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Networks Search For The Perfect Way To Bug Us

I’m not sure that there will ever be a perfect scorebug, one that pleases most if not all of the viewers. I don’t think it’s possible.

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Imagine yourself tuning into an NFL game on a Sunday afternoon. You join the game midway into the second quarter and have no idea who is winning. I can remember those days pre-scorebug, when only once in a while was there a graphic showing the score, down and distance and time left in whatever quarter it was. Primitive right?

Bears beat Patriots in Super Bowl XX – Bowie News

In some ways it was great, there was anticipation to see which team was winning. There wasn’t a lot of graphical information shouting at me and I was reliant on the broadcaster to give me the details on the game. Innocent and pure, but proven impractical. 

Like it or not, the scorebug is a thing. So much so that debates rage on about what they show, where to show it and yeah, how they show it. What color the bug is, the font that is used how large the graphics are, all stir up feelings from sports fans. Sometimes the angst displayed on social media over the bug, is more than is directed at their team. It’s pretty amazing to think about how routine it’s become to know everything there is to know about a game whenever you tune in. 

The scorebug has been around since the early 1990’s. Its origin has been traced back to televised soccer matches. David Hill, who was the head of Sky Sports in 1992, was dissatisfied over having to wait to see the score after dialing in a match in progress. The bug was introduced during Sky’s coverage of the newly formed English Premier League. Hill resisted countless requests by his boss to remove the graphic and the concept caught on in Europe. ITV introduced a bug the next year and the BBC did the same toward the end of 1993 for its’ football coverage. 

The first use of the “always on” bug in the US was in 1994. ABC Sports and ESPN introduced the gadget to the American audience during the FIFA World Cup. Though the reasoning for it was not just to continuously show the score. It was used as a way to scroll through sponsor logos as a way to present the coverage without commercial interruption. 

The more traditional use of the scorebug came as Hill left Sky Sports for Fox after the latter’s acquisition of the NFL. Hill branded the bug the “FoxBox” as part of its coverage in ’94. Fox’s inaugural box was very plain. White letters and numbers arranged at the top left of your tv screen.  It only had the time and quarter in one part and the teams and score in the other. Very basic, yet a novel idea since it really hadn’t been done before. But the “FoxBox” was here to stay despite objections from some fans that were resisting change. The path was established and Fox began using it for its baseball coverage as well. Other networks would eventually follow suit, some were a little less willing to change than others.

There was an antiquated thought process in assuming that people would stay with a game longer, if they tuned in and didn’t know the score. This was definitely old school thinking. Technology was changing. As the 2000’s started to roll in, the internet, smart phones and tablets would take center stage, eliminating the “I wonder who’s winning, I better stick around to find out” way of life. People already knew, so you may as well get with the program and make it easy to see. Everyone eventually got on board, with networks developing their own version of the “FoxBox” in the years to follow.  

ESPN's graphics department thinks you're an idiot - SBNation.com

Inherently there were issues. Some of the boxes were obtrusive, some were too small, some had too much information and some not enough. It seemed like networks, and eventually RSN’s, were experimenting through trial-and-error. A few networks took the feedback from the audience and threw it in the garbage. Others seemed genuinely interested and would change even in the middle of a season. Here in Chicago, the Cubs television home, Marquee Sports Network, was being criticized for only showing who was pitching in their box. Fans wanted to know who was batting as well and they got their wish a few games into this season.  

Just think that this phenomenon is only 27 years old. The technology has grown exponentially and you can see the influence the video game age has had on the bug. Those gaming experiences have proven to be a good testing ground for different variations of the scorebug. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t work and what can be taken from the games and incorporated into a broadcast is always evolving. Networks can use feedback from gamers and also just use the eye test to see what looks good and is feasible to work into a telecast. 

With that said, the scorebug is still not a perfect thing. Some people love it and some are just simply “bugged” by the bug. I personally think it’s a great addition to television, some are doing it right and some aren’t. Fans seem to generally like the use of the bug, but there are many complaints. Networks have had to pivot many times already as this always changing technology provides new and inventive ways to present the product. 

COMPLAINTS

Doing a quick social media search on the subject, there were several themes that popped up when it came to complaints by viewers. Placement of the bug, the font color of certain aspects, like the teams and information, and the size of the box. 

