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.
Before we jump into the national broadcast map for Week 8, the halfway point of the NFL season has already seen start times for several games moved to accommodate maximum television audiences.
The National Football League announced that three Week 11 games have shifted times, with the heated Dallas at Washington game on Fox moving from 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers-New York Jets game on CBS has been moved from 1 p.m. to 4:05 p.m. ET and the New York Giants at Detroit Lions game has been moved from 4:15 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET.
Now, on to a quick Week 8 rundown and Fox’s plans for London. Since I got so much great feedback on the broadcast maps, here they are again.
Fox again gets a double-header. It will bring Thom Brennaman, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa to the broadcast table for the league’s first regular-season game in London, featuring the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins. The game will air in 62 percent of the country at 1 p.m. ET.
The second part of the double-header brings the Washington Redskins back to the national spotlight for the second time in three weeks as they face the undefeated New England Patriots. The 4:15 p.m. kickoff will run in 82 percent of the country, with Troy Aikman and Kenny Albert calling the shots.
NFL on Fox Regional Games (Click image to view.)
Other early games will see Dick Stockton and Brian Baldinger behind the microphone for the Eagles/Vikings game for 10 percent of the country and Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan on deck for the Lions/Chicago Bears match in 23 percent.
The New Orleans Saints/49ers contest is set to air in only 8 percent of the country, with Matt Vasgersian and J.C. Pearson in the booth.
NFL on Fox National Games (Click image to view. Select Page 2)
For the 1 p.m. slate of shows, the network has slated the Colts/Panthers game as its top contest, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms breaking down the action in 30 percent of the country. Dick Enberg and Randy Cross will cover the Steelers/Bengals game for 10 percent, Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon handle the Raiders/Titans battle in 14 percent and Don Criqui and Steve Beuerlein take in the Cleveland Browns against the winless Rams for 4 percent.
At 4 p.m., Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf get in the booth for 14 percent of audiences as the Houston Texans take on the Chargers. Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker will call the Bills/Jets game for 12 percent and Solomon Wilcots and Ian Eagle take the mike for the Jaguars/Bucs game in 16 percent.
In a reversal of recent broadcast trends, the National Football League is shortening its annual spring ball, the NFL draft. And no, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. won’t be taking a pay cut.
At a league meeting Tuesday in Philadelphia, National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the organization has streamlined the draft. The lengthy two-day affair now will feature only rounds one and two taking place on Saturday instead of three. Time allotments between picks will be reduced for the first two rounds, with clubs now allowed 10 minutes to pick their players instead of 15 and seven minutes instead of 10 for round two.
Round three will shift to Sunday for the second day of the seven-round event, with all picks remaining at five minutes each.
“We believe these changes will make for a more streamlined and efficient draft,” Mr. Goodell said.
As a result of the shortening, the NFL draft will start later, beginning at 3 p.m. EST on Saturday, while Sunday’s showcase will begin an hour earlier at 10 a.m.
Earlier in the year, speculation ran that the event was in for some changes, including a potential three-day affair that would have put the first round in prime time.
With the NFL seemingly taking every opportunity in recent years to milk a fan base that' passionate toward its programming, the move to shorten the draft is a change of pace for the organization.
The two channels broadcasting the draft, ESPN and the NFL Network, both scrambled to fill time between the picks (teams generally take every minute of their moment in the sun in the early rounds); they'll now be able to create a faster-paced affair despite losing the profitable programming time. In addition, the late start will create more drama later in the day, when more people are available to watch the event.
An ESPN representative concurred, noting the outlet was pleased with the decision. “We are happy. The shortened time between picks will create more excitement for fans.”
“This is great for the fan … the same coverage at a faster pace," said Eric Weinberger, executive producer, NFL Network. "Our directors will be busy. Mike Mayock’s brain is working on overdrive.
"All in all, we still plan to bring our viewers live pick-by-pick coverage, interviews, in-depth analysis, up-to-the-minute breaking news and information from Radio City Music Hall and all 32 team sites,” he added.
