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NFL ratings plunge could spell doom for traditional TV

Tom Brady fakes a hand off. (David Richard/AP)
Football, America’s biggest prime-time powerhouse, has been thrust into a crisis this fall, with dwindling ratings sparking questions over whether it can remain a gold mine for television in an age when more Americans are abandoning traditional TV.

Network executives have long used the National Football League’s live games as a last line of defense against the rapid growth of “cord-cutting” and on-demand viewing upending the industry.

But now, the NFL is seeing its ratings tumble in the same way that the Olympics, awards shows and other live events have, falling more than 10 percent for the first five weeks of the season compared with the first five weeks of last season. A continued slide, executives say, could pose an even bigger danger: If football can’t survive the new age of TV, what can?

Football’s traditional TV audience “is never going to be what it was again,” said Brian Hughes, a senior vice president at Magna Global, which tracks audience and advertising trends.

The explosion of modern entertainment options, offered on more devices and at any time, has splintered American audiences and sped TV’s decline, Hughes said. “Sports seemed to be immune from it — it was live, the last bastion of broadcast television. But [the world] has caught up to it now.”

Network and league executives are scrambling to identify causes. Many have pointed to the highly televised 2016 presidential campaign, which has led cable-news ratings to explode.

Election years often thin sports ratings, but the NFL has never seen a drop as dramatic as this year’s, Nielsen data shows. In 2008, for example, ratings over the course of the year declined 2 percent, and in 2000 they declined 10 percent. During the first five weeks of this year, ratings have declined 15 percent compared with the entirety of last year.

In an internal NFL memo sent last week and given to The Washington Post, two league executives, Brian ­Rolapp and Howard Katz, wrote that “all networks airing NFL games are down” and that “primetime windows have clearly been affected the most.”

They pointed to “a confluence of events,” including the election, to explain the ratings slide. “While our partners, like us, would have liked to see higher ratings,” they added, “they remain confident in the NFL and unconcerned about a long-term issue.”

Other weaknesses have plagued America’s most popular TV sport. Some of the league’s top players have retired or have been suspended, including Peyton Manning, Marshawn Lynch and Tom Brady, creating a star-power vacuum that may have driven casual fans away.

The games are now available at more times than ever, including afternoons and evenings on Thursday, Sunday and Monday, which analysts said could fragment the market. And some of the season’s early matchups have been uncompetitive or underwhelming.

“Sports at the end of the day is a narrative. You can’t create it. It’s organic,” said Neil Macker, an entertainment analyst for Morningstar, an investment research firm. “If you don’t have those compelling story lines, people aren’t going to take the time to watch.”

Football last year was still TV’s biggest golden goose, with the ­Super Bowl and other games locking in many of the most-watched hours on air. Its viewership grew in recent years as ratings fell for many of television’s other genres, including scripted dramas, which are often expensive to produce and yield more limited viewerships.

Some advertisers said they were content to wait and see whether the season’s ratings improved in coming weeks, believing there were few better options among other sports or TV programming on which they could buy ad time.

“In a sea of very low-rated programs, to have the NFL be so dominant even with these depressed ratings, its still something we value,” said Andy Donchin, the chief investment officer for Amplifi US, a division of the ad-buying giant Dentsu Aegis Network.

Football’s watched-live tradition has long drawn in advertisers put off by commercial-free networks and streaming services such as HBO and Netflix. The games’ format also gave advertisers confidence that their spots would actually get watched, not just ­fast-forwarded through later via DVRs. But an exodus of cable subscribers, turned off by high cable bills or won over by the growing number of on-demand streaming options, has shunted much of the NFL’s long-established power toward the Web.

Gorilla Arrested after Storming Soldier Field

NFL Yesterday
A fan disrupted the Bears/Lions game on Sunday when he ran out on the field wearing a full gorilla costume and a shirt that read "All Lives Matter" on the front and "Put The Guns Down" on the back. He was tackled, removed from the game and turned over to authorities. 
· 21h21 hours ago
Some idiot fan just ran onto the field and was promptly tackled by security. He won't be getting his phone number out there that way.


Tim Tebow homers in first professional at-bat


Tim Tebow’s first professional baseball game, of sorts, yielded an immediate highlight as the telegenic Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion quarterback hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in a game against a team of St. Louis Cardinals farmhands.

Tebow, 29, is likely the oldest player populating instructional league games in Florida, and the 255-pound outfielder did not waste time showing he’d like to advance with some dispatch through the New York Mets system, hammering a pitch just to the left of dead center field in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

The home run came on the first pitch off a fellow former Southeastern Conference athlete - John Kilichowski, 22, who was selected in the 11th round of June's draft out of Vanderbilt. Kilichowski posted a 3.38 ERA in 11 games - nine starts - at rookie level State College (Pa.) and low-A Peoria (Ill.).

