Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sports Media Report - Oct. 27th update

Media impacts perception, especially for sports fans. The post-season baseball games have served to sour the feelings about the quality of umpiring. Cameras have shown us some extremely questionable calls, led by the fair ball called foul in the Yankees ALDS series against Minnesota which could have turned around the outcome. There was the "2 men near third base with only one called out" call in the ALCS, which also went in favor of the victorious (in the series) Yankees.

Understandably, cries go out for MLB to add replays more often than the current determination of where a batted ball lands.

However, questioned ball and strike calls are adding to this mix. Fox and TBS both have used numerous replays with their own technology to attack pitch calls by the umpires. These pitch calls are subjective. I don't know that a computer can determine the exact angle and strike zone, especially as some hitters make adjustments with their stance and/or positioning in the batter's box during an at-bat or from one plate appearance to the next.

I think MLB needs to step in and ask the networks, along with local telecasts, to stop using the on-screen chart of the strike zone when replaying a ball or strike call. The networks will argue this is a part of their thorough coverage. My argument to them is that balls vs. strikes are subjective, and should be handled differently than a fair ball or runner not at the base where there is a definitive call that needs to be made.

If the fans continue to believe that the officiating is not up to par, it could only lead to reduced interest on the part of the casual fan, which translates to lower ratings.

However, I do want to see MLB make an effort to improve the quality of safe vs. out and fair vs. foul calls, and not necessarily with replay involved. In football, basketball, and hockey, the officials on the field, court, and ice need to watch over the entire group of players. Not the case in baseball. Instead of a replay deciding, let the umpires have a quick huddle after a call is made.

For example, the batter hits a ball into the gap and is seen rounding 2nd and heading to 3rd. Once that batter/runner has already passed 1st base, why can't the first base umpire hustle over toward 3rd base and back up the 3rd base umpire's call? He may have a different angle on a close play.

If the TV cameras show the umpires working together and moving around to back up and have a call stand based on umpires' collective views from different angles, it would help maintain the integrity of the game. And probably some casual fans who translate into ratings.

Meanwhile, the NFL has ratings, ratings, and more ratings to boast about this fall. Sunday Night Football continues to rock NBC's world. SNF being the number one TV show on Sunday night when up against the Yankees' pennant clinching game on Fox is nothing short of amazing, considering it featured the New York Giants in the game. The show ranks in the top 3 TV shows for the current season and dominates in key demographics.

Makes it bad timing that this coming Sunday (Nov. 1) is the Sunday night without a game for this season. Especially since the time changes early Sunday morning and people would not be too tired to watch the 4th quarter.

The NBA takes over our TV sets as the new season begins this week with 4 nights in a row of national doubleheaders. This on the heels of NBA-TV working harder than the players in practice to expand distribution to 45 million homes as this season gets underway. This includes Comcast, Cox, and DirecTV. NBA-TV plans to air 96 games during the season, more than ESPN and TNT (separately). This means an average of 4 to 5 nights each week with nationally available NBA telecasts for those who don't want to pay for the league package.

As we get ready for the World Series to start, I like how both sets of sports stations in New York and Philly are teaming up to cover and discuss the Series. WFAN New York and WIP Philadelphia are combining (and streaming) their midday shows so that fans of both teams can share in the discussion and the coverage.

Even though this is not intended as a cooperative effort, by coincidence the ESPN Radio stations for both cities are doing the same idea, but in this instance it is with the 2 to 7 PM shows.

Normally I prefer the sports radio present player and coach interviews along with opinions and predictions from other current and former players and executives. But letting fans of both teams have an equal say could add some spice as well. That is way more entertaining than putting on fans who all root for the same team to make the same not-so-bold predictions hour after hour.

Only thing not right about this is that they are only planning to do this for the first game, at least as of press time. This should go on every day through the day after the World Series ends.

CHICAGO: The powers that be at ESPN Radio seem set on getting the most out of their radio contract for the World Series. WMVP 1000 which is ESPN Radio Chicago is airing every game live of the World Series entirely, even at the expense of their Chicago Bulls NBA broadcasts.

The Bulls' season opening game on Thursday vs. San Antonio, along with their 3rd game of the season from Miami on Sunday, are being moved to another AM station so that ESPN Radio can air World Series Game 2 and 4 broadcasts. If the Series goes to a 7th game, or if weather forces postponements and there is a Game on Thursday Nov. 5th, it would impact a third Bulls broadcast.

