Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - January 19th Update

Sorry, but the news on Wednesday about ESPN funding approximately $300 million dollars toward a University of Texas TV Network is disturbing on several levels, both from a media and sports fan position.

Of course, I can understand the reason for the network and for the University of Texas to showcase sports events not shown elsewhere, along with a reported 3 hours per day of "non-athletic fare". That this will create at least 50 jobs and allow for additional University personnel is fine.

This is a far more significant deal than NBC's to televise Notre Dame home football games each year for millions of dollars. This U of Texas Network will be a 24 hour ongoing venture.

Why does ESPN get to be so strongly involved? How will other universities stand for this? Even with deep pockets, I'm not sure ESPN has millions to spend to do this for other colleges and universities.

The announcement states that Texas sports not already covered on other TV stations and networks will be shown, which includes Big 12 games under contract with ESPN/ABC at the moment.

My hunch is that within seconds of this being made public, the Athletic Dept. at the U. of Texas has added this to its recruiting materials. They can now show athletes the school wishes to attract for its major sports programs how they would have the majority or every game they play televised and be an indirect part of the school's TV network.

Yet, other schools on the same level (such as those also in the Big 12 Conference) or below do not have this same opportunity. Is that fair for balance in college sports? Worse yet, none other than ESPN is making this possible.

As a sports fan or consumer, this is not good news for the majority of people who are not U. of Texas fans or supporters. Not only because of the competitive edge it will bring.

Here we are as sports fans complaining about how our cable and satellite monthly costs continue to rise while the number of channels we can recieve doesn't. Not to mention how most of us don't get all of the channels or services we want for sports viewing. The costs continue to rise in part because of ESPN raising or maintaining the monthly per subscriber charges to the cable and satellite companies, which of course are "passed along" to us consumers.

It's even worse for those are not sports fans but have no choice but to pony up and help the rest of us get the ESPN channels.

Now, we find out with this announcement that "our" money as cable or satellite subscribers will be used, in part, to fund an effort for the University of Texas. Yikes.

Meanwhile, the U. of Texas announcement wasn't even my only issue with ESPN this week. Now "the leader in sports coverage" jumped into the "reporting what others are reporting" derby big time.

On Monday, I was in a restaurant which had ESPN on, when the "story" about Brett Favre sending in retirement papers was breaking. (I'll put my sports fan comments of "I'm tired of hearing about Favre until 1 week before the season starts." and "It's amazing he goes for headlines just as the Packers make the NFC Championship game" on hold for now.)

How did I learn about it? When the bottom scroll on ESPN said " reports that Favre.....". The "OMG" reaction I had was NOT because of Favre's actions. Back up a moment.

ESPN reports that Fox Sports is reporting this? It seems to me that some editor at ESPN should be walking the streets unemployed for putting that on their scroll!

Here is ESPN spending millions and millions and millions of dollars (of our cable and satellite subscription money) for the rights to televise the NFL, and spending hours and hours of NFL related programming. ESPN has "beat reporters" for most NFL teams, and a selection of "insider" reporters on all things NFL.

Do you mean to tell me that after learning of a Fox Sports report that NO ONE associated with ESPN could possibly immediately confirm or deny that story?

I guess not. Instead, ESPN settled for letting its audience know that one of their most significant competitors just beat them to a story. What good are all of those commercials and plugs for SportsCenter if they can't so much as confirm a story from a league they have broadcast rights to?

Oh, excuse me. If Favre's announcement had something to do with the University of Texas, they might have had it first.

But if the "sports leader" has now slumped to "reporting" what another network is reporting, us sports fans are in trouble.

Meanwhile, it may be too late for some, but maybe Dan Patrick got the message. This past Monday (1/17) on King Day, Patrick was actually live and topical on his daily TV and radio show. I heard about it after the fact from a friend who actually thought to check on that for me. After adding several major market TV outlets to his show last fall, he then was insulting sports fans with reruns on Thanksgiving weekend, between Christmas and New Year's, and every time much of the workforce was off and had a rare chance to check his show out.

We're still watching football in big volume. Neilsen Company research shows that the 2010 NFL regular season was the most watched NFL season since 1989. It wasn't just NBC with its highly successful Sunday Night Football telecasts. Fox, CBS, ESPN, and NFL Network (game telecasts) all showed increases.

LOS ANGELES: University of Southern California football and basketball broadcasts will remain on KSPN 710 through the 2015-16 season based on a 5-year extension just announced. The announcing teams of Pete Arbogast and Paul McDonald continue for USC football, while Chris Fisher and Jim Hefner handle the basketball broadcasts.

