Good morning. It’s Monday, August 29, 2011, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.
Today in Cynopsis Sports Kickoff to Fall Sports is our NFL season preview, looking at broadcast plans for each of the league’s partners this season, as well as how the NFL is engaging with fans post-lockout. Online, we feature a great Q&A with Mark Quenzel, NFL Network’s SVP Programming and Production as well as a look at some of the on-air shuffling with the “new faces in new places” package. You can read those articles here.
Last week at a CBS’s NFL Media Day, CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus uttered the words that unified everyone associated with the league this year, telling reporters, “There were a lot of nervous moments.”
Indeed, with billions of ad dollars at stake, the lockout threatened the NFL ratings behemoth and was poised to rattle nerves throughout the broadcast industry. With ratings and engagement continuing to climb, network brands associated with the sport released a collective sigh of relief when the labor deal was completed. After all, the NFL reached 207.7 million unique viewers in 2010, the most in history and games were viewed by an average of 17.9 million viewers, the most since 1990.
In the end there were actually benefits to the lockout, with only the annual Hall of Fame scratched from the schedule, as broadcasters saw an immediate rise in preseason ratings and online traffic once the lockout was over.
“I think you are seeing heightened interest this year for sure and it has come to life in the preseason games,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL VP of Fan Strategy & Marketing. “Coming out of the free agent frenzy when there was a lot of talk and lots of buzz, it’s been very positive in the preseason games when you’ve seen a national lift in ratings and strong growth at the local level. We are really feeling good about that.”
With the CBA in place, O’Reilly quickly pulled the trigger on the league’s “Back to Football” campaign heading into the preseason games, working with broadcasters and well as teams and local communities to engage fans with the sport.
“We obviously had a lot of different scenarios that could have played out and fortunately it ended up being a good one,” he said. “Last year we launched our ‘Back to Football’ campaign and this year we launched it again coming out of the lockout, but we were always confident that there was going to be football and have a full season of games so that’s the way we planned throughout this process. That means from a media perspective, all of our broadcast partners were thinking about the message as well as our partners at the grassroots marketing level.”
With preseason nearly finished, here’s a look at what the networks have in store for the season ahead.
First out of the gate, and kicking off the season with a Saints/Packers matchup on Thursday Sept. 8, NBC is seeking to hit the ground running on its way to hosting Super Bowl XLVI from Indianapolis. The network’s signature series Football Night in America scored its best viewership ever last season with an average of 8.3 million viewers. Sunday Night Football averaged 21.8 million viewers in 2010, up 12% over its 2009 tallies.
This season’s schedule will feature 16 of the network’s 17 scheduled games involving at least one playoff team from last season. Al Michaels returns for his sixth season at the channel alongside Cris Collinsworth who enters his third season as in-game analyst for the program. This year, former ESPN staple Michele Tafoya joins the team and will report from the field. Football Night in America slims down and will be feature Bob Costas, Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Peter King and Mike Florio this year.
Sister channel Versus opens the doors for NFL programming this season, with NFL Films and NBC Sports partnering to deliver the network with new series NFL Turning Point. The weekly one-hour series will go behind the scenes of two games from the previous week. The series debuts on Thursday, September 15, at 10 p.
“NFL Turning Point is symbolic of the high-quality, relevant programming viewers will see more of on our national, all-sports cable platform,” said Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Sports Group, last week. “It unites two of sports’ premier storytellers in NBC Sports and NFL Films to bring viewers a new perspective on the game.”
FOX Sports is gearing up for its 18th season of NFL coverage on Sept. 11, with doubleheader coverage of seven games with doubleheader coverage of seven games anchored by an NFC East showdown between division rivals featuring the Giants and Redskins. Last season, NFL on FOX broke viewership records, averaging 20.1 million viewers, more than a million more than its previous best set in 2009. In household ratings, the company averaged an 11.8/24, to score its best rating in 15 years and up 4% in rating over 2009.
FOX NFL Sunday brings back co-hosts Terry Bradshaw and Curt Menefee, as well as analysts Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson and Michael Strahan, NFL insider Jay Glazer, comedian Frank Caliendo, and former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira. Bill Richards takes the reins as Coordinating Producer of the show as well as all of FOX Sports’ NFL-related studio programming, including The OT postgame program.
