Due to a very hectic schedule, I have not been writing as much as I would like, but with so many sports media stories occurring, I have to give you some of the thoughts that have come to mind. I want to provide them before they become outdated. As usual, they come in bullet form.
- Let’s start with NASCAR and Fox’s coverage of the Daytona 500 in particular. Due to a rainout on Sunday, NASCAR officials decided to postpone the race for the first time in history and move the event into primetime on Monday. By making the race into a primetime event, Fox’s crew showed that not only was it ready, but it shined for most of the broadcast. Yes, there were a lot of wrecks and a two hour delay caused by Juan Pablo Montoya crashing into a jet-fueled blow drying truck might have hurt the ratings a tad, but Fox did a very good job in reporting on the incident, plus keeping viewers updated on the condition of Montoya and the driver of the truck.
Throughout the night, replays of crashes and key moments of the race were clear. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the moment of impact of Montoya hitting the truck, but we did see flames from the fireball.
And Fox filled time admirably with driver interviews and getting NASCAR President Mike Helton to talk about the delay. In addition, Fox pit reporters had fun with driver Brad Keselowski who tweeted a picture of Montoya’s accident from inside his car and continued to tweet during the delay, picking up 200,000 followers in the process.
The coverage was rewarded with what Fox claims was a record viewership for The Great American Race on the network. Imagine the ratings without the two hour delay.
- Monday’s coverage of the NHL Trade Deadline was well covered throughout North America. The two competing Canadian sports networks, Rogers Sportsnet and TSN waged all day battles and based on what I saw online, I give the edge to Sportsnet. Thanks to Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, there was an online stream of Sportsnet’s coverage available for viewers in both Canada and the U.S. TSN’s TradeCentre was simulcast on NHL Network in the U.S. throughout the day then streamed online at NHL.com from noon ET.
In the past, it was TSN that had all the angles covered, but on Monday, it appeared to be playing catch up to Sportsnet. When trading began to get hot and heavy as the deadline approached, Sportsnet not only broke news, but got the players on the phone immediately to get their reaction. In the case of Brian Rolston going from the New York Islanders to the Bruins, Sportsnet actually broke the news to him.
Both networks tried some gimmicks, Sportsnet utilizing former General Managers to get their input on the mindset of making a trade. That made for some fascinating TV. TSN used the stunning Alyonka Larionov as a social media reporter to read tweets. That didn’t go over too well, but TSN isn’t utilizing her in the right way.
Overall, NHL Trade Deadline was well covered, but there’s no need to start coverage at 8 a.m. ET. I give Sportsnet an A minus for its coverage. TSN gets a B minus.
- This leads us to the what I am calling the Death of Hockey Coverage on ESPN. It didn’t go unnoticed that ESPN failed to cover the NHL Trade Deadline on SportsCenter. Ben Koo at Awful Announcing was surprised not seeing a single mention, not even one sentence. Ty Duffy at the Big Lead was not. Neither am I.
But then came the announcement that ESPN was shuffling the NCAA Frozen Four, the Division I Hockey Championship from ESPNU/ESPN2/ESPN as in the past few years to ESPNU/ESPN2 this year. And as Puck The Media’s Steve Lepore points out, that ESPNU will carry all but one game of its NCAA Hockey Tournament schedule.
Hockey aficionados know all too well about the incredible shrinking coverage on ESPN. Since giving the NHL the boot in 2005, highlights have gone from being an integral part of SportsCenter to a bit player, if that.
I went to ESPN last year to take part in a mini-focus group and talk with their producers. While there are many hockey fans in Bristol on the on-air and production staffs, I find it sad that the network continues to treat the sport as a bastard stepchild. And while the producers can tell me that giving hockey more time is constantly debated internally, the result has always been the same, two or three minutes of NHL highlights on SportsCenter, no regular season college hockey games on any of the ESPN platforms nor much coverage of the sport on .com.
It’s as if in ESPN’s eyes, the sport just doesn’t exist. But as we know, if it’s not on an ESPN platform, the sport is hardly recognized by the Alleged Worldwide Leader.
- This also transitions to our next bullet, the NHL’s current cable home, NBC Sports Network. Last week, Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand wrote a story on the slow start and low ratings for NBC Sports Network since it relaunched in January from being Versus. While some of its programming has been critically acclaimed, ratings are lower than when the channel was under its previous name. And while that development is disturbing, remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint and certainly, the first two months under its new name does not a track record make.
Expect those numbers to go up as NBC Sports attempts to stock NBCSN with more inventory. Certainly, this summer’s London Olympics and preceding U.S. Olympic Trials will help. And if NBC is able to get a piece of the Big East, NASCAR and/or MLB contracts this year, then the network will be in good shape. I don’t think Comcast and the NBC Sports brass are going to make rash, panicked decisions based on the results thus far. ESPN wasn’t a ratings success out of the gate either back in 1979 and it took a while for it to become successful and turn a profit. There might some tweaks here and there throughout this process, but overall, I do expect a lot of growth from NBC Sports Network down the line.
- And finally, with the NFL making its decision on Tuesday to move the 2012 regular season opening game back a day, it avoids the same situation from four years ago when the league kept its season opener on the same night as John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. In 2008, the NFL pushed back the opener to 7 p.m. ET only to get a significant drop in the ratings. This year by moving the game from Thursday, September 6 to the night before, it prevents a conflict with President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention and the NFL can own the coverage without taking a ratings hit.
It works for all sides.
And that will conclude a very long thoughts column. I had to get these off my chest and now I can move onto other items for you..