Tag Archives: Sports Fans

How to Be a Good Northwestern Hoops Fan

Have no worries, the site does live.

Below is a link to my latest on NUIntel: A guide to being a good Northwestern basketball fan. There are several tips on how you can avoid making me angry when you are watching the Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Click here to read the column.

Why Aren’t Sports Fans at Northwestern Actually Northwestern Sports Fans?

It’s a question I’ve struggled with for three years, and today I think I finally gleaned some insight into the problem through an interview I did with my boy EZ.

The answer, I hope,  is located in my latest rant against apathy for NU Intel.

YOU CAN READ THE FULL COLUMN HERE.

The end of the Radio PxP Broadcast?

michaels madden

Whenever I consider the consolidation of media outlets, particularly in regards to sports broadcasting, I would always tell myself this:

“There will always be jobs for PxP broadcasters, because sports aren’t going away and fans will always need access to their team’s broadcasts.” I apply this theory to television and radio broadcasts alike, knowing how different the two are in style and content.

But that all changed when I read this report from Darren Rovell, former WNUR Sports staffer and namesake of the famous “Darren Rovell Cultural Embodiment Award,” given to the WNUR Sports staffer who best exemplifies what WNUR Sports is all about.

Anyways, if you were too lazy to click the link, let me give you a quick summary. The New York Islanders last week canned their radio announcers, Chris King and Steve Mears. Instead, Islander fans will now be able to listen to a simulcast of Howie Rose and Bill Jaffe on both television and the radio. This is the third NHL team to simulcast their television announcers on the radio; the Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars have done so as well.

Rovell points out that the deal was made easier because Cablevision owns the rights to both the television and radio broadcasts. He asks whether more radio stations will follow suit by negotiating with stations that own the television rights to simulcast the tv broadcast on their airwaves. This will allow radio stations to save money by not paying the salaries of the broadcasters (they would probably help subsidize the tv broadcasters’ pay, which definitely would not equal what they pay their own talent) while continuing the keep the steady stream of advertising revenue they get from broadcasting the games.

So from a business standpoint, this all makes sense. Keep the revenue flowing while cutting back on expenses. As Rovell wrote, “The bottom line is the bottom line.” But from a fan’s perspective, and from a broadcast quality perspective, the move makes very little sense, and is a trend which, if it continues, will frustrate any team’s fans trying to follow their team without a tv in front of them.

There’s a reason that, until now, radio and television sports broadcasts were always done by two different teams. Without overstating the obvious, the ability for fans to see what is happening on the field creates a different role for the television broadcaster in contrast to the radio broadcaster. On television, the PxP broadcaster’s job is to deliver something to the fans that they would not get from watching the game on mute. In other words, they must bring analysis, anecdotes and stats that a fan at the stadium watching the game would not know. The TV PxP man’s job is NOT to describe every play for the viewer, because that would be redundant. They can already see what is happening.

baseball stadium

That’s the job of the radio PxP man. He needs to be the eyes of the listener. My favorite phrase use to describe the role of the radio PxP man is to “paint the word picture.” Radio broadcasts relay everything that happens on the field, on the sidelines and in the stands. Their job is to make the listener, through description, feel like they are actually at the game.

In my opinion, radio broadcasts are more suitable for television than vice versa. There are obvious logistical problems with the idea, but at least you are not compromising the ability for television viewers or radio listeners to understand what is happening on the field or court. By putting television broadcasts on the radio, you are subjecting the listener to descriptions of instant replays that they can’t see and jokes about a fan doing something in the stands or a coach’s antics that again, they can’t see. TV broadcasters are not going to change their style for their radio listeners, and tv color men will not stop talking over plays so that the PxP man can call the action. Basically, if tv simulcasts take over radio, it will eliminate a listening radio audience in sports.

It would be annoying for the television audience to have to listen to the PxP man describe everything they are watching, as well. It would probably drive a lot of people to mute the broadcast. There’s just no need in television for the announcer to call every pitch, describe in detail every shot or tell the viewer every yard line that the running back is crossing. But, again, it’s all about money; however, unlike Rovell, I believe that fans will refuse to listen to radio broadcasts if they can’t follow what is happening in the game. There will be so much complaining on message boards and blogs that radio stations will be forced back into providing their own broadcasts.

