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NESN Remains Silent On Orsillo

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When Don Orsillo signed what would be his final contract with NESN in November 2011, Sean McGrail, then and still the network’s president and chief executive officer, offered heady and accurate praise via a press release confirming the news:

“Don is one of the preeminent play-by-play announcers in the league and one of the reasons NESN’s Red Sox broadcast is considered among the best in the business. He brings passion and meticulous preparation to his work every night, along with a sense of humor that has endeared him to Red Sox Nation.”

The irony of that statement is hard to miss today. NESN’s reasons for retaining him four years ago are the exact same reasons so many fans are outraged that he’s being dumped — thus far without explanation — at the end of this season.

Red Sox fans and NESN viewers have reacted to Tuesday’s news that Orsillo will not be back next year with a relentless outpouring of support. As of early Thursday evening, a change.org petition asking Red Sox owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe) to restore Orsillo to the role he held since 2001 had nearly 37,000 signatures.

At the e-mail address of your faithful sports media columnist, the response has been overwhelming and without a lull since the much-rumored news broke on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” show, and the message is virtually the same in each piece of correspondence:

“Why would NESN do this? It makes no sense. If they don’t bring him back, I might be done watching NESN.”

For now, NESN’s approach to the backlash seems to be to wait out the storm and hope it all blows over. Multiple requests to Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and NESN spokesman Gary Roy have gone unanswered. Other than a press release confirming the decision and emphasizing the talents of Dave O’Brien, who is moving over from WEEI’s Red Sox broadcasts next year, NESN has gone into full radio-silence mode.

The approach — confirming the news in the middle of a game that Orsillo was calling — was awkward and insulting, and it does no favors for O’Brien, an outstanding broadcaster who has been put in an uncomfortable position. (According to an industry source, O’Brien has decided to refrain from commenting on the situation for the time being out of respect for Orsillo.)

The optics were awful. It’s understandable to some degree if NESN was caught off-guard that the news got out. Yet it was common knowledge that Orsillo’s contract was up at season’s end, and there’s been industry chatter for at least a year that the network was considering a change.

But it’s not the question of “why now?” that has led to so much backlash.

It’s the simpler question that remains unanswered: Why do it at all?

ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes received the closest thing I’ve seen to an explanation when he cited a source Wednesday saying this: “We wanted to make a change.”

Well, obviously, but Orsillo’s fans aren’t about to relent in their demand for more detail. Here’s how I posed the question to a NESN spokesman in an e-mail:

“One question I still have — and I’ve been hearing over and over from Red Sox fans — is why was the change made? Obviously it’s NESN’s prerogative to do so, and his contract was up, but I figured I’d at least reach out and see if someone there cared to explain it further. O’Brien will be great, but the timing and seemingly callous treatment of Don has people puzzled.”

The response thus far is no response at all. Another irony in all of this is that NESN is entirely responsible for creating the backlash, and not just because of the graceless manner in which the situation has been handled publicly. If the network didn’t entirely create Orsillo and Jerry Remy’s cult of personality, it certainly was happy to emphasize it.

When you consider Orsillo’s most memorable moments in the Red Sox booth, it’s not the calls of big games and big moments that come immediately to mind (mostly because NESN cedes playoff and World Series games to the networks), but the silly moments and often hilarious banter with Remy. Orsillo isn’t just familiar and comfortable to Red Sox fans. It’s more than that. So many laughs have been shared through the years that it feels personal, as if you’re saying goodbye to a friend you wish would stay a little longer.

Barring a highly unlikely reversal of the decision — a reaction to the backlash that would be more shocking than the decision itself — Orsillo’s days and nights as the voice of the Red Sox are dwindling. Thirty-four games remain in the season.

Four years ago, when Orsillo signed what would be his final contract with the Red Sox, the press release touted that he’d called more than 1,400 regular-season games on NESN. Four years later, that number must be in the range of 2,000, a milestone that under most circumstances would be worthy of celebration.

But because of NESN’s bewildering mishandling of the situation, this is no ordinary circumstance. Instead of appreciating all the games Don Orsillo has called, his fans are left wondering, without an answer, why there will be just a few more to enjoy before he’s gone.

Credit to the Boston Globe where this story was originally published

Sports TV News

ESPN Releases Details For Joe Buck’s PGA Championship Broadcast

“Michael Collins will serve as Buck’s co-host.”

