Sports Media Musings: Felger Relents, Sticks & Stones Debut, Links, Closing Thoughts on Sox

Putting Out the Fire

Michael Felger called his implication of Heidi Watney into the Red Sox mess “regrettable.” I thought it was wrong for Felger to talk about the alleged Watney/Varitek affair, and wrote as much yesterday. I understood his larger point: If the Red Sox are going to air out Terry Francona’s dirty laundry, then lets take a look at everyone’s issues.

Felger has also been riding the “Where were the media while Beckett & Co. were eating KFC, drinking BLs, and playing Halo in the midst of an epic collapse?” bus. And, to his credit, Felger didn’t fully concede his point. He stuck to his guns saying Watney is a team employee; therefore, should be subjected to some deal of scrutiny. Moreover, she was part of the aforementioned media who failed to serve the public on what was going on in the clubhouse.

To a degree, Watney perpetuated the scarlet letter stigma by going on WEEI’s “Planet Mikey” show last night. She had already said her piece on “Toucher & Rich” and the issue was cut and dry — Felgy was in the wrong.

One odd angle to the ordeal is Felger’s reaction to Joe Haggerty getting involved. He seemed perplexed his fellow CSNNE personality decided to give his two cents. Maybe Haggs saw it as an opportunity to kick CSNNE’s competition, NESN, while they were down. Or, maybe, the answer could have to do with their new partnership on “Sticks & Stones.”

Names Will Never Hurt Me

First they produced “Celtics Now.” Then they came out with “The Baseball Show.” Lastly, the largely successful “Quick Slants” debuted last fall. This week came the last of the “Big Four” sports franchises to have a program dedicated to it via CSNNE, as their new hockey show, “Sticks & Stones” debuted.

The show itself features host, Michael Felger, talking Bruins hockey. The show has an interactive twist with fans (a la “Quick Slants”); a player interview with Shawn Thorton (Think Jerod Mayo with Tom E. Curran. Again, a la “Quick Slants”); a national segment where Felger spars with writers in different cities (Sort of like his “Sports Sunday” segment, I think named, ‘Conference Call’); and finally a portion named, “Offsides with Joe Haggerty” — where Felger and CSNNE hockey insider, Joe Haggerty, dish with one another.

(Presumably, not about Heidi Watney. Though, that isn’t confirmed.)

The show will be fine. Another smart move by CSNNE for a few reasons:

1.) The NBA lockout creates a massive hole in programming for the network. Thus, coverage has to be allocated to other teams.

2.) It shows a committment to their “news gathering” agenda. The move also shows that CSNNE is serious about covering all four teams equally.

3.) After basically earning a draw in coverage after the Bruins Game 7 Stanley Cup victory with NESN, CSNNE has found a niche. This show will further explore how much of the Bruins fan-base the network can captivate (sans in-game coverage, of course).

4.) NBC & Versus own national coverage of the NHL. CSNNE , being a sister station, is wise to dedicate programming to hockey as it helps pool resources and bolsters advertising on both national and local scale for the product.

5.) The simulcast of “Felger & Mazz” on both 98.5 The Sports Hub and CSNNE is ideal. “The Sports Hub” was a major part, along with the team’s success, in the Bruins renaissance in recent years. “Felger & Mazz” and the rest of “The Sports Hub” line-up talk a great deal about the team since the station carries the games. “Sticks & Stones” reinforces continuity and synergy in the growing relationship between the radio station and cable network.

Things I’m Reading

Chris Gasper

I thought this was the best column I’ve ever read by Chris Gasper. Enjoyed the “Horrible Bosses” line and liked the sarcastic use of “magnanimous.” The only road I won’t travel with Gasper is his comparison of the Sox recent struggles to the Patriots playoff win drought.

The Red Sox won 89 and 90 games the last two seasons. The Patriots were 14-2 last year, and are 4-1 this season. Yes, neither team have done much in the way of post-season success — but the Patriots have sustained a Super Bowl contender in a league which eats, sleeps, and breathes parity. On the contrary, the Sox play with the second-highest payroll and can’t even make it to the dance.

Still, I really liked the piece.

Michael Schur

The Grantland scribe wonders how things would have been different if the Sox had won one more game here or there; then hypothesizes Boston is headed back to the good old days of pain, suffering, and negativity.

Ty Duffy

Duffy – who SI’s Richard Deitsch noted as rising star in a recent column – reaches a bit here, but questions ESPN’s influence on conference alignment and in particular Boston College.

