ESPN’s NFL Coverage Will Focus More on Xs and Os Than Off-Field Stories

One of the criticisms of ESPN’s coverage of the NFL is that they focus on too many off-the-field issues. Don’t know what we’re talking about? Just watch this video from 2008.

I don’t entirely blame ESPN for this issue. Sometimes television networks like ESPN need talking points to fill their air time. They do that by venturing into off-field stories, discussing trade rumors, or running anonymously-sourced stories. That sort of coverage can become annoying for traditional sports fans, but it’s a somewhat understandable trade-off for having comprehensive coverage. Luckily for us ESPN has realized that football sells itself and their coverage this year may try to reflect that.

Speaking with SI’s media columnist Richard Deitsch, ESPN senior coordinating producer for the NFL, Seth Markman, says the plan is to focus more on Xs and Os. “The last few years, the one area I wanted to focus on was getting a little bit back on the field,” said Markman. “Some of it was the last few years there were so many off-the-field stories that it took us in a lot of different directions. When I looked at the shows, I found that we could do a better job of getting people ready for their games. If that means being a little more Xs and Os this year, then I think we can do that.”

This will definitely be a welcomed change for most sports fans. I understand why ESPN has had a problem with this in the past. Other sports are different from football — there isn’t an inherent interest in day-to-day NBA, MLB, NHL or college basketball games — so off-field story lines are needed to heighten interest. With the NFL, people love it for what it is. Many fans are educated about their teams and follow the sport closely. B.S. stories aren’t needed. If the Worldwide Leader sticks to Markman’s words, all viewers will benefit.

Bleacher Report Merely Window Dressing with New Hires

Bleacher Report announced the hiring of five new “lead writers” on Monday, sparking some pats on the back and commentary that the organization is becoming more credible. While the reputation of the new writers can bring more respect to the organization, it does not change that this is classic window dressing by Bleacher Report intended to strengthen the company by quieting the critics.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Bleacher Report, they’re a widely mocked sports website known for extremely low-quality content that is gamed to dominate Google’s search engines. They have a reputation for spelling errors, typos, and slideshows created in poor taste. Really, all you need to know about Bleacher Report is that they used the tsunami in Japan as an excuse to publish a slideshow on the “worst natural disasters in sports history.”

Noted bloggers Dan Levy, Bethlehem Shoals, Josh Zerkle, Dan Rubenstein, and Matt Miller were given new positions within the company. While Miller is a “homegrown” talent for Bleacher Report, the other four men gained their reputation through years of outstanding contributions to the blogosphere. I am friendly with a few of the new writers and happy they found jobs about which they’re excited. And while I’ll continue to support a few of those individuals and their exemplary work, the hirings do little to change my overall opinion of the company.

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HBO Rolls Out the Red Carpet to Bring Back Manny Pacquiao in November

Manny Pacquiao has returned to his familiar television home of HBO for his upcoming November fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao’s last fight in May was televised by Showtime, marking a significant departure from HBO Sports.

Showtime displayed extreme creativity in luring Pac-Man away from HBO. They offered him an appearance on 60 Minutes, a countdown series on CBS, and promotion during March Madness. HBO’s reluctance to match Showtime’s offer resulted in them losing arguably the biggest draw in boxing, and it led to the firing of Ross Greenburg. After losing Pacquiao’s May fight, HBO wasn’t about to miss out on his November bout.

The suits at HBO landed Pacquiao’s brawl with Marquez by putting together a package comparable to the one previously offered by Showtime. Lem Satterfield at RingTV.com has the details on everything HBO has promised:

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Pac-12 Making the Upgrade with New National and Regional TV Deal

Upgrade today like the Pac-12 and Best Buy will buy it back when you’re ready for the next big thing

Larry Scott continues to impress as the commissioner of the Pac-12. Since taking over as the conference’s commissioner two years ago, the conference has expanded from 10 to 12 teams, flirted with major programs like Texas, and increased its national exposure. Scott already signed a 12-year national TV deal with FOX and ESPN that netted the conference $3 billion. His latest plan to launch a television network can take the conference to the next level.