CHICAGO: Once again WSCR 670 The Score is planning four of their so-called "interactive" broadcasts of White Sox spring training games during March, even though they are airing only nine of the team's exhibition games.

These broadcasts (scheduled for March 6, 13, 20, and 25) consist of only the first three innings of actual play-by-play. Then, broadcasters Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson stay on the air from the booth and merely take calls about the White Sox from listeners, doing only occasional updates on the game itself.

Even though they gave a few more details about the game more often last spring, it doesn't make sense. I don't care who "Steve from the south side" thinks should bat cleanup and whether or not Farmer and Jackson agree or disagree. I would rather know how a young pitcher trying to earn a bullpen spot fares against the other team's cleanup hitter instead.

WSCR is an all-sports station. They have 20+ hours every day to talk with fans about the White Sox instead of taking up 6 innings of the game itself. I could also understand if the station was not all sports and only did 9 exhibition games total. Yet, nearly half of the time they are airing the games (instead of fans merely talking sports), they insist on making it about phone calls instead of the game action.

Maybe they could compromise on this. Don't do the play-by-play of the first 3 innings and then stop. Take the calls during the first 3 or 4 innings and get them out of the way. THEN, start the actual play-by-play for the rest of the game, and there will be time to recap the earlier action.

The White Sox are also among those teams which will webcast ten of their exhibition games free via the team's web site. Trey Bender, the son of long time sportscaster Gary Bender, will handle play-by-play, and provides relief for those of us who can't stand Ken "Horrible-son" Harrelson's regular season announcing.

BOSTON: It's always interesting how national broadcaster analysts go on local sports stations and suddenly become more intense and critical with their comments. ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Ron Jaworski did just that on Tuesday (1/18) afternoon when he appeared on WEEI Sports Radio.

Jaworski identified specific plays he felt that Patriots QB Tom Brady missed, and how Brady wasn't doing things he had done during the regular season. Some solid analysis, and much more solid on a local station than on a national forum.

CINCINNATI: Jim Kelch will move from Reds radio to filling in on some telecasts for the coming season, handling those Fox Sports Ohio telecasts which Thom Brennaman is not available to handle. Kelch began in the Reds radio booth last season. Thom Brennaman handles regional MLB and NFL telecasts most weekends for Fox Sports. Kelch steps in to replace Paul Keels, who was let go from Reds TV due to fall conflicts for Keels, who is the radio voice of Ohio State football.

TORONTO: Rogers SportsNet is replacing Bill Watters as its hockey analyst after nearly 8 seasons in the role. Yet, it's not because of his work. It may seem like a minor thing for Fan 590 to now be called SportsNet Radio Fan 590 and use many of the TV SportsNet personalities, but it isn't to Watters.

The 67-year old Watters has been hosting 4 to 7 PM on Talk Radio 640, a competing station, and Rogers did not want to use talent also appearing on another local station. He is a former Assistant GM of the Maple Leafs and has done color on their telecast in prior seasons.

OMAHA: February 1 will be a significant day for sports radio listeners. KXSP Big Sports 590 officially becomes ESPN Radio on that day. At least in the early going, they are expected to carry the complete ESPN Radio lineup without even one local sports talk show.

Their local and regional sports play-by-play will continue and likely become even more prominent. The lineup includes Creighton University basketball, Kansas City Royals baseball, and University of Iowa football.

Across the dial, KOZN 1620, which lost ESPN Radio, begins its affiliation with Fox Sports Radio. To their credit, KOZN will keep their local sports shows on, including "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" from 2 to 6 PM and "Shick and Nick" from 8 to 11 AM. In addition, the station will continue to carry NFL and college basketball broadcasts from Westwood One, as well as selected Chicago Cubs games.

BATON ROUGE: KLSU, the LSU radio station, has hired former Tigers basketball player Micah Bedard as a sports reporter, where he will handle some sports updates and co-host the station's Sunday night sports show.

FARGO: The Hammer has "nailed" a TV spot. Dan Hammer is leaving his position of Sports Director and on air host on KFGO after 4 years to become Sports Director of KVLY-TV. Hammer is well known for his 20+ years with KVLY-TV until 2002.

WICHITA: Paul Savage has taken a leave from his Pressbox Show on 1410 AM in what is clearly his own decision. Savage is running for a District 2 Council seat in April. Even though his show is sports and not politics, Savage does not wish to take any chances.

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