Monday, December 30, 2013

Returns define compelling year of TV sports

A launch and some notable returns defined TV sports in 2013.

Fox Sports 1 became a reality Aug. 17 and the all-sports network has slowly started to create niche for itself. Thankfully, the overdone "fun" promotional approach for FS1 has been toned down and changes and tweaks to the flagship program, "Fox Sports Live," should continue for months to come. It's getting better.

It's good for sports fans to have options and once FS1 builds some consistency and, more importantly, gets better live content -- which could happen a bit more during college basketball season -- the network will become a slightly better rival (as much as it can) for the all-sports standard and cultural icon, ESPN.

Personality returns helped define 2013, with Keith Olbermann going back to ESPN for the nightly "Olbermann," atop the list. ESPN also welcomed back Jason Whitlock and Paul Finebaum returned after a hiatus from sports-talk radio to an even better opportunity -- going to ESPN himself. He got back on satellite radio and landed increased assignments for college football on ESPN and, next season, with the SEC Network. He might've had one of the better years of any sports personality, going from out of work (or at least of the air) to high-profile assignments.

It could more more of the same for Finebaum in 2014, and that might be the case for TV rookie Tim Tebow as well. Despite his lack of experience, ESPN announced Dec. 30 that Tebow would have a prominent role on the SEC Network in 2014. The network also said the former Heisman Trophy winner will work the Jan. 6 national championship game between Auburn and Florida State.

Before 2014 arrives (and in the borderline-sports-but-certainly-ratings-firendly category, expect the coming year to include another highly rated daredevil stunt of some sort by Nick Wallenda on the Discovery Channel), here's a look at the best of 2013:

Best Studio Show: "College GameDay"
For degree of difficulty alone (the show originates from a different college campus each week) "GameDay" deserves credit. But the show is much more than a traveling circus. It comes with a standout host (Chris Fowler, see below) and a strong mix of entertainment and information. Plus, "GameDay" must cover more each week than other programs of its ilk and it does it well. Even adding an hour this year did not seem to bog down the program. Plus, regular behind-the-scenes adjustments and more of a social media presence only helped the show improve.

Best Studio Host: Chris Fowler 
He handles duties on "GameDay" and tennis coverage for ESPN, and does both well. He's intelligent, entertaining and sincere. He makes sure colleagues get a chance to share their insights and makes sure fans get the information they want. His contract with ESPN comes up soon, though, and he wants to get more play-by-play assignments. From a selfish standpoint, here's hoping ESPN somehow keeps him in house -- maybe by passing "GameDay" to clearly capable Rece Davis and giving Fowler some strong college football game assignments. He's young enough, and good enough, to merit a top play-by-play gig.

Best Play-by-Play Team: Mike Breen/Jeff Van Gundy/Doris Burke
They're an engaging and informative trio for ESPN on the NBA, and they make games worth watching. Breen and Van Gundy bring a nice mix of familiarity and fun to broadcasts, providing a "feel" that translates well for viewers. With Burke an ever-prepared reporting presence, broadcasts with the trio never want for anything. While mid-season NBA games might be so-so in terms of meaning, the broadcast team always delivers.

Best Play-by-Play Man: Mike Emrick
He's the voice and energy of the NHL. So much talent exits behind the mic across so many sports that it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. The distinctive and well-prepared Emrick does that every time he goes to work.

Best Color Commentator: Jon Gruden
Sorry, I buy the schtick and silliness. He's fun to hear and watch on "Monday Night Football" and the other opportunities ESPN has provided for him, especially those film sessions leading up to the NFL Draft. There's no doubt he's well prepared. Sure, he's a personality, maybe the Dick Vitale of the NFL in the eyes of some critics who want someone a little less animated are cartoonish, but he connects with viewers and knows his stuff. That's what matters most.

Best Sideline Reporter: Michelle Tafoya
Less BS or better reporting helped the many professionals in this line of work -- and they have the toughest job in TV sports -- rise above the typically inane, two- or three-questions walkoff interview that typically defines the role. Tafoya had big news moments on "Sunday Night Football" this year, with a big-tme weather delay in Denver and the health of Texans coach Gary Kubiak in Houston, and she consistently did her job well. No surprise there, and those things were enough to put her slightly head of several others in the group.

