Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals, which saw the Warriors erase a 25-point deficit to defeat the Spurs, delivered ABC a 5.6 overnight rating, which is the best figure for any conference finals Game 1 on ABC or ESPN since '14. But while the figure was up for Bristol, yesterday afternoon's game was down 16% from a 6.7 overnight for Warriors-Thunder WCF Game 1 last year on TNT. That game aired on a Monday in primetime. Compared to Cavaliers-Raptors ECF Game 1 last year, which aired on ESPN on a Tuesday night, Spurs-Warriors yesterday was up 37%. ABC's telecast yesterday peaked at a 7.7 rating late in the game from 6:00-6:15pm ET. ABC drew a 17.2 local rating in the S.F.-Oakland-San Jose market for Game 1, down from a 23.4 for Warriors-Thunder Game 1 last year, but good enough to be ABC's best NBA rating in the Bay Area this season to date. The game also drew a 24.7 local rating in San Antonio, which was also that market's best NBA rating this season to date. Meanwhile, WatchESPN had its best streaming audience on record for an NBA Conference Finals Game 1 (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
IMPROVING INTEREST LEVELS: In Miami, Greg Cote noted the Warriors and Cavaliers are "ruining this NBA postseason" with series sweeps, but for that reason, they will "ultimately save it with the epic third installment" in their NBA Finals rivalry. These playoffs so far have "mostly been bad" and "undeniably" non-competitive (MIAMI HERALD, 5/14). In San Diego, Nick Canepa wrote the NBA is a "30-team league with two teams." There has to be something "seriously wrong with a sport when the best thing about it is Charles Barkley's commentary." NBA execs can fix that if they "don't sign kids until they're at least two years out of high school" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 5/14).
MONEY TALKS: In Dallas, Eddie Sefko wrote Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban has a "thought on how to potentially correct -- eliminate, actually -- the lottery." Cuban: "It should be like free agency, where the team with the worst record gets the most money to spend on a rookie. So the worst record, while having more money than the 30th team, has to compete to get the players to commit to them. The best players might not want to play for challenged organizations, which would force teams to be as good as they can be, recordwise." Sefko wrote that concept "might eliminate the idea of tanking to get a better lottery spot, but it also is a slippery slope to suggest that teams wouldn't try to load up on rookie talent with promises of future megacontracts" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/14).
The Players' Tribune President Jaymee Messler said the player-driven sports media platform is actively looking at developing a subscription-based revenue stream as it continues to grow. Messler, appearing this morning at the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC '17 event in Manhattan with site co-Founder Derek Jeter, said selling premium content would supplement existing efforts in revenue generation through branded content and display advertising. “We’re definitely looking in the future at other revenue streams, and subscription is a piece of that,” Messler said. Initial sponsors of The Players' Tribune have included American Family Insurance, Budweiser, Chase, Samsung, and Tyson Foods. Messler said the company is “doubling down” on video content, and is encouraged by early returns from its nascent podcast efforts. Meanwhile, she and Jeter continue to insist they do not seek an adversarial relationship with traditional media. “We’re not replacing media. People aren’t coming to The Players' Tribune for stats and scores,” she said. “They’re coming to hear directly from an athlete about what’s going on and some of our most compelling stories aren’t even from the biggest names.” Jeter said the core concept behind The Players' Tribune could work in other content verticals. “We’ve had people reach out because they’ve seen what we’ve been able to do and they’d like to do it in other verticals," he said. "But we have to get the sports side of it right first.”
FS1 is "gearing up for the introduction of its first-ever morning show," with "First Things First" starring Cris Carter and Nick Wright set to debut Sept. 5, according to Anthony Crupi of AD AGE. Set to air weekdays from 6:00-9:30am ET, "First Things First" will serve as the lead-in to "Undisputed." If the success of the show depends on the "chemistry between its hosts," early signs are "encouraging." Meanwhile, Fox Sports National Networks President Jamie Horowitz said that the introduction of "Undisputed" last fall has had a "discernible impact" as a lead-in for "The Herd With Colin Cowherd." Horowitz: "Colin's ratings are up 83% since 'Undisputed' launched. So the idea (with 'First Things First') is, we give Skip and Shannon their first steady lead-in and watch their numbers grow. Every show that we add to the lineup makes for more habit-forming TV." But Crupi noted FS1's daytime ratings "aren't exactly staggering." During the week of April 24-28, "The Herd" in the 12:00pm ET window averaged 109,200 viewers. By comparison, ESPN in that same five-day stretch averaged 391,750 viewers during Cowherd's 12:00-3:00pm slot. Horowitz during Fox Sports' first-ever, six-city pitch to advertisers also provided an "overview of FS1's digital strategy." Doing "much of the heavy lifting was the irrepressible FS1 late-night personality Katie Nolan, who chimed in via a pre-recorded segment." That Nolan "played such a pivotal role in the Fox Sports upfront presentation suggests that reports she's about to jump ship are more noise than signal" (ADAGE.com, 5/12).
Mike Greenberg's new morning TV show with ESPN is "scheduled to debut the first or second week of January," tied to either the CFP semifinals on New Year's Day or the Championship Game set for Jan. 8, according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Trey Wingo, who has experience on ESPN Radio and is "one of the network’s signature NFL hosts, is expected to soon be formally announced" as a replacement for Greenberg on what has been the "Mike & Mike" morning show (SI.com, 5/14). In N.Y., Bob Raissman viewers should look for ESPN to "officially announce next week that 'Mike & Mike' (Greenberg/Golic) will do their last show in December." The announcement will "produce all kinds of analysis concerning the history of their radio partnership and how effective it actually was." The one thing that "is certain" is that the "Mike & Mike" program "stood out as ESPN Radio’s signature show." Raissman: "Will it carry the same weight when Greenie splits for his own TV production and Golic teams with Trey Wingo on the radio?" That is going to be "hard AND ironic, considering Golic will be following an act he helped establish" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/14).
