TV SportsKwan may join NBC broadcast team
By Philip Hersh Special to The Los Angeles Times (Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.)
Michelle Kwan could be part of the broadcast team NBC assembles when it begins coverage of the U.S. Championships and Skate America next season.
Sources said that Kwan, the world's preeminent skater for more than a decade, is under consideration for such a position, partly because of her potential appeal to younger audiences. Figure skating's current viewer demographics skew largely toward a middle-aged, female audience.
Kwan, a student at the University of Denver, has not officially retired but has not competed in an Olympic-style event since the 2005 World Championships.
Shep Goldberg, Kwan's agent, had no comment on the question of whether she might be moving into the booth.
"We haven't discussed talent yet," NBC spokesman Mike McCarley said today. "The ink is barely dry on the deal."
NBC sports chairman Dick Ebersol said choosing talent would be up to skating producer David Michaels.
"We will be looking at just about everybody," Ebersol said.
Speaking during a Monday teleconference which announced officially a three-year deal between the network and the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. that the Tribune reported last Friday Ebersol said his friend of 40 years, Dick Button, would receive "great consideration." Ebersol said NBC would give similar consideration to Tom Hammond and Scott Hamilton, the network's figure skating commentators at the last Winter Olympics.
In discussing the new contract, Ebersol said the USFSA's willingness to innovate with scheduling of its events was critical to NBC's interest in broadcasting them.
This is how the NBC broadcast schedule will work: Skate America, two hours live, Sunday afternoon, including the women's and dance finals. Skate America previously had been shown on tape at least a day after the competition.
U.S. Championships: Saturday afternoon, pairs final, two hours live. Saturday night, dance and women's finals, three hours live. Sunday afternoon, men's final, two hours live.
Format changes at nationals are necessary for those telecasts.
Rather than having the entire field in each of the sport's four disciplines compete during the same finals' session, only the top eight to 12 in the standings going into each free skate would skate during the live telecasts.
The others will be relegated to an earlier session that would be webcast on nbcsports.com and figure skating's Internet property, Ice Network. That will create a more interesting program not only for TV but the stadium audience at the finals.
"It's like a Final Four of figure skating," Ebersol said.
Skating's new scoring system made such a change possible, since judges no longer are to measure skaters in relation to each other but against a series of fixed standards. It should be possible for a skater who does not make the live telecast to make a significant jump in the final standings if the judges do not base scores on reputation.
This will not be the first time that competition at the U.S. Championships has ended on Sunday rather than Saturday. From 1989 through 1991, the men's final took place Sunday.
Ebersol said NBC's potential interest in rights to the world championships and other international events, which belong to ABC/ESPN through 2008, "will be totally dependent on how innovative" the International Skating Union can be. NBC has U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics through the 2012 Summer Games.
While the U.S. deal does not contain a rights fee for the USFSA, its executive director, David Raith said he was "ecstatic about it" in an interview before the teleconference.
There are several reasons for his enthusiasm:
In a time of declining ratings for the sport (60% drop for the women's final at the U.S. Championships over the past decade), NBC has agreed to do nine hours of live broadcasts, seven from the national meet and two from Skate America. Getting that much live exposure on a major over-the-air broadcast network is a significant positive for skating.
Ebersol confirmed Raith's statement that NBC is going to "promote the heck out of this property on major shows in prime time." "They want to help support their  Winter Olympic coverage," Raith said, "and this shows they see figure skating as a way to do it. It reaffirms that figure skating is the No. 1 property in Winter Olympic sports."
ABC/ESPN, which held U.S. broadcast rights for the past 12 years, did relatively little promotion of late. Promoting on ESPN, which broadcast some 30 hours of skating this season, would have had minimal impact, since ESPN's audience is largely men who follow "stick and ball" sports. Ebersol said he would use NBC, USA Network and websites for the promotion. ABC/ESPN had right of first refusal on a new contract but decided skating no longer fit into ESPN's programming emphasis.
"This season's ABC/ESPN coverage of nationals was the best produced in recent years," Raith said. "They never shied away or cut back because the contract was ending, which shows just how professional they are."
ABC/ESPN gave the USFSA a $12-million annual rights fee over the last eight years. Raith expects the NBC deal to produce enough revenue that his organization will not have to cut its operating budget, nearly two-thirds of which came in recent years from the rights fee.
"I am as proud of this deal as I was of the $12-million rights fee," Eddie Einhorn, the USFSA's TV consultant, said in a Monday interview.
That is not just a proud "parent" talking.
Getting the live over-the-air hours is important for a sport that, like many others, was losing viewers on cable, even a cable network with the enormously high profile of ESPN.
Breeders' Cup ratings decreased 53% when they went from NBC to ESPN. The NBA's ratings also have fallen since most of their regular-season games (and promotion) moved to cable. Baseball's over-the-air postseason ratings are down in an era when nearly every team has its regular-season games on cable.
Other than the major sports, which include NASCAR and some golf tournaments but no longer hockey, no sports attract significant national TV rights fees in the current marketplace.
There even had been a feeling the USFSA would have to pay for airtime to get a new broadcast partner.
How well this new deal works financially, especially for the USFSA, will depend on how well the parties do in attracting sponsors. The USFSA will start making money once revenues exceed an agreed-upon level that has not been revealed.
The USFSA will get the revenue from State Farm, which Raith said would continue as title sponsor for the U.S. Championships. If the competition's four other national TV sponsors choose to continue, NBC and the USFSA will share those revenues under a complex formula.
This is the first time in more than a decade that the USFSA will deal directly with sponsors in terms of revenues. The ABC/ESPN deal gave the marketing and sponsorship rights and revenues to the networks.
"We have a budget this agreement will help support," Raith said. "We're in good shape." The question is whether NBC chooses to extend the deal past 2010. That probably would depend on whether NBC buys U.S. broadcast rights to Olympics after 2012 and what its ratings are the next three years.http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-spw...62,print.story