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by Ken Schott

Parting Schotts

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Ken Schott blogs about college hockey & more

ESPN buys way into top media story of 2008

It was another fascinating year in the world of sports on TV, radio and the Internet.

We saw a cable network secure rights to a couple of major events. There was the end of a long-time radio sportstalk show partnership. There was the start of a new local sportstalk show. And a legendary sportscaster left us.

In a exclusive, here are my top 10 stories in broadcast media in 2008.

1) ESPN takes control

In a matter of a couple days in mid-November, ESPN took over coverage of the golf's British Open and the college football's Bowl Championship Series. ESPN outbid current rights holder Turner Sports for the British Open rights, beginning in 2010. All four rounds of the third major in men's golf will be on ESPN, meaning that even ABC won't get to televise the final two rounds.

In getting the BCS, ESPN beat out current rights holder Fox. When ESPN takes over in 2011, all of the BCS games will be on cable.

Turner was gracious in announcing that it had lost, while Fox was not.

"We are disciplined in our approach to negotiating programming rights," Turner Sports president David Levy said in a statement. "While we were unable to reach terms on future rights that made economic sense for our company, we respect and value the R&A and our partnership of the past six years, and look forward to TNT's final year of covering The Open."

"Fox Sports has elected not to match an offer the BCS Group has received from ESPN to televise BCS games from 2011-2014, and plans to notify the organization by phone.

"Even with today’s vast economic uncertainties, Fox Sports made a very competitive bid to keep broadcasting BCS games free to every home in America, one that included a substantial rights fee increase, and certainly as much as any over-the-air network could responsibly risk. Unfortunately, the university presidents and BCS commissioners were not satisfied, and they’ve decided to take their jewel events to pay television. We wish everyone well."

Earlier in the year, ESPN got the cable rights to the U.S. Open tennis tournament. ESPN and the Tennis Channel will take over coverage from USA.

2) Mike and the Mad Dog split

For nearly 20 years, Mike Francesa and Chris "Mad Dog" Russo were the hosts to talk sports with on WFAN-AM (660). But that partnership ended in August when Russo decided to leave the station and join Sirius XM satellite radio to host his own show, while Francesa signed a new deal to stay on at WFAN.

3) Sound-Off with Sinkoff

In late January, Brian Sinkoff was laid off from his job as sports director at WTEN (Ch. 10). He wasn't out of work for long.

Sinkoff joined WTMM-FM (104.5) as its program director and host of the late afternoon sportstalk show, "Sound-Off with Sinkoff." The show has been well received by Capital Region listeners.

4) NHL playoff game bumped by Victoria Principal

If you were watching the third period of Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals between Minnesota and Colorado on the night of April 19 on Versus through Time Warner Cable, you noticed that when the clock struck midnight, the game went off and a Victoria Principal makeup informercial came on.

Time Warner blamed the snafu on a computer glitch.

5) Summer Olympics

The Summer Olympics from Beijing were everywhere on the family of NBC networks. The first week generated plenty of excitement as Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals.

A total of 215 million viewers tuned in to the games, an increase of 12 million over the 2004 Athens Games.

6) NHL, NBA ratings

Have a good matchup for a championship series, people will watch.

That's what happened this summer. Versus and NBC got excellent ratings for the Stanley Cup final between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, while ABC did excellent with the NBA Finals, featuring the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.

7) Embarrassing glitch

Game 6 of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays started on time, but not on TBS.

A technical glitch caused TBS to miss the start of the game, forcing it to put on a rerun of "The Steve Harvey Show." Viewers missed B.J. Upton giving the Rays a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.

TBS' statement said, "Two circuit breakers in our Atlanta transmission operations tripped, causing the master router and its backup — which are necessary to transmit any incoming feed outbound — to shut down. This impacted our live feed from being distributed to any of the other networks in the Turner portfolio, and caused the delay in our coverage. Both our primary and backup routers were impacted by this problem. We apologize to baseball fans for this mishap that caused a delay in our coverage."

8) McKay dies

Jim McKay, the host of ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and several of the network's Olympics coverage, died June 7 at the age of 86.

McKay elevated sports journalism to more than just covering games when he anchored ABC’s reporting of the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. On the air for nearly 16 hours, McKay was a source of calm reporting. He patiently waited for confirmation of everything that went on during that tragic day.

And when he uttered those three words — “They’re all gone” — you could feel not only your pain, but his pain, too.

9) Strange NFL TV decision

It was one of the more curious decisions I've ever seen made.

It appeared that WRGB (Ch. 6) would have a no-brainer decision to televise the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 14. But on Sept. 10, station general manager Bob Furlong said that WRGB was going to televise the Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings.

“I made the call, whether you agree with it or not, to carry the Indianapolis Colts vs. Minnesota Vikings,” Furlong said. “It’s never an easy decision, but I have to look out for all football fans in the Cap­ital Region. It’s early in the season, and the Bills will be at the top of my list when the opportunity arises to air a game. Thank you.”

Well, outraged Bills fans called and e-mailed the station to voice their displeasure. Furlong listened, and put the Bills-Jags game on.

“This is a retraction of [Wednesday’s] e-mail,” Furlong said. “Fred Lass, CBS6’s chief engineer and huge Bills fan, who was born and raised in Niagara Falls, was in my office late yesterday crying,” Furlong said. “I and CBS cannot stand to see a grown man cry. So, CBS6 is going to carry the Bills game on Sunday instead of the Indianapolis game. Please thank CBS for agreeing to make this last-minute change, and if you see Fred on Sunday, high-five him.”

10) Local changes

Sinkoff wasn't the only local sportscaster to change jobs.

WXXA (Ch. 23) weekend sports anchor Brent Martineau left the station at the end of February for a job in Jacksonville. Scott Morlock replaced him.

Dan Murphy joined MY4 (WNYA) as its sports director.

WRGB weekend sports anchor Tim Mack left the station in September for a job in the communications department of the New York State Teachers Retirement System, and was replaced by Kelly O'Donnell.

WXXA sports director Rich Becker gave up hosting the station's "Huck Finn's Capital Region Bowling Show." John Craig took over.

WNYT (Ch. 13) sports producer Scott MacKay was one of several station personnel let go in early December.

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December 28, 2008
8:02 p.m.

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What channel will MLB Network be? I see that the Big Ten Network will be 678 and I assume MLB will be added because TW is a partner.

December 28, 2008
10:32 p.m.

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I've been off this week. I will check when I return.

December 31, 2008
12:58 a.m.

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Mike and the Mad Dog are missed. Their final joint show was a remote broadcast at UAlbany in early August. I used to listen to them regularly, but it's not the same anymore.

December 31, 2008
1:06 a.m.

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Thanks for the comment rdf8585.

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