Super Bowl coverage on steroids; Beadle's new show
There is no excess like the excess of Super Bowl week, the annual bacchanalia featuring swarms of sports media members infiltrating a city with far less panache than the Greeks used to enter Troy.
But this year marks a new level of superabundance with the presence of the CBS Sports Network -- the cable channel of host broadcaster CBS -- airing live programming from New Orleans in an effort to increase visibility and start the long journey to swipe audience against current dominant players ESPN and the NFL Network.
Thanks to our army of interns (not really) sorting through the thousand-word press releases sent by networks last week highlighting their Super Bowl week programming, here's a snapshot of what the football networks will bring you from NOLA, as well as the usual Monday column circus.
1. Given its 24/7 charter to provide NFL programming, the NFL Network will have the most hours (140, including 85 live) from New Orleans, airing shows from 11 different sets. This includes 10.5 hours (yes, that's not a misprint) of pregame coverage on Super Bowl Sunday, starting at 7 a.m. ET with its First On The Field show. Then comes an 8.5-hour edition of NFL Game Day Morning.
NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger says First on the Field host Melissa Stark will be on set for both the early morning show as well as hosting a second set for Game Day Morning. The usual Game Day Morning host, Rich Eisen, will also be hosting a three-hour postgame show. That is a long, long day for those respective hosts.
1a. The NFL Network has long been my choice for NFL Media Day -- mostly to see how many questions Deion Sanders can ask that reference Deion Sanders -- and they'll cover the annual press orgy on Tuesday beginning at 10 a.m. ET. Among the other live highlights on NFLN during Super Bowl week: Beyonce's Super Bowl halftime press conference (Jan. 31, 3 p.m. ET); Roger Goodell's annual Super Bowl press conference (Feb. 1), and the Pro Football Hall of Fame Announcement Show (Feb. 2).
1b. Every network public relations staff is obsessed by the amount of Super Bowl rings its talent has won and the NFL Network says they have a combined 17 Super Bowl rings among its 35 on-air personalities.
1c. NFL.com and SuperBowl.com will post all the Super Bowl commercials after they have aired on the television broadcast. To view the commercials from Super Bowl XLVI, click here.
2. ESPN was kind enough to send a nearly 2,300-word press release on all its Super Bowl week happenings. The network says it will air more than 120 hours of television and radio from New Orleans featuring more than 35 on-air hosts, analysts, reporters and contributors with (wait for it) 18 Super Bowl rings. ESPN will air a four-hour edition of Sunday NFL Countdown on Super Bowl Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m. ET.
2a. Expect ESPN to put Mike Ditka in heavy rotation this week given he coached the Bears to a Super Bowl XX win in New Orleans, and coached current Niners coach Jim Harbaugh.
2b. ESPN's on-site set location in New Orleans -- the Jax Brewery parking lot on Decatur Street -- includes two outdoor sets and a 16-by-9 foot LED screen so fans can get a good view of ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd making overgeneralizations. ESPN SportsCenter will offer afternoon and morning segments (hosted by Hannah Storm) and nightly segments (Stuart Scott and Steve Levy) from New Orleans. The network's Media Day coverage will be led by Levy, Herm Edwards and Mark Schlereth.
2c. On Feb. 1, Mike Tirico will host what could be a very interesting sitdown show featuring former Super Bowl winners including Tedy Bruschi, Trent Dilfer, Dikta, Jon Gruden, Keyshawn Johnson, Jerry Rice, Schlereth and Steve Young.
2d. Worth watching will be any one-on-one interview Ray Lewis gives ESPN. Here's why.
3. The CBS Sports Network will air 50 hours of original programming from New Orleans, including seven shows originating from a four-stage setup at Jackson Square which the network has renamed CBS Super Bowl Park. CBS Sports Radio will also air 75 hours of original hours from the Super Bowl. Why should viewers watch or listen to CBS as opposed to the traditional networks that have owned this Super Bowl week space?
"I would simply say look at the talent we have analyzing the game," said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. "There is hundreds and thousands of hours of great programming in New Orleans during the week on all types of cable stations. We will put out our best talent and hope that people check us out. We are not trying to out-ESPN. I think we will put on some very compelling programming."
3a. Network executives like to bring on active players for its Super Bowl coverage (Aaron Rodgers and Hines Ward worked for NBC last year) because they believe it adds currency to a broadcast. In that vein, CBS has added Packers All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews as a contributing analyst for its Super Bowl pregame show. He and his famous hair will join The NFL Today crew throughout the pregame show. Solomon Wilcots (Ravens) and Steve Tasker (Niners) have been assigned to report from each team during the week.
