IRL decides to come back to Fontana for closer of 2013 season

The 2013 Izod IndyCar Series schedule will end again at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Oct. 19, the finale of a 19-race schedule that includes its annual stop in Long Beach on April 21, the league announced.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said during the announcement on Speed Channel on Sunday night that the fans “love the fact that IndyCar ended their series at an oval” this season, and the league decided it was “important for us to continue.”

The 19 races is up from 15 a year ago and is highlighted by a return to Pocono Raceway after 24 years, as well as a new street course in Houston.

There are three doubleheaders on the schedule — two races at the same track on a Saturday and Sunday. Those will be June 1-2 at Belle Isle, July 13-14 in Toronto and Oct. 5-6 in Houston.

NBC Sports Network will do 13 of the races, with the other six on ABC, including the May 26 Indianapolis 500. ABC has its six telecasts in a seven week schedule from May 26 to July 7.

There is also a “triple crown” promotion where a driver winning at Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana receives a $1 million bonus. Wins at two of three is worth $250,000.

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The MLB has a logo for a tiebreaker game?

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That’s wishful thinking.

If the Dodgers and Cardinals miraculously tie for the final NL wildcard spot — and, really, if they did, shouldn’t they both be declared ineligible based on lack of production? — there’ll be a game on Thursday, Oct. 4 at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers say so in an email this morning, with a link to a place you can purchase tickets (linked here).

Of course, it comes with the disclaimer: “Tickets will be refunded if the game isn’t required/played.” There needed to be two words to sum up what happens if the game doesn’t happen?

The MLB logomakers don’t have to stop at tiebreakers. Why not make one for the Dodgers’ final series against the Giants. If he had more time to mess with Photoshoop, we might even create our own: RIVALRY IN NAME ONLY …. LAME DUCK SERIES … LET’S NOT HURT ANYONE FINAL THREE … ZITO’S ON THE POSTSEASON ROSTER?

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Weekly media column version 09.28.12

What’s included in this week’s media column (linked here): A look at Monday’s launch of the new Time Warner Cable SportsNet channels on the same day as the Lakers’ training camp opens. Are you invited to the party? Plus more on ESPN’s “30 for 30″ coming around again, Rome’s in with CBS Sports Radio and other misc.

What’s not included:

More on TWC SportsNet and Deportes GM Mark Shuken, talking about:

= Packaging the two channels together, rather than just having the Spanish-language Deportes hit particular hot-spot areas in Los Angeles for the Hispanic market: “There’s an enormous statement made when you position the networks together. The percentage and concentration of Hispanic and Latino cusomers throughout the entire distribution territory is meaningful and critical. But the other point is that our objective for those Hispanic and Latino in this area who have not experienced this product in this way is that we need to put it out there for them. So it’s a bifurcate strategy, one that serves those customers who have been clamoring to get this, and it’s to reach those customers who can be new ones to the product. We want both constitucites.”

= Why you just can’t have one English-run network any longer with the SAP (second audio programming) application that translates it into Spanish: “The Spanish language distribution is different but I want to be clear: it’s not just that there are products in Spanish. The programming, content offering, production approach, music graphics, talent, production teams and leadership is all a different staff from the English-language. When we first started doing SAP in mid ’90s we learned that doing it that way is worth less than doing nothing. It would be better not to do anything. The customer is so sophisticated. You’re just pandering. That’s not what this community requires.”

= The new thinking behind regional sports programming: “Networks economics are driven by the core products and what I unfortunately have found in this business is that the entire focus of programming, production and content is on the game. It’s a limited number of games, and worst, it’s games with just a short pre and postgame show. There’s nothing that speaks to that fan through the day and the week. Our networks will be entirely different in several ways – we will extend the programming day around the core event and have live, packaged and produced and reproduced programming before and after events. That’s a key differentiator. In the past, you might come in at 7 p.m. for a pregame show and be out of the entire Laker broadcast by 10:30. Our Lakers content may start at 4 or 5 o’clock and go until 2 in the morning.”