The 2007 NFL draft earlier this year scored an average 4.1 rating for ESPN, a phenomenal feat given that first-day coverage lasted eight hours; the show landed second among all cable programs for that week. The 4.1 score more than tripled the draft’s ratings from 20 years ago.
The 2008 NFL Draft will be conducted April 26-27 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and will be televised by NFL Network and ESPN.
A rundown of the broadcast plans for this weekend’s NFL games, including Russell Crowe, Steve Carell and, oh yeah, several games with potential playoff implications:
Fox takes back the doubleheader on Sunday, and finally gets its full docket of games after a slew of NFL matchups on NBC and ESPN.
After switching the Dallas Cowboys/Minnesota Vikings game to a 4:15 p.m. start, Fox now features a national doubleheader, with the early game being the New York Giants/San Francisco 49ers. The Giants game will air in 51 percent of the country with Matt Vasgersian, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa serving as talent. Four other 1 p.m. NFC games are in line, with Chris Rose, Terry Donahue and Eric Richey calling the action for Atlanta Falcons/New Orleans Saints, airing in 7 percent of the country. Ron Pitts, Tony Boselli and Jennifer Hammond make the calls on Tampa Bay/Detroit in 20 percent of the U.S., and the Arizona Cardinals at the Washington Redskins will be seen in 17 percent of the nation. Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan and Dave Feldman will call the shots there.
Here’s a look at which Fox early games are playing where.
NFL on Fox Regional Games (Click image to view.)
In afternoon action, Troy Aikman, Kenny Albert and Pam Oliver take the microphone for the Cowboys/Vikings for 76 percent of the country. Dick Stockton, Brian Baldinger and Don Tellefson will be on hand for the Chicago Bears/Philadelphia Eagles game, carried in 14 percent of the country. Finally, Matt Devlin, JC Pearson and Cara Capuano call the Rams/Seahawks contest on 6 percent of the Fox affiliates.
NFL on Fox National Games (Click image to view. Select page 2.)
CBS will place the network’s lead announcer team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the Kansas City Chiefs/Oakland Raiders game live from McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. The 4:05 p.m. matchup will be seen in 24 percent of the country. The channel’s 1 p.m. games will feature Dick Enberg and Randy Cross calling the Titans/Texans game in 19 percent of the country, Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon on the Ravens/Bills contest in 12 percent of the country and Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf on the Patriots/Dolphins game for 26 percent of the affiliates.
“Both these teams are coming off tough losses,” said Mr. Cross of the Titans/Texans game. “Tennessee had a tough loss against Tampa, between Vince Young getting hurt and Jeff Garcia making big plays when he had to. Houston was a little bit different. They ran into a buzz saw with Jacksonville. The Texans are improved. It depends on what they do in this next pod of games. But from that Jacksonville game they have to have a lot of questions both inside and out.”
In addition to the Chiefs game at 4 p.m., the network will feature Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots in the booth for the Jets/Cincinnati game in 19 percent of the nation.
NBC will feature a strong game between the Steelers and the Broncos on “NBC Sunday Night Football.” As usual, Al Michaels will call play-by-play and John Madden will serve as analyst from Invesco Field at Mile High.
This is the first “Sunday Night Football” game for either team this season. Last year Pittsburgh appeared twice on NBC, defeating the Dolphins 28-17 in the opening game of the NFL season and losing to the Chargers 23-13 in Week 5. The Broncos, meanwhile, had three games on “SNF” last season, defeating the Patriots 17-7 in Week 3 and losing to the Chargers 35-27 in Week 11 and to the Seahawks 23-20 in Week 13.
“Denver came into Pittsburgh’s house last year and beat up on the Steelers (31-20). So the Steelers will be looking for revenge,” said NBC’s “Football Night in America” analyst Jerome Bettis. “When you go and play in Denver, you can’t breathe. So you have to understand that there is going to be some breathing issues. There’s going to be some burning in your chest that you’re going to have to deal with.”
