Monday, July 29, 2013

Rules of Reaction II: The Silence of Al Michaels

As NBC and NBC Sports Network outlined hosting duties for the Olympics, and with the season debut of "Sunday Night Football" getting closer every day, Al Michaels has again been getting attention.

According to Sports Media Watch, he will host daytime weekend Olympics coverage on NBC and weekday afternoon coverage on NBC Sports Network. Of course, the's the play-by-play man for "SNF." And, during ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in a few weeks, he'll earn a media award named for former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.

All those are nice accolades and assignments, but he's still missing a necessary "A" ... an apology.

It's been more than three months since his April 19 arrest for DUI and Michaels remains silent -- at least in any public way -- about what happened. It's apparently as case of different rules for different people.

Had Michaels been an NFL player, there most certainly would've been a public apology by now. There might even have been a suspension. Even front office personnel who make the same mistake -- just ask the two execs in Denver who were punished recently -- typically pay a price for a DUI. (And the off-field punishment in for the Broncos officials seemed steep.)

Not Michaels, though, and that's interesting for both the image-conscious NFL and its broadcast partner NBC.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rules of Reaction: The Sportsmanship of Bowlers

This past weekend what was ostensibly one sport's most important "major" featured the male champion celebrating by playing to the crowd and kissing the trophy even before his opponent finished  competing. The same thing happened on the women's side of competition.

But nobody complained ... because nobody watches bowling. So the poor sportsmanship at the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open got lost. Or, if it was a pre-planned celebration to provide emotion for viewers and share the excitement of the victors, it just looked silly.

Men's champ Wes Malott of Texas defeated Jason Belmonte of Australia in their final, and he was high-fiving the crowd while Belmonte finished his final frame. The same happened as women's champ Liz Johnson of New York upended Kelly Kulick of New Jersey.

Champions in all sports almost immediately celebrate their victories, and there's no need for the bottom of the ninth inning if a baseball team is winning a game after eight and a half innings. The game simply ends.

Conversely, if a basketball, football or hockey team has an insurmountable victory late in the game, the game still concludes before the most overt celebrations begin. In the case of this past weekend's bowling, that was not the case.

While their opponents were still competing, the champions were in full celebration mode. And, in the small section of a bowling center used for made-for-TV action, the cramped studio bowling feel made the moments even more awkward.

Still, the approach by the winners was lost because what happened took place on a lightly viewed Saturday afternoon. In addition, the celebrations were conducted by two champions (deserved though they were) who looked more like PTA parents than championship athletes. Had the situation played out that way in some other sport, with the actions by some other athletes, there might actually have been some appropriate reaction to what were inappropriate actions.

TV will focus on 'targeting' rule

From July 28, 2013, Altoona Mirror
As an early spoiler alert for college football fans who watch games on TV this season, you'll have an as-it-happens, front-row seat for what will surely be some of the most controversial plays of the season.

That's because a new emphasis on dangerous hits carries the penalty of an automatic ejection if a player gets flagged for "targeting."

So before viewers celebrate a big hit, they'll need to check for yellow laundry on the field. Then, with the ability of TV directors to find the right angle for almost every play -- and certainly for replays -- controversial collisions will be examined endlessly. There's no doubt those plays will happen.

With the rules (which have existed for at least five years) as point of emphasis this season, some well-intentioned member of the crew who feels pressure to do his job well will make a call that forces a player from the game.

Because of the current emphasis on head injuries, it's certainly a hot topic, and it is a safety issue. But giving officials one more thing to look for - and one more judgment call to make - seems like a recipe for problems. Eventually coaches and players will figure it out, but it shapes up initially as football's version of basketball's block-charge call with higher consequences.

Of course, it will make good TV and provide fodder for sports-talk radio and TV.

Paterno presence
ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg appropriately and honestly used the Paterno family to make a point earlier this week.

When talking about people fighting for a passion or sticking to their story (and the context was a conversation about tainted baseball star Ryan Braun), Greenberg said he respected those who took a stand -- even if it was not popular and especially if it related to a family member.

"I will defend Jay or any of the Paternos for going to the wall and trying to defend, or do whatever they have to do to defend, their father," Greenberg said.

He said he would do the same for a family member in the same situation.

State 'snub'
Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel offered up a list of college football's 10 best and five worst coaches earlier this month, and much of the feedback afterward focused on Penn State coach Bill O'Brien.

Here's Mandel's response to an online question from a fan in Richmond, Va.: "O'Brien got the most 'snub' emails of any coach I left off my list, and I certainly agree that he's off to a great start in State College. But don't you think we should wait more than one season before ranking him alongside the likes of Gary Patterson and Bob Stoops? I seem to recall another former Patriots offensive coordinator who swept in and impressed during his debut season at a prominent college program. You now know him as the current head coach at Kansas."

Tuner tidbits

  • Sports Illustrated's Peter King this week launched a website under the SI umbrella that focuses on the NFL, and ESPN announced the hiring of Nate Silver, a well-established and respected demographics/numbers expert from The New York Times to have his own home under the ESPN mothership online. They join ESPN's Bill Simmons, who created "Grantland," as individual media members who have built some pretty valuable brands.
  • Even before it launches, Fox Sports 1 does have a credibility problem with its coverage of college football. Its best and most respected expert might be official Mike Pereira, who remains unparalleled in that role. Still, FS1 needs someone with some actual team and sport knowledge at that same level of respect.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Best of "Nine for IX" Might Be Only Online

While ESPN has put its PR muscle behind the "Nine for IX" documentary series this summer, with documentaries about Venus Williams and locker room access for women's sports writers, it's strongest installment so far has been "Pat XO," about former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.

