Tuesday, September 27, 2011

If It's Not On The Air And No One Hears It, Did They Report It?

If a radio station reports something but not over the air, does it still count? It seems that WSCR 670 The Score in Chicago raised that very question on Monday night (9/26).

It so happens that the Chicago White Sox are my favorite baseball team, so I was watching their game vs. Toronto on Monday night which began hours after (then) Manager Ozzie Guillen had met with team owner Jerry Reinsdorf and speculation was heavy that Guillen would not be returning as manager. Early in the game, media reports began to surface that this game would be Guillen's last as manager, which indeed was announced right as the game ended.

I had gone onto Twitter and began to follow various media reports about the Guillen situation while watching and listening to the White Sox game. It so happens that I find White Sox TV announcer Ken Harrelson (or "Horrible-son" as he is called by some) to be dreadful and instead listen to the radio play-by-play with Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson on WSCR.

Sometime around the 2nd inning, Ed Farmer said, to the effect of, (not an exact quote) "There has been a lot of speculation about manager Ozzie Guillen, but at this point it is all speculation, and if there is an official announcement we'll tell you".

A while later, a friend sent me a text message he received from WSCR, for which he signed up to receive texts of sports headlines. This text said, to the effect of "WSCR reports that Ozzie Guillen will be out as manager after the game". Of course, I told this friend that WSCR "has NOT" reported that, since I have been listening for over an hour prior to this text.

As the game itself progressed, various media reports surfaced with variations of the story that Guillen was managing his last game. Another friend who somehow tolerates the TV audio said that Harrelson and Steve Stone were discussing the Guillen reports during the game, while on WSCR (and the White Sox Radio Network), Farmer and Jackson gave no further mention of the situation until the 8th inning.

During the 8th inning, Ed Farmer said something to the effect of "There will be a news announcement at the end of the game" but did not elaborate. By that time, the various media reports I found via Twitter from a combination of print reporters, TV correspondents, and bloggers, were all reporting the upcoming announcement and press conference.

Now back to my initial question. Did WSCR "report" this information? The answer is philosophical as much as technical.

My personal philosophy is that WSCR The Score is a radio station, and that radio station did NOT report the Guillen story until Ed Farmer read the announcement on the air right after the final out of the game. To me, the web site and the Twitter updates and text messages are not the radio station. I understand that WSCR thinks it "reported" this news early on. Not everyone agrees with my personal philosophy, and that's fine.

However, it magnifies an issue I have been commenting on over the past couple of years. Maybe it's because I'm a radio guy from many years ago. It's not that I don't embrace the new media and social media being utilized by radio and TV stations, because I do. It's just that I still see WSCR as only being a radio station. Their web site, social media, and text messaging are secondary. My opinion is that WSCR did NOT report the Ozzie Guillen story until after the game had ended, whereas WSCR says it reported the story during the 2nd inning of the game. They are radio station, and their radio station itself did not give the information.

On a separate point, I find it interesting that White Sox TV and Radio took opposite approaches dealing with this breaking story even though the team has control over both broadcasts. If it were up to me, WSCR should have "broken in" during the game broadcast or between innings to truly report this story as a news source, just as they would for a weather bulletin.

As it is, WSCR is not a source I go to for breaking sports news. During the evening and many weekend times when there are big slates of games in progress, their so-called "Scoreboard Update" consists of what are really sports headlines and then the Chicago team scores. Some of their "reporters" go on as if there are no out of town games in existence instead of realizing that some people would tune in or stay tuned in longer to be kept up to date. Because of this, I see no reason to use their web site, subscribe to their text messages, or any of what I consider to be "extras". First, they have to deliver the goods on their true product, which is being a sports radio station. And, again, the radio station failed to deliver on the biggest story for White Sox fans all year, even though they were broadcasting the game.

Meanwhile, Ozzie Guillen also will not be returning (as of press time) to Fox TV Sports for its post-season coverage this year, although the White Sox will still have a presence. Guillen did pre and post-game analysis for Fox on its World Series coverage last year and also did color on the Spanish coverage. This year, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski will be on the Fox crew for its ALCS and World Series coverage. Pierzynski was hired as analyst for ESPN studio coverage of the 2010 ALCS and World Series.

Speaking of the baseball post-season, it begins this Friday (9/30) with Turner Sports coverage of all Division Series action. Sorry to report that Ernie Johnson will be away due to the illness of his son. As a result, Brian Anderson moves up to the TBS lead crew and will be working a division series (to be determined) and then the entire NLCS with Ron Darling and John Smoltz as analysts.

Dick Stockton will be joined by Chicago Cubs TV analyst Bob Brenly, most likely on a National League series. The American League series will be handled by Don Orsillo (Red Sox TV voice) and Buck Martinez on one crew, and Victor Rojas and Joe Simpson on the other ALDS.

Fox Sports did follow up on the story which the Chicago Tribune reported a week after the fact regarding their use of fake headlines about Bears QB Jay Cutler during their week 1 telecast of the Chicago vs. Atlanta game. This past Sunday (9/25), Curt Menefee issued an on-air apology during its NFL Sunday pregame show, as if Daryl Johnston had been given incorrect information when he made the comments. The apology also was geared toward Jay Cutler as well as to the Chicago Bears in addition to the audience. Nice to see that Fox did respond to the matter and did so on a national basis.

