State of the networks: FOX

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Without question, FOX Sports is the undisputed leader among broadcast networks when it comes to big time events. FOX, in its typical, brash, News Corp. way, lets people know that with press releases that convey the FOX attitude — the puffed chest, “I’m better than you” arrogance that allows them to call Anderson Cooper the “Paris Hilton of television news” and make snide comments about competitors, like CNN and MSNBC in news and CBS in sports.

Arrogance comes with achievement, and FOX has achieved a great deal since bursting onto the sports scene in 1994. Currently, the network has the most formidable sports line-up on television. FOX owns the rights to the NFC, the NFL conference with better ratings, more interest and more large markets than the AFC. In 2006, an NFC regular season game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys drew a 17.8 rating, higher than the number for the BCS National Championship Game.

In addition to the rights to NFC games, FOX airs the crown jewel events of both college and pro football. Super Bowl XLII next year will air on FOX, and the network has the Bowl Championship Series sans the Rose Bowl for the next three years.

While football is very good to FOX, NASCAR and Major League Baseball hold their own. The Daytona 500 is one of the highest rated sporting events on television; the 2006 race ended with a higher rating than all but one game of the 2006 World Series and every game of the 2006 NBA Finals. After the 500, FOX airs the first half of the NASCAR season, which drew a 5.6 average rating on the network in 2006. That 5.6 rating is not too far below the League Championship Series on FOX and is above the average for the NBA Playoffs on ABC.

Rounding out the big time events is Major League Baseball. Last year was a terrible year for baseball on FOX, at least in the playoffs; only five games drew a double-digit rating — Game 7 of the NLCS between St. Louis and the Mets, and four of the five World Series games. The World Series did still average a 10.2 rating, but that was a record low. Baseball heavily depends on the markets participating; Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox drew a 19.4 rating with a 30 share, while Game 3 of the 2006 ALCS between the Athletics and Tigers drew a 3.7 rating with a 9 share.

The true measure of success for a sports network is how it performs in television ratings. Which is lucky for FOX, because while the network excels in ratings, it fails miserably when it comes to talent.

FOX’s Major League Baseball coverage has brought the sport down to a level where historical moments can occur with an ad for “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss” in the background, and the Red Sox World Series’ victory can be followed by a shot of Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore kissing on the field — as part of a movie being made by 20th Century Fox. The insipid studio team of Jeanne Zelasko and Kevin Kennedy make a virtual mockery of the sport, talking in constant cliches and adding nothing of substantive value. Lead game analyst Tim McCarver takes insipid to a new, mind-altering level, while Joe Buck spends most of his play-by-play time praying for Sunday and the NFL to come along.

An entire post could be written about how FOX has denigrated Major League Baseball — in fact, the network’s coverage of the sport could only be compared to ABC’s coverage of the NBA and ESPN’s coverage of Monday Night Football when it comes to turning an event into a complete and utter joke.

NFL coverage is better, but that has more to do with the studio team than anything. After losing host James Brown to CBS, FOX NFL Sunday underwent a series of changes, adding Joe Buck as host and moving the show to the site of the featured game each week. That experiment was dead by the end of the season, and it is highly likely that the show will return to its Los Angeles studios next season, with Curt Menefee as the host. The analysts on NFL Sunday, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson, are favorably compared to TNT NBA studio analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, though Bradshaw, Long and Johnson are considerably more restrained, stilted and scripted than their basketball counterparts.

More mediocre is FOX’s BCS coverage. Thom Brennaman was infuriatingly awful during Boise State’s victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, loathsomely using the cliche “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog” at one point, and then going off on a spiel about how college football needed a playoff when he should have been talking about Boise State going for a 2-point conversion and the win. Charles Davis and Barry Alvarez made a negligible impact on game coverage, and were far less effective than Bradshaw and Long (who were analysts on the Sugar Bowl).

Overall, FOX is at the top of the sports media totem pole. No other broadcast network can compare when it comes to the marquee, highly-rated events FOX televises. ABC was the only competition, but that sports division has been decimated in recent months. The only problem for FOX is the approach of the network; sound effects, robots, vapid personalities, needless crowd shots, celebrity sightings and obnoxious advertisements are just few of the many complaints of how the network televises sports.

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  • Signal to Noise

    Joe Buck is especially maddening when he mixes metaphors from other sports, referring to football players as “home run hitters” is a favorite. He and McCarver absolutely ruined the World Series; Buck in particular with what sounded like St. Louis homerism.

    What’s sad is that the play-by-play, studio, and color people are even worse at the regional Fox Sports networks.