“It was fun. I just wanted to have the approach that I was going to be aggressive,” Tebow said.

“That’s something that we’ve been talking about here every day and practicing it.”

Kilichowski was 12 years old when Tebow helped the University of Florida to the first of two national championships in 2006.

Tebow ended up 1-for-6 on the day with no strikeouts and played left field for five innings.

“I liked a lot of my at-bats today,” Tebow said. “I hit the ball really hard four out of the six times. … Four of the at-bats I felt really, really good about. Didn’t swing at any breaking balls, didn’t feel like I got fooled seeing it out of the (pitcher's) hand.”

Tebow received a $100,000 bonus to sign with the Mets, an arrangement that this fall enables him to keep his commitments as an analyst for the ESPN-owned SEC Network. He had not played organized baseball since his junior year of high school in 2005, in Florida.

“It feels good to hit a home run,” Tebow said. “First game you’re competing you wanna win. You’re with all your teammates.

"Honestly, the reception was fun, too.”

Contributing: Luis Torres of The Treasure Coast Palm, part of the USA TODAY Network

Coachella Classic: A Festival for Rock Giants and Their Aging Fans

Preparations for Desert Trip in Indio, Calif., where the Coachella festival is also held. Credit Jaime Kowal for The New York Times
One day in February, Paul Tollett, the promoter of the Coachella music festival, was summoned to Mick Jagger’s dressing room in Buenos Aires.

The Rolling Stones were on tour there, and Mr. Tollett had traveled from California. The band’s involvement was vital to Mr. Tollett’s idea for a new event: a once-in-a-lifetime festival of rock giants, including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Who and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, all performing over three days at the same spot in the Southern California desert where Mr. Tollett had built Coachella into the concert world’s most successful franchise.

Mr. Jagger listened to the pitch, and then shot back, as he later recalled in an interview on SiriusXM radio, “You mean it’s like Coachella for old people?”

Mr. Jagger was intrigued, though, and thus was born Desert Trip, along with its stereotype as a boomer-ready version of a 21st-century pop festival, with a telegram-from-1969 lineup and an elaborate complement of on-site luxuries. The average age of the headlining performers is 72, leading to the mocking nickname “Oldchella.”

Snark aside, however, Desert Trip — which begins the first of its two weekends on Oct. 7, at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. — has already taken its place as one of the most ambitious, and potentially most lucrative, music festivals in history. In part that is thanks to the buying power of older fans, a demographic that has often been overlooked in the concert industry’s festival boom.

Its two weekends, which will each feature two acts a night, will draw a total of about 150,000 concertgoers. Sales of tickets and amenities like camping and food passes will reach an estimated $160 million — far more than any other festival around the world, and nearly double the $84 million take from last year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, according to Pollstar, a trade publication that tracks concert industry data.

Concert executives estimate that Desert Trip, which is put on by Mr. Tollett’s company, Goldenvoice, a division of the global entertainment company AEG Live, could cost $100 million to stage, including what representatives of several of the acts said were extraordinary paydays for the performers.

Mr. Tollett declined to comment on the specific finances of the festival, but said in an interview that he was deliberately paying the performers a premium given the historic nature of the lineup. “The bands are getting what they deserve,” he saidThe financial scale of Desert Trip has raised eyebrows throughout the industry. Tickets range from $199 for general admission on a single day to $1,599, the highest tier for weekend passes to one of 35,000 assigned seats. On average, attendees will spend more than $1,000 each — a remarkable sum given that the average ticket price to the top 100 tours in North America is about $75, according to Pollstar.

“Whatever ceiling there was in the concert business in terms of economics just got blown out of the water,” said Marc Geiger, the head of music at the William Morris Endeavor agency.

Satisfying an affluent crowd that skews toward middle age has become one of the promoters’ main concerns. There is an extensive menu of high-end food, including a $225 four-course meal by chefs like Dominique Ansel and Marcus Samuelsson, and an afternoon-long, all-you-can-eat “culinary experience” for $179. Mr. Tollett said that he and his team had been laboring over logistics to minimize patrons’ time waiting in line, and spent months scouring the region for more than 1,000 flushable toilets.

“We pretty much wiped out everything into Texas,” Mr. Tollett said of the hunt for rentable restroom trailers, which will supplement the more than 300 toilets already on the site.

When asked about the demographics for the show, Mr. Tollett said that all ages were expected, but acknowledged that the crowd would lean heavily toward the baby boomer generation. The festival’s own marketing videos illustrate this, with gray-haired revelers feasting on gourmet food and dancing in the pastel light of the desert dusk.

