Thursday, June 1, 2017

MLB Telecasts In Virtual Reality Become A Reality

Hard as it may seem to believe, Fox Sports 1 is actually making progress with its MLB telecasts this season. Even putting Alex Rodriguez in the booth as a game analyst has made a difference in viewership, with the recent Yankees vs. Royals (May 18) prime time telecast (his debut in the booth) finishing as FS1's highest rated regular season telecast ever.

Factoring in the Saturday telecasts, FS1 has roughly 17% higher ratings compared with the first two months of the 2016 season, and more than 20% higher than the same point in 2014.

As much as some fans would like to think this is due to Fox finally having a consistent time for its Saturday games (mostly at 4:00 ET), it seems that A-Rod is part of the impact. Especially for Yankees fans. It seems that the prime-time telecast against the Royals on FS1 in the New York market had ratings more than 15% higher than the season average for the Yankees telecasts on YES Network.

And, as we continue to point out, it's not as though FS1 has any rhyme or reason to when it airs a prime-time MLB telecast. Now, if FS1 can come up with a more consistent time to air MLB Whiparound on weeknights, it would have a better chance to build a steady audience, especially with the demise of ESPN Baseball Tonight.

Although the Stanley Cup Finals may not be attractive outside of Pittsburgh and Nashville, NBC got some attention from its Game 1 telecast on Monday (5/29) when it allowed the f-word to air in prime time.

Penguins coach Peter Laviollette was shown giving his pre-game talk to the team, and somehow the word was not bleeped out. It even took until late in the first period for Doc Emrick to acknowledge what had happened and issue an on-air apology.

NBC did get the blessing of the NFL to put Mike Torico on play-by-play for its Thursday Night Football package starting this fall, rather than having Al Michaels doing both their Thursday and Sunday games.

Sorry to learn of the passing of Frank Deford at the age of 78. Deford represented old school sports journalism as well as anybody going back to the 1970's when Sports Illustrated was truly a factor in the sports media. Many fans became aware of his personality when he began appearing on CNN in the 80's, back when CNN covered sports on a regular basis. (Younger fans find it hard to believe that CNN used to do at least two half hour sports shows every day in competition with SportsCenter.)

His distinct sports commentaries also appeared on NPR since the early 80's on "Morning Edition", from which he retired earlier this year.

In addition, DeFord was an Editor for "The National", a daily national all sports newspaper which published for around two years from 1989 to 1991. The National was an awesome sports publication, serving hard core sports fans prior to the internet coming along. It so happens that its last edition was on June 13, 1991, the morning after Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won their first NBA Championship.

Sports took a back seat for a few minutes on a riveting segment of Mike Francesa's show on Tuesday (5/30) on WFAN. Caller "Mike from Yonkers" got on the air to praise Francesa about helping save his (caller) life last summer. The caller had gone on the air then while suffering from serious injuries from an accident and had thoughts of suicide, crediting Francesa's show for helping to save his life.

To his credit, Francesa took the high road, saying "You don't owe me anything" and letting Mike from Yonkers know that "I'm glad you got through it".

MLB is about to begin participating in an experiment which will be watched closely in more ways than one. Those with the Intel True Virtual Reality app (from the Oculus Store) will be able to watch a live stream each week during June of entire games in virtual reality along with up to the moment player and team statistics and exclusive commentary.

The "Intel True VR Game of the Week" begins on Tuesday June 6th with the Cleveland vs. Colorado game, followed on June 13th by Kansas City at San Francisco. This app will also provide post-game highlights and on-demand replays. No info was available, as of press time, regarding any rights fees.

SEATTLE: KIRO 710 ESPN has confirmed that John Clayton will continue his 10 AM to Noon weekday show on the station despite having been released from his ESPN duties in late April as one of the mass firings. The difference maker is that KIRO is an ESPN affiliate and not a station owned by ESPN.

CHICAGO: Although reaction is somewhat mixed among the fan base, it is great news that Ken Harrelson is finally closer to going away from the White Sox TV booth. Harrelson announced on Wednesday (5/31) that he is cutting back next season to only 20 telecasts (less than one per week) and that 2018 will, finally, be his last one as a broadcaster.

It's not only the constant repeating of expressions which don't make sense or the unreasonable rooting for the home team. It's not only the constant criticism of the umpires and coming up with excuses every time something goes wrong for the White Sox.

Professional broadcasters know to never speculate on an injured player on the field, never to leave the booth during a game broadcast, and to report rather than simply react. Somehow, Harrelson managed to keep his job even after events such as having been called by then Commissioner Bud Selig about staunch criticism of umpires, telling a female reporter on the air, "Thanks honey!", and referring to the actions of this "Japanese pitcher" all in recent years.

And, of course, a professional broadcaster knows to let other members of the broadcast team have their chance to voice an opinion or start a conversation, as well as jump in to tell fans what is actually going on in the game they are trying to watch.

It was so fitting that in each of the last two seasons, Harrelson finished at #32 in a national poll of MLB television announcers. Quite the accomplishment since there are 30 teams.

Congratulations to Jason Benetti, who has been given a multi-year contract to lead the White Sox TV team. He doesn't have to be as good as he is at calling games to be such a welcome addition.

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