Broadcast pairings this year include lead team Joe Buck, Troy Aikman & Pam Oliver; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston &Tony Siragusa; Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick & Laura Okmin; Dick Stockton & John Lynch; Chris Myers & Tim Ryan; Ron Pitts & Jim Mora; Sam Rosen & Chad Pennington; and Gus Johnson, Charles Davis & Tim Brewster
The network’s 52nd season covering the NFL finds CBS coming off a year in which the network scored the most viewers for its AFC package in 23 years and its best post-season in 15 years, including the most-watched AFC championship game ever. The channel’s 20 weeks of coverage during the regular season and AFC playoffs averaged 21.5 million viewers, for an increase of 10% over the previous year. Ratings averaged a 12.6/25 to mark the highest average rating and share for the AFC package of games in 16 years and up 9% over the previous season.
This season, CBS is tweaking production, adding more high-speed cameras and miking players at the line of scrimmage. James Brown is back to anchor The NFL Today, with analysts Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe and Bill Cowher from the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City. Charley Casserly will serve as the show’s “General Manager,” with Lesley Visser reporting.
With games set to begin on the network on Sept. 11, broadcast pairings this year include Jim Nantz and Phil Simms again returning to call primary games. Other duos include: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf; Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts; Marv Albert and Rich Gannon; Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots; Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker; Spero Dedes and Steve Beuerlein; as well as Don Criqui and Randy Cross.
With a bevy of high-profile names and a schedule that features all 12 playoff teams from 2010, ESPN is on deck to feature a doubleheader to open this season’s long-running Monday Night Football franchise. The action kicks off on ESPN on Monday, Sept. 12 with a Patriots/Dolphins matchup at 7p followed by Raiders/Broncos at 10:15p. MNF returns play-by-play commentator Mike Tirico along with analysts Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski. Last year, ESPN averaged a record 14.7 million viewers with its MNF telecasts, up 2% over 2009, and delivering the 16 biggest household audiences for cable television in 2010.
New to the company’s coverage this year are names such as Bill Parcells, Jerry Rice, and Damien Woody in various capacities. Parcells will join Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson, and Chris Mortensen, along with other members of the Countdown team.
“This year on Countdown, we’d like to get the show back to being about the field, meaning the past few years there has been so much coverage of the NFL off the field, with scandals, sagas and things like that,” said Seth Markman, ESPN’s Senior Coordinating Producer for NFL studio shows. “It was the right thing to do at the time, but moving forward I’d like to get us back to what we are really good at which is getting viewers ready for the games on Sunday what they need to watch for, what could help them look like experts, predictions, analysis, the things we are really good at.”
After scoring with its most-watched season ever, NFL Network looks to dig in this year, with a new tandem behind the microphone for the channel’s eight NFL games. NFL analyst Mike Mayock joins play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler in the booth on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football games for the 2011 season, beginning its sixth season on Nov. 10 when the Oakland Raiders visit the San Diego Chargers.
In the off-season, the channel also signed Kurt Warner to an exclusive deal, and added the likes of Rodney Harrison and newly-retired player Heath Evans to bolster coverage.
Hurricane Irene’s havoc hit the sports world over the weekend, forcing networks and leagues to alter programming plans in anticipation of the tempest. Of course, the main goal is to keep people safe. Among the programming shifts affected by Irene were:
- The PGA Tour trimmed play for The Barclays, the sport’s first playoff event this year to 54 holes, in anticipation of the storm, with the top 100 players advancing to the second playoff tournament next week in Boston. The event was set to run through Sunday and air on Golf Channel and CBS.
- The New York Jets at New York Giants preseason matchup has been rescheduled for 7p on Monday, where it will air on NFL Network, as well as WNBC with Bob Papa and Carl Banks calling the action.
- The U.S. Tennis Association called off Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, with portions of the event originally set to run on CBS.
- Saturday’s Braves/Mets game in New York was postponed by the Mets and forced FOX to shift MLB on FOX pregame shows to Target Field in Minneapolis.
- The championship game of the Little League World Series, set to air on ABC, was moved back three hours to noon Sunday. Little League officials cancelled the consolation game, which had been scheduled for 11a Sunday.
- Fox Soccer was set to air a soccer match between the College of Charleston and South Carolina on Friday, but the game was postponed until Sunday.
The AP is reporting that officials from the NBA and the players’ association will meet once again this week, in an effort to make progress toward a deal. The meeting will be the second session involving leaders from both sides since the lockout started July 1 with Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver attending as well as union Executive Director Billy Hunter and President Derek Fisher.
