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Volume 25 No. 64

Media

The Supreme Court "injected a dose of optimism" into the sports television industry when it ruled to allow sports betting, a decision that execs say will likely "produce the next major boost to the value of live, televised sports ... at just the time when it is most needed," according to Kevin Draper of the N.Y. TIMES. Nearly all observers agree the "appetite for sports consumption both online and on traditional television will surely rise." History has shown that the "ability to place a bet on a sporting event makes fans pay closer attention to the action, and watch more." Sports bettors watch about "twice as much sports coverage as non-bettors do," so it stands to reason that "making it easier for people to become sports bettors will make them more likely to watch sports." Even less "high-profile events are likely to see a boost in interest." That would "benefit ESPN, which recently introduced ESPN+." The net "hasn’t solidified its plans to produce shows that target sports betting fans." However, ESPN Exec VP/Content Connor Schell said that "such programming has been on the ESPN+ 'content road map' from the beginning." Schell: "We’ve thought about betting and the conversation around betting in line with what Doug Kezirian is doing on the ‘Behind the Bets’ podcast." William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher "cautioned that it might take a few years for the big advertising money to find its way to national channels like ESPN, Fox and NBC, as states need to go through the legislative process to legalize and regulate sports betting." Targeted advertising on RSNs in states where gambling becomes legal first "seems more likely" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/16).

NEW AVENUES: In L.A., Randy Harvey notes media outlets will "start preparing sooner rather than later." Those broadcasting NFL games can use the American Gambling Association's estimates on how much bettors watch television to "start selling advertising today." There will be "countless of hours of other gambling-related inventory for them as well from media outlets that don't carry games." Fans likely can "expect television shows, perhaps even channels, devoted to gambling." Some newspapers and other outlets with websites will also "begin covering it like they do the stock market." Vegas Stats & Information Network Exec Producer Rick Jaffe said, "This is going to open up a whole new direction of reporting on sports. Games that normally people might have turned off previously because they were too one-sided in one way or another will hold fans' interest until the end" (L.A. TIMES, 5/16). 

TAKING THE LEAD? On Long Island, Neil Best writes ESPN likely will "carve out its piece of the pie" regarding sports betting coverage. That likely will include "added revenue from advertising and sponsorships, but it also will play into editorial strategy -- as it will for most media outlets." ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said, "The space is interesting to us, especially from a programming perspective." Schell: "Going forward obviously we’re going to look at where we can find more opportunities." ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus said that one trick will be "navigating the different approaches from various sports entities, from the liberal attitude of the NBA to the NCAA’s more cautious approach given 'the mission they serve'" (NEWSDAY, 5/16).

Warriors-Rockets Game 1 averaged 8.82 million viewers, the best for a conference final opener since '12
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

TNT on Monday night drew its best viewership on record for an NBA Western Conference Finals Game 1, as Warriors-Rockets averaged 8.82 million viewers. That figure also is the best for an NBA conference final opener -- West or East -- since ESPN drew 8.99 million viewers for Heat-Celtics in '12, which also aired on a Monday night. Among WCF openers, Warriors-Rockets is the best since Lakers-Kings Game 1 on NBC in '02. Warriors-Rockets also is the most-viewed NBA game on cable TV since Warriors-Thunder Game 7 in '16 on TNT. Monday night's Game 1 peaked at 10 million viewers from 10:45-11:00pm ET and was the No. 1 program in primetime for the night (cable and broadcast TV). The Bay Area (S.F.-San Jose-Oakland) led all markets for the game, drawing a 21.5 local rating. Houston was No. 2 at a 14.7 rating. Through Game 1 on Monday night, TNT continues to sees its most-viewed NBA postseason since '14.

