Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympics: A Final High and Bye-Bye

While some sports talkers on radio and TV anticipate a bump for pro hockey in the aftermath of Sunday's gold medal game between Canada and the United States that drew more than 25 million U.S. viewers, the more likely outcome will be typically Olympic.

Typical as in large patriotic viewership for a major event and then back to obscurity. It's the same story for almost an Olympic sport. Sure, people remember the flavor-of-the-quadrennial downhill skier or figure skater for a while, but few winter sports whet the appetites of sports consumers on a regular basis.

From the just completed games, snowboarder Shawn White and his friends might have the most potential staying power because they're part of an emerging competition that has at least an annual forum with the X Games on ESPN -- and White himself certainly knows how to stand out in a busy marketplace.

Even U.S. women's downhill standout and gold medal winner Lindsey Vonn, who leaves the Games to continue her pursuit of another overall world championship, might not really jump into our consciousness again until 2014. Even with her success and the media's love for her story, she might be another typical Olympic story as well. (Thanks for the gold medal, and then off to the sports world's version of the witness protection program).

Overall, the Vancouver Games on NBC were well-watched, dominating nightly viewing in the United States and drawing better numbers than the 2006 Games in Italy but lower numbers than those from 2002 in Salt Lake City. According to the Sports Business Daily, the final Nielsen rating for its primetime coverage of the Vancouver Games through Saturday night (16 telecasts) was up 13 percent from a 12.3 average in 2006, but down 27 percent from a 19.0 in 2002.

While many in the media complained about the overall lack of live events, because of NBC's storytelling approach to save many events and show them on tape in prime time, regular viewers did not seem upset. They tuned in night after night, and flocked to their TV sets for the live events that were shown and the U.S.-Canada hockey game in the preliminary round (8.2 million viewers on cable's MSNBC) as well as the gold medal game (more than 25 million viewers on NBC).

In terms of on-air action behind the microphones, hockey play-by-play man Mike Emrick was one of the big winners, with his smooth, super style getting much-wider-than-usual exposure because of the number of people watching hockey. He's one of the best at what he does.

Also, Tim Ryan always seems to do a good job on downhill skiing and Al Trautwig, with U.S. competitors in contention for the first time ever, had a reason to do good work -- and did so -- on nordic skiing events.

Former speed skater Dan Jansen was good as an analyst, appropriately critical of ice conditions early in the Games, and the folks from the curling venue (Andrew Catalon, Don Duguid and Colleen Jones) also provided necessary background and critiques when necessary.

Misfires were few, although common -- especially because NBC was rarely critical of the host country or International Olympic Committee. (And how can you criticize someone you're paying $2 billion?)

While the network started strong, mixing an appropriate amount of news about the death of a Georgian luge competitor at the start of the game, NBC rarely lingered over conditions at venues or other problems. Worse, though, was the lack of stories. While taped coverage allows for features and storylines, those things were mostly missing -- at least in any in-depth form, or about anyone not on the network's predetermined list of stars.

And whether those stars emerge again on TV remains the everlasting Olympic challenge. Again, while Sunday's hockey game 25 million U.S. viewers, the NHL never delivers such numbers.

In fact, a more fair (and striking) comparison might be the preliminary round game between the United States and Canada, which drew 8.2 million viewers on MSNBC. Conversely, regular season hockey games average fewer than 250,000 viewers on Versus.

Friday, February 26, 2010

ESPN2 Broadcast Combines Two Good Things

Hardly anyone will watch, but ESPN2 presents two important things in the same broadcast at 7 tonight -- a slice of some 84-year-old Americana and a practice run for some emerging technology.

The Americana comes in the form of the Harlem Globetrotters, and the game that airs tonight was taped live Thursday against their regular foils, the Washington Generals. Some interesting tweaks come with ESPN Radio hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic as guest coaches for the respective teams, and the entire event gets presented under the Disney Sports banner as the "re-launch" of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

Yes, it's a company show all the way around -- with Disney-owned ESPN presenting the event and its personnel playing big roles.

Still, the Globetrotters and their age-old schtick have proven their time-tested worth in the past on TV. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, they were a mainstay of "Wide World of Sports" presented by ABC Sports and as recently as 2008 the Globetrotters hour-long appearance on the fledgling MyNetworkTV cable channel produced some 2.4 million viewers.

While Globetrotters games are not competitive contests, and some of the related activities and skits have not changed almost since the inception of the barnstorming group, that comfort and familiarity do produce entertainment that has an audience. It would be a huge victory if 2.4 million people watched tonight, though, especially opposite the Olympics.

Mostly, the game provides some necessary programming for ESPN and another forum to hype both Disney World and ESPN the Weekend. In addition, ESPN's Emerging Technology Group used the contest as an another test for ESPN's 3D network, which will be fully launched in June with the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Officials expect ESPN 3D, the industry’s first 3D television network, to showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, with the first June 11 when South Africa meets Mexico in the Word Cup. Along with more than 20 World Cup games, the initial 3D schedule includes X Games 16, college basetball and college football -- including the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10, 2011.

ESPN has been testing 3D for more than two years. Last fall, ESPN presented the USC at Ohio State football game in 3D. It was shown in theaters in the respective markets and on campus, and received generally positive feedback. Since then, ESPN has continually honed its effort and, in January, signed Sony as an official sponsor of the 3D network. As a result, Sony will be the exclusive 3D sponsor of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, 13 regular season college football games and other events where ESPN will utilize Sony professional HD cameras.

Tiger's Tale Remains Topical for Talkers

Here we are a full week later, with Tiger Woods himself back in rehab, and his public apology remains a fairly common topic on sports-talk radio. It has also reshaped sports talk radio in one major U.S. market for at least another week.

While the Tiger topic sounds like overkill to some, it's obvious fodder for sports talk -- because people cleary care -- and sports talk radio exists not so much to inform as to evoke response, thereby driving listeners and and ratings. At least in theory.

Numbers from ESPN last week prove people have an interest. During ESPN's live telecast of the statement, it averaged a 1.4 rating -- three times the audience in the timeslot the day before and higher than some live sporting events the network airs. Likewise, ESPN2's audience was 48 percent higher than the day before and ESPNEWS attracted four times its normal number of viewers.

Online -- recorded its largest concurrent streaming audience for a single event in its 10-year history (85,000 listeners) -- and in mobile applications, ESPN's other numbers were similarly huge. And those are just the result for ESPN. Other cable channels and networks enjoyed a similar boost.

So, Tiger clearly ranks a topic people care about. Even a week later.

Also, talking Tiger at least partially led to Tony Kornheiser's suspension from "Pardon the Interruption." Without Tiger last week, it's not likely Kornheiser would've been watching ESPN midday -- and thereby not watching Hannah Storm at work. Nor would he have been commenting about her clothing selections on that day.

He was doing both, though, and his critique of Storm's attire was ruled ESPN-on-ESPN crime by officials at the all-sports network, who removed him from his TV gig for two weeks starting earlier this week. He remains on radio on Washington, D.C., though. And the suspension does seem a little overboard.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

No Charges in Case Against Michael Irvin

According to an Associated Press report, NFL Network analyst and NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin will not face rape charges in regard to a case filed in early February by a woman in Florida.

