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Chris Fowler Explains Bizarre US Open Ending

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Richard Deitsch is a very well connected sports media reporter. When it’s appropriate, he will devote part of his weekly “Media Circus” column at The Athletic to a broadcaster to allow him/her to explain in their own words how they experienced a major moment in sports. This week, that spotlight falls on Chris Fowler of ESPN.

Fowler led the network’s play-by-play coverage of the US Open and was on the call of the absolutely crazy women’s final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. Chair umpire Carlos Ramos handed out three conduct violations to Serena, which cost the greatest tennis player of all time a full game. It wasn’t the sole reason she lost the match to Osaka, but it did play a role in the outcome.

Fowler wrote that he has a lot of respect for Ramos and fans of the game know that he is a stickler for the rules, especially when it comes to coaching, which is the violation he cited Serena and her coach for. Fowler thought the game penalty went too far though.

I felt that Ramos had gone too far in his penalties. I qualified it that “given the gravity, many would say restraint is called for.” I’d stand by that. Umpiring is not only about the letter of law, but wisdom and judgment. They should do their best to not play a principal role in the outcome.

As for how the strange series of events was handled on the broadcast, Fowler says that his colleagues made the difference. First, he noted the advantage of having a color commentator like Chrissie Evret, who is one of the few people in the world that has truly been in Serena Williams’s shoes.

We showed the signal and Chrissie (Evert) was clear in her opinion: It WAS coaching. She said that Serena saw it and was taking Patrick’s advice by coming forward. I thought she was very strong on that. Chrissie is a fellow great who is close to Serena, but that didn’t influence her take. I thought Chrissie was strong and balanced throughout with her opinions.

Fowler also gave credit to Mary Jo Fernandez for her sideline reporting. He noted that Fernandez’s relationship with Serena made her analysis of the situation stand out as part of the on-court coverage, which was a pivotal part of telling the story of the match.

I was pleased our courtside mics caught most of the exchanges. It is very loud in Ashe Stadium with the roof shut. Difficult acoustics for all. As long as the mics are up, the most important thing is to stay out of the way and let viewers hear as much as possible, stepping in only when you think background noise got in the way or something needed clarifying, which I did. Mary Jo Fernandez added a lot from courtside. She was picking up on all of Serena’s emotions and knows her very well. Her descriptions were concise and on point.  

Fowler said he is proud of how he and his colleagues handled the broadcast. The full essay is well worth your time, so if you have a subscription to The Athletic, click here and give Deitsch’s “Media Circus” column a read.

Sports TV News

NFL Considers Ending Pro Bowl Amidst Low Ratings

“Mark Maske of The Washington Post reports the future of the Pro Bowl was discussed on Tuesday during the owners’ meetings in Atlanta.”

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The NFL is obsessed with TV ratings. It isn’t a surprise that the league may not be willing to tolerate the Pro Bowl underperforming for much longer. 

In 2022, the NFL’s all-star game produced it’s lowest ratings in 16 years. Fewer that 7 million people tuned in to watch the game across ABC, ESPN and DisneyXD. 

“The (Pro Bowl) game doesn’t work,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday after the owners’ meeting in Atlanta. “We need to find another way to celebrate the players.”

There are two proposed alternatives that have been reported. The Washington Post says the league is considering launching a seven-on-seven competition. It would not include tackling or full clocks. The other report comes from Ian Rapport of the NFL Network. He says the league is considering hosting a series of skills competitions over the course of what would be branded an all-star week. The NFL has partnered with DirecTV in the past to present similar events during Super Bowl Week. 

No details have emerged or final decisions made. Mark Maske of The Washington Post reports the future of the Pro Bowl was discussed on Tuesday during the owners’ meetings in Atlanta.

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Former Hulu Exec Michael Schneider Hired To Run Bally Sports+

“Schneider previously was VP of brand and content marketing at Hulu, where he had involvement in various marketing efforts for Hulu + Live TV.”

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Sinclair Broadcast Group and Diamond Sports Group have tapped Michael Schneider as the chief operating officer and general manager of Bally Sports+ when it launches this year.

Schneider will oversee the direct-to-consumer platform that will also be the hub for Bally Sports live programming.

Schneider previously was VP of brand and content marketing at Hulu, where he had involvement in various marketing efforts for Hulu + Live TV.

“Throughout his career, Michael has successfully launched and developed DTC streaming and service platforms and created immersive engagement experiences,” said Sinclair COO and president of broadcast Rob Weisbord. “He is a terrific addition to the team as we build out the Bally Sports+ offering, its exclusive content and passionate fan community.”

Even before Hulu, Schneider had a hand in streaming. He was a founding member of the PlayStation Vue launch team.

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Sports TV News

Marquee Sports Network Weighs Streaming Options Outside of Bally Sports+

“Marquee GM Mike McCarthy said to Sports Business Journal there’s no rush, but the network is hopeful they can have something in time for the 2023 season.”

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As Sinclair Broadcast Group prepares to launch Bally Sports+, its direct-to-consumer platform that will be home to Bally Sports live events, the Chicago Cubs are weighing their options for Marquee Sports Network, which the team co-owns with Sinclair.

Despite being under the Sinclair umbrella, Marquee is its own free-standing RSN from the rest of the Bally Sports networks across the country.

Marquee is readily available on a number of cable providers, but the only thing that’s really missing is its own standalone streaming platform for games. Marquee GM Mike McCarthy said to Sports Business Journal there’s no rush, but the network is hopeful they can have something in time for the 2023 season.

“We’re always interested in being on the cutting edge with the ultimate deliverable to our consumer,” McCarthy said. “But there isn’t any contractual clock ticking to make us feel that way. It’s how we’ve approached things from the beginning. Between our two ownership groups, there’s a lot of aggression to get it right. And I think you’ll see something along those lines shortly.”

The TV ratings will always be of top interest for MLB, especially regional ratings. But as the league has worked to embrace more streaming options for games, striking deals with Apple and Peacock for rights this season, it’s all about providing what the fans and viewers want.

“We now have the ability to do so much more, to properly tell the story of a 162-game season,” said Crane Kenney, Chicago Cubs president of business operations. Kenney was instrumental in the launch of Marquee. “We love baseball, we love the game, and we love the opportunity we have to share it with our fans in really deep ways.”

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