All Your Sporting Events Are Belong To Bristol

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I am of two minds on Fox basically ceding the contract to broadcast the BCS to the Four-Letter. There are two sapproaches to note: the first is the quality of hte production, the second is what it means in a journalistic sense.  Several of ESPN’s regular cadre of college football analysts calling for a playoff, but first, we’ll deal with the aesthetic aspect, because it’s all about what you see, and then what’s underneath.

In a pure TV production sense, no sport should be handled by Fox. They do an absolutely loathsome job with the BCS — seeing as they handle no college football games during the regular season on the main network, they then put together some truly poor announcnig teams (most notably, any team involving Charles Davis.)  College football is obviously secondary to them, and it shows on air every time they do the BCS bowls they hold the rights for (all save the Rose Bowl.) There is gimmickry (the robot for NFL football, the talking animated baseball explaining the basics of pitching to an audience likely older than its execs imagine).

(If I had my way and could assign a network to handle the vast majority of televised sports. it would be CBS, who, particularly with college football and basketball, brings in the best announcers and analysts.  It’s hard to imagine ESPN willfully discussing the recent study by Richard Lapchick on the number of minority coaches now being at six after the firing of Ron Prince at K-State, but two weeks ago, Spencer Tillman went for it and called out the university presidents and conference bosses on it.)

While ESPN is at the very least competent in game presentation, announcing, and analysis (save clankers like Pam Ward, Andre Ware, Brad Nessler, and Bob Griese), it also has a problem: will owning the TV rights to the all the big bowl games lead some of them to keep quiet about a playoff possibility?  The more problematic issue is that ESPN now holds a complete monopoly on the important aspects of college football, which is never particularly a good diea for any enterprise. Lack of competition leads to stagnation, and bad efects for the sport in general — it’s safe to guess that shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars until 2014 will do nothing to get rid of the crap system in college football. ESPN will now have a further investment in the status quo.

So, eight-team playoff, 16-team playoff, plus-one…..all of these options will be dragged out even longer.

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Pushing The Narratives

The benefit of my current work schedule is the ability to watch Pardon the Interruption, which remains the only ESPN piece of programming worth investing too much time in.  SportsCenter is not as essential as it used to be; much of the analyst shows focused on individual sports are background fodder. Outside The Lines can be very hit or miss, and is subject to the typical ESPN/mainstream blinders on much of its subject matter. Anyway, back to it.

The Four-Letter’s $3 million a year poaching, Rick Reilly, subbed for Tony Kornheiser on PTI yesterday, via satellite from Denver with Michael Wilbon in-studio in D.C., and parroted what I’m fairly sure may be a common impulse among a certain segment of sportswriters regarding the current state of the baseball playoffs: he stated his preference for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series, proclaiming the Tampa Bay Rays “bad for baseball.”

We probably need to separate that “bad for baseball” comment into two categories: bad for the sport and bad for the business of the sport. There is a vast difference: any die-hard baseball fan or one who merely follows the sport regularly would say a worst-to-first story is not only good for the sport, but also compelling and justifying smart moves by a front office.  Tampa’s entry into the playoffs already yielded more attention to manager Joe Maddon in SI, a likely Rookie of the Year award for third baseman Evan Longoria, and a front office that assembled a solid starting line-up and a roster of budding stars. That’s good for the sport; it gives some leverage behind the idea that baseball’s uncapped salary structure can still yield good things for teams who use their money wisely.

However, if you look at Reilly’s comment in the business sense, it fits. Tampa was 12th out of 14 AL teams in attendance this year, not helped by the reported shittiness of Tropicana Field, and locals are right to ignore a lousy team in a bad park for a while. That doesn’t change overnight, and it’s also part of the trend of questioning whether Florida is really interested in regular-season baseball. (We really won’t have an idea until both the Rays and Marlins’ new facilities open.)  The Dodgers and Red Sox are two of several “glamour teams”; ones that matter to people outside their home markets (the others, in my eyes, are the Cubs, Yankees, Cardinals, and Braves*.) Those are teams that have bandwagons, intense home fans, and ones who don’t drop loyalties when they move in the age of the Internet and MLB.tv.

Dodgers-Red Sox is an easier World Series to sell, and I’m sure it’s the one Fox is clamoring or as we speak.  The Rays aren’t, although everyone loves an underdog story — because there’s not enough to sell. The lore bheind L.A.-Boston is too much, two big cities, Manny Ramirez back in Betantown, the Sox seeking back-to-back titles, etc.  That’s a narrative that writes columns; that’s how Reilly kind of thinks., and it’s what Bud Selig would love to see. (Philadelphia doesn’t have the same pull as Dodgers-Sox, but it’s better to MLB than the other AL choice.)