NEW YORK: The N.Y. Daily News reports that the Yankees "are not close" to a new radio deal to start for next season even as the team enters the post-season. WCBS-AM 880 did not renew during its exclusive window, leading to speculation that WEPN ESPN 1050, WABC, and WRXP-FM could be in the running. The broadcast combination of John Sterling and Syzyn Waldman has also not been renewed as of press time.

SEATTLE: Even though the Mariners are finishing a bad season on the field, their radio relationship with KIRO 710 remains solid. The station has completed a multi-year extension to continue the broadcasts, which had returned to the station prior to the '09 season.

ATLANTIC CITY: AM 1490 now carries a simulcast of WIP AM-FM from Philadelphia, adding to the FM simulcast of the station in the Philadelphia area.

BOSTON: the Felger & Massarotti Show on 98.5 The Sports Hub will begin a TV simulcast on Comcast SportsNet next week. Felger is no stranger to the CSN audience outside of the Boston area, since he already hosts Sports Sunday and some Sports Tonight shows on CSN.

On one hand, the additional visibility could help in the radio ratings battle between the Sports Hub and WEEI, and also provide more regional coverage for the show since CSN has millions of potential viewers outside of the FM signal reach of the Hub. However, those viewers within the immediate Boston area would take away from radio ratings points.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

They Won't Be Out Fox'd

A quick follow up from Tuesday's comments about the Chicago Tribune catching Fox Sports showing "false" newspaper headlines during its Sept. 11th Bears vs. Falcons contest:


Even though it took the Tribune almost a week to report the story, and for The Broadcast Booth to point that out earlier this week, at least by now more and more people are aware of this.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

" Moneyball " Movie A Homerun

I was able to see an advance screening of the new baseball movie “Moneyball” on Monday night and came away a ton more impressed than I expected to. Most of the baseball related movies leave a lot to be desired. Moneyball scored very well using my criteria.

My most important criteria for evaluating a movie is the believability. Since the movie is “based on” the true story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, it remained to be seen how much the writers and producers “based on”.

The opening sequence sent up a red flag, with Beane shown visiting the Cleveland Indians’ office to discuss trade possibilities with key management people. It was “real” in terms of looking very much like the Indians’ offices would or do look like. Yet, I don’t know of General Managers actually visiting another team’s office for trade talks. Later in the movie, a trade discussion sequence was all done via telephone in support of that point. A few minutes in, I was expecting more bending of the truth.

However, it is important to note that this one stretching of the truth was significant to the remainder of the movie, thus giving that sequence an important purpose. And I was pleasantly surprised to report that this turns out to be the only ‘red flag’ of the entire movie.

Moneyball takes us through an entire off-season leading into and through the next full baseball season, using the actual teams, the names of the real players, coaches, managers, and other baseball personnel. The serious baseball fan will recognize that the real stadiums were used, some real video, and that excerpts from actual game broadcasts were used. You’ll hear from the likes of Bob Costas, Marty Brennaman, and even a couple of clips of the late A’s broadcaster Bill King (who was calling some of the A’s games during the season taking place for the movie). Even a conversation early on between a player agent and Beane sounded very real.

Several of the in-game scenes were telecast recreations to include the actors in the movie portraying specific players, coaches, and managers, but were convincing, especially with some actual video and audio mixed in. This all added to the believability factor.

The acting is excellent throughout. The directing is also very good, as I don’t recall thinking that any of the scenes or sequences are too long or unusually short. No problems with the lighting or print quality. At just over two hours, the length of the movie is acceptable, picking up more points from me because I don’t feel it was cut short or that it ended because it had to like a lot of other movies do. (Sorry, but anything less than 2 hours is too short for a movie.)

There is no female nudity in this movie. In this instance, it is because there is very little adult female interaction with the key players in the movie. (Thus, it is not like some movies where there should be nudity but some actress won’t do it and it makes an entire movie less believable.) Actually, the major female role is that of Beane’s young daughter, via an excellent portrayal by a child actor that I’m sure will go on to many more movie roles.

As well executed as the movie is, most of the credit should go to the writers and researchers who included so many true-to-life elements and clearly went for accuracy while unfolding this story. The player and management conversations, the player charts and statistics, the lineup cards, the clubhouse scenes, and the stadium scenes were portrayed as real as possible. If you go see the movie, you’ll notice.

Moneyball is the best baseball movie to come along in many years. Even if this was not a true story, it would still be believable. Your decision on whether or not to go see it should be based on how much (or how little) of a baseball fan you are. This is not a “The Natural” or “Field of Dreams” where the hardcore baseball fans are reminded of the fantasy and the lesser baseball fan thinks it’s fun. If you are not much of a baseball fan, it won’t mean as much to you.

If you are at the very least a casual baseball fan, Moneyball is a game winning homerun.

The False Fox Headlines

One of the most interesting stories of the past few days is a "media on media" story that appeared in the Sunday editions (Sept. 18) of the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper busted Fox TV Sports for using what it claims were "false headlines" during its Chicago Bears vs. Atlanta Falcons Sept. 11th regional telecast.

