Our humor is going to take some time. We’re not going to come in there and stuff it down people’s throats, but Jay Onrait is very unpredictable. He may drop his pants.”
SURPRISE! Around the FS1 offices, the "words 'fun' and 'irreverent' are thrown around to describe everything." The net will place a "higher value on surprise, which explains why" 81-year-old Regis Philbin will host "Crowd Goes Wild," an hour-long "talk and interview show airing daily" at 5:00pm ET. Fox is "building a set at the Chelsea Piers sports facility, on Manhattan’s West Side, from which Philbin, a passionate Yankee and Notre Dame fan, can opine on the issues of the day." But Greenfeld wonders, "Do viewers really want their sports coverage to be funny?" That is an "open question, and one that Hill admits may require some reconsideration." News Corp. COO Chase Carey said, "We've done a lot of startups. I think we know that part of it is going to be a learning exercise." Data from SNL Kagan shows that FS1 in '14 will "earn about" 80 cents per subscriber. But the "investment is unlikely to be viewed as successful until it crosses the $1-per-subscriber threshold." Considering that Fox News "generates $1.25, it’s a plausible goal, but getting there may require an even larger investment in rights fees." The "holy grail would be to broaden its deal with the NFL; Fox executives are already seeking to slice off part of the Thursday night package currently on the NFL Network." Hill: "We like to think we can create something unique from Day One, but it's an art, not a science. ... All we have to do is get on the air and see what's right and what's wrong" (BUSINESSWEEK, 7/18).
ESPN Senior VP/Programming Justin Connolly said that the new SEC Network "is set to hit the air" Aug. 21, 2014 at 7:00pm ET, according to Matt Murschel of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. Connolly said that "along with the 450 live events the network is expected to air, he expects that the original target of 550 annual digital events will be surpassed." The SEC Network currently "has a distribution deal with AT&T U-Verse and just recently added the National Rural Telecommunications Co-Op, which according to Connolly, will add '10s of thousands' of subscribers" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 7/18).
BACK ON THE AIR: In Birmingham, Bob Carlton notes host Paul Finebaum's new ESPN Radio show will "originate out of Charlotte, where ESPN is building a studio to house the show." Pat Smith, the "longtime director of 'The Paul Finebaum Radio Network,' will continue as Finebaum's program director." The new show "likely will be called 'The Paul Finebaum Show.'" Finebaum said it is a "very reasonable guess" that it will begin on Aug. 12. The show likely will "air in his previous time slot of 2 to 6 p.m. Central, or close to it." Finebaum said, "I know it will air in the general time slot that it's been in. It may or may not vary. That is something that has not completely been worked out. But it will definitely be on in the afternoon." In markets around Alabama, Finebaum said that he "expects many of the same affiliates that carried his show before will carry the new show, but he is uncertain how many and which ones." ESPN Radio is "handling those negotiations, and Finebaum said he expects there will be an official announcement as early as next week" (BIRMINGHAM NEWS, 7/19).
SOUTHERN LIVING: In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes the SEC is "on the verge of some rather revolutionary stuff," and may be the "one institution that can bring the arrogant NCAA to its knees." The SEC might convince the "folks who really think they run the NCAA ... to surrender control of the business of this vast and complicated enterprise back into the hands of the people who actually know how to run it: the athletic directors, conference commissioners, coaches and other athletic administrators who do this for a living." SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said, "I think presidents are absolutely essential to the governance of the NCAA, just like they are essential to the way we run the Southeastern Conference. (But) it’s not about whether or not they should be involved. ... The question is what is the best way to utilize their experience and expertise? It’s not about whether or not they should be involved, it is about how best to involve them." He added, "Absolutely the presidents need to make the policies. In our conference we have a great relationship with our presidents. Everyone knows the presidents have a final say. But for example, we don’t need our presidents deciding whether or not we should travel 85 or 86 players" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7/19).
The Thunder and Cumulus Media have signed a multiyear rights extension that will see WWLS-FM "continue as the team's flagship radio station," according to Mel Bracht of the OKLAHOMAN. WWLS will broadcast all preseason, regular-season and postseason games, as they have "since the team arrived from Seattle" in '08. Sister station KWPN-AM, as well as a "dozen other stations across the state and region," also will air all Thunder games. Matt Pinto "will return for his sixth season as the radio play-by-play voice." In addition to games, WWLS will continue to air the weekly "Thunder Insider" program, and Pinto will host a weekly call-in show. The station also will provide a "live stream of Thunder games via its website" that will be available in "a 75-mile radius around Oklahoma City." The deal with WWLS also includes "daily practice reports, player interviews and regular on-air appearances" by Pinto and FS Oklahoma announcers Brian Davis and Grant Long (OKLAHOMAN, 7/19).