The Last Something That Meant Anything

(I usually write about the media here. Like Tito did at the infamous presser, I’m going to deviate a tad. Please don’t pull a smear job on my way out)

I became a baseball atheist around 2008. The reason? Do you care? In that case..

  1. The game moves to slow.
  2. There are to many games in the season.
  3. The players aren’t relatable.

Don’t get me wrong, I still watch the Sox. I suppose this is (mostly) for two reasons: 1.) I write about sports; 2.) Sports in general are great conversational talking points — If you are at a bar or forced into conversation a great ice-breaker is “Did you catch the game last night?”

But, for the most part, baseball is monotonous to me. It’s NPR. And, worse off, things like Jack McKeon’s mandated bathroom pass with the ’03 Florida Marlins doesn’t even phase me.

(And that should phase me. What other profession requires a bathroom pass?)

The other three professional sports teams in the Hub? I’m all-in on. I watch the Patriots every Sunday with the intensity of a 20 year-old girl watching Kim Kardashian’s wedding special on E!. Same goes for the Bruins and the Celtics.

When thinking of why the vigor became indifference in terms of my fandom of the Sox, I think of Pedro Martinez leaving. Shortly after, I recall Keith Foulke turning from Godsend to the jerk that called the “Dale & Holley” show once a week. Then I think of Man-Ram leaving. About .022 seconds later, I think of Man-Ram failing his drug test. I don’t remember David Ortiz admitting to using PEDs, but I don’t remember him denying it either.

The 2004 World Series victory was like every New Years Eve. There is so much anticipation built up: What are you going to do differently this year?  What are your resolutions? After all, tomorrow is a new year, and a fresh start.

Only ’04 felt like the turn of the millenium, we weren’t quite sure what to expect with Y2k.

With two outs left in the 9th inning (or 10 seconds left in the year), more and more anticipation built up. Until, finally, the clock hit midnight Sox won the whole freakin’ thing. It was a new day!

Well, not really. You see, all of the incidents mentioned in the aftermath sullied one of the greatest sports moments in my whole life. The memories are furthermore tarnished with our Boston-bred GM, Theo Epstein, leaving then coming back — only to leave again. Not to mention the final days of Terry Francona being portrayed like a hapless manager dealing with a pill addiction and a failing marriage.

I’m not blaming ownership. Whether you like (or I like it) this is the group which broke the curse (twice, actually). And if you asked any Sox fan after Aaron Boone sent them into near-lunacy in 2003, they take all the bad that has happened in a heartbeat.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this — I’m not mad at the 2011 collapse. I’m mad the 2004 euphoria feels aloof, both in spirit and in accomplishment.

  • bostonsportsmediafan

    Ryan,

    Another great post here. The summary of CSNNE is spot-on. Even without the NBA/Celtics, would you know? I barely notice.

    Most people around here are sports fans, and many have at least one team around here they enjoy not only watching but following. Given this, even if the team is not being air'd on CSNNE (Sox, Bruins, or a national telecast of whatever) I find myself and have spoke with others who really like the postgame coverage.

    You've also broken down some of the shows like Quick Slants and I have to say that the overall effort of CSNNE of transforming the channel from a "public access"-grade effort to cover sports into something credible and high quality seems to be #1 on their agenda. Between the gameshows and infomercials, it seems like NESN keeps hiring late and their coverage/content is second-tier to CSNNE. Even though you see a lot of the same faces, I think CSNNE is trying to put forth a legitimate and honest effort to give fans a good reason to turn to their pre/post game coverage.

    Any chance CSNNE could ever bid for Bruins rights? Looks like they still own 20% of NESN.

  • latetodinner

    Ryan…

    So what we learned is that Gasper should not write any more football columns. I am all for that. Let him opine on Baseball. He and Tomase make great bedmates.

    As for your analysis of CSSNE I think you have been very good about identifying their strategy and applauding its implementation. I think the influx of Comcast and NBC Sports resources/direction has made them a much more professional and focused organization. NESN's lack of programming sports has not hurt CSSNE's ability to fill that void either. As Comcast rebrands Versus as NBC Sports…I think it is a matter of time before CSSNE becomes NBC Sports NE. I also see comcast duplicating what CSSNE is doing in all of their regional networks across the country. I think the end result is going to be ESPN buying NESN, rebranding it ESPNBoston TV and starting regional sports networks to compete as well as then buy/control local broad cast rights for hockey, baseball and hoops (assuming a hoops league ever plays again). It will be a very interesting next few years.

