Why this could affect everyone: Many Dodgers fans left in dark with new network

I did a comprehensive story for USA Today on the loom battle for distribution of SportsNet LA, the new 24/7 Dodgers channel in Los Angeles. The cable and satellite companies are balking at paying the high fee, which will be passed along to consumers.

The impasse has national implications. More so than ever before, the big carriers are pushing back more than ever before when it comes to adding additional sports networks.

From the story.


The website has been active for awhile, but the Los Angeles Dodgers and Time Warner Cable are counting on a surge in traffic this week.

SportsNet LA, a glitzy 24/7 Dodgers channel, made its debut Tuesday. However, a large segment of fans in the team’s viewing area weren’t able to view the rollout due to distribution issues with various cable and satellite companies.

Enter IneedmyDodgers.com. The site’s message is intent on rallying the sports TV brigade:

Your voice is important, so make sure you let your provider know you don’t want to miss any Dodgers games and programming on SportsNet LA.”

“We have a passionate fan base,” says Dodgers team president Stan Kasten. “I believe this network is what our fans want.”

But will they be able to get it – and at what price?

Time Warner Cable and the Dodgers are banking on it. The telecommunications behemoth is paying the club $8.35 billion over 25 years to run and distribute the network, which will televise at least 140 games this season.

And so the battle lines are being drawn in yet another showdown between a sports network and the major distributors. DirecTV, Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse are among the carriers balking at charging their subscribers $4.50-$5 month per month to carry SportsNet LA.

ESPN, by comparison, gets about $5.40 per home, TNT $1.20.

YES, the network of the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets, charges the highest fee for a regional sports network, at $3.20 per subscriber.

David Rone, TWC Sports president, won’t get into specifics about his network’s fee. As for negotiations over carriage deals for SportsNet LA, he said, “This is par for the course.”

Nothing, though, seems routine in the ever-changing sports TV landscape. Many distributors are saying enough is enough and declining to do deals with sports networks. DirecTV has yet to sign on to carry the Pac-12 Network. Comcast is the only major carrier to air Astros and Rockets games on the troubled Comcast SportsNet Houston.

Sticker shock

Coming up, the new SEC Network is expected to face significant distribution challenges when it debuts later this year, and the Big Ten Network will encounter resistance with its attempt to crack the regional markets of Maryland and Rutgers, which will begin conference play this fall.

Whether you love sports or couldn’t care less, ESPN and other national and local sports networks account for as much as $20 on consumers’ cable and satellite bills.

“Every time you turn around, there seems to be another sports network,” says David Carter, director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. “Consumers say, ‘We just spent $5 for this network last year, and now you want another $5 for another network?’ People are starting to feel some sticker shock.”


And here’s the link to the rest of the story.


Recalling the man who brought Harry Caray to the Cubs; changed course of franchise

Most Cubs fans never heard of James Dowdle. Few individuals had a greater impact on the Cubs with just one move.

It was Dowdle, a Tribune Co. executive, who brought Harry Caray over to the North Side in 1981. Thanks to the WGN Superstation, Caray became a national icon with the Cubs. In the process, he made Wrigley Field the place to be for fans in Chicago and beyond.

Dowdle died yesterday at the age of 79. Chicago Tribune baseball writer Paul Sullivan did a column on his decision to hire Caray, and how it almost didn’t happen because of resistance within Tribune Co.

Sullivan writes:

As head of Tribune broadcasting, Dowdle made the best off-field acquisition in Cubs’ history after the 1981 season, hiring the popular Caray away from the Sox despite opposition from other Tribune Co. executives. It turned a boring, losing franchise into an interesting, yet-still-losing team in 1983, before that sun-kissed summer of ’84.

Suddenly, Caray and the Cubs became must-see TV.

Caray’s shocking switch from the Sox to the Cubs was front page news in Chicago. Hard to believe now, but some weren’t sure Caray’s shtick would go over on the North Side.

“Being born and raised on the South Side, I learned that you can move from south to north,” Dowdle told me in ’98. “You just can’t move north to south. Harry’s enthusiasm was overwhelming, and one thing Cub fans have is enthusiasm. How could you not like someone with so much enthusiasm?”

The saga began in 1981 when Caray, upset with Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s decision to move their broadcasts to pay-TV in the future, made a call to some people he knew with the Cubs, asking if Tribune Co. would be interested in hiring him to replace the retiring Jack Brickhouse.

Dowdle was intrigued, but knew hiring the “Mayor of Rush Street” would be a tough sell to board members. During negotiations, the two ultimately kicked the lawyers out of the room and hashed it out themselves.

