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How The NCAA Tournament Went From Tape Delay To TV Juggernaut

“Imagine living in the Midwest or East at the time and only getting to see the great UCLA teams of that day in the title game.”

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Believe it or not, there was a time when you couldn’t watch every NCAA Tournament game live. Hard to fathom now that you can not only watch all the games live, but you can stream them as well. At any given time, you can dial in one of the four networks covering the action, CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV and see a live game in its entirety. There were some 12 hours of games brought to you live during each day of the first weekend. It’s incredible and what every college basketball fan dreams of. It wasn’t always that way. 

Back in the day, the telecasts were pretty raw. Not many graphics and no score bug. The score and time left would flash up after a made basket and going to and coming back from commercial breaks. Imagine tuning into a game in progress and not knowing the score? How spoiled have we gotten? The answer? Very. 

If you have Direct TV, turn to ch 205 to watch all four games at once. :  CollegeBasketball

Thankfully the tournament broadcast has evolved as quickly as my bracket was busted on night number one of the big dance. That’s pretty fast, you’ll just have to trust me on that. So how did we get to the point of being able to see every game from start to finish? It was a long slow process that eventually caught up to the needs of the rabid fan. 

The current format is more than fans could ask for. When the contract between the NCAA, CBS and Turner was signed after the 2010 Tournament, some were skeptical. The fact that games were going to be spread out over several networks was unique for sure. Would fans embrace what seemed chaotic? 

“That’s going to take some getting used to, but it’s a better programming option for the viewer at home and the basketball fan,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2010. “More work on his or her part to find the game, but they get to decide what game they want to watch. In the past, I think we did a very good job of moving around, but it was our decision.” A costly decision with the deal worth a reported 10.8-billion dollars. 

“The tournament’s success outgrew one network’s ability to provide the coverage fans were looking for,” David Levy, then the president of Turner Sports, said in 2010. There’s a lot of truth in that statement. This current deal solved the issue of ‘cutaways’ and also infused talent from both CBS and the Turner properties together. Greg Gumbel, Ernie Johnson Jr, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Clark Kellogg, Seth Davis and others joined forces to provide in-depth and informative studio shows. The collaboration is working. 

Let’s dive into a little history here on the tournament, which was really the second fiddle to the NIT for many years until the 1960’s. The first broadcast of the NCAA Tournament championship game dates back to 1946. New York’s CBS-TV televised the Oklahoma State vs. North Carolina game, won by the Cowboys. It was estimated that an audience of just 500-thousand saw the title contest. 

It wasn’t until 1952 that games were televised regionally for the first time. Then in 1954 La Salle defeated Bradley in the first nationally televised title game. It all changed in 1969. NBC paid about a half million dollars for the rights to the tournament. They televised a doubleheader on the opening day of the tournament, then allowing each market to get two of the four regional final games. 

The Final Four started on a Thursday, but each market would get just one of the games. Can you imagine today only getting a chance to see ONE of the national semifinal games? Championship and consolation games were played on a Saturday and both were televised by NBC. 

In those days teams were divided into brackets based on geography. So, East Coast teams were placed in the East Region. The other regions were the West, Mideast and Midwest. You would only get East regional matchups televised in the Eastern part of the country and so on. Imagine living in the Midwest or East at the time and only getting to see the great UCLA teams of that day in the title game.

The Greatest College Basketball Team of All Time – A Sip of Sports

NBC would eventually expand some of its coverage in the early 1970’s, finally airing both national semifinal games. In the late 70’s NBC included opening weekend Sunday games and prime time regional coverage of four regional semifinal games, one for each market. 

Things started to change for the better when, in 1980, an infant sports network known as ESPN got into the fray. ESPN picked up the NCAA Productions feeds of a couple of games on the opening Thursday night and then three on the first Friday night of the tournament. ESPN also picked up these feeds for the regional semifinals the following Thu/Fri carrying five games live and the other three on tape delay. Not a perfect situation, but better. Then CBS entered the picture. 

In 1982 CBS debuted the Selection Sunday Show to announce the teams that made the tournament and what matchups were ahead. CBS added coverage of the opening round with live late-night games from the West Region on Thursday and Friday at 11:30 pm in the eastern time zone. The coverage featured a tripleheader on the first Saturday as well. ESPN stayed in the picture for the time being, picking up the NCAA Productions feeds and carried live doubleheaders on the opening Thursday and Friday nights. ESPN also ran many games on tape delay after the CBS 11:30 telecast both nights.

The coverage further expanded in 1983 and 1984, but then the tournament itself expanded to 64 teams in 1985. CBS would step up their game. This resulted in almost non-stop basketball for nearly 55 consecutive hours from Thursday at noon through early Saturday evening. Things stayed largely the same until 1991, when ESPN was cut out of the picture and CBS began a new seven-year contract that was for upwards of one-billion dollars. This time the deal included live coverage of all sessions of the championship. No more tape delay. 

In 1999 DirecTV entered the picture with the Mega March Madness package. That enabled viewers to see every out-of-market region games during the first three rounds of the tourney. 

In the years to follow, the NCAA Tournament was available as a live stream. CBSSports.com and later the official March Madness Live app provided you coverage of the games. Remember the “boss” button? If you were watching on your computer, you’d hit the button and a fake spreadsheet would pop up to make it seem like you were still working. Ingenious.  

Things kind of stayed status-quo until 2007. That’s when CBS allowed what was then called CSTV, now known as CBS Sports Network, to air one of the regular network’s games each day on the first Thursday and Friday. This was the case until 2009. 

Everything changed after the 2010 Tournament. The mega-deal between the NCAA and it’s now two television partners, CBS and the Turner Networks gave us what is today our “new normal” when watching games. Yes, they are spread out across a multitude of channels, but the games are in HD, the graphics are terrific and the basketball itself has been very entertaining. 

Think of how far we’ve come from the early days of the tournament and television. Watching the games in 1990, just 31 years ago, you wouldn’t have known any better not to see on your screen how many timeouts each team had. Right? Could you even have imagined the possibility of seeing the shot clock on your screen at all times? Going back even a little further to 1970, would you have been so bold to demand to watch a game live instead of tape delay? Mindboggling to think that we used to rely on announcers and us actually paying attention to know the details of a game without being spoon fed the info. We weren’t looking at our smart phones or typing on our iPads or tablets either. 

Redesigned NCAA March Madness Live App Expands Platforms

Some of you were not around before this wealth of technology and graphics so you are probably reading in horror. It wasn’t so bad, it’s all we knew. Though if given the choice I’d much prefer today’s telecasts. The information, the camera shots, the in-game reports from the sidelines and graphics to support all of the above make it a much more enjoyable watch. Oh and of course there’s our “One Shining Moment”. What did we ever do without that? 

In saying all this, there is just one question left to ask; what does TruTV actually show the other 11 months of the year?

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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