ESPN suing Conference USA

(April 1, 2011) ESPN filed a lawsuit against Conference USA in Manhattan federal court today, alleging that the conference did not fulfill its contractual obligations to the network when it sold its TV rights to Fox in January. ESPN’s suit alleges that the two sides reached an agreement in principle. ESPN also claims that Conference USA never gave it a final offer to consider; ESPN says its original contract mandates that it should have been given that right.

“Rights agreements are at the core of our industry,” said ESPN Senior VP/College Sports Programming Burke Magnus. “ESPN and Conference USA reached an agreement on a new extension after a prolonged negotiation. The conference then changed their position out of the blue and reneged on that agreement. At best, they violated our right to be given an opportunity to consider a final offer.” Conference USA on Jan. 5 announced a $43M media rights deal with Fox.

The basis of ESPN’s complaint, as SportsBusiness Journal has previously reported, is that ESPN and C-USA had a meeting as late as Dec. 23 to negotiate final points of their potential deal. On Jan. 4, however, C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky called ESPN execs to say that the conference’s presidents elected to explore other opportunities. The conference the following day announced its deal with Fox. In ensuing weeks, Conference USA brokered talks between ESPN and Fox to try and find a compromise that would allow both networks to share games; none was reached.

As part of the Fox deal, it picks up the rights to a minimum of 20 regular-season football games, including the football championship game that will be televised on Fox, FSN or FX. The deal also includes a minimum of 10 regular-season basketball games. When it announced the Fox deal, Conference USA hyped the nearly 100% increase in rights fees.

It also was happy that Fox would not make its football teams play regularly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday nights, as they sometimes did on ESPN. The Fox deal does call for some games on Thursday nights.

Read more at Sports Business Daily where this story was originally published.

Phillies launch HD Radio multicast

(April 1, 2011) The Philadelphia Phillies and CBS RADIO’s WOGL are teaming up to launch the “Phillies 24/7”, the first ever HD Radio multicast station exclusively dedicated to a Major League Baseball team. Phillies 24/7 will air continuously throughout the year and feature live play-by-play of every regular season Phillies game on-air at 98.1 WOGL HD4, plus game re-broadcasts the following morning at 9am. The channel will launch today when the Phillies take on the Houston Astros in their home opener (1:05pm).

CBS RADIO’s WPHT serves as the Phillies radio broadcast flagship, a position they’ve held since 2005 after previously holding that title from 1982-2001. Marc Rayfield, Senior Vice President of CBS RADIO Philadelphia said “We are thrilled to embark upon this new endeavor with the Phillies. There is an insatiable appetite for this team, and CBS RADIO’s HD platform allows us to use new technology to bring Phillies related content to their fans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And the best part is it’s free!”

Read more at Radio Ink where this story was originally published.

ESPN 700 shoots to No. 1

(April 1, 2011) ESPN 700 Sports Radio shot to No. 1 atop the region’s sports-talk radio stations, as the 50,000-watt station (a home for both the University of Utah and Real Salt Lake) swept every ranker for the most-desirable media demographic, Men 18-34, in the recently released February Arbitron ratings.

The station’s afternoon drive slot, featuring the locally-produced “Bill & Spence Show” from 2 -6 p.m. – was rated No. 1 for Men 18+ for the second consecutive monthly book, in addition to again ranking atop Men 18-34

. The nationally-syndicated “Dan Patrick Show” – which runs from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. – ranked No. 1 in both 18+ and 18-34 once again, while ESPN Radio’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd,” moved atop the ratings to give ESPN 700 Radio Salt Lake City a clean sweep across the board for each daypart among Men 18-34.

“In our first year as an ESPN Radio property, we have successfully mixed the national properties offered by the top content provider in all of sports with local discussion centered around – but not limited to – the Utes and RSL,” said ESPN 700 General Manager John Kimball, in a press release. “Our coverage of the Utah Jazz, BYU sports, as well as the national connections that Bill and Spence bring to our NBA and pop culture discussions, resonate with the listeners. On top of that, every day we interview the best guest list anywhere in Utah sports.”

