Friday, May 28, 2010

Weekend Pre: Clinching Games, Fast Cars

Auto racing, basketball and hockey provide some of the most high-profile TV viewing options this weekend -- comprising a series of separate, single events that could produce dramatic endings.

The NBA Conference Finals will certainly conclude during the long holiday weekend with the Eastern Conference matchup ending as soon as Friday night when Orlando visits Boston in Game 6 (8:30 p.m., ESPN). If they need Game 7, it will be played Sunday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

In the Western Conference, Los Angeles visits Phoenix Saturday (8:30 p.m., TNT) for Game 6 in that series. A necessary Game 7 would come Monday (9 p.m., TNT).

Drama comes in the conclusion of those events. One team advances while the season ends for the other. So they're playing for something -- and that usually draws a few more viewers. Ratings have been up for this round and if Boston and Los Angeles advance the NBA would have a seemingly TV friendly matchup for the NBA Finals.

In hockey, the Stanley Cup Finals begin on NBC with Game 1 between Chicago and Philadelphia Saturday night and Game 2 on Monday night. Both begin at 8 p.m. with the enjoyable and talented Mike Emrick providing play by play. He just makes the sport come to life.

Plus, the two major U.S. markets also should mean good things (in perspective) for NHL ratings. What has been interesting, though, has been the approach of some TV types to Philadelphia's march through the playoffs. Because the Flyers were an eighth seed, some see that as a sign of weakness for the sport, that a supposedly less-deserving team has gone so far.

But if this were college basketball, people would be piling on the underdog storyline and suggesting that people love an underdog. Apparently that's the difference between collegiate and pro sports.

Finally, and not at all to be overlooked, auto racing takes center stage Sunday with the Indy 500 (1 p.m., ABC) and the Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m., Fox). Ratings for both have been down in recent years, but ESPN has put almost all of its promotional weight -- as much as it could spare in advance of World Cup soccer hype -- to spread the word about the "personalities" and "storylines" of the Indy 500.

None of the hype matters once the green flag drops though, but ESPN/ABC should be more-than prepared for coverage. It has 51 cameras for the race, including eight HD-capable, 360-degree cameras on cars.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Irrelevant WNBA Misses Mark w/Silly Hype

As if the WNBA were not already enough of a niche sport, the on-air TV tease before the start of the Phoenix Mercury-Tulsa Shock game on ESPN2 Tuesday night mostly featured Tulsa backup Marion Jones.

Yes, it's that Marion Jones -- the disgraced Olympic sprinter and former North Carolina point guard who's trying to resurrect her athletic career after claiming for years she did not take drugs and then, tearfully, admitting to steroid use.

She deserves the opportunity to produce a bounce-back, feel-good story but what's funny is that the WNBA and its TV partners keep pushing her presence but she hardly plays. Against Phoenix, Jones saw the floor for just over three-and-a-half minutes. She grabbed two rebounds, got steal, made a turnover and finished without a point.

In fairness, nobody expects her to return to basketball and be a star.

In reality, though, people do expect some perspective. Perspective from the TV partners who should know better than push a bench player. And perspective from Jones who should be more media savvy at this point not to talk about the WNBA providing a "wider audience" for her to share her message as she now touts the importance of playing clean and fair.

A wider audience? In the WNBA? Keep in mind, she was an Olympic champion.

The arena Tuesday night was barely a quarter full and more people watched her sprints during the Olympics than watched all of the game Tuesday night.

It's not a wider audience, and it's not responsible or wise to push sidelight stories. If she's the most newsworthy thing a WNBA has going for it, then that league is in deep trouble. Oh, right.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Super Bowl Selection on NFL Network

The first selection show for a Super Bowl should include little drama Tuesday, when most league observers expect NFL owners to approve New Jersey (specifically New Meadowlands Stadium) as the site of the 2014 Super Bowl.

NFL Network will present the show at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Along with the sure-thing combined bid from the Giants and Jets, other finalists include Tampa Bay and South Florida.

