11/19/18: Creed II director talks the making of the latest installment of the Rocky franchise

Good morning. It’s Monday November 19, 2018 and this is your first early morning Sports briefing.

Nov. 21 sees the Rocky film franchise take another step forward with the premiere of CREED II. The follow-up to the surprise hit from just a few years ago once again sees Michael B. Jordan, Sly Stallone, Tessa Thompson take center stage, with the return of Dolph Lundgren, Brigette Nielsen, Andre Ward in the series, along with new face Florian Munteanu. Cynopsis asked director Steven Caple Jr. about the franchise and its place in pop culture.
Caple on themes: The themes in the films are always more about what goes on outside of the ring than in it. Every Rocky film has an amazing story arc that pulls people in. That type of drama, along with some great action, never gets old, especially when you have such great talent to work with.
On challenges of directing: It’s kind of similar; I need to make sure I fulfill the expectations of those who have come before me, and just as importantly, the fans. Sly and Ryan both talked to me at great length about blending stories together to deliver a film worthy of this series, and we will see and hear what people think.
On what he learned about boxing: Many people don’t realize all the training and the intricate details that go into boxing. In the film we really take fans into the corner to let them see what goes on there. Sly is  always big on making sure the fights have great technique, and in directing this we had to make sure we understood and appreciated the work that goes into being a boxer.
On what he learned from Sly Stallone and Ryan Coogler: Stay true to the franchise but don’t be afraid to try new things. To tell a great story you need to blend authenticity and creativity around the characters and their lives, and that’s what these films have always done. You are about the characters, and I think you will care a great deal about these stories in the film.
On expectations: Some great twists and turns, incredible action, believable human stories, great drama, and being able to learn a little more about these compelling characters.

ABC’s triple bill on Saturday delivered the three highest-ranked college football games on Saturday, as the network crew the highest-rated game in each of its game windows (noon, 3:30p and primetime), including delivering ESPN/ABC’s highest-rated noon window since 2016. Ohio State/Maryland at noon ranked as the highest-rated game of the day, delivering a 4.1 overnight for the game to mark ESPN/ABC’s best for a noon game since 2016 and up 58% year-over year. West Virginia/Oklahoma State at 3:30p earned a 2.6 overnight for the network, up 18%, while Cincinnati/UCF at 8p was the highest-rated primetime game of the week, delivering a 2.3 overnight. On cable, ESPN led the way, with Duke/Clemson to earned a 1.5 overnight score.
Thursday Night Football Presented by Bud Light last week, featuring the Seahawks’ win over the Packers, was seen by an average audience of 17.5 million viewers across all platforms, including FOX, NFL Network, FOX Deportes, and digital platforms for a rise of 27% over last year’s week 11 matchup. The Nielsen-measured audience drew 16.9 million viewers – up 25% with a10.0 HH rating. Digital streaming produced an average minute audience of 862K – an increase of 111% vs. last year.
Speaking of FOX, the company is touting that FOX Sports delivered live sports event viewing since Week 1 of the college football season of 103 billion minutes-viewed to rank tops among sports networks with football (both pro and college-level) bringing a total of 80.7 billion minutes-viewed. “The numbers don’t lie,” said Michael Mulvihill, FOX Sports Executive Vice President, Research, League Operations & Strategy in the release. “FOX Sports owns the Fall. We’re delivering on our promise to be the leaders in the most valuable content at the most valuable time of the year.”
Finally, FOX Sports and NHRA announced the release of the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule with additional live coverage on the FOX broadcast network for the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston and live broadcast network coverage of the  Western Swing from Denver, Sonoma and Seattle as well as the US Nationals from Indianapolis on Labor Day. Joining the NHRA on FOX broadcast team as lead announcer for all 24 NHRA events will be Brian Lohnes. In 2019, NHRA will experiment with new show formats including several broadcasts which will exclusively feature the Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle categories. They will also continue to work with FOX Deportes to offer NHRA drag racing in Spanish. The TV season begins Feb. 7-10 with the 59th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals eliminations.
The NCAA locked in programming plans for the FCS Playoffs, with the action kicking off on Saturday with eight games, including Montana St./Incarnate Word, James Madison/Delaware, Towson/Duquesne, Wofford/Elon, Nicholls St./San Diego, Southeast Mo. St./Stony Brook, Jacksonville St./ETSU and UNI/Lamar. All games will run on ESPN3. Defending national champion North Dakota State tops the bracket as the top seed with the championship slated to take place on Jan. 5 on ESPN2.
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Monster Energy signed on for a renewal to continue its global partnership with Bellator. The three-year agreement sees Monster Energy. “The partnership with Monster Energy has been an important component of our business since day one,” said Bellator President Scott Coker. “They have played a factor in our success and we are thrilled to announce this new three-year extension. The hard work and passion that Hans Molenkamp and the rest of their team have for this sport is unmatched. We look forward to new and exciting opportunities for our brand, fighters and fans that this continued relationship brings to the table.”
Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. inked a deal with Converse as the basketball brand continues it resurgence in the sport. The multi-year deal will see the athlete be featured in lifestyle campaigns and provide input and feedback “on everything from photo-shoot styling to details on upcoming apparel and footwear,” according to ESPN.
Pizza Hut is launching a new campaign to spotlight “Hometown Heroes” a special two-part series featuring two NFL player who speak “candidly about their new hometowns and visiting local schools for the ultimate surprise.” Sponsored by Pizza Hut, produced by RYOT Studio and living exclusively on Yahoo Sports, the video series opens with New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

FloSports inked a multiyear partnership with the National Basketball League to provide live and on-demand coverage of the NBL exclusively in the USand Canada — and non-exclusively in the UK and Asia via FloHoops.com. The agreement includes all preseason, regular season and postseason games with a total of 127 regular season games per season.
The XFL announced an agreement with Optimum Scouting, a comprehensive football consulting business, to provide the league with extensive talent evaluation and scouting services. “The XFL’s first priority is to offer fans the highest quality, best on-field product possible,” said Oliver Luck, XFL Commissioner & CEO. “To accomplish this, we plan to work extremely hard to uncover hidden, overlooked talent, which is what Optimum Scouting is best known for doing. We look forward to working closely with them as we establish our player acquisition process over the next several months.”
For the second straight month, ESPN Podcasts marked a new record for any month in its history with 43.6 million IAB compliant downloads in October, as measured by RawVoice.  September had seen 39.3 million downloads, the previous high. For the year to date, ESPN has 344.9 million downloads, more than 2017’s total and an increase through October of 55%.
NBC Sports’ SportsEngine, Inc. is teaming up with US Ski & Snowboard and their grassroots ski racing program, NASTAR, to promote participation in youth skiing and snowboarding across the United States. SportsEngine’s youth sports directory will now dedicate its homepage to the NGB andl feature all U.S. Ski & Snowboard affiliated organizations along with listing all of the NASTAR ski racing locations across the US.

It is the end of the line for the H1Z1 Pro League, expected news but confirmed over the weekend by ESPN. The decision comes after the league’s April launch, with 15 teams signed on to compete, with each supposed to receive $400,000 per split, although the league – led by General Manager Everett Coleman and originally part of a partnership between Daybreak Games and Twin Galaxies – never resumed about the first split. “It’s with a heavy heart that a letter has been sent to the League’s team organizations providing notice that the second split has been suspended indefinitely, and that a second league season will not be renewed or scheduled at this time,” said Twin Galaxies co-chairman Jace Hall in a message to players and teams, according to ESPN. “As a result, teams have been immediately released from their League specific obligations.”

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