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Good Sports for 2008 - Broadcasting & Cable

Good Sports for 2008

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The professional sports world as a whole was thrilled to see the New Year arrive after a 2007 that had plenty of moments to forget.

The NFL Network dealt with a real dogfight, baseball had the Mitchell Report, the NBA endured a cheating ref, David Beckham had only one good leg, the NHL is MIA and even my beloved boxing is on the ropes.

Sorry to be so negative. I just spent the holidays with my in-laws.

There are plenty of ways the sports industry can help itself and improve its TV prospects in 2008. And Left Coast Bias is happy to offer suggestions.

ESPN: This isn't so much advice as a request. Please offer a toned-down version of SportsCenter every night on ESPN Classic. I understand kids love the show, but I can't stomach all the shouting and silliness on the regular version. I still want to enjoy all the great coverage and long-form journalism SportsCenter has. I want my baseball fix from Peter Gammons, but I don't want to wade through all the forced catch phrases and Crossfire rip-off segments to get there. So how about a nice, calm, rant-free sports highlights show on Classic every night. Please?

NHL: Get yourself back on ESPN, now. I'm not sure it will help, but after the actually league showed a TV pulse with a January 1 outdoor game, it can't hurt. The move to Versus wasn't a bad risk at the time, but now, even NHL backers admit the sport is trapped in cable Siberia.

BOXING: Perhaps a couple of fights in all of 2007 earned some kind of mainstream buzz as the sports world further turned to mixed martial arts (MMA)—like Ultimate Fighting Championship—for its pugilistic fix. So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Pro boxing should cut a deal with UFC for a series of joint events. There are plenty of exciting boxers out there, but few fans know them—or care.

HBO SPORTS: Be the one to televise that first boxing-MMA card. Better yet, be the one to put the two sports together.

NFL: Enough fooling around; get serious about the NFL Network. Start with the eight games you air every year. Play hard ball and don't give local markets of the two teams playing the chance to see the games on an over-the-air station. You want fans to really rise up? That will do the trick. Yes, it could backfire, but the current inconsistent strategy isn't working. While you are at it, end the Bryant Gumbel experiment. He simply makes too many errors in his game commentary.

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER: Stop expanding and diluting your talent pool. You had a great year adding two huge TV draws, David Beckham and Mexican superstar Cuauhtemoc Blanco, and it paid off. But every team you add means the quality of the league gets worse, and it's pretty easy now to find a better game from England or Italy.

NBC UNIVERSAL: Use the Olympics to breathe some life into your newly-acquired Oxygen network. While you figure out plans for that network, putting a few women's sports and some complementary Olympic programming from next summer's Games on the channel could send new viewers that way.

NCAA: Enough already with this silly BCS (Bowl Championship Series). Institute an actual playoff system, even if only for the top four teams. Let's all be grown-ups: Pro wrestling is fake, there is no Santa Claus and a couple of extra football games won't ruin the educations of these “student-athletes.”

FOX SPORTS: Quick and easy: On your football coverage, copy CBS and flash individual statistics for an offensive player after almost every play he is involved in. Remember, fantasy football is huge. Even my wife plays. It isn't enough to boss around one man every weekend; she prefers a whole team.

E-mail comments to ben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

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