Obviously, weather-related issues present the seemingly most formidable challenges for the New Jersey bid (the game will be played in Jersey and the teams housed there after flying into Newark, with only the media hotels and special events in NYC). Those issues and others would be ripe fodder for studio hosts discussing the competing bids on show like this, but it'll be interesting to see how NFL Network treats the show.

It's hard to expect any criticism of the Giants and Jets bid because of the league's generally accepted support for that site.

Still, the show could be interesting if hosts and guests had access and were able to ask about potential safety and weather scenarios that could play out at any site. The league has a team of event experts who could provide some interesting insights into putting together a Super Bowl.

Just because the owners will probably rubber-stamp the move for a cold weather Super Bowl does not mean NFL Network has to go through the motions, too.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Staged Softball Stuff Silly, Unnecessary

Sure, it's a niche sport that gets TV time in the spring when things are generally slow, but ESPN's coverage of women's softball -- with regional action this past weekend and super regionals and later the Women's College World Series -- was often silly (almost offensively so) this past weekend.

While the all-sports network plans a record amount of coverage in the coming weeks and seemingly tries to treat the games in a meaningful manner, the lack of criticism (let alone any meaningful critiques) of poor play was a problem. Not addressing or pointing out mistakes, something that does get done with coverage of college baseball, hurt the credibility of the announce teams and the participants.

One of the most glaring examples of this came when an Oregon player's bunt became a home run. That's right, a one-base throwing error by the pitcher was followed by a two-base fielding error by the right fielder and what should have been a bang-bang play at first base for an out became a solo homer.

Despite the obvious, ESPN's on-air crew almost ignored the mistakes and camera angles were lacking for a quality replay of what happened as the ball hugged the right field wall and the outfielder misplayed the ball. It was not a shining moment for ESPN or the sport.

The consistently staged images of teams walking to the ballparks or lingering in a team huddle in the outfield games were worse, though.

They were just silly -- the same kinds of shots viewers get without end during the Little League World Series. Using the same techniques, and staging those shots or at least encouraging teams to conduct themselves in a certain manner, again belittles the college competitors.

Energy and enthusiasm, often exemplified on camaraderie and team cheers in the dugouts, do make softball different and special. Those things even play well on TV. But, when winning teams simply linger in the outfield after a game, allowing cameras to pan their smiling faces for no real reason other than those "Hi mom!"-types of shots, it makes the competition itself a little less meaningful.

How about interviews with the participants? How about an update on what's next or key plays? Even a feature/focus on some player's redemption as the team has advanced would be fine. But, please, not some immature approach better suited for youth sports -- if it has a place on TV at all.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Weekend Pre: AFL, Auto Racing and Softball

Sure, we're getting closer to the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals (with a potentially interesting storyline involving the Philadelphia Flyers) but my remote might skip over the respective conference finals in those sports to find some even more niche events this weekend.

First, there's the Arena Football League on the NFL Network (8 p.m. Friday) -- just because I miss football that much. Plus, this game marks the on-air debut of former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, who seems destined to find a TV assignment with the real league once the fall rolls around.

We'll see how he sounds doing arena games, and he should be as well suited as anyone because the much-told and retold story of his career was how he started with the Iowa Barnstormers. He's working the Arizona Rattlers-Barnstormers game, and his Iowa jersey will be retired during the night.

Auto racing also merits a look this weekend, with Saturday as the big day. It includes pole qualifying for the Indy 500 on Versus (11 a.m. Saturday) and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star (9 p.m. Speed). Of the two, expect the NASCAR event to produce more drama, because it's a race and because of a not-so-simple qualifying process for the Indy 500.

While Indy qualifying used to produce "bumping," as one driver's top speed would put him into he field for the race and push another out, that's not going to happen this year. Still, it will determine where some drivers start and the technology of racing, with on-screen graphics that usually convey necessary information well, provides a nice technological highlight.

Finally -- and it's not an afterthought -- there's college softball. As it has with the Little League World Series, ESPN has latched onto college softball in a big way. It has expanded its popular coverage of the Women's College World Series back to regional and then super regional events. Regional play begins this weekend.