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Omaha Productions and ESPN are getting ready for the PGA Championship. News broke last week that Joe Buck would make his ESPN debut at the center of alternative coverage of the event. Now the network is sharing a few details of the broadcast.

Michael Collins will serve as Buck’s co-host. ESPN’s senior golf analyst will bring the perspective of a former caddie to the broadcast as well as the humor of a former comedian.

The duo will welcome plenty of guests too. The lineup suggests that while the broadcast will be built around golf, the conversations could go anywhere. Troy Aikman, Josh Allen, Charles Barkley, Doris Burke, Fred Couples, Jon Hamm, and Peyton & Eli Manning are all scheduled to make appearances.

“We loved doing Monday Night Football with ESPN and the entire Omaha team has been looking forward to producing alternate telecasts that celebrate other sports,” Peyton Manning said in a press release. “As one of golf’s majors, the PGA Championship is a perfect place to do our first one for golf and we look forward to working with Joe, Michael and everyone in ESPN’s golf team.”

Joe Buck and Michael Collins will be on TV for all four days of the PGA Championship. They will be on for four hours each day. The broadcast will alternate between ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN+ depending on where the traditional coverage of the event is airing.

The PGA Championship with Joe Buck & Michael Collins is the latest offering from ESPN’s deal with Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions. The company has also committed to produce alternate coverage of MMA and college football broadcasts in the future.

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Sports TV News

Tom Brady To Join FOX At End Of Career

“Whether or not Tom Brady is great on TV remains to be seen. What is certain is that the network just added star power that is unmatched amongst other networks that carry NFL games.”

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Tom Brady won’t be in the booth this season for FOX, but he will be there eventually. The network’s PR account tweeted that as soon as Brady is ready to call it a career, he will join Kevin Burkhardt to call the biggest game on the network’s slate each week.

“We are delighted that Tom has committed to joining the Fox team and wish him all the best during this upcoming season,” FOX CEO Lachlan Murdoch said in a statement.

FOX has made no secret of its desire to bring Brady aboard. The network has been courting him ever since he announced his retirement in February. The desire to pair him with Burkhardt was first reported in March by Andrew Marchand of The New York Post.

This news raises questions about the future for a lot of the parties involved. First, who will be Burkhardt’s partner this season? Tom Brady has committed to play for the Buccaneers. Next, what does this mean for the quarterback’s future? Does this guarantee that 2022 will be his final season in the NFL? Finally, what now for Greg Olsen? He had been Burkhardt’s partner last season and has expressed interest in continuing to work together.

All of those answers will be addressed in time. Right now, FOX is busy celebrating.

Whether or not Tom Brady is great on TV remains to be seen. What is certain is that the network just added star power that is unmatched amongst other networks that carry NFL games.

That is going to cost them too. Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports reports that Brady’s FOX paycheck will eclipse $20 million annually.

FOX’s deal with Tom Brady is similar to the one NBC made with Drew Brees before his final season in New Orleans. It allowed the quarterback one more season and promised him a nice landing spot in the media when his playing days are done. We will have to wait and see whether or not FOX will end up waiting longer than the one season NBC did.

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Sports TV News

Ratings for NHL Regional Coverage Down Across Most Of The League

“Only four teams with available data (the Kings, Wild, Panthers, and Red Wings) saw ratings growth in 2021-22.”

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While national TV ratings for the NHL season can and should be celebrated, ratings for regional sports networks appear to be a cause for concern. John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported Monday that RSNs across the league were down 23% compared to last year.

The 2020-21 season was shortened to 56 games because of the COVID pandemic.

Only four teams with available data (the Kings, Wild, Panthers, and Red Wings) saw ratings growth in 2021-22. Numbers for Carolina, Nashville and the Canadian teams were unavailable.

Arizona saw the biggest dip year over year. Bally Sports Arizona was down 58% compared to last year. Part of it is understandable. The Coyotes were one of the worst teams in the league.

Viewership for the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning was down 20%. The average rating for games on Bally Sports Sun was 1.49, good enough for 10th of the teams on the list.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had an average rating of 5.43 on AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh this season, which topped the league, but viewership was still down 30% versus last season.

The Seattle Kraken had an average rating of 0.96 for their inaugural season on Root Sports.

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