All posts by Chuck Hildebrandt

I am the chair of SABR's Baseball and the Media committee.

One Option for Cubs in Post-WGN-TV World: Run Their Own Multicast Channel

Ed Sherman has written a couple of pretty good articles, both at his website and in the Chicago Tribune, about what the Cubs might do if they opt out of their agreement WGN-TV to carry 70-75 games per year: operate their own multicast channel.

(To be clear, this is a different deal than the WGN radio situation, in which the Cubs dumped ‘GN for WBBM-AM and the CBS promotional muscle behind it.)

A multicast channel is what “over the air” (OTA) TV has become in the wake of the move to all digital television for US stations in 2009.  Now the main TV channels are all “dash ones” (e.g., 2-1, 5-1, 7-1, etc.), and many of these channels carry subchannels (e.g., 5-2, 5-3, etc.) that feature additional programming, usually old TV shows and movies, cooking shows, or infomercials.

With options for OTA relatively scant—the Cubs can’t move the games over to Comcast SportsNet Chicago (CSN) because, frankly, CSN doesn’t want ’em, and no channel that’s a network affiliate can be expected to take them on—the Cubs would either have to go to a another local channel with less reach (such as WCIU-TV 26 or WPWR-TV 50); go crawling back to WGN and accept their newly suggested arrangement with less guaranteed money and more revenue sharing; or, again, start their own multicast channel, which sounds cool at first thought but would have the potential problem of not getting sufficient carriage by satellite and cable providers to warrant the startup and operational expense.

The Cubs have seemed to put themselves in a fairly bad bind, and the underlying reason for the bind is that, to be blunt, the Cubs suck (or at least they are perceived to suck), sporting one of the worst records in the majors this year.  Add to that the huge gamble being taken by the club to allow the big league club to flounder while relying on certain recent draft picks to take them to the Promised Land, a gamble that have led a lot of longtime Cubs fans to cool their ardor toward the team, and the prospects for the Cubs to generate significant TV revenue looks a lot more iffy now than it did when they presumably sketched out the idea on a bar napkin at a quarter to two in the morning one night some years ago.

Here are links to Sherman’s articles:

Cubs exploring multicast TV outlets for games

Multicast station? Cubs could leave WGN TV for highly unconventional outlet

Rangers Beat Writer Durrett Dead at 38

Richard Durrett, a Texas Rangers beat writer for ESPNDallas.com, passed away Tuesday at the age of 38.  The cause of death has not yet been officially announced, but reports unconfirmed as of Wednesday mid-afternoon are that the cause was a brain aneurysm.  Services are pending.

ESPNDallas.com Richard Durrett died Tuesday at the age of 38.

Prior to joining ESPN in September 2009, Durrett was at The Dallas Morning News for nine years, and was previously sports editor at the Record-Chronicle in Denton, Texas. In addition, he hosted a radio show on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM with Ian Fitzsimmons for a number of years.

It is always jarring to hear of anyone so young dying so suddenly, and at the hand of a cause that could happen to anyone anytime, and which strikes without warning.   Durrett is survived by his wife, Kelly, and two children.  If you are inclined to, you can say a prayer or hold a good thought for his survivors.  Or, if you are more into action than thoughts, you can donate to a fund set up to benefit the Durrett family on the Rangers website, at texasrangers.com/foundation.

Read more about this story here:

ESPN Dallas’ Richard Durrett dies suddenly at age 38

ESPN Dallas’ Richard Durrett dies

Richard Durrett has left us too soon

Report: Weak Ratings for MLB on Fox So Far in 2014

From Sports Business Daily comes the news that it’s not all good for Fox as far as MLB’s appeal as a TV program is concerned so far this year.

Saturday regional MLB games earned a 1.6 overnight rating, which is -22% lower than last year’s 2.2 and -39% lower than 2012’s 2.6.  The 1.6 is the third lowest ever for a primetime MLB game on Fox, and the two lower numbers came from broadcasts earlier this year.

Read more at:

Sports Media Watch

Sports Business Daily (subscription required)

Here’s a Nice Feature Piece on Vin Scully

Here’s a link to a lovely long-form feature by Cee Angi about he who is arguably, although increasingly inarguably, the greatest broadcaster in the history of baseball:

We’ve Been Friends Long Enough You’ll Understand’: Vin Scully, Baseball’s Longest-Tenured and Most Eloquent Broadcaster, is Still Looking To Make a Connection

What struck us most while reading this piece is that, even after sixty-five years of calling games, Mr. Scully is still as dedicated to the prep work of each broadcast as he ever has been.

