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The Biggest Sports Media Stories for 2010

With what has been a memorable 2010 almost complete, we thought it would be a good time to recap some of the larger stories we’ve seen unfold in 2010 from an announcing/sports broadcasting point of view. Below are our top stories of 2010  (in no particular order). 

The Success of 30 For 30

What if I told you that an uninventive media conglomerate actually had a good idea?

 

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We’re quick here at AA to poke fun of self proclaimed “Worldwide Leader” and, frankly speaking, it’s just too easy at times as exhibited by The Decision, Who’s Now, Mark May, Matt Millen, etc. But as much as we bitch and moan about some of the egregious programming decisions they make, the truth is we’re watching ESPN programming almost on a daily basis. 

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That’s why it was a very pleasant surprise to see ESPN really hit a home-run with an outside the box idea in 30 for 30. It was an ambitious project, one that took a lot of different groups at ESPN to execute at a high level. Some of the films were original programming, but many were completed films that were likely never going to see the light of the day.  Most of the films were universally applauded with only a small handful of films getting mixed reviews. 

The series spanned many sports and eras with a great blend of rehashing mainstream stories of the past while also unearthing intriguing micro-histories that historically would have become overlooked as many occurred before the internet era.

As a 20 something, it was great to get the back stories on a lot of things before my time and I’m sure other members of Gen Y added some depth to their general sports knowledge by watching the series. Personal favorites included No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, The Two Escobars, Run Ricky Run, Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?, Once Brothersand Pony Exce$$. The fact that naming the top 6 took some thinking is an indication of how high the bar was for the series.

In the end, it was a win all the way around. Ratings were great, critics applauded, advertisers (Levi’s and Cadillac found a great project to sponsor), DVD sales seem to be getting great traction, and it was a constant topic of conversation with sports fans both online and offline. 

A massive win for the series creator, Bill Simmons, as it added another feather in his hat while ESPN proved that an investment in high end original film-making could be both commercially viable and critically acclaimed. 

 Click Read More for the other big trends of 2010

NCAA Tournament Staying on CBS in Conjunction with Turner Means All Games to be Broadcast

96 teams and moving to ESPN? That was the consensus thinking as negotiations headed to crunch time before the NCAA decided to re-up with CBS in conjunction with Turner Sports in a deal worth almost $11 billion. The impact of the deal is outlined below:

- Barring a new job for Gus Johnson, he’ll be dominating the tournament for years to come (Unfortunately, still on the back-burner in favor of Jim Nantz and Verne Lundquist)

- Every game will be televised via additional Turner Sports channels (TBS, TNT, TRUtv). In fact the Final Four will be on cable in 2016.

- Marv Albert, Barkley, and other Turner Sports personalities will be working the tourney games. 

- You will continue to be allowed to stream games online while you’re at work and your IT department will hate you for sucking up all the bandwidth. 

When the smoke cleared, this was a huge win for CBS and Turner and a big loss for ESPN who rarely loses programming bidding wars. The details of how two media companies collaborated to push out ESPN was actually the featured topic at the FSA Sports Media & Technology event. 

ESPN Baseball On Air Talent Overhauled as MLB Network Ramps up

It was big news when ESPN announced they were cutting ties with Joe Morgan and Jon Miller as their broadcast team for Sunday Night Baseball. Many were calling for the move to be made years in advance and most baseball purists were happy with the move.  

But that’s just one of many high profile moves that also included Peter Gammons leaving ESPN and landing over at MLB Network (announced in late 09, didn’t come into effect until 2010). Gammons joins the likes of Harold Reynolds and Bob Costas, completing a pretty viable competitor over at MLB Network.

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One of the biggest criticisms of ESPN’s baseball coverage is that it revolves around the Red Sox and Yankees. ESPN didn’t do much to dissuade that notion by hiring Curt SchillingNormar Garciaparra, and Aaron Boone as analysts for the network. As we head into 2011, many media pundits are keeping a close eye on if MLB Network will continue to nibble away at ESPN dominance in covering America’s pastime. 

America Outsourcing Game Flipping to New Shows and Networks

With more and more sports channels being added to cable packages, its becoming a bit of a challenge to keep up with all the action. DirectTV rolled out the Red Zone Channel which has now become the model for similar efforts to outsource game watching to media companies. NFL Redzone is essentially the same thing but with an inferior host.

With so many Americans more worried about their fantasy team or just wanting to see the most compelling action at that moment, a flurry of other efforts aimed to maximize your viewing experience have rolled out this year. ESPN has rolled out ESPN Goal Line for college football and apparently a college basketball channel called “Buzzer Beater” was supposed to be unveiled around now although its been quiet on that front.

These new channels also coincide with shows that jump from game to game like NBA coverage on ESPN’s Fast Break Tuesday and MLB Network’s MLB Tonight.

The bottom line is America’s attention span is getting shorter, fans are becoming more interested in real time scoring, and the model has been proven for other sports/networks to bring similar efforts to their fans. On the football side, if you’re telling me I can watch every touchdown scored all year that Gus Johnson calls, then that is definitely something I would be interested in.

