NFL on NBC: The winner and still champ; Great games and can start to flex in week 5

Today, I will be breaking down who got what gifts (and potential clunkers) from the NFL.

NBC

The winner always is NBC. The traditionally strong Sunday night package will be even stronger this year. The network now will have the option of beginning to flex in week 5, giving Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth an even better chance to call bigger games.

Best games: On paper, they all are pretty good, and some are excellent, starting with Green Bay at Seattle to kick off the season on Thursday night, Sept. 4.

Then NBC quickly jumps on the Peyton Manning train, with his former Indianapolis Colts team visiting Denver for the opening Sunday night game.

The following week, NBC will open San Francisco’s new Levi Stadium with Chicago at 49ers. Local knowledge: Beware of a blowout, because the Bears never play well in San Fran.

NBC definitely won’t be flexing in week 7 with San Francisco at Denver. And it has a huge Thanksgiving night game with San Francisco at Seattle.

And for good measure, NBC has the Bears-Packers game in Lambeau in week 10. The traditional rivalry game always does well in prime time.

And there’s much more. Here is link to their schedule.

Potential clunkers: Actually, this category should be renamed, potential flex candidates. The most likely to be flexed appears to be Seattle at Arizona in week 16. You never know what you’re going to get with the Cardinals.

Maybe Dallas at Giants in week 12 if both teams are in the dumps, which is possible. However, even both teams are winless, NBC still might show the game because the networks loves the Cowboys and all things New York.

With flex scheduling, though, NBC never will get a clunker on Sunday night.

Next: CBS

 

 

First for NFL in postseason: Significance of ESPN landing a wildcard game

The NFL had been the last major pro sports league to resist placing part of its postseason on cable. Until today.

It was announced this morning that ESPN will air one of the wildcard games during the opening weekend of the playoffs this year. NBC, which had aired both wildcard games, now will get a divisional playoff game.

The ESPN release included this passage:

“The NFL and ESPN reached a new eight-year extension in 2011 for Monday Night Football and broad studio, multimedia and international rights. The agreement – which began this spring and extends through the 2021 NFL season – provides the NFL with an option to air a postseason Wild Card playoff game on ESPN, which the NFL has opted to exercise this season.”

According to John Ourand and Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily, ESPN will pay $100 million season to air the game. Also, in the speculation department, could this move be a prelude to the NFL eventually expanding its postseason to include more games?

ESPN always has been a good partner and seemed worthy of airing a postseason game. Previously, the NFL had wanted to keep its big January games on the traditional broadcast networks.

The migration of big sporting events to cable is accelerating. It only was a matter of time before the NFL joined the party.

One playoff game may not seem like much, but this is yet another sign that when the current NFL TV deal expires after the 2021 season, all bets are off for what could happen regarding how we’ll watch pro football in the next decade.

I’m looking forward to watching the 2023 Super Bowl via the Microsoft chip that gets inserted in my brain.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Cuban: NFL getting ‘too hoggy’ with TV expansion; ‘Hogs get slaughtered’

Take note, NFL. Mark Cuban is comparing you to pigs.

Yesterday, during a pregame chat with reporters, the Dallas Mavericks owner said there are risks for the NFL in trying to dominate every night of TV. He put it in livestock terms.

From Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.

“I think the NFL is 10 years away from an implosion,” Cuban said Sunday evening when his pregame conversation with reporters, which covered a broad range of topics, swayed toward football. “I’m just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy. Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way.

“I’m just telling you, when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule number one of business.”

Later Cuban said:

“They’re trying to take over every night of TV,” Cuban said. “Initially, it’ll be, ‘Yeah, they’re the biggest-rating thing that there is.’ OK, Thursday, that’s great, regardless of whether it impacts [the NBA] during that period when we cross over. Then if it gets Saturday, now you’re impacting colleges. Now it’s on four days a week. …

 “It’s all football. At some point, the people get sick of it.”

And finally:

He compared it to the decline in popularity of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” after the game show expanded to air five days a week.

