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Volume 25 No. 24

Media

TBS last night earned a 1.6 overnight rating for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show from 6:00-8:00pm ET, the first time the cable net aired the event. This was also the first year in which the teams were revealed in alphabetical order. Last year’s Selection Show, which aired on CBS and had the benefit of a lead in from the Big Ten Championship, earned a 3.3 overnight. Last year’s show was 90 minutes, airing from 5:30-7:00pm. In its first 90 minutes last night, TBS earned a 1.9 rating. It also earned a 2.2 rating for the first 45 minutes of the show, when teams were revealed. The Selection Show yesterday peaked at a 2.3 rating from 6:15-6:30pm. Two years ago, CBS drew a 3.7 overnight. That was the telecast’s lowest overnight rating since at least ’95, when the show expanded from 30 minutes to an hour (Josh Carpenter, Assistant Editor).

ROUGH START: In K.C., Pete Grathoff notes last night's broadcast "hit a bump from the very start." When co-host Greg Gumbel welcomed viewers, the audio "didn't match the video, and it was painfully obvious that something was amiss." The audio problem "continued when Ernie Johnson came on to chat" (K.C. STAR, 3/12). In Boston, Chad Finn notes there were "technical glitches almost immediately," as in addition to the audio problems, "mascots were misidentified and old logos were used in a couple of instances." The lights in the N.Y. studio "cut out during a split screen with the main studio in Atlanta," while a studio audience "was an awkward new twist" (BOSTON.com, 3/12). USA TODAY's A.J. Perez notes some "audio and video hiccups ... marred parts of the two-hour show." The inclusion of a studio audience was, at times, an "awkward addition." Members of the audience were "served pizzas courtesy of sponsor Pizza Hut, but when Johnson asked for a slice and forced the crowd to react, it was painful to watch" (USA TODAY, 3/12). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler writes the show was an "awkward mess." Rock bottom was when Johnson "basically did a live pizza ad while standing in the middle of an embarrassed-looking live studio audience, then asked for a piece of the pizza somebody was eating, took a bite and told the crowd to be more enthusiastic about this whole charade" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/12).

SELLING THE DRAMA: In South Bend, Tom Noie notes the 36 at-large teams were "revealed in alphabetical order" at the top of the show, which "carried some drama." When Johnson got to where the Notre Dame name "should have popped up, he paused and asked the live studio audience if this was where they would see Notre Dame." Then the name of Ohio State appeared, which "meant Notre Dame was out" (SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE, 3/12). Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, “When you're waiting on the bubble and you can find out in 10 minutes, even though we're almost the last alphabetical team to get in, it's still better than waiting an hour to find out. I liked it” (“Golic & Wingo,” ESPN Radio, 3/12). However, in Michigan, Josh Slagter wrote, "Other than Notre Dame's fate (kudos to Ernie Johnson for the troll job), it took some Sherlock Holmes deductive logic to figure out who didn't make it" (MLIVE.com, 3/11). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Andrew Beaton notes after revealing the at-large teams, the TBS crew proceeded to "reveal all the bubble teams, in alphabetical order, without any real pause for discussion about the most shocking berths -- and omissions." The bracket was shown after that, meaning it "hardly had the drama of years past given that the 68 teams were unceremoniously rattled off already" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/12).

YOU HAD ONE JOB: USA TODAY's Perez writes since all the teams that made it already were announced, the "bracket rollout lacked the usual celebratory and dejection footage for the bubble teams." Turner Sports Chief Content Officer Craig Barry said it was "a small price to pay for doing what's best for the viewer" (USA TODAY, 3/12). In Tulsa, Guerin Emig writes, "They trashed the best drama sports television ever produced, the line-by-line NCAA bracket reveal, and unveiled the field of 68 in alpha-freaking-betical order." Emig: "Never, never, EVER do that again" (TULSA WORLD, 3/12). YAHOO SPORTS' Zach Pereles wrote, "Why the automatic bid list? Pereles: "If people complained about having their time wasted before, why did TBS take time running through a long list of teams that were guaranteed berths?" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/11). But ESPN's Chris Canty said he "didn't have a problem" with the at-large team being announced in alphabetical order. Canty: "All the teams that were on the bubble, they knew whether they were in or not. You kind of took away from a little bit of that suspense, but in terms of finding out where you were going to play and what your first-round matchup was to be and what draw you got, I thought that was probably a part of the intrigue and that is why they decided to do it that way. I didn’t have a problem with it” (“Golic & Wingo,” ESPN Radio, 3/12). ESPN's Dan Dakich: "“I like when they used to just unveil the bracket one by one but I thought it was fine" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 3/12). 

