Written By Tough Tony
PART ONE- NON GAME CONTENT
When the Yankees and Mets each said they would launch their own sports networks many people wondered how they would fill 24 hours of programming – especially during the five-month long off season. The short answer to the question: they each sold their soul to hair replacement infomercials in the wee hours of the night – a common practice for novelty cable channels. As far as day time and prime time programming are concerned, YES and SNY have gone about things in different ways.
The first smart move YES made was to pay to broadcast the “Mike and the Mad Dog” radio show for five and half hours a day. Say what you will about “Mike and the Mad Dog” but their take on sports can either be dead on the money or infuriatingly closed minded; meaning: they draw you in no matter what. They also get the most star-studded guests of any sports show. Michael Jordan and Tiger have been on the show. A-rod, Jeter and several other key Yankees and Mets come on during the season. They basically have the equivalent of Oprah’s guest list but for sports.
The rest of YES’ programming is a little more Yankees-centric. There is the award winning Yankee biography series appropriately named “Yankeeography” which is very well done. Michael Kay hosts “CenterStage,” an interview show which is good or bad depending on the guest. And YES re-runs classic Yankee games. Throw in a magazine style show directed towards kids, an NBA news show and a football news show and YES has no problem bridging the gap between Yankees game broadcasts.
But that’s not to say they haven’t had some misfires. “Ultimate Road Trip” is their lame version of MTV’s “Road Rules” but without the attractive cast. I’m also dying to know what happened to the George Steinbrenner CenterStage interview. They ran promos for months, it aired once and it was never seen again. What did Steinbrenner say that warrants its burial?
Speaking of promos, the YES Network really shines when it comes to self promotion. They run Classic Yankee moments throughout the day and legendary PA announcer Bob Shepherd can be heard every other hour doing the network I.D. “Ladies Gentlemen you are watching the YES Network, the home of championnnnnns.” No one can accuse the Yankees of not knowing how to market their history.
For the non-Yankees fan, Mike and the Mad Dog are extremely un-biased and have no problem knocking the Steinbrenners. They balance out the level of Yankees ego on the network. And if you’re a general baseball fan you will enjoy the “Yankeeographies” on legendary players like Ruth, Gherig, Dimaggio and Mantle. YES Network gets an A for creating content for Yankees fans. If you’re not a Yankees fan it might not be your first destination in sports TV but you have to respect the quality of the network’s shows.
SNY – the newer of the two networks (launched in 2006) – has had more trouble forming an identity. The Mets aren’t as recognized a brand and don’t have as much history to draw from as the Yankees. Instead SNY chose to be not only the home of the Mets, but a sports news network as well. It’s a bit of an identity crisis.
They seem to only have three classic Mets games they like to repeat. I don’t know if they just don’t own the rights to their own games but there has to be more classic Mets games than the Mets opening the season in Japan, Game four of the 1969 world series and game one of the NLDS in 2006. Those three games are replayed ad nauseum yet I have never seen anything from the ’86 playoff run. The NLCS game six against the Astros or the infamous Bill Buckner game should be no-brainers.
SNY’s flagship show “Geico Sports Nite” is like “SportsCenter” light but it provides more straight forward news without as much fluff. The rest of their news programming leaves a lot to be desired. “Loudmouths” and “The Wheel House” are awful rip-offs of superior ESPN programming “PTI” and “Around the Horn.”
SNY should keep “Sports Nite” as the flagship show but ditch the other news style programs. You’re never going to be the place sports fans get their news and opinions. Here are some things you can do to draw in the more casual viewer:
1) The Mets have had some legendary and eccentric players. Why not produce “Met Chronicles” on Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez,Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza and the entire 1986 team. Come to think of it the 1986 Mets team could be like a 12 part Ken Burns mini series. I’m not asking for a re-enactment of Kevin Mitchell killing his girlfriend’s cat or actual video of wild coke-filled nights with Darryl and Doc but these are the juicy tales that tend to interest people. The 1986 Mets need to be exploited more. Same goes for the 1969 miracle Mets. Get a feature producer on this, SNY.
The Mets might not have the Yankees’ championship history but they have had enough wacky personalities to exploit. You could hire Dr. Drew and do awesome psychological profiles on Met’s catcher Mackey Sasser’s inability to throw the ball back the pitcher, why Greg Jefferies was such a pansy and why Bobby Bonilla couldn’t handle New York.
2) SNY suits should watch the Best Damn Sports Show Period. (If they can find out when it airs because most people can’t) The show saved itself from extinction with sports countdown specials. People love concise lists; the Mets should capitalize on that. They could do the top 10 Mets plays of all time, the top ten Mets blunders and the top ten Darryl Strawberry moments. How has no one brought this up at a staff meeting?
