Now is the Winterball of Our Discontent

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the 2020 Major League Baseball World Series Champions. Congratulations were in order two weeks ago but I’m just getting around to it because the New York Yankees were eliminated in the ALDS which means, for me, my deep emotional investment in the season is largely over. In the last two years, even, once the Yankees are out of it baseball becomes almost solely Work Chore, as I don’t even really gamble on it often. In 2020, I was grateful to have baseball at all, so I soaked up the post-season entirely, and I’ve always found it uncouth to do a season autopsy or begin fretting about free agency until the World Series is properly over and offseason news begins to trickle in.

I did not want baseball, or any sport really, in 2020. It made sense to me for the NBA and NHL to bubble up and finish out their postseasons, soccer without fans is extremely weird, football has proven to have pretty bad transmission rates, but baseball seemed to present unique challenges and I wasn’t sure it was worth the risk. Predominantly, I have believed that a lot of Rona’s worst carnage could’ve been avoided if people were paid to stay home, really stay home, for like two or three months, and that revving up a live entertainment machine would ultimately undermine the half-measures being undertaken in May and June no matter what kind of mitigation effort was undertaken.

Then, Rob Manfred, a man I revile like one would hold a particularly rancid bile for a war criminal, squanders weeks of potential playing time quibbling with the Player’s Union in a deliberate move meant to exhaust negotiators and float trial balloons ahead of 2021’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Coming hot off the heels of completely mismanaging the investigative and disciplinary process of the Houston Trash Can scandal, Rob digs his heels to further fuck up my favorite sport by announcing a “temporary” expanded playoffs format for 2020’s abbreviated season, a three-batter minimum for pitchers, and throws a runner on second at the start of extra innings. A lot of these changes are obvious steps in the pursuit of Manfred’s White Whale: speeding the pace of baseball games to attract new fans, and is largely done to the detriment of longtime fans’ enjoyment. I hate them and so should you. They make the pool of strategies a shallower place, and baseball is already too focused on trying to sail the ball over your head every third or fourth at-bat hoping every game hits the over in an effort to retain more casual viewers.

Part of not wanting a season was selfish, too. I sauntered into 2020 baseball fired up. I was ready! A new pinstripe jersey, a frothing hatred of Houston that rivaled my lifelong animosity towards essentially the entire city of Boston, and a thirst for revenge with what looked to be the fabled but frequently faulty New York Yankees as a “FULLY OPERATIONAL DEATH STAR.” Severino goes down for the year, Judge is battling some kind of rib/core injury, and before Spring Training could even really get going, everything was suspended. “Maybe by the time they work out how to have a season safely, some of our guys will have healed up!” I thought.

Continue reading “Now is the Winterball of Our Discontent”

Could Coronavirus Kill the Regional Sports Network?

It might seem a little callous to speculate on implications for entertainment industries while thousands of people die every day from the COVID-19 pandemic and millions lose their jobs, but as Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to restructure a 2020 season, the NFL opts to draft from Roger Goodell’s basement, and the NBA throws together a H-O-R-S-E tournament, I’d argue that the issues are out there and worth exploring. A disclosure: I work in broadcasting, and so much of the following article’s main points certainly fall under my personal livelihood just as much as my interests as a sports fan. There’s absolutely a conflict of interest here, but I have zero ability to change anything about the present status quo within the industry, so this is merely an opinion of someone within the trade. I’ll also be using Colorado as a bit of a microcosm for the rest of the sports broadcasting industry, as it’s my understanding the business model is generally similar to most other areas.

Since MLB Spring Training was halted, not a day has gone by where I didn’t mourn the lack of baseball or think about my beloved New York Yankees. After last season, I’ve spent the off-time oscillating between chomping at the bit for the fellas to get back on the field and worrying about injuries and contracts, like any fan. I count myself lucky that this virus has yet to touch anyone close to me and I’m an “essential worker” that’s thankfully avoided layoffs, so it feels okay to lament about how much easier a quarantine would be if there was a realistic and safe way to distract a terrified, shut-in America with a couple of its favorite pastimes. A big part of feeling like things have “gotten back to normal” will be having sports and their corresponding large gatherings back again.

