Tuesday, February 28, 2006

SportsTime Ohio

This SportsTime Ohio controversy has taken on legs of its own recently, mainly because of cable companies complaining about the “outlandish” fees the Indians are asking to obtain Indians’ games, and because of negative coverage in the media.
Most of the onus for the negative feelings can be traced to the work of (surprise, surprise) Roger Brown, who must fancy himself as the Bob Woodward of modern-day Cleveland, sniffing out controversies and rumors, based purely on hearsay.
Brown has decided to turn this STO-Cable deal into his own Watergate. The main difference (and it’s a pretty big difference, among many, MANY others) is that while Woodward covered something that actually mattered, Brown covers the Cleveland sports media; which, ultimately, is rather sad.
Brown has portrayed the Indians as the big bullies in this dispute, mocking their rejection of the FSN deal and acting as the mouthpiece for the different cable providers, namely Cox Cable. I suppose it’s business as usual for Brown, who could be the least objective “writer” I’ve ever seen in a large-circulation paper. And while the PD must think that because his columns “get the town talking”, all he does is diminish the credibility and readability of the sports page on a weekly basis.

By the way, Brown recently moved from his $750 apartment in Lakewood, where heat and water were included in his rent.
Word on the street also persists that he prefers cats to dogs.
OK, in the spirit of Brown’s Town, I made that last stuff up.

But here’s my main thought process on this STO contract:
Whenever it comes to a dispute with a cable company - put me down for being in the corner of the adversary of the cable company. Whether you currently use the Dish, DirecTV, cable, or whatever, most people feel that the cable company generally does not make decisions with the interests of their subscribers in mind. They are more concerned with THEIR bottom line than what their subscribers think.
To wit, here are just a few things that I’ve always been confused by:

  • Why do I have to choose a package of channels, 50 of which I’ll never watch?
  • Why can’t I pick the 15 to 20 channels I watch, and pay only for them?
  • Who decides these packages? I get TLC, the Speed Channel, and HGTV, but no ESPN Classic

I believe that there’s actually legislation in Congress to regulate the practices of the cable companies and the way in which they handle their “packages”. However, the Indians are the ones being completely irrational and obtuse, right?

If history is any indicator, the cable companies are the 800 lb. Gorillas in the dispute, no matter how they try to position themselves as fighting for the end consumer. That’s why these “negotiations” with STO make me leery of all of the reports. The cable companies know how to play this game and position themselves to the masses as the victim, when in reality; they go swimming in pools of money, a la Scrooge McDuck.

Of course, once the Adelphia-Time Warner merger goes through, about 70% of Northeast Ohio will have access to the games, leaving those not on board to explain to their customers why they didn’t want to charge them the extra $1.50 a month, but feel that Oxygen, Court TV, Style, and QVC are all must-haves. If those are the channels that you watch - fine. But I don’t complain that they are part of my cable bill. Don’t complain that something that I watch is on yours.

This, of course, is not the first instance of a situation like this arising from different parties. If you’ll remember when George Steinbrenner introduced his YES network (really, the model for all of these new team-owned networks), Charles Dolan, who owned Cablevision, didn’t want to include YES on his cable system. That situation did turn ugly (the 2 men never liked each other to begin with) for a while, but eventually cooler heads prevailed.
That being a completely different set of circumstances, I certainly don’t think it will get to that point and, as the Indians have said all along, “If you saw Tribe games last year, you’ll see them this year.”

However this all plays out, I imagine that the Indians wouldn’t risk a large portion of their already distrustful fan base missing games over all of this. Regardless of the costs they feel they can charge based on ratings that they typically bring in (which I believe are pretty high; and really, how often do you watched programming on FSN not related to the Indians or Cavaliers? Unless you’re a BIG Summer Sanders fan, I’m betting not to often), this should be resolved in the next month in time for Opening Day.

With all of that said, I’m very excited about the advent of a channel devoted to sports in Northeast Ohio and the possibilities, which seem limitless.

