Mar 22 2009
By David Scott
Boston Sports Media Watch
I’d like to report that I’m back in full force at this space, but I’m still in the editing process and as I’ve said from the beginning of this amazing project, I can’t justify devoting time to my love (Scott’s Shots) over my real-life job.
However, as I’ve done a few times throughout the course of this process, I find it necessary to check in on a few recent developments in Boston Sports Media.
Thank you for your continued support and hopefully by the time the Nantasket Beach concession stands open for business, we’ll be back dissecting the local and national media scene on a regular basis.
The Re-Launch of WEEI.com
That sound you heard last Monday morning was BostonHerald.com’s sports offering plunging to the depths of irrelevance. That was the day Boston became a two horse town as far as mainstream media sports sites go. With its total overhaul and Entercom’s apparent commitment to make WEEI.com “. . .the new sports page in town,” as the site’s VP/GM Tim Murphy said, the site is now fully ready to compete with the region’s sports-on-the-web leader, Boston.com.
“We didn’t want the site to be just ‘radio good,’” said Murphy in an extensive March 13 pre-launch interview and “walk-through’ of the new site with Shots. “We’re redefining what a sports page is. I like our chances of being the No. 1 (destination for Boston sports fans) in time.”
Boasting aside, what the new WEEI.com does offer is clean navigation, a comprehensive mix of audio and text and, in time we’re told, a healthy dose of video. It is vibrant, well laid out and deep.
Some of the initial slow loading and optimization issues faced last week are beginning to disappear and a spokesman for the site said, “optimizing load times is a normal 1-2 weeks process for a brand new site.”
For the most part, the beta testing of 100 guinea pigs and the months of design which Murphy oversaw seem to have struck gold. This is what happens when good planning, clear vision and proper investments meet creative and forward-thinking people.
The new site is already using its potential to tout upcoming radio highlights – witness the Bill Simmons on D&C Monday morning plug that was posted in the “This Just In” box on Sunday night. The ability to use the site to promote the radio station and vice versa will truly be the biggest asset WEEI.com will have over its competition. Complete and total saturation with the ability to completely dictate the region’s sports discussion is both a powerful position and a scary concept (mostly on the radio side with the all-too-might Big Show’s mob of meatheads).
With a staff and contributors that still lags behind Boston.com (but surpasses, in most every way the Herald), WEEI.com editor Rob Bradford and his lieutenants have shown glimpses of brilliance in both reporting and analyzing – even before the re-launch.
Experiments that haven’t worked have been abandoned – see: Leitch, Will – and personalities who drive traffic like Mike Felger and Curt Schilling are easy to find and promoted prominently through the lead story picture box. (That box is still having loading issues which lead to blurry, unviewable pictures but those kinks will be worked out with further optimization.)
The aforementioned “TJI” box is placed in a strange position for our tastes, but Murphy explained the concept of the placement thusly, “(The) ‘This Just In’ widget was intentionally designed to overlap the lead story block. It never overlaps the core of the image. Subjective area to assess, but we think it offers a compelling visual while also bring TJI, a differentiating content feature, into a premium position on the homepage.”
Fair enough and a great example of how everything was very well thought out and conceived. Almost no stones seemed to have been left unturned.
Advertisers, according to Murphy, have been receptive to the new look. The site’s serious attempt to challenge Boston.com and the Verizon-sponsored re-launch along with a growing preferred partners list would indicate the ad community’s willingness to dabble with the packaging of radio and web sides to maximize exposure and penetration.
Some early signs that should worry Murphy and Bradford is the slacking already being displayed by some shows’ individual pages in terms of updating audio and some not-yet-ready-for-prime time and inconsistent blogging.
They must also either make a committed effort to utilize the LeeINKS space or abandon the idea all together. That is just the kind of offering that Murphy talked about with us when he said every morning while he was growing up, he’d eat his cereal and read the Globe sports page. A quick A.M. romp around the webosphere for Boston-centric stories and oddities could be hugely popular – and cereal appointment reading But not if it’s ignored for days at a time and not clearly defined.
That’s probably the biggest critique we can offer at this point: when building a new site and creating site loyalty, the consistency and quality of the content is HUGE. (And will lead to the high Time Spent Viewing numbers Murphy wants to deliver – “We want this site to be a much ‘stickier’ experience and show advertisers much more engagement through users’ commenting and other (strategies) to keep them at WEEI.com,” he said.
Murphy would be wise to remember, there’s just too many local and national offerings out there to steal readers and page views and once users are let down a couple of times, they may never return. You have one chance to make a first impression.
Still, if the site maximizes its potential and utilizes all its new bells and whistles to the fullest, it will indeed be the revolutionary creation Murphy is envisioning.
What Exactly is CBS College Sports Trying to Be?
While serving as the cable home for the Tournament and “complementing CBS Sports’ exclusive live game broadcasts with over 75 hours of coverage,” the CBS College Sports Network did more confounding during the Tournament’s first two rounds than complementing.
What the network promised would be “exclusive in-progress game highlights, live look-ins and press conferences from every team at every site from the first-round through the Championship Game,” was instead, on Thursday through Sunday’s offering a complete head-scratcher.
With such a unique opportunity to augment the yeoman’s effort consistently put forth by its Sugar Daddy, CBS, the cable outlet put forth a product that felt and looked low budget, haphazard and discombobulated.
