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TV Executives Optimistic For Sports Ratings Rebound In 2021

Executives are optimistic the 2021 fourth quarter can bring normalcy.

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Insiders around the sports television industry are tepidly optimistic that 2021, especially the final quarter, can bring viewership closer to pre-pandemic levels. The Hollywood Reportegauged the issue’s temperature this week as positive signs grow from the NCAA Tournament and young-MLB season. 

ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball ratings are up over 30 percent compared to last season, while the NCAA Tournament slightly lagged behind 2019 figures. 

“Now the challenge is, how do we get fans back in the building and how do we reestablish sports as an engine of social connectivity and a place where people come together?” Executive VP and head of strategy and analytics at Fox Sports Michael Mulvihill told The Hollywood Reporter. “When that happens, I think you’ll see viewership get back to more normal expectations.”

One key factor sports television has going for it is the scarcity of wide-ranging live programming. Monoculture is increasingly fading in today’s society but people are still coming together to support their teams. 

“Our concern, if we have one, it’s more about the general trend of TV use than it is about interest in sports rebounding,” said Mulvihill. “I think the share of viewing taken up by sports is probably going to increase this year. We just don’t know what the trend in that total pie of viewership is going to be.”

The WWE and NBC have teamed up to help drive subscribers to Peacock, NBC’s new all-encompassing streaming app. The WWE exclusively aired Wrestlemania 37 on Peacock this past weekend after NBC began housing all WWE content in January. This is one of the ways leaders in the industry are adapting to the landscape.

Executives are hoping these positive signs culminate in a lucrative 2021 fourth quarter. Fall football action along with the baseball playoffs are crucial periods for sports television revenue.

“I feel like we can look at September and the football season and baseball postseason with a lot of confidence that it’s going to look like a normal sports event,” Mulvihill said to The Hollywood Reporter. “That will bring a resurgence of interest along with it.”

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Poll Data Shows Tepid Response To Tom Brady Joining FOX

“A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.”

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FOX Sports reportedly signed Tom Brady to a 10-year deal worth $375 million to make the seven-time Super Bowl champion the new lead analyst for its top NFL broadcast once his playing career is over.

A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.

The poll said 2 in 5 NFL fans have a better opinion of FOX Sports following the deal, with 41% of NFL fans being at least somewhat more likely to watch a game with Brady as an analyst.

Data shows one-third of NFL fans think the deal Brady reportedly agreed to is worth about the same as its reported value.

That reaction could probably be described as “tepid”. That may be exactly what FOX expects and maybe all it wants.

Last week, Domonique Foxworth of ESPN suggested that the paycheck is less about what the network thinks Tom Brady means to viewers and more about showing the NFL that the network values its product.

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FOX Not Interested In Joining Streaming Sports Wars

“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take?”

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The CEO of FOX doesn’t plan on forking over billions of dollars to be people’s last choice for paid streaming services.

Lachlan Murdoch said at a time when more than 80% of American homes already have some kind of paid streaming service, it’s not worthwhile to jump on that train.

Amazon, Netflix and Disney+ typically account for the average streaming presence in a household.

“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take,” Murdoch said at a tech conference earlier this year. “And so the billions of dollars that’s being spent by multiple aspirants is all for that last position. And so we are extraordinarily — I want to say that — we’re happy to be sort of sitting on the sidelines.”

Murdoch told Benjamin Swinburne that when it comes to the NFL, FOX’s media rights are the same as CBS, NBC and ESPN. The main focus for the company remains on keeping games on TV.

“We don’t believe it helps us to put those rights under a streaming service or free on over-the-air. We think it’s very important that those rights remain exclusive to the broadcast environment,” Murdoch said.

FOX does stream games through its app, but it is only the games it is also carrying on its broadcast network or FS1.

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NBA Draft To Get Simulcast From ESPN & ABC

“This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.”

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ESPN is set for the 2022 NBA Draft coming up on June 23 at 8 p.m. from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The network announced Wednesday the crews that will handle coverage on both ESPN and ABC.

ABC will broadcast the first round in primetime. Kevin Negandhi will host and will be joined by Stephen A. Smith, Chiney Ogwumike and Jalen Rose. Monica McNutt will be reporting and interviewing draftees.

This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.

Malika Andrews will host both rounds for ESPN. Jay Bilas, Kendrick Perkins and Adrian Wojnarowski will share the set. Analysts Bobby Marks and Mike Schmitz will contribute.

“We’re thrilled that Malika Andrews will host this year’s ESPN presentation as she brings her well-documented, widespread skillset to our main set,” said David Roberts, head of NBA and Studio Production for ESPN. “The event will showcase the scope and depth of our NBA and college basketball talent roster with accomplished journalists and high-profile personalities across ESPN, ABC and ESPN Radio.”

ESPN will air a pre-draft red carpet show hosted by Cassidy Hubbarth from 5-6 p.m. Perkins and Richard Jefferson will also make appearances.

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