Now, if there is one sport that this idea COULD work, it would be hockey. With the constant action, television PxP men are already calling most of the action, so it wouldn’t take a huge adjustment for them to cater to a radio audience as well. Still, some of the problems mentioned above, such as the color man talking over plays, will plague the simulcast from the radio end. But in every other sport, putting a tv broadcast on the radio would be disastrous.

Packer

Can you imagine having to listen to John Madden diagram a play on your radio? What about Joe Morgan explaining a hitter’s swing while you drive on the highway? Wouldn’t this cause you to drive over the divider? This is not just an inconvenience, but a major safety hazard for drivers everywhere. Plus, this would put an end to one of my favorite sports traditions: picking out the fans who wear headphones to the game to listen to the radio broadcast while watching.

So here’s hoping this experiment fails, both from an aspiring broadcaster’s viewpoint, and from a fan’s perspective. I really, really, REALLY hope the next time I’m driving and turn on a college basketball game, I don’t hear Dick Vitale blaring through my car stereo. It might just cause me to drive into oncoming traffic.

My Morning with the Old Timers

42-15518299

Some quick thoughts from my day spent as a member of the working media at the new Yankee Stadium…

-The old-timer who received the most attention today may have been Tom Watson, but on the other side of the pond, a group of former baseball greats were reliving their glory days. Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Ken Griffey Sr., Doc Gooden, Joe Pepitone, Mike Mussina and many more former Yankees were on hand for Old Timers’ Day to chat and then play an actual game before the real Yankees took the field to play the Detroit Tigers. I was lucky enough to have access to be on the field while the former players were taking BP and chatting with the media.

Listening to these players took about the game was incredible. For some reason, former baseball players always tell the best stories, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s just the nature of the game of baseball, where individual pitches and at-bats can become instantly legendary. Or maybe it’s because the season is so long and there are so many games, which in turn gives players a lot more story fodder. Whatever the case, it was remarkable to listen to some of these players recount stories of their on-field triumphs from decades ago. Standing next to Yogi Berra on the field before the game is something I will not forget anytime soon.

-The new Yankee stadium is awesome. Very big and very nice while still maintaining the Yankee Stadium feel. I do have two major complaints, however. The first is the ridiculous dimensions of the ballpark, which look even sillier in person. It appears the walls aren’t the only problem, but they are definitely playing a factor. The wall seems close enough to reach out and touch down the lines. I would not at all be surprised if this comes back to bite the Yankees at some point. Pitchers just aren’t going to want to pitch there if they know their ERA will inflate pitching at home.

My second complaint is directed at the staff working at Yankee Stadium: Please realize that you are working at a baseball game, where people come to have fun and pay lots of money to attend and be entertained. You are not working at a maximum security prison. Just because your shirt says “staff” does not mean you are a military general. So stop acting that way. If you agree to stop being so uptight all of the time, I’ll agree to stop trying to sneak into the really expensive seats (just kidding).

-The Yankees have very good food for the media. An $11 buffet that included food from every food group and health range, from parfaits to fried chicken and everything in between. There was even an omelette station. Awesome.

girardi

-I really like Joe Girardi, and not just because he’s a Northwestern alum. He’s very personable and good with the media. He seems to hold his own with the ready-to-attack press in the Big Apple, and is doing a pretty good job this season managing 25 Yankee uniforms filled with stacks of money.

stinkees

- If you don’t have to drive to Yankee stadium, don’t. We had to drive (had TV equipment) and it took forever to get out of the parking garage. The subway is cheap, easy, and is right next to the stadium. Use it so that the media can get home in less than two hours.

-As much as I dislike the Yankees, their fans are great while at the stadium (and generally obnoxious at all other times). They know when to clap, actually stand up and make noise, and come up with clever chants. This is in stark comparison to Met fans who turn on their team after the first base hit and whose most clever chant is “Yankees suck.” I hope one day the Orioles can pack Camden Yards like the Yanks pack their ballpark.

-Baseball is the greatest sport in the world.

Are Baseball General Managers foolishly unselfish?

omar minaya

It’s a question posed to me in an e-mail, once again, by Fus, who is becoming a regular muse for me on this blog. During the All-Star game the TV crew was discussing Toronto ace Roy Halladay,  and the possibility of a trade that would send him to a team back in the States.

