The NFL's TV rights-holders have “not let their multibillion-dollar business partnerships with the NFL temper their broadcasters’ commentary,” according to Chad Finn of the BOSTON GLOBE. During NBC’s Patriots-Ravens broadcast Sunday night, play-by-play announcer Al Michaels and analyst Cris Collinsworth were “increasingly critical as the curious calls piled up.” Such honesty “isn’t surprising from Collinsworth, an outstanding broadcaster who habitually tells it like it is.” But it is “particularly refreshing -- and perhaps a little surprising -- when criticism comes from ESPN,” which has been “accused in the past of placating the wishes of the NFL.” ESPN did “take it very seriously Monday night, not only during the broadcast but in the postgame programming as well, providing candor and clarity amid the chaos” of the conclusion to Packers-Seahawks. Analyst Jon Gruden “sounded almost distraught as the officiating blunders mounted.” The significance of the controversial ending to Monday’s game was “emphasized in the serious and smart postgame coverage of the debacle on ESPN and the NFL Network.” ESPN’s postgame “SportsCenter” featured commentator Rick Reilly, who “proved a worthy outlet for attempting to sort out what had happened.” ESPN's Steve Young was “particularly compelling, emotionally articulating his frustration in a manner that almost sounded like a plea.” The NFL Network “wasn’t as harsh” as ESPN, but it “didn’t position itself as a house organ, either” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/26). The morning news shows of NFL broadcast partners CBS and NBC again today featured stories on the NFL referee controversy within the first quarter-hour of their programs. "CBS This Morning" featured an interview via satellite with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, while NBC's Bob Costas appeared in-studio on NBC's "Today." ABC's "GMA" ran a three-minute segment on the refs 11 minutes into the broadcast (THE DAILY).
NO FALLOUT YET: CABLEFAX DAILY notes although on-air talent has “criticized the temp referees the league hired while it tries to resolve labor issues with its regular refs, cable ops carrying NFL Network are staying quiet.” An NFL Network spokesperson said that the net “hasn’t heard from any" of the cable providers. The spokesperson said the net is covering all the action “in a similar balanced fashion” to the other nets covering the league (CABLEFAX DAILY, 9/26). However, in Phoenix, Bob McManaman notes the NFL Network during one show yesterday "spent about 45 minutes defending the replacement refs who clearly erred multiple times" in Monday's game. McManaman writes listening to former NFL GM Charlie Casserly "drone on about how the replacement refs got the call right at the end made me sick to my stomach." McManaman: "Lose the B.S., Charlie. You can never be taken seriously again. The NFL Network may have the same problem moving forward" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/26).
RATINGS BOON: USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand writes when it "comes to TV ratings, the replacement refs are "bringing out plenty of rubberneckers." ESPN’s 90-minute “SportsCenter” that followed Packers-Seahawks began at midnight ET, but still "drew 4.5% of U.S. households." For shows "lasting more than 20 minutes, it was the most watched ‘SportsCenter’ ever.” The mark also was “higher than the rating for any college football game last weekend” (USA TODAY, 9/26). In L.A., T.J. Simers wrote it was “incredibly entertaining to watch Young gather himself, knowing he was about to savage NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, no doubt weighing the consequences in his head before he did so.” It can be argued the “worst thing about the night was ESPN going with the traditional on-field interview” with Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Simers: "Who wants to hear from a guy programmed to say what a rookie is supposed to say when the most improbable, shocking finish in recent memory has just taken place? I couldn't believe an ESPN producer wasn't yelling into reporter Lisa Salters' ear and telling her enough already with the endless questions to Wilson and instead show everyone at home the full picture reaction in the stadium” (LATIMES.com, 9/25).
OFFICIALLY REPRESENTED: USA TODAY’s Hiestand notes former NFL ref Gerry Austin is “becoming a star as ESPN’s first-year rules analyst.” He joins Fox’ Mike Pereira and NBC’s Jim Daopoulos as on-air rules analysts. CBS Sports VP/Communications Jen Sabatelle said that the net has “no plans to add a rules analyst” (USA TODAY, 9/26).
Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Spanish-language Time Warner Cable Deportes are “poised to spend many millions" more on programming and promotion devoted to the Lakers than previous rights holders Fox Sports West and KCAL-CBS, according to Joe Flint of the L.A. TIMES. Among SportsNet's news shows is "Backstage Lakers," which will "take fans to previously off-limits areas, including the executive suites and locker rooms." Although the channels are “100% owned by Time Warner Cable, the Lakers have a lot of editorial control, including final cut over ‘Backstage Lakers’ and other shows about the franchise.” Lakers Senior VP/Business Operations Tim Harris said, "The approval rights were born out of a desire to be more involved in how our brand is portrayed." Flint notes the Lakers also “have a lot of sway over who will cover the team, as evidenced by Time Warner Cable's backtracking on hiring former Boston Red Sox reporter Heidi Watney.” The channels are set to "go live Monday." TWC in order to make the channels pay off “must get other distributors in the area to carry the networks,” and thus far “none is rushing to sign a contract.” The company is “hoping its heavy investment in original programming beyond the games and forgoing infomercials … will help sell the networks to other distributors.” TWC would not “divulge what it is seeking for the two channels,” but sources said that the price tag is “as much as $3.95 per subscriber per month for both channels depending on what part of Southern California a distributor serves.” A Cox spokesperson said, "We understand that the Lakers are popular sports programming, but that programming comes at an extremely high price" (L.A. TIMES, 9/26).
