How Fox’s 25 seasons of covering the NFL changed the game
By JOE REEDY
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, December 27
Terry Bradshaw thought his career as a football analyst was over in 1993 when CBS lost the NFL rights to Fox. But instead of going back to cattle ranching, he has had a front-row seat to the biggest sports broadcasting startup of the past quarter-century.
“It seems like an eternity. We all have occasionally talked about where we started. We’ve had all of these innovations that has transformed broadcasting on television,” Bradshaw said.
It was Bradshaw who helped usher in Fox’s coverage of the NFL in 1994 riding a horse around Los Angeles before arriving at the Fox set in Hollywood. That entrance helped set the tone that still drives the network’s coverage and has included eight Super Bowls.
“Terry is what Fox attitude is all about,” said Joe Buck, who has gone from one of the announcers for regional games to the voice of Fox’s major properties. “They played that during the preseason seminar this year and I got choked up. It was a beautiful TV moment.”
David Hill, who built Fox Sports and came up with many of its innovations, still considers Bradshaw his most important hire.
“He is the core of what Fox Sports is — he’s funny, self-deprecating, but gets the job done,” Hill said.
That core was put in motion 25 years ago this month when Fox won the rights to broadcast NFL games for $1.6 billion over four years. Besides its personalities, the network has given us the scorebox, audio that brings viewers closer to the game, the one-hour pregame show, and a big production feel for sporting events.
The fact that Hill was able to build a sports division from scratch in eight months remains incredible considering most networks now take two to three years to build.
“It was so intense that it stays with you. Thinking back, though, we never had a chance to second guess anything because every day was important,” he said.
Many of the announcers and production personnel that started with Fox in 1994 are still there as the network is in its 25th season of broadcasting the NFL. Bart Simpson is still going strong on Sunday nights, but Fox has become a grown-up network.
“We’ve grown from the rebellious new kid on the block and are now looked at as a responsible producer of major sports. We’re now the establishment,” said Richie Zyontz, the lead producer for Fox’s top NFL game as well as coordinating producer for the network’s NASCAR coverage.
The NFL’s decision to go with Fox continues to reverberate on a number of levels, not only with football but in the way sports rights costs are perceived among network executives. Among the things we have learned:
FOOTBALL IS ENTERTAINMENT
Fox’s credo of “same game, new attitude” really applied to Hill. The affable Australian, who had built sports networks in England and Australia, was tasked with building Fox Sports in eight months.
Hill offered a fresh set of eyes when it came to evaluating pro football on television, and the first opinion he had is there wasn’t enough fun or entertainment on Sunday broadcasts.
Hill’s vision of Fox’s philosophy took root with the pregame show. Not only was it an hour, but it was done in Los Angeles instead of New York. He had a simple formula for his pregame crew: a host, former offensive player, former defensive player and coach.
“David understood that he wanted the viewer entertained. We cover the news but we tend to do things a little more jovial,” Bradshaw said.
Hill, who now runs his own production company after leaving Fox in 2015, liked Howie Long after seeing one of his interviews, but wasn’t sold after an audition. It was so vanilla that Hill told Long to come back the next day with a different attitude. Long was more relaxed in the second audition and was hired.
Bradshaw and Long have been the backbone of Fox’s pregame show despite their diverse personalities.
“Terry and I couldn’t be more different, but we have caught lightning in a bottle. It just works,” Long said.
Hill also suggested having a comedian do predictions and having a weather report as a segment. The Los Angeles setting also gave the show a different vibe, which is what he wanted all along.
“All the cameramen for the pregame had worked on sitcoms during the week. They all wanted to work on football,” he said. “The camaraderie of everyone flowed throughout the entire unit.”
The pregame show was a hit from the beginning and also showed that viewers had an appetite to consume as much football content as possible.
“I remember opening weekend when I got home I had a couple college buddies that were raving about the pregame show and how great and fun it was with everyone,” said Troy Aikman, who was Cowboys quarterback in 1994 before joining the network seven years later. “It was refreshing, new and unique, and that set the tone for the network.”
ELEVATING THE GAME
The hiring of Pat Summerall and John Madden as the top broadcast team gave Fox instant credibility, but the network also helped launch the network football careers of Joe Buck, Thom Brennaman, Kenny Albert and Kevin Harlan.
“I was sitting in the room during a seminar and looking at Summerall, Madden, Dick Stockton and Matt Millen while listening to David Hill talk, and I couldn’t believe I was in the same room,” Buck said. “I had been around my dad (Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck) and knew what the standard was and how it had been done, and now I was hearing how different things were going to be. It was intimidating and exciting.”