Let us count the ways that CBSCS disappointed:
1. It started from jump street when Thursday introductions of three in-studio, guest coach analysts showed IUPUI coach Ron Hunter on-screen as the frazzled host was clumsily giving the credentials of Marist coach Chuck Martin. It only got worse from there, although in fairness Hunter, Martin and Hofstra’s Tom Pecora did their best under some clearly difficult circumstances. Stage tests and rehearsals were apparently not employed by the network formerly known as CSTV (for whom Shots did freeelance work with over the past two seasons).
(Hunter actually shone throughout the weekend and Martin’s debut was also quite promising. Pecora went a little too hard for laughs, but his bluntness was appreciated. It took us two days to figure out who Tim Miles was in his underwhelming appearance.)
2. The in-game shows were billed as being hosted by Adam Zucker and Tracy Wolfson – both of whom were passable – but a constant rotation of other throw-ins from the shallow CBSCS stable only confused matters. Analysts were here one game, gone the next and if there was any pre-scheduling of on-air time, it wasn’t apparent. Almost every analyst spent more time looking for the camera with the red light on than analyzing and the one who did understand camera position – Steve Lappas – has never taken to the medium despite the network’s repeated efforts to make him TV-friendly. That’s a project that needs to be abandoned.
When Lappas got paired with current Drexel coach Bruiser Flint on Saturday night’s desk, the awkwardness of the duo never dissipated. (Flint, who is phenomenal on TV, was replaced as the UMass coach by Lappas, in a move that signaled a decided downturn in Minutemen basketball that has take years to recover from.) As Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports pointed out, “it was sort of akin to having Mike Davis and Bob Knight discuss the brackets together.”
3. The self-touted “Live Look-Ins” from CBSCS were a complete disaster with most coming at inopportune times or for too short a period. Now that all games are available FREE on the Internet, it would make sense to give viewers extended “looksies” into riveting games on CBSCS. We know CBS refuses to use the once-popular split screens, but does that mean CBSCS can’t? There’s definitely a sponsor who would buy up that space, wouldn’t you think?
Quite simply, it just seems that CBS doesn’t know what to do with CBSCS, so they’re throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what – if anything – sticks. (Viewer call-ins DID NOT stick and must be discontinued immediately. Callers ranged from school kids to morons who wanted to know how far their team could go in the “playoffs.” Ugh.)
The coup de grace came on Sunday night when three down-to-the-wire contests were being decided but the wizards at CBSCS found it more necessary to show not one but TWO, re-packaged features on Tyreke Evans of Memphis and Blake Griffin of Oklahoma. To call it mind-boggling is being kind.
When they finally did go to live look-ins for the fantastic finishes, the CBSCS feed was almost a minute ahead of the national feed on CBS. What a disaster and what an embarrassment to the mothership at Black Rock.
[On a positive note, the rising star Carter Blackburn proved to be the most capable studio host all weekend and his second year of play-by-play work for both CBSCS and CBS (where he gave first-round breathers to aging Dick Enberg) should have him high on every major, respectable broadcasters list for new and emerging talent.]
The potential for CBSCS in future Tournaments – and maybe even this year as they continue through the Final Four – is limitless. If used properly, with pre-planning and clear guidelines, it can truly enhance the viewers’ experience of what is already a phenomenal event. Left in its current state, however, the network’s supplemental coverage does nothing but frustrate viewers and diminish the overall product shown to the nation.
. . . Over at CBS, Greg Anthony gets the most-improved award for his in-studio work. Partner Seth Davis got the most-annoying award when he referred to Greg Gumbel as “Gregory.” And the netowrk had its share of audio problems, most glaringly with Jim Spanarkel who sometimes couldn’t be heard at all.
Dan Shaughnessy, Cartographer
But there’s probably some good to be done from piling on in this instance. Emailers to Shots were equally appalled by the Curt’s BF’s assertion that, “New England’s history in the NCAA basketball tourney is ancient and rare.”
Shaughnessy bases the column on a completely fraudulent premise based in poor geography and worse institutional memory. Does anyone edit the man? And couldn’t he have had the decency to, I don’t know, write something that justified the expense of sending him on the road? Wouldn’t it have been nice to see a senior-year-unsung-hero Tyrese Rice column from Dan? Or maybe a Rakim Sanders of Pawtucket, RI piece? Or is Rhody too small of a state to be considered New England. Or how about something on the UVM transfer (oh look, another New England basketball school) Joe Trapani? Oh, wait, he’s from Connecticut and since that’s not part of New England, well, he probably doesn’t merit an introduction to the once-a-year BC followers who pop up annually.
I really hope Shaughnessy brings a t-shirt back from Minnesota for his chief enabler, sports editor, Joe Sullivan. You know the one. It reads, “My editor sent me to Minnesota and all I produced were two lousy columns that I put next to no effort into.”
Is there not anyone who talks with Shaughnessy about what he might be writing on? Don’t co-workers like Bob Ryan or Tony Massarotti get embarrassed by the drivel their cohort hands in while they actually still get after it? Things are tough all over and morale at newspapers is below sea level – but it can only be compounded for Globies who have to watch as Shaughnessy skates by on three out of every four offerings.
None of the Globe’s college hoops coverage bodes well for this weekend’s East Regional. Let’s hope Adam Kilgore comes up North from FLA and that Ryan doesn’t get sent to Memphis, Indy or Phoenix.
David Scott writes from a seaside shanty on the shores of Hull, Mass. and can be reached at shotsATbostonsportsmediaDOTcom.