LeBron James’ special The Decision delivered big ratings for ESPN last night. The special, in which James announced his decision to join the Miami Heat, generated a 7.3 overnight rating from 9-10:15 p.m. ET, the highest rating for any program – on broadcast or cable – last night. It was also ESPN’s highest overnight rating for any non-NFL ESPN program this year. The telecast peaked with a 9.6 rating from 9:15-9:30 p.m., when James announced his choice. The top three local markets were heart-broken Cleveland (26.0 metered market rating) and Columbus (14.2) and jubilant Miami (12.8). How large of an audience did James draw? Consider this: ESPN’s exclusive interview with Tiger Woods on March 21 posted a 0.4 metered market rating. ESPN’s exclusive interview with Alex Rodriguez on Feb. 9, 2009 generated a 0.9 metered market. The Decision was also a hit online, generating more than 300,000 unique viewers on ESPN3.com.
UPDATED: You know that LeBron James hourlong primetime sports special The Decision tonight all about where he’s going to play next season? Well, it was not put together by LeBron James’ sports agency CAA. According to my Hollywood agency sources, Ari Emanuel of arch-rival tenpercentery WME was at one of the NBA playoff finals. Surely you’ve seen him at Laker games sitting in his look-at-me floor seats so courtside he gets drowned by the players’ sweat rivulets.
He began talking with LeBron’s manager Maverick Carter. (WME arranged the financing for LeBron’s documentary More Than A Game and with Carter sold it to Lionsgate.) Then sports announcer Jim Gray came over and suggested that LeBron do a TV show about the decision. (ESPN is now saying its execs were talking to LeBron’s manager about a decision-style show as far back as February during All-Star Weekend.) Emanuel immediately suggested that, instead of offering the show to a broadcast or cable network first, they package it by producing and selling ads for it themselves. The conversation ended on that note.
Carter talked to LeBron, and then Emanuel got a call from the manager telling him, ”Let’s go do this.” LeBron himself makes no money. Instead, all the sponsor dollars are being donated to the Boys & Girls Clubs Of America. I’m told the figure raised for the charity was $3 million, and Nike pledged to match up to another $1 million.
“Richard Lovett keeps touting how he supposedly reps LeBron …
LeBron James’ decision about where he will play next season is certainly newsworthy but to devote a one-hour prime-time special on it?! That’s what ESPN is doing with the dramatically-titled The Decision tomorrow night at 9PM. (That name is usually used by news networks for their coverage of other important events, like presidential elections.) Given that the announcement of James’ choice will take a few minutes at best, expect an hour of fillers leading to it, kinda like an American Idol results episode. (UPDATE: ESPN says James will announce his team pick in the first 15 minutes, which brings up the question: Why not do it as a 15-minute special?) And if you thought that was an overkill, ESPN also plans a three-hour SportsCenter leading into The Decision that will be devoted to James’ decision as well as an expanded two-hour SportsCenter immediately following the special, which will dissect that decision. At least James is doing it for a good cause: proceeds from The Decision will be donated to Boys & Girls Club of America.
UPDATE: In a conference call with reporters, ESPN defended the editorial integrity of its decision to let James’ company LRMR Marketing sell the ad spots for The Decision, noting that the money goes to charity. ”There was no rights fee, no payment, and we will have complete editorial control over the hour,” ESPN executive VP of production Norby Williamson said.