TELL US HOW YOU REALLY FEEL: In DC, Des Bieler writes, "What TBS accomplished Sunday was truly impressive: Everyone who watched its NCAA tournament selection show hated it" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/12). In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes TBS basically handled the selection show the "way you'd expect an over-caffeinated 16-year-old to handle a sports car." They "crashed into the railings from the very beginning." Mellinger: "A format that should've been rejected in the planning room was butchered" (K.C. STAR, 3/12). The CHICAGO TRIBUNE notes the "hare-brained idea of announcing all the teams to make the tournament in the first 10 minutes was a bit of a bust, doing nothing for fans and taking 13 minutes" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 3/12). In DC, John Feinstein writes, "It took 13 minutes of TBS’s annoying 'Price Is Right'-style selection show to 'unveil' the 68-team NCAA tournament field Sunday night" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/12). In Raleigh, Luke DeCock writes, "If TBS' disastrous selection show is the worst thing that happens to the NCAA tournament this month ... everything will be fine" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 3/12).

THE CHUCKSTER TO THE RESCUE: The WASHINGTON POST's Bieler notes during the show Charles Barkley had the "opportunity to grill" tournament's selection committee Chair Bruce Rasmussen over Oklahoma's inclusion, who were given a No. 10 seed. Rasmussen said, "We know that they stumbled down the stretch, and that certainly affected their seeding." Barkley then "jumped in, wondering acerbically just how highly the committee had ranked Oklahoma before its swoon." Barkley: "They were 2-8 (to end the season) ... what, were they a No. 1 seed before they went 2-8, to drop all the way down to 10?" He added, "So they got in comfortably, but they were 2-8, so they must have been a really high seed before they dropped all the way down to 10" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/12). SPORTING NEWS' Michael McCarthy wrote there were some "excellent moments during the two-hour show." Barkley, Jim Nantz and Kenny Smith "made some excellent points about programs and brackets." But it was "tough to overcome the disastrous beginning" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 3/11).

Turner's Ernie Johnson today acknowledged the criticism that TBS' broadcast of Selection Sunday received, but he said the net "wanted to put our stamp" on the program. Appearing on ESPN Radio's "Golic & Wingo" this morning, Johnson said, "There were decisions to have a studio audience, to having a bigger studio, to announce all the teams early on and get all the information out and front-loaded so that we could get everybody in the know." He noted the show two years ago drew heat for taking "well over an hour to get all the field out, so the decision was to front-load it, get all the information out." Johnson noted it took less than 40 minutes last night to announce all the teams in the tournament and unveil the entire bracket." Johnson: "I know that if you tinker with something like the selection show, there are going to be folks who say, ‘Hey, don't touch it, don't change it,’ and that kind of thing. We certainly expected it, but I thought we had a great time. We got all the information out, we had great interviews with coaches in there" (“Golic & Wingo,” ESPN Radio, 3/12).

IF IT AIN'T BROKE...: ESPN's Mike Greenberg tweeted, "There was absolutely nothing wrong with doing this the way they've always done it. This is a great example of fixing something that was not broken." The Toledo Blade's Kyle Rowland: "It's absolutely mind boggling how CBS/Turner Sports have ruined the Selection Show, literally one of the easiest things in television to not ruin. Fire everybody." The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw: "Alphabetical intros. Studio audience. The absolute definition of Trying Too Hard." The L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke: "Dramatic announcements of Automatic Qualifiers?...um, we already know them."

FORMAT ISSUES: The Indianapolis Star's Gregg Doyel called the show "moronic" and wrote, "Worst 'decision' since LeBron James. CBS took its March Madness talents to a deserted island and left them there." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Sean Gentille: "The ncaa selection show is like if you went to a movie and someone read a wikipedia summary of the plot out loud during the opening credits." ESPN Louisville's Drew Deener: "So TBS tells the number one college basketball market it’s ok to stop watching the selection show at 6:10. Great idea. Idiots." The Athletic's Ken Pomeroy: "If there's a selection show that should have a studio audience it's the NIT selection show."

AUDIO GLITCH: The Washington Post's Tim Bontemps noted the sound issues that plagued the first few minutes of the show were "not a great start for the new-look broadcast." The Ringer's Michael Baumann: "I'm absolutely amazed at how long TBS kept going with the audio and video out of sync." South Carolina-based WOLO-ABC's Mike Gillespie: "No way I can watch this if the audio is off the entire time." KentuckySportsRadio.com's Matt Jones: "Is the sound on the Selection show not synced with their lips moving for anyone but me?"

