Cox, the Hornets, and the local sports TV wars

Fox may be losing its regional sports dominion to Comcast and Time Warner Cable, but that doesn’t mean it’s shrinking elsewhere, and for that it has Cox to thank. Fox was able to set up an FSN network in San Diego largely because then-rightsholders Cox pulled out of the bidding for Padres rights, and history appears to have repeated itself in New Orleans, where Cox, whose regional sports networks have had trouble getting carriage on non-Cox systems, has decided the best way to save itself from rising sports rights fees isn’t to join the party, but to do the opposite, give Fox a monopoly and hope that means Fox can shortchange the team on rights fees and pass the savings on to Cox.

My impression is that Cox can only do this because ESPN and CBS aren’t in the regional sports network business. (NBC is, but their RSNs are tied to Comcast’s cable business.) If there were multiple RSN groups that weren’t tied to cable operators, Fox wouldn’t be able to set the price for local sports rights, and Cox wouldn’t have any other options. If Root Sports were at all interested in expanding outside the three regional sports networks it already has, Fox wouldn’t be able to escape competition anywhere. That they are not could have a number of causes, from DirecTV not wanting to go head-to-head with the organization that spawned it to only holding those three regional sports networks until they can spin them off to someone else like Comcast. But Cox could find itself inside a nightmare if ESPN or CBS decided to take a piece of Fox’s RSN pie.

Comcast SportsNet has become a money-making machine, but I can’t help but wonder whether Time Warner Cable might find itself going the same route as Cox. If its new Southern California networks have trouble getting carriage on non-TWC carriers, they may decide they were better off on the other end of those carriage disputes. On the other hand, the Lakers are a far bigger deal than the Padres or Hornets, and other RSNs for big-name teams like YES managed to survive early carriage disputes, so Cox’s struggles might have more to do with the teams involved than anything else. Certainly Fox isn’t likely to be able to count on other cable operators having Cox’s generosity anytime soon.

How LeBron salvaged Kobe’s reputation

I was originally saving this post for the big relaunch of the site, when I would have a week of exciting, interesting posts. Various factors have been continually pushing that back much further than I ever intended. But the relaunch should go through next weekend, sometime between the 15th and 17th, as I’m very close to taking care of both those factors and the last few tweaks needed before relaunching the site.

In the interim, in our 24/7, hypermedia world, we’ve already forgotten and moved on from the LeBron dunk story. The word came out that Nike suppressed the tape of LeBron being dunked on by a college journeyman, we all laid shame on Nike and LeBron, crappy, Zapruder-like tape came out and we all ridiculed Nike and LeBron some more, saying we would have seen the footage and forgotten about it if LeBron had just let the tape go… and then we forgot about it.

But I think that, in the big picture, LeBron James, in the space of a few months, has done more to salvage the reputation of Kobe Bryant than anything Bryant himself could have ever done.

LeBron was supposed to be the good guy. He was supposed to be the guy who helped his teammates, didn’t get into legal trouble, came from Akron and helped the local small-market team to an NBA title. He was supposed to be everything big-market, me-me-me Kobe wasn’t. Kobe was a petulant individualist who was accused of sexual assault in Colorado and was poison to team chemistry, ultimately driving out Shaq and demanding to have the Lakers to himself, to carry a team on his own shoulders. The hopes of NBA purists rested on LeBron to give Kobe what for.

But three things have happened to completely reverse the roles. In reverse order: One, the LeBron dunk controversy. Two, Kobe DID carry a championship team by himself. And three, LeBron’s reaction to losing the Eastern Conference Finals, refusing to shake hands or address the media.

Bracketing Kobe’s title win were two events that create a new narrative of LeBron James. The dunk controversy in particular makes LeBron come off as a carefully crafted persona, too perfect, a fake, a creation of Nike. (After a shorter career with fewer titles, LeBron is more visible in Nike ad campaigns than Kobe.) Getting dunked on may have seemed harmless, but it didn’t fit the Nike storyline of perfection, so Nike tried to erase it from the narrative and in the process exposed the true LeBron. Kobe Bryant, by contrast, is human, and (unlike LeBron) lets his human foibles come through. Kobe is one of us, what we would be like if we had Kobe’s talent. According to this narrative, LeBron couldn’t handle losing the Eastern Conference Finals because it didn’t fit into The Plan as laid out by Nike, which says that LeBron must always find success.