ESPN 700 Sports Radio is the where local head coaches and senior decision-makers give their exclusive takes, as Real Salt Lake boss Jason Kreis (Tuesday) and Utah Football’s Kyle Whittingham (Thursday) join Bill Riley for weekly coach’s shows, as will the soon-to-be-announced Utah Men’s Basketball Head Coach.

Read more at the Salt Lake Tribune where this story was originally published.

Houston's Arbitrons remain same

(April 1, 2011) It’s mostly status quo in the February Arbitrons. KILT (610 AM) leads the four local sports stations with an average weekly cumulative audience of 240,500, followed by KBME (790 AM) at 147,600, KFNC (97.5 FM) at 131,000 and KGOW (1560 AM) at 33,300. Once again, the combined total of 552,400 wouldn’t crack the top 15 among all stations, led by KODA (99.1 FM) at 1.97 million.

KILT leads the four stations in morning drive, afternoon drive and evenings among men 25-54 but slipped to second, tied with KBME, behind KFNC at middays. … On the bottom line front, Clear Channel, which owns KBME, says revenue for its six Houston stations is up 18.6 percent over 2010 through February. CBS Radio, which owns KILT, is up 11.5 percent and Cumulus, which owns KFNC, is up 0.6 percent. KGOW does not report revenues to Miller Kaplan, the accounting firm that tracks the radio industry.

Read more at the Houston Chronicle where this story was originally published.

Jay Randolph returns

(April 1, 2011) Jay Randolph lost his job as a Cardinals television play-by-play voice when Fox Sports Midwest took over the team’s entire local TV package this season, eliminating the approximately 20 games he broadcast on KSDK (Channel 5). He had broadcast the team for 21 seasons, over two stints, and it looked as if his ties to covering the team were done.

But he’s coming back to the airwaves, albeit not on play-by-play. FSM has hired him to work occasionally on its pregame programming and among his assignments will be conversations with Redbirds standouts of the past, interviews with Cards manager Tony La Russa, pieces about “Cardinal Nation” and some narration work.

“It’s a comfortable jacket of familiarity with Jay’s voice,” FSM executive producer Kevin Landy said. “It’s a good fit.”

Read more at the St. Louis Post Dispatch where this story was originally published.

FSM flubs opening ceremonies again

(April 1, 2011) For the second year in a row, Fox Sports Midwest is apologizing for a snafu in its coverage of the pregame festivities at the Cardinals’ home opener.

As the players in the starting lineup were being introduced Thursday, FSM cut to a taped introduction of the game telecast, then went to commentary from the announcers in the broadcast booth just after No. 3 hitter Albert Pujols — who has been the subject of contract haggling that has angered some fans — received loud cheers from the crowd.

Viewers were left in the dark as the rest of the lineup was introduced, later being told that Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman received big receptions. Then those wanting to see former Cardinal Jim Edmonds throw out the ceremonial first pitch got just an abbreviated shot of that — with the added aggravation of ads popping on and off the screen to obliterate much of that.

“The ceremony ran long, which made it difficult to fit everything in before first pitch,” FSM general manager and senior vice president Jack Donovan said in a statement. “It was a mistake for us to cut away during the introduction of the lineup, and we apologize to Cardinals fans.”

Last year, the most anticipated moment of the festivities was how the crowd would react to the introduction of new Cards hitting coach Mark McGwire, who not long before had admitted using performance-enhancing substances during his playing days. But just as he was about to be introduced, FSM went to an interview with nondescript outfielder Joe Mather, then coverage of the introductions resumed after McGwire was done. That led some fans to think there was a cover-up in case McGwire was booed. Donovan said then that wasn’t the case, that FSM’s timing was off because those ceremonies also ran long.

“We’re covering a live event and at live events things happen,” he said then.

St. Louis Post Dispatch where this story was originally published.

Rizzs carries Niehaus' legacy into season

(April 1, 2011) Rick Rizzs carries a wallet-sized photo of Dave Niehaus everywhere he goes. Sometimes he pulls out the picture, gazes at the smiling face of his friend and mentor and talks to it with unabashed sincerity.