Older fans represent a steady portion of the concert audience, but have been an afterthought for festivals, which have become the concert industry’s fastest-growing area since Coachella’s arrival in 1999. That matches a wider blind spot in entertainment media about older consumers, said Robert Love, editor in chief of AARP The Magazine and a former editor at Rolling Stone.

“The truth is that there is a lot of advertising and media in general that tends not to focus on people over 45,” Mr. Love said, “even though the people who spend the most money on computers, cars, CDs and movies are older.”

AARP The Magazine, which last year drew headlines around the world for publishing a rare interview with Mr. Dylan, will be sending three reporters to Desert Trip, Mr. Love said. Other media coverage will include a station on SiriusXM devoted to music from the acts on the festival.

Mr. Tollett said that his work on Desert Trip began in May 2015, when he started checking in with the acts and their business representatives — a delicate dance, that, given the stature of the performers, took months.

“None of these artists are easy,” said Marsha Vlasic, Neil Young’s longtime booking agent. “Getting answers from Bob Dylan, getting answers from Neil Young, getting answers from the Rolling Stones — that’s all a workout.”

To win over the Who, Mr. Tollett met with Pete Townshend backstage at Madison Square Garden. “I was like, ‘I want to put a show on, maybe the best of all time,’” Mr. Tollett recalled. “‘Can you help?’”

The participation of the Rolling Stones was crucial, and once Mr. Jagger signaled his interest in February, the lineup came together quickly. Mr. Tollett said that the event was mostly confirmed by March, and news of it began to leak in April, just as Coachella was starting its first week.

At that point the event had no official name; the idea, Mr. Tollett said, was that the names of the artists were branding enough. But a website was needed, and Desert Trip eventually went from simply the web address to the name of the festival itself.

In March, Goldenvoice began selling tickets for a new festival in New York called Panorama, and demand was soft. Spooked by that experience, the company decided to go big in marketing Desert Trip, buying newspaper ads in 17 countries and a festival trailer that played in movie theaters. 

Initially advertised for one weekend only, demand was such that a second weekend was quickly added, and most of the tickets to both weekends sold out within a few hours. (A small number of additional tickets, released after seating configurations were completed, were released two weeks ago.)

The festival’s extraordinary lineup — and the ever-present sense that many of the acts may be nearing the end of their touring days — has been the biggest driver of sales. But Mr. Tollett said, as a promoter, that it was also simply about putting on a good show.

“To me,” he said, “the main story is just that it’s three days of great rock ’n’ roll.”

Uber plans self-flying drone taxis to beat city traffic

The Ehang 184, a passenger drone Credit: Ehang

If you summon an Uber in 10 years’ time, you will probably get a car that drives itself. But then again, you may not be travelling in a car at all.

The taxi-hailing app is working on technology that would allow airborne passenger drones to fly its users short distances around cities, it has emerged, raising the prospect of a future in which skylines are dotted with Uber aircraft shuttling commuters back and forth.

Jeff Holden, Uber’s head of product, told technology website Recode that the company is researching “vertical take off and landing” (VTOL) technology. Instead of the helicopter-style rotor blade drones, VTOL aircraft have fixed wings like planes, enabling them to fly silently, while taking off and landing vertically. 

Amazon’s delivery drones, currently being tested in Cambridgeshire, use a similar technology to cut down on noise and extend their range.

Holden said Uber wanted to “offer our customers as many options as possible to move around” and that the technology could be available within a decade.

“It could change cities and how we work and live,” Holden said, pointing out that moving traffic from the road to the air could dramatically cut down on congestion and the time it takes to cross cities. He said he envisages aircraft taking off from and landing on the roofs of buildings.

Uber driverless car
Uber is already testing driverless cars Credit: AFP
While the idea may seem far-fetched, Uber is not the only one researching passenger drones. Earlier this year Ehang, a Chinese company, unveiled the 184, an autonomous quadcopter drone designed to carry a single passenger, with a battery life of 23 minutes. The 184, which has been slated for release as early as this year, is expected to cost up to $300,000 (£232,000).

Google founder Larry Page is one of the major believers in flying cars, putting $100m of his own money into startups developing the technology.

However, filling our skies with passenger drones within 10 years is an ambitious undertaking, and would require hundreds of pages of new regulations, not to mention consumers who would be willing to put their life in the hands of a small self-flying aircraft. It would also, presumably, be incredibly costly to develop.

But Uber is already at the forefront of developing self-driving technology. Earlier this month it began testing a driverless car service in Pittsburgh.

