Could Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket become ESPN networks?

Entertainment circles are buzzing about the possibility of the Walt Disney Co. acquiring 21st Century Fox Inc. Certainly there is a myriad of elements to such a deal and sports is right up there with the biggest of them.

The_Walt_Disney_company_logoIf Disney were to acquire Fox, it would assume control of Fox’s many regional sports networks, including Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. The deal, which is said to be worth more than $60 billion, would also give Disney the Fox studios and many of the Fox networks, but not including the Fox broadcast network, Fox News or Fox Sports 1.

21st-century-fox-logoAccording to CNBC, Fox’s regional sports networks make up one-third of the $60 billion all by themselves and it shows that Disney is committing itself even further to live sports.

“With the play to get the RSNs,” CNBC’s Eric Jackson wrote “… Disney is telegraphing that it is going to have the key sports you care about — nationally and locally — for a long time. If you want those games, you need to visit the Magic Kingdom, whether as a cable subscriber, an [over-the-top streaming] subscriber, or both.”

Fox’s regional networks carry 44 MLB, NBA and NHL franchises. Getting the rights to a reported 5,500 more live events per year could help Disney attract fans to the new ESPN+ streaming service it has in the works. However, even though Disney has not had regional sports networks (it did try a couple of decades ago to start one in Southern California), acquiring Fox’s could put up a red flag for federal regulators.

‘BILLY’

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Billy Martin will be the subject of an “MLB Presents” documentary on Dec. 14.

There have been few figures in sports more compelling than Billy Martin. MLB Network will show what promises to be a very interesting documentary on the former player and manager, most closely associated with the New York Yankees, at 5 p.m. next Thursday, Dec. 14.

MLB Network Presents: Billy will be narrated by John Turturro, who played Martin in the 2007 miniseries The Bronx is Burning. Interview subjects will include his son, Billy Jr., his former wife Gretchen Martin Creswell, his widow Jill Martin, his former agent Eddie Sapir, and David Mantle, son of Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle.

As a manager, Martin turned around every team he worked for, but often found himself in trouble with his own players, with former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and in a number of alcohol-fueled controversies.

“In my opinion, [he’s] the best game manager in the history of the game,” Hall of Famer Tony La Russa says in the film.

Along with La Russa, Rod Carew, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Tom Grieve, Ron Guidry, Don Mattingly, Lou Piniella, Willie Randolph, Bobby Richardson and Buck Showalter are interviewed.

The documentary will also have details from the car accident that killed Martin on Christmas Day in 1989, including a retracing of the route that Martin traveled home before crashing at the foot of his own driveway.

BYE-BYE, BOONIE

Aaron Boone
Aaron Boone will go from the ESPN booth to the New York Yankees dugout. (ESPN photo)

It was a surprise to learn that Aaron Boone would become the Yankees’ new manager after working for ESPN since 2010. Boone apparently won over the Yanks with his knowledge of and allegiance to analytics.

ESPN will now have to make a bigger overhaul to its Sunday Night Baseball booth for 2018. Dan Shulman had already begged off the series to spend more time with his family (he’ll still do some baseball games and continue with college basketball), so only Jessica Mendoza remains from the three-person crew.

“Sitting next to him for the last two years, there is no one I have learned more about the game from than him,” Mendoza said of Boone. “I am so pumped for this next adventure for Aaron and his family and have no doubt he will bring even more success to the Yankee organization.”

Shulman was equally proud.

“I couldn’t be happier for Aaron,” he said. “… I think we all felt he was destined to get back into the game at some point and I know how excited he is to have this kind of an opportunity. I am really looking forward to watching him on this journey.”

BREATHE DEEPLY

Despite air quality problems from the Southern California wildfires, there should be no problem with the Los Angeles Rams hosting the Philadelphia Eagles at the Coliseum at 1:25 p.m. Sunday on Fox. The Eagles, who played at Seattle last week, have been practicing in Orange County. The Rams canceled outdoor practice Wednesday in Thousand Oaks and had made plans to practice Thursday at USC if the air wasn’t better. The Coliseum should have no air problems Sunday.

Tonight’s NFL game is Saints-Falcons at 5:20 p.m. on NBC and NFL Network. On Sunday, Fox’s 10 a.m. game is Cowboys-Giants. CBS will have Redskins-Chargers at 1 p.m. The 5:20 p.m. NBC game is Ravens-Steelers.

We’re in the college football lull before bowl games. That clears the decks for the Army-Navy Game at noon Saturday from Philadelphia on CBS. Army is 8-3 and Navy is 6-5.

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

Fox NFL Sunday will originate from the Coliseum at 9 a.m. Sunday. … The Steelers’ comeback win over the Bengals gave ESPN a 7.8 overnight big-market rating for Monday Night Football, up 30% from the comparable game last season. … NBC plans to once again primarily use its Skycam angle for the Broncos-Colts Thursday night game on Dec. 14. … Give Cris Collinsworth a break! That’s exactly what NBC plans to do on Dec. 16 and 25. Kurt Warner of NFL Network will be the analyst alongside Mike Tirico for the respective Bears-Lions and Steelers-Texans games. Collinsworth will work games with Al Michaels on Dec. 17 and 23. … Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Moon is taking an indefinite leave of absence from the Seattle Seahawks radio booth following a reported lawsuit alleging sexual harassment.