“They put it on every night,” Cuban said. “Not 100 percent analogous, but they handled it the same. I’m just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.

“Who want to be a Millionaire?” Seriously?

I think the NFL is on an entirely different level. Now if Cuban was talking about “Shark Tank,” that would be a different story.

Cuban is right when he says the NFL is the biggest pig in the world. Nobody, though, will be slaughtering it anytime soon.

 

My Chicago Tribune story on monetizing Halas Hall: Bears open headquarters with new event center

This falls under the category of sports business. However, it also is a follow-up to a sports media story I did last fall.

I did a piece in today’s Chicago Tribune on the Bears looking to monetize Halas Hall, their headquarters and training facility in Lake Forest. The team built a new event center as part of a 43,000-square foot addition.

You also can access the package, which features a video and pictures, via my twitter feed at Sherman_Report.

The Bears’ new space also includes a state-of-the-art broadcast operation. In October, I did a story for USA Today on how NFL teams also are becoming content companies.

All in all, the league continues to find news ways to print money.

Here is the excerpt to my Tribune story on the facility.

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Ted Phillips always was struck whenever visitors walked through Halas Hall. The Bears president saw their eyes darting around and the look of fascination on their faces as they toured the team’s headquarters and training facility in Lake Forest.

He realized he had an untapped commodity.

“It amazed me that they were so intrigued,” Phillips said. “Usually, the team wasn’t playing. There weren’t any players around. They loved just being where the Bears practice. It got us to start thinking, how can we do more?”

The result of the brainstorming is a new 43,000-square-foot addition to the Bears’ facility that will allow fans — at least well-connected fans — to have dramatically increased access to Halas Hall. And it will enable the Bears to make some money in the place where key decisions are made.

The sprawling facility, renovated during the past year, includes expanded locker rooms and workout areas, a new dining complex for the players, and a state-of-the-art broadcast operation for TV and radio shows produced by the Bears.

The centerpiece of the addition, from a business and marketing standpoint, is the new event center, which can seat up to 180 people. There also is an airy two-story atrium with touch screens highlighting Bears history and the current team. In another part of Halas Hall, there is a new plush skybox for VIPs to watch practice. The team also is shopping naming rights to the addition, though George Halas’ name will remain on the entire facility.

When asked if Halas Hall now is set up to become a profit center, Phillips said, “No doubt about it.”

Bears officials last week told a group of prominent team sponsors that the space is available for charity functions, business meetings, sales presentations and promotion opportunities. The message was clear: This is a chance for companies to take people behind the curtain.

“You can buy a ticket to a game,” Chris Hibbs, vice president of sales and marketing, told the gathering. “You can’t buy a ticket into this place.”

Hibbs said access will be available only to sponsors, business partners, suite owners and key philanthropic supporters.

“Would we sell space now to someone who came in off the street?” Hibbs said. “The answer is ‘no.'”

The Bears view the event center as a way to enhance the value of doing business with the team. Promotion is terrific, Hibbs said, but marketing has become about providing a different experience to clients.

“Brands across the board in sports realize the need to come up with more experiences that people can’t get elsewhere,” Hibbs said. “Not to oversell this, but it’s just different from what people have seen before. The average fan doesn’t get a chance to see this. They’re usually blown away.”

 

 

 

Bart Scott bucks trend; New NFL Today analyst not Hall of Famer, Super Bowl winner

As expected, CBS added Bart Scott to its NFL Today panel this morning.

On the surface, it is a sound move. Scott shined as an analyst on That Other Pregame Show on CBS Sports Network. He seemed destined to get the promotion.

Yet is Scott a big enough name to lure viewers over to NFL Today? While he was a solid player for Baltimore and the New York Jets, he only played in one Pro Bowl during his 11-year career. He never played in a Super Bowl.

Consider the panel on Fox NFL Sunday: Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson. Three Hall of Famers and a two-time Super Bowl winning coach.

NBC, ESPN, and NFL Network also have a wealth of Hall of Famers and Super Bowl winners on their panels.

