The Sports Media Year In Review – 2008

Time to review 2008 and the Year in Sports Media. It was a very significant year seeing how ESPN’s spending spree started and has no end in sight. We saw how the Olympics can still generate massive viewership. The NFL remains the 800 lb. ratings gorilla. Tiger Woods showed how he can garner ratings, but also how he can make the ratings dip when he’s not involved in tournaments. Major League Baseball had a down year, but the NBA and the NHL saw upticks which bring optimism to both leagues. And there were various stories and incidents that gave the blogosphere plenty to talk about. Let’s begin.

January 2008

The year began with the NHL’s experiment, the Winter Classic in Buffalo. Both CBC and NBC broadcast the game between Pittsburgh and Buffalo and thanks to snow and the outdoor setting, ratings were higher than projected.

The Bowl Championship Series failed to capture the imagination of the American public finishing down from the previous year.

There were two incidents in January that got major buzz early in the year. First, Kelly Tilghman of Golf Channel made an unfortunate comment about Tiger Woods that got her suspended for two weeks. Just when the controversy appeared to be dying down, Golfweek magazine stirred the pot by publishing an issue with a noose on the cover. That got the editor fired and plenty of scorn from PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem. Upon her return, Kelly apologized and the earth continued spinning on its axis.

The other incident was the roast of ESPN Radio personalities Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic in Atlantic City, NJ. Fellow ESPNer Dana Jacobsen made the bad decision to get drunk at the event, offended Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis and got suspended in the process.

Quietly in January, the NHL renewed its cable deal with Versus, but it did not quiet speculation that ESPN would seek the rights to the NHL down the line.

Two Red Sox broadcasting moves occured in January. In the middle of the month, radio hack Glenn Geffner left the Red Sox and signed with the Florida Marlins ending a one year failed experiment. At the end of the month, popular NESN Red Sox sideline reporter Tina Cervasio left and she later surfaced on MSG Network in New York.

As January ended, the NFL headed to the Super Bowl and the Patriots’ failed bid for a perfect season, media day in Phoenix had its usual craziness including a reporter asking Tom Brady and Eli Manning to marry her.

February 2008

The month began with Super XLII in Phoenix and the Giants upsetting the Patriots, 17-14, the ads were not stellar, but those featuring animals did well, in fact according to USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter, the top four ranked ads had animal themes. Thanks to the history on the line, Super Bowl XLII ended up being the most watched Super Bowl ever. This would become a theme for sports viewing for the rest of 2008.

Later in the week, we learned that HBO would cancel Inside the NFL after 31 seasons. Host Bob Costas spoke out against the move, but the show would eventually be picked up by Showtime.

In the middle of the month, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee called disgraced Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens and his former trainer, Paul McNamee to testify in what was no more than a dog and pony show. The hearings accomplished nothing, but they did seem to expose Clemens as a liar while the questioning seemed to be split down party lines with the Democrats supporting McNamee and the Republicans supporting Clemens. Bryant Gumbel tackled Clemens’ testimony in his commentary on Real Sports:

In February, someone started posting videos on YouTube of Chris Berman from his time doing the Monday Night Football halftime shows from the ESPN Zone in Baltimore. They became quite the rage as videos were being released almost daily. Eventually, ESPN forced YouTube to take them down, but Deadspin managed to save them all and posted them at its site.

Also in February, Dick Vitale returned to ESPN after taking two months off for throat surgery to remove polyps.

ESPN said goodbye to Sean Salisbury, hello to Bob Knight.

Fox was happy over its Daytona 500 ratings.

And legendary Pittsburgh sportswriter and Steelers analyst Myron Cope passed away in February.

Fang’s Bites conducted its first ever interview with People’s Court reporter Curt Chaplin who called the famous USA-USSR hockey game in the 1980 Olympics and gave us an alternative version to Al Michaels’ call. I think it turned out quite well.

March 2008

As we started to turn our attention to March Madness, Brett Favre became a major annoyance in 2008. He retired from the Green Bay Packers causing ESPN to go overboard on its coverage. Unfortunately, it would not be the last time we would hear from Brett.

