Fang’s Bites’ Big Dozen Sports Media Stories of 2010

Another year is over and another year is just beginning. It’s time to review the 12 biggest stories in sports media in the year of 2010 A.D. We had plenty of stories to choose from. Not every one made the cut. Some will receive honorable mentions. Others will be listed here. Sports media never sleeps and that’s been proven throughout the year. Let’s go through the list and there is plenty of stuff to review. I’ll go in reverse order from 12 and go to number 1.

12. Silly Carriage Disputes Prevent Fans From Watching NHL, MLB and Other Programming

The Versus/DirecTV dispute started in September 2009 and carried over until March of this year, causing NHL fans to lose almost five months of games. And while Versus had decent ratings during the first days of the dispute, the dispute caught up with the network and the loss of millions of subscribers eventually hurt. And it took six months for the channel to return to DirecTV at basically the same terms it had when it was dropped.

At the beginning of 2010, Fox and Time Warner Cable averted a dispute that would have meant the loss of the BCS and the NFC Championship in several major markets.

But the silliest dispute of the year was between Fox and Cablevision that lasted for two weeks and led to the loss of the National League Championship Series and NFL games in New York, New Jersey and parts of Philadelphia. When Fox’s local stations as well as a number of cable channels returned to Cablevision, it left a bitter taste in the mouths of the cable provider.

As we close out 2010, Versus’ sister network, Golf Channel is in danger of being pulled by DirecTV and you have the dispute between the Sinclair stations with Time Warner Cable so this Merry-Go-Round continues and it leaves viewers holding the bag. Basically, no one wins.

11. Passing of Broadcasting Legends

2010 meant the passing of several broadcasting legends including Chicago Cubs analyst Ron Santo, Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus, Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell and original Monday Night Football analyst Don Meredith. The mourning of each man from all over the country, especially Harwell and Santo show how much impact they had on broadcasting. Harwell handled his death with dignity exuding class throughout his last interviews and final public appearances. The outpouring of love and affection for each man after their passing was truly touching.

10. The Rise of 3-D TV, But Virtually No Impact

ESPN launched ESPN 3D in 2010, and other networks aired events in 3-D such as The Masters, NASCAR, MLB, Hockey Night in Canada, the US Open, the World Cup and even an NFL preseason game. But reaction to 3-D has been cold to lukewarm. Sales of 3-D TV’s have fallen short of expectations as the TV industry has been surprised by the lack of enthusiasm by consumers.

And while programming for 3-D is certainly not close to filling a complete day, there was speculation whether ESPN would kill 3D if it didn’t take off. In my own informal poll on Twitter and on Facebook, there isn’t interest from consumers to buy a 3-D set. The cost is prohibitive and so are the glasses which are bulky and can only be used with the set you buy.

There are rumors that Toshiba is developing a 3-D set that won’t require glasses, but it wouldn’t be coming to the United States by mid-decade at the earliest. TV manufacturers may have made a huge miscalculation on 3-D.

9. Potential Free Agents Remain At Home

As we entered 2010, there was talk that it could be a year of upheaval for network free agents. But when it was all said and done and the dust cleared, the free agents decided that home was where the heart was.

It began in February with speculation that ESPN’s Chris Berman could leave the Mothership for a role with DirecTV or NFL Network. It never happened as Boomer signed a new contract in April to remain at the Alleged Worldwide Leader.

At the end of March, lead Fox voice Joe Buck signed a new four year deal ensuring that he would call MLB and NFL games as long as both remain with the network.

Just before the current NFL season, Rich Eisen agreed to a four year deal of his own to remain at NFL Network, giving him expanded duties including hosting NFL GameDay Morning, his own podcast and continuing as main host for NFL Total Access.

But it appeared the most speculation was over Erin Andrews as her star rose earlier this year as she did “Dancing With the Stars” and finished third during the Spring 2010 season. Then we learned in July that Erin would indeed remain at ESPN with host duties during an expanded College Gameday.

In broadcasting, sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make. In the cases of Chris Berman, Joe Buck, Rich Eisen and Erin Andrews, staying put ends up being the right move.

8. Deadspin’s Continues To Influence the Sports Agenda

We saw Deadspin’s influence in 2009 when it went all Wu-Tang on ESPN. The influence got even bigger on two particular stories, the Brett Favre/Jenn Sterger mess and the Rex Ryan foot fetish story.

Both stories forced the mainstream media to report on them. In the case of Favre’s alleged sexting to Sterger, it led to an NFL investigation into whether Favre violated league workplace conduct policies. Of course, the story came to, ahem, a head (sorry) when Favre was fined $50,000 for not cooperating with the league’s probe (sorry again). We’ll see if it leads to a lawsuit from Sterger (most likely) and where it leads.

For her part, Sterger might have been able to stem some of the negative reaction towards her had she used her now canceled show, The Daily Line, to at least make a one or two sentence statement about the situation. Instead, she said nothing and any buzz the show might have received went by the wayside.

As far as Rex Ryan is concerned, more foot fetish pictures of his wife have come out and we probably haven’t heard the end of this as we go into 2011.

