Monday, September 23, 2013

Not Enough Hoops For Sports Media

Must the media report on what the media will report? The "news" that the NBA has revised its media guidelines somehow was published in and on a variety of sports media over the past few days. That makes absolutely no sense. The public doesn't need to know how easy the reporters and writers covering the league have it in terms of media access to players and coaches on a regular basis.

Years ago, before the glut of cable TV sports channels and networks, multiple sports radio stations in every city, and various web sites devoted to teams and leagues, the few reporters assigned to specific teams or leagues faced the challenge of coming up with fresh and interesting information to engage the fan base. It helped to be around the teams as much as possible, sometimes more than the "other guys" who had the same assignment so that they could hopefully gain an exclusive story.

Being the only reporter to witness an injury in practice, a conflict between a player and coach in the locker room, or notice a player working a different position (for example) was what helped to distinguish many a reporter or writer. Years ago there were NO league mandates that any team personnel had to talk with any media. That often included local radio and TV broadcasts, for which the stations pay a lot of money. I recall several post-game shows during which the "star of the game" didn't even show up for a live interview after being promised to listeners or viewers.

So now the NBA has announced that coaches are no longer required to meet with the media after morning shootarounds prior to home games, but that the visiting coach "has to". And that injurred players need to speak to the media "at least once" if sidelined with a long-term injury.

Although I have no problem with leagues and organizations having a policy in place, the fact that this policy was published for fans to be aware of is absurd. This tells fans that the "beat reporter" from their favorite station, newspaper, or web site, probably had the same access to the coaches and key players that all of the other reporters had. They didn't really report that "Player X did not practice due to a hand injury today" because he or she was watching practice and noticed when the injury happened. Instead, he or she now finds out at the same time as everyone else because the coach or the player tells the "group" of reporters at the same time.

As a result, everyone gets the same stories and quotes at the same time. Staying with the NBA example, fans can usually watch the post-game coaches press conference on their local sports network post-game show, and often see key player reaction from the press room or while surrounded by reporters in the locker room. And then those fans read, hear, or see those exact same quotes later on when watching, going online, listening to radio, or reading the morning paper.

Reporters do not have to dig for stories, since everyone gets them at the same time. No wonder so much of the content is merely reporting what another reporter or source is reporting, instead of trying to confirm or deny using one's own sources. Allowing and having guidelines for media access is actually taking away from the fans if every source has the same information at the same time.

However, I am pleased to be able to report on an exception to this, even if it was not heard by a very big audience. Kudos to WSCR 670 The Score in Chicago for following up on a possible story that other reporters did not. It's nice to know that some people are paying attention.

WSCR is the flagship station for the White Sox, who are completing one of the worst seasons in team history this week. I happened to be listening to their September 15th game vs. Cleveland when ace pitcher Chris Sale was being knocked out by the Indians, who had also defeated Sale a couple of times earlier this season. This season, Cleveland had, by far, the most statistical success against Sale of any team in the league.

White Sox radio broadcasters Ed Farmer (a former pitcher) and Darrin Jackson (a former outfielder) began speculating on the air about the possibility of the Indians picking up signs or a tendency of Sale and those being reasons why Cleveland was having so much success against him. To the best of my knowledge, no other reporters even raised this possibility following the game or in the couple of days which followed.

A couple of nights later, White Sox broadcast pre-game show host Chris Rongey was interviewing White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, and thought to ask coach Cooper about the possibility of the Indians knowing something more about what Sale was about the throw in his most recent game. To my amazement, Cooper responded on the air that he heard about what the broadcasters were discussing, and had already begun "looking into it with our staff".

Even though this started from an actual game broadcast and not from a sports station "report", the point is that this possible story began on the broadcast, was noticed by team personnel, and taken into account. Yet, had reporter Chris Rongey not thought to ask the question, the fans never would have known. That was a great job.

To tie all of this together, the possible tipping of pitches was not a story which would have typically come up during the daily media sessions or post-game mass interview. That is why the media should have fewer guidelines and more creative time.

Meanwhile, next week brings us the opening of the MLB post-season and the NHL regular season. NBC Sports Network begins its thorough NHL coverage on Tuesday Oct. 1st with a one-hour pregame show leading into showing the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks' opening game against Washington.

TBS will begin its post-season coverage that same day (Oct. 1, unless a 'game 163' for playoff position is shown on Sept. 30) with the two Wild Card playoff games and then all but two of the Division Series games. (MLB Network has the rights to two telecasts.)

As expected, Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling will be the primary crew, also calling the NLCS for TBS. To their credit, TBS has added Cal Ripken along with Darling, replacing John Smoltz who was the "third man" last year. This move makes a ton of sense, but is not a reflection of the broadcasting talents of Ripken or Smoltz. It made zero sense for TBS last year when they had two pitchers as analysts. Now, they have one pitcher and one hitter, as it should be. At least as it should be if they must have three in the booth.

The other TBS and TNT broadcast crews for the Division Series will be Brian Anderson, along with Smoltz and Joe Simpson; Dick Stockton and Bob Brenly; and Don Orsillo along with Dennis Eckersley and Buck Martinez.

Having Orsillo on one of its series this season presents an interesting decision for Turner Sports. Orsillo, of course, is the TV play-by-play voice of the Red Sox, who this year are in the Division Series. Thus, TBS either puts the announcer for one of the teams on an unbiased national forum if they put Orsillo on the Red Sox series, or they put him on another series and take away from expertise of having covered one of the participating teams for the entire season. (Either way, Orsillo will do just fine as always.)

BOSTON: Not that many people will notice, but WUFC 1510 has switched over to Yahoo Sports Radio. The station has already dumped out of NBC Sports Radio and ESPN over the past couple of years. This does give rivals WEEI and WBZ-FM Sports Hub something to agree on, for a change, which is that Boston sports radio will remain a two station race.

NEW YORK: With nothing announced (as of press time) regarding a TV simulcast for Boomer and Carton from WFAN's morning show, it appears more likely that this show will be picked up by YES Network during the first quarter of 2014. Their show had been simulcast, until recently, on MSG Network, which did not renew the contract but reportedly could match an agreement with YES Network. YES Network figures to pay a higher price for this same show, however, which MSG Network would probably not match. With WFAN airing the Yankees games starting next spring and YES Network owned by the Yankees, having a "Yankees flavored" morning show for both WFAN and YES Network makes a lot of sense for listeners/viewers as well as for advertisers. Same for the Brooklyn Nets, who are shown on YES as well as broadcast by WFAN.

HOUSTON: Quite a find for David Barron of the Houston Chronicle, who dug and discovered that, officially, no one was watching on Sunday (9/22) when CSN Houston was showing the Astros game vs. Cleveland up against the NFL Texans. Barron did think to contact a couple of sports bars to find that several had the Astros game on at least one screen although a couple of them did not, implying that a handful of people could have been watching. For that matter, two WNBA games shown on ESPN, neither involving Houston, had higher ratings than the Astros.

This is not to pick on the Astros. The significance is that CSN Houston is still not carried in much of the Houston market, despite paying huge money for the Astros and Rockets games. And with the season the Astros are having (or not having), and these low low ratings, it is hard to believe that CSN Houston can generate much income from subscriber fees or advertising.

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