Early in that season opener for both teams, Fox showed some graphics which it claimed were "actual" newspaper headlines questioning the physical stamina of Bears QB Jay Cutler following his injury suffered during the Jan. 2011 NFC Championship Game vs. Green Bay.

The Tribune story, which to the best of my knowledge was not also published on the newspaper's web site, points out that it challenged Fox Sports when it researched and failed to find any such specific headlines, and that a Fox Sports official admitted those were not "actual" headlines it had shown.

On one hand, this is an example of excellent reporting and digging for information. Great to see that someone in sports media followed up in detail when something didn't look right, and was able to confirm.

On the other hand, I can't help but wonder how or why it took a week for this story to see the light of day. Even if the (un-named) Tribune reporter or reporters who pursued the story could not get a comment from Fox TV earlier in the week, I see no reason why this information was not published any sooner than the following Sunday after this happened.

Had the Chicago Tribune gone ahead with the story about what was shown on Fox and how it could not come up with any proof after reviewing its and other publication headlines, it would have made not getting a comment from Fox TV even more interesting. For all of the speculation and rumors the Tribune (and other print, electronic, and online sports media) report, a factual story should take priority. Especially one that involves media which seems to have shown millions of viewers something presented as fact which didn't happen - and when it is media which provides some exclusive coverage of the NFL.

Meanwhile, sorry to learn of the passing of long time sportscaster Jack O'Rourke in Philadelphia at the age of 80. O'Rourke is one of those names familiar to some but not all long time sports fans. He was a reporter instead of being a play-by-play man, and covered many important sports events during his 20 years with NBC Radio Network. He covered the Olympics, Super Bowls, and other national events such as track and field and major boxing matches.

O'Rourke was also a sports reporter and anchor for the old "NBC News and Information Service" during the late 1970's, back when radio was a primary source of sports scores and headlines during the day and evening. Before sports phone, cable TV, all sports radio, and the internet, and before most every professional sports game was televised, radio was the dominant source. In Philadelphia, he served on KYW as a news anchor in the 1960's and had returned to the legendary news station in more recent years. His death occured moments after he interviewed some Phillies players.

My best personal memory of Jack O'Rourke wasn't funny then but it is now. I was assigned to cover a major horse race for NBC News & Information Service in the late 70's. To be honest, horse racing wasn't a specialty of mine, but I knew enough to provide accurate and informative reports. The sports producer asked me to call in live a few minutes after the race ended, which was a few minutes before O'Rourke was to deliver the next NIS sports segment. That producer asked me to keep my wrapup of the big race to no more than 25 seconds.

There I was, ready to go with my 22 second voiceover recap, which I gave when O'Rourke gave me the cue. I finished and sent it back to him. Little did I know that he had cleared that entire 2-minute segment to devote it to the horse race, even with the other (and to me more important) sports news of the day. He was asking me short questions as if he couldn't believe I stopped after 20+ seconds, and I'm giving him short answers as if I'm waiting for him to move on. I felt like I did a good job ad-libbing my way through, but knew that he didn't feel he had to ask me those questions to keep me talking. At least I wasn't shocked when NIS didn't survive. Even though a few years later CNN began its national radio news service, very similar in format to what NIS had tried, and it worked well for a number of years.

O'Rourke was definitely a seasoned pro, who enjoyed and thrived on his work. He will be missed, even more than his amazing work ethic.

LOS ANGELES: The situation involving the Dodgers and ownership continues without resolution. Yet, it is almost as if Major League Baseball is more concerned with the team's future TV coverage than with how the team will do on the field during that time. MLB continues to block (or delay) the Dodgers' proposed $3 billion TV deal for 17 seasons from Fox Sports.

The Dodgers claim that this amount would enable them to pay off the team's current debts and get them out of bankruptcy without having to sell off any assets which could devalue the team. On Saturday (9/17), reports surfaced that the Dogers have proposed an aucdtion of the team's media rights which would allow for additional bidding.

It all brings up how significant the media rights fees are for pro teams these days. If this $3 billion contract is able to go through, it guarantees the team a significant revenue flow for each season, regardless of the talent level on the field. 17 seasons is most likely beyond the point where even one player would be on the roster for the entire length of the contract. From a competitive standpoint, I can understand MLB questioning the deal.

Yet, I question it from a media perspective. With that much money tied up in media rights, the cost of the Fox Sports regional TV networks would certainly rise, probably every year. And the fans wind up paying that additional cost, regardless of the on field talent. In fact, those who are not Dodger or even baseball fans would probably wind up paying the cost. It is deals such as this which have contributed heavily to the high cost of cable or satellite TV these days.

The Dodgers, in proposing an auction of their media rights to MLB, reportedly are using deals for other teams, such as the Rangers and Mets (each of which has had financial and ownership issues within the past couple of seasons), as examples of why MLB should not be blocking their attempts to score the big and long-term contract.

NEW YORK: WBBR 1130 Bloomberg Radio has partnered with WEPN 1050 to carry morning sports reports from anchor Jared Max on the business station. Max's reports on WEPN will remain the priority, with his reports on both stations starting during the 5 AM hour on weekdays.

