The harsh reality of the newspaper industry in the 21st century is that the survival rate is not very favorable – whether you’re an employee of the paper, or the paper itself.
Just this week, we saw the Chicago Tribune sever ties with its entire photography unit, which consisted of just over two dozen people.
And at the end of the week, we saw one of America’s longest-running sports publications, Pro Football Weekly, announce that they have played their final down.
The publisher and editor of the magazine, Hub Arkush, wrote a goodbye message on PFW’s website on Friday, explaining that their attempt to “build a bridge for [us] from the rapidly deteriorating world of old media to the new, exploding market of digital media” was confounded because, “try as we might, we couldn’t get enough of you to pay what it cost us to deliver it.”
Arkush also shared what would be the penultimate post on the magazine’s website: a notice that Chicago-based bankruptcy trustee Tailwind Services LLC has assumed the assets of the publication, which was also based in the Windy City. A table also broke down the sad facts: liabilities totaling $8.5 million, or roughly 45 times as much as the assets listed.
Indeed, Arkush explained that he and all of his PFW colleagues “have worked at greatly reduced pay and, at times, no pay at all for a very long time and under the most difficult of circumstances and pressures to avoid this outcome.” He added that for “every single writer… the pay was always small, when it came at all, and yet they almost never complained and all that most of them ever wanted to know was what they could do to help.” He lauded the “commitment” of the PFW staffers as the publication neared its predictable but unfortunate end.
In recent years, despite its antiquated name, Pro Football Weekly was more of a brand than a publication. As the magazine continued, they also made a foray into the digital world, not just with new articles posted to its website, and a Facebook and Twitter account to promote them, but an iPhone app, as well.
“PFW” also lent its brand to a weekly radio show, which was carried by many terrestrial and Internet radio stations. That show actually came into my crosshairs late last year, when Arkush, who had co-hosted the show, had commented that Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano’s return to the team after successfully overcoming a cancer diagnosis would distract the team as it entered the playoffs. (It was the .750 record of interim head coach Bruce Arians, now with the Arizona Cardinals, that was largely responsible for the Colts’ successful 2012 campaign.)
Since the end of the recent NFL season, I couldn’t help but notice that regular “PFW” radio co-host Wayne Larrivee, best knwon as the radio voice of the Green Bay Packers, had been largely absent from the broadcast. On many weeks, Arkush would start the show with a message that Larrivee was “on assignment”, but in recent weeks, those messages fell by the wayside, leading many to believe that he had exited the show. No word on the future of the radio show, which actually posted a brand new episode this week.
Also in doubt is the future of the weekly television series that bore the publication’s name. Arkush also co-hosted this show, as well. The regular crew for the TV series consisted of Comcast SportsNet Chicago personality Pat Boyle as general host, with WMVP/”ESPN 1000″ Chicago midday host and NFL Network analyst Tom Waddle and WSCR/”670 The Score” Chicago personality and Bears Hall of Famer Dan Hampton also serving as co-hosts. It was just a few years ago that the television series would receive negative publicity for not one, but two things that Hampton said in the same show. During the Week 1 preview of the 2010 season, while breaking down the Dallas Cowboys’ season opener vs. the Washington Redskins, Hampton had opined that the Cowboys “think they are Clint Eastwood [but] they’re more of the Brokeback variety,” a reference to gay cowboys from the movie “Brokeback Mountain.” And in the final segment of that show, Hampton commented that in the season’s “kickoff” game between the Minnesota Vikings and the then-Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, the Vikings would pull an upset by hitting New Orleans “like Katrina,” a reference to the devastating hurricane that ravaged the state of Louisiana five years earlier. Hampton would issue an apology for both remarks on the next show. (However, that would not stop Hampton from making a veiled reference to one of his foot-in-mouth comments on the very next show.)
Alas, we don’t know if both “PFW” programs in either the television or radio mediums will be back on the air for the 2013 NFL season. There are plans to publish two special issues of the magazine, previewing the upcoming football season, as well as a fantasy football forecast, later this month – the proceeds of which will go directly to PFW’s creditors. But outside of those issues, the future of the publication is unclear. “The trustee [Tailwind] is now accepting bids on all of the Pro Football Weekly assets, and it is my greatest hope that someone with the necessary resources will come along and attempt to revive PFW,” Arkush wrote. He added that he would gladly cooperate in the return of the PFW brand, “but I’m afraid it is largely out of my control.”
Prior to this year’s NFL draft, Pro Football Weekly received a lot of buzz for Nolan Nawrocki’s scouting report of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who would eventually be taken by the New York Jets in the second round.
