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Sports Media

ESPN maintains full-court press on Heat

Heat training camp brought out everybody sniffing for the latest on the revamped team. Heat training camp brought out everybody sniffing for the latest on the revamped team. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)
By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / October 8, 2010

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If you thought ESPN risked viewer backlash with “The Decision,’’ wait until you get a look at the sports media behemoth’s latest approach to covering LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and their backup singers with the Miami Heat.

ESPN.com announced this week that it will launch the Heat Index, a section on the website devoted to, yes, daily coverage of James’s new team. Debuting Monday, the Heat Index (clever name, at least) has it covered from every multimedia angle imaginable, including columns, blogs, automated content, video, photo galleries, and well, you get the point.

The first instinct is to suggest this is drastic overkill, particularly since ESPN hired four reporters, including beat writers Brian Windhorst (who excelled covering James and the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer) and Michael Wallace to follow the Heat exclusively.

They will cover not only each game, but each practice.

It’s not a little much — it’s a lot much. But as Patrick Stiegman, the vice president/executive editor/producer of ESPN.com, suggests, the coverage might well be merited. Love LeBron or loathe him, he gets readers’ attention. “The Decision’’ damaged James’s image, but it was a ratings monster, and ESPN.com’s NBA traffic saw a huge spike in July, when James was going through his free agency dance.

“Why we would go down the path like this with the Heat Index is because it’s undeniable that there is substantial interest in this story line,’’ Stiegman said. “And that has been the case going back to NBA free agency in the summer, particularly with LeBron. We saw mammoth traffic, more in July than we had in any other month in our history.

“Some people, predictably, think it might be too much coverage, but we think it’s going to be the right amount of coverage.’’

Stiegman, who noted that something like this might have been considered had the technology been available during the Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls reign in the ’90s, said ESPN’s approach to covering the Heat is similar to what it has done with the city-specific sites it has launched in Chicago, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles beginning in February 2009.

“If you look at what we’ve established with our ESPN local space with our city sites, we’ve already put our flag down saying we were going to cover pro teams, college teams in certain markets with dedicated fans,’’ Stiegman said. “This is very, very similar to that.’’

Stiegman said there were no other immediate plans to take the single-team coverage approach, though he laughed when it was suggested the Brett Favre/Randy Moss/Adrian Peterson Vikings must suddenly seem tempting.

“Well, as a Packers fan who covered Favre once upon a time, it’s intriguing personally,’’ he said. “But there’s nothing cooking with anyone else right now. It’s all about LeBron and the Heat.’’

That will become clearer than ever Monday.

Not must-see TV
The grim forecast became apparent at the All-Star break, when SportsBusiness Journal reported that Red Sox ratings on NESN had dropped 36 percent, with a 6.25 household rating.

Not that it comes as a surprise, given the anticlimactic ending to the season, but NESN’s numbers never rallied, either.

According to information provided by the Nielsen Company, the Sox finished the season with a 6.0 household rating on NESN, a significant drop from last year’s 9.4.

Worse, NESN has lost more than half its audience from the 2007 season, when it pulled a 12.6. (In 2008, the number was 10.1.)

It’s not difficult to find reasons for the drop. The Bruins and Celtics had engrossing postseason runs. The Sox got off to a horrible start, winning four of their first 13 games and falling six games back in the division by April 19. And the team, while likable, was plagued by injuries and lacked the star power of recent Sox teams.

It all added up to this season becoming the first since 2003 that NESN has not finished atop MLB’s local television ratings. The numbers for all MLB teams in their local markets are expected to be available today, with St. Louis expected to finish on top.

Battle rages on
The Arbitron radio numbers for September as well as the summer ratings book became available yesterday, and WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub continued their intriguing battle for sports radio supremacy.

Here is a look at some of the significant matchups, all in the crucial male 25-54 demographic:

■In the summer, WEEI took third overall (5.8 share), while The Sports Hub tied for fifth (5.1). During morning drive, WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan’’ claimed first (7.2), while The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich’’ was third (7.0). Midday, WEEI’s “Dale and Holley’’ tied for sixth (4.6), while The Sports Hub’s “Gresh and Zo’’ was eighth (4.2). In afternoon drive, The Sports Hub’s “Felger and Massarotti’’ (second, 6.1) edged WEEI’s “The Big Show’’ (third, 5.7).

■In September, WEEI was third overall (6.0 share), while The Sports Hub was fifth (5.2). In morning drive, WEEI was first (7.6), while The Sports Hub was fourth (6.9), while from 10-2 WEEI was tied for fourth (5.0), while The Sports Hub was eighth (4.5). From 2-6, WEEI and The Sports Hub tied for third (5.7). In the evenings, WEEI, which featured “The Planet Mikey Show’’ and Red Sox broadcasts from 7-midnight, was third (7.1), while “The D.A. Show’’ was tied for sixth (4.7).

■Combining the numbers its Providence-based FM station generates in the Boston market with its AM share, WEEI had an overall 7.0 in September, good for second overall. “Dennis and Callahan’’ was first in morning drive by this measure (8.7), “Dale and Holley’’ was third midday (6.1), “The Big Show’’ was second (6.9), and the 7 p.m.-midnight programming was second (8.7).

■Using the same combined approach that WEEI has recently emphasized, it was second overall (6.9) in the summer book, with “Dennis and Callahan’’ first (8.4), “Dale and Holley’’ third (5.7), “The Big Show’’ second (6.7), and the 7-midnight programming tied for first (8.6) in their time slots.

He had Moss covered
Jay Glazer, the tireless FoxSports.com NFL reporter who by our unofficial tally challenges ESPN’s Adam Schefter for the league lead in scoops, was all over the Randy Moss trade story Tuesday night after the possibility of the deal first became public courtesy of an accidental tweet by ESPN’s Bill Simmons that he explained was intended as a direct message. Glazer, in the middle of covering the Moss maelstrom, also was all over various media outlets in Boston, speaking twice with “The Planet Mikey Show,’’ once with its competitor, “The D.A. Show,’’ and also checking in via telephone on Comcast SportsNet New England programming, all within an hour. It was an impressive feat of ubiquity by Glazer, but his knack for self-promotion probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, he’s the only sportswriter we’re aware of who is featured in a Subway commercial.

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