Hockey players are special people.
How many professional athletes take questions during a game drenched in sweat, short on breath and probably emitting a stench that could seep through the stuffiest nose?
That’s what hockey players have done for decades. They leave the security of their dressing room at intermission and open themselves up to their listening or viewing audience, no matter their appearance. (There’s a reason Blackhawks players wear a hat during interviews). Stars and scrubs alike cooperate with the team’s broadcasters to bring themselves closer to their fans.
The PGA would like its players to follow suit, but that’s not an easy ask of people who shudder at the clicking of a camera, needing complete silence to strike the ball properly. Diverting their concentration from their round to answer questions would be about as desirable as playing in the worst British Open conditions imaginable.
Some players gave it a try last weekend in Hawaii at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where the PGA experimented with it. During the first round on Golf Channel, Dustin Johnson spoke with Jim “Bones” Mackay, the on-course commentator and former caddie for Phil Mickelson. Johnson talked about the course conditions and his play, seemingly unbothered by the inquiries.
“It was fine,” he told pgatour.com. “I don’t like pre-round interviews and such normally, but, hey, we are in Hawaii. Now, if we were at Augusta, maybe I wouldn’t do it, but it’s OK.”
That figures to be the biggest issue for the players: The more competitive the tournament, the less likely they’ll be to talk. Can you imagine either Tiger Woods or Rocco Mediate taking an interview during their 19-hole playoff at the U.S. Open in 2008?
That’s an extreme example. The PGA probably wouldn’t ask players to talk in playoffs or the final round of tournaments, and interviewers would have to have a feel for the timing of the talks. Marc Leishman, who has done on-course interviews in Australia, had an idea for how to handle that.
“If they do end up having them, my advice would be to have someone who has played on tour to do it, to be a little sensitive of the questions and the timing of the interview,” Leishman told the Associated Press. “But anything where you can be more accessible to the viewers is a good thing. It might be a way to give more insight to what we’re thinking at the time.”
Leishman gets it. Golf broadcasts can have all the latest technology and graphic elements they want. They’re about the players. Casual fans might want to get to know them. Hard-core fans might want to learn from them. On-course interviews, as short as they figure to be, provide another way for the PGA to promote its players and grow its game. More players should participate than not.
But if Rory McIlroy speaks for the majority, fans are out of luck.
“I’ve been approached in Europe because they’ve done it for a couple of years,” McIlroy told the AP. “And I’ve said, ‘No,’ every single time.”
Good thing he isn’t a hockey player.
Political aid for Cubs?
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has had his share of battles with Chicago politicians since purchasing the team in 2009. This week, he was rebuffed in his efforts to build a 20,000-seat stadium for a United Soccer League team in Lincoln Yards.
But what if those politicians helped negotiate a deal to distribute Marquee, the Cubs’ TV network that will launch in 2020? It happened with the Yankees’ YES Network, and the scenario is one to keep in mind when the Cubs take Marquee to the market.
When YES launched in 2002, Cablevision refused to pay the network’s asking price of $2 per subscriber per month. Cablevision’s 3 million customers missed 130 Yankees games that season, and the standoff appeared to have no end in sight.
In 2003, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped broker a deal, bringing two mediators to his Upper East Side townhouse. After several meetings, the Yankees were back on Cablevision for Opening Day, and they’ve been there ever since.
If one of Sports Business Journal reporter John Ourand’s predictions for 2019 is true, the Cubs will ask at least $6 per subscriber per month (YES reportedly is up to $6.37, behind only ESPN at $8). If Comcast — this region’s Cablevision — balks at that price and doesn’t air the Cubs, the situation could draw the attention of politicians, who figure to hear the outcry from their neglected constituents.
Sports gambling on TV
While we wait for sports-gambling legislation to be passed in Illinois, regional sports networks in places where gambling is legal are offering programming for sports bettors.
On Friday, NBC Sports Washington will air an alternate broadcast of the Bucks-Wizards game on its Plus channel tailored to that audience, featuring real-time statistics, win-probability data and gaming information on the screen. There also will be a free gaming contest called “Predict the Game.” It’s the first of eight such broadcasts this season.
The District of Columbia Council made sports-betting legal in December. A bill is expected to be introduced in the Illinois General Assembly, probably this year. If one passes, NBCSW’s gaming-centric broadcast is a good sign that NBC Sports Chicago could follow suit.
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