Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tweet Tweet Go The Lineups

Baseball fans can thank social media, especially Twitter, for stepping up the information provided hours prior to big league games. Within the past year, it has become almost commonplace for fans to know the starting lineup for their favorite team(s) as early as four to five hours before the scheduled first pitch.

I noticed this trend starting last season on Twitter, as well as on the ESPN Bottom Line (although used primarily for games that ESPN was about to televise or broadcast). This after years of many radio and TV stations seemingly delaying providing fans with the starting lineups to even later than in the years prior.

Many fans like to know if a favorite player will be in the lineup, if a regular is being rested, as well as wanting the information ahead of time for fantasy leagues. (Some fantasy leagues allow daily changes, sometimes up until minutes before the first pitch of the day's scheduled games.)

Yet, over the years, even team radio broadcasts would not address the starting lineups during their pre-game shows, waiting until moments before the start of the game to give them. Some telecasts have been even worse, thinking nothing of waiting until the home team is about to come to bat before giving the specifics of the batting order. (Just setting the defense in the top of the first is not enough for American League home games, since there is also a designated hitter playing and who could be batting anywhere in the lineup.)

As much as we would like to think that radio and TV would be taking the lead in getting the lineups out, especially when there are situations such as WFAN in New York and WSCR in Chicago which are full-time sports stations that air baseball, but they did not. It took Twitter to allow reporters covering the teams to begin posting the lineups a few hours before the games to get the long established media to follow. And not many have done so yet.

Cheers to WTMJ Milwaukee, for example, which now tends to give fans the lineup for the night's Brewers game (to be broadcast later) on its afternoon drive sports reports, usually anchored by Trenni Kusnierek. Even though WTMJ is not a full-time sports talk station.

While it is great to have Twitter provide innovations for sports fans, my point is that radio (and to an extent, TV) are the "followers" in this service, even though they have long had the ability and the time to provide specific information about upcoming games in advance.

Now since Twitter began this trend, we finally see some TV stations and regional networks televising games providing the batting orders during their extended pre-game shows. It is too bad many of these stations and networks never knew to do that in the years they were the primary source of news and information about their upcoming games.

Here's hoping the networks televising NFL games will pick up on this. I could never understand why, when networks air live pre-game shows lasting anywhere from one to four hours, that viewers need to wait until the team that kicks off receives the ball before its offensive starters, as well as the fresh defense starters, are finally shown to viewers. It stinks even more when the first play from scrimmage is a long gain or unusual play, and viewers lose out on replays and analysis because they are still telling you who is now in the game. Same for football that fans want the complete lineup information ahead of time, whether to know about their favorite team or for fantasy league purposes.

Fantasy players know that while the in-game player stats are nice, knowing for sure who is starting at receiver (for example) a couple hours before a game is more important than five guys in the studio discussing the secondary or showing the previous week's highlights.

Baseball and football are the sports where the starting lineups and matchups mean the most. Radio and TV have an opening to provide this information ahead of time so that fans don't have to go to or monitor Twitter as closely.

As for the NFL's TV blackout rule revision, it continues to not have a true impact. The Cincinnati Bengals, like Buffalo and San Diego, have announced they will not change a thing. Thus, only Tampa Bay has gone along with the reduction in the number of tickets which need to be sold in advance in order to have home games shown locally. The Bengals have failed to sell out for eight of their most recent ten regular season home games, and finished last in average attendance for the 2011 season.

Meanwhile, the TV sports networks' new and expanded coverage from the various college conference media days is coming off as a wonderful innovation. One example was ESPN's networks providing full coverage and air time for each SEC school during and following its annual football media day. Providing fans of the schools and fantasy players with comments from each head coach as well as additional analysis is another growing trend, especially with so much time available.

With the Pac-12 Conference Networks set to begin on August 15th, the play-by-play voices for football have been unveiled and will include some familiar names. Ted Robinson is set to call the San Jose State at Stanford telecast on August 31st, Kevin Calabro gets the San Diego State at Washington game in prime-time (west coast time) on Sept. 1st, and Dave Fleming handles the Nevada at Cal game on the afternoon of Sept. 1.