= Where the new creative process comes from: “It comes from a brand new position. We talk about depth and access around the teams. That’s the fundamental focus of the networks. So we’ve said to our team — we want a consistency of vision and constant communication . Innovation has to be elevated. New programming titles have come from full staff meetings where different parts of the company see their ideas used. We can’t pretend to be the experts in digital delivery. I barely have my phone figured out how to use a mobile app. But they’re learning to use the product totally differently. There’s a strong effort to be open minded and take a lot of imput. We know we haven’t figured it all out. If we can be vunerable that way and not pretend we have it all figured out, and we’ll be much better for it.”

= How younger consumers view the games these days: “Social media will be part of everything we do. Every set has a social media area. It’s also for marketing, promotion, cross promotion. We are now as an industry behind the times. The Time Warner Cable ‘TV everywhere’ concept has worked. We have to stop thinking how consumers experiencing media is only predicated on the sofa on which they sit.”

Time Warner Cable’s SportsNet already has a promo ready for its “Backstage: Lakers” series (above).

Otherwise:

== Did Frank McCourt work a “secret deal” with the MLB to cap how much future local TV revenue it had to share with other clubs? Bloomberg is on it (linked here).

== Just in case you missed the “South Park” episode this week, taking aim at the NFL and including another Trey Parker immitation of Jim Rome and his endorsment of energy drinks (and it’s not the first time Rome has made “South Park” inroads, linked here).

== The Angels’ game Saturday at Texas goes to Fox (Channel 11, 1 p.m., with Victor Rojas and Eric Karros).

== ESPN apparently drew 6.5 million viewers to its 90-minute “SportsCenter” edition following the Seattle-Green Bay NFL game last Monday night — the most-viewed “SportsCenter” on record of those airing 20 minutes or longer, according to Broadcast & Cable. It was enough to give Steve Young a headache (or maybe not, linked here). The game had 16.2 million viewers, third best among any cable program this year, according to Nielsen.

== The Sunday NFL lineup (for those without NFL Sunday Ticket access): Fox has Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa for San Francisco-N.Y. Jets (10 a.m., Channel 11) and Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver for New Orleans-Green Bay (1:25 p.m., Channel 11). CBS has San Diego at Kansas City with Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots (10 a.m., Channel 2). NBC has N.Y. Giants-Philadelphia with Al Michaels and Cris Colinsworth (5:20 p.m., Channel 4).

== Ted Robinson, Adam Archuleta and Yogi Roth have the call on UCLA-Colorado game on Saturday (3 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Craig Bolerjack, Joel Klatt and Petros Papadakis have Arizona State-Cal (1 p.m., FX). Kevin Calabro, Glenn Parker and Ryan Nece have Oregon State-Arizona (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Oregon vs. Washington State in Seattle (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m.) has Mark Jones, Brock Huard and Shelley Smith.

== ESPN’s “College GameDay” is in East Lansing. Mich., prior to the Ohio State-Michigan State contest, which will be called by Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Heather Cox at 12:30 p.m., Channel 7). ABC’s prime-time game is Wisconsin-Nebraska (Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe, 5 p.m., Channel 7). Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson have Tennessee-Georgia (12:30 p.m., Channel 2). Fox’s Gus Johnson, Charles Davis and Julia Alexandria are at Texas-Oklahoma State (4:30 p.m., Channel 11).

== NBC says it attraced 6.4 million viewers to its Notre Dame win over Michigan last Saturday, calling it the “most-watched Notre Dame primetime game ever on NBC.” Keep in mind, there’s only been five of those classified games since 2009, when NBC had to think of some way to boost ratings. The network also said last week’s game was the “most-watched Fighting Irish game on the broadcast network in more than two years.” That’s a jump of 100 percent over last year’s NBC prime-time game at Notre Dame Stadium between the Irish and USC (3.2 million on Oct. 22, 2011). The 4.0 rating was also almost double of the 2.1 rating of the Notre Dame-USC game last year. The first night game at Notre Dame was in 1990 when it hosted USC and lost 31-17.

== NBC also says the New England-Baltimore game on Sunday night in Week 4 drew an average of 21.3 million (with a rating of 12.9 and 21 share), making it the No. 1 primetime rated program the last three weeks (this time, going up against the Emmy Awards on ABC) and it’s the first time in the seven years that NBC has done “SNF” that the first four games each did more than 21 million viewers.