Best Insider/Expert: Jay Bilas
Not. Even. Close. Not because Bilas consistently broke news or shared strong opinions (he did more of the latter than the former), but because he made a difference. He shared an opinion. He took a stand. And he was right every time he pointed out the NCAA's failings. As well as the failings of NCAA president Mark Emmert. Notably, Bilas, working for ESPN but making guest appearances on other outlets and harnessing the power of social media with his Twitter account, pointed out the hypocrisy of the NCAA selling student-athlete goods on its website. Appropriately, the NCAA pulled those online sales options. Best of all, though, Bilas was correct with his criticisms and the rabbit-eared NCAA president eventually made the criticisms personal. To his credit, Bilas did not get pulled into that and was left looking better as a result. (Of course, he looked better from the start.)

Newcomer of the Year: "College GameDay" offered a look -- and standing segment -- for a longtime off-camera talent, Chris Fallica, and those segments with "The Bear" were a hit. Including him helped make the show more personal and connect with viewers. He's been with "GameDay" for 17 years as a senior researcher, so he always came armed with information. It's something that should, and will, continue because it works. As a caution to competitors, though, it's not something easily repeatable because of the man himself. Just as all officiating experts are poor copies of Fox Sports' Mike Pereira, there's only one behind-the-scenes bear.

TV Feature of the Year: "Carry On"
Again, a return story. ESPN revisited a feature it had initially aired in 2009, expanded on the story and produced a compelling, emotional and informative piece that made an impact in so many ways. When it first aired late this past summer, it was the longest feature segment ever on "SportsCenter." It's simply a great piece.

TV Moment of the Year: Alabama-Auburn
CBS Sports delivered on TV with appropriate pictures while play-by-play man Verne Lundquist complemented those shots with his work as a failed Alabama field goal became the decisive Auburn touchdown. It was TV at its best during the most important college football game of the season until that point.

TV Story of the Year NFL: Another power play, along the lines of the work one by Bilas. Television continually exposed poor NFL officiating. From the Week 1 to Week 17, whether it was a game between contenders or just teams going through the motions, officiating was inconsistent and sometimes incomprehensible. Those mistakes were always visible on TV, though. And it would be great if someone the problems that were exposed to could lead to changes ... just as the work of Bilas' prompted changes, too.

Penn State plays public card, and poorly, with O'Brien

Alumni, fans and media members alike have had only rumors and social media to follow the possible fate of Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien in the past week or so as he again ponders a jump to the NFL.

It's often a second- and third-hand process that leads to frustration and silliness. And, whether it's a Penn State or someplace else, the process remains generally the same every time it repeats itself.

Agents work to enhance their client's value and, at the same time, manipulate the media to get some attention for said client. (Making him seem more employable for the next place.) 

Coaches supposedly strive to stay quite, while hopefully having their name among the candidates for jobs and searches that invariably become pretty public. (Again, all in an effort to seem more valuable, but at the same time focused on their current job.) 

Team officials also need things done with some discretion, but are not worried about accompanying attention. (They want a coach that is perceived as a difference maker and a good hire.)

Meanwhile fans and media members react to anything and everything, with patience and perspective lost in the mix. For media members, every tiny bit of information becomes breaking news and the latest update. Those same folks also play the what-if game and seemingly forget about sourcing or a responsible approach to their stories.

All those groups also reliably repeat their roles, no matter the year and no matter the specific job-search situation. 

With Penn State, though, unnamed athletic department officials chimed in a bit earlier than expected and disrupted the typical story arc.

Maybe it's because it's the second year in a row for O'Brien to garner deserved and expected NFL attention. Or maybe it's because leadership remains a problem. Either way, silence would've been the better route for Penn State officials in this instance.

When reports surface that the university is preparing to move ahead if O'Brien leaves, it makes the athletic department look petty and small. Yes, the school must have a plan, but helping things play out in the media and fueling what looks at least a little bit like an internal power-play feud is not the way for it to happen.