CHICAGO: Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman will appear once per week during the remainder of the NFL season on WSCR The Score 670's morning show. Each Tuesday morning Aikman will review the NFL games overall and not just focus on Bears games. It so happens that Aikman, a part of Fox Sports' #1 NFL announcing team, called the Bears loss in New Orleans this past Sunday (9/18) and is scheduled to call the Chicago vs. Green Bay double header game on Sunday Sept. 25th.

What makes this interesting is that WSCR is a CBS owned radio station, and Aikman is an analyst for Fox Sports, which, of course, competes against CBS-TV every NFL Sunday. While there is no Fox Sports Radio affiliate in or even near the Chicago area, it's interesting that CBS is allowing this to happen. Boomer Esiason, for example, hosts mornings on sister station WFAN New York.

PITTSBURGH: The Post-Gazette is speculating that the Pirates broadcasts will not remain on 104.7 after this season, which marks the end of the 5-year contract that took the team away from long-time home KDKA-AM. The newspaper suggests that KDKA-FM The Fan would sign the Pirates since its only other local sports play-by-play is Pitt football and basketball. Neither the Steelers or Penguins rights are up at this time.

NASHVILLE: As of press time, still nothing further about why George Plaster's highly rated show is gone from 104.5 The Zone as of this past Friday (9/16). The most recent ratings showed Plaster's afternoon drive show as having the third highest overall audience.

ALBANY: WTMM 104.5 The Team has sunk Sinkoff and brought in Bruce Jacobs to host its afternoon drive slot. Jacobs has filled in on Fox Sports Radio, and will replace Brian Sinkoff. No word as to whether or not Sinkoff will remain with the station.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ESPN Reporters Making News

NFL fans want their football once again this season. The Sunday Night Football opener finished with extremely high ratings, even higher than expected since Dallas and a New York team were included. But I have to wonder if some viewers were burned out by Monday night. Just maybe the Monday Night Football doubleheader was too much for some folks, as the early ratings report for the night was down a bit, although still fairly strong. Not as many viewers as expected were watching when Ron Jaworski used the s-word on ESPN following a play.

At least Jaworski issued his own apology. That's better than ESPN's Bobby Knight who did the same type of slip last college hoops season and then did not apologize, instead leaving that to the play-by-play voice. Since Knight was not knowingly disciplined, I wouldn't expect Jaworski to be either.

Speaking of ESPN, it's interesting that they allow Erin Andrews to be hired as a commercial spokesperson for any entity, let alone a ticket reseller. It seems that a large national ticket reseller has signed Andrews for a sales program targeted toward women. I'm not sure what happened that makes it so acceptable for a reporter to be a 'pitch person' at the same time.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note how the initial news of the Peyton Manning injury which kept him out of the Colts' opener (and then some) was announced on a national level even before the media which regularly covers the Colts did.

It seems that Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian, who has not been known as being gracious toward the local media over the years, went on ESPN 1050 in New York before any other media to comment about Manning being out for at least the then upcoming opening game. Hours later, Chris Mortensen of ESPN (nationally) was the one who broke the news about Manning's surgery. While I give major kudos to ESPN 1050 in NYC for breaking this story (as opposed to going with speculation or rumors), this raises the question of why The Fan 1070 in Indianapolis was not the first with this story.

Not only is 1070 The Fan the station which broadcasts the Colts games, but it also happens to be the ESPN Radio affiliate for Indianapolis.

To me, this is an instance where someone should get the blame. However, it's tough to say who. It might not be right to flat out blame The Fan 1070 for not having this story when a member of the team's upper management volunteers to unveil the initial information to a New York station. It's understandable that Mortensen would then get access to the follow up information. After all, ESPN is paying millions and millions of dollars currently, with it getting into the billions, for NFL telecasts and related programming for years to come.

If anything, some degree of blame should go to ESPN in New York because it scooped Indy's 1070 The Fan. If 1070 The Fan was not an ESPN affiliate, I could understand this to some extent. But they are. You would think the ESPN "family" would stick together on what was a huge local and national story. If ESPN's higher ups truly went along with Colts upper management and kept this as a national story, as a few media folks have speculated, then The Fan and other local station management should keep this in mind when the next local rights bidding comes up.

While on one hand, I'm wondering why 1070 The Fan wasn't more on top of the story, on the other I'm thinking about how much NFL fans (and even consumers who don't care about football) actually spend on NFL coverage, and thinking that the local Colts fans were cheated out of coverage.

Yet, we go back to radio station strategies. With the recent trend of moving news and sports AM stations onto FM simulcasts in Philadelphia (WIP) and Chicago (news WBBM added to FM including Bears broadcasts), WEEI in Boston has hopped aboard that bandwagon. Mike-FM turned off the mic, so to speak, and made room for WMKK-FM to simulcast WEEI-AM. This is to compete with WBZ 98.5 the Sports Hub.

While these moves could well increase the ratings of these stations due to combining, I continue to see this as having long term consequences. If and as the AM and FM dials wind up being the same stations with fewer local choices, it will result in even fewer reasons for consumers to keep from jumping to satellite or internet radio. Or, from continuing to listen to streams on phones and other portable devices which totally bypass radio as we knew it.