Who knew that it would be the last real signs of life for the publication, as it was in its death throes behind the scenes.
The first year of NBC’s new deal with Formula One Racing, which previously had aired on SPEED (which will be blown up in favor of Fox Sports 1 this summer), isn’t getting off on the right wheel in one of the biggest states supporting the auto racing faction.
The Sunday before Memorial Day is a huge racing day. In addition to the Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 primetime race on Fox, and the Indianapolis 500 during the day on ABC, there is another race that’s run: the Formula One Grand Prix from Monaco.
And if you were a race fan in Houston, you had a problem.
Because instead of the race, which the network had been promoting for weeks on their air, when viewers tuned into Houston’s NBC affiliate, KPRC-TV/”Local 2″, when the race started at 6:30 AM local time, they were greeted not only with local news programming, but infomercials.
Disgruntled viewers immediately bombarded the Post-Newsweek-owned station’s Facebook and Twitter pages demanding answers. And to make things even more insane, viewers that had no idea about the Monaco race also asked why “Sunday Today” and “Meet The Press” were not on the air. Since these two shows did not produce new episodes due to the race coverage, KPRC chose to air infomercials instead.
Which makes more sense than, say, airing the race itself, right? (Which they finally did toward the end of it… good job, good effort, KPRC!)
“Local 2” is no stranger to preemptions or delays of programming. According to a section on KPRC’s Wikipedia page devoted entirely to this practice of theirs, they did not air Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night” show during its first two years on the air – and when they did finally start carrying it, it was aired at 2:30 AM local time.
And let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a major network affiliate in a top ten market that’s been doing this for years.
The Texas-sized anger from the viewers forced KPRC-TV general manager Jerry Martin to post an apology to viewers – and even then, he doesn’t guarantee the station will clear NBC’s F1 races over the next three years. “We will give it very close assessment for 2014-2016 races and make our decision public well in advance of the race,” he writes.
Take the first syllable of the word “assessment,” and that’s exactly what this GM is representing himself as – even though he claims he knows “what it means to be a fan of racing.”
By opting to show Ron Popeil infomercials in lieu of network coverage of a race, thereby treating local race fans like garbage, Jerry Martin proved he knows nothing about “what it means to be a fan of racing.”
But he knows how to make a quick buck behind his viewers’ backs, doesn’t he?
And just think: this could happen again next Memorial Day weekend. But remember: he knows what you want, race fans!
Here is a sample of Facebook feedback on the morning of May 26.
Since 1925, the Chicago Cubs’ radio outlet has been WGN-AM 720. Both entities were even under the same ownership for a quarter-century (1981-2007) by the Tribune Company.
WGN-AM is best known as the place where former Cubbies third baseman Ron Santo worked as a color commentator for the team’s radio broadcasts until his death in December 2010.
And it was also the station that headphones-clad Cubs fan Steve Bartman was listening to on the night of October 14, 2003, when he interfered with a fly ball – and with that, the Cubs’ best chance of advancing to the World Series in six decades.
With the Cubs once again looking up at everyone else in the NL Central division, it looks like they’re going on seven decades and counting with regards to missing out on the Fall Classic.
So with Jimmy de Castro, whose The Content Factory was responsible for Dan Patrick’s current hit sports radio program, taking the reins at the station, it was an opportune time to quiz him on the team’s future on their air. “I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “I absolutely believe you can create a personality-driven news station and a personality-driven sports station.” Just not a hybrid of the two, was the point taken away from his comments.
While a source claims the Cubbies games will remain on WGN-AM for the remainder of the decade, de Castro might find a way to let them loose, if he has his druthers.
“Most researchers agree play-by-play is not very PPM friendly,” observed Radio Ink. “When you add the dismal performance of a team like the Cubs, that play so many day games, on an aging frequency on a station trying to successfully execute both news/talk and sports in a major market, you have to wonder if de Castro will look to make major programming changes to drive revenue and grow the audience younger.”
Which brings us from the Second City, Chicago, to the first, New York City, and the current baseball broadcasting conundrum that is the New York Mets. Like the Cubs, they have been underachieving on the field for years. Their current radio contract with WFAN expires after this season. Just to put things in perspective: the last time the Mets won it all, their radio partner was country music station WHN, which would eventually be the precursor to WFAN. Since then, the New York Giants, for whom WFAN serves as their flagship, has won four Super Bowls (two of them on WFAN’s air), and the New York Yankees have won five World Series.
