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The Univ. of Oklahoma and Fox Sports yesterday announced the "creation of 'Sooner Sports TV,' blocks of OU sports programming totalling at least 1,000 hours annually across various Fox Sports outlets, including Fox Sports Oklahoma/Fox Sports Southwest, Fox College Sports and Fox Sports Plus," according to Jason Kersey of the OKLAHOMAN. The 10-year deal means the programming "is immediately available to 9 million homes in the Oklahoma-Texas-Arkansas-Louisiana region." Select programming from Sooner Sports TV "will be made available nationally, on Fox College Sports through cable providers or via satellite on outer market regional sports packages." The initiative launched Sept. 1, and includes "an online, 'all-access' component featuring more, untelevised content, such as live streaming and archived games." Financial terms of the partnership "were not disclosed." OU AD Joe Castiglione said, "We know it's enough to make Sooner Sports TV sustainable for the forseeable future." He added, "We did have a chance to examine several different options, including [a] stand alone, 24/7 type of channel. But this really gives us the best of all possible worlds. ... We thought this approach would serve our fans the best way possible" (OKLAHOMAN, 9/13).
CONTENT PROVIDED BY SOONER VISION: In Tulsa, Eric Bailey cited a source as estimating that the partnership's value is "at about $5 million annually." Nearly all of the content "will be produced by the Sooner Vision production unit, which has expanded to a staff of 95 over the past five years." Sports events "to be shown include encore presentations of OU football games originally televised on Fox and other networks and the spring game; approximately eight exclusive basketball games and select encores; select exclusive women's basketball games plus encores; and exclusive events and encores of Olympic sports." Sooner Sports TV programming blocks also will "showcase a variety of original programming and studio shows, including coaches' shows, weekly magazine shows and press conferences." In addition, the school will "showcase historical archives and give fans the opportunity to relive moments in OU history" (TULSA WORLD, 9/13).
TEXAS TECH SIGNS DEAL: Fox Sports and Learfield Sports, Texas Tech's athletic multimedia rights holder, today announced a multiyear agreement to televise one Texas Tech football game per year on a Fox Sports channel. FS Southwest, FS Southwest Plus, and Fox College Sports are among the possible channels. Texas Tech’s Sept. 1 home opener against Northwestern State on FS Southwest Plus officially began the partnership. Fox Sports channels will also televise all available men’s basketball games, up to 20 Olympic sports, and additional non-game programming selected by Fox Sports and Texas Tech (Fox Sports).
With the Oct. 1 launch of Time Warner Cable SportsNet and the Spanish-language Time Warner Cable Deportes just a couple weeks away, TWC has still yet to sign a carriage deal with any of the L.A. area's "other half-dozen pay TV providers," according to Lisa Richwine of REUTERS. TWC Senior VP & GM of the RSNs Mark Shuken said that execs “are working to sign other carriage deals before the first Lakers pre season game on October 7.” Shuken: "It's getting close. This pace, and this negotiating timeline, is consistent with virtually every (regional sports network) launch." He added, “We are making it very clear to the fans that we will be up and running October 1 and look forward to having agreements with all of their cable and satellite providers.” Barclays analyst James Ratcliffe said that at least 3 million people "in the greater LA market use services other than Time Warner Cable." Ratcliffe added that the biggest operator TWC needs “is satellite provider DirecTV, which has about 1.3 million subscribers in the LA area.” NBA Commissioner David Stern said that he “was ‘very optimistic’ new distributors would sign before the Lakers' first regular season game on October 31, but he conceded some fans might miss early games.” He said, "My guess is there'll be some delay in some cases, but eventually deals will be made” (REUTERS, 9/12).
ON-AIR TALENT: TWC SportsNet yesterday announced that James Worthy, Chris McGee, Dave Miller and Mike Trudell are joining the net's on-air team for Lakers broadcasts. Worthy will be the main studio analyst for Lakers games. He has hosted Lakers pre- and postgame shows on KCAL-CBS for the past three seasons. McGee will be a studio anchor and joins the net after nine years at Fox Sports. While there, he served as the Lakers' sideline reporter. Miller will take on the roles of studio analyst, commentator and reporter. Trudell will serve as a sideline reporter for all Lakers telecasts. As previously announced, Stu Lantz and Bill Macdonald will call all Lakers games on TWC SportsNet and Andy Adler, who joined the net in May, will serve as studio anchor (TWC).