Production-wise, Fox ushered in the era of the constant time and scorebox along with audio that brought viewers closer to the action. The scorebox may look like a simple graphic, but at the time it was a technical marvel. Instead of having a camera fixated on a clock, a black box was embedded in each scoreboard so that the time and other data could be transmitted to Los Angeles and production trucks at the stadium.
“There was a guy named Richard Flanigan who had to go to each stadium with a ladder and screwdriver and put the black box in each scoreboard. But he had to build a black box for each scoreboard because they were all different,” said Eric Shanks, a broadcast associate in 1994 and now Fox Sports’ executive producer and CEO. “The attitude from David was the bigger, the louder, the better. We were doing things with graphics and sound effects that only used to exist in big production movies.”
THE NFL RIGHTS ARMS RACE
When the NFL entered television negotiations in 1993, many predicted it would be lucky to get near the $3.6 billion received from ABC, CBS, NBC, TNT and ESPN for four years in 1990.
Fox’s bid of $1.58 billion, along with increases from ABC, NBC, TNT and ESPN, increased the rights fees to $4.4 billion — and longtime NFL broadcast partner CBS lost the NFC rights to Fox.
The contracts also ended up benefiting the players. The salary cap started in 1994 and many predicted with decreased rights fees it would be $32 million per team. However, the surprise influx of cash pushed it to $34 million.
The NFL received roughly $5.525 billion this season for television rights, including $1.760 billion from Fox for Sunday and Thursday games. The salary cap for this season is $177.2 million per team.
WINS AND LOSSES
Most networks lose money on sports rights deals, but you rarely hear executives discuss that because the loss of the NFL can be catastrophic to the bottom line. CBS experienced that in 1993 when it lost the NFC games to Fox and NBC learned those lessons four years later when CBS outbid it for rights to the AFC.
Not only does it decimate sports divisions, but it impacts promotion of prime-time programming.
“Four years later the negative impact was so severe that CBS went to the NFL and said, ‘Name your price and we’ll pay whatever to get a package,’” said Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports who now runs his own sports television consulting company. “We lost affiliates, ratings, the male audience and a lot of sports sponsorships. But when CBS got the NFL back (in 1997), everything picked up again.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Joe Reedy at www.twitter.com/joereedy
Dives, buzzer-beaters and kicks: 2018’s AP Plays of the Year
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Sports Writer
Friday, December 21
This was a year of moments.
Justify won the Triple Crown. The U.S. beat Canada in a shootout for gold in women’s hockey at the Pyeongchang Olympics, and John Shuster pulled off a curling shot of all-time to win another gold for the red, white and blue. Stefon Diggs engineered a miracle in Minneapolis to win a playoff game for the Vikings. Roger Federer won a point at the U.S. Open without getting the ball over the net. Tiger Woods walked down the 18th fairway as a winner again. Loyola Chicago became the darlings of college basketball during the NCAA Tournament, fueled by a penchant for dramatics at the buzzer.
All of them spectacular.
Still, none of them made the list of the Plays of the Year.
These come from some of the biggest events of the year — the Stanley Cup Final, the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the AL Championship Series and the women’s Final Four. One was from a volleyball player using her feet, another was a quarterback who made a winning throw but didn’t touch a football. And they all stood out a bit more than most.
Here are the best plays in sports for 2018:
10. Holtby saves the Caps
Washington goalie Braden Holtby might have turned the Stanley Cup Final around with one save. Alex Tuch had a chance to tie Game 2 of the series with about two minutes left in regulation. Alone in the slot, he took a pass and had tons of open net to shoot at from right on the doorstep — only to be denied by Holtby, who stabbed his stick at the air and just managed to find the puck. “Thank God he’s our goalie,” Caps star Alex Ovechkin said. The Capitals went on to win the series.
9. Harden breaks ankles
Poor Wesley Johnson. Poor, poor Wesley Johnson. All he was trying to do was guard Houston star James Harden, and he ended up on the ground as an unwitting participant in a highlight for the ages. Harden crossed Johnson over and caused him to stumble to the floor — it’s called “breaking ankles” in basketball vernacular — and it only got worse from there for the Los Angeles Clippers guard. Harden stared at him, held the ball for nearly three seconds, then made a 3-pointer.
8. Messi, in a flash
Argentina’s Lionel Messi, even in a full sprint, simply does things that hardly anyone else in the soccer-playing world can pull off. He took a long pass in a World Cup game against Nigeria, controlled it with his left thigh, then tapped it forward with his left foot — the ball hadn’t hit the ground yet — then stutter-stepped his way to the ball and delivered a right-footed strike into the far side of the net.
