Saturday, October 30, 2010

Irish Eyes Aren't Smiling

It was a terrible week for the Notre Dame football program, which lost a student manager to a scaffold accident, then lost at home to Tulsa, 28-27. That makes the Irish 4-5 on the season and 3-3 at home (and with ranked Utah coming to South Bend next week, the home record could soon drop to 3-4).

Maybe it's time for NBC to start rethinking its affiliation with Notre Dame. The network has owned the exclusive rights to broadcast Irish home games since 1991, for which it pays the school around $9 million per year. But Notre Dame hasn't been Notre Dame for about 20 years now, and last year the package had the lowest ratings its ever had.

NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol continues to defend the contract (which was extended until 2015 a couple of years ago), saying, "We're big believers in how Notre Dame time and time again over all these generations has maintained its strength. I don't see that going away." But Ebersol also said "if the vast majority of the years has Notre Dame competitive in that top 10 or for that top 10 through the majority of the season, then we'll be very happy."

It's painfully clear that for yet another season Notre Dame is nowhere near the top 10. NBC made money on the deal when the Irish were consistent winners and playing at home against nationally recognized teams. This year's home schedule includes Western Michigan, Tulsa and Utah. Notre Dame even moved the start times for its home games from 2:30 to 1:3o Eastern so as to avoid competition with games kicking off at the same time on ESPN and CBS, but that hasn't helped much.

If new coach Brian Kelly can't turn around the Irish soon, NBC would be wise to seriously consider dropping the package when it runs out. It certainly doesn't make much financial sense to pay so much for so little return. Notre Dame already has a sweetheart deal with the BCS on top of its sweetheart deal with NBC, but if the network decides to pull out, it might further push the Irish toward a conference affiliation, such as with the Big 10. And you know the Big 10 Network would love to have the Irish, no matter what their record.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Trouble with Baseball

UPDATE: (And Bud Selig says he's happy?)

Trying to kill some time in the car last night I flipped around the radio dial looking for Game 1 of the World Series ... and never found it. Lots of 50,000-watt sports stations talking football, the opening of the NBA season and even hockey, but no baseball. (Yes, I know ESPN radio has a contract to broadcast the series, but that doesn't mean local stations can't pre-empt for potentially more profitable local shows).

There was a time when the World Series was the preeminent sporting event in the country, and it's somewhat sad to see it have to compete for media attention with football on the weekend, then MMA, college volleyball and fantasy football during the week. (The first two games of the Series had to go head-to-head with NCAA football--#3 Boise State on Wednesday night and #16 Florida State on Thursday).

Some of the problem is scheduling. When the Tigers and Cardinals played in 1968--the last World Series before the playoffs began--the Series began on October 2 and finished on October 10. Thanks to two rounds of playoffs this year's Series didn't even start until October 27 and will finish in November. By that time, the sports calendar has turned to basketball, hockey and other winter sports and most fans have moved on. And now, baseball is considering adding even more playoff teams, which could conceivably push back the series until Thanksgiving.

The other problem is one that baseball has tried to overcome for the past 50 years--the game simply doesn't work well on television. Major League Baseball has wisely moved up the start times of most games so they don't end after midnight anymore, but that's only a cosmetic fix. The game has too many long periods where almost nothing of consequence seems to happen, and that has been underscored in this year's playoffs which have been dominated by low scoring and pitching. (Notwithstanding last night's 11-7 win by the Giants). NFL fans can flip through "Red Zone" channels to find the next exciting play, but you can't do that with baseball. The pace of the game fits much better on radio, where listeners are required to use more imagination, but even there the Series is getting blown off the airwaves.

At this point, the World Series on television is still broadcast on the networks, mainly for reasons of "tradition." But if trends keep heading in the same direction I can see a day where it moves to cable (like the BCS) or even pay-per-view.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Nightmare Series for FOX

A big loss for FOX this weekend, which was desperately hoping for another Yankees-Phillies World Series to juice its ratings. With both teams now gone, expect those high television ratings to go with them. In today's media market, you need one of three things to get people to watch the World Series:

1) big market and/or popular teams (the Yankees are both)
2) star power
3) interesting story lines

Unfortunately, the Rangers-Giants series which starts Wednesday has none of those things going for it. The closest thing to star power is Giants' starter Tim Lincecum, and he would make at most three appearances if the Series goes seven games. Interestingly, this would have been a great TV matchup 10 years ago when the Rangers had Alex Rodriguez and the Giants had Barry Bonds. A dispute with Cablevision may keep the Series out of the New York market, which is yet another major headache for FOX.
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On an unrelated note, I was surprised this weekend by the reaction of my 15-year old son to the Texas-Iowa State game. He is a huge Longhorns fans and I figured he would really be down after Texas' inexplicable loss, the team's third of the year. However, it barely registered with him, in part because he spent much of the day playing his EA Sports College Football '11 video game. He brags that he has won six national championships and four Heisman Trophies in the game, and I could hear him cheering and yelling at the screen while he was playing.

