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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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September 2007 Archives

Sugar Ray Leonard Breaks Down Boxing and the UFC

September 21, 2007 8:38 AM

While boxing fans await the battle between Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik next week on HBO as potentially the best match in months following a long layoff on the channel, the press, once reluctant to even acknowledge the UFC, have been eagerly lapping up Chuck Liddell’s bout on UFC 76 on Sunday in another strong card from the Mixed Martial Arts organization.

As the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts continues to skyrocket, one boxing legend continues to make strides in helping the popularity of boxing, a sport written off by some columnists for its waning popularity and lack of popular fighters. Sugar Ray Leonard’s series “The Contender” is picking up in its third season where the second season left off. The show’s second season finale was viewed by 2.3 million people and was the highest-rated boxing telecast on ESPN in nine years.

“The Contender,” produced by DreamWorks Television and Mark Burnett Productions, premiered earlier this month on ESPN.

Mr. Leonard was the first boxer to win world titles in five different weight classes, a record that stands to this day. His personality and ring experience led to a successful career as a television broadcaster for NBC, ABC, HBO and ESPN. The clip below in a champion vs. champion face-off with Thomas Hearns remains one of the most riveting boxing storylines, in my opinion, in history.

In this interview, Mr. Leonard discusses the difficulties faces the boxing industry as well as the keys to success for MMA leagues such as the UFC.

In your third season of “The Contender,” entire bouts between the contestants are now been seen on ESPN2, what prompted the additional programming for the boxing fan?
Leonard: For just for the boxing purist, we decided to provide the entire fight for them by showing the fight every Thursday night in its entirety unedited. But for the people who are more casual boxing fans, and want to see these guys do what they do, then you watch the show. We’ve taken steps to satisfy both appetites.

For a sport that is hurting for big names, the show has clearly put a number of boxers on the map. It seems like every time I see a card being advertised there is mention of someone from “The Contender.”
Leonard: I continue to be amazed whenever I travel at how popular these guys have become. Guys from Peter Manfredo Jr. to Alfonso Gomez all bring fans. Alfonso still ranks as everyone’s favorite from the first season. It amazes me how many people recognize Alfonso; even when we travel overseas, he gets one of the biggest reactions and we all know it’s from “The Contender.”
But without question, one of the biggest problems with boxing is the lack of big names in the mix. Back in my time, there were fighters who had big-time personalities, and we need superstars now to help the sport. That’s our hope, to create superstars, or household names like Alfonso, Peter and Sergio Mora.

If you had the power to change one thing about boxing to help the sport, what would that be?
Leonard: If I could change one thing, it would be to not have so many governing bodies overseeing the sport. With so many organizations, there is a tendency to dilute the champion. It was OK when there were two or three, but now it’s beyond ridiculous. I mean, I’m a fighter and even I don’t know these guys.

Do you watch Mixed Martial Arts competitions such as the UFC? If so, are you a fan?
Leonard: I do watch it. When I first saw it, I thought it was a bit much, but that was before they were regulated. Now I watch it and I like it.
I think what the UFC in particular has done is something we haven’t done in a long time, and that’s create superstars. Rampage Jackson is a character and a hell of a fighter, and you have other guys who stand out as well. That’s the key to success.
Most people don’t tune in to boxing to watch boxing; there has to be a story, personality and style to bring in the masses. Of course, you have fans who watch no matter what, but to grow you need to have the package.


Which NFL City is Most Obsessed With Football?

September 12, 2007 12:12 PM

One sports media personality said to me a couple of weeks ago that the fun of watching sports is about 80 percent anticipation. Apparently, anticipation played a big part for fans in the Pittsburgh and Buffalo television markets which ranked at the top in share of the first week of ratings.

National anticipation for the new NFL season paid big dividends as ratings come in for the various telecasts on CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN for the first games of the season. The results could also give an early indication as to who, exactly, is the most football obsessed city in the country, although NFL games came in first place in the local ratings in all 30 NFL television markets tying the previous record set in week 17 of 2003.

According to Nielsen television ratings numbers, fans in Pittsburgh and Buffalo led the country in share of audience watching NFL games on television this week, with Pittsburgh ranking first in the country as 66 percent of household television sets tuned in to the Steelers/Browns game on Sunday.

Buffalo fans ranked right behind claiming a 64 share of television sets during the Bills loss to Denver on Sunday. In fact, 14 of the 30 markets that have professional football teams, had household shares of 50 or better when their prospective teams were playing with New Orleans, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis also scoring a 60 share or better.

