ESPN expands A-Rod’s platform

While Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens did not get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in January (at least in part because of their connections to performance-enhancing drugs), another former MLB player connected with “the Steroid Era,” and one who lost a year of his playing career because of it, nonetheless earned a high-profile TV analyst job.

Alex Rodriguez signed a multi-year agreement with ESPN to be an analyst for “Sunday Night Baseball.” He’ll work the play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian, who replaces Dan Shulman, and analyst Jessica Mendoza, who returns to her role. Reporter Buster Olney also returns.

Rodriguez made headlines when rumors emerged that he wanted to determine who handled the broadcast’s play-by-play duties. Rodriguez was solid on TV in his previous role with Fox Sports and he’ll get plenty of opportunities to enhance his skills at ESPN.

A-Rod’s deal also includes regular appearances on “Get Up,” the TV show that’ll air weekday mornings on ESPN with host Mike Greenberg and Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose.

That show begins April 2.

Football on Fox

There’s no more on-field pro football action until August, and when the games return they’ll have a new home on Thursday nights.

Fox submitted the highest bid to carry “Thursday Night Football,” with a five-year deal worth $550 million per year. They’ll carry 11 games each season, meaning they offered about $50 million per game for the package. That price point was too high for some other networks, but Fox thinks the games will do well, and that’s probably the case.

While NFL ratings and viewership are down year to year, that’s true of almost all programs on major networks. And, even with its losses, NFL games still consistently draw better ratings and more viewership than almost anything else on TV.

Tuner tidbits

n Both of the Penn State men’s hockey team’s games against Minnesota later this week will air on BTN. That’s 6:30 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday.

n Longtime WWE announcer Jonathan Coachman returned to the pro wrestling troupe and its broadcasts last month. His time away from the WWE was spent mostly with ESPN, and he remained connected to the sports entertainment scene so returning to the WWE made sense.

n After his debut at the Super Bowl and then work during the Winter Olympics, on-air TV rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr. will now shift into full gear again for NBC Sports until the network begins its portion of the season covering NASCAR’s Monster Energy Series in July.

n This afternoon’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m., Fox) starts the season for NASCAR’s top series. Ratings and viewership for the series could be a challenge. Numbers were consistently down last season and Dale Jr.’s absence on the track might not help. That said, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon provides good analysis.

n The Big Ten men’s basketball tournament takes place a week sooner than usual this season, running Feb. 28 to March 4. That’s because the conference is conducting its tournament at Madison Square Garden for the first time and the only way to get into the historic venue, which hosts the Big East Tournament from March 7-10, was to agree to earlier dates.

n Since his retirement, longtime sports host and play-by-play voice Brent Musburger has found an outspoken, or at least opinionated, home on Twitter (@brentmusburger) and with a daily podcast as part of the Vegas Sports and Information Network. So, instead of casual, wink-wink references to gambling while working games, he champions sports gambling. For savvy listeners, though, that has to prompt a question about whether he ever put money on games he worked.

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