Game coverage works on TV because its fast-paced and the smaller diamond puts viewers closer to the action. Plus, the college competition comes with a bit more energy and enthusiasm than other events on the tube.

While we get a push of college softball at this time of year simply because it's a fairly empty TV window that ESPN can fill, the games usually are competitive. This weekend's regional action might not be quite the quality of the eventual super regionals (May 27-30) and College World Series (June 3-9), but they'll still be OK and they serve an even bigger purpose for ESPN because they provide familiarity with the coaches, players and teams involved -- giving any viewers who follow the action from the regionals to the World Series some relationships and rooting interests.

Soccer's "Next Big" Push Has Begun -- Again

With less than a month until World Cup games begin on the ESPN family of networks, and with less than a day until Fox Sports airs a top-notch international soccer match, the latest push for soccer as the next big thing in the United States has started.

With the A-list powerhouse New York Cosmos, soccer had its first big (and semi-successful) push here in the colonies in the 1970s. Since then, the sport has had high points at its highest levels -- among them Brandi Chastain's penalty kick to win the Women's World Cup on U.S. soil in 1999 -- as well as an abundance of average and low points. Do you remember David Beckham's much-hyped but ill-fated arrival to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy?

Still, TV types remain emboldened (thanks to a vocal soccer community) and undeterred (thanks to an abundance of hours of programming that need filled). So, we'll get round-the-clock World Cup coverage from South Africa starting soon. Already the commercials -- and they are well-done promo pieces -- have begun in earnest on ESPN.

At the same time, Fox Sports officials -- which has the Fox Soccer Channel, available mostly on satellite services and sports tiers of some cable operators -- anticipate weekday coverage of the UEFA Champions League final from Madrid (2:30 p.m. Saturday with Bayern Munich vs. Inter Milan) as the latest test case, of sorts, for soccer on network TV in the United States.

As always, it comes with abundant optimism -- and perhaps a bit too much hyperbole.

"My feeling is soccer is on the cusp, partly because ESPN is treating the World Cup, for the first time, as a major event," Fox Sports chairman David Hill told USA Today. "There could be more soccer on the network."

He told another reporter, using a little more caution and context, that soccer and the Fox Soccer Channel might never rival baseball and football in the United States, or even the MLB Network and NFL Network, but felt that "there is plenty of room for soccer to thrive in this country."

Expect several networks to find room for soccer in the future, too. Even if the United States does not enter some soccer golden era (and it probably will not), more soccer on TV seems certain.

With the proliferation of channels, as well as online and remote viewing options, the need for content grows every day. Along with college soccer, both men's and women's, the MLS has found exposure (thanks to its partnership with ESPN) and if Fox Sports moves to nightly Major League Baseball games in the future, it would have a programming slot for Saturday afternoon soccer on its main network.

More coverage of games will not mean the sport has suddenly become a strong TV draw or a wildly popular option (for participation beyond youth levels or viewing), though. It just means it has a place on TV.

Now it might eventually parlay that place into more widespread popularity -- and soccer could be better positioned to craft such success now than at any other time in the United States, simply because a sports-specific channel and loyal fan base might be enough to create a prudent financial approach that works -- but that would be a surprising development for the sport in this country.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

ESPN's Berman Gets Star on Walk of Fame

Chris Berman, the longtime face and voice of ESPN, will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on May 24.

"I'm humbled, and for one of the few times in my career, speechless," Berman said.

Since the infancy of ESPN, Berman has been an on-camera fixture for the all-sports network. He's been around as ESPN has moved from a stand-alone channel -- an afterthought without respect -- to its accepted status as a sometimes-too-corporate giant that controls what sporting events air and when. And, of course, if they even air at all.

Initially a reporter and then a "SportsCenter" host, Berman was ESPN's first breakout star. His signature calls included "Back, back, back ..." and "He .. could .. go .. all .. the .. way ..." for baseball highlights. In addition, his ability and willingness to award nicknames to anyone and everyone made him even more recognizable.