Dowdle summarized their discussion in a ’98 interview with former Tribune baseball columnist Jerome Holtzman:

“I said, ‘Harry, you can’t be running up and down Rush Street. And you can’t be as controversial as you have been. This is the Tribune Co. You have to have a lower profile.’ And Harry said, ‘I haven’t got as far as I am today by not listening to the guy in charge. If you don’t mind, I might disagree with you and give you my opinion. But you have the last say.'”


RIP Jim Fregosi: One of my all-time favorites; a truly memorable character

I covered the White Sox for the Chicago Tribune from 1986-88. They hardly were the glory years, as the Sox had three forgettable seasons.

Yet it was extremely memorable for me thanks to being able to spend time with Jim Fregosi. And I mean considerable time.

When you’re on the beat, you are with the manager more than just about anyone during the season, and that includes wives and girlfriends. Fregosi, who took over Sox manager in mid-’86, was a trip. He is high on the list of my all-time favorite people to cover in the sports.

Fregosi was fun and entertaining, with a seemingly endless array of stories, baseball and otherwise. He also was extremely well read, which made him have strong opinions on just about everything.

Back then, writers still were allowed to fly on the charters. I used to go up front and talk to Fregosi. He used to call me “Baseball Ed,” because I always was asking questions about the game. He would teach me about baseball, politics or the stock market. It was quite an education.

Fregosi was fired after the ’88 season and I moved on to cover college football. However, our paths crossed again when I covered the Cubs season opener in Philadelphia in 1992. Fregosi, who managed the Phillies, was thrilled to see me and Dave van Dyck, who then was working for the Sun-Times. He quickly informed us that he had given up smoking.

Well, it turned out to be a rough day for Fregosi. Not only did the Phillies lose, his big star, Lenny Dykstra, got hit by a pitch and promptly went on the disabled list.

After the game, van Dyck and I were waiting for a cab when Fregosi drove up.

“Where are you going?” he said.

When he heard we were headed for the airport, he said, “Jump in, I’ll give you a ride.” He then joined us for a drink at the bar, where he immediately pulled out a cigarette.

“What happened? I thought you quit smoking?” I said.

“Screw that,” Fregosi said. “I just lost my best player in the first game of the season.”

Classic Fregosi. RIP, old friend.


Ross Newhan, who covered Fregosi when he was a young star with the Angels, recalled one of baseball’s unique characters at his site.

Newhan writes:

I hope it is not corny, on this Valentine’s Day, to say that he lived his baseball and family life with a big heart, and I am saddened (how trite is that?) to think I will not be bumping into him in Anaheim and other ballparks, no longer exchanging phone calls, often just to say hello or listen to his latest story.

He was good at that, telling stories from a vast storehouse, and enjoyed interacting with the baseball scribes, his and my early years being a different time in the game, fewer microphones and cameras, no cell phones and internet, an easier breeding ground for trust between players and the men who covered them.

Mark Gonzales in the Chicago Tribune had this passage in his obit:

“He was really larger than life,” said childhood friend and longtime baseball evaluator Gary Hughes after learning that Fregosi, 71, died Friday after suffering a stroke earlier this week during a cruise in the Caribbean.

Hughes, a special assistant with the Red Sox, knew Fregosi from more than just their days playing in a Babe Ruth League in Redwood City, Calif.

The affable and opinionated Fregosi touched many lives, from schoolmates that he would join for fishing expeditions in the Seattle area, to former teammates and executives, to concierge lounge workers at hotels that he would tip generously during scouting missions.

“He took care of a lot of people, and he never made a big deal about it,” Hughes said. “He was the life of the party. You never had to worry about what his opinion was.”




Broadcaster for hire: Former Padres announcer on market just prior to start of season

Yes, it is a tough business.

Andy Masur recently got a tough reminder. A couple of weeks ago, the San Diego Padres informed him that they “were moving in another direction,” and that he wouldn’t be part of their broadcast plans for 2014. He spent seven years with the team.

“The timing of this move is not ideal obviously since spring training is starting next week,” Masur wrote in an email.

Masur, a Chicago native, asked if I could help him get the word out that he is available and ready to work somewhere else.

He writes: “I’m exploring all options, and I’m trying to get the word out to as many people as possible about my situation to cast a very large net over the industry in hopes it will bring my next great opportunity.  I’d love to stay in baseball, but I may have to forgo that this season and try again next.”

On his site, Masur wrote a farewell note to Padres fans. He writes:

I’m sure you’ve heard by now either via social media or somewhere else, that I am no longer with the San Diego Padres organization.  I was not offered a new contract after mine expired at the end of the 2013 season.  I was notified a couple of weeks ago, that there had been a “restructuring” of the broadcasting department and that I would not be a part of things moving forward.  It was very disappointing to hear this news, as I did not want to leave the Padres organization.  Today, I’m thinking back to all the good memories from my time with the team, to dwell on the “other” seems counterproductive. 