We may end up seeing Kobe’s career from 2004 to 2008 very differently than we did at the time. We may see it as the struggles of a tortured man to find his individuality and find fulfillment, struggling to balance the demands of NBA stardom with his own needs and desires. Finally he managed to find the magical combination that could lead him to the title he could claim as his own. As for LeBron, probably the only way he can even hope to kill the narrative, the only way he can go back to being Michael Jordan instead of Tim Tebow, is to stay in Cleveland, or at least move to another mid-sized market. If he moves to New York, the Clippers, or even Portland (capital of the Nike empire), all moves that would be driven by Nike’s marketability needs more than anything else, I’m going to start calling him LeNike or LeSwoosh.

The legacy of the 2009 NBA Finals.

Of all the Kobe Bryant-Phil Jackson titles, this one is especially special.

But not because it’s Kobe’s first without Shaq. No, this title is special because it locks up Phil Jackson’s legacy.

Phil Jackson now has more titles than any other coach in NBA history, even Red Auerbach, but has rarely gotten any respect for them. After all, people say, he just so happened to be the coach who won six titles with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, then won three more with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Lucking into two all-time great, title-winning pairings shouldn’t be the criteria that gets you seen as great.

Well, this year, Phil Jackson proved he really is that great a coach.

This wasn’t a Jackson/Pippen or O’Neal/Bryant situation. Jackson had Bryant, but he came into the 2005-06 season without much else. Those years proved that Jackson and Bryant were in fact human; they would have to earn a fourth title together. You can attribute the Lakers’ success to shrewd front-office decisions, but it was Jackson that turned Bryant into the leader he always wanted to be, and Jackson that created the environment that allowed the team to gel and succeed.

The jury’s still out on whether Jackson is the greatest coach of all time, but he’s locked up his spot in the top five to ten. If you don’t think Jackson had something to do with the Lakers’ win, you’re effectively saying that coaches never have anything to do with successful basketball teams. After all, didn’t Auerbach have Bill Russell for much of his career?

Now, maybe that’s the case. But here are the last 25 Finals winning coaches, from most recent to least recent: Jackson, Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley, Popovich, Larry Brown, Popovich, Jackson, Jackson, Jackson, Popovich, Jackson, Jackson, Jackson, Rudy Tomjanovich, Tomjanovich, Jackson, Jackson, Jackson, Chuck Daly, Daly, Riley, Riley, K.C. Jones, Riley. The only possible duds (or even non-Hall-of-Famers) of that bunch are Rivers and Jones, and Rivers had three great players working for him (and arguably, Jones did too) and Jones comes close to being the oldest name on the list.

It seems apparent that even great players can’t get to the Finals without a good coach by their side, especially with how egocentric NBA superstars tend to be. If Phil Jackson is the luckiest coach in NBA history, there should now be no doubt he created some of his own luck. He deserves to be on the same level as Red Auerbach and the other great coaches. That can no longer be disputed.

NBA Playoffs First Round Ratings

Source: Sports Media Watch. This is an experiment. Asterisks indicate rating not reported by SMW; if there is an asterisk and no network, I couldn’t determine whether it was on ESPN or NBATV. I can forgive the lack of NBATV ratings and even the one missing ESPN2 rating. But asterisked ESPN games could get over 2.0 and appear on my year-end roundup! (CLE @ DET Game 3 is most likely to do so and all the others are rather unlikely, and it might not be SMW’s fault, but still.)
DET @ CLE Game 1, ABC, 2.2
DET @ CLE Game 2, TNT, 2.4
CLE @ DET Game 3, ESPN, *
CLE @ DET Game 4, ABC, 3.5