The Tampa Bay Rays going from worst to first and capping it with a world championship is just another Marlins team beating Cleveland or the Yankees, or a Diamondbacks bloop single. It’s a blip, and won’t register outside of those of us who pay attention. Of course, you know what happens when the narrative gets openly expressed: the underdog shocks us all, and considering my loathing of both the Dodgers nad Phils, along with a need for Boston teams to cool off, I’m riding the Rays right now.

Fuck the cheap narratives, though. Let ’em do some work. Tampa is full of new stories, and that’s good for the sport.

(*I include the Braves because of their near stranglehold on the South until recently thanks to TBS and the lack of pro baseball anywhere else in that region.)

Why Someone Ought To Outbid NBC For The Olympics

I have griped about the Peacock’s amazingly stupid mentality towards tape delaying events during the Beijing Olympics, and this is above and beyond the usual tape-delay frustrations because NBC is not alerting the telecasts in any way to make it clear to viewers West of the Mississippi that none of the content is live. In the wake of Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 200-meter win that none of us will see on television until later tonight (both Awful Announcing and With Leather are hosting video until the copyright police go after it), I am absolutely excited at the thought of ESPN formally bidding with the IOC for the rights, starting with the 2016 Winter Olympics.

In a sports and media world driven by the Internet and up to the minute results, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to have so few of the events by live in one half of the country and not live everywhere else — and, as NBC Universal is wont to do, get bent out of shape when the video leaks.

This leaves affiliate sports directors in the quandary of not publicizing the results of matches due to be aired on their stations AFTER local news goes off the air for the night — for example, if you are covering Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers in men’s volleyball because they happen to be from your market, and you know they’ve advanced to the gold medal match, but the match has not aired — you have no highlights and are even conflicted about reporting whether they’ve won in order not to spoil it for viewers who might be sticking around at 1 A.M.

The problem is that ESPN shouldn’t have a lock on all the important sporting events, but considering that they would actually rotate their cable networks’ schedule to do a lot more live coverage of events across the U.S., the trade-off is worth considering.  It goes without saying that ESPN would produce certain stuff that ABC could air live and probably delay to the Mountain and Pacific time zones, but so much more of the content would be live on the other channels.

Then again, also in NBC’s favor is that their presentation for sporting events (graphics, etc.) is just head and shoulders above other networks. ESPN’s work for ABC always seems kind of cut rate compared to how CBS handles college football and basketball and NBC handles football and the Olympics, and I keep thinking that the Four-Letter would underwhelm in this department.

Would you trade a near-monopoly on live sports to be able to see some actual Olympic content live?

Photo: Reuteurs/Kai Pfaffenbach

Gee, I Wonder Why Players Don’t Open Up More

In the past week or so, I’ve noticed a few pieces lamenting the closed-off world that today’s athlete now inhabits; one complete with public relations people, agents, ertc.  Pat Jordan wrote about that downfall in Slate, the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy whined about it recently in a column, and now, ESPN’s Scott Burnside is getting testy about how Penguins owner Mario Lemieux isn’t making himself available for sidebar or halftime show pieces, even implying that Lemieux only is accessible to the press when he has something to promote or his ego to stroke.

Considering the way the press has changed in how it treats athletes over the years, I fully support every athlete’s attempt to control his or her own image as much as possible — and that even extends to Lemieux, who is now an owner, but is being sought out because of his situation as a former legend of the club he owns.  Shaughnessy and Jordan even admit as much.  Jordan writes:

In those days, there was no big disparity between the income of a writer and that of an athlete. Catfish was probably making about 20 G’s a year, and I was making 25 G’s a year from SI. That’s why Catfish was so accessible—those free dinners, and, maybe, when my story came out, some employee for Skoal or Red Man tobacco would call up Catfish and ask him to endorse their products for a sum of money almost equal to his salary.

This is crucial to me — because so many writers seem to have this sheen of resentment about covering athletes who make much more now than they will ever hope to see in their lives; it slants their views on whether a player is producing (notice how just about every player in a slump will come with a reminder of his contract in baseball, for example), and players don’t need that extra bit in a 24/7 sports news cycle that’s already designed to chew them up and spit them out.

Is it any wonder Andruw Jones, slumping fellow that he is and overpaid, was telling T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times that he didn’t care. Simers went up there and mocked him, and what did he expect? I certainly don’t expect journalists to fawn over their subjects (they don’t work for MLB), but given the way journalism as a whole has gone over the past couple of decades, with every bit of police blotter fare and public slip-up being there for scrutiny, every pro athlete better have a crack PR staff to vet interview requests. Due diligence requires it.

The Annual Stanley Cup Playoffs/Blaming Bettman Post

Because I don’t much care for golf on television unless it’s the U.S. Open (there’s something compelling about watching the top players struggle to make par with a course the PGA has sadistically rigged), I spent most of this weekend tuned to Versus and NBC for hockey, and would have watched even more games had I access to TSN, which treats the game properly.