PlayOn! Sports, the company behind the soon-to-launch NFHS Network, announced today that it has received $26M in financing from a group of investors that include Indianapolis-based Herff Jones, Buckhead Investment Partners, Hamilton Ventures and Imlay Investments. The NFHS Network will feature coverage of boys and girls high school sports. The funding will be used to support the digital network, which is expected to launch next month at NFHSNetwork.com, as well as other initiatives within PlayOn Sports. Herff Jones, a company that produces yearbooks, class rings, caps and gowns, diplomas, cheerleading camps and other high school-related products and events, also has entered into a commercial relationship with PlayOn to cross-promote products. The NFHS Network will advertise Herff Jones’ products and events, while Herff Jones’ different business lines will promote the NFHS Network. Herff Jones includes BSN Sports, a uniform and apparel company, and Varsity, the cheerleading camps and competition company.
Heat G Ray Allen last week in a visit to the Washington Post was asked about the team's "bandwagon fans" and the media’s coverage of sports and the NBA, according to Dan Steinberg of WASHINGTON POST. He said, "Some of these people, have never been to Miami before. I think it’s the machine of SportsCenter. ... Look at all the media outlets, from First Take to PTI to Around the Horn, that talk about the same stuff. We haven’t played for two weeks, and I think every time I turn on SportsCenter, they talked about LeBron in some form. And he hasn’t done anything but just be on vacation. So as much as we blame the fans for being bandwagon, it’s mostly the media’s fault. Because the media’s the one that continues to feed the machine." He added, "The way the league is portrayed is what (the media) puts out there. So for people all over America, that’s what you see on a daily basis. That’s ultimately what you’re going to end up cheering for and liking. People know Norris Cole more than they know anybody in the starting five for the Charlotte Bobcats, and Norris Cole comes off the bench for us in Miami, just as well as I do. If it’s anybody’s fault, it’s the league’s fault, because we need to do a better job of marketing every team -- players, bios, everything. I think the NFL does a great job of that. You talk about every team, every Sunday. I truthfully would like to see even the bad teams (in the discussion); if you talk about them, you put the pressure on them to have to be better." Allen continued, "As great as the NBA is, that’s something we could do better. That bottom quarter of teams in the NBA that kind of always hover there -- there has got to be a way to make sure they continue to put pressure on them to be better" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 7/18).
Newly named Redskins radio analyst Chris Cooley said that several "national media outlets" approached him with job offers, but he turned them down in part because he "did not want to move ... nor change his lifestyle." Cooley said, "This is the only job I considered. What I wanted to do is be Sam Huff and Sonny Jurgensen and travel with the team for the next 50 years." In DC, Rich Campbell noted Huff recently retired as the team's radio analyst and play-by-play announcer Jurgensen "turns 79 next month, so it's easy to see how Cooley's role in the game broadcast might increase sooner rather than later" (WASHINGTONTIMES.com, 7/18).
STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: In L.A. Tom Hoffarth writes it is "against most odds" that Keith Olbermann has been "allowed to do some bridge building" with ESPN. However, Olbermann "needs ESPN as much as the network needs him back to help give credibility to their channel ... as there is perceived competition now from the launch next month of Fox Sports 1." Olbermann "could famously fall flat in this comeback attempt -- and he will likely be used on other ESPN shows and events as he re-establishes his footing." But many obversers are "curious as to the odds or over-under for his length of tenure" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 7/19).
PREPPING FOR TWO-A-DAYS: Raycom Sports announced that Steve Martin and Tim Brant will again split duties as the play-by-play announcer for ACC Network football games this year. Dave Archer returns as analyst, while Rachel Baribeau replaces Mike Hogewood as the sideline reporter. Tom Werme and Tommy Bowden will host the studio show "ACC Blitz" (Raycom Sports). Meanwhile, former Auburn and Iowa State coach Gene Chizik has joined SiriusXM Radio as an analyst on its college sports channel (SiriusXM).
GETTING A DESK JOB: Former Texans OL Chester Pitts will join Houston's KPRC-NBC as a "year-round member of the station's sports staff." He will anchor the Friday sportscasts and "contribute to 'Sports Sunday' and to the Monday sportscasts during football season." Pitts retired after the '10 season (CHRON.com, 7/18).