NBC Sports Network continues its desparation to show more live sports. In addition to some lesser conference college telecasts on Saturdays, the network has picked up a series of Canadian Football League telecasts which begin August 27th. These games will, as has been the case when NFL Network and ESPN aired some games in the past, be simulcasts of TSN coverage from Canada. On one hand, NBC Sports Network will offer more games and a better package than NFL Network and ESPN have in the past. NFL Network had, in reality, picked up the rights to games in case the 2011 lockout took away from the regular season, and then buired the CFL games once they were no longer needed. Although I like that NBC Sports Network is going for live games as often as possible, their choices are not exactly audience builders.

Only one thought on the media coverage of the Penn State penalties. It is extremely disappointing to see and hear stories in the media about a specific sponsor which chose to pull out of advertising on Penn State radio. The insurance company which did so received thousands (if not millions) of dollars in "free" publicity because of the blogs, online columns, newspapers, radio, and TV reporters who mentioned it by name. The company just received more publicity to a wider audience by pulling out than they would have had the run the spots. If and as the Penn State Radio Network sales team sells that time, this company's decision will not have cost Penn State (or those involved with the advertisements) any money. The story should not have been treated as part of the "coverage". Report the actual news instead of helping a PR exec toward his or her bonus.

BOSTON: It's front page news when the Patriots' broadcast booth has a change. After 32 seasons, Gino Cappelletti will not be back as the lead analyst with Gil Santos on 98.5 The Sports Hub. This figures to mean an increased role for Scott Zolak, who would move from the sidelines up to the booth. It should be made official within the next few days.

The Sports Hub WBZ-FM has also announced a multi-year extension to continue as flaship station for the Bruins.

DALLAS: Providing fans with in-depth coverage of local teams, even during the off-season, is something that should be a natural for sports radio stations. The Ticket 1310 has made tremendous strides over the past few weeks. Even with the Rangers off to a great start, the Cowboys around at any time of the year, and everything else going on, The Ticket is maintaining a steady diet of coverage of the NHL Stars. Recent on-air interviews include Derek Roy (recently acquired from Buffalo), Mike Madano, and Steve Ott, even though training camp doesn't open for more than a month.

CHICAGO: Former NFL QB Jim Miller is taking over as analyst for the Bears' local pre-season TV games, replacing another former Bears and NFL QB Erik Kramer. Miller joins play-by-play voice Sam Rosen for three exhibition telecasts on WFLD-TV, starting with the August 9 telecast against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

Sarah Kustok will be leaving Comcast SportsNet Chicago after three years as a reporter and anchor. Kustok also was used on some NBC Sports Network NHL coverage handling interviews.

SAN FRANCISCO: Comcast SportsNet Bay Area adds Dave Feldman to its 49ers coverage starting next month. Feldman returns to his home area and will report from camp and handle post-game game shows. He comes by way of WTTG Washington D.C.

LAS VEGAS: Sorry to report the passing of Bob Blum, former voice of UNLV football and basketball, who passed away on Sunday (7/22) at the age of 91. Blum's play-by-play resume also included San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders football, as well as football and basketball for San Jose State and University of Santa Clara.

ALBANY: WTMM 104.5 has started a weekly one-hour show devoted to the local horse racing scene. The specialty show "At the Post Live - Serling on Saratoga" airs on Thursday nights, mostly from 9 to 10 PM. It will air earlier on nights when Yankees baseball conflicts. Andy Serling hosts, and plans to have the show be live from a local restaurant most weeks.

GLENS FALLS: WMML 1230 will carry all Buffalo Bills games this season including the exhibition games.

BOISE: Congratulations to Riley Corcoran on the award for "Best Play-by-Play Broadcaster", as well as another award for "Best Radio Sports Program" for Idaho on The Fan 630. His local show airs from 4-6 PM.

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