“Dave, help me out here,” Rizzs will say. “Help me do the best I can.”

Decades of lessons about sports broadcasting will come rushing back. Be yourself. Have fun. Respect the game. If it isn’t a good baseball game, it doesn’t have to be a bad broadcast.

Rizzs knows Niehaus died last November, but don’t tell him that his buddy is gone. Niehaus is still here. Rizzs feels him, even at the goofiest of times. And the pupil is prepared to spend the next six months reminding you just how close the old legend remains.

“I’m dedicating this season to make sure that Dave’s memory stays alive this year,” Rizzs says. “He’s looking at me right now, and he’s got that smile on his face.”

My, oh my, what a thought.

That day is here, sadly. You’ve known it was coming for nearly five months. The Mariners will play their first official game without Niehaus on Friday night against Oakland. The voice of a franchise that clung to his vocal chords for 34 years has been muted. Your friend can’t help you digest the Mariners’ misery anymore. The next time the Mariners hit a grand slam, he won’t be able to make you crave salami with rye bread and mustard.

Instead of a singular Hall of Fame presence, pieces of Niehaus are now sprinkled among the memories of those he touched. That number is in the thousands, maybe even the millions. Something special and enduring now lifts a legacy.

Rizzs, who started working with Niehaus in 1983, gets to be the connector of this group as the Mariners’ lead radio voice. It’s a challenge Rizzs embraces even as he continues to mourn. He gave a moving, tearful tribute to Niehaus during a December remembrance, and in an interview Thursday, he fought with his emotions again.

The hardest part isn’t trying to replace a legend. Rizzs knows that’s impossible. He had a stint with the Detroit Tigers from 1992 to 1994, and when the franchise tried to force out the beloved Ernie Harwell, Rizzs was left in a no-win situation. By 1995, he was back with Niehaus and the Mariners.

So Rizzs doesn’t look at himself as Niehaus’ replacement. The Mariners aren’t putting that pressure on him or Dave Sims, who will handle the play-by-play on television. You shouldn’t either. Rather than enveloping them in Niehaus’ shadow, rather than making comparisons and declaring they’re not good enough, it’s best to let Rizzs and Sims honor Niehaus in the best way they know: by staying true to themselves and providing entertaining broadcasts in their own way.

That was always Niehaus’ advice to Rizzs. Beyourself.You’reRickRizzs.That’senough.But more than the words of wisdom, Rizzs wishes he could get a knock on the door, open it and hear what Niehaus probably said to him the most during their 25 years working together.

“Hey, where do you wanna go have lunch?”

During this road trip, they often would go to their favorite cafe in San Francisco. Those memories hurt Rizzs the most.

“He meant so much to me,” Rizzs said. “He had his health issues, but I never thought he would be gone on Nov. 10. I miss the joy of his laughter, his love of the game, the stories that he told. I mean, he got me to Seattle twice. I owe him so much. In quiet moments, I’ll think about him and feel so sad.”

Every first has been difficult. First day at spring training. First broadcast from spring training. First road trip. Now, the first real game.

But, in baseball, the one certainty is that the games will go on unceasingly. Niehaus, who died of a heart attack at age 75, knew this better than anyone. And for 34 years in Seattle, he crafted his legacy by always being there for the listeners through losing streak or Griffey homer streak, through the forgettable or The Double, through a meaningless game in April or a rare playoff game in October.

The games must be played, even without him. And the standard of the broadcasts must remain high. Rizzs understands he is now a steward of excellence.

“I just want the fans to know that he’s going to be in the booth,” Rizzs said. “I can’t wait for our first grand slam. It’s not just going to be, ‘Goodbye, baseball!’ Grandma is going to get out the rye bread and mustard and make a salami sandwich.”

When it happens, Rizzs will be talking to the audience and to a friend who remains as close as a photo tucked neatly into a wallet.

Read more at the Seattle Times where this story was originally published.

