24 hours of Iowa on BTN

May 23, 2008

With tons of live games and highlights from late August through late May, the Big Ten Network had few problems filling its daily programming schedule … until now.

The BTN hopes to avoid a June ratings swoon by giving Big Ten viewers a full day to bask in highlights, old games, recaps and campus programming of their favorite school. For Iowa, that begins at 5 a.m. June 4 and lasts until 5 a.m. June 5.

The schedule features two of Iowa’s “Greatest Games” — the 1995 men’s basketball win against No. 6 UConn at the Great Alaska Shootout; and the 1990 football upset at Michigan that propelled the Hawkeyes to the 1991 Rose Bowl. The network twice will replay the 2008 Big Ten Wrestling Championships as well as games featuring women’s basketball, field hockey and softball.

There’s also the debut of Iowa: Year In Review, a 30-minute show that will be replayed five more times during the time block.

For non-sporting types, three hours of campus programming also is in the mix. There’s a one-hour feature on James Van Allen (makes sense) and hour-long episodes on Lasansky (I assume the gallery) and Project 3000 (an effort to find all people afflicted with Leber congenital amaurosis LCA).

If you remember, the BTN offered the 11 Big Ten schools 60 hours annually for university (see non-athletic) programming. Iowa’s faculty was so excited it made more suggestions for programming than it usually does for new government programs. I’d be interested in knowing how the ratings for these programs compare with an Iowa field hockey match. Of course, if Mediacom doesn’t pick up the Big Ten Network, the ratings aren’t going to matter too much.


Out of touch?

May 22, 2008

Sports reporters, in general, and national-level sports columnists, as a rule, often complain about the challenges that accompany their job, much to the disdain of the general public.

True, it’s unbelievably difficult to cover Monday Night Football or a Saturday night NCAA primetime game — I’ve done both — but most fans don’t want to understand those challenges. Even more, they don’t want to hear journalists whine about any part of the travel, stadium issues, late-arriving coaches or uncooperative players.

But NFL reporters — and I covered the Kansas City Chiefs for about six years — and national columnists often lose touch with reality and the general public. Take the Super Bowl, for instance. Every time a Northern city hosts the Super Bowl, complaints resonate about how the NFL punishes the fans by making them sit in a cold-weather stadium to watch the league crown its champion. Of course these are the same types who praise the winter warriors that play in the blizzard elements of Green Bay, Pittsburgh or Boston in late January for a conference title.

A recent column by ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski, one of the most respected sports journalists in the country, illustrates this point. He seemed irked by the league’s choice to play the 2012 Super Bowl (yes, four years away) in Indianapolis. (Read the column here http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=wojciechowski_gene&id=3406852&sportCat=nfl)

“I don’t get it. Playing in a Super Bowl is supposed to be a reward, not a reason to visit your local North Face outlet. And attending a Super Bowl as a fan is supposed to be the experience of a lifetime, a chance to break out multiple bottles of SPF 30,” he wrote.

While warm weather is wonderful, most Americans have it for at least six months. Indianapolis will open a new retractable-roof stadium this year, and I’m sure it will be closed if its below 60 degrees. The fans will survive, as will the thousands of journalists covering the game.

What Wojciechowski is really complaining about (and undoubtedly will be joined by fellow columnists by 2012), is the what his Super Bowl work week will look like. The Super Bowl is one of the easiest events to cover for a columnist– if it’s not your team. You write about the big story of the day and then a prediction column for Sunday. Those columns take between 4-6 hours of work, and in warm-weather climates you hit the links, the restaurants and the parties the rest of the day. You’re shuttled from location to location, and it’s a national reunion for sports columnists. In Indianapolis, the workload might stay the same, but there’s nowhere fun to go outside of work. No South Beach, no Bourbon Street, no golf courses. No fun for them, right?

That’s why you’ve read columns complaining about Detroit in 2006 and will read tons in 2012 whining about Indianapolis. Columnists want to protect their working vacations at all costs and damn the NFL for ruining their fun with old friends in warm weather away from the family. Complaining about the game’s location is just a mirage to shield their true aggravation.

That’s the same reason why you’ll never hear political reporters complain about a national convention, even though its relevance is moderate at best. It’s my thought that many reporters want Hillary Clinton to drop out before the Democratic Convention this summer so they can preserve their old-school political reunion with as little “real” reporting as possible.

Sports writers get defensive about their jobs because on the surface it looks fun. “You mean you get to meet the players AND the coaches?” Deep below there’s a lot of work, rough hours, tough sources and bad food, kind of like a professional iceberg. But complaining about the Super Bowl’s location is like an oil executive whining about jumping to a higher tax bracket. It’s better to keep those opinions to yourself.

BTN talks heat up?

May 19, 2008

After a few months of inactivity on Midwest sports pages, stories and conversations about the Big Ten Network have resurfaced by land (newspaper), air (television) and sea (Internet message boards). Multiple stories have the fledgling network close to deals with Comcast and Time Warner, the nation’s two largest cable companies. That likely would double their fan base and undoubtedly force smaller cable companies, like Mediacom, to follow suit.

But haven’t we seen this before? Negotiations seemed to ramp up before the 2007 football season, then before basketball season, before turning into a mirage. Nothing happened, and fans suffered through several blistering cold nights without watching their favorite basketball teams. Of course, watching Big Ten basketball this year would have given anyone a cold anyway.

I’m sure the rhetoric will heat up by mid-July. The Big Ten’s football media days are way early this year, July 24-25. That gives the BTN ample time to craft immense preseason football coverage during its dead period. It also provides the network a platform for whetting the public appetite for its Big Ten football coverage.

If cable companies don’t add the network by August, look for an all-out assault by the BTN. The network, the league and Fox (which owns 49 percent of the BTN) could justify one year of squabbling, but there’s too much money and prestige at stake to squander another year to bickering. The whole reason to start the network was to provide more coverage to student-athletes and their non-profit institutions. If the BTN can’t fulfill its mission and give as many people the ability to watch its programming, then what good is it? In the same breath, ask the cable companies if they are serving the public good by denying programming to the general public that would generate Super Bowl viewing numbers here in Iowa during a three-hour time block. I think we’ve been on this rodeo before.