I think, though, there is always room for improvement in content and programming. One issue that I have with the advent of STO is the announcement that the current teams of broadcasters will continue to work the games in their 2005 format. Maybe it’s because I still resent John Sanders for essentially taking the place of Jack Corrigan, but I think that the broadcast teams should look like this:
Matt Underwood & Rick Manning on STO
Jim Donovan would do the WKYC games with Manning, allowing Underwood to still broadcast some games on the radio; but, really, Underwood has always struck me as more of a TV guy who can’t seem to find his voice on radio. That may be due to the fact that when he announces, I pine for the return of Hammy to the booth. Whatever the reason, I think that Underwood and Manning would have a nice rapport that translates well to TV.
Tom Hamilton & Mike Hegan on WTAM/Radio
I know that these guys need to take innings off, but the only time I’m OK with Hammy not doing the play by play is when Hegan is doing his “WAAAY BACK” imitation of Hamilton that sounds like he just finished a pack of unfiltered Camels. These two are the best at broadcasting on the radio and could trade-off doing play by play and color to keep them fresh throughout the game.

Maybe I’m delving into the depths of Roger Brown’s “articles” and “analysis”, but those are my ideal 2006 Indian broadcast teams.

Another disappointment that I have had was the announcement that STO would not broadcast minor-league games. Rather, they will produce shows on top prospects, which is all well and good, but…could you imagine the scenarios and possibilities?

They could show the Bisons & Aeros games from the previous nights in the afternoon (prior to any Tribe pre-game) and sprinkle Kinston & Lake County games on late at night. The advent of TiVo would allow most people to still catch these games.

This would allow fans the opportunity to watch Adam Miller start a game in Akron, watch Jeremy Sowers or Fausto Carmona pitch a game in Buffalo, critique the early season lineup in Buffalo (consisting of Marte, Garko, Gutierrez, Snyder, and Francisco), or monitor the transition of last year’s top draft pick, Trevor Crowe from CF to 2B.

They can still have shows that highlight their top prospects, but this is their opportunity to build up their own prospects by allowing Indian fans to become acquainted with players before they arrive in Cleveland.

They can appeal to hard-core fans to allow them to learn more about these players somewhere other than the Sunday PD and the Internet, which simply states their stats, and appeal to the casual fan, who may just want to watch an inning or two of someone they've read about.

People can see them with their own eyes to determine for themselves if Franklin Gutierrez has a swing reminiscent of Alex Escobar's, or to break down how Jeremy Guthrie handles himself on the mound, or allow opinions to form over whether Adam Miller is the real deal or a hard-thrower who has merely blown away inferior competition?

Maybe I’m alone on this one (as I did stay up until about 2AM to watch a Chuck Lofgren Lake County start on Adelphia last summer) but what’s the harm? You’re filling air time and you’re connecting with your fan base who is thirsting for more. Can you imagine the baseball IQ of these fans, intelligently discussing whether Ryan Garko’s defense is sufficient to make the leap to the Majors and having a point of reference to base it on, as opposed to “I heard” or “I read” replacing it with “I saw”?

The Indians have a golden opportunity with SportsTime Ohio and, once all of the contracts are in place, they should nurture it to allow to fulfill all of its limitless potential.

On another note, first intrasquad game today with Cactus League starting tomorrow.


Ryan said...

I agree with you 100%.The cable companies are playing the victim, which I find hilarious.

The cable providers are concerned that adding the Indians network will raise prices for their consumers? So, in other words, they'll pass the cost on to the consumer. Why should they care, unless what they're really doing is to get a bigger piece of the broadcasting pie?

The Indians are probably the biggest ratings draw in NE Ohio. So I don't see any logic in the "people will pay for a channel they won't watch." If that's the case, then maybe everyone should pay for only the channels the watch, right? But that'll never happen.

Cy Slapnicka said...

Another thing not mentioned....the cable companies are concerned about bumping up people's cable bills $1.50 a month? Seriously, if you can spend $50/mo on cable, I feel pretty comfortable saying that not too many people will cancel if they have to pay a Van Halen album instead.

I just want to know if they are going to offer this on dish. I'm probably going to be moving and I would be stoked if I could get all the games. No need to worry though, my final choices are AL cities, so I'll still be able to get my fix live occasionally.

Cy Slapnicka said...

Nice! CC has dropped out of the WBC

t-bone said...

God [Peter Gammons] chimes in:

Don't sleep on the Indians
posted: Thursday, March 2, 2006

When spring training begins, the teams that have the buzz are the ones that spent the most money or made the most moves. Like Toronto. The Mets. The White Sox. It's only natural.

The Braves now are used to lowered expectations, as ownership does not spend for the club the way it did five years ago, and still they find a way to win division titles every year, at least dating back to when Dan Quayle was vice president and Deion Sanders was a backup outfielder.

