Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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.

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