Yes, this is similar to the music stations selling listeners downloads of the songs they play. While the stations figure they have another revenue stream, encouraging listeners to download the songs they like best gives them reasons to use a device other than radio, have a playlist they really like, and not have to wait through clusters of commercials, contests, voice tracked shows, and the rest.

If it were up to me, these AM/FM combos would not be true simulcasts. What about one station airing the game broadcast as usual, and the other taking phone calls from outside analysts and even a few from fans about the game and the plays as it progresses? Or the "second" station could provide fantasy updates, details about out of town games, highlights from earlier in the game. If radio stations continue to take away and stop innovation, they won't survive against the competition they have allowed to take over.

WEEI did show an increase for the August ratings period, going up .8 in overall audience compared with July. But if the Red Sox September slump continues, it could be an interesting September ratings period even with the FM simulcast.

Still another example of radio giving up some of its uniqueness, and this courtesy of ESPN. As of this week (9/12), ESPNews now carries the video of The Herd with Colin Cowherd and the first two hours of the Scott Van Pelt Show between 10 AM and 3 PM on weekdays.

While I know the "argument" from ESPN is that they air SportsCenter and variations on ESPN and ESPN2 during that time and considered ESPNews as duplicate programming during that time. That's valid. But whether or not you like TV simulcasts of radio shows, these shows should not be carried on ESPNews.

This is the start of another example of how cable TV channels/networks stop doing what they did to gain placement on the various cable and satellite systems. (This is the how MTV rarely shows music programming, TVLand is not "classic TV" that often anymore, argument translating to sports.) ESPNews has had the sole purpose of always having SportsCenter available for fans wanting to get caught up on the latest. Yet, ESPNews has been afraid of "competing" with ESPN, ESPN2, and sometimes ESPNU, rather than compliment these and other channels.

These new TV simulcasts of radio shows mean that for at least 5 hours every weekday ESPNews is no longer doing what they set out to do. Just like ESPN Classic rarely shows the "big 4" sports games of the past like they did when that channel first started. We deserve better than poker and Bulgarian tiddly winks or whatever they put on in prime time these days. Again, whether consumers care about sports or not, millions of people are paying significantly more for our monthly cable or satellite bills, and ESPN is the single biggest factor in that taking place. We should expect each channel to fulfill the role they were created for.

TBS has a rainout to make up for, and has decided to do an MLB doubleheader on Sunday Sept. 25th. After the shock set in that ESPN is actually not going to televise a Yankees-Red Sox game, TBS has indeed scheduled the Boston vs. New York game for 1 PM ET on the 25th. Then, they will televise the San Francisco at Arizona possible showdown at 4 PM ET.

I'm afraid the TBS doubleheader will not go over well, yet is an idea they should seriously look at for next season and beyond. The NFL rules the TV roost, and the AZ vs. S.F. telecast will be going head to head with the Packers vs. the Bears (NFC Championship Game rematch) as the doubleheader game on Fox.

What TBS should look at is the 4 PM ET start time for next season. The TBS Sunday ratings have not set the world on fire. The TBS "argument" is that they go up against local telecasts. My argument to that is how TBS staggers its start times for the telecasts from week to week. I'd bet that many casual fans flip by at 1:30 ET some Sundays and they find a game going on one week and then not for the next 2 weeks. You never know. By always showcasing a west coast game, they would have three American League and three National League stadiums to show games from with multiple choices every week. Fans in the Eastern, Central, and Mountain time zones would know they could always tune in after their earlier local telecasts on Sundays and catch the action on TBS. It would provide them a consistent window.

On the college football scene, CBS has selected the Arkansas at Alabama game as its 3:30 ET featured game on Saturday Sept. 24th.

Fox Sports Radio has moved to replace Tony Bruno on its FSR Evenings show as of this week. Mike North, formerly of Chicago's The Score 670 morning show has been teamed with Rob Dibble for the 3-hour weeknight spot after the two have done some fill-in work on the network. Tony Bruno left his Fox Sports gig to return to Philadelphia and host middays on The Fanatic WPEN 950 and 97.5 starting October 3rd. His simulcast show will be going up against the simulcast of WIP. Both sports stations are gearing up for a busy October as the Phillies begin their post-season run while the Eagles season will be in full swing.

CLEVELAND: Great to have Jim Donovan back in the radio booth calling the Browns games on radio after missing several weeks due to having undergone a bone marrow transplant. Donovan, joined by analyst Doug Dieken, came back for the opener to begin his 13th season of calling the Browns game. In addition, Donovan returns to handle the sportscasts once again on WKYC-TV for the 6 PM and 7 PM newscasts. The 55 year old Donovan has been with Channel 3 since 1985.

VANCOUVER: David Pratt is out from CHUM The Team 1040 after years of co-hosting afternoons. No details given by either Pratt or the station, but it will be interesting to see how this impacts the audience without his "love him or dislike him" style.