Some critics might complain about O'Brien, citing his contract, loyalty and any number of other factors, but an eventual move to the NFL by him would not be a surprise. He has publicly admitted that he would like to test his skills at the highest level of coaching competition. That's the NFL in his mind, and his career goals are not a surprise.

Sure, a little more time at Penn State might lessen the blow when he does depart, but good NFL jobs open only so often. So, he's probably at least listening to any interest. As he should. And, make no mistake, he will not leave what he considers a super college job for a so-so NFL job. If he does, it would speak more about any disfunction he perceives at Penn State than an overwhelming desire to get to the NFL.

The interest in him for the second year in a row comes with good reason, and it represents a welcome-to-the-world change for Penn State alumni and fans.

Eleven months ago, Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner misplayed things in his reaction to O'Brien staying, saying he did not have a list or Plan B had O'Brien decided to leave. Joyner said that he never expected the coach to leave. That approach was borderline incompetent.

This year, though, offering a before-the-coach-leaves declaration that you have a replacement in mind, seems to be jumping the gun a bit. 

There would be nothing wrong -- and, in fact, it would be a preferable approach -- for Penn State officials to consistently tell the media that they have a coach under contract, would be prepared to move forward if necessary, but hope that's not the case. 

Again, anything less is irresponsible. But, anything more seems more petty than prepared.

Monday, December 23, 2013

NFL's TV power not a problem ... for now

Despite the fact that pro football games look less and less like they did just five seasons ago, and despite the fact that generally strong coverage from network partners consistently reveals problems with officiating, the NFL sits on solid ground.

It remains (frustratingly so at times) the be all and end all for TV sports. And, with the final week of the regular season and playoffs ahead, more strong ratings and viewership trends -- especially for the Feb. 2 Super Bowl at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey -- seem likely.

Despite protest from media members. Despite a limit on tailgating for fans. Despite potential (seemingly likely) weather-related storylines. The Super Bowl will perform strongly, probably at record levels.

It seems like the NFL can do no wrong, and that's pretty much the case.

Still, there are problems. And, ironically, as much as television money funds the sport TV coverage reveals the flaws. League officials have long known they are producing television shows moreso than sporting contests. During the regular season, that means 256 episodes of professional football, and league officials prefer that those games fit in three-hour broadcast windows.

That's why team timeouts  late in the first or second half of a game become "30 second timeouts" -- it's a nod to a team's right to stop play, and an even bigger nod to the fact that all commercials for the respective half have been played so game action will not be stopped for a regular-leength timeout.

Plays along the sideline, when officials decide to stop the game clock or not, provide an regular example of efforts to make games into TV shows. In those instances officials are consistently inconsistent in how they enforce what's out of play and what's not -- especially in regard to which actions prompt the game clock to stop and which do not.

For the all-powerful NFL, though, these matters and others (inconsistent work with replay remains the biggest problem) have not hampered ratings or the sport's popularity. Sure, they're problematic and troublesome, but the frustration they prompt just seems to become part of the emotional investment fans make on gameday.

Worst of all, we're still a significant way away from the point where the league's changes, TV-motiveate moves and updates really hurt ratings and viewership. Football has not gotten so powerful that it hurts itself as a TV product. At least not yet.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Historic Iron Bowl Brings Out Best in Media, Too

From the moment it happened and through the hours (and hours) afterward, broadcast media on all sides of the historic Iron Bowl that reshaped this year's national championship and provided cultural fodder in the South for years to come did a generally good job.

When Auburn beat Alabama with a 109-yard field goal return for a touchdown as time expired -- capping a game that included the longest play in Alabama history as well as abundant drama and memorable moments -- CBS Sports had things covered from start to finish. Afterward, those in charge of the broadcast shared their reactions with Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated. It was the second part of his weekly Media Circus.

Kudos as well to the CBS on-air tandem of Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson, who mixed insight with an appropriate deference to the pictures and replays the production team provided. (There were nine replays of the play on the broadcast.) Still, Danielson correctly made a point about Alabama's inability to defend on the final play because "There are no athletes on the field for Alabama. They got all fat guys."