== The UFL? Yes, it still exists. CBS Sports Network has added it to its lethal programming lineup, and after the Virginia-Las Vegas debut on Wednesday, there’s the Omaha-Sacramento game tonight from Sacramento (8 p.m.), with Howard David, Jamie Dukes and Jackie Montgomery looking at the downslopes of their careers here.

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It’s Showtime for SportsNet: Monday’s party at Time Warner Cable comes with a lot of production value … see what we mean?

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David Crane/Staff Photographer
Gardners put the finishing touches on the street-side flowerbeds as the Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Deportives channels near their launch date Monday.

The party starts Monday, and it’s guaranteed to go on for at least 20 years.

At the El Segundo offices of the new Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Deportes, opening night comes with an actual red carpet.

Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are supposed to walk on it, having come all the way over from down the block where they’ll have just finished with the first day of training camp at the Lakers’ facilities.

The Galaxy’s David Beckham, Landon Donovan and their teammates are on the pass list, too. Same with Magic Johnson and a list of other Hollywood celebs for the large tented gathering.

But there will also be an elephant in the room: Who else, aside from TWC customers with HD channels 403 or 481, will actually see these channels as they flip the switch at 7 p.m.?

It could get more than one Lakers fan seeing red.

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In an area of the South Bay where the aerospace industry thrives, watching the liftoff of these two TWC 24/7 sports channels could be as curious as when Howard Hughes tried to get the Spruce Goose airborne.

Again, for those who’ve missed the memo: TWC SportsNet and its Spanish counterpart Deportes has every Laker game, home and road. No more Fox Sports West. No more KCAL-Channel 9.

Not to cause a panic, but without a TWC subscription – at least for now – there’s no more Lakers, either, unless you’re content with an occasional appearance on ESPN, ABC or TNT, or when they’re facing the Clippers on Prime Ticket.

An estimated 3 million viewers in greater L.A. are on a TV system other than TWC, with DirecTV accounting for more than 1 million of those. As we’ve seen with those who’ve been shutout of the new Pac-12 Networks, anxiety levels rise when live games approach. The first point-of-sale is the Lakers’ first exhibition game against Golden State in Fresno on Sunday, Oct. 7.

Full-on panic and corporate public jousting could start in the days leading up to the Lakers’ Oct. 30 season opener.

This could get ugly. Worst than when FSW launched FSW2 (not Prime Ticket) in 1997 and put the Dodgers on it (with the Clippers and Ducks) to force consumer demand for it.

There are six million customers in the Lakers’ TV territory that goes north to Fresno, south to the Mexican border, west to Hawaii and east to Las Vegas. Any other cable or dish system that takes the channels will be asked to pay a reported $3.95 per month per subscriber — that’s about a buck less than the Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket combo, right in the range for ESPN, and almost four times as much as what the Pac-12 Network is asking.

The immediate success of SportsNet could also be critical to the Dodgers’ financial future. Their deal with Prime Ticket ends after 2013, and they’ve got six weeks from Oct. 15 to Nov. 30 to negotiate an extension. Otherwise, expect TWC to jump in.

No wonder Magic Johnson, who happens to be a new Dodgers co-owner, is a guest at the opening night festivities to see it first hand.

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Q&A: How two L.A. guys teamed to make ‘The Other Dream Team’ … think Lithuania, 1992 and tie-dyed greatness

Marius Markevicius was a 12-year-old middle schooler in Santa Monica when the 1988 U.S. Olympic basketball team, featuring Danny Manning and David Robinson, were stunned by the Communist-run Soviet Union, 82-76, in the semifinals at Seoul, South Korea.

Markevicius remembers his friends were nearly crying as they talked about the hated Russians – the evil empire – knocking off the superior team of U.S. college stars.

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But Markevicius, a first-generation Lithuanian-American, couldn’t help himself. He was excited.

“It wasn’t like I was running around waiving a Soviet flag, but it was much more subtle – just as it was for the Lithuanian players on that team,” Markevicius said. “It was a secret pride.”

