Another Tom Brady and Peyton Manning matchup will have CBS very happy this weekend, plus a look at the ratings from a huge divisional weekend.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been very good business for CBS. The last time the two quarterbacks faced each other on the network, on Nov, 2, 2014, CBS drew 29.1 million viewers for its Sunday afternoon window when the game aired. When the two Hall of Famers-to be met for the 2013 AFC Championship, CBS drew 51.3 million viewers. Is it any wonder why broadcaster Jim Nantz and CBS chairman Les Moonves have such fondness for Papa John’s quarterback and Robert Kraft’s Gillette Stadium suite?
On the whole, if all things are equal and neither game is a blowout, the NFC Championship should out-rate the AFC Championship because NFC television markets on the whole (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco etc…) are bigger than AFC markets in terms of total population. There’s also the factor of the NFC having the late Sunday time slot this year, as the Panthers and Cardinals will kick off at 6:40 p.m. ET.
But there’s been an interesting trend since 2002. According to the Sports Media Watch website, each conference has drawn the higher viewership an equal time over the past 14 games. And sometimes the late game does not draw the largest audience, as you would logically expect given sports audiences go up as day moves into night. For example, CBS had the 6:50 p.m. Sunday kickoff last year for the AFC Championship but New England’s 45–7 blowout of Indianapolis drew 42.1 million viewers compared to the 49.1 million that Packers-Seahawks drew on FOX. The NFL has tried to protect both games by rotating the late game (which would usually draw the larger viewership) between Fox and CBS.
Given the Brady-Manning factor, it’s tough to predict which game will draw more this year. I’d still lean slightly toward the Cardinals-Panthers given the late start time but the AFC Championship has the more iconic storyline and is probably the last time Brady and Manning will meet. What bodes well for CBS: The network had the most-watched game of this weekend with 43 million viewers for the Steelers-Broncos, the second-largest viewer average for a Sunday AFC Divisional Playoff game on any network in 29 years (as far back as CBS records go) behind the 43.5 million for the Jets-Patriots in Jan. 2011. But that was also the most-watched window in television—the late Sunday afternoon time slot.
As for the NFC, the Panthers-Seahawks was the second most-watched game (viewership data for that game had not come in as of this writing beyond the overnights) of the weekend and NBC drew 33.7 million viewers Saturday night for the Cardinals’ 26–20 overtime win over the Packers. That game peaked at 38.7 million for the game’s dramatic conclusion between 11:15-11:41 p.m. ET, a stretch that included Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s Hail Mary to tie the score on the final play of regulation, and the 75-yard catch-and-run by Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald on the first play from scrimmage in overtime to set up his game-winning touchdown catch two plays later. The Patriots-Chiefs on Saturday was the lowest-rated of the four divisional games but still did big numbers.
While this Sunday’s games are unlikely to come close to the Championship game record—the Niners’ 28–27 win over the Cowboys in 1982 (aka “The Catch”) drew 68.7 million viewers—I’d look for both networks to be north of the 50 million viewership mark.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable stories)
1. Greg Norman and Joe Buck were announced in 2014 as the lead faces of Fox’s golf coverage, the on-air centerpiece of the company’s 12-year deal with the USGA to broadcast four national championships: the Senior Open, the Women's Open, the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open.
Said Fox Sports president Eric Shanks at the time of the announcement: “If you remember, when we first got the NFL, a lot of people were thinking that we were going to come in and do something completely different. There was talk about having Bart Simpson in the booth calling the games, and we went out and got John Madden and Pat Summerall. Greg, just like John, will really set the philosophy for what we do here."
Well, so much for that.
On Monday Fox confirmed what had been sharking around in media circles over the weekend—Norman will not return to the network’s USGA Championships coverage in 2016. According to a press release that gave no reason for the move, “Both parties have agreed to an amicable separation and will continue to work together to broadcast the Franklin Templeton Shootout, which remains an important part of FOX Sports’ golf platform.”
Links Magazine tweeted on Sunday night that it had learned that Norman was out but provided no other information. Fox Sports declined to comment to SI.com on Sunday night. When reached by GOLF.com on Sunday evening, representatives from Norman's public relations team declined to comment on the report. One Fox announcer confirmed to GOLF.com that “it wasn't (Norman's) choice.”
Fox’s U.S. Open coverage received immense and national criticism for its coverage of this year’s tournament at Chambers Bay in Washington and Norman was not immune to that criticism. Given the length of the deal and that Fox is a newcomer in golf, network officials are particularly sensitive when this year’s U.S. Open coverage gets referenced (Fox as a rule handles criticism much better than ESPN, so this stands out to me.)
