Sports Media

Very little left to fix in NCAA coverage

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / March 9, 2012
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CBS and Turner Sports enjoyed more than one shining moment last March in the first of the media powerhouses’ 14-year, $10.8 billion agreement to broadcast every game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

All 67 games were carried live and in their entirety over three weeks of action on four networks: CBS, plus Turner properties TBS, TNT, and truTV.

Reviews from critics and basketball fans were resoundingly positive - at least once it was confirmed that truTV did actually exist and could be found with a limited amount of searching with the remote control.

The round of 64, arguably the most enjoyable two-day stretch in sports, was enhanced with four games often running simultaneously on the four networks.

The result, said CBS Sports president Sean McManus, is very little change in the approach this time around, beginning with the “First Four’’ games that whittle the field from 68 to 64 beginning Tuesday night on truTV.

“I would like to say there were a lot of things that we’re working on to make better,’’ said McManus, “but to be honest with you, we’ve analyzed it, we’ve gone over the tapes, and had production meetings that we were pretty darned pleased with the way it worked out.

“Normally, coming out of a big event, I’ll do a postmortem and say, ‘Boy, I wish we’d done this replay or had done that.’ But I was pleased with the end product. The challenge is to keep hitting the bar, which we raised pretty high last year.’’

Ratings were raised as well, up 7 percent over the course of the tournament from the previous year, and David Levy, Turner’s president of sales, distribution, and sports, said advertisers were pleased by a trend in viewer habits that neither CBS nor Turner expected.

“Research showed people weren’t jumping around as much as we thought they were,’’ said Levy. “In fact, they stayed tuned to the game they were watching and the team they loved.

“If it was a 20-point blowout, they might have flipped infrequently, but for the most part, they actually liked to see their favorite team win by 30. From an advertiser’s standpoint, they were thrilled.’’

McManus and Levy both said there would be just subtle adjustments in the second year of collaboration. McManus noted that more high-definition, slow-motion cameras will be in use, while Levy touted an enhanced role for Brian Anderson, a stalwart play-by-play voice on TBS’s postseason baseball coverage.

TruTV has also added a one-hour studio show this Sunday to examine the tournament field after it is revealed and analyzed on CBS in an hourlong program beginning at 6 p.m.

Charles Barkley, whose limited familiarity with NCAA basketball was exposed on occasion last year, will appear on Sunday’s truTV program, titled “Hardcore Brackets,’’ rather than on CBS’s selection show.

The distribution among the four networks of the games essentially mirrors last year’s schedule:

■CBS will air the Final Four and national championship games among the 26 it will show throughout the tournament, including the second round, third round, Sweet 16, and Elite 8. The championship game is April 2.

■TBS will air 16 games, including second-round, third-round, and Sweet 16 matchups.

■TNT will air 12 second- and third-round games.

■ TruTV - you remember where to find it, right? - tips off the whole thing Tuesday. It will air all the First Four games as well as some second- and third-round games.

The schedule is familiar, and so are many of the personalities, from studio host Greg Gumbel to play-by-play voice Jim Nantz, who is calling his 27th NCAA Tournament. Leave it to the eloquent Nantz to sum up why the tournament captures fans’ imagination pretty much no matter how it is presented on television.

“The unexpected is such a part of the fabric of this tournament,’’ said Nantz, who will again call the championship game with analyst Clark Kellogg. “Look back a year ago, we sat here wondering whether Connecticut would really merit getting into the tournament. Somehow they ran through the Big East, go on and win the national title.

“‘My old partner, Billy Packer - we worked together for 17 years, I think I knew a side of Billy most people would never be exposed to - he would talk about this tournament with so much passion in his voice. He called it the American dream because everybody gets a chance.

“This is the one event he felt everybody got a chance. You get a chance to play your way in. If you’re good enough, you go out and win your conference tournament.

“You feel that intensity, the specialness about that occasion. You get that one crack at it and no one is going to take that away from you. It’s special. It’s very, very special, and that’s why people watch.’’

Dell’s debut a mystery

Jenny Dell is already winning praise for her demeanor and professionalism from her media peers in Fort Myers. But it is a bit puzzling that Heidi Watney’s replacement as NESN’s Red Sox reporter has yet to make her on-air debut. If NESN is trying to build anticipation for her debut, well, that does seem like a tactic that would be in its playbook. But if it’s that she could use more on-camera polish, better to work it out in front of the spring training audiences than on Opening Day, no? NESN spokesman Gary Roy said he wasn’t certain when Dell would appear on air, but that it wouldn’t be this weekend . . . The fence-mending between Pete Sheppard and WEEI - he’ll return to the station Sunday at noon, a little more than two years after his position was eliminated - is a good thing for both sides. WEEI missed Sheppard’s everyman persona, and Sheppard, who was very critical of the station after he was let go, never found a gig as prominent or appealing as the one he left behind . . . Though Dale Arnold is remaining at WEEI, John Rish will pinch hit on Red Sox radio broadcasts alongside Joe Castiglione this season when Dave O’Brien is absent because of his “Wednesday Night Baseball’’ duties on ESPN . . . Readers who have acknowledged the serious reduction in political talk on “Dennis and Callahan’’ should send their kudos in the direction of Jeff Brown, Entercom’s vice president and market manager, who industry sources say has told the WEEI morning hosts in no uncertain terms to stick to sports. The show has become a more pleasant listen for it.

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