It has been a number of years since MLB has done something to actually please the long-time traditional avid fans and purists. The new MLB cable TV network, on schedule to begin this coming January appears to be just the ticket.
They are not looking to let greed overshadow the way it did for NFL-TV and NBA-TV, leaving both of those either not available at all or only on additional pay tiers thus limiting their exposure to hard core fans.
The MLB channel is going to start out on digital basic via Comcast, Cablevision, and Time-Warner, which tranlates to more than 50,000,000 TV households and covers many of the larger markets. Still months from its debut, the households lined up already outnumber the NFL-TV by more than 10,000,000. Word is that Direct TV will also offer this channel as part of its basic fan, which adds a majority of "non-cable" TV households as well.
But the fans win with a lot more than just a large number of households. This new channel promises "at least 2 hours" of live studio coverage every night during the season, starting next April, with live cut-ins and updated scores and interviews. Simply put, ESPN's Baseball Tonight will have some competition. The network also plans to run a live game telecast each Saturday night, which will be a separate and non-conflicting package from ESPN's nights, Fox, or TBS. The MLB Network is still considering replaying entire games overnight and/or the following day in season, and using its vast library to show classic games and highlights.
It's about time! I have to believe national and regional advertisers will make this a success. More importantly for the fans, this is not about greed and having consumers pay extra for this channel even if they don't want it. I'm among the many who believe that the teams, leagues, and cable and satellite companies shouldn't get away with overlooking how people already pay for cable or satellite TV. Telecasts involving local teams should never be blacked out, let alone expecting fans to pay more to see "extra" games. After months of reading and writing about the battles surrounding NFL Network, Big Ten Network, and others, it's nice to have MLB doing it right with their new venture. Batter up.
This info came to the surface hours after the word that ESPN's coverage of the Home Run Derby has become the most watched program on "ad supported" cable TV in 2008, with a larger audience than even the CNN Democratic Debate in January.
Speaking of ESPN, NBA fans get an even bigger treat just before Halloween. Their first night of NBA on October 29 (after the TNT season opening doubleheader the night before) will bring an ESPN NBA triple-header. One east coast game will be moved to a 5:40 PM start, allowing ESPN a 5:30, 8:00, and 10:30 ET game telecast starts for the evening. Even though triple headers have been done during the playoffs, this will actually mark the first ever regular season triple-header. TNT makes history during the pre-season when they televise the first ever NBA outdoor game from California in October.
PHILADELPHIA: The excellent start by the Phillies is big news locally, but the folks at WIP Sports Radio aren't so sure. The latest monthly ratings show that WIP has lost almost half of its total overall listening audience from April into June. But the audience did not go to the sports competition either. WPEN 950 only showed a very slight increase but remains in the market's cellar through 2/3 of the spring ratings period.
PITTSBURGH - Paul Steigerwald has been signed for the next 2 seasons as the TV voice of the Penguins on FSN Pittsburgh. This announcement comes after rumors that Mike Lange, who called the Pen's games for 30 years, might return. Bob Errey continues as analyst. The pair will call the Penguins' season opening games from Sweeden against the Ottawa Senators as part of their 71 telecasts. Stegerwald has been with the Penguins since 1980 as a team official, radio analyst, and radio play-by-play before moving to the TV side. He also spent 10 years as a reporter on KDKA-TV.
SAN DIEGO - KOGO 600 will continue to have 2 broadcasters, rather than a play-by-play voice and analyst, on its San Diego State football broadcasts when their season starts in a few weeks. Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton, as we reported several weeks ago, is indeed out as the commentator. The replacement will be Chris Ello, midday host on XTRA 1360, has been named to the role. Ello did attend SDSU, but played baseball and not football while there. I'd sure like to think that someone played for SDSU and would be able to share his knowledge and experience on the school's broadcast, but it sure doesn't look like it. At the same time, XTRA 1360 now plans to air a national college football broadcast each Saturday, and will again carry NFL games on Sundays.
DENVER - Congrats to KOA's Alan Roach on being named as the new Public Address Announcer for the Broncos games beginning next month. Roach replaces 67 year-old Alan Cass, who held the post for the previous 20 seasons. Being at a Broncos home game will seem "In--Com--Plete" without Cass.
ATLANTA - Nice touch for FSN South and SportsSouth, adding injured pitcher John Smoltz to upcoming Sunday and Wednesday pre-game shows while he recovers. He officially joins former teammate Brian Jordan in this role.
DALLAS - Longtime Cowboys voice Brad Sham will briefly portray a reporter questioning star Josh Brolin during Brolin's portrayal of President Bush in the upcoming Oliver Stone movie, "W". It is believed that Sham having called Rangers games in the mid-90's during George W. Bush's ownership of the team helped him to land this role. They always used to say that the sportscaster was the most valuable and flexible position at radio stations, but this is quite the example.
HARTFORD - Congrats also go out to Arnie D'Angelo, known as Arnold Dean on WTIC-AM. The 78 year-old semi-retired Dean was saluted at a special dinner and ceremony in the Hartford suburb of South Windsor last week for his 60 years in broadcasting. Dean goes back to the days of doing whatever it took, including having hosted a cooking show prior to becoming Sports Director.
ALBANY - A strange twist for the upcoming NFL pre-season, as the Albany market might be able to see more N.Y. Jets exhibition games than those of the champion Giants. WRGB-TV will air the Jets' game vs. Washington and carry the CBS-TV telecast vs. the Giants, while sister station WCWN-TV will carry the Jets' 2 road telecasts. This while no local TV station has been announced to carry the 2 Giants' pre-season games not already scheduled for national TV.
PALM BEACH - Sometimes in sports the local audience isn't really local. Palm Beach's 760 ESPN Radio proves that, but the recent growth of the station (moving to a larger facility and adding more employees) shows that being different can mean being more successful, as the station celebrates its 5 year anniversary. Afternoon host Evan Cohen continues to regularly focus on New York and Boston sports, based on the large number of transplanted sports fans from those areas within the marketplace. Then most nights, the station brings play-by-play of each of the Miami area's pro sports teams. For the first quarter of 2008, 760-AM had better ratings in Palm Beach County than the strong WQAM Miami signal. The earlier part of the day, including morning drive, features the ESPN Radio lineup.
SPARTANBURG - The University of South Carolina football and basketball broadcasts will return to Spartanburg starting August 28th with the football game vs. N.C. State. ESPN 1400 will air all South Carolina football and basketball broadcasts which do not conflict with the station's established schedule for Wooford College broadcasts. No word yet as to whether conflicting games will be broadcast on tape delay or moved elsewhere.