    • bostonsportsmediafan

      Wouldn't ESPN buying the regional affiliate be some conflict of interest with ESPN also having Monday, Wednesday and Sunday Night Baseball?

      • latetodinner

        I thought about that as I was writing my theory and I do not see it as a conflict. If they have the national game on ESPN they can broadcast the national feed on the affiliate. Think of it more like the NFL TV model. There is a national game at 1:00 and at 4:00 but the networks override it and show the local game to each market that needs it. ESPN would be basically doing the same thing but they would get a double bite of the apple. They could in theory also bid for regional hockey or basketball rights which I bet, depending on the market would be more lucrative than the national rights. I am just looking logically at the landscape. You have a national sports powerhouse (ESPN) who is trying to establish regional footprints (ESPNBoston, ESPNNY, ESPNChicago etc.) They have .coms and radio feeds. The next logical step is into tv. Heck they are already doing a 5 minute regional webcast. At the same time…in Boston there is a local station that is struggling, it has poor programming and more importantly the Sox and Bruins rights. It also is a competitor to a Comcast Station. If I were Disney/ABC I would be looking long and hard at NESN. It is a perfect test for what I want to do long term.

        • bostonsportsmediafan

          latetodinner,

          Great points. I honestly didn't know so I asked since the commenters on the forum seem to be plugged in or make some great points (thanks to all).

          I thought about it some more after your post and think: Longhorn Network (LHN)… RedSox Network? Infrastructure is already in place.

    • Ryan Hadfield

      LTD..

      I, unlike most here, enjoy Gasper. But it is kind of odd how Tomase and Gasper have thrived (in my eyes) in the wake of the Sox collapse to the BSMW audience.

      When they came out with "pre-game meal" or whatever – with Ray Allen's wife – I was worried CSNNE would go down the NESN road in terms of programming. That weariness has become an after-thought. CSNNE gets it.

      That is an interesting take on ESPNBoston TV. It is clear through talking to insiders, that CSNNE has exploited what ESPN simply can't — dedicated coverage to individual cities (that have a market large enough). Right now ESPN spreads itself to thin..

      Clearly, ESPN's web site has caught on as they have developed ESPNBoston etc, and they have also developed ESPNBoston radio. Only a matter of time before they take that brand to the television medium. Whether NESN is the outlet they take-over is intriguing. Either way, I like the theory.

      • latetodinner

        Ryan:About my ESPNBoston TV theory…as I understand it the true dollars in local sports broadcasting are the game rights. Games are inexpensive to produce yet bring disproportionate sized audiences compared to the costs. ESPN has for years coveted local game rights. It is one of the reasons they started ESPNU and ESPN 3.com. However until Fox Sports and now Comcast Sports figured out how to do it with regional affiliates I am not sure ESPN could see a map that would allow them to get at local broadcast rights. Now it is simple. ESPNBoston.com is doing well, ESPNBoston Radio is doing okay…if it gets an actual radio transmission (850AM me thinks) it will solidify it as a legit player. The only thing left is TV. I pair them with NESN because the only way ESPN gets into the regional TV market is if they have Baseball rights. It makes no sense for them to do it with college teams and either hoops or hockey. But baseball gives them 162 days of programming. It has to be NESN in Boston eventually and my guess is YES in NY. It may be a partnership…but Disney does not want to be marginalized. It is the only place for them left to expand.

        • Winning_

          It would be a battle between NBC and Disney when competing for the rights. Disney blew it when re-negotiating the Monday/Sunday Night football package and NBC swooped in. If the Bruins are ever up for grabs, don't be surprised to see CSNNE go toe-toe fighting for those rights. I also don't know if ESPN would start buying stations like NESN or Yes or whatever chicago has. They have an unbelievable amount of resources, but more cost effectiveness I believe they would be spreading themselves thin. I know there are alot of Sox, Yank, Cubs, Cardinals fans everywhere, but I don't know if that number if high enough for them to purchase multiple televesion deals. But then again, I'm naiive.

        • bostonsportsmediafan

          On the NBC push, SportsBusinessJournal (I think Jon Ourand(sp) has covered this heavily and some of the "media links" that fangsbites (is that Bruce?) collect have covered it extensively that Comcast/NBC very much want to go after ESPN. ESPN commands the highest carriage fees (4.50~ per customer) per customer and these are expected to go up even more thanks to the ABC/ESPN deal where they overpaid even more for the MNF rights until 2022.