I’ve often wondered where the perfect spot for the scorebug is. Across the top of the screen? The bottom? Tucked in a corner? Me, I’m for whatever doesn’t inhibit my viewing of whatever game I’m watching. When the box is in the top left during a football game, it needs to be more horizontal than vertical. Why? If it’s too “tall” you lose sight of the players at the top of your screen. Can’t see the cornerback or safety because they get blocked out. The top left location is also a problem in basketball when it comes to seeing the basket and again, players at the top of the screen. In baseball this location is fine. 

Executives and producers need to keep in mind what sport is being broadcast when placement of the bug is discussed. Camera operators need to be aware of the location and keep it in mind, especially when it comes to following the action. It’s vital for fans viewing the game. 

ESPN and TBS debut new massive, oversized score bugs because of  millennials? Maybe old people?

I was amazed at how many people complained about the color of certain things within the bug. Most of the complaints had to do with the color of the background when it came to identifying teams. Fans want an exact match of the team’s main color schemes so it’s easier to know who is playing. Trying to figure out who’s who has been an exasperating thing for some. 

For example. Let’s say Loyola-Maryland is playing Marshall. Both team’s color schemes are green and black. Marshall is the home team and is wearing their white jerseys. Loyola-Maryland is donning its road greens. Now the scorebug shows a green background for Loyola and a black background for Marshall. Ok, the predominant colors from both teams are being featured and if you don’t know which team is wearing white, you’re left to wonder which team is which. How do you solve that problem if you are a network televising the game? Some, like the Big Ten Network will use a gray background for the home team to nearly match the team’s jersey color.

Also, when it came to colors, ESPN learned quickly that a change to its bug for the College Football Championships was confusing to some. That’s because the down-and-distance graphic was shown in a golden color which closely resembled that of the yellow used for penalties called on the field. They quickly made some changes. 

Size was an issue, mainly when it came to font size and the ease of being able to read the bug. Some RSN’s have gone to the italics style for whatever reason, but that wasn’t a source of complaining. Fox’s more recent NFL bug has bigger names which is good. However, the team that has possession of the ball is shown by what looks like a “minus sign” so the score appears to be negative. Placement of “time outs” remains confuses some viewers, especially when the “slash marks” to indicate “TO’s” are oddly placed. 

Clutter is a problem according to some. The new Bally’s Sports bug has gotten panned in this area. Many have called it “screen pollution” on some social media accounts and Reddit. People have complained about wasted space to the left of the screen, too much going on with the count and MPH of a pitch and the “dots” being used to count the outs. Many have bemoaned the large, sports ticker with other scores from baseball taking up a huge amount of space to the right of the screen. So newer isn’t always better. 

WHAT’S NEXT

With the popularity and legalization of gambling in most states it seems obvious that what is next is betting information. Point spreads, over/under, money lines and prop bets will probably be the next thing to appear. I would think that some of these gambling apps will work in a sponsorship of some sort and while the game is going on, give fans updated lines and props. 

CONCLUSION

I’m not sure that there will ever be a perfect scorebug, one that pleases most if not all of the viewers. I don’t think it’s possible. With the RSN’s operating these days, it’s a cookie cutter approach. All Bally’s Sports bugs are the same, just like the old Fox Sports and Roots bugs were all designed by the same folks and used on all telecasts. Uniformity is important to them because they want you to know which network you’re watching, just by the bug. It’s kind of boring and corporate feeling, but I get it. In a perfect world, each team’s crew would be able to cater the bug toward the team, include things that are important to fans of that club. That’s just not seemingly part of the plan. 

Red Sox Stats on Twitter: "Bally Sports replaced 19 regional Fox Sports  networks around the country today. They've gone next level and integrated  their score bug into a ticker.… https://t.co/9gYOgovbxG"

I’d much rather have the boring bug, than not have one at all. It’s important to me, that if I tune into a game that’s already in-progress, I know the score, the inning/quarter and how much time is left. I can’t imagine how it was before. I don’t want to go back to that period of time when the technology wouldn’t allow for it. But, at the same time, realizing what is really important, the game itself, should be at the top of the list. Just because you have access to “bells and whistles” doesn’t mean they are helping your production. Flashy is great sometimes, but don’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the game. 

BSM Writers

Broadcast Partnerships Can’t Get In The Way Of Reporting

“The practice of broadcast partners not contradicting information directly from the team has been going on for years.”

