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Media column: Staggering S. Florida ratings for NBA Finals; Locals speak out on LeBron; Major TV golf, college football changes

MEDIA COLUMN 

Not only is the Heat absent from the NBA Finals for the first time in five years, but Heat fans must suffer the indignity of watching LeBron James try to lead Cleveland to a championship.

So how much is South Florida interested and emotionally invested in this Cavaliers-Warriors series?

Apparently, very much so. Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s TV ratings for the first three Finals games not only were comparable to 2014 local Dolphins ratings, but each game also drew far more local viewers than the first regular-season game of the Joe Philbin/Ryan Tannehill era in 2012.

In a market long considered a “football” town, that’s remarkable and abnormal for a Finals not involving the Heat.

Among Nielsen’s 56 metered markets, Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s rating ranked sixth for each of the first three Cleveland-Golden State games.

The 16.2 local rating for Game 1 (equal to 16.2 percent of Dade/Broward homes with TV sets) was identical to the local rating for UM-FSU last season and dwarfed the rating for every other UM football game in 2014, including a 9.0 for the Louisville Labor Day opener.

Our 17.0 local rating for Game 2 on Sunday topped the 16.9 average rating for Dolphins games last season. Game 3 Tuesday got a 16.8.

But also keep in mind that the Heat’s Finals appearances generated much higher local ratings than these Finals. (Quick aside: Local regular-season Heat ratings were in the top four in the country nationally this season, though understandably not remotely close to what these Finals games are generating, just as a local Super Bowl rating far exceeds local Dolphins ratings.)

So how much of this local interest is fueled by anti-LeBron sentiment?

Though the survey was far from scientific, we asked a select group of local Heat fans whether they’re rooting for or against LeBron this postseason, or neither, through the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with The Herald and WLRN Radio. (Become a source at MiamiHerald.com/insight.)

Excluding Cleveland natives, twice as many South Florida-based Heat fans said they’re rooting against James than for him, with nearly all having some sentiment one way or the other.

We seldom run fan comments here, but since we’re interested in the psychology of Heat fans with regard to LeBron, here were some of the responses:

Among those who said they’re rooting against LeBron: Alphonso Gil of Miami: “I have no problem with LeBron leaving the Heat, but what he did was on purpose and underhanded to not allow Miami an opportunity to pursue any top free agents. His goal was to leave Miami unable to compete against his Cavaliers. He did not even have the decency to return phones calls from Pat Riley. Last but not least, he has never thanked the fans of Miami for the support.”…  Ellen Wacher of Hollywood is rooting against him because of “the way he left here and financially shafted the Heat.”…

Francisco Bahamonde of Miami: “I completely understand that he wanted to go back home, but at least to me it seems he never acknowledged what this city gave him and how the Heat organization helped him get his first two rings. And… his comments on how Miami was like college and he was going back home made it sound like he just didn't appreciate Miami at all.”…

Tracy Towle-Humphrey of Miami: “It was disrespectful the way LeBron left Miami to return to Cleveland after losing in the NBA Finals. Of course, I am also jealous as I think the Heat would be in the Finals if James was still on the Heat.”… Mark Wisby of Cutler Bay: “He misled [the Heat] into drafting a player he never intended to play with, made the players take lesser contracts so that the Heat could re-sign him and then made Pat Riley fly all the way to Vegas to meet with him when he had already made up his mind. He should have been man enough to tell the organization the truth from the start.”… And Robert Kudja of Miami: “He thinks and acts like he is bigger than the game.”

Among respondents who said they’re rooting for him: Tommy Zee of Aventura: “When the season started, all I wanted was for the Heat to beat Cleveland…. That happened, but then reality set in, and now [I] am finding myself rooting for LeBron… simply because he deserves it. He gave me two rings… and took me to four Finals in a row.”… John Felder of Miami Beach: “Not rooting for him specifically, but rather for the city of Cleveland. After not having anything for so long, it's only fair that they finally have something to be proud of.”

OTHER FINALS MEDIA NOTES

### Entering Game 4 on Thursday, Cavs-Warriors was averaging a 10.8 rating nationally, well ahead of the 8.9 three-game average for Heat-Spurs last year and the highest ever for a Finals on ABC. The jump might suggest viewers elsewhere had grown bored with the Spurs last season and perhaps, to an extent, the Heat.

