Friday Ramblin’s

Mixing things up a little bit this Friday, rather than full links, we’ll jump around a little bit.

Patriots Daily is giving you what you need for Sunday’s Patriots/Falcons game. Weekly features like Worry Wart by Chris Warner, Trading Places - a chat with the Falcoholic blog and First Impressions get you warmed up for Sunday. Later today the Buffet Table and Matchups should be posted.

With an NFC opponent coming into town, FOX has the game on Sunday, however, if you live in certain parts of New England that happen to lie close to New York, you’re going to get the Giants game instead. Check Patriots Daily tomorrow for the weekly media notes feature. Check PatriotsLinks.com for all the stories today in the papers.

FOX also has the Red Sox/Yankees game on Saturday. So it’s a big weekend for Butch Stearns and crew.

One story that was kicking around yesterday was the news (first reported by Sports Business Daily) that the Kraft Sports Group has entered a business relationship with ESPNBoston.com to sell ads on the site. Mike Florio of Profootballtalk.com was apoplectic at the news, calling it “one of the most blatant and obvious conflicts of interest we ever have seen.” A bit of exaggeration there, for sure. This is sports. What kills me about how Florio handled this was his followup post nearly 12 hours later on the subject. He admits that ESPN got back him on his questions in the morning, yet he waited all that time to post the reply…because he didn’t have time. Yet, he had time to personally post15  items in between the two ESPNBoston items.

It seems more likely that Florio let the item sit on his site, knowing it was a hot topic, (83 comments and counting) and wanted to milk it as long as he could before posting the ESPN followup later at night. I can’t really fault him for this…it’s good website business. Keep those pageviews coming in. But Mike, don’t say you didn’t have time to post the followup. That’s lame.

Locally, Jenn Abelson in the Globe writes about potential conflicts of interest in the deal. That’s all well and good, and a legitimate concern to bring up. However, how in the world can the Globe not disclose in that article that they themselves are in a similar conflict, with their (for the moment) parent company also owning 17% of the Red Sox? Inexcusable.

My boy Chad Finn makes the same misstep in his media column today. He starts out with quotes from Tim McCarver on Red Sox/Yankees and Troy Aikman on Patriots/Falcons, and then dives into the ESPNBoston/Kraft Sports Group potential conflict of interest without mentioning the Globe’s situation. He describes the news partnership as starting off on “dubious journalistic ground.”  Sure, I think that most people are by now aware of the 17% but I find it a little hard for the Globe to be critical of ESPNBoston in this instance. 

Elsewhere, in real sports, Sean McAdam breaks the news that Jon Lester, not Josh Beckett, will get the game one start in the postseason. I’m shocked that the Red Sox failed to consult Glenn Ordway on this. He spent hours yesterday telling us it was a no-brainer that Beckett would get that honor.

Dom Amore tells us that this Red Sox/Yankees series is a bit more laid back.  Bill Burt tells us that a Red Sox/Yankees postseason series could come down to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Joba Chamberlain. Check RedSoxLinks.com for all the stories today.

Jessica Camerato has a nice piece on new Celtic Shelden Williams, who is married to WNBA superstar Candace Parker. 

It sounds like Gerry Callahan is going to be making an appearance on the Big Show this afternoon, at least that’s what was stated a number of times on the WEEI morning show today, hosted by Butch Stearns and Greg Dickerson. John Dennis is undergoing surgery this morning, and apparently will be out to at least start next week. At the end of the morning show, Dickerson said that Callahan would be back in the morning on Monday.

If you’re able to, I highly, highly recommend checking out Showtime’s Full Color Football series. It’s a history of the AFL, and is simply tremendous. I can’t say enough good things about it.

First Impressions – ESPNBoston.com

The new ESPNBoston.com launched yesterday, coinciding with the start of the Patriots season on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

This is the second localized ESPN site that the company has launched, following ESPNChicago.com. Dallas, Los Angeles and New York are planned in the next year.

