Category Archives: espn

Can’t spell “Penguins” without a big spoked “B”!

Oh, wait! I guess you can!

We should be lucky the Canucks weren’t represented by a picture of Ron Francis in a Hartford Whalers jersey. They’re both green and blue, right?

Madness? THIS! IS! BRISTOL! [kicks Joe Thornton down a well]

Earlier this year, I recall watching an 11:00 PM SportsCenter anchored by Steve Levy. During this SC, Levy introduced a highlight by saying that “something weird had to happen for us to show you San Jose Sharks highlights.” At the time, the San Jose Sharks had the best record in the Western Conference.

Thursday night, ESPN will devote the 9:00 PM (EDT) hour to LeBron James, his free agency, and The Decision on where he will sign. (Yeah, the caps on that were right.)

So ESPN will gladly give an hour to one NBA player and his galactic ego, but begrudges one of the best teams in the NHL 45 seconds?

If there were any justice in the world, The LeBron Hour’s ratings would be low enough to hang around with strange bio-luminescent fish and the XFL. Instead, Dick Ebersol will trot out the inevitable we’re-just-giving-the-viewers-what-they-want excuse in his next “ombudsman” column, because ESPN defines “what viewers want” as “whatever we choose to cram down your throat.”

Adam Burish Gets It

The Blackhawks tough guy on Stan Tallon’s wake and Sean Avery:

I know you can argue that hockey doesn’t receive the same coverage other sports do. On one hand, hockey players don’t create the same “drama” other sports do to get that coverage. Hockey players would rather have no coverage than this type of coverage.

I’m betting this won’t make espnthemag.com’s regular “Reporting from the Jock-o-sphere” feature. Just a guess.

Hat tip to The Big Lead.

The Sports Editor Who Called Hockey “Irrelevant” Also Gave Us “Cold Pizza”

So much for writing my “summer vacation’s over” post tonight. I guess that will happen later this week…

This had me perplexed today. How could Jim Cohen, a newspaper sports editor in the city that gave us the Broad Street Bullies, call hockey “an irrelevant sport”!?

While I was Googling around to find more word on Tim Pannaccio’s departure from the Philadelphia Inquirer, I found a report on Cohen’s hiring in January. Yeah, he hasn’t even been there a full year. The report, from the Associated Press Sports Editors site, reveals some other interesting tidbits on Cohen’s CV…

As ESPN’s vice president for programming and production from 2002 to 2006, Cohen was responsible for creating, launching and managing the wildly popular “Pardon the Interruption” show that turned a couple of print journalists into multimedia stars, plus “Around the Horn” and “Cold Pizza.”

Skip Bayless contradicting himself on a consistent three-day cycle? Woody Paige’s chalkboard? Jay Mariotti getting any face time at all? Dumbing down sports commentary with four hours of columnists screaming their egos hoarse every weekday? Those were Cohen’s ideas. Before unleashing Wilbon and Kornheiser on an unsuspecting public, though, he was “senior coordinating producer for news, with responsibility for newsgathering for all ESPN networks”.

This explains so much. Funny how his tenure at ESPN coincides with their hockey news coverage taking a dive, followed by a bunch of talking head shows stocked with columnists who, on their best days, are ill-informed and disrespectful of the sport.

Anybody out there in Flyer-land canceling their Inquirer subscriptions after this?

(Oh, and check out that APSE link to see what Cohen did in between ESPN and the Inquirer, babe.)

His title was “Hockey Analyst”, not “Hair Product Model”

Just a quick note on Tampa Bay hiring ESPN talking mullet Barry Melrose:

Barry Melrose didn’t spend the last 13 years managing a bed and breakfast.

Can we please calm down now? Thank you.

Playing the “Blame Hockey” Game Again

Some general sports bloggers are still up in arms about The Detroit Situation. For those of you living under a rock: Detroit sports fans were forced to choose between the Red Wings and Pistons, because games 1-3 of the Stanley Cup Finals and games 3-5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals were scheduled at about the same times on the same nights.

