Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Before The 'Madness' Starts

There is now more to the discussion or fight over live streaming (depending on which term you prefer) of baseball on both a national and regional level this week. Now MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) has put it back on Fox Sports and Comcast Sports Networks, claiming those entities are standing in the way of "in market" streaming.

Again, this is only regarding the local team (or territory of a local team) stream for those who purchase the MLB-TV or At-Bat packages for their computers and mobile devices in order to be able to watch "out of market" telecasts live. Paid subscriptions for both are expected to rise this season after 3.5 million subscribers (combined) for the two services last season.

While there has been, as expected, zero movement in Southern California regarding Dodgers telecasts being seen on any other carriers, the battle over some of the games appears to be continuing in the Atlanta area. Dish Network's Atlanta region is, once again, planning to black out about 50 of the 2015 Braves telecasts from Fox Sports South, while subscribers to other cable/satellite systems will be able to see all of the (approximately) 150 telecasts. (The number of FSS telecasts can vary based on network flexing later in the season.)

This would be the third season of this happening, having begun when Fox Sports acquired the rights to 50 more telecasts from Peachtree TV and followed by raising its fees from the providers. Dish Network continues to refuse the increase, which somehow results in weeknight telecasts airing while most weekend games will not. Unlike the L.A. situation, at least Braves fans stuck in the Dish Network fiasco have the ability to change carriers and receive all of the games.

However, it is tough to blame Dish Network for this stance, even though other cable/satellite providers did not take it. If Fox Sports couldn't afford the additional rights to add the 50 more games without raising its rates, they should not have bid on them, or should have taken the "loss" on their own.

Meanwhile, next week brings us the NCAA tournament weekday action, with TNT and CBS again handling the coverage. The two networks will again each use their announcing teams from the regular season (or NBA in the case of TNT). The "lead" teams will be the CBS team of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill, along with the TNT lead team of Marv Albert, Chris Webber, and Len Elmore.

However, the studio alignment borders on insane. CBS covers college hoops during the regular season while CBS Sports Network adds some games of less importance. TNT does not show any NCAA regular season or tournament games, instead showcasing the NBA.

Yet, because of the dollars involved and the partnership between the two networks, the TNT studio crew with Ernie Johnson and a cast of thousands will handle the studio reporting during the second week of the tournament. It is bad enough that the networks insist on flooding the studio with too many analysts and not enough time for each to shine, but made even worse when analysts who have not focused on these teams all season are in this position for later rounds.

If the two networks really must divide the studio time, it would make more sense to have the TNT crew do the pre-game show and simply set up the day's matchups and play the highlights, and let the CBS crew, which handles the NCAA, comment when the games are on the line.

The Tuesday March 17 play-in game will be called by Brian Anderson and Steve Smith, while Ian Eagle and Doug Gottlieb will call the Weds. (3/18) telecast, each to be seen on TRU TV, even though there are no conflicting games.

Speaking of Wednesday March 18, ESPN is in attack mode, having announced a change in its NBA telecast schedule. In what could well be a matchup of the best records in each Conference, the Atlanta at Golden State game will now air at 10:30 PM ET.

ESPN also added the Memphis vs. Indiana game on April 15th as a late game following its Charlotte vs. Toronto matchup that evening.

It is always nice to see established professionals take the time to help with students of the industry. A thumbs up to ESPN's Michael Wilbon and USA Today's Christine Brennan who each have been added to the faculty at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. Each will teach on a part-time basis as their schedules allow, along with assisting on student projects and events.

April will be the final month for Tim Brando's radio show, per Tim's announcement made via his own Facebook page earlier this week. Brando sites his expanded role with Fox Sports, including college football and basketball play-by-play and being added to the golf coverage team as the primary reason. Brando's show has been airing on weekdays for nearly 14 years.

NEW YORK: Hats off to Neil Best of Newsday for this most interesting observation about WFAN Radio last week. The Mets, who had WFAN 660 as their flagship station for more than 25 years (prior to the 2014 season), now air on WOR 710, seem to be missing in action from the WFAN airwaves. Personally, I have not listened to WFAN with enough regularity to have noticed this as well.

