Probably the most anticipated first-round matchup of the NHL Playoffs is the pairing of two original 6 rivals, the Habs and Bruins. During the regular season, the rivalrly was ratcheted up a couple thousand notches after Zdeno Chara's hit severely injured Max Pacioretty. It was an ugly scene to be sure, so ugly that Montreal police opened a criminal investigation into the hit. With the Canadiens taking the first two games in Boston, this set the stage for an intense and pivotal game three. As you can see/hear by Bruins announcer, Jack Edwards, the intensity wasn't just isolated to the ice. I personally don't have much of a problem with announcing homerism when it's a local broadcast, but this is just hilariously awesome. Hopefully this series goes 7 so we can enjoy more Jack Edwards.
One of the big stories in the sports world that not all fans may be aware of is the massive TV contracts that are dropping everywhere. Just last week, the Big 12 was pretty much saved from extinction by a 13 year deal with Fox. Today, it's being reported that the NHL has signed a new deal with NBC/Comcast to keep the league on their networks including NBC and Versus. Yahoo reports that the deal is for 10 years. The league had been in contact with ESPN, Turner, and Fox during negotiations as well. Here's some of the details from Sports Business Daily...
"NBC and Versus have agreed to a deal to renew the NHL’s TV rights, according to execs close to the deal. A formal announcement is expected to come this afternoon. Specific deal terms are not known, but the bidding had gone above $200M per year. Fox pulled out of the bidding last week, and Turner pulled out yesterday, saying it could not find a business model to support the money the NHL appears to be getting in this negotiation. The NHL never came back to ESPN with a final bid, sources said. ESPN’s interest in picking up the package stayed until the end of the bidding process. But sources said it was too difficult for the NHL and ESPN to work around NBC and Versus’ matching rights."
Whatever those dollar figures end up being, it will be a huge increase for the NHL and an encouraging sign for the league's future. Remember, this league was on the brink of disaster just over a decade ago after an entire season was lost (are you listening David Stern). The excellent Puck Daddy puts the NHL's recent TV negotiations into perspective...
"It's pretty incredible, thinking back to the lockout, how far the League has rebounded. We've gone from the NHL taking Comcast's money to go on something called OLN after ESPN low-balled them, to having ESPN in a bidding war to reacquire hockey, with the TV rights jacked up.
The Winter Classic, the Stanley Cup Finals and conference finals are all rating well. There are at least eight or nine marketable teams for U.S. TV, even if NBC only shows about four of them. The League's top stars are, by and large, under the age of 30, and branching out into popular culture.
It's a good time to be the NHL, and to be in business with the NHL."
Sticking with NBC will be a good move for the NHL in the long run because they can be one of the top sports properties for NBC and whatever VS ends up being. SBJ's John Ourand (a must follow on Twitter if you're interested in this kind of thing) says that Versus will eventually be rebranded with NBC Sports. For this deal to be a true success for the NHL though, Versus is going to have to up its game dramatically by reaching more homes and improving its overall programming quality. A more profound synergy with NBC Sports is likely to help in that area as they beef up their portfolio.
***Update: I asked John on Twitter what NBC may be looking to add to NHL programming and here was his very interesting response...
Ourand_SBJ @awfulannouncing Everything from Olympics to NFL to MLB. Comcast/NBC will be at the table for almost every rights deal coming up.
So, it looks like NBC/Comcast will be working hard to add more feature sports programming to their networks. If they can acquire something as big as NFL or MLB, maybe a new NBC powered sports cable channel could step up as a legitimate challenger (not competitor necessarily) to ESPN.
Overall, this is a better deal for the network than moving to ESPN, where they would always be fourth or fifth on the network platforms behind the NFL, MLB, NBA, and college football. Yes, the ESPN machine sounds good to respective leagues, but Bristol hasn't exactly done a lot for NASCAR, and the NHL would probably stagnate as a secondary property for the network. By staying with NBC/Comcast, the league can better continue the momentum they have built in the last decade.