I'm sure the Bulls are not pleased about this, as a station carrying an out-of-town broadcast ahead of a local team is rare. The fans in Chicago are not exactly gushing over an East Coast matchup in the World Series, but they want to know if Derrick Rose is going to be healthy enough to play a lot of minutes early in the season. This does not look like a local decision, especially with WMVP and rival WSCR 670 "The Score" both with increased ratings and doing close battle for listeners.

St. LOUIS: Speaking of sports station battles, congrats are in order for WXOS 101.FM which has another ratings success story. It finished in the top 10 for the market in men 25-54, while neither KFNS 590 or KSLG 1380 cracked the top 15 in that category. WXOS just began as a sports station at the first of this year, while KFNS broadcast the Cardinals games during their highly successful regular season (which was in progress during the ratings period discussed). Now that's impressive!

HOUSTON: Still no announcement yet about a morning drive co-host for KBME 790 although a series of co-hosts continue. On Tuesday (Oct. 27), the host was former Cincinnati radio talker Andy Furman.

College hoops fans in the Houston area, especially those who follow SEC teams, have reason for concern. The Conference's regional 62-game basketball package has yet to be picked up by any of the Houston stations. Channel 55 has been airing the football package, but those games are all on Saturdays.

PHOENIX: While the NHL Coyotes struggle with ownership this week, Fox Sports Arizona has stepped up and increased its TV coverage by adding eight more telecasts to bring its schedule to 57 games. However, as it stands now, these eight telecasts will probably be on tape delay due to scheduling conflicts.

Elsewhere, the sports media lost a pair of long time voices within the past few days, both with life-long local followings.

New York Rangers fans who go back a few years all remember Bill Chadwick from his 14 seasons doing commentary. The "Big Whistle", who officiated in 13 Stanley Cup clinching games years earlier, passed away at the age of 94. Chadwick worked with Marv Albert for five seasons on Rangers radio (yes - 'the' Marv Albert) and then teamed with Jim Gordon for nine seasons on the telecasts.

Southern and eastern Kentucky natives lost a "friend" when Jay Lasslo passed on at the age of 84 late last week. The World War II veteran did play-by-play of high school and local sports events going back to WSGS Hazard in 1956. He called his last high school hoops game at the state championships in 1996 and retired a few months later.

College football TV viewers have become spoiled in the past 15 years. Before then, it was front page news if your team's game was going to be one of the two or three games that might be available on a Saturday. Period.

Yet, this coming Saturday (Halloween), some fans are upset because they won't be able to see the Texas A & M vs. Iowa State game. It wasn't picked up by any of the TV networks or stations. While I understand the frustration, the other side of the coin shows that five of the six Big 12 games will be televised on at least a regional basis.

Nebraska vs. Baylor airs at 12:30 ET on Versus. Fox Sports (regional) has Missouri vs. Colorado at 12:30 CT and then Kansas State vs. Oklahoma at 6 p.m. CT. ABC has Kansas-Texas Tech at 2:30 CT as a regional game and Texas-Oklahoma State will air in prime time on ABC or ESPN2.

The regional/national tentative College Football schedule, ET:

Thursday, Oct. 29
7:30: North Carolina at Virginia Tech, ESPN

Friday, Oct. 30
8:00: West Virginia at South Florida, ESPN2

Saturday, Oct. 31
12:00: New Mexico St. at Ohio St., BTN
12:00: Indiana at Iowa, ESPN
12:00: Purdue at Wisconsin, ESPN2
12:00: Cincinnati at Syracuse, ESPNU
12:30: Nebraska at Baylor, Versus

3:30: Michigan at Illinois, ABC
3:30: Florida at Georgia, CBS
3:30: Temple at Navy, CBS College
3:30: Miami (Fla.) at Wake Forest, ESPN2
3:30: Central Michigan at Boston College, ESPNU
4:00: Nevada-Las Vegas at Texas Christian, Versus
4:30: Penn St. at Northwestern, ESPN

7:00: Eastern Michigan at Arkansas, ESPNU
7:30: New Mexico at San Diego St., CBS College
7:30: Washington State vs. Notre Dame (at San Antonio), NBC
7:45: South Carolina at Tennessee, ESPN
8:00: Southern Cal at Oregon, ABC or ESPN2
8:00: Michigan St. at Minnesota, BTN
8:00: Texas at Oklahoma St., ESPN2 or ABC

Sunday Nov 1
8:15: Marshall at Central Florida, ESPN

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