The Big Dozen Sports Media Stories of 2014, Part I

It’s that time of year once again to look back at the stories that made the Big Dozen list. If you’re new here and wonder why it’s called the Big Dozen? It’s a tribute to where I used to work, WPRI-TV on the border of East Providence, RI and Seekonk, MA. My good friend, John Crowe, was the sports producer and I was the Assignment Editor. We used to put certain producers on scavenger hunts across the newsroom. Looking back at this, it’s no wonder why we both got fired, but I digress. Anyway, Crowe christened WPRI “The Big Dozen” because of our channel position, Channel 12, so I’ve carried “Big Dozen” to this annual post and it’s because ten stories are never enough.

This year, I’ll divide the Big Dozen into two posts so Part I is today while Part II will be on New Year’s Day.

Today, we’ll go from stories 12-7 and tomorrow will be 6 through 1. So without further delay, here is the first half of The Big Dozen Sports Media of 2014.

12. MLB’s Low National Ratings vs. Record-High Local Ratings

It’s very easy to bash baseball, but one thing holds true, people watch. Now it may not be on the national level as Fox’s ratings hit record low viewership during its package. That’s in contrast to the local level where several markets including Milwaukee saw record gains. So what’s the takeaway from this? Perhaps baseball fans are provincial and would rather watch their own broadcasts instead of national telecasts. Fans like to hear their own broadcasters rather than to watch the ESPN and Fox announcers. But as Paulsen points out, ESPN had modest gains for its package and MLB Network only saw a small decrease.

Fox put most of its games this season on Fox Sports 1 and aired only 12 regular games as compared to 24 in the previous MLB TV deal. Perhaps Fox will attempt more promotion to get more viewers, but for right now, the low numbers could be the new normal for a national MLB telecast.

11. First Year of Multiple Screens for Big Events, i.e., BCS Megacast, Final Four, NLCS, Iron Bowl

ESPN, Turner and Fox used their multiple channels to bring a new viewing experience for their big events. And they used them to success. ESPN utilized ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPN3, ESPN Classic and other platforms for its “Megacast” for the final BCS National Championship Game. Most of the channels were well received including the “Film Room” which predicted plays before they happened. It was a tremendous viewing experience that will be repeated for the College Football Playoff Semifinals and National Championship Game.

Turner had some confusion with its Final Four Teamcasts. While the national straight down-the-middle telecast was on TBS, team-centric broadcasts were on TNT and truTV. Cable and satellite TV guides just labeled them as “NCAA Final Four” and not separate listings to tell viewers that the TNT or truTV telecasts were catering to fans of certain teams. It was funny to see fans tweeting thinking that TNT or truTV was biased, but again, it might have been the listings. Look for that to be rectified, but it was a good concept. Expect CBS and Turner to do some more promotion on the Teamcasts for the 2015 Final Four.

And Fox produced a separate broadcast for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Fox Sports 1 using sabermetrics. It was a fun broadcast and a great alternative for fans looking for a respite from Joe Buck (to be honest, let’s back off on the guy).

The multiple screens concept is here to stay and it’s hoped that more sports will attempt and perhaps bring it to the one event that will lend itself quite well to multiple screens, the Super Bowl.

10. TBS’ First Year with the NCAA Men’s Final Four™

Asides from the confusion of the Teamcast, 2014 marked the first time the NCAA Men’s Final Four aired on cable. While those who watched on TBS didn’t notice much difference than when it aired on CBS, it was still quite the change in mindset to say the Final Four was on TBS rather than CBS. We’ll have to get used to this again in 2015 as TBS will once again air the Final Four. And there’s always the annual question during the NCAA Tournament, “Where do I find truTV?”

9. ESPN’s Silly Suspensions

Whether it was Bill Simmons going after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (more on that in Part II), Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman for talking about the Ray Rice situation, or Keith Law defending evolution, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for ESPN’s suspensions. There never seemed to be an adequate explanation regarding why Simmons was suspended nor as to why Law was given a time out for going after fellow ESPN’er Curt Schilling when he went on a rant against evolution. Then there was Skippy Bayless who said questionable things without any proof, but was never touched. No one seems to know the line at ESPN and it’s no wonder when we hear of a suspension from Bristol, we all scratch our heads in bewilderment.

With 2015 just ahead, we can be assured that someone will get suspended at ESPN and we’ll all wonder why.

8. ESPN, Fox and Univision Get MLS

After ESPN and NBC shared Major League Soccer for two seasons, it was time for bidding on a new TV contract. We heard that NBC dropped out of the bidding and then we realized why. Both ESPN and Fox teamed up to bid for the English language rights with MLS on an eight-year contract. Univision took the Spanish language rights.

While MLS has yet to really move the meter in the television ratings, ESPN President John Skipper said, “It’s a futures deal. We’re buying pork bellies. We think they’ll become more valuable over time.”

ESPN and Fox will air a Game of the Week on Sundays, share the MLS Cup every other year and split US Soccer matches. It’s a big deal for both and we’ll see if Skipper is right about the rights becoming more valuable over time.

7. CBS Gets Thursday Night Football

As late as October, I thought this story would be in the Top Five, but not this year. In February, CBS won the rights to Thursday Night Football with a one-year contract and a one-year option. It beat out bids from NBC and Fox after ESPN/ABC and Turner were rejected. While the games weren’t great and led to massive blowouts, they still were ratings winners despite eating into the Tiffany Network’s earnings. CBS’ presentation of the games was first-rate and gave each one a playoff feel. The games didn’t live up to the hype, but having a Tennessee-Jacksonville matchup doesn’t help the schedule either. Still, the NFL is happy with the games and by having the first half the schedule on CBS, the viewership for the package was the best in the history of Thursday Night Football.

Expect in 2015 that the NFL will pick up the option for the next season, then sign a long-term deal with CBS to last the length of the current league TV deal through 2022.

So to recap, the bottom half of our Big Dozen Sports Media Stories of 2014 looks like this:

7. CBS Gets Thursday Night Football
8. ESPN, Fox and Univision Get MLS
9. ESPN’s Silly Suspensions
10. TBS’ First Year With the NCAA Men’s Final Four™
11. First Year of Multiple Screens for Big Events
12. MLB’s Low National Ratings vs. Record-High Local Ratings

So we have not mentioned the NBA’s new TV deal nor NBC’s megabucks Olympic contract. Will they be in the top half? What about the World Cup? Will that make the Top 6?

I’ll have Part II on New Year’s Day. Enjoy your New Year’s Eve and be safe. I’ll see you in 2015.

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.