I splurged on seeing the Nuggets this year and was excited to get back to Coors Field and see the Rockies more regularly than my three or four games a season. The Avalanche were on a dominant tear that undoubtedly would’ve led to a playoff run, and like every year, I had resolved that the 2019-2020 season would finally be the year I got into hockey and follow the NBA closer than highlights and playoff games. Unfortunately, a contract dispute between Colorado’s regional sports network, Altitude Sports, and every major cable or satellite provider in the state meant games from the Rockies, Avalanche, or the Nuggets would have extremely little opportunity to be televised outside of national network showcases. This is still ongoing and has led to both a potentially landmark antitrust case and local bars pirating streams to keep up traditional revenue.

Before I go on to make the case that professional sports should be broadcast on local over-the-air signals, it bears mentioning that I side with Altitude in the contract dispute with the telecommunications infrastructure providers. Regional sports networks (RSNs from here on out), have their own employees and contractors for production and reporting and are giving cable and satellite providers one of the last products cord cutters can’t legally and reliably find an alternative for (yet). To squeeze the networks for a larger share of revenue when it’s only a matter of time before RSNs start fielding streaming deals independent of cable and satellite providers a la the YES Network’s presently-in-limbo arrangements with Amazon Prime seems extremely irresponsible and short-sighted.

Altitude was already likely taking a huge financial hit with its contract dispute before the pandemic hit. It’s not available over-the-air, with YouTube TV or other streaming platforms, and costs extra on top of the base cable package. This is the case with most RSNs. Other than the NFL, most professional sports are carried exclusively on a “premium” channel. Starving for content with sports cancelled, how long could an RSN remain solvent, and could they float for months or years until society is able to safely turn a corner on COVID-19? Broadcast television production and sports journalism are both specialized trades, and there’s surely been employee furloughs and layoffs, and non-renewals for workers on contract already. Those workers and personalities, vital to the quality of the network’s product as well as at the very least partially responsible to viewer retention, might not be back.

A larger question regarding the potential of floundering RSN might be should we even have them?  Continue reading “Could Coronavirus Kill the Regional Sports Network?”

How Could Anyone Possibly Give a Shit About Super Bowl 53?

Full disclosure: Nothing turned out the way I wanted it to regarding my gambling habit, but that’s beside the point. I literally didn’t care about any team that made this year’s post-season and my level of personal emotional investment is purely proportional to the infinitesimal amount of money I put on football games.

Yesterday’s AFC and NFC Championship games were such astronomical failure pyres it’s actually hard to see a future for the entire sport of football and I won’t be watching the Super Bowl this year again. The integrity of the game, specifically in the playoffs, has been compromised by inept or corrupted officiating, and until the NFL figures it out, there is hardly a reason to watch it at its highest level. Yesterday’s contests proved the league cares little about the actual sport and instead prioritizes media markets and television revenue over athletic competition. Shocker.

The NFC Championship between the Rams and the Saints was abysmal. In the final quarter, with less than 2 minutes, an obvious pass interference call at nearly the goal line on a third down conversion attempt wasn’t called by the referee squad. Now, plenty can be made about Sean Payton’s potential level of arrogance regarding clock management and play calling in that final drive, but we’re talking about a helmet-to-helmet, in NO WAY going for the football on behalf of Roby-Coleman, the corner on the play. Here’s the play as well as footage from the post-game interview, in which Payton claims the NFL senior VP of officiating, Alberto Riveron, told him the call had been blown:

This is a complete mistake that changed not just the outcome of the game, but the teams in the Super BowlBookies are giving refunds. The LA Rams, just a few seasons out of their reprehensible departure from St. Louis, are now going to the Big Show. One of the largest media markets in the country who failed to embrace the team whatsoever just eighteen months ago are now championship contenders. A team owned by Stan Kroenke, media magnate and sports franchise collector, was never going to fail in Los Angeles, and the league would always make sure of that. Make no mistake: the Saints were robbed and it was no accident. Continue reading “How Could Anyone Possibly Give a Shit About Super Bowl 53?”