Four of the five starters on that Soviet squad were from the tiny, suppressed country of Lithuania — particularly future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis.

Fast forward an eventful four years: The Berlin Wall comes down, Nelson Mandela was voted in as president of South Africa, and the Soviet Union is broken apart. Lithuania had its freedom.

At the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Lithuania was on its own. It may not have been able to challenge that U.S. “Dream Team” of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird once the amateur rule was relaxed, but it came around to beat Russia in the bronze-medal game. The Lithuanians took the medal stand dressed in Grateful Dead-inspired tie-dyed T-shirts created by New York artist Greg Speirs that the band had sent over, along with some money, to support the liberated basketball stars.

“As a 16-year-old this time, I’m happy Lithuania won the bronze – but it was very tempered,” said Markevicius. “Bronze means third place. In the U.S. we are programmed to believe anything but first is disappointment. But I learned a valuable lesson – sometimes bronze is truly sweeter than gold.”

It’s in that context that Markevicius, who ended up playing basketball at Santa Monica High and went to the UCLA film school after his undergrad work at Cal, resurrects the story in his documentary “The Other Dream Team” (linked here), which Friday begins a run in L.A. (at the Landmark Theatre in Westwood) and New York after critical acclaim during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

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In 2009, Markevicius teamed up with another L.A. native, Jon Weinbach, a Beverly Hills High grad, former Wall Street Journal business writer and currently an executive producer at Mandalay Sports Media who had just finished putting together the ESPN “30 For 30″ doc about the Los Angeles Raiders called “Straight Outta L.A..”

The two formed a quick bond and were able to turn Markevicius’ vision onto film in time for the 20th anniversary of the Lithuanian’s ’92 accomplishment.

The co-producers talk about the experience:

Weinbach: “I was at my friend’s son’s first birthday party, and, if you can follow this, the step brother of the wife of my friend was Marius’ best friend from college. We started talking and found out we had similar backgrounds. He asked if I knew much about the ’92 Lithuanian team and I was like, ‘You mean Sabonis and Marciulionis and . . .’ I admittedly am a one-percenter in terms of sports geekery. We followed up a week later and knew we had an idea for a larger story. He was coming from the feature film world and I had the background in documentary interviews and finding footage, so we just went for it. Two months later, we’re in Lithuania doing our first interviews. It really was a leap of faith on both our parts.”

Markevicius: “When people ask when I started thinking about this idea, I think it’s sort of rhetorical because, really, when haven’t I been thinking about it? It’s part of my life. I just thought about all the memories I had as a 100-percent Lithuanian who was born and grew up in L.A., but Russians back then were always these Ivan Drago characters (Dolph Lundgren from the “Rocky” movie series), every bad guy in every movie. I couldn’t explain to my friends really what the Russians were about because I wasn’t such a black-and-white distinction. You’re told to believe that the Soviets had the biggest propaganda machine, but we had our own propaganda here, not nearly as dangerous or on that scale, but sometimes, more silly. But everyone thought a Soviet was an evil Communist because of how they were portrayed in the media and in movies, but the Lithuanians were just part of that team.”
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Big West has a deal with FSW, Fox Sports SD … a big deal?

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The Big West Conference is a member of NCAA Division I and includes California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; California State University, Fullerton; California State University, Northridge; Long Beach State University; University of California, Davis; University of California, Irvine; University of California, Riverside; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Hawai’i, Manoa; and the University of the Pacific.

Boise State University and San Diego State University become members effective July 1, 2013. Pacific will no longer be a conference member effective July 1, 2013.

With that settled, the conference announced a deal that makes FSWest, Prime Ticket and Fox Sports San Diego the “exclusive regional TV partner” starting with the 2012-13 season. The focus will be on men’s and women’s basketball, as well as soccer and track.

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Rome to CBS Sports Radio announced

From the CBS press release:

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CBS Sports Radio today announced the newest member of its line-up for when the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network launches next year. Jim Rome will serve as host of The Jim Rome Show, broadcast live weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon (PDT) beginning on Wednesday, January 2, 2013.