Scott’s unveiled plans Wednesday to create six regional networks and one national network for the Pac-12. The regional networks will be based on local pairings. For example, there will be an Oregon network for the University of Oregon and Oregon State, and a Washington network for the University of Washington and Washington State. Cable providers Cox, Time Warner, Bright House, and Comcast have already signed on to broadcast the channels. Scott plans to add satellite and phone companies.

The new channels will be available in high definition and they will be owned by the conference. The best part of all? “With this arrangement, every [Pac-12] football game and every men’s basketball game will be available to a national audience on television,” Scott said Wednesday.

When Larry Scott took the conference’s coaches and top football players on a national media tour last year, his mission to expand their reach was clear. Rather than remain on the West Coast with limited exposure, the conference made stops at ESPN’s headquarters and New York City to appeal to a greater audience. With a new TV deal in place that includes a national network and regional networks, you can’t help but feel like the conference is in the hands of a man who knows what he’s doing. Larry Scott is making the upgrade and the Pac-12 is benefiting.

Amar’e Stoudemire to Join Big Lead Sports, Talk Sports and Fashion

One lockout has ended and another is looming.  Now that football is back, we get to rest our heads — very briefly for NBA fans.  The most significant difference that we can see so far between the NFL and NBA lockout situations is NBA players talking about playing overseas.  Personally, I find this annoying.  No one cares about Ron Artest possibly maybe sort of thinking about playing in Finland.  Kobe and LeBron will both be on NBA rosters when the situation is sorted out, so why waste our time talking about it.

While everyone else tries to figure out if it’s worth signing with a European team to play in the fall, Amar’e Stoudemire has decided to come over to our world.  By that I mean the Knicks franchise forward is going to be banging some keys and joining the blog world.  According to the NY Post, Stoudemire has made a deal with Big Lead Sports to launch his own website in exchange for a revenue-sharing agreement and small equity stake in the company.

Stoudemire will reportedly talk sports and fashion and aim to help make fantasy basketball more popular in an educational way.

“This is definitely a great opportunity,” he told the Post on Tuesday. “From fantasy basketball, it’s a great way to learn math without you even knowing it.”

Educational? That might be a stretch, but there’s no denying this is great news for the blogosphere.  Having athletes on-board with what we do is huge.  I’m not sure how much success Amar’e can have in growing fantasy basketball, but an NBA All-Star as a blog contributor can only mean good things for all of us.

ESPN the Book Likely to Become a Movie

The ESPN book ESPN: Those Guys Have All The Fun was a big success following its release in May. It rose to 256 on Amazon’s bestseller rankings and was second in their TV and sports broadcasting categories. The book became so popular that movie studios reportedly are fighting over its film rights.

According to Deadline.com, 20th century FOX is closing a deal for the screen rights to the book. Deadline reports “The studio will develop a feature about the formation of the 24-hour sports network. The pic will be produced by Michael De Luca, Trigger Street’s Dana Brunetti and Julie Yorn.”

Deadline writer Mike Fleming adds that “The book created a stir in the film community when ICM began shopping it in recent weeks. I’m told there is interest from scribes and directors, and the studio and producers will start right away looking for someone to figure out the movie.”

Film producers reportedly envision the movie being similar to The Social Network for its aspects of back-stabbing and ego-driven characters. We could easily see that happening. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all scripts or film rights that are purchased end up being created; nothing really came of the Colin Cowherd sitcom.

Still, people love intra-office drama and gossip, and the book was loaded with it. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this turned into a movie. At least it should be more appealing to the sports crowd than Moneyball, which is only about a decade too late.

Thanks to Joey Kaufman for the tip

Hard Knocks Reportedly Canceled by HBO

Hard Knocks on HBO has become one of the most popular sports shows on TV, but SI’s Peter King reported Saturday that it will be canceled for the upcoming season. King wrote on twitter No “Hard Knocks” this year. I repeat: No “Hard Knocks.”

HBO spokesman Ray Stallone recently told Sporting News “We are monitoring (lockout) developments and remain hopeful of presenting a new season of ‘Hard Knocks.’ Beyond that we are not going to speculate.”

Hard Knocks has given us great looks inside the training camps of the Jets, Cowboys, Chiefs, Bengals, and Ravens since debuting in 2001. The bright side is we won’t have to hear any more complaints about the amount of cussing by Rex Ryan. The downside is missing out on awesome moments like this.