Now Scott’s new teammate, Boomer Esiason, isn’t in the Hall of Fame and never won a Super Bowl, but he did play in the big game. He also was a MVP and a high-profile quarterback. Scott’s other new teammate, Tony Gonzalez, is a lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Scott, meanwhile, was a linebacker and outside of New York wasn’t a big name. In Chicago, where I live, Scott isn’t going to have instant name recognition.

CBS is banking on Scott’s broadcast skills to lure viewers to NFL Today. It is a novel concept. Let’s see if it works.

Here is the official release from CBS:

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Bart Scott has been named studio analyst for the CBS Television Network’s NFL pre-game show, THE NFL TODAY, elevating his role from last season where he was a studio analyst on CBS Sports Network’s weekly Sunday pre-game show THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW (TOPS).  The announcement was made today by Sean McManus, Chairman, CBS Sports.

Scott will join James Brown, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason and recently named Tony Gonzalez on THE NFL TODAY.

In addition to THE NFL TODAY, Scott will expand his role at CBS providing analysis across multiple platforms, contributing to INSIDE THE NFL on SHOWTIME and appearing in weekly segments on TOPS.

“Bart joining THE NFL TODAY is a natural progression from his outstanding work during his first season on TOPS,” said McManus.  “Bart brings a dynamic personality and unique perspective as a recently retired player providing strong opinions on all the hot-button issues on a weekly basis.  We are confident he will continue to bring that perspective and those opinions to THE NFL TODAY.”

Scott joined CBS Sports in August 2013 serving as a studio analyst during the 2013 NFL season for CBS Sports Network’s Sunday football studio program, THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW.  Before joining CBS Sports, Scott’s NFL career spanned 11 years playing with the Baltimore Ravens (2002-08) and New York Jets (2009-12).  In 2006, he was a Pro Bowl selection and earned All Pro honors.

 

 

Questions: What makes CBS think Tony Gonzalez will be any good on NFL Today? Is Bart Scott next to join pregame show?

Question, questions….

For starters, let’s begin with the age-old concept of TV networks falling in love with the recently retired big star. They drool at the thought of the future Hall of Famer fresh off the field becoming part of their studio show, or as an analyst on games.

Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe once fell into that category. CBS was thrilled to be able to add them to NFL Today.

Now they are gone as of yesterday.

I bring this up to temper the anticipation about CBS jumping on the Tony Gonzalez train. The tight end was a popular star. He’s good looking and glib.

However, will he make a good analyst on NFL Today?

In an interview with USA Today, there was this passage from Gonzalez:

Gonzalez admitted he only recently felt comfortable with the idea of making a full-time transition to television even though his marquee looks and engaging personality made him an obvious candidate for the switch.

“I didn’t really want to do this until three years ago. I was kind of intimidated and didn’t have the experience,” said Gonzalez, who frequently made guest appearances on other networks in recent years.

“I’ve been able to get somewhat comfortable. It’ll be tough, and I’ll have to learn and get as many reps as I can in front of the camera. … Everything I’ve done before, you work for it for a long time. But I have prepared for this, though I admit quarterbacks are more used to it.”

Indeed, therein lies the potential issue for CBS. Does Gonzalez have anything to say?

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus obviously thinks so. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have hired him.

However, Gonzalez knows he is raw, and that this figures to be a work in progress. Even then, will his presence be enough to lure viewers away from the Terry Bradshaw show on Fox? It’s a tough road for CBS.

For now, though, Gonzalez is the celebrated new guy. That is, until the next new guy comes along.

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McManus said yesterday that he is looking to make another addition to the panel. Speculation is that Bart Scott will be the choice.

Now that would be a great hire. The former Jets linebacker shined on The Other Pregame Show on CBS Sports Network.

 

Media circus: Will excessive coverage deter teams from drafting Sam?

The media circus that likely will surround Michael Sam is a big issue. It definitely will factor into some NFL team’s decision not to draft him.

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News likened Sam’s situation to what the Jets experienced with Tim Tebow.