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Morning sports anchors count on alarm clocks and, 99 times out of 100, that no sports news actually happens during a typical shift.  Recap yesterday’s action, find 3 or 4 ways to say that Team X edged Team Y in overtime or some facsimile of that.

The two and a half weeks of Olympics every couple of years could change things for morning sports anchors.  Tuesday morning’s bombshell with US Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles was just the exception that proves many broadcasting rules.  Rightsholders have been beholden to the teams they are in business with, so the narrative is dictated by the team and not the network.

Simone Biles pulls out of team final citing mental stress | Financial Times
Courtesy: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty

At 7 am eastern time on Tuesday, July 27th, I was anchoring morning sports when I saw on Twitter that Biles was pulling out of the overall team event.  Immediately, I went to NBC, the rightsholder for the Games, to see what the story was.  The Today Show was just starting.  Meanwhile, Peacock was airing the event live.

USA gymnastics immediately issued a statement that NBC followed diligently.  They said that Biles “has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue.”  Meanwhile, Peacock was interviewing Biles’ coach who said accurately that Biles had withdrawn due to a mental health situation.

Twitter jumped on the report that it was a mental health issue. Still, NBC was sticking to the medical issue. And they did what any rightsholder would do.

Could NBC have paid closer attention to their sister broadcast on Peacock?  Perhaps, but anyone who has worked on a high-stakes broadcast knows that control rooms and anchors focus on their own product. Also, if any official outlet of the Olympics gives them data, why wouldn’t they believe it.

I spoke off the record to two members of NFL broadcast crews. Both said, that if a star on a team left the game and the team gave the announcers an official statement, even if that statement is false, they wouldn’t contradict it on air. “Team X has just given us this information,” is how they would often phrase it.

Before NBC was corrected, they covered the story as if Biles had suffered some physical injury. They even spoke to Biles’ former teammates Laurie Hernandez, who was commentating for NBC, and Aly Raisman, who joined via Zoom.

My role for iHeartMedia that morning was to do sports reports in Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, and a national report.  I usually feed my casts in the morning and head on my way. When the Biles news broke, I needed to get the facts right.  Many news outlets were reporting (accurately) what Peacock had revealed.  Good Morning America accurately reported on the story.

The difference between ABC and NBC is the billions that NBC pays for the rights.  The real question is, what is NBC paying for?

The practice of broadcast partners not contradicting information directly from the team has been going on for years. It is probably why there are so many attempts at hiding information.

Over my 27 year career, there have been plenty of occasions where an athlete couldn’t play for a personal reason. In one instance I saw a player find out his wife was cheating on him. Another situation was a player was dealing with a sick parent.  In both cases, the team issued statements with some vague injury.  The team statement has a lot of weight with the media, but to the rightsholder, it might as well be etched in stone.

truth-engraved-stone - Baptist & Reflector

That instinct to cover up is particularly disturbing. The coach had told the live Peacock broadcast the simple truth – that Biles was not mentally up to competing after she faulted on her previous attempt. 

Perhaps the initial statement was not a cover-up, but rather a miscommunication.  That simply cannot happen at this level.

The idea of a media cover-up has been used too often because institutions believe that they cannot sully the brand with less than positive information.  Memories of Penn State University and THE Ohio State University, come to mind. What is the mindset to cover up anything negative, whether it’s as big as an assault or as small as skipping a game or match?  The truth always comes out.

This brings up Simone Biles. She does not owe the public an explanation, and her mental health is more important than any competition. 

However, if the media scrutiny bothers her, it helps me understand those other players in wanting their truths to be hidden. Her withdrawal is a complicated issue, and while some of the takes I’ve heard this week have been outright disgusting, others have been rather profound.

The toxicity that surrounds social media in 2021 is perhaps unavoidable.  It’s just sad that this debate got so ugly when the Olympics are designed to unite.

The Tokyo Olympics have been tough to watch already, because of the time zone issues.  Losing star power like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka has made it even harder.

It’s only the first full week.

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BSM Writers

Barrett Sports Media’s Next Big Thing Draft

“I asked 30 established stars in the sports media world to join me in determining who is next.”

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There was a time when draft night, no matter the sport, meant that we were gathering the sports media for a similar exercise here at Barrett Sports Media. Between the pandemic, a changing focus, and more work than we could have anticipated when this business was launched, that tradition fell unfortunately by the wayside.