An Autopsy of the Denver Bronco’s 2018 Season

Roughly three years ago, you probably could have floated a ballot initiative in Colorado about renaming Denver International Airport after John Elway. After wining the Superbowl with a crippled Peyton Manning and one of the most historically lethal defenses ever seen in the NFL, Elway was riding high, going on to sign long-term deals for Von Miller, maybe the best pass-rusher since Lawrence Taylor, and Emmanuel Sanders, the league’s most underrated and consistently productive wide receiver.

That goodwill is long, long squandered.

Today, Elway finds himself without a head coach, having fired Vance Joseph after months of presumptive anticipation. There was some speculation last night, after losing to division rivals the LA (SAN DIEGO) Chargers by a score of 23-9, that because Joseph was allowed to speak to the press and state that he wanted to return next year to “make things right,” that Elway might hold off on his termination after all. The logic behind this is actually pretty sound and definitely what was parroted by a lot of people last year after calls for heads to roll went unheeded: it’s very difficult to attract coaching talent to a franchise if the GM could throw you out after a single losing season. Nobody wants to relocate their family, teach their playbook, and develop a staff if you’re a few bad games away from the chopping block without being given any real time to gel within a franchise.

That said, Joseph was proven to be absolutely abysmal at clock management, timeout strategics, and calling for challenges. Basic game management skills eluded him and penalty flags were called constantly based on his ineptitude. Vance, despite being a basically affable guy, well liked in the locker room, that seemed willing enough to take risks and had a playbook that seemed to work for a Broncos team shedding veterans and rudderless without a stable quarterback situation into at least losing games by a closer margin that the blowouts of 2017. After a short winning streak, it even looked like he might have locked down the job for next year, but then they lose to both of the Bay Area’s sorry offerings and shut down by Phillip Rivers, villainized by Bronco fans everywhere. Vance had to go. It’s the third non-interim head coach in eight years, but he had to go. That’s not great for any franchise.

Continue reading “An Autopsy of the Denver Bronco’s 2018 Season”

Golden Boy Promotions MMA Kicks Off Shamefully

Right off the bat, I want to go on record saying that I suspect Oscar De La Hoya is a cocaine addict, which might explain why tonight’s old-timers’ card in Inglewood, California featuring a grudge match main event between eight-years-retired Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell and 43-year-old Tito Ortiz was even happening in the first place. Besides being an obvious cash grab by a boxing promoter obviously tired of playing second fiddle to MMA cards as the sport fades in relevancy and recognition, there’s no other explanation to hold a PPV event for two fighters this far out of their prime years, especially when one has obvious CTE issues and is 48. This was like watching The Wrestler for just under five minutes. It’s something the California State Athletic Commission shouldn’t have even sanctioned.

To see one of the first breakthrough, household name stars of the UFC of yesteryear trotted out with abs toned by insulin shots and HGH, his trademark mohawk thinning in the front and trunks I’m sure were retrieved from a long-forgotten storage unit in the Inland Empire is depressing. Chuck Liddell helped turn MMA into the premiere combat sport internationally, and to watch him hardly recognize where he was during the weigh-ins only to briefly light up again once he heard his name called and got to make what is hopefully his last walk up to a ring is so unfathomably cruel. Maybe he needed the payday, pocketing more than $200,000 to fight Tito Ortiz, his arch-rival whom he beat twice in their heyday.

It was a bloodthirsty time for America, when Ortiz and Liddell’s seething hatred for each other helped drive PPV numbers towards the newly-legitimized UFC. Nu-metal and an aggressive, “kill ’em all” kind of patriotism helped color that whole era of fight sports and masculinity in the US and I think collectively we can agree that it’s a culture that’s aged poorly. Seeing that decay, some fifteen years later, in a first-round knockout that Liddell hardly looked present for is something that might stick with purist elements of the sport’s fanbase, people that have harped for years that this is a legitimate test of athletic skills and not a bloodsport. Continue reading “Golden Boy Promotions MMA Kicks Off Shamefully”