Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sports Friday: 12/14/12

In this week's edition of "sports other than hockey that I've been reduced to watching during the NHL lockout", I bring you...

NBA - I've largely ignored the "local team", the Charlotte Bobcats, over the last few years in part because a) they suck and b) I'm not much of an NBA fan anyway, but mostly because DirecTV customers in Raleigh (e.g. me) have never been able to watch their games. But now, for the first season in Charlotte Bobcats franchise history (2004-present), satellite TV customers in Raleigh are now able to watch their games. And not just some games, either; every game! (So far.)

Now, before you ask why anyone here would actually want to watch the Bobcats...here's a brief history of Charlotte Bobcats television broadcast rights, and why I think this is a big deal:
- When the team debuted in 2004, a new regional sports network debuted along with it called Carolinas Sports Entertainment Television (a.k.a. C-SET). C-SET was the exclusive cable home of the Bobcats, and satellite providers were blocked from carrying it, in part because Time Warner Cable co-owned the network.
- C-SET was a major flop and didn't even last a year so at that point Bobcats rights were transferred to another Time Warner-only property, their "News 14 Carolina" channel.
- That lasted until 2008, when Time Warner Cable agreed to give up the exclusive broadcast rights in exchange for the naming rights to the arena, or something. Now, Bobcats games are broadcast on either Fox Sports Carolinas or SportSouth (depending on where in the Carolinas you live), and also for the first time, on a channel that's available on satellite. Great!

...except, there's a catch. SportSouth isn't carried in Raleigh, so Bobcats games only aired here on Fox Sports Carolinas when they didn't conflict with a Carolina Hurricanes game or another Fox Sports programming commitment (e.g. an ACC basketball game); that kept over half of the Bobcats' schedule off of Raleigh airwaves. But also, the team's agreement with DirecTV (and I think also DISH) specified that although they could now air Bobcats games, they could only do so in the team's "inner market", which covers a 75-mile radius surrounding Charlotte. Raleigh and Durham are outside the "inner market", so for the last few years, every Bobcats game has been blacked out for DirecTV customers such as myself.

So, to summarize: if you live in Raleigh, your Bobcats viewing options for the past few years have been a) sign up for Time Warner Cable and get less than half of the Bobcats' schedule, or b) sign up for satellite and get none of the schedule. NBA League Pass wasn't an option, either, because there, all Bobcats games are blacked out locally regardless of your television provider. Ever since day one, the Bobcats have made their product hard to get, instead of making it widely available and working to create a region-wide fan base, and all because (I assume) Time Warner Cable cut them a big check. Well, screw them, I said! If you don't care about Raleigh, then I don't care about you.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the Bobcats games weren't being blacked out anymore. I've had a hard time finding any information about this, but apparently DirecTV has a new agreement with the team, and that whole "inner market" thing is no more. So now, not only can I watch the games, I can watch all of the games. (So far. Since I first noticed, every single game has been on.) I don't know if the cable version of Fox Sports Carolinas is showing all of the Bobcats games, but since the Hurricanes aren't playing, why wouldn't they be? (On DirecTV, Bobcats games air on channels 647 and 647-1, which are basically Fox Sports South alternate channels.)

So, credit Bobcats management for changing their and trying to get their product out to all of the Carolinas, not just the Charlotte "inner market" or whatever. Not only do they now have an increased television presence in Raleigh, they also played a preseason game here, which I don't remember happening any other year since I've been here. Although, it's kind of curious that they're doing this now, given that the team is coming off not just a bad season, but a historically bad season. As in, the worst season in NBA history. On the other hand...there's only one way to go from here, and that's up! They're still not very good this year - they're currently riding a 10-game losing streak that, coincidentally, started around the time that I started paying attention - but hey, at least they're on more TVs than they used to be, and that's progress. Orlando at Charlotte - Sat 7:00p, SportSouth

College football - There is a lot wrong with the bowl system, and I've criticized it at length in the past. But these days, it's actually so easy to complain about the bowl system, that it's not even worth it. So instead...different approach. Bowls that might seem meaningless to you are actually a big deal to some teams. For instance, if you're a "non-AQ" team who plays in the MAC, Conference USA, or something like that, the bowl game might be the highlight of your season. In terms of how many people are watching and paying attention on a national level, it's definitely the biggest game of the season, and actually winning the bowl game means a heck of a lot more to the Utah States and Bowling Greens of the world than it does a 6-6 major conference team. Teams like Purdue have plenty of chances all season long to be in the spotlight. Now, it's Toledo's turn! With this in mind, I'm going to watch more bowl games involving lower conference teams than I have in the past. But only a couple more. Toledo v. Utah State in that bowl game in Boise on the blue field, whatever they call it now - Sat 4:30p, ESPN

I actually can't think of anything to say about the NFL this week, so...

Soccer - One of the French league games I watched this week, Marseille at Bastia, was played in front of a completely empty stadium. Paid attendance: zero.

I've heard of this kind of thing before in European football, because apparently the fans like to riot over there. Like, violently so, and with flares and fireworks and stuff. When the fans cross the line, the league will often force the offending team to play their next home game behind closed doors. That's what happened here, although the Bastia fans were still allowed to congregate outside the stadium and watch the game on a big screen.

In hindsight...that may have been a mistake. During the game, the fans outside the stadium rioted some more, with more flares and fireworks and the like. Given that the Bastia supporters are repeat offenders, the French league came back with a much harsher penalty: due to the "great insecurity which could put spectators or those involved in the game in danger at any moment", Bastia is forbidden from playing ANY games at home until further notice. Wow! (Yeah, we'll see if that penalty holds up.)

The emptiness of the stadium didn't actually seem that strange when I was watching the game, since French soccer being played in a mostly empty, quiet stadium is fairly commonplace. Half of Ligue 1 teams average less than 15,000 fans per game (source). Compare that to the English Premier League, where EVERY team averages over 15,000 fans per game (source). Shoot, even the second division in England (immediately below the Premier League) has a higher average attendance than the top French league.

Have any of the major American sports ever played a regular season game closed to the public? Can you imagine watching an NFL game being played in an empty stadium? That would be truly bizarre. And no, I don't mean what some may refer to as "empty" by NFL standards. I'm not talking about a game with "only" 40,000 spectators. I'm talking, ZERO spectators. No crowd noise, no atmosphere, nothing. Even a half-empty NFL stadium can still generate a good amount of noise and atmosphere.

Well, anyway...the biggest game on the French slate this weekend is #1 Lyon versus #2 Paris Saint Germain (Sun 5:00p, beIN tape delay). Despite the game's importance, riots are not expected.

1 comment:

bubba0077 said...

RE Bowls: Even for teams in the top-tier conferences, bowl games are a big deal because of the extra practice. Making a bowl game means an extra 3-6 weeks of full practice, essentially an additional pre-season camp (and then some).

RE Empty stadia: I've always thought this was a clever and appropriate penalty.