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Media column: Fins ratings still lagging; Le Batard radio goes national; Personnel notes

FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN

Media news and views from the couch:

### The good news for the Dolphins, from a TV perspective: Their games are the highest-rated programming on local TV over the last month, which is to be expected.

The not-so-great news: Despite their fast start, the jump in their average rating over last season isn’t dramatic (17.7 to 18.5). And excluding the two-team NFL markets (New York and California’s Bay Area), the Dolphins’ local ratings this season are the NFL’s second-lowest, ahead of only Rams ratings in St. Louis. (In fairness, the large number of Hispanic homes in our market can affect some English language ratings, though that didn't seem to hurt the Heat much.)

Even the dreadful Jaguars are drawing a higher percentage of viewers in Jacksonville than the Dolphins are in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market.

Between ESPN and WSFL-Channel 39, the Dolphins-Saints game drew a 17.1 local rating, extremely weak for an NFL Monday night game even factoring in the lopsided score. That’s equal to 17.1 percent of Miami-Fort Lauderdale homes with TV sets, with each ratings point equaling 16,211 homes. Conversely, the game drew a 61 rating in New Orleans.

And consider this: When the Heat won its 23rd consecutive regular-season game on a Monday night in Boston last March, that game drew a 17.5 local rating –- higher than Monday night’s Dolphins game, which would have been unfathomable in the pre-LeBron era, and before the Dolphins’ decade of mediocrity eroded some of their fan base.

### Like how The Ticket’s Dan Le Batard and Jon Weiner have maintained their irreverent, self-deprecating approach while breaking in a new audience on ESPN Radio.

The show hasn’t changed much since going national this week, beyond an additional four minutes of commercials per hour, which could leave the program vulnerable to dial surfing.

“We’re looking to keep the local audience happy while not alienating a national audience,” Le Batard told listeners. “This is going to take some [audience] training.”

That’s especially the case with whimsical segments such as one this week about who has the best tan in sports, and another in which listeners were asked to turn athlete's names into musical groups.

While South Florida listeners are accustomed to that sort of silliness, listeners elsewhere might find that peculiar or too outside-the-box. (But the show tends to grow on many listeners who didn’t “get it” initially.) And it’s perversely amusing to hear Le Batard educate the national audience about his non-pleasantry policy.

“We’re being met with a great deal of resistance when we do what we normally do,” Le Batard told his audience. “We will get better at this. The idea is to be silly and light to get you into the tent” to stay tuned to the more analytical discussions.

The show has been South Florida-sports heavy during the 3 to 4 p.m. hour that airs only locally on The Ticket, which has a marketing partnership with this newspaper.

This week, the majority of guests on the ESPN Radio portion (4 to 7 p.m.) have had South Florida ties (Ryan Tannehill, four Heat players, Jimmy Johnson). Le Batard continues to host an ESPN2 TV show, Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable.

### Been meaning to address this for several weeks: ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte made an interesting point when he asked why ESPN did not mention on air that former NFL linebacker Hugh Douglas was fired for reportedly using a racial epithet in an off-air exchange with Michael Smith, his Numbers Never Lie co-host, at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.

Lipsyte noted that ESPN provided considerable coverage when Eagles receiver Riley Cooper used the same epithet.

“Don’t fans have a right to know as much about [Douglas and Smith] as about a 25-year-old backup player caught in what seems to be a moment of alcohol-fueled frustration?” Lipsyte said. “An airing out of why corporate decisions were made in the NABJ case was in order.”

ESPN senior vice president Vince Doria said: “We didn’t feel it merited coverage in SportsCenter.”

But Lipsyte disagreed, and I do, too, because Douglas is a prominent former NFL player and his exit from ESPN warranted explanation. Since his firing, Douglas was charged with assaulting his girlfriend.

### Charismatic Ray Lewis has been decent in his first month on ESPN studio shows and has the potential to be very good but must tighten his comments and stop referring to the Ravens as “we.”

Lewis has needled the Ravens, suggesting his leadership is missed and that Joe Flacco needs to spend more time working with his receivers.

### Amusing to see Randy Moss now a member of the media (on Fox Sports 1) after he showed so much disdain for the media as a player (much like former ESPN announcer Sterling Sharpe).

Moss blasted the Vikings for giving his former jersey number, 84, to rookie Cordarelle Patterson. “That’s disrespectful to give a rookie my number!” he said. “I [made] that number!”

### ESPN’s Trent Dilfer keeps trying to impress us by coining new phrases when old ones will suffice. To Dilfer, a quarterback doesn’t face pressure in the pocket. Instead, he faces “pocket conflict.” If he called NBA games, a player surrounded under the basket would be facing “paint conflict,” presumably.

### Odd this week to see Keith Olbermann hosting TBS’ baseball playoff postgame while his own show, Olbermann, was airing simultaneously on ESPN2, with guest host Larry King.

Olbermann remains something of an acquired taste, but his 11 p.m. program had begun to find its rhythm the past few weeks, with a blend of smart and often sardonic commentary (though the opening monologue could be shorter), highlights, a witty “Worst Person in the Sports World” segment and interviews. Olbermann took the TBS MLB playoff gig before ESPN2 hired him.

SHORT STUFF

### The Marlins gave TV play-by-play man Rich Waltz permission to move back to Seattle for family health reasons. But he will remain paired with Tommy Hutton on Marlins broadcasts and continue calling the OB Basketball Classic…. CBS is sending Dolphins-Ravens to nine percent of the country, with Marv Albert and Rich Gannon announcing….

NFL Network received the go-ahead to air the Raiders-Chargers game, which was moved to 11:35 p.m. Sunday to allow Oakland’s stadium to be converted after a Saturday night baseball playoff game. NFL Net will use CBS announcers (Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts) but NFL Net graphics….

To avoid competing with Dolphins-Ravens, WSVN-7 is airing an unappealing Carolina-Arizona game at 4 p.m., instead of Saints-Bears or Giants-Eagles at 1 p.m….

The Panthers will televise 78 of 82 games on Fox Sports Florida, and the only untelevised games will be four of the final eight…. ESPN hired George Karl and Avery Johnson for its NBA studio and is closing in on a deal with Doug Collins

Baseball fans who want to watch Game 2 of Pirates-Cardinals at 1 p.m. Friday might be annoyed to learn the game is on MLB Network (which is in 71 million homes, equal to 62 percent of the country), and not TBS (which is in 100 million homes and gets most of the divisional series games). But MLB Network can air a couple of playoff games each year in the new TV deal, with Bob Costas handling Friday's call.

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