I also have to point out to SNY from a real estate stand point that no one is impressed that you tape at Rockefeller center. The number one name in sports news broadcasts out of Bristol “freakin” Connecticut. It’s about the quality of the show and not where it tapes from. You would be better off taping in cheap studio space in Queens and spending your money on more cutting edge programming.
Final grade for SNY on creating content: C plus. They decided to try to make themselves the number one stop for New York sports news and they just come off as ESPNews with a New York twist. Where is the actual Mets content for your Mets fans? Look at how YES does a weekly show with Joe Girardi. For hardcore Yankees fans that has become like our version of a fire side chat with the president. Beyond more Mets content SNY should ditch the CNN vibe and imitate MTV circa 1987. Cutting edge sports videos and countdown shows will always have a home among sports fan. Call me if you need this explained further.
PART TWO – GAME COVERAGE
When it comes to baseball coverage both SNY and YES do a fantastic job.
Not much more can be said about SNY’s Emmy award-winning broadcast team of Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez that hasn’t already been said. The way they blend analyzing game play with tales of their own heroics is extremely fluid and neither Darling nor Hernandez are afraid to call out a Met for sloppy play.
In the homer filled world of sports broadcasting Darling and Hernandez are refreshingly candid when a verbal smack down needs to be layed upon their own players. When Jose Reyes hits his inconsistency periods or when Tom Glavine couldn’t get out of the first inning of a do or die game you can count on the SNY boradcast team to not pull any punches. Maybe they don’t have any friends in the Mets club house but Keith Hernandez was an MVP and a Seinfeld guest star; does he care? Cohen’s flowing play by play combined with Darling and Keith’s brutal honesty and penchant for knowing when to relate their own game experiences is what makes them the premier broadcast team in baseball.
Kevin Burkhardt, their in-game field reporter, does a great job with updates and player interviews. You heard it here first when I say he will be an elite play by play or sportscaster once ESPN or Fox steals him away. He has the personality, knowledge and hair cut to be accepted by America. He combines the right mix of pressing players in interviews without coming off like an instigator. I think he could be the next Joe Buck minus the annoying annunciation and holier than thou attitude.
SNY also just landed an excellent analyst by adding Harold Reynolds to their already solid pre- and post-game show. Overall SNY gets an A minus for game coverage.
YES does a great job at game coverage minus the fact that their rotating collection of announcers can get annoying. On any given day it can be a combination of Michael Kay or Ken Singleton on play by play with Paul O’Neill, David Cone, Al Leiter and John Flaherty rotating in and out as color guys. It’s hard to hit that rhythm you expect from your broadcast team over the course of 162 game season when every day is a new combination. Neither Kay nor Singleton does the strongest play by play in baseball and they can both be a little bland sometimes but neither makes me want to turn the volume down.
Michael Kay and his large head are not universally loved by fans. He likes to flex his Fordham education by using big words and this turns off much of his blue collar audience. To their credit some of his broadcast partners have done a good job bringing him back down to earth. (Especially Paul O’neill who will make fun of him about his head size, his waist size and his pretentiousness) Almost every partner he has will make a comment like “That’s just my opinion but I didn’t go to Fordham.” It’s these types of light hearted jabs between Kay and the ex Yankees that make me think he doesn’t have as big a chip on his shoulder as some fans think. While the majority of fans like their play by play guys to be some one they think they can go get a beer with: The Vin Scully type who has a good story for every occasion. Michael Kay is more of a game show host. He likes to moderate the chaos of the game and add in a witty line every now and again.
Say what you will but Kay is a knowledgeable Yankees historian who knows how to draw from his partner’s actual baseball experience. At times, unfortunately, he can go too far. A typical Michael Kay play by play goes like this: Kay starts relating a story about Bruce Springsteen to how the Yankees are on such a long road trip and then every once in awhile he will stop his story to tell you what the count is. When the ball is finally hit we get this:
“The 2-2 offering is…Hit on the ground towards third. A Rod fields and fires to Giambi. Giambi scoops it up…HE GOT EMMMMMM…So Paul, tell me what was going through your mind in the late nineties when you would hit a routine ground ball to third.”
There’s a time and place for Paul O’Neill and David Cone’s stories. They should only be told when they relate to a significant play on the field or if the Yankees are winning or losing by a large margin.
Getting past the rotating announcers and a few Michael Kay flaws, YES does a really good job during games and an exceptional job on their pre- and post-game coverage. Kim Jones, being a Yankees employee, has access to all the key players and is not afraid to ask a tough question. Over all Yes gets a strong B plus on its game coverage.