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150 more are laid off at ESPN

Another round of layoffs hit employees at ESPN this week as 150 people were let go by the network. They were all behind-the-scenes personnel, coming from “studio production, digital content and tech groups,” according to SportsBusiness Daily.

ESPN-LogoThe layoffs impact less than 2% of ESPN’s 8,000 employees and come as its parent Walt Disney Co. continues to cope with declining subscription numbers and high league rights fees.

It’s the second time this year ESPN is eliminating positions; 100 layoffs in April affected not only those behind the cameras, but also on-air talent. In the fall of 2015, about 300 were let go.

ESPN’s programming is gradually shifting toward serving the growing digital world. It has launched a SportCenter-type show on Snapchat and SportsCenter Right Now on the ESPN app, and it plans to begin a direct-to-viewer ESPN+ in 2018.

These days, fans can find sports highlights online whenever they want and are not as likely to sit still for an entire SportsCenter newscast. In addition, ESPN’s subscriber base, which was more than 100 million in 2011, is now down to 86.9 million.

Also, ESPN is ending the 4-8 p.m. PT broadcasts of SportsCenter on ESPNews after Thursday. SportsCenter will continue airing on ESPNews from 7 to 10 a.m. on Sundays during the NFL season. The personality-driven SportsCenters on ESPN, hosted by Scott Van Pelt, Jemele Hill, Michael Smith and Sage Steele will continue as in the past.

ALSO IN BRISTOL …

Meanwhile, there is other, happier ESPN news (that’s ESPN news, not ESPNews):

  • ESPN’s NBA viewership is up 24% from last season, averaging 1.9 million viewers through 19 games, compared to 1.6 million last season. The Nov. 22 Warriors-Thunder game drew 3.3 million viewers, the most for an ESPN regular-season game since Christmas 2016. The Lakers-Kings game later that night was seen by 2.2 million, a 69% gain from the comparable game last year.
  • ESPN will provide live SportsCenter segments on the World Cup draw on Friday morning with ESPN2 airing a live, one-hour, post-draw ESPN FC special at 9 a.m. ESPN Deportes will have seven hours of live Spanish-language coverage starting at 6 a.m.
  • The Arizona Republic reports that ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards is about to be hired as the new football coach at Arizona State. The hiring is said to only be awaiting the approval of school president Michael Crow. Ray Anderson, the ASU athletic director, was Edwards’ former agent before he became an NFL executive.

CONFERENCE CAPERS

The college football season is down to the conference championship level and the Pacific 12 starts things off Friday night with No. 11 USC playing No. 14 Stanford at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium at 5 p.m. on ESPN. It’s kind of like the Pac-12 sits at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving. All the other big games are on Saturday.

The AAC championship is at 9 a.m. Saturday with No. 12 Central Florida playing No. 16 Memphis on ABC. At 9:30 a.m., the Big 12 championship has No. 2 Oklahoma facing No. 10 TCU on Fox. The SEC championship, usually the biggest draw of the bunch, will have No. 4 Auburn taking on No. 6 Georgia on CBS. No. 25 Fresno State plays unranked Boise State at 4:45 p.m. in the MWC championship on ESPN. The prime-time games (in the East, anyway) at 5 p.m. PST are the ACC championship between No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Miami on ABC and the Big Ten title game between No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 8 Ohio State on Fox.

NFL NATTERINGS

In addition, the College Football Playoff pairings and those for the unfortunately named “New Year’s Six” games will be on ESPN at 9 a.m. Sunday.

In the NFL, the Redskins and Cowboys play at 5:20 p.m. on NBC and NFL Network. The Redskins had threatened not to wear the all-yellow “Color Rush” uniforms the league had mandated for them, so it was possible they might have played naked, but word now is they will dress in all burgundy instead of all banana. Fox has the doubleheader this Sunday with Vikings-Falcons at 10 a.m. and Rams-Cardinals at 1:25 p.m. CBS has Browns-Chargers at 1 p.m. On NBC’s Sunday night game, it’ll be Eagles-Seahawks at 5:20. The ESPN Monday night game is Steelers-Bengals at 5:15.

The NFL is said to be considering moving the Dec. 10 Eagles-Rams game to the Sunday night NBC slot. Fox had left the game unprotected among games that could be moved, but now is trying to keep it and put it in its national window.

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

NBCUniversal announced its will show more than 2,400 hours of coverage across all its networks and digital platforms from the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, with 176 of those hours on NBC itself. For the first time at a Winter Olympics, the network will show prime-time coverage live to all time zones. For the first time, it will show live events during its late-night coverage. … To get ready, you may want to watch Birds of Prey World Cup skiing event from Lake Louise, Alberta, at 11:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN.