On a national basis, NFL games accounted for the three most watched programs of the week from Sept. 3-9, with Fox’s doubleheader game on Sunday (generally Bears vs. Chargers) scoring 22.1 million viewers followed by the Giants vs. Cowboys Sunday night opener on NBC with 18.2 million and the Saints vs. Colts Thursday night Opening Kickoff game also on NBC with 17.8 million.

Meanwhile, the special season-opening doubleheader of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” delivered the network’s two highest ratings of the year and the second- and third-largest household audiences on cable this year with the Bengals win over the Ravens earning an 8.6 rating, representing 11.1 million viewers. The second half of the doubleheader featuring the 49ers and the Cardinals pulled in 8.5 million fans. Those two scores rank behind only Disney Channel’s “High School Musical 2” in cable ratings so far this year.

Below is the chart of the markets with household rating, share and timeslot rank of the 30 NFL markets.

Week of Sept. 3-9

HH

HH

Rating

Market

Game

Date

Rating

Share

Rank

New Orleans

Saints @ Colts

9/6/07

46.6

63

1

Indianapolis

Saints @ Colts

9/6/07

45.0

63

1

Pittsburgh

Steelers @ Browns

9/9/07

37.6

66

1

Dallas

Giants @ Cowboys

9/9/07

33.5

48

1

Buffalo

Broncos @ Bills

9/9/07

33.5

64

1

Cleveland

Steelers @ Browns

9/9/07

31.5

55

1

Milwaukee

Eagles @ Packers

9/9/07

30.8

60

1

Tampa Bay

Bucs @ Seahawks

9/9/07

29.4

48

1

Kansas City

Chiefs @ Texans

9/9/07

29.3

55

1

Minneapolis

Falcons @ Vikings

9/9/07

28.0

62

1

Jacksonville

Titans @ Jaguars

9/9/07

27.1

47

1

Chicago

Bears @ Chargers

9/9/07

26.9

51

1

Boston

Patriots @ Jets

9/9/07

26.3

51

1

Nashville

Titans @ Jaguars

9/9/07

25.5

47

1

Philadelphia

Eagles @ Packers

9/9/07

24.9

52

1

San Diego

Bears @ Chargers

9/9/07

24.1

49

1

Denver

Broncos @ Bills

9/9/07

23.8

55

1

Washington, DC

Dolphins @ Redskins

9/9/07

23.3

54

1

Detroit

Lions @ Raiders

9/9/07

23.0

42

1

Charlotte

Panthers @ Rams

9/9/07

23.0

41

1

Seattle

Bucs @ Seahawks

9/9/07

22.6

50

1

Miami

Dolphins @ Redskins

9/9/07

21.2

37

1

Houston

Chiefs @ Texans +
Bonus Coverage

9/9/07

21.9

39

1

St. Louis

Panthers @ Rams

9/9/07

18.7

40

1

Phoenix

Bears @ Chargers

9/9/07

16.2

31

1

Baltimore

Saints @ Colts

9/6/07

15.4

24

1

New York

Giants @ Cowboys

9/9/07

14.6

24

1

Atlanta

Falcons @ Vikings

9/9/07

13.8

28

1

Cincinnati

Saints @ Colts

9/6/07

13.4

22

1

SF-Oakland

Lions @ Raiders

9/9/07

11.5

30

1

Defending NBC's Tiki Barber

September 7, 2007 11:20 AM

Preseason apparently means as much to audiences as it does to starting players. Despite low preseason ratings, audiences turned up for Thursday’s NFL opener on NBC.

The Indianapolis Colts 41-10 blowout against the New Orleans Saints on last night’s NFL regular season kickoff did little to diminish audience interest in the sport. Despite a lopsided game, the contest earned an average 13.0 rating/21 share which was down only 4 percent compared to last year’s tight Dolphins/Steelers matchup (13.6/22) and down only 1 percent versus two years ago when the Raiders and the Patriots squared off. The game opened at comparable numbers to last year’s game but trickled off as the Colts pulled away in the second half.

As for NBC’s Tiki Barber making controversial comments against his former coach in his new book and on air, I’ve seen a lot of commentary slamming the former Giants running back as “cowardly” and “disloyal” for talking smack about his former boss now that he no longer worked for the team in saying that the coach was part of the reason he left the team.

However, Tiki has never been known for holding back, criticizing Tom Coughlin even when he was a player and drew fire for undermining the team in public. That I understand, but as a broadcast personality with new signatures on his paychecks, Tiki was hired to give his perspective on the state of the league, I’d be nothing less than disappointed if he held back. In fact, wasn’t his vocal opinions the very reason he was hired?

