Sunday Odds and Ends

Boston Dirt Dogs vs. Boston Sports Media Watch

Before I get into my review of ESPNU, I’ll give you a link to Boston Sports Media Watch. A former newspaper writer, Jeff Sullivan, gives his two cents on the Boston Dirt Dogs saga that will apparently continue into this week. It is my feeling that Steve Silva, the webmaster of BDD, will go all out to smear the good name of Bruce Allen, the webmaster of Boston Sports Media Watch. Silva will not take this sitting down. If you don’t remember what this is all about, you can check out my blog from last week on this subject. This is going to get ugly before it gets better.

The First Hours of ESPNU

Ok, onto ESPNU. It launched Friday (03-04-05) as we’ve been told many times. Anyway, the first feature was one about college and university, narrated by Robin Roberts. It was well produced like many features by ESPN. It gave us emotion, action, grit and plenty of images. There were images of the late Jim Valvano looking for someone to hug from the 1983 NCAA Tournament, Demetrius Gore’s slam dunk bringing down the basket, cheerleaders, explosions and plenty of emotion. Overall, it was well done and the narration by Robin Roberts was well written.

Then, Mike Hall, the winner of the original “Dream Job” two seasons ago is shown in front of a screaming crowd at the Gallagher-Iba Arena at Oklahoma State University. He is trying to describe the intentions of the new network. He has note cards and has to refer to them. He doesn’t look nervous, but he’s not smooth, either. He gives us ESPNU’s mission statement and also tells us that ESPNU will air 300 live events over the year. And he teases the group 3 Doors Down which will perform later in the broadcast. Finally, he tosses to Chris Fowler and the College Gameday crew.

From then on, it’s a regular ESPN broadcast. The quality is good and Chris Fowler is smooth. We don’t see Mike Hall until the end when he introduces 3 Doors Down inside the arena. This was unnecessary and we didn’t need to see 3 Doors Down, but this is ESPNU, trying to show us that it is down with the peeps. Again, Hall is referring to note cards. You would think he would have memorized this part. Who needs notecards to say, “Ladies and Gentleman! 3! DOORS! DOWN!!!!!!” And who knew that Oklahoma State basketball coach Eddie Sutton was a fan of 3 Doors Down?

Hall has a long way to go before he reaches the status of Fowler, but then again, he does not have the many hours of experience hosting live events that Fowler does and Fowler is one of the best hosts on TV. Hopefully, Hall won’t refer to his note cards when he’s at the anchor desk at ESPNU’s headquarters.

From there, ESPNU aired one of the mid-major tournaments and later that night, aired a Louisville-Memphis game that had been broadcast from Thursday night. Apparently, ESPN will shovel plenty of previously-aired games onto ESPNU to fill inventory.

And because this is a network dedicated to college sports only, it will have to fill a lot of hours in the summer months, something that CSTV has had to do since it began two years ago. CSTV has managed to find Cape Cod League baseball games, summer practices and repeats of previous broadcasts. The strength of a college sports network is its 10 month schedule from September to June; however, filling the two months in the summer when no colleges are in session will be a difficult trick and that is where the ratings for these two networks will be at their lowest.

As it currently stands, CSTV has a head start as it is carried on more cable systems across the country. ESPNU has found carriage on DirecTV (only Sports Pack subscribers will see the network, it is not on the basic package) and Adelphia’s Digital Cable tier. However, you can bet that ESPN’s brand name will help ESPNU gain more carriage when it becomes time for channel renewals.

ESPNU will give smaller colleges and lesser publicized sports their spots in the sun. CSTV has done the same, but ESPN has a huge weapon in its existing contract with the NCAA to show various championships and can air preliminary rounds on ESPNU. CSTV has a lesser contract with the NCAA and does not have the channel capacity that ESPN does. The rivalry between ESPNU and CSTV has begun and may the better network win.