7. ESPN’s 30 for 30

The series began last year and continued into 2010. While there were some misses (Jordan Rides the Bus, Four Days in October), there were many hits and successes for ESPN’s foray into the sports documentary genre. Films such as The Two Escobars, June 17, 1994, and the extremely poignant Once Brothers showed that when ESPN gets serious, it can put together some really compelling and excellent television. Bill Simmons wanted to prove that HBO did not have a monopoly in sports documentaries and he certainly has made ESPN a player. 30 for 30 has now become a successful brand for ESPN.

6. NBC’s Olympics Record Ratings Were Offset by Huge Financial Losses

For NBC, the Vancouver Winter Olympics that made Curling into a household sport for two weeks, had a great hockey tournament and gave Canada tremendous national pride, the Games were a mixed bag. While overall, Vancouver ended up being the 2nd most watched Olympic Games in history, it had to write down a loss of $225 million based on a larger rights fee and increased production costs.

The losses are being taken into account by the new owners of NBC, Comcast which will be dealing with the bidding for the 2014/2016 Olympics as well as ESPN, CBS/Turner and Fox who will join NBC at the table in Lausanne, Switzerland. Whether NBC can retain the rights in 2014/2016 and beyond is anyone’s guess.

5. ESPN’s World Cup Coverage

As with 30 for 30, ESPN’s understated and low key coverage of the World Cup led to high interest for the final between the Netherlands and Spain as a total of 24.3 million people watched on ABC and Univision this summer. Ian Darke became a star in the United States thanks to his World Cup calls and eventually became the signature voice for soccer on ESPN.

There were fears that ESPN might go over the top for its coverage of the World Cup, but it gave the event plenty of respect and gave a flavor of the enthusiasm for the games in South Africa. It gives hope if the Alleged Worldwide Leader gains the rights for the Olympics.

4. Women in Media Start Up Debate Once Again

I thought that the debate over female reporters in locker rooms had ended, but it all started once again when TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz was allegedly harassed by the New York Jets when she tried to interview Mark Sanchez. For her part, Ines really didn’t pursue the whole case, but it led to men being angry about women being allowed in locker rooms. It was a polarizing issue on the talk shows for a couple of weeks.

One other issue involving women was Tony Kornheiser’s comments about Hannah Storm’s attire on SportsCenter which has been a subject of debate over the last couple of years. ESPN suspended Mr. Tony for two weeks over his comments. It also led former CNN Sports and News anchor Daryn Kagan to blog about the issue as well.

Will this lead to other things in 2011? Good question.

3. NFL TV Record Ratings

Every week, I get press releases from each of the NFL TV partners and they keep going up. Records keep getting set. NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football package had its highest ratings ever as did ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Week after week, the NFL’s ratings top everything whether it was primetime programming, NBA games and for the first time ever, the World Series head-to-head.

Based on these trends, one would have to think that Fox is in gear to see a viewership record for Super Bowl XLV as CBS did for Super XLIV in 2010.

2. CBS/Turner Gains Rights to NCAA Tournament

After broadcasting the NCAA Tournament all by its lonesome since 1991, CBS brought in a partner, Turner Sports to help do the heavy lifting. There was speculation that ESPN would take the tournament back, but in mid-April, there was surprising news that it was dropping out of the bidding leaving CBS/Turner all alone.

CBS had mentioned that it was losing money on the Tournament and a report surfaced that it tried to get ESPN to take the event off its hands, a request that was eventually turned down. CBS manages to keep the tournament and allow a cable partner to get involved.

And now to our number one sports media story:

1. Athletes Trying To Control Their Message and Doing It Badly

Since the dawning of social networking, athletes have tried to circumvent the normal channels of sending their message to the world, doing an end run around reporters. However, there’s no doubting the power of television to reach a mass audience. Two instances of athletes trying to use TV to their advantage and not coming off well were Tiger Woods and LeBron James.

In Tiger Woods’ case, he gave both ESPN and Golf Channel five minutes to interview him and Tom Rinaldi and Kelly Tilghman had to ask questions in rapid fire succession. While both Rinaldi and Tilghman were told they could ask any question, they did not really ask what happened to Woods on  the fateful night that changed his life. But since then, Woods has joined Twitter and tried to be more user-friendly.

But the ultimate failure was The Decision, 73 minutes of truly painful TV. All involved came off badly from ESPN to interviewer Jim Gray (who may have made $500,000 off his brutal questioning) to LeBron James who instantly became a villain. ESPN got plenty of viewers, but it led to negative reaction all around. James may wonder why no one is focusing on the donations to the Boys & Girls Club, but he made The Decision all about him by making a two minute announcement into a 73 minute egofest.

It’s safe to say that ESPN probably won’t do this type of program again.

Honorable Mentions:
Fox Sports Hires Mike Pereira As An NFL Rules Analyst
Fox Sports Gains Rights to Big Ten Football Championship Game
NBC Sports Renews Kentucky Derby for Five More Years
Jay Mariotti’s arrest and subsequent suspension and departure from Fanhouse

That concludes 2010. I hope you have a great 2011. It’s certainly going to be quite an interesting year for sports media as Comcast takes over NBC, the Olympics rights bidding, potential lockouts for the NBA and NFL, and the NHL rights bidding. Very interesting stuff coming up in the next 365 days.

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.