Berman himself is known as "Boomer" and "the Swami," the latter because of a recurring NFL picks segment.

In ESPN recent years, he has tied much of his on-air work to the NFL, hosting "Monday Night Countdown," among many other duties.

He's no longer on air as much as he was early in his career at ESPN (it would be impossible for anyone to get that much work considering the breadth of offerings from the all-sports network), but Berman remains one of the network's A-list on-air types. He's enjoyable and entertaining, if somewhat dated as sports journalism and sports on TV has changed since the inception of ESPN.

Still, it's an interesting honor because the Walk of Fame provides the type of Hollywood-sports crossover exposure ESPN types enjoy and both pay and pray to make happen. (And, make no mistake, you can buy a spot on the sidewalk mall of concrete hand and footprints and someone did in this case as all others.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Assuming and Pronouncing About the NFL

Sometimes even a portion of a show can make an impact or provide some interesting moments and that was certainly the case Tuesday with "NFL Live" on ESPN.

As part of a lead segment on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during a series of spring practices, some insights from an ESPN analyst and former Steelers player seemed to overlook the obvious -- or at least prompt some questions.

Analyst Merril Hoge was brought into the show by phone to provide an update on a golf tournament his foundation had hosted and in which Roethlisberger had participated. According to Hoge, the suspended quarterback interacted well with fans during the event and was making steps toward being more accountable.

Hoge said the quarterback knows he's in trouble because of his own actions and only his subsequent actions can change the perceptions of fans.

Still, while the ever-positive Hoge set the stage for an eventual return to acceptance of Roethlisberger by fans, the overlooked aspect was whether or not Big Ben actually is a good person. After all, not every professional athlete gets that message or practices that approach. From Hoge's perspective, though, it was a foregone conclusion that the quarterback would change his ways.

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger's actual actions/motives/personality remains in question -- and those are not things that can be proven because some former player believes that's the case.

Brotherly Love: Coach, Critic with NBA on TV

As the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals continue, one of the more interesting storylines comes off the court with analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy working for ABC/ESPN while brother Stan Van Gundy coaches the Orlando Magic against the Boston Celtics.

Boston dominated the first game, although a late Orlando run made the game seem close at the end.

According to Jeff, that meaningless rally might make things even more difficult for the Magic, because it provides a sense of hope that really should not exist.

"It's going to be tougher for Orlando to make its point (about necessary adjustments) after what happened," Jeff said on ESPN Radio earlier this week. And he said the same thing during the waning moments of the Game 1 broadcast on TV.

He just sees several challenges for his brother's team. They include poor transition defense and what he considers are some obvious holes in the game of Orlando's star, Dwight Howard.

"(He) has never scored effectively in the low post against Boston, for whatever reason," Jeff said. "He's not a great, bring-the-ball-to-me-and-I'll-score type of player. That's just not what he's a star at. He's a star player, but he has to dominate in the areas that he can."

What makes the Van Gundys text (it's clearly not a subtext in this situation) enjoyable is that Jeff seems comfortable making cogent and necessary points, no matter that it's his brother working the bench for what could be a team that struggles during the series. Nobody should expect piling on or unnecessary criticism, but if Jeff embraces honesty and makes solid points it'll make the broadcasts even better.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fox Might Pitch Full Slate of Prime-Time Baseball

Fox Sports plans to take its regular season coverage of Major League Baseball to prime time for just the third time next week (with a schedule May 22 that includes a game between the Yankees and Mets) and the network might pitch an all prime-time schedule of games as soon as next season, according a report in USA Today.

Fox Sports president Ed Goren sees an opportunity for higher ratings on Saturday nights, a time that traditionally draws weak TV ratings -- especially during the summer months.

Still, sports has a proven track record of drawing viewers on Saturday.

College football has shown that the past several years on ABC/ESPN, so much so that the sport has become a Saturday night staple. That's been the case for ESPN for years, but the ratings in recent years have shifted the programming approach for ABC as well.