          Maybe some of the folks more tuned into that aspect of TV rights could chime in? It's a great angle/topic.

        • latetodinner

          Winning I am not sure you are being naive. My biggest problem with ESPN is its national bent. To be honest I have no interest in NASCAR, College football, college hoops, the WNBA or pretty much any professional team outside of Boston. I don't think I am unique. ESPN's problem is they currently don't have a platform to deliver content to regional markets. I think they realized this 2 years ago when they started the 6 regional .coms.

          One last thing to think about. Currently Boston is supporting 2 regional channels…CSSNE and NESN. Seems to me there is plenty of business to be had. If I were ESPN I would look to buy it and consolidate it under my brand…before NBC Sports does.

        • Winning_

          I am not an ESPN supporter lol just an observer of the trends. After reading that book, ESPN seems to spend an awful high price for rights fees and then on production. i am not sure if local networks would generate enough income for them to offset the costs. Recently they have had a stronger will to stick by expense and earnings. They used to consistenly lose hundreds of millions on MNF which could be why they lost rights. Although it looks like NFL just want to go on NBC due to Steve Borntsteins sour grapes with Bodenheimer and ESPN as a whole.

        • etak

          Wasn't it someone on here that linked to a story that speculated 850 was going to all-ESPN come the beginning of November? Could swear I saw it in comments, if not one of Bruce's posts.

    • Winning_

      Interesting theory. I don't know if you've read it yet, but Those Guys Have All the Fun is an interesting read of how the company ESPN formed. It largely discusses the role of the company in the sports world, with here and there stories about their on air personalities. I actually thought it was a good look into their business model. Although you can see/read in the book how their model changed, especially lately and why their is so much ESPN mockery and hate. I'd recommend it as read for anyone interested in the TV business/history. If you're just looking for stories, its 700+ pages. You can just skip to the last few chapters or the Olbermann section.

    • APimpNamedDaveR

      That's certainly an interesting idea, and I have no doubt that ESPN would be interested in something like that.

      But NESN will never, ever be sold. There's absolutely no reasonable business purpose for the Red Sox and Bruins to sell their co-owned captive broadcast outlet, at least right now. In a nutshell, any amount ESPN would be willing to pay for NESN must, financially, be less than what NESN would earn for its current owners, because NESN-as-owned-by-the-teams can command the same advertising rates (and therefore generate the same income) as NESN-as-owned-by-ESPN…. but without having to pay a fair market amount for the underlying broadcast rights.

      Plus, NESN has, in the past decade plus, pushed itself into being a basic tier cable option by virtue of having, essentially, the monopoly on the B's and Sox. That is a huge gain for a cable network, as it means you get a fixed rights fee per cable subscriber, as opposed to a fee per person who subscribes to your service (like, say, HBO). NESN in ESPN's hands might not be able to sustain that status unless they locked up broadcast rights for a good length of time in the NESN acquisition.

      But here's the ultimate reason why it won't happen: in MLB today, having a captive broadcast outlet is a license to print money. It's literally the factor that makes the Red Sox an elite "rich" team, and is a significant portion of the franchise's total net worth. Far from considering selling NESN, FSG is considering creating a captive Liverpool TV outlet modeled after NESN (and YES, for that matter). So as much as ESPN would love to acquire NESN — and I think you're right in that respect — it's never, ever going to happen, short of some financial catastrophe affecting the Fenway Sports Group that can only be solved by selling off pieces of the organization. And right now, no such event is on the horizon.

      • latetodinner

        Seeing as I threw this one against the wall let me suggest that ESPN buying say a 40% stake in NESN, rebranding it ESPNBoston and then taking over the programming responsibilities for all non bruin and Sox games makes a ton of sense for both Disney, the Sox and Bruins. My point is there are creative ways to structure the deal so that all sides win. Let's face it, other than Sox and Bruins games NESN is full of dead air. Also, the marketing muscle of the ESPN brand without having to actually sell any stake in the team would be a huge coup. So to get 60% of the revenue of good programming that you do not have to fund is much better than 100% of crappy programing you are on the hook for.I have no inside info. I do know that NESN has worked with ESPN in the past. WEEI already made a similar licensing/affiliate deal with ESPN radio. I am just suggesting a way for NESN to make itself relevant in the market. Besides after a week of teeth mashing it was fun to write something thought provoking.

        • APimpNamedDaveR

          I agree that some sort of shared programming arrangement between NESN and ESPN is probably inevitable; similar to the deal they used to have with Fox Sports Net. But it's never going to involve surrendering an ownership interest.

