BTN preparing regional strategies

When the Big Ten Conference added Maryland and Rutgers, part of the spin was that the conference was adding some eastern partners for Penn State.

Of course, the potential revenue from TV customers in New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C., drove the decision that has already produced significant financial dividends for conference members.

Still, the Big Ten opened an office in New York City to give itself a presence in addition to its traditional Chicago base, and it turns out Penn State does have a more-or-less-official partner as far as the Big Ten Network is concerned.

For TV purposes, Penn State and Rutgers are connected. To be specific, they’re preferably not connected.

Whenever possible, the conference will attempt to keep Penn State and Rutgers from playing at the same time on a college football Saturday. The conference does the same thing with Illinois-Northwestern, Michigan-Michigan State and Indiana-Purdue.

Also, if they were to play at the same time on BTN, the network’s broadcast partners have the availability to show both games. So, Penn State fans living in or near New Jersey/New York or Maryland/Washington, D.C., do not need to worry about a game featuring Maryland or Rutgers preventing them from seeing the Nittany Lions.

Five Penn State game times have been set for the season already, but just two have been confirmed in terms of day, time and TV network. They are: Aug. 30 vs. UCF (8:30 a.m., ESPN2) and Sept. 13 at Rutgers (8 p.m., BTN).

TV clearances remain undetermined and could be decided as few as six days in advance for: Sept. 27 vs. Northwestern (Noon), Oct. 11 at Michigan (7 p.m.) and Oct. 25 vs. Ohio State (8 p.m.)

Soccer saturation

Coverage of the World Cup begins Thursday and runs through July 13 with all 64 matches set to air live on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

ESPN will carry 43 games, including the first U.S. game – a matchup with Ghana at 6 p.m. June 16 – while ESPN2 gets 11 games and ABC 10. ABC will carry the final on July 13.

With the tournament in Brazil, which is just one time zone different from the East Coast, ESPN officials and soccer supporters expect big ratings and viewership numbers.

In 2010, the 64 matches averaged just under 3.3 million viewers – up 41 percent from 2006. The final between Spain and the Netherlands drew 15.5 million viewers, second only to the 1999 Women’s World Cup final as the most-watched soccer game in the United States. That game famously featured the U.S. vs. China in what was eventually a shootout victory for the United States (when Brandi Chastain tore her jersey off).

It drew 17.9 million viewers.

TNT’s turn

NASCAR coverage moves this weekend to TNT, with the Pocono 400 starting the network’s annual six-race commitment to the sport.

This year’s midseason package includes weekly all-access, behind-the-scenes features as drivers move from one track to another. For this afternoon’s coverage, TNT started following Kyle Larson as soon as last week’s race in Dover, Del., ended. Larson, a rookie, sits 10th in the standings.

NASCAR shortened the Pocono race by 20 percent (from 500 to 400 miles) a few years ago, and that has helped the on-site experience for fans. At the same time, while Sprint Cup Series race ratings have generally languished no matter the network the past couple of years, Pocono has a slight TV advantage over other tracks.

Because it’s so big, grandstands do not ring the 2.5-mile tri-oval, only the front stretch. As a result, any empty seats are harder to see than at some other places.

Tuner tidbits

n Three Pitt football games have already been set for TV: Sept. 5 at Boston College (7 p.m., ESPN); Sept. 13 at Florida International (Noon, Fox Sports 1); and Oct. 16 vs. Virginia Tech (7:30 p.m., ESPN).

n If you’re among some wondering about the plethora of post-season college softball on the ESPN family of networks, know this: The games draw OK audiences and do not cost much to produce. Plus, the fast-moving, seven-inning matchups fill a “TV window” nicely and the smaller dimensions of the field provide good access and images.

n It’s a week overdue, but kudos to Cory Giger for asking five-time NBA champion Ron Harper about his time with the Los Angeles Clippers and controversial owner Donald Sterling during a radio interview around the Coaches vs. Cancer golf tournament in State College. Harper said he had no problems with Sterling when he played for the team.

n Seven announcers or reporters might be a bit much for a regular-season game, but that’s what ESPN used to follow the series-ending Pirates-Dodgers matchup last week. While that will not become the norm, expect networks to continue to try different approaches for even seemingly average games, across all sports. It’s just another way to try to differentiate one broadcast from another. It’s also a chance to try some different approaches or technologies that might find their way to use into major events if they prove successful during what amount to test cases.

Steve Sampsell may be contacted at