Also, NASCAR races usually draw higher numbers on Saturday nights than on Sunday afternoons, which is part of the reason ABC has Saturday night Cup Series races scheduled this fall when it does not plan to televise a college football game.

Fox Sports plans to gauge interest from some prime-time baseball games this summer and then consider altering its weekly schedule during the regular season for 2011 if ratings increase as expected. The network also hopes to have more games available during those Saturday night timeslots to better regionalize coverage -- and draw better overall national ratings -- in the future.

While some want to make this approach sound like a revelation, it's really just a matter of common sense and a throwback to an earlier model that worked for the ill-fated Baseball Network in the mid-1990s.

Fox Sports boss David Hill always said sports were "tribal" events, and his term for community/local/regional areas with passionate interest was right on the mark. People care, if they have a team to care about. And that's especially true for baseball.

That's why national coverage with just one or two options fails for baseball. It's a more regionalized sport than the NFL, which could put almost any two teams on a Saturday or Sunday night and draw ratings better than those of a league championship game in baseball.

Also, prime-time Saturdays in the summer are a wasteland of filler programs that have little hope for long lives. Airing sporting events instead just makes sense.

The only drawback in the Fox Sports plan this summer is to base what it does in the future on ratings for the games this summer. Because they have A-list games this summer (after Yankees-Mets next week the slate includes Yankees-Dodgers on June 26), that could inflate expectations slightly.

Still, prime-time baseball on a national broadcast during the regular season just makes sense. It's hard to believe that has not been the more logical approach to years.

For older audiences and fans, it would end a lineage of afternoon "Game of the Week" action, but those weekly network games have not been must-see viewing for more than a decade and a move to enhance the ratings of a broadcast partner would be in the best interests of Major League Baseball, too.

It's just prime time for a prime-time move.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Parochial Somtimes Sounds Uninformed

All too often local experts on an issue get a chance to talk to a wider audience and while they think they're sharing insights they're really just sharing the obvious -- because their proximity to the situation makes them no more insightful than others thousands of miles away from the situation.

One recent example came Tuesday during "College Football Live" on ESPN.

As part of a fairly complete segment regarding pending NCAA sanctions for USC, the weakest part was a brief interview by phone with a reporter from KSPN-AM (710), the ESPN Radio affiliate in Los Angeles. When asked about the situation, he noted the passion of USC fans and that nowhere else in the country can you find customized, garnet-and-gold painted vans and that 100,000 fans will still show up at the L.A. Coliseum no matter what happens in regard to a NCAA ruling.

The comments were silly on several levels.

First, it indicated that the passion of USC fans was unrivaled -- and that's not the case. It's a fact that those types of fans (with their custom-painted vehicles and so much more) exist around every major college football program. Sure, the vehicles certainly are not be garnet and gold in Blacksburg, Happy Valley, Tuscaloosa or any number of other towns, but they do exist. By indicating USC was different or special, it only showed the local expert was parochial at best and uninformed at worst.

Also, the comments also ignored history -- because USC has not always been a program that attracted throngs on gameday. While it's unlikely any NCAA sanctions will damage the USC program (because more reliable experts on the same ESPN show said they expected relatively light penalties), fans in Los Angeles have shown that they will not blindly turn out for a team. Whether because of the impact of an NCAA ruling or the offseason coaching change, should USC struggle in the coming years it's really not out of the realm of possibility that attendance could suffer if the team struggles on the field.

To ignore that possibility makes the reporter sound like a homer at best and uninformed at worst.

ESPN Family Likes Trojans on TV

Eight games involving USC were among 25 Pac-10 Conference games ESPN and its family (ABC, ESPN2) announced this week as part of its overall college football schedule for the 2010 season.

This comes at a time when the NCAA might be nearing an announcement of its own about penalties for USC resulting from improper benefits during Reggie Bush's career with the program.
Still, the Trojans -- with first-year coach Lane Kiffin, who bolted from Tennessee to take the job, and heralded quarterback Matt Barkley remain a solid TV draw and no sanctions have been announced at this point. Plus, they might not take affect as early as this season (and maybe ESPN did a smart thing by announcing a schedule in advance of any NCAA action in order to get an A-list team slated for tube time before it could be prevented).