Just for reference, here’s a quick list of the parties directly involved in the schedule making process for the Stanley Cup Finals and both NBA Conference Finals, in no particular order:

  1. The NHL
  2. The NBA
  3. The Palace at Auburn Hills
  4. TD Banknorth Garden
  5. Joe Louis Arena
  6. Mellon Arena
  7. Staples Center
  8. AT&T Center
  9. ESPN
  10. ABC
  11. Versus
  12. NBC
  13. CBC
  14. TNT

Why is the NHL the only one taking the blame for this?

Thanks to our man in the Globe and Mail trenches, James Mirtle, we have a transcript of Gary Bettman’s traditional “State of the NHL” press conference, which he holds before Game 1 of the Finals. He’s wondering the same thing I am:

Q. Are you chagrinned or bothered by the fact that the Pistons and Celtics are going head-to-head against you both nights here and could you have gotten together with David Stern and done anything about it?

COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: What’s interesting about that question is, and as I’ve watched the commentary on the subject, everybody seems to be focused on us. And I think that’s a little unrealistic and a little unfair. […]

And we, and I assume the NBA, made commitments in terms of scheduling so the networks that we’re on – and we’re on multiples in more than one language – to structure how they’re going to be programmed. Networks just can’t gut their programming schedules overnight. […]

What I think is going on – and I’m not privy to the NBA’s contractual arrangements, but I’m going to make an educated guess. TNT and ESPN, or ABC, one in the same for this purpose, schedule themselves out and they have programming, alternate programming on some nights, and then they schedule the NBA on others.

I also think, and I think I read this somewhere, that those two networks alternate who has the East and who has the West. We’re up against the NBA conference finals no matter what we do. So you’d say the logical question is: Why didn’t they just switch nights between the East and the West? And my guess is, and they were quoted as saying, it was locked in concrete over a year ago. And that’s why they didn’t switch it. Guess what, they’re not the only one who has to lock things in concrete to do business.

And so we had no choice. I’m not happy about it in terms of our fans in Detroit. But there’s nothing any of us could do.

(Emphasis added)

This is par for the course. The first rule of sports writing, whether you’re a blogger or MSM writer, is this: When you need a crutch, make fun of hockey. The Sports Point reached for it last night.

ESPN reached for it last week. No burying the lede for Eric Adelson. His first paragraph puts the blame right at the NHL’s feet: “What is the NHL thinking?” Curious that a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine would be asking that question, considering that the NBA Eastern Conference finals were exclusive to, you guessed it, ESPN. He could have found the answer on his company phone list, but that would let the NHL off the hook. Wouldn’t be good for ratings.

I sent something off to Le Anne Schreiber on Adelson’s column. Let’s see if it comes up in her next update.

Time For American Hockey Fans To Stand Up

Yinz went and pissed me off.

This excellent example of the NHL giving a clinic on keeping its fans happy comes via Mr Top Shelf himself…

Cousins of Ron Mexico, thebiglead.com

Meanwhile, the NHL can’t even get nationally-televised playoff games done in HD. No wonder no one takes them seriously. After all, MLS gets more consistent national television coverage in the HD format. Pathetic.

Bruce Ciskie, AOL Fanhouse

Just another example of this “wonderful” partnership Gary Bettman always brags about the NHL having with Versus. This sad stuff doesn’t happen if the NHL is with ESPN.

Seth Rorabaugh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Versus/Golf Channel HD fucks up and decides to show a tape-delayed golf tournament, apparently without telling the NHL, and it’s the NHL’s fault?

ESPN treats the sport of hockey and its fans like shit 10 months of the year, starts acting like they care again for the playoffs, then goes back to its bad old ways, and it’s the NHL’s fault?

Sports Illustrated hasn’t had a hockey related cover since the 2002 preview issue (no, the cast of Slap Shot doesn’t count), hasn’t had the Stanley Cup champion on the cover since the 2001 Avalanche, and generally acts like the NHL doesn’t exist, and it’s the NHL’s fault?

When do we start holding the American sports press accountable for the way they treat our game? At what point do they respect us as implicitly as they respect football, baseball, and basketball fans, not just when it’s convenient for them or made inconvenient by us?