Scully's stamp is everywhere

Courtesy of Courtesy the Los Angeles Daily News

(April 1, 2011) Following up on the response to a column we did in January — enlist broadcasters from across the board to tell us what they can learn about the craft of play-by-play by listening to Vin Scully do a game today at the age of 83 — we’ve had more responses that we wanted to include as the Dodgers start the 2011 season, with Vin doing the first and last three innings on KABC-AM (790) for Thursday’s opener against the Giants from Dodger Stadium that’ll be on ESPN:

Dick Enberg, Emmy winning voice of all major sports for CBS, NBC and ESPN for the last 50-plus years, a former play-by-play for the California Angels and UCLA basketball, the one-time assistant baseball coach at San Fernando Valley State College (now Cal State Northridge), and current voice of the San Diego Padres:

“Returning to the game last season and being able to observe Vin in action, I was totally impressed with the fact that he is one of the first to the ballpark. He is outstanding at 83, because he works at it.

“He anticipates and is prepped to make the right call because he invests time in thorough preparation. His greatness isn’t an accident. One would think that a man of his enormous talent could walk into the booth, grab a scorecard, the media notes, and do the broadcast. And Vin could…and we wouldn’t know the difference. But HE would.

“His professional pride and drive for excellence is born out of relishing his homework. Simple stuff, but applicable to anyone, young or old, in our profession. I have learned the same lesson.

“Get there early and know as much about that single game as you can. That combined with talent and experience can help author a winning performance.”

Mike Breen, the ABC voice of the NBA and, like Scully, a Fordham University graduate:

“After all these years — what has it been, 60-plus? — every single game is done with such energy so no matter when the game is played, if the Dodgers are in a playoff race or it’s spring training, there’s still the feeling that there’s no other place he’d rather be than in that booth. To me, that’s the greatest compliment you can give. You want people who are watching and listening to know: I’m in the best place there can possibly be. Anyone who’s done this (play-by-play) knows they have other things going on in their lives, things that are on their mind outside the booth. But to come in with that same attitude night after night, that’s a thing that’s very underrated. It’s a very hard thing to do.

“Also, here’s a man with one of the most wonderful voices on the planet, let alone in broadcasting, but he makes silence a big part of who he is. If he didn’t stop talking, no one would complain. But silence is a major part of his style. There was a game I was watching him do, when it was decided on the final at-bat. He didn’t say a word the whole at-bat until it was strike three and the game was over. That was the most magnificent silence you could have, with the tension building, and the crowd into it. And he doesn’t say a word. It was absolutely brilliant. When you get a chance to listen to him, it’s just amazing what silence can do to enhance the moment. In an NBA game, you can maybe do it when there’s a big shot, instead of trying to scream over the play. That’s as important as anything.

“The other thing you can learn is that you can’t do it like him. As much as you want to copy and learn, God gave him a talent that He didn’t give to anyone else. As much as we may try to be like him, it’s impossible.”

Bob Papa, voice of the NFL’s New York Giants and the lead play-by-play for the NFL Network who has also done boxing for HBO, does an NFL daily radio show and hosts the Masters for Sirius-XM Radio (and is also a Fordham alum):

“One of the great joys of being on the road is coming to the West Coast, flipping on the TV and if there’s a Dodger game, there’s the warm and comforting voice of Vin Scully.

“Everytime I hear him, I go through a checklist of reminders as a broadcaster: Preparation, letting the game breathe, be understated, let the fans enjoy the competition. They’re not tuning in to hear me scream.

“And with him as a Fordham man, there’s that connection we have, so whenever there’s a chance just to be around him, he adds so much style. Not just with baseball. Remember when he called golf for NBC? Or the NFL on CBS? There was a certain dignity about the event, no matter what the stakes. That resonated with me. He always has the same even keel and temperament. In a way, he really is the voice of sanity.”

Bill Macdonald, a Prime Ticket/FSW employee since the start of the network 25 years ago, calling USC and UCLA football and basketball, the Arena League Avengers, and a fill-in on Lakers TV and radio:

“Growing up in Southern California, like many others, Vin was one of the voices of my childhood along with Chick and Dick Enberg. And consequently was one of the reasons I fell in love with not only sports but sportscasting.

“His command of the English language is remarkable and the eloquence and class with which he delivers those words mixed in with just the right amount of excitement and drama for a sporting event is unmatched.

“After all these years the passion and excitement he has for the job, for baseball, and most of all for the fans is inspiring.

“Baseball has a much different rhythm than other sports, and not only does Vin have probably more material to choose from when providing information or storytelling, but it’s the way he seamlessly integrates and weaves those stories and anecdotes throughout the course of his play by play which is the perfect model for a broadcaster.

“Plus, the time and patience he has for all who want to stop and say hello to him, wish him well, take a picture, relay a story … it’s wonderful to see as he is gracious with and to everyone. It’s been great just getting to know him a bit over the years on a personal level and be able to hang out with him at the ballpark as just one of the fellas. That’s a Vin Scully that can be a lot of fun.”

Randy Rosenbloom, the Valley-based sports director at LA 36, the radio voice of Fresno State basketball, and a three-time Olympic broadcaster for NBC on volleyball and rowing from 1992-2004, in addition to calling college football, college basketball and Wimbledon:

“I’ve been listening to Vin Scully since the 1959 World Series when the Dodgers defeated the Chicago White Sox. For over a half century he has made a great impression on me and his fan base.

“Everyone knows that he is the master of his craft painting a picture as a play-by-play announcer. But what makes him rise above the rest? Without question, it his great ability to talk to you on a very personal level. He is unparalleled at having a conversation with you, and you thinking it’s just you and him.

“You always hear broadcasters say they want to talk to you like it’s two guys in the bar. Well, Vinnie does that except he does it with a sensational vocabulary and a terrific voice.

“I’ll give you two examples of him telling a story. In both instances he is clever if not brilliant and more importantly he is speaking right to you. In 1991, Andre Dawson steps to the plate and Vinnie says he has a bruised knee and is listed ‘as day to day … but aren’t we all?’ It’s the ‘we’ that ties the story and the listening public together.

“In 1989, Vinnie says, ‘How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.’ Again he brings you in by including ‘your’ breath.

“It is a lost art being in the media and being your listeners or viewers best friend. Vin Scully has never lost sight of that and because of that precise point he has millions of listeners who don’t just hear him but feel like he is one of their closest buddies.”

Chris “Geeter” McGee, a sideline reporter at FSW who has developed into dong play-by-play on college basketball and high school sports:

“Vin Scully has positively influenced so many of us in the play by play world. Being from Southern California, I, like so many others, grew up on Vin, and tried to imitate him while playing and watching sports when I was a kid.

“There are a couple of things that stick out when I think of Vin. His ability to punctuate a dramatic moment in a subtle way is remarkable. When Nomar (Garciaparra) hit the home run to win the game in extra innings after the Dodgers had hit four in a row to tie in the bottom of the ninth a few years ago, he let the crowd noise engage the audience without a word spoken and then as he rounded second base Vin simply said: ‘And the Dodgers are now in first place.’

“Of course, his most famous one, in my opinion, was after Kirk Gibson’s home run won Game 1 of the ’88 World Series. The ball flies into the stands and Vin makes the call: ‘She is gone’ … He waits silently until just the right moment during the Gibson trot around the bases and says: ‘In the year of the improbable, the impossible has happened.’

“I also think nobody tells a story better than Vin. His pace, his timing, and the ability to make you care about the person are second to none. Vin as the ultimate gift of history and knowledge on his side. He has lived all these moments and stories and can make us, the listener, feel like we were there with him.”

STAA client Sam Farber, play-by-play man for the Single-A Inland Empire 66ers:

“Vin Scully’s ability to weave a player’s backstory into the play-by-play is legendary. Personal facts buried so deep in a player’s biography that a dedicated investigative reporter would have trouble finding them sound as if they’re always on the tip of Vin Scully’s tongue. That’s not just for the superstars, that’s for the mid-season call ups and journeyman additions as well.