Along with USC's eight appearances, the schedule includes five games featuring Oregon (and that progam's success on the field as well as its problems off should make for interesting TV) and four four Stanford, which boasts hotshot quarterback Andrew Luck, who has already been projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by ESPN's Todd McShay.

Here's the just-announced schedule of games ...
  • Thursday, Sept. 2 -- USC at Hawaii, 11 p.m., ESPN
  • Friday, Sept. 3 -- Arizona at Toledo, 8 p.m., ESPN
  • Saturday, Sept. 4 -- UCLA at Kansas State, 3:30 p.m., ABC
  • Saturday, Sept. 4 -- Oregon State vs. TCU, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
  • Saturday, Sept. 11 -- Oregon at Tennessee, 7 p.m., ESPN2
  • Saturday, Sept. 11 -- Stanford at UCLA, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Friday, Sept. 17 -- California at Nevada, 10 p.m., ESPN2
  • Saturday, Sept. 18 -- Nebraska at Washington, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
  • Saturday, Sept. 18 -- Arizona State at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
  • Saturday, Sept. 18 -- Iowa at Arizona, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Saturday, Sept. 18 -- Wake Forest at Stanford, 11:15 p.m., ESPN2
  • Saturday, Sept. 25 -- Oregon State at Boise State, TBA, TBA
  • Saturday, Sept. 25 -- UCLA at Texas, TBA, ABC
  • Saturday, Oct. 2 -- Washington at USC, 8 p.m., TBA
  • Saturday, Oct. 2 -- Stanford at Oregon, 11:15 p.m., ESPN
  • Saturday, Oct. 9 -- USC at Stanford, 8 p.m., ABC
  • Thursday, Oct. 21 -- UCLA at Oregon, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • Saturday, Oct. 30 -- Oregon at USC, 8 p.m., ABC
  • Saturday, Nov. 13 -- USC at Arizona, 8 p.m., ABC
  • Thursday, Nov. 18 -- UCLA at Washington, 8 p.m., ESPN
  • Saturday, Nov. 20 -- USC at Oregon State, 8 p.m., TBA
  • Friday, Nov. 26 -- Arizona at Oregon, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • Saturday, Nov. 27 -- Notre Dame at USC, 8 p.m., TBA
  • Thursday, Dec. 2 -- Arizona State at Arizona, 8 p.m., ESPN

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Doctor's Visit That's Always Good

Pro hockey, once one of the major sports in the United States, has many problems and probably no longer generates the type of mainstream, widespread interest to keep it on par -- at least nationally -- with other sports.

In fact, the NHL might have lost its spot in the one-time "big four" with baseball, basketball and football to auto racing, college football or even mixed-martial arts in terms of national TV interest. (And, really, there was never all that much national TV interest in hockey anyway -- aside from the 1980 Olympic team, and that was more a cultural issue more than a sporting event.)

Still, during the Stanley Cup playoffs the NHL gets a bit more attention and love.

Best of all, the playoffs provide a slightly bigger forum for the sport's best play-by-play man, and one of the best on-air talents in any sport these days, Mike Emrick.

He's entertaining and informative, never misses a play and provides a comfort level that allows casual fans, who might try hockey only in the postseason, to engage while at the same time does not turn off hard-core fans, who know their sport, its nuances and personalities because they follow the NHL all season long.

Emrick, 63, got his nickname, "Doc," because he earned a doctoral degree in communications from Bowling Green in 1976. Before that, he taught speech communications at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa., briefly and covered the Pittsburgh Penguins -- his first NHL experience -- as an unpaid correspondent for the Beaver County Times.

He later moved to full-time (and paid) broadcasting jobs, working up from the IHL and AHL to jobs with the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils.

