TVWeek's Deputy Editor Chris Pursell is exploring the billion dollar business of sports media. Every week he will deliver the latest insights as well as a fresh perspective along with interviews with the biggest personalities in the business.

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NFL Network Piles on Originals

August 20, 2008 2:19 PM

NFL Network is beefing up its lineup of original programming. Heading into football’s fall season, NFL Network will debut new series including “NFL Replay Real-Time,” “Starting 11,” “Live Wire,” “Team Cam” and “America’s Game: The Missing Rings.”

Football game in high-def

In addition, the channel will expand “College Football Now” to a full hour as the NCAA sport gears up for its own new year.

The moves are designed to capitalize on the growing awareness of the network as well as the ratings hike seen last season.

Here’s the rundown on the new shows, according to the network.

Thursday features a night of new programming on NFL Network. The sounds of the game that only NFL Films can capture—with exclusive on-field and sideline microphone access—will be featured on “Live Wire” at 9 p.m. (all times ET), premiering Sept. 11. Then at 9:30 p.m., it’s “Starting 11,” a fast-paced, highlights-driven look at the 11 most exciting moments from the previous weekend.

Following these newcomers Thursday at 10 p.m. is a new season of the Emmy Award-winning “America’s Game.” “America’s Game: The Missing Rings” debuts Sept. 18 and chronicles five of the greatest teams that did not win a Super Bowl.

Starting Sept. 2 is “Team Cam,” a two-hour, live whip-around show with exclusive coverage and interviews from a dedicated camera inside the headquarters or practice sites of all 32 teams. “Team Cam,” running Tuesday through Friday at 4 p.m., will feature NFL coach and player press conferences accompanied by debate among NFL Network talent, beat writers and bloggers.

Randy Moss, a veteran horse-racing analyst and host, joins NFL Network as the host of “Team Cam.” Moss was an award-winning columnist and reporter for the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers for two decades.

Monday nights at 7:30 p.m., NFL Network will give fans a unique minute-by-minute look at what happened the previous afternoon with the new one-hour “NFL Replay Real-Time.” Much like the hit show “24,” “NFL Replay Real-Time,” debuting Sept. 8 with a special 6 p.m. start time, will have a time-of-day graphic on the screen. If Brett Favre throws a touchdown pass at 1:06 p.m. and Devin Hester returns a punt for a touchdown at 1:11 p.m., fans will see those big plays and more from a different perspective, as they unfolded in real time.

NBC Feeling the Phelps Effect

August 15, 2008 2:51 PM

Michael Phelps may have single-handedly added at least a quarter of a million dollars to the value of the next round of bidding for the Olympic Games, according to analysts.

While I’m not going to jump deeper into this story for the moment, the unexpected ratings success of the Games, thanks in part to Mr. Phelps’ quest for eight gold medals, will beef up the price when bidding for the 2014 and 2016 Games begins this fall.

The dollar value of the event definitely will pass the $2 billion of the most recent contract paid by NBC, and could even surpass the earlier “high” expectations of $2.25 billion for the next round of bidding, according to my sources. More on that in a few weeks.

Mr. Phelps has two more medal races remaining in his campaign to break the all-time record for medals in a single Olympics. His quest has helped NBC’s coverage debut to huge ratings and score a massive win.

Through the first five nights of the Games, the network’s prime-time coverage has averaged a 17.8 rating/31 share and 31.3 million viewers. That bucks recent downward trends for the Games (up 16% from the comparable nights of Athens 2004) and 22% better than the first five nights of Sydney in 2000.

NBC’s prime-time coverage of the Beijing Olympics on Saturday begins at 7:30 p.m. with the final night of swimming, where Mr. Phelps could break Mark Spitz’s 36-year-old record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics by going eight-for-eight in ’08 in the 4x100 medley relay.

If the record is indeed on the line, even NBC’s competitors expect ratings for the Games to shatter recent records.

Phelps’ Relay Finish Propels Online Traffic

August 11, 2008 2:35 PM

Michael Phelps Celebrating His Team's Relay Win

Make what you will of the digital fireworks, but the riveting freestyle relay on Sunday continues
to pay off for NBC.

First, 81 million watched NBC in prime time as Michael Phelps, with his USA teammates, came from behind to take down the French and win his second gold medal of the Beijing Games. Now, word of mouth is driving phenomenal traffic online as well.

As of early Monday afternoon, NBC reports 1.1 million video streams of the historic 4x100m relay have been accessed at NBCOlympics.com, making it the most watched video ever from the site.