NBC, Versus Set To Announce Deal To Retain NHL TV Rights - Sports Business Journal
On Friday night I shared my disappointment that ESPN was not acknowledging their relationship (at least on Sportscenter) to the various troubled poker companies that essentially propped up their heavy rotation of poker programming. In that article I began to hypothesize that the end was likely near for poker on television and for the events and tours that provide the programming to ESPN and other media companies. Less than 3 days later, the first domino fell as ESPN has announced they'll drop all poker advertising from their programming.
I'd imagine you'll see Fox, CBS, and NBC/Comcast all follow suit in the coming days. It's not just that it is a bit taboo right now to flaunt poker programming and advertising in the wake of the US government's crackdown, but mainly because the economics don't work anymore given ~70% of the sponsor money just got connected to companies deemed to be operating illegally.
While I think a lot of folks think poker is still a niche "sport", the fact that poker spans all the major media companies shows that it's been a favorite of programmers at all the big networks. Whether it's late night/early morning on cable or network television, live in prime time on ESPN , or on a Sunday afternoon on NBC (like this weekend which featured Don Cheadle and Emmitt Smith), poker has given media executives a low cost programming option that had built in sponsors via Full Tilt, Absolute, and Poker Stars.
For the last month, SportsNation has been conducting a bracket style poll in partnership with EA Sports to determine the cover star for Madden 2012. The Madden cover may be one of the biggest deals in sports video games due to the prestige of the honor... and the curse that goes along with it. Each team was given a player as a representative (except the Seahawks who were given The 12th Man, ha!) and players advanced by winning each individual matchup. Now, the competition is down to the final two - Michael Vick and Peyton Hillis. I'm not making this up. I know you're looking for some real analysis of how this matchup breaks down, so before we make fun of the whole thing, here's what ESPN's gaming blog has to say...
"... thanks to an online campaign by the Cleveland Browns and a city looking for a spark of positivity in an era that's been defined by the words: "I'm taking my talents to South Beach," Peyton Hillis is not only in the finals, he has a real shot at winning the ultimate prize in the world of video games -- posing for the "Madden NFL 12" cover.
... Could we see animal rights groups gather online to provide the anti-Vick vote, swinging the election towards Hillis? Could happen, as the combination of Cleveland fans and anti-Vick voters could put Hillis over the top in this one, giving fans one of the most shocking cover athletes in EA Sports history."
Or, it could just be a majority of people wanting to have fun at the expense of the legitimacy of this process. How many people are voting Vick for the ironic humor in seeing Michael Vick, say it with me, Michael Vick, as the face of the NFL once again. Or wanting to just vote against PETA. On the other side, you have the laughability of seeing the NFL's 11th leading rusher on the Madden cover. But, hey, I hear he has a great online campaign. Thanks to the good people of EA for not just plastering Aaron Rodgers on the cover and giving us some entertainment during the lockout. What I want to know though, is how to market this matchup for the primetime theater it should be. Here's some ideas...
NFL's Leading Fumbler vs NFL's Leader In Jailtime Served
Wait, How Did Tebow Get In This Bracket?
Dawg Pound Seeks Revenge Against Vick (that one and many others like it write themselves)
At Least He's Better Than Danny Woodhead vs At Least He's Not O.J.