FOX Sports is reportedly set to televise the first ever live Premier League match on free-to-air television in the United States on Sunday, February 5, 2012. That date, of course, is the same day as the Super Bowl, and will feature a showdown between heavyweights Chelsea and Manchester United ahead of the Super Bowl at 10:30a. In addition, FOX will air three Premier League matches on tape-delay during the 2011-12 NFL season beginning Sept. 18 with another Manchester United/Chelsea game, according to EPL Talk.
Longhorn Network inked a number of local operators in the state of Texas just time for Friday’s launch. The Texas/ESPN channel made deals with Consolidated Communications, En-Touch Systems, E-Tex Communications, Bay City Cablevision, Mid-Coast Cablevision and Texas Mid-Gulf Cablevision.
Vin Scully will be back. The legendary Dodgers announcer will return to the broadcast booth next season for his record 63rd season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Scully told audiences during Friday night’s game that he will return to call all home games and select road games for the team.
NBC Sports and the Eurosport group have extended their international television rights deal for exclusive broadcast rights to 2011 and 2012 Notre Dame football home games across Europe and Asia. Beginning with Notre Dame’s first game this year against South Florida on September 3, all of the university’s home games will be broadcast throughout Europe exclusively on Eurosport 2. In addition, Eurosport has the exclusive TV rights in the 15 countries where Eurosport Asia Pacific is distributed.
Qatar is in, with officials confirming that the country will bid on hosting the 2020 Olympics. In order to deal with the heat, the country would host the Summer Games in Sept. and Oct. instead of during the summer if their bid is selected. Four other cities have already submitted official bids to host the 2020 Games — Rome, Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul. The IOC will select the winner in September 2013.
TSN has announced its plans for US Open coverage in Canada, offering over 130 hours of live coverage across TSN, TSN2 and TSN Mobile TV starting Monday, Aug. 29 with men’s and women’s first round coverage.
The Washington Redskins set another local ratings record with their game against the nearby Ravens on Thursday night. The game drew the highest preseason ratings in team history during ESPN’s telecast. The game drew an 18.7 preliminary combined overnight household rating in the Washington D.C. market area, beating the team’s previous record of 16.3, set earlier this year with the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 12.
NBC’s reality series The Biggest Loser is about to add a couple of winners. Entertainment Weekly reports that Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees and BCS winning QB Tim Tebow will appear on the series on Oct. 4 along with Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson.
Sponsorship & Promotion
The NFL is donating $1 million to the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial that will live on Washington’s National Mall. The contribution comes from the league and NFL Charities and will aid the foundation behind the memorial reach its goal of raising $120 million. The monument was scheduled to be dedicated Sunday, which marks the 48th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech, but the ceremony has now been postponed until the fall because of Hurricane Irene.
The PGA’s Boeing Classic, which took place over the weekend, will continue for at least another few years, with the airplane manufacturer announcing that the company will continue to sponsor the event through 2014.
ESPN is reining in the tweets, according to multiple reports stating that the media company is mandating that reporters vet stories via the company’s TV and Digital News desks and once the news is reported on an ESPN platform, then news can tweet the info.
NFL.com has launched the NFL Ultimate Fantasy Experience online, with league champions potentially winning prizes that include Super Bowl tickets, a trip to Draft or Combine, a customized championship ring and even officiating flags. The game is already setting record numbers this season, with signups rising more than 50% to date this year over the same period in 2010.In addition, for the first time, NFL.com fantasy players will have access to exclusive NFL video that features instant in-game highlights that will appear on screens as quickly as 30 seconds after the play is made.
The Main Event
US Open early round play begins on ESPN2 beginning at 1p. Also, the Tennis Channel has Live U.S. Open coverage from 11A-7P.
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ON THIS DAY in 1978: The USTA National Tennis Center opens in Flushing, NY
Answer to Yesterday’s Sports Trivia Question: Who is the only Kansas Jayhawk to have been picked first in the NBA draft? Danny Manning in 1988. Kudos: Noah Coslov – CineSport/NY; Juan P. Delgado – Telemundo/Miami; Matthew Meachem – Tribune Media Services/Queensbury; Greg Conner – Outdoor Channel/NY; Mike Patterson – Turner SI Digital/Chicago; Scott Wallace – Showtime Networks, Inc./Kansas City; Mike Vest – Big Ten Network/Chicago; Rachel Rubin – TM Advertising/Dallas; Greg Moloznok – GLM Media Dynamics/Scottsdale; David Hauptman – Katz Television Group/Denver; Anne Wettig – FX Network/LA; David Chill – DIRECTV/LA; Maria Shuckahosee – Current TV/San Francisco; Richard Levine – AT&T Operations, Inc./LA
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