A tornado interrupted the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta forcing a delay in the Mississippi State-Alabama quarterfinal and postponing the Kentucky-Georgia quarter until the following day, making the SEC Tournament move to Georgia Tech to finish out the weekend. In addition, the SEC Championship moved to a later time making CBS outsource the game to ESPN2.

CBS put the entire NCAA Tournament online and there were initial glitches, but they were eventually worked out. Craig Bolerjack annoyed this blogger to no end during the first day of the tournament. Neil Best’s Cornell team was in the tournament, but was a one-and-doner.

In March, the Department of Justice approved the merger of the Sirius and XM satellite radio companies, bringing together two money-losing entities and making sports fans happy to combine NFL, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, BCS and English Premier League soccer into one radio receiver.

As the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s opened the Major League Baseball season in Japan, DirecTV had an outage affecting the two channels carrying the game in New England, ESPN2 and NESN. Comcast customers in Western Massachusetts also experienced problems. By the time outage was fixed, there was no explanation and DirecTV executives were hiding under their desks. By the time, DirecTV released a statement, it was not sufficient to appease fans who missed the game.

In anticipation of the baseball season, Fang’s Bites talked with TBS/TNT’s Beau Estes.

We learned ESPN’s Suzy Kolber gave birth to a baby boy.

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch unveiled the identity of the man behind the great blog, The Big Lead.

April 2008

At the Final Four, CBS’ Billy Packer declared the Kansas-North Carolina game over in the first half angering fans watching across the country and perhaps quickening his exit from the netwok.

In a move that was welcomed by baseball fans, DirecTV expanded its channel capacity for the MLB Extra Innings package allowing both home and away broadcasts.

In what would be a trend throughout 2008, Jackie MacMullen accepted a buyout from the Boston Globe and left the newspaper.

CBS-owned TV stations across the country began laying off employees and that included long-time sports anchor at Boston’s WBZ-TV Bob Lobel. Mark Malone of WBBM in Chicago was also let go. Throughout the year, we learned of buyouts, layoffs, firings and early retirements by reporters at newspapers and TV stations across the country. And as the economy worsened, there seemed to be no end to the bloodletting.

Bryant Gumbel announced that he was giving up his play-by-play gig with the NFL Network.

ESPN signed a contract extension to air the Championships Wimbledon through 2013. This would be a sign of things to come for the Alleged Worldwide Leader.

ESPN also began airing the first two rounds of The Masters and also brought the Par 3 contest to American viewers for the first time. Several media writers were worried that Chris Berman would be part of the broadcast, but Mike Tirico was the only ESPN staffer to be seen on air.

NESN hired Heidi Watney to replace Tina Cervasio as Red Sox sideline reporter.

April also brought us the shocking death of MLB analyst John Marzano.

The Sports Emmy Awards were handed out.

But the month ended with author Buzz Bissinger attacking former Deadspin editor Will Leitch on a live edition of HBO’s Costas Now.

May 2008

In May, Fang’s Bites celebrated its first anniversary.

Of course, the first Saturday in May meant the Kentucky Derby and Big Brown becoming the latest candidate for the Triple Crown. Two weeks later, he would win the Preakness.

On the same day in the same city, the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks shook up their announcing teams.

During TNT’s NBA coverage, Ernie Johnson, Jr. played a practical joke on Charles Barkley and it led to TV magic.

HBO announced a new edition of its NFL reality series, Hard Knocks.

HBO’s Real Sports got an interview with former Patriots videographer Matt Walsh.

The Boston Herald’s John Tomase gave a weak apology in regards to his erroneous report on Spygate.

ESPN2 and Tennis Channel completed the Grand Slam by obtaining rights to the US Open starting in 2009. Both channels will share coverage of the US Open for the two weeks of the tournament.

Mark Madden of Pittsburgh sports radio station 1250 ESPN was fired after making a joke about Ted Kennedy’s brain cancer.

CBS began the first of four mixed martial arts Elite XC broadcasts.

June 2008

We learned about the death of legendary ABC’s Wide World of Sports host Jim McKay who pioneered the role of Olympics host. Bob Costas paid tribute.

Just a week later, legendary NBC announcer Charlie Jones passed away and he had written a tribute to McKay in his own blog.

In addition to the passing of McKay and Jones, NBC’s Tim Russert died suddenly.

In a shock to all Canadian hockey fans, CTV purchased the rights to the Hockey Theme in perpetuity taking what was the open to Hockey Night in Canada away from CBC.

Inside the NFL officially moved to Showtime.

New England sports fans were saddened by the move by NESN not to renew the contract of Hazel Mae.

The Stanley Cup Finals did well on NBC.

The NBA Finals ended up being 50% higher in the ratings from the previous year.

A playoff at the US Open gave NBC impressive ratings as Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate battled to a 19th hole.

The Big Ten Network reached a deal with Comcast leading to a domino effect with Big Cable companies throughout the Midwest.

NBC Sports and Notre Dame signed a new five year agreement in June.

Michael Strahan joined Fox NFL Sunday.

The NFL Network announced that Bob Papa would be its new play-by-play man.

ESPN brought soccer fans a treat by providing coverage of Euro 2008, but a thunderstorm knocked out transmission of the Germany-Turkey game leaving fans around the world in the dark. But the Euro 2008 final brought good ratings to ABC.

Will Leitch announced that he was leaving Deadspin for a job in …. gulp! Mainstream media!!

July 2008

Fox Sports’ Joe Buck said he was making a joke, but instead, his statements that he didn’t watch sports and no longer enjoyed broadcasting baseball brought him plenty of grief. Buck said he preferred watching episodes of “The Bachelorette” over baseball. It led to plenty of reaction from blogs aplenty.

An epic Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal led to excellent ratings for NBC.

After completing a non-compete clause, Dan Patrick was free to join NBC and Football Night in America to reunite with pal Keith Olbermann.

July also marked the unfortunate passing of YES analyst and former Yankees center fielder Bobby Mercer.

Former Boston Herald writer Michael Felger announced that he was leaving 890 ESPN to join and also become a part-time host for the station.

Whether it was on his own or CBS forced him out, Billy Packer announced that he would no longer broadcast college basketball.

NBC announced a cast of thousands to broadcast the Olympics in Communist China.

Four months after the Department of Justice approved it, the FCC finally gave its thumbs up to the Sirius-XM merger.

Early on July 26 or late on July 25, depending on your time zone, news broke that NBC and the NFL were going to stream Sunday Night Football online for free. It was part of a summer that saw many events going online for viewing.

Without Tiger Woods, the ratings for the Open Championship fell 15%.

ESPN drew big numbers for the MLB Home Run Derby, while Fox got a split decision for an extended All Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

August 2008

The month began with the sad passing of Atlanta Braves broadcaster Skip Carey.

By August, the Big Ten Network was picking up agreements with various cable providers such as Time Warner, Cox, and Mediacom.

And as the Olympics in Communist China got underway, the Opening Ceremonies drew record ratings. With swimming live in primetime in the Eastern and Central time zones, viewers flocked to watch Michael Phelps. As gymnastics events and swimming forced NBC to go into the wee morning hours, it would not break pattern for the West Coast and show events live. NBC put 2,200 hours of Olympic events online and you watched in record numbers. While the glamour events such as swimming, gymnastics, track & field and beach volleyball were kept for TV, other events were shown live and without commentary. It was enjoyable to watch. When Michael Phelps won his record 8th gold medal, NBC could coast for the rest of the Games and not suffer any decrease in its record setting numbers. When all was said and done, the 2008 Olympics became the most watched event in US history. Overall, I was pleased with NBC’s coverage. The International Olympic Committee realizing the gold mine for the Summer Games
then delayed the bids for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics hoping to squeeze more money out of the American networks that will bid for them.

After returning home from the Olympics, Jay Mariotti decided to leave the Chicago Sun-Times shortly after signing a new contract saying newspapers were on their way out. His former colleague, movie critic Roger Ebert not only called out Mariotti, he called him a rat. I said back then I would nominate this as one of the stories of the year. It truly is one of the stories of 2008.

In the middle of the Olympics, the Southeastern Conference was busy hashing out agreements with its TV partners. After threatening to create an in-house SEC Network, the conference signed a 15 year deal with CBS. Eleven days later, ESPN signed a 15 year deal of its own. When details of the ESPN contract were released, we discovered that Raycom was out of the syndication business with the SEC and would take the rights of all conference football home games not shown by CBS.

Back in June, Newsday’s Neil Best stuck his neck out and wrote that WFAN’s venerable duo, Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo would split up. Both vehemently denied that would happen, but on August 14, the pair indeed went their separate ways. The following day, “Mad Dog” said goodbye and the following week, it was announced that Russo would be the first hire of the newly combined Sirius XM Satellite Radio.

On the final weekend of August, WEEI decided to part ways with hosts Craig Mustard and Larry Johnson.

September 2008

It wasn’t as earth shattering as its SEC deal, but ESPN managed to get the Western Athletic Conference into a long term rights agreement.

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo announced that he would begin his new solo talk show on Sirius XM in mid-September.

USA Network signed off from the US Open for the last time after 25 years. And Tropical Storm Hanna came into New York and wreaked havoc with the weekend schedule forcing the women’s and men’s finals to be pushed forward a day. Because not all of CBS’ affiliates picked up the men’s finals, the ratings for the Roger Federer-Andy Murray match were down from the previous year.

The Los Angeles Dodgers quietly announced that Vin Scully would return for his 60th year of calling the team’s games in 2009.

Showtime began the new era of Inside the NFL with Jenn Brown’s softcore porn piece on Los Angeles football fans which included scenes from a Lingerie Football League party. I kid you not.

I talked with CNBC’s Darren Rovell about a bunch of sports business issues.

New York Football Giants analyst Dick Lynch passed away in September. American icon Paul Newman also passed away.

October 2008

ESPN started the month by announcing the rebranding of its European channel, NASN to ESPN America.

Hockey fans were pleased to hear that NHL Network in the US would pick up CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

While Canadian puckheads were getting used to hearing the Hockey Theme on TSN, CBC was conducting a contest to decide the new theme to Hockey Night in Canada.

John Madden was actually given a week off by NBC to rest from the travel for Sunday Night Football.

TBS was in the midst of covering the MLB Divisional Series when I noticed I was missing its online Hot Corner webcasts.

But that was the least of TBS’ problems as on October 18 just before Game 6 of the American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and Tampa Bay, the channel aired “The Steve Harvey Show” to fill time before the game transmission returned. We finally received a statement from Turner Sports that two circuit breakers tripped in the main Atlanta headquarters, but that explanation was not enough to appease fans who missed the first inning.

Fox Sports got its worst case scenario with the unknown Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series facing off against Philadelphia. The five game series which included the suspension of Game 5 due to rain ended up being the lowest rated World Series ever. The ratings were not helped by the late start of Game 3 which began at 10 p.m. ET and did not end until after 1:30 a.m.

November 2008

ESPN solidified its position as Alleged Worldwide Leader by purchasing the rights to the Open Championship and putting the tournament on cable instead of televising the weekend rounds on ABC. ESPN will show all four rounds live, but show highlights later in the day on ABC.

As we approached New Year’s Day, MLB Network began its public relations campaign preparing for its January 1st launch, the widest rollout of any TV channel, available to some 50 million viewers in the US only. In November, it announced its on-air lineup including Hazel Mae, formerly of NESN, Harold Reynolds and Trenni Kusnierek.

Bob Knight expanded his role on ESPN to include game analysis.

Former voice of the Cleveland Indians, Herb Score passed away in November.

ABC angered NASCAR fans by shuffling the end of its Phoenix race to ESPN2 to protect its primetime lineup.

ESPN then showed its mu
scle by taking the first major championship and putting it exclusively on cable, the Bowl Championship Series starting in 2011.

My new favorite “It” girl is Bridget Regan. Don’t worry, Fang’s Bites still loves Charissa Thompson.

December 2008

The NFL continued to be that 800 lb. ratings gorilla as Sunday Night Football’s flex scheduling helped to give NBC great numbers.

MLB Network started a 10 day countdown to its launch and also announced that it would show Dan Larsen’s perfect game from the 1956 World Series including the original commercials.

HBO had another stirring sports documentary with “Breaking The Huddle: The Integration of College Football”.

And as we ended the year, we found out that Mike Emrick would not call the NHL Winter Classic due to laryngitis.

Overall, it was another fantasic year for sports. It was fun to cover it for you and I hope you’ll continue to visit in 2009. Happy New Year and best wishes to you.

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