ESPN today announced "major changes to the programming lineup and talent roster" of "SportsCenter," which represent the net "recognizing an urgent need to reach sports fans on other platforms than just cable television," according to Daniel Roberts of YAHOO FINANCE. There are "two themes to the changes: making 'SportsCenter' more digital, and shifting anchor assignments to make every 'SportsCenter' slot even more tied to the personality of the host." ESPN is launching "SportsCenter Right Now," which will focus on "updates that will run throughout the day on TV and online." The updates, up to 2 minutes in length, will be "shot and produced quickly to cover news of the day, and immediately uploaded to ESPN’s home page, its mobile app, and to social media." They will run on TV in regular bursts between 7:00am-3:00pm ET, and on digital platforms between 7:00am-6:00pm. The updates will also "air twice an hour during all ESPN daytime TV shows, as well as during halftime of primetime games on ESPN and on ABC." Roberts notes ESPN's plans start in August. Some of the "SportsCenter Right Now" segments will "report breaking news," while some "may be lighter and discuss a single story that is going viral." The updates will have "distinct hosts," while "SportsCenter Right Now" updates that air during halftime of games "will be hosted by better-known 'SportsCenter' anchors" (FINANCE.YAHOO.com, 5/15).
There "aren't enough words to praise just how good" the first episode of a revamped, hour-long "E:60" was, and if future weeks can match yesterday's show, then ESPN will have "perhaps the best show it has ever produced," according to Tom Jones of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. That "might seem like hyperbole, but it truly was a remarkable show, and it was heartening to witness a commitment to telling compelling stories, especially in the wake of recent massive layoffs." Yesterday showed ESPN "at its finest" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/15). "E:60" co-host Jeremy Schaap said of making Cowboys QB Dak Prescott a focus of the first episode, "We asked who are the biggest names in sports. If it's not Tom Brady, it's Dak. He is the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and has an amazing story." In Dallas, Barry Horn noted the Prescott piece preceded an "in-depth look at the Syrian national soccer team" (DALLASNEWS.com, 5/13).
OUT WITH THE OLD: In Chicago, Dan McGrath writes the cancellation of "The Sports Reporters" shows what the longtime program "didn't have was the right demographic" as ESPN "seeks to reinvent itself amid cord-cutting and other market forces that threaten its reliability as a money machine." McGrath: "Sad that the high-decibel bloviating of 'First Take' has spawned a cottage industry of imitators, while 'The Sports Reporters' -- a major player in the cross-pollination of print and broadcast sports coverage -- passes quietly and largely unmourned" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/15).
SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted ESPN's Beth Mowins "will be given the play-by-play assignment" for the Sept. 11 Chargers-Broncos Week 1 "MNF" game, making her the first woman to call an NFL game since Gayle Sierens did Seahawks-Chiefs in '87 for NBC. Rex Ryan is "likely to be her game analyst." For the past two seasons, Mowins has "called the Raiders' exhibition games in addition to her college football schedule." She has a "ton more fill-time NFL game-calling experience" than Mike Greenberg and Chris Berman, who previously called the late game of ESPN's Week 1 "MNF" doubleheader (SI.com, 5/14).
NOT GOING ANYWHERE: ESPN today announced more contract extensions for on-air talent, as Steve Levy, Kenny Mayne, John Anderson and John Buccigross have all signed new deals as the hosts of the 11:00pm ET “SportsCenter.” Mayne will anchor from ESPN’s Bristol HQ for the first time in nearly a decade. Sage Steele has also signed a new, multiyear deal and beginning in August she will host “SportsCenter:AM” from 7:00-10:00am Monday through Thursday. Steele also will continue to lead “SportsCenter on the Road” coverage for the net. “SportsCenter:AM” will now move to seven days a week, with Kevin Negandhi, Jay Harris, Randy Scott, Elle Duncan and Matt Barrie joining Steele as anchors. Hannah Storm also has reached a new deal to remain with ESPN and she will see an increased role on programs such as “E:60” and “SportsCenter” (ESPN).
TAKING OVER: THE BIG LEAD's Ryan Glasspiegel cited a source as saying that Maria Taylor will be "featured in the reporting roles previously held by Sam Ponder" on ESPN’s "College GameDay" and Saturday night college football telecasts. Last year, Taylor hosted "SEC Nation," and Ponder is moving to "hosting 'Sunday NFL Countdown' this football season." The source said that SEC Network's Laura Rutledge will be the "host of 'SEC Nation' this season." Rutledge has "been a reporter for 'SEC Nation,' hosted the program 'SEC Now,' and was the sideline reporter for the ESPN Thursday night college football broadcast team with Dave Flemming and Jesse Palmer" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 5/14).
WELL WISHES: ESPN's Shelley Smith said that she was "doing well and undergoing tests at an East Bay hospital for stroke symptoms after a scare" yesterday in the Warriors' locker room following Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. After the incident, Smith texted, "I'm good." A Warriors team doctor was "nearby and Smith was immediately moved to the training room to be attended to by the medical staff." She was then "taken to a nearby hospital for further evaluation" (AP, 5/15). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth profiled Smith under the header, "ESPN's Shelley Smith Stays Bonded With Mom, Daughter In A Mother's Day Work Schedule" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 5/14).