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Ratings Expected To Fall For Draft, Rise For Derby

The 2020 NFL Draft brought in record viewership, while last year’s Kentucky Derby lost nearly half of its TV audience.

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The country is barreling towards the Summer months and sports television executives are hoping for a big weekend in the ratings. The NFL Draft and Kentucky Derby, happening this weekend, are traditionally two of the highest-rated events on the sports calendar this time of year.

Last year’s NFL Draft brought in a record audience of 8.4 million average viewers as the only game in town during the early days of the pandemic. On the other hand, the Kentucky Derby averaged 9.26 million viewers after being forced to run in the Fall, its lowest total since 2000.

The Athletic talked to Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch regarding his thoughts on how viewership will shake out this time around. The longtime sports media evaluator predicted the NFL Draft’s opening round would average between 10-11 million viewers. All while he pegged the Kentucky Derby at 12-13 million average viewers. The opening round of the 2020 draft averaged 15.26 million viewers, a record for the event.

“Last year it was the lack of competition,” Lewis said regarding the record NFL draft viewership in 2020. “This year, they’re not going to have that advantage. There’s no way to replicate last year’s circumstances.”

Lewis doesn’t expect a huge increase to pre-pandemic Kentucky Derby levels because fans are likely fatigued from the race running eight months ago. On top of that, there isn’t much excitement surrounding the favored horses. 2020 was the first year the Kentucky Derby sank below 15 million average viewers since 2012.

“No one wants to watch these things in such a short period,” Lewis said to The Athletic. “There’s not a lot of hype for it.” 

The Kentucky Derby and plenty of other major sports have suffered big hits to their ratings. Yet Lewis believes the NFL has weathered this storm the best.

“Ultimately, everything on TV has been in decline, but the NFL is in the least decline.”

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New Sunday Night Baseball Booth Focused On Modern Game

“You’re going to see us genuinely get excited about today’s game at a time when that’s really needed on a national broadcast.”

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Amid a period of skepticism and uncertainty across Major League Baseball, ESPN continues to look forward to the conclusion of the lockout, which it hopes leads to the start of the 2022 MLB regular season. The network recently announced a new Sunday Night Baseball booth with play-by-play announcer Karl Ravech and analysts David Cone and Eduardo Pérez, a trio it believes will fit the current landscape of baseball in the digital age.

“I think that the beauty of this team, in short, is [to be] able to embrace the traditional aspects of Major League Baseball and mix in the more modern aspects, whether that be analytics or something else,” said ESPN Senior Vice President of Production and Remote Operations Mark Gross.

Balancing traditional and modern aspects of the game is critical for Cone, who still intends to broadcast 50 games this season as a part of New York Yankees baseball on the YES Network. The importance of emphasizing and embracing the game today, rather than solely reflecting on what the game was like when he and Pérez played, is something he believes will enhance the broadcast for its viewing audience.

“In a lot of the baseball broadcasts around the country, you hear a lot of: ‘Yeah, the game was better back when I played.’ That’s not the case here,” Cone explained. “You’re going to see us genuinely get excited about today’s game at a time when that’s really needed on a national broadcast.”

Despite criticism regarding the previous Sunday Night Baseball booth not talking about the game enough, Ravech believes there is a place for the conversational nature of broadcasting in the evolving digital age. Talking about subjects not related to baseball, though, is something dictated by the action on the field and the rapport of the booth.

“I tend to be real dependent and reliant on my analysts,” said Ravech, who has been with ESPN since 1993. “I’m not an ‘I’ or ‘me’ guy – I’m a ‘we’ guy – and this group of three is what [will make] this succeed… The chemistry aspect of [the booth] is the last part of my concern. This will be a group that gets along really well, and [I hope] it will show.”

Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN will return for the 2022 regular season and telecast 25 games, along with other exclusive games throughout the season, including MLB Opening Night. Additionally, ESPN will also debut a new alternate presentation titled Kay-Rod, which will discuss the game each week, along with special guest appearances and on-air integrations of analytics and fantasy baseball.