With the Indians, it is a little different. A year ago they charged to win 93 games, two fewer than the Yankees, more than any team in the three-division era that did not make the playoffs. But because of the convergence of a number of factors, attendance at The Jake has not come back to the way it was in the wild 'n' wonderful era of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, et al.

So because they could not go out and spend the money necessary to get a proven closer like Billy Wagner, or enough to get Trevor Hoffman to leave home, conventional thinking says they took a step back. They had to settle for Bob Wickman. They lost two starting pitchers -- the AL ERA leader, Kevin Millwood, and Scott Elarton -- who were a combined 20-20. They lost Bobby Howry. They traded one of their best and most popular players, Coco Crisp, for what they hope will be a future star (Andy Marte) and a power arm for the bullpen (Guillermo Mota).

But if they stay healthy, the Indians can be every bit as good as they were last year -- OK, the record might not show it because Minnesota and Detroit might be better and they might not dominate interleague play as they did -- and challenge Chicago if its pitching in any way breaks down. The two core players in the middle of Cleveland's lineup, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, are in their primes (at 27 and 28, respectively) and top-of-the-game offensive players at catcher and DH, with Martinez emerging as a team leader.

Grady Sizemore is on the brink of stardom, third in OPS among AL center fielders a year ago. Jhonny Peralta might be the most overlooked offensive player in the game, with 63 extra-base hits and a .886 OPS at shortstop at age 23. Aside from Peralta, Ronnie Belliard had 54 extra-base hits and, despite his Manny look, turned the double play as well as anyone. What the Indians need is for Jason Michaels, as he did in Philly, to give them 450-500 at-bats in the two hole behind Sizemore and in front of Peralta; for Aaron Boone to bounce back; and for first baseman Eduardo Perez to give them power against left-handers. And who knows? By August, they might get contributions from one of their two impressive young outfielders, Brad Snyder or Franklin Gutierrez, or Marte.

"Last winter I was rehabbing," says Boone. "This winter I could work out and prepare for the season. I feel totally different. I remember I was hitting .151 in the middle of June."

But typical of Boone, he volunteered to be Marte's mentor. "That's what we hope we have working here," says manager Eric Wedge.

The front three of C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook won 48 games in '05. GM Mark Shapiro went out and signed Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson to replace Millwood and Elarton and to eat innings and time until the next wave of starters arrives, led by Jeremy Sowers. And it will not be long with Sowers. The sixth pick in the '04 draft out of Vanderbilt has an uncanny ability to throw pitches wherever he wants whenever he wants. The staff even believes he might be better in the majors because he is so capable of executing game plans.

They always worry about Wickman, but the depth around and in front of him should be every bit as good as last year's crew, which led the league in bullpen ERA. Rafael Betancourt only has a 159-35 strikeout-walk ratio the last two seasons. Fernando Cabrera, Mota, Scott Sauerbeck, Matt Miller and perhaps Andrew Brown (who hit 97 on the gun Tuesday) are potential setup men, and Steve Karsay and Danny Graves have shown promise in their comebacks. Graves has shown flashes of his old sinker.

"I'm throwing better than I have in years," says Karsay. "It's amazing what not throwing during the winter can do."

The Indians, like the Braves, will not rely on flashy trades or signings to refuel. In the next 12 months, they will get their energy from within, from Marte, Snyder, Gutierrez, Sowers, Fausto Carmona, et al. Like Bobby Cox, Wedge has the attention of his players, in whom he has tried to instill the values of playing the game the right way.

Do not sleep on the Indians. They will be very good again, and, if healthy, for the foreseeable future.

Paul Cousineau said...

One last thought on this STO and the showcase of young talent:
MLB lacks something that the NFL and NBA take for granted - a feeder system that is nationally followed, in the NCAA.

Nobody watches college baseball and you can't watch miLB on TV, so the prospects lack that "known quantity" feel of an NFL or NBA rookie.

When Braylon Edwards or Luke Jackson is drafted, most people know their games from watching them on TV. The only unknown is how their talent will translate to the Show.

MLB doesn't have that luxury, making rookies (mostly) unknowns - with no buzz or anticipation.

When a guy like Carmelo Anthony (who was the youngest player in the NCAA, yet dominated) gets drafted, everyone projects superstardom. Yet when Andy Marte (who was always also the youngest player, with dominant numbers) comes into the league, it's seen as "settling" for a rookie.

Steps can be taken to make it right by the STO.

Let's see it done.