Archive for NYC Sports Media
Yankees fans nearly faced a cataclysmic situation last fall. FOX, which had exclusive broadcast rights for the World Series, was involved in a contract spat with Cablevision, which serves millions of customers in the tri-state area. Thankfully for Yanks fans, the ALCS was broadcast on TBS. But had the Yankees advanced to the World Series, those fans might have been blacked out, as Fox pulled its programming from the cable carrier. The two parties averted disaster, though the point became moot when the Yankees were eliminated.
The situation now facing DirecTV customers will affect Yankees fans on a greater level. While the World Series is the main event, as the Yankees showed last year, it doesn’t matter much if you don’t get there. The regular season, though, goes 162 games whether there’s a broadcast or not. Today the agreement between DirecTV and YES Network expired, leaving those Yankees fans in limbo. Could they possibly miss a portion of the regular season because the two parties can’t reach a new deal?
The two sides have had their says in the matter. Says DirecTV: “DirecTV customers should not be forced to pay a penny more for YES Network.” The company claims that YES is seeking a fee “significantly higher” than it receives from other cable providers. A YES spokesman says, “We are negotiating in good faith with DirecTV in hopes of resolving this matter quickly.”
This current incident brings to mind a nearly decade-old dispute between, surprise-surprise, Cablevision and the YES Network. When the network debuted in 2002, Cablevision did not carry it. The Yankees had previously been broadcast on MSG, which is owned by Cablevision. Only government intervention brought the two parties together.
It is not clear whether the two parties have made any progress in the matter. DirecTV says they will keep the station alive during negotiations, but YES could opt to pull it. It’s unfortunate to see these kinds of disputes, since it ultimately hurts the consumer in the end. Still, it could be worse. You could be a Dish Network subscriber. That carrier has never broadcast the YES Network.
With the Yanks’ radio deal with WCBS AM 880 expiring after the end of the 2011 season, rumors of a potential switch to another station along the dial are swirling. As Bob Raissman reported in the Daily News this weekend, the Yankee brass would like to cash in on the value of their radio rights, and other prominent media companies — including ESPN — are prepared to enter the bidding.
This isn’t the first time this winter that Raissman has broached the topic of the Yanks’ radio machinations. In November, he questioned the futures of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. If the Yankees switch frequencies, the new station managers may opt to bring in their own on-air talent. Sterling and Waldman, after all, elicit strong reactions — few positive — from Yankee fans, and fresh blood could drive up the ratings.
But before the personnel decisions are to be made, the Yanks must secure a good deal for themselves. They currently earn $13 million a year from WCBS, but as Raissman notes, the club would rather get Red Sox money — $18 million a year. In a bad market for radio, could the team cash in? If the right outlet enters a bidding war, they certainly could, but the fans might lose out.
Raissman notes that ESPN-1050 with its weak and confined signal could be a likely landing space. He writes:
ESPN-1050 will be a player for Yankees rights. It could play the role of the “desperate” outlet. Acquiring Yankee baseball would instantly fill a huge void for a station hustling for ratings, bringing it higher visibility from a vast audience that has no idea ESPN-1050 even exists. A 1050 partnership with the Yankees would instantly turn up the competitive heat on WFAN, home of the Mets, by increasing – probably significantly – 1050′s ratings.
There’s a major stumbling block for ESPN-1050 – its weak signal. Two Dixie Cups attached by a string is a powerhouse by comparison. Seriously though, Yankees brass probably doesn’t want its games airing on a station with – literally – no juice.
ESPN can alleviate the problem by purchasing a station with a strong signal. Industry sources say ESPN has shown interest in buying RXP 101.9, an FM station owned by Emmis Communications. Emmis was asking $125 million for the station, but the price has apparently dropped to $100 million. If ESPN does not acquire a station with a big-time signal, but comes in with the highest bid, would the Yankees decide to glom the money at the expense of being stuck on 1050?