TRYING TO KEEP COSTS DOWN: MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Farrell noted TWC Exec VP & CFO Irene Esteves at an investor conference said that "keeping costs down was the main driver for starting the network." She said that the company "was excited about the RSN launch," but added that the sports business "is one the MSO would prefer not to be in." Esteves: "As we’ve always said, our only reason for being in this business is to ensure long-term access at reasonable rates for important sports programming. We prefer not to be in this business and if we had been charged more reasonable rates for important sports programming, we probably wouldn’t be in this position. But now that we are we’re going to make it a successful business." Although she "would not disclose how much Time Warner Cable is saving by forming the RSNs, she added that the company is confident that the net costs will be significantly lower than if the MSO was at risk of increased costs for the programming over the next 20 years" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 9/12).
The L.A. Daily News' Scott Wolf last night indicated that he has been allowed to cover USC football practices again after initially being banned for two weeks by coach Lane Kiffin for disclosing injury information. Wolf wrote on his Twitter feed, "I am happy to say my football practice ban was lifted after talks with [USC AD] Pat Haden and area sports editors. Practice policy talks continue" (TWITTER.com, 9/12). L.A. Newspaper Group Sports Editor Gene Warnick yesterday said that USC had barred Wolf from practice and was not planning to "issue him a credential” for the USC-Cal game on Sept. 22. In L.A., Gary Klein noted Wolf on Sunday reported USC K Andre Heidari “had knee surgery last week and is expected to be sidelined for about three weeks” after not playing in last week's game against Syracuse. Kiffin “is not addressing injuries this season,” and USC in August announced “a policy barring the media from reporting strategy or injury-related news observed during in-season practices.” Klein notes the Daily News report “did not cite practice-related information.” Warnick said, "From our standpoint, Scott was doing his job. This wasn't something that was part of practice. We were just trying to report the news” (L.A. TIMES, 9/12). Meanwhile, ESPN L.A.'s Pedro Moura during yesterday's episode of "College Football Live" was asked about the injury status of USC C Khaled Holmes. He said, “I can’t tell you because Lane Kiffin’s new policy here at USC says that USC cannot detail anything that happens to players in terms of injuries. All we can say is what happened on the field and we can add no more detail to any given injury. That’s the way it is now.” After talking about whether Holmes' backup is likely to play this Saturday, ESPN’s Joe Tessitore said, “So you can tell me something, Pedro. We appreciate that. Pedro Moura, playing by Lane Kiffin’s rules” (“College Football Live,” ESPN, 9/12).
HUSHED HUSKIES: In Seattle, Bud Withers reported the Univ. of Washington yesterday "announced it was implementing the same policy" as USC regarding practice injury reports. The general standard had been for reporters "not to write about strategy maneuvers ... but that injury news is fair game." Withers: "Obviously, there's a massive gray area here. Coaches can't reasonably expect reporters not to write about injuries when they've kept a player from appearing in a game. So when it is OK? ... I think the policy is an entree for coaches to do what many of them are doing already: Closing practices to the media altogether" (SEATTLETIMES.com, 9/12). A UW spokesperson said that the injury policy "is the same at USC, Stanford, Oregon and Washington State." It also is known that UCLA coach Jim Mora "does not disclose injuries on his team" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 9/13).
ESPN tonight will broadcast its 50,000th episode of “SportsCenter,” and 12-year veteran anchor Scott Van Pelt said of the show’s longevity, “All you can do is just try to continue to put the honest effort in to cover the games and events the way that people want you to, and trust that if you do that people will continue to seek you out.” The show has been on the air since Sept. 7, 1979, and Van Pelt said the biggest evolution he has seen in “SportsCenter” is that it is now based more around discussion and analysis as opposed to highlight footage. He said, “The show has become far more ‘big event’ driven, and about the analysis and highlights of the big event than it is a painting with broad strokes.” Having appeared in around 4,000 episodes, Van Pelt took time this week to look back on, and share what it is about “SportsCenter” that stands out to him.
Q: What is your most memorable episode or on-air moment?
Van Pelt: Without question, the show that I remember most vividly was a remarkable, remarkable night -- last year, the last day of the baseball season. The Orioles were playing the Red Sox, the Yankees were playing the Rays, and there was this impossible confluence of “if this, then that.” And it all happened within about a three-minute span where Jonathan Papelbon blew the game, the Red Sox lost -- completing their collapse -- and Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run for the Tampa Bay Rays which meant that they caught the Red Sox and were in the playoffs. Stuart Scott and I were on the air seconds after all this happened. You’re trying to process it, you realize that this is monumental … and we’re on the air.