TYLER TX: ESPN Radio continues to add affiliates after losing several to Fox Sports Radio earlier this year. KTBB-FM is dropping their talk format to become ESPN 92.1, while sister station KYZS 1490 has changed to ESPN Deportes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Weathering The TV Networks

Even for all those millions of dollars the sports media still can't control the weather. But the sports media can control itself. It's too soon to know if this will happen more often, but the past weekend's weather delays for football games and a key NASCAR race raise some interesting questions for those in charge of the TV coverage.

Rain or weather delays have been a factor regarding baseball telecasts for years, but very rarely has it come up during football telecasts, only to have several college football games delayed (with one stopped completely) due to severe storm conditions.

Granted, ESPN has an advantage over most other networks during weather delays since it has immediate studio and game resources on which to rely, even when not expected during a football telecast.

On Saturday (9/3) NBC was put in the rare position of what turned out to be lengthy rain delays during its Notre-Dame vs. South Florida telecast that began during the late afternoon hours. The network began by doing an excellent job given the unusual circumstances. It was one instance where having a "reporter" in addition to the broadcast booth actually enhanced the telecast, as Alex Flanagan was able to secure an interview with N.D. Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. Viewers were brought up to date on what the players could and could not do during the weather delay. Tom Hicks, filling in for Tom Hammond on play-by-play (odd that Hammond would have another NBC assignment ahead of the N.D. season opener), was able to interview Terry McAulay of the Big East Conference regarding the rules and procedures for such weather delays.

Granted, the weather delays totaled more than 2 1/2 hours, NBC wasn't expecting this, and it was not a full slate of other NCAA games on Saturday. Yet, NBC instead opted to replay much of a past Notre Dame game while keeping the South Bend radar and delay information on the screen during a large portion of these delays. I know I'll get the responses that NBC's contract is for Notre Dame games and not with the NCAA. My point is that replaying a past game, no matter how enjoyable at the time it happened for N.D. fans, leaves much of the audience hanging. Or should I say looking for something else to watch. During this time period, there were several other live games still being televised just about everywhere in the country in addition to the ESPN and ABC games.

As one who complains because the networks tend to have way too many studio analysts for pre-game, halftime, and post-game segments because the good ones don't get enough time to comment, this was a situation where it would have helped. Sorry, NBC, but the idea should be to stay live and current. This was the season opener for N.D. No reason there shouldn't have been profiles of players at key positions, an in-depth look at the remaining schedule (at the very least the home games), and more scoreboard updates. Heck, even more info about future opponents would likely have retained the viewing audience ahead of a recorded game from a past season.

NBC was fortunate to have Versus to take over the live coverage into prime time. Normally, I'd be upset about them moving the game, but in this instance I certainly understand that weather delays of this magnitude could not have been anticipated in time to make revised programming arrangements.

On Sunday (9/4)ESPN wound up with weather delays during both its Marshall at West VA football coverage and the its NASCAR rate scheduled for Atlanta. The football game was delayed, and later not completed with the score at the time standing as the final, during its late afternoon time slot. The telecast was scheduled to have ended in time for the NASCAR race, which was also delayed and eventually postponed. Although ESPN hoped to fill the NASCAR delay with the conclusion of the football game, neither took place.

The saving grace is that ESPN has so many "live" resources immediately available, including its College GameDay coverage crew and its NASCAR studio crew. Thus, ESPN was able to offer the live updates, analysis, and coverage of scores, other games, and sports events, that NBC didn't.

I'm sure that there will be more discussion and perhaps policy discussed by the NCAA, member schools, and likely TV network officials, in the very near future, regarding ways to handle these weather delays. Storms such as these do impact player and fan safety, and it's good that the schools consider fan safety given the high cost of attending a game these days.

Hopefully the networks other than ESPN/ABC will be ready with live programming, interviews, and features in the event of future delays.

Meanwhile, while the fallout understandably continues about the startup of the Texas Longhorn Network, the University of Missouri is moving forward with its own TV presentation. To its credit, Missouri is doing it much differently. The Mizzou Network is scheduled to debut on December 1st (thus not for this new football season), and will be internet based. Most of the content will be free, including some live telecasts of lesser sports events. Word is there will also be some shows from football and basketball practices and other behind-the-scenes sports activities, with the idea being for branding rather than revenue, as it should be.

The Mizzou Network will have the rights to show one football game per season (starting in 2012) and any basketball games not already picked up by TV stations or regional/national networks, but may do so as a pay-per-view. Normally, I'm not in favor of pay-per-view of sports events, but if the cost is reasonable, it makes more sense than the Longhorn Network expecting people who do not support the U. of Texas to cough up still more dollars each month to have the channel they might not want. When even some of the large cable/satellite companies aren't carrying the Longhorn Network because of the revenue concerns, it shows you how much out of proportion TV costs have become.

Yet, the Longhorn Network snuck through another aggravating announcement late last week. Now that it won't easily be able to show high school games live as it hoped, the Longhorn Network will now show five home football games of UTSA (University of Texas San Antonio) starting this Saturday (9/10) vs. McMurry. They seem to have overlooked how UTSA is part of the University of Texas. Now it is as though the Network was limited to UT in Austin, and not even for the entire university system. Yes, how nice of the University of Texas to be willing to share some of the millions and millions of dollars it is trying to soak people for with a part of its own system.