CIF Southern Section high school football finals are Friday and Saturday nights. Between Fox Sports West, Prime Ticket and the Fox Sports Go online app, every game will be available to watch. Of interest to Ventura County fans will be Oaks Christian at Valencia at 7:30 Friday on Prime Ticket and Moorpark vs. Paraclete and Grace Brethren at Antelope Valley at 7 Friday online.

There’s something about Joe Buck some people just can’t stand

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Joe Buck, left, and John Smoltz rubbed some people the wrong way during the World Series. (Fox Sports photo)

With the World Series over and the NFL going full steam ahead (unless you count Jerry Jones’ dealings with Roger Goodell), it’s a good time to look at the one thing baseball and football have in common:

Joe Buck.

I’m going to be up front on my feelings about Buck. I think he’s a great broadcaster. But man, if you actually try to stick up for him, especially online, you can be in for a lot of trouble.

As a matter of fact, during Game 4 of the World Series, someone I know posted a derogatory comment on Facebook about Buck and people commented their agreement, often in profane terms.

I made the mistake of posting a positive comment:

“Joe Buck is actually a very good play-by-play man: knowledgeable and impartial. The only times I can’t stand him is when he’s being interviewed. Then he’s very sarcastic. He also would much rather be doing football than baseball.”

As positive comments go, that’s really pretty tepid. It actually has more negative elements than positive ones. But people disagreed strongly with me, especially when it came to being impartial. Still, I persisted — foolishly:

“Well, I’m sure that in Game 1, Dodgers fans felt much better about him than in Games 2 or 3. His dad was Jack Buck, who was a stellar broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals for decades.

“I was actually more miffed at John Smoltz during Game 3 because of all the analytics he was whipping out that were essentially saying the Dodgers had no chance to win after the Astros scored four runs in the second inning and that the road for them to win the Series now would be very steep because of their Game 3 loss.”

This prompted another person, a self-described “Philly fan,” to accuse me of “mansplaining,” a term I sheepishly had to look up to find out just how much I had been insulted.

Another person added: “For those that are ‘pro buck’ [meaning me] do you honestly not hear the difference of enthusiasm in his voice when talking about anybody other than the Dodgers?”

Another said something, in a very violent way that I won’t repeat here, about how much Royals fans dislike Buck.

Here’s the thing about Buck and Smoltz’s broadcasting style during the World Series: They said disparaging things about the team that was losing.

Quite frankly, I was getting a little miffed myself by what they were saying as well until the lead of the game changed and I realized they were now saying negative things against the team that was now trailing. I paid close attention to this the rest of the Series and found this to be true. Not only that, if I had to admit it, the negative things they were saying were true.

Whenever people tell me the news media is negative, I always say this: “News is what is out of the ordinary. If something is not out of the ordinary, it’s not news. Things that are out of the ordinary are often negative, therefore news is often negative.”

It had been 29 years since the Dodgers had been in the World Series and I think their fans had never experienced what it was like to have him call their postseason games. When the Dodgers were behind, Buck and Smoltz were rough on them, talking about what they were doing wrong and being generally pessimistic about their chances. However, they did the exact same thing when the Astros were behind. The same has happened to Mr. Philly Fan and to the violent Royals fan.

The things the broadcasters were saying were true, but it’s difficult to hear people talk negatively about your team.

What really gripes me is how many people were saying they longed to have Vin Scully calling those Dodgers games. Who wouldn’t? But Scully never rooted for the Dodgers. If Vin had been calling those Series games, he would’ve been just as critical although in perhaps a gentler way.

Here’s the thing: Joe Buck just completed his 20th World Series, remarkable for someone who is only 48 years old. He must have something going for him.

FIRST AND 10

There’s an absolute plethora of ranked-team college football matchups Saturday. The top two games are No. 3 Notre Dame at No. 7 Miami at 5 p.m. PST on ABC and No. 5 Oklahoma hosting No. 8 TCU at 5 p.m. on Fox. It’s too bad such momentous games are on at the same time.

Many of the other ranked-vs.-ranked games are just as compelling. No. 1 Alabama is at No. 18 Mississippi State at 4 p.m. on ESPN, No. 2 Georgia is at No. 10 Auburn at 12:30 p.m. on CBS, No. 6 Wisconsin hosts No. 25 Iowa at 12:30 p.m. on ABC, No. 11 Ohio State hosts No. 13 Michigan State at 9 a.m. on Fox, and No. 12 Oklahoma State is at No. 24 Iowa State at 9 a.m. on ABC.

No. 15 USC is at Colorado at 1 p.m. on Fox and UCLA hosts Arizona State at 6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks.

In the NFL, the Thursday night game on NBC and NFL Network is Seahawks-Cardinals at 5:20. On Sunday, the 10 a.m. games are Chargers-Jaguars on CBS and Vikings-Redskins on Fox.

