Weekend is Disney's world

Gathering sports media notes two-by-two and measuring them in cubits while waiting for the next downpour:

It's a big weekend for ESPN/ABC, with the NBA Finals having begun last night and the Belmont Stakes run tomorrow. The playoffs have scored well for the corporate brother networks. Overall, ESPN's playoff audience was up 38 percent over last year for an average 3.3 percent of the available audience, and ABC's playoff games increased 28 percent to a 3.7 rating.


The five Eastern Conference finals games on ESPN were up 47 percent (4.7 rating), and the one on ABC rated 19 percent higher (3.7) than the two on ABC did last year.

Between ESPN and ABC, the Belmont Stakes gets seven hours of coverage tomorrow, starting at noon on the former before switching over to ABC at 5 p.m. Joe Tessitore and the understated Brent Musburger serve as hosts. Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss analyze. Kenny Mayne and Hank Goldberg handicap. Rick Reilly pontificates.


And Big Brown doesn't care what any of them say about him.

If you've slept in this morning, quick, turn on WBAL. NBC has the Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic men's semifinal from the French Open, starting at 10 a.m. NBC carries the women's final tomorrow and the men's final Sunday, both at 9 a.m. Ted Robinson, John McEnroe and Mary Carillo give us the dirt on what's going on in the Roland Garros dirt.

Inside the NFL, dropped by HBO after 31 seasons, has found a new home - Showtime. CBS and NFL Films will combine to produce the program, an in-depth highlights show that has lost its cachet over the years as ever more NFL programming and highlights turned up elsewhere, particularly ESPN and the NFL Network.

ESPN has confirmed a report - apparently first by The Big Lead blog - that new morning SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm will be paired with Josh Elliott when the network switches over in August to live weekday SportsCenters instead of replays. ESPN didn't confirm the rest of the lineup as reported by The Big Lead, but it didn't exactly dispute the rundown either. So it seems Storm will be the only new face, and personal fave Linda Cohn apparently is returning to a nightly spot.

Current and former Ravens Mike Flynn, Derrick Mason and Daniel Wilcox are among the players who will attend NFL Broadcast Boot Camp at NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J., this month. The program instructs players with an interest in broadcasting. The NFL says 12 of the 20 players who participated in the first Boot Camp last year have landed broadcasting jobs.

The lineup of NFL play-by-play men/hosts/analysts includes Kenny Albert, James Brown, Ian Eagle, Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil. Mr. Enthusiasm, Gus Johnson, also will work with the campers, perhaps instructing them how not to get sick to your stomach when a guy's ear explodes on live television.

And speaking of mixed martial arts, WJZ's Saturday night telecast of CBS' debut MMA program, starring Kimbo Slice and the Amazing Technicolor Ear, drew the 14th-highest ratings among the nation's 54 metered TV markets. During the 9-to-11 portion of the show, 4.4 percent of the Baltimore audience was watching, compared with a 2.7 national average.

However, we weren't nearly as interested in hockey. On Wednesday, the deciding game of the Stanley Cup Finals earned the highest national rating for a Game 6 in 13 years - a 4.0, about double last year's Game 6 (Edmonton Oilers-Carolina Hurricanes). On WBAL, the rating was 2.7. The top 10 markets included the hockey hotbeds you might expect - the home cities of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings and the likes of Buffalo and Minneapolis - but Fort Myers, Fla., also made the list. Why is that? An NBC spokesman informed that the Fort Myers area is home to many former Michigan residents.