SB Nation's relaunch will be both "technological and editorial," as college sports blogger Spencer Hall has been named SB Nation's "first editorial director," according to Charlie Warzel of AD WEEK. Hall, who joined SB Nation in '09 and runs the college football blog EDSBS.com, will "oversee SB's main site while maintaining his blog and trying to showcase the work of the network's thousands of writers." Hall said, "I'll take the 300 plus-sites and try to corral some kind of common vision and coordination between them, which is very daunting and sounds almost impossible, but as an Internet native writer and someone who's been around SB Nation for a while, it's something I think I have a pretty good handle on." Warzel noted SB Nation is following in the footsteps of web native properties like ESPN's Grantland, and is "making investments in long form feature writing." That section will be headed up by Glenn Stout, editor of the "Best American Sports Writing" series. The blog "plans to publish three or four long form pieces per week." Hall said, "We are not going to stray away from our core idea of focusing on the fan experience from every level" (ADWEEK.com, 9/25). SB Nation yesterday debuted an overall site redesign, with new logos for its network of more than 300 individual blogs and a new content management system making SB Nation more optimized for mobile platforms. The updates, tagged "SB Nation United" by company officials, are designed to boost uniformity with regard to both content and ad sales. Jim Bankoff, Chair & CEO of SB Nation parent company Vox Media, said, "We think this helps a lot with overall branding, which admittedly has been disjointed in some spots between the individual blogs and SB Nation as a whole" (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
ESPN's "Football at a Crossroads" series of investigative reporting and feature stories was “an ambitious and effective display of journalism and storytelling, told with every arrow in ESPN’s quiver,” according to Jason Fry in the latest entry for ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project. With the NFL “facing a growing number of lawsuits" on the issue of concussions, ESPN.com NFL Senior Deputy Editor John Banks "proposed a late-summer series exploring the issue.” ESPN has been criticized before for “struggling with the conflicts between its journalism and its multibillion-dollar business relationships, but this package showed its journalists doing unflinching work despite such challenges.” The series showed that ESPN “can be an effective advocate, using its resources to explore a subject many sports fans want to ignore.” Poynter has previously “challenged ESPN to use its pre-eminence in sports information and journalism to shine a light in dark corners and encourage real change.” ESPN "has a role to play" in regards to the concussions issue. The question is “what that role should be and where to draw the lines between investigation and advocacy.” ESPN "could have made its efforts more effective in a couple of ways.” For one, the package “lacked a natural entry point and overview.” In addition, ESPN should “weigh in more strongly on how to make football safer -- and what should happen if that proves impossible.” ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha offered 10 suggestions, but “his take should be the beginning of that effort, not the end.” Fry: “We’d like to see more radical proposals and a vigorous debate involving players, physicians, parents, league officials and others, presented under the Football at a Crossroads banner and made easy for readers to find.” ESPN Senior News Editor/Enterprise Reporting Dwayne Bray said that ESPN “considered holding a television town hall on the subject but had to abandon the idea based on logistics as the season approached.” Reviving that concept “would be a terrific next step” (ESPN.com, 9/24).
White Sox TV announcers Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone make "more nakedly biased statements during a single game than every other TV broadcast team in the American League combined," according to a study of the local bias of all 30 MLB team's broadcasters cited by Jared Diamond of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The paper "decided to watch one nine-inning game played by every major-league team to evaluate its local broadcasters for bias." The study was "prompted by" Harrelson's "unabashed homerism." During the July 5 Rangers-White Sox game, "made a whopping 104 biased statements." Indians broadcasters Matt Underwood and Rick Manning "ranked second with just 23 biased comments." Meanwhile, 24 of the 30 teams "had fewer than 10." Harrelson, when told of his place in the bias standings, said, "You just made my day. That's the biggest compliment you could give me, to call me the biggest homer in baseball." Diamond noted five MLB broadcast teams "made it through their games without a single biased comment." Broadcasters in larger markets were "generally less biased." SportsNet N.Y. Senior VP/Production & Exec Producer Curt Gowdy Jr. said that in "a 'highly opinionated' market like New York, the fans wouldn't take well to their announcers being blatant homers." Gowdy: "The 'we' and 'our' cannot be in the vocabulary" (WSJ.com, 9/24).