The Law Firm of Costas & Michaels Plus Other Sunday Thoughts

I haven’t done a Sunday Thoughts post in a very long while. I’ve been wanting to do one, but either due to my day being planned for me or having to go to work or going out on Saturday and getting up late the following day, things haven’t worked out. But today, we have a nice harmonic convergence where everything came together for this post. Let’s get this done before things change.

Hey, We Should Have Bob Costas & Al Michaels Call Baseball Again!

On Friday, we finally got the awaited pairing of Bob Costas and Al Michaels on the New York Mets-San Francisco Giants game on MLB Network. Judging from their performance on MLB Network, SNY and Comcast SportsNet BayArea, I would welcome the teaming up of the two announcers again.

Costas had asked Michaels to join him on a broadcast and after clearing of schedules, the idea came to fruition with Al joining Bob at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

During the broadcast, Costas & Michaels split the first three innings on MLB Network before splitting the 4th and 5th on the Mets network, SNY, then heading over to the Giants’ flagship of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area for the 6th and 7th and finally ending on MLB Network for the 8th and 9th.

I was able to see all three broadcasts with the help of DirecTV, MLB.TV and the MLB At Bat iPad app. Officially, Michaels had not called a baseball game since the 1995 World Series, although he did a guest spot on ESPN a few years back. No matter when Al last called baseball, an entire generation of sports fans have not. While Costas to Michaels suggested that calling baseball after 16 years was like riding a bicycle, Al replied, “If the bicycle has me saying, ‘3rd and 5′, then you know you’re in trouble.”

Al did show some rust in his first and half inning on MLB Network, but grew more comfortable as the game went along. He weaved tales of his time calling baseball locally in Cincinnati in the early 1970’s which led to an appearance on NBC TV and radio for the 1972 World Series, and in San Francisco which came in handy for the appearance on Comcast SportsNet.

One thing about baseball is the ability to tell stories during a broadcast and Michaels is an expert at it. During his time on all three networks, Michaels talked about calling the 1989 World Series for ABC and being in San Francisco when the massive earthquake hit during the first minutes of the broadcast’s open.

Costas and Michaels sometimes did play-by-play for each other, but it was ok. And so was not having an analyst. It reminded me of a radio MLB broadcast which usually has two play-by-play men alternating innings. Throughout their time on MLB Network, SNY and CSN Bay Area, Bob and Al had great chemistry, playing well off each other and showing humor throughout the game such as Michaels marveling at the immaculate booths of SNY and CSN while Al kept a mess in MLB Network’s.

MLB Network, SNY and CSN all weaved Bob’s and Al’s calls from the past, splicing in moments from past postseasons. However, the best tape came from CSN and was from 1975. It was Michaels’ radio call of the last out of a no-hitter thrown by Giants pitcher Ed Halicki. Al told Costas that it was the first time he had heard the tape since calling the game way back when.

While the shuffling from MLB Network to SNY to CSN back to MLB Network might have been confusing, it was to give audiences in New York and San Francisco an opportunity to hear Bob and Al as the national broadcast was blacked out in the local markets.

From what I heard on Twitter, the feedback from fans was mostly positive. People wanted to hear more of Bob and Al and hoped to see them work together again. I certainly hope we don’t have to wait 16 years for Michaels to call another game. In fact, I would think if the NFL lockout lasts into August, we might hear Al call another baseball game then.

ESPN Taking Another Event That Used To Be On Network TV

The big news last week was ESPN purchasing all US media rights for Wimbledon for the next 12 years. Of course, NBC had aired the event for 43 consecutive years ending last Sunday, July 3. I can go into the maddening tape delay policies that drove fans to the internet to look for illegal feeds and how it led Wimbledon to turn to ESPN, but I won’t. That’s not the point here.

The point of this thought is yet another event that goes all-cable starting next year. While ESPN can say those who have the rabbit ears can still see Wimbledon on ABC, they will just be table scraps or taped highlights on the middle Sunday of the fabled fortnight and on the day of the ladies’ and gentlemen’s finals.

While fans will soak in the live coverage on both ESPN and ESPN2 next year, it means another event that had been on over the air TV won’t be from 2012 through 2023. I’m not going to be like some newspaper reporters who claim that they’re looking out for the little guy who doesn’t have cable. There aren’t that many and most of the country watches TV through cable or satellite. But I still lament the loss of a great event from network TV. And while the playing field between cable/satellite is almost level with network TV since the digital conversion, you wonder if more events will be heading to the pay side.

Let’s face it, over the last few years, ESPN has purchased the rights to the Bowl Championship Series, the Open Championship, NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup and now Wimbledon. All had been broadcast mainstays, but no longer. And in 2015, the NCAA Final Four® becomes a cable event every other year alternating between TNT and CBS.

For ESPN, it’s certainly about ratings and money, but at the same time, the channel doesn’t have to have the ratings of ABC, NBC or CBS because the audience is smaller and the network doesn’t have to worry about spilling into other programming. ESPN can be flexible since it’s airing just sports and not a myriad of daytime, news and entertainment programming. And ESPN doesn’t have to respond to affiliates that can hold the network hostage.

But even with all this, I don’t see an end to the migration of events to cable. There may be a time where NBC may want to get out of the tennis business now only having the French Open. Perhaps Tennis Channel will take that all to itself leaving just the U.S. Open as the lone tennis Grand Slam event on network TV. That hasn’t happened yet, but it might.

ESPN’s main rival is NBC. Comcast is hoping to build Versus as a competitor and alternative to ESPN. There will be plenty of opportunities for the two companies to bid against each other for events and you can rest assured that the money will be flowing. It also means more events will move to cable, leaving a much smaller pie for the broadcast networks to fight over.

And that concludes the Sunday thoughts

Ken Fang

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.

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