No pro sport’s playoff is better than the NHL, because you get finishes like Calgary coming back with four unanswered goals after San Jose scored three in the first four minutes, or the Devils and the Bruins saving their playoff lives tonight by scoring OT-game winning goals. The Colorado-Minnesota series has had two overtime games so far, and the Capitals-Flyers series looks like it will go the max seven to me. NHL playoff OT is quite possibly the best OT because you have to play until you drop — no cop-out shootouts like in the regular season (I was one of the many hockey fans who saw no problem with regular season games ending in ties.)  Plus, there is no cooler tradition in a playoff season in sport than the playoff beard.

So why does it take the chase for the Cup to get me excited about hockey, sadly? The lockout didn’t help matters, but coming back with an unabalanced schedule where every other damn game on in my market is the Kings or Ducks vs. the Sharks, Stars, or Coyotes, I get really tired of watching them — I root for the Avalanche and trying to follow them via the occasionally televised game has become even more difficult since the NHL had to go crawling in hand to Versus when ESPN lost interest. I lay this all on Gary Bettman, who still somehow has a job despite being an absolute nincompoop of a commissioner.  He should have been forced out after the lockout — except he got the owners what they wanted, and for that, he gets to stay on while his sport toils in American sporting limbo.

Every time I watch the sport in the regular season, I think, “Gee, this is a simple solution: have every team play the 25 others that are not in their division as a home-and-home each season, then split the other 32 among matches with its four division rivals.” So easy, but no…sigh….although the league has said they’ve made adjustments after realizing that it couldn’t really promote Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby when fans in various cities didn’t get to see them every year, it still hasn’t made a dent yet.

And this really is Bettman’s fault, despite the fact that every game so far has been of very high quality, all I can think about is how much better it could be.

(Oh, and I also blame Bettman for this stupid “colors at home and white on the road” bullshit. Only football gets to do that.)

Photo: Canadian Press

Cheap Shots #106.

Update #1: 9:30 AM

Damn It, I Hate It When Whitlock’s Right: Broken clock rule on Roger Clemens. [Fox Sports]

Congresscritters Kiss Clemens’ Ass: No jury would actually, say, meet with the defendant before a trial — but essentially, that is what the House Government Reform Committee has done, according to Murray Chass. GC got similar remarks off the tube coming from the mouth of Bryant Gumbel. [NYT, Can’t Stop The Bleeding]

The Big Man Code, Ordinance 225.7: The fascinating war of words between Bill Walton and Shaquille O’Neal. [Awful Announcing]

Behind The Swoosh: CNBC’s Darren Rovell did a documentary-style program on Nike, and it’s airing tonight. Supposedly it contains some stuff about its seedier side — particularly in Vietnam. I’ll probably have to catch it on repeats, but it sounds good. [Sports Biz With Darren Rovell]

2008 Swimsuit Issue: Yawn. Read once, ogle twice, ignore for rest of the year. [Sports Illustrated]

Speaking of Nike-Related Stuff: The Legend of Cecilio Guante pays tribute to another product that Michael Jordan helped make big — the Jordan Jammer.

Bigger Choke Job: Bugs and Cranks looks at the 2007 Patriots vs. the 2001 Yankees.

The Latest Berman Video: This only gets more and more amusing.

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Cheap Shots #105.

Barry Bonds’ Dogged Pursuer: Worth noting and reading — the judge in Barry Bonds’ perjury trial is not exactly enamored with IRS agent Jeff Novitzky. The man is just, say…a bit obsessed. [Yahoo]

Rusty Hardin Probably Should Reduce His Public Role: Roger Clemens’ attorney got himself in a bit of trouble with Rep. Henry Waxman after saying that they would “eat Jeff Novitzky’s lunch” if he showed up to testify against Clemens. I can’t help but think that Hardin is doing anything but helping his client. [ESPN]

Who The Heck Is Jim Zorn?: Really? This is the best Dan Snyder could do? I mean, sure at least he’s not Jim Fassel, but to promote someone who’s never even been an offensive coordinator or called plays at all seems like a stretch. Now both teams in the D.C./Baltimore areas are dealing with head coaches who’ve never been in charge of offensive or defensive units. [Washington Post]

NFC Comes Back To Win Pro Bowl: Majority of fandom yawns after watching two minutes of it to stave off prolate spheroid withdrawal.

OW. OW. OW: Thankfully, Richard Zednik is OK, but accidentally getting slashed in the neck by your own teammate’s skate…not for the squeamish. [Two Minutes for Blogging]

Christian Defense Coalition Protesting ESPN Again: This time over the released Berman videos that have him cussing a blue streak — his use of “Goddamn” and “the negative use of Jesus Christ.” I’m going to start my own political organization soon — it will defend faith against people like the CDC. [Awful Announcing]

Magic Johnson Confuses Me: Didn’t he say several months ago that Kobe Bryant shouldn’t have gone out and trashed management about not trading Andrew Bynum, now he’s just doing what a leader was supposed to do? Hmmm…. [L.A. Times]