Also at the start of the new year, Rome will provide his unique take on the day’s sports headlines via the CBS Sports Minute, sixty-second commentaries that can be heard hourly on CBS Sports Radio affiliate stations. Rome recently signed a multi-year agreement with CBS contributing across a variety of platforms. In addition to his weekday ROME show on CBS Sports Network, he provides commentary for CBS Sports and CBSSports.com. Further, Rome will also be hosting a talk series for Showtime, which will air later this Fall on the premium network.

“I am excited for the continued opportunity to extend my personal contributions to the various platforms that this incredible company has to offer,” said Rome. “I am proud to be a part of the CBS family and look forward to the successful launch of CBS Sports Radio.”

For more than 15 years, Rome has hosted a nationally syndicated radio program, The Jim Rome Show, a.k.a. The Jungle, reaching millions of listeners nationwide. His show on ESPN, Rome Is Burning, signed off in January 2012 after airing for six years.

So he’s leaving Premiere Radio and his spot at KLAC-AM (570) in the same time period. CBS Radio has not announced an L.A. affiliate for its network, but the prime candidates are KFWB-AM (980), JACK-FM (97.1; aka KCBS-FM) or KTWV-FM (94.7 The Wave).

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Time Warner Cable SportsNet GM (and ex-DirecTV exec) Mark Shuken: ‘We intend to have agreements with all providers’ … but will it be by the Oct. 1 launch?

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It’s less than a week away from the launch of both Time Warner Cable SportsNet channels, with the Lakers as the top-dog tennents and the Galaxy and Sparks tagging along for the full-content ride.

But when Oct. 1 arrives, and the switch is flipped at 7 p.m., who’ll be watching?

Customers of Time Warner Cable can get it. That’s a nice chunk of viewers. But to date, that’s it.

TWC SportsNet senior VP and general manager Mark Shuken said today — ironically, as he was getting the cable hooked up to the two flat-screen monitors in his office — that when people ask him about where they can find the channels on systems such as DirecTV, Dish, Comcast, Charter, U-verse or FiOS, his response remains:

“We’re negotiating with all the cable and satellite providers with whom we intend to share the services with. Those are ongoing, they’re current, and they’re productive. This timeline and the choreography is consistent with the rest of the industry. With the Oct. 1 launch, this week is really an active one in that category. We intend to have agreements with every one of them.”

That could mean that announcements don’t come until Monday’s delivery date. It could also mean that others don’t come aboard until the first Lakers’ exhibition game on Oct. 7. The last holdouts could push it all the way to the first Lakers’ regular-season game on Oct. 30.

Again, without the channels, both in English and Spanish, there’s no Laker coverage unless they’re on TNT or ESPN/ABC.

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Obama chimes in: Get regular bad NFL officials back, ‘terrible’ scabs go home

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(AP Photo/The Green Bay Press-Gazette, Lukas Keapproth )
Packers fan Tamie Vertz wastes her morning motioning at cars on Lombardi Avenue in Green Bay, Wisc., as she protests a controversial call in the Packers 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Monday night in Seattle.

By Ben Feller
Associated Press White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The embarrassing NFL referee saga and the disputed call that gave the Seattle Seahawks a victory over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night has reached the campaign for the White House, with President Barack Obama deeming it “terrible” and declaring it was time to get regular officiating crews back on the job.

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“I’ve been saying for months we’ve got to get our refs back,” Obama said as he returned to the White House from an appearance before the United Nations. In a tweet that went out under over his initials, Obama said: “NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs’ lockout is settled soon.”

In a rare moment of agreement with Obama, GOP running mate Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin native, also said it was time to bring back the “real refs.” But he used the episode on the football field to argue a partisan case for kicking the president out of office.

“It reminds me of President Obama and the economy,” Ryan said in Cincinnati. “If you can’t get it right, it’s time to get out. I half think that these refs work part-time for the Obama administration in the budget office. … They’re trying to pick the winners and losers, and they don’t even do that very well.”

Seattle won 14-12 over Green Bay after referees ruled a catch for the Seahawks amid a pile of bodies in the end zone on the game’s last play. The NFL conceded that a Seattle penalty in the course of the play went uncalled and cost the Packers the victory, but the league upheld the catch itself and the Seahawks’ victory.

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