It's fascinating to me that today's generation gets as much, if not more, enjoyment from the simulated sports experience than the real thing. I also understand that Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert had a much better Saturday in my son's game than he did in real life.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Juan takes the Bullet

Before we get to the sports, first a quick word--shameful.

Or reprehensible. Self-serving. Hypocritical.

Actually, NPR's firing of journalist Juan Williams is all of the above. NPR ostensibly fired the long-time commentator for comments he made about Muslims on Bill O'Reilly's FOX program Monday night. NPR publicly said the comments "undermined his credibility," but this is nothing more than political correctness run amok. Williams said something that could potentially offend Muslims, so he was let go. In today's world of inclusiveness, the unwritten rule is that you can't say anything that could potentially offend anyone, especially Muslims. Even if you are a journalist with a long track record of integrity and fairness. I disagree with a lot of Juan Williams' positions, but the guy is a professional and a journalist of the highest order.

What does any of this have to do with sports? Let me put it another way--does anyone remember the old Baltimore Bullets?

The Baltimore then Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards in 1997 because the team owner felt the name was inappropriate given the city's high rate of gun violence. By changing the name, the team hoped it might have a positive impact and reduce DC gun violence. Right. And exactly how has that worked out?

Sports logos send a media message, and today that message is one of non-offensiveness. The idea is to find a mascot that can't possibly offend anyone, and while some groups have a valid complaint, the boundaries today are bordering on the ridiculous.

Of course, we know all about that here. Colonel Rebel has been permanently retired to the land of offensive mascots, even though (to the best of my knowledge) he never offended a single Muslim.

Juan Williams probably knows how he feels.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Think Pink

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which you should certainly know by now if you are a football fan. Pink has been everywhere in the NFL this month, from coaches to referees to players' equipment. It's all part of a partnership with the Susan Komen Foundation to raise awareness and money; as a public relations campaign, it's been one of the biggest and best ever for breast cancer prevention and treatment.

Other sports have done similar things, but nothing on the scale of what the NFL has done, and it's almost impossible to watch a game this month without seeing the signature pink color associated with breast cancer treatment. The Komen Foundation deserves credit for aligning itself with the highly visible NFL and getting a massive amount of publicity.

It's a more interesting decision on the part of the NFL, which usually keeps its charity work much more low key. The NFL never exactly said why it was going all out for breast cancer, other than it's an obviously worthy cause, and it would be interesting to know exactly why the league went with this instead of say, arthritis or Alzheimer's. (With all the crippling injuries that result from playing the NFL for a long period of time, one would think the league would be raising money to help its retired players).

I would imagine other charities will be lined up to try and get the same kind of exposure and publicity the NFL offers. In the meantime, congratulations to the Komen Foundation for a master stroke of public relations. As just a side note, at our local high school football game Friday night the field was decorated with a pink ribbon and cheerleaders went through the stands collecting for breast cancer. I don't know who's doing PR for the Komen Foundation, but that person deserves a raise.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Bear Market




























What a day at Ole Miss Thursday! Former President Bill Clinton spoke on campus, and we now have an official new mascot--the Black Bear. As far as mascots go, it was probably the best of the three remaining choices, but I hope we avoid a cartoonish bear like Baylor has for some of its games. Baylor actually has live bears on campus, which would be great ... and make tailgaiting in the Grove infinitely more interesting.

Four things to pass along today ...

1) The new AEJMC sport interest group is looking for qualified reviewers to look at submitted research papers. If you would like to help out, contact Dr. Mary Lou Sheffer at Southern Miss (sheffer6@yahoo.com) or Bob Trumpbour at Penn State-Altoona (rct4@psu.edu).

2) On the subject of AEJMC, Peggy Beck of Kent State-Stark is trying to put together a panel for St. Louis in 2011. It will deal with the escalating problems of working in media relations in the era of blogs and online coverage. In her interviews with PR people in baseball, the issue surrounds credentialing and how to credential those who do not represent "standard and recognized" media. If you're interested in taking part, you can reach her at: commprofbeck@sbcglobal.net.

3) A CFP for the North American Society for Sport Management Conference next June in London, Ontario. The deadline is fast approaching, so if you want to submit a paper or proposal there is more information here.

4) And finally, the Journal of Language and Social Psychology has recently published a special issue dealing with sport communication. You can access that issue at this link.

Bear down, and have a great weekend.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Sounds of Silence

During the Georgia-Tennessee football game Saturday, the sound from the announcers' microphones went out for a significant length of time in the second half. You could still hear the field audio--cheering crowds, players calling signals, coaches yelling--but that's all. The problem was eventually fixed and the game ended with no other technical problems.

Listening to a game with just field audio and no announcers reminded me of NBC's bold experiment in 1980, when the network televised the Jets-Dolphins NFL game with no announcers at all. An entire game with no commentary, or as legendary sports writer Red Smith wrote at the time, "no banalities, no pseudo-expert profundities phrased in coachly patois, no giggles, no inside jokes, no second-guessing, no numbing prattle."

