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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday Thumbs: Up for Finebaum, Down for Eminem

We're not even through three weeks of college football season and we already have a clear-cut winner.

Not surprisingly, the victor comes from the state of Alabama. It's not, however, the two-time defending champion Crimson Tide. It's their de facto voice: Paul Finebaum.

Finebaum, who returned to radio just in time for college football season and with a much bigger pulpit thanks to his ESPN affiliation, has made the most of his opportunity. Along with his daily radio show (available across the nation and online), he has made appearances on "College GameDay" and other ESPN outlets. Next year at this time he'll be the face of the SEC Network.

For this first installment of Tuesday Thumbs, Finebaum gets a deserved thumbs up. He's earned his seat, gets guests who share information listeners appreciate and knows how to engage an audience on radio, TV and social media.

This week, leading to Alabama's game at Texas A&M, provides the kind of attention and forum for Finebaum to be at his best. Thumbs up!

Here are a few other folks/moments, who merited a thumb this week.


  • Chris Fowler, Chris Fowler, Chris Fowler. There, that should cover it for the next week or so anyway. He's the best studio host in the business, period. And its' because he's personable, prepared and ... rarely working in a studio. "College GameDay," college football's traveling circus that hits a different campus each week, thrives because of his ability to deal with the chaos -- both that created by the audience of students and that of his colleagues. It's hard enough to do such a show in an actual studio, but Fowler makes it look easy amid all the craziness. His contract ends this year, and he wants to do more (including play-by-play duties), but having him off "GameDay" would be a loss for the sport, and for him as well. When the time comes, hopefully ESPN can find some balance that allows him to work some games and keep the "GameDay" duties.


  • CBS Sports plans to track Johnny Manziel's every move Saturday against Alabama with a camera dedicated solely to him. That's not what viewers want, and it's an approach that's not going to end well because we'll end up getting more evidence of some on-field Manziel misstep.
  • Former NFL referee Gerry Austin remains the weakest of all links on ESPN's NFL coverage. Some might chortle about the caricature they believe Chris Berman has become, but at least he bring energy and sincerity. Austin remains hesitant to offer an opinion -- Mike Tiricio deserves credit for pushing Austin during the Eagles-Redskins game to specifically share what he though -- and indecisive and quiet is not a good thing for the guy who's supposed to interpret rules.
  • Tie-ins with guest visits during a live sports broadcast to promote things rarely go perfectly, and Eminem's halftime chat with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit at halftime of Notre Dame-Michigan last week certainly fit into that category. Whether the rap star was uncomfortable on live TV (his spin) or playing a part (the story from his PR folks), it was still a bumpy interaction, at best. Still, according to ESPN, the game averaged 8.8 million viewers and the interview -- including Eminem's spaced-out look for some uncomfortable seconds -- did go viral, so everyone probably got the attention they were looking for from the segment. You just wonder sometimes, though, if that's not something really good that could be done with a halftime segment instead of a celebrity shilling their goods. Maybe there's some good -- especially with a show originating from college campuses across the nation -- that could be featured or promoted instead.