Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why CBS Played A Different Game

There are those times every year when a sports event or sports news is overshadowed by a serious and sad news story. Unfortunately, the murder-suicide involving Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs this past weekend became one of those times.

It is safe to assume that the vast majority of football fans knew this had taken place long before the various NFL pre-game shows began on Sunday (12/2). The NFL Network, Fox NFL Sunday, and ESPN NFL Countdown each took steps to include this horrible news within the early part of their coverage. CBS-TV handled this much differently.

ESPN went to the extent of not airing its regular segment with comic Frank Caliendo, for example.

Although the majority of Chiefs games are shown by CBS-TV, the Chiefs' hosting of Carolina on Sunday meant that it was a rare Fox telecast. Although CBS-TV has been under criticism for not making the Belcher story a priority on its pre-game show, this decision actually was not without precedent. However, in this day and age of media competition for viewers and advertising dollars, it is possible that CBS might have handled it differently.

For those who missed it, CBS opened its NFL Today with it's "Drive For the Playoffs" segment, and THEN went into the Belcher story. This included Lesley Visser on live from Kansas City which included a Chiefs official explaining the decision on playing the game on Sunday, prior to the studio crew, including Boomer Esiason and Bill Cowher, reflecting on the story. Unlike ESPN, CBS did not drop its "lighter" segment with Jim Rome interviewing a Vict. Secret model, which seemed to take longer than the Kansas City report. Essentially, CBS "refused" to let this tragic news story impact its pre-game show.

Of course, I am not going to defend CBS for doing so. They actually had their reasons, whether we agree with them or not.

After all, the NFL is entertainment. Network officials reasoned that people tuning in for an afternoon of football were still planning to watch the game(s) since there was nothing they could do about the tragic Belcher story. In addition, calling the extra and priority attention to this story would have reminded viewers that CBS was not carrying the Chiefs game that afternoon, which it does on most other Sundays.

By conveniently delaying the Belcher coverage by a few minutes, any CBS viewers who would then have tuned over to Fox's or ESPN's pre-game shows would have done so following those networks' coverage of the same story. Hence, CBS viewers were sent an indirect message that this story was no longer as big of a priority, and set the scene to go on with the games about to be played.

Back to that precedent I mentioned earlier. CBS-TV and its NFL coverage was faced with a tragic situation back on October 24, 1971 during game coverage. During its regional telecast of the Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions game that afternoon, Lions receiver Chuck Hughes collapsed on the field during a play. The seriousness of his collapse was such that Dick Butkus, the future Hall of Fame linebacker for the rival Bears, was by Hughes and waving frantically for help. It turned out that Mr. Hughes never recovered and passed away on the field.

As a college student in Chicago at that time, I was actually watching that telecast as well as the national doubleheader game which followed. During the remainder of the Bears-Lions telecast, as well as throughout the natonal doubleheader game, there was no mention made of Hughes' condition. It wasn't until a (Chicago) local newscast came on WBBM-TV after the doubleheader game ended that viewers were told that Hughes has died shortly after the collapse.

In other words, CBS did not report on the player's death despite live NFL coverage for more than three hours after viewers saw the play. I still remember a couple of friends telling me the next day that they heard about Hughes' death via other stations well before the CBS station first reported it.

Again, this doesn't make it right. But even then, CBS took the "It is entertainment, and let's allow people to enjoy the game" approach.

Their role is to provide the coverage and "entertain" the viewers. While I'm not defending CBS this time around, this was another decision that could be criticized no matter which way it goes.

We don't know for certain if Fox would have made the Belcher story its top priority if CBS were showing the Chiefs' game on Sunday. And Fox and CBS compete with each other moreso than ESPN and NFL Network because each airs one hour shows leading into game telecasts.

However it is handled, it is a difficult situation for the decision makers, as well as for all concerned. If I were going to criticize anyone about this, I would be more inclined to be critical of the NFL for "allowing" the Chiefs to play the game with their players in shock. Frankly, I believe that if this had happened early enough in the season, before the Chiefs and Panthers had bye weeks, it is possible that the NFL would have then rescheduled the game. But now they could not. All the media did was determine how to cover this tragic story as they saw fit.

Something positive from the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, and it's media related. While the debate rages about which players should or shouldn't get in, no one will dispute the upcoming induction of former Toronto Blue Jays voice Tom Cheek, who was selected for the Excellence in Broadcasting wing and goes in next July. Cheek called more than 4,300 regular season games and 41 post-season games for the Jays until his untimely passing following the 2005 season.

ESPN is going back to a 3-man booth for Sunday Night Baseball, adding John Kruk to the booth along with Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser for the 2013 season.

NEW YORK: The Jets are struggling on the field but ESPN 98.7 WEPN has locked up the broadcast rights for years to come with a new multi-year contract extension. WEPN-AM 1050 will also retain the Spanish broadcasts. This re-upping was crucial for ESPN with the current growth and expansion of CBS Sports Radio. WFAN 660 and 101.9 continues with the Giants broadcasts.

Whether it is due to the few miles move from the Jersey side to Brooklyn, or the early strong showing of the Nets, the results are positive for YES Network's Brooklyn Nets telecasts already this season. The YES telecasts are up more than 200% over the first month of the season. Last Saturday's (12/1) telecast against the Miami Heat was the highest rated telecast not involving the Knicks since a 1998 Nets game against Chicago when Michael Jordan was heading toward another championship.

No comments: