Photo by Pat Radigan
By Pat Radigan
Don’t get me wrong. When ESPN 2 was still fresh and new, I liked it almost as much as I liked Surge.
But all good things must come to an end, and like my affinity for that electric green caffeine paste, my honeymoon phase with broadcast sports networks came to an end a long time ago. And now that the mask is off, I’ve started to see just how bad it’s gotten.
Maybe it was the when ESPN switched Cold Pizza to First Take, or the first time Gus Johnson called a Champion’s League match. Either way, it’s hard to watch a game without finding the mute button your remote just in case, and don’t even get me started on studio shows.
“Wait a second Pat, isn’t it better to have some sports on TV than none? Especially BTN, without the network where else would we watch the Huskers?”
You proud, proud fool. I’ll get to you.
But first, there’s this…
Not a lot of action in town this weekend, but the events that are in #LNK feature top 10 opponents.
What’s Going On
No. 9 Ohio State
10/14/17 | 6:30 p.m.
Nebraska – 3
Purdue – 2
10/12/17 | Recap
West Lafayette, Ind.
10/15/17 | 11 a.m.
No. 4 Nebraska at
No. 16 Purdue
10/14/17 | 7 p.m.
West Lafayette, Ind.
No. 15 Nebraska vs.
No. 1 West Virginia
10/14/17 | 9 a.m.
NU Rifle Range
10/13/17 | 3:15 p.m.
Swim and Dive
10/13/17 | 4 p.m.
Cedar Falls, Iowa
A few weeks ago, I nearly made the mistake of taking of these bullet points to rant about a bad experience with BTN Plus. But instead both of this week’s snippets are good examples of the Big Ten’s digital network.
I tuned in to last night’s Nebraska soccer match expecting to be treated to the usual BTN Plus commentator experience. Instead, Purdue matched a student play-by-play guy with Lauren Link, the head of the Boilermakers’ nutrition program and a former soccer player at the university. And while it may not make a ton of sense to take away one of the two spots for students to get on-air experience, I think it’s a heck of an idea to have an actual color commentator.
Not only did it increase the experience for the viewer, with Link talking about topics like NU’s size advantage and the way the ball skips across the “Bermuda grass,” but it also made it a more realistic experience for the student on the broadcast. Unlike the babbling broadcast that drew my ire a few weeks ago, last night’s game felt more like watching a game on television, and the banter back and forth between the two commentators helped make sense of what was going on in the game, and with the two programs.
The best exchange came after Purdue nearly scored from 50 yards out, a tactic Link had called for all match with NU’s style of goalkeeper play. You could hear the shock and amazement in the voice of the play-by-play commentator as he realized Link knew what she was talking about. Even in the moments where I disagreed with the opinions and analysis, it was at least nice to know the opinions and insight was coming from a thoughtful, albeit biased, perspective.
Watch This. Now.
Speaking of feeling like you were watching a professional soccer game on television, DID YOU SEE THAT RIP BY SAMI REINHARD?
Here, this one:
— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) October 13, 2017
I would call it a video game goal, but FIFA 18 has only been out for two weeks and it’s hard to adjust, so most players probably couldn’t even do this in video game form yet.
Either way, you’ll want to make sure you watch this a few times to admire this filthy goal.
Your Featured Presentation…
Bending Over to Broadcast
The dangers of putting too many eggs in the TV basket
Let me start by making this extremely clear: I do not think having a Big Ten Network is in anyway a bad thing.
I just think modeling it after the ‘worldwide leader’ is not only bad for teams and fans, it’s a bad business decision. As ESPN and Fox Sports fight it out like WWE and WCW during the Monday Night Wars, I think there is a tremendous opportunity for the ‘subsidiaries’ to make significant moves in the shadows.
But instead, networks like BTN are trying to be more like their stubborn big brothers. And while the ‘big boys’ of the sports media world can absorb declining viewership and revenue, it could become a huge problem for other players if they keep going down the same path.
So what am I talking about? Just search Twitter for “BTN commentators” and you’ll start to see it. Or look at the responses to just about anything Gerry DiNardo does, or says on Twitter.
They are firmly dug in on utilizing the same golden means fallacy that ESPN and Fox Sports preach, with most of that ‘analysis’ and ‘insight’ centering around football and men’s hoops. Sure, they televise volleyball, soccer, field hockey and a long list of smaller sports, but like the ‘big boys’ they make it possible by lowering production costs and sliding those sports into specific time slots.
That happened this week when No. 4 Nebraska took on No. 11 Wisconsin in volleyball in a marquee matchup… at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday. That’s a 9 p.m. start time for most of Big Ten country, in a matchup that could be a big draw for casual sports fans. It’s that same “time slot” logic that forced Nebraska to play Penn State at 11 a.m. on a Friday in last year’s Sweet Sixteen.
I’m not saying that everything has to go, or that some people don’t enjoy football commentary, but can we at least have a quota on Matt Millen appearances outside of State College?
I’ll leave it with this: After that Nebraska-Wisconsin match on Wednesday, I left the television on as I worked on my game story. And for the first time ever, I watched “Sports Lite” with Mike Hall. Even though I’m sure my teenage self would have watched anything with the winner of ESPN’s “Dream Job,” I’ve made sure to steer clear of the show.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes for my suspicions to be confirmed.
The show starts with a B-version of the intro from David Letterman’s version of the Late Show, and is clearly geared toward the ‘typical ESPN viewer’ archetype. This edition started with a short list of one-liners, complete with a drum for emphasis, and finally gave me the motivation to find the cable remote I’d abandoned somewhere in my couch.
I don’t have any (more) zingers about the show, but it just made me wonder: What would happen if we focused on expanding sports, and sports programming, to reach non-traditional demographics of sports fans, instead of the traditional view of who is and should be watching sports?
That sentence is a mouthful, and the concept is a little more obscure to grasp, but let me put it this way…
What if sports on TV wasn’t about maximizing profit for on-air talents and executives? What if the emphasis was on the games and athletes instead of manufactured storylines and the opinions of others? And what if the popularity and profitability of sports like football and basketball were used to develop other sports, instead of being used to maximize advertising dollars?
I understand that “it’s a business” has become a mantra of sports at all levels, but at what point do fans, athletes and coaches start taking it back?
When NFL owners make so much that they try and dictate the Civil Rights of their players? When the pay-for-play of youth sports costs the U.S. a spot in the World Cup? Or is something as simple as doing what’s best for the overall growth of college sports worth shouting about?
Who knows. Maybe BTN will pay some people to discuss it.