The Cardinals tried a similar move in 2005, but it backfired. Fan complaints pushed them back to the KMOX powerhouse this year, and the Yanks were certainly watching that saga unfold. Meanwhile, Raissman notes that the Yanks could try to push the Mets off of WFAN or they could buy their own radio station spots by purchasing time on another network.
No matter how this ends, two off-field storylines here are worth watching. The first concerns Sterling and Waldman. Older fans seem to enjoy Sterling’s histrionics while younger fans would prefer a better broadcaster. Will the next radio broadcaster opt for traditional or change? Second, will the Yanks flip to a weaker signal? Fans in Connecticut and New Jersey simply cannot get ESPN 1050 over the air, and the Yanks would alienate a significant portion of the fan base if they do. Such a change could have far-reaching ramifications for the club looking to cash in on valuable broadcast rights.
Joel Sherman is at the BAT dinner tonight, and he ran into the Yanks’ old pal David Cone who shared some good news with The Post reporter. Coney will be returning to the YES booth for 25 games this season. We don’t yet know which member of the Yanks’ broadcast team Cone will be replacing, but my money’s on Tino taking his talents elsewhere. I’ve always enjoyed Cone’s contributions to the telecasts, and it’ll be good to hear him on the air again. I wonder if he’s finally figured out his dance yet.
Few members of the Yankees’ extended family elicit more debate and dissension than John Sterling and his Yankees Radio Network compatriot Suzyn Waldman. We’ve gone on the record wondering if the Yanks could do better but recognize that we’ve been stuck with Sterling for better or worse. Some people love his histrionics and gregarious radio voice while others would prefer that Waldman and Sterling work on their descriptive abilities and call the game as its played instead of the game in their mind. According to one recent report, though, we may be nearing the end of the Sterling-and-Waldman Era.
Bob Raissman, the well-sourced sports media columnist for the Daily News, questioned the future of Ma & Pa Pinstripe in his column on Saturday morning. The team’s radio deal, estimated at an annual worth of $12 million, with WCBS AM 880 expires after the 2011 season, and so too do Sterling’s and Waldman’s employment contracts. As Raissman puts it, Hal Steinbrenner’s Yankees are in no rush to renew the deal if the finances aren’t just right, and the team may be willing to let its next radio partner pick the broadcast voices.
“The Yankees regime, led by Hal Steinbrenner, will be more concerned with obtaining maximum dollars in a new radio deal than who the broadcasters are,” Raissman says. “Loyalty ain’t even a factor here.”
It will be interesting to see how this storyline plays out. Sterling and Waldman were George’s people through and through. Steinbrenner loved Sterling’s personality and his campy approach to Yankee games, and Waldman has been an organizational favorite and a female trailblazer in sports media for nearly two decades. Compared to the stars they cover, they don’t earn large salaries, but if another station wants to build its own identity, it sounds as though the new generation of Steinbrenners would have little use for the old.
And what might that new station be? Raissman reports of a potential change and one that would not be welcomed by many Yankee fans. “Outside of WCBS, which probably wants to keep the Yankees, it’s highly likely ESPN will – if it hasn’t already – stick its beak into the mix. For ESPN-1050, the process of trying to chip away at WFAN, longtime Mets rights holder, has not been easy,” he reports. Adding Yankees radiocasts to the mix of Jets, Knicks and Rangers would help change the equation – drastically. But how much would ESPN be willing to pay for the radio rights to Yankees baseball? And would pinstripe honchos be satisfied having their games go out over ESPN-1050′s weak signal?”
WEPN 1050 AM has a notoriously weak signal in the New York area. While WCBS 880 AM is one of the FCC’s clear-channel class A stations that doesn’t face competition for signal strength in the eastern half of the United States, WEPN isn’t so lucky. This class B signal is limited by a station in Philadelphia at 1060 on the AM dial, and it must avoid pointing or powering up its signal to the southwest due to the clear-channel status of an AM station in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Listeners near Boston and Washington, DC, can hear WCBS while residents in Monmouth County, New Jersey, have trouble with WEPN.
