Here we are getting ready for the barrage of sports on TV during the month of September, including the start of the NFL and college football seasons while the baseball races for the post-season will come to an end. But it's also time to look ahead to the October-November period. Although it's too early to tell, it's not a certainty that the NBA will have its scheduled season underway on time at the end of October, just as the World Series is coming to an end.
Yet, NBC and its family of networks are surging forward at high speed to have plenty of NHL action ready for an increasing viewing audience. It could be NBC wishing to show a more aggressive approach toward televising major sports, or it could be positioning for a weeknight audience that may not have a steady diet of NBA telecasts. It is probably a combination of the two.
Whatever the reason, NBC is very active in preparing to cover the upcoming hockey season and kick off its 10-year agreement with the NHL. Versus (which will be called NBC Sports Network starting Jan. 2) now plans 90 nights of "exclusive" NHL coverage, a significant over 54 nights from last season, along with expanded pre and post-game programming.
Even NBC itself is starting earlier than usual, planning an "original six" matchup for the Friday after Thanksgiving between Boston and Detroit during the afternoon. Versus will start the regular season with a doubleheader on opening night, Thursday Oct. 6th and show a total of 7 live games over the season's first 7 nights. NBC and (by then) NBC Sports Network alrady plan to televise 10 games during the final 7 days of the regular season to gear up for next spring's Stanley Cup playoffs. In a significant upgrade, NBC and NBC Sports Network will have telecasts of every Stanley Cup playoff game, even if on a regional basis, for the first two rounds of the post-season. Then, they will carry exclusive telecasts of the both Conference semi-finals and, as always, the Stanley Cup Finals.
NBC Sports Network will also have flex scheduling for its new Sunday Night NHL games. This is all in addition to an increased schedule of games picked up by NHL Network, bringing NHL action to many hockey fans just about every night during the season. If the NBA isn't ready, the NHL will be.
If and as the NBA season gets going, TNT and NBA-TV have added a new studio host for their telecasts. But he's a familiar face. Vince Cellini returns to Turner Sports and will host "GameTime" on NBA-TV during the season, working on nights Ernie Johnson doesn't. Cellini anchored sports on CNN in the late 80's back when CNN had regularly scheduled extended sportscasts.
MIAMI: The replacing of the late Jim Mandich on the Dolphins' radio team took all the way into the exhibition game season, but it's hard to question the choice. None other than Bob Griese will be the third man in the booth, joining Jimmy Cefalo and Joe Rose on WINZ 940. The team was able to talk Griese out of retirement, since Bob had left ABC/ESPN after 24 years as an analyst there. Of course, Griese stayed close to the Dolphins, using his Augusts to appear on Dolphins exhibition game telecasts for more than 20 years.
DETROIT: Local fans want to watch a winner, or in the case of this past Friday (8/19), two of them. The Tigers were playing the first game of their big weekend series vs. the Cleveland Indians at home, while the Lions happened to be playing in Cleveland at the same time. The Tigers game had a slightly higher rating for its Fox Sports Detroit telecast, made even more impressive when you realize that more than 40,000 attended the game in Detroit. (That would be at least one more ratings point if they could only watch on TV instead.) The Lions' win over Cleveland ran about an hour after the Tigers game ended, and the football ratings on WXYZ-TV increased more than 20% during that period.
Fox Sports Detroit is adding a weekly half-hour high school football score and highlights show, starting this coming Friday (8/26). Friday Football Overtime will air at Midnight late Friday and again at 11 AM each Saturday. FSD will also air the high school football state playoffs in October and November.
While Philadelphia adds an FM simulcast to its all-sports station there, Detroit is losing its version. The highly rated WXYT-FM The Ticket will lose its simulcast on 1270 AM after four years as of September 12th. The AM station will air syndicated (non-sports) talk shows, while 97.1 continues as is.
PITTSBURGH: Penguins telecasts will again have the announcing team of Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey calling at least 70 games on Root Sports. The pair was without a contract following last season and just signed what was announced as a multi-year deal.
LOS ANGELES: It's a long long way from his 25+ seasons of calling Dodgers games, but 72-year old Ross Porter has taken an assignment to call some high school football and basketball games for a streaming web site operated by IBN. Porter will do a "prep football game of the week" most Friday nights, along with some basketball games and other program features for the site.
MEMPHIS: ESPN 680 + 92.9 has added the Memphis Grizzlies play-by-play to its lineup starting, well, whenever the next season does. To beef up its Grizzlies coverage, play-by-play voice Eric Hasseltine now hosts the 2 to 4 PM sports talk show. The station also carries Tennessee Titans football.
SARASOTA: WTMY 1280 has changed to all sports and become The Sports Fanatic. At this point, its weekday local shows are Rich Spedaliere with "Spitz On Sports" from 6 to 9 AM and "The Sports Ministry" from 3 to 6 PM, with Fox Sports Radio filling up the remainder. It will also air Florida State football along with Riverview High School games.