Regular initial contributors to the Boston site are as follows:

  • Mike Reiss – Former Boston Globe NFL writer, who will cover the New England Patriots;
  • Tedy Bruschi – Three-time New England Patriots Super Bowl champion will offer his NFL insights and analysis in multiple contributions per week;
  • Peter Gammons – Hall of Fame honored ESPN Baseball analyst and Boston-area native who spent nearly 15 years at the Globe will contribute columns on the Red Sox;
  • Michael Smith– Sr. Writer for ESPN.com and E:60 correspondent who spent three years covering the Patriots during the recent Super Bowl runs will contribute coverage of Boston sports;
  • Howard Bryant – ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine senior writer, Boston native, Western Mass. resident and former Boston Heraldwriter, will contribute reporting and columns on New England Sports;
  • Amy K. Nelson – ESPN.com writer, born-and-raised in the Boston area and a graduate of Hampshire college, will cover the Boston Red Sox daily and author a Red Sox blog;
  • Matt Kalman – Boston-area journalist and blogger who will author Boston Bruins blog.

Grabbing Reiss as the cornerstone piece of the site was a great move, and it weakens potential competitor Boston.com at the same time. (Really, the only reason I now have to go to Boston.com other than the morning Globe stories is Chad Finn.) Kalman has a great Bruins blog (thebruinsblog.net) and is also a great hire for the site. Interestingly, the Boston Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, will not be doing original columns for the site, though he did do a chat for the launch last night.

Getting original columns from Gammons will be a treat, having the thought-provoking Bryant back on the local radar is a positive, and Michael Smith will be a welcome addition as well, as I haven’t seen too much of him in the ESPN empire. What remains to be seen of course, is how much original content we’re going to get from this trio.

In the weeks ahead, ESPNBoston.com will also add dedicated reporter/blogger coverage of the Boston Celtics, New England Revolution and major collegiate sports programs in the area.  The site will also grow to offer small college and regional high school coverage.

Overseeing the day-to-day editorial operations of ESPNBoston.com are Managing Editor Peter Lawrence-Riddell, a native of Amherst, Mass., graduate of Bates College in Maine and 10-year veteran of ESPN.com, and senior editor David Lefort, a Whitinsville, Mass. native and the former online sports editor for the Boston Globe.

The site is the home of ESPNBoston SportsCenter, hosted by ESPN anchors and produced originally each day.  The video series will provide fans a 3-6 minute roundup of the city and region’s sports news, teams, highlights, figures and stories each day.

 The new site also features a custom Boston video hub, offering a library for the latest highlights, news, analysis and original content from ESPN programs including exclusive, original Boston content from the teams at ESPN programs including Baseball Tonight, NFL Live, College Football Liveand more. The 16×9 video player will be featured on the front page and main index pages delivering an integrated video experience.

The player does auto-start when you load the page, which is a little annoying, especially if you’re working in a quiet office, but in the lower right hand corner of the video screen, you can choose to turn the auto-play on or off.

Last night the site had a chat with Bill Simmons which started at 7:00pm, and ended at 9:20pm. Gammons and Bruschi had also held chats earlier in the day.

The site layout is clean, well laid out, and easy to navigate. There’s a lot of content there without being overly “busy” like some other local sites can be at times.  

ESPNBoston

While there is a lot of “recycled” content, both from the main ESPN.com site and from wire and AP reports, it’s pretty nice to have all the Boston content in one place. As for the original content, Reiss is the big draw to start with, and he has already picked up on many of his familiar features on his blog, including formation statistics and inactives analysis. Reiss was also on the ESPN pregame show last night, where they pimped the site a little bit.

Overall, the online competition in Boston is heating up. With ESPNBoston.com would seem to impact the sports side of Boston.com the most, but is also a new competitor for WEEI.com…which given some of the rumorsout there, could be an interesting scenario. CSNNE.com plans to relaunch their site sometime in the fourth quarter, harnessing their new content from NECN, and creating a site of local voices, video content and fan interaction.

All of this adds up to plenty of options for Boston sports fans – the real winner of all this competition.

ESPN to 850? WEEI to FM?

In his column today reporting on the shutdown of 890 ESPN, our pal Chad Finn tosses an interesting twist into the local sports radio state of things. He writes:

According to multiple industry sources, ESPN is in discussions to air some of its national programming on WEEI-AM 850 during nights and weekends, with WEEI intending to move to an FM station within months. (Entercom Communications, which owns WEEI, also owns two FM stations in Boston: WAAF 97.7/107.3, and Mike 93.7.)

ESPN Radio would then take over the 850 spot on the dial. The new ESPN 850 station would then be affiliated with the ESPN Boston website, which launches Monday.

Now THAT would be a big shuffle, which would just be latest in a series of frenzied moves by WEEI as they take on the new competitor in the market, 98.5 The SportsHub WBZ-FM.

I talked about the possible FM switch for WEEI a few weeks ago:

Will WEEI Add FM Simulcast In Boston?

That post looks at the options for WEEI in the FM market here, and what the possibilities might be. The move suggested above wouldn’t just be a simulcast, it would be a full switch to FM, with ESPN radio taking over 850…which would be sort of interesting. Why would WEEI want another source of sports radio competition in town, one with a signal that they previously occupied? Would WEEI want to hand ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning a spot where they could compete better with Dennis & Callahan? Unless they feel that having two programs locally to compete against WBZ-FM’s Toucher & Rich is the way to go.

Mike & Mike is the one show that ESPN seems to insist on local affiliates airing.

Dan Kennedy doesn’t think this is a smart move for ESPN.

It’s going to be really interesting to see how this all shakes out.

Farewell, 890 ESPN

Multiple reports have 890 ESPN shutting down sometime this weekend. The writing has been on the wall for some time now, and in way, it’s pretty amazing that they’ve been around since 2005, when they enlisted Michael Felger to go head-to-head with Glenn Ordway on afternoon drives. (Sound familiar?)

The 890ESPN.com domain is aleady inactive. With the new ESPNBoston.com set to launch on Monday, there have been a lot rumors floating around out there that ESPN is looking for a stronger local signal to serve as a platform for their national ESPN Radio programming.

Could Entercom sell 680 and ESPN take over there? I don’t see that happening, but who knows…

Tedy Bruschi to ESPN, Debuts Thursday.

In one of the quickest transitions from the football field to TV, ESPN has announced that former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi will join ESPN as an analyst. He’ll be on the regular network and he’ll also have a role on the new ESPN Boston site that launches next Monday. Look at the press release:

Tedy Bruschi Joins ESPN as NFL Analyst
Super Bowl Champion Patriots Linebacker to Provide Analysis on ESPNBoston.com and Appear on NFL Live, SportsCenter and ESPN Radio

Three-time New England Patriots Super Bowl champion Tedy Bruschi is joining ESPN. The veteran linebacker, who just announced his retirement from pro football last week after 13 seasons, will provide NFL analysis on ESPNBoston.com – ESPN’s new local sports site, launching September 14 – and appear on NFL Live, SportsCenter, ESPN Radio and other ESPN platforms.

Bruschi, who played in five of the Patriots franchise’s six Super Bowl appearances, will offer his NFL insights and analysis in multiple contributions per week on ESPNBoston.com, ESPN’s new home for New England sports news and information, online video, and original and customized content. He will also offer analysis on ESPN, beginning this week when he debuts on NFL Live Thursday (4 p.m. and 12 a.m. ET) and Friday (4 p.m.) with host Trey Wingo and Darren Woodson.

As part of studio coverage leading into ESPN’s season-opening Monday Night Football doubleheader on Monday, Bruschi will be on-site at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., for SportsCenter and Monday Night Countdown before the Buffalo Bills-Patriots game. Also, Bruschi will attend ESPN’s MNF Chalk Talk Series event at the Hall at Patriot Place that morning (11:30 a.m.), and during halftime he will be recognized on the field as an honorary captain of the Patriots’ 50th Anniversary Team.

Bruschi played in 189 career regular season games (and 22 playoff games) during his 13-year career (1986-2008), all with the Patriots, who selected him in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft. Captain of the New England defense for seven seasons, Bruschi helped lead the Pats to nine playoffs, eight division championships, five conference titles and three Super Bowl crowns (XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX). He also helped guide the Patriots to the first undefeated 16-0 regular season record in NFL history in 2007. A 2004 Pro Bowl selection, Bruschi finished his career with 1,134 tackles, 30.5 sacks and 12 interceptions. He is the only player in NFL history to return four consecutive interceptions for touchdowns.