Right now, this contract status isn’t a very big issue. The team has another year left, and Sterling and Waldman will be around for it. How this is eventually resolved though will be an indicator of how things have changed business-wise for the Yanks after the passing of King George. Hal’s approach could be much, much different.
The rumors have been bubbling for weeks, and Richard Sandomir of The Times has the scoop: After 20 years as the Worldwide Leader’s lead baseball team, Joe Morgan and Jon Miller are out at ESPN. Morgan’s contract has not been renewed, and Miller has been asked if he wants to stay on as the network’s radio voice for its baseball slate. Sandomir reports that Miller and Morgan will likely be replaced by Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine, if he’s not chosen to manage a Major League franchise.
“We’ve decided to make a change and introduce new voices and new perspective,” Norby Williamson, an ESPN executive vice president, said to The Times. “Twenty one years is an eternity in this business. And today is about acknowledging the contributions they made to the franchise.” I guess Ken Tremendous and Co. can rest easy now.
Over the next week or two or three, we’re going to recap the season that was by looking at what went right as well as what went wrong for the 2010 Yankees.
The Yankees had many things go right this year despite the disappointing end result, but let’s kick off our series by looking at the improvements made to the medium that brings Yankee games to millions of fans: the YES Network. The network hasn’t made many cosmetic changes since launching in March 2002, at least not until this year. They overhauled the game broadcasts to make them fresh and modern, leading to a more enhanced and enjoyable broadcast.
Of course the biggest upgrade was the commercial you see above, which brought the power of RAB into the homes of countless fans in the Tri-State Area. Okay fine, that wasn’t much more than an afterthought, but it still rocked for us. Anyway, let’s break down the upgrades piece by piece…
We provided a sneak peek at YES’ new graphics right before the season started, and they delivered in every way. The old 2-D graphics that ruled the broadcast since the network’s inception were replaced with new ones featuring 3-D effects while retaining familiar elements like the traditional Yankee blue and white color scheme. Names would pop out of the lineup as the broadcasters talked about them and Yankee players jumped out at you when featured on a statistical leader board. They managed to be both easy on the eyes and attention grabbing, a pleasant combination.
The scoreboard overlay, batter’s line, and pitcher’s line all received makeovers, including more information that ever before. On-base percentage was added to each batter’s statistical line and pitcher’s splits between right and lefthanded batters would be featured where appropriate. We had to look that stuff up for ourselves before this season. Overall, the new graphics made for a much cleaner and more informative game broadcast.
Pitch Count & Radar Gun
Technically these two are part of new graphics, but they were so great they deserve their own section. The new pitch count feature, which kicked in after the Yankee starter threw his tenth pitch, stole the show at the start of the season. I often found myself looking for it on non-YES broadcasts, and it allowed us to become part of action by thinking ahead to bullpen moves and matchups pitch-by-pitch throughout the game. It was a small addition in the grand scheme of things, but one that made a world of difference.
In addition to the new pitch counter, the once-comical radar gun received a big-time upgrade. After years of what seemed like completely arbitrary pitch velocities, YES synced up with MLBAM’s PitchFX system to provide accurate radar readings. Gone were the days of 65 mph fastballs and 92 mph curveballs. It sounds simple enough, but being able to trust the information provided was a big improvement.
YES has always featured a large cast of in-game analysts, but it wasn’t until this year that they added to their in-studio crew. Jack Curry, formerly of The New York Times, joined the network this season and provided analysis during the pre- and post-game shows in addition to some sideline reporting. Curry even made a one inning cameo in the broadcast booth this summer.
Two decades of experience with the Times allowed Curry to talk more about what others were seeing with the Yankees rather than his personal opinion, something the network already has plenty of people doing. His connections within the game enabled him to speak intelligently about trade rumors and scouting reports, giving fans “inside information” we weren’t getting before. He was refreshing voice of reason as well, offering a better and more reasonable perspective than anything the network had before.
* * *
YES (and My9) carry something like 150 games a year, and it was about time they made some significant changes to their broadcast. The dull tone of the old graphics were eliminated this year, and Curry’s insight and reason was more than welcome in the studio. We all love watching the Yankees, but this improvements made the games that much more enjoyable.