On the NHL side, NBC and Versus continue to be aggressive about the NHL on TV for this season, especially as the NBA lockout continues while NHL teams open training camp. Versus now plans to air at least 4 exhibition games nationally. In the past few years, only the NHL Network showed some. It is possible that these will be national feeds of local Comcast SportsNet telecasts to reduce production costs, but understandable since the CSN family is also part of the NBC Sports Network family. Three of the telecasts are Flyers games, already scheduled to be shown on CSN Philadelphia, while the fourth is a Chicago Blackhawks game already scheduled for CSN Chicago:

Sept. 21, 7:00 p.m. – Toronto vs. Philadelphia
Sept. 26, 7:00 p.m. – NY Rangers vs. Philadelphia
Sept. 28, 8:30 p.m. – Detroit vs. Chicago
Sept. 29, 7:00 p.m. – New Jersey vs. Philadelphia (VERSUS)

On the Canadian side, CBC and TSN will each air at least 4 exhibition games, with all featuring at least one of the Canadian teams in action.

In the Atlanta market, efforts are underway to maintain an NHL presence on the regional sports networks. As of press time, an announcement is pending regarding the market receiving a steady diet of Nashville Predators games this coming season. If so, it will be most interesting to see the audience measurements, and see if fans have given up on the NHL or would rally to indicate that Atlanta should again have a team in the league.

SAN DIEGO: As a disappointing season comes to an end for the Padres, it could be end of an era for the team's local radio and TV coverage. The XX Sports Radio contract for the broadcasts is up at the end of this season, with no renewal announced as of yet. Last week, Channel 4 confirmed that it will not televise the Padres after this season. Dick Enberg is, as of press time, the only announcer under contract for 2012, and that's as far as his agreement goes. Mark Grant, Ted Leitner, and Andy Masur have not yet been renewed.

CHICAGO: We have another instance of a current player being signed to a paid media deal, as Comcast SportsNet Chicago has hired White Sox pitcher Jack Peavy for a "Jake's Take" segment to appear as a weekly video diary. The segments are expected to air on White Sox pre-game shows along with some of the network's nightly sports recap shows. Have to wonder about the demand for such a feature, given that the fans have heard enough excuses for Peavy earning close to $2 million per pitching victory this season.

MILWAUKEE: It's not just "any" football for Milwaukee area TV viewers. It's the Super Bowl champion Packers, obviously. This past Thursday (9/1) the Packers final exhibition game vs. Kansas City was on up against the University of Wisconsin's season opener head-to-head. Yet, the meaningless Packers telecast more than doubled the audience of the Badgers' opener of what could be a big bowl season.

PORTLAND ME: WPEI 95.9 has increased area coverage thanks to WLOB-FM 95.5 Topsham dropping its talk format (which continues on its AM) and picking up a simulcast of WPEI as of this week.

CORPUS CHRISTI TX and PENSACOLA FL: After losing several affiliates to Fox Sports Radio, ESPN Radio is taking steps to add more affiliates once again. Corpus Christi's 1440 KEYS went from news/talk to ESPN Radio on Thursday (9/1), while Pensacola's WBSR 1450 dropped its light music format to become "1450 ESPN) this week.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Universities With Too Much Control

For all of the time the sports media spends on rumors and speculation, it's hard to believe the story about a true reporter in Kentucky has not received the attention it deserves. It seems that Aaron Smith, a reporter for the Kentucky Kernel (which is a student newspaper for the University of Kentucky), is being punished because he interviewed two basketball students "without permission" from the school. As long as there is nothing illegal or in violation, how does a University have this authority?

The first I heard of this story was because it was published via Rueters news wire. The wire service claims in its story that Smith called two basketball players who planned to join the U.K. basketball team as walk-ons, after a U.K. player "leaked" the information on Twitter. Nothing wrong with that. Frankly, it's nice to see a reporter at any level go after the facts instead of going with a "speculation" story that these players would do this.

As a result of Smith's reporting, the University of Kentucky has decided that Smith has "lost his access to interview members of the university's basketball team", acting as if this is some privilege. Keep in mind this is the same school (though not the same personnel) that almost literally ran sportscaster Phil Foster out of town in the mid-70's because he reported a negative RUMOR about Kentucky basketball players.

The sports media should be in an uproar about this, instead of speculating about baseball moves and fantasy football picks this week. If the large conference schools can really determine who gets to interview whom, how much "reporting" do we sports fans really get?

My point is that these colleges and universities have gained too much control when it comes to media. Go back to earlier this year when the U. of Texas TV network was announced. It's only in recent weeks that others in the media and other schools finally realized the consequences. Decisions about what can and can't be televised now need to be made. Thousands of alum of other schools (besides the U. of Texas) are actually contributing to Texas because of part of their cable/satellite monthly fees being used to fund this venture. While these universities pump in millions of dollars - even though tuition and other costs continue to rise.

It's a shame this starts to ruin the excitement many share about the college football season starting within a matter of hours. I guess we can continue to enjoy the games. Just be wary of the interviews.