And oh, by the way, the Yankees’ current radio contract with WCBS-AM, sister station of WFAN, also expires after this year; it was curiously re-upped for just one more year in 2012.
For America’s first 24/7 sports radio station, it would make sense for them to part ways with the longtime losing franchise that is the Mets and bring the Yankees into the fold (okay, so they have not necessarily been winners for the last few years, but they certainly have a better outlook than the Mets, in the pocket as well as the win column).
Meanwhile, it’s also expected that the Cubs’ local television broadcasts on WGN-TV could go by the wayside after 65 years. Then again, with so many “free TV” baseball broadcasts across the country usurped by regional sports networks, it’s a bit of a surprise that Cubs games are still on broadcast television in Chicago at all.
However, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Chicago Cubs’ radio broadcasts are heard on a station other than WGN by the time they reach the World Series again.
And that means a different frequency piping into the headphones of Steve Bartman – provided he’s still alive by then.
Perhaps you’re accustomed to seeing that scrolling line of information that is the news ticker. Revolutionized by the cable news networks, and as far as sports is concerned, by ESPN, virtually all cable news and sports networks, regional and national, are maintaining their own version of the ticker in some form. And they’re usually chock full of news briefs from stories reported by such renowned sources as The New York Times, The Associated Press, Fox Sports, The Wall Street Journal, and Sportspickle.
Yes, an item from the sports news satire website (think The Onion with a sports flair) actually passed off as serious news to NESN viewers.
Whoever was put in charge of loading the news items on NESN’s bottom-of-the-screen news ticker on Friday must be naive. During live coverage of the ACC Baseball Tournament, the first item that the ticker, which NESN dubs “The Edge,” focused on under “top stories” was Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who retired this week after spending thirteen seasons in the Windy City. That much is true.
But the item that NESN decided to report was the satirical news story originally posted Thursday on Sportspickle titled, “Brian Urlacher Retires As A Green Bay Packer.”
Fact is, Urlacher has not been aligned with any NFL team since he parted ways with the Bears in mid-March, and recently turned down a $2 million deal that the team proposed to him before finally calling it quits when no other NFL franchise could come to the table with a desirable offer.
And while there was a little buzz about one of the Bears’ divisional rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, possibly courting the eight-time Pro Bowler, it did not seem that the team that has controlled the NFC North for most of Urlacher’s career, the Green Bay Packers, would pursue him.
So one day after he made his decision official, Sportspickle seized the opportunity to pen a fantasy piece reporting that he had “[signed] a one-day contract with the team,” one that Urlacher was quoted as satirically saying is “unquestionably the best franchise in the NFC North throughout my career and, really, all of NFC North history.”
The piece continues: “Urlacher then fought back tears (fake tears) as he spoke about how much it means to him to no longer be a part of the Bears: ‘You dream of this your whole career but never really believe it could happen,’ he said, tears rolling down his cheeks.”
The pretend Urlacher also attested that “if my old Bears teammates are truthful, they’d all rather be on the Packers… even Jay Cutler. I’m sure the Packers would be happy to sign him to a one-day contract so he could retire as their third-string quarterback.”
Oh, and that “quote” from Urlacher about wanting to “go out a winner”? Yeah, that was included in NESN’s “Edge” blurb, too.
It’s the second time in as many years that a television network – or at least their employees who are supposed to be vetting the news before it makes it on the air – fell for a spoof sports story. Pittsburgh’s NBC affiliate had reported on their morning news broadcast that longtime Steelers wideout Hines Ward had signed with the rival Baltimore Ravens, after the website Bro Council presented a phony piece (which even tipped off to readers in big letters at the end that it was a “spoof”) on the player, who would eventually join NBC a couple of months later.
The station made up for the confusion by giving Ward his own seasonal series on Saturday nights.
With that said, how is Brian Urlacher, or for that matter, “Da Bears,” even remotely related to New England sports? He’s a native of Washington state, he attended school in New Mexico, and that wrestling match he participated in was in Tennessee. It seems like the only time he would spend on the entire East Coast would be exclusively on business.
As for NESN’s business, which includes delivering sports news, you could say it took a bit of a hit on Friday for, well, ‘Lach-ing journalistic credibility.
Pittsburgh’s three-year-old FM sports talker, KDKA-FM/”93.7 The Fan,” is seeking an actual fan to host a weekly show.
The station has organized a contest, “The Next Fan Host,” which invites residents of the area, aged 18 or older, to show up at any of five designated locations, starting with Beer And Pop 4 Less this Saturday afternoon, or any of four other taverns, eateries or wireless phone stores over four nights between May 29 and June 18.
