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Volume 24 No. 117

Media

ESPN yesterday announced that Bill Simmons will no longer appear as an analyst on the "NBA Countdown" studio show, and will transition to a featured role on the network's first Grantland-branded TV series. "The Grantland Basketball Show" will debut this fall, with discussions on a variety of NBA topics. Simmons will appear alongside a rotating group of Grantland commentators and other contributors. Up to 18 one-hour episodes will air on ESPN during the NBA season (ESPN). In Miami, Barry Jackson reported ESPN execs "haven't decided who might replace Simmons on NBA Countdown or whether to replace Simmons at all." The net said that the show's other hosts -- Sage Steele, Doug Collins and Jalen Rose -- are "all expected back." Jackson noted no studio show in network sports TV has had "more turnover in recent years than NBA Countdown." Simmons often "dominated the conversation on Countdown last season, and too often Collins wasn't given enough time to speak" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 8/12).

USA Today Sports yesterday "unveiled a redesigned fantasy home page," and announced the "creation of a new daily fantasy game, FantasyScore," according to Steve Gardner of USA TODAY. With the "additional expertise of veteran fantasy writers from KFFL.com, the new USA Today Fantasy Sports will feature player notes, statistics and rankings that are relevant to all fantasy formats but will have a major emphasis on the rapidly expanding world of daily fantasy games." FantasyScore "will be powered by RTSports.com and will allow users to compete for cash prizes or play for free" (USA TODAY, 8/13). USA Today Sports Media Group VP/Innovation Mark Pesavento said that players "will initially be able to compete in daily fantasy football games." He added that in the coming months, fantasy games involving the NBA, NHL and MLB "will become available as well." AD AGE's Max Willens reported FantasyScore will initially "earn revenue from selling display ads and so-called native advertising, sponsorships sold for its free games, and game management fees." Pesavento said that once a certain scale "is achieved, a series of branded events and tournaments will likely be rolled out as well." Pesavento is betting that the "daily fantasy sports pie is going to keep growing, and that Fantasy Score will be able to take the largest slices thanks to the deep network of sites USA Today can leverage to present it" (ADAGE.com, 8/12).

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai yesterday said the sports blackout rule is "disserving fans," according to Michael Wooten of Buffalo-based WGRZ-NBC. Pai, during a visit to Buffalo, added, "There's no question in my mind that at this point that the public interest lies on the side of fans in Buffalo and all of these other great NFL cities who are just dying to watch the team but can't do it in person." He wants FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to "call a vote to remove the blackout rule." Pai acknowledged that blackouts "could continue even with the FCC change -- because the NFL could make agreements with all its television partners -- but he said it would send a strong message to the league" (WGRZ.com, 8/12). U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) said, "The 40-year-old sports blackout rule is unfair, antiquated and harmful to fans that have backed their hometown teams through their support and tax dollars." In Buffalo, Jerry Zremski notes the NFL has recently "ratcheted up the pressure on the FCC to preserve the rules, sending lawyers to meet with agency officials to press its case and sending a letter to the agency saying the blackout rules remain 'a key component of the commercial and regulatory system that has enabled the NFL to keep its games available on broadcast television.'" Now that the public comment period on the issue has ended, it is up to Wheeler to "put the blackout rule on the agency’s agenda" (BUFFALO NEWS, 8/13). The AP's John Wawrow noted a simple majority "from the five commissioners, which include Wheeler, is required." But Wheeler "has not indicated whether he intends to bring the issue to a vote" (AP, 8/12).

ESPN's Keith Olbermann appeared on PBS' "Charlie Rose" on Monday, and said he is more comfortable working in sports than politics because it is his "original language." Rose noted Olbermann "went back to sports" after his time at MSNBC and added, "Most don’t go back." Olbermann: "Well, I've done this several times. ... Not many people go back but my career path does not match many other people." Rose said, "You don't just leave people (who employ you) angry." Olbermann described that perception as "overblown." But he added, "Some of the reputation is not true. I'm not saying I'm the world's easiest employee and I've never won the 'Employee of the Month' award nor would I want to. But the idea that, 'You can’t work with him and he has sparks coming out his ears,' this is not true. Why would they bring me back if I was that bad?" Olbermann said of being a better employee, "I began to invest in something called 'therapy' when I was 38 years old because ... let me just see if there's somebody out there who can give me a fresh perspective on this and that began the process." Olbermann said of planning the format of his new show with ESPN, "They said, 'When politics touches sports, go right ahead,' and I said, 'I'm going to use that one out of every 10 times it occurs. I'm going to try and avoid it ... simply so that there is separation of church and state.' They may be next door to one another on occasion, but that's a sports show and I want people to know it's a sports show" ("Charlie Rose," PBS, 8/11).