Both Kevin Kinkead and Kyle Scott worked on this post.
We got a ton of feedback on a story published last week, titled “Some Thoughts on Whatever the Hell NBC Sports Philly is Doing.”
Beyond the reader replies, we were contacted by a number of current and former NBCSP employees, all of whom felt like the station was headed in the wrong direction due to a number of unpopular talent cuts and a wonky revamp of both the television and digital product.
We talked to a half-dozen people – a combination of off- and on-camera folks representing a variety of departments – who were interested in speaking anonymously about the issues. Leadership, money, and a lack of direction were the three topics that came up most frequently in discussion.
Before we get to that, it’s worth considering the important crossroads at which NBC Sports Philly, and all sports networks, regional and national, find themselves at the moment.
Once an indispensable part of sports fandom, cable sports networks have become less relevant in recent years. Gone are the days of fans needing to tune in for highlight shows or roundtable discussions to get brought up to speed on the news and topics of the day. New and social media, along with the continued success of sports talk radio, has rendered almost anything a sports network can show you during traditional news-block hours useless, at worst, or redundant, at best.
For the Philly sports fan, SportsNite with Neil Hartman and Leslie Gudel, or SportsRise with Ron Burke used to be appointment viewing. What’s more, it was novel in the both the breadth and depth of local coverage it provided, beginning in 1997.
The height of the cable news boom, the late 90s were shaped largely by the new and varied niches cable networks could cover, from Music TV to Court TV to sports. Not only did a network like CSN air the games, but they offered nearly around-the-clock coverage of the teams. Until then, local fans were served during off-hours by only the newspaper, sports talk radio, and a few minutes of nightly news broadcasts.
Michael Barkann, Hartman, Gudel, Burke, Dei Lynam and Derrick Gunn became mini rockstars to local sports fans. CSN was essential in a sports-dominated market.
That landscape has completely changed.
The value added by highlight, roundtable, and, to a lesser extent, debate shows is gone. The web fills that vacuum admirably while providing a platform for the average fan to engage and create. You’re now literally part of the sports conversation, whereas before you were only in branding– the voice of the fan. Suddenly, the back-and-forth of static studio shows feels boring and contrived compared to lively Twitter debates, in-depth podcast discussions, and the comment sections of social media posts. We don’t need to hear what Joel Embiid said after the game, because we can watch him celebrate or lament live on Instagram. Highlight shows serve only to reinforce the importance of clips we saw online four hours earlier, or sometimes eight hours earlier. Sites like this one (and many others) provide the continuous updates without readers having to wait for a scheduled broadcast window. Even self-important branding plays, like a “CSN Insider,” which is actually just a beat reporter who, often, is no more inside than 6-8 of their peers, or “Authentic Fan,” feel outdated and disingenous.
So, we’ll argue that NBC Sports Philly, and many other regional sports networks, are right to do away with their stale fare. From a content standpoint, that stuff is no longer interesting. From a financial standpoint, it loses money.
The decisions to do so, including the choice to let go of longtime veteran on-air folks who excel at reading a teleprompter, are not popular, but they are necessary. You can’t teach someone who is used to a camera setup, a script, multiple takes, and a tightly defined framework to just pick up their phone and be creative. [A counter to this would be someone like John Clark, who has excelled on social media and uses his access to inform fans everywhere, and not surprisingly he has been elevated in the NBC Sports-Comcast family of networks.]
More relevant to this piece, though, is what NBC Sports Philly has done in the wake of unpopular decisions and cost-cutting. Some of those decisions can be excused as NBC-led initiatives over which the local shop had little control, while others can be critiqued from a local level. Both deserve attention.
So it’s with that framework and understanding of the business dynamics that we take you inside with current and former NBC Sports Philly staffers as they identify pain points within the once-hallowed halls of the Comcast SportsNet studios. Continue Reading