The 1 and 1:25 p.m. games are a little complicated. In the Los Angeles market, CBS must show not only has the Chargers game at 10, but also the Rams’ home game against the Texans at 1. So CBS-owned KCAL (Channel 9) will show the Rams game from start to finish with KCBS (Channel 2) joining it in progress when the Chargers are done. Fox, which has its normal doubleheader this week, will show Cowboys-Falcons at 1.

The Sunday night game on NBC is Patriots-Broncos at 5:20. ESPN’s Monday night game is Dolphins-Panthers at 5:15.

SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT

When the Penn State-Michigan State football game was delayed more than three hours by lightning, it forced Fox to scramble. At first, the network put the Kansas State-Texas A&M game on that had been airing on Fox Sports 1. But the lengthy delay was going to cause problems for the Stanford-Washington State game set to follow the early game. FS1 had Oklahoma-Oklahoma State set to air in that slot.

Fox decided to stay with Penn State-Michigan State when it resumed and for most of the country, the Stanford-Washington State was relegated all the way down to the Fox Business Channel.

During the delay, the broadcast team Joe Davis (who is also the Dodgers TV announcer) and Brady Quinn, looking for something to eat, wound up going to a student cafeteria.

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

ESPN starts its college basketball coverage at 3 p.m. Friday with No. 11 West Virginia playing No. 25 Texas A&M at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Also of note is No. 21 UCLA playing Georgia Tech at Beijing at 8:30 p.m. Friday. The game has taken on a controversial tone in the wake of the shoplifting arrest of UCLA freshman players LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill. NBCSN’s NASCAR viewership is up 13% over last year with 2.7 million viewers. … NBC plans to show 450 hours of Winter Olympics coverage on cable networks NBCSN, CNBC and USA. NBCSN will account for 368.5 hours (82%) of the cable total. …

Greg Olsen, currently tight end for the Carolina Panthers, will be a booth analyst for the Nov. 19 Rams-Vikings game, joining Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis and Pam Oliver. It’ll be the Panthers’ bye week. … ESPN is adding Mark Kriegel to its boxing telecasts starting Saturday. In addition, Kriegel, who is also an author, will provide long-form storytelling and essays for the network.

World Series gets respectable ratings, but can’t touch 2016

WS17_WorldSeries_Primary-RGB-EventMarkWhew! After being exhausted by the first two games of the 113th World Series, it’s nice to have an off day Thursday before Game 3 in Houston on Friday (5 p.m. PDT, Fox).

The Los Angeles Dodgers breezed through Game 1 against the Astros on Tuesday night, thanks to Clayton Kershaw’s pitching and the home runs of Chris Taylor and Justin Turner.

The Dodgers also had plenty of chances to win Game 2, but let a 3-1 lead slip away in the ninth inning. The Astros scored single runs in the eighth and ninth and two runs each in the 10th and 11th to hold off the Dodgers, win 7-6 and tied the Series at 1-1.

Just a hair away from having the Dodgers hold a 2-0 lead and the Astros on their heels, the Series now looks like it might be a struggle and could even go the full seven games, as I brazenly predicted earlier this week.

Game 2 had so many dramatic twists and turns Wednesday night that it kept TV viewers glued to the screen for the entire 4 hours, 19 minutes that it lasted. Fox earned a 10.2 big-market overnight rating, according to SportsBusiness Daily. That mark was lower than last year, but it’s going to be hard for any Series this year to beat 2016’s Fall Classic between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, in which the Cubs won their first championship in 108 years.

Still, Wednesday’s game was just 3% less than last year, which turned in the best Game 2 rating since the Phillies-Yankees in 2009. The Dodgers and Astros, however, were up 18% from the 9.3 the Royals and Mets had in 2015.

The game was Fox’s highest rated broadcast since Super Bowl LI in February. It drew a 27.5 rating on L.A.’s KTTV (Channel 11) and a 30.0 rating in Houston.

The network had a 10.2 overnight rating for Tuesday’s Game 1 telecast, 24% down from 2016 and 3% down from 2015.

Game 1 took just 2 hours, 28 minutes to play, the quickest World Series game in 25 years. However, Game 2, which went 11 innings, took 4:19 to push the average to 3:23.

By the way, if you get a little tired of the antics on Fox’s World Series pregame show, find Baseball Tonight on one of the ESPN channels. The coverage, led by Karl Ravech, Mark Teixeira and David Ross, is top notch and no-nonsense.

Where’s Joe Davis this week? Well, since Fox has exclusive rights to the World Series, the Dodgers’ TV announcer is nowhere near it. Instead, he’ll be off doing Minnesota-Iowa college football Saturday for Fox Sports 1.

THE SKIN OF PIGS

Speaking of college football, there will be several ranked teams going against each other Saturday. The biggest is No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State at 12:30 p.m. on Fox. No. 9 Notre Dame hosts No. 14 North Carolina State at the same time on NBC, so have your remote at the ready to switch between the two. No. 4 TCU is at No. 25 Iowa State, also at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN2, but before all that, you can see No. 11 Oklahoma State visit No. 22 West Virginia at 9 a.m. on ABC.

