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New Rules for Sports Broadcasting

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 3:56 PM

With full credit to HBO's Bill Maher, how about a few "new rules" in sports broadcasting?

New Rule: If you really do want to be taken seriously as a member of the media, you are not supposed to be abjectly rooting for the home team.

During the Washington Capitals recent playoff run, I heard more than one local broadcaster end sportscasts or individual reports on the team with an emphatic "Let's Go Caps!" If you want to scream your lungs out for the home team in the privacy of your own den, knock yourself out. But up in the press box, broadcast booth or your station's studio, knock off the cheerleading and act like a professional.

New Rule: Along the same lines, when you're on the job, and especially on the air, don't wear clothing -- golf shirts, team jerseys, ball caps, whatever -- with a local team logo visible. Similarly, if you're a local sportscaster posing for a magazine cover in your own market, resist all attempts by editors or photographers to be dressed in the colors, jerseys, shirts, sweats of any local team, even if you work for the "official station of the _____." I won't name names this time for recent guilty offenders, but you know who you are. Here's another new rule. No free passes next time.

New Rule: I assume Rob Dibble had a chance to meet Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster Bob Wolff when the Nationals honored the former Senators play-by-play man (1947-60) Saturday night at the stadium.

Wolff would be too much the consummate gentleman to tell Dibble to cease and desist in referring to the Nationals on the air as "we," as in "we need a hit here" or "us," as in "they're killing us with three-run homers" or "our," as in "our pitching is dismally dreadful."

So let me suggest in my own loutish way that Dibble simply substitute "the Nats" or "the Nationals" or "Washington." Last time we looked, Dibble never threw a pitch, never swung a bat in a Nats' uniform. Even if he's now being paid by the team, and even if he has been properly critical of the club on the air, we, us and our translates to homer in my book, and likely Bob Wolff's as well.

New Rule: Enough already with Mike and Mike in the morning on ESPN-980, Washington's only all-sports talk radio station. It's not so much the show I object to as its predominately national subject matter.

Yes they get world-class guests on a moment's notice, just as all the ESPN radio hosts do thanks to the power of the so-called Worldwide Leader. But if you're stuck in traffic on the Beltway on the way to work first thing in the morning, wouldn't you rather hear about teams and athletes in the local market, the way it is in many cities around the country?

Sadly, around these parts, the first local sports talk show doesn't come on until noon, when hardly anyone is listening anyway. The best move Dan Snyder's Red Zebra operation could make would be to sign up Tony Kornheiser up for a three-hour morning drive show, and then somehow find a place for Dan Patrick's entertaining but now non-ESPN radio show in mid-afternoon.

New Rule: ESPN SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland graduate and native of Montgomery County, sadly is the latest in a long line of TV sports anchors (Chris Berman, Stuart Scott, Patrick, among others) to shamelessly pitch products in on-air commercials.

These days, Van Pelt appears in advertisements shilling for Titleist golf balls, and he should know better. He's essentially delivering news every night he's on, and often goes out in the field as a reporter and interviewer. Television anchors and reporters don't endorse products on the air. Ever see Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric or Britt Hume, among many others, do commercials? Van Pelt, a guy whose on-air work I've admired since his early days at The Golf Channel, is better than that. Next time, take a pass.

New Rule: Do we really need a half-hour studio show before every game in the NBA Finals? In previous postseason series, ESPN and TNT gave us hour-long pre-game shows and those were far too long, despite the presence of always entertaining Charles Barkley on TNT. At this point, anyone following the NBA knows all there is to know about both teams in the Finals, so why not a 15-minute pre-game starting at 8 p.m., a few minutes more for courtside introductions and analysis from the game broadcasters and tip-off at 8:30 p.m., the better to finish just in time for news at 11?

And by the way, the Lakers' ostentatious pre-game player introductions are terribly over the top, pure Hollywood hype of the worst kind. If we never see another one it will be too soon. And is anyone else getting just a tad tired of cameras focusing on Jack Nicholson yelling at the referees. Where's Spike Lee when you really need him?

New Rule: The LPGA Championship, one of the four women's majors on the tour's ever-shrinking schedule, is being played this week in Havre de Grace, Md. But don't look for it on any of the major over-the-air networks this weekend. Instead, all tournament coverage will be aired by the Golf Channel, which means millions of potential viewers without the cable network in their basic package will be shut out. What a shame. And now that the LPGA owns the tournament outright, it's a must fix for the future.

New Rule: Props to Richard Sandomir of the New York Times for pointing out that ABC's broadcast of the Belmont Stakes included a number of features that had already run earlier in the day on corporate cousin ESPN's pre-Belmont coverage before ABC went on the air for its own pre-race show.

"Synergy Results In a Lazy Broadcast" was the spot-on headline over the Times story Sunday. And while this synergy surely saved the parent Disney Company a few bucks in production costs, bottom line is that viewers watching both networks deserved better. One totally unnecessary feature aired on both networks included Kenny Mayne sitting in a pick-up truck with Mine That Bird trainer Chip Woolley playing a (badly) scripted game of Twenty Questions. We have only one: How did that get on the air in the first place?

New Rule: Let's give a shout-out to Channel 9's sports director Brett Haber for recently winning a local Emmy as the Washington market's best television sportscaster, even if the CBS affiliate and everyone else still trails juggernaut Channel 4 in the local news ratings. Haber did a nice job in finding and interviewing former Nats GM Jim Bowden last week and, to his credit, at least tries to break a little local sports news every now and then.

Too bad he wasn't on the air last Sunday when the station's 6 p.m. sportscast buried the news that Roger Federer had just won his 14th grand slam tennis event, his first French Open and a career grand slam earlier in the day. If memory serves, it was the fifth item in the sportscast. Probably should have been No. 1 or 2.

Feel free to offer your own new rules, and I'll post them in the next column.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com.

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