This led Fus to consider the following situation: Prospects in baseball are cheap, plentiful and great bargaining chips. Yet, these young players are far from sure things when it comes to producing at a major-league level. Still, baseball GM’s savor these prospects, waiting for them to ripen and become Hall of Famers, even when the large majority of them are out of baseball by the time they reach their mid-20′s. So the question Fus posed is this: why do GM’s, most of whom have relatively shaky job security, insist on hanging on to these prospects when trading a couple of them for a veteran could get them to the playoffs and lock up a playoff spot, thus extending the GM’s shelf life? In other words, why aren’t GM’s selfishly bigger buyers at the trade deadline?

An excerpt from his email: “The best examples are the Rangers, Mariners, Tigers, and Rockies: those teams are all good right now, without any guaranteed lasting power. Why wouldn’t that GM trade a couple of prospects – who may or may not pan out – for a guaranteed ace. Think how good the tigers would be with a rotation of Halladay, Verlander, Jackson and Porcello. Maybe they won’t win it all, but they’ll lock up a spot in October, and extend the security of the GM. In 3 or 4 years when their prospects are ready, that GM probably won’t even be around, ya know?”

It’s a very interesting question, and I don’t think there is just one answer that prevents GM’s from doing this. Instead, I think a number of factors keep those in charge from selling the farm every July for short-term investments. Here is a list of reasons for you, my man:

1. Just as there are no sure-thing prospects (except Matt Wieters), there’s also no sure-thing when it comes to making the playoffs. Remember, the Yankees and Mets both missed the playoffs last year. Teams collapse and injuries occur. It’s hard to assume a team in July is a lock for the playoffs. And if the unforseen happens, and the team misses the playoffs AFTER trading away some of the organization’s best prospects, instead of securing a few extra years of employment, the GM may find himself looking for work immediately.

wieters

2. Being the GM who trades away a future hall-of-fame player lands you in the fan and media doghouse for the rest of your life, and sometimes even beyond. The move will forever plague you, and you will be asked about it on the streets by reporters and total strangers alike. Even if the move was a good one at the time, fans will rarely look at the history books to vindicate you. Instead, you’ll forever be known as the dimwit who “traded so and so away for washed-up veteran X,” even if washed-up veteran X helped the team reach the playoffs. GM’s are acutely aware of this, and this often causes them to act conservatively.

3. While the buck may stop with the GM when assessing a team’s success, a team of executives make player personnel decisions. While the job security for some of these executives may be tied to the GM, many have more stable positions, and thus are going to advise against trading away lots of homegrown talent, even if it means short-term success. And though a GM can get away with ignoring those other voices in the organization for some time, if the team isn’t winning, those other voices will eventually prevail, and the GM will be the odd man out.

4. (Most) owners are not stupid. If they see that a GM is mortgaging the future of the franchise for a quick-fix playoff run, they won’t be happy. If a team has the potential to be good for seven years down the line, or one year this season, the owner will take the seven-year run, no matter who the GM is. But the GM might not have time to wait for the prospects to develop, which, as Fus pointed out, should cause him to play his hand early. But if the GM makes the bold move and it doesn’t work out, he’ll have a hard time getting another job. A mistake like that is potentially career-damaging, and that reputation is tough to change.

5. Money. Prospects are cheap. Successful veterans are not. For a team to borrow a veteran for a couple of months, they are shipping away cheap talent that will need to be replaced at some point. For smaller market teams, they probably won’t be able to resign the veteran (see: Brewers, C.C. Sabathia) after season’s end. This might buy the GM a little time if the move works, but could also sacrifice the team’s future, which would presumably end the GM’s tenure prematurely.

sabathia

Still, despite the stated reasons above, there are convincing arguments for Fus’ position. For one, the goal each season for any team, GM included, should be to win the World Series. If the GM believes that he has an opportunity to put his team in a position to win it all, he should feel some obligation to make that happen. So many things change from year to year, and, as has been mentioned, prospects are risky. If the title is in sight, it only make sense to try to grab it. Nothing does more for a GM’s job security than a World Series ring.

And, when it comes down to it, GM’s are concerned about themselves, and rightfully so. If their jobs are in jeopardy, and they think they can make a move to extend their contract and get the media off their backs, it’s human nature to want to do that. Of course, then the reasons above come into play, but that desire, I would imagine, is present within many general managers.