The network TV's as-it-happened excellence was matched by radio broadcasters from Alabama and Auburn as well. The link at the top features the call from the Tigers' team of Rod Bramblett and Stan White, and Eli Gold was just as strong -- albeit it much more reserved -- on Alabama's radio network.

While traveling home, satellite radio enabled me to listen to both as the play happened and afterward and they certainly encapsulated the moment for their respective fan bases.

Immediately after the game, ESPN's Tom Rinaldi had a straightforward, tight interview (conducted in tight quarters as well) with Auburn's Chris Davis, and that was good, expected work from Rinalidi.

Still, he was at his sheer, unrivaled best with a piece that got abundant airtime across numerous ESPN outlets Monday. The essay included the final play, key moments of the game, perspectives and, mostly, Rinaldi at his best telling a story about the difference one second can make. Of course, Alabama's failed  57-yard field goal that allowed the game-ending return to happen started with just one second on the game clock.

From start to finish, the memorable game was marked by standout coverage. Not surprisingly, only disconnected talking heads whiffed (and even then it was just occasionally).

Those that made that category, though, were ESPN's Tim Hasselbeck, who sounded silly on on "Mike and Mike in the Morning." Even in the face of great statistics from ESPN researchers -- who armed their on-air folks with information that 25% of long field goals in such situations typically work, compared to just 2% of Hail Mary passes -- Hasselbeck blasted Alabama's late-game approach. He just sounded tone deaf to what was happening around him, though.

Likewise, media critics who took shots at the work of the Auburn radio crew for talking too much during the deciding play and aftermath were guilty of over-thinking the process. It's radio. Those guys have to talk. And, yes, it's their job to be homers because they're listeners are all Auburn fans.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ever Present (Costas), Presence (Tirico) and Presently (Finebaum) Play Out During an Interesting Week

During a busy week in the sports media world, three unrelated stories seem tied together because of personalities present as the respective protagonists.

In the story that will attract the most viewers, NBC Sports announced this week that Bob Costas would serve as host of the network's primetime Winter Olympics coverage from Feb. 6-23. It's his 10th such assignment. He'll also host late night coverage.

Since 1992, Costas, 61, has been the primetime host for every Olympics on NBC. That's six Summer Games and three Winter Games.

He's the ever-present face of the Games for many U.S. viewers and he brings an approach that works in terms of potential news and necessary storytelling -- especially with the Winter Games and sports that often do not get much exposure in the United States. With such softer fare, he's less likely to come off as overbearing or pompous, which some critics allege when he's working more mainstream sports and feels free to blur the line between hosting and taking an opportunity to opine.

That's not always an easy line and especially so for a play-by-play man, but ESPN's Mike Tirico handled such a case gracefully and professionally in a stellar example of presence earlier this week "Monday Night Football."

With the controversial non-call ending between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers, Tirico stayed on top of things as they happened. He kept viewers engaged as what was initially flagged as a pass interference penalty in the end zone on the game's final play was waved off.

The "MNF" production team had the right replays and reaction shots at the right times, and Tirico made the most of that material while working in color commentator Jon Gruden and former official Gerry Austin. And, credit Austin for being more succinct and on point than usual, even if you disagree that he agreed with/confirmed the call.

Still, it was Tirico who directed the traffic and put his partners in a position to succeed. Good work by someone from whom we've come to expect such work.

Another person who knows how to do good work, because he knows his audience, is Paul Finebaum -- and his audience will broaden significantly Monday when ESPN adds him on its satellite radio lineup. The show will air from 2 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Xtra (Channel 85).

While he was still based in Birmingham, Ala., Finebaum's flavor and style -- and honestly the flavor and style of his callers -- found acceptance among callers all over the nation when it was on satellite radio. As a result, his return should be welcomed by many who listen faithfully to satellite radio.

In addition, he enhances his brand and value at ESPN with the move. Along with the radio show that had been on air regionally, he's become an interesting and regular part of the network's college football coverage (from "College GameDay" to weekday spots on several shows) and will no doubt be a big part of whatever happens related to the launch of the SEC Network next year.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Glazer Gets It: His Job, Network/Self Promotion

Jay Glazer
Kudos to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports for all his work related to the Miami Dolphins story.