From the moment that more than 200 media members, including 30 television stations, covered Tim Tebow’s introductory press conference at the Jets’ indoor practice field in Florham Park two years ago, his presence became one colossal migraine for the organization. Tebowmania swallowed the Jets, the symbol of the circus that defined their season.

Although Jets players never truly blamed Tebow for his cult following, the daily storylines for a backup quarterback/personal punt protector became irritating to them. He simply wasn’t good enough to warrant all the attention. His teammates, frankly, were annoyed by incessant questions about a role player. The organization underestimated the magnitude of the phenomenon. The Tebow trade ultimately affected key figures in the organization. GM Mike Tannenbaum was fired after the 2012 season due to a string of questionable decisions, including bringing in Tebow. Tebow’s presence had an undeniably harmful effect on Mark Sanchez.

Later, Mehta writes:

Is Sam worth it?

“Ultimately it’s going to take a team that has strong leadership,” an NFC executive said. “After Year One, it’ll be a nonissue.”

Maybe so, but the accompanying noise right now may be too loud for some teams to ignore.

I think their positions do make the situation a bit different. Tebow was a quarterback, and getting him on the field required changing the entire offensive approach. Sam, meanwhile, should get playing time as a defensive end/linebacker. He won’t impact the game like a quarterback.

Still, if a team is borderline on whether to draft Sam, it will be an issue on whether it wants to be part of the media circus that will be following him.

Michael Bradley, writing for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana, has an excellent column on the issue. He contends the media has a responsibility not to become an obstacle for Sam.

As Sam tries to make himself fit for NFL consumption, he will have to navigate a gauntlet of media, most of whom will have good intentions but nonetheless will create barriers to the single-minded approach he needs to get a job. As we as a country move toward greater acceptance of people’s sexual orientations, Sam will be a high-profile test case and a pioneer whose obligations will be far different than those of other rookies.

The media has a responsibility in this, no matter how great the story may be and how much it will help drive ratings, page views and circulation. It’s natural for the early activity to be high, with reporters searching for different angles and ways to handle the story. Family members, friends and teammates will be consulted. Coaches and NFL executives will weigh in on his prospects. There will be ample opportunity for this story to be approached from every direction, by every type of media. Let’s hope the narrative doesn’t devolve into a tabloid disaster.

Bradley concludes:

While Sam prepares for the Combine, the Draft and the 2014 season, he must also get ready for more media attention. The team that he joins will need to brace itself, too. Meanwhile, the media would be well served to consider this story from a mature perspective, rather than one eager to find juicy details and controversy. Sam should be applauded for his courage, and the media should treat him and his story with respect, even as it swarms.

Good advice. Will be interesting to see how this story plays out.

 

DVR alert: NFL Network to re-air documentary on Jerry Smith, Washington star who was gay

If you missed this documentary the first time, be sure to set your DVR. And if you did tune in, watch it again in light of the news involving Michael Sam.

Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET, NFL Network will re-air its A Football Life documentary on Jerry Smith. Sam should be sure to watch if he missed it the first time around. He would be heartened to hear how Smith’s sexual orientation wasn’t an issue for his Washington teammates. All that mattered was that he could play.

From NFL Network.

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 From 1965-77, Jerry Smith was a two-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Washington Redskins. At the time he retired, Smith held the record for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end in NFL history. Yet off the field, Smith lived with a personal secret he did not publicly share with his teammates.

NFL Network’s two-time Emmy-nominated series A Football Life continues with Jerry Smith: A Football Life. The one-hour documentary chronicles the life of Smith, detailing his career with the Redskins, his life as a gay athlete and his death from AIDS.

Emmy-nominated actor from CBS’ The Good Wife, Josh Charles, narrates.