USC, which has justifiably slipped to No. 21 in the AP poll, will be at unranked Arizona State at 7:45 p.m. on ESPN. Unranked UCLA travels to play No. 12 Washington at 12:30 p.m. on ABC.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, the Thursday Night game on CBS and NFL Network is Dolphins-Ravens at 5:25 p.m. On Sunday, there’s another European game, Vikings-Browns at 6:30 a.m. On NFL Network. The Chargers figure to have a rough matchup against the Patriots in New England at 10 a.m. on CBS. Also at 10, Fox will have Bears-Saints. At 1:25 p.m., Fox’s second game will be Cowboys-Redskins. The Sunday night game at 5:30 is Steelers-Lions on NBC. ESPN’s Monday night game at 5:30 is Broncos-Chiefs. The Rams have a bye this week.

GETTING HIS IRISH UP

After beating USC 49-14 last week, Notre Dame climbed to No. 9 in the AP poll. For NBC analyst Chris Simms, that wasn’t high enough. Understand, however, NBC is the national broadcasts of Notre Dame home games.

“Notre Dame is being totally disrespected by the national media,” Simms said. “They’ve convinced me they’re one of the best teams in all of college football. They have the best offensive line in the game, other than perhaps Alabama, and I can argue that they’re more dominant than Alabama’s offensive line.

“They lost a one-point game to Georgia, which is clearly one of the best teams in college football. Notre Dame stood toe-to-toe with Georgia all game long. We’re talking about a Georgia team that we think can stand up to Alabama, but for some reason, Notre Dame is barely getting thought of as a Top 10 team.”

Dodgers’ ratings up 28% on SportsNet LA

Imagine you own a baseball team and that you have the best record in the majors. Your home attendance was well over 3 million and, on top of that, your local TV ratings went up 26% over last season.

What could be better, right?

Logo_for_Spectrum_SportsNet_LAYou’ve probably figured that I’m talking about the Los Angeles Dodgers and it’s true: According to SportsBusiness Journal, the Dodgers’ ratings on SportsNet LA were up 26% from 2016. However, the team ranks only 25th out of the 29 U.S. Major League Baseball teams in average ratings. SNLA’s Dodgers ratings averaged only a 1.55 for the year, despite being in the nation’s No. 2 market with MLB’s No. 1 team.

Of course, most Dodgers fans know that SportsNet LA, which is owned by Charter Communications, is available only on Charter TV to about a third of the L.A. market. So even though the ratings were up considerably, it was still limited audience potential.

The Dodgers still managed to have a better average rating than the Angels, who had only a 0.94 rating on Fox Sports West. The Angels saw their rating go down 8% from last season. It’s pretty incredible to see that the Dodgers, limited as their TV audience is, still had a rating 65% higher than the Angels.

It’s important to note the Dodgers’ 1.55 rating was their highest since 2012, two years before SportsNet LA launched, when the team was televised by Fox’s Prime Ticket.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians led MLB in regional ratings with an 8.33 average. That was up 28% from last season. Rounding out the top five were the Kansas City Royals (8.00), the St. Louis Cardinals (7.18), the Boston Red Sox (5.49) and the Baltimore Orioles (5.18).

Nationally, baseball ratings were up slightly. ESPN ratings were up 6%, with Sunday Night Baseball up 8% to an average of 1.7 million viewers. Fox was down 2% to 2.1 million viewers. Fox Sports 1 was flat at 448,000.

OVER AND OUT

The U.S. men’s soccer team’s 2-1 loss Tuesday to Trinidad and Tobago not only keeps the United States out of the 2018 World Cup, it also severely hampers Fox’s ability to draw big ratings from the tournament.

I’ve seen at least two quotes from people this week saying “there is no way to overstate” what a crushing defeat Tuesday’s game was both for U.S. soccer and for Fox. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, but whatever.

It’s not likely the United States would have lasted very long in the World Cup group stage anyway, not with the team that had so much trouble even in qualifying. But Fox now has the task of making the event from Russia attractive to U.S. fans who don’t have a team to pull for.

Some have said the network could spend more time on Mexico. SI.com quoted Fox Sports president Eric Shanks saying last month that Fox had already planned to market Mexico as its second team behind the U.S. There is also likely to more coverage of international stars, such as Argentina’s Leo Messi, Brazil’s Neymar and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

The soccer surge in U.S. popularity — though seen by some as glacial — will still bring viewers to the World Cup, no matter who’s in or who’s out.

HILL BENCHED

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Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks by ESPN. (ESPN photo)

ESPN has suspended Jemele Hill for another political Twitter post. In response to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones saying any of his players who knelt during the national anthem would be benched, Hill suggested Cowboys fans boycott the team’s sponsors.

The network said Hill would be suspended for two weeks. She had previously tweeted that President Donald Trump was a “white supremacist,” and later apologized.

ESPN’s public editor, Jim Brady, who criticized Hill’s tweets about Trump, said “when it comes to this latest action by ESPN, I am a bit perplexed.