He's been one of the leaders in regard to breaking and following the story since it first surfaced about two weeks ago. It's the kind of NFL reporting many have come to expect of Glazer.

Then, in the aftermath of his one-on-one interview with Richie Incognito that aired Sunday and Monday on different Fox Sports outlets, he has proven just as adept at promoting his home network and programs as well as his work.

With guest appearances on a variety of programs, including ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" and CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight," both of which he visited Tuesday, Glazer appropriately and tactfully drove home the point that his work appeared on Fox Sports programs.

It was self promotion, but it felt more factual than overstated. It's also the kind of thing that some suits at networks invariably worry about when a talent from a rival network appears on one of their shows. Still, that rarely happens, mostly because those doing the reporting (and then the talking about their reporting) are not as deft as Glazer.

In covering the story, and in shaping other people's coverage of the story while promoting his own efforts and network, Glazer has been consistently strong.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reporters, former players a complement on Incognito

Thank you Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen and Jay Glazer for the reporting on the Richie Incognito story. When things happen, viewers and listeners get the latest, or at least the latest that can be reported ... thankfully even with some context.

Still, their work -- and even moreso those of sports journalists who call South Florida home and regularly cover the Miami Dolphins -- is just the start of what listeners and viewers expect.

True context comes from the former NFL coaches and players. They have generally not been reactionary, and bring great perspectives to discussion about the issue. As a result, through the past few days of the story, it's been even better to hear from them than the reports.

It's an All-Pro list and a long list of those who have done well, too. In large part because they bring experience to the story that media members who have never played the game simply do not have -- no matter how long they've played the sport.

In that vein, Herman Edwards, Mark Schlereth, Marcellus Wiley and even the surprisingly strongly opinionated Tom Jackson have been among the best. Yes, my listening and viewing habits skew strongly toward ESPN. After three decades, and despite the silliness of "First Take" and obvious commercial moves and conflicts, they've earned my trust.

In the past few days the one-two punch of reporters and former players have proven again they deserve that faith.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Harassment, hazing story separates media, more

The ongoing NFL tale of hazing, workplace harassment, racism and more has provided fodder for every possible part of the sports media world.

Offensive lineman Richie Incognito's apparent mistreatment (and that's an understatement if all the accusations prove true) of Miami Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin has been examined in every way.

Sports-talk radio, TV sports debate shows, TV sports talking heads and TV sports news shows have all done what they should with the story. Cable and network news have chased the story as well. They have to -- it's interesting, it's unusual and it's the all-powerful NFL.

As a result, the potential aspects and impacts of the story have not been overlooked in terms of business, ethics, entertainment, law and any number of combination of those topics and more.

Still, the separations between serious news and silliness have never been more evident than with this story.

Those talking mostly to hear themselves, encourage debate or incite some type of reaction have done just that -- and done it well. Thankfully, those who bring some sense of measure, nuance and patience to the discussion have found a place as well. Granted, it's a much smaller place, but at least it's there.

At the same time, the separation between fans and the media, and between those in the media with a powerful politically correct perspective that appreciates only black-and-white discussions and those who know the gray that exists in professional sports has proven just as big.

It's clearly a right-and-wrong story. At the same time, the number of voices on all sides of the argument -- from those who have no hesitation vilifying Incognito to those who question the manner in which their teammate has been questioned -- has made the story all the more interesting.

With all the separations, though, fans, listeners and viewers all deserve more even more patience and persistence. Hopefully it will come. Eventually.

Monday, October 7, 2013

So far, Playoff plays media perfectly, and vice versa

We're more than a year away but many media members have fully bought into the College Football Playoff.

With leaks about the makeup of the selection committee over the weekend, on-air TV and radio types have spent too much time talking about how the committee approach -- similar to the NCAA Tournament selection committee -- will be so much better the existing Bowl Championship Series format for college football's top division.

It's become a self-serving discussion from both sides -- the media loves the College Football Playoff coming next season and the College Football Playoff loves the coverage its getting.

All that blind love does nothing for honesty, journalism or reporting, though.