The channel is drawing headlines for Jimmy Kimmel’s comments earlier in the week when he visited the “Monday Night Football” booth. According to reports, the late-night host will be banned from the MNF booth due to comments he made on the air about Joe Theismann and others. However, the channel said the door is not closed, releasing a statement saying, “We have had a great relationship working with Jimmy and we will continue to work with him in the future.”
ESPN did land what may be the most intriguing game of the week in a Colts/Jaguars game. In addition, Russell Crowe will make a booth appearance in the third quarter while “The Office” star Steve Carell will appear in the opening tease to offer his advice to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
The game telecast and “Countdown” pre-game show will highlight new music from Carrie Underwood (singles “Flat on the Floor” and “Twisted”) and Hurricane Chris (singles “A Bay Bay” and “The Hand Clap Song”) as part of “Monday Night Musicians.” The songs will be played coming in and out of commercials and during highlight packages.
The unpredictable season for the National Football League, where up is down and down is up, is paying dividends to Fox and CBS, who have fine-tuned their national games to feature playoff caliber teams. Meanwhile, ESPN and NBC will make the most of disappointing seasons from New Orleans and Atlanta on Sunday and Monday nights, respectively.
CBS scored big with Dallas’ come-from-behind victory on Monday night and now features a “Battle of the Unbeatens” in its afternoon game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots. The game is currently set to air in 87 percent of the country (sorry, California) with the network’s top team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the broadcast booth.
“The fact that Dallas won is going to put them on a whole new emotional high,” said Mr. Simms. “That would not have happened if the Dallas Cowboys lost. It would have hurt their confidence, and it would’ve taken the edge off of them.”
CBS, with both a morning and an afternoon game on the schedule, will put a battle of upstart teams in the primary morning slot with a game between the Tennessee Titans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which is slated to run in 49 percent of the country. Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf will call the contest.
In other games set for a 1 p.m. kickoff, the Bengals/Chiefs game will be seen by 21 percent of the country and be called by Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon for CBS. Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker are slated for the Texans/Jaguars contest, carried in 10 percent of the country. Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots will host the Dolphins/Browns game, carried in 9 percent of the country.
“In this division it’s going to be a real battle, and both these teams are a little bit different within their division,” said Mr. Tasker. “The Jaguars are defense first, run game, ball control; very smash-mouth, old-time-football type of team. Houston is a little more slick. They have a much more open style of offense, and they want to score some points. Even though these teams are different, I think it is going to be a very close game.”
The only other game to air at 4 p.m. will be the Raiders/Chargers game, set to air in 11 percent of the country, with Dick Enberg and Randy Cross calling the shots.
Fox stations have prominently upgraded the status of this weekend’s game between the Washington Redskins and the Green Bay Packers; it now will air in most of the country, including KTTV in Los Angeles, which was originally slated to air the Eagles/Jets game. Both teams have surprised analysts with strong performances this season, and both have only one loss. Fox has slated its top announcing team of Troy Aikman and Kenny Albert, who is filling in for Joe Buck while he handles Fox’s baseball playoffs coverage, for the game. The match will air in 54 percent of the country.
The network will send Matt Vasgersian, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa to New York for the Eagles/Jets game (15 percent coverage), Dick Stockton and Brian Baldinger to the Vikings/Bears matchup (10 percent) and Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan to Baltimore for the Rams/Ravens game (4 percent). At 4 p.m., Ron Pitts and Tony Boselli will call the Panthers game at Arizona, slated for 16 percent of the country.
Meanwhile, ESPN, which will air the Giants at Falcons game from Atlanta Monday night, is slating some heavyweights of its own for its football shows. Veteran coach Bill Parcells will be making special appearance on “Sunday NFL Countdown” as the network previews two of Mr. Parcells’ former teams, the Cowboys and Patriots. “MNF” producers also have scheduled Jimmy Kimmel to appear in the booth during the third quarter of the game, his second appearance on the telecast.
Giants QB Eli Manning will join Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a special tease open to “Monday Night Football” and producers will feature new music from Santana (with singles “Into the Night” and “Why Don’t I”) as part of its “Monday Night Musicians” program.
