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More interesting evidence of our viewing habits, anti-LeBron sentiment and what SoFlo watches; UM football, Marlins and Panthers nuggets

 

FRIDAY/SATURDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

This decade’s dramatic rise in NBA interest in South Florida, which has somehow sustained itself nearly two years after LeBron James fled South Beach, remains the most significant local sports television trend of the 21st century.

And though anti-LeBron sentiment partly fuels our enormous ratings for these Finals, it’s hardly the only factor. Evidence remains strong that the Big Three era created a new generation of basketball fans here.

Consider:

• A year after Miami-Fort Lauderdale averaged a 17.7 rating for the Finals (sixth best in the country), our ratings rank even higher for this Cavaliers-Warriors rematch. No market outside Northern California or Ohio has had higher ratings for these Finals than Dade/Broward, which generated an 18.8 for Game 1, a 15.9 for Game 2 and a 16.3 for Game 3.

That means 18.8 percent of all Miami-Ft. Lauderdale homes with TV sets watched Game 1, pretty astounding for a market whose ratings for other sports usually lag well below the national average. For perspective, let’s look at UM’s biggest football game and the Dolphins’ only Monday night game in 2015.

UM-FSU, on a Saturday night in October on ABC, generated an 11.4 local rating, equaling 189,080 homes – compared to 312,417 homes for Game 1 of these NBA Finals. That means at least 123,337 local homes (and even more people than homes) watched Cavs-Warriors but not Hurricanes-Noles.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins-Giants Monday night game drew a combined ESPN/free TV local rating of 15.7 (a shade below the Dolphins’ 15.8 average), or 259,832 homes. That means more than 50,000 Dade/Broward homes preferred to watch the Cavs opener instead.

Our Super Bowl rating for Denver-Carolina (38.1) was much higher than our NBA Finals ratings, but that South Florida Super Bowl rating ranked last among 56 metered markets. Our 6.5 average World Series rating for Royals-Mets last year tied for 43rd among 56.

• Whereas the Heat’s 4.5 average cable rating on Fox Sports Sun this season was fifth-best among NBA teams, the Dolphins (15.8) and Panthers (0.25) were among the lowest among NFL/NHL markets last season and Marlins ratings (1.8) are also believed to be among the lowest among MLB markets this season.

• And it’s not just LeBron animus driving this train. Miami-Fort Lauderdale averaged a 10.6 rating for the Warriors-Thunder Western Conference Finals, seventh among 56 metered markets.

• Some viewers watch merely to root against LeBron, angry either that he left, with the way he left, or both. “Our interest in Miami is 1000 percent about watching this guy get crushed,” said Miami Beach commercial real estate broker Gordon Messinger, a Heat season-ticket holder.

Scott Caesar, a Fort Myers urologist, mused: “It’ll be nice to see him inducted in the Hall of Fame with just two rings. And both have the Heat logo.”

Much of this anger naturally stems from human nature, because LeBron leaving the Heat stirs the same type of emotions the college guy might feel when he's spurned by his girlfriend and watches her end up with somebody else. (He's not exactly rooting for them to win the lottery.) The Twitter hashtag teampetty  was created by one local fan to reflect this sort of sentiment.

But I also wonder about this: Do Heat fans simply feel better about themselves, and their team, if they continue to get evidence to support the notion that only the Heat is smart enough to make LeBron a champion, that this ownership, coaching staff, front office and the Dwyane Wade-led supporting cast is simply better than Cleveland’s?

If so, every LeBron loss in the Finals becomes a source of immense chest-pumping pride. And it’s certainly a reason to tune in.

While there’s no question South Florida is gaining Heat fans, is it coming at the expense of the Dolphins? That’s more difficult to prove, but this anecdote from former Dolphins receiver OJ McDuffie is interesting.

“It's getting annoying,” McDuffie said of declining Dolphins ratings in recent years and the perception of somewhat diminished interest. “I'm a Dolfan. It's hard for me to get my kids to want to go to games, because we haven't been successful enough for them. I will stick with the [Dolphins] until I die. They probably have [lost young fans to the Heat]. My 13 year old would rather go to the Heat games.”

CHATTER

• So what has Miami gotten so far 12 starts into the Marlins career of Wei-Yin Chen, their most expensive free agent pitching acquisition ever? The $8 million signing bonus aside, the Marlins have gotten a pitcher worth the $6 million they’re paying this year, but not – at this rate --- worth the $14 million he's due in 2017 or $17.3 million each of the following three seasons.

He’s 3-2 but his 4.56 ERA is a career-worst and 74th among big-league starters.  He’s managing less than six innings per start and his fastball velocity is a career-low 90.3, down more than a mile per hour from last year.

“So far, some good, some not so good,” he said. “I have a lot to work on. I need to fasten the pace.”

Mark Richt and his staff have gotten a warm reception from high school coaches in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

“It’s been great, it’s been great," he said Thursday. "I haven’t heard anything but outstanding reviews. I’ve had coaches text me after some of our coaches go to campus and just say ‘hey, [receivers coach] Ron Dugans just came through and I’m really excited about the direction of your program’. I get that on all of them, even my own son [Jon] every once in a while.

“We’ve been very well received. I got out on the road during the contact period in January to a lot of the schools as well. Obviously seeing guys we had committed and also guys we were trying to recruit, but also just going to schools that have 2017s, 2018s, and beyond. So I got a chance to meet a lot of coaches then.

"We did clinics in Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade. Coaches clinics in the spring so we met a lot of coaches then. We had coaches come visit us, we called it Cane talk, on Wednesday nights. It allowed coaches to come in and talk football. I told the coaches today, ‘if you ever want to come on our campus, just give us a little heads up and we’ll talk ball or do whatever you want'."
 
• Richt won't hold the type of satellite camps that have created controversy nationally. “I really believe that if a young man wants to come to Miami, he will come see us. I don’t want to wear my coaching staff out. Like I said, we had 168 opportunities to go and see everybody we thought we needed to see and we did that. We’ve invited guys to come see us at these camps and throughout the summer for unofficial visits and a bunch of them are coming. I’ve learned over the years that if you don’t get them on campus, the chance you get them is pretty slim.”

• I spent the morning with UM players and UM officials at Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami, where they graciously spent time with sick children. (I'll have a lot of info that I'll roll out from this in the coming weeks, including players we heard good feedback on today; Adrian Colbert, the former Texas safety now playing cornerback full-time, is among those that have impressed in informal workouts this month.)

In the meantime, Richt simultaneously spoke to a few media outlets, including the Palm Beach Post, at his on-campus football camp and when asked if he would like to play Florida every year, said: "I’d be more than happy, yeah. Oh yeah. I’d be all for it.”

UM and UF will open the 2019 season in Orlando, but UM said UF has shown absolutely no interest in scheduling any games beyond that.

• Former UM defensive line Jelani Hamilton has surfaced at Akron and tight end Jerome Washington transferred to Rutgers.

• Panthers restricted free agent Vincent Trochek (25 goals, 28 assists this past season) told me a new deal with the Panthers “will get done.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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