Instead, everyone involved is perpetuating a myth that, someday (but not any day soon) the media itself will eventually debunk. At it's core, it's all a public relations battle -- an effort to enlighten and improve the discussion about the selection of contenders for the national championship.

It sounds so good. But it's too good to be true.

We're talking about the selection of four teams to play in two games at the end of next season. That's it. Four games. Two teams. One will come from the Southeastern Conference, with the winner of that conference's championship game making it to the national semifinals.

With that pretty much guaranteed, we're now we're talking about three teams to round out the remaining spots in what will be the national semifinals and championship game. That's it. Three teams. And to accomplish that goal, college football's top division will need a group of a dozen to a dozen and a half people, who will not meet -- with much accompanying hoopla -- to debate and determine the field for playoff.

It will be nothing more than further glorifying a bunch of people many media members already like (that's the reason for so much early love for the process as the initial names were leaked) and nothing less than the thoughtless investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars (when you consider lodging, time and everything associated) to accomplish a rather simple task.

When the selection committee meets for the NCAA Tournament, the group is working to determine spots for more than 30 at-large berths in the tournament. They also determine game sites and seeding.

Their football counterparts must determine only who gets in (again three teams, maybe fewer depending on who remains unbeaten at the end of next season along with the SEC champion) because game locations are set and seedings will be irrelevant -- save for generating slightly better TV ratings.

Adding a "human" factor, to the the selection process will not improve which teams get picked. It might change why they get picked, but that's about it.

So we're getting all this media-driven hype for a system that's really no better than the beleaguered BCS, which relies on computer-based and human polls. The College Football Playoff is just the "plus-one" model that many in college football and the media railed against -- until they were asked to be a part of the process. Now that's a way to control a message.

At it's best, the closed group (though they'll pledge transparency) of College Football Playoff selectors will huddle to debate and determine between the fourth team in the field and the fifth, sixth or seventh -- those who do not make the cut. It's important stuff, the difference between a huge, double-digit millions of dollars, payout for College Football Playoff participants (and their conferences) and much less for those who do not make the cut.

As the process plays out, though, the lack of clean-cut or consistently defensible decisions by the committee will become obvious (exactly what happens with the NCAA Tournament from year to year). And, at some point, the supporting media will take notice and the relationship might get a bit more icy.

What should happen -- and it will, though not quickly -- will be a full-fledged eight- or 16-team playoff. A national champion for college football will eventually get decided on the field because that's the best way. The best way is not a way that includes injury justifications as part of a late-season presentation in a boardroom or statistical spreadsheets that get gauged and nuanced by people in that same room.

Even worse -- and things are just beginning -- the process has already prompted the expected attacks by self-defined enlightened-media on those they consider less qualified. That's why some people piled on ESPN analyst David Pollack last Saturday after he said he hoped more people who had "played football" would be part of the selection committee.

Of course, that led to the politically correct portion of sports media to bash Pollack and make all kinds of comparisons about how someone could not judge something if they had not done so before themselves. But here's the thing: Pollack was not wrong, and neither were those who took shots at him. Any committee that would do such a job for college football needs both types of those people. And if it's to exist it also needs some rational people who know that such a statement is not as incendiary as they think. It's just one guy expressing an opinion. That's Pollack's job.

What's most missing from the proposed selection committee are student-athletes. Yes, college football players. Just like kids playing sports at any level, they know who's better than them and who's not. They know who belongs and who doesn't.

What's also missing from the process so far is a bit more balance or curiosity on the part of the media. Rather than getting pulled along for the ride or picking on each other, the media could be doing much more.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday Thumbs: Up for Pereira, Down for 'OTL'

So many analysts and angles exist for media covering the NFL that it's difficult for the experts to separate themselves from the pack of constant noise. And, in fairness, an abundance of quality information exists out there on TV, radio and online. It's really not just noise.

As a result, it often comes down to viewer preference -- whether folks want to get get their information from Jason La Canfora, Jay Glazer, Chris Mortenson, Adam Schefter, or any number of other experts and "insiders." Dozens of former players have jobs that allow them to capably share their insights, too.