3b. Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Redskins linebacker London Fletcher have been added by CBS to serve as guest analysts throughout the week on various CBS Sports entities. Both Fitzgerald and Fletcher were mentioned by multiple television executives as players who had potential to work in broadcasting when I wrote on that subject for Sports Illustrated two months ago.
3c. CBS Sports Network's main primetime show is "Super Bowl Live," which will be hosted by Greg Gumbel and air from Tuesday to Friday from 7-9 p.m. ET. Analysts include Boomer Esiason, Steve Beuerlein, Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe, Fitzgerald, Fletcher, Steve Smith, Osi Umenyiora, Russell Wilson, Maurice Jones-Drew and NFL Insider Jason La Canfora.
3d. Jim Rome's daily afternoon show (Monday-Friday, 6-7 p.m. ET) on the CBS Sports Network will expand to an hour during Super Bowl week. The network's late-night show, Lead Off, (Monday-Friday, Midnight-1 a.m. ET) will air live nightly from Jackson Square.
3e. CBS chief Les Moonves wants to make one thing very clear: His cable network is not competing with ESPN. "To even think we will be in the same universe as them is a ways down the road," Moonves told SI.com. "ESPN does a phenomenal job. But one day we are going to have a strong cable sports network."
3f. CBS NFL analyst Boomer Esiason will be pulling double-duty at the Super Bowl this year thanks to his role as the analyst on Dial Global's radio broadcast of the game. (Kevin Harlan is the radio play-by-play announcer). Esiason's role on the NFL Today pregame, halftime and postgame television show, as well as an extra postgame show on the CBS Sports Network, presents a challenge for Howard Deneroff, the Dial Global executive producer of sports.
"First of all, the distance of the television set to our radio booth is much further away than the last two times we did this [both in Miami]," Deneroff said. "When Boomer has had to go from one location to the other [Deneroff says this will happen four times during the radio broadcast], we were able to do it during a two-minute commercial break for previous Super Bowls. That won't be the case here because we are almost on the roof on the opposite side of the field from The NFL Today location. Boomer will miss a little action while en route, and will have to be on a wireless microphone for a longer stretch. He and Kevin will have to still sound seamless and not step on each other. ... Keep in mind that Boomer also has to remember what he talked about on each of the different broadcasts and not mix up where he said or didn't say something. The more that is added to his plate, the tougher it is to keep track of."
4. The NBC Sports Network will air 24 hours of programming from New Orleans including The Dan Patrick Show, The Box Score, Pro Football Talk, and the debut of The Crossover: with Michelle Beadle and Dave Briggs (more on this below). NBC Sports Radio will also have a significant presence. Without the scale of ESPN or the NFL Network and low ratings, the network is in the same boat as the CBS Sports Network. The goal is to get publicity for its brands and hope the momentum continues following New Orleans.
4a. NBC Sports held a press call last week to promote its new NBC Sports Network show featuring the genial Beadle, and it was amusing to sit on the call just to hear multiple NBC Sports executives metaphorically kiss the behind of show's female lead. "The Crossover" will have Beadle pitted with former Fox News Channel and Comcast New England Sports staffer Briggs for a format that will focus on the biggest and most topical stories of the day in the worlds of sports, pop culture and entertainment. (I believe the "The Crossover" in Latin is pronounced "SportsNation.")
The show debuts from New Orleans this week before eventually settling into its permanent home at NBC's 30 Rock studios in New York City. (The Crossover will air daily at 6 p.m. ET and will replay at 10:30 p.m., the latter time hoping to capitalize on a hockey audience.)
"We won't take ourselves too seriously," Beadle said. "No contrived arguments where it feels forced or not organic. I personally don't watch sports through the eyes of a stats nerd or an anger monger. I truly love stories and characters and the flash and the sexiness of it all. For me, I want 22 minutes-a-day of that kind of talk. And we're not going to be as funny or light-hearted as [Bob] Costas, but we're definitely hoping to try to bring that level of our A-game to every day of this. I think it'll be a little bit different on our lineup, you know, after hunting."
How should viewers feel about Briggs as he moves from a show he described as "hyper-political" to lighthearted sports fare?
"We discussed politics 24-7 and did it in a very partisan manner," Briggs said. "But I think the thing that you should take from Fox & Friends is that I can shift gears and do anything from current events, world events, wars in the Middle East to politics. Do I have a history of being somewhat political? Sure, but this is not a political show, and I don't intend to steer it in that direction. If you watched that show I always tried to bring balance to an issue, and even if I have a very strong opinion, I always welcomed other opinions. I think my past could allow us different discussions We have a segment called "head-to-head" and I could see myself asking, "Who is a worse dealmaker? The U.S. Congress or the NHL?"
