Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Slam Dunk: Look Out Cable Costs

It's the high cost of renewal for both ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports with the extension of their respective NBA contracts, which keeps the league on the same national networks for the next 10 years. One can certainly understand an increase in the new rights fees, but the fact that the rights fees will amount to nearly triple what they have been is disturbing to many, especially consumers.

These networks will need to do something to help offset what will be a combined amount of more than $2.5 billion (that's billion) dollars they will pay the NBA per season, and it's most likely going to raise the monthly cable/satellite costs for consumers again and again, whether sports fans or not.

While it is understandable that ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports would want to retain and expand upon these rights, and keep Comcast/NBC and Fox Sports out of the picture, the fact that their combined annual costs will nearly triple from the current contract is cause for concern.

Meanwhile, ESPNU will have a curious live show coming up this Friday (10/10) at 3 PM ET. The network plans a live telecast from the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, KY with "coverage" of the University of Kentucky's two hour basketball practice. This is not just "any" practice, as it is intended for scouts and personnel of NBA teams in somewhat of a draft combine.

On one hand, this is a nice service (of sorts) for U. of Kentucky fans, as well as for school rivals, to be able to get a true sneak peak at the players for the coming season. Considering how much of the programming on these numerous sports networks is wasted time, the idea of live and fresh content from a major college hoops team has some appeal.

However, from here this looks to be under the media radar as what is really a blatant self-promotion for ESPN. Think about it. (I'll be interested in your feedback on this either way.) ESPN has just renewed and solidified its agreement with the NBA for years to come, and this is a form of "futures" coverage. But we have to ask, "Why Kentucky?". They won't say, but I will. Kentucky basketball is a big draw around the region and much of the country. ESPN is only a few weeks away from saturating us with college hoops telecasts at all hours of the day and night on all of its networks (which is good thing).

Keep in mind that Kentucky plays in the SEC, and the new Southeast Conference Network just happens to be owned by (you guessed it) ESPN. If you think this is a coincidence, please provide me with a count of the number of promos which will air about the new SEC Network during this telecast.

I'll grant you that I have not been kind to Fox Sports and especially Fox Sports 1 in its attempt to gain any sort of audience respectability during its first full year of existence. Sorry, but the first week of the MLB post-season did nothing to change my feeling on this. I still can't believe that, even with the millions in rights fees, MLB is allowing Fox Sports to dump its NLDS series on Fox Sports 1 instead of on the real Fox Network. With the way the NFL is dominating in TV ratings, you would think that MLB would want the maximum exposure for its post-season product, especially with the L.A. and San Francisco markets showing heavy interest.

Last Friday night (10/3), I had two relatives call me to ask when and where the National League games were on. One of them had to literally scroll through the tens of cable channels in search of FS1, which he didn't even know he had. As it so happened, I was in different restaurants both Friday and Saturday during the N.L. games, which always have the "biggest" game on their TV's. Neither had the FS1 telecasts on, although one put the game on a couple of its TV's when I asked a manager to do so, and he had to hunt to find the channel.

What were decent ratings could have, and should have, been a ton stronger had Fox Network shown the games like they have in the past. Frankly, if they feel these games are only worth being buried on FS1, they should have bailed on bidding for them.

But it got even worse later Saturday night when the Giants and Nationals went 18 innings. During the last few innings of the FS1 telecast, the bottom scroll kept making a big deal about some boxing match being moved to FS2. Worse yet, the scroll stopped showing ANY other scores or sports headlines.

As a result, fans who tuned in from roughly the 12th inning on couldn't even see any facts about the Cardinals-Dodgers game from earlier that night, or from any of the many college football games played all day long. This from Fox which televises MLB and college football games on its networks.

When the game ended shortly after 1 AM ET, the game telecast ended as Fox went back to its studio for what looked to be their post-game show. What is seemingly a cast of thousands was still in the studio at that hour. Yet, about two minutes into that show, and before a couple of the studio analysts were even called upon to speak, the telecast suddenly cut away to the start of some boxing match or something. No sign-off from the MLB post-game, no warning. They just cut to the a live feed from the ring, and the announcers welcomed the viewers who had just watched the marathon baseball game.

Thus, after a couple hours without any scoreboard updates on the bottom scroll, their live post-game show gets cut off without warning.

If Fox Sports 1 doesn't care about the most important events it has ever carried, we should be relieved that Fox Sports will continue to not be a part of NBA coverage for years to come. We can only hope that they will provide us with professional coverage for those MLB post-season games they still plan to hide away on FS1.

NEW YORK: WEPN 98.7 ESPN has brought Mike Lupica for an early afternoon show now airing weekdays from 1:00 until 3:00. As a result, Ryan Ruocco, who co-hosts with Dave Rothenberg on the show which leads in to Lupica, now returns to the studio to contribute on The Michael Kay Show which airs from 3:00 until 7:00 PM or the pre-game show for the station's Knicks and Rangers east coast broadcasts .

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