Tough Year For Fox

What does Fox do well? They’re losing local sports affiliates as Comcast and other media companies are pushing them out of that market. Their forray into BCS  coverage saw ratings plummet and their coverage universally panned. I actually setup a poll asking a large group of college football fans their thoughts on Fox’s coverage of the BCS and only 6% said it was better than ABC/ESPN’s. The poll had over 300 votes and the comments were searing. 

On the baseball front, here is a fun fact: Ratings of the World Series are 1/2 what they used to be since Fox picked up the rights. Now that Joe Morgan has been axed, the ire of fans and the blogosphere are now locked into Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, who have long been considered a second rate team for a national broadcast. 

Then there is football, where their on-air talent has been lapped by CBS. Low points of this year include the playing of in game music scored by the CSI sound producer and what was probably the most awful attempt at announcing (worse than Boom goes the Dynamite) by Torry Holt. Overall it hasn’t hurt Fox’s ratings, but people have taken note as the on-air talent has just been under-performing across the board. 

The network has been lauded for gimmicky efforts that include Scooter The Talking Baseball, Digger a talking Nascar character, and just over the top personalities and analysts. Ozzie Guillen even pointed to the network for a swearing outburst on camera claiming he was told by Fox’s CEO that it would be great for ratings.  

Programming wise, Fox continues to whiff on picking up another sport to add to their portfolio. Most of the time they’re just outbid, but you have to wonder if pro leagues and colleges are hesitant to entrust Fox with the future broadcasting of their sport. The BCS fiasco, the infamous glowing puck when they had the NHL, and declining MLB ratings all serve as tales of caution for those looking for new network partners.

Ratings Beginning To Dictate Broadcast Schedule and Strategy

How did you like that three-day NFL draft that started on a Thursday? The Pro Bowl in Miami the week before the Super Bowl? NBC showing god knows what while compelling live events were taking place during the Olympics? miami-pro-bowl_1

All of these decisions were dictated by television ratings. Throw out tradition or what the general public may want. If more eyeballs are going to be watching, then the juice is worth the squeeze. The lure of higher ratings and more dollars were also the driving factor in both the Big Ten and Pac 10′s expansion so they could add a conference championship game. 

Frankly some of the changes were welcomed while others just didn’t sit well with the general public. That said, look for other sacred cows to be slaughtered in the year to come as networks look to maximize their viewership by sacrificing logistics, history, and or common sense. 

Cable/Satellite Providers Not Giving into Sports Fans and Sports Channels

I still can’t believe DirectTV had the balls to not carry Versus for nearly 6 months. It was kind of fun for myself as I knew I could extort DirectTV for some other cool perks by claiming I’d leave. Unfortunately, though, this was a story all over the country as providers towed the line in carrying sports channels.

Fans in the Northwest can’t get their Ducks and Blazers games as many providers won’t carry CSN Northwest. Baseball fans in New York were unable to watch the freaking World Series in a distribution pissing war between Cablevision and Fox. The NFL Network is still not on Time Warner and it sounds like the Golf Channel is coming down from DirectTV.   

If you think this trend is going away, here is a quote from Derek Chang who makes these decisions at DirecTV, who is usually the leader in channel availability: 

“Channels that aren’t watched as much will come down.”

The reality is this thing is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. No way cable/satellite providers just let you pick the channels you want via some ala carte pricing and the Comcast/NBC merger to go along with various strategic alliances between Time Warner and Turner as well as Fox and DirectTV means nobody is going to be really motivated to get deals done without service interruption. 

With that in mind, feel free to check out some of the awesome live blogs across the Bloguin network next time you’re missing your team’s game.

Fans Clamor for Access and Transparency

Not too long ago, it was a question on IF there would be a new season of Hard Knocks and not WHO would be in it as team owners were hesitant to give that level of access to HBO and NFL Films.

It took awhile, but leagues are warming up to giving media companies unfiltered access and transparency to how teams operate behind the scenes.

24/7 has not only been pumping boxing PPV buys but now has been extended to the NHL where casual fans are getting sucked into the excitement surrounding the Winter Classic. 

Even Spike got in on the action with 1.2 million viewers watching UFC Countdown chronicling the buildup to Rampage Jackson vs. Rashad Evans

The Big Ten Network has had some success with their show “The Journey,” as well. My oh my, have we come a long way since “Two-a-Days.”

Leagues and teams are beginning to see the value in giving an unfiltered look at what goes on behind the scenes. Yes, there is swearing, immaturity, and some ugly parts of the business, but those “negatives’” are far outweighed by the compelling intrigue, emotion, and personality that can only be exposed through this level of access and transparency.

If you want to build affinity with your fans and interest at a national level, it’s becoming more clear that pulling back the kimono and inviting fans to see the good, bad, and ugly is only going to extend your audience and increase interest in your team. On a side note, for the third year in a row the team featured in Hard Knocks is going to the playoffs so maybe there is an added level of motivation knowing that millions are scrutinizing your efforts both on and now off the field. 

I’ll be back next week with some thoughts on things to look for in 2011. What did I miss? What did I get wrong? Who was your favorite character on Two-a-Days? Feel free to fire away in the comments. Happy New Year and best of luck on that crazy 4-team parlay you have.

Ben Koo

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - CEO of @Bloguin, GM at @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.

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