The NHL can stay on Versus, but only if Comcast lives up to its end of the bargain. No more tape-delayed Golf Channel content during a hockey game for the rest of this year. Next year, get your own HD channel; no more sharing with Golf Channel, period. Bull-riding, mixed martial arts, and the Mountain West conference aren’t cutting it. If you don’t have one of the other Big Four pro sports by 2010, just shut down, because you’ll never be serious competition.

For those of you who want the NHL back on the “world-wide leader”: Stop groveling. Do you want the NHL to come crawling back to Bristol, begging for scraps from ESPN’s table, or do you want ESPN to invite hockey back into the fold? Because if ESPN doesn’t want the NHL, we’re just going to trade one set of indignities for another, and nothing will get better.

At a high level, yes, Gary Bettman’s stewardship of the game has been questionable at best, incompetent at worst. That’s a big part of what’s gotten us into this mess in the first place. But blaming him for a specific screw-up at Comcast, and letting “Versus HD/Golf Channel HD” off the hook, does far more harm than good.

The next time the media bullies us around, and they will, we can do one of three things:

  1. Turtle like Claude Lemieux.
  2. Turn our backs on our abusers, point at Gary Bettman, and say, “This is all your fault!” whether it is or not, then turtle when we get beat up again.
  3. Fight back.

Here’s ESPN’s ombudsman. Here’s Versus’ feedback page. SI.com apparently doesn’t want you to contact them on-line. You’ll have to find their letters address in the magazine.

Be polite. Be fair. Just don’t be silent anymore.

Stand up.

The CostasNOW Big Media Sports Dept. Retrenchment of 2008

I don’t know about you, but I felt a little underwhelmed by last night’s proceedings. It was three parts obviousness, one part tantalizing springboard, one part bullies being bullies, and once all those ingredients were gathered, nobody put anything together.

Each segment was split into a pre-recorded introduction and a live panel moderated by Bob Costas.

Here we go, out of order…

1: Searching For Diamonds in the Sports Radio Compost Pile

Panel: Mike Chris Russo (Mike and The Mad Dog), Michael Strahan (New York Giants), and Mitch Albom (Detroit Free Press)

This segment didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know. Yes, radio guys have to have polar opinions to bolster ratings. Yes, there are some hosts who have gone to the “morning zoo” well too often. And yes, Mark Madden is an embarrassment to his profession, to the city of Pittsburgh, and to Hawai’ian shirts. What I took from this segment wasn’t about talk radio, though. When Michael Strahan retires from football, he’s going to have every sports network banging on his door. He’s a natural on television. They could have spent another ten minutes on this, but there wasn’t much ground to cover in the first place.

4: Pitchers Have Blogs, Utility Infielders Have Entourages

Panel: Selena Roberts (SI), John McEnroe (tennis legend and analyst), Tiki Barber (ex-NY Giant, NBC)

This panel had some interesting moments. Roberts gave the impression that money changed the relationship between jocks and journalists. She made her point by describing the hoops she had to jump through to get ten minutes with LeBron James. Meanwhile, Barber and McEnroe talked about the increasing fear athletes have of excessive scrutiny, out-of-context sound bites, and the occasional surprise hatchet job. They probably could have used another 15 minutes or so to get a little deeper.

3: The 900 lb. Gorilla Between New York and Hartford

Panel: Mike Tirico (ESPN), Dan Patrick (Sports Illustrated, syndicated radio), and Joe Buck (Fox)

This was the most useless part of the program. ESPN got real big, real fast. It’s all about the money. Fox has a tendency to go all A.D.D. with the crowd shots in baseball games. Celebrities in the Monday Night Football booth are there for the non-fans, because the diehards will watch no matter what. The panel spent a great deal of time nodding their heads in agreement, but there was no depth to the segment at all.

They started the pre-recorded portion with the original introduction to ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Ironically, most of the sports depicted in that intro aren’t seen on television anymore, unless it’s an Olympic year or that sport’s NCAA championship event. Nobody picked up on that, though.