Speaking of enjoying football, a study by Catalyst Public Relations shows that 42% of NFL fans are using social media DURING games, while 51.5% of college football fans are doing the same during college games. The percentages are, understandably, even higher after the games have ended. There are a couple of ways to look at this trend.

One is that the TV coverage other than the camera shots and replays leaves something to be desired and that viewers would rather concentrate on their phones or computers than what the announcers are saying. Another is that the TV networks and stations should look at ways to become more a part of this participation.

The large networks have not (yet) embraced the possibilities. Suppose there is a time-out leading into a 4th down and 1 yard to go play. Instead of speculating among 3 announcers in the booth and seemingly hundreds "back in the studio", it would be interesting to know what fans of the team on offense would call in that situation. Ask the fans to comment on the televising station or network's social pages, and gather the information. The viewers might pay more attention to the announcing team if they said that "42% of the (offensive team) fans want to see Smith run the ball here", and then see if it happens.

We also are coming up on the NFL season openers, with most of the teams opening on September 11th. As we said a few weeks back when Marv Albert joined the CBS-TV announcing team, Marv could be in competition with son Kenny Albert in a few midwest markets on opening Sunday.

Marv Albert makes his regular season debut with the CBS-TV NFL staff when he calls the early game from Kansas City against Buffalo. At the same time, Kenny Albert will be on Fox-TV calling the Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears opener.

Here are the opening Sunday (Sept. 11) announcing assignments:

Detroit Lions @ Tampa Bay Bucs, 1 p.m. ET - FOX -- Chris Myers, Tim Ryan
Atlanta Falcons @ Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. FOX -- Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston
Philadelphia Eagles @ St. Louis Rams, 1 p.m. FOX -- Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. CBS -- Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m. CBS -- Marv Albert, Rich Gannon
Tennessee Titans @ Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. CBS -- Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans, 1 p.m. CBS -- Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorff
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. CBS -- Kevin Harlan, Soloman Wilcots
New York Giants @ Washington Redskins, 4:15 p.m. FOX -- Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers, 4:15 p.m. FOX -- Dick Stockton, John Lynch
Minnesota Vikings @ San Diego Chargers, 4:15 p.m. FOX -- Ron Pitts, Jim Mora
Carolina Panthers @ Arizona Cardinals, 4:15 p.m. FOX -- Sam Rosen, Chad Pennington

Westwood One begins its national college football broadcasts this week (starting with the 9/2 TCU at Baylor game). The network will have two announcing teams to cover its 26 broadcasts including regular season and some post-season games. John Tautges and Terry Donahue will team up, as will Brian Davis and Eddie George. Brian Davis, who has done Seattle Seahawks play-by-play, is also the voice of the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder telecasts. At least Davis knows for sure he'll be calling games somewhere come November.

Versus continues to beef up its "fresh" sports programming on weeknights with a 6 PM ET block of live studio shows starting next week. Each weeknight will feature a different primary theme, with those being ProFootballTalk, HardballTalk, ProBasketballTalk, ProHockeyTalk, CollegeFootballTalk, InsidetheIrish and ProGolfTalk. When the NHL regular season gets underway in October, the specialty show on game telecast nights will be shortened by 1/2 hour to make way for the network's hockey pre-game shows. Russ Thaler will host "NBC SportsTalk" during that slot on selected nights.

CHICAGO: WLS 890 will continue as the radio home of Notre Dame football for the new season and for at least the two seasons to follow. The station will also air at least 25 N.D. basketball games.

Since the Bears broadcasts are now simulcast on FM and with other larger stations having sports and other programming conflicts, a group of three suburban radio stations will carry at least one NFL broadcast each Sunday for the coming season. WCPY-FM 92.5 serves the west suburbs, WCPQ-FM 99.9 serves the south suburbs, and WCPT 92.7 serves the north suburbs.

WMAQ-TV's digital channel 5.2 has a deal to carry Illinois High School Association football and basketball starting this season, including state playoff games. These telecasts were previously over-the-air.

NEW JERSEY: Eric LeGrand has been named to participate in pre-game, post-game, and halftime of Rutgers football broadcasts for this season. Yet, Eric is not your typical sportscaster-in-waiting. LeGrand was, unfortunately, paralyzed last season during a game while playing for the Rutgers football team, and suffers from a spinal cord injury. A wonderful gesture by the school.

WINNIPEG: Only days away from the start of training camp, the new Winnipeg Jets of the NHL now have their radio and TV deals in place. SportsRadio 1290 will, as expected, carry every exhibition and regular season (and post-season if it happens) game. TSN will televise at least 60 regular season games on "TSN Jets" a part-time TV channel covering portions of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories. TSN will also televise at least five Jets games as part of its national Canadian TV package.

OTTAWA Senators games will continue to air on Team 1200 radio through the 2013-14 season as part of a just announced contract extension. Dean Brown, Gord Wilson, and Dave Schreiber will continue as the broadcast team.

HARRISBURG: Thursday (9/1) marked the debut of 95.3 as ESPN Radio and the end of its time as an R & B station. The sports station will also simulcast on 1400 AM.

GULFPORT: WUJM 96.7 has also changed to ESPN Radio and is now known (as of Monday 8/29) as "Champ 96.7". No word, as of press time, regarding specific local programming.