All they’re required to do is give opinions on the hot sports topics of the day (you know, kinda like what we do here at SportsRants).
The ten best entrants from these open auditions will be selected to compete in a semifinal round, with the top four advancing to a live final during Andrew Fillipponi’s nighttime show on Thursday, June 27.
If this process sounds familiar, it’s because KDKA-FM’s parent company, CBS Radio, has been implementing this concept at the original “Fan” of sports radio, New York’s 660 AM/101.9 FM WFAN. Dubbed “Fantasy Phenom,” the grand prize is the same as that of Pittsburgh’s “Next Fan Host” contest: a position on the iconic sports radio station for a year.
And it appears that all three “Phenom” winners are still with WFAN in some capacity. The first winner, Gregg Sussman, is still listed on WFAN’s website, as he occasionally can be heard doing weekend and swing duties; he’s still overseeing sports talk programming on a college radio station in Maryland, according to his LinkedIn page.
The second “Phenom” champion, John Jastremski, is the most visible of the contest’s three winners by far. He’s heard regularly on overnights, usually on weekends, and has also been heard nationwide on the CBS Sports Radio Network. And here’s a scary thought: just last week, he celebrated his 25th birthday – which makes the radio station he works for slightly one year older than him. But when you listen to “JJ After Dark,” with the energy in and on the air, you forget that you’re listening to a 26-year-old radio station – one that’s been an AM station for most of its existence (and CBS Radio is looking to fix that, in due time).
The announcement of last year’s “Phenom” champ, Joe Giglio, was about as low-key as his current association with WFAN, where his presence is mostly through a weekly column on the station’s website. But for the lead baseball writer of Bleacher Report, that’s fine with him.
There’s no plans currently available for a “Fantasy Phenom 4” contest, which would be the first one held during WFAN’s history on FM, but you can expect them to be unveiled sometime next month.
As for who will decide “The Next Fan Host” in Pittsburgh, I can’t help but wonder if “93.7 The Fan” morning co-host Gregg Giannotti – an alumnus of WFAN who has been with KDKA-FM since its inception in February 2010 – will somehow have a say in it.
Details on the contest, as well as the official rules, can be found here.
It’s never a good thing when a person loses his or her job.
It’s especially sobering considering the source of hundreds of job cuts is ESPN.
Yes, the network that just got finished flaunting its new multi-million-dollar studio and its new “SportsCenter” bus at its annual upfront had laid off approximately 300 to 400 people exactly one week later.
The gas for the bus isn’t going to guzzle itself, I guess.
But seriously, this is what happens when ESPN pays more than it can print to secure broadcasting rights for sports programming, including college sports, which will be the basis of the new SEC Network, due to launch next summer. They also operate other regional channels like Longhorn Network in Texas.
Incidentally, on the very same day of these cuts, ESPN announced that they are bringing in Paul Finebaum for duties at its mediums, including a video simulcast of his radio show that will air on the aforementioned SEC Network. He will be based in Charlotte, where the ESPN Radio affiliate is on a spotty AM signal. (Charlotte is one of the few major markets left without an FM sports station, but that’s another blog for another day.)
Could these cuts pave the way for possibly adding big-name talent down the road, like, say, Keith Olbermann? Yes, I’m aware they’re investing in live sports programming, but when in doubt, take the cash from your viewers in the form of a hike. Hey, I wouldn’t be surprised if the network’s already highest per-subscriber rate at $5.25 will probably balloon to $7 in a year from now.
Anyway, the cuts appear to be coming from Disney corporate, according to a staffer who had suddenly found himself out of a job. A great deal of ESPN’s cuts will impact its sales department – because, really, it’s cheaper not to have a fully-stocked sales staff, because ESPN just sells itself, doesn’t it? The network’s technology sector is also going to take a hit.
As far as on-air content is concerned, one casualty of this round of layoffs is the ESPNU late-night show, “UNITE.” ESPN analyst Danny Kanell, who co-hosted the program, will likely remain with the network in other capacities, but comedian Reese Waters and others involved with the program will presumably exit stage left.
And other programs could join the list, as the network will be reviewing its studio programming over the next month or so. Sadly, “First Take” will likely remain unscathed.
You can say ESPN has done its share of cold things, but unexpectedly dropping the ax on 10% of your staff has to rank right up there with, well, anything Rick Reilly has ever done.
As for the hundreds of now-former ESPN employees, I have but one tip for you: I’m sure Fox Sports is still hiring. It would make for a revenge game that ESPN has no choice but to cover.