Sports media Friday: Views on playoff beards; the 89-year-old announcer who inspired Emrick; HBO strategy on documentaries

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports media:

Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times thinks it is time for the playoff beards to go.

Yes, the Islanders won four Cups during that period, but have you heard from them lately? Plus, former Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin has been quoted as saying none of the hirsuteness was
by design.

‘‘It was just something that kind of happened,’’ he said.

None of this would matter, except that fully bearded hockey players look ugly. The players look as though somebody dumped a box of Smith Brothers cough drops on the ice, and the hairy things started skating around. The old-time House of David baseball dudes at least had cool uniform logos to go with their beards.

Steve Rosenbloom in the Chicago Tribune also weighs in.

So, yes, a straightedge from The Art of Shaving line could lead to better product branding and endorsements of products, perhaps The Art of Shaving.

Problem is, endorsements and branding require an audience, and hockey really doesn’t have one, or at least it doesn’t have one that compares to LeBron James’ NBA Finals, the World Series, and certainly not the Super Bowl.

A bigger NHL audience – bigger being a relative term for what remains a regional sport — just means more casual fans might stop by and not be able to see the puck.

That, not beards, is the sport’s real problem.

Richard Deitsch of interviews the hockey announcer who inspired Mike Emrick. He’s still calling games at 89.

Bob Chase is a huge fan of the kid. In fact, he would talk about the kid’s broadcasting abilities all day if you let him. Chase first met him when the kid was 14 or 15 or so and sitting at the end of a hockey press box in Fort Wayne, Ind.,  lugging a tape recorder to Memorial Coliseum at the start of a long journey to the top of the NHL broadcasting mountain. You’ve heard of the kid if you are a hockey fan. He is NBC’s NHL verbal maestro Mike Emrick, who turns 69 on August 1.  Bob Chase calls him kid because Chase will turn 90 next January 22.

While Emrick’s oratory skills are on a national stage at the Stanley Cup Final this month, one of the more remarkable hockey broadcasting stories you’ve probably never heard of returns every October in Fort Wayne. Chase recently completed his 62nd season of calling play-by-play for the Fort Wayne Komets, a minor league hockey team in the ECHL that had previous homes in the Central Hockey League and the International Hockey League. If his health is good, which it currently is, Chase will be back calling the Komets again next fall.

Ben Koo of Awful Announcing talks to the president of HBO Sports about the network’s strategy on documentaries.

AA: There have been many articles on how we’re in the golden age of sports documentaries and yet it seems the original pioneer of this space has throttled back its ambition in this space. Going forward what is a realistic expectation to set in terms of output of sports documentaries a year?

Hershman: HBO is dedicated to providing our subscribers with the best original programming on television and that mantra extends to sports documentaries. We have an open-door policy as it pertains to our documentaries. We listen to ideas and pitches from filmmakers from Hollywood to New York to Chicago, and we are dedicated to working with talented producers, and directors.  We review dozens of treatments each year.  The challenge is to find stories and filmmakers that can create something that stands out in an already very crowded field.

AA: ESPN launched 30 for 30 in 2009. In 2011, HBO shut down it’s in-house sports doc production unit. How much of a role did ESPN’s entry into this space play into that decision?

Hershman: HBO is just like any other successful company in that it needed to adapt and make changes in order to remain ahead of the pack. In doing that, we were not influenced by any other networks but rather motivated by our own success. The company simply saw no need to stick with an in-house documentary unit and while the decision was made before my arrival, I agree with the strategy.  HBO Sports needs to be flexible, opportunistic and avoid slipping into a routine or cookie-cutter mode. We have been successful since those changes took effect with documentary films such as Namath, Klitschko, Legendary Nights: Gatti-Ward, Tapia and the Peter Berg-produced State of Play franchise.

Mark Cuban is giving Indiana University $5 million to build a state-of-the-art sports media technology center inside the renovated Assembly Hall.

The gift will help Indiana establish the Mark Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology, which will house virtual reality equipment and two all-graphic studios. It will also allow the university to install 3-D multi-cameras at Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall, making IU the first university in the country to have such technology.

Bringing it to Indiana was an extension of Cuban’s efforts to use the technology with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks — the team he owns — to give players and coaches a competitive advantage.

But he said he doesn’t see a limit to the uses for these technologies, and that he hopes his gift will help put IU at the forefront of their growth.

“It’s like the Internet or streaming – when we first started streaming, who’d have thought we could possibly do all the things we can do?” Cuban said. “But once you get going, you learn new things. That’s what’s going to happen here.”

Michael Bradley of the National Sports Journalism Center celebrates the journalist who exposed FIFA corruption.

One of the first things to go when news staffs are cut is the investigative reporter. The leaner departments get, the more important it is for their members to concentrate on breaking news and instant analysis, the better to feed the 24/7 cycle that has become a byproduct of devices built to deliver information immediately. The smaller the group of available reporters, the less likely an editor has the luxury of assigning someone to a story that will take weeks, if not months, to develop. Back in the ‘70s, Woodward and Bernstein could chase the Watergate crumbs until Deep Throat finally caved and told the whole story. Today, they might have been pulled from the job and asked to cover some city council hearings.

That’s why it is so great Andrew Jennings has been able to spend the past 14 years or so going after FIFA so relentlessly that Sepp Blatter and his droogs wondered what, exactly, Jennings had against them. As he told the Washington Post’s Michael E. Miller, Jennings believed that FIFA had tapped his phone and was following him at times. It didn’t matter. From the time he showed up at the 2002 news conference celebrating Blatter’s re-election as president of soccer’s governing body and asked if Blatter had ever taken a bribe, until last week, when the FIFA hierarchy came tumbling to the ground, Jennings was relentless. He wasn’t always afforded the safety of full-time employment, but he never slowed down. His work helped expose FIFA and trigger an investigation that might just make the horribly corrupt organization legitimate one day.

Jennings’ work is what journalism will always need. But in this age of shrinking staffs and low tolerance for longer articles, it’s unlikely we will see news soldiers of Jennings’ caliber on the watch. That’s a tragedy, because one of the true benefits of a free press is its ability to hold those in power to high standards and to see how they fare. FIFA failed miserably, and Jennings was there for each stumble along the way, until the organization and its leader pitched forward onto the sidewalk.

Chad Finn of the Boston Globe lauds Rob Stone’s work on the World Cup.

It’s to Stone’s credit — as well as that of fellow host Kate Abdo — that the chemistry and camaraderie among the various analysts is already evident despite the various backgrounds and levels of television experience.

“Alexi Lalas, Eric Wynalda, I’ve known them for well over a decade, either covering them as players or working with them on camera,’’ said Stone. “But for the women, most of them are relative TV newbies, and the majority of them don’t live in the United States.

“Fox did a terrific job of bringing these talents over, recognizing who stood out, and planting them in our Women’s World Cup draw and other programming in building up to the tournament, which built that rapport. It is a crew that enjoys being around each other despite these long days. I have not seen one person frown or drop their shoulders and shrug out of work.”


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