SURVEY SAYS: USA Today's Lindsay Jones: "Never thought we’d find something that everyone on Twitter would agree upon, but here we are. This selection show blows." Pittsburgh-based KDKA-FM's Colin Dunlap: "I think I speak for all of America watching this selection show when I say: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?" numberFire's JJ Zachariason: "America is uniting. All it took was a horrible Selection Sunday show format." Hornets F Frank Kaminsky: "I didn’t wanna tweet but this selection show is too awful to stay quiet." Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel: "The CBI runs a better selection show than this." The Ringer's Rodger Sherman: "Was the selection show ever good, or do we just have to complain about how bad this specific selection show is every single year."

Woods helped NBC to a 190% year-over-year ratings increase for the Valspar
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Tiger Woods once again showed his value to the PGA Tour and its media partners, as NBC yesterday drew a 5.1 overnight rating for the final round of the Valspar Championship, which saw Woods finish one shot behind eventual winner Paul Casey. That number is up 183% from a 1.8 rating for the final round last year, which saw Adam Hadwin win by a shot over Patrick Cantlay. Yesterday marks the best overnight rating for any regular PGA Tour event or major, excluding the Masters, since the final round of the '15 PGA Championship. It also marked the highest rating for a regular-season PGA Tour round since the final day of the '13 Players Championship, which Woods won (5.7 overnight). Meanwhile, Saturday’s coverage on NBC drew a 3.3 overnight, which is the best third round for any PGA Tour third round on broadcast TV since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in ’06 (Woods was tied for second heading into the final round at that event). The 3.6 overnight also was better than any final-round rating for the Valspar Championship on record (dating back to ’07). For lead-in coverage on Saturday afternoon, Golf Channel drew a 1.1 overnight, which is the net’s best figure for the event ever and best for any event since the ’13 Deutsche Bank Championship. On Friday, Golf Channel drew a 0.6 overnight, marking the best second round telecast for the Valspar on record. Thursday’s figure was slightly higher, marking the best early-round audience for the Valspar on record for Golf Channel (Karp & Carpenter, THE DAILY).

LIKE OLD TIMES: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes the Woods storyline "wasn't just a big deal" locally. It was a "big deal everywhere," as ratings were "through the roof" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/12). In California, Larry Bohannan wrote Woods "might bring some people to the game for the first time or bring a few people back to the game who haven't played in years," and that "can’t be a bad thing" (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 3/11). THE RINGER's Kevin Clark wrote, "The Tiger Woods experience this weekend was exactly like the one a decade ago: He took over a random Sunday, kept everyone in front of a TV texting their friends about whether they’d just seen that iron shot in a tournament they were only vaguely aware of before this year." It has been "easy to forget" what Woods "does to a golf tournament" (THERINGER.com, 3/11).

EYES ON THE TIGER: GOLFWEEK's Martin Kaufmann wrote NBC's golf telecasts, which do a "relatively good job of showing a variety of players," will still be "hyperfocused on the first page of the leaderboard" on Sundays. That is "especially true when Woods is in contention and grabbing an inordinate amount of airtime." Kaufmann: "Rory Sabbatini, Webb Simpson, Jason Kokrak and Branden Grace all finished in the top 10, yet I don’t recall seeing any of them hit a shot on Sunday" (GOLFWEEK.com, 3/11).

TWITTER REAXJack Nicklaus tweeted, "Well done @TigerWoods! You're getting there my friend. Sure it won't be long!" K.C.-based KCSP-AM's Bob Fescoe: "No other athlete forces folks to their tv's like Tiger Woods. He's compelling and the most exciting athlete to watch...and everyone has a rooting interest in it. Tigers effect on golf can't be talked about enough." Author Mark Eglinton: "I'd recommend anyone with an interest in Tiger Woods to go back and read both of @HankHaney's and @RobertLusetich's books about him. Both were excellent at the time for different reasons -- both even better now in the context of what's currently happening." Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel: "Tiger Woods, No. 1 seed, Augusta Regional." Writer Rick Reilly: "No collar. Less hair. More smiles. Same thirst. Welcome back, Tiger Woods."

