NBA broadcasting guide for '10-11
The Heat are expected to bring huge ratings to NBA broadcasters this season
ESPN's broadcast teams are excellent, and its studio show has improved
TNT's well-regarded studio team will hit the road more in the regular season
USA Today recently dubbed the Miami Heat the team America already loves to hate. But one of the undeniable truisms of sports television is this: Hate sells.
With a super-team in Miami fronted by the league's most polarizing figure in LeBron James, the league's television partners are thrilled for the upcoming season, which begins Tuesday night. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are featured on most nights, and the interest in the Heat could result in another epic playoff rating for broadcasters. Last season's Finals-clinching, Game 7 win by the Lakers over the Celtics was seen by 28.2 million viewers, the most-watched NBA game since Michael Jordan won his sixth and final championship in 1998.
Traditionally, teams with a rooting interest against them (the Yankees, Cowboys, Duke basketball) draw big numbers.
"TNT and ESPN will probably have the highest ratings they have ever had in the months of the November and December," said TNT play-by-play announcer Marv Albert, who lives part-time in Miami and called the Heat's first preseason game. "Usually, you have a lot of competition during those months, but Miami will be appointment television every night. Then there's Boston, Orlando, the Lakers and Oklahoma City. LeBron had every right to move, but the way it was done was misguided. But I think you always need teams like that. People will be interested in the Heat, even if they are rooting against them."
While the focus will be on the those on the court, we're here to offer the scouting report on those who will bring you the games. Here's SI.com's NBA broadcasting guide to the 2010-11 season:
ESPN will air 90 games this season, including 15 exclusive broadcasts on ABC (all ESPN telecasts also available via ESPN3.com). ESPN Radio will broadcast 26 games, while ESPN Deportes (ESPN's Spanish-language U.S. sports network) will televise 22 games. The Lakers (16), Heat (15), Celtics (13) and Magic (13) have the most appearances. ESPN will air the Western Conference finals and ABC will broadcast the NBA Finals.
Stuart Scott (host), Hannah Storm (host), Jon Barry (analyst), Chris Mullin (analyst), Jalen Rose (analyst), Mike Wilbon (analyst), Magic Johnson (analyst), J.A. Adande (reporter), Chris Broussard (reporter), Ric Bucher (reporter) and Marc Stein (reporter).
1. Mike Breen (play-by-play), Mark Jackson (analyst), Jeff Van Gundy (analyst), Doris Burke (reporter).
2. Dan Shulman (play-by-play), Hubie Brown (analyst), Lisa Salters (reporter).
Mike Tirico, Terry Gannon, Mark Jones and Dave Pasch will also call games during the year. Tim Legler will serve as an analyst on select broadcasts.
In the ever-changing world that is ESPN's studio show -- who can forget former classics such as Kevin Frazier, Tim Hardaway, Stephen A. Smith and Fred Hickman? -- Storm joins the group (she hosted the Finals studio show last year) and will share hosting responsibilities with Scott. The SportsCenter anchor has previous hosting experience -- she hosted NBC's NBA studio coverage from 1997-2002 -- but has not had a full-time gig in the league for years.
Breen, Jackson and Van Gundy form the top three-man booth in any sport, a fun and exceptionally enjoyable listen. We've repeatedly praised Shulman and Brown for professionalism and preparedness. For those who like basketball on the radio, Jim Durham and Jack Ramsay are fantastic. This column would urge any ESPN executive to use the NBA game broadcasting group as a template for what should be the goal across the network: a group of professional and entertaining men and women who don't have to go Chris Berman on the audience in order to get attention.
WHAT WE'D CHANGE
Obviously, you can't duplicate Charles Barkley and the chemistry of TNT's studio show, but ESPN's studio show has improved over the years. Barry and Rose come prepared and speak their mind. Wilbon offers thoughtfulness and smarts, though he's much more genuflecting of the league in this forum than PTI. Scott and Storm could learn from TNT's Ernie Johnson, who understands that an ego-free host whose first priority is setting up analysts is rewarded with viewer and critic loyalty.
Something to watch will be whether ESPN can be critical of LeBron, the network's business partner for The Decision. ESPN's Heat Index has been criticized in some circles, but not here. The franchise warrants total immersion. Just don't sugarcoat the coverage.
"Our guys call it the way they see it," ESPN senior VP and executive producer Mark Gross said. "That's what they are being paid to do. If they want to be critical of LeBron James, or if they want to be critical of Kobe Bryant, they will be critical of them. There is nothing taking place behind the scenes. We want our guys serving NBA fans and telling it like they see it."
FIVE MUST-SEE GAMES
Dec. 25, Heat at Lakers 5 p.m., ABC
Jan. 30, 2011, Celtics at Lakers, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Jan. 30, 2011, Thunder at Heat 1 p.m., ABC
Feb. 27, 2011, Lakers at Thunder, 2:30 p.m, ABC
April 10, 2011, Celtics at Heat, 3:30 p.m., ABC
WHY VIEWERS SHOULD OPT FOR ITS COVERAGE
"I think we offer really smart, analytical, inside X's-and-O's information that you can't get anywhere else. I also think we offer features that you cannot get anywhere else. The other thing we offer is that our coverage is not just in a pregame show; it's across all of our shows and all of our platforms. We cover the NBA 12 months out of the year on SportsCenter, ESPNews and ESPN Radio. ... Our goal is to make the viewer smarter about the game that's being played, or, in SportsCenter's case, the game that was just played."
-- Mark Gross
OBLIGATORY MIAMI HEAT COMMENT
"Don't get me wrong: The Decision was a debacle, a disaster, the execution was 100 percent off. If you're [Cavaliers owner] Dan Gilbert or a Cleveland fan, you have every right to be upset. Your favorite son let you down. But it takes a real big man in life to do what LeBron's doing. He's going from being The Man to playing second fiddle [to Wade], from Michael Jordan to Scottie Pippen, from Batman to Robin."
-- Studio analyst Jalen Rose, to USA Today
SI.com: Is ESPN's Heat coverage overkill?
Jeff Van Gundy: I'm not trying to be a company guy here, but I think ESPN takes a lot of shots by the sports consumer -- and my brother [Magic coach Stan Van Gundy] being one of them. But at the same time, I think they put out what sells and what people want to watch.
SI.com: Is Kevin Durant the best player in the world?
Mark Jackson: I don't think it's his time to say he's the best player in the world. When you talk about that, Kobe, LeBron and Dwyane Wade are the top three players in basketball. But Kevin Durant has certainly put himself in the discussion and certainly can win the MVP.
SI.com: Is your network attempting to get a one-on-one with LeBron?
Mark Gross: We are trying hard and we have different reporters that we would be comfortable doing that interview, whether that is Rachel Nichols or Chris Broussard or any of our reporters covering the Heat. It's No. 1 on our list. We have just not been able to make it happen, but I am optimistic it will happen.
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