As a fan of college football, I’m not sure whether I should be surprised by the slow start in ratings for the sport on the three broadcast networks. NBC, of course, can be explained by Notre Dame’s terrible, winless season, which is the risk when you put all your money on a horse that’s losing. Still, ratings for college football are off a sharp 24 percent compared with last year’s season, even with a two-horse race between LSU and USC. What could be even more alarming is that in the key male 18-34 demographic, the sport is off even more, down 26 percent this season. Ouch.
Nevertheless, with college football well under way, and the beginning of college basketball looming, I took the opportunity to speak with the commissioner of one “mid-major” conference that’s received its due in recent seasons, the Colonial Athletic Association. It’s in the first year of a five-year deal with Comcast for football and basketball.
Simply put, the CAA and the Missouri Valley Conference are on a roll despite media critics touting the larger, traditional powerhouses. Yet the league now spans a slew of top television markets including New York with Hofstra, Philadelphia with Drexel, Boston with Northeastern, Washington, D.C., with George Mason, and Atlanta with Georgia State. Now, following two successful NCAA tournament appearances and with the first year of CAA football under way, Commissioner Tom Yeager discussed the future of the league with me, including plans for expansion, new digital carriage deals and his enjoyment when sportscasters who doubt the conference (yes, including CBS’ Billy Packer) get silenced.
In making some calls around the industry, I heard experts say the conference is entering a crucial period. If it can maintain its momentum, it could score a hefty payday from a national carrier when television negotiations begin again in a time when distributors are hungry for content. If it stumbles and returns to being a one-bid league, the chances are slim.
Here is the interview with Mr. Yeager.
The CAA has made more than a few significant moves in recent years, from adding teams in major markets such as New York, Boston, Philly and Atlanta, to the launch of CAA football this season, taking the sport away from the Atlantic 10. How are all these parts performing for you?
Yeager: To be completely honest, it’s gone tremendously. I think we’ve even been surprised at how well the new teams and markets have assimilated into the CAA footprint. We are now entrenched up and down the eastern seaboard, and our expansion has gone into vitally important metro areas for both students and alumni. These moves have really broadened our reach and exposure more than we even thought about early on.
When were plans for football first brought up?
Yeager: I couldn’t say for sure, but my first day on the job was 22 years ago, and I thought about it later than the second day. Football has been something that we’ve had been in the works for a long time, and there was always great interest playing football under one conference identifier.
That said, we’ve been chasing football significantly for the last eight to 10 years, and when the conference expanded in 2000 and 2001, we started to get closer. Once we added Northeastern up in Boston, that gave us our sixth school and satisfied NCAA conference requirements so we could step up front and start football. So far, it’s been terrific.
Right now in the Football Championship Subdivision, the CAA has six teams ranked in the top 15 of the country. That has to be considered a great start for the conference.
Yeager: I like to tell people that we are the SEC of the championship division. This past weekend, UMass only lost by 10 to Boston College, which is ranked sixth in the country. Granted that’s not as great as Appalachian State’s win over Michigan, but it demonstrates how good our teams really are.
Speaking of which, how did you react to Appalachian State’s upset?
Yeager: That was really a terrific win, almost similar to George Mason’s run in the NCAA tournament. I was rooting for them. All of us pull for each other in situations like that, although I hope they stumble if they meet us in the playoffs.
Now that you have the markets and television deals in place, what is the next step to increase exposure for the league?
Yeager: It may sound simplistic, but our success is what’s going to help exposure more than anything else. When you can create product that has the public interest, then it’s of greater interest to our broadcast partners and fans. I think at the end of the day, that’s what it runs to. Football gives us a strong presence in the fall, and we’ve had two very successful basketball seasons for both men and women. If we put up a third one, it helps the growth of everything. We just have to not give up the ground that we seem to have gained.
Of course, success has its downside as well. I continue to see CAA schools such as Hofstra and Drexel mentioned whenever there is discussion of adding schools to the bigger conferences. How do you plan to keep all the schools happy?