McDonough will transition to calling a weekly high-profile college football game
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

ESPN has decided to move forward next season with a completely new announcing team for "MNF," two months after Jon Gruden officially left the booth. In a release late Friday, ESPN said that Sean McDonough, “MNF’s” play-by-play voice for the past two seasons, will return to college football. Sources said Joe Tessitore will step in as “MNF’s” new play-by-play voice; the network has not decided on an analyst. The N.Y. Post was the first to report that Tessitore would replace McDonough. McDonough’s agent Sandy Montag described the decision as mutual, saying that when ESPN’s Exec VP/Content Connor Schell and Senior VP/Events & Studio Production Stephanie Druley first proposed it, McDonough jumped at the chance to return to college football. The two sides had been in discussions for the past month about the best way to move forward, resulting in a new multiyear deal that will see McDonough call a weekly high-profile college football game, plus the CFP semifinal that Tessitore had called in previous years. “College football is where he belongs,” Montag said. “If you think of Sean McDonough’s brand, it’s really college football. Given what’s been going on in the last month (as ESPN searched for Gruden’s replacement), he felt this was the best move for him going forward.” Montag described McDonough’s past two years at “MNF” as the "experience of a lifetime” for the announcer. McDonough also will call marquee college basketball games, The Masters Par 3 contest and the CFP Championship on ESPN Radio (John Ourand, Staff Writer).

WHERE IS PEYTON'S PLACE? In N.Y., Andrew Marchand cited sources as saying that Peyton Manning has "passed on calling games" for "MNF." However, Fox is "still in play for Manning’s service as its lead game analyst" on "TNF." Fox "continues a concerted effort" to turn "TNF" into a bigger primetime event than "MNF" and "hopes the 41-year-old Manning can be the central part." Sources said that they thought Manning would "prefer Thursdays to Mondays, because it would not require working the weekend." Meanwhile, ESPN's Matt Hasselbeck, Randy Moss and Louis Riddick "will be considered" for the "MNF" analyst role (N.Y. POST, 3/10).

THE NEXT ROMO? SPORTING NEWS' Michael McCarthy cited sources as saying that Fox also is "targeting" Cowboys TE Jason Witten to potentially fill the "TNF" analyst role. If Manning "doesn't want to do TV, the 35-year-old Witten could step right off the playing field and into the TV booth." Fox is "intrigued by the possibility the popular, square-jawed Witten could replicate the rookie TV success" of CBS' Tony Romo. He would have the "advantage," like Romo and Fox' Troy Aikman, of "broadcasting to a built-in, national fan base that loves the Cowboys." Witten, however, said that he "plans to play again" in '18. Browns LT Joe Thomas and former coach John Fox "recently auditioned with Fox." But sources said that Manning and Witten remain Fox' "top picks" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 3/11).

TWITTER REAX: ESPN Senior Communications Dir Bill Hofheimer tweeted, "Have loved working w/ Sean McDonough on #MNF the past 2 seasons. Great guy and terrific broadcaster." Bengals radio broadcaster Dan Hoard: "There's nobody better at combining information, humor, and storytelling. Truly one of the best play-by-play announcers ever." N.Y. Post's Marchand: "McDonough received a nice landing spot on college football, but the idea that this is what he wanted is hard to fathom." WEEI's Alex Reimer: "Would be a shame if Sean McDonough lost the MNF gig because the NFL wanted him replaced. His candor is one of his best attributes. He's actually a real person in the booth." N.Y. Daily News' Bob Raissman: "Guess the NFL didn’t appreciate his honest approach. Would ESPN cave to the NFL’s wishes? Of course." Atlanta-based WZGC-FM's Mike Conti: "If Sean McDonough ends up working with Todd Blackledge next year, that becomes ESPN's best booth in any sport."

Pitaro will be leaving behind a coterie of executives he brought over from Yahoo
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

The ascension of Jimmy Pitaro to ESPN President has "raised its share of eyebrows" within the company, as many are questioning what gave Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger the "confidence to award Pitaro Disney’s most valuable asset," according to sources cited by Andrew Wallenstein of VARIETY. Some questions stem from how Pitaro "fared for the past seven years" at Disney's Consumer Products & Interactive Media division, a "much smaller, oft-ignored division that has weathered plenty of turmoil and failure." But Pitaro is "regarded throughout the digital-media and sports circles he inhabits as a genial, well-liked and well-connected executive." Pitaro during his time at the consumer products division was "credited with restoring profit to a unit that was hemorrhaging hundreds of millions of dollars in losses before he got there," but did so by "aggressively cutting costs -- at least 1,200 jobs." The division has also had "only a handful of successes that all proved short-lived under Pitaro, whose detractors view him as offering little strategic vision to the unit beyond managing the financials from quarter to quarter." A source said, “It’s like they love him as an executive independent of what the results of his work are.” Pitaro will "leave behind a coterie of executives he brought over from Yahoo; the rest of DCPI is waiting to see whether they will move on with him to ESPN or stick around." Pitaro also "doesn’t have any experience in ESPN’s current core competency: television." Still, hiring a digital exec to run ESPN "speaks volumes about where Iger sees the brand’s future" (VARIETY.com, 3/9).

