Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It's All In The Name

The impact of sports media continues to reach well beyond informing and entertaining the fans. You wouldn't think that the name of a specific team would be considered a sports media issue, but it could well be.

Sports fans over the years likely recall the occasional fan or ethnic group protest over team names such as the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, and others. It is understandable, even though after all of the years the majority of fans do not associate the team names with any ethnic group, liking, for example, the Rangers just the same as the Redskins.

Earlier this month, a group of "concerned parties" as well as former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials went as far as to directly ask Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the official name of his team out of respect to the Native Americans. Reed Hundt, who was the FCC Chairman from 1993 to 1997, was among those who personally co-signed a letter to Snyder in this regard.

This letter cites how "the FCC has long tried to encourage broadcasters to be aware of language used over the air. In some cases, following the dictates of Congress, the FCC has levied fines. As chairman of the FCC, I prosecuted a case against Howard Stern for violating indecency rules. Such cases have often led to subtle debates in appellate courts about the application of the First Amendment. "

Even more significant, with Hundt being among those who signed the letter, is the part which reads "the FCC clearly has the authority to investigate whether broadcasters’ use of derogatory names to describe sports teams and players comports with the public interest."

Later, the complaint to Snyder refers to incidents of broadcasters being disciplined or fired for on-air racial slurs, such as Jimmy The Greek and Howard Cosell did in separate national TV incidents years ago.

While I understand the position taken by the officials and the ethnic groups in this regard, I'm not understanding why Hundt and the others see this as something the media should be more involved in. All the sports media is doing, as they have for years, is reporting on these teams, which need to be identified within the context of each story.

It might seem unrelated, but for years I have taken issue with how freely the sports media, especially TV and radio, have gone along with stadiums and arenas changing names for fun and profit. Corporations continue to receive thousands of dollars in free publicity on many of the same TV and radio stations which are desperate for advertising revenue. To put it another way, how could a TV network (for example) allow a game telecast to promote "from A T & T Park" when T-Mobile has purchased commercial time?

All they would need to do is say the telecast is from "San Francisco". So why does this happen?

The response I have heard to that point is that the media is "reporting" the name of the venue, which it is their job to do. Hence, the media is doing the same thing with regard to the team names. It is simply not the role of media to change a name they didn't create. But maybe we'll soon see the day of "Stay tuned for Atlanta vs. San Francisco from the stadium in San Francisco".

On another note, the sports media has mostly ignored what could be a major story regarding betting on pro sports that broke earlier this week. On Monday (4/8), a U.S. Senate committee held a hearing about a bill which, if passed, would allow private investment groups to place sports wagers as a single entity in Nevada. The result could be groups of "investors" literally betting thousands or perhaps millions of dollars, as a single bet, on a game just the same as individuals at the casinos. The current laws allow individuals to place bets.

Even though no action was taken on this bill, even the possibility should be a worthy topic for the sports talk shows. If such a system were to pass (and the casinos have millions of reasons to want it), the possibility of significantly higher amounts being wagered on certain teams for specific games could impact point spreads across the board. Not to mention the amount of information about specific games that the large groups of "investors" would want and need from the media in order to make their decisions. (It is SB346 for those who wish to research this Bill.)

It makes me wonder how many more "odds" shows or programming segments would pop up on sports radio stations as well as regional and national TV sports networks. For that matter, I wouldn't be surprised if a CNBC, Bloomberg, or Fox Business Net (if not all three) would start shows specifically targeting these "investors" about to make their nightly wager. There is no denying how many millions more dollars would circulate every day if large scale wagering becomes a reality.

The accounts that I read said that the gambling industry officials who spoke in favor of this bill did not provide specifics as to how this would work in Nevada. Just a guess, but I'd bet that a "sports investment" company anchored in Nevada, which could place millions of dollars on a single bet(s) every single day would not be required to have all of its "members" physically located within Nevada. So you had better believe that if this Senate Bill passes, the coverage and attention to point spreads, injuries, weather, and pre-game information would be more in demand than ever before.

One quote from the accounts of the testimony about this Bill came from Randy Sayre, a former member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. He said "This is an enormous untapped market".

Elsewhere, why does ESPN have such a problem using "real" broadcast professionals on its studio pre-game and half-time shows? The lack thereof has gotten out of hand lately. This past Sunday (4/7) at 12:30 PM ET, ABC-TV had its NBA Preview show for a half hour before its first NBA game telecast of the day. Once again, the four "co-hosts" of the show were each either former players or writers. Michael Wilbon has tremendous knowledge of and insight into the NBA, but, as viewers can tell over and over again, is not an experienced broadcaster in a hosting role.

Yet, at the very same time, ESPN's Baseball Tonight was hosted by Tim Kurkjian, with his only guests during the 30 minutes being Buster Olney and a couple of other writers. Same story. Kurkjian is a baseball expert, and the information given to viewers during the show was solid. But Kurkjian is also not experienced or trained to be a program host. ESPN is a big-time network. They should be able to afford to use professional broadcasters to run the show.

MONTREAL: TSN Radio 690, the English speaking sports station for Montreal, has been the recipient of what so far is a successful petition campaign to remain on the air. The web site has already generated more than 15,000 to one such petition, in addition to more than 1,000 letters of support including some from advertisers. All of this has generated a May 6th public hearing regarding the future of the station, which airs the English broadcast of the Canadiens games.

KANSAS CITY: Henry Lake has joined SportsRadio 610 as co-host of the midday show along with Jay Binkley. Lake comes from KFAN Minneapolis. The revised midday show means that Danny Parkins and Carrington Harrison have moved into the 2 to 6 PM spot on days when there are no Royals broadcasts during that time.

ATLANTA: Kristen Ledlow has joined the "Opening Drive" morning show on 92.9 The Game, replacing C.J. Simpson.

TAMPA: Another sports station bites the dust, although in this instance it is a Spanish language sports station. ESPN Deportes 1550 went to a Spanish music format last week, making it the second time that ESPN Deportes has been dropped in the Tampa Bay market.

FARGO: The Fan 740 is expected to add a news talk show to its lineup in early May when new management takes over, and technically will not be a full-time sports station. Joel Heitkamp's "News and Views", which currently airs on a weaker signal, is expected to be moved to 740 for the 8:30 to 11 AM time slot. Otherwise, 740 will continue to carry some of the KFAN programming from Minneapolis and other sports shows.

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