    • Ryan G

      There was a plan to make all Comcast SportsNets around the country to be renamed NBC Sports ( meaning stations like CSNNE and CSN Bay Area would be renamed as NBC Sports New England and NBC Sports Bay Area) but those plans fell through

  • Doc Michaels

    I think what we're seeing is that the collective national disdain for baseball (as evidenced by the declining playoff and "Game of the Week" type ratings) has reached the Red Sox fanbase. Especially, as you say Ryan, when you factor in that the team has won 2 titles. That element of "they're never going to win anything, they're ruining our summer" is gone and is never coming back. Sure they had an epic collapse this year — but does it hurt the way it did after Grady failed to take out Pedro? Of course not. No matter how bad things are right now, they're never going to be AS BAD as they once were…not unless you want to flash-forward several decades (or a century) from now when none of us will be around to have lived through it!

    I also totally agree on CSNNE. They've been pro-active in adding shows and post-game content even when they're not broadcasting the specific game at hand. The "Sports Tonight" program has essentially become a 30-minute condensed version of all of EEI and 98.5's programs when you consider they have talent from both stations on there. For those who can't listen all day long (or don't want to), you can get a smaller dose of Felger, Merloni, Holley, Gresh, etc. and get all their points in one show that they take 4 hours to discuss on the radio.

    Frankly I am not an NBA fan so I could care less if they even play a game this year (no offense to the Celtics). Something tells me CSNNE is still going to be fine despite the loss in advertising revenue they'll take from not having those local broadcasts.

  • frodrick

    Stop with the Kim Kardashian references, no guys of any any age care about a no talent fat girl. Bill Simmons worse quip in 20 years of journalism was when he suggested a poster of Kim adorned Andy Dufrene's jail cell today if he had never escaped from Shawshank prison.

    • Ryan Hadfield

      fair enough haha. May have slipped the analogy in there because my GF was watching it while I was working on this.

  • NutCracker

    I thought Joe (Haggsy) Haggerty's cheap shot attack on Heidi (Heids) Watney was bush-league. It was a clear case of Haggsy affectionately kissing Felgy's tuchas. Maybe Haggsy wants to get a little more time on Felgy's new show . I have to believe that Shawn Thorton wants to go into broadcasting after his playing days are over. Thornsy clearly likes being in front of the camera. Should be a good show.

  • Jose Gill

    Felger is allowed to talk about the Bruins? Thought there was a court order in effect

  • Siggy

    John Henry on Felger/Mazz right now…not sure which way it's going, though Henry definitely on the offensive denying that the Tito Smear came from on high. Felger/Mazz caught a little off guard I think so far.

  • bostonsportsmediafan

    Wow, anyone listening to John Henry on SportsHub right now? He's live in studio.

  • APimpNamedDaveR

    Per Chad Finn, Henry is on with F&M now. Anyone listening to this? Can you update for those of us at work?

    • FCM

      Henry is a blame game j%^off.

  • bostonsportsmediafan

    Not the most recent post but it looks like CSNNE is taking advantage of all the pre-Hot Stove stuff by extending their "Baseball Show" on Wednesday (10/19) from 7:00PM to 8:30. On the final few shows, many callers expressed this and the responses from the panelists (Sean McAdams, Lou and Bob, I think) seemed to reflect that this was already being discussed and worked on.

    Given that this offseason is going to be percolating with news, I'd hope that they continue with this and do a show every few weeks or month.

    Good job, CSNNE, on listening to your fans.

  • Jason_Coyote

    Ryan, I feel bad that I haven't posted much of late, because I've enjoyed reading your columns and think you've been a good addition to this site.

    I'd like to bring something up that will likely get lost after Henry's Friday interview with F&M, but in the aftermath of Felger's on-air comments about Heidi Watney (and Haggerty's subsequent third-man-in twitter remarks) I found the following very odd.

    Friday morning during the 7:00am hour of T&R they replayed the interview they had with Heidi the previous day where Haggerty's tweets came up in the discussion. In the very next segment T&R are on the phone live with Haggerty discussing the Bruins.

    I realize Haggerty wasn't there to talk about his tweets to Heidi, but I found the juxtaposition of the two segments to be a bit jarring. T&R always like to joke that they'll never be part of the Boston sports 'Lodge', yet there they were joking with Haggerty right after re-airing Watney's interview, which sounded quite logdey to me.

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