Jerry Smith: A Football Life includes interviews with the following people:

Bonnie Smith-Gilchrist – Jerry’s sister

Ed Smith – Jerry’s brother

Sonny Jurgensen – Hall of Fame Redskins quarterback

Bobby Mitchell – Hall of Fame Redskins wide receiver/running back

Charley Taylor – Hall of Fame Redskins wide receiver; Jerry’s teammate at Arizona State

Chris Hanburger – Hall of Fame Redskins linebacker

Brig Owens – Redskins cornerback; Jerry’s roommate

Dave Kopay – Redskins running back

Larry Brown – Redskins running back

Billy Kilmer – Redskins quarterback

Calvin Hill – Redskins running back

Jean Fugett – Redskins tight end

Bruce Allen – George Allen’s son; current Redskins general manager

Mark Murphy – Redskins safety; current Packers President and CEO

George Solomon Washington Post

Leonard Shapiro Washington Post

Lynn Rosellini Washington Star

David Mixner – Author; friend of Jerry’s; Gay Rights activist

David Maraniss – Vince Lombardi biographer

Provided below are some select quotes from Jerry Smith: A Football Life:

“When you needed a play to be made, you knew you could throw the ball to him and you knew some way, somehow he was going to catch the thing.” – Sonny Jurgensen

“This guy was a tremendous football player. Tough as nails, great hands – just so dependable.” – Bobby Mitchell

“This was really good. At least I was sharing something of myself with someone who is close and understood all that I had been through.” – Dave Kopay on his relationship with teammate Jerry Smith

“He was living in real fear and real scared; really alone and terrified that he was going to lose everything.” – David Mixner

“There was that fear because you don’t want somebody to take away something that you love doing and you love it so much.” – Brig Owens

 “I think there was a suspicion but it was not like we were trying to ‘out’ him. It was a different era [in regards to the media].” – Leonard Shapiro

“One of the things I learned is that a person’s sexual preference has nothing to do with their heart.” – Calvin Hill

 

 

 

At what point does gay athlete issue not become a story anymore? Inside account on who got Sam story

As I said when Jason Collins came out last spring, it pains me that this is a story in 2014. By this time, I had hoped an athlete’s sexual orientation wouldn’t matter anymore.

You would have to be naive to think that there haven’t been gay athletes in the locker rooms in all sports for many years. The recent NFL Network A Football Life documentary on Jerry Smith showed that his Washington teammates were aware that he was gay. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that the guy could play.

Deion Sanders had this tweet last night:

From Bears tight end Martellus Bennett.

Yet in 2014, it still is a major story. As of last night, more than avid football fans know about Michael Sam.

Cyd Zeigler, writing for Outsports at SB Nation, served as an advisor to Sam’s representatives on how to break the story. He wrote about the inside story.

Zeigler writes:

The second order of business was to determine where to break the story. Bragman knew the importance of this decision. For him, there was one determining factor: Who had earned it?

Howard already knew he wanted the TV element to be on ESPN. He has a working relationship with ABC, who shares a parent company — Disney — with ESPN.  He had worked with Chris Connelly before and respected his work, and he knew ESPN would treat Sam well. Plus, ESPN is a sports media outlet with a good track record on LGBT sports issues: The story had to be the football, the sport.

Bragman also wanted to include Outsports in the plan. He knew we would be talking “20 times a day” as this unfolded, and he wanted to give Outsports the “behind the scenes” story, the insight into how the story came about. No one else in the media would have been in the middle of strategy conversations, and it was a story Bragman felt needed to be told.

“Outsports has been light years ahead of any other publication on this topic,” he said. “And I think Outsports has earned it.”

As for the print side, Sam’s representatives eventually decided on John Branch of the New York Times.

“I know a lot of people will be pissed,” Bragman said. “There are a lot of friends in the media who won’t be happy because they didn’t get the story. And there will be lots of people trying to explain to me that we need to do the cover of their magazine. Part of the strategy is to announce it once, announce it well and let Michael focus on his football.”

Zeigler writes the timing of the announcement was pushed up because speculation was becoming rampant about Sam.

A sooner coming-out date had to be after the Super Bowl. Despite the Olympics starting Feb. 7, the announcement had to be early in the week of Feb. 10. While the Olympics would be taking up some space, everyone knew the story of the first soon-to-be NFL player to come out publicly would muscle its way through the Olympic headlines.