We've been on ESPN for their lack of transparency recently, whether it be the mysterious Jalen Rose case or SportsCenter conveniently forgetting ESPN's association with troubled poker sites. But, give credit to Bristol for releasing a list of product endorsements by on-air personalities today. This list comes after much criticism over ESPN's lack of transparency with endorsements, specifically Reebok supporter Erin Andrews and her Rose Bowl diss of Nike cleats. This is a good move by the network to provide more clarity to fans, media, and people in the industry and hopefully encourages other networks to do the same. Here's the full list that was released by ESPN, which you can also see at this link:
Erin Andrews: Reebok
Paul Azinger: Adams Golf
Mike Bellotti: Nike Coaching Clinic at USC
Ato Bolden: Adidas
Bruce Bowen: Nike
Tim Brown: Under Armour
Olin Browne: Callaway, Razor Hawk, Odyssey
Chris Burandt: Monster, Polaris, Slednecks, Klim, HMK, Starting Line Products, Holz Racing Products, Fox Racing, Snox, EGT, VCHK, 509, Boon Docker Performance, RSI, RPM, Sled Solutions, Better Boards, Timbersled, Sledez, Edge Products
Darren Cahill: Adidas, Wilson, Donnay
Cris Carter: Nike
Jimmy Coleman: Metal Mulisha
Lee Corso: Nike
Jane Crafter: Footjoy, Titleist, Feel Golf, Callaway
Zach Crist: K2 Skis
Dan Dakich: Nike, Adidas AAU Camp
Tony DiCicco: Adidas
Trent Dilfer: Nike, Callaway
Keir Dillon: Nike
Mike Ditka: Under Armour
Jimmy Dykes: Nike
Mary Joe Fernandez: Nike, Wilson
Fran Fraschilla: Nike Skills Camp
Brad Gilbert: Nike, Wilson
Mark Gottfried: Nike
Kirk Herbstreit: Nike
Keyshawn Johnson: Under Armour
Kara Lawson: Nike
Bill Kratzert: Ashworth, Adidas, TaylorMade
Jamie Little: Oakley
Sal Masekela: Nike, Oakley
Dennis McCoy: Vans
John McEnroe: Nike, Dunlop
Patrick McEnroe: USTA "General Manager of Player Development", Nike, Wilson
Jeremy McGrath: Sky Optics, DC Shoes, DC Riding Gear, Troy Lee Designs, Dunlop Tires, Coyne Powersports Group, Motorcycle Mechanics, Specialized Bicycles
Rocco Mediate: Chervo, Par West, Titleist, V1, Vharness Clubs, Adams Golf, Club Fourteen, TAGGART, Audemars Piguet, InBalance
Jessica Mendoza: Nike, Louisville Slugger, Dudley, Spalding
Urban Meyer: Nike
Andy North: F2, Fairway and Greens
Chris Pastras: Converse
Kyle Peterson: Easton
Judy Rankin: Adidas
Jalen Rose: AEG sponsored by Nike
Tes Sewell: Oakley, Fox Racing, Ogio, DC
Pam Shriver: Yonex Corp
Miles Simon: Nike Skills Camp
Michele Smith: Rip-It Sporting Goods, Three-and-Two, JUGS Pitching Machines
Curtis Strange: Nike, Administaff
Rick Sutcliffe: Nike
Taylor Twellman: Nike
Scott Van Pelt: Titleist
Robin Ventura: Easton
Jay Walker: Russell Athletic
Rusty Wallace: Oakley, Toyota
Cat Whitehill: Nike
Jay Williams: Under Armour
A couple of interesting tidbits stand out. Apparently I need to get involved in some kind of extreme racing because Chris Burandt and Jeremy McGrath are two of the top three endorsers for amount of products (Rocco Mediate is #2, who knew). Also, what does Jimmy Dykes do for Nike? And, why hasn't Oakley done a commercial spot teaming up Sal Masekela and Rusty Wallace? That could be epic. So many questions, but the most important one may be from Deitsch - where are other big name endorsers like Chris Berman and Dick Vitale? Perhaps their names are coming soon (it says the list will be updated), but for now the list remains incomplete. It's a good start for the network, but ESPN can't fully trumpet their transparency without being fully transparent.