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Michael Kay Won’t Use ‘See Ya’ On Kay-Rod Broadcasts

“It’s going to be compared to the ManningCast, which is going to be difficult to live up to because it’s been a social phenomenon and it is two guys that are extraordinary well-liked, really beloved and they are two brothers.”

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For 8-10 Sunday Night Baseball games during the 2022 season, fans can tune in to an alternate broadcast with Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez on ESPN2 as they talk about what is going on in the game and have fun along the way. Of course, there are high expectations considering the success the ManningCast and the megacasts have been for ESPN and Kay understands that. 

“It’s going to be compared to the ManningCast, which is going to be difficult to live up to because it’s been a social phenomenon and it is two guys that are extraordinary well-liked, really beloved and they are two brothers,” Michael Kay told the Curtain Call podcast with John J. Filippelli and Kevin Sullivan. “That’s going to be a tough thing to be compared to, but I understand going in that’s exactly what it is.”

So, what is the alternate broadcast going to look like exactly? Kay knows his primary job is to get the most out of A-Rod and bring out his baseball knowledge. One thing he isn’t there to do is call the game in a traditional manner. Michael Kay says that means you likely won’t hear him shouting “See Ya!” after home runs.

“What we are going to do at least in the early infant planning stages, it’s going to be the two of us sitting in the stands and that’s not going to be literal, talking about the game, joking about the game. I might not do one inning of play-by-play. You are going to hear more of what I do on the radio or CenterStage than what I do on Yankees games because Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez, and David Cone are doing the regular broadcast on ESPN.”

Michael Kay says he is the one that came up with the name for the alternate broadcast. It is one he says ESPN Executive VP Norby Williamson wasn’t too high in at first.

“Norby Williamson of ESPN who offered me the gig said this is what we like to do, what do you think? I said I think it is great, I’m all for it, I even have the name for you. He said what? And I said K-Rod. He’s a big Mets fan and he said I like it, but I don’t. He said it reminds me of K-Rod, the pitcher from the Mets, and he didn’t have that much success. I said well, if you can get over that, it’s definitely a play on A-Rod and if Alex doesn’t mind I get first billing. The release comes out and it says Kay-Rod.”

If the alternate broadcast goes as planned, it could work as a different way for people to watch a baseball game especially when their favorite team is not playing. 

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Bill Walton Annoyed By Dave Pasch Pointing Out Lack Of Fans

“Pasch pointed out that players and coaches would like to play in front of a packed arena for the January 25 game against Arizona. Walton seemed surprised this thought could have even crossed people’s minds.”

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Bill Walton got a little annoyed with his broadcast partner on Thursday night.  Walton and Dave Pasch called the Oregon vs UCLA game, which was played essentially in front of no one.  Due to rising COVID cases, UCLA has banned anyone besides family members from attending indoor sporting events.

Pasch seemed to be explaining to new viewers why there were no fans in the stands, which Walton took as a complaint.

“I’m tired of your complaining,” Bill Walton shot back.

Again, Pasch said he was simply updating new viewers on UCLA’s implemented policy and that he was not complaining.  Walton however, seemed irritated.

“Oh yeah, THERE’S A PANDEMIC GOING ON!” Walton shouted. “There’s no fans in the building because people are DYING of Covid and people are concerned about that.”

UCLA has stated no fans other than players’ family members will be permitted to home games until at least Jan. 21, but that date is fluid and will continue to be monitored.  Pasch pointed out that players and coaches would like to play in front of a packed arena for the January 25 game against Arizona. Bill Walton seemed surprised this thought could have even crossed people’s minds.

“Well, are we gonna listen to the doctors? Or not?  Isn’t that kinda why we’re in this ongoing program because people don’t listen to the doctors? Are you part of the problem or the solution?”

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