Monday, December 28, 2009

Sports Media Update - December 28th

Looking back on the sports media for the zeros, it might have been the decade with the biggest change in terms of coverage. Most good, some not.

Topping the "good" list is the shear number of pro and college games which are televised. The vast majority of pro games are shown in at least one team's market. Many MLB, NBA, and even NHL teams show every game in their market. In addition, the number of national or regional telecasts has increased.

Baseball fans now have network games available on Sundays (TBS in the afternoon and ESPN at night), Mondays (ESPN), Wednesdays (ESPN), Thursdays (MLB Network), and Saturdays (Fox). The addition of the great MLB Network in 2009 also brought us Saturday night telecasts along with some afternoon games and special telecasts throughout the season.

NBA fans have the ESPN/ABC and TNT packages, and now NBA-TV picks up an average of 3 games each week from local telecasts, resulting in at least 4 nights per week of national games. Those NHL fans who can get Versus and NHL Network also get about 4 national telecasts each week, plus those on NBC-TV on Sundays from January on into the playoffs.

The pro league networks (MLB Network, NBA TV, NHL Network) have enhanced coverage of their respective sports beyond belief with extended studio shows including live "look-ins" and instant statistics on games being played. With these shows, along with ESPN producing Baseball Tonight and NBA Tonight, the amount of immediate surrounding coverage of pro games has reached an all-time high. For those of us who grew up before cable TV and the majority of games being televised, this is all an incredible transition, especially during the last part of this decade.

The NFL Network brought us extended game day coverage, along with the ability to replay edited game telecasts throughout the week, as well as providing extended previews and interviews.

On the college sports scene, the number of college football games televised has increased significantly, especially from regional networks from the likes of Fox Sports and Comcast, among others including the Big Ten Network. This past season, it wasn't unusual to have between 5 and 8 early afternoon live telecasts to choose from.

A greater presence from the regional TV networks has brought a local expanded version of a SportsCenter show to most markets. Fans now have a choice for their late night TV highlights and wrapup like never before.

Radio has seen an increase in the number of all sports stations around the country, including most markets now having more than one station competing against each other.

In addition, fans with online access can usually track up to the minute scores and in-game statistics for any and all games they are following. Some teams and web sites are now providing highlights and replays available within minutes.

Combined, it is amazing how easy and wonderful it is to be able to keep track of all of the games every night, whether by TV, radio, or online. And amazing how much our ability to do just that increased during this decade.

So what's not so good about it? All of this game coverage, as great as it is, has come at the expense of the sportscast. Radio and TV sportscasts have generally gone down hill in the past few years. What used to be breaking news and game related statistics has turned into the rumor mill. Reporters seem to spend more time speculating about trades and signings than on trying to break stories. Too much of the "reporting" is about what might happen instead of what did happen. Or by the time it does happen, it doesn't seem like hot news anymore.

Many of the game broadcasts and telecasts have become way too cluttered. While I understand that more advertisers are needed to support the huge broadcast rights fees, the added commercial and promotional time is taking away from us fans getting more information. I'll expand on this point in the weeks to come, but pre-game shows and game telecast and broadcast openings are so cluttered that important information about the game gets delayed. There are too many times when we get 15 minutes of commercials and fluff and don't even get starting lineup information until the game itself is already underway. That needs to change.

But overall, great strides this decade in terms of being able to keep up with all of our favorite sports!

Yet, as we think back on some of the most memorable stories of the decade, it is amazing how much the media played a part in some of them, instead of keeping it to what happened on the field, court, or rink.

And for that matter, possibly next decade. Case in point is Tiger Woods. I, for one, have no second thoughts about Tiger Woods being named Athlete of the Decade for the zeros, even though I am not a fan of the pro golf tours. He clearly was the most dominant at his sport. Yet, the excessive amount of air time because of his recent indiscretions has caused some to question that selection. However, all of this media attention to something that had no impact on the number of tournaments he won, has led to Tiger looking to play in FEWER tournaments in the near future, which could impact his chances for setting more records as we start the next 10 years.