The sports television world is converging on what I call the ESPN Triumvirate: Football, Baseball, and Basketball. Everything else gets pushed aside, allowed to bubble to the top when ratings warrant, then tossed back to make room for the next big fad. And it’s not just ESPN. The national broadcast networks, Sports Illustrated, and The Sporting News are all falling in line with Bristol, or more accurately, the principles underlying Bristol’s decisions.

They easily could have spun this segment off into another 90 minute show. They barely scratched the surface last night.

5: The Whitest Profession U Know

Panel: Michael Wilbon (Washington Post, ESPN), Cris Carter (ex-Minnesota Viking, ESPN), Jason Whitlock (Kansas City Star, foxsports.com)

Costas announced that this would be given a 90 minute show all to itself, and if this panel is involved, I’ll make damn sure to watch. All three panelists used what little time they had to make pointed, insightful comments on how the absence of color in the press box and the editor’s desk tilts how sports are covered.

2: Old Media Matter Meets New Media Antimatter

Panel: Will Leitch (deadspin.com), Buzz Bissinger (author, Friday Night Lights), Braylon Edwards (Cleveland Browns)

(Full disclosure: I’m a Deadspin commenter, and I’ve met Will in person.)

This should have been the last segment of the night, because it would have punctuated the whole show perfectly. This panel proved that Traditional Media Still Doesn’t Get It. Perhaps traditional media doesn’t want to get it.

Bissinger, frankly, made a complete ass of himself. The split second he got a turn to speak, he pulled out a folder containing a hard copy of one of Big Daddy Drew’s “Balls Deep” columns from Deadspin, and proceeded to use it as a sledgehammer. He used his time, and most of Will’s, spewing obscenity-laden generalizations about bloggers that could all be boiled down to this fallacy:

I am a Journalist, with a capital ‘J’. Therefore, the opinions I get paid for and have published are the only ones that are relevant. If you are a blogger, it doesn’t matter if your opinion is right, because you’re not a Journalist.

Bissinger managed to be even more condescending than that, saying that Deadspin was contributing to the dumbing down of society. I guess he’s fallen victim to it himself, since he never saw the irony of cussing like a sailor to decry BDD’s profane humor.

Edwards held his own under tough circumstances. His observation about the consequences of cameraphones and MySpace cut to the heart of the matter better than any of Buzz’s tirades. Mostly, though, he was just trying to stay out of Bissinger’s way.

Put simply, this was an ambush. Costas, as an employee of Time Warner and NBC, in a forum provided by HBO (a unit of Time Warner), stopped being a moderator and became a fourth panelist, mostly serving up hanging curves for Bissinger. He even trotted out the tired, old “writer/commenter” fallacy, and tried to turn it on Will, as if to suggest that he should censor his readers.

The Point That Zoomed Over Everybody’s Head (I’ll Resist the “Costas is Short” Joke)

The common thread that tied the entire evening together was really the relationship between sports media and the regular folk who read/watch/listen to it. Sports radio is in a vicious cycle of hostility that will eventually spin out of control. They still have the ability to screen their callers, though, just as newspaper editors can select the letters they publish.

Everywhere else you look, however, you see players, fans, even entire leagues making end runs around Old Media. Curt Schilling launched 38pitches.com. The NHL was the first sports league to partner with YouTube, and is using the web to reach fans without leaving the fate of the game to A.C. Nielsen. Fans of under-the-American-radar sports like cricket, lacrosse, and rugby can get their fix without a national TV contract or a season preview in SI.

Most importantly, if a fan wants their voice to be heard, they don’t have to rely on the whims of the gatekeepers who guard the radio and the newspaper. If we have something to say, we will say it. We have our own publishing platforms now. If we don’t want to start blogs of our own, we can become regular commenters on somebody else’s blog.

Do you think Bob Costas was thinking about that as Will Leitch tried to reason with a Pulitzer Prize-winning loon? I don’t know. I expected Costas to make some sort of comment about how bloggers would react. The fact that he didn’t speaks volumes about who Gets It, and who doesn’t.

Compare & Contrast

One of these networks is broadcasting the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The other is not. Can you guess which is which?