So as the trading deadline in Major League Baseball nears and as deals are completed, take a look at the rationale and potential motivations that teams have for making the trade. It just might be a little more complex than it seems.

There might just be a man, sitting in an office, hoping he’s not moving his stuff out in October. More than just wins are riding on the deal.

The Legacy of a Ringless Athlete

mason

I received an instant message the other day from a friend asking me, “So when’s the post about Mason coming?” Not exactly sure what he was talking about, I quickly headed to the Baltimore Sun’s website to see what the news about Ravens’ wide receiver Derrick Mason was. I quickly learned that Mason had decided to retire, but that was not what struck me. Instead, I was drawn to a line in the summary on the front page of the Sun’s website that pointed out Mason’s lack of a Super Bowl victory.

The summary on the front page of the site is supposed to include the most important information within the story, so clearly the writer or web editor felt that Mason’s lack of a championship is a very important part of his career. To Mason, I’m sure this is important; no doubt he would rather not have that mark on his resume. But how important is it to Mason’s legacy, or the legacy of any athlete, not to have won a championship? And are there other factors more important to an athlete’s legacy than championships?

Here’s a list of some of the top players to never have won a ring:

Barry Sanders, Dan Marino, John Stockton, Ken Griffey Jr., Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Gale Sayers, anyone on the Red Sox between 1918 and 2004, Jim Kelly, Patrick Ewing, anyone on the Cubs since 1908, Jim Rice and Ty Cobb.

That’s quite an impressive list. But are the legacies of any of these athletes tarnished because they never finished a season on top? In my opinion, it depends on the sport and the position of the player in order to make a judgment like that. I don’t think a blanket statement can be made about athlete’s legacies if they haven’t won a title.

KNICKS PACERS

For instance, I hold Patrick Ewing more accountable for having never won a championship than someone like Barry Sanders. Because of the nature of basketball, with less players on the court, individual players have a greater impact on the final outcome of the game. For Barry Sanders, he may have been a phenomenal player, but in the end, he has no impact on how well his defense plays. Thus, I can’t fault him entirely for never having won a championship.

But in the end, championships are the ultimate goal for players. Thus, it is at least worth mentioning when recapping a players’ career. Still, I don’t think it should be one of the first things mentioned about a players’ career. I don’t think it should have been on the front page of the Baltimore Sun. I don’t think it should be the first thing mentioned about Dan Marino. And I don’t think it should haunt the legacies of Stockton and Malone. Instead, it should be an unfortunate post-script on a player’s otherwise stellar list of accolades.

My bigger problem, which I discussed earlier today with my boy Weitzen, is when legacies are created from things that happen off the field. When personalities override performance. When headcases live on in the memories of sports fans, for better or worse, and the quiet players often fade, well, quietly, into oblivion. As Weitzen asked out, who will fans remember more in 20 years? Terrell Owens or Marvin Harrison? Randy Moss or Derrick Mason? Dennis Rodman or Robert Horry? Ron Artest or Ray Allen? The answer to all of those questions, in my opinion, is with the louder, more abrasive athlete.

It’s a sad reality, created in part by the media and in part by human nature’s desire for drama and interesting characters. It’s a lot more fun to root against an abrasive character than it is to acknowledge the guy who goes out, does his job and then goes home quietly at the end of the day. And the label an athlete creates for himself during his playing days generally stays with him into retirement, thus cementing his legacy in large part due to a personality trait, rather than physical ability or accomplishment.

rosenhaus_owens

But should we look deeper at an athlete’s career to determine his legacy, moving beyond shallow measurements of athlete achievement and personality? It would seem more fair that way, but remember that a lot of an athlete’s legacy is determined by those two things. The thoughts that come to the minds of most fans first when thinking about a retired athlete is generally is reflective of the player’s legacy.

So an athlete who wants to be immortalized in the minds of fans needs to do the following things: Be a great player, have personality but don’t get in trouble/be annoying/pesky in the media, AND win a championship.

Piece of cake.

