Sunday, January 31, 2016

Get ready to enjoy Super Bowl build up -- it's worth it

Get ready to enjoy the Super Bowl -- and all the build up.

With Peyton Manning possibly making his final NFL start for the Broncos in the Super Bowl 50, and with emerging superstar Cam Newton leading the opposition Panthers in the big game, the Super Bowl has individual superstars.

Collectively, the opposing defenses rank as superstars, too.

All those people, combined with five decades worth of hype driven by the NFL’s proven marketing and publicity machine, along with always complicit media members, means anyone playing even the slightest bit of attention will know all they want (and more) about the game.

Additionally, expect CBS, which has the broadcast rights to next week’s game (if you’ve somehow missed that during the regular season and playoffs) to parlay every possible gold-plated connection -- no matter how far fetched -- between the Super Bowl and its entertainment and news programming in an effort to drive more viewers to the broadcast.

ESPN and its less important, smaller imitators -- CBS Sports Network, Fox Sports and NBC Sports Network -- will do their part as well. Likewise, the NFL Network will produce hundreds of hours from the game site in Santa Clara, California.

A variety of cable networks will be there as well, creating more content and programming than ever before around the big game.

All of that could be overwhelming and unbecoming. But it’s really not.

To me, it’s one of the best weeks of the sports season.

Yes, it’s hype, sometimes-silly hype, but it’s also compelling and engaging. With so many people trying to find stories that matter, we sometimes do get good information.

We do pay for the good stuff by trudging through lazy, silly and superficial reporting and stories, but when we overcome those things, the good stories stand out all the more.

Best bets
To navigate the onslaught of Super Bowl media, it is best to pick a few key sources. Atop the list should be ESPN and the NFL Network.

Credit both, because of their connections with the league, with consistently finding different sites for their on-site shows. While radio stations from across the nation set up shop on Radio Row, ESPN stays away from that circus. That’s a good thing.

Additionally, ESPN and NFL Network have their own deep rosters of on-air talent, people who share fairly interesting information on a regular basis.

Yes, there are clowns among each network’s lineup -- anything or anyone associated with “First Take” on ESPN, and Deion Sanders comes immediately to mind for NFL Network -- but the network’s real NFL experts and reporters deserve the reputations they’ve built.

Tuner tidbits
n  Forget what we’ve known for years at Media Day at the Super Bowl. It no longer exits. Instead, this year marks the debut, in prime time, of “Super Bowl Opening Night.” That’s Monday, beginning at 8 p.m., when the media throng converges on players and coaches in front of fans at Levi’s Stadium. Because the NFL knows all about producing TV shows, the media availability effectively becomes another such show with a live studio audience.
n  Another TV show, “NFL Honors,” winds down the week of hype leading to the game. That show airs at 9 p.m. Saturday on CBS and serves as the season-ending awards show. Modeled after any number of other televised awards shows, “NFL Honors” allows the league to hand out all its hardware at one time. It was clunky and slow in its inaugural year, but the league has started to iron out the kinks in the made-for-TV program.
n  Few media entities can “lose” in the Super Bowl buildup, but my bet would be on CBS Sports Network to fall into that category. While its corporate big brother has the game and seems almost like the NFL’s preferred partner for anything (such as “Thursday Night Football”), the CBS Sports Network never seems to build on the relationships it network has overall. Maybe it’s because hardly anybody watches the channel, but hardly anybody watches because the programming is not taken seriously.
n   Finally, just beating the rush here, but expect the CBS on-air team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to struggle during the game. They did so with consistency during the playoffs, and there’s no reason to think their streak of B- performances during A+ games will end.

n  Millions of Super Bowl fans will have a better option, though. Travelers, people working at places without at TV (if you can imagine) or those who simply prefer radio -- and those combined groups number in the millions each year -- will be listening on Westwood One radio affiliates.

After inaugural Super Saturday success, challenges exist for Big Ten Conference with Big Apple doubleheader

Everyone associated with the inaugural Big Ten Super Saturday at Madison Square Garden should be proud.

More than 27,000 people attended the basketball-ice hockey, day-night doubleheader between Penn State and Michigan in person.

In addition, the event played well on TV. From pre- and post-event coverage to the actual game action, it was all a success.

Still, the first edition might have been the easiest for the Big Ten Conference as it works to establish its foothold for the event in New York City and set the stage for the Big Ten Tournament to be played in the historic arena in 2018.

A pair of Penn State-Michigan matchups produced competitive action Saturday. More importantly, the Penn State presence provided a critical mass of people at the World's Most Famous Arena and prevented the games from being contested before limited crowds with a sports-as-a-studio-show feel.

Going forward -- because the Big Ten plans to repeat the event annually -- it might not be as easy to attract crowds.

Next year, it's Wisconsin-Rutgers in basketball and Wisconsin-Ohio State in hockey. In 2018, the Big Ten set Ohio State-Minnesota as the basketball opener followed by Minnesota-Michigan State in hockey. In 2019, it's Illinois-Maryland basketball with the hockey matchup to be announced.

Without Penn State, though, it might be hard to get a crowd for many of those matchups beyond the Rutgers basketball game.

Even with just-half-decent basketball team, Penn State fans flocked to the inaugural event at MSG. On the university campus Friday, there was a pep rally in the student union building as a sendoff event. And on gameday dozens of buses filled with students left Happy Valley just after dawn to get to the event.

The energy all those people provided means something. And Penn State's proximity to New York City provides something that cannot be rivaled by any other conference school execpt Rutgers.

That makes RU a wise pick for next season's basketball game as part of the twinbill. Beyond that, though, no other team in the conference has enough alumni or a fanbase in New York City to ensure a solid turnout for the games. While Maryland and Rutgers pulled the footprint of the Big Ten toward the east when they joined (and, more importantly, helped the Big Ten Network gobble up some bigger cable fees from subscribers of those states), Penn State remains the only Big Ten team with any cache or history in the east.

With hefty marketing -- and a hefty influx of conference or school dollars to help with travel packages -- future Super Saturdays could go well. They'll just require much more work. That's because Penn State, and Penn Staters willing to support their teams, made the doubleheader idea an inaugural success. That was something people who were there appreciated -- and something viewers at home could see as well.