“Don’t get me wrong, I understand exactly what it is that upset ESPN about Hill’s actions: One of its highest-profile personalities suggested an advertiser boycott that would impact an important network partner, and she did so on Twitter, the same platform she used to call out Trump. And, make no mistake: Many of the NFL’s advertisers are also ESPN advertisers. Additionally, the calling for a boycott — or, at least, a strong encouragement of it — treads close to activism.

“But it’s not the job of Hill — or any other ESPN journalist, for that matter — to concern herself with the network’s business relationships. In fact, the separation of ‘church and state’ is a longstanding core concept in any news organization worth its salt. So it shouldn’t matter whether Hill’s comments put ESPN in a bad position with the NFL, any more than with the network’s excellent reporting on concussions that has done the same. I’m not suggesting that months long investigative reporting efforts and tweets are of equal importance; they’re not. But both should be treated the same when dealing with the impact on ESPN’s core business relationships.

ESPN has dozens of journalists who spend much of their time chasing stories that don’t reflect well on the network’s business partners, and the network has done a good job defending its journalists in those cases. That’s why the company’s reaction to Hill’s tweets should be worrisome to other journalists at the company.”

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

CBS and NFL Network get a rare quality matchup on Thursday Night Football with the Philadelphia-Carolina game at 5:25 p.m. PDT. It’ll go up against Game 5 of the American League Division Series of the Cubs and Nationals on TBS, starting at 5. Sunday’s NFL games are New England-New York Jets at 10 a.m. and Chargers-Oakland at 1:25 p.m. on CBS, Rams-Jacksonville at 1 p.m. on Fox, and New York Giants-Denver on NBC at 5:20 p.m. The Monday night game is Indianapolis-Tennessee at 5:15 p.m. on ESPN. … Last week’s MNF Minnesota-Chicago telecast had an 8% boost in ratings to a 7.0, according to SportsBusiness Daily, thanks to the halftime unveiling of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer. … No. 13 USC hosts Utah at 5 p.m. Saturday on ABC. UCLA is at Arizona at 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks. ESPN will make a GameDay visit to James Madison University from 6 to 9 a.m. Saturday before its game against Villanova. It’s the ninth trip the show has made to an FCS school. …

The NBA season tips off Tuesday with TNT showing the night’s only two games: Boston-Cleveland at 5 and Houston-Golden State at 7:30. ESPN will have a doubleheader on Wednesday: Philadelphia-Washington at 4 p.m. and Minnesota-San Antonio at 6:30. The Clippers and Lakers start the season Thursday by playing each other. TNT will have that game, too, at 7:30 p.m. … ESPN will show NBA Rookies: The Introduction at 5 p.m. Thursday, featuring Lonzo Ball of the Lakers, Markelle Fultz of the 76ers, Jayson Tatum of the Celtics, Josh Jackson of the Suns and De’Aaron Fox of the Kings.

ESPN and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) have signed a five-year multiplatform agreement through 2021. … ESPN also announced it will not have its annual season-opening 24-hour college basketball marathon this year. Citing programming challenges, it will instead show a new early-season tournament, the Phil Knight Invitational from Portland, Ore.

Baseball playoffs ready for a wild ride

If the rest of the baseball playoffs are as crazy as the two wild-card games were, we’re in for a roller-coaster ride.

MLB Primary Marks - Digital ArtThe American League Division Series start Thursday with Boston at Houston at 1 p.m. PDT on MLB Network (Bob Costas, John Smoltz) and New York at Cleveland at 4:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. Game 2 in each series will be Friday. It’ll be the Red Sox and Astros at 11 a.m. on FS1 and the Yankees and Indians at 2 p.m. on MLB Network.

The two National League Division Series begin Friday with Chicago at Washington at 4:30 p.m. and Arizona at Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. Both NL series will be on TBS, although it’s likely the Diamondbacks and Dodgers will start on TNT because baseball teams can’t even say hello in less than three hours.

Game 2 in each NL series will be Saturday. The Cubs and Nationals will be at 2:30 p.m. and the D-backs and Dodgers will be at 6. The AL will be off on Saturday.

I wondered in last week’s TV-Radio column if Joe Davis, the Dodgers’ TV voice, would be involved in the team’s postseason radio coverage. I didn’t receive word until Tuesday that Davis will be calling the Red Sox-Astros ALDS games for FS1. Davis will be teamed with David Cone, A.J. Pierzynski and reporter Jon Paul Morosi. The Yankees-Indians series will be announced by Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz with reporters Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal.

The D-backs-Dodgers series on TBS will be called by Brian Anderson with analysts Dennis Eckersley and Joe Simpson and reporter Lauren Shehadi. The Cubs-Nationals series will be called by Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling with reporter Sam Ryan.

Wednesday night’s NL wild-card game with Arizona defeating Colorado produced a 3.2 big-market overnight rating on TBS, according to SportsBusiness Daily. It was the most watched cable TV show of the night, but the lowest rating for a wild-card game since the new format began five years ago. Meanwhile, Tuesday’s AL wild-card game in which the Yankees topped Minnesota earned a 5.2 rating on ESPN.

