Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sports Media Report - December 15th update

Last week it was the announcement about the sports radio station taking over sportscasts for a TV station in West Palm Beach. Now comes an announcement of a media partnership between Dallas' KTCK-AM The Ticket and the Dallas Morning News for some content sharing among reporters and columnists.

Supposedly, neither is about revenue. Even if it is not about money in either case (and other similar agreements underway and to come), as a sports fan I don't like it.

My "problem" with this is that I come from the old school where reporters and columnists were supposed to be finding and breaking sports "news". It's bad enough that the "news" on so many of today's sportscasts are rumors and possible trades and signings. Too much "reporting" what some other outlet is reporting, instead of actually reporting.

The idea was to be the reporter covering a team practice when an injury took place or a player or coach made a significant quote that would become big news. And the hope that I could get it on the air before anyone else had the chance to find out and report it.

During the years I taught a college sportscasting course I would preach being on the lookout and doing what you have to do to scoop the competition. But if these cross-promotion arrangements continue to grow, there won't be any "competition" or desire to break a story.

One of my favorite examples of breaking a story game in the early 80's in Chicago. Johnny Morris, then the lead sportscaster for CBS' WBBM-TV, was excellent when it came to reporting on the Bears (for whom he was a star at wide receiver years earlier) and the NFL.

However, Morris suffered when it came to the other sports. I still remember his "report" on the night before the 1981 baseball strike when he went on TV live from Comiskey Park and claimed that there would not really be any strike - hours before it happened for real.

Yet, months later, Morris was the first to report that Mike Ditka was being hired by George Halas as the new Head Coach of the Chicago Bears. Morris totally scooped every other TV station, radio station, and newspaper. How did he do that? It turned out he assigned a crew to literally stake out George Halas' apartment and cornered Ditka minutes after the signing actually took place. That move not only redeemed his baseball flub, but showed me one of the best reporting moves ever.

I can't help but think that today, with TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and web sites all forming partnerships, we fans won't benefit from reporters competing and digging for stories. We'll be stuck with a bunch of rumors and wait for a few of them to come true.

Meanwhile, a big week for a few sportscasters.

Sports Illustrated has selected its "Top National Announcer" of the decade. If you are waiting for the winner to be Al Michaels, Jim Nantz, Mike Torico, or Joe Buck, you'll be surprised. The selection is Dan Shulman of ESPN. Shulman works with Dick Vitale and is probably the lead announcer for its college hoops telecasts, as well as calling NBA games for ESPN and ABC. In addition, he calls some Wednesday Night Baseball games for ESPN. Good choice.

Dick Enberg has decided to stay closer to home at the age of 74 and reduce his role with CBS Sports. In fact, he is only commited to U.S. Open and Wimbledon tennis and some fill-in assignments after the current NFL season. Yet, he is not retiring. Enberg joins the San Diego Padres TV booth beginning in the spring. This gives Padres fans something to look forward to. Having been working in the Los Angeles area during the mid-80's when Enberg "came back" to do about 40 Angels radio broadcasts for one season, I can tell you how under appreciated he is as a baseball announcer. This will also give the Padres seemingly hundreds of years of broadcast experience, as ageless Jerry Coleman is confirmed to return to the radio booth for at least the 2010 season.

Enberg is also being inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame this week, along with Keith Jackson and others. Well deserved on all counts.

Joe Theismann returns as an analyst, this time for NBC for its NFL Wild Card playoff coverage. NBC will put Theismann along with former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs together for one of its January 9th playoff telecasts. Tom Hammond will call play-by-play to complete the crew.

Peter Gammons will soon jump over from ESPN to MLB Network and should thrive even more with expanded airtime. As hard as it is to believe that MLB Network can improve even more, this is another positive move. In addition, the Network promises more "special day" coverage such as trade deadline days. Another report says the Network is working a series featuring highlights or photos from every no-hitter ever thrown.

ESPN has announced that its 2010 MLB season opening telecast on April 4th will be the Yankees and Red Sox opening the season from Fenway Park. It's good to see ESPN once again feature the season opener of the World Champs (whoever it is). Hopefully this will stick as a tradition. The previous Yankees vs. Red Sox season opener was 2005, with the Red Sox then coming off the World Championship.

On the NFL side, NBC will stick with them Cowboys as their Dec. 27 Sunday Night Football game against Washington. They are banking on the Cowboys continuing to be ratings gold. This is an interesting decision, however. CBS then moved its Denver at Philadelphia telecast into the doubleheader game slot that day. That could be a "survival" game for Denver, whereas Washington only has the rivalry to play for in prime time.

It will also be most interesting to see the ratings comparison, especially in head-to-head markets for this Sunday's late games. Cinci vs. San Diego going up against Green Bay at Pittsburgh makes for interesting competition. Jim Nantz and Phil Sims have the Cinci vs. S.D. game call on CBS.

Since we get requests, here are the NFL telecast schedules for the next 2 weekends:

Week 15:
Thursday, Dec. 17
8:20: Indianapolis at Jacksonville, NFL Network

Saturday, Dec. 19
8:20: Dallas at New Orleans, NFL Network

Sunday, Dec. 20
1:00: Chicago at Baltimore, Fox
1:00: New England at Buffalo, CBS
1:00: Arizona at Detroit, Fox
1:00: Cleveland at Kansas City, CBS
1:00: Atlanta at N.Y. Jets, Fox
1:00: San Francisco at Philadelphia, Fox
1:00: Houston at St. Louis, CBS
1:00: Miami at Tennessee, CBS
4:05: Oakland at Denver, CBS
4:05: Cincinnati at San Diego, CBS
4:15: Green Bay at Pittsburgh, Fox
4:15: Tampa Bay at Seattle, Fox
8:20: Minnesota at Carolina, NBC
Monday, Dec. 21
8:30: N.Y. Giants at Washington, ESPN

Friday, Dec. 25
7:30: San Diego at Tennessee, NFL Network
Sunday, Dec. 27
1:00: Buffalo at Atlanta, CBS
1:00: Kansas City at Cincinnati, CBS
1:00: Oakland at Cleveland, CBS
1:00: Seattle at Green Bay, Fox
1:00: Houston at Miami, CBS
1:00: Carolina at N.Y. Giants, Fox
1:00: Jacksonville at New England, CBS
1:00: Tampa Bay at New Orleans, Fox
1:00: Baltimore at Pittsburgh, CBS
4:05: St. Louis at Arizona, Fox
4:05: Detroit at San Francisco, Fox
4:15: N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis, CBS
4:15: Denver at Philadelphia, CBS
8:20: Dallas at Washington, NBC
Monday, Dec. 28
8:30: Minnesota at Chicago, ESPN

NBC reports that Sunday Night Football ratings are up 22% over last year through the 14 weeks thus far. CBS shows a 4% increase overall for its NFL telecasts this season. Its San Diego at Dallas telecast this past Sunday (Dec. 13) was its single highest rated telecast since 2007.

On the college hoops scene, The Big Ten Network has announced it will televise 63 of the 99 Conference basketball games starting after the first of the year. Big Ten "Super Wednesday" will feature a doubleheader as well as pre and post-game shows. Gus Johnson will serve as lead announcer.

LOS ANGELES: Speaking of broadcasting legends, while Lakers radio analyst Stu Lantz is away helping his wife recover from surgery, he isn't being replaced by just anyone. Hot Rod Hundley comes out of retirement to fill in for 6 telecasts, including the Lakers playing at Utah. Hundley, of course, called the Jazz games forever after an earlier run as analyst back when CBS-TV had the national package.

In an unfortunate coincidence, radio analyst Mychal Thompson had to miss a pair of Lakers broadcasts last week due to a death in the family. The team got Walton to fill in. No, not the recently retired legendary Bill Walton. His son, Luke, who plays for the Lakers, is on the injured list and took over the analyst duties for a couple of nights.

SAN DIEGO: Suppose they gave a college basketball telecast and nobody watched. The University of San Diego game vs. New Mexico last Wednesday (Dec. 9) answered that possibility by making it a reality. Channel 4 recieved a rating of 0.0 and a 0.0 share for eight consecutive quarter-hours. Ouch.

DALLAS: It has been confirmed that Josh Lewin will return for his 9th season calling Rangers games in 2010. His commitment means he will call at least 147 games next season, leaving off only the 3 games when he has a conflict due to being the radio voice of the San Diego Chargers.

COLUMBUS: The only pro team in town is now making an impact on the ratings. The NHL Blue Jackets are generating telecast ratings increased 38% from last year on Fox Sports Ohio through the season's first two months. The Network also reports increased viewership for games shown in the Cleveland and Cincinnati areas.

BOISE: The Boise State Broncos will have a new radio home for both football and basketball broadcasts starting next summer. KBOI 670 takes over once again after a 2-year absence. The station had carried the games since 1972 until KIDO 580 got the contract for the past two seasons. The basketball broadcasts will simulcast with KKGL 96.9. Word is that a new TV home for the Broncos will be finalized during the first quarter of 2010. Bob Behler will remain as the radio play-by-play voice.

NEW HARTFORD NY: WTLB 1310 will become ESPN Radio beginning in March, along with sister stations WIXT 1230 in Little Falls and WRNY 1350 in Rome. WTLB will continue to carry N.Y. Yankees and Giants broadcasts. Management is reportedly considering adding a local show for afternoons to cover the Mohawk Valley.

UPPER POTTSGROVE PA: WPAZ Radio 1370 has been known for its thorough high school football, basketball and baseball coverage over the years. Now, it's not known at all. This past Thursday morning (Dec. 10), the ownership group decided to pull the plug. And at 10 AM they did. Without warning or even saying goodbye to its audience.

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