At the same time, the strongest minute-by-minute film -- especially so because it lasts only about 16 minutes -- is "Coach," the documentary short about Rutgers women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer.

It could clearly be developed into more, and that it's not is somewhat of a shame. Still, it's worth watching, and it's the kind of bite-sized segment that packs a lot of punch into a comparatively little piece.

So much information in such a short time does leave some -- much in some cases -- underdeveloped. As a result, the work of director Bess Kargman and executive producer Whoopi Goldberg feels incomplete and little rushed.

Still, the film works. "Coach" just has so much going for it -- and so much of a chance to connect with a wider audience than several other films in the series -- that it's a shame it almost gets lost online, that it has not gotten the PR push of other films in the series and that it's not a deeper and longer.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Early Move for Late Night "Olbermann" Smart for ESPN2

Keith Olbermann will return to ESPN. (Associated Press)
Chalk it up as a wise gamble, a forward-thinking move by embracing the past as a preemptive strike against a potentially strong opponent.

With ESPN2's announcement that it would launch "Olbermann," a late-night talk show featuring Keith Olbermann, the reigning all-sports champ acknowledged the move was made in large part because of the presence of upstart Fox Sports 1, which launches Aug. 17.

"Olbermann" makes its debut Aug. 26.

Olbermann, 54, formerly of ESPN, ESPN Radio, MSNBC and Current TV (and as well known by many for his liberal viewpoints as his sports expertise), should give ESPN something it needs to maintain its initial advantage over fledgling Fox Sports 1.

With its head start in terms of content, ESPN also has a known personality -- and personalities. Olbermann adds to that lineup, and even though some critics and journalistic purists deride the work of Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith they draw ratings. That remains the name of the game in TV, especially sports TV when the games end.

Fox Sports 1 will counter with a three-hour nightly block of news and entertainment, with people they hope will become enjoyed and known quantities among U.S. viewers, notably former TSN "SportsCentre" hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole. FS1 also has Erin Andrews, Regis Philbin, among others.

As the competition between the two outlets initially plays out, news that gets broken, ratings that are made and talk-about-that moments will be the measurables among viewers. No doubt ESPN has more content, but FS1 will make the most of college football and basketball, NASCAR and the UFC -- which will be the highlight of its opening night.

In what will be an ongoing battle, personality will matter. Olbermann will generate action and reaction, just as Bayless and Smith do on "First Take," and just as Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon do on "Pardon the Interruption." (Although the latter paring thrives more on chemistry and commentary and bombast and bull.)

Much has already been made about the possibility of Olbermann talking politics on his show, but it will be a sports show because viewers will demand as much -- and because he knows his job and he's an engrained sports geek at heart. The biggest problem for the show, especially during college basketball season, will be finding a consistent starting time, enabling viewers to reliably tune in at the right time.

All in all it's a low-risk, potentially high-reward move for ESPN. Sure, the network and Olbermann parted company on bad terms, but that was years ago. And all those who really watched Olbermann in his ESPN heydey with Dan Patrick on "SportsCenter" are probably among a minority anymore. Millions of fans, possible ESPN viewers, have been born since that dynamic duo was last paired in 1997.

Olbermann has the expertise and talent to handle such a show. As long as he plays nicely with those producing on the show, and no back-stage sniping or silliness hurts "Olbermann," it could be a nightly anchor for the network.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fox Sports 1 Promises Fun, But Do You Feel It?

Fox Sports 1 used a 90-second commercial during the All-Star Game to kick off its promotional blitz leading to the launch of the all-sports network on Aug. 17 and in the month-plus leading to the launch of the network the pitch can only get better.

That's because the commercial was just OK, full of almost as much computer-generated action as anything else, with an ultimate promise of fun.

It's fine for fun to be how FS1 plans to differentiate itself in the growing world of all-sports television. It's just that the commercial itself was not all that fun -- even if the challenges, dedication and hard work associated with high-level athletic performance are supposed to be fun.

FS1 used Georges St. Pierre, NASCAR and college basketball and football prominently in the commercial, and those entities will form the backbone of the network.

Fun can only be a start, though. Next up in FS1's promotional efforts must be its personality, it's reporting, it's talent. A month is plenty of time to to that, and all of that will come when the network launches as well, but while fun can be an appropriate start for an all-sports network, there needs to be more. And, a little more reality (and less CGI) would be nice, too.

Monday, July 8, 2013

After Slow Start, Nine for IX Restarts with "Pat XO"

Lots of times thing start poorly -- first possessions in championship games, first marriages for Hollywood types and even the first documentary in what should be another strong series from ESPN.

The first installment of "Nine for IX," the documentary series focusing on women's athletes and women's sports issues, offered "Venus Vs." and it was just OK, at best. Timed to coincide with Wimbledon, it was an interesting and fairly recent topic (addressing how Venus Williams championed equal pay for women's tennis players) but the film was panned for its production value and storytelling.

On Tuesday night, though, the series returns with a strong subject and what looks to be an even stronger film -- "Pat XO."

The film focuses on former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt and it benefits from the approach, letting family, friends, former players and others tell her story, as well as A-list personalities. Along with Summitt herself, there's former ESPN talent and current "Good Morning America" host Robin Roberts to frame the film.

With "Pat XO" the strong-looking series (judging by subject matter of the films) has a chance to get back on track and again add to ESPN's legacy of strong sports documentaries.

The film debuts at 8 p.m. Tuesday.