Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time To Play Ball - But Not To Air It

Play ball! It has been vastly overlooked by the sports media that the baseball regular season opens this week for the A's and Mariners with their two game opening series in Japan. Granted, this is does not appear to be a matchup of contending teams for the new season, but that's not the point. ESPN doesn't want us to know, because they are too busy promoting the April 4th telecast of the Cardinals at Marlins as if that is the "real" season opening game.

It's also interesting to note that MLB did not force these games to be played for American TV. That's a departure from the NFL and NBA overseas approach of scheduling games for U.S. viewing. The NFL's regular season game in London is played at night in London, but is timed to start at 1 PM ET as the first game of the week's NFL doubleheader. NBA games overseas have been shown live either on weekend afternoons or during prime time.

Although this is an historic moment for MLB, with the regular season opening in a different country, the TV people are keeping this a secret. The opening game, on Weds. March 28th (the next morning after press time), will be shown nationally on tape delay via MLB Network. This is one very rare occasion when a MLB game on tape delay makes sense for the viewing audience.

Because the game is being played for the fans in Japan, the Wednesday starting time is 6:10 AM ET, which is actually 3:10 AM local time for the A's and Mariners fans. Root Sports is televising the game live to the Seattle area, and its telecast is the one being picked up by MLB Network for the morning showing. Then, on Thursday (3/29), the game starts an hour earlier, with the game starting at 5:10 AM ET. No TV to Oakland, although KGMZ Radio will air its one hour pregame shows and the live broadcast. Both teams' radio networks will carry the games live overnight.

From a sports media point of view, this is a tough one. These games are the season openers for MLB for the 2012 season, even though both teams will play more exhibition games prior to their next regular season dates. Yet, there is no live national coverage, and, frankly, even the most hardcare baseball fans may not even be aware that the season is actually upon us. (At least those not in fantasy leagues which had to draft earlier than usual.)

It is difficult to overlook the MLB rights holders for, so to speak, dropping the ball on this one. One of ESPN, Fox Sports, or TBS should have been on this. We "should" have had extensive previews and feature reports on the scene in Japan surrounding games that count, Ichrio playing meaningful games in Japan, and various other angles.

Look at how ESPN makes such a production out of Midnight Madness when college basketball pre-season practice begins around the country. And their 24 hour marathon of college hoops when the season starts. They get schools to literally host games at 7 AM or after midnight. In this instance, with the games being in Japan, they could have overnight live baseball without it being an issue for fans in the U.S. since they can't attend the games.

Or, Fox could have shown these games and had fun with the telecasts being a lead-in for their morning show. Maybe have some of their morning show personalities in Japan from the stadium area and kept the theme going well into the morning.

MLB should have taken the lesson from the NFL, which every year hypes its regular season game from London nationally and somehow attracts regional and national media reporters to travel for the game above and beyond the televising network and the participating teams' radio crews. Especially considering how much money sports fans, and non-sports fans, are coughing up each month for ESPN and Fox's regional sports channels around the country.

In a funny coincidence to this, less than 24 hours before the MLB season will open in secret to a crowd in Japan, the NFL announced its national televised opener will be in prime time on Wednesday September 5th. NBC will televise the game between the Super Bowl champion Giants and the Dallas Cowboys at 8:30 that Wednesday night. That announcement seems to be drawing more national media attention than the baseball opener in a matter of hours. Go figure.

Speaking of KGMZ 95.7, the flagship station for the Oakland A's, the station has lined up A's GM Billy Beane to join Bob Melvin every Thursday afternon at 5 PM (unless an A's broadcast interferes) to talk baseball with Brandon Tierney and Eric Davis.

LOS ANGELES: Long time local sports talker Joe McDonnell has resurfaced to handle weekend sports updates on KNX NewsRadio 1070. Otherwise, he will only be heard during the week on an internet based sports talk show with his former on-air partner Doug Krikorian. KNX has also recently added market veteran Geoff Witcher to its sports reporting staff.

HOUSTON: KILT will be changing a co-host along with John Lopez, for the KILT 610 morning drive show by the end of May. But not for the usual "radio station" reason. Current co-host Marc Vandermeer, also the Texans' play-by-play voice for the past 10 seasons, will leave the morning drive co-host role to join the Texans on a full-time basis. Vandermeer will continue to be a part of the station, especially since the Texans will air on KILT for at least another 10 seasons, as the station's Texans related programming is expected to expand starting this off-season.

CHAPEL HILL: The story about the Vermont station that carries the University of Vermont sports that some university officials were not happy with (as written about last week) because the station also airs Rush Limbaugh was not just a crazed Vermont story after all. Same stuff, different day, in Chapel Hill with WRDU 106.1, which is the flagship station of the Tar Heel Sports Network. WRDU happens to also air the Rush Limbaugh show.

It shows you the power of these universities over the media these days. It seems that University of North Carolina officials have been granted their request for the station to not promote Limbaugh's show during Tar Heels broadcasts, or to promote the UNC broadcasts during the Rush Limbaugh show.Personally, I didn't agree with or understand Limbaugh's controversial comments either. However, the listeners should merely be able to "vote" by not listening, which would give the stations that carry his show reasons to take it off the air. It is even more disgusting to see University and city officials get upset with "programs the station associates with", especially when it is due to opinions expressed on a show not originated by the local station.

Here's hoping that WRDU management starts making requests about University policy it disagrees with.

SPRINGFIELD IL: WCIS-TV has added Joe Snaidauf to its sports staff, coming from Chicago where he served as a writer and producer for WBBM-TV and WFLD-TV among other outlets. Snaidauf's reports will also air on sister station WCID-TV Champaign, including his coverage of University of Illinois sports.

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