Here’s our favorite inexplicable photo from the piece:

 

We don’t know why, either.

Here is a bonus video of Mr. Scully at work, from April 1984:

Chicago Broadcast Update: And the Hits Just Keep Coming?

This morning’s Chicago Tribune has a front page story on the potential for the Cubs moving their broadcast (i.e., over-the-air) games, currently on WGN-TV, to another station in the market beginning with 2015.  Possible other TV affiliates, according to the article, might include WPWR-TV (channel 50) and WCIU-TV (channel 26), the latter of which already carries eight overflow Cubs games on behalf of WGN-TV.

I don’t believe the article is breaking any news here, since last year the Cubs exercise their right to pull out of the current WGN-TV deal after the 2014 season, given the current rash of ever-escalating rights deal being signed by teams.  But given the events of the last few days, the paper saw fit to make hay on the story and resurrect to take advantage of exquisite timing.

That said, it is valid to bring up, and the article points out why: for a supposedly big market team that is the darling of so many fans across the country, let alone the city and the state, the Cubs make far less per game on TV rights than other teams of its size.  For example, the article points out that the Los Angeles Dodgers make about $2 million per game in TV rights on their new deal, while the Cubs make just $500,000 per game that runs on Comcast SportsNet, their RSN partner, and about half that for games running on WGN and WCIU, which makes up about half the schedule.

Read all about it here:

Chicago Cubs seeking new TV home, may leave WGN-TV

Pablo Sandoval Owes Reds Beat Reporter A New Laptop

Well, this is a hell of an occupational hazard for a baseball beat reporter.

During the top of the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s Giants/Reds tilt in Cincinnati, Pablo Sandoval fouled one up into the press box.  There are lots of targets up there, and the ball found one in Mark Sheldon’s Thinkpad.

Check out the priceless reaction:

 

Sheldon’s subsequent tweet indicates a confirmed kill:

The Reds won the game, 8-3, although it’s a little unclear as to how Sheldon communicated as much to MLB.com.

(h/t Business Insider)

 

Big Changes for Chicago Team Broadcasts

Two big stories have broken in the past week regarding the broadcast of games for Chicago baseball teams.

First, WGN America announced that they were dropping Cubs and White Sox broadcasts entirely, terminating with the end of the 2014 season.  WGN is the superstation that so many of us watched Cubs games on when we first got cable two or three decades ago.  WGN Superstation signed onto the a … or, cable … in 1978, and Cubs games were a staple of the schedule.  Lots of people between the ages of 30 and 45 remember coming home from school, flipping on the Superstation and hearing Harry Caray and Steve Stone (and sometimes Milo Hamilton, Thom Brennaman or DeWayne Staats) regaling viewers and seeing beauty shots of historic Wrigley Field.  It’s the sole reason many out of towners became Cubs fans in the first place.  In 1990 WGN started running the White Sox as well, and although many fewer non-Chicagoans became Sox fans as a result, it did provide them a national platform few other teams could claim.

But in the brave new world of new media, with MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV at our easy disposal, WGN America has slipped into irrelevancy when considering on which channel to watch Cubs and White Sox games.   Despite that WGN America is running 71 Cubs game and 32 White Sox in 2014, the decision comes down to ratings.  That is, neither the Cubs nor Sox generate sufficient ratings to justify continuing to air them.  And so WGN America-slash-Superstation is focusing their efforts on another general audience basic cable network because, you know, we need another one of those.

Read more about this here:

WGN America to drop Chicago sports

Report: WGN America To Drop Cubs, Chicago Sports Programming

On the radio front, it’s the Cubs doing the dropping as they have informed WGN radio that they no longer wish to continue their 90-year marriage, with the Cubs moving to WBBM-AM starting in 2015. Itself a 50,000 watt station with multiple state coverage, in theory the Cubs should not lose anything in the way of listenership with the move.  But again, in this age of online radio coverage (especially through MLB’s super popular At Bat app) coupled with baseball games broadcast on satellite radio giant SiriusXM, it may not be an altogether relevant change.  Don’t feel too bad for WGN for getting shut out by the Cubs, though: they precipitated the move by exercising their contractual option to re-do the deal to keep the team on, because of low ratings brought on by a frankly terrible team that locals are losing interest in, in droves.