Still, one on-air personality remains unrivaled in terms of his expertise and his ability to share that information.

  • Former NFL official Mike Pereira remains a shining light of information in a sea of uncertainty and sloppiness regarding football officiating and the coverage of reporting. He knows his stuff, even if biased fans disagree, and he knows how to work on TV, making points and offering opinions quickly. Pereira first stared on air for NFL Network in regular segments that made that then-niche channel worth having. He was the best of anything it did before the league gave its own channel a package of games. Now at Fox Sports, Pereira monitors college and NFL games each week, offering opinions about rulings and what goes right and wrong with the officials. He keeps his nearly 170,000 Twitter followers constantly updated. Still, Fox Sports needs to do more with him -- at least more official-specific work. He's at his best pointing out the good and the bad, but a little less so talking straight football news, strategy or Xs and Os. A ton of other folks exist for that, and Pereira should be freed to focus on what he does best. It's something that could then be parsed for social media -- as he did with week with a YouTube video -- and strengthen the hold of Fox Sports and Pereira on a segment of NFL news that nobody else does as well as them.
  • With the baseball playoffs coming soon, Fox Sports analyst Tim McCarver might have lost a little bit because of age and might be popular to complain about when he's gone (as he retires after this season), but he set more of a standard for his sport -- without becoming a cariciature -- than John Madden on the NFL. Yes, he never became as beloved, or spawned a video game franchise, but in terms of expertise and sharing that with viewers McCarver always knew what he was talking about and relayed that information well.
  • Another documentary on ESPN and another winning, worth-watching result. At 8 tonight, ESPN offers the debut of "The Book of Manning." Good stuff. TRAILER
  • Best video from the NFL weekend was not a game, but Schefter catching passes in an ESPN hallway. VIDEO

  • A quarter of of the way through college football season on Fox Sports 1 (and college football was to be a piece of backbone programming for the network), "Fox College Saturday" remains void of a strong information/reporting voice or much of a sense of gravitas and immediacy. That's a big hole when almost every Saturday, and every week, provides some sort of news. No show could even consider rivaling ESPN's "College GameDay" in its rookie season, but FS1 needs to to more if it wants to give viewers a reason to watch. If it's just a matter of killing time and offering some sort of college football-related programming, though, what's there would check that off the list. Another challenge for the show will be the East Coast media bias. Along with ESPN having many of the more respected college football reporters and voices wrapped up (either at ESPN already or in advance of the launch of the SEC Network next year), getting an information person or insider to resonate with viewers might be challenging because of FS1's mostly Pac-12 and western U.S. schedule of games and the fact that viewers could be more familiar with East Coast, Big Ten or SEC-based experts.
  • "Outside the Lines" deserves credit for all its solid journalism and reporting. Still, a follow-up piece about the "fixed" 1973 made-for-TV tennis match between Bobby Riggs Jr. and Billie Jean King seems misplaced on "OTL." It's an interesting story that generated buzz and reaction when the first, longer piece aired a month ago around the U.S. Open,  but to sink so much into what many acknowledge was an exhibition when it happened seems a little like overkill 40 years later. Plus, one piece remains overlooked. That's the reasons King and some media members dislike or dispute the story. Again in plays into perceptions and the need for a story to be right, and there would be not better place for that than "OTL."
  • It's been held up as a model for conference sports networks, but some might argue that the Big Ten Network's programming choices offer a look the politics within a conference as well. For example, this past Sunday, after a full slate of Saturday games the day before, BTN used an Akron-Michigan game from two weeks ago in its rotation of game replays. Typically those replays come from games the day before and you can bet some conference members were frustrated their game from the day before was not used in place of a UM game that was 14 days old. Maybe programmers would argue it was a good game (with a goal-line stand preserving a michigan victory), but people at other schools might see a UM bias.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Former NFL players enjoy competition as TV analysts

Free agent signings reshape NFL rosters on TV even more than they do team rosters and those impacted by personnel changes know that means competition.

Most welcome that competition -- even if it’s somewhat unfamiliar territory where a linebacker or offensive lineman can compete with a wide receiver.