Here’s where they rank so far…

Top Video Streams Today on NBCOlympics.com:

1. U.S. Wins 4x100m Relay

2. Beijing and Beyond Feature

3. Phelps Wins 400m IM

4. Women's Fencing – Foil

5. U.S.-China Basketball preview


Anyway, Sunday’s coverage drew a total of 107 million people watching the Beijing Olympics at some point on the various NBC outlets, pacing 16 million ahead of the same first Sunday of the Athens Games. NBC has drawn 143 million total viewers though the first three days of the events.

NBC's prime-time coverage, which included Phelps collecting his second Beijing gold medal and eighth career Olympic gold medal in the relay, as well as Bob Costas’ interview with President Bush, peaked with a 21.0/32 and 38.4 million average viewers in the 9:30 p.m. half-hour.

Cubs Driving More Than Runs

July 29, 2008 12:46 PM

First the Devil Rays’ string of wins sent Tampa’s ratings soaring. Now Comcast SportsNet Chicago, the television home of the Chicago Cubs, has scored its best Cubs ratings ever, recording a whopping 8.3 household rating for its live coverage of the Cubs’ National League Central Division battle against the Milwaukee Brewers Monday night.

That equates to around 288,000 households for the entire game, with ratings peaking at an 11.2 during the 10:15 p.m. quarter-hour. The Cubs broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the ninth to win the game, 6-4.

So far this season, the Cubs are averaging a 5.01 household rating on Comcast SportsNet Chicago this season; that’s a year-to-date increase of 36% from last season. Comcast SportsNet also will carry Wednesday night’s Cubs at Brewers contest beginning at 7 p.m.

Meaningful Moments Make ESPY Awards Special

July 17, 2008 11:16 AM


IN THE THEATER: Robin Roberts and Stuart Scott present Kevin Everett with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.

The Nokia Theater made its bow as the new home of the ESPYs Wednesday night in Los Angeles. While Justin Timberlake did an admirable job as the show’s host, the ESPYs tend to be remembered for special moments rather than as a show.

This year was in keeping with that tradition, with moments both funny and touching for sports fans.


STEPPING IN: Actor Will Ferrell accepts an award on behalf of Tiger Woods.

Tops on the list were Will Farrell accepting an award as Tiger Woods and Brett Favre declaring that his ESPY “makes me want to play again,” as well as a terrific song-and-dance “rock opera” on the year in sports performed by Timberlake.

On the serious side, Samuel L. Jackson and Steve Nash presented the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to 1968 Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The athletes raised their black-gloved fists on the medal podium during the American anthem to represent the struggle for racial equality in the U.S. and the universal struggle for basic human rights, only to be kicked off the team for their actions.

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Red Bull Air Race Takes Flight for Fox Sports

July 16, 2008 1:11 PM

Rarely is a new sport able to take off without difficulty, but that’s exactly what the Red Bull Air Race World Series has accomplished. With all new aircraft, uniforms and locations, season two of the air competition on Fox Sports debuted this week and already figures to transform the dimensions of motorsport racing.

The series was watched by more than 4.5 million people last year in season one on the outlet, which saw the world’s top pilots race at speeds up to 250 mph. Red Bull conceived of the sport in 2001.

This season, 12 pilots will battle it out on 10 courses around the world, including San Diego, Budapest, Abu Dhabi, Stockholm, London and Perth.

Check out the video preview of the new season here, complete with some of the innovative technology being used to capture the competition.

In a nutshell, the race featured pilots completing obstacle courses, where they must pass though air gates in the fastest possible time as well as in the correct position. The pilot who accumulates the most points at the end of the season is declared champion. Calling the action is Mike Buchan, Mike Goldberg and Alan Preston.

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Kellogg a Perfect Fit With Nantz at CBS

July 14, 2008 1:52 PM

Even if he does, seemingly, always pick the No. 1 seeds to advance to the Final Four, kudos to Clark Kellogg for stepping into the shoes of Billy Packer as CBS’ lead basketball analyst.

Mr. Kellogg always brought a great presence and solid analysis to CBS’ college basketball coverage and should be a great complement to Jim Nantz, a feeling clearly shared by the network suits. Mr. Kellogg was a game analyst for the network's NCAA Tournament coverage in 1993 and 1994 and was studio co-host for first- and second-round coverage from 1994 to 1997. He has co-hosted “The Road to the Final Four” since 1997. Mr. Kellogg also served as an analyst for ESPN's regular-season basketball coverage.