Monday April 18
Milwaukee Brewers @ Philadelphia Phillies (ESPN 7PM) Sean McDonough, Aaron Boone, Rick Sutcliffe
Tuesday April 19
Milwaukee Brewers @ Philadelphia Phillies (MLBN 7PM) Bob Costas, Jim Kaat [Alternate game: NY Yankees @ Toronto]
Atlanta Braves @ Los Angeles Dodgers (MLBN 10PM) Local Broadcast [Alternate game: Boston @ Oakland]
Wednesday April 20
Milwaukee Brewers @ Philadelphia Phillies (MLBN 1PM) Local Broadcast
Minnesota Twins @ Baltimore Orioles (ESPN 7PM) Dave O'Brien, Nomar Garciaparra
Thursday April 21
Arizona Diamondbacks @ Cincinnati Reds (MLBN 12:30PM) TBA
Chicago White Sox @ Tampa Bay Rays (MLBN 6:30PM) Local Broadcast [Alternate game: Minnesota @ Baltimore]
Friday April 22
Cincinnati Reds @ St. Louis Cardinals (MLBN 8PM) Local Boradcast [Alternate game: Houston @ Milwaukee]
Saturday April 23
Atlanta Braves @ San Francisco Giants (FOX 4PM) Josh Lewin, Eric Karros, Chris Rose
Cincinnati Reds @ St. Louis Cardinals (FOX 4PM) Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, Ken Rosenthal
Chicago White Sox @ Detroit Tigers (FOX 4PM) Thom Brennaman, Mark Grace
Boston Red Sox @ Los Angeles Angels (MLBN 9PM) Local Broadcast [Alternate game: Oakland @ Seattle]
Sunday April 24 - Easter Sunday
Los Angeles Dodgers @ Chicago Cubs (TBS 2PM) Brian Anderson, John Smoltz
Cincinnati Reds @ St. Louis Cardinals (ESPN 8PM) Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser, Bobby Valentine
I already mentioned, Marv Albert voiced his vintage "Yes!" as Ray Allen knocked down the game-winning three with roughly 12 seconds left, sounding as good as ever. It was probably coming again had Carmelo Anthony hit his ill-advised 25-footer with four seconds left, because you could sense the disappointment in Albert's voice when the clock hit zeros and he announced that "it's all over."
Either way, a thrilling finish to Game 1 of perhaps the most anticipated series of the first round. Not exactly a superstar showing from Carmelo, though; he was 5-18 and had five turnovers. Oh, and there's still one more opening game tonight.
Video via Bubbaprog, of course.
I've been flipping back and forth between NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, and Sunday Night Baseball, and it doesn't take much to conclude that the only thing that could possibly earn Bobby Valentine a shared side-by-side pic with Marv Albert is their side-parted, incredibly obvious Just For Men jobs, because he pales in comparison to Albert in terms of broadcasting.
Valentine has been pretty awful so far as a color analyst. I think he's trying way too hard to be poetic and winds up making a fool of himself. Take his call after Robinson Cano's 2nd inning home run for example: "He turned, firmed, and hit a home run. ... Not only did he hit a home run, he hit it hard and fair." Ummm abakingpowder? Of course he hit it fair, it was a home run. I'll give Valentine this, though: he has incredible self-awareness when he sounds dumb. He then takes the next minute or so to try and explain himself, ultimately sounding even more clueless.
As for Marv Albert, he was vintage, especially in his call of Ray Allen's game-winning three (YES!). He's the perfect voice for NBA playoff basketball and he will be sorely missed whenever he decides to hang up the headset. I don't even want to think about that time.
If you are an online poker player or just a fan of poker (who the hell is a fan of poker but doesn't play it?), then my condolences to you. Buried below the many headlines this Friday is news that the Debbie Downer FBI has charged the biggest three online poker companies with a multitude of crimes related to how they continue to operate and have US customers despite online poker and sports betting being illegal in the US.
"The founders of three of the largest Internet poker sites bribed and tricked their way past U.S. gambling laws, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Nearly a dozen people connected to international gaming sites PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker were charged with bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling - and their companies face over $3 billion in penalties and forfeitures, authorities said."
Given ESPN has a ton of poker programming including the WSOP series which gets ample amount of run time on ESPN's family of networks, this was obviously a story they reported on and they did. But they forgot to mention one thing: ESPN takes in a likely 8 figure amount of advertising and sponsorship revenue from the companies now embroiled in legal controversy.
The fact that ESPN takes handfuls of money from these companies is not really a secret nor really that surprising. I don't really think many people even care. I don't care. But they certainly have to acknowledge that relationship now that sh*t has hit the fan with these partner companies. ESPN.com did when running their story on the topic with a disclosure at the end of the article.
" Poker Stars and Full Tilt are sponsors of ESPN poker programming."
It's not a trivial relationship that is really a flash in the pan of ESPN's revenue. These companies buy ads in the magazine, on television (the Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu commercials), and have been some of the limited advertisers who have done front page road blocks off the website which is a rare occurrence on espn.com. If Neil Everrett and Sportscenter is going to put on their serious face /"we need to talk" camera angle then they should also cop to the relationship they had in place with the companies in question. When they mention news about ESPN personalities, they're always pretty good about disclosing their relationship and connection to the parties involved in any potential scandal.