For example, ESPN analyst and former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson is not concerned about the addition of Ray Lewis and Jeff Saturday to ESPN’s lineup this year. While the presence of the former All-Pro linebacker and center, respectively, do no specifically mean less “playing time” for Johnson, the former All-Pro receiver knows everyone must earn their on-air opportunities.

“I didn’t worry about it as a player and I don’t worry about it now,” said Johnson, who joined ESPN in 2007. He most often appears on “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “Monday Night Countdown.” 

After 17 years in the league, Lewis was ESPN’s big off-season acquisition. So far he has been prominent from game sites on “Monday Night Countdown” as well as other NFL programming. Likewise, Saturday has transferred smoothly to TV, sharing the smarts he displayed during 14 years playing pro football.

While Johnson seems secure in his spot, not every former player transitions as well to a high-profile TV gig.

Former Steelers All-Pro running back Jerome Bettis landed at ESPN this year after an opportunity with NBC Sports and “Football Night in America” did not work, or at least did not work well enough for him to keep that job. Likewise, former Steelers All-Pro receiver Hines Work keeps trying to earn his position with NBC Sports. He contributes to “Football Night in America” (after an OK debut season in 2012) and handles studio duties for college football.

It’s not easy staying on any network’s roster because every year there’s another crop of free agent retirees looking for TV work. ESPN’s deep lineup of former players includes insightful, proven contributors such as Cris Carter, Trent Dilfer, Tom Jackson and Steve Young. That’s just the most prominent part of the group.

Make no mistake, TV outlets are always scouting for talent. That includes current Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who regularly contributes to ESPN already, or even someday-in-the-future free agents such as Peyton Manning, the quarterback who will draw the attention of every network with an NFL deal when he retires.

That’s why ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi, the former All-Pro linebacker from the Patriots, prepares so hard. He knows constant competition is one of the most certain routes to success -- just like it was on the playing field.

“I’m always trying to improve, looking for advice and input from people,” Bruschi said. “I’m watching what other people do, taking notes and trying to get better.”

While the TV rookies might not know about all the studio camera angles or just how to hold their hands when they’re on TV, they do know how to compete. And they know that competition and improvement is the key to keeping their jobs, just as it was when they wore a football uniform.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Penn State fans get more 'real' O'Brien on radio

Fans listening to the weekly Thursday night radio show with Penn State coach Bill O’Brien have gotten a bit more of O’Brien’s real personality in recent weeks.

That means answers at times come with attitude and even some critique of the questions themselves. Such an approach offers insight into O’Brien’s sarcastic and smart nature.

That’s a good thing, because fans want to feel close to the football program and its people. They want to feel like they know O’Brien, and they enjoy interacting with him in person.

Fans asking questions have not been mean-spirited or unappreciative of the efforts of the coach, or the team, either. So, when O’Brien gets tough on questioners it’s entertaining, but he also sounds a bit thin skinned.

He’s walking a fine line. It’s one thing to respond to a media member’s question in such a manner, but it’s another to do the same to a question from a fan who’s paying for dinner at the restaurant while “watching” the show and just wants to feel closer to the program.

Honestly, many questions from fans on Thursdays are as good or better than what media members lob at the coach -- especially one that a fan asked about the difference between coaching a college freshman quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) and a Super Bowl-winning, NFL all-pro (Tom Brady) that irked O’Brien last week.

It was a fair question, probably not worded as clearly as possible, but not bad nonetheless. It’s a shame O’Brien heard the question as an affront to his coaching prowess.

Make no mistake, O’Brien’s zingers make for good radio, and good live theatre, but not all fans have the thick skin necessary to trade barbs and some might not want to be the butt of a joke.

Surely SEC
With “College GameDay” on site at Alabama-Texas A&M and that game getting all kinds of attention this week, some fans might think the Southeastern Conference gets too much attention.

That’s just not the case because SEC fans drive college football viewership more than fans in any other region in the country.

ESPN research finds that 38 percent of “GameDay” viewers come from SEC states while no other region of the country accounts for more than 11 percent. Also, one mid-sized city -- Birmingham, Ala. -- almost invariably tops viewership of college football (and that’s almost any game on any network) on a given weekend.