“With his unquestioned popularity and performance over the years, Clark Kellogg earned all rights to this top spot,” said Sean McManus, president, CBS News & Sports. “Like Billy Packer, Al McGuire or any of the most highly regarded broadcasters, Clark is an original voice with his own style and perspective. We have been proud to have him lead our studio presence for many years and look forward to his fresh impact on CBS Sports’ coverage of college basketball for years to come.”

In case you hadn’t heard the buzz, reports circulated this weekend that CBS Sports lead game analyst Billy Packer was out after 27 seasons. Mr. Packer had drawn some heat in recent seasons for statements that included trashing the selection of George Mason as an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament (the team went on to make the Final Four) and calling a Kansas/North Carolina game “over” before the Tar Heels came back, although Kansas ended up winning the game. However, he was top-notch at breaking down analysis in-game.

“For over three decades Billy Packer has been the voice of the NCAA Final Four and, in many ways, of college basketball,” said Mr. Kellogg. “His excellence as an analyst is Hall of Fame-worthy. His knowledge of the game and its history is unparalleled. That, along with his passion and keen insights, enabled him to do his work as an analyst better and longer than anyone in the game’s history. His legacy is one of enduring excellence and keeping the focus on the game. That is the foundation I aspire to build on.”

The Charlotte Observer had a good interview with Mr. Packer, which you can read here.

In it, Mr. Packer noted that he didn’t see himself coming back as a broadcaster, noting, “In the history of nationally televised basketball, I’ve done probably 90% of the great games, so I don’t want to be going to do games of a different status, so I have no interest in that.”

Good luck to both men as they begin their new journeys.

Q&A: Golf Champ, Broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch

July 11, 2008 6:45 PM

As we head into MLB’s mid-summer classic, as well as the British Open and Espys next week, national sports ratings continue to heat up

Baseball on Fox jumped to its best score of the season at a 3.0/8 for the always entertaining Red Sox/Yankees and Cubs/Cardinals games. That score marks the networks’ best national rating for the sport since June 2 of 1997.

NBC, meanwhile, earned a 3.5/10 on Sunday for the terrific Wimbledon final, possible one the best matches ever played. That score was good enough for a 30% improvement over last year’s final, which earned a 2.7/8 in the five set epic. Late in the fifth and final set, ratings only grew and peaked at a 4.7/11.

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NBC Gets Aces With Wimbledon

July 7, 2008 11:57 AM

First an amazing match with Tiger Woods’ dramatic come-from-behind playoff victory at the U.S. Open, now an epic Gentlemen's Singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon—NBC is hitting ratings highs.

NBC Sports' “Breakfast at Wimbledon” coverage of the finals match between the world’s top two male tennis players earned the network its best overnight rating for a Gentlemen's Final in eight years, scoring a 4.6 rating and a 12 share and besting last year’s finals by 44%, according to Nielsen Media research.

“This has got to be the greatest match we've ever seen—EVER,” commentator John McEnroe said during the match.

Mr. Nadal was the victor in the grueling, nearly five-hour match, dethroning Mr. Federer, the five-time defending Wimbledon, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 to score his first Wimbledon victory.

Top metered markets for Sunday's coverage of the Gentlemen’s Final:

1. St. Louis, 8.2/19
2. West Palm Beach, Fla., 7.5/17
3. Washington, D.C., 6.4/17
4. Nashville, Tenn., 6.3/14
4. Fort Myers, Fla., 6.3/15
6. Las Vegas, 6.1/14
7. Jacksonville, Fla., 6.0/13
7. Richmond, Va., 6.0/12
9. New York, 5.7/15
9. Milwaukee, 5.7/12

NBC also scored with its Ladies’ Singles final between the Williams sisters, earning the best rating for a Ladies Final since 2005 with a 3.4 overnight rating and a 10 share. Venus Williams defeated sister Serena in a match that improved ratings from last year’s final by 21%.

Tremendous Home-Market Tune-In for Tampa

July 2, 2008 1:58 PM

With the best record in Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays may be worrying television executives hoping for a Chicago Cubs-Boston Red Sox World Series. But the red-hot baseball team is drumming up record numbers in its home market.

Tuesday night’s winning game against the Red Sox drew the highest rating ever for a Rays game on television with a 9.1; that made it the top-rated television program in the Tampa area. In fact, last night’s game demolished FSN Florida’s previous record TV HH rating for a Rays game on the regional cable network, which was a 4.5 on June 19 vs. the Chicago Cubs.

That score is up 203% over the season-to-date 3.0 rating, which itself is up 36% over 2007 numbers.

With major-market teams from Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia all in serious contention to make the playoffs, Tampa Bay could well play spoiler to those big-market draws. Just don’t tell that to fans in Tampa.