“Tedy Bruschi has embodied the Patriots and their unrivaled success the past decade, and we are thrilled that this three-time Super Bowl champion is joining our roster of NFL experts as well as ESPNBoston.com, which will give New England sports fans a stable of authentic and familiar Boston voices when it launches Monday,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president, production.

Bruschi added: “I’m very excited to be joining the ESPN team. I hope to bring my passion and knowledge for the game as an analyst just as I did as a player. I look forward to the national exposure of covering the entire league while also having the opportunity to stay close to my roots here with ESPNBoston.com.”

In addition to his relentless worth ethic and intensity on the field, Bruschi is equally as well known for his determination and professionalism off the field. After suffering a stroke in February 2005, Bruschi endured months of rehabilitation before he was medically cleared to play football and returned to the Patriots lineup in October. Bruschi was named the 2005 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and the recipient of both the Ed Block Courage Award and the Maxwell Football Club’s Spirit Award.

Bruschi was named to NFL.com’s All-Interview Team for accessibility to the media, and he has been one of the Patriots most active players in the greater Boston community. When his retirement announcement was made, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called him “the perfect player,” and team owner Robert Kraft, citing “executive privilege,” promptly named him honorary defensive captain of the franchise’s 50th Anniversary Team.

Certainly Tedy impressed people when he made his retirement announcement last week at Gillette and supposedly, he was approached by ESPN right after he got off the podium. Judging from his TV ads, Tedy has the potential to be a very good analyst.

Initial Thoughts on ESPNBoston.com

By now, thanks to Fang’s Bites, you know that ESPN will be launching a local version of ESPN.com, ESPNBoston.

The site is slated to launch on September 14th – or opening day for the Patriots, who play on Monday Night Football that night on ESPN. ( I wonder if it is telling that 98.5 The SportsHub launched on the day of the Patriots first preseason game, while ESPNBoston launches on the day of the Patriots first regular season game.)

Here are a few of my initial thoughts on the topic:

First of all, the ESPNChicago site should give you a pretty good feel of what you can expect from the Boston version.

While there will be a lot of “re-purposing” of Boston content from the main ESPN.com site, there will be plenty of original content as well. The splash hiring of Mike Reiss gives the site some instant credibility, and you can expect some other local defections to this site in the coming weeks.

For a guy like Reiss, leaving the uncertainty of what the future holds for The Boston Globe (not to mention that recent pay cut all Globe employees had to take) probably made this a pretty easy decision. If you’ve been following the news of some of the potential buyers of the Globe, you know that the idea of Platinum Equity purchasing the Globe should have employees terrified. ESPN offers stability and reach.

I’d say the days of Reiss’ Pieces (as a brand) are over, for now anyway. Boston.com will obviously have to change the name of their Patriots blog, but I don’t expect it to follow Reiss over to ESPNBoston. ESPN is about their brand, not that of its talent. Reiss however, will continue to do exactly what he’s going now for Boston.com, except without the added burden of having to produce something for the print edition.

You can probably expect some change in ESPN Radio locally. The 890 station is not owned by ESPN, they are an affiliate. I would expect that you’ll see some move by ESPN to get their brand better established on the local airwaves. I don’t think that would come in the form of a new locally staffed and hosted ESPN Radio Boston to compete with WEEI and WBZ-FM, but something more along the lines of a more solid platform for their national shows, such as Mike & Mike in the Morning. The current incarnation of 890 simply isn’t up to ESPN standards.

The local edition of SportsCenter is intriguing. Rather than sitting through the full version of SportsCenter on ESPN for the few Boston highlights (if you even do that anymore), you’ll be able to go online and get them all instantly, at any time.

The Chicago site still seems to lean on a lot of AP content, and straight links back to ESPN.com. That’s not going to be appealing here, but I expect there to be more of a focus on local original content on the Boston site.

In a similar vein, I would hope the local focus would also result in a scaleback of the ESPN hysteria. I don’t think the Mark Schlereth type of hysterical, irresponsible speculation would go over well here. Based on the emails and comments I receive, people in this market smell out that type of stuff pretty quickly and reject it.

Also check out the Globe media column by Chad Finn on the topic.

It doesn’t touch on ESPNBoston, but the New Bedford Standard Times rates New England’s “Big 6″ sports media outlets.

One other quick unrelated link, over on Patriots Daily, we’re Trading Places with a Redskins blogger.