Radio and TV played a huge part in a post-season baseball moment. In the 2003 NLCS when Steve Bartman went for a foul ball that could have been a crucial out for the Chicago Cubs against the Florida Marlins, we had no idea who this person was. If the Chicago Fox-TV affiliate hadn't pursued it and put his name out on the airwaves the next day, we wouldn't know who he is. We shouldn't. So instead of baseball fans remembering the Marlins' comeback in the NLCS to get to the World Series, the memory is overshadowed by a fan who attended one of the games. After all, Bartman didn't play in the 7th game the next night. Yet, the media made him the story instead.

Another instance is what the media did not do. This decade began with the most exciting end of a Super Bowl game. Tennessee and St. Louis in the January 2000 Super Bowl game battled right down to literally the last second at the 1 yard line. Yet, I still can't believe that the game announcers and the network reporters covering the game weren't taking it a step further. As in, one more step to the end zone. Had the Titans scored on that last play, they would have had to choose whether to kick the PAT for the tie or to go for the 2-point conversion and either win or lose the Super Bowl right there.

Now there was a discussion which should have dominated the talk during that last drive, and even for days after. But it hardly even came up. It would have been fascinating to see what percentage of fans would have gone for the win since there was no guarantee that the Titans would have won the coin toss for overtime or even touched the ball. Yet, even the possibility wasn't raised. I still can't believe that. And the lack of that discussion, even though it didn't come to pass, was overlooked by the media.

Here's hoping for a Happy New Year and New Decade for all of you, and for another 10 years of great sports memories. On the field, court, and ice!

Meanwhile, so much has been written and said already about the untimely death of George Michael last week. (By the way, some airchecks of his top 40 days in Philly are available via It is hard to believe he is gone, and that he was only 70 years of age.

Many people are just now learning of his accomplishments above and beyond his "George Michael Sports Machine" Sunday TV show. He was a top 40 DJ on Philadelphia's Famous 56 WFIL from 1966 to 1974. (One of his engineers at that station was Howard Eskin, as in the long time WIP sports host.)

George went on to New York and did play-by-play for the N.Y. Islanders, as well as some filling in on Howard Cosell's "Speaking of Sports" radio shows. He reportedly turned down an offer to replace Lindsey Nelson on Mets TV before going to Washington D. C. and WRC-TV, where the Sports Machine show was eventually born. Now I feel as though the moment I get to heaven, he'll be there to show me highlights from everyone else already there.

Back to the current week. NBC-TV has "flexed" its muscles and moved the N.Y. Jets game against Cincinnati into its final Sunday Night Football telecast of this season. In addition, Fox has moved the Philly at Dallas game from an early slot to its doubleheader game on Sunday afternoon.

With all of the college bowl games coming up, there is a ton of games to watch in bringing in the new year and decade. Yet, I'm disappointed that the decade begins with Pat Summerall coming back to call the Cotton Bowl for Fox next Saturday afternoon from Cowboys Stadium. On his recent comebacks for NFL games he has managed to sound even more boring than ever before. Hardly the over hyped bowl game banter we are used to. The Westwood One Radio broadcast looks like a good alternative with the TV sound on mute, since Cowboys voice Brad Sham will call the game with former UCLA coach Terry Donahue on color.

NBA-TV picks up an increased share of telecasts this week while ESPN focuses on the bowl games:

Tues. Dec. 29 - Cleveland at Atlanta
Weds. Dec. 30 - Boston at Phoenix
Fri. Jan. 1 - New York at Atlanta
Sat. Jan. 2 - Denver at Utah
Sun. Jan. 3 - San Antonio at Toronto

INDIANAPOLIS: John "JMV" Vincent has left WNDE 1260 where he aired from 3 to 7 PM most recently, ending a 10 year stint at the station. At least for now, he continues working weekends at WTHR-TV.

St. LOUIS: Bob Stelton is the newest addition to ESPN 101.1 FM, and is expected to begin on the air next week.

Happy New Year!!

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