Friday, November 30, 2012

A&R: Expect Another Big Number in Birmingham

The outcome of the SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia might be in doubt for much of Saturday, but the biggest certainty related to the game should come in terms of TV ratings.

Expect Birmingham, Ala., to pull the nation's biggest number among TV markets for the game.

That's hardly a surprise, though. Birmingham viewers watch college football, especially Alabama, more passionately and regularly than anyone else in the United States. While the game might be in Atlanta, with Georgia involved, it'll still be Birmingham that moves the needle the most.

Some not-surprising decisions, two mistakes and one bit of appropriate sports PR chutzpah provide other points for this edition of Act & React. Please follow along ...

Act: The San Antonio Spurs take a no-stars-on-the-floor approach for their game against the Miami Heat and NBA commissioner David Stern promises appropriate actions from the league.
React: Some might consider it much ado about nothing because Spurs coach Gregg Popovich can certainly put whomever he wants on the court as he, from his perspective, keeps his eye on an eventual championship at the end of the season as compared to a regular season game in late November. After a series of road games, the Spurs' decision to rest some players might seem logical to some.

But, it was a nationally televised game against the defending champion Heat for a league that likes to promote the star power of its individual standouts.

So, it's much ado about TV -- and a league's relationship with a broadcast partner. With his stance, Stern is protecting an NBA partner that pumps some $400 million a year into the league.

While Popovich's decision is not surprising, neither is that of Stern. But, you have to think the commissioner would feel differently if the game involved other teams with different stars and the game was not on TV. Interestingly, the game still pulled a decent 1.7 overnight rating.

In terms of the protagonists in the little drama, Stern correctly and invariably protects his league -- that's his job, even if he seems like a bully, petty or even pugnacious at times -- while Popovich's strong will sometimes does not get viewed regularly nationally simply because he works in San Antonio. If he'd coached all these years in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, fans would certainly react to/view him in much stronger terms.

Act: TV color commentator Solomon Wolcotts talks about Steelers DB Ryan Smith wearing a larger, supposedly safer helmet and compares him to Great Kazoo.
React: Good idea, but while that might be the name of a some sort of giant musical instrument it's certainly not the correct cultural reference. It should be the Great Gazoo, from "The Flintstones."

Act: The broadcast team for last week's Notre Dame-USC missed an obvious storyline last week.
React: First, it was an inexcusable mistake for a top on-air tandem (Brent Musburger-Kirk Herbstreit) supported by two sideline reporters and a team of production personnel. While viewers clearly saw Nortre Dame quarterback Everett Golson go out of bounds, get hit and lose his helmet -- necessitating, by rule, that he miss at least one play -- the broadcasters only focused on his absence.

They speculated about an injury to Golson. They wondered if a quarterback rotation was part of the game plan.

All the while, cameras had caught the action and the director even had a shot of Golson on the sideline working with an equipment manager to check his helmet.

Still, Musburger and Herbstreit rambled on about the situation. And nobody corrected them. It was a mistake that should not have happened -- especially with that much talent on site and viewers seeing the entire story themselves but being told something else by the folks in the booth.

Act: The wording of choice at Penn State has become "on-field record."
React: Although NCAA sanctions stripped the Penn State football program of 112 victories -- requiring a re-write of record books and, at least officially, changing what happened during games that multiple thousands of people saw in person, listened to on radio or watched on TV -- the athletic department admirably and wisely found a way to refer to those games and the records related to them on social media and outer outlets as the season progressed. On Twitter especially, references were made to the program's "on-field record" in those games, or in series against other teams. That's a nice move, as they follow the letter of the ruling and make changes where necessary but acknowledge reality for fans who care enough to follow the program on social media.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Tough Day for a No. 1 Broadcast Team

Maybe Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were impacted by the effects of Hurricane Sandy in a manner unknown to viewers that left them a little preoccupied. Maybe they were not feeling well. Maybe they just had a bad day.

Whatever the reason, Nantz and Simms, the No. 1 NFL team for CBS Sports, struggled while working the Pittsburgh Steelers-New York Giants game Sunday afternoon.

It's always a challenging assignment to broadcast an NFL game, but a network's top on-air tandem gets the benefit of a superior resources and support. That typically means a few more cameras from a variety of different angles, one of the network's top producer-director tandems and a strong research/reporting team.

Unfortunately for viewers, it never felt like a top-team effort for what was probably the most-watched game Sunday afternoon.

With teams that have won four of the past seven Super Bowls and the backdrop storyline of a major sporting event in the New York City area after the historic storm, the game certainly had abundant interest.

Neither Nantz nor Simms did much to raise their level of effort to match that of the game, though. From the mundane to the most important, they either missed or whiffed.

