News: Islanders play-by-player Brendan Burke will succeed Jason Benetti as the main play-by-player on Peacock’s Sunday morning baseball, The Post has learned.
What you need to know: NBC/Peacock did much better in the first season of its baseball package than Apple did. It had the talented Benetti on play-by-play, and used analysts from each of the teams playing in its Sunday morning games. Benetti left for Fox Sports, leaving NBC looking around for his replacement. The rotating analyst setup is expected to remain.
Brendan Baseball: Burke is a proven network-level announcer. He called hockey for NBC, and now does the NHL on TNT. Burke won’t do the first four games of the season on Peacock as he finishes the NHL playoffs for TNT.
Pinstripe pride: Burke put himself back on the baseball map by doing an excellent job filling in for John Sterling on Yankees radio with Suzyn Waldman for some games last season. FAN is very high on him, and there was a thought he could be the heir apparent to Sterling. However, his hockey schedule probably would prevent that. (And it probably doesn’t matter because Sterling, who is about to turn 85, is never retiring.)
Burke previously called minor league baseball.
Brown out: NBC had significant talks with Orioles play-by-player Kevin Brown, according to sources, but did not reach a deal. This opened the door for Burke. NBC Sports declined comment.
Other games: We thought it might be fun for Peacock to have NBC’s Mike Tirico do one game — the man likes to work — but that is not happening, according to sources. We have heard Chris Vosters, the Blackhawks play-by-player, is in the mix for a few games before Burke takes over in mid-May for the rest of the season.
The biggest Caitlin Clark impact on TV ratings could be years away. The Iowa star — whose team lost to LSU on Sunday in a referee-marred championship game — was the reason Friday night’s national semifinal against South Carolina had more than 5 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Next year, this could grow even more, especially if injured UConn star Paige Bueckers or another rival emerges and they meet Clark’s Iowa in the Final Four or for the championship. But the real Clark effect could be with the WNBA. There have been plenty of stars in the WNBA, but the reason Clark is standing out is because she plays with the flair of a Larry Bird or a Steph Curry. It is must-watch TV if you like basketball. This could be huge for WNBA when she enters the league in a year or two. Sunday’s NCAA final was in the afternoon on ABC, but it would not be at all surprising if it is in prime time next year.
…On the national championship game call, Ryan Ruocco struck the right tone, calling out the officiating, which had Clark in foul trouble the whole game and included one terrible technical foul call. It’s a fine line for a play-by-player, but Ruocco found the right space to lead analyst Rebecca Lobo.
…YES decided to price its direct-to-consumer product at $24.99 per month with an introductory promotion of $19.99 per month. Direct-to-consumer likely will grow, but it may take awhile. In the meantime, it is great for folks who have YouTube TV, for example, which doesn’t include YES. So direct-to-consumer YES is a good extension if you want the Yankees games, but desire the lower (but increasing) price of YouTube TV or other services as opposed to cable. … It is going to be a pretty good look for YES Network at this time next year. Ian Eagle will take over as the men’s Final Four play-by-play voice, and Ruocco will enter his fourth year as lead game caller on the women’s Final Four. Eagle is YES’ longtime play-by-player on Nets games, and Ruocco is the No. 2. Ruocco also calls the WNBA Finals on ESPN. We can extend it to MSG Network: ESPN’s Mike Breen has called the most NBA Finals in history — this year will be No. 18. Needless to say, the biggest basketball games will have a New York sound.
…ESPN’s mic’d-up segments during MLB broadcasts were successful last year. It picked up where it left off Thursday with Alex Bregman of the Astros. Bregman, who wears No. 2, said one of his favorite players as a kid was Derek Jeter. It was apparently a family affair. When Bregman made his Yankee Stadium debut, he said, his mother wore his jersey, but had a Jeter shirt underneath. Good stuff. … Speaking of Jeter, he confirmed what we previously reported: He will make his Fox Sports debut during the London Series on Saturday, June 24. Jeter can celebrate his birthday with King Charles III. The Captain turns 49 on June 26. … Aaaaaaaand Chris Russo’s son, Tim, is a graduate assistant on Danny Hurley’s staff as UConn goes for the national title on Monday night. I wrote a short story on it Sunday. … Frank Thomas is officially out at Fox Sports.
We had WWE CEO Nick Khan on the podcast last week. If you are reading this newsletter and haven’t listened to it yet, I recommend giving it a try. The reaction has been tremendous.
We asked Khan about WWE’s possible sale, and he said the market was robust and he couldn’t get into specifics. CNBC reported Sunday that WWE is being sold to Endeavor and will form a new publicly traded company.
Khan, who was one of the most influential sports media agents ever before going to WWE, had gems of information and some advice, including these words to live by: “Complaining is not a strategy.”
Let’s go over a few things he said.
1. He basically agreed with what we projected in this newsletter last week: The NBA’s next TV rights deal, which begins with the 2025-26 season, will include ESPN, Amazon, Warner Bros. Discovery and NBC.
Khan thought ESPN would go hard for WBD’s All-Star Game because of the hospitality component. It might happen, but I’ve had sources tell me it’s not necessarily a priority.
Khan also thought NBC and WBD could fight it out for Tuesday night rights with the idea, as I wrote, that Amazon Prime Video takes Thursdays. I had NBC following up “Sunday Night Football” with “Sunday Night Basketball.”
2. Khan, who was in the middle of ESPN’s deal for SEC rights when he was still at CAA, said he thought the Pac-12 had dropped the ball, while the Big 12 did a tremendous job cutting the line and doing extensions with ESPN and Fox.
His advice for the Pac-12 would be to do a short-term deal with high visibility. Of all the ways out of this Pac-12 predicament, it is the best one we’ve heard. Remember: Complaining is not a strategy.
3. Khan said he thought WBD and Comcast could make big moves to consolidate after the 2024 election, depending on whether a Republican or a Democrat wins the White House. Khan said no deals will get through under the current administration.
4. Khan said there is a good chance that wrestling star Roman Reigns goes to Hollywood, but that he would also continue working with WWE.
There was much more on the podcast, including Khan’s thoughts on when ESPN will go to direct-to-consumer and WWE’s prospects for its next TV deal.
Roger Clemens showed some potential as a game analyst on ESPN’s opening night broadcast of Astros-White Sox alongside Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez.
Clemens was at his best when talking about the game. A lot of times with all-time greats, even ones with tarnished reputations such as Clemens, there is a tendency to talk about how he did it back in his day. A little of it is OK, but the best analysts talk about the present and incorporate yesteryear (see: David Cone, whom Clemens pinch-hit for because Cone was on YES).
Clemens used some fun jargon, but what stood out was his ability to dissect the pitches. And when he said something about, say, White Sox Opening Day starter Dylan Cease being filthy, his opinion has more weight.
Clemens made mistakes with performance-enhancing drugs and there have been consequences (he’s not in the Hall of Fame), but he was brazen — crazy? — enough to risk going to prison to prove whether he did them or not. There is no reason to prevent Clemens from doing more as a broadcaster. Maybe not full-time, but in guest spots.
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