It’s been an emotional time for me, what with the passing of dear friend Jerry Coleman and now with the thought of saying so long to so many great people, it’s been rough.  I welcome a challenge, it’s something I’ve always done, something my parents taught me.  I will be fine. Trust me.

Masur is a solid announcer and a class guy. His phone will be ringing.


Say it ain’t so: Uecker to cut back on Brewers games this year

Well, the guy did just turn 79…

Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on Bob Uecker’s decision to do fewer games this year.

“It’s time,” Uecker said during a conference call with local reporters. “It’s time to enjoy the summer a little bit other than doing a baseball game and traveling.”

Uecker said Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio was among those who had encouraged him to cut back.

“Sooner or later you are going to have to bend a little bit,” Uecker said. “I’m not saying I’m not going to work games down to the end of the season if indeed there is the possibility of the playoffs or anything else. I’m going to do that. But now is the time for me to kind of take a few games off once in awhile and enjoy myself. Not that I don’t enjoy the games, because I do. You guys know that. I’m at home at the ball park as much as I am at my own house.”

Uecker is a treasure, as is Vin Scully in Los Angeles. Two greats still going strong deep in their final innings. Baseball fans are indeed blessed.

Jenny Dell, girlfriend of Will Middlebrooks, likely won’t be covering Red Sox for NESN

Chad Finn in the Boston Globe reports on a move that needed to be made:

(Jenny Dell) is in a weird sort of limbo. When asked if Dell would be part of Red Sox broadcasts this season, NESN spokesman Gary Roy confirmed with a statement that her role has changed:

“Jenny Dell, a multi-talented on-air personality, is anchoring NESN Sports Today and handling other assignments for NESN.”

That seems to confirm what an industry source told me Wednesday morning: that she was informed recently by NESN vice president of programming and production Joseph Maar that she would not be part of the Red Sox broadcast team this season.

Later Finn adds:

While a sideline reporter isn’t necessarily a journalist, the effect that fraternizing with the players has on genuine female journalists who have fought for access and credibility is palpable.

While it’s very hard to believe that their relationship was breaking news to NESN management, it certainly appears as though Dell’s status has been affected by either the backlash to that or perhaps her desire to work elsewhere. There was mutual interest between Dell and Fox Sports 1, though that appears to be in a holding pattern.

Indeed, if you are a journalist, male or female, you shouldn’t be mixing business with pleasure.

Boston media critic: Remy’s return to Red Sox booth is a mistake

Bruce Allen, who writes the Boston Sports Media Watch site, makes some good points about Jerry Remy returning to the Red Sox broadcast booth in the wake of his son being charged for murdering his girlfriend.

Allen writes:

Both Remy and NESN are fooling themselves if they think things will be able to just go back to normal. This isn’t going away. It’s going to be a very high profile case. There will be updates, both through the media, and to Remy personally. If something more comes out during the day, will Remy be able to go to the park that night and banter with Orsillo like everything is OK?


It’s going to be impossible for many viewers to listen to Remy this season without thinking of his family situation. It’s not fair, but when he jokes around and engages in his banter with Orsillo, some are going to object to that. At least one member of the Martel family has already said it will be tough to hear Remy in the booth.

Allen believes NESN should have made this decision, not Remy:

I often hear from viewers who say that Remy’s performance in the booth isn’t what it once was. It’s hard to argue that. Couple that with the health and emotional issues, and now this, it just doesn’t seem like this is the right move, for Remy or for NESN. He wanted to quit before, when those issues were fresh. Can he plow through this unaffected? I have serious doubts.

Indeed, it is a difficult situation in Boston. Despite what Remy said yesterday, there appears to be much more that will happen with this story.


Not cool: Conflict of interests abound with Boston TV sports reporter dating Red Sox’s Middlebrooks

Oh, the problems of mixing business and pleasure in sports media.

Kirk Minihane of WEEI.com has a piece on Jenny Dell, who covers the Red Sox for NESN. She now happens to be dating Will Middlebrooks.

Minihane writes:

On its own, who cares? Both are young, single, successful, attractive, well-liked by teammates and colleagues. Dell is hugely popular both among fans and people at NESN, and Middlebrooks has done much charity work in his short career with the Red Sox. And this is, last we checked, a free country. So let’s allow the kids some fun, stay out of the way, and see how it ends. Usually, I’m on board with that. As a libertarian that is exactly what I believe — I’m going to stay out of your business and you should stay away from mine. 