Bill Simmons vs. Traditional Sports Journalists

Examiner.com Photo

Examiner.com Photo

The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, has a shtick that his readers all know. His columns are all derived from his life as a Boston sports fan. He watches games on television or in the stands, just like every other sports fan, rather than the press box. He derives insights of athletes based on interviews and performance that he sees from afar, rather than talking to them in the locker room. His goal is to voice his opinion through the eyes of an average Joe sports fan, rather than the traditional sportswriter.

We’re all familiar with the traditional sports journalist as well. That guy (or woman) who has been a sports fan since birth, who was at (insert huge sports history moment here) which let him know he wanted to be a sports journalist, who makes jokes about his weight or lack of athleticism regularly, and who uses pop culture references from the 1970′s.

Neither side thinks too highly of the other, which is a shame. To combine the two would breed a form of journalism that today’s sports fan deserves. But are the two mutually exclusive? Let’s take a closer look.

It seems to be the opinion of Simmons that traditional sports journalists have become jaded by working in the business for so long. By going through the motions day in and day out in covering a team or sport, traditional journalists seem to lose some of the spark that they had when entering the business. And the malaise begins to show on their faces, in their reporting and in their weight. I remember my boy Fus telling me, after spending a summer in the media relations department with the Cleveland Cavs, that the thing the sportswriters looked forward to the most was the free food at the games or team functions. I’m sure most of these reporters didn’t grow up dreaming of covering their doughnuts with powdered sugar  instead of covering some of sports’ most famous athletes, but after years of covering sports, it appears that what is a dream job for many ends up being a chore for those in the positions.

It’s a shame that this is the case, and to be certain, does not hold true for every sports reporter. Yet in the time I have spent around professional sports reporters, both at my time covering Northwestern athletics at school or during my summer internship, which has allowed me to cover N.Y. Mets games, the theme rings true: the fan is gone, the fun is gone, and, just like anything else, the work is a job. The reporters sit through press conferences, hoping to get a couple of bytes to place in their stories. They sit and wait in a PROFESSIONAL SPORTS LOCKER ROOM and complain about the time, the athletes, or anything else that is bothering them at the moment. And they eat…a lot.

buffet

But I must admit that I see how it happens. While covering a professional sports team is still a novelty, and the excitement of interviewing David Wright at his locker has yet to wear off, I see the transition. I see how being a fan can fall secondary to getting your job done or getting home at a reasonable time from the ballpark when you’re there every day. It’s a sad reality that has made me question whether I want to go into this form of sports journalism.

Bill Simmons is in a sports journalism camp on the opposite end of the spectrum. He doesn’t sit through press conferences and doesn’t go into the locker room. He claims that it allows him to remain a fan, and not get sucked into the rut of sports reporters that I mentioned above. This allows him to transfer his unbridled passion for his teams into his writing, which is an appealing style to his readers. He’s able to look at sports from outside the cage into which sports reporters are often trapped. And it also allows him to make claims about athletes without consequence, because he knows he doesn’t have to worry about interviewing them the next day.

When I frame it like I just did, it seems Simmons has it better, and as far as quality of life in regards to his job, that may be true. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that his form of journalism is more important than the work the everyday reporter does. Without reporters, there aren’t game recaps, there aren’t postgame interviews and there aren’t interesting human interest stories. Granted, there is an overload of these things in today’s saturated media landscape, but there are plenty of noteworthy and important stories done by these traditional reporters.

At the same time, what Simmons does is important as well. He is able to keep things in perspective by writing from outside the locker room, and can relate to the average fan far better than a reporter who hasn’t paid for admission to a ballpark in 35 years.

So can these two styles coexist under one by-line? The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. Because Simmons writes from the perspective of the fan, and thus writes what a fan thinks about players’ performances and personalities, it would be very hard for him to land a ton of interviews. And because he pokes fun at many of the reporters and columnists out there, he would have a hard time in surviving in the press box.

At the same time, it seems all but inevitable that spending decades covering athletes from the inside can wear one down. It’s very hard to keep the fan perspective alive after years of being treated poorly by athletes and coaches, event management and editors. At some point, it seems that fire that was once lit from seeing Larry Bird, Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays or Joe Namath play eventually burns out.

larry bird

Thus, the fan must take what Simmons writes and what the local beat reporter or columnist writes and digest it all, parsing through thousands of words to form his/her own perspective on the world of sports.

And don’t feel too bad for those worn-out sports reporters, because the ice cream is still free for them after all these years.