In some ways, the experiment was in response to Monday Night Football's Howard Cosell, who at the time was one of the most recognizable, and disliked, football announcers on television. NBC's Don Ohlmeyer was the one who made the decision:

video

Ohlmeyer was right, and the experiment did not really work. There was no ensuing outcry to get rid of announcers, and the idea was not repeated (although the NFL Network did experiment with it for a preseason game in 2004). But given the growth in new technologies and channels, it's somewhat surprising that an announcer-less channel isn't an option for say, the NFL Sunday Ticket package or NCAA football.

And think of the cost savings not having to pay announcers ...

Friday, October 08, 2010

New Comm Sport Website

In previous posts I have mentioned the Summit on Sport Communication, which this past spring convened for the fourth time. Attendance at the Summit has increased significantly since the first meeting at Arizona State in 2002, and this year's event in Cleveland had a record number of attendees and research papers.

To help organize the growth a website has been created. Feel free to check it out and make your comments--it's another positive step forward for sports scholarship and sports scholars.

The Fifth Summit on Sport Communication will take place in the spring of 2012 at Bradley University.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

CFP and Online Chat

A couple of things to pass along this morning, so mark your calendars ...

1. Sports Journalism Chat on Bloggers, Credentialing

The Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State will host an online chat on October 18 at 1pm.
Although many major news organizations have found homes on the Internet, some reporters who cover sports online still struggle to get access to the events they write about. Those competing responsibilities, differing outlooks and resulting decisions about who can and cannot officially cover events will be addressed at 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18, during the first online chat conducted by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.

"Who Should be in the Press Box and Why? Issues in Credentialing Bloggers and Journalists" is free and may be accessed online.

Participants include:
-- Michael Signora, vice president of football communications for the NFL
-- Jerry Micco, sports editor of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette
-- Cheryl Coward of Hoopfeed.com
-- Malcolm Moran, Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society/Director of the Curley Center

2. Call for Papers: Illuminare: A Student Journal in Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies

Illuminare is requesting submissions for the 2010-2011 publication. Possible topics include:

Recreation Sport Administration
Parks and Recreation Management
Outdoor Recreation
Therapeutic Recreation
Tourism Management.

Deadline is December 6. All manuscripts should be submitted electronically to illumin@indiana.edu with the subject heading "Illuminare Manuscript: (Topic Area).

There is more information available on the call and submission guidelines.
For further information, contact Josh Pate at the University of Tennessee: joshpate@utk.edu

Monday, October 04, 2010

Click, Click

A huge break for the Ryder Cup getting rain delayed this weekend. That allowed for the event to finish on Monday and not get lost among all the NFL games. Yes, that put the final day of play on the USA Network rather than NBC, but NBC's all-day coverage on Saturday was almost totally eclipsed by college football. It figures that today's thrilling finish still probably garnered more audience on USA than it would have Sunday on NBC when most people were watching the NFL.

The interest in the Ryder Cup has been much stronger in Europe, and the media's over-the-top coverage caused some predictable problems. On Saturday, a camera shutter clicked right during the middle of a Tiger Woods back swing. Of course, Tiger backed off, the photographer was duly chastised, and Woods finished his shot.

The media requirements of different sports are fascinating, and in some ways, archaic. Golfers and tennis players require absolute silence and if the media intrudes the players get a "do over." Yet, a guy trying to make the winning free throw in a basketball game usually can't hear himself think for all the noise. I can't imagine it's harder to sink a putt than hit a fastball, so why the difference?

In some ways, it goes back to the evolution of the sports. While football and baseball were often viewed as brutish, golf and tennis were considered "gentlemen's games," and each had a strict set of rules governing behavior, deportment and dress. While golf and tennis still have many of these requirements, the increase in money and media coverage make it hard to think of them as gentlemanly anymore.

It would be interesting to see how these PGA professionals, making millions of dollars thanks to TV money and marketing sponsorships, would fare having to make a putt with 20,000 people screaming in their ears.

Friday, October 01, 2010

But Can Einstein Shoot the Three?

Of course, you know the basketball player in the picture. It's none other than the Knicks' Danilo Gallinari, a 22-year old from Italy who has averaged 12 points per game in his two NBA seasons. With Danilo behind them, the Knicks went 29-53 last season, finishing 32 games behind first-place Cleveland.

What you may have missed is that this week Gallinari released his autobiography. That's right ... 22-years old + 12 points per game + terrible team = autobiography.

OK, so it was released in Italy, where Gallinari is something of a celebrity and others have done it at even younger ages, including Miley Cyrus, but there's something not right here. There was a time when autobiographies (or memoirs) were written by people who had actually accomplished something. Consider also that Albert Einstein, George Washington and Mother Teresa never wrote one.

It's simply further evidence of the branding, marketing and sports celebrity culture we live in. Athletes are products, and they have to market themselves in such a way as to make their brand more profitable. Today, we don't watch athletes as much as we do international conglomerates. And as always, the credit (or blame) belongs to money and media. When athletes understand how to use one, they can reap the benefits of the other.

There's been a lot of discussion lately about the fate of the free media, which in many cases is in dire economic trouble, and many are predicting a future in which media companies will have to begin charging for online material that is now free. It's not too hard to envision a scenario in which athletes, now Tweeting and blogging for free, do the same thing.