At the time, the NFL Network stood behind Irvin and kept him on the air and working. He lost his radio gig in Dallas at that time, but station officials claimed that was a ratings-related move.

Irvin's lawyer expects a related civil case to have the same positive result for his client.

Big Life, Big Stage, Not-So-Big Moment on BTN

Some of the effort the Big Ten Conference and its Big Ten Network put into a public service campaign can get washed away in just a moment -- and that happened late in Wednesday's game between Ohio State and Penn State.

While Ohio State controlled much of the game, a late run by Penn State brought the crowd back into the game and pumped some atmosphere and emotion into the arena. That was something the BTN on-site and studio commentators had mentioned was missing earlier in the game.

Players clearly got caught up in it, too. When OSU's William Buford fouled out with 30 seconds remaining in the game, and the Buckeyes again comfortably in the lead, 71-64, he took his seat on the bench, water bottle in hand, and grabbed himself to taunt the student section. He then pointed at the scoreboard.

It was an exchange clearly visible on the Big Ten Network broadcast of the game but the on-air crew wisely ignored the exchange. It was just a brief poor decision by Buford -- hardly a newsworthy moment.

What made it striking, though, was that it came in such stark contrast to the conference's "Big Life. Big State. Big Ten." effort. That series of public service commercials features individual student-athletes from a variety of conference schools talking about all the positives of being a member of a community or the conference. They're nice pieces, and they air regularly during all BTN broadcasts.

Sometimes, though, the real-life moments do send a slightly different message than the scripted stuff.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Best Show on Radio Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Today marks the 10th anniversary for "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio, and it is a show worth celebrating.

Because of the diverse experiences and talent (former Notre Dame and NFL defensive lineman Mike Golic and former Northwestern student and solid sports journalist Mike Greenberg), and because of ESPN's platform and power, "Mike and Mike" make an impact each and every day on the air.

Like any other show, they're usually topical. Unlike other shows, though, ESPN allows them access to solid experts and guest.

Like any other show hosts, they have things to say. Unlike other show hosts, though, they play almost perfectly of off each other, expressing opinions and insights without sounding pompous or preachy.

It's just a good show, and it has remained strong -- even improved -- during four hours every morning because the on- and off-air team continually adapt and update. While Mike and Mike remain as the consistent building blocks, certain guests, segments and special events change. So the show never gets tiresome or stale. It's familiar and fun.

At the same time, other standards remain, including the upcoming "Sheet of Integrity" challenge around the NCAA Tournament in which the two hosts complete separate bracket sheets for the tournament with an associated wager.

As with all good radio, the hosts bare their souls, share personal stories and come across as people whom listeners like.

Those personalities drive the show more than expertise and opinions. Plus, the production team for the program -- especially as it has diversified through the years and found a simulcast home on ESPN2 -- has only added to the success of "Mike and Mike." Whether on TV or radio, with a great variety of song parodies and skits, the behind-the-scenes team (and they're sometimes front and center, which is nice) plays an important and valuable role in the show's success.

It's one of the best examples of what sports talk radio should strive to be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kornheiser's Comments Prompt Suspension

Popular "Pardon the Interruption" co-host Tony Kornheiser earned himself a two-week suspension from the show as the result of some harsh criticism.

While he makes his living with commentary and criticism, the subject of Kornheiser's criticism last Friday on his radio show in Washington, D.C., was a fellow ESPN employee, "SportsCenter" anchor Hannah Storm. And Kornheiser did something that usually proves fatal in the court of public opinion -- he criticized a woman's clothing choices.

He called an outfit Storm, 47, was wearing "horrifying" with a "very, very tight" shirt and a skirt that was "way too short for somebody her age."

While Kornheiser apologized during the same show ("I apologize, unequivocally. I'm a sarcastic, subversive guy ... I'm a troll, look at me. I have no right to insult what anybody looks like or what anybody wears. That, I think, should go without saying.") in which he made the critical remarks, ESPN officials apparently mulled the matter and decided three business days later, on Tuesday, to take action.

ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper released this statement: "Tony Kornheiser's comments about Hannah Storm were entirely inappropriate. Hurtful and personal comments such as these are not acceptable and have significant consequences. Tony has been suspended from PTI for two weeks. Hannah is a respected colleague who has been an integral part of the success of our morning SportsCenter."

Monday, February 22, 2010

'NFL Full Contact' tru-ly Worth Watching

"Monday Night Football" ended weeks ago, but the NFL continues to provide some of the best-sports related programming on TV at the start of the work week.

With "NFL Full Contact," which airs on at 10 p.m. Mondays on tru TV, the league provides a controlled behind-the-scenes look at some of the season's biggest events. The series opened two weeks ago with a look back at the season-opening concert, game and related activities in Pittsburgh. Last week, the first NFL game at Cowboys Stadium was the focus.

This week, the show chronicles the annual American Bowl in London between the Patriots and Buccaneers.

Sure, the shows are old news, but they're not news programs. Thanks to the talent of NFL Films storytellers, the games just provide a backdrop for what happens around them -- everything from the mundane to the outrageous.

By investing an hour of time, fans can come away with a better appreciation for all aspects of the NFL and what it does. Because the show does that, it also reaches its ultimate goal -- further spreading the gospel of pro football through the controlled lenses of the league.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hockey Broadcast a Non-Medal Highlight

No medals were awarded Sunday, but a somewhat suprising U.S. victory against Canada finally got Olympic men's hockey on NBC.

As the game concluded on MSNBC -- with play-by-play man Mike Emrick again showing why he's one of the best hockey broadcasters in the business -- NBC finally showed the action from what was an action-packed game.

Because it was not skating or sking, because it was only a preliminary round game, NBC had pushed the star-studded hockey matchup to MSNBC, where it aired commercial-free, live and in its entirety.

Only with the U.S. victory ensured did NBC mention the game. That came just after 10 p.m., with Bob Costas noting the victory and then, after a break, the network provided a live look-in at the empty arena with Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth recounting the emotion and energy of the game with a few highlights. They were clearly impressed with the game they had witnessed.

Unfortunately, many other sports fans were denied that opportunity. Sure, die-hards with the right cable package or satellite service certainly found the game on MSNBC, but many others missed a chance to watch one of the Games' best moments so far live.

And NBC's crew, led by Emrick and analyst Ed Olczyk, were solid throughout. Olczyk, the former Pittsburgh Penguins coach, was the only person at a news conference before the start of the Games who said he expected the U.S. to emerge with the gold medal from the hockey tournament. Along with their on-air skills, the broadcast's production (camera angles, replays and more) were perfect.

Conversely, the hurried mention of the game on NBC was clearly live TV, because Michaels was audibly talking to his producer at the same time Costas was talking to the nation and trying to introduce him and Collinsworth.

