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Media column: Surprising NFL deal today; NCAA rating drops; Major baseball changes, including Mendoza making history; Marlins, Heat TV; NBC eager to see Panthers; Personnel changes

Some media notes:

• Two notable developments this morning:

1) Twitter -- yes, Twitter -- was awarded rights to live stream 10 NFL Thursday night games at a cost of $1 million per game. Roger Goodell celebrated the news by tweeting for the first time since 2014. (No joke.)

The NFL says it will provide live streaming of those 10 games without authentication "to the over 800 million registered and non-registered users worldwide on the Twitter platform on mobile phones, tablets, PCs and connected TVs."

The 10 games will be the ones also airing on NBC or CBS, not the ones carried solely by NFL Network.

Also new: A pre-game Periscope element.

2) Not surprising: Ratings dropped for the first NCAA basketball title game on cable. The game on TBS (plus secondary team-specific coverage on TNT and truTV) drew a 12.0 overnight rating (56 major markets), down from a 17.1 on CBS in 2014 and a 12.9 on CBS last year. But it wasn't the lowest-rated final ever.

By comparison, the NCAA football championship got a 15.8 on ESPN.

Why did the Final Four air on TBS and not CBS, meaning the games were available in just 96 million of the nation’s 116 million households?

Because of soaring rights fees, CBS could no longer make the tournament work financially without taking on a partner. As part of the deal, CBS and TBS will alternate airing the Final Four over the next eight seasons.

• Beyond the Marlins hiring new TV analysts (we wrote about them here), viewers will see three significant MLB changes this week and beyond:

1) John Smoltz replaces Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci as Fox’s lead analyst.

2) ESPN is significantly reducing airings of Baseball Tonight, its signature MLB studio show, and

3)  Jessica Mendoza becomes the first woman to serve as an analyst on major TV package for one of the big four professional leagues.

Mendoza, formerly an All-American softball player at Stanford, filled in very capably late last season for the suspended Curt Schilling, and the network was so impressed that she was assigned to the marquee Sunday night package this season, alongside Dan Shulman and Aaron Boone.

Mendoza’s work ethic is admirable: This past offseason, she visited a pitching school in Connecticut and stood in the batter’s box against a few major-league pitchers (including the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija) to learn more about the nuances of the craft. She also attended the MLB winter meetings to ask questions and expand her knowledge.

“I was aware I was one of a few women doing this and felt increased responsibility to do a good job,” Mendoza said by phone last week. “I knew it was more than about myself, which created a lot more nerves and pressure. But I crave nerves and pressure.”

She said she pays no attention to gender-related criticism of her on Twitter “because I can’t control it,” cracking that “I’m going to be a woman” regardless even if some viewers prefer to hear a male voice.

But she will listen respectfully to those who disagree with her opinions.

She says ESPN’s Mike Tirico has been especially helpful, explaining to her what Jon Gruden does to prepare for Monday Night Football and offering other tips.  

The other big ESPN change will be a disappointment for seamheads: Barring a change of heart, ESPN says --- for most of the season (though not opening week) --- it no longer will air Baseball Tonight on the four nights that it doesn’t carry games (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday). 

The program’s ratings had declined in recent years, and ESPN believes airing highlights on SportsCenter will suffice.

As for Fox, the anointment of Smoltz to the lead team was a sensible one. In visiting the opposing clubhouse at Marlins games for the past 20 years, I consistently found Smoltz to be the most insightful and articulate voice in assessing Marlins players, with former Braves teammate Chipper Jones not far behind.

Smoltz will be a clear upgrade over Reynolds, who spoke incessantly and seems better suited for MLB Network’s studio.

• The Marlins are experimenting with a night opener today (instead of the usual late-afternoon first pitch) to see if it will help attendance and also because the game is on a Tuesday, not the traditional Monday.

Unfortunately, that means the Marlins-Detroit 7:10 p.m. opener on Fox Sports Florida will conflict with Fox Sports Sun's and TNT's 8 p.m. Heat-Detroit game 2 ½ miles away.

The Wednesday Marlins game is at 4:55 p.m. because of travel reasons; Miami plays at 4:05 p.m. Thursday in Washington.

• There will be 155 Marlins games televised, including four national games: two on FS-1; Sunday, July 3 against the Braves in Fort Bragg, N.C., on ESPN; and May 21 against Washington at 7 p.m. on Fox.

Of the seven no-TV games, three are on the road: April 22 at the Giants at 10:15 p.m.; July 6 at the Mets at 1:10 p.m. and Sept. 17 at the Phillies at 7:05 p.m.

• Fox says Preston Wilson will work alongside Rich Waltz for the first two games of the season, with Eduardo Perez the analyst on the following series (at Washington) and Al Leiter working the third (at the Mets).

• With Matt Hasselbeck and Charles Woodson replacing Mike Ditka and Keyshawn Johnson --- alongside returning Cris Carter and Tom Jackson --- ESPN’s Sunday and Monday NFL studio shows will have a more contemporary feel.

But I doubt the changes draw more eyeballs; while very good players, neither Hasselbeck nor Woodson has the type of neon name to lure viewers from Fox or CBS.

The bigger question is whether ESPN replaces Chris Berman with Trey Wingo in 2017, a move speculated by some national web sites but not substantiated by anyone at ESPN. Berman, who’s in the final year of his contract, will be working alongside Jackson for the 30th year this season.

Berman told me last year that “Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon were [together] 31 years on [NBC’s Tonight Show]. That would be kind of cool” to go that long.

Ditka, who will appear on SportsCenter, said he asked to be removed from Countdown to reduce his travel. 

• NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said at the NFL owners meetings a couple weeks ago that Peyton Manning hasn’t indicated if he wants to do television next season. NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN all have interest.

“He has been brilliant when we sit with him when we have production meetings,” Lazarus said. “I think he would be very good at television. We have sent smoke signals that he knows that if he chooses television, we would like to speak to him and we think he has been responsive that he will talk to us, as I'm sure he will to everybody else."

• Lazarus, whose networks (NBC and NBC Sports Net) own NHL rights, is curious to see the Panthers on his air in the postseason.

“This is the Kevin Spacey team, right?,” he said, smiling. “We love being partners with the NHL… Certain markets are growing. We were pleasantly surprised last year with the success the Tampa Bay Lightning had with ratings, and we hope Southeast Florida will show up in the same numbers that Southwest Florida did. The Panthers are awfully good. I'm sure we'll see a lot of them on NBC and NBC Sports Network through the playoffs.”

• TNT assigned Kevin Harlan to call the next two Heat games --- tonight against Detroit and Thursday against Chicago. He'll work alongside Kevin McHale tonight and Greg Anthony on Thursday. Craig Sager, valiantly battling cancer, will be the reporter on the Bulls game. 

Fox Sports Sun, which typically beats TNT when they have head-to-head Heat cablecasts, carries tonight's game but not Thursday's.

Marc Hochman signed a two-year extension to remain WQAM's 4-7 p.m. host, with Channing Crowder and Zach Krantz.

• The Big Lead reported that Fox dropped longtime NFL sideline personality Tony Siragusa.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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