CHI @ BOS Game 1, ESPN, 2.0
CHI @ BOS Game 2, TNT, 2.5
BOS @ CHI Game 3, TNT, 2.2
BOS @ CHI Game 4, ABC, 3.3
CHI @ BOS Game 5, TNT, 2.5
BOS @ CHI Game 6, TNT, 3.5
CHI @ BOS Game 7, TNT, 4.4

PHI @ ORL Game 1, TNT, <2.0
PHI @ ORL Game 2, NBATV, *
ORL @ PHI Game 3, ESPN2, *
ORL @ PHI Game 4, TNT, <2.0
PHI @ ORL Game 5, *
ORL @ PHI Game 6, *

MIA @ ATL Game 1, TNT, 2.2
MIA @ ATL Game 2, TNT, <2.0
ATL @ MIA Game 3, TNT, <2.0
ATL @ MIA Game 4, TNT, 1.8
MIA @ ATL Game 5, TNT, <2.0
ATL @ MIA Game 6, *
MIA @ ATL Game 7, ABC, 2.6

UT @ LAL Game 1, ABC, 3.2
UT @ LAL Game 2, TNT, 2.3
LAL @ UT Game 3, TNT, 2.6
LAL @ UT Game 4, ESPN, 2.2
UT @ LAL Game 5, TNT, 2.4 (SMW has this game listed as Game 4)

NO @ DEN Game 1, TNT, 2.0
NO @ DEN Game 2, TNT, 2.0
DEN @ NO Game 3, ESPN, *
DEN @ NO Game 4, *
NO @ DEN Game 5, TNT, 1.9

DAL @ SA Game 1, ESPN, 1.7
DAL @ SA Game 2, TNT, 2.0
SA @ DAL Game 3, NBATV, *
SA @ DAL Game 4, TNT, <2.0
DAL @ SA Game 5, TNT, 2.2

HOU @ POR Game 1, ESPN, 2.1
HOU @ POR Game 2, NBATV, *
POR @ HOU Game 3, ESPN, *
POR @ HOU Game 4, TNT, 2.1
HOU @ POR Game 5, *
POR @ HOU Game 6, TNT, 2.5

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 11/8-9

I think I need to take another break from the Watcher in a few weeks. All times PST.

9-12:30 PM: College football, #20 Georgia Tech @ #16 North Carolina (Raycom Sports). Wait, why didn’t ABC pick this up for their ACC package? Clemson-Florida State? The Bowden Bowl is less than pointless this year!

12:30-4 PM: College football, #2 Penn State @ #19 Iowa (ABC/ESPN). There are no fewer than six games between two teams ranked in my Top 25 this week!

4-7:30 PM: College football, Kansas State @ #7 Missouri (FSN). The item below bumps out the latest Big 12 Battle of the Century.

7:30-9:30 PM: MLS Soccer, Real Salt Lake @ Chivas USA (Fox Soccer Channel). Didn’t we just do this last week? Who cares about a team with a name like Real Salt Lake?

10-12:30 PM: NBA Basketball, Raptors @ Bobcats (CBC). Wait, the Raptors are on a national network that penetrates into parts of the United States???

12-4 PM: NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil (ABC). Judging by the ads, the Chase is actually getting interesting???

Honorable Mention: 1-3 PM: PBR Rodeo, Built Ford Tough World Finals (NBC). Thank God for NASCAR bumping this bleep off the Watcher.

5-8:30 PM: NFL Football, Giants @ Eagles (NBC). Flex Scheduling Watch is probably coming later tonight, folks.

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 11/1-2 (with a Halloween bonus!)

All times PDT, or PST, as applicable. I briefly forgot I had set this for the morning…

5-7:30 PM: NBA Basketball, Bulls @ Celtics (ESPN). Whatever.

7:30-10 PM: NBA Basketball, Spurs @ Trail Blazers (ESPN). Without Oden it’s just “Spurs @ a non-playoff team that doesn’t have its much-hyped superstar that’s proving to be Sam Bowie 2.0”.

9-12:30 PM: College football, Miami (FL) @ Virginia (Raycom). Probably the only ACC game I’m going to spotlight all year.