During the regular season, he handles Devils games on MSG Plus. He's been with the team since 1994 and has emerged as the preeminent voice of hockey in the United States because of his postseason work with Versus and NBC.

Maybe it's because of his Midwest roots (he was born in La Fontaine, Ind.), but he just sounds like a comfortable -- and, at times, appropriately excitable -- friend when he's at work. No matter who he has as a color commentator, the mood seems conversational and professional. He capably allows room for them to make points and sets them up for success.

For years, TV analysts, network honchos and on-air types were unanimous in their assessment that legendary NFL analyst John Madden brought people to the TV. They argued that he alone in terms of on-air talent "moved the meter" for ratings because people usually do not tune in to hear announcers at work. But they believed people did watch for Madden.

It's my belief they were partially correct -- people do not tune in for announcers, including Madden. After all, he always worked A-list games -- from the week's best games on CBS and later Fox to "Monday Night Football" on ABC and then "Sunday Night Football" on NBC. A true test of Madden's ability to bring in games would've been to assign him to lesser games and see what happened to the ratings.

With Emrick no such test is possible because national NHL ratings rarely draw huge numbers. But, a sports fan able to spend time spent with "Doc" surely gets an enjoyable experience. Any game he's working is worth watching, even if it does not involved your team or even if you're not a hockey fan in general.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

SI Offers Rankings, Photos of Sportscasters

As part of a regular online feature with photos from Sports Illustrated, the magazine's online site this week unveiled a list of the top 20 sportscasters of all time.


The list spans generations and sports, with current talents such as Bob Costas (at right) making the list as well as legends such as Mel Allen.

Some sportscasters of note are missing from the list and some other obvious selections might be a little higher or lower than expected.

Specifically, Howard Cosell -- moreso because of what he meant as a cultural icon and for his impact on the structure of the TV sports business -- seems a little low at No. 9, but it's hard to justify bumping any of those above him.

Take a look and feel free to share your thoughts about the list.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Harwell's Personality Made Him a Legend

Sports broadcasters -- especially baseball play-by-play men who work much of their careers on radio -- build a special bond with fans.

It's a personal relationship based on emotion, familiarity, shared experience and trust.

Many baseball broadcasting legends (men such as Mel Allen, Jack Buck, Harry Kalas, Harry Caray and Bob Prince) worked games on radio. They were a connection to the home team and the sport for every fan listening for their respective teams.

Unlike TV, which provides a picture and sound, baseball broadcasters on radio provide a description of the action and paint a picture of what's happening on the field and around the ballpark. In baseball, with its generally slower pace, those broadcasters also provide humor, personality and stories.

For those listening on radio, a special relationship results -- and it makes those broadcasters special friends.

Unfortunately, those broadcasters are a dying bread -- literally -- and sports fans across the nation and Detroit in particular lost another such friend when longtime Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell, 92, died Monday as the result of cancer.

Harwell was the voice of the Tigers for more than 40 years until his retirement in 2002.

Along with is competency and conversational approach, Harwell's compassionate personality shone through on broadcasts. It was easy for listeners to feel a kinship with the kind-hearted professional.

That's why so many -- from Mitch Albom and John Lowe in the Detroit Free Press to series of ESPN contributors -- remember Harwell so fondly. And they represent just a small part of the deserving praise that has been heaped on Harwell in the hours since his death.

His death leaves Dodgers legend Vin Scully as one of the few remaining iconic voices of the broadcast booth for baseball. (Although Jon Miller in San Francisco, George Grande in Cincinnatti and Bob Uecker in Milwaukee also merit mention near that category.)

With the move of so many sporting events to TV in the past couple decades, radio has lost its spot as the primary medium for sports coverage. Harwell's death probably ranks as one of the final times when a broadcaster (other than those few mentioned about) who worked almost exclusively on radio will be mourned beyond his home market.

On TV or even online, the relationships just do not have that same personal touch. Plus, few radio broadcasters transcend their teams and the action on the field any more.

And, almost certainly, none do it as well as the eloquent and personable Harwell.