Something viewers could hear and see for themselves that Simms said did not exist was the first sign the broadcast team was in trouble.

Simms said Steelers fans were not a big part of the crowd at Met Life Stadium, but viewers could hear loud cheers for good plays by the visiting team repeatedly. That included one instance when tight end David Paulson caught a pass and Steelers fans, thinking it was tight end Heath Miller, chanted "Heeath!" Those cheers continued throughout the game, for Miller and every time Pittsburgh did something well.

It was just unsettling -- at least for viewers looking for an accurate feel of the game -- that Simms did not get that sense or felt otherwise.

Along with that, Nantz and Simms seemed like company men for the NFL or were simply wrong early in the game with regard to several poorly officiated plays. While Fox Sports NFL expert Mike Pereira offered tweets citing a personal foul against Pittsburgh and a what was ruled a fumble by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as incorrect calls, Simms was indecisive about the fumble and then later agreed with the call on the field.

The personal foul, whistled in the end zone after Giants receiver Victor Cruz was hit on a pass play, was perhaps the most glaring problem of the afternoon for CBS Sports. Hampered by a commercial break, Nantz and Simms were slow to point out it was a bad call and replays of the play, which led to a New York touchdown, were slow in being shared.

Plus, Simms often seemed uncharacteristically ill-prepared, indecisive or out of sorts. Insights were rare, even though he talked a lot.

In one instance, after Pittsburgh running back/return man Chris Rainey produced several long kickoff returns, Simms said, "that kinda shows you why they want to get the ball in his hands." Kinda? You think? Viewers deserve, and certainly expect, better information and insights.

In another instance, the Steelers attempted a long pass for the end zone on second down from the Giants' 36-yard line. Receiver Antonio Brown was hurt on the play, and CBS and Simms focused on that a bit. Perhaps preoccupied by that, Simms then said, as the Steelers prepared for their third down play from the same spot: "This is the spot on the field where teams usually take a shot (at the end zone." But, they had just done that. The observation was a play late and perplexing as a result.

Likewise, when the Steelers went ahead for good on touchdown pass to Mike Wallace, who crossed the field from right to left, caught the ball and sprinted down the left sideline, Nantz offered over-the-top and somewhat out-of-context praise about Wallace's speed. Sure, he's fast, one of the fastest guys in the league, but Nantz crowed about how Wallace beat "defensive backs who had an angle on him."

In truth, and as the replay showed, only one DB had a shot at Wallace -- whose speed was the difference. It prevented the defender from even attempting a tackle, but it's not as if Wallace outran every defensive back on the Giants' roster to score.

There were just too many examples of that kind of generalization and sloppiness that made the game a sub-par effort for CBS Sports overall.

Even worse, viewers never got an update on Brown's injury, or that of Rainey, who left the game later after carrying the ball, getting tackled and then collapsing near the sideline while trying to leave the field. NFL games are always more TV shows than sporting events, but it's somewhat unusual that the status of impact players would not be updated at some point before the broadcast ended.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oh My, Oh Mayock -- A True TV Talent

Thank you, NBC Sports and the NFL Network. Thank you for giving Mike Mayock so much work -- because it does it so well.

Too often color commentators working major college football or the NFL make no impression. Or, they try to hard and make the wrong impression. Too many of them live on either clich├ęs or the sports version of "Fifty Shades of Gray," sharing so many words but, ultimately, so little information because they're not prepared enough to capably critique what happens on the field.

With Mayock, it's just the opposite. He picks his spots well, makes points that matter and makes them in a timely manner. He's arguably the best color commentator working on TV because he always does his homework and comes to work ready to share information.

If he worked only college games (focusing on Notre Dame for NBC) or only NFL games, he'd be good in either role. That he does both makes his work even more impressive.

He's always prepared, capably conveying his years of preparation for NFL Draft coverage in the form of player evaluation and explanations of what those on the field do best ... or not very well at all.

He's engaging, honest and informative.

When San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers threw an interception in the end zone at the end of the first half of Thursday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Mayock did not mince words.

"Can't do that. Can't make that throw," Mayock said. "He threw one in the 10th row two snaps ago, why would you make that throw? Everything was bad about the decision, and then the throw. There's no way in the world you can make that throw."

In fairness, and he was fair to Rivers, Mayock cited the QB's overall work in the first half as "almost perfect" until the interception. Mayock rarely raises his voice, shares silliness or shouts. He's simply solid, setting a standard to which others should aspire.

There's not much better in terms of TV viewing than getting to watch Mayock work twice in a three-day span -- with a Thursday night game on the NFL Network and then a Notre Dame game on Saturday.