12:30-4 PM: College football, defending 2008 BCS titleholder #2 Florida v. #11 Georgia (CBS). I’m going to be watching this but mostly writing my platform examinations. Speaking of which, due to rain any examinations I complete today won’t be posted until after 9 PM PT.

3-5 PM: MLS Soccer, Chivas USA @ Real Salt Lake (Fox Soccer Channel). The other two MLS playoff games today would have fit in perfectly well on one tripleheader, but only this game is on TV.

5-8:30 PM: College football, defending Princeton-Yale titleholder #1 Texas @ #6 Texas Tech (ABC). Watching this while writing examinations as well.

12-4:30 PM: NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, Dickies 500 (ABC). You can tell we’re in the home stretch of the Chase when the start times start moving to noon PT.

5-8:30 PM: NFL Football, Patriots @ Colts (NBC). Without Tom Brady and the Colts being any good it’s just “a possible wild card contender with a nobody QB @ a total scrub team”.

Very interesting. (To me at least.)

I noticed that the logo on at least the first couple of FSN college football broadcasts included a new logo… and regionalized games were shown as “FS Arizona” or “FS Big 12”.

Now it seems that the Oklahoma City Thunder will play on a renaming of FSN Southwest to… “FS Oklahoma“. Not FSN Oklahoma. Just plain FS Oklahoma.

I smell similar changes coming to other markets and maybe even the linewide update of FSN graphics I didn’t think was strictly implied, or necessarily possible.

Quick thought on Brandgate

Why did Elton Brand go to Philadelphia?

It wasn’t the money. He could have gotten roughly the same amount from the Clippers and more from the Warriors.

It wasn’t the exposure. There’s a LOT he was getting from LA he wasn’t going to get in Philly.

By all accounts, it was to play in the weaker Eastern Conference.

We are starting to see, finally, the evening out of the conferences in the NBA.

(I can’t wait for the Sixers to come to the Staples Center to play the Clippers or even the Lakers. What’s the world record for loudest, longest boos ever to ring through an arena?)

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 6/14-15

All times PDT.

8:50-11 AM: UEFA Soccer, Euro 2008, Sweden v. Spain (ESPN2). Because my dad will kill me if I don’t mention this quickly.

1-3 PM: College track and field, national championship (CBS). I find it strange that not all NCAA Championships are on TV somewhere. The real surprise was finding out that the golf championships are not nationally televised. CBS College Sports televises the women’s water polo final but not the golf final? Let’s get with the program! (I wonder if this has anything to do with golf not being an Olympic sport?)

4-7 PM: College baseball, College World Series, Georgia v. Miami (ESPN). I recently saw a discussion on “Around the Horn” wondering why the MLB draft isn’t as big as the NFL and NBA draft. Two factors I didn’t hear in that discussion: going straight from high school to the pros is WAY more popular in baseball than it ever was in the NBA, which depresses the popularity (and quality) of college baseball. And second, THE MLB DRAFT OCCURS BEFORE THE COLLEGE WORLD SERIES PROPER HAS EVEN STARTED! That makes it more of a crap shoot, no?

11-2:30 PM: NASCAR Racing, LifeLock 400 (TNT). Ah, what’s two and a half hours off of US Open coverage? It’s been a while since I mentioned the stock cars.

12-6 PM: PGA Golf, US Open, final round (NBC). It’s golf in primetime! Wait, it’s not the Masters? I don’t care if it’s still a major, I’m only watching the Masters! Wait, it’s got Tiger in it? I don’t care that when he leads a major, he wins so easily it’s boring; count me in! Casual golf fans might be the most fickle in sports.

6-8:30 PM: NBA Basketball, Boston @ LA Lakers (ABC). Story of the Finals: Team A leaps out to a big lead. Team B comes roaring back. One team wins. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 6/7-8

The first time I filled out most of this schedule, including all the comments on the French Open women’s final, the second paragraph of the UFC write-up, and all the college baseball and IndyCar stuff, I lost it all because I pre-scheduled all the posts with pre-qualified championship info, once a post is scheduled Blogger stops autosaving drafts, and the Internet connection I’m using is fritzing out all of a sudden. DSZGFJBD JGGHFXGDFMS HVCJHJXGD!!!!!!!~!!!~!!!!!