4b. NBC aired the Pro Bowl on Sunday and while it's a brutal game to watch, keep this in mind: Last year the game averaged 12.5 million viewers. For comparison, this year's World Series averaged 12.7 million viewers.
5. Of the many great lines written over the years by Sports Illustrated contributing writer Richard Hoffer, a personal favorite came in 1998 when Hoffer delivered a sports wish list column. Dreamed Hoffer: "That a proctological Dream Team extract Ahmad Rashad from the spot he occupies as Michael Jordan's Boswell."
Because NBC can't seem to quit Rashad, a famous ex-athlete perpetually masquerading as a reporter, the Golf Channel has hired him as a guest host. It's part of a re-launch of the channel's "Morning Drive" show that includes a new format, new co-hosts, a new studio, and a schedule that expands to seven days. Current co-hosts Gary Williams, Damon Hack (a former colleague at SI) and Holly Sonders will be joined fulltime by Golf Channel analyst Charlie Rymer. Other new additions to the morning show include former SI staffer (and full disclosure a friend) Matt Ginella, who joins Morning Drive after 11 years as the travel editor for Golf Digest magazine. The new format will include lifestyle and service features including how to play and where to play.
5a. Golf.com managing editor Charlie Hanger correctly smacked around PGA Tour management for its heavy-handed -- and ultimately foolish -- attempts to eliminate outlets from live-blogging its action.
5b. CBS Sports will broadcast 21 golf tournaments this year (totaling more than 155 hours of coverage) including the Masters, PGA Championship, 18 PGA TOUR events, one Champions TOUR event and nine golf specials. CBS says all 18 PGA TOUR events will be fully available for the first time through live streaming at CBSSports.com, PGATOUR.com and various tablets.
6. Excellent work by both the ESPN studio (Chris McKendry, Mary Joe Fernandez and Darren Cahill) and game announcers (Pam Shriver and Chris Evert) during Victoria Azarenka's win over Li Na in the women's finals of the Australian Open. The group dealt with plenty of subplots, including a 10-minute break in the third set while fireworks boomed overhead from nearby Australia Day celebrations, but never stopped providing viewers with pertinent conversation. Shriver takes a lot of gruff from tennis fans (and players), but I really like her. Where Fernandez is often in the tank for Serena Williams -- Fernandez serves as the coach of the U.S. Fed Cup team -- Shriver doesn't have a protective filter in a sport laden with conflicts.
(For example, Patrick McEnroe calling Azarenka's lengthy medical time-out in her match against Sloane Stephens "an absolute travesty" while serving as the head of the United States Tennis Association's player development program that includes Stephens. McEnroe may well be right here on Azarenka but as a viewer, how do know what his motivation is? Nobody hit on this better than my colleague Jon Wertheim back in September.
Cahill and Chris Fowler continue to do excellent work every tournament and ESPN's production provided terrific visuals, including the fireworks display going off behind its studio crew, which never blinked.
6b. ESPN's 29th consecutive Australian Open represents the company's longest uninterrupted professional sports programming relationship.
7. Among the memorable sports pieces this week:
• Grantland's Brian Phillips had a brilliant piece on Maria Sharapova, David Beckham, and "immaculate self-absorption" in sports.
• Really admire the honesty in this post by longtime sports writer Jeff Bradley after losing his job.
• In case you missed it, here's SI's 100 greatest Super Bowl photos.
• The Daily Mail published a spectacular photo gallery of English soccer fans over the years.
• Deadspin's Emma Carmichael absolutely crushed it on ESPN's tennis crew over-pushing the narrative that Serena Williams is the mentor for Sloane Stephens.
8. TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley told SI.com last November that one of the things that would help him stay in broadcasting for the near-term was an opportunity to leave the studio and work games as an analyst. Harlan worked with Barkley last week and came away raving about the experience.
"Charles has no routine; his routine is living life," Harlan said. "Whatever comes his way, comes his way. I think he is the biggest name in sports broadcasting today. He is the new John Madden. Everyone knows him -- he is a movable feast. He attracts people with his friendliness and then he sits down, puts his headset on after getting all this backslapping, autograph signing and cheers, and without a single note in front of him, he just talks about the game.