For some thoughts on what happened, here’s a Golf.com roundtable on the move.
2. NBC will air the U.S. Figure Skating Championships live this Saturday at 3 p.m. ET and again live at 8 p.m. ET. The final skate comes Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC. Ahead of the coverage I traded emails with NBC figure skating analyst Tara Lipinski.
Richard Deitsch: If you were one of the organizing heads of the sport, how would you market the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in a non-Olympic year to bring more fans to the television/digital screen for the event?
Tara Lipinski: To many skaters, the U.S. Championships are the most important event of the season. This competition determines your fate for the rest of the year as these skaters are hoping to qualify for the world championships (at home this year in Boston!) Beyond just the world championships, international assignments are on the line for the beginning of next season. The U.S. Championships are unique in that they combine such a pressure-packed event with a supportive home crowd. This combination continues to result in some of the greatest performances of all time.
To get people to watch these performances, we need to promote rivalries within the top echelon of American skaters. In football, you root for your team. Fans buy jerseys with the names of their favorite athletes on the back. In figure skating, the public needs to become more familiar with the top individual athletes in non-Olympic years—who is moving up and who is moving down. In non-Olympic years skaters can build their reputations as top contenders. But as the skaters compete to achieve “favorite” status, rivalries are formed. The U.S. has a great rivalry right now with Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold. The public needs to get behind how exciting that free skate will be at the U.S. Championships this year. Who will have the skate on that night in St. Paul? Who will be America’s leading lady entering a home world championships?
The U.S. audience needs to get on board with these two women as they did in the past with Nancy and Tonya, the Battle of the Brians, and when Michelle Kwan and I competed. The public is interested in the “mini competitions” within the sport. Continuing to use all forms of media, particularly social media, to expand the viewer base is critical. Bringing in a younger audience, too, will deepen the fan base and add to the excitement of the events. We need to increase interest in these incredible athletes and the professional rivalries that have always made this sport great.
RD: Will you have any role with NBC's Rio coverage and if so, what will it be?
TL: I hope so, but roles haven't been officially determined by NBC yet.
RD: Given that you are soon to marry a television producer from another sports network (FS1), what will be the sports channel of choice at your respective home and why?
TL: Well, it depends who gets to the remote control first. We’re a multi-screen household, so it won’t be a problem.
3. ESPN public editor Jim Brady examined in his latest column the confusion that ESPN viewers and readers face regarding who at the network is a news-gatherer versus an analyst versus a personality. The company has historically tagged personalities such as Skip Bayless and Chris Berman as journalists when it wanted to sell gravitas and today it allows analysts such as Cris Carter to report or speculate on news. What's most confusing is when someone like Stephen A. Smith morphs from infomercial host (as he did with a piece on boxer Floyd Mayweather) to journalist (reporting on LeBron James) to potential hit man (threatening Kevin Durant).
ESPN management, as you can read in Brady’s piece, is very skillful at justifying the confusion but it strikes me that there is a very real danger of eroding news credibility for consumers. The latest example of such confusion comes from the actions of Ron Jaworski. Per Les Bowen of Philly.com, Jaworski served as a “special adviser” to the Eagles for their head coaching search. (I’m told it was unpaid.) Jaworski also told Bowen that former NFL general manager Bill Polian was advising the Eagles. Full marks to Jaworski for being transparent, but once again, as a viewer you are left wondering what you are not being told by ESPN analysts who are essentially employed by teams they comment on. There’s also the issue of commentators morphing into public fans on the day of a game involving a team they were once associated with. Again, it sends an odd message to your consumers when that same commentator is called on to assess either said team or an opponent. The decline of optics mattering at ESPN is interesting and by no means is this endemic to ESPN. The same issues arise at other networks. The difference is that ESPN employs far more commentators than anyone else. It also cares about journalism far more than the other cable sports networks. Said an ESPN spokesperson: “Jaws notified ESPN when the Eagles asked for his advice during their coaching search. He was given permission to share his thoughts during the process.”
4. On Sunday night I examined what NBC should do when the time comes for Al Michaels to step down from Sunday Night Football, whenever that may be.
5. The Big Lead website reported last week that ESPN anchor Robert Flores is likely leaving the network for the MLB Network.
5a. NBA fans: Here are the details on ESPN's new Saturday night package on ABC.
5b. Following massive criticism of its presentation during the first airing (way too many talking heads), Richard Sandomir of the New York Times reported that the NFL Network will show Super Bowl I footage again on Friday at 8:00 p.m. without any analyst chatter. The new program will be the archival film and the NBC Radio call.