Except there’s the issue of conflict of interest.

Right. Reporters shouldn’t be dating the people they are reporting on. That goes for men and women. Minihane writes:

Put it another way: There is no way NESN’s coverage of the Red Sox can be taken seriously if Dell is allowed to return to that position. The already blurred lines will permanently be crossed. What’ll be next? Linda Pizzuti filling in for Jerry Remy? Tom Werner giving Tom Caron a night or two off?

Lots of times we don’t know right or wrong, but lots of times we do, and this sure is one. Now, it’s not wrong that Dell and Middlebrooks have feelings for each other. That’s life, the heart wants what it wants, all that. But a reporter cannot be in a romantic relationship with — much less living with — a player he or she is covering on a daily basis. That’s simply not how it works.

Minihane quotes another woman sports reporter in Boston.

Abby Chin is the sideline reporter for the Celtics on Comcast and had some interesting comments on the Dell-Middlebrooks relationship with an ESPN station in New Hampshire this week. “I just know for me and my mind-set, it’s not even an option,” Chin said. “I’ve crossed that pathway off completely. For me, personally, that’s how I deal with it. I’m not going to say that no player has ever hit on me, but it’s just not an option. I would immediately shut down any sort of request. It’s a bridge I’m not willing to cross. … Women in this business don’t get three strikes, they get one.”

Indeed, therein lies the problem for Chin and other woman sports reporters. Unfortunately, people tend to paint with a broad brush. What one woman sports reporter does can be a reflection on all of them.

This is not a good situation for not only Dell, but all women sports reporters.


Forget about silly mascot, real Cubs story is about TV future; Is Fox a player?

I have to assume the Cubs knew the roll out of their new mascot would be destroyed in the new media world. Keith Olbermann said it came with a proverbial “Kick me” sign. Then he did six minutes wasting poor Clark on last night’s show.

Posted for your viewing pleasure.

However, there’s another story taking place on the Cubs front that will have far more impact on the team’s future than the new mascot. The team currently is renegotiating its TV deal with WGN, which expires after this season.

In a Chicago Tribune column in July, I wrote that I heard Fox wasn’t a player in bidding for the Cubs rights at that time. I also said that could change.

Apparently, it has. Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago reports that the Cubs are in talks with Fox in a deal that could lead to new Cubs network in 2020.

Mooney writes:

Behind the scenes, sources say the Cubs are in talks with Fox about their broadcasting future, working on a deal that would end the WGN connection that built the team’s national brand and potentially lay the groundwork for a second regional sports network in Chicago.

The Cubs are locked into WGN for one more season, and Comcast SportsNet Chicago has exclusive cable rights through 2019. So one concept being discussed is a bridge deal that would put X-number of games on a local Fox affiliate during that five-year window, before taking the full schedule to a new channel in 2020.

At the very least, the presence of Fox gives the Cubs some leverage in the Chicago market. The team needs to figure out a way to cash in on the TV bonanza currently occurring for local TV rights. The Philadelphia Phillies recently signed a $2.5 billion, 25 year deal with Comcast Sports Net ($100 million per year)  that also includes an ownership stake in the station.

The Cubs are a bit hamstrung because they are negotiating a package for only half of their games; their cable deal with Comcast Sports Net Chicago runs through 2019. However, the Cubs have to strike now and for the future. Who knows if this sports cable TV bubble will burst?

So let everyone else laugh about the mascot. If you’re a Cubs fan, pay close attention to the much bigger story.





Will LeBatard’s stunt halt reform in Hall of Fame voting?

One last word on the Hall of Fame voting situation…Or at least until the next last word:

I keep thinking about Martha Burk in regards to Dan LeBatard’s stunt and its impact. Burk, if you recall, made a name for herself when she pushed Augusta National and its chairman Hootie Johnson to admit women to the club in 2003.

I think Augusta actually was heading in that direction. While Burk definitely was right for getting on the soapbox, clearly the club wasn’t going to give her satisfaction by immediately welcoming a woman member. In fact, it took 10 years before it happened.

I’m not saying the same thing will take place with reforms in the Hall of Fame voting. The Baseball Writers Association of America decided in December to re-examine the process.

However, I wonder if the BBWAA will do anything now in light of what LeBatard did. If it does, then he and Deadspin will be credited with sparking any changes. That’s the last thing the BBWAA wants.

I’m sure there’s going to be somebody who says at a meeting, “Screw LeBatard. Let’s keep the status quo.”

Changes definitely are needed, but they could be pushed back now.

Will the BBWAA give LeBatard and Deadspin a victory lap? Stay tuned.