### Smart move by ABC to hire Dwyane Wade, who added personality and cogent analysis to its studio programming for Games 2 and 3. Wade will return to ABC for Games 6 and 7 but is missing Games 4 and 5 while taking a four-day Harvard course on the business of sports media and entertainment.

GOLF, COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHANGES

News on a couple of media changes:

### Viewers might be surprised next weekend when the U.S. Open moves from NBC and ESPN to Fox and Fox Sports 1. That means Fox’s Joe Buck and Greg Norman replace NBC’s Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller as the lead announcers.

Fox, which has the U.S. Open for the next 12 years, was fortunate that next week’s tournament is in the Pacific Time Zone (suburban Tacoma), which allows for prime-time coverage on Fox all four nights (June 18-21). At the very least, Fox/Fox Sports 1 will deliver high volume, with 11 hours of coverage Thursday and Friday, eight on Saturday and 8 ½ on Sunday.

Norman, in a first-person column for Golf.com, said he has been watching golf on TV with the sound off since landing the Fox gig.

“I look at the screen and think, 'What would I say if I saw that during the U.S. Open?' I’m getting a lot of intel on certain players by speaking with their coaches. I want to be able to broadcast the truth and some valuable insight, not just speculation and opinion. There’s enough of that on TV already."

Norman wrote Fox has been "extremely successful in delivering new ways to view sport" but “our team has to be careful. There’s a traditional element to golf that can’t be ignored, but nobody’s going to deny the power of technology, social media and instant access. The goal is to merge the old and the new.”

Asked by Sports Illustrated why Fox went into the golf business, network sports president Eric Shanks said: “It wasn’t necessarily the start of a large golf strategy. But we are big believers in broadcasting big event sports on broadcast TV. This is a big event that captures the attention for at least a week if not more. It’s not about us getting into 23 weeks of golf.”

Incidentally, NBC and The Golf Network this week acquired rights to the British Open beginning in 2016, replacing ABC and ESPN.

### Two college football mainstays are gone from ESPN: Lou Holtz and ESPN mutually agreed to part ways, ending a 10-year run in which he said a lot while really saying very little, and Matt Millen departed to become the lead analyst on The Big Ten Network and a college football and NFL studio pundit on Fox Sports 1.

And with Rece Davis moving to an on-site GameDay host role --- a move made to lessen lead play-by-play man Chris Fowler’s Saturday workload --- ESPN will unveil a new lead college studio team of Adnan Virk, Joey Galloway and Danny Kanell. That trio replaces Davis, Holtz and Mark May (who was re-assigned).

Millen was far better as an analyst during his first TV stint (with Fox) than his second (with ESPN), after he was fired from his general manager job with the Detroit Lions. Perhaps this move will do him some good.

### NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus created a stir this week when he told The Chicago Tribune that he has lobbied the NHL and its players to end the tradition of growing beards during the playoffs because the facial hair reduces the chances of fans recognizing players.

“The players won’t like this, but I wish they all would stop growing beards in the postseason," he said. "Let’s get their faces out there. Let’s talk about how young and attractive they are. What model citizens they are. These are the most-watched games and they’re all bearded up.”

Several players interviewed by other publications weren’t receptive to Lazarus’ suggestion. Lightning defensiveman Andrej Sustr told Canada’s National Post: "That's not going to fly with us. It's a tradition that we don't want to mess with. It's part of the playoff culture. It would be tough to take that one back."

### For those in South Florida looking for something to do during a quiet time on the calendar: There's a sports connection this year with the 20th edition of the City Theater's popular Summer Shorts festival that's ongoing at Miami's Arsht Center. At least one of the films has a sports fabric in its theme; the Marlins are helping promote the festival; Heat attorney Alan Fein is City Theater's board chair and Heat GM Andy Elisburg is also on the board. Shows run at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday, through June 28. Visit www.arshtcenter.org for information and tickets.

### Friday's United States-Sweden match on Fox marks the first time in U.S. history that a Women's World Cup soccer game will air in prime time on an over-the-air (non-cable) network.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

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