‘TAR WARS’

Following Thursday’s Yankees-Indians game on FS1 will be a completely fictional movie about a completely real event.

The Pine Tar Incident: Making of Tar Wars, looks at the July 24, 1983, “Pine Tar Game,” in which Kansas City’s George Brett had a home run taken away against the Yankees and was called out for having too much pine tar on his bat. A protest by the Royals was upheld and the game was later restarted from the point of Brett’s homer. According to a Fox news release, the movie “imagines what it would be like if someone had actually made that film, and tells the story of the Pine Tar Game in a manner that reflects the absurdity and idiosyncrasy of the original events.”

So it’s a fictional movie about what it would be like to make a nonfictional movie about a true-life event.

No, thanks. It was strange enough in real life without adding this to it.

 KATIE BAR THE DOOR

Katie Nolan
Katie Nolan is moving from Fox to ESPN. (Fox Sports photo)
The stream of talent that has gone recently from ESPN to Fox has reversed a little with a notable figure: Katie Nolan.

Nolan, who has most recently hosted Garbage Time with Katie Nolan on FS1, will join ESPN on Oct. 16.

She has a great irreverent sense of humor that is prominent in her work and, as it turns out, in news releases.

The official ESPN news release said this about Nolan:

“She will have a prominent digital presence while also making appearances across ESPN studio programming. Announcements regarding her specific assignments are forthcoming.”

Two paragraphs later, Nolan was quoted.

“Nolan said: ‘I could not be more excited to have a prominent digital presence while also making appearances across ESPN studio programming. When I was a little girl, I always dreamed that one day announcements regarding my specific assignments would be forthcoming.’ ”

GRIDIRON GATHERINGS

The NFL Thursday night game is between the strangely 2-2 New England Patriots and the 2-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on CBS and NFL Network.

On Sunday, the Chargers are playing a 10 a.m. game at the New York Giants and the Rams are at home to face Seattle at 1 p.m. Both games are CBS games that contractually must be shown in their entirety in the Los Angeles market. Fortunately, CBS owns not only KCBS (Channel 2) but also KCAL (Channel 9). The Chargers, therefore, will be shown on Channel 9 and the Rams on Channel 2. A similar situation occurred last weekend for Fox, who showed the Rams on KTTV (Channel 11) while farming out the Chargers to KCOP (Channel 13), which Fox also owns.

The extra CBS channel actually enables L.A. viewers to choose up to four NFL games during the day Sunday (and yes, I know the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package lets you watch any game you want). Channel 11 will have Carolina-Detroit at 10 a.m. and Green Bay-Dallas at 1:25 p.m.

The NBC Sunday night game is Kansas City-Houston at 5:20. The ESPN Monday night game is Minnesota-Chicago at 5:15.

In college football, there are only two games in which both teams are ranked and one of those is Thursday night. No. 17 Louisville plays at No. 24 North Carolina State at 5 p.m. on ESPN. The other is No. 23 West Virginia at No. 8 TCU at 12:30 p.m. Saturday on FS1.

USC is on Pac-12 Networks on Saturday. The No. 14 Trojans host Oregon State at 1 p.m. UCLA has a bye.

 UP & DOWN THE DIAL

The WNBA Finals earned their highest rating since 2003. The five-game series, in which the Minnesota Lynx defeated the Los Angeles Sparks, earned a 0.5 rating, up 24% from 2016’s Finals featuring the same two teams. Game 5 had a 0.8 rating, doubling last year’s deciding game mark of 0.4. Game 5 had a 7.9 rating in Minneapolis-St. Paul and a 0.9 in L.A. … The Anaheim Ducks will have 74 games televised by Prime Ticket, Fox Sports West and KCOP this season, starting Thursday at home against Arizona at 7 p.m. The Kings host Philadelphia at 7 tonight on NBCSN. Formula 1 racing will move from NBC to ESPN starting in 2018. There will be 16 races on ESPN2, three on ESPN and two on ABC, which showed its first F1 race in 1962. ESPN’s last F1 race was in 1997. … The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup playoffs start at 11 a.m. Sunday on NBC from Charlotte, N.C. …

NBC has acquired rights to the Six Nations Rugby Championship, starting in 2018. The event features England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales. …The U.S.-Panama World Cup soccer qualifier will be shown at 4:35 p.m. Friday on ESPN2. … The World Gymnastics Championships from Montreal will be shown 11 a.m. Saturday on NBC and at 10 a.m. Sunday on NBCSN. Olympic Channel will also have coverage Thursday through Saturday. …

ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were honored by the National Press Club on Wednesday with the Fourth Estate Award, which recognizes journalists who have made significant contributions in the field. Other honorees have included Wolf Blitzer, Gwen Ifill, Charlie Rose, Andrea Mitchell, Bob Woodward, Jim Lehrer, Walter Cronkite, Christiane Amanpour and David Broder. … NFL reporter Josina Anderson and analyst Damien Woody have signed extensions with ESPN. Pac-12 Networks may not be able to get distribution on DirecTV, but they have worked out a deal with Alibaba to distribute content in China.