Curling's Format Makes Sport Engaging on TV

As NBC's Olympic coverage dominates nightly ratings, often overlooked curling -- shown almost exclusively on cable partner MSNBC and usually treated as either a curiosity or joke by U.S. sports fans and viewers -- provides many of the elements those same fans find important in their mainstream sports.

Specifically, it's an easy sport to follow on TV, contests get completed in a compartively quick timeframe and the nature of the sport allows ample room for analysts to provide commentary and criticism.

A Sunday matchup between women's teams from the United States and Canada provided a solid example.

While Canada dominated the match, members of NBC's broadcast crew did just what a group broadcasting an NFL game would during a blowout -- they tapped into technology and repeatedly pointed out mistakes.

First, they capably used a telestrator to analyze and outline strategy. Early in the match, with Canada needing a superb shot to start a chain-reaction among the 42-pound rocks, NBC's Colleen Jones adeptly used the on-screen technlogy to show just where the shot needed to go to work. Not surprisingly, the accurate Canadians made the play work exactly that way.

Several days ago, during their first few curling broadcasts of the Games, they were not nearly as adept with the technology. That they have improved provides a nice benefit for viewers frustrated by the fact that the TV types were stumbling with the technology in the first place.

Second, the NBC team has done something that chafes some curling purists -- it has criticized the execution and strategy of the curlers themselves. They have noted flawed strategy or missed shots, and on Sunday they continually pointed to obviously missed throws by U.S. team member Debbie McCormick. To those purists criticism probably sounds out of place. To casual curling observers and U.S. sports fans just giving the sport a chance, though, it looks and sounds like any other sport they see on TV. And that, even with an unusual sport, makes things seem familiar and worth watching.

Finally, curling broadcasts during the Games have included another technique familiar to viewers of the NFL and other major U.S. sports -- visits to the booth by celebrities and other sports starts. With curling, those visitors have included Vernon Davis, the San Franciso 49ers tight end who was selected as honorary captain for the U.S. curling team, and Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who probably has a pass and an open invitation to visit any venue in Vancouver any time he wants.

Also, the analysts' criticism eventually proved correct -- or at least actionable. When the U.S. team played to its next game, against Sweeden later Sunday, McCormick, the team captain, had replaced herself as the team's final thrower.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nike's Support of Woods Complete, Well-Timed

Athletic apparel and shoe giant Nike has stood by Tiger Woods throughout his public humiliation and the aftermath, and a well-timed commercial Friday added another subtle example of the company's clear-cut support.

At the first commercial break during "SportsCenter" -- just after Woods' public apology had again been shown in its entirety -- one of Nike's latest ads, "Human Chain," aired.

The ad features a message about getting up after falling down.

Woods is never referenced or shown in the ad, but it provided a strikingly effective message about Nike's support for Woods (whether planned or not) when ESPN viewers caught it after the opening segment of "SportsCenter" at midday, just an hour or so after the live statement by the world's No. 1 golfer.

Cut-Out Camera Impacts Tiger Telling His Tale

While people debate the effectiveness of Tiger Wood's public statement Friday, there's no debating technology impacted the message.

Specifically, when the feed from the lone camera in the back of the room at TPC Sawgrass died, the final few moments of the nearly 14-minute talk by Woods lost a little something -- another chance for Woods to look directly into the camera, straight at fans, and offer his apology and request for eventual support.

Early on the talk, Woods looked straight at the camera to make firm points, especially about his family. The practiced and fairly well-executed talk seemed to come off well as Woods used the main camera in the back of the room as a partner when appropriate.

Throughout the first part of his talk, the only time the camera from the side of the room, which showed Woods on the right behind a small podium with family and friends in the first row of seats to the left, was used was to show his mother's reactions to what he said. (She was tough to read, too.)

Without the main camera for the final few minutes, Woods did not get to look directly at viewers -- and there were multiple millions of them because and every network and cable news outlet, as well as online sources, carried the event. He had that opportunity early in the talk and did fairly well, though, and it's really the message that matters more than the medium.

Still, it will be interesting to follow the feedback and responses and see if the way it was delivered, with an unplanned camera angle, had a lasting impact.

Abundant Coverate Planned of Tiger's Talk

Anyone who does not care about what Tiger Woods has to say Friday, when he makes a statement at 11 a.m. at the TPC Sawgrass, might have a difficult time avoiding the topic.

Had Woods picked prime time for his announcement instead of late morning on the East Coast, the event might have attracted more interest than the State of the Union Address. It still might.

ESPN plans live coverage on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPN Radio and its ESPN website. Several other cable TV networks plan to carry the statement live, and provides another online option.

In the less than 24 hours since the event was announced, sports talk radio has driven the story with expectations and speculation. At the same time, media members have mostly railed against the format of the event -- a controlled media session without questions. Expect both of those things to continue in the aftermath.

No matter what, though, expect almost everyone to know what happens and what Tiger said, because there will be almost no way to avoid it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympics are NOT Sports on TV ... and That's OK

During Wednesday's gold rush with some star-studded storylines from the Winter Olympics, NBC's primetime coverage again showed that the Games are not sports on TV.

They're not a vehicle for complete coverage and timely results, either.

They're just a TV program with a sports theme ... and that's really OK.

People who cared, and even those with no interest at all, knew hours before it happened that Lindsey Vonn had won gold in the women's downhill. Her story of talent and overcoming injury has been one of the most omnipresent themes of the Games. Many viewers probably planned to watch at night and see the gold-medal run for themselves because that was the only way they could see it.

As part of its storytelling approach, NBC began its Wednesday night broadcast by focusing on a Fantastic Four, of sorts, some the most marketable U.S. team members -- Vonn, Shani Davis, Apolo Ohno and Shaun White -- who would be the focus of the evening's coverage. They would be the stars of the show, a show set to last for several more hours and designed to drive ratings and maintain viewership -- the same goals of any other TV show.

That approach makes sense on many levels for NBC. Because the Olympics only happen once every four years, viewers might be willing to exercise a bit more patience for results and stories. Additionally, while critics and media members regularly gripe about the lack of live events shown by the network, those people probably represent a minority among sports fans.

Could NBC have shown Vonn's run live Wednesday afternoon on one of its sister channels? Probably. Would it have made sense to do that, when fewer people would've seen it and then show it again at night? Probably not. (Another factor that plays into such decisions are the highlights of the events. Once something airs, it is not available for other networks to air the highlights for a specified period. If NBC would've gone live with it in the afternoon, that would've changed when footage would be available for replay by its rivals. That's why ESPN's morning shows had only still images of Vonn.)

While NBC's approach makes sense on many levels, some confusing warts remain. Most notably, they come in terms of access and timing.