Today though, I am bringing it back. I asked 30 established stars in the sports media world to join me in determining who is next. This is the Barrett Sports Media Next Big Thing Draft. Just like the NBA, we have an age limit. The difference is theirs is at the low end and ours is at the high end.

We have long discussed the 40s being the decade where most people in this business are established and make the bulk of their money. So, I set 40 as the top end.

Now, sure, there are plenty of names under 40 that are already established stars. They are fair game. They are already their networks’ franchise players. They can be the same for the theoretical teams we are forming.

So, in order of their picks (which were drawn at random), here are the TV, radio, and digital stars that agreed to be a part of the draft.

  1. Steve Levy (ESPN)
  2. Paul Finebaum (ESPN/SEC Network)
  3. Doug Gottlieb (FOX Sports)
  4. Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN)
  5. Gregg Giannotti (WFAN)
  6. Tim Brando (FOX Sports)
  7. Wes Durham (ACC Network)
  8. Bomani Jones (ESPN/HBO)
  9. Gary Parrish (CBS Sports)
  10. Linda Cohn (ESPN)
  11. Stugotz (Meadowlark Media)
  12. Damon Bruce (95.7 The Game)
  13. Chris Broussard (FOX Sports)
  14. Freddie Coleman (ESPN Radio)
  15. Ric Bucher (FOX Sports)
  16. Petros Papadakis (FOX Sports)
  17. Michael Eaves (ESPN)
  18. Jason Smith (FOX Sports)
  19. John Kincade (97.5 The Fanatic)
  20. Rob Parker (FOX Sports)
  21. Adnan Virk (DAZN/Meadowlark Media)
  22. Damon Amendolara (CBS Sports Radio)
  23. Danny Parkins (670 The Score)
  24. Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk)
  25. Chris Carlin (ESPN New York)
  26. Carl Dukes (92.9 The Game)
  27. Jason Fitz (ESPN)
  28. Adam Schein (SiriusXM/CBS Sports)
  29. Dave Dameshek (Extra Points)
  30. Arash Markazi (WWENXT)

This took a lot of time and effort to put together, but we got it done. Here is how the draft went.

Here are a few observations from the 2021 Next Big Thing Draft.

THE FUTURE IS FEMALE – The first three picks were all women. Half of the top ten were women. Whether it is TV or podcasting, some of the brightest up and coming stars in our industry are women and that is a good thing.

BRAND LOYALTY – It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but look at how many people chose up-and-coming stars at their own networks. Is that about job security and being a company man? Maybe, but look at Paul Finebaum choosing Laura Rutledge or Kirk Herbstreit choosing Pat McAfee or even Stugotz choosing Billy Gill. These people get to see their choices face to face with some regularity. I think it speaks to being able to recognize talent when you see it.

DAMON BRUCE KNOWS THE GAME – Bruce asked me to call him so he could make his pick over the phone. He wanted it to be clear. It was a crime that Shams Charania and his 1.2 million social media followers were still on the board at number eleven. “I want everyone to know how much they f***ed things up,” he told me.

A BIG IMPRESSION – I loved the story Jason Smith told me about why he took the versatile Morosi with the 18th pick. “When he comes on my show he likes to use Italian phrases (you know, him being Italian and all), so one time I challenged him that some time in the next week he had to do a media interview entirely in Italian and not explain why he was speaking Italian to the hosts. And he had to post it. Three days later he puts the interview on Twitter, and @’s me on it: It was a baseball interview he did with a TV station…wait for it…wait for it…in Italy. 3,000 miles and an early call time to win a dare. Well played, Jon-Paul.”

THE FREE AGENT MARKET – These people all went undrafted: Jason Bennetti, Big Cat, Domonique Foxworth, Mike Golic Jr, Cassidy Hubbarth, Mina Kimes, Joel Klatt, Katie Nolan, Danny Parkins, PFT Commenter, Brady Quinn, Taylor Rooks, Marcus Spears, and Joy Taylor. Some network or digital platform could build a hell of a roster with this draft’s leftovers. You could really see this playing out with the final picks. “I had 4 or 5 can’t miss picks that are already off the board,” Jason Fitz told me before he proceeded to waffle between three potential candidates for the 27th pick.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 37

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Demetri Ravanos is back to look at an interesting week in the sports media. He welcomes Seth Everett and Brian Noe to a show that touches on women in sports media, the Big 12’s impending demise, the way NBC covered Simone Biles, and where tape delay stands in 2021.

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