Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ending TV Blackouts of Sports Events.....

At last there is an important chance for sports fans to speak up. The FCC is finally seeking comments regarding the possibility of changing the local telecast blackout rules which have been in effect for 30+ years regarding NFL telecasts.

Before going any further, here is the link to file your comments direct to the FCC:

Things have certainly changed since the NFL blackout rule was put into place. When it began in the 70's, the NFL games were only televised via over-the-air stations. There were no cable telecasts, and no satellite TV or packages to be able to receive every game. You watched what your local stations gave you. However, at that time it was all "free" TV as well, making it tough to object.

These days, of course, it's a different game, especially when it comes to TV coverage. And it's time to give us what we as sports fans (and those who are not sports fans) are paying for. The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL all seem to forget that millions of Americans, fans or not, are helping to finance their operations, which was not the case when these restrictions were put in place.

Unless the cable and satellite providers deduct money from our monthly bills for the days on which they purposely remove programming we are paying for (as in when local team telecasts are blacked out), this practice needs to stop. Thirty years ago, teams lost revenue if there were empty seats. Now, millions of people are paying more and more to their cable or satellite provider, and a percentage of that goes to the leagues and teams hosting these games.

There was a time years ago when TV rights for the NFL paid nearly 100% of the player salaries and team expenses. (I don't know if that is still the case, but based on the billions in rights fees, it is still possible.) Thus, fans who purchase the tickets are no longer the only people providing income for the teams and leagues.

In my opinion, no telecasts should be blacked out anywhere, including instances of more than one originated telecast of the same game. It happens often with MLB, NBA, and NHL games where a national network such as ESPN airs a local game. However, because of a local team telecast, the ESPN (or whatever network) telecast is blacked out. Fans should have the option of watching the national telecast if they so choose, and not be at the mercy of local advertisers. Make the local telecast good enough so that we won't care to watch the national telecast, but give us that choice.

To take it a step further, the extra pay packages such as Direct Ticket for NFL, the NBA, MLB, and NHL versions, should also not have blackouts. If a Boston Celtics fan wishes to watch a Celtics game from Orlando with the Magic's announcing team, he or she should be able to do that, given that this package costs additional money which also goes to the NBA and its teams. These are no longer advertiser supported telecasts since consumers are paying to receive these channels.

There is only a short window of opportunity to submit comments to the Federal Communications Commission about changing or lifting the current blackout policy. Please take advantage. Do this before you write your next check for a small fortune for the next month of your cable or satellite TV.

Meanwhile, the NFL continues to kill with ratings as we get further into the playoffs. This coming weekend's NFC and AFC Championship Game telecasts will tell us if the ratings boom is because of all first-place teams (all wild card teams eliminated in opening round), the Packers run toward repeating (now over), the boost from a New York team participating, Tebow-mania, or a combination of all of these.

ESPN and Fox are gearing up for the upcoming baseball season with national telecast schedules being unveiled. The Texas Rangers will appear on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball 3 of the first 6 weeks, including the Sunday Night opener on April 8th vs. the Chicago White Sox, and May 13th against Albert Pujols and the division rival Angels. Fox has already announced Rangers vs. Angels matchups on May 12 and July 21. ESPN will, understandably, show the season opening game on Weds. April 4th from Miami. The Marlins vs. Cardinals telecast features the World Champs in their first game without Pujols, the brand new Marlins stadium, and is likely to be Mark Buehrle's first ever national league start for new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. They can't go wrong with that game.

Thursday April 5th has ESPN showing Boston at Detroit and Miami at Cincinnati (an afternoon doubleheader), with Friday April 6th having the Giants at Arizona followed by the Angels hosting Kansas City. Look for MLB Network to begin its slate of regular season telecasts on the night of Thursday April 5th.

Orioles TV voice Gary Thorne is adding bowling play-by-play to his baseball and hockey duties. Thorne will call three upcoming major PBA tournaments, including the U.S. Open next month and the Tournament of Champions in April. Randy Pedersen, a PBA Hall of Fame member, continues as the analyst for ESPN PBA Tour telecasts this season.

NBC and NBC Sports Network have concluded 5 consecutive days with NHL telecasts. NBC showed the Chicago vs. Detroit game on Saturday (1/14), while NBC Sports Network showed the Sunday night game from Montreal, the Monday night game from St. Louis, Tuesday night from New York (Rangers), and on Wednesday from Chicago. This is a true delight for NHL fans who not that many years ago needed a microscope to find even one national telecast.

The late night "Nick & Artie Show" with Artie Lange and Nick DiPaolo, which has been streaming and on satellite radio since its fall debut is now adding some sports talk stations. Out west, the show will be airing on KTCK 1050 San Francisco and KHTK 1140 Sacramento. Houston's KILT 610 will also carry the show.

NEW YORK: Newsday reports that there will be a change in the Mets' radio booth for the coming season to replace Wayne Hagin. The report names Josh Lewin, who has called TV for the Cubs and Rangers among others and some regional games for Fox, as the "leading candidate". Lewin currently hosts a sports show in Dallas, and is also the radio voice of the San Diego Chargers. The N.Y. Post earlier named Jim Duquette as a candidate for the position.

WASHINGTON D.C.: CBS Radio is doing some additional blending among sister stations with the debut of WNEW 99.1 as an all-news station. (Not a New York rock station, but the re-assigned call letters.) The :25 and :55 sportscasts are being provided by The Fan 106.7, with reporters often finishing their update on WNEW just prior to updating on The Fan at the top and bottom of the hour. Fran Hanrahan now starts his morning with the 5:25 AM update on WNEW and 5:30 on The Fan, and remains on both until Noon. The brand new news station also is airing reports from The Fan's beat reporters such as Sky Kerstein on the Capitals and Liz Drabick on the Wizards and Nationals.

CHICAGO: While WSCR The Score 670 celebrates 20 years on the air in Chicago this month (although spread over 3 AM frequencies during that time), the market could have its first Spanish sports station as of February 1st. Word is that north suburban WKRS 1220, licensed to Waukegan, will take aim at the area's significant Hispanic population and take on ESPN Deportes.

DETROIT: Even with strong ratings, WXYT-FM 97.1 is adjusting its schedule for weekday evenings when there are Pistons, Red Wings, or Tigers broadcasts. Bob Wojnowski and Jamie Samuelsen are now (as of this week) heard from 6 to 8 PM. Samuelsen comes over from having been Sports Director at WCSX-FM and previously hosted sports talk on WDFN. As a result, Caputo & Fithian, with Pat Caputo and Dennis Fithian, will begin their nighttime show at 8 PM or following whichever post-game show.

PHILADELPHIA: Eskin on sports expands, but in name only. With Howard Eskin continuing only with filling in on WIP, son Spike Eskin now does some sports anchoring on news station KYW. In addition, Spike has editor duties for the sports portion of CBS Philadelphia's web site.

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