Examples from Wednesday night's coverage include:
-- A nearly two-hour gap between when Davis won his gold medal in the 1,000-meter speed skating event until the time an interview with him was shown on TV. He crossed the finished line at 8:43 p.m. He was finally interviewed -- after several "coming up soon" teases -- at 10:40 p.m. That's silly and unacceptable. Especially because all of what happened in the interim was hardly meaningful.
-- A lack of follow up on the Vonn story. OK, her run was shown in the Davis interim, airing at 9:36 p.m., but appropriate context and reaction was missing. With Vonn's gold-medal run actually completed hours before, NBC should've had a longer interview or something new from her. Yes, the network designates what it's showing "live" and what it's not with an on-screen graphic but that's a subtlety missed by some and not always consistently practiced. Instead of showing the run and adding context, though, viewers got the run only -- and the impression that it had just happened. Or had happened more recently than it did.
-- A wonderful shot of snowboarder Louie Vito programming his iPod before a run with no follow up about what he listens to while competing. Or whether he's alone in using music during the run, or if it's something all snowboarders do. Something like that would've helped make the competitors more personal. Then again, it was Vito, not White -- and he was the predetermined focus.

More nitpicking ...
-- During White's preliminary run, which earned a huge score of 45.8 (out of 50), commentators said the run was spectacular and would easily earn him a spot in the halfpipe final. Then, when the score was announced, they said he has a "sigh of relief." Why? If he was clearly the best and put down a good run, why would he be relieved?
-- While the speed skating venue had problems with its ice again Wednesday, something NBC mentioned within the first five minutes of its broadcast, no reports ever followed about the situation. After the logistical problems the Games have endured at that venue and others, you start to wonder if NBC has decided not to pile on the Vancouver folks in that regard.
-- With several mentions about the "breakout" and surprising performances by Korean speed skaters, there was not attempt to explain why. When unexpected results surface at the Games, cynical and even long-time viewers inevitably wonder why -- because the Olympics have a long history of performance-enhancing efforts eventually being revealed. And the way it was covered, or not covered, just allows more speculation.
-- After White's first run in the finals, with the highest score of the night, how could a camera other than NBC's be the one that was in the foreground for a shot. So, NBC viewers saw White, and also the back of the head and back of the camera from another country's feed. It was just surprising they did not have another options. That at least happened live, though.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Danica's NASCAR Debut Drives TV Ratings

Expect to see even more of Danica Patrick, starting this week.

She initially committed to driving 12 NASCAR Nationwide Series races this year, then added the series' season-opening race at Daytona last weekend. She did OK on the track in her debut, eventually finishing 35th when she was unable to avoid a wreck in front of her.

She was more than OK on TV, though, as the race set a viewership record on ESPN2.

An average of more than 4.2 million people watched the race -- the most ever for a Nationwide Series on cable. Plus, many of the people Patrick pulled to TVs stuck around and watched the conclusion of the event even after she was eliminated from the race.

No doubt ESPN officials are thrilled Patrick will be behind the wheel this weekend when the Nationwide Series visits Auto Club Speedway in California. This was to be her first NASCAR race, until she changed gears and started things last week.

This week's telecast begins at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2, and there's no reason to doubt that ratings for the race will not increase over those of previous years, or that her second race will be any less popular than her first.

Danica's certainly doing her best to promote herself and the sport. She has appearances scheduled on several shows this week, including: “The Ellen Show,” “The Bonnie Hunt Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "CBS Evening News.”

Although some (especially other drivers who are not nearly as popular) lament the focus on Patrick at the track and on TV, she's certainly someone about whom viewers have an interest. ESPN2 has to be careful not to focus too much on Patrick, though. Or at least focus on her as a racer. Elements of last week's coverage, and the tone of that coverage, looked and sounded somewhat condescending -- mostly because they probably would not focus in the same manner on another popular open-wheel racer making the transition to stock cars.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NFL Network Adds Arena League Games

After a hiatus in 2009 because its financial model failed, the Arena Football League announced an agreement last week with NFL Network to return in 2010.

Weekly Friday night games begin April 2 on NFL Network, which gets football programming at minimal cost and does not have to sell advertising as part of the deal. It will provide on-air talent for the games.

The league -- with a 15-team lineup that does not include the AFL's last champion (Philadelphia Soul, 2008) -- represents a combination of what was the AFL and af2, a group of indoor teams in smaller markets across the United States.

Arena Football One purchased all AFL and af2 assets (team names, logos, records, film and video libraries and more) last fall. Now, with a league model similar to that of Major League Soccer, where all coaches and players are considered employees of the league, the Arena Football League plans to return. The TV deal provides necessary exposure, albeit on the NFL Network, which provides high-quality programming but does not reach nearly as many homes as former AFL partners such as ESPN and NBC.

League play includes 16 games leading to the playoffs and an eventual championship game the weekend of Aug. 20-23.

For the NFL Network, the indoor games begin after coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine and before the NFL Draft. They then continue until NFL preseason games begin. Along with filling a hole for some summer programming and giving the NFL more of a monopoly on pro football (in any form), the games provide the network with a chance to utilized high-definition technology and test techniques and access opportunities that might be able to be transferred to NFL games.

"We embrace football at all levels," said Charles Coplin, NFL Network's vice president of programming. "The AFL deal gives us exciting live football games on Friday nights from a league that has produced NFL players in the past, including Kurt Warner."

The AFL's 15-team league includes the Chicago Rush, Dallas Vigilantes, Tampa Bay Storm, Orlando Predators, Arizona Rattlers (Phoenix), Cleveland Gladiators, Utah Blaze (Salt Lake City) and the new Jacksonville Sharks, Alabama Vipers (Huntsville), Bossier-City/Shreveport Battlewings, Iowa Barnstormers, Milwaukee Iron, Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, Spokane Shock and Tulsa Talons.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Daytona Delay and Solid Start for Olympics

A tw0-hour delay for a pothole interrupted the Daytona 500 on Sunday but Fox Sports did about the best it could -- from start-of-the-season talk to an interview with NASCAR chairman Brian France -- as a way to fill time.

What was most lacking during coverage of the delay was a closer camera angle of what was happening at the fix spot or even more specific information about the attempt to fix the situation. Still, racing fans are a loyal bunch, so many probably stayed with the coverage -- and those who did not could flip to NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics.

During the race delay, NBC had live coverage of the nordic combined as Johnny Spillane of the United States earned the silver medal (the first for a U.S. competitor in the event) while three U.S. competitors finished among the top six in the event. On TV it was simply cross country skiing, the second half of two events in the nordic combined. That might not serve as appointment viewing for some sports fans, but the event finished in just over 25 minutes and it was contested in four laps. Again, that's something casual viewers could grasp, and certainly any who had switched over from NASCAR.

In addition to that event Sunday, NBC had Apolo Ohno finishing second in the 1,500-meter short track speedskating event Saturday night -- another easy-to-understand event that can engage viewers because of its physicality and speed. So far, it seems like a good start in terms of coverage and storylines for the Olympic network.

For NASCAR, the weekend also included Saturday's Nationwide Series race, which included the debut of Danica Patrick in the series. Some certainly think she got too much attention leading up to and during the race, but she was clearly the storyline. And, after some early race struggles, she seemed to be getting more comfortable in the car. Nobody realistically expected a top-10 or even top-20 finish in her debut, and her eventual 35th-place result was the result of getting caught in an accident she could not avoid and that was not her fault.

