Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why Sports Telecasts Should Be Uniform

How many more un-needed distractions will sports fans have to put up with during telecasts in 2013? The time has come for the media to put its foot down for the benefit of the fans and viewers.

ABC and ESPN brought us more examples of this unfortunate trend on Christmas Day. Even as these networks combined to bring sports fans the five NBA games over 13 hours of live programming, viewers were forced to endure every participating team wearing a different uniform appearance. I tuned in a few minutes into the Boston vs. Brooklyn telecast early afternoon, and found myself having to double check to be sure it was an NBA game on. It looked as though it was two amateur teams playing hoops in their pajamas until I noticed the score on the screen indicated it really was the Celtics and Nets. Moments later a friend entered the room and asked me if there was a pro game on instead.

This became even more disturbing as the day and night went on, and every team was wearing solid color uniforms which looked more like pajamas or warm-up suits. The numbers were difficult to impossible to read unless it was a ground level replay. Players without distinguishing features such as facial hair, long hair, no hair, headbands, etc. were not identifiable as quickly as usual.

And for what? It seems to me every viewer tuning in already knew it was Christmas. Whatever happened to "Merry Christmas" being shown on the screen above the score at every time out or stoppage in play?

In a way, this was even worse than the alternate or throw-up uniforms ("throw back" as the leagues call them, which I keep hoping they will do). The totally dark uniforms worn by Brooklyn and Denver, as well as the drab gray worn by Houston, made it difficult to watch those teams play. Last month it was those bumble bee uniforms on the Pittsburgh Steelers when they played against Baltimore on Nov. 18th that viewers were forced to endure on Sunday Night Football.

This may not seem like content for a media related column, but I'm here to tell you it should be. If the Boston Celtics and Pittsburgh Steelers don't have the look of the Celtics and Steelers fans are used to over the years, the fans and viewers shouldn't have to put up with this on nationally televised games.

Ask sports fans how they would feel if there was advertising allowed on the uniforms, and chances are their immediate facial expression will provide an immediate answer. They don't want to see a uniform defaced and have to endure even more advertising than the bombardment we already get from most TV shots already. I'd like to know how having uniforms which are not true to the originals is any less distracting or annoying.

The TV networks pay literally billions of dollars for these TV rights. In some instances, they gain the power to change the starting time of games, even at the inconvenience of thousands of fans who have purchased tickets. Why do these networks put up with showing teams that are not easily identified by viewers?

It isn't just the NBA allowing this. Or the NFL. MLB has gotten as bad or worse over the years at this. As much as Jackie Robinson should be honored, having every player wearing the same uniform number (even for one day) is a horrible distraction to viewers. We don't need pink bats and holiday colors which in some instances forced teams to wear colors of a big rival, and old fashioned uniforms that look like extreme pajamas either.

As sports fans eagerly awaiting the next telecast, we are entitled to be able to tell which teams are playing, and to maintaining a tradition of team uniforms.

Speaking of the Christmas Day NBA feast, here's hoping that ABC/ESPN will move forward and put a true broadcast professional as host of its studio segments. The "all analysts all the time" format doesn't allow enough time for each expert to talk, and not having a true broadcaster to lead the way eliminates structure and continuity from the studio shows. Put the ex-NBA players at games instead. Even though Doris Burke does a solid job as analyst, the fact that she is at games (such as the Celtics-Nets on Christmas) while the likes of Magic Johnson and Jalen Rose are in the studio getting only a few seconds at a time to talk seems out of whack.

Still not nearly enough progress for The Dan Patrick Show since its move to NBC Sports Network. Although Bonnie Bernstein does a little bit of filling in when Patrick is off, the Show still offered up "Best of" over Christmas Eve and Day. Here is a network which is trying to rebuild its sports image on TV while starting a new radio network, but it has no problem with a re-run of time sensitive sports programming on days when there are plenty of games and stories to discuss. I'd like to think that the mile long list of participants on Sunday Night Football could each handle a live show or two on their own to talk football with the fans a couple of mornings a year instead.

CBS Sports has put together a special about the 75 years of the NCAA basketball tourney and some of the announcers who have been a big part of it. Greg Gumbel hosts while Dick Enberg, Gary Bender, Jim Nantz, Vern Lundquist, and Bill Raftery are among those participating. CBS Sports Network will air it starting Jan. 1 at 7 PM ET, as well as on Jan. 3rd at 7 and 10 PM ET, Jan. 4th at 9 AM ET, and Jan. 5th at 10 AM ET. I haven't seen whether or not any of Curt Gowdy's calls will be included, taking us back to the days of Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton leading UCLA to its run of championships in the 70's. But I doubt they'll include the national championship game when Gowdy mispronounced the name of the Kansas starting players.

ESPN continues to work with the Dallas Cowboys and Cowboys Stadium on its Cowboys Classic season opening week college football telecasts. The Saturday Aug. 31st game will have LSU taking on TCU in prime time. They have also announced that the Aug. 30, 2014 game will be between Florida State and Oklahoma State.

PHILADELPHIA: Last Friday (12/21) marked the end of WPEN-AM 950, which was sold earlier this year. As a result, WPEN-FM 97.5 is the only spot on the dial for ESPN Radio Philadelphia. CBS Radio begins its direct competition next week with its national feed taking over WIP-AM 610 and the local lineup staying on 94.1 FM.

Have a great New Year celebration, and I'm looking forward to your comments and suggestions for The Broadcast Booth in 2013!

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