Read more about this move here:

Cubs dropping WGN Radio for WBBM-AM

One unintended effect of these two moves is that it completely screws up the Cubs anthem played in the ballpark whenever the team wins.  The song, “Go Cubs Go” by Steve , mentions WGN explicitly in the title, although to be fair, this anthem is already fouled up since it suggests that you can “catch [all the action] on WGN”, which hasn’t been true on the TV side of the house for twenty years now.

Radio move from WGN fouls up ‘Go, Cubs, Go’ anthem

 

Will She Be The First Ever (Serious) Female PxP Announcer in MLB Someday?

While there are seemingly countless female sideline reporters in all sports, including baseball, there is, regrettably, only one female color commentator in the major leagues: Suzyn Waldman, who provides relief to (from?) John Sterling during the Yankees’ radio broadcast on WCBS-AM.

This is not only a 21st century phenomenon.  Fifty years ago, Betty Caywood was the first broadcaster to do major league games, doing color for the Kansas City A’s for a few games toward the end of the 1964 season.  A decade and change later, Mary Shane was the first to do play by play for a big league game, for the Chicago White Sox in 1977, to less than glowing reviews.  The latter may have been serious in her pursuit of baseball announcing work, but they were both regarded by their employers as merely novelties, and neither were kept on for another season.

On the other hand, Waldman is a solidly professional and knowledgeable commentator, to the degree that listeners forget they’re listening to a woman, which is of course the goal.   She is setting a standard for professionalism among women in baseball broadcasting that could help draw more distaff representation behind the mic.

And perhaps the best female candidate to make that leap next is doing play by play for the Clearwater Threshers in the Florida State League.  Her name is Kirsten Karbach, she’s in her early twenties, and while this is her first full season doing Threshers games, she also did some play by play for the Charlotte Stone Crabs in 2012.

There’s a full article about Karbach here, where you can learn a little more about her background, but if you’re like us, what you really want is to hear Karbach in action, right?  How does she actually sound doing PxP?

There are two ways to get a handle on Karbach’s capabilities.  You can tune in to Threshers games online, for all home games and select road games, by clicking on this link while they are playing.

Or, if you really want to hear Karbach in action but the Threshers don’t happen to be playing at this very moment, you can tune in to her demo reel:

The first two and a half minutes represent highlight calls, but you can get a decent feel for Karbach’s ongoing style afterward as she settles down to do a typical inning.

h/t to The Sherman Report.

 

 

SABR members, get 20% discount for 2014 MLB.TV subscription

If you’re a SABR member–and if you’re on this web page right now, there’s a pretty good chance you are–you are eligible for a 20% discount toward an MLB.TV premium monthly subscription.

Premium monthly subscribers can watch every 2014 Regular Season out-of-market game LIVE or on-demand in HD Quality, and can choose from home or away broadcasts, on many of the most popular devices such as iPhone, iPad, Android phones, Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation, regular old laptop and desktop computers, and more. With a premium subscription, you can watch up to four games at once with Mosaic, and take advantage of DVR functionality that lets you pause or rewind live games.

Interested?  Click the link or image below for more details:

SABR members, get 20% discount for 2014 MLB.TV subscription

(Please note that this is a discount off the monthly subscription and not the yearly subscription.)

Fox Press Release Consolidates the Main Details on 2014 MLB Broadcasts

There have been a lot of scattershot stories and tweets from various sources reporting who will be making up the broadcast team, studio analysts and other talent for Fox’s various baseball products airing during the season.   Earlier today, Fox themselves released the key details for their MLB broadcasts to the press.

In a nutshell:

  • Joe Buck, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci will be the “Lead Game Broadcast Team”; Ken Rosenthal and Erin Andrews will continue on as on-field reporters all season.  Kenny Albert and Thom Brennaman will also take on play-by-play assignments during the season.
  • Kevin Burkhardt will host the new pregame show; Frank Thomas, Eric Karros, Gabe Kapler and C.J. Nitkowski will also join as analysts.
  • A new weeknightly show called “MLB WHIPAROUND” (all caps sic) will debut on FS1 starting on March 31, hosted by Chris Myers along with one or two of the analysts named above, and will feature “quick-turnaround highlights of in-progress games, news and analysis”. 

Read more here:

MLB on FOX Ushers in New Era