Best points out that members of the Mets appear from time to time on WESN ESPN, which is a distant second to The Fan in the local sports radio race. However, ESPN Deportes (sister station) airs the Mets broadcasts in Spanish. Of course, the Mets are a big part of the WOR 710 airwaves, including the nightly "Sports Zone with Pete McCarthy" (on nights when the Mets do not air), as well as on the 'general interest' morning show with Len Berman and Todd Schnitt.

WFAN is, of course, entering its second season as flagship station for the Yankees broadcasts.

On the TV side, hats off to YES Network for a wonderful new idea introduced into Yankees spring training telecasts this month. With a fast runner on first base, YES has gone to a split screen, but not equal size. The majority of the screen shows the center field camera view of the pitcher and batter, while a lower corner focuses in on the runner in a frame about 1/4 of the size.

This concept is far superior to going to a wider shot to include the batter and the runner within the same screen. Here's hoping this gets adopted into the regular season coverage.

LOS ANGELES: KSPN ESPN 710 is experimenting with a local early morning show as of last week. Travis Rodgers and Kelvin Washington now host from 5 to 7 AM before the station goes back to network programming with Colin Cowherd starting live at 7 AM PT. This idea would seem insane on the east coast, but keep in mind that the stock market opens at 6 AM PT, meaning that there is an audience of "professionals" available during those early hours.

What may be insane, however, is that the station is also continuing the Rodgers and Washington show online only from 7 to 9 AM PT. ESPN is determined to maintain Mike & Mike in the marketplace, and has moved a slightly delayed broadcast, from 5 to 9 AM PT, over to KLAA Radio. The two stations have a long standing working relationship, also sharing the Angels radio broadcasts.

SAN FRANCISCO: The S.F. Examiner has hired a new Sports Director, which is an unusual title for print media. Even more shocking is that their choice is the much-maligned Jay Mariotti, whose controversial run on ESPN and with the Chicago Sun-Times years ago ended following legal problems he faced.

CHICAGO: WSCR The Score 670 has hired Jordan Bernfield as its new update anchor. The former WGN-AM and WGWG-FM sportscaster replaces Wayne Randazzo who recently left to join the Mets Radio Network on WOR New York.

DENVER: This past Monday (3/9) had KKFN 104.3 The Fan celebrate its 20 year anniversary with a day long special which included live shots with several of the station's previous hosts. Among the on-air visitors were Dan Issel, Irv Brown, Woody Paige, and Charles Johnson. Other special guests for the day included Rockies play-by-play voice Jerry Schemmel.

KKFN is also holding a party for fans of the station on March 26 at a local sports bar.

NASHVILLE: 94.9 The Game is losing morning co-shot Joe Dubin later this month in order to join WSMV-TV Channel 4. Dubin, who was a sportscaster for nearly 15 years on WKRN-TV Channel 2, is added to the WSMV staff as Rudy Kalis moves to the station's morning news show. No word yet on who will join Greg Pogue on The Game's morning show.

LOUISVILLE: WHAS 840 will remain the flagship station for University of Kentucky football and basketball for at least the next 15 years in a deal announced earlier this week. In addition, UK events such as baseball and women's basketball will now air on WKJK 1080.

This deal also includes Lexington's WBUL 98.1 in addition to WLAP 630, and Cincinnati's WCKY 1530 to air the football and basketball games.

PORT CHARLOTTE FL: WKII 1070 dropped its music format last week and switched to sports, although NBC Sports Radio is now the majority of its schedule. The station airs Rays baseball, as Port Charlotte is the Rays' spring training home, as well as Buccaneers football and Florida State sports.

LUBBOCK TX: The Fan 1340 will again air the majority of Houston Astros games this season for the second consecutive year. The station plans to air "at least" 110 regular season games as well as about 10 pre-season broadcasts this month.

MUNCIE IN: Sorry to learn of the passing of Ron Lemasters, who passed away several days ago at age 76 after suffering a stroke. Lemasters was a fixture in the sports department of the Muncie Star, where he worked his way up to Sports Editor, from 1961 until his retirement in 1999. Even this news came with a distinct element. It turned out that Mr. Lemasters literally passed away in the very same building in which he was born. He will be missed.

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