SAYING GOODBYE: Baltimore Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd is leaving the paper after 32 years. He wrote he has "decided to move on and look for new challenges," but "no one's pushing me out of here." He noted he is "definitely not retiring from the workforce," and he has a "couple of projects in mind and some time to figure it out, so we'll see where it all leads" (Baltimore SUN, 7/18).
ESPN drew a 1.5 U.S. rating and 2.3 million viewers for The ESPYs on Wednesday night, flat in rating, but down 6% in viewership from last year's telecast. This year's audience, however, is up from a 1.3 rating and 2.0 million viewers in '11. The event has aired live since '10 after being shown on tape delay from '04-09 (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
ESPYs AUDIENCE TREND ON ESPN
CANADIAN BACON: NBC Sports Network had its first Izod IndyCar Series doubleheader of the season last weekend, with the Honda Indy Toronto averaging 273,000 viewers for Saturday’s race and 258,000 viewers for Sunday’s telecast. Last year, the one-day race averaged 1.1 million viewers on ABC on a Sunday afternoon (Karp). Meanwhile, Rogers Sportsnet, which took over IndyCar rights in Canada from TSN this season, “saw an already small niche audience” drop 35% this year, with Saturday’s telecast getting 145,000 viewers and Sunday getting 151,000 viewers. The audience for the Toronto race has been “slipping for several years after peaking near 550,000 on TSN two years ago” (THEGLOBEANDMAIL.com, 7/16).
NOTES: In Albany, Pete Dougherty wrote of the trend of low audience numbers for the MLB All-Star Game, “Virtually every regular-season game is available, making the all-stars less special; it has transformed from a game of meaning into an exhibition, even with World Series home-field advantage at stale” (TIMESUNION.com, 7/18).
The charts below lists final ratings from recent sports telecasts.
PGA Tour: John Deere Classic: Final Round*
NASCAR Nationwide Series: New Hampshire
CONCACAF Gold Cup: Mexico-Canada
European Tour: Scottish Open: Final Round
PGA Tour: John Deere Classic: Third Round
CONCACAF Gold Cup: Honduras-El Salvador
U.S. Senior Open: Third Round
U.S. Senior Open: Third Round
European Tour: Scottish Open: Third Round
CONCACAF Gold Cup: U.S.-Cuba
CONCACAF Gold Cup: U.S.-Belize
CONCACAF Gold Cup: Costa Rica-Cuba
"Golf Central Live"
NOTE: * = Final round concluded on Golf Channel due to a five-hole playoff.
VARIETY's Rick Kissell noted NFL Films and HBO Sports on Thursday announced that they have "reached agreement on a long-term extension of the 'Hard Knocks' franchise." The reality series is "set to return to HBO next month with a new, five-episode edition featuring" the Bengals. When “Hard Knocks” debuted in the summer of '01, it was "television’s first sports reality series." The series in the ensuing decade, "became the most-acclaimed sports reality franchise on television, earning national recognition for its innovative production techniques, unscripted drama and unmatched storytelling" (VARIETY.com, 7/18).
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes when it "comes to finding a soft place to land, hand-picking a patsy to interview him, nobody does it better than" Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez. WFAN-AM's Mike Francesa on Wednesday "over the course of 19 questions ... never mentioned the words 'Bosch,' 'Biogenesis,' 'performance-enhancing drugs' or 'suspension.'" Many of Francesa’s questions "were leading, hanging curves that A-Rod crushed." While his interview time "was limited, Francesa -- who has a history of criticizing other reporter’s questions -- failed to squeeze in a couple of follow-ups" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/19).
DAWG DAYS OF SUMMER: In Cleveland, Scott Suttell reported the Browns and Good Karma Broadcasting's ESPN station, WKNR-AM, announced that host Vic Carucci will be "joined by national sports radio host Nathan Zegura." In addition, the Browns and Good Karma said that the show "will move from its 6 p.m. time slot and now will air live every Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., effective Monday, July 22" (CRAINSCLEVELAND.com, 7/18).
PULLING BACK THE CURTAIN: In Boston, Chad Finn writes, "Kudos to ESPN.com for officially changing its reader commenting policy Wednesday." The new policy is that "anyone who wishes to weigh in must have an attached Facebook account." In an attempt at "restoring some semblance of accountability and respectful discourse to the comment sections, ESPN has eliminated anonymity even if it means traffic takes a small hit" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/19).