She'll be back, with the accompanying attention, this weekend when the series visits California.

One thing ESPN avoided or missed with coverage of the race, though, was Tony Stewart's patient pass of Patrick. He started deep in the field, came up on Patrick fairly early and kept his distance -- clearly wary of any rookie driver -- before eventually getting around her. While the broadcast crew talked about him moving through the field, it seemed like they missed Stewart's obvious attempt to give Patrick as much room as possible. From his perspective, had he pushed hard and gotten her loose, he would've been the bad guy. At the same time, if he'd have gotten to close and she would've wobbled it could've hurt his chances -- and he eventually won the race.

His pass was not a big moment in the race, but it was a subtle thing that could've been addressed for viewers.

On Sunday, Fox Sports missed another obvious-on-TV moment. They talked about legendary Richard Petty driving the pace car for the Daytona 500, but a view of the car on the track clearly showed the 82-year-old "king" of stock-car racing in the passenger seat. Not that it matters, because nobody really expects Petty to drive the car, but it was just an example of missing the obvious.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Early and Late ... New Station, Belated Praise

One of the nation's best sports towns gets a second sports-talk radio station Monday -- its first full time on the FM side of the dial -- when 93.7 The Fan begins broadcasting in Pittsburgh.

CBS Radio has invested in the station (which was once home to one of Pittsburgh's more popular morning shows as B-94 for years), and along with bringing in talent for a mostly local lineup the network might eventually become a player for team rights and broadcasts. That remains in the future, though.

Things begin at 6 a.m. Monday with a three-voice morning show led by Paul Alexander, who has worked in Pittsburgh for several years on TV and radio. Before that, he spent most of is career in the Altoona/Johnstown/State College markets. He'll bring imporant experience and passion to the station's morning drive show.

The lineup also includes: Vinnie Richichi, brought to the station from Seattle, and Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; John Seibel, formerly of ESPN, and Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (possibly the best sports columnist in the market), from 2 to 6 p.m.; and Gregg Giannotti from 6 to 10 p.m., who comes from WFAN in New York City.

What might be most interesting about the stationand its lineup will be the tone of shows. Pittsburgh sports talk has traditionally stressed substance over style and honesty over hype. As the market expands, though, there might be some differentiaon necessary to draw listeners -- especially to a station without team broadcasts.

There might be room in the market for the station to craft a niche, though.

Now, looking back -- and hopefully this counts as better late than never -- kudos to Steve Jones and Jerry Fisher of the Penn State Sports Network. Last Saturday with Minnesota in State College for a men's basketball game, the heavy snow prevented the Big Ten Network's scheduled play-by-play man from making it to town to work the game on TV. So, Jones, usually the voice of Penn State on radio in the region only, took the TV seat -- and did a good job working with BTN analyst Jim Jackson.

It's not easy for a team guy to move from a sometimes myopic position to an overall role, but Jones' always strong preparation certainly helped. He narrated the game's open, called the game right down the middle and set up Jackson repeatedly to make points.

With Jones off the Penn State radio broadcast, Fisher took his place. Fisher usually calls Penn State's women's basketball on radio and he slid into the men's broadcast without a problem. The good work by both was a testament to their professionalism and talent.

Friday, February 12, 2010

NBC Opens Games with Good News Focus

News arose before the Olympic Games really began, and NBC responded perfectly.
As the network's coverage of the Winter Games from Vancouver began Friday night, at a time when officials hoped to hype Canada's relationship with the United States and provide those travelogue features about the host Olympic country, death interrupted.

Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, a men's luge competitor from the republic of Georgia, was killed during a training run Friday when he lost control on the last turn and was tossed outside the icy track. His body ragdolled against a steel support beam and, at nearly 90 mph, the accident was deadly.

With hours to prepare before its network coverage began, NBC covered and reported the story well. There was no way they could avoid the story and did not -- talking to Olympic officials, U.S. luge competitors and many others.

Perhaps most surprising in the nearly 5-minute segment was video of the crash itself. With the network taping everything that happens at the Games, to prepare for when coverage actually begins and to have as sample footage of competitors, NBC had video of the crash and they showed it -- twice, in slow motion.

Some might think that was too much, but in our video-crazed society it was probably expected. Without the footage, it would be difficult to visualize what had happened.

Most striking, and probably unnecessary, though, was a still image of first responders trying to revive Kumaritashvili. The image was not gruesome, but the video was more than enough for the story -- if only because it was not as personal as the photo.

Again, with a U.S. network's broadcast there's little danger of any images catching family and friends by surprise, but NBC certainly tiptoed toward the line of good taste with the still image. That's nitpicking, though, because NBC opened the games at its best covering a difficult and unexpected story.

Really, the weakest part of NBC's first 15 minute on air was Tom Brokaw. The anchor's comments bookended the expected U.S.-Canada relationship story and while the piece provided good perspective Brokaw seemed out of place and unnecessarily trite as the piece ended. Surely, the thin-skinned among jingoistic U.S. fans will take note of Brokaw's closing comments about the strength of Canada's economy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

College Football: ESPN's Initial Big East Slate

Fourteen Big East Conference games, including four Thursday night games, four Friday night games and two games the Friday after Thanksgiving, were part of the schedule of college football games ESPN unveiled earlier this week.

The slate includes:
  • Thursday, Sept. 16 -- Cincinnati at NC State, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Thursday, Sept. 23 -- Miami at Pitt, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Friday, Oct. 9, -- Connecticut at Rutgers, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Thursday, Oct. 14 -- USF at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Friday, Oct. 15 -- Cincinnati at Louisville, 8 p.m., ESPN
  • Friday, Oct. 22 -- USF at Cincinnati, 8 p.m., ESPN2
  • Friday, Oct. 29 -- West Virginia at Connecticut, 8 p.m., ESPN2
  • Wednesday, Nov. 3 -- Rutgers at USF, 7 p.m., ESPN2
  • Thursday, Nov. 11 -- Pitt at Connecticut, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Friday, Nov. 26 -- West Virginiat at Pitt, TBA
  • Friday, Nov. 26 -- Louisville at Rutgers, TBA
  • Saturday, Dec. 4 -- Pitt at Cincinnati, TBA
  • Saturday, Dec. 4 -- Connecticut at USF, TBA
  • Saturday, Dec. 4 -- Rutgers at West Virginia, TBA

Cermony Opens Olympics Onslaught

After months of network hype, which hit a fever pitch in the past week during prime-time programming, NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics begins Friday night with the Opening Ceremony.

During the 17 days of competition in Canada, NBC and its numerous outlets -- USA, MSNBC, CNBC, Universal HD and Universal Sports -- will produce 835 hours or programming.

On its main network coverage, NBC Sports will feature Bob Costas as the lead host during prime-time hours while Al Michaels serves as daytime host. For Michaels, it's the first time he's worked an Olympics since 1988.

For its late-night coverage, NBC Sports again turns to steady Mary Carillo. Overall, NBC has 53 announcers for the Games, seven of whom are native Canadians.