Marlins pitcMarlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, 2 others killed in Miami boat crash

FOX News

Miami Marlins ace pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed Sunday morning after a boat crash in Miami Beach, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Fernandez was one of three people killed in the early morning accident.

"The Miami Marlins organization is devastated by the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez," a team statement said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time."

Fernandez posted a photo of his girlfriend sporting a "baby bump" on his Instagram page last week, announcing that the couple were expecting their first child.

"I'm so glad you came into my life," Fernandez wrote in that post. "I'm ready for where this journey is gonna take us together."

Marlins manager Don Mattingly was in tears and visibly shaken during a Sunday afternoon news conference.

"I see such a little boy," Mattingly said. "The way he played, there was just joy with him when he played."

When leaving the news conference, leftfielder Christian Yellich and second baseman Dee Gordon wrapped their arms around each other and walked out somberly with other team members. Earlier, Gordon had walked out to the mound at Marlins Park, where the grounds crew had painted a "16" -- Fernandez's number -- and placed a Marlins cap. Gordon stood looking at the tribute before kneeling down in a moment of silent reflection.

"Sadly, the brightest lights are often the ones that extinguish the fastest," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in a statement.

Sunday's game between the Marlins and the Atlanta Braves in Miami was cancelled after the death of the star right hander. MLB announced a moment of silence would be held for Fernandez before each game on Sunday.

"All of baseball is shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "He was one of our game's great young stars who made a dramatic impact on and off the field since his debut in 2013. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, the Miami Marlins organization and all of the people he touched in his life."

Chief Petty Officer Nyxolyno Cangemi told The Associated Press that a Coast Guard patrol boat spotted an overturned boat at 3:30 a.m. on a jetty near Government Cut. The bodies were discovered a short time later. Officials said no one was wearing a life vest.

Because the boat was on a jetty, the Coast Guard notified Miami-Dade police, which turned the investigation over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Fernandez was on a 32-foot vessel that had a "severe impact" with the jetty, said Lorenzo Veloz of the Fish Commission.

Veloz said the boat was found upside down. Two bodies were found under the vessel and one was found in the water by divers. The boat was traveling full speed and was demolished.

There was no evidence of alcohol or illegal substances being a factor in the crash.

The names of the other two individuals are being withheld pending notification of relatives, the Coast Guard said.

"It does appear that speed was involved due to the impact and the severity of it," Veloz said. "It does appear to be that they were coming at full speed when they encountered the jetty, and the accident happened."

The boat was owned by a friend of Fernandez's, Veloz said.

"It does pertain to a friend of Jose who is very well connected with several Marlins players and I have stopped that boat before for safety inspections with other Marlins players on board," Veloz said. "We know that this boat knows the area. We just can't answer why this happened."

City of Miami Fire-Rescue workers were seen carrying bodies, draped and on stretchers, at the Coast Guard station after sunrise Sunday.

Fernandez was born in Cuba and he attempted to defect three times before finally reaching the U.S. in 2007 with his mother.

Marlins Team President David Samson recalled a common refrain Fernandez would utter to those who were born in the U.S.: "You were born into freedom, you don't understand freedom."

During his journey at sea, Fernandez's mom, Maritza, fell off the boat. Fernandez dove into the ocean to save her.

“I dove to help a person not thinking who that person was,” Fernandez told The Miami Herald in 2013. “Imagine when I realized it was my own mother. If that does not leave a mark on you for the rest of your life, I don’t know what will.”

He played in just 27 games in the minor leagues, reaching the Single-A level in 2012 before he was selected to the Marlins' Opening Day roster in 2013 at the age of 20.

In 76 career games, Fernandez was 38-17 with a 2.43 ERA and 589 strikeouts in 471 1/3 innings.

A two-time All-Star, Fernandez won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2013. He appeared headed for another stellar season in 2014, but after eight starts his year was derailed when it was revealed Fernandez would need Tommy John surgery. He returned from the procedure to make 11 starts in 2015.

Fernandez was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA and an MLB-best 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 2016. He was considered a strong contender for the NL Cy Young Award.

Fernandez's final game was Sept. 20 in Miami against the NL East division champion Washington Nationals. He pitched eight shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out 12. It was his ninth game of the season with at least 11 strikeouts. He was due to pitch Monday against the New York Mets.

Fernandez's death was not the first time an MLB pitcher died during a boating mishap. In 1993, two Cleveland Indians pitchers – Steve Olin, 27, and Tim Crews, 31 – were killed in a boating accident on Little Lake Nellie in Clermont, Fla., The Plain Dealer reported. Bobby Ojeda, a third Indians pitcher, suffered serious scalp injuries, but lived.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.