Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Broadcast Booth - July 7th Update

ESPN got to where it is today by televising and reporting on competition and doing a mostly excellent job in the process. I can't overlook the network's competitive nature in terms of ESPN/ABC acquiring the Wimbledon rights away from NBC after 43 years.

Face it, it wasn't really because ESPN wants to take up hours and hours of programming with tennis. While this acquisition provides the ESPN family of networks, along with ABC, with the ability to show hours and hours of the competition live, it was not the main factor. They'll certainly do a very good and thorough job, as well as providing supplemental coverage on SportsCenter and ESPNews. The promised 3-hour highlight blocks are something that ESPN can do well, will attract tennis fans to the networks, and will result in additional inventory to sell to sponsors.

Yet, the real reason ESPN/ABC did this was their competition. They felt the need, at whatever cost, to get Wimbledon away from NBC as fast as possible. This time around, NBC entered negotiations having far more than "just" the NBC-TV Network. Now, there is an NBC "family" of networks, even if not yet as strong as the ESPN family of networks. There is the reason this happened.

I'm certain that NBC had planned to retain the Wimbledon rights and expand its live coverage throughout the entire tourney. They would have used Versus, which is starved for "serious" sports programming, especially during the NHL off-season which is when the tournament is played. They probably would have also used their Comcast SportsNet regional networks, including SNY New York, along with Comcast SportsNet in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay area, and several others in large markets.

If the regional networks would not have picked up any live coverage, the NBC family would have benefitted by the CSN group providing expanded Wimbledon coverage on their local sports updates.

This is why ESPN/ABC stepped it up, bid high, and won it. A 12-year agreement. In doing so, they keep NBC from expanding its sports network "family" with a major event. There is a sports element to this move. ESPN scouted its competition, came up with a game plan (the bidding war), and did what it had to do to defeat the opposition.

Do the tennis fans also "win"? Yes and no. They "win" because it is likely the ESPN coverage will be as good or better than NBC's over the years. Either way, there will be plenty more of it than ever, and it will be live. There might even be more than one match shown live simultaneously, which has not been able to happen previously. And I'm sure there will be plenty of surrounding coverage.

Yet, fans, and even those who are not tennis or sports fans, will likely "lose" again in the wallet. As ESPN/ABC continues to expand its inventory and its presence with college regional networks, this gives them still another reason to raise the per subscriber cost to cable and satellite systems. They already charge the highest amount of any national cable network. The problem is that, naturally, such an increase gets "passed along" to us consumers. Whether we care about sports or not. By having the biggest events in as many sports as possible, they make it harder for fans and cable/satellite providers to refuse them. Chances are millions of consumers will be paying more for Wimbledon, whether they care about the expanded coverage or not.

Elsewhere, it may not be a done deal that Spero Dedes will be the play-by-play voice of the N.Y. Knicks for next season (whenever it may be). The New York Post reported that Dedes had not signed the contracts to take over on the Knicks Radio Network or for MSG Network to handle TV games when Mike Breen has ESPN/ABC assignments. This came out after Dedes was arrested for alleged DWI over the past holiday weekend in Southhampton. There was an across-the-board "No comment" at press time. Dedes has been replaced by the Lakers, and remains under contract with CBS Sports.

There seems to be way too much time and space taken up by the announcement that writer John Feinstein will no longer be an analyst on Navy Football radio broadcasts, even though he had done so for 14 seasons.

In the Chicago area, the Chicago Bandits, a women's professional softball team, has implemented an excellent broadcast idea. Many of their games are streamed online, yet most of the production crew (including cameras) are operated by high school students. This provides valuable experience for the students as well as a cost effective means for the team's games to gain an audience. Yet, a search of the team's web site fails to mention or provide a link to these telecasts. You would think they would want people to watch. (By the way, I have no personal affiliation with the team or the telecasts.)

Sometimes the producers and behind-the-scenes people make a big difference. Take WSCR 670 Chicago for example. This past Friday (7/1), the station was doing its post-game show after it broadcast the White Sox game vs. the Cubs. Keep in mind this was during afternoon drive on an all sports station which had just aired the White Sox broadcast at the same time WGN Radio had aired the Cubs broadcast.

Post-game show host Chris Rongey, who does an excellent job of reviewing the team throughout the season, introduced the post-game comments and press conference from White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen shortly before 5 PM, and moments before his post-game show was scheduled to end.

However, the comments from Guillen made little to no sense. About 45 seconds in, Rongey cut in and revealed that they were playing the previous day's post-game comments by mistake. OK, these things happen from time to time. Yet, what listeners heard next was the closing music for the show, and Rongey saying "We hope to get those comments to you later....." and promoting the talk show that was about to begin. After several minutes of commercials. Mistakes are one thing. Had they gone to the correct feed of the comments, it's 'no harm no foul'. Instead it was a total blowoff of the audience, which had the choice of listening on another radio station to the next two games of that series.

PHOENIX: Another former NFL player takes to the local airwaves, even if only once per week. The "EZ Sports Talk Show" now airs Saturdays at 6 PM on KXXT 1010. The host is Edward Smith III, the former Atlanta Falcons tight end. Obviously planned to coincide with football season coming up, it's hard to imagine that fans will want to discuss the lockout (which continued as of press time).

TULSA: KTBZ afternoon host Chris Plank will be able to add more insight to his discussion of Oklahoma University football starting with the upcoming season. Plank has been added as sideline reporter on the OU Football Network, along with hosting the pre and post-game shows.

POCATELLO: KSEI 930 becomes the latest all sports station to bail out of ESPN Radio and replace it with Fox Sports Radio. The Idaho station promises to deliver more play-by-play, even without the ESPN Radio lineup of games. In addition to Seattle Seahawks football, the station plans on adding another Sunday live broadcast, and probably will add either Colorado Rockies or Seattle Mariners baseball. Locally, the station is planning on airing Idaho State football and basketball games. Several stations around the country have made this change in affiliation within the past year reportedly due to increased financial demands from ESPN Radio.

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