Monday, January 4, 2010

Sports Media Report - January 4th update

Unfortunately, the loss of a unique journalist and broadcaster starts out the new year and decade, even if his age is 87. Sorry to learn of the death of Bill Gleason this past weekend, the long long time Chicago columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Southtown Economist. Yet, many around country knew of him for helping to pioneer the concept of regularly scheduled sports writers appearing on electronic media.

Back in 1975, WGN Radio Chicago decided to experiment with some Sunday afternoon time following Cubs or Bears broadcasts, and gave an hour to a group of local sports writers to discuss the sports news of the week with strong opinion. The "experiment" soon went permanent and expanded. In the late 1980's, "The Sports Writers on TV" was formed by then SportsChannel Chicago, and was also shown in other "SportsChannel" cities including Los Angeles. Anyone who saw or heard this show knows how programs such as "The Sports Reporters" on ESPN got started and evolved into others such as PTI. Those shows will continue to serve as reminders of what Bill Gleason helped to start.

When I was covering games in the Chicago area for radio in the mid to late 70's, I always enjoyed my talks with Bill Gleason. He was one of the rare breed that always wanted to hear ideas and opinions of others, regardless of their age. I miss him already.

It's hard to believe how much sports media space leading into the new year and decade was taken up by the anxious moments while cable and satellite providers negotiated with TV networks about carrying of programming. Some of the negotiations had a "happy" ending, while others didn't. But it has gotten out of hand.

Some cities nearly lost all of the Fox-TV channels, both cable and over-the-air. Others still don't get NFL Network after literally years of "negotiations". Around the country, the cable and satellite operators blame the networks, and vise versa. You know what? It's time to blame them all.

Suppose you just signed up for new cell phone service, but then the carrier tells you that with this plan you can only call certain area codes but not others. You would, of course, be outraged. For years you have been able to call into any and every area code you want.

Suppose you just signed up for internet broadband service for a monthly fee. And then found out that you could not log on to certain social networks because the only broadband provider in your building doesn't access them. That wouldn't fly, would it?

Yet, cable and satellite TV providers are in effect doing this to us. Why are they getting away with it? Who are they to tell us which channels and networks we can and can't watch?

Every one of us, whether cable or satellite should incur a minimal monthly charge for the service the company we select is providing, as well as to receive all of the local over-the-air channels serving our area. Beyond that, it should be the choice of the customer.

We all have seen how much cable/satellite monthly fees have skyrocketed over the past five years. For what? The cable/satellite company we hire still provides the same services and benefits.

Any and all additional channels and networks should be available to us for an optional additional fee. No matter where we live (in the U.S.) we should be able to get the NFL Network, Versus, Big Ten Network, and others, if we want it and if we want to pay the price for it. Period.

Most sports fans are not able to receive every sports channel they want, and it isn't about price. Choices are limited. But it is just as unfair that people who are not sports fans are also paying several dollars each month for sports channels they don't even watch.

I don't have any small children in my household. Yet, I'm paying each month for kids' channels. I am forced to pay for channels in languages I do not speak or understand, and channels dedicated to religions I do not participate in. Along with others that for whatever reason I never watch. All this while I can't get certain sports channels I would pay a couple bucks more a month to get.

Where is our government to protect us from this? I'm sure many of you remember the period in the early 80's when local politicians were setting regulations for cable companies to install and build their local systems, subject to government approval. And when regulations about back yard satellite dishes were put in place. If there was or is some government control, then where did it go?

Currently, I am looking into starting a web site and pursuing avenues to alert local politicians that TV viewers everywhere deserve to make their own choices. I would rather do that than read article after article from around the country about networks blaming cable companies and how sports fans are often deprived of watching sports events that are important to them.

Of course, this is not only an attack on the networks and the cable/satellite providers. Going to an a la carte channel selection across the country would level the playing field for all concerned. Any of the channels and networks that charge too much will feel it in the wallet, too.

Overall, it now costs way too much to be a sports fan. Not only is going to games getting priced out, but the cost to simply watch games on TV is getting out of hand. Now it's time for us as fans to negotiate.

Meanwhile, NBA-TV continues to step up its game coverage. While ESPN and TNT offer a reduced load of national games surrounding the New Year holiday, the Network is offering games every possible night. On Tuesday night (Jan. 5), NBA-TV is presenting a live doubleheader picking up local telecasts. The Network has added the Orlando at Indiana game at 7 PM ET and studio analysis as a lead in to its Fan Night voted selection of Houston at the L.A. Lakers at 10:30 PM ET.

What makes this wonderfully unique from the ESPN and TNT doubleheaders is that NBA-TV will devote at least 7 hours of live coverage for the night. In addition to a full pre-game show before the first telecast and post-game wrapup after the second, there could be nearly one hour between games with studio analysis.

NBC-TV finishes the regular season with 15 "wins" in the Sunday night ratings for its 16 weeks of telecasts. No surprise that the Jets game vs. Cincinnati scored well in the ratings at the start, but for the numbers to hold up in spite of the game being a blowout speaks well for the NBC team.

For the upcoming weekend, NBC has slated Tom Hammond, Joe Gibbs, and Joe Theismann to call the Jets rematch at Cincinnati for Saturday's first game. Then at 8 PM ET, the A team of Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth will call the Dallas vs. Philadelphia rematch.

Then, on Sunday, CBS will have the Ravens–Pats game at 1 PM ET with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, while FOX will have the next game at 4:30 ET with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman calling the Green Bay vs. Arizona rematch.

As one who does not like having this Wild Card weekend anyway, the thought of 3 of the games being a one-week-later rematch takes away even more, but the show must go on.

The MLB Network continues to improve seemingly every week. This Wednesday (Jan. 6th) features the debut of Peter Gammons, who begins with the Network's telecast of the Hall of Fame announcement.

ESPN is producing the Big East (Conference) Network Game of the Week in regional syndication this season, and has lined up a group of TV stations that will cover 41% of the U.S. The list of cities covered includes the usual suspects such as NYC, Chicago, Philly, Boston, D.C., Hartford, and Pittsburgh among others. What makes this year's group of stations so interesting is that markets including Tampa, Orlando, and Los Angeles are also included, with L.A. being among the first-timers. Pretty soon it might be called the "Big Deal" game of the week.

MIAMI: The WFTL group of AM stations which feature regional and national sports programming primarily north of Miami have just hired a well known Miami area sports personality for afternoon drive starting next week.

Ed Kaplan will handle the 4 to 7 PM spot on 640 AM and 2 other stations which also carry the same feed. Since being let go by WQAM in 2007, Kaplan had been retired until this past October when WFTL brought him in to host Yankees related programming surrounding the recent World Series broadcasts.

Kaplan is a pioneer of sorts in the market. He was the first to host a sports show on WQAM when it was still a mostly music station in 1986, and helped to transition 560 into a full-time sports station. For those not old enough to remember Sonny Hirsch on WKAT in the late 1960's, Kaplan introduced a lot of sports fans to this format.

CINCINNATI: Quick recoveries sometimes happen on the field, but it is great to see this one in broadcasting. Ken Broo was on the air on Sunday (Jan. 3) from Noon to 3 PM on "SportsTalk" on WLW. Quite an accomplishment, considering that Broo, also Sports Director of Channel 5 TV, had emergency heart surgery on December 24th after one artery was discovered as being completely blocked. Now that's a Happy New Year!

No comments: