Sports Media Watch presents 20 notable sports media stories of the year 2011. Today, #20-#16, including big ratings for Major League Baseball and the NBA, NBC losing one of its prized TV properties to ESPN, and a pair of ESPN personalities getting the boot for controversial comments.
#20: Cardinals’ Miracle Comeback Spikes MLB Ratings
The 2011 World Series was a ratings dud through five games, averaging a record-low 8.3 rating. Then came Game 6, a rare sporting event that attracted attention for the action on the field. The Cardinals’ stirring comeback from two-run deficits in the ninth and tenth innings, followed by David Freese channeling Aaron Boone in the top of the eleventh, was one of the few bright spots in one of the most miserable sports years in history. Game 6 earned a massive 12.7 rating and over 21 million viewers, the largest audience for a non-Yankee World Series game since 2004. Game 7 the next night topped those numbers, despite airing on a Friday night. When the final numbers came in, a World Series that began without much juice ended up averaging a quite-respectable 10.0 rating and 16.6 million viewers.
#19: James, Heat, Fuel Big NBA Ratings
NBA ratings had already been on the rise during the previous three seasons, but the Miami Heat and star LeBron James sent those numbers into the stratosphere during the 2010-11 season. The success or failure of James and the Heat became a national obsession. Fans and the media – especially the media – whined and stamped their feet about incessant Heat coverage, and then plopped down in front of the television set to root against them.
The regular season was the highest rated and most-viewed ever on ABC, and the most-viewed on broadcast since the 1998-99* season on NBC. On cable, the regular season was the most-viewed ever on both ESPN and Turner Sports, the latter of which has been televising NBA games since the mid-1980s. TNT aired the most-viewed NBA Playoffs in cable history, as well as three of the four-most viewed NBA games ever on cable (all involving the Heat). The Heat’s trip to the NBA Finals was the third-most viewed in a decade, and was capped by the second-most viewed NBA game since 1998.
#18: NBC Loses Wimbledon to ESPN
In one of several skirmishes between TV powers in 2011, ESPN managed to hold off rivals NBC and FOX to obtain exclusive rights to tennis’ Wimbledon grand slam. ESPN and NBC had shared Wimbledon rights since 2003, but NBC — a Wimbledon broadcaster for 43 years — aired the men’s and women’s finals. Under the new twelve-year deal, which goes into effect next year, the entire tournament will shift exclusively to ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC (taped re-airs of ESPN coverage). In a year where ESPN was beaten on the Olympics (by NBC) and the World Cup (by FOX), stealing Wimbledon away from NBC was a noteworthy accomplishment.
#17: Ron Franklin Fired
Play-by-play voice Ron Franklin was less than a year into a new contract with ESPN when an incident with colleague Jeannine Edwards got him ousted from the network. During a production meeting prior to last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, Franklin allegedly referred to Edwards as ‘sweet baby’ and then called her an expletive when she objected. Franklin, who had a prior incident in which he called Holly Rowe ‘sweetheart’ on-air, apologized for the comments. Not surprisingly, that was not enough for ESPN. The network pulled him from his scheduled Fiesta Bowl radio broadcast and then fired him on January 4.
#16: Hank Williams Jr. Ousted
Ron Franklin was not the only ESPN personality to get the boot due to controversial comments this year. Singer Hank Williams Jr., who spent two decades performing the Monday Night Football theme on ESPN and ABC, was initially suspended for one game after likening the President of the United States to Hitler during a cable news interview. Like Franklin, Williams Jr. apologized for his comments when it still seemed like he could save his job, but it was not enough. ESPN ended its relationship with the singer on October 6.
For his part, Williams Jr. was not pleased. He accused ESPN – a private company – of violating his First Amendment rights, and took his public relations fight to Fox News and ABC’s The View.
The #15-#11 stories of the year will be presented Tuesday, December 27.