Thursday, May 5, 2011

NFL draft's TV dip shows lockout dent

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The NFL draft starts a saga. Will the NFL's lockout put cracks in the league's popularity?

  • ESPN's average audience for the three days of the NFL draft was down across the board, including 29% on Friday's Day 2.

    By Chris Trotman, Getty Images

    ESPN's average audience for the three days of the NFL draft was down across the board, including 29% on Friday's Day 2.

By Chris Trotman, Getty Images

ESPN's average audience for the three days of the NFL draft was down across the board, including 29% on Friday's Day 2.

Could be. ESPN producer Jay Rothman predicted viewership of the NFL draft would be "higher" this year because fans "are dying for football." But ESPN's average audience for Thursday's prime-time first round — 4.4 million households — was down 17% from last year while ESPN/ESPN2's Friday night coverage was off 29% and down 11% Saturday.

While ESPN draws 80% of draft viewers, the NFL Network's ratings held steady. Overall, this was the second-most-watched draft, with 42 million viewers tuning in for at least one minute. It trailed only last year's draft, which shifted from Saturday afternoons to a more mediagenic Thursday prime-time opener. This year's draft was the second in the format and viewing was off 7%.

Potential excuses include the draft facing strong TV competition Thursday and was, as NFLN's Mike Mayock put it, a "very poor draft." But, as the idea the NFL and its players wouldn't possibly "kill the golden goose" becomes a cliché about the lockout, here's early evidence of what could happen to fan interest if they keep plucking.

Spice rack: ABC's Jeff Van Gundy on the Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce being ejected in the team's loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday: "There's nothing he could have said that should get him tossed out. … You're ruining the end of this game." … CBS' Peter Kostis, during PGA Tour action in Avondale, La., on Sunday, on the course's dried-out greens: "They should be sponsored by Frito Lay because they are really crispy." There's a thought — corporate logos on greens. Think that could never happen? … After drivers Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya repeatedly bumped each other in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing Saturday night, Fox reporters Matt Yocum and Dick Berggren tried to chase them down for interviews. Montoya, in a golf cart, escaped Berggren. Yocum got Newman to say he wanted "to find out what the heck happened here tonight. I know (Montoya) showed no class tonight." Makes for good TV. … In one of the iconic moments of the 1980s, Bill Buckner of the Boston Red Sox had a key grounder go through his legs in a World Series Game 6 loss to the New York Mets— and Buckner in 1993 left Boston for Idaho. But don't get the idea, said Buckner in MLB Network's MLB's 20 Greatest Games on Sunday, that he couldn't live among the Red Sox faithful. "That's hardly the case," he said. Instead, he "moved to Idaho because that was a dream of mine since I was a little kid and watched Bonanza on TV." And, of course, Idaho isn't that far from the Cartwright's ranch in Nevada. … The royal wedding Friday in London was the latest event to make it obvious how much better TV sports handles live coverage. Yes, TV sports can get cluttered with stats, graphics, fun facts, etc. Maybe you didn't need a box showing Mel Kiper Jr.'s "Top Five Available Unmarried Royals." But sports-like TV graphics could have told us who we were seeing and something about them.

Clip 'n' save: TNT's Charles Barkley, who picked the Memphis Grizzlies to upset the San Antonio Spurs, now predicts the Dallas Mavericks will beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their NBA playoff series. He says Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki is "un-guardable" and the Lakers' frontline is "big, athletic — but they have a zero chance on a scale of 1-to-2 million of guarding Nowitzki." That's long odds. … The Golf Channel, says spokesman Dan Higgins, will announce today that Jason Sobel, an ESPN online writer, will join TGC for on-air work and online writing.

No tweets from Herbstreit: ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit was once an Ohio State quarterback, his wife an Ohio State cheerleader and his father an Ohio State co-captain. But with Herbstreit having said on ESPN that embattled Ohio State coach Jim Tressel "broke" NCAA rules and Buckeyes fans are "just blindly" supporting him, he's going to cut down on mingling with fans — he's taken down his Twitter account. He's also added to his national credibility. And, as he noted in a statement, he has "sufficient ways to communicate" without Twitter. Imagine that.

Waltonisms live on: As an NBA analyst for NBC and ABC, Bill Walton gave idiosyncratic calls. Like insisting Shaquille O'Neal is "one of the five biggest people on the planet," as if he'd just checked this week's rankings. Walton stepped down from national TV games due to severe back pains, although he's since done local TV NBA games. But his playoff analysis continues on Twitter @TheBillWalton. In the Memphis-Oklahoma City Thunder game Sunday, Walton saw aggression akin "to Catholic loyalist insurgents in the Vendée Counterrevolution of 1793." And Walton still sees O'Neal as extravagantly large: "A fossil this large hasn't been dug up since a megalosaurus femur was found in 1676."

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