We’re at the quarter mark of the NFL season and television ratings continue to soar (just like the prognosticating reputation of ESPN NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson). Here are 10 media items of note on the weekend that was and the upcoming week:
1. Keyshawn Johnson went out on a limb at the start of the season by picking the Chiefs to make the Super Bowl. Now, what seemed like an outlandish prediction has much more legitimacy after Kansas City’s 4-0 start. What did the ESPN analyst see that most others did not? “If you start winning, players buy into it and I felt the Chiefs had the potential to start winning early based on the additions of Andy Reid and Alex Smith and because the schedule was very favorable for them to open the season,” Johnson says. “They also have a lot of talented players. If you look at the rest of the AFC, it’s wide open. Denver and New England are playing well but Houston is struggling. Indianapolis is still relatively young and there are other teams like Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati that are down. I think they’ve got a shot.”
2. This Sunday’s Chargers-Raiders game is going to be an interesting experience for television viewers. First, the game has been moved from the afternoon to an 8:35 p.m. PT (11:35 ET) kickoff because of the baseball playoffs. That move prompted the broadcast switching from CBS to the NFL Network, but here’s where it gets interesting: CBS will use its game announcers (Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts) but the production elements (such as graphics) will be handled by the NFL Network. The game won’t have a pregame show, but halftime will be handled by NFLN. Why did this happen? The Raiders are the only NFL team that still shares a stadium with a major league baseball team, and the ALDS schedule has the A’s hosting a game on Saturday at 6:07 PM (PT). O.co Coliseum officials said they needed more time to convert back into a football stadium.
3. NBC Football Night In America analyst Tony Dungy thinks Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a career in sports broadcasting if he wants it. “We had Aaron Rodgers a couple of years ago with us for the Super Bowl and he and Hines Ward did a great job for us,” Dungy said. “I rehearsed with Aaron and he picked things up really well. He knows the game well and he has a sneaky, funny personality. I know he would be good at it if he ever decided to do this.”
4. Really like the move by CBS Sports to shift NFL Today analysts Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason and Shannon Sharpe out of the studio for a one-day game assignment on Oct. 13. Cowher will join Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to call the Steelers at Jets; Esiason will sit in with Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots to call the Bengals at Bills, and Sharpe will be in Denver to join Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts for the Jaguars at Broncos game. “Looking at the slate of regional games during Week 6, with three involving the former teams of our studio analysts, we thought it was the perfect time to have some fun,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus.
Along with getting some free publicity for each of those games and challenging its analysts to expand their skill-sets, CBS creates an opportunity to highlight other studio analysts on its main pregame show. CBS Sports Network analysts Bart Scott and Amy Trask will join James Brown, Dan Marino and Jason LaCanfora that week on The NFL Today.
5. Through five telecasts, NBC is averaging 22.6 million viewers for its Sunday Night Football package, which the network says is the fourth consecutive year with a 22.5-plus million average at this point in the season. Through four weeks (five games), ESPN’s MNF is averaging 13,985,000 viewers, virtually even with the same period in 2012. Through its first three games, Thursday night football is averaging 8.6 million viewers, which puts the series on pace to be the most-watched TNF season ever. On the pregame show front, Fox NFL Sunday (5.0 million viewers) is outdrawing The NFL Today (3.2 million) and ESPN Sunday Countdown (2.3 million). Fox said its pregame ratings were 50% better than CBS and 106% better than ESPN through Week 3.
6. Steelers safety Ryan Clark is serious about a post-NFL career in broadcasting and has frequently appeared on ESPN, including a weeklong stint last May. With Pittsburgh on a bye, Clark returns to Bristol later this week for another round of reps. He’ll appear on Numbers Never Lie, NFL Live and SportsCenter on Thursday as well as SportsCenter and NFL kickoff on Friday. “When you come in as an athlete at ESPN, people treat you a little differently,” Clark told SI.com a couple of months ago. “They know they are getting a commodity along with giving you an opportunity to work at something that may be your craft once you retire. But I want to get the nuts and bolts of this as if I were doing this on a day to day basis.”
Clark said he and his wife Yonka DVR everything he does on-air and evaluate his performance as a broadcaster. For the past three years, Clark has worked in Pittsburgh television and also on the Pittsburgh-based Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan. “I want longevity in this field, and to have longevity, you can’t just be one of the rotating talking heads,” Clark said. “Because if you are, when the next safety comes out with a good opinion, speaks well and has knowledge of the game, then you are out of there. Look at Mike Mayock: He grinded and worked his way into that position at the NFL Network to where he is basically irreplaceable.”
7. I asked ESPN senior fantasy analyst Matthew Berry, who has been on television lately nearly as much as Ryan Seacrest, why viewers have been inundated with so much more fantasy football content this year.
“I’ve noticed more content, yes, but more importantly, I’ve noticed that the content is more prominent,” Berry wrote in an email. “Both here at ESPN and elsewhere, fantasy has been given more air time on higher rated shows and in higher profile windows on those shows. I’ve also noticed a significant increase in advertisers trying to reach the fantasy audience and gearing ads or promotions towards fantasy players. The reason for this is obvious: Fantasy is a huge part of how people watch, enjoy and think about the NFL. The people that play fantasy are the most passionate, hardcore fans. Multiple studies have shown that they watch, read, download and listen longer than just a NFL fan. It’s a large, loyal audience that continues to grow and has a voracious appetite for news and analysis. So why wouldn’t networks and shows want to cater to them?
“I only have access to data here at ESPN, but our Sunday morning ESPN2 show, Fantasy Football Now, despite being in an incredibly competitive time slot (11am-1pm ET), is up nine percent through the first three weeks of the year (445,000 viewers this year vs. 408,000 through first three weeks of 2012). In addition, we do fantasy in the 11:45 a.m. slot on Sunday NFL Countdown (right after inactives are announced), there’s a fantasy segment on Monday Night Countdown for the first time this year and fantasy is one of the three main segments on Colin Cowherd’s new football show, in addition to segments on NFL Live, SportsCenter, Olbermann and SportsNation during the week.”
8. Fox NFL Sunday analyst Terry Bradshaw did not hold back on Bucs demoted quarterback Josh Freeman: “I’m disappointed in Freeman,” Bradshaw said Sunday. “Coach [Greg] Schiano knew what kind of quarterback they had and they put him on a short leash from the beginning of the season. To be late for meetings as the quarterback is inexcusable. To miss the team picture that’s on a Saturday—how in the world does that happen? The fact that he didn’t put in the time to study and prepare himself just proves that they had to set him down. I’m disappointed in Josh for him wanting out so easily. Have you heard about fighting for your job? Have you heard of going in early and staying late? You dream of this opportunity when you are a child and to go to the side like this, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
9. Brandon Harrison of TDDaily.com has written an oral history of Playmakers, the fictional ESPN series which offended NFL officials with its harsh characterization of pro football. The show was canceled by the network in 2004 after one season.
10. Bradshaw was terrific over the weekend in his remembrance of six-time Steelers All-Pro defensive end L.C. Greenwood, who died last Sunday at 67.