MEET & GREET: In this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, John Ourand cites sources as saying that ESPN’s "fraying relationship with the NFL" is the "top priority" for Pitaro. He already has "met with league executives in his first few days on the job" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/12 issue). In Virginia, David Teel noted ACC Commissioner John Swofford has "not met" Pitaro, but he "raved about the network’s continuing work on the ACC linear channel," set to launch in August '19. Swofford said, "ESPN has been just extremely aggressive in terms of the ACC channel and what needed to be done and what needs to be done. … Production decisions, starting to talk about talent and programming" (Hampton Roads DAILY PRESS, 3/11).

IN & AROUND BRISTOL: Ourand in a separate piece notes former ESPN President George Bodenheimer will "stay with the company through the end of the year in an advisory role" to Pitaro. Bodenheimer will be a "sounding board as the new president learns the inner workings and culture around ESPN" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/12 issue). Ourand also cites sources as saying that ESPN Exec VP/Affiliate Sales & Marketing Justin Connolly and Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus, who were both under consideration to run the company, are "working without contracts and already have been contacted by several companies interested in prying them away." Sources said that Pitaro’s top priority is to "convince Connolly and Magnus to stay, as both carry sterling reputations internally and externally" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/12 issue).

 

The upcoming ESPN+ streaming platform has "signed on to be the exclusive broadcaster of the Fire's 27 non-national games after signing a three-year contract," according to Juan Pimiento of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. The club was previously with NBC Sports Chicago (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/10). MLSSoccer.com's Sam Stejskal reported the deal "will pay the Fire seven figures annually" (TWITTER.com, 3/9). Fire fans will enjoy free access to matches through MLS Live until the launch of ESPN+ this spring (Fire). Meanwhile, some visitors to the team's website voiced their displeasure with the deal. One reader wrote, "I guess this will work for me at home, but this will make it nearly impossible to watch the Fire at a bar in my neighborhood." Another wrote she "won't even be able to watch the games on TV anymore," then asked, "How do you expect to expand interest in the team if Chicagoans can't even turn on the TV and see a game?" A third reader asked, "Does any other MLS club have their media only on a paid app and one that currently doesn't even exist?" (THE DAILY).

Texans players knelt during the national anthem to protest comments made by Owner Bob McNair
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

ABC has "indefinitely shelved a politically and socially themed episode of 'Black-ish'" that included a scene in which characters Dre and his oldest son Junior "argue over the rights of athletes to kneel during the performance of the national anthem at football games," according to Daniel Holloway of VARIETY. The episode's cancellation was a "result of creative differences" between ABC and showrunner Kenya Barris. It was originally supposed to air Feb. 27 (VARIETY.com, 3/9). USA TODAY's Steven Ruiz wrote ABC is "obviously closely connected with ESPN, which has a multi-billion dollar deal with the NFL, so it makes sense that Disney, which owns both networks, would want to avoid a divisive conversation regarding a product it has poured a lot of money into over the years" (USATODAY.com, 3/11). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Michael David Smith noted there has been "no indication that the NFL leaned on Disney not to air the show, although Disney has been accused of kowtowing to the NFL in the past." In '13, a report that the NFL "pressured ESPN to pull out of a PBS 'Frontline' show about concussions was denied" by the league. In '03, the NFL "convinced ESPN to cancel the entertainment show 'Playmakers,' which depicted professional football players engaged in illegal activities" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 3/11).

Patriots QB Tom Brady appeared on ABC’s "GMA" today, with the net's Michael Strahan saying fans “get to see the real you” in Brady's "Tom vs. Time" series on Facebook Watch. Strahan: “Everybody has this perception of you as a football player and everyone thinks they know Tom Brady, but they know you as player. ... How was it for you to put your kids on TV?” Brady: “I got to share a lot of things that a lot of fans never get chance to see." He added it was a “great decision” to do the documentary “because so many people have come up and said, ‘Thanks for doing that it, it was really cool to see’” ("GMA," ABC, 3/12). 

PERSONALITY TEST: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote ESPN execs "thought they had major personalities" in Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, but what they found out is that it is "hard being a personality." When "SC6" began "morphing into a more news driven product, its ratings began going up." The "only compelling personality ESPN has, the only one who can move the needle, is Stephen A. Smith" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/11). Smith signed off from his final "SC6" episode on Friday by saying, "That's it for 'SportsCenter.' The honor was mine, ladies and gentlemen" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/9).

TERMS OF SERVICE: The AP's Ronald Blum cited sources as saying that MLB "will receive" $30-35M for the league's new deal to broadcast 25 weekday afternoon games exclusively on Facebook Watch (AP, 3/10).