7. Bump, kick, spike
The pass from Kailey Elrod wasn’t perfect, and all Talia Watson could do was get her foot on the ball and flick it skyward. By the way, this wasn’t soccer. This was volleyball. The Cedar Crest College Falcons of Allentown, Pennsylvania, had match point against the College of Staten Island on Sept. 6, and Elrod’s bump from the baseline was low. Watson got her foot on the ball — yes, it’s legal — to extend the point, and eventually she had a more conventional set to set up a kill that capped Cedar Crest’s 3-0 victory.
6. Sling and a prayer
Julian McGarvey is a quarterback at Marist College, and his best throw of 2018 had nothing to do with football. Down by two with time running out in New York state’s Section 1 Class A boys basketball championship game, McGarvey intercepted a long pass, stumbled, gathered himself — some angles show that he didn’t travel, either — and heaved a 70-foot desperation try that dropped to give Ardsley a 52-51 win over Tappan Zee. Ardsley went on to make the state championship game, before eventually falling.
5. LeBron saves the day
Jimmy Butler tried a layup with about three seconds left in overtime, only to have it swatted away by LeBron James who tracked the play perfectly and rejected Butler’s shot with ease. And moments later, James outdid himself — again. After a timeout, James delivered Cleveland a win over Minnesota when he took an inbounds pass, turned and swished a fadeaway over Butler to help the Cavs top the Timberwolves 140-138.
4. Tua for the win
This has to be the best second-and-26 play in football history. Down by 3 in overtime, in the national championship game, one play after taking a very bad sack for a 16-yard loss, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa connected with DeVonta Smith on a 41-yard toss on what became the final play of the Crimson Tide’s 26-23 win over Georgia. Tagovailoa took over for Jalen Hurts at the half and threw for three TDs as Alabama finished off its fifth national championship in the last 10 seasons.
3. Patriots posterized — twice
The two most memorable plays of 2018 in the NFL have much in common — they were touchdowns against the New England Patriots, went viral immediately and got cool names to boot. The Philly Special was Nick Foles catching a touchdown pass from Trey Burton late in the first half of the Philadelphia Eagles’ win in the Super Bowl over the Pats, and the Miami Miracle was the Dolphins connecting on a pass and two laterals before Kenyan Drake darted into the end zone to cap a 69-yard touchdown that beat New England 34-33 on the final play.
2. Arike’s two miracles
Saying Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale had a flair for the dramatic at the women’s Final Four doesn’t even come close to doing what she did justice. She broke ties, and broke the hearts of Connecticut and Mississippi State. Against UConn, Ogunbowale’s jumper with 1 second left put Notre Dame ahead to stay in the national semifinals — and two nights later, in the national-title game, she went to the right and let fly with a wild, high-arcing 3 that dropped at the buzzer for the win.
1. A dive into Red Sox lore
Andrew Benintendi may never make a better catch. The left fielder for the Boston Red Sox made a diving grab to end Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, a huge play on his team’s run to the World Series title. Boston led 8-6 in Game 4, up 2-1 in the series, but the bases were loaded in Houston and the crowd at Minute Maid Park was roaring. Alex Bregman hit a liner that was sinking fast, and if it had gotten past Benintendi the Astros would have likely scored three runs to win. But Benintendi dove perfectly, snared the ball just above the grass and the rest is now Red Sox lore — as well as the play of the year.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Dodgers send Puig, Wood to Reds for Homer Bailey
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
Saturday, December 22
CINCINNATI (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers had a surplus of outfielders. With one attention-getting deal, they reshaped their roster in hopes of another pennant run.
The reigning NL champions shook up their lineup on Friday, trading Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and left-hander Alex Wood along with cash to the Cincinnati Reds for a pair of prospects as part of a seven-player deal.
The Reds included starter Homer Bailey in the swap, a way of freeing them from the $28 million owed him in the final year of his contract. Bailey didn’t fit into the Reds’ pitching plans, so they wanted to include him in a deal if possible. The Dodgers plan to release him.
“It was to grant him his release, more of fitting into the overall construct of the deal,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
The Dodgers get minor leaguer infielder Jeter Downs and right-hander Josiah Gray. The Reds got catcher Kyle Farmer for depth at the position.
“I think if you look back over last few years, a hallmark of our teams has been depth on our roster,” Friedman said. “This put us in position with a surplus in the outfield and pitching. A big focus was to figure out moves on those fronts that made sense.”