Faust ready to step into role as Kings TV voice

Alex Faust
Alex Faust will be the Kings’ new TV announcer, replacing the retired Bob Miller. (Los Angeles Kings photo)

If you thought Dodgers broadcaster Joe Davis was young, wait till you see new Kings broadcaster Alex Faust.

Faust, 28, takes over this season as TV play-by-voice for the Kings on Fox Sports West, replacing the legendary Bob Miller, who retired after last season. Faust can be heard Thursday night in the preseason game against Arizona. The season opener for the Kings is next Thursday, Oct. 5, against Philadelphia.

Faust told the Los Angeles Times he is doing all he can to learn about Kings history and tradition, having met both with Miller and with longtime radio announcer Nick Nickson. Both Miller and Nickson are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I may not be able to give you exact days and events, but telling that broad story — being able to understand someone who’s coming from a perspective of 20, 30, 40, 50 years following this team — it’s incredibly important,” Faust told The Times. “It’s probably been the most challenging part of this job.”

Faust has also met with the 29-year-old Davis, who had a similar task this baseball season: filling the booth after the retirement of Vin Scully.

 WHERE’S JOE DAVIS THIS WEEKEND?

PHOTO-Joe-Davis-HS-2000x2800
Joe Davis is concluding his first rull season with the Dodgers. (Fox Sports photo)

All season, we’ve tracked the weekend wanderings of Davis as he balanced Dodgers broadcasts with doing college football and basketball for Fox. Thankfully for him, he has no Fox football assignments this weekend and will be able to call the Dodgers’ final three regular-season games at Colorado for SportsNet LA.

They also will be the final three TV games Davis will be able to do since postseason games are exclusively shown by national networks. There is no word if Davis will be involved at all on the Dodger Radio Network. In past years (until his retirement year last season), Scully would move over to radio and do the first three and the last three innings, and Charley Steiner and Rick Monday would handle the middle innings. It remains to be seen if Davis would do any radio.

The American League wild-card game will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN and the National League wild-card game will be at 5 p.m. Wednesday on TBS.

The AL Division Series starts Thursday on Fox Sports 1 and MLB Network and the NL Division Series starts Friday on TBS.

FIRST THE ANTHEM, THEN FOOTBALL

All the turmoil in the past week over NFL players protesting during the national anthem has overshadowed the games themselves. Recently, right along with coverage plans, NFL news releases from TV networks have also included if they plan to show the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner. Spoiler alert: They will.

Typically, the anthem has been sung while networks are away on commercials, or when they’re still doing their pregame shows. But with protest passions running so deep, the networks, to their credit, are covering the anthems for their news value.

Thursday night, CBS and NFL Network will show Chicago-Green Bay at 5:25 p.m. On Sunday, the Rams visit Dallas at 10 a.m. on Fox at the same time Pittsburgh plays Baltimore on CBS. At 1 p.m., Fox is shipping the Chargers’ home game against Philadelphia to KCOP (Channel 13) since Fox is obligated to show the entirety of both the Rams and Chargers to the Los Angeles market. Indianapolis-Seattle is the Sunday night game on NBC.

In college football, No. 5 USC visits No. 16 Washington State at 7:30 p.m. Friday on ESPN and UCLA hosts Colorado at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

Games featuring two ranked teams include No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech at 5 p.m. on ABC and No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 13 Auburn at 3 p.m. on ESPN.

 UP & DOWN THE DIAL

Doris Burke
ESPN’s Doris Burke will primarily be an NBA game analyst this season. (ESPN photo)

Doris Burke has been named as a game analyst for the entire ESPN NBA season. She will continue her sideline duties during the postseason and important games during the regular season. … Kara Lawson will be an analyst for the Washington Wizards this season while continuing her ESPN commitments, according to SportsBusiness Daily.Mike Milbury will fill in as NHL analyst on NBCSN while Mike Olczyk recovers from colon cancer surgery, according to USA Today.ESPN’s Barry Melrose will also serve as an analyst for NHL Network, SBD reports. … Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose will be a part of Mike Greenberg’s new morning show on ESPN, according to The Hollywood Reporter.Paul Pierce has officially been named an NBA analyst by ESPN.

DirecTV is allowing some customers to cancel their NFL Sunday Ticket package if they cite the national anthem dispute as their reason, according to the Wall Street Journal. DirecTV usually doesn’t allow cancellations once the season is underway, but it said it is making exceptions this season because of the protests. … NBA TV will debut Open Court: Coaches Edition at 4 p.m. Tuesday. It’s a roundtable of coaches, including Washington’s Scott Brooks, Sacramento’s Dave Joerger, Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd, Utah’s Quin Snyder and Golden State’s Mike Brown.

The ESPN-owned Puerto Rico Tip-Off basketball tournament is being moved to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., Nov. 16-19 because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.