It’s moments like these that are the ONLY reason I keep strongly considering getting a job and moving out of my mom’s place and into a place where I can have my own Internet connection instead of stealing a neighbor’s.


As I was saying. All times PDT.

6-9 AM: Tennis, French Open, includes women’s final, Dinara Safina v. Ana Ivanovic (NBC). Okay, I’ve heard some things about these two, but really, do you really think either one of them is really a household name in the US? Most people are going, “Dana Sana wha? Ana Vana wha?” At least it doesn’t involve 3-seed Jelena Jankovic. Who? Exactly.

9-12 PM: College baseball, NC State v. Georgia or Wichita State v. Florida State (ESPN2). Wait, is ESPN regionalizing the super regionals? And Coastal Carolina plays North Carolina on ESPNU at the same time as well!

12-3 PM: Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC 85 (PPV). It’s a bit odd for UFC to be running events every other week, and then not necessarily show the same people each week. Oh wait, this is in London. Odd schedule placement might be to be expected. Well, I’m still keeping an eye on things.

While we’re on the topic of MMA, the verdict is in from EliteXC, and, well… whether or not it outperformed the Stanley Cup Finals depends on your definition. But expect it to tumble in the future after Kimbo Slice lost his aura. Meanwhile, look for World Extreme Cagefighting – essentially UFC’s equivalent to the Nationwide Series (see below) – to potentially make an appearance in future Watchers; I missed their show on Sunday, which most MMA-heads would say put EliteXC to shame. Of course, that “cagefighting” bit can’t be good for building legitimacy.

3:25-4 PM: Horse racing, Belmont Stakes (ABC). Skip the mindless pregame and cut straight to the race. I’m not sure if they’ll be off before or after 3:30; if I had to guess, it’d probably be after, but you might want to tune in a little early just in case. WILL BIG BROWN WIN THE ELUSIVE TRIPLE CROWN OR WILL HE JOIN THE SCRAP HEAP OF A GAZILLION PREVIOUS OVERHYPED DERBY/PREAKNESS WINNERS THAT FLOPPED IN THE BELMONT JUST SINCE AFFIRMED OR HELL JUST IN THE LAST TEN YEARS?

4:30-7:30 PM: College baseball, Arizona v. Miami (FL) or Stanford v. Cal State Fullerton (ESPN). Yes, I know it conflicts with the event below. I would have done the Nationwide Series race but I’m not doing the Sprint Cup race. The nearest ESPNU games’ start times are 3 and 6 PM. Sue me.

7-9:30 PM: IndyCar Series, Bombardier Learjet 550 (ESPN2). Last week’s race was on ABC coming out of the Indy 500 in a year where ratings are up because of the merger. The ratings: .8. Did I mention that USA Today ran an article around the time of the Indy 500 saying that IndyCar could very well run down NASCAR?

6-11 AM: Tennis, French Open, includes men’s final, Roger Federer v. Rafael Nadal (NBC). How many times have these two squared off just at the French? How about some dap for Gael Monfils making it all the way to the semis before running headfirst into FederTron 2000? I remember when he was a sensation in the boys’ tournament…

1-4 PM: LPGA Golf, McDonald’s LPGA Championship, final round (Golf Channel). WTF is the final round of a MAJOR still doing on the f’ing Golf Channel? I mean, I knew it was on the Golf Channel a few years ago, but I thought they’d corrected that injustice! Virtually every PGA Tour event has its final round on broadcast; what does it say that one of the top four women’s event is considered less important than, well, ANY men’s event? When can this come up for renegotiation? The LPGA needs to correct this injustice… back when it happened in the first place!

(Incidentially, it appears to technically be the “McDonald’s LPGA Championship Presented by Coca-Cola”. That’s as bad as the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”. Also, what the hell is with the sports news cycle acting like the US Open is THIS weekend?)

6-8:30 PM: NBA Basketball, LA Lakers @ Boston (ABC). Obviously, I shouldn’t have to say anything more.