Now that the MLB Network has debuted, I’ll rank the channels that are singularly devoted to their sports. I’ll rank MLB Network, NBA TV, NFL Network, NHL Network, Golf Channel and Tennis Channel. I include Golf and Tennis even though they are not owned by the PGA or ATP/WTA respectively, becuase they are devoted to one sport. I’ll also give the reasons for my ranking. Here we go.
1. MLB Network – In just two and a half days, MLB Network has surpassed all of the specialty channels because of its production values, its extensive classic game library and the quality of its studio shows. While Hot Stove doesn’t have a lead anchor in the likes of Karl Ravech, Victor Rojas has shown promise in the way he led discussions with Harold Reynolds, Al Leiter and Barry Larkin. Also, Harold Reynolds gives MLB Network instant credibility. And by hiring “insiders” Tom Verducci and Jon Heyman from Sports Illustrated, the network shows it will cover trades and news as they break. I also like the hires of Hazel Mae and Trenni Kusnierek. This network is already showing that it plans to have a deep bench.
2. NFL Network – Rich Eisen is the best of the studio hosts on the specialty channels. He’s very good on NFL Total Access and NFL Gameday Final. In addition, Fran Charles, Alex Flanagan and Lindsay Soto are solid on the bench. But Spero Dedes, the host of NFL Gameday Morning looks like he’s still in high school. He’s good and probably will turn out to be a solid host, but he needs some facial hair or to age 10 years to be a bit more credible. Analysts like Deion Sanders, Steve Mariucci and Marshall Faulk are quite good. NFL Network can tap into the NFL Films library for programming, however, it’s not doing it as much as it should, which is unfortunate. America’s Game is the best sports documentary series ever. However, what holds back NFL Network is its live game production and its fight with Big Cable.
3. Golf Channel – This is not owned by the PGA Tour, however, it’s devoted to golf and having the entire PGA Tour helps. While Comcast is attempting to get some wider distribution, its production of studio shows plus devotion to the PGA majors are on par with NFL Network’s Super Bowl week. I also like the original programming like Big Break. The channel did correct a wrong by bringing back Vince Cellini. Kelly Tilghman is still a work in progress as the main anchor in the 18th tower for PGA events and while she did err in making her unfortunate comment about Tiger Woods last year, she knows the game. Also, having a head start on the other sports specialty channels has helped.
4. NBA TV – Turner Sports taking over operation definitely helped the channel which seemed to be stuck in place being run out of the NBA studios in New Jersey. Moving to Atlanta has given the channel a much needed boost. However, depending on Ahmad Rashad as your main host is a mistake. He’s not a guy I would use to be the go-to guy, but NBA TV is not going to give you journalism. For game broadcasts, NBA TV depends too much on local regional sports networks for production. Hopefully, this will stop as Turner gets more involved in the operation. To be in fourth is still not a bad thing.
5. NHL Network – The studios appear to be in a broom closet. NHL On The Fly is the closest thing we have to the old NHL2nite on ESPN2, but it’s a far cry from the show. While we get highlights and live cut-ins, the hosts and analysts looks as if they’re crammed into the corner of TSN’s studios. The NHL should spend some money (preferably after we recover the recession) on some new studios. I do like the fact NHL Network has picked up CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada and TSN’s Wednesday Night Hockey for fans in the US, and it also got the rights to show the IIHF World Junior Championships, but there’s still more work to be done. The series of “Voices”, the documentaries on various hockey TV and radio voices is very good, but more can be done to put this on a level with MLB and NFL Networks.
6. Tennis Channel – I do like that the channel has the Grand Slam. Very good. I do like the live tournament coverage. However, there’s no real studio program to wrap up the day’s events or to set up what’s ahead. Hiring Ted Robinson and John McEnroe for the French Open is a good move. I do hope they do more for the US Open and Wimbledon which come to Tennis Channel this year. The channel does have some good documentaries, but there’s too much dependence on past tournaments to fill time. Whether the channel can get some more original programming and stop overdosing on “Murphy’s Guide” is anyone’s guess. I’m tired of seeing him mug for the cameras dancing with Maria Sharapova or Ana Ivanovic. This channel needs a lot of work.
So there you have it. Ski Channel was supposed to be added to DirecTV on Christmas Day, but I’ve yet to see it. If there are more channels to review, I’ll add them. But this is how I see the specialty channels.