FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN
Even beyond the team’s poor on-field product and difficulty selling tickets, this also should very much alarm the Dolphins: Never in at least the past decade – probably much longer – has a season-opening Dolphins game generated a local television rating nearly as small as the shockingly low 13.5 against the Houston Texans.
That not only trailed the Dolphins’ 17.7 average local rating last season, but also was by far the worst rating for any NFL market’s home team on opening weekend.
For perspective, consider that the Dolphins averaged a 20.2 rating for their previous 10 openers, meaning 20.2 percent of Miami-Fort Lauderdale homes with TV sets were tuned to the game.
Last year, 21.8 percent watched the Dolphins-Patriots prime-time opener, equal to 345,000 homes. This year’s opener, on CBS-4, was viewed in 213,813 homes.
That means the Dolphins somehow lost 131,000 Dade/Broward households (far more, in terms of actual number of viewers) from one opener to the next, which is stunning. And that obviously doesn’t include the 66,000-plus who attended the Dolphins-Patriots opener but couldn’t attend Sunday’s game in Houston.
Sunday’s rating also significantly trails those for the Dolphins’ previous two Sunday afternoon openers -- a 20.5 in 2009 at Atlanta and a 17.3 in 2010 at Buffalo.
By comparison to the 13.5 for Sunday’s opener, 50.3 percent tuned in for the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 30.2 percent in Minneapolis for the Vikings, 23 percent in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. Next-lowest, after the Dolphins? The Falcons-Chiefs opener, viewed in 18.5 percent of Atlanta homes.
Well, at least Dolphins-Texans wasn’t beaten locally by any other NFL games (that would have been embarrassing) and wasn’t as low as the 12.1 local rating for Dolphins-Patriots on Christmas Eve day last season.
Here’s what should concern the Dolphins: At some point, does fan anger turn to apathy? It probably will not for the majority of Dolphins fans, but it is clearly happening for some who apparently are no longer motivated to spend Sundays watching a team that continues to flounder.
Season ticket sales, which reached 61,121 in 2006, sunk to 42,584 last year – lowest since 1983 – and Miami has been struggling to approach that number.
ESPN says it is interested in hiring former Heat and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, but network president John Skipper told us this summer that Stan likely would not be paired with his brother Jeff on ABC’s lead NBA team.
ESPN has neither confirmed nor denied this week’s SportsByBrooks.com report that Van Gundy and Bill Simmons will replace Chris Broussard and Jon Barry on the ABC/ESPN studio show. A source said Simmons replacing Broussard is very likely; Van Gundy's discussions with ESPN are still ongoing.
Broussard would return to his role as ESPN's NBA information man; Barry would do games and appear on SportsCenter and other NBA studio shows.
### Stan Van Gundy was at his feisty best this week in a Grantland.com podcast with Jeff Van Gundy, Dan Le Batard and Jon Sciambi.
“David Stern loves all the controversy unless it’s about David Stern,” Stan said. “David Stern likes all these other controversies, but if his name is involved or his integrity is questioned, well, My God, that’s off limits. We can drill everyone else in the league. We can drill 450 coaches, 30 head coaches, 30 general managers. David Stern and the referees… are the only untouchable people whose performance cannot be evaluated, criticized, or anything else. It becomes absurd.”
### Live video of Saturday’s UM-Bethune Cookman game is available only on the Internet (for free, on WatchESPN.com), and only to fans who receive their high-speed Internet connection from an affiliated service provider, the list of which is provided on the web site.
### Despite some omissions in play-by-play and a delayed recognition of an early fumble, Chris Berman’s call of the Chargers-Raiders opener wasn’t the train wreck that some feared. But Berman couldn’t resist his usual shtick. He said merely “Bang!” on the opening kickoff instead of identifying who made the tackle, and name-dropped former Raiders and Oakland A’s players for no reason other than to amuse himself. But he took the right approach in being more understated than many expected.
Berman wasn’t helped by the meandering analysis of Trent Dilfer, who used odd verbiage (who else refers to quarterback pressure as “conflict in the pocket?”) and was too simplistic in saying: “If Philip Rivers is your quarterback, you should be the favorite to win your division.” (But what if Peyton Manning plays in the same division, Trent?)
### In a joint effort with CBS, Showtime – beginning in November – will air a monthly “60 Minutes of Sports,” featuring two original stories, one updated story that previously aired on 60 Minutes, and an interview.
### Dumbest Week 1 remark: Fox’s Michael Strahan saying the Jets might bench Mark Sanchez eventually because of “crowd chants.” Even Terry Bradshaw responded with a dismissive, “Please!’
### NFL Network has this bad habit of running the words “Breaking News” on its scroll before presenting news that’s two days old, as it did on opening Sunday with the alleged “bounty players” being reinstated. But credit NFL Network for running the inactive player list on a scroll on Sunday mornings – unlike ESPN.
### Absurd: USC football coach Lane Kiffin banned Los Angeles Daily News beat writer Scott Wolf from covering the team for two weeks because he reported USC's kicker had knee surgery. Kiffin has a policy that injuries cannot be reported that were observed in practice. But the injury wasn't observed at practice, so Kiffin had no case. Wolf was reinstated, two days into the ban, after his sports editors complained to athletic director Pat Haden.