Yeager: We are a very homogenous group of schools from the outset, either being predominantly state schools or very large private schools that are located in major metropolitan areas. All of our schools are very attractive institutions beyond athletics and have positive connections between them.
The success we’ve had continues to build equity in the CAA brand. However, the risk is that if a big 1A conference came along, that’s something the schools would look at.
I really do believe we are in the right spot with our programs, and as commissioner I am committed to make the conference grow. Our schools realize that the grass isn’t always greener in the neighbor’s yard.
Are you now set with the current number of teams, or are there more plans for expansion or even contraction?
Yeager: We have no plans to expand or contract any time in the near future. The one obvious exception is Old Dominion coming on to football in 2011, so we’ll have to figure out a way to get a 13-team schedule out. But, otherwise I think everything else is pretty much status quo as we learn to operate with 12 teams, 13 teams or maybe even 14 teams, or whatever.
Of course, everything could change if the Big 10 ever went from 11 teams to 12. That would start some dominoes moving, but short of that everything is stable.
Every year there are sportscasters who seem to go out of their way to denounce the CAA’s inclusion as a contender for at-large teams in the tournament. I’m sure you were happy to quiet the naysayers when George Mason made its run last year and VCU took down Duke last March.
Yeager: Absolutely. That’s one of those things where people form opinions about your teams without ever seeing them play. When the Valley was criticized for having four teams and we took heat for getting Mason in, those guys cranked out propaganda without ever seeing those teams play.
The big thing about basketball is that the decks are so stacked toward the home team, but there are a lot of good teams out there, and a lot of these upsets that you see are because the margin between teams is now more narrow than some people think.
I think sometimes the media gets swept up with the brand names that they don’t look to some of the other stories out there that can be compelling. That comes at the expense of other teams. But it’s a great feeling to see those teams finally get a chance to step up and show the world what they can do.
With content thriving in a multiplatform digital universe, what are the CAA’s plans to utilize these outlets?
Yeager: A couple years ago, a number of video-streaming guys came around in waves offering programming. But it comes and goes, because one of the hardest things to do is to try to stay ahead of the technology.
But that said, some of the bigger outlets don’t give us that time of day a lot, and some of our most attractive opportunities might be off the mainline stuff and for us to go digital, so that may be where we are going to head.
The NFL Network is going amateur, but in a good way.
The outlet is continuing to add to its college football-themed content and has scheduled the 2007 Circle City Classic, featuring the Winston-Salem State University Rams and the Florida A&M University Rattlers, to air on the channel Oct. 6. The contest is the first regular-season game on the channel.
“This is something we played from the beginning,” said Charles Coplin, VP of programming for the NFL Network. “We are about all things football and while we wanted to come out of the gate focused on the NFL, we are planning to be aggressive to acquire football programming of all types.”
The match-up, combined with the Texas Bowl on Dec. 28 and the Insight Bowl on Dec. 31 as well as the Under Armour Senior Bowl and the nightly series “College Football Now,” is part of a supplemental programming strategy by the network, and NFL executives said more will be on the way.
Mr. Coplin noted the NFL Network had already programmed high school football and had extensive coverage of the NFL combines and draft. However, the channel is looking for more opportunities to bring college games to the channel as the channel builds on its breadth of content.
“In some situations, the rights just aren’t available, but as we move forward we are examining opportunities that are available and right for us,” said Mr. Coplin. “College is obviously very close to the pro game, and we want to be aggressive in that pursuit.”
The Circle City Classic will feature the presentation of the Chase Major Taylor Award to Tony Dungy, head coach of the Super Bowl XLI Champion Indianapolis Colts, and Tamika Catchings, Olympic gold medalist and All-WNBA performer for the Indiana Fever. The award is given each year to African-American athletes, coaches, athletic administrators and officials who have made significant local and national contributions to youth initiatives, while encouraging excellence in future generations.
The game will be called by Spero Dedes and Sterling Sharpe.