NBA CONFERENCE FINALS: VIEWERSHIP TREND FOR GAME 1s
DATE
NET
MATCHUP
START
VIEWERS (000)
Monday, May 14, 2018
TNT
Warriors-Rockets
9:00pm
8,820
Sunday, May 13, 2018
ESPN
Cavaliers-Celtics
3:31pm
7,216
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
TNT
Cavaliers-Celtics
8:30pm
6,445
Sunday, May 14, 2017
ABC
Spurs-Warriors
3:28pm
8,129
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
ESPN
Raptors-Cavaliers
8:29pm
5,405
Monday, May 16, 2016
TNT
Thunder-Warriors
9:00pm
8,706
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
TNT
Cavaliers-Hawks
8:30pm
6,847
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
ESPN
Rockets-Warriors
9:03pm
6,848
Monday, May 19, 2014
TNT
Thunder-Spurs
9:00pm
6,363
Sunday, May 18, 2014
ABC
Heat-Pacers
3:26pm
7,815
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
TNT
Pacers-Heat
8:31pm
8,245
Sunday, May 19, 2013
ABC
Grizzlies-Spurs
3:30pm
4,854
Monday, May 28, 2012
ESPN
Celtics-Heat
8:34pm
8,989
Sunday, May 27, 2012
TNT
Thunder-Spurs
8:32pm
7,764
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NBA Conference Finals Openers

THE EASTERN FRONT: ESPN last night drew a 6.5 overnight rating for Cavaliers-Celtics, marking the highest-rated Eastern Conference Finals Game 2 since Heat-Celtics in '12, which aired on a Wednesday night. It also was ESPN's best conference finals rating since the series-clinching Warriors-Rockets Game 5 in '15 -- also on a Wednesday night. Cavs-Celtics last night is up 71% from the same matchup in ECF Game 2 last year, which aired on a Friday night. Last night's game peaked at an 8.0 overnight in the final quarter hour from 10:45-11:00pm. Cleveland-Akron led all markets with a 24.4 local rating, followed by Boston with a 16.0 (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).

GET TO THE POINT: In Indianapolis, Dakota Crawford writes the one-hour broadcast of the NBA Draft Lottery leading into Game 2 last night "teased results," and "everyone watching at home got really tired of waiting to see" who would hold the top 14 picks. It took "about 45 minutes before any envelopes were opened" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/16). In DC, Bontemps & Bogage write the telecast turned "what should be a 10-minute production into an hour-long snoozefest with a bunch of ridiculous promotions" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/16). USA TODAY's Andrew Joseph wrote the broadcast was "reminiscent of CBS' much-criticized NCAA tournament selection show" (USATODAY.com, 5/15). Author John Feinstein tweeted, "Has there ever been a worse, more dragged out TV show than the NBA lottery? The intros of the team reps takes forever and they put TWO commercials in even after they FINALLY start. Brutal!" CBS Sports' Will Brinson: "The next time anyone complains about the NFL dragging out coverage of an event to generate interest, please show them the NBA Draft Lottery." NFL Network's Rich Eisen: "I remember when this draft lottery happened within a single halftime." NBCSports.com's Bryan Fischer: "This somewhat shaky ESPN production isn’t exactly helping the super slow pace of the draft lottery being revealed." The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg: "The NBA Draft Lottery is definitely one of the stupidest things ESPN has turned into a fully sponsored, hour-long program" (TWITTER.com, 5/15).

Rodriguez will do interviews with a current or former star athlete battling through some type of adversity
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

Alex Rodriguez will be the "host and executive producer of a new four-part series to air on ESPN and ESPN Deportes during the MLB regular season called 'Pivot with Alex Rodriguez,'" according to John Healy of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Rodriguez will "conduct in-depth, one-on-one interviews with a current or former star athlete battling through some type of adversity." The interview "will be held in an environment relevant to each athlete's personal story." ESPN Deportes VP & GM Freddy Rolon said that Rodriguez is an "ideal choice to host the show because of his own past as well as success as a media personality." The show is "expected to air at some point this MLB season" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/16). USA TODAY's A.J. Perez notes in the two years since Rodriguez' playing days concluded with the Yankees, he has "ascended quickly in the broadcast ranks and changed his perception among many in the process" (USA TODAY, 5/16). In N.Y., Ethan Sears writes Rodriguez has "gone from baseball prodigy to pariah to the prodigal son, the legend apparently successfully returning to good graces" (N.Y. POST, 5/16). SNY's Sal Licata noted referenced the name of the show in saying, "If anybody knows how to pivot, it's Alex Rodriguez" ("Loud Mouths," SNY, 5/15). Sporting News' Michael McCarthy tweeted, "What a turnaround. ... Remember when ESPN The Mag wouldn’t quote ARod in feature?" The Athletic's Richard Deitsch: "I remember when Alex Rodriguez accused SI reporter Selena Roberts of trying to break into his house. He did that on ESPN, where he now works." N.Y. Post's Andrew Marchand: "Maybe A-Rod could have Cano for his initial guest on his first ESPN special" (TWITTER.com, 5/15).

A NEW PLATFORM: ESPN yesterday announced Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre's new show will be called "High Noon (9 am Pacific)" and will begin June 4 (TWITTER.com, 5/15). GQ's Eve Ewing profiled Jones, who "offers something different: a nuanced look at sports, backed up by rigorous evidence and a refreshing willingness to admit mistakes." The fact that Jones "riles up the 'stick to sports' segment of ESPN’s viewership isn’t a coincidence." Jones "likes working in sports media for this reason: ESPN gives him a platform to talk about race and racism with a lot of people, people who would probably never otherwise listen to him." Torre sees Jones as a "singular voice amidst the noise when it comes to debates about race, and in the world of sports broadcasting more generally." Torre said, “It’s very obvious that there’s no one else like him" (GQ.com, 5/15).

MAKING THEIR CASE: In L.A., Stephen Battaglio notes ESPN "put its digital future on display" at its Upfront presentation yesterday. The emphasis on digital content was "meant to send a message" to advertisers that ESPN is "fighting its image on Wall Street as a poster child for a TV industry challenged by the erosion of cable and satellite subscriptions." Although ESPN has to "contend with the change in how consumers are choosing to get their video content, its presentation reminded advertisers that virtually all of its programming is live -- a commodity that is gaining value in the new TV landscape" (L.A. TIMES, 5/16). CNN MONEY's Pallotta & Garcia noted ESPN's Upfront was "all about the network's 'firsts.'" But "no 'first' was as important as the introduction" of new ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro. He "made it clear that while the network has new leadership, its mission will stay the same." Pitaro: "I'm not focused on my own personal legacy. I am very focused on the ESPN legacy" (MONEY.CNN.com, 5/15). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Marisa Guthrie wrote it is a "new day at ESPN." ESPN President of Global Sales & Marketing Ed Erhardt "wrapped up the presentation with a final pitch to buyers." He said that ESPN's live audience is the most “elusive and valuable in all of media, and we have it for you” (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 5/15).

Tessitore said he feels like he's being handed the keys to a car he's wanted to drive for a long time
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

ESPN’s Joe Tessitore called his new role as "MNF" play-by-play announcer a "legacy job" and hopes the new crew can "bring it back to a joyful broadcast of ‘Monday Night Football,’ maybe channeling a little bit of that 1970s vibe." Tessitore: "I’m aware of the lineage. ... You feel like you are being handed the keys to the car that has been sitting there and you’ve wanted to drive for a long time so I'm thrilled to be with this team. ... This is a dynamic new team ... We’ve been hanging out, having dinners and drinking a little bit in New York for three days so we’re channeling that group pretty well.” New "MNF" analyst Jason Witten added, “I'm excited. It was a long process going through it. The entire offseason ... I thought I was going to play. When ESPN comes calling, it forced me to take a step back, and here we are today” (“Get Up!,” ESPN, 5/16). 

READY FOR THE SWITCH: Cowboys radio play-by-play voice Brad Sham said of his expectations for Witten as a broadcaster, "I did not know that he had an interest in broadcasting. And I'm not sure until fairly recently that he knew it. But I do know his personality, his intelligence, and his work ethic, and cannot think of any reason why he would not succeed." Sham said Witten also has a "deep insightful knowledge of every aspect of the game." Sham: "He sees it the way quarterbacks do because of how he's studied it, coverages, blocking schemes, the whole thing that makes a play work" (DALLASNEWS.com, 5/15).

STARS SHINE BRIGHT: In Dallas, Jon Machota noted Witten is the latest former Cowboys player to "take a major television gig." Troy Aikman and Daryl Johnston "call games in the booth for Fox," while Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders and Darren Woodson "all have in-studio jobs as NFL analysts." Former Cowboys QBs Don Meredith, Roger Staubach and Eddie LeBaron have also "worked in the TV booth." ESPN Senior VP/Events & Studio Production Stephanie Druley in a conference call said, "We all know that the Cowboys are the team that networks would like to see as much as possible on their schedules, so they're getting the experience with the top-notch groups that come through there when you talk about a production meeting." Druley added said that sort of time with national TV crews "prepares these guys to be extremely eloquent and able to understand sort of what this side of the camera is like" (DALLASNEWS.com, 5/14).