June 19, 2007

"The definition of winning has become distorted."

I must be in the minority. Maybe my head is stuck in the past. Whatever the reason, when I turn on sports channels, you'd think I'd see a game of some kind. As a sports fan, I enjoy sports. Doesn't really matter what (figure skating, you can have). Sadly, the recent years have given way to what I call "Talk Radio TV." The news channels were the first to go this route, and sports channels were the second. So, why does that fact get mentioned here?


As much as I've never understood the general public's obsession on TV ratings, it's these large hogs' connection that low ratings = bad games. Boring doesn't come into their equation. Neither does the possibility of good games sitting unwatched. This can be pleasantly surprising on occasion: this spring, a Wisconsin/Ohio State game on a Sunday afternoon on CBS was their highest in 3 years. The game, a down-to-the-buzzer contest, was a great game. When the ratings were in, I was happy to see basketball fans found the game. But, just like when a favorite show gets cancelled as no one else watches, it's frustrating.

For me, it's the constant inaccuracies I hear, see, and read. As a member of this profession, the following things need to be said.

1) Before we get into WHY the finals were so ignored, many comparisons were made to the swanky 1981 finals (Boston and Houston). Mind you, we had 4 games on tape delay, starting after the late local news in over HALF the viewing public. So, the 2007 finals rated lower than games that ALREADY HAPPENED shown at MIDNIGHT. Hell, games 3 and 4 were back to back on the weekend because the league could get some live games in because...

1a) The NBA was in a serious ratings funk...one that is getting very close to mirroring today. When a show airs in primetime, it has to be scheduled ahead of time like anything else. So, ensuring that games won't be played on weekend afternoons or weekend nights, Mr. Stern extends the season (and games in the playoff series) to absurd lengths. Did you know, if this were still going on, we'd be at game 6 tonight? With general ratings lower, it would make sense for a network to want the finals outside of the season. Is the solution to end the season sooner and take what you can get knowing you're bombing in primetime?

2) The great teams, when they're in the same conference, happens in cycles. When I was in high school (getting further and further away) the Eastern Conference was considered so dominant that some thought the playoffs should be changed to seed the best 16 teams, regardless of what conference. And now here we are, with the exact opposite happening. Same shit happens in the NFL. It ebbs and flows. But, just as a Texas Leaguer to right is scored the same as a screamer down the line, a 114-112 win is the same as 81-80.

3) Sadly, the league is at the mercy of the two teams within the finals. San Antonio seemed intent on playing the East Conference style of basketball, to no one's delight. Cleveland, who, in the East Finals had problems placing a tea bag into a cup, didn't bring much. And so many were ready to crown James...that he arrived...that he was READY for the finals. Well, physically, yeah. But as a Television draw, it's a big NO. Magic & Bird & Dr. J (among others)...it took them years to drag things up. Jordan? It was 6 seasons until his first title season, as his star level grew and grew. If the league is going to hang its hat on star players (instead of teams themselves) they have to live with it.

4) NBC, as their contract was ending, could see that things were going to fade. Their offer was lower than the previous, and Stern was not pleased, claiming that it would have been the first time a pro sports league's rights would have gone down contract to contract (not true...even for the NBA). ABC/ESPN/TNT said yes, which lead NBC Sports "head" Dick Ebersol to say:

"If winning the rights to a property brings with it hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, what have you won? When faced with the prospect of heavy financial losses, we have consistently walked away and have done so again."

(Editors note: You could ask Ebersol the same question about Sunday Night Football. Violating his own rule would lead to some interesting answers. Then again, he does the Olympics for NBC, and according to him, it's still 1976 in TV Land so...whatever.)

5) If ABC, and specifically ESPN is smart, wholesale changes need to be made for coverage of the league and games. Promotion needs to change to strictly stars that could be in the finals as the weeks lead up to it. The league may have to live with weekend afternoon playoff games again. And the NBA itself could do a little more to showcase their stars. I won't get into who that should be...I'll leave it to others. But I'm sure in your mind you can think of some that get regular work in ads for products more than NBA promotion. Just because Kobe isn't someone McDonald's want to use for selling their garbage, doesn't mean KG can't do an ad for Toyota or whatever.

There's acting and reacting...and if Stern continues to go the way of Gary Bettman and claim all is well at the top of the ship while the rest begins to go toward the water...it will be ugly.

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