Three billion dollars is no small amount to pay for the rights to baseball games. For any media entity, an investment of that magnitude requires a commitment to the cause, and when two competing media companies throw that much money into one pot as FOX and TBS did in 2006 for MLB rights, the product aired must be of a superb quality.
Last year, as the Yankees marched to their 27th World Series title, TBS’ coverages wasn’t all that. Chip Caray was pilloried in the press, and TBS brass eventually removed him from the broadcast booth. For a game long accustomed to the subpar stylings of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, the TBS fiasco was just business as usual, and it seemed that baseball would be relegated to an afterthought on the national stage.
But TBS this year is taking its commitment to the game seriously. As I detailed yesterday on Second Ave. Sagas, TBS and MLB have engaged in a groundbreaking advertisement campaign in the New York City subways to promote TBS’ postseason coverage. One of the 42nd St. shuttle trains will be fully branded with baseball superstars, and in-car video screens will show highlights from playoff games and promotions for upcoming contests. While the dollar totals for the deal haven’t been announced, the shuttle branding combined with the display ads represent an aggressive push by TBS to get casual fans interested in their baseball coverage.
“Postseason in New York is always a big moment for sports fans, and this is an opportunity to excite the local fan base and launch a campaign that highlights iconic players in local markets,” Christina Miller, a Turner Sports senior vice president for strategy, marketing and promotion, said.
Over at AOL’s Fanhouse, Andrew Johnson picks up on this theme as he explores how TBS is improving its October coverage. In its fourth season of playoff coverage and with Ernie Johnson’s replacing Chip Caray, TBS is striving to bring a better understanding and presentation of the game to the fans. “It’s really important that we know our roles,” Ron Darling said to AOL. “We’re really custodians of these great athletes and great teams that are gonna be chronicled forever and be on DVD forever, so we do feel a responsibility, with Turner doing these games, that we’re part of it. We’re part of history every year.”
Darling and John Smoltz will join Johnson in the booth. The color analysts in the studio will include David Wells, Cal Ripken and Dennis Eckersley. Their analysis might not stray into sabermetrics and advanced statistical viewpoints, but these are players who are both entertainers and baseball supporters. Eric Byrnes and Kevin Millar they are not.
This push by TBS to do better stands in stark contrast to FOX’s coverage which often seems begrudging at best and downright resentful at worst. FOX too has spent the billions, but they don’t listen to the loud groundswell of disgust for the quality of their broadcasts. They continue to turn to Buck and McCarver as the voices of baseball. They plug football nearly as often as they discuss baseball during the broadcasts, and they haven’t engaged in much advertising to promote their cause.
Baseball writing on the Internet has at times grown on the wings of Fire Joe Morgan, a site dedicated to, well, seeing the dismissal of ESPN’s lead baseball color commentary realized. We can’t bash on the bad coverage without giving a nod to the good, and while TBS still makes its mistakes, it’s doing more to promote the game than other outlets who pay the big bucks. As the Yanks will soon be appearing on TBS, we should sit back and appreciate.
Seemingly in spite of themselves, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are reeling in the listeners. Arbitron, the radio ratings board, has released listener totals for the first half of the baseball season, and more fans tune in for Yankees games than for any other team. According to their estimates, from April 4 to June 23, an average of 441,000 listen to the Bombers. That figure eclipses the second-place Mets by 72,500 fans per game. The Cubs, Tigers and Angels round out the top five.
As for market share, though, neither the Yankees nor the Mets can crack the top 15. In baseball’s target demographic — men between the ages of 25 and 54 — nearly 25 percent of Cincinnatians listening to the radio at that time tune into Reds games. Because millions of people live in New York radio, the lofty listener totals just can’t catch up.