He and I had a very honest, real kind of exchange to start the show. I said, “How long have you done this?” He said, “18 years.” And I said, “I’ve been here about a dozen, so that’s 30 years and we could be here 100 years and we would never see something more bizarre than what just happened.” From there we were just kind of off and running. I think that people seemed to -- at least the reactions that I got -- people appreciated what I was saying is what they were thinking. And that’s the best part of the job is if you can allow yourself not to be so buttoned up and professional that you’re just, “Here we are and here’s what happened in Baltimore,” and instead you’re just like, “Are you freaking kidding me?” Because that’s exactly what everybody is thinking out there watching.
Q: What is the biggest or toughest storyline that you have covered for “SportsCenter?”
Van Pelt: There have been just these awful stories, especially lately. … Obviously the Penn State story became just so -- and it wasn’t just sports related -- but it was just so significant. I really hate being the prisoner of the moment, but I can’t think of anything that was as visceral as the Penn State story because of what that university represented in terms of its football program, but then the idea of the kids who were at risk suffering the way that they did. That was massive. The work stoppages and this and that, the games happen every day -- things like that story, thankfully and hopefully, only happen once.
Q: Is there a certain time block that you prefer anchoring?
Van Pelt: I only do the (11:00pm ET) anymore, and it’s just a byproduct of my life. But frankly, it’s the one that I personally absolutely prefer. I’m a results guy. I’m a what happened, why did it happen, let’s show you the moment. For example, Stuart and I are on the set, coming off North Carolina versus Duke, Austin Rivers hits a shot at the buzzer and Duke stuns North Carolina and three seconds later we’re on the air. The immediacy of that moment and the adrenaline of that moment cannot be replicated anywhere else. That landscape, that hour … that’s what I want to be on because as I say, I’m much more for the results and highlights as opposed to all the story lines that surround it.
Q: If you could make any one change to the show, what would it be?
Van Pelt: For me personally, I always want to show as many highlights as we possibly can. I’m just a little more old school in that I personally would prefer to see a more thorough representation of what happened throughout the day in sports as opposed to covering the biggest event of the day wall-to-wall. I understand that in the hour from 11 to midnight, a lot of real estate is spoken for and you can’t be a buffet to the world. … You have to try to kind of serve the masses the most popular things. … I wish that we were able to squeeze more highlights in at the expense of other elements that I personally don’t find as entertaining and enjoyable. But the success of the show over the years has made that real estate very, very coveted.
Q: How can the show stay current and continue to embrace ever-evolving technology and social media?
Van Pelt: That is the biggest issue of the moment -- figuring out a way to stay relevant for fans in the landscape where things have changed so drastically. … How do you keep people coming back to that place? A lot of it -- I do believe -- is the routine, the sense that we’re the home for sports fans. It sounds corny but I think that it’s true. I think people just know, “I’ll put on ‘SportsCenter.’” “If I’ve been out, I’ll put on ‘SportsCenter.’” But you can’t just assume that will always be true, because that’s the kind of arrogance that leads to the fall of Rome.
Q: What are your favorite “This is SportsCenter” promos?
Van Pelt: I have been -- and I’m not bragging -- I think I’ve been in more of them than anyone and let me make this clear, the reason I’ve been in more of them than anyone is because the very first one I did they put me in the trunk of a car and realized that I was willing to be the punch line and I have been many, many times since then. The new one with John Clayton that people are losing their minds over -- when I saw the script, I said this will be one of the greats. If he’s willing to do it and buy into it, it will be hilarious. When I saw it on paper, I looked at the director and said, “Is he gonna do it as it's written?” And he said, “I think so.” And I said, “Well this is an all-timer.” I love, there’s one called “Old Timer's Day,” which features elderly anchors and there is this one guy who reminds me of my grandfather who passed away unfortunately far too long ago, I love that ad.
And of the ones I’ve been in, the Jimmy Rollins one I like. It’s about getting in slumps and looking at the tape and he and I go through the process of trying to figure out if he can help me. I think that’s the favorite one that I’ve been in, but the Clayton one is gonna be tough to top. …The Rollins one pops up every now and again and I kind of chuckle because the whole bit between me and him was kind of unscripted looking at the tape and it came out pretty funny.