On Saturday, competition begins in eight sports, with six medal events. The two sports that begin that day and do not award medals are luge and hockey -- which gets its regular Olympic hype and love from many commentators and sports-talk types during the Games.

Those folks might not normally watch hockey, but they'll pledge their willingness to do so during the Games because of the "wide-open style of play" possible on the "bigger sheet of ice."

To cover hockey, and continue the hype, the NBC Sports team includes some of the same experts it utilizes on its NHL coverage -- Mike Milbury and Ed Olczyk.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Stern Preview for NBA All-Star Game

Few annual media tours rival that of David Stern in the week leading up to the NBA All-Star Game.

During what should be a wonderful time for the league, he somehow always manages to sound grumpy, condescending or just plain uncooperative. He does not play "what-if" games and sounds either better than the folks he's talking with or bored.

With the All-Star Game set to attrack a record crowd to Cowboys Stadium on Sunday, Stern, the league's forth commissioner, who has been in charge since Feb. 1, 1984, has been making the rounds again this week.

He has spent part of his time on ESPN Radio shows, discussing the NCAA's one-and-done rule and how it impacts his league with "Mike and Mike in the Morning," and avoiding discussion of the league's labor situation while on "The Herd with Colin Cowherd."

When Cowherd broached the labor deal, Stern corrected the host on the facts, positioned the discussion in an adversarial manner and refused to play along when Cowherd tried a more light-hearted aproach. LISTEN HERE
While the NBA has one of the better mid-season all-star events in pro sports with its dunk contest and weekend full of activities -- something that can eat up a couple nights of TV time with decent programming -- this almost reliable approach by the commissioner inevitably takes some of the lustre off the overall event.
The three days of TV coverage of All-Star Weekend activities begins Friday. As follows ...
7 p.m., All-Star Celebrity Game (ESPN)
7 p.m., H.O.R.S.E. (TNT)
8 p.m., NBA All-Star Saturday Night (TNT)
9 p.m., T-Mobile Rookie Challenge (TNT)
8 p.m., All-Star Game (TNT)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Football Final ... Leftovers and Tidbits

A couple little things in the wake of the Super Bowl ...

-- It was subtle, but when CBS Sports host James Brown complimented analyst/former coach Bill Cowher on his jailhouse interview with former Steelers and Giants WR Plaxico Burress, Brown mentioned that the piece might be one of the coach's last efforts before he returns to the sidelines in 2010. It was the about the only time this fall that Cowher's much-speculated status seemed to be referred to in a solid manner.

-- Both host Mike Greenberg of "Mike and Mike in the Morning" and call-in guest James Carville thought the record-setting TV numbers for the Super Bowl were small when they talked about it Tuesday. By some logic, they're correct. After all, if 105.9 million people could tune into "M.A.S.H." in 1983, how could only 106 million watch the Super Bowl 27 years later? Carville, the famous Democratic political strategist and someone certainly familiar with polls and numbers (and also an unabashed Saints fans), wondered aloud what all the people who were not watching the game were doing.

-- Two days later, the Doritos commercials (especially the dog, and the young boy protecting his chips and his mom from a boyfriend) remain funny. The Snickers commercial with Betty White got appropriate kudos, but Doritos provided chuckles with all of its commercials -- and many of the Super Bowl commercials are airing on ESPN and other major-network shows this week. Of course, they have a life online as well.

-- Conversely, the silly GoDaddy! commercials have run their course.

-- After a day of unnecessary Peyton Manning bashing Monday on talk radio nationally, the rhetoric came down a few notches by Tuesday. Yep, he made a bad throw, but that Super Bowl did not hurt his Hall of Fame chances. At the same time, Saints QB Drew Brees certainly needs several more seasons of productivity to ensure his Canton credentials.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Record-Setting Super Bowl All About the Game

As the initial ratings and viewership numbers roll in for Super Bowl XLIV -- with The Hollywood Reporter reporting that the number of people who watched the game set an all-time U.S. television record -- one of the best things for football fans about the game was that CBS Sports did a strong job focusing on the game itself and not all the ancillary activities or celebrities.

Play-by-play man Jim Nantz and analyst Phil Simms were solid, and the broadcast touched on key news (the ankle injury of Colts DE Dwight Freeney) without going overboard. Important replays were available and there were no obvious flaws. It was just a solid broadcast of a good game.

In terms of those viewership, The Hollywood Reporter put the number at more than 106 million -- which would be more than the series finale of "M.A.S.H." in 1983. That show has been the standard for major-event TV ratings for nearly three decades.

Also, viewership for the Colts-Saints game was up from 98.7 million viewers fom the Cardinals-Steelers matchup in Super Bowl XLIII.

In the past five years, viewership for the game has increased drastically -- from 86.1 million in 2005 to 106 million this year. It increased during each year in the five-year span.

Still, the latest Super Bowl did set a record in terms of ratings, which measure the percentage of U.S. households watching. The "M.A.S.H." episode attracted more than 60 percent of TV viewers while the Colts-Saints game drew about 45 percent.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pre-Super Bowl Winners? CBS, Irvin

Three hours before kickoff of the Super Bowl, some TV winners were already evident.

CBS Sports, which should pull a record number for the game, was in the best spot. Even a week before the game, network officials expected record-setting viewership -- if only because of the strong storlyines and the great numbers NFL games drew during the season.
After so many fans watched during the season, and with two likeable teams and leaders (QBs Drew Brees adnd Peyton Manning) infolved, it would only make sense people would watch pro football's final meaningful chapter this sesaon.

Then, with people throughout the Northeast digging out of a record snowstorm and likely to stay home, the chances for record viewership grew even more. Good news for CBS Sports.

Along with that faceless network, an unparalled personality was the other winner. After being the subject of a civil rape lawsuit late in the week, Hall of Fame WR and NFL Network analyst Michal Irvin seemed to survive a potentially dififcult situation. The accusations came from 2007, and Irvin quickly filed a countersuit.

While the talk radio station where Irvin hosted a show in Dallas let him go, the NFL Network kept Irvin on the air. He seemed contrite (or at least quiet by his usual standards) Saturday working the show when Hall of Fame newcomers were announced.

Then, when fellow NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp was arrested for a domestic battery charge in South Florida, Irvin's offense someone seemed a little less offensive -- and certainly less timely. The NFL Network pulled Sapp from its pre-game show Sunday, presenting an opportunity for Joey Porter, the outspoken Miami Dolphins LB, who earned a Super Bowl victory with the Steelers four years earlier.

Porter, although not polised, did well on short notice. Good for him.

Better still was the whole situation for Irvin. By Sunday, he seemed more confortable and loud on air (more of his usual self) than he had been just a day or so earlier. He also might survive after being in a difficult position just a few days ago.

Commericals -- A,B,C (Autos, Beer and Comedy)

Expect three things to dominate TV ads during the Super Bowl, some simple ABCs -- automakers, beer and comedy.

In terms of autos, a half dozen different automakers plan to unveil ads for the big game. Those include Dodge, Honda and Hyundai (which has Brett Farve in its commercial, as the MVP of the Super Bowl in 2010). Also, Volkswagen plans a spoof on the time-honored "punch bug" game associated with its iconic Volkswagen Bug.