For the Yankees, these high figures mean one thing: More money. Armed with more precise data than ever before, the Yankees and WCBS will be able to milk more money out of the team’s radio broadcasts. “As advertisers look to capitalize on this year’s pennant race, professional baseball on the radio delivers large numbers of listeners for every game,” Arbitron Sports Manager Chris Meinhardt said in a statement. “Arbitron’s Mid-Season PPM Radio Listening for Pro Baseball reports the average game audience for each team.”
Now, if only the team would do something about the quality of their radio announcers. (A tip o’ the hat to Rob Iracane at Walkoff Walk.)
My dad, a lifelong reader of The New York Times, emailed me a few weeks ago as the Yanks were amidst Spring Training. Did I, he asked, notice a decrease in the number of articles about March baseball in The Times Sports Section this year? Granted, The Times has never covered New York sports with the same vigor and thoroughness as the Daily News or The Post, but even by Times’ standards, coverage of baseball this spring seemed light.
At the time, I thought little of it. It was just another discussion point in the ongoing debate my family has over the future of print journalism vs. content and news delivered in real time on the Internet. If The Times didn’t see fit to saturate its Sports pages with Spring Training stories, so be it. Anyone interested in tales from the Grapefruit League could find plenty to read on numerous websites.
Apparently, though, my dad wasn’t alone in noted the decreased content out of Florida and Arizona. Over at Fangraphs yesterday, Marc Hulet surveyed the newspaper industry’s baseball coverage and found that coverage in his area was on the wane as well. Those who added their comments to the piece presented a mixed bag of viewpoints. Some felt that their local papers had ramped up coverage; others felt that print articles remained as they always did.
Upon closer inspection, though, nearly everyone agreed that the Internet is where the news now is. By and large, newspapers have expanded or maintained their sports coverage, but as newspapers decrease in size, that coverage remains online in the form of web-only features, blog posts or various other Internet-based analysis. Some larger sports outlets – ESPN, Fox Sports, Yahoo – are poaching local talent and providing them with a more maleable platform and a larger potential audience. Others – local newspapers – are pushing their writers to rely upon and use the Internet.
In New York, we’ve seen this paradigm shift unfold. Led by Peter Abraham in 2006, the New York papers ramped up their online presence. Today, Marc Carig, Mark Feinsand and the team at LoHud, among others, bring non-stop online coverage of Yankee news and analysis to the Internet long before their game-recap and news-capsule pieces appear in the next day’s print edition – that is, if the game ends early enough. If I happen upon a Daily News in the subway in the morning after a Yankee game, nothing in the sports section is news to me.
For us, the Internet has always been our primary medium, and although we complement beat writer coverage, we are, in a way, competing for the same eyeballs. We know that ESPN New York, for instance, is making a push to capture Internet-savvy sports fans. We know that New York’s cut-throat tabloids are putting more and more content up on their websites, and so we respond in turn.
This year, as our readers have noticed by now, we’ve changed the format of our game recaps. For decades, baseball game stories have followed a fairly static approach: Run through the chronology of the game, highlight the big plays, get a few rote quotes from the players, file story. Ours are trying to lend something more to the game and our understanding of it. We still highlight the big plays, but we are trying to do so with the assumption that anyone reading knows what happened.
With MLB.com’s replay offerings and numerous enhanced box scores and play-by-play applications prevalent online, fans know the minutiae of the game as it unfolds or soon after they arrive back at their computers. What we want to do is highlight aspects of the game that don’t always pop. A dramatic home run late in the game may appear to be the biggest play, but what of that key out earlier on? What of the two runs scored in the 1st? What of the run prevention in the sixth?
Beyond the results, we can look closely at the process as well. If a pitcher doesn’t have it, can we pinpoint what he was doing wrong? Was it pitch selection, poor scouting or a flat pitch? Player quotes add minimal amounts of context, and what we see at home with advanced pitch charting helps us bring you our reader a more nuanced and complete understanding of the game in context.
Baseball and the Internet have come together nicely over the last decade, and as I wrap up this meta blog post, I am optimistic that the next ten years will be just as productive. It’s an old sport long covered by traditional media adapting to a new and faster way to deliver information. That can only lead to positive developments for everyone involved.