NBC sports spokesperson Brian Walker took note of the sudden firestorm surrounding Tiki from the other networks, and drily noted "We appreciate all the free publicity."

As the other networks brace for their new seasons on Sunday and Monday, ESPN will mike up Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson during the game for “Monday Night Football” and have tapped Samuel L. Jackson to appear in a special opening with Johnson and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

The company also announced that on “Sunday NFL Countdown,” 10-year old Chicago boy Jason Krause will give commentary in a new segment entitled “Takin' It To The House with Jason Krause.” Company executives are already buzzing about his audition and expect him to take Tony’s place on "MNF" next season as part of a 7 year, $25.5 million development deal with Jason’s agent. (OK, kidding about the last part.)

I've received emails recently asking me about my favorite sites for sports media information. Although I have a number of them that I regularly visit which I'll write about in coming weeks, one of my favorites is Fang's Bites where they literally keep their finger on the pulse of all that is sports media. If its been written about anywhere in the country, its probably posted here.

ESPN’s Keyshawn Johnson

September 4, 2007 2:37 PM

Emmitt Smith (left) Keyshawn Johnson (right) After a few days at ESPN in Bristol, Conn., a visit to the U.S. Open on Friday and a NASCAR race over the weekend, Pressbox has plenty to talk about over the next week as sports media outlets rev up for their busiest time of the year.

First up, with football season just days away, all four of the networks showcasing the NFL this week are entrenching themselves with the final touches on their broadcasts. As Chris Berman said to reporters last week, “If all else fails, we talk about football.”

Among changes to expect in one area this season is a potential segment involving Chris Berman, Bill Parcells and his former player Keyshawn Johnson. In addition, the ESPN crew said they had upgraded the drawing tools for newcomer Ron Jaworski to map out plays during the broadcasts.

The company will begin rolling out new promos this week for “Sunday Night Countdown” entitled “Lucky for Us, They Chose Football,” in which the cast will host mock studio segments where they dish on pottery, motorcycle maintenance and landscaping.

Also had a chance to talk with Pressbox interviewee Ron Jaworski about the Arena Football League, where he is an owner. Jaws said that in two weeks, owners will be gathering to discuss the future of the Nashville franchise as well as the possibility of creating a new team in south Florida.

This week Pressbox had a quick sit-down with Keyshawn, who retired from the NFL earlier in the year and now joins the media that once dubbed him “Meshawn” for being outspoken about players and coaches as well as a result of his book “Just Give Me the Damn Ball.” He was the top overall pick by the New York Jets in the 1996 NFL Draft and played for four teams during his career, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2000-03), the Dallas Cowboys (2004-05) and the Carolina Panthers (2006). He became one of the most productive receivers of his era, earning 814 receptions for 10,571 yards and 64 touchdowns in 167 games.

You had one workout as an analyst for the NFL draft. How are you getting ready for your first season as part of the media?
Keyshawn: I will just follow the veterans, and watch what they are doing and understand how they got to be good at what they’re doing.
The reason why the draft was so successful for me was that I followed the script. I didn’t deviate from the plan that they gave me and the way to make things work. I never got off track. That’s the same way in my career in football was successful was that I never got off the script that was written for me by the coaches. I never ventured off into doing other things. As long as I do that, that’s where I think I’ll be successful.

Would you say that you have any mentors in broadcasting?
Keyshawn: I watch them, but I do my own thing.

What exactly do you bring to the table that audiences haven’t seen before?
Keyshawn: Hopefully I’ll bring my personality and my looks, as well as my knowledge of the game from the past 11 years as a professional as well as from college and high school. I know the game. I am opinionated, but that’s not going to hurt anybody. If I say that someone didn’t do a good job, I’m not trying to bury the guy. Some people have sensitive stomachs, but it is what it is.

You have had to face a lot of media scrutiny over the years as a player. How do you go from that side to being part of the media? What makes you want to do that?
Keyshawn: I always understood that they were just doing their job. I never got down on anybody that may have said something about me. I’m not a negative person in terms of holding on to something forever. So a guy says something about me, I let it go. That’s their opinion. But they are still paying me.

How has the draft changed from when you were drafted?
Keyshawn: Clearly it seems like a bigger event now than when it was when I got drafted, which is fun then, but it was fun covering that side of it as well.

How active are you as a USC alumnus?
Keyshawn: I’m still there. You’ll see me on their sidelines, especially now that I’ll have more time.