As always, Anheuser-Busch leads all advertisers in terms of exposure during the game. It'll do so with several funny Bud Light commericals early in the game, another Clydesdale-oriented Bud commercial later in the game and others.

Expect the humor from Coke, Denny's, Monster Worldwide and others, including a travel company that lampoons Chevy Chase and his "National Lampoon" movies.

There's also some mostalgia (as Boost Mobile reprises the Chicago Bears and their Super Bowl Shuffle 20-some years ago) and, of course, some controversy, from the most-hyped commercial in the weeks leading up to the game. That commercial, with Tim Tebow, comes from the religious group Focus on the Family and presents a pro-life message.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Best Bites in Super Bowl Bonanza

Kickoff for the Super Bowl comes at 6:25 p.m. Sunday and by then more than 30 hours of pre-game hype and programming across several networks should be complete.

Such an abundance (overkill might be the correct term) of choices might scare off some, but there are highlights before the game -- some programs worth watching and some talking heads worth at least having as background noise in your home.

A chronological tour of the best bets includes ...

3 p.m., "Full Color Football" (CBS)
A heavily praised documentary from NFL Films follows the rise of the American Football League. The hour-long program originally aired on Showtime and NFL Network. It makes its broadcast television debut Saturday afternoon.
5 p.m., Hall of Fame Announcement (NFL Network)
NFL Network provides live coverage of the announcement of the latest class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Probably the only real news to come from Saturday, and it should be a standout class.
9:30 p.m. Super Bowl XLIII (NFL Network)
As a Steelers fan, with little else on TV on a Saturday night, it'll be worth watching last year's Steelers-Cardinals game one more time.

6 a.m., "Mike and Mike in the Morning" (ESPN2)
The weekday radio hosts go live again from South Florida with a four-hour show that will include a live interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic provide the best sports talk show on the airwaves and they're always on their game when on site for the Super Bowl. They were great during the week, and they'll probably continue to do solid work. Worth turning on before or after church.
9 a.m., "NFL Gameday Morning" (NFL Network)
Not as necessary to watch at "Mike and Mike," but the Network's personalities do provide entertainment and insight. Of more note this weekend, though, might be how NFL Network deals with the rape charge filed Thursday against analyst and former Cowbowys WR and ESPN analyst Michael Irvin. He was fired from his ESPN Radio gig in Dallas on Friday.

After that, take a break for a couple of hours. While "The Super Bowl Today," the official, four-hour pre-game show from CBS Sports, begins at 2 p.m., expect the show's best features to pop up in the final hour or so before the game. So, there's no need to tune in until then. And, by that point, 90 minutes or so of pre-game programming is more than enough.

4:30 p.m., "The Super Bowl Today" (CBS)
Announced features include: an interview by Steelers coach-turned analyst Bill Cowher with former Steelers and Giants WR Plaxico Burress, who remains in jail after being convicted for a gun-law violation in New York; and interviews by CBS News anchor Katie Couric with Saints QB Drew Brees and President Barack Obama.

Certainly, the live interview with President Obama will be one of the final features before the game itself.

Other notes about the pre-game show plans: a feature with Steelers WR Hines Ward, who with his personality and smile must consider any on-air opportunity and audition for when his career ends; a segment with former 49ers coach Bill Walsh; and live reports from analyst Randy Cross with U.S. troops in Iraq. Some of those might come before the last 90 minutes of the show, but missing them would be no major loss.

Finally, after all that, you can focus on the game -- and the commercials.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

College Football Schedules Shaping Up

We're three days away from the Super Bowl, but that's not the only game on the mind of sports TV programmers -- because ESPN has already announced game times for seven college football games for next fall.

The slate includes several Atlantic Coast Conference teams, a doubleheader on Labor Day and four Thursday night games.

Here's the initial list:
  • Saturday, Sept. 4. -- LSU vs. North Carolina (in Atlanta), TBA
  • Monday, Sept. 6 -- Navy vs. Maryland (in Baltimore), 4 p.m., ESPN
  • Monday, Sept. 6 -- Boise State vs. Virginia Tech (in Landover, Md.), 8 p.m., ESPN
  • Thursday, Sept. 16 -- Cincinnati at N.C. State, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Thursday, Sept. 23 -- Miami at Pitt, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Thursday, Oct. 28 -- Florida State at N.C. State, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Thursday, Nov. 4 -- Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Hall of Famer's Bobbled Pitch, Insights

OK, as much as the cattle call of athletes, celebrities and publicists (and the usual abundance of self-promotion) makes the nationally syndicated Jim Rome Show from Radio Row during Super Bowl week tiresome, it also produces some good radio.

Among the highlights Wednesday was the final guest during the show's second hour, the NFL's leading rusher and certain Hall of Fame selection this year, Emmitt Smith.

Smith was one site in Miami for several reasons this week, among them his upcoming election to the Hall and, as usual with many recognizable former athletes, his work as a pitchman.

Talking football and his Hall of Fame chances, Smith was solid when addressing what-if questions.

"Since I was 6 years old I've been thinking about playing football," he told Rome. "This is the final chapter. This is the ice cream and the cake."

Even better, he looked ahead, and talked about what he would do once elected -- the type of speculation athletes rarely entertain.

"Right now all I’m doing is putting down all of my thoughts and ideas, all the people I want to thank. Once I get the all out, I’ll organize them and put them in a format so I can communicate them in a way that's powerful, meaningful and effective."

When Rome moved discussion to Smith's necessary pitch, though, the former All-Pro selection fumbled.

After making the rounds on Radio Row most of the day, Smith needed a long pause to come up wih the name of the cause he was supporting. In fact, he never really named the cause.

But, he did specify he was working the the American Association of Orthodontists to encourage young athletes to wear protective mouth guards -- and to protect their mouth, jaw and teeth from serious injury. Plus, he knew the correct Web site,, where people could find additional information.

All in all, it was the best of Radio Row, a good session for listeners who got some decent information and insights from a former Super Bowl MVP, and a productive visit for the AAO, who benefited from a pitchman who recovered from an early fumble and did his job well.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Significant, Small Stories: Peyton, Pro Bowl

While hundreds of media members chased stories about the Super Bowl, two stories that emerged Tuesday gave insights about the game that remains four days away and the status of pro football as a monetary and ratings giant, respectively.

First, "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio talked with former Colts coach turned motivational speaker and NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy. It was a nice phone interview with a former Super Bowl-winning coach the week of the game, but it got better when the discussion focused on Colts QB Peyton Manning.

While many respect Manning's commitment to preparation, Dungy related a story that made that point. He said the standout quarterback, one of the best players in the league, drove from Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio, twice a week in early 2007 to work out with an unknown rookie receiver.

In an effort to better integrate then-Ohio State student Anthony Gonzalez into the Colts' offense, Manning drove nearly three hours each way to make the trip to throw passes to the team's newest receiver. No A-list pro player needs to do that -- unless he wants to maintain his spot among the sport's best and ensure his team's success.