For the Reds, it’s another move toward becoming competitive after four straight 90-loss seasons. Cincinnati has been rebuilding since 2015, and decided it’s time to spend some money and make some deals to complement its core of young players.
“We still have (financial) resources to make this team better — we’re not done yet,” said Dick Williams, the Reds’ president of baseball operations. “We did trade some good prospects here, but we acquired four major league players that address needs for us and I think we’re better in the short-term.”
Last week, the Reds traded pitching prospect Tanner Rainey to the Nationals for 32-year-old starter Tanner Roark, who led the National League in losses last season while going 9-15 with a 4.34 ERA.
Cincinnati didn’t know what to do with Bailey, who went 1-14 last season with a 6.09 ERA and resisted a move to the bullpen. He threw a pair of no-hitters before his career was sidetracked by three arm operations. He was entering the final year on a six-year, $105 million deal.
The rotation has been the Reds’ biggest problem, with prospects failing to produce consistently, and Wood provides another upgrade. He was an All-Star for the Dodgers in 2017, going 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA. He was 9-7 last season with a 3.68 ERA in 27 starts and six relief appearances.
“We think he’s a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy who’s going to fit in really well,” Williams said.
The Reds’ outfield was in flux when they chose not to tender a contact to Billy Hamilton, making him a free agent. Puig is expected to play right field. He’s in the final year of a seven-year, $42 million deal.
Kemp, 34, batted .290 with 25 doubles, 21 homers and 85 RBIs last season, when he was an All-Star for the third time.
The Dodgers felt good about the chance to deal from their glut of outfielders and pitchers.
“If you look at our rotation and outfield four hours ago, it was not a functional roster,” Friedman said. “It’s a deal that makes sense.”
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/tag/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Cardinals reach $25M, 2-year deal with Andrew Miller
Friday, December 21
ST. LOUIS (AP) — When healthy, Andrew Miller has been one of baseball’s top relievers. The St. Louis Cardinals are banking on a return to form.
Miller agreed to a $25 million, two-year deal with St. Louis that includes a club option and performance bonuses that could make it worth $36 million over three seasons.
The 6-foot-7 left-hander has been dominant for much of this decade, but he went just 2-4 with a 4.24 ERA in 37 games with Cleveland last season while dealing with hamstring, knee and shoulder issues.
“One of our stated goals this offseason was to improve our bullpen,” said John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations. “Andrew Miller is one of the premier relievers in the major league, and his addition certainly strengthens our bullpen.”
Miller gets $11 million next year and $11.5 million in 2020, and the deal includes a $12 million team option for 2021 with a $2.5 million buyout, The option would become guaranteed if Miller has 110 games as a pitcher in 2019 and ‘20 combined.
He can earn $500,000 annually in performance bonuses based on games pitched: $100,000 each for 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60. He would get a $1 million assignment bonus each time he is traded.
Cleveland acquired Miller in a trade during the 2016 season, and manager Terry Francona used him as a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen. He was the MVP of the AL Championship Series that year, and Cleveland made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before losing to the Chicago Cubs. Miller appeared in 10 games that postseason, going 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 30 strikeouts and five walks.
Miller has been exclusively a reliever since 2012, and from 2014-17, he never posted an ERA higher than 2.04. That all changed this year, when Miller couldn’t prevent Cleveland’s bullpen from declining drastically. Two prominent relievers for the Indians — Miller and Cody Allen — became free agents this offseason, although the AL Central champions still have Brad Hand, who was acquired in a July trade with San Diego.
The Cardinals went 88-74 this year but missed the postseason. They already made waves this month by trading for slugger Paul Goldschmidt.
The St. Louis bullpen had plenty of issues last season. Luke Gregerson hurt his hamstring in spring training and posted a 7.11 ERA in 17 games. The Cardinals signed Greg Holland at the beginning of the season, but he too had an ERA over 7.00 when he was released at the beginning of August.
Bud Norris had 28 saves for St. Louis last season, but he is now a free agent. Lefty Brett Cecil had a 6.89 ERA in 40 appearances.
Miller began his MLB career in 2006 with Detroit after being drafted by the Tigers in the first round. He was later dealt to the Marlins in the deal that sent Miguel Cabrera to Detroit.
Since making 12 starts for Boston in 2011, Miller has been used only in relief. He was traded to Baltimore in 2014, then signed with the New York Yankees before the 2015 season. The Indians acquired him from New York in 2016.
In the past three seasons, Miller had 16 saves, 263 strikeouts and a 2.00 ERA in 171 innings.
The Cardinals designated right-hander Ryan Meisinger for assignment to make room for Miller.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports