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Volume 25 No. 48

Media

During the FIFA World Cup, Fox Sports got through slower viewership at the start of the event after it sensed interest increase after the mid-point, while Telemundo rode the Mexican team to early success, but petered out at the end due to a lack of Latin American squads. For both networks, the last month or so was the culmination of almost seven years of planning -- dating back to October ’11 -- when they surprisingly wrested away domestic media rights to the FIFA World Cup from ESPN and Univision. While viewership results were not close to levels seen in ’14 (Brazil), and not quite at the level of even ’10 (South Africa), execs from both nets were able to take away positives from their first time with the event, and are even more bullish about the prospects for the future. 

SOME ENGLISH ON IT: Fox Sports had strong head winds heading into the tourney once the U.S failed to qualify for Russia, not to mention early morning game windows for most of the country (particularly during the group stage). Compared to time-zone-friendly windows four years ago, a sharp drop was expected. That scenario played out early in the tournament before some recovery in later matches. Fox Sports Exec VP/Research, League Operations & Strategy Mike Mulvihill said of the viewership results, “My biggest takeaway is that it gathered a lot of momentum as it went on. I really felt like the tournament pivoted about half way through, and once we got to the third round of the group stage and the knockouts, the stories just got better and better.” But the absence of the USMNT and those early morning starts could not be overstated. Mulvihill: “The biggest obstacles coming in were really felt more sharply in the first 10 days of the tournament than they were thereafter. The loss of the U.S. made it a little trickier to generate interest in that opening week. Once we got through the early morning windows in the first two rounds of the group stage and up through the final, we were basically on par with 2014, and in some cases, performing better than 2014. Honestly, the first week was a little softer than anticipated, but the rest of the tournament was quite a bit better.”

LATIN LOVERS? Fox had put some heavy promotion behind the Mexican National Team once the USMNT failed to qualify, but not one of the four Mexico matches ranked in Fox’ top 10 World Cup games. Then, many of the bigger names in the tourney like Germany, Argentina and Portugal saw early exits. Mulvihill: “One of the big surprises of the tournament was Croatia, which accounted for four of our five most-watched matches. ... We found ourselves in circumstances where we didn’t really need the biggest stars. I felt there was a lesson there that the World Cup brand is powerful enough to attract interest regardless of how the biggest stars perform.” Meanwhile, Telemundo rode El Tri to some of the biggest numbers of the tournament. Telemundo Deportes President Ray Warren said of the viewership performance for the Mexican team, “They exceeded our expectations. The (Mexico games) were all higher than anticipated. Overall, we over-delivered our total audience objective, and our game plan was dependent on Mexico playing four games.” But with a dearth of North, Central and South American nations making it deep in the tourney, Telemundo’s momentum was sapped in the later rounds. Warren: “Give us one (Spanish-speaking) team in the quarterfinals and that changes dramatically.”

’22 JUMP STREET: Four years from now, the World Cup in Qatar will present a different set of issues. The time zone difference remains the same as Russia, but the event moves to November/December for the first time. The move could prove to be tricky for Fox, which has college and NFL football on weekends. Mulvihill: “We just don’t know what the kickoff times are going to be and we’re largely at the mercy of FIFA there. There’s a lot more sports competition at that time of year, and that’s what many people have been focused on initially. One positive factor is that it’s a higher (TV) usage time of year, with far more people indoors watching TV compared to what you have in June and July. Another positive, specific to us, is that the fall is our dominant time of year. We’re coming off the World Series, we’ve got the NFL, college football -- those are the best promotional platforms in all of TV. In some cases, we’ll have (World Cup) matches that lead directly into football.” Warren was much more bullish for the ’22 event, as Telemundo does not have to worry about football windows on the weekends. Warren: “We have a much cleaner lane. The Spanish-language audience does not watch a lot of NFL football. The bilingual audience does, but they watch it on the English networks. We run NFL games on NBC Universo, and we struggle to get a good audience. So two things are going to happen. 1) We’re not going to be competing for the same ad dollars. 2) Our audience is not going to be deciding ‘do I watch football or do I watch soccer?’ So I think we are gigantically over-advantaged over Fox in 2022.”

SUMMER LOVIN’
: The World Cup matches had a strong performance on the summer sports slate, despite many morning and mid-week windows. Of the top 20 most-watched sports telecasts since the start of June, World Cup telecasts took 11 of those spots. The France-Croatia final was the best audience among World Cup matches, ranking No. 6 overall in the measured time frame. Telemundo had the second- and third-best World Cup telecast audiences -- both Mexico group stage matches. Mexico-Germany on June 17 was the second-best audience of the entire tournament. The 7.1 million viewers for the match was even higher than the clinching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on NBC back in early June or even the Home Run Derby on ESPN this past week. It even ended up as the best audience on record for a Spanish-language World Cup group stage game, regardless of network. All four Mexico matches on Telemundo cracked this top 20 list.

MOST-VIEWED SPORTS PROGRAMS FOR JUNE/JULY THROUGH MLB ALL-STAR GAME
RANK
TELECAST
DATE
NET
TIME (ET)
VIEWERS
(000)
1
NBA Finals: Cavaliers-Warriors: Game 2
6/3
ABC
7:58-10:42pm
18,471
2
NBA Finals: Warriors-Cavaliers: Game 3
6/6
ABC
8:58-11:37pm
17,941
3
NBA Finals: Warriors-Cavaliers: Game 4
6/8
ABC
8:58-11:33pm
16,242
4
Belmont Stakes (race segment)
6/9
NBC
6:22-7:13pm
12,656
5
NBA Finals Trophy Presentation
6/8
ABC
11:33pm-12:10am
12,212
6
FIFA World Cup Final: France-Croatia
7/15
Fox
10:40am-1:00pm
11,333
7
MLB All-Star Game
7/17
Fox
8:16-11:57pm
8,688
8
FIFA World Cup: Group Stage: Mexico-Germany
6/17
Telemundo
10:37am-12:58pm
7,130
9
FIFA World Cup: Group Stage: Mexico-South Korea
6/23
Telemundo
10:41am-1:08pm
6,620
10
NHL Stanley Cup Final:
Capitals-Golden Knights: Game 5
6/7
NBC
8:07-11:24pm
6,596
11
FIFA World Cup: Quarterfinal: Croatia-Russia
7/7
Fox
1:40-5:04pm
6,317
12
FIFA World Cup: Round of 16: Croatia-Denmark
7/1
Fox
9:40am-12:55pm
5,912
13
FIFA World Cup: Round of 16: Uruguay-Portugal
6/30
Fox
1:40-4:08pm
5,879
14
FIFA World Cup: Semifinal: Croatia-England
7/11
Fox
1:41-4:53pm
5,617
15
Home Run Derby
7/16
ESPN
8:00-10:32pm
5,567
16
FIFA World Cup: Group Stage: Germany-Sweden
6/23
Fox
1:41-4:07pm
5,397
17
FIFA World Cup Final: France-Croatia
7/15
Telemundo
10:40am-1:00pm
5,320
18
FIFA World Cup: Round of 16: Russia-Spain
7/1
Fox
9:40-12:55pm
5,118
19
Golf: U.S. Open: Final Round
6/17
Fox
10:00am-6:00pm
5,083
20
FIFA World Cup: Round of 16: Brazil-Mexico
7/2
Telemundo
9:40am-12:06pm
5,000
Download the
Top Summer Sports Telecasts
Mowins called last year's second half of the opening doubleheader with analyst Rex Ryan
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

ESPN is "going with a fresh approach" for its first "MNF" broadcast of '18, as Beth Mowins and Brian Griese will call Jets-Lions on Sept. 10, according to Barry Wilner of the AP. Mowins and Griese are have "plenty of NFL credentials," but have been "far more entrenched in the college game." Mowins called last year's second half of the "opening doubleheader with analyst Rex Ryan." Mowins also "does a few CBS telecasts of NFL games during the season," as well as Raiders preseason games, but her "main gig is college sports." Griese is "one of the top analysts of the college game, an insightful and often critical but fair voice." Mowins and Griese "have not done game broadcasts together, but have had many conversations and learning sessions." Last year, when Mowins and Ryan announced the Broncos "MNF" game, Mowins "reached out to Griese, who does Denver's preseason games." The NFL gave ESPN what "appears to be a better game in the nightcap," with Raiders coach Jon Gruden's return as his team hosts the Rams. The new regular "MNF" crew of Joe Tessitore and Jason Witten "will be in the booth for that one" (AP, 7/19).

STAY A WHILE: ESPN's Linda Cohn, the net's longest-tenured "SportsCenter" anchor, has signed a new deal. Cohn will remain a "SportsCenter" host, and increase her role in ESPN's hockey coverage. Cohn will continue as the primary host for the ESPN+ hockey program "In The Crease," which will expand to five nights a week for the NHL season. Cohn will do hockey-related interviews and features for "SportsCenter" and other ESPN platforms (ESPN).

ANGLE OF APPROACHIn DC, Rick Maese wrote ESPN's Michael Collins, an "unlikely" golf analyst, is a "knee-slapping, voluminous, rolling chortle, peppering his analysis with punchlines." Collins "approaches the sport like a helicopter descending on a stack of napkins." Collins is a "comedian turned golf caddie turned golf analyst," which makes him a "unique character in the sport." ESPN's Scott Van Pelt said of Collins, "He can bust chops, he can have a laugh, he can get guys to put their guard down." Collins is "easy to recognize on screen -- baldhead, bushy beard, shaped a bit more like a golf ball than a golf club -- but even more so by his cheerful on-air presence." He "knows his style isn't for everyone," and for many, his approach makes him one of ESPN's "more polarizing personalities." But Collins "makes no apologies." As golf's audience "ages and younger sports fans gravitate toward other pursuits, Collins wants those in the game to take themselves less seriously" and remember that it is "all supposed to be fun" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/18).

NBC Sports Digital said its Playmaker Media streaming operation generated 4.37 billion total minutes of live streaming between Super Bowl LII, the Pyeongchang Games and the ’18 FIFA World Cup, three of the largest sports events that will happen this year. Super Bowl LII represented the most live-streamed Super Bowl ever with an in-game average minute audience of 2.02 million viewers. The Olympics audience broke new ground with 1.86 billion total live minutes and an average minute audience of 211,000 across the entire 17 days of coverage. Playmaker Media also recently powered the digital presentation of the World Cup for Telemundo, generating another 1.96 billion live minutes. Coverage of the Mexico-Sweden group stage match peaked at more than 1.02 million concurrent live streams, the only event beside the Super Bowl in NBC Sports Digital history to hit the 1 million mark. “It was a big step forward to be able to do three major events like this in the span of just a few months,” said NBC Sports Digital and Playmaker Media Senior VP & CTO Eric Black. “And it wasn’t just the live streaming itself. We were able to do a lot of things in terms of data visualization and distributing to new platforms that we’ll be able to apply through the rest of our portfolio.”

The "OMF" show with Fauria, Ordway and Merloni (pictured l-r) will now move to afternoon drive

In Boston, Chad Finn noted Entercom and WEEI announced a "tweak to its weekday lineup" that "flips the show times" of two programs. The "OMF" show with Glenn Ordway, Lou Merloni and Christian Fauria will "move to afternoon drive," while the "Dale & Keefe" program, featuring host Dale Arnold and Rich Keefe, will move from that 2:00-6:00pm ET slot to 10:00am-2:00pm. The earlier time slot also "allows more time in NHL season for Arnold to get to his other job as a studio host for NESN’s Bruins broadcasts." He would occasionally have to "leave the afternoon drive program early to get to the NESN studios on time." Finn: "It will be fascinating to see how Ordway and company fare this time around." WBZ-AM's "Felger & Mazz" program with Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti has "dominated afternoon drive ratings in the targeted men 25-54 demographic for several years" (BOSTONGLOBE.com, 7/19).

KEEPING QUIET: In N.Y., Kevin Dugan notes WFAN-AM’s Joe Benigno "will be back on the air Monday." Benigno, on vacation this week, was "accused in a bombshell lawsuit this week of sexually harassing a former female ad executive." Benigno co-hosts a daily WFAN show with Evan Roberts from 10:00am- 1:00pm ET. Roberts addressed the lawsuit when he opened up Thursday’s show by saying that he was "aware of the suit -- but couldn’t comment on it" (N.Y. POST, 7/20).

NEW TO THE PACK: In Hartford, Dom Amore noted Mike Crispino will become the "new voice of UConn football and men’s basketball as the school moves its marquee events to iHeartMedia and ESPN 97.9 next fall." Crispino, who has been doing St. John’s basketball for MSG Network, and "worked as an announcer in various roles" for the net for 25 years, will replace Joe D’Ambrosio. The plan is for Crispino to "handle play-by-play, working with Wayne Norman, the analyst on football and basketball for decades as D’Ambrosio’s partner" (COURANT.com, 7/17).

OFF THE AIR: In Montreal, Stu Cowan noted after 27 years of doing a "five-minute weekday" segment for CJAD-AM, Michael Farber is being cut by the station for "budget reasons." Farber retired from SI in '14, but "continues to be a special contributor to the magazine" (MONTREALGAZETTE.com, 7/18).

In N.Y., Keith Kelly writes the "apparent front-runner" to purchase SI is a "buyout group that includes" motivational speaker Tony Robbins and Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert. Sources said that three other suitors, including Penske Media, WME and The Hill Owner Jimmy Finkelstein, "are said to have dropped out of the running." One of the "rumored suitors for Time magazine is said to be private equity firm TPG" (N.Y. POST, 7/20).

BIDDING WAR: DEADLINE.com's Dade Hayes wrote one question still pending regarding the Disney-Fox acquisition is who will "emerge as a buyer" for the Fox-owned RSNs, a $20B-plus portfolio whose sale is "required by the DOJ" (DEADLINE.com, 7/19). LHB Sports President & CEO Lee Berke said Disney "may offer" the RSNs up to a "number of buyers as compared to one single buyer." Berke: "In that case, with a number of interested parties and different strategies, they may very well drive up the price" ("Closing Bell," CNBC, 7/19).

TALK THE TALK: The MORNING READ's John Hawkins notes NBC golf analyst Justin Leonard is a "guy whose verbal skills and experience as a former top-level player seemingly would make him a candidate to replace Johnny Miller," who has "hinted that he might retire at the end of the year." There is "no doubt" that Leonard could "blossom into an excellent lead analyst, but it might take some time." His "superb sense of humor is built on dry wit and sarcasm, two components that don’t always translate to a large, seriously minded audience." Miller has been golf’s "ultimate polarizing figure for decades" (MORNINGREAD.com, 7/20).

ATHLETIC FIT? In N.Y., Andrew Marchand cites sources as saying that The Athletic has "emerged as the leading candidate to sign NBA insider Shams Charania, while there is a strong possibility he eventually will have a TV component as well." Charania, 24, has "developed into one of the top transaction news-breakers in basketball, competing with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski." Charania and Yahoo Sports "broke up this week after they could not agree on financial terms" (N.Y. POST, 7/20).