Behind the Broadcast: NBC Sports Group planning another big Spa summer

We are just over three weeks away from the start of the Saratoga racing season. And what a better ti

News and random thoughts as I am installing a sports bar on my ark.

– We are just over three weeks away from the start of the Saratoga racing season. And what a better time to give you the television coverage that will be provided by the NBC Sports Group.

The third year of “Summer at Saratoga” series begins July 27 at 5 p.m. with the Diana and Jim Dandy Stakes on NBC Sports Network. The next two broadcasts will be on NBC and seen locally on WNYT (Ch. 13). On Aug. 3, it will be the Whitney Invitational Handicap, and on Aug. 10, it will be the Fourstardave Handicap. Both telecasts start at 5.

On Aug. 11, NBCSN has the Adirondack and Saratoga Special at 5. The Aug. 17 broadcast on NBCSN is the Alabama Stakes and Sword Dancer Invitational at 5.

The big broadcast is Aug. 24, when NBC televises the Travers Stakes and King’s Bishop at 4:30. The Travers Stakes could see the three winners of this year’s Triple Crown races — Orb (Kentucky Derby), Oxbow (Preakness Stakes) and Palace Malice (Belmont Stakes).

The series concludes Aug. 31 on NBCSN with the Bernard Baruch Handicap, the Forego Stakes and Woodward Stakes. Coverage starts at 4.

– The Chicago Blackhawks’ thrilling Stanley Cup-clinching

3-2 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 6 Monday night earned NBC a 4.7 rating and was seen by 8.16 million viewers. Those numbers are up 52 percent and 66 percent, respectively, versus last year (3.1 and 4.929 million viewers).

The series-clinching contest was the second-most watched Stanley Cup finals Game 6 since 1994, trailing only Chicago’s 2010 series-clinching Game 6 against Philadelphia (June 9, 2010, 8.279 million).

Some final numbers. The six-game Cup final averaged a 3.3 rating and 5.764 million viewers for NBC Sports Group, making it the most-watched on record (since 1994), and up 83 percent (1.8) and 91 percent (3.012 million), respectively, versus last year. Maybe the rating and average viewers would have been higher had Games 2 and 3 not been on NBC Sports Network. I hope, in the future, the NHL and NBC can guarantee all Stanley Cup finals games are on NBC Sports and not NBCSN.

For the entire playoffs, NBC, NBCSN and CNBC combined to average 1.467 million viewers for 84 games, making it the most-watched Stanley Cup playoffs on record (since 1994), and up 18 percent versus last year (1.241 million for 81 games).

The playoffs set new records for NBCSN, averaging 1.209 million viewers for 55 games, up 17 percent versus last year (1.030 million, 52 games).

NBCSN and CNBC combined to average 1.000 million viewers over 72 playoff games, making it the most-watched post-season on cable since 1999 (ESPN/ESPN2, 1.022 million).

– You still have time to give me your thoughts on NBC NHL analyst Pierre McGuire and why you either like or dislike him. Email your thoughts to [email protected]

– Bill Raftery, who has been a fixture on ESPN’s college basketball coverage for over 30 years, is leaving the network to join FOX Sports 1, it was announced Thursday.

The 70-year-old Raftery will be the lead analyst for FOX Sports 1’s Big East conference coverage. Gus Johnson is the lead play-by-play announcer.

“I was fortunate to work at ESPN since its inception, and I’ll be forever grateful to all the talented, professional people who supported me along the way. I leave with nothing but terrific memories and friendships,” Raftery said in a statement. “Today, though, we turn the page. I’ve been associated with the Big East Conference since it began, and I feel the same excitement and anticipation now as I did way back then as the conference is re-born with FOX Sports. I’m really looking forward to being reunited with my former CBS partner, Gus Johnson, whose style I love and passion for college basketball is unmatched.”

In a statement, ESPN said, “We completely understand his interest in remaining associated with the core group of schools that he’s been part of for 30-plus years. We wish him the absolute best in his next chapter and thank him for his incredible contributions to ESPN.”

Raftery, who is best know for saying “Onions!” when a big play is made, will continue to call NCAA tournament games for CBS Sports.

– While one analyst is leaving ESPN, another one is staying.

College football analyst Kirk Herbstreit signed a contract extension Thursday. He will remain with ESPN through 2022. In ad­dition to his role as lead analyst on ABC’s Saturday night telecasts and his work on ESPN’s “College GameDay” pregame show, Herbstreit appear every Tuesday on ESPN’s “College Football Live,” pairing him with ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd.

“I’ve always felt that ESPN and ABC are the home of college football, and even more so now that they have the College Football Playoff for 12 years, Herbstreit said in a statement. “Considering the opportunities that lay ahead and the great people I get to work with every day, it was an easy dec­ision to stay with the company that gave me my start.”

– In case you missed it, the Canadian Football League kicked off Thursday night. And American viewers should get to see every game, either on TV or the Internet.

NBCSN and NBCSN HD tel­evised Thursday’s game between Montreal and Winnipeg. The network will have 13 more regular-season games, the conference finals and Grey Cup.

ESPN will have 60 CFL games, with 55 of them on its Internet channel ESPN3. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise five games, with the first being today at 3:30 p.m. when Saskatchewan visits Edmonton.

– Finally, the Tour de France begins today at 7 a.m. on NBCSN and NBCSN HD.

I have to wonder if this cycling event is worth the coverage anymore. It seems like there are more and more cyclists caught cheating during this event.

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