Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Fox Should Be Hounded

While the NFL continues under a high profile public relations nightmare this week, the execs at Fox Sports are able to fly under the radar with their own challenges.

Speaking of "challenges", Fox was not when there could have been a huge coach challenge during its Seattle at San Diego telecast this past Sunday (9/14). Perhaps the biggest single play of the Chargers' huge upset of the defending Super Bown champions was the 51 yard TD run by Percy Harvin. The play in which Harvin appears to have stepped out of bounds yards before reaching the end zone for what was ruled a touchdown, helping San Diego to the seven point win.

As the play unfolded and even through the PAT and into the commercial break, Thom Brennaman did not even acknowledge the possibility that Harvin stepped out while he ran along the sidelines. We won't know for sure, but the lack of comment could have led to the lack of a challenge of the call.

A couple hours later, NBC ran the slow motion shot (on Football Night In America) which showed Harvin appear to have stepped out of bounds well before reaching the end zone.

Also during the late games, CBS added an interesting element to its Green Bay vs. N.Y. Jets coverage after a time out call took away a Jets TD at a key time in what wound up as a Green Bay victory. The Jets were granted a time out by officials, but a CBS replay with sound from the field revealed that it was not the head coach who called for the time out. Per NFL rules, that time out could only have been called by the Head Coach, and it the special replay (with on field sound only) revealed that it was not.

Put these all together from the same couple of hours, and we see that Fox, which was the first to hire a former NFL official as a special analyst for its telecasts, was by far the least active in providing fans with information that brings the game officials into question. The point is that now, in all of the "big 4" sports, replay and video is used to help determine the outcome of games, meaning that video which conflicts with the decision of game officials is more valuable than ever before.

Because Fox did not initially question a sideline run, it is possible that Seahawks fans, those with dollars riding on Seattle vs. the point spread, and fantasy players facing a "team" with Percy Harvin may have lost out because Fox did not point out what it should have right away.

Early ratings reports showed that Fox overall drew about a 4% lower rating for its Week 2 regional telecasts than it did in 2013, even with having New York (Giants) and Dallas among their markets.

We move back to Saturday (9/13) when Fox wound with a telecast conflict at 4 PM ET. Even though a rain delay was not their fault, allowing only a 3-hour window for MLB was clearly not enough time to allow for either a long game or a weather problem. Sure enough, many Fox stations left the Yankees vs. Orioles telecast in the 7th inning (which was delayed nearly an hour by rain) in order to show the entire Illinois at Washington college football telecast. Although I will grant you that the markets which switched over did so because of higher interest in the football game, the point is that having to leave a live telecast before its conclusion is not a good thing for a network, especially one which is trying to build its sports networks.

On top of all this, Brian Urlacher started off this week by announcing he is leaving Fox Sports 1 "effective immediately" only two weeks into the NFL regular season. I'm not buying the "to spend more time with his family" story. This was Urlacher's second season with Fox, so he clearly knew what is involved based on last season. It will be interesting to see whether or not a replacement is named within the next few days or not.

Meanwhile, the advance scheduling of an NBA exhibition game telecast would normally not be national news. But ESPN is clearly into promoting its NBA ties, especially with the likely upcoming contract extension. The Cleveland vs. Miami pre-season game, which will be played in Rio on Saturday Oct. 11th, will be shown live at 5 PM ET. The significance is the first meeting of LeBron James vs. the Miami Heat in more than 4 years. In another first, this live telecast will be on ESPNNews, since the other ESPN networks are filled with live college football telecasts.

LOS ANGELES: Time Warner Cable is throwing frustrated Dodgers fans a bone for the final week of the regular season. KDOC-TV will show the team's final six games over-the-air from Dodger Stadium, hosting the Giants for three games and then the Rockies on the final weekend, with Vin Scully on the call. The station is also carried on all of the region's cable and satellite providers.

I'm thinking this is a grand experiment for TWC. If and as there is advertiser demand (and with the Dodgers going for a Division title and having not been seen very much that is quite likely) and strong ratings, I look for TWC to consider farming out some games to KDOC again next season. This way they could continue to hold out for high fees from the other providers when they can show the increased demand for the games.

It will also be interesting to see if DirecTV, AT&T, and other providers will buy spots within those telecasts, and if so, what they would promote to Dodgers fans.

PHILADELPHIA: The Phillies will again be heard on WIP 94.1 and WPHT 1210 for at least the 2015 season, with only a one-year extension announced this week. Although the team reportedly only negotiated with CBS (which owns these stations), the feeling is that this sets the stage for a major bid from rival WPEN ESPN 97.5 for a long-term deal. This gives WIP-FM additional time toward structuring a solid deal for a long-term extension. WIP-FM also has the Eagles, while WPEN airs the Sixers and Flyers broadcasts.

CHICAGO: WBBM Newsradio 780, the flagship station for the Bears and starting next season for the Cubs, has added Rick Gregg to its sports anchor roster. Gregg has been filling in since late June following the passing of Eric Brown.

St. LOUIS: Washington MO, which is west of St. Louis, now has a Sports KRAP station. And a sense of humor in attracting attention to itself. The former WWMO has received the actual KRAP call letters and 1350 AM is "Sports KRAP" 24 hours a day, including SportsKRAP.com. The station will be an affiliate for Blues hockey and also airs K.C. Chiefs football. However, it airs mostly syndicated shows, and its web site, frankly, lives up to its name. A visit to it on Tuesday (9/16) still showed its headlines being from Sunday's game results and included prominent links to game and headline stories from earlier than that. At least the name is honest!

NEW ORLEANS: WODT 1280 has changed to Fox Sports Radio after an unsuccessful run as ESPN Deportes for the past two years.

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