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Chris Fowler Explains Bizarre US Open Ending

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Richard Deitsch is a very well connected sports media reporter. When it’s appropriate, he will devote part of his weekly “Media Circus” column at The Athletic to a broadcaster to allow him/her to explain in their own words how they experienced a major moment in sports. This week, that spotlight falls on Chris Fowler of ESPN.

Fowler led the network’s play-by-play coverage of the US Open and was on the call of the absolutely crazy women’s final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. Chair umpire Carlos Ramos handed out three conduct violations to Serena, which cost the greatest tennis player of all time a full game. It wasn’t the sole reason she lost the match to Osaka, but it did play a role in the outcome.

Fowler wrote that he has a lot of respect for Ramos and fans of the game know that he is a stickler for the rules, especially when it comes to coaching, which is the violation he cited Serena and her coach for. Fowler thought the game penalty went too far though.

I felt that Ramos had gone too far in his penalties. I qualified it that “given the gravity, many would say restraint is called for.” I’d stand by that. Umpiring is not only about the letter of law, but wisdom and judgment. They should do their best to not play a principal role in the outcome.

As for how the strange series of events was handled on the broadcast, Fowler says that his colleagues made the difference. First, he noted the advantage of having a color commentator like Chrissie Evret, who is one of the few people in the world that has truly been in Serena Williams’s shoes.

We showed the signal and Chrissie (Evert) was clear in her opinion: It WAS coaching. She said that Serena saw it and was taking Patrick’s advice by coming forward. I thought she was very strong on that. Chrissie is a fellow great who is close to Serena, but that didn’t influence her take. I thought Chrissie was strong and balanced throughout with her opinions.

Fowler also gave credit to Mary Jo Fernandez for her sideline reporting. He noted that Fernandez’s relationship with Serena made her analysis of the situation stand out as part of the on-court coverage, which was a pivotal part of telling the story of the match.

I was pleased our courtside mics caught most of the exchanges. It is very loud in Ashe Stadium with the roof shut. Difficult acoustics for all. As long as the mics are up, the most important thing is to stay out of the way and let viewers hear as much as possible, stepping in only when you think background noise got in the way or something needed clarifying, which I did. Mary Jo Fernandez added a lot from courtside. She was picking up on all of Serena’s emotions and knows her very well. Her descriptions were concise and on point.  

Fowler said he is proud of how he and his colleagues handled the broadcast. The full essay is well worth your time, so if you have a subscription to The Athletic, click here and give Deitsch’s “Media Circus” column a read.

Sports TV News

FOX Sports Sees Record-Setting Ratings Weekend

The World Cup matchup between the U.S. and England on Black Friday and Michigan/Ohio State on Saturday saw tens of millions of viewers tuning in.

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FOX Sports has been home to a number of record-setting games in terms of viewership over the last several days.

In addition to FOX Sports setting a new mark for a Thanksgiving and regular season NFL audience, the World Cup matchup between the U.S. and England on Black Friday and Michigan/Ohio State on Saturday saw tens of millions of viewers tuning in.

The network reported the U.S./England match in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup averaged 15.377 million. It was the most-watched English-language soccer game in the U.S. ever, topping the 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil.

Viewership of the match was up 11% compared to the second group stage contest for the U.S. team in 2014 against Portugal. The audience peaked at 19.646 million from 3:30-3:45 p.m.

FOX Sports also reported the Michigan/Ohio State game on Saturday drew in 17 million, which made it the most-watched regular season college game on the network ever. That figure was also the highest of any regular season contest since 2011. That game also saw the audience peak at 19.6 million.

Viewership for the game was up 3% compared to last year.

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Sports TV News

ESPN Bowl Plans Could Be Altered By NFL Flex Scheduling

“While this situation poses a challenge, we are accustomed to flexibility and having to maneuver our event schedules.”

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ESPN could be forced to adjust its upcoming bowl season schedule if the NFL decides to flex a Las Vegas Raiders game a week before Christmas.

ESPN announced its contingency plans for two bowl contests, the Las Vegas Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl is currently planned to kick off from Allegiant Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on December 17. The Raiders right now are still planning to play in the Sunday night game the next night against the Patriots.

Should the NFL decide to flex the Raiders out of the SNF window, ESPN will swap kickoff times between the Las Vegas Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl. That would mean the game in sin city will kick off at 11:30 a.m. local time, with the contest in Albuquerque starting at 5:20 p.m. local time that evening.

“The SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl and New Mexico Bowl are both owned and operated by ESPN Events, so this change is a solution that will work for all parties,” ESPN Events vice president Clint Overby said. “While this situation poses a challenge, we are accustomed to flexibility and having to maneuver our event schedules. We are more than prepared to move forward with this revised schedule if necessary.”

Kickoff times will be determined well enough ahead that the schools taking part in both games shouldn’t be adversely affected.

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Sports TV News

NFL Thanksgiving Games Set Ratings Records

FOX Sports added that viewership was up 49% compared to 2021.

Jordan Bondurant

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The Thanksgiving slate of NFL games last week brought in the largest audiences ever. Viewership across all three games averaged 33.5 million.

The game with the largest viewership was Giants/Cowboys in the 4:30 p.m. window. FOX Sports reported that 42 million watched Dallas beat New York 28-20. It is the largest regular season audience ever, surpassing the previous leader set 32 years ago.

The network added that viewership was up 49% compared to 2021. FOX carried the Detroit Lions traditional noon Thanksgiving game last year. Compared to the Cowboys turkey day contest on CBS in 2021, viewership was up 3%.

The Bills/Lions game in the early window on CBS averaged 31.627 million, with the audience peaking at 41.981 million. It was the most-watched early Thanksgiving game on record.

Patriots/Vikings on NBC in the nightcap averaged 25.9 million. That figure was up 24% compared to Bills/Saints a year ago, with NBC Sports claiming it’s the second most-watched primetime Thanksgiving game on record. The game was simulcast in Spanish on Telemundo, which averaged 565,000 viewers and made it the most-watched NFL game ever on the network.

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