"As a broadcaster, Charles is incredibly honest. There is no sugarcoating. It's refreshing. He relies on his instinct, brain and heart, and a lot of this comes from not adhering himself to a popular train of thought. Sure, there is a little bit of chicanery and showmanship but that is the spice that makes you sit on the edge of your seat or laugh with him. That's what reels you in. Nothing is scripted. I'm sure he reads but I don't see him pouring over notes, and there was not one thing in front of him except the box score when we did our game. He was as thoughtful me to me as anyone I have ever worked with."
9. Sports Business Journal's John Ourand reported last week that Fox Sports plans to flip the Fuel channel into Fox Sports 2 this August. The company is already planning a 24/7 sports channel called Fox Sports 1, which will be rebranded from Speed. Ourand reports Fox Sports 2 will be a national all-sports channel and will complement Fox Sports 1. The two channels will be aligned similar to ESPN and ESPN2.
9a. McManus said he had no concerns about the growth of the CBS Sports Network, which is currently in 50 million homes and has very low ratings. "It is right on track," McManus said. "We have a very long term plan. Our expectations are very reasonable. We are not looking to challenge ESPN. Remember, we were in 22 million homes three years ago. Our expectations are very reasonable and, eventually, the ratings and distribution will come."
10. MISCELLANEOUS: Nielsen's 2012 Year in Sports report produced some fascinating data. Some highlights:
• There was nearly 60,000 programming hours of sporting events on broadcast and cable in 2012, up 45 percent in hours from 2011. (One big reason for the increase was NBC Universal's airing of the 2012 Summer Olympics.)
• AT&T Wireless was the top TV advertiser in sports last year, spending $342.8 million on sports. Bud Light was second at $213.3M.
• Nearly 60 percent of smartphone and tablet owners accessed sports content on their device at least once a day between January to September 2012.
• Alabama averaged 7.2 million viewers for nationally televised games while Notre Dame averaged 5.7 million.
• North Carolina-Duke on March 3 was the most watched regular season college basketball game in 2012 with 4.1 million viewers.
10a. CNN hired longtime ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols to serve as a general sports reporter as well as anchor a new weekend sports program on CNN-U.S. beginning later this year. Reading the tea leaves, I'd expect new CNN boss Jeff Zucker to continue to add more sports content into the CNN TV's daily diet.
10b. Showtime says Rome On Showtime, its Jim Rome vehicle, will air once a month on Wednesday nights throughout 2013, beginning in March.
10c. CBS is definitely interested in bidding on the rights to any hoops-only league featuring the seven Catholic Big East basketball schools. "I have thought about it a lot," McManus said. "As the original network broadcaster for Big East basketball and the heritage we have with so many of those schools, we are interested. We have spoken with them. We would like that programming for CBS and CBS Sports Networks. It is a lot of good high quality basketball and we do a lot of basketball on both networks."
10d. ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy offered strong words on Dwight Howard while on ESPN Radio's The Herd with Colin Cowherd last week. Said Van Gundy: "He has rudimentary offensive skills. He's not a good ball-handler. He doesn't have a really well-defined low-post game. (He's) a poor free throw shooter. He can have a huge impact on the game defensively, rebounding, screening, rolling, the occasional post move because he's so athletic, but he doesn't want to do it that way. When you lose games and you're going around after the game with a stat sheet in your hand and you're saying, 'look at the stat sheet' to reporters and to your teammates -- you know what it is? It's passive-aggressive, immature stuff. It's sad. This guy has so much to offer that is good for the game, to the game and to the Lakers. They're paying him huge money and they gave up a lot to get him."
10e. Drunk over its robust ratings for the first week of the NHL season, NBC and the NHL have been pushing out press releases at an ESPN PR pace. Among the highlights: Last Wednesday's game between the Bruins and Rangers was the most-watched NHL regular-season game ever on NBC Sports Network with 956,000 viewers. (It also was the most-watched NHL regular-season game on cable since an Jan. 2002 ESPN broadcast of San Jose-Detroit drew 1.278 million viewer). Canada's CBC also reported that more than 3.3 million viewers watched the Maple Leafs and Canadiens on Jan. 19, making it the most-watched regular-season primetime game ever on the network. When combined with French language RDS's broadcast, nearly 4.8 million Canadians watched the game. Regular-season ratings records were also set on Comcast SportsNet (Blackhawks), Fox Sports Midwest (Blues), Fox Sports North (Wild) and the New England-based NESN Network (Bruins).
10f. "The Girl's Guide To Watching the Rangers," posted on the NHL team's website, went over about as well as New Coke did.