And, as if there was any doubt, the hefty ratings for the Pro Bowl on Sunday probably ensured that game would eventually have a permanent home the week before the Super Bowl in the same stadium as the big game.

About 12.3 million viewers watched the game on ESPN, up from 8.8 million in 2009. This year's game was the most-watched Pro Bowl since 2000, and it earned good ratings opposite the Grammy Awards, which drew nearly 26 million viewers.

The sellout crowd on site also helped ensure the game's future timeslot.

Despite complaints from some analysts and players, soe others enjoyed the location in the continental United States -- and fans most certainly had a good time and responded.

Just as they do in pro baseball and basketball, fans see the game as their own. They know the hits are not hard and the game has little meaning, but they do not care. They're glad to attend in person -- and to watch on TV. That all makes the game marketable for the league, and that means it will remain on the schedule.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Super Bowl Media Day Available on TV, Web

Wet weather in South Florida prompted a second day of actual news during Super Bowl week, as the annual Media Day was moved from the field at Sun Life Stadium to the club level of the facility.

While Dwight Freeney's ankle injury drove much of the news cycle on TV and radio Monday, the two-hour media session with team members at the stadium -- one hour for the Colts and one for the Saints -- takes center state Tuesday.

The typical media frenzy might be more subdued because of the move. Most years the event takes on a circus-like atmosphere, with pro football beat writers, sports columnits and on-air types from across the nation rubbing elbows with all manner of pseudo-reporters and people with microphones in hand from entertainment shows or completing whimsical assignments.

While that allows sports types to pooh-pooh the process, it also enables the NFL to promote its product for free to many traditional and non-traditional platforms and outlets at the same time.

NFL officials do not expect the location change to impact what happens on Media Day.

"This should not be a major problem," NFL spokesman Michael Signora told The Associated Press. "It just will look different."

Activities begin at 10 a.m. with the Colts facing the media for an hour. After an hour-long break (to feed the media and for NFL Network and other analysts and media types to interview each other), the Saints get all the attention from noon to 1 p.m.

It might be the most-hyped two hours of any non-event on an annual basis in the world.

Along with live updates from national sports-talk radio networks and ESPN, the NFL Network and provide additional access to the league-owned event.

Specifically, visitors to may find live streaming video of each of the 12 podiums used during media day. (Twelve players from each team are situated at a personal podium while all other players and coaches are available at the session as well.)

Throughout the week the site will provide live streams of other events as well. Those include the commissioner's State of the League Address on Friday and the announcement of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class on Saturday.

Jon Miller -- A Deserving Hall of Famer

Steady play-by-play man Jon Miller, who has served as the voice of five Major League Baseball teams during his career, was named Monday as the recipient of the 2010 recipient of the Ford Frick Award.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum made the announcement. The Frick Award, presented annually since 1978, recognizes major contributions to baseball broadcasting. And Miller clearly has been a major contributor to the sport over the airwaves.

Miller has earned recognition both locally and nationally for his work. He started with the Oakland A's in 1974 and then moved to the Texas Rangers (1978-79) and Boston Red Sox (1980-82). The bulk of his career came with he Cal Ripen-era Baltimore Orioles (1983-96) before he moved back to his native San Francisco to work for the Giants in 1997.

He has been the lead play-by-play man for ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcasts since 1990.

With the emergence of regional sports networks, the demise of a true game of the week on network TV and the plethora of baseball games available throughout the season, Miller served as one of the few national voices for the game because of his ESPN assignment. Plus, he was in San Francisco as Barry Bonds chased numerous records late in his career.

Still, it was not just location that defined Miller's career. He has made the most of his opportunities with a great voice and a great feel for the game. He will be inducted into the broadcaster's wing of the Hall of Fame this summer -- and it's a well-deserved honor.

NFL Network Starts Week Strong

NFL Network, with more than 50 hours of programming scheduled from South Florida this week, got started with good opinion and information early in the week from the site of the Super Bowl.

There was opinion from the network's outspoken analysts -- Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders and Warren Sapp -- before the Pro Bowl about the Hall of Fame chances of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Several argued Sunday that Manning needs a victory in the Super Bowl to cement his credentials while others (especially Sapp) said a quarterback cannot be penalized for playing with weak defenses.

In terms of information, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told NFL Network host Rich Eisen on Sunday night that he is "virtually certain'' the league will conduct its 2010 in an season without a salary cap. An uncapped season will result if an agreement cannot for 2011 and beyond cannot be reached by March 5, 2010. "We're all frustrated there's not more progress,'' Goodell said.

While the Super Bowl hype builds, with appropriate focus on the teams and activities surrounding the game this week, that labor story lurks in the shadows as the one that will shape the league's future the most.

Planning, Location Key for ESPN Radio

The more than 55 hours of Super Bowl programming on ESPN Radio, set to originate from South Florida this week, sounds like a lot of work -- but that's only part of the story.

Planning for the numerous shows that will originate from Lummus Park on Miami Beach started months ago, when ESPN's operations team began working with the NFL regarding set location. That location makes ESPN different from most other national sports talk programming throughout Super Bowl week because those other shows typically originate from "Radio Row," table after table of sports stations from across that nation and world that often get set up in the same room of an a nearby convention center.

Even with the planning, live, on-location radio provides challenges.

It means less technology on hand and fewer staff personnel just a few steps away to solve problems. It also means potential distractions with weather (rain the early part of this week) and people watching the live radio shows.

Still, that atmosphere helps -- especially shows like "Mike and Mike in the Morning," with Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic working their 11th Super Bowl week together, and "The Herd with Colin Cowherd." Both shows have talent who can play well off an audience.

"You get a real sense of atmosphere," explained ESPN producer Amanda Gifford about on-site shows. "Colin is usually on his game with an audience. You can feed off the energy of the crowd."

For behind-the-scenes folks such as Gifford (who coordinated planning but did not make the trip to Miami for this week's Super Bowl shows), getting guests to the set on time provides a daily challenge during remote shows, and she prefers to leave nothing to chance.

"Everything is pretty calculated," she said. "I'd rather have everything planned, but I've learned that sometimes you get some great things on the fly and you have to be able to adjust."

Determining which guests are used on a program provides a show's biggest challenge during the week. With all of the activity and media attention, many former players (with guiding publicists) show up at the Super Bowl site to pitch their cause, charity or product.

While smaller shows on Radio Row might take any and all such guests, ESPN Radio shows can be a bit more selective. They have major markets to serve and less time to waste on borderline guests.

"We get a lot of A-listers through Super Bowl week, and we get pitches for a lot of people who aren't considered A-listers," Gifford said. "We make determinations by when they're available, if we're on the air at that time, and if they make sense for our biggest affiliates." For Cowherd, those affiliates are in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Dallas.

Typically, ESPN's name and the talent and reputation of the hosts produce a potent combination -- with good guests wanting to appear on the shows and the on-air talent making the visits entertaining. The combination produces one of the best weeks of sports talk radio of the year.