 “What really became clear was that it wasn’t going to hold until the Combine,” Bragman said. “Too many calls and too many journalists were sniffing around. So we decided to give the Super Bowl its chance to breathe, and we’d come in with a sneak announcement on Monday, Feb. 10.”

And finally.

For Sam and his team, the most important element to the entire process has been protecting Sam’s ability to tell his story himself first. It was that core tenet that dictated the decisions of where, when and how to break the story: Sam, not a reporter looking for some pageviews, had to tell his story on his terms.

It was with that in mind that the team moved up the release to Sunday night. Watching the reaction in the coming days will undoubtedly be overwhelming — And it will be overwhelmingly positive. Not only has the sports world changed dramatically on this issue, witnessed by Sam’s own experiences at Missouri, but Sam himself — A projected high NFL draft pick and SEC leader in sacks — is the perfect man to be the first.

“If we were choosing someone to be the first, we’d choose someone like Michael,” Bragman said. “Smart, athletic, handsome. I don’t think Central Casting could have come up with someone better.”

Connelly did a good job with the interview, and Sam was more than capable of answering the questions. Now the story moves to the NFL Combine, where he will encounter the media masses, and then finally to the NFL draft.

Q/A with Sean McManus on NFL Thursday night package: Expects strong lineup for CBS games; No. 1 priority for network

It is raining at Pebble Beach today, where Sean McManus is on hand for this week’s coverage of the AT&T Pro-Am. However, his mood couldn’t be brighter the day after CBS landed the NFL’s new eight-game package of Thursday night games.

Here’s my Q/A with the CBS Sports chairman on the deal:

What is your understanding about the quality of the eight Thursday games that will be on CBS?

I’ve been working with the NFL for 16 years, and they always figure out a way to give all the networks a number of high quality games. That’s why the ratings are increasing across the board. When the NFL (added Sunday night games on NBC), they understood the importance of getting off to a good start. They understand the importance of having good quality games to launch this schedule on Thursday nights.

Every team will play a Thursday game. Is it safe to assume CBS won’t get a game featuring a struggling team like Jacksonville?

We’ve got a good understanding we’re going to get a slate of games worthy of primetime. Other than that, it is in the hands of Howard Katz (and the NFL scheduling team).

Why was it important for the NFL to have Jim Nantz and Phil Simms call the entire package of Thursday night games?

It was clear when they started to talk to us, it was of primary importance to them to have A talent and an A production team do these games. We weren’t sure what the other networks thought, but if we wanted to be leaders in the clubhouse, we had to commit to Jim and Phil doing these games.

What will be their schedule regarding Sunday games?

Jim and Phil still will do most of the big doubleheader games. But to be honest with you, their primary focus will be Thursday night football. I don’t want to diminish our Sunday package. It’s very important to us. However, to launch Thursday nights successfully, this is our No. 1 priority.

CBS is No. 1 in primetime. Why was it important for the network to land this package?

Getting the Thursday night package is as high a priority for CBS as I can recall in recent memory. It was enormous for my boss, (CBS CBS President & CEO Les Moonves). He was involved in every meeting with the NFL and on most of the calls. If the head of the company says this is the highest priority, it sends a message to the NFL.

The NFL dominates the ratings. Even though we dominate in primetime, the thought of someone else programming the NFL (against CBS on Thursday night) was not an attractive proposition for us.

With the retirement of Dan Dierdorf, what are your thoughts on a new No. 2 team, which will be the defacto No. 1 on the weeks Nantz and Phil are off?

We haven’t crossed that bridge yet. We have some initial thoughts. The good news is that we’re stocked with terrific play-by-play men in (Ian Eagle, Greg Gumbel, Kevin Harlan and Marv Albert). In a practical sense, on most single-header weekends, there’s not a big difference in the distribution of the games. But we will have a pecking order.

This deal only is for one year with an NFL option. Did CBS push for a longer deal?

You always would like a longer contract. This is the first year. While we all assume it is going to be successful, there are no guarantees. This was their condition to sell us the property. A short-term deal is a whole lot better than no deal at all.