“Vin Scully has inspired a love of the game in generations of baseball fans, but for me as a broadcaster he shows that it takes more than a good voice to be a great broadcaster. To acquire those hidden gems that help make a random new addition to the Dodgers important to the fans, Vin Scully has to plain outwork his peers to discover the info no one else takes the time to find. He’s been doing that for decades and he inspires me to do the same.”

Read more at the Los Angeles Daily News where this story was originally published.

Vasko to broadcast Slammers baseball

Mark Vasko(April 5, 2011) The Joliet Slammers are partnering with 1340-WJOL to bring fans every game over the air and on the web for the 2011 season.

STAA client Mark Vasko, a long-time Chicago sportscaster, will team up with Slammers President and former Texas Lutheran baseball player Bill Waliewski to call the action.

“I’m excited about getting the chance to come back to Joliet,” Vasko said. “I love what the Slammers have done so far, bringing back so many local names, and I feel like we’re in for a special year.”

Vasko spent four years working as a broadcaster for the Joliet Jackhammers. He brings a total of 12 years of professional baseball play-by-play experience to the table. Vasko also spent time broadcasting for the Kane County Cougars and has experience in the Frontier League with the Cook County Cheetahs (now known as the Windy City Thunderbolts).

Vasko has also excelled as a sports talk show host during his career. Most recently, he hosted a national show on the Sporting News Radio Network. His reporting is well known to Chicago fans as he’s handled the scoreboard updates for Boers and Bernstein on the “Score.” Vasko’s earlier experience as a beat reporter gave him the chance to cover the Chicago Cubs and the 1998 home run chase for WBBM. The Southern Illinois University-Carbondale graduate has been covering sports in the Chicago area since 1985. He currently does play by play for a variety of sports at Lewis and Benedictine University.

(Visit Mark’s STAA Talent Page).

Doty networks his way to Class-AA

Graham Doty(April 1, 2011) Once again, networking proves to be the best way to achieve success in the sportscasting job market. STAA client Graham Doty is joining the Mobile BayBears as a No. 2 broadcaster as a result of his networking efforts.

The BayBears are the Arizona Diamondbacks Class-AA affiliate. With them, Doty will work alongside Director of Broadcasting and fellow STAA client Wayne Randazzo.

In addition to his role on the play-by-play broadcasts for BayBears home games, Doty will work in sales and media relations, and will help on the BayBears website.

After spending last season as a No. 2 with the Class-A Hickory Crawdads, Doty is excited for his move up the minor league ladder. “I’m at the Double-A level and I’m doing a little bit of everything,” Doty grins.

Doty created his new opportunity by being aggressive.

“Last fall I sent out emails to a lot of Double-A and Class-A teams seeing if there would be any possible openings,” Doty says. “One of the teams was Mobile.”

The BayBears have not had a No. 2 broadcaster for the past several seasons and GM Bill Shanahan told Doty they weren’t sure if they were going to have one this year either.

Doty maintained contact with Shanahan, but several months later, still did not have a commitment. Again, Doty decided to be proactive. On his way to Mobile in late December for college football’s senior bowl, Doty stopped by the BayBears office.

“I got to the stadium on a Friday at 4:30, seriously doubting Mr. Shanahan would be there,” Doty says. “He came out of a meeting to talk to me and pretty much interviewed me right on the spot. Then I got a tour of the Hank Aaron museum and home [next door to the BayBears offices].”

Even though Doty felt encouraged after the visit, he still didn’t have an offer. Finally, after two more months that included an in-depth conversation with Randazzo, Doty was offered the job.

Doty credits STAA with assisting in his pursuit.

“STAA is helpful for a bunch of reasons,” he says. “Your Talent Page is online and it’s easy for people to go online, look at my resume and review my demo material. Number two, [STAA] is helpful because [CEO] Jon Chelesnik is always there for you no matter what you need and he always give you the best